Monday, January 9, 2012

My Confusions Around ‘Gena’/Christmas/

Don’t blame me for my bewilderment, but I think I have sensed some “universal” confusion these days in several things, among which our use of languages is one. Somebody was asked, “Why can common names cause confusion?” for which his reply was “because common names are not common names at all.” How true this is for countless things in today’s world! There are so many confusions over names of people, medicines, trade, road-signs and acronyms used even in international conferences. One simple instance of confusion we’ve had recently was the acronym COP. I thought we were done with what we call COP10 season here at CDC, but all of a sudden, COP15 popped up in international Medias showing Copenhagen’s UN Climate Change Conference, which conundrums many of us…perhaps as confusing as the end-result of the summit, itself. Speaking of climate change, the condition here in Addis, as it has been elsewhere, is definitely not positive… we did a colossal harm to nature…I mean, we deprive her right from following her usual cycle, and as a result, it’s been impossible to tell what her seasons unfold, or simply put, difficult to tell when actually is going to rain or not, ….another confusion. Well, confusions are common with many other acronyms, too: for instance, someone mentioned CBI a couple of times in her conversation to us, a group of listeners, and when the tête-à-tête ended, I went to look it up in the dictionary, for which it meant fifty or so different meanings, and I didn’t know which to take... but just lingered with confusion. I guess if words and acronyms of languages develop in such a swift geometric progression, we have to be reminded every now and then with the new meanings in order to make sure healthy communication is in place in the day-to-day discourse. Otherwise, confusions are sure to reign.
Last year about this time a ferenji /foreigner/whom I know well asked me if I could show him a ‘Gəbeta. (I know you are reading this article now, but I didn’t mention it to embarrass you). Since he said it with lucid pronunciation, and coincidentally at the perfect timing of lunch hour, I didn’t dare ask him to repeat the word. Instead, without more ado, I told him to follow me straight to the nearest traditional restaurant. While we were comfortably waiting for our lunch, I proudly started explaining the different features of the traditional dining table called mesob and Gəbeta and what we, Ethiopians, mean by Gəbeta … what it is made of and even went further to explain the long-established etiquettes, when all of a sudden, I intuited some confusion on the look of my ferenji friend…I realized that he meant not the dining table, ‘Gəbeta but ‘Gəbet’a , the totally different meaning…it was my turn to be embarrassed for the confusion created (although I had to admit the food we had to eat despite the confusion was scrumptious). ‘Gəbet’a, which my friend was referring to, was pronounced with the explosive t’ and is a traditional board game. Sometimes, it’s called ‘Sïlus Gəbet’a’, (Gəbet’a for 18). By the way, going back to the climate issue, there’s one widespread confusion which we could avoid when calling the common Ethiopian name, Bekele. if you call somebody Bəkələ instead of the explosive Bək’ələ , you’re actually saying ‘contaminated’ (oops… he must have been condemned by COP15) rather than calling his rightful name Bək’ələ which means ‘sprouted or took root’. In conclusion, as ‘Gena (Christmas) approaches (not Gena which means ‘not yet’….) it’s my hope that we won’t bump into any other confusion.
Mәlkam Gәna /Happy Christmas/, Mәlkam Adis Amәt /Happy NewYear/

(Written at about Ethiopian Christmas of 2010)

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