Salam’no! T’ena yis t’illign?

Hello! How are you?

After our initial three lessons in Amharic, VSO volunteers have been let lose upon Addis Ababa and Hawassa. This has obviously resulted in some hilarious language related misunderstandings, including taxi drivers being told to find our parents (walaj alleh) instead of stopping (waraj alleh).


Walking around Bole or Edna Mall in the evenings requires judicious use of alfelegum (I don’t want – applies to all sellers), and yellenyem (I don’t have any – applies to all beggers).

Out and about, the most commonly heard words to my ferengi (foreigner) ears are chagarelem (no problem), dehna neh/nesh (how are you?) and thurru (good). If I’m getting ripped off by a street seller, a faux angry proclamation of wood’naow (it’s expensive!) usually reduces the price somewhat.

Ethiopians always ensure the UK volunteers always eat their fill, and usually the point of bursting. Bezunaow (it’s too much!) helps to reduce the stomach load a little, though you may need to spoon a little shurru (sauce eaten with injera) back into the pot when your family aren’t looking.

Learning numbers is one of the best ways to ensure your birr notes don’t go to waste. One to ten is: and, holeit, sost, arat, amist, sudist, sabat, simint, zetenyn, asser. From twenty to a hundred…. haya, selasa, arba, amsa, silsa, saba, samanya, zetenya, mato (closely reflecting the others).

Bumping into someone on the street or on a line taxi isn’t a problem with a friendly y’kirta (sorry!). If someone tells you some exciting gossip, bewnet (really?!) or endaay (how come?) are useful semi-slang words to slip in.

Last but not least, amaseganalo (thanks!) 🙂

Aman