Category Archives: Reminiscences

Reminiscences

Remembering Tafari Makonnen at the Third TMSAANA General Assembly

by Doug Eadie (Addis Ababa 1964–67)

Doug Eadie in the Early Years

Doug Eadie in the Early Years

I’m pleased to share the two videos below of the keynote address I delivered at the third General Assembly of the Tafari Makonnen Alumni Association of North America on May 29, 2016: “Remembering Tafari Makonnen.”

I was truly honored to be invited to speak by Bisrat Aklilu and his TMSAANA Board colleagues, but, to be honest, I was very reluctant to accept the invitation, in light of the many distinguished Ethiopian graduates of Tafari Makonnen School more worthy of the honor than I.

However, I am certainly glad that I did accept the invitation to reflect on my experience as a TMS teacher from 1964 to 1967. Not only did the keynote afford me the pleasure of reuniting with several former students and meeting other members of the extended TMS family that I’m proud to be part of, I found preparing my comments to be a path to rediscovering my love for TMS and for the students whose lives had become entwined with mine during my three years at what was then Ethiopia’s premier secondary institution.  I didn’t anticipate the emotion I’d feel as I worked on my keynote, searching for the right words to describe my experience as a twenty-something thousands of miles from home a half-century ago, and I certainly didn’t expect the intense joy that frequently engulfed me as I rehearsed the words I’d speak on May 29.

Allow me to tell a story I forgot to share at the General Assembly. 

In the summer of 1966, after my first two years at TMS, I returned to the States to spend a few weeks with my parents, who were then living in Pocatello, Idaho, where Dad, who’d sold his business in Illinois, was a university freshman. It was great to be with my parents and three of my siblings again, and to hear about Dad’s exciting educational journey, but as my visit drew to a close, I woke up one night thinking, “I’m really ready to get back home to Addis.” And as my plane landed in Addis a few days later, it did, indeed, feel like arriving back home.

How wonderful to have the opportunity — in spirit at least — to travel back home with you on May 29! I deeply appreciate your making me feel so much a part of the TMS family at the General Assembly, and I hope these video recordings of my keynote address will enrich your memory of our days together. By the way, I’m sorry about the two brief interruptions in the first video — resulting from a faulty camera battery — but the record of my comments is 99 percent complete.

Click on link to view part 1 of the video of Doug’s presentation

Click on link for the video of audience comments and questions

Award of Gratitude to Doug Eadie

Award of Gratitude to Doug Eadie

 


 

Reminiscences

Mothers’ Support Group for women with HIV/AIDS

by Karen Preskey Glover (Agaro 2007–09)

I recently felt the great joy of learning that an Ethiopian restaurant had just been opened in my very own Fargo, ND. This meant that I no longer had to wait six months to a year between my trips to Minneapolis to enjoy my fill of injera, tibs, shiro, and miser wot. (I know I could make it at home, but it’s just never the same!) So, upon the discovery of Habesha Cuisine Restuaurant, I wasted no time in visiting and spamming my Facebook friends with this information so as to ensure it stays in business.

agaro-mapI received some good-natured ribbing from an acquaintance of mine, wondering what my obsession with Ethiopia and Habesha was all about. It was then that I realized, 5 years out, not everyone I know is aware of this huge part of my life. I served in Agaro, Ethiopia (about an hour from Jimma in Oromya) from 2007 to 2009 as an HIV/AIDS Community Outreach Advisor. Sometimes it really is hard to believe it has been that long ago already. I am still intermittently homesick for Ethiopia and have been reminiscing a lot since my has-it-really-been-five-years discovery.

I was part of the first group of PCVs to return to Ethiopia after a ten-year absence. When I arrived in Agaro, I realized just how much work was cut out for me. Of course, we were told all about the importance of integration and all that jazz. But what none of my cohort realized, was that since we weren’t teachers, no one at our respective sites really understood why we were there! So I spent a lot of that first year drinking buna, taking Orominya language lessons, socializing with the health center staff, and getting to know my neighbors.

Along the way, I managed to pick up some small projects. I worked with mobile HIV testing drives, helped consolidate statistics about HIV testing at the health center, and got involved with the Agaro Secondary School’s Girls’ Club were I facilitated English language and Life Skills lessons.

