Archive for February 4, 2009

“E” is for Idiota

Many Ethiopians get nervous when called out to speak in English. They become breathless; they stand as erect as a soldier would when receiving orders and their nose quickly becomes dewy. The nervousness comes from the desire to impress, and impress well. English is one of the two languages that are secretly considered as superior to the mother tongue, you see, helping those who speak it well find favor in the eyes of their hearers. Making them jump from glory to glory, from priviledge to priviledge, like that mountain-skipping-ram the Psalmist talked about. So it’s worse than a visit to the dentist. And what a relief, when it’s over.

The working language of Ethiopia’s Radio and Television Agency Amharic program is, ofcourse, Amharic. But the reporters can’t wait to use the little opportunity they get to work with the little English they know. You don’t hear their heart slumming against their chest bones. Their backs are always to the camera! But you hear them chocking all over themselves just the same. And.. they make mistakes. “Would” is translated as “should”. Ferguson becomes “FerGuuson”. Ideas get lost. Intentions twisted.

Take yesterday evening, for example. ETV’s various reporters, both from the AU Headquarters and off it, kept declaring how the new Somali President Shiek Sharif Ahmed (a man whose photos I was certain I’ve seen, along with other “Al Shebab” officials, at meetings held in Asmara) has warned Eritrea to stop interfering with his country. (ENA has the news too. Unfortunately, it’s also bearing a warning not to visit the site if you like your computer in one piece). He was elected, they reported him as saying, to serve the Somali people’s interest, not Eritrea’s. The distinguished Sheik has, accordingly, appeared on the screen. Wearing his taQiyah, otherwise known as kuffiyah (yes, it’s another one of the million words we borrowed from Arabic) and looking as unsmiling as ever. His lips has looked dry and cracking. But he’s spoken confidently with them. A big handsome dude sitting beside him who appeared more shy than my fellow country man at exercising the foreign tongue, has then interpreted the Shiek’s Somali to English. But only the first few words. A voice-over from ETV’s people has come and explained, in Amharic, what was said in English (that Eritrea should refrain from interfering, etecetra, etecetra).

I didn’t have any reason to doubt the validity of ETV’s version of the statement. After all, “Eritrea” was “Eritrea” in either English or Somali and I’ve heard the new-elect calling the name. And been relieved: at seeing Issiyas put where he belongs and the flickering hope of a new day dawning for our wretched neighbouring country. It was when the English news started and I was allowed to hear the exact words of the interpretor that my hopes were dashed. The Sheik has apparently said “I was chosen to serve Somalia. What’s Eritrea gotta do with it?” and “we will work with those we feel we can work with, and we’ll decide if we will work with Ethiopia or not .. [eventually]”.

To their credit, the error was intentional. And understandable. A Sheik who shrugs his shoulders on the Eritrea-issue and asks ‘what of it?!’ would hardly make a grateful neighbor eagerly looking forward to work with our country. Still… you wish they could foresee [that] the deception would easily be detected when a voice-over isn’t standing between speaker and audience. [They didn’t. So what’s new?!]

Ya heard?!

Libiya’s ambitious president Muammar Gaddafi (aka “Africa’s King of Kings”) has been elected AU Chairman. Inspite of reminding me that old British expression “mad cap” every time he showed his mug (But who won’t be after 40 years in power?!), I have nothing against the man. Or his attire, or the fact that he doesn’t go anywhere unless surrounded by gold-crown-wearing, sequined-capes-and-colorful-robes sporting tribal lords (who, rumor has it, are on his payrol to help him push the realization of a United States of Africa by exerting their power and influence). However, I have a feeling the ensuing 12 months would be the longest 12 months for African Union. Until such time when the traffic gets held up [again] every 30 minutes by gun-carrying blue-camouflage-uniform wearing soldiers standing at 5 feet of eachother, and the undersigned watches Nkrumah [again] smiling for the camera, making the song “BeAfrica BeAfrica BeAfrica” almost bearable.

February 4, 2009 at 2:33 pm 6 comments


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The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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