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Everyone says you shouldn’t have expectations when joining the Peace Corps. You may be someplace cold or hot, rainy or dry, welcoming of foreigners or not so welcoming. You may be swamped with projects or have trouble finding things to do. Your PC support staff may give you a lot of resources and guidance, or you may feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of nowhere to fend for yourself for the next two years. Until you get your site placement, you don’t even know what language you’ll need to learn. It seems like anything could happen, but if you happen to be in the PC-Ethiopia groups arriving next month or this fall, there are a few things you can be damn well sure of.

  1. Surviving here takes a lot of time. Maybe you’re dreaming of days full of work with kids and getting projects done. Keep in mind that by the time you get yourself ready in the morning, fix some breakfast on your kerosene or charcoal stove, wash your dishes, walk to town to pick up food for lunch and/or dinner (since most of the food you’ll buy will be perishable, you probably need to shop almost everyday), and walk back again, you’re morning is already half over. If you fix your own lunch (maybe eating out isn’t an option or requires a long trek), then another big chunk of time is prepping lunch (since everything gets made from scratch), eating it, and cleaning up afterwords. If you’re lucky enough to be in a place with internet, you may spend another half hour trying to check your email for the day. If you need to do some laundry, the afternoon is a good time to do it. The heat of the afternoon sun will dry your clothes pretty quickly, and you don’t want to wait until the evening because you never know when you’ll have power. A big load of laundry might take a couple hours since you’re doing it all by hand one item at a time. Then you’re finally ready to get some work done. Though at the heat of the day, you’ll be tempted to stay indoors protected from the scorching sun (or, during the rainy season, protected from the harsh rains and debilitating mud), so you may find this a good time to read, journal, or watch the hundreds of gigabytes of movies and television you’ve mostly likely acquired for just such occasions. When things cool down enough (or the rains let up) around 4 or 5, you might be able to catch some people as they leave their offices, have some tea or coffee with friends and co-workers, and then start thinking about dinner.

  2. We all like to think of ourselves as culturally open-minded. I used to think it wasn’t my place to judge another culture as good or bad, since such judgments would inevitably come from biases in my own culture. I don’t think that way anymore. I’d like to educate all of Ethiopia on the beauty of lines over mobs of people fighting for the clerks attention. I’d like to explain to people that if you want to have a conversation with someone, it’s on you to say something, and if you don’t like it when people say “you, talk”, chances are people don’t like it when you say it to them. I tell people if they want to talk to me, don’t shout at me from 100 yards away, and don’t tell me to wait for you if it’s going to take you five minutes to get to me, especially if I don’t know you. And I don’t care what you’re mother told you, open windows on a bus does not cause tuberculosis. If you’re a westerner, be prepared to release your attachment to privacy and personal space; realize that people feel completely entitled to use you as a pillow, read your text messages, give you their babies to hold, and interrupt your conversations so they can ask their own barrage of questions. It’s a different culture here, and getting angry about it won’t help anything. Teaching others about America is one of the three Peace Corps goals, and there’s no better way to teach than by example. Maybe start by throwing your trash away rather than on the ground.

  3. You will almost certainly not have a refrigerator, or a washing machine, or an oven, or satellite TV, or FM radio, or high-speed internet (anything over 10 kbps), or snickers bars, or supermarkets. You will 100% definitely not have a car. Getting around will be tough, staying where you are won’t be much easier. Ethiopia is ranked as the 14th poorest country in the world, and the average American makes 44 times what the average Ethiopian makes. If this sounds like a tough place to live, trust your instincts. Love it or hate it, the slow pace and simplicity of life here will be your life, too. The more remote your site, the harder it’ll be to get to a hospital, clinic, or pharmacy should you need it. The Peace Corps medical staff will take good care of you once you’re in Addis, but that’ll be a long trip for most of you.

  4. When you go out in the States, you’re not likely to attract much attention to yourself, unless you’re a rock star. Here, being outside or in any public setting means being in the spotlight. It feels great at times and it’ll wear you down at times. There will be people pleased to see a foreigner living amongst them, and they’ll want to shake your hand and welcome you. There will also be people that feel they are entitled to your money or your things. Some children will run flat out 100 meters just to greet you politely and then run back, and others that will yet at you from afar. Most will be harmless, maybe just confusing, greeting you with “What is this. My name is. I am fine thank you”. You will explain many times that your name is not “you you china money”. And despite all this attention, I expect most of you will experience a new level of isolation. Many of you will be the only foreigners in your town. You may go days or weeks or (in my case when I first got here) months without seeing another foreigner. Even if you have a site-mate, you may rarely socialize with people you can express yourself to. You’ll try to integrate, but you’ll always be an outsider. You’ll know what it feels like to be a rock star.

