My Abebà


It was a real pleasure to translate this poignant, powerful poem by Ribka Sibhatu.

As you'll see, we reversed the syntax of the first couple of lines so they flowed better. 'Asmarina', someone who lives in Asmara, is an affectionate, diminutive term, which is why we translated it 'a girl from Asmara'.

Andre had been puzzled by 'bistre'; but Cristina Viti, a native Italian speaker, pointed out that it can also mean 'kolh', which made perfect sense in the context.

The first time that 'alghelghel' was used we decided to add 'basket' in order to avoid having a footnote; we did the same thing with 'hmbascià' bread. Subsequently, we just used the Eritrean terms without glossing them.

'Un'intensa notte', which Andre translated as 'an intense night' also carries a sense of intense as in a deep colour. We thought about translating this as 'momentous' and then hit upon 'indelible' which, like the Italian, has the sense of depth of hue.

Haz-Haz, a district of Asmara situated on top of a hill away from the city centre. It is known for its small alleys and cone-shaped houses.

Abebà: flower.

Bistro: either 1) café or 2) bistre: 1) a brown pigment extracted from the soot of wood, often used in pen and wash drawings. 2) a yellowish to dark-brown colour.

Aghelghel: A basket woven from palm fronds used to hold hmbascià. Sibhatu compares this metaphor to Keat's Urn, as a metaphor for a type of beatuy that transcends death.

Hmbascià: A traditional type of bread baked during festive occasions.