I also coordinated communication, via Peace Corps’ Coverdell Worldwise Schools program, between the  Girls’ Club and an elementary school classroom in Louisiana where a friend was a Teach for America volunteer. The girls really enjoyed seeing what school was like in the US. They also loved practicing their English and sharing Ethiopian culture with the American students by creating a video introducing a traditional coffee ceremony.

CLICK to video

CLICK to go to video

We also sent my friend’s classroom a CD of Ethiopian music videos that I’m told they adored. She says that on days when the kids where particularly rowdy, she would turn on those videos, and they channeled their energy through dancing to the music.

Finally, in my second year I found my primary project in creating a Mothers’ Support Group for Women with HIV/AIDS. With the help of the Agaro Health Center staff, Mothers2Mothers, and a Peace Corps Partnership grant, we were able to train two nurses to coordinate the program and five women as peer mentors. The mentors supported the prenatal clinic by encouraging new mothers to get tested. They also offered immediate support and counseling in our private office in the event of a positive HIV result.

The energy, joy, and passion of those five women was inspiring. They held weekly support group meetings where they provided education, support, and time for socialization. By the time I left Agaro, they didn’t seem to need me anymore. Really, I don’t think they every needed me beyond that of me helping to get the resources together. It was their project. And I think that’s the way Peace Corps should work.

Karen Preskey Glover with Mothers Support Group for Women with HIV/AIDS

Karen Preskey Glover with Mothers Support Group for Women with HIV/AIDS


Reminiscences

On Bravery

by Shayna Rosenblum (Frewyeini (Sincata) Tigray 2012–14)

I never remember my parents having to teach me to be brave. I was never afraid of the ball playing sports. In fact, I was a little too fearless at times. I gave speeches in front of the mayor when I was in elementary school. And I loved sleepaway camp — one month in the mountains alone without my parents. No one had to ever tell me not to be afraid of the ball or to speak louder or not to be homesick. This is who I was and in a sense foreshadowing who I would eventually become. But if you ask my parents they would tell you that I had a hard time with change and making the decision that would evoke that change. But now, I find myself in a pretty big period of change. Getting on that plane . . . making it real will be difficult. Like my childhood self I am a little hesitant for this change and to let go of this life abroad.

In class (click)

In class (click)

In a few days, I will land on U.S. soil for the first time in two and a half years. I have mixed emotions about my arrival stateside in a similar way that I had mixed emotions about leaving Ethiopia for good. If you ask most Volunteers, they would describe it as bittersweet, but that’s so predictable. Bittersweet is not how I would answer people when they ask the very very loaded and dreaded question “So, how was Ethiopia?” How do you answer such a thing? Over two years of things no one else can relate to. How do I speak these words in English nonetheless? “What has Ethiopia taught me?” or “How are you different?” would be better questions to ask a returned Volunteer. If you think you know about bravery I’d say I know more. I have been braver then anyone I know in America and that’s what Ethiopia is. It’s brave. I am brave. My fellow Volunteers are brave. My students are brave. My friends are brave. Sometimes, you have no choice but to be brave in the face of what Ethiopia is.

But even then, I couldn’t answer these questions. I would likely tell you a story instead. I was at a farmers market in New Mexico before I left. I was in a bad place. I had a bad year. This guy at the market went on and on about his cucumbers. I remember listening because of how proud he was. I remember thinking, “Gosh, I wish I was ever that proud of anything in my life.” My jealousy was apparent that he loved his cucumbers more than anything I had ever put work into. I always remember him because as I walked away he smiled and said “enjoy your moment.” It was powerful to me specifically at that time. So when people ask me about Ethiopia I’ll explain some of the moments that added up to make me . . . well, me, and how proud I am of what I’ve done. I am even more proud than the hippy man and his cucumbers.

Ask me about Ethiopia and I’ll tell you about a girl named Danyite (all names changed throughout) who has a skin pigmentation problem, and was removed from school. I desperately tried to get her back in school. I rubbed myself all over her skin to prove that it’s not contagious, and told the other kids how smart and cool she was. By the time I walked out of the village with my bag she was the queen of the block, organizing games and speaking better English than some of my co-workers. She returned to school and was ranked number 3 in her second grade class.

Ask me about Ethiopia and I’ll tell you about how Danyite was almost beaten to death by her mom. The way I waited one second too long to pull the breast-feeding mom (with a 3-day-old infant) away from kicking the girl’s head into the wall kind of haunts me. How am I different? I won’t wait. I won’t hesitate when I see bad things happen. I am braver than I once was. I’ll tell you of the way she loved stroking my arm, telling me how beautiful I am the same way I told her how beautiful she was every day. The way she disappeared for six months and everyone told me she was in the village. I was brave letting it go, moving on with my life and hoping that she was alive and safe. She arrived like magic one day like nothing happened and we picked up with her English right where we left off.

BFF

BFF (click)

I’ll tell you about Haymanot, the outspoken teenage girl who stood up to bullies and adults who wouldn’t look at her burnt, scared face. She stood in class and corrected her teacher’s English with a slight slur because of her hanging lip. From that moment on I wanted to know her. A girl speaking up. A girl without fear whom the community shuns. She showed me what bravery is. I insisted on painting the nails on her deformed hand with nail polish one afternoon. I was just asking for the other hand like nothing was weird. I pretended like I didn’t see the strange shapes or the lack of nail and we smiled. I painted what I could. I ran my fingers across her skin one last time as I remember her shining at Camp and everyone voting her the “most inspirational” award. I advised her to continue her education. “Gobez iya” (I am awesome/smart), she said. We laughed.

I’ll tell you about my co-worker Mibratu who spoke four languages and loved to learn. He bought eight baby chickens with all of his savings. A big deal and an investment he told me one day. In his hand was a book titled How to Become Successful and Rich with a picture of a white guy in a suit on the front. “I have to try, Shay, right? I have to try and keep trying. I have a family, you know.” He later informed me that all but two of the chickens died. “I am in trouble,” he said. “That was all of my savings.” He spoke proudly at the school’s coffee ceremony, a monthly social program, reciting English phrases to impress me and teach the others. He sat next to me and whispered translations into my ear from the trivia game and became really excited when I knew the answers. Like I was a child and everyone was not equal. I got the first shot at the answer while everyone clapped for me. All he wanted from me was the promise that we could continue to practice English. He just wanted a simple letter from America. Maybe his family was hungry (teachers make $65 a month) but all he cared about was learning and keeping in touch. He’s so brave to be living in a place with little opportunity. But his spirit and smile I could never forget.

Or Hiwot and her daughter Merahawit. Hiwot never went to school and can’t read or write even in her native language. When she got a cell phone I watched her daughter help teach her to memorize the keypad. She did a “work for food” program building the roads carrying heavy rock day after day. “It’s work,” she’d say as if she wasn’t tired or her 90-pound body wasn’t sore. Week after week she’d give me some of the rice she earned. “No, no,” I’d protest, but she insisted.

Or Atsbaha whose parents both died (presumably from HIV) and he continued to smile as long as you didn’t talk about HIV education. He was the number one student in his grade 9 class this year.

Or Germanesh, who was in an arranged marriage at the age of 11. She had two children when her husband left her years ago. She works as a maid making $10 a month, but continues to make everyone smile and laugh when she comes around. She is somewhat of a class clown and a good friend. I learned her story just weeks before I left.

Or Getaneh, who was raised in the rural area, poor and hungry, whose town was bombed as he walked to school. He later worked as a soldier and then tried to escape through the desert to Sudan but was caught. He came to my door and often we’d stand outside and talk about philosophy for hours. Culturally not allowed to enter the home of the opposite sex, we stood and squatted for hours sometimes. One night he said, “Shay. I have a big question for you. I want to marry Frewyeini, but I don’t have money (dowry) to pay and her father said no. We made a plan. We will get pregnant so that he must say yes.” “Is that bad?” he asked. “I am not a bad person.” “Do you love her?” “Yes,” he said. “Then don’t let her go, and do whatever you need to. And no, I don’t think that you are a bad person.” A few months later, I was in their wedding, drinking beers with the groomsmen as we all got ready. A few months later, a week before the baby was born Getaneh was transferred for work and Frewyeini had to rely on neighbors to rush her to the clinic (I was also away at camp). Without power or a doctor she asked me for my blood type before I left afraid of bleeding out. And then, when the baby was born I walked with Frewyeini and the new-born out of the church in a procession through town for the christening. Getaneh was promoted at work and now runs the accounting department of a bank.

Or Weini. The brightest most interesting and impressive single Ethiopian woman I know. She’s a professor at the local university and is interested in talking about philosophy, religion and life. She’s adventurous and is up for anything new and exciting, which is rare for Ethiopians and women especially. She keeps up with us running and loved yoga when I taught it at summer camp. I left her my mat and some videos. She took us to where her family is from on the border as we hiked the mountainside and crossed bridges together and I felt sad that she couldn’t cross to America with me.

All of these people were examples of what perseverance and bravery really is. My acts of bravery came in the form of punching men in broad daylight for grabbing me. Or getting the community to rally around me when a man started to stalk me on my runs, in cafes, outside of my house and masturbated. I stood in a room full of men confronting the guy as my community asked, “Do you want us to kill him?” “No,” I said. “I just don’t want him to come near me.” Simply buying my food at the weekly market brought challenges. I had to go in, swat hands away from my breasts and argue over pennies for the right price. Snapping at them in their native language, “I heard you. You just told him 8 birr and now you are telling me 12.” “No,” I would say, walking away. Simply to eat, to buy my food took bravery and conviction. Getting on a bus was like a wrestling match or better yet a wrestling match within a mosh pit sometimes. Clutching my purse to my boobs, protecting both, I used my size as leverage and yelled at people when they didn’t let old women and moms with kids on first. “Balage (bad!)” I’d yell as men pushed the girls to the ground making space for them to get a seat. Running a double marathon in The Tigray Trek that was outright crazy. Something like 50 miles in two days. Who knew I could? But we were all brave those days, not thinking about the miles behind us just set on reaching the next town. The next week getting my wisdom teeth pulled wide awake digging my nails into the chair trying not to jump away. Gripping brave and strong because the people I was surrounded by daily were just that.

Ethiopia has been a whirlwind of experiences. Imagine if someone asked you for your life story, but really only wanted your two minute elevator speech. What would you say? I am thinking about that as I write this. And though I enjoy talking about Ethiopia it is also really difficult. Being brave maybe comes more naturally to some than others, but Ethiopia is another beast. Another level of assertiveness that I really never naturally had within me. Like saying “F*** you” takes a lot of energy for me. But Ethiopia taught me to say it and act like that at times for the sake of safety. And it taught me love for the sake of sanity and hope for the sake of simple survival. Ask another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer how they have changed and some from Ethiopia will tell you things like they have become meaner, less patient, and angry. But most will tell you that they have become braver and wiser and stronger than they ever thought possible.

I don’t know if anything has concluded. I am significantly more well read, more understanding of the world around me, meaning I know nothing with certainty. I am less afraid of anything, more curious and I stand “in the middle” or undecided on a lot of things that I once thought that I was certain of. I am neither a Republican nor Democrat, and after a passionate early 20s campaigning and protesting for or against things I once found important — I do not believe in politics with any conviction or certainty anymore. I am frustrated by systems that forget about “the people.”

Girls rock! (click)

Girls rock! (click)

My fervor is not for religion or politics. It’s for people, young people more specifically, my girls’ group for their openness to the world for change and their bravery because they have to stay there. Opinions matter, but they only matter if you can see, understand, and appreciate the other side. I do not believe in saving Africa or charity in the way westerners do. I will never give money to Africa, and avoid buying anything that claims to be a charity. I do not believe for a moment that Africa will progress on its own with western money. I believe in sustainability and empowering local people. I believe that kids will be that change for the next generation and I believe in deep friendship that cross all sectors, languages and religion.

Yakanyalay, Tigray” and “Amaseganalo, Ethiopia.”


Epistles and Stories by RPCVs from Ethiopia

edited and facilitated by Alan Smith (Debre Marcos Group XVI 71–73)
Vocational trainer of new PCVs: Group XVII (Summer 1972) and Group XIX (Summer 1973)

I HOPE YOU FIND this sampling of stories and letters home as enjoyable and encouraging as I have. Every PCV from Ethiopia had similar experiences, no matter what their years of service. These and many more stories are chronicles that show life in Ethiopia during different time frames and with different challenges.

There were many struggles that had to be overcome or at least worked around to fulfill our desire to “do good” in the world.

  • Many female Volunteers experienced harassment or disrespect because of a woman’s place in the culture.
  • During the late ’60s and early ’70s males experienced the “draft dodger” or the CIA label especially during their travels.
  • Contact with the outside world was by aerogrammes (small, blue, self-folding into its own envelope) that sometimes made it — and sometimes not. The best turnaround time for an exchange of communications from the U.S. was one month.
  • Packages sent from the U.S. rarely made it intact.
  • Phone calls — find a phone at a school? a post office? a suk? — were expensive and most often had to be made in Addis Ababa. If you were to receive a call at your site, some runner would need to track you down and you would go to the phone and hope that the party on the other end had not gone far.
  • Looking for foreign foods? Cans and boxes could be purchased in Addis, put in a cardboard box, and be put under your feet on the bus back to your site.
  • Let us not forget the cultural shocks — a public hanging in the market; the stoning of a person to drive them out of town . . .

Each era produced a unique set of obstacles to overcome so we could continue to work at our site. Some PCVs actually extended for one or more years.

Additional examples of stories can be found at E&E RPCVs’ Facebook page . Looking for a place to archive your letters and other memorabilia for posterity? Click here for further information about donating your materials to the Hoover Institution that is archiving materials from PCVs who served in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Inspired by these authors? Want to share here in The Herald? E-mail me at: asmithtech@yahoo.com for further information.

ENJOY!

Rocket Science

by Charlie Ipcar (Addis Ababa 65-67, Ebdeber 67–68)

I remember when I was an advisor to the Science Club at the Technical School in Addis Ababa where I was a Peace Corps teacher, some students approached me one day requesting the formula for rocket fuel. I had experimented with small scale rockets in high school and imagined that they were working with a similar project. I dutifully looked the formula up in my old reference book Twentieth Century Formulas under “pyrotechnics” and ascertained that what they needed were equal parts of sulfur, carbon, and potassium nitrate, carefully mixed together.

The students went off happily to mix it up. I didn’t think much about it until they invited me for a test firing a short time later and I saw the six-cylinder rocket launcher they had built, each rocket being about a foot long and cast out of aluminum, with an electric firing mechanism. This was a technical school I reminded myself.

I would continue this story but I am probably boring people . . .

Or not!

The multiple rocket launcher worked well in its initial test. The students aimed it up about 90 degrees, and fired off one rocket that sailed up about a 1,000 feet and came down in the soccer field.

The next weekend when Emperor Haile Selassie paid a visit (I actually got to bow to HIM), the students tried again. I was somewhat concerned that if there were an accident that I’d be shipped home within 24 hours, either in a box or strait-jacket. The Indian teacher who was the actual Science Club advisor was, if possible, even more surprised and concerned.

I was standing by with my camera, and everything went off perfectly well for a second time, except for my brown underwear.

One added benefit for the students was that the police from the barracks across from the school had also witnessed the rocket launching and for years never interfered with student demonstrations.

rocket-science-pic

waaaaay out
in the Ethiopian countryside

by Randolph Marcus (Asella, Arussi 66-1968)

These pictures depict a weekend I spent waaaaay out in the Ethiopian countryside in 1967 with the family of Teshome Worku, one of my students. The trip from Asella was a couple of hours by bus and then two or three hours by mule. The Worku family lived in a remote open plain, far from even the tiniest village. Their tukul was the only man-made structure for miles around. Being the guest of honor, I was given their only bed, a wooden frame with a straw mattress. The rest of the family slept on the floor along with several farm animals. They had a few head of cattle and some horses. I went horseback riding in the afternoon and promptly fell off as we galloped across the field. Fortunately, my only bruise was my ego. All in all, it was an eye-opening experience. Living and working in a small Ethiopian town like Asella was one thing. But this glimpse of life in the rural highlands really showed me the grit, dignity, and fortitude of the independent Ethiopian landholder. Unfortunately, the picture of me is not very sharp- but hey, there were no selfies in those days. Teshome took that shot.

pic-countryside

The Field trip

by Michael O’Brien (Grawa 66-69)

I bought a pair of binoculars in East Africa and was using them to observe birds and a family of baboons that lived around the cliffs below Grawa. When I showed one of our students how they magnified the view they got all excited, told other kids about the cool science-thingy, and the next I knew we had to organize a science field trip. Here’s the group during the only organized moment of our expedition. Needless to say the birds and baboons vanished as we trooped out, but the kids had a good time. They liked science.

(Click for larger photo)

(Click for larger photo)

A Letter to my brother
at the end of training 1971 —Dira Dawa

by Alan Smith (Debre Marcos 71-73)

Ron,

Today I sit on the porch in front of my room and write about what my eyes see. Standing with the background of mountains that seem miles away. They thrust up thousands of feet from the valley and are encased in a thin haze. As the breeze blows, the trees, flowers and grass sway. Upon this current a hawk glides, plunging towards the earth to recover the glide again. The blue of the sky is broken occasionally by the white of a cloud. Among all this beauty what do my eyes detect? The movement of one of nature’s strangest creations — Man — Homo Sapiens! Why is it that even in a culture that is known for its slow pace of life, man always seems to be on the move? With all man’s mastery of nature, why has he been unable to live in harmony with nature and his fellow kind? In my experiences here I have found answers to many questions only to find new and different question raised. I am still working on trying to imagine or find the type of life I would fit into.

Continuing – I never seem to finish a letter.
Let me get real, in letters to mom and dad I cannot always tell everything that is on my mind. My permanent site is a small town called Debre Marcos. It is the capitol of Gojjam province and is found at an altitude of 8,700 ft. It is like Goba (except they need a woodworking teacher not a business teacher), however there are not big mountains nearby just a high plateau. The school is two years old and there are adequate tools, both hand and machine, in USAID crates in a store room. The room and supplies will be adequate to teach (I should not have to ask many times for pencils). Only thing wrong with my new assignment is that I will, as before, be alone! This being alone scares the h**l out of me. However, I believe once I get there for good and make some friends, that this feeling will lessen.

Take care,

Your Bro

pic-smith-market


Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia: The Story Behind the Story

by Hoyt Smith (Addis Ababa, 1962-65)

THERE ARE MANY REASONS why each of us chose to enter the Peace Corps in the early ’60s. I was sympathetic to the civil rights movement and I wanted to experience Africa while working on a Master’s Degree in Painting from the University of Tulsa. The Peace Corps seemed like a good way to accomplish this.

Having endured a rigorous training program, I soon found myself in Addis Ababa in John F. Kennedy’s first group of Ethiopia Peace Corps Volunteers in September 1962. Known as “Ethiopia I,” there were 277 Volunteer teachers, making it the largest Peace Corps group at the time ever to come to a single country. Because of my experience as a Publications Photographer for the University of Tulsa, I became the unofficial Peace Corps photographer for Harris Wofford, Peace Corps Country Director in Ethiopia, taking PR photos of visitors like Sargent Shriver, the first Director of the Peace Corps. I was so pleased with Peace Corps Ethiopia that I stayed a third year and established and developed a curriculum for a Mechanical Drawing Department at Tafari Makonnen School in Addis Ababa. I also set up a black and white photo lab there.

In addition to Peace Corps PR events, I liked to photograph people, places, and wildlife in Ethiopia, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Fortunately I had several occasions to photograph Emperor Haile Selassie: twice in the Jubilee Palace and again in 1965 at Jan Hoy Meadow, where he invited Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to watch a demonstration of the sport of Yeferas Guks, a spectacular display of horsemanship. A group of mounted warriors armed with shields lead off from a starting point and were followed by a second team of horsemen shortly thereafter throwing spears in mock battle. Both warriors and horsemen were bedecked in their finery. The warriors put on quite a show for photographers as well.

Both visits to the Jubilee Palace were special. During the first, the Emperor stood on the balcony of the Palace

1A-Palace

and welcomed our group to Ethiopia soon after we arrived. Inside the palace, he served us wine and shook hands with our entire group. Photos 1B & 1C.

At Christmas, the Emperor invited PCVs in Addis back to his Palace for a party. I had been working on a pastel portrait of him to hang on the wall at my school. Harris Wofford got word of this and insisted I take my unfinished drawing along. Against my better judgment I complied and received a chance to speak with the Emperor personally about the unfinished portrait.

2B-Palace

The third time I met the Emperor was at an International Art Exhibit in which I had one of my thesis paintings on display .

3-Art Exhibit

He seemed more impressed with my painting of an elderly Ethiopian priest.

3B-Painting

ethiopia-revisitedTHESE STORIES SERVE as background to the many opportunities I had to focus on photography in Ethiopia. I did not include most of these photos in my new photo book Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia: Revisited because the book is not about me or the Peace Corps, but rather about the people and places in Ethiopia.

During vacations I traveled to Ethiopia’s Historic Sites and captured how they appeared over 50 years ago. From grand castles and churches hewn out of rock, to the faithful who spent their days in prayer, I tried to capture the essence of this beautiful country.

After returning to the U.S., I had several Ethiopia photo exhibits and slide shows, providing me with both a chance to relive my experience and to share it with others. Many years later I decided it was a waste letting hundreds of photos lie around in boxes so I designed and had Apple print a 100-page coffee table photo book entitled Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia in the Early Days of the Peace Corps.

In 2012 my wife and I went to Ethiopia for the RPCV Reunion where I intended to supplement this book with changes we saw there. To my surprise we identified eight major areas of change and I brought back thousands of new digital photos. These categories of change include: Government, Population of Addis Ababa, Churches & Mosques, Trends & Fashion, Education, Construction, Ethiopian Airlines, and Countryside & Historic Sites. I changed the title of the book to Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia – Revisited and devoted the second half of the book to these changes. Not surprisingly, it now has doubled in size. I added a special black and white Ethiopian Portrait Gallery to the first half of the book.

Fortunately Theodore M. (Ted) Vestal,) Associate Director, Peace Corps Ethiopia, 1964–66), lives in my hometown of Tulsa. Among Ted’s many accomplishments are that he is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Oklahoma State University and is an author of several publications on Ethiopia including The Lion of Judah in the New World. I asked Ted if he would be my co-author by transferring my rough text to his elegant style, adding historical significance and getting my foot in the door with potential publishers.

Ted and I chose to self-publish a first edition of 250 soft cover books geared to Ethiopia RPCVs, 30 of which include the 2012 Ethiopia Reunion group photo taken in front of Emperor Haile Selassie’s old Jubilee Palace. A few of these remain. The books sell for $45 plus $7.10 for shipping by Express Mail. You may order from our website at http://www.ethiopiarevisit.com. This site gives you an overview of the book and payment information. Please read a review of the book by Alan Smith in this edition of The Herald.



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Reminiscences

The Lion in the Gardens of the Guenet Hotel

by John Coyne  (Addis Ababa 1962–64) 
(Previously published  www.peacecorpswriters.org in 2006. Used with permission by the author)

IN THE FINAL DAYS of our in-country training in the fall of 1962, we had a celebration dinner at the Guenet Hotel in the Populari section of the capital, Addis Ababa.

The Guenet Hotel, even in 1962, was one of the older hotels in Addis Ababa. It wasn’t in the center of town, but south of Smuts Street and down the hill from Mexico Square, several miles from where we were housed in the dormitories of Haile Selassie I University. While out of the way, this small, two-story rambling hotel, nevertheless, had a two-lane, American-style bowling alley, tennis courts, and a most surprising of all, a caged lion in its lush, tropical gardens.

At that time in the Empire no Ethiopian was allowed to keep a lion, the symbol of His Imperial Majesty’s dynasty. The Emperor, Haile Selassie, whose full title was Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia, had a private collection of animals, including the Imperial lions, antelopes and monkeys, as well as cheetahs, all at Jubilee Palace, his royal residence.