  5. Few Ethiopians can communicate effectively in English, especially in rural areas. Learning language(s) is a big part of being a Peace Corps volunteer in a non-English-speaking country. I started this blog as a place to reflect on my own process of learning. You might think I’d have a bit to say on language learning, and you’d be right. So here’s my advice on language:

    1. Learn Fidel (Ge’ez). Many PCVs have gotten by without it here, but the benefit you get from what you put in makes this a no-brainer for me. Learn it as soon as possible, before you come to Ethiopia even. There are 252 characters you’ll need to know, though you may occasionally see some of the older and stranger forms not typically included in the typical Fidel chart. That might seem like a lot to learn, but there are only 33 consonant types, each with 7 or 8 vowels that will follow it, and most follow the same general pattern. The consonant group for t is ተ, ቱ, ቲ, ታ, ቴ, ት, ቶ, and ቷ, for example. If you learn 3 groups a day (completely manageable), you’ll have Fidel down in just 11 days. And you won’t regret it. Most bus signs, even in non-Amarhic areas, are written in Fidel, so it’s great for getting around. Many store signs and road signs are only in Fidel. Even if you don’t speak Amharic, you’ll be amazed at how many words you can sound out that you’ll understand (as in English loan words and place names). Restaurants that have menus often have them only in Fidel. Tigrinya, Amharic, and many Southern Nations languages use Fidel as their only script. It’s useful, and people will appreciate not having to read everything to you, so learn it.

    2. Learn basic Amharic. You may be in a town or area where Amharic is not the dominant language, and you’ll want to focus your time on studying whatever is the dominant language. But no matter where you live in Ethiopia, you’ll need to go to Addis and other big cities from time to time where people only speak Amharic. So you’d do well to remember at least the basics: greetings, simple questions, shopping, and numbers. After living here I’m convinced that numbers are the most important thing to learn for any language that you use. You’ll want to be able to understand prices people give you and tell people how many rooms you want for how many nights.

    3. Learn the basics of your area’s dominant language. If you’re not living in Amhara, you’re likely going to want to know the basics of a non-Amharic language spoken around you. If you’re in Oromia, you should pick up at least a little Oromiffa. If you’re in Tigray, Tigrinya might be the only language you can use. If you’re in Southern Nations (SNNPR), they’ll be at least one of 70 some odd languages spoken near you. These local languages will come in handy at farmers’ markets and when going out to more rural areas where you’re work may take you. How much you want to learn will depend on your particular situation, but the basics (greetings, simple questions, and numbers) will likely come in handy.

    4. Get a tutor, preferably one that speaks enough English to translate simple sentences for you. But even a tutor without English can help you figure out a lot that would otherwise be hard to learn. Your tutor should at least be literate in the language you’re learning. I would sometimes hand my tutor several sentences I had written and ask him to check the ones that were correct and correct the ones that needed it. Sessions like this help me see patterns, learning not just words but how each word can and cannot be used in a sentence. When I had written out a dialogue that was sufficiently correct by my tutor’s standards, I would record him reading it so that I could listen to it later and practice my pronunciation. There are a lot of ways to use a tutor, but perhaps the most useful is that regular meetings ensure that you keep studying, which brings me to my final point.

    5. Keep studying. I did a terrible job at this myself, but don’t be like me. We all reach what we call “the plateau”, which is usually where we have enough language skills to get by, so the motivation to learn more is lost. There are a limited number of greetings to learn, and a limited number of items you’ll buy, and you’ll most likely have the same conversation many, many times. But don’t get complacent. Follow the tortoise and not the hare so that you don’t get burned out. Just think, if you focus on 3 verbs, 3 adjectives, and 10 nouns a week, within a year you’ll be able to communicate pretty well without using English or a translator. If you want to be a little more ambitious, say a verb and 4 other words a day, you’ll probably be more fluent in an Ethiopian language than any current PCV. If you get too comfortable on that plateau, you’ll end up a year and a half in to your service wondering why you still feel like a 3 year old anytime you want to express a new thought.

