Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes take for granted the diversity that surrounds us? I grew up in Oklahoma City, which has a large Vietnamese as well as Latino (specifically Mexican) population, but I never really gave it much thought. Almost like, I thought all American cities looked sort of like that one, since it was all I had known. Do you know what I mean?
It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I noticed how different people create a different character for a city. The neighborhood I live in now is largely Latino, but most of my neighbors are from Central America; since I don’t speak Spanish I’m probably not as sensitive to that difference as I should be. But one of the big differences I have noticed is that multilingual signs around here no longer include the diacritical extravagance that is the written Vietnamese language. Instead, everywhere I go, I see this:
This is an excerpt from an actual welcome letter sent by the DC Public Schools to students who speak Amharic. DC is home to a large population of people originally from Ethiopia (and Eritrea), most of whom speak Amharic as their first language (among the many, many other languages they all seem to be enviably fluent in.)
I really, really want to learn some Amharic. First of all…look at that script! Isn’t it beautiful? It looks like something straight out of some dark 3rd century desert church – because it is. I love the ancient Christian churches of Africa and the Middle East, so I’d love to learn to read that script, and I dream of one day going to visit the incredible monuments at Aksum and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela:
In addition to having a beautiful script and being spoken in a beautiful country, Amharic plays an interesting role in the history of Rastafarianism and is a Semitic language, meaning it’s distantly related to Arabic and Hebrew. Since I’m diving in to Arabic, it would be fascinating to try Amharic as well and see how they compare.
And then, of course, there’s the food. It is impossible to talk about Ethiopian culture without talking about Ethiopian food. I had never tried this cuisine, was not even aware of it, until the first time I visited DC, and I must tell you, I really think Ethiopian food is one of the biggest selling points for living in this town.
Which is all to say, I have a serious crush on Amharic. I would love to order food, either in my neighborhood or in Addis Ababa, in the language; I’d love to chat with my friend at my favorite bar or the venerable old guys hanging out at the coffee shops in the language. And the next time I have a cab driver who credibly lists all 11 languages in which he is fluent, wouldn’t it knock his socks off if I could speak Amharic with him?