Saturday, July 11, 2015

On Signs and Dogma

There is a small sign on the side of the road that leads to the compound where my aunt’s house is located. It is nondescript, and easy to miss. But since it has caught my eye, I have been unable to get it out of my mind. I suppose it has caught my mind, too, as a consonant on a vowel, or thread on a hook.

The Dogma Cleaning Service sign advertises their services of sofa cleaning, carpet cleaning, and building cleaning. All useful services.

But there are a few oddities to me about this sign. Why do they use two different words for ‘cleaning’? Compare the second Amharic word between ‘sofa cleaning’ and ‘carpet cleaning’: clearly different. And why, in the first case, do they spell it two different ways? Compare the second Amharic word between ‘sofa cleaning’ and ‘building cleaning’: the first letter in each is different, being the two symbols representing the sound tse.

Such quirks of writing and representation are not what caught my mind, though. Really, I’m intrigued by the name:

Dogma Cleaning Service.

What a name! As far as I can tell, ‘dogma’ is neither a word, nor a person’s name – at least in Amharic. Excepting the possibility that it is meaningful in another of the many languages spoken here, I assume that it is the word I know in English: dogma.

And again, what a name! What could it mean!

Will they clean your dogma in addition to your sofa? Or do they rather clean dogmatically? Or, perhaps, is such a name a gesture of piety, in fact a tribute to dogma and doctrine in this place where religion, as such, seems to reign, to be that which people’s lives revolve around?

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