Tuesday, April 8, 2008

ashia ya!

a noteworthy cameroonian pidgin phrase made its first appearance in my journals just a couple of posts ago... ashia! where do i begin with this most versatile, most meaningful and, indeed, magical phrase?

ashia adapts... the word can mean different things in different contexts. but no matter the form it takes, the essence remains the same: compassion. connection. oneness. it’s deep like that.

ashia can mean sorry if you spill something. excuse me if you bump into someone. "are you OK?" if someone stumbles. it can express empathy or condolence for someone’s pain, grief or loss. it can be used in recognition and appreciation of someone’s hard work.

ashia can even be a hello or "how are you?"... as you pass someone on the street, for example. especially an elder or a group of elders. at which point you’d either say "ashia ma" or "ashia pa." and in response, they’d say "ashia" back, or "thank you my pikin" (i.e. my child).

some of my favorite ashia instances, and ones that do well to illustrate many of the uses above, were heartfelt exchanges with visibly pregnant woman laboring down the street. "ashia mommy" in this instance is a greeting and recognition of their status, their effort and even their pain.

the magic of ashia, and other pidgin phrases like it – though there aren’t any quite like ashia – will be clearer as my pidgin gets better. i’ll do my best to pause and explain such phrases as they come up in my journals. recognizing, of course, that some things just can’t be explained or captured in writing... e.g. the tone of voice, facial expressions and situational context of such phrases.

pidgin is a language meant to be spoken. i learned some basics during training, but picked up on the nuance of pidgin (without coming anywhere close to mastering it) through my day-to-day interaction with both the children and elders in wum. again, it’s about compassion, connection and oneness.

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