It was a breezy afternoon drive on our way back to the city from Gullele. I accompanied our taxi driver, and his fatherly aura, in the front seat, and was deep in conversation with fellows Feven and Meki in the back.
In a matter of minutes, our driver’s smile spread from ear to ear and he began praising us for speaking in English. He assumed we were students at Nazareth, a private school that excels in languages, but we explained we had come from the US to work in Ethiopia for the next six months through a diaspora fellowship, which invited an equally positive reaction. He told us about his two children who attend government school, but are encouraged to speak and read in English in their free time. He was proud of us for returning to the motherland, and deeply supported the dual Amharic-English linguistic identity we’ve nurtured for so long as Ethiopian-Americans.
Not all other taxi drivers and passersby have had the same reaction. As a diaspora, your Amharic is either too good or not good enough, and no one shies away from making their opinions known. Random strangers’ critiques of my Amharic have taken the most creative forms. Instead of feeling insulted, I can’t help but laugh along with the poetic diss they’ve just served. A few of my favorites include: