I should have written this post ages ago. It is only about a word that has revolutionized my thinking and inevitably reduced my need for other vocabulary. Ashia. What does it mean? Don’t bother asking Merriam or Webster, because they won’t know. Ashia is a word in Cameroonian Pidgin English, but it is also used by Francophone Cameroonians. I learned about this wonderful word during my first week in Cameroon, while I was still doing orientation in Yaoundé. It is probably the only thing I remember from that week, actually… Anyway, so what is the definition of “ashia”? Well, there are a few. Its basic definition is “sorry”, but it’s so much more than that. It can also be an expression of empathy, or just a simple greeting. I use it and hear it many times a day. One of these days maybe I’ll count the number of times. Sometimes “ashia” (pronounced “OSH-ee-uh”) is abbreviated to “ash” (“osh”) or lengthened to “ashia-oh”. Regardless, the answer is always “thank you.” Cameroonians respond with “thank you” to everything. For example, every morning my neighbor and I greet one another. This is how it goes:
Neighbor: “Jaclyn! Morning!”
Me: “Good morning.”
Neighbor: “Thank you.”
Now that I think about it, is that what we should have been saying all along? “Thank you”? When “ashia” means “oh hello, there”, you still respond with “thank you”. I guess you are just thanking the other person for acknowledging your presence? Is that it?
The best thing about “ashia” is that it can be used both sarcastically and sincerely, just like with “sorry”. If my friend asks me if I will buy him a beer, I like to say, “Um, no. When have you ever bought me a drink?? Ashia!” When another friend tells me that her husband’s sister’s brother-in-law’s cousin has died, I also respond with “ashia!” If I walk past an old woman who is clearly from the farm, carrying a hoe on top of her head and maybe even a baby on her back, I also greet her with “Evenin’! Ashia, mama!” Finally, whenever people ask me for anything, whether it be sincere requests for money or the hair on my head, they will always get an “ashia!” out of me.