Using My Words – In Amharic

Elizabeth Bradley, Ph.D., Faculty Director, GHLI

Kebahd! Thanks to some brief tutoring in Amharic I was now able to communicate more fluently on my recent trip to Ethiopia. Most of my new words, and the language itself, are lyrical – “silematachu des bolognal” and “bet’am tiru enimesagenalen” – syllables tumbling out with the sound of a bubbling brook. I had been using these phrases to say “I am happy to be with you” and “thank you for being here” to the delight of my Ethiopian colleagues who seemed tickled that I finally could say more than “excuse me” and “thank you.”  


My Amharic words also helped my sureness, as I could detect meaning in what previously had been a jumble of foreign sounds. This ability was invaluable when we met with the director of the CDC in the US Embassy and received a personal briefing on Ebola – and during my visit to Black Lion Hospital, where I saw where people suspected of having Ebola were to be placed until they could be transferred to a clinic or hospital for treatment. Later, my visit to the US Embassy where the transport system and Ethiopian policies were described went smoothly, and I felt comfortable.  


I thought about how much I loved Ethiopia with all its pleasure and beauty. And I was heartened to see and get a better grasp of how honest the work is to keep the country moving ahead to improve not only health care, but all social services for its citizens.  While I still see young mothers struggling and small children put to work instead of being in school, I know with the dedication being shown by the government this will be less and less. But still “Kebahd” – difficult.

As I experienced both aspects of this country on this visit – the tremendous strides and evolution they have made since my first visit eight years ago – and the inequity that still exists here as well as around the world – I realize that even knowing the language doesn’t make it any easier to understand sometimes.  
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