And finally, there are a few specific things that I wished someone had told me when I got here:

  • 60 watt light bulbs don’t seem to last long. The two I got each lasted about two weeks. 40 watt and 25 watt seem to do fine, but florescents are best and are sold in some government offices at a discounted price if you get them your meter number.

  • If you go to a shop and ask for a battery, you’ll likely be handed a flashlight. If you’re looking for the AA/AAA dry cell type of battery, the word you want is “denga” or “battery denga”, which literally means “stone”.

  • When you buy beans, rice, lentils, and other dry goods, it’s best to sort them immediately or they may get eaten up by worm and weavels.

  • Power surges happen, and surge protectors are hard to find, so put that on you’re to buy list when you’re in Addis, or bring one with you.

  • If you want to print a PDF document at a printing shop (even the small towns have them), don’t count on them having a PDF reader. Most, in my experience, don’t. So download a portable reader like Foxit and carry it on your thumb drive.

  • Most computers here are infested with viruses, so make sure you’re computer has a good and updated antivirus program before you get here (Avast! has a good free-ware version), and scan all flashdrives as soon as you put them in. Even you Mac and Linux people will need to be careful so you don’t give infected files to others.

  • A great way to make your fellow PCVs happy is to bring with you movies, TV, music, audio books, ebooks, programs, and games to share. We’re never satiated.

  • And packing. Everyone seems to stress out about this, but you can buy pretty much anything in Addis. My main piece of advice is don’t bring more than you can carry. Roller bags won’t do well, as there are few places here where they’ll actually roll. I brought one large Army duffel bag, a medium sized (50 L) backpack, and a messenger bag for my laptop. A few essentials I would recommend bringing: durable luggage, durable clothes and shoes, mp3 player, small laptop (13 in. or less)/netbook/tablet, ereader/tablet, harddrive (don’t forget to put fun stuff on it), camera, headlamp, utility knife, sowing kit, and travel towel. We have lots of paper books at the office and floating around the PCVs, so don’t waste valuable packing space on a lot of books.

And there you have it folks, the freshly squeezed juice from my mind grapes (yes I have been watching 30 Rock). I didn’t mean this to sound like a rant, though it certainly got ranty in there. Mostly, I want everyone to know, at least in part, what they’re in for. People told me to come here with no expectations, but, as I see it, expectations can be helpful. As different as everyone’s experience has been in Peace Corps Ethiopia, there have also been commonalities that you, too, can expect to share.

Into the Wiki World

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. This has a little to do with laziness (okay, a lot to do with laziness), and a little to do with thinking about non-language stuff more and more. I started this blog with such high hopes. I was working with a tutor and reading whatever language guides I could get a hold of. I felt like I was starting to put pieces together for these two languages that have yet to be fully outlined for the learner, and I was hoping to use this blog to start laying out the puzzle pieces. It’s interesting studying languages that haven’t been comprehensively explained to English speakers before. For instance, I wonder if anyone else has noticed the four uses of the -n suffix in Oromo (nominative, instrumental, plural, and 1st person pre-verb marker), or that a 1st order second-to-last consonant in an Amharic infinitive always changes to 6th order (unless the infinitive ends in t) for the present and gerundive roots but stays 1st order in the past and jussive roots (for that matter, I haven’t even seen anyone talk about Amharic verbs as having multiple roots). Sometimes it feels like I’m really on to something, but I’m never sure if I’m seeing things correctly or if I’m just making up patterns because I need to see patterns.

I started this blog almost a year ago as a means to present some things I had learned/made up, but I soon realized a blog isn’t a great way to provide instructional material. It’s hard to organize thoughts sequentially through multiple posts, and formatting is very limited. So last summer I started a PDF file for Oromo with embedded audio I had gotten from recording my tutor. My hope was that it could eventually turn into a full-fledged textbook for Oromo. I got 12 (short) chapters into into before I decided it wasn’t really the way I wanted to go, either. The audio didn’t work on all PDF readers, and it wasn’t easy to edit if others wanted to make changes to it. I played with the idea of making EPUB and MOBI files for ereaders, but I could never get the audio to work for a Kindle.

