Amharic resources

If you just want to poke around Amharic a little bit, have fun with the language, and see some interesting visuals, you might want to start out with this blog, Road to Ethiopia, written by a student of Amharic language.

[Amharic is one of the three major languages of Ethiopia along with Oromo in the south and Tigrigna in the north.   It’s also the official governmental language of Ethiopia.]

Image (above): Ethiopian coffee ritual with charcoal burner and incense, woman has traditional braids and is wearing traditional white dress with woven border, painted on leather.

Here are the more utilitarian links:

Online Dictionaries

Dictionary of the Amharic Language by Charles William Isenberg (1841) (google books)

Basic Amharic Dictionary: Amharic-English, English-Amharic. Leslau, Wolf (1970)  (Free download.)    (pdf) 672 pages. Click *ERIC Full Text * to start download

Online Amharic-English dictionary with search box

Download fonts

Amharic keyboard and font to download (scroll down for font)

Senamirmir fonts

(to start using font, close the browser and open again; this website has an Amharic “welcome” message you will be able to see if your font is working)

Dead-tree Amharic dictionaries on Amazon

Concise Amharic Dictionary (Paperback) by Wolf Leslau (see free download above)

Amharic English, English Amharic Dictionary: A Modern Dictionary of the Amharic Language (Paperback) by Endale Zenawi

Information about Amharic

A small Amharic glossary

Road to Ethiopia, blog written by a student of Amharic language

Image below: Ethiopian leather healing scroll, for curing disease.  The initial image on the scroll is the archangel Micheal with his sword, a very popular motif in Ethiopian religious art.  The language is probably Geez, used only for religious purposes.

Posted in language. Comments Off on Amharic resources

South Shore


The evening of my birthday found me on the beach at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Twenty-four hours earlier, storms had ripped through this area, spawning tornadoes though the Illinois Kankakee river valley, then moving on to Michigan, where a nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Detroit was shut down as the storm passed. But on my birthday, all was quiet on the South Shore.

To the left, in the far distance, the sun sets over the Chicago skyline. To the right is the cooling tower of the power plant at Michigan City, Indiana, some two miles down the beach. And at the water’s edge, there is nothing but the hypnotic sound of the waves.

In the woods, a whippoorwill at dusk. (You might need high quality external speakers to hear it.)

Posted in Travel. Comments Off on South Shore

Birthday present

Happy birthday to me.

Already I have a birthday present–some pepper plants a neighbor gave me. Here is the garden before:

Here is the garden after, with cucumbers and peppers, also some climbing sweet peas and hyacinths.

Then we went to Hyde Park for the art fair and coffee.  Turns out my neighbor is into scientology, and talks to spirits. His girlfriend just died not too long ago.

Here is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park:

Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright came from a planet where two-headed naked penguins are the dominant species? Naked meaning no feathers and two heads for faster thought processing. (Two heads are better than one.) I had never heard of this before.

And my birthday isn’t over yet.

To be continued…

Folding Hobez

It’s still gardening season, but the rain has driven me indoors today. No matter, here is the perfect breakfast, using the labneh (yogurt spread) I made yesterday and pita bread (hobez) خبز folded the bedouin way, along with a little Italian decaffeinated espresso and heart-healthy evaporated milk instead of cream.

The bread was taken from the freezer and defrosted for 40 seconds in the microwave.  Then a few seconds on the stove over a flame.

For dipping, the bedouin way with bread is to tear off a piece and fold it with one hand–remember that bread and water are sacred and accepted with the right hand only. The end result has ideally three folds and is folded something like an envelope. The children are very good at this, turning and folding simultaneously with the same hand.

Then use it to scoop up some labneh. Yum. Here it’s had a little olive oil dribbled over it, although I’ve only see it eaten plain.

Posted in Arabs, Food. 2 Comments »


It’s been a long time since I made labneh.  If you’ve never eaten it, it’s a spreadable Middle Eastern yogurt.  You tear off a piece of pita bread, use it to scoop up some of the spread, and pop it in your mouth.  It’s very easy to make, and delicious, but a bit time-consuming.

It also is a welcome diversion from staff meetings and the syllabus stuff I’m supposed to be writing.

In Jordan, we made it with a liter of whole milk and a container of yogurt (the kind with live cultures). Here I have a gallon of milk and two yogurts.

First, you heat the milk until a skin forms on the top.  Do not start blogging and forget it is on the stove.

Let it cool a little, then lift the skin off the top.  Check the temperature with your wrist the same way you would check a baby bottle to make sure it’s not too hot, then stir in the yogurt.  Cover it and put it in a warm place overnight.  I covered it with the pan lid;  in Jordan we used blankets.

The next day it will be nice and thick, and it will have a nice yogurt smell.

Spoon it into a bag for draining.

Then hang it up. In Jordan this would go on the balcon for the afternoon and the juice would drip out on to the balcony floor and trickle onto the street below. In the U.S. it can hang over the bathtub.

After eight hours or so, depending on how thick you want it, you can take it out of the bag and store it in the fridge.

This reminds me of the bowls of tzatziki with fresh pita that they bring to your table in Greece when you sit down at a restaurant. It’s made with thick lebna as a base, mixed with garlic and small cubes of cucumbers.