There was also a small government lion park near the main campus of Haile Selassie I University at Sidist Kilo, a quarter mile below the American Embassy. This park had about twenty full-grown lions in a large circular cage and sometimes late at night we would hear them roaring in the distance.
Occasionally, and rarely, a wild lion would wander down from the nearby Mt. Entoto looking for food and be spotted by townspeople and that would create headlines and eye-witness accounts in the next day’s morning paper.
So, seeing a lion up close and personal in the heart of Africa was something special for a group of young Americans new to Africa.

Over 275 Peace Corps Volunteer teachers had arrived in Addis Ababa in September of 1962 at the end of the African Highland long rains. We were the first Peace Corps Volunteers to Ethiopia and in our final days in Addis Ababa, before being dispatched to our teaching assignments throughout the Empire, we had a farewell dinner at the Guenet Hotel. It was the first time any of us had been to the Populari section of the city or seen the lovely gardens of this hotel or their caged lion.

Well, actually it was a caged lion and a large German shepherd dog.
As I recall when I first saw the lion the German shepherd was stretched out comfortably between its paws and both were calmly gazing out through the bars of the small cage at the lot of us. The dog, of course, came and went through the narrow bars but we were told by the hotel staff that he always spend the night sleeping inside the cage, curled up with the lion.

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I WAS ASSIGNED to teach at the Commercial Secondary School in Addis Ababa and in the early fall of that year was living in the Populari section of the city, near the Guenet Hotel.

The Peace Corps had issued bicycles to whoever needed them to get to school and I had gotten into the routine of riding back and forth to classes and also of stopping off at the hotel for a coke or coffee after school to correct my students English homework while sitting in the gardens of the Guenet surrounded by thick bougainvillaea bushes, wild roses and carnations, and gnarled cedars draped with streamer-like with leaves. It was here that I came to know the lion and the German shepherd, who often slipped out through the bars to beg food from me while the male lion stood at attention against the bars of the cage silently watching the transaction. They were quite an odd couple.
On one of my mid-day rides home for lunch, when I was pell-melling down a steep hill of the city, an American pulled his car up along side and singled me to stop.

Coyne at Lalibella

Coyne at Lalibella in the mid-’60s

He turned out to be a TWA pilot employed by Ethiopian Airlines and he invited me, and several others Volunteers, to a “home cooked” dinner that weekend. It was his way of welcoming the new Peace Corps Volunteers to the Empire.
Trans World Air Lines had managed Ethiopian Airlines since 1946 and by the time we reached the Empire in ’62 over a third of the trained pilots were Ethiopians. The management by TWA of the Ethiopian Airlines is one of the great early success stories of private development in Africa.

The American pilot who invited me to dinner had been in-country for several years and when I mentioned the Guenet and the lion in the garden he asked me if I knew the story of how the lion had gotten to the hotel. It seems the first American TWA director in Ethiopia had raised the lion from a small cub in the garden of his home’s compound along with the family’s dog. The lion was such a household pet that everyone who visited the house treated it as such.

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THERE CAME A TIME when the CEO of TWA worldwide came to Ethiopia to meet the Emperor and visit his overseas operation. He arrived at dawn in Addis Ababa on an overnight flight from Europe and immediately took a morning nap at the director’s home.

Late that afternoon, rested, the CEO was sitting with a half dozen American pilots who had stopped by for a drink and to visit with their boss from America. They were all sitting in the living-room of the house with the French doors open to the garden watching the African sunset and enjoying the first cool breezes of evening.

Sometime towards dusk, the lion, who had been asleep in the sunny terrace beyond the French doors, woke up and ambled passed the open door, gazed in at the assembled group, and then ambled off.

No one commented about the lion, as all the pilots knew about the animal. However, the visiting CEO had no idea the full-main lion was a household pet and sat petrified at the sight of the African beast, loose in the garden and just yards away from him.

Terrified, he didn’t say anything until the next morning when he confessed to his host what he thought he had seen, thinking it must have been a frightening fantasy caused by his fear of being in Africa.

IN TIME THE AMERICAN  manager