My tutor moved to another town a few months ago and I decided to give myself a break from thinking about grammar everyday. Then, for a while, it seemed the break had turned into giving up. I got to thinking about other things. But recently I got to reading something on Wikibooks and thought to myself, “hey, this is what I should have done with all those Oromo notes I had written up”. The site has pretty much all I could ask for: it’s free, it also allows for embedding audio and pictures, formatting tables, and it works on any browser. But what I like most about Wikibooks is that it’s very easy for anyone to edit it. So if I end up giving up half-way through again, maybe someday someone will add something to it, or fix something wrong with it, then someone else will come along make it a little better. And eventually, some desperate Peace Corps volunteer living in a small town in Oromia might find a pretty decent resource, maybe the best resource there is, for learning the language spoken around her on a simple wiki site that I started many moons before. That’s the hope anyway.

And so I started the Afaan Oromo page on Wikibooks. For now, it’s a rough start. There are a lot more red links than blue, but I’ve managed to upload a few audio files and a couple chapters. I figure I can get the basic structure down and then let the community pick at it and add/edit what they like. So come on, all you Oromiffa-knowledgeable people. You know you want to help.

Time, Why You Punish Me?

One of the first things PC told me is that Ethiopians have a slightly different concept of time than Americans, somewhat more laid back and not so thoroughly scheduled. For me, the ability to talk about time has been more frustrating than the waiting and getting stood up and last minute notifications.

First, there’s the calender. The Ethiopian calender has 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month of 5 days (6 on leap years). The months are often translated in dictionaries as Gregorian months (what we in the west follow), though they don’t really match up. August, for example, is usually translated as Nahase/Hagayya in
Amharic/Oromo, even though part of August is also in the Ethiopian Hamle/Adoolessa. Furthermore, the Ethiopian year begins on September 11 (or 12) of the Gregorian calendar, which means speaking in English about months can very quickly get confusing. People in my town often say January when they mean September. When a friend invited me to go with him to his town for the Ethiopian New Year, he said it would be “January 11”, though it was clear he meant “September 12” (it’s a leap year this year), so I clarified by saying “Fulbaana tokko” (first of Fulbaana). Anytime anyone in my town talks about a month and day in English, they usually say it wrong, so I try to only speak of dates in the Ethiopian calendar, using either Amharic or Oromo. This has been difficult because I still think in Gregorian time. Even though I have the names and order of all the Ethiopian months down in both languages, I can’t always remember when each one starts or how many days I need to subtract from the Gregorian day to get the right Ethiopian day. It’s August now, which means I have to subtract 6 days to get the Ethiopian day, but then in early September I’ll have to subtract 5 days for the first 6 days and  then subtract 11 days after that.

Then there’s the clock. When I talk about time of the day, I try to keep it in Amharic (or Oromo) just like months of the year to help eliminate confusion, but still people try to speak in English to me when speaking of the time, which can be unhelpful. It’s a pretty simple conversion between the Ethiopian clock and the Western clock: just add (or, equivalently, subtract) 6 hours. So 7am is “1 in the morning”, 2pm is “8 in the afternoon”, and 8pm is “2 in the evening”. And then a lot of people I know don’t really have their numbers down in English, so whenever people tell me a time in English, I always repeated it back in an Ethiopian language so I know that the clock and the number we’re talking about is the same.

Finally, it took me a while to get down how to talk about plans and duration. When I tried to tell people I would leave in 3 days, be in Addis for one week, and return after 10 days, people generally got the times confused. Turns out, it’s pretty simple and pretty much a direct translation from English. Here are the four ways of expressing duration I use a lot:




after/in 5 days

guyyaa shan booda

አምስት ቀን በኋላ

5 days ago

guyyaa shan dura

አምስት ቀን በፊት

for 5 days

guyyaa shaniif

ለአምስት ቀን

within 5 days

guyyaa shan keessatti

አምስት ቀን ውስጥ

Another distinction I often have to make is “I have been here” and “I will be here”, and since both forms use the present tense, this has tripped me up at times. But my go to phrases now are:

English: “I have been here for one year”
Oromo: “Amma kaase waggaa tokkof asin jira.” [lit. “Up to now for one year I am here.”]
Amharic: “
ለአንድ ኣመት እዝህ ነኝ[lit. “For one year I am here.”]

English: “I will be here for one more year.”
Oromo: “Waggaa tokko ol as jirachuu nan danda’a” [lit. “one year more I can live here”]
Amharic: “
ለአንድ ተጨማሪ አመት እዚህ እቆያለሁ” [ lit. “For one additional year I stay here” ]

Since present and future tense are the same in both Oromo and Amharic, to specify the future actions people often speak of possibilities, literally saying “I can live” since there’s no direct translation of “I will live”.


