During my first week in Ethiopia, fellow runners would call out “ayzos” to me on the trails. I was confused since it sounded like “Achoo!” I soon learned that ayzos is an Amharic expression that means “be strong.”
This past weekend I took a four hour intensive Amharic class that covered basic words and phrases. Ayzos was included and even made it to the top ten most frequently used Amharic words on the teacher’s handout. Dil, the teacher, explained that ayzos was not only an expression of fortitude, as in the case of “keep running!,” but also a way to convey sympathy if someone experiences adversity.
After one month, I still speak tinish tinish (a little) Amharic and it has been both a joy and challenge to begin learning a new language with its own culturally specific words and phrases. The six Yaya girls I am working with giggle at my American pronunciation of Amharic words and fellow runners in the forest show surprise and smile when I answer ayzos right back.