Posted in Arabs, Food. Comments Off on Lebna

Third Intifada

Someone yesterday asked what is the Third Intifada. Some people had been chanting it in the city and they didn’t know what it meant, so they asked on a blog thread.

I’ve never heard of a Third Intifada; it sounds something like “World War Three”. There have been two Palestinian  intifadas so far, one in the 80s and one starting in 1999 when I was there, and ending 2005-ish. (Wikipedia: First Intifada, Second Intifada) The intifada is a low level attack on soft targets–suicide bombers blowing up pizza parlors, kids throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, that kind of thing. Unlike 9-11, it tends to be perceived in Jordan, whose population is 60% Palestinian,  as a legitimate military action against Israel. A few Israelis die, and 4 or 5 times as many Palestinians die, but it’s seen as the only way to put pressure on Israel. It also totally ruins Jordan’s tourism and puts their economy in a nosedive–from maybe 3% growth per year to zero–but still they support the Palestinians.  What else can they do.

I see absolutely no purpose to the intifadas, except perhaps to channel frustration away from the ruling group and help keep them in power. It makes the young people feel hopeless and suicidal (see the image of Farfur the Hamas martyrdom mouse at right), and gives the group in power an excuse not to govern.  I have long been frustrated with Palestine for not just acting as if they already had a country and just…governing it. The corruption more than anything is what encourages groups like Hamas.

Even as a vehicle for expressing frustration, I suspect the days of the intifada are numbered. Witness the nonsense over the “Intifada NYC” t-shirts that plagued principal Debbie Almontaser, the founder of the Arabic-English language Khalil Gibran International Academy elementary school. During an interview with the New York Post (big mistake right there, thanks to her bosses) Almontaser was asked a question about the meaning of the word intifada and gave the dictionary definition.  Later the reason for the question became obvious; there was an organization in the same building as an organization that supported the school, Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, and they were selling a t-shirt that said “Intifada NYC”.

Almontaser could have done several things that would have commanded my admiration. She could have condemned the intifada out of hand in no uncertain terms, which is what she did the next day after some reflection. Or she could have defended the intifada as the right of the Palestinians to self-defense, if that’s what she believes. There are plenty of people who believe that, and I can respect that point of view, even if I’m personally horrified by attacks on civilians (and for that matter, non-civilians). If nothing else, it might have been an education for some people to hear it. Or she could have just said the t-shirt belonged to a group that had nothing to do with her school, which is true enough. But when Almontaser went up against the heavy guns of the haters, she waffled, giving the win to the haters and their definition of intifada. So now “intifada” has shifted even further towards being a word that stigmatizes Arabs and Muslims.

Why anyone was chanting about intifada on American streets this week I don’t know. Clearly it was a response to the recent Israeli boarding of the Turkish ship, but other than that, I suspect it was nothing more than an expression of frustration.

Bonus photos:

Some date the beginning of the Second Intifada to the day following Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, an area known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif.  When I visited the Temple Mount I asked where this place was where Sharon had stood, and the area pointed out to me was between the Mosque of Omar and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Up the stairs, I asked, pointing to the gold-domed Mosque of Omar?  No, I was told, below the stairs.

I am standing in the above photo on the left in the shadow beside the wall. In the background is the Mosque of Omar, where the Navel of the Universe is supposed to be located, and where the Ark of the Covenant may have once rested, hidden before its final disappearance.

At the bottom of the stairs is the al-Aqsa mosque, built by the Knights Templar.

Here is a closeup of the entrance, or maybe it’s the exit, depending on how you look at it.

I love this building.  My companion didn’t understand why I wanted a photograph of it, maybe because there was a very photogenic gold domed building right behind it.

After having stood in this spot, I still don’t understand why the Palestinians would want to riot when Sharon stood here.

Posted in Arabs, Palestine. Comments Off on Third Intifada

Arabia Explorers

When you think of exploring Arabia you usually think of Sir Richard Burton and Johann Burkhardt, or maybe T.E. Lawrence or even Gertrude Bell. These are all on wikipedia’s list.

Here is another list from Zahra Dickson Freeth’s out of print Explorers of Arabia from the Renaissance to the end of the Victorian era, along with any wikipedia links that exist.

Lodovico Varthema, gentleman of Rome (entered Mecca 1503)
Joseph Pitts (captured English sailor in Mecca c 1685) [google books limited view]
Carsten Niebuhr (cartographer)
Jean Louis Burckhardt (rediscovered Petra)
Richard Burton
William Palgrave spy, former Jesuit and British diplomat (1826–1888)
Carlo Guarmani (Italian) author of 1864-1866 Classic Works ‘Al Kamsa’ (about the Arabian horse) and ‘Journey from Jerusalem to Northern Najd’
Charles Doughty author of 1888 travel book Travels in Arabia Deserta republished by T.E. Lawrence
The Blunts Anne Isabella Noel Blunt and her husband Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Arabian horse aficionados


Top, William Palgrave’s map of Arabia;

Bottom, Lady Anne Blunt, in Bedouin attire

Posted in Arabs, Middle East. Comments Off on Arabia Explorers