Amharic, the lingua franca of Ethiopia (spoken by 17.4 million people reaching as far as Egypt, Sweden and Israel) has various forms of “you” for the genders. The masculine form of ‘you’, second person singular, is “ant’e”. The feminine, “anchi”. The ex-royal & still church language believed to have mothered Amharic until recently, Ge’ez, on the other hand has as much as 44-88 forms in which a verb (“Qetel’e”/”Kill” is the usual example) changes itself to show the various gender-pointer forms it can have. I hate to go through this but perhaps I can give an example. “Qetele” (meaning “kill”, everyday example at Ge’ez class) can have 88 forms to indicate the various gender pointers it’s referring to. “Wi’etu Qetele” = he/killed, “Ye’iti Qetelet” = she killed (I killed – him/her/them/; you/men killed; they/men killed; their/men killed or got killed; his men/women were killed by him/her/they-masculine/they-feminine/we/ + masculine & feminine forms of subject for every verb, etcetera, etcetera).
So, yes, Ge’ez is the richest, the most confusing and uneconomical language on the planet ;). No wonder, therefore, it’s considered dead or dying except as a liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church. But, boy is it a joy to learn! Not just for the validation, for you have never felt more Ethiopian until you have called your friends “wi’etu”/”ye’iti” and felt like a kindred spirit to one Professor Ephrem Yishak, a ‘yager shimagile’ respected by even the government. But the sheer expanse of the language and the fact that you can guess a given sentences’ meaning (if not the gender) with a bit of biblical knowledge at your background is more satisfying than seeing a ton of bricks falling on the Coyote’s head in that Warner Brothers cartoon (I feel sorry for the poor chump, ewnetun lemenager. Why won’t they simply have him move somewhere quite, fall in love and start a family; that would have taken care of the violence ;)). Which, ofcourse, is also what made scoring at ge’ez difficult for my Muslim classmates, who never seem to get the meaning part right even when our amiable instructor (an awesome man named “Sergew”, who is said to speak more than 4 old school languages and is totally unlike most of the church men I met) changed some of the female’s name in the stories from Solome to Semira to Jemila.
Anywho, I took two ge’ez courses at the Addis Ababa University (after being admonished by a Rastafarian chat-buddy who accused me of trying to talk about Alexander Dumas before knowing my own language) and even managed to score a “B” on one of them. Don’t be hasty to judge! I had to fight deacons and quite “chekay” church-going sisters for it!.
So….. coming to the main point of the post …. if you are an Amharic speaker into Amharic love songs, you would know which sex the singer is referring to when he/she accuses his/her object of affection ‘you did me wrong’. Not that it can be had any other way. Men only refer to women, women only refer to men in love songs. Sometimes a girl may ask another woman why she’s jealous of her, or a man may lament the fact that his old bud hasn’t been visiting much after first guy lost all his money. We neither love “I will survive”, nor are big on Cher. So.. yes.. all abeshas are straight. Even the gay straight men who never miss their weekly pedicures and wear perfume. Theoretically!
Still.. that doesn’t mean Ethiopian men, straight as an arrow as agreed on previous paragraph, don’t sing along love songs where men are the gender in question (if ever there was a time they ain’t ;)). It’s quite normal hearing a shamless dude sing “ant’e I love you” or see the word’s Amharic version for male (“Ewedhalehu”) scribed over either TeddyAfro, Christiano Ronaldo or Theirry Henry’s photo on a minibus dashboard by a macho brother who might be bragging about it even as you stunned-ly watch.
The reason is neither sexual liberty, nor man-crush. Nothing but blessed innocence! as Ethiopian men do not associate sex with same sex. It just doesn’t occur to them that their affectionate utterings can be taken in any way than the way they meant it. And if you take a look at their faces when they are singing, scribing, even going around town with an arm on their male buddy’s shoulder; you are likely to draw blank – sex wise!. Sadly, that’s changing nowadays. People are becoming aware there is such a thing as guys raping male street kids they lured under false pretences and leave at an empty hotel room; that girls can kiss other girls in a way a guy would enjoy sitting by the ring side through and shady looking men in tight pants shaking and shivering on Bole road after hours aren’t there for the exercise.
Still, old habits die hard! You still get to hear men choosing/dedicating love songs for their male friends, girls to their girlfriends, daughters to fathers, sisters to brothers and sons & daughters to their dear Ma on the radio with the unaffectedness of them wee ones. It’s likely to change for the worse soon – this sexual ignorance, this purity that one would have hugged and kissed if was a person [abesha like ;)]. And we are likely to see friends sitting at opposite ends of a room so no one would think anything funny, for abeshas know how to take it too far too. Right now though, a “tuuBa” brother or (as in my case) neighbor trying to soften his “tuuBa” voice along with a certain slutty singer’s “eBakih ante liiiiij deGmeh teyiQegni..” (that a ‘tuuBa’ friend of his dedicated to his guy friend out of brotherly love or a woman of his choice), he can be dismissed without a [queer] stain on his character … bil’en ferDenal!