Some have asked about converting Gregorian (western calendar) dates to Ethiopian dates, so I’ve upload a chart HERE. 2014 will be the same as 2013, then the four year cycle continues (i.e., 2015 is the same as 2011, etc.).

Thanks to Shoangizaw for correcting the Amharic translation above.

This entry has nothing to do with language, though I’m working on some more notes for both languages, and I’m hoping to start back with regular posts.

It’s rainy season. August in the rainiest month of them all. In my town, there’s maybe two hours a day when it’s not raining. My whole town is now a giant mud pit. Walking through the market place, every step has to be carefully placed, and my shoes and pants from the mid-shin down are caked in mud. People still offer to shine my shoes, apparently unaware of how fruitless that would be. The major creek that runs along the western edge of my town is higher than I’ve ever seen it. The stepping stones are now well submerged, and a lot of the small foot bridges have been washed away.

The one thing a like about rainy season is that less people go out, and the ones that do go out have someplace they’re trying to get to. That means less people yelling things at me that I don’t understand, or calling me names that I do understand, or telling me that I should get a wife. It makes things peaceful in a way.

I stopped by a friend’s house since I just got back into town and promised I would visit when I returned. On a small TV in the corner, his family usually plays American movies, and this time they were playing “A River Runs Through It”, which is a strange movie to watch in Ethiopia. On every level, Montana feels like it’s on the other side of the world. Oddly, I had briefly mentioned the book just last week during summer camp.

On my way back home, I walked along the creek a bit. I passed a women washing clothes. She seemed strangely happy. She looked up and smiled, I gave my standard greeting, and she replied in kind, though in a different language (I always guess wrong). And despite the mud and the cold, the sound of the quickly flowing creek made everything seem pleasant. I couldn’t help but think about the ending to A River, which I had always liked, but this time seemed to strike a different cord.

I remember the last sermon I heard him give not long before his own death.

“Each one of us here today will, at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question. ‘We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?’ It is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give, or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us, but we can still love them. We can love completely without complete understanding.”

Now, nearly all those I loved and did not understand in my youth are dead. Even Jessie. But I still reach out to them.

Of course, now I’m too old to be much of a fisherman. And now I usually fish the big waters alone although some friends think I shouldn’t. But when I am alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River, and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Oromo Pronunciation

I put this little guide together on Oromo pronunciation with the help of my tutor. I find it helpful for distinguishing the difference between short and long vowels, and between single and double consonants. Also helpful for practicing the dh sound.

I’m interested to see if the imbedded audio files work on other computers. It works fine on my Windows system, but the in linux my pdf reader can’t find a suitable player, which just may mean I have an old version of Adobe.

Download here


I often find myself wanting to ask questions like “What do you do if there’s a drought?”, or “Who do you go to if you have a problem?”, or “If you have time now, can you show me around?”, but I never went over the conditional in language training. So, after some time with my books, here what I came up with.


In English, we may use the phases “if I’m going”, “if I go”, and “if I were to go” to mean pretty much the same thing, though they differ in the degree of uncertainty in the action. “If I’m going to the store, I might as well pick up some milk” indicates the speaker is probably going to the store. “If I go to the store, I will pick up some milk” indicates the possibility of going but with less certainty. These first two examples are in the indicative mood, and both the dependent clause (“I go to the store”) and independent clause (“I will pick up some milk”) can stand on their own as a sentence. Each clause can be in the present, past, or future, depending on when the condition takes place and when the result takes place. “If I were to go to the store, I would pick up some milk” is considered speculative, and neither clause can stand on its own. “Were” is used in the subjunctive mood, while the independent clause consists of a modal verb (would, could, should) plus an infinitive (without the “to”). The dependent clause can be in the past, present, or future, but the independent clause takes no tense. This subjunctive sentence indicates no intent or possibility of the condition being met.

I make this digression (hoping) to clarify the different kinds of “if, then” clauses used in Amharic. I have counted no fewer than 12 ways to form what we would translate as “if, then” statements, and each construction carries a different connotation about the dependent clause and/or independent clause. I’m not at the stage where it’s really worth learning all of these, but I think knowing the simple cases is important for everyday speech. I’ll discuss 3 of these methods, which roughly correspond to the 3 English constructions from the previous paragraph.

