Thursday, July 30, 2015

"No Title"


Learning a language is often fraught with humor. Either humor or shame. And it seems to me it leans not to the latter but the former when learning in the company of friends. And for this knowledge, I am blessed.

yanchi fiqregña konjo newo? T asks me at work one day, is your sweetheart handsome?

awo, leney, bet’am konjo newo, I respond… yes, to me he’s very handsome… ena, yisu fiqr konjo newo… ena, yisu ras konjo newo… and, his heart is beautiful… and his head is beautiful…

(laughter… realization… more laughter…)

ena igeru? konjo newo?! and his feet? are they beautiful, too?! 

Humor is hard to translate. To explain a joke is so often to kill it. But, I will try: when trying to praise my sweetheart’s mind, instead, I said, his head, his physical head is beautiful – the thing on top of his neck and shoulders. It is as if, to say it in English, that when asked if my honey is handsome, I responded that he is indeed, and not just that, but his heart and scalp are beautiful, too.

Or again, A and I are sparring, the air around us playful, each of us trying to get the other to say something first, and each of us respectively refusing. I gesture, zipped-lips: zim, silence, my silence. But when I say it, I say: zimb negn, which means, i’m a fly. So we laugh, and laugh, and laugh…

Or again, at the nightclub with friends, sipping, dancing, enjoying the scene. Two men from Sweden on the DJ set, and a rastaman takes the mic, rapping, gomen le t’ena… gomen le t’ena… spinach for health… spinach for health… Again and again he says this, and I laugh and laugh, partly in amazement that I understand what he’s saying, partly in appreciation of the organic rastaman. But days later, AH remarks --- It’s q’ene (a poem with double-meaning) because gomen is green, just like…

Or again, it was nighttime when I first awoke in Addis, having slept upon arriving. Everything loosened, stumbling, I was fumbling, finding my way…

tinish tinish, qen be qen… little, little, day by day, I managed to say to my aunt’s housekeeper that evening. I was talking about my ability to speak Amharic – and really to find myself in Addis. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a proverbial premonition, as I would soon learn, qes be qes inqulal be’igru yeheydal… little by little, an egg will go by foot.

A Haitian-American colleague of mine who speaks no Amharic dropped that line the other day, fumbling his way with it; he’d just learned it, he said. As we were discussing its meaning in the lunchroom, M, the guard, walked in. Small and spritely, eyes sparkling, wise, M quipped quickly… yet? wedeyt yeheydal?... where? where is it going?, as he stepped in the room.

And did you laugh? --- asks B, and I don’t tell him I checked with M again as I was leaving to make sure it was a joke --- You thought it was funny… That’s good. It means you’re getting somewhere.

2 comments:

Deborah Girma said...

You captured it really well Samraye

Mahlet Girma said...

Hahahaha you made me laugh! Love it!