Talk about the ultimate Third Goal Project!
Andrew Tadross (Ethiopia 20011–13) writes about co-authoring language guides for two Ethiopian languages, Amharic and Tigriyya:
The Essential Guide to Amharic: The National Language of Ethiopia [Peace Corps Writers, September 2015] is the second project I’ve worked on with my friend Abraham Teklu, the first being The Essential Guide to Tigrinya. I began both of these projects within a few months of arriving in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps Volunteer, not knowing that my ever-growing vocabulary list would become, what I believe now, are the best resources available on either language.
I met Abraham, an outgoing Ethiopian man in his early 50s, on one of my first visits to Mekele in northern Ethiopia. His wife, Hruti, owned the simple hotel I wandered into one sunny day. Both had lived in America for many years and had returned to their homeland for a simpler life. Abraham works with an NGO to help elderly and impoverished people in nearby Adwa; Hruti runs the hotel. Both care for Gashaw, a sweet boy they adopted who uses crutches to walk as his leg was permanently injured at an early age.
After chatting with Abe over popcorn and coffee for several months, we hatched a plan to publish books. Abe had published a Tigrinya dictionary before, but I wanted to create something that included essential vocabulary, as well as grammatical instructions, and most-frequently used phrases. My role was organizing the books and trying to design it from the perspective of someone like myself . . . a foreigner, a Peace Corps Volunteer, a tourist. Abe is the language guru who translated everything. A half dozen or so other Ethiopians helped me with translating and editing at various stages. Also, several RPCVs donated sketches that help give the interior of the book visual interest and beauty. Almost on a daily basis, I hold the books with pride, and marvel and at how much work went into their creation.
The process has not been easy, but it has succeeded. Both Amharic and Tigrinya are difficult languages with endless grammatical rules, and endless irregularities. But the books are as straight forward as possible, spelling everything phonetically and steering the reader towards “the best guess” when there are too many grammatical irregularities. Abe and I spent countless weeknights and Saturday afternoons in front of our laptops, refining these guides. No foreigner will ever be perfect in these languages . . . but the end goal is communication . . . to promote peace, friendship, and education. These two books might not make much money due to the limited market, but for the rest of my life I will be able to have a lively conversation with any Ethiopian or Eritrean I meet. For me, that makes it worth all the effort.