  1. The Probable: indicates the speaker is expecting the condition to be met but is leaving room for uncertainty. The verb in the dependent clause is in the past tense with a “kä” prefix (or “kal” for the negative), and the independent clause is either present-future or jussive. Examples: “käfällägh ïnhid”, ‘if you want, let’s go’ ; “kalgäbah TäyïK”, ‘if you don’t understand, ask’.
  2. The uncertain: works like “in case…”. The dependent clause verb is in the simple present (the present tense verb without its suffix) with a “bï” prefix. Examples: “bimäta [bï + yï = bi] ïbet yällähum”, ‘if (in case) he comes, I’m not home’ ; “bïtïhed yïhïn mäSaf mälïsïlïñ”, ‘if (in case) you go, return this book for me’.
  3. Speculative. The dependent clause is the same as in the uncertain, but the independent clause is now also in the simple present and is followed by “näbär”. Example: “bimäta ïkäfïläw [-äw=’for him’] näbär”, ‘if he were to come, I would pay him’


There are at least four words for ‘if’ in Oromo that I’ve seen: “yoo”, “otoo”, “osoo”, and “silaa”. The construction of the clause is the same no matter what word you use. “Otoo” seems most common for unfulfilled or impossible situations, and “yoo” seems most common for other forms. The dependent clause comes first and is always in the past tense, and the independent clause is in its normal tense (as if it were by itself as a statement).

‘If you want, let’s go’ – “Yoo barbaadde haa deemnu”
‘If they had known, they wouldn’t have asked’ – “Otoo isaan beekani, hin gaafatanu turani”
‘If I were you, I wouldn’t – “Otoo nan si ta’e hin godhu”

My Dictionary, Take 1

A while back, when I was trying to get a few basic words down, I started to write a flashcard program that would show me a word in English or Oromo and then it’s translation. I like flashcards, but I don’t like the time it takes to cut them out of paper (I can’t find index cards here) and write them out. The program made it simple to add words and make edits since there was no paper and no handwriting. I started off with basic words like days of the week or numbers, but pretty soon the word list became a project on its own. I haven’t even used the flashcard program in a couple months because I’ve been so busy thumbing through dictionaries, my language manual from the PC, and some online resources ( is handy though a bit limited). What started out as 50 or so words is now almost 2000, making it far from a comprehensive dictionary but, I think, good for a beginner. Right now, it’s only English and Oromo, though I plan to add an Amharic column as my next step.

You can download the dictionary as an excel file HERE (171 KB).

For now, I’ve decided to keep it as a spreadsheet to make it easily sortable, searchable, and editable.

A few other things to mention:

  1. I’ve kept verbs in their infinitive form in Oromo and they all begin with “to” in English. Thus, if you sort by English, all verbs will be grouped together.
  2. This is still very much a first draft. There are likely to be errors either from my own typos or from mistakes in the sources I’ve used. I’ll periodically most updated versions here, but only after major revisions (like adding the Amharic column).
  3. As I noted in a previous post, spelling in Oromo is far from standardized. Where I have letters doubled or undoubled here, you may see the opposite. Also, some people use apostrophes instead of “y” in some words. The search feature on any spreadsheet program is useful, but you may need to sort the list and browse to find what you’re looking for (if it’s there at all).
  4. I’m posting this here because I’m hoping it may come in handy to people learning Oromo (and eventually to people learning Amharic). If anyone wants to modify or expand this dictionary, please feel free, and I would much appreciate any corrections/updated versions sent to me

Happy translating.

As part of my constant effort to avoid writing my CNA report, I’ve compiled a montage of Congressman John Garamendi’s visit to Metu. Video quality is bad, editing is bad, but it gave me something to do for two hours. It was a grand ol’ time. Music by the Killers.

Reading Practice

I try to practice conversational Amarhic and Oromo as much as I can, but I’m still very limited in what I can say and understand, especially at a conversational pace. Often, people are so impressed with my mastery of the simple greeting, that they respond by speaking to me in Amharic or Oromo as if I were fluent. I’ll try to catch what I can, but usually all I can do is just say “ishi” and keep walking. By the time I get to a dictionary, I’ve forgotten the words that I had told myself to remember.

When I studied languages before, I always got a lot out of reading material written in the language and trying to translate it. Now that I have some basic grammar and vocab under my belt, and a good dictionary, I’ve started translating material I can find written in Amharic and Oromo into English. Once I understand all the words in a sentence and its meaning (though sometimes I can figure out what all the words mean but still not get what the sentence as a whole is saying), I’ll read the sentence several times until I can say it at a conversation pace while keeping in mind the meaning of each word as I’m saying it. When I finish a paragraph, I’ll do the same thing with the whole paragraph. I find this a very helpful exercise in gaining vocabulary and making the language structure more intuitive. For Amharic, it also helps me read the Fidel script faster.

Ideally, I would start using children’s books and work my way to more advanced material. I haven’t been able to find anything in the way of children’s books in Amharic or Oromiffa, so I’m working with what I’ve got.

I almost uploaded some documents I’m reading, but those of manageable size for my internet speed are somewhat politically charged, and I don’t want to be misinterpreted as making any political statements here. The Bible is available free and legally in it’s entirety in both Amharic and Oromo, and can be easily found as PDF files with an internet search. I’ve also been able to download an issue of a popular Amharic newsletter, some religious paraphernalia, and a surprising array of medical forms, as well as the previously mentioned material calling for the ousting of the Prime Minister.

A couple sites with Amharic and Oromo articles are:

Also, I recently discovered Amharic Wikipedia,, were I can view a page at random in Amharic and then in English, comparing the two to help me understand the Amharic part. Today I learned about the ancient kingdom of Lydia, and that the Amharic word for mythological is አፈታሪካዊ (“afätarikawi”, “afä”=’oral’, “tarik”=’history’, and “awi” makes it an adjective).I’ll see if I can work that into a conversation some time.

There’s Oromo Wikipedia, too, at, but right now there’s not much on it. A lot of the page is in English still, so it looks like a fairly new project.

Verb wrap-up

I thought I would compile a list of the types of sentences I can come up with.

Type Amharic Oromo English
Present እሱ ይሄዳል inni deema. He goes.
Past እሱ ሄዳ inni deeme. He went.
Present continuous እያሄዳ ነው inni deemaa jira. He is going.
Past continuous እያሄዳ ነበር inni deemaa ture. He was going.
Present perfect ሄዶአል inni deemeera. He has gone.
Past perfect ሄዶ ነበር inni deemee ture. He had gone.
Jussive ይሂድ haa deemu. Let him go.
Present sequential ይሄድና ይመለሳል inni deemee deebi’a. He will go and return.
Past sequential ሄዶ ተመለሰ inni deeminaan deebi’e. He went and returned
(Having gone, he ruturned).
Relative clause የመጣ ተመለሰ nama kan deeme deebi’a. The man who went returns.
Adverbial clause ስሄድ እተኛለሁ yoommu deemu ani rafa. When he goes, I will go to sleep.
Subjuctive እሱ ቢሄድ ችተኛለሁ yoo inni deeme ani rafa. If he goes, I will go to sleep.
Conditional ቢመጣ እከፍለው ነበር silaa dhufe ani isa kaffale. If he were to come, I would pay him.

I’m still getting a handle on relative, conditional, and subjunctive sentences, but I think this is a good start.

One thing worth mentioning is object pronouns. In Amharic, some verbs are conjugated using object pronouns rather than by normal rules. For instance, ‘to be (something)’ is formed by “nä”+obj. pronoun, so “___ näñ” is ‘I am ____’. Also, ‘to have’ is “allä”+obj. pronoun, so ‘I have ___’ is “___ alläñ” (literally, ‘it exists for me’). In Amharic, the obj. pronoun goes between the root and the suffix (if there is one), which can make verbs pretty cumbersome. In Oromo, the obj. pronoun preceeds the verb.

Object pronouns (dative, “to, for”)
English Amharic Oromo
me äñ naa
us än nuu
you (m.) h sii
you (fm.) sh
you (pol.) wot isinii
you (pl.) achihu
him äw isaa
her at ishii
them achäw isaanii

So, ‘give me’ in Amharic is “sïtäñ” and in Oromo is “naa keeni”.

I’ll end with a truly spectacular sentence I found when browsing through Initia Amharica. It gives me a sense of what’s possible with a little bit a grammar.

Fidel: ትናንት ወደ ጎንደር ልሄድ ነኝ ብሎ የተነሳ ወንድሜ ክፉ አስቦ ባባቴ ሳትን ያለበትን ገንዘብ ተቤት ገብቶ ሰርቆ ሄደ.

Phonetics: tïnant wädä gondär lïhed näñ bïlo yätänäsa wändïme kïfu asïbo babate satïn yaläbätïn gänzäb täbet gäbto särqo hedä.

English: Yesterday, saying “let me go to Gondar”, my brother, who was led by evil evil thoughts, entered the house, stole the money from my father’s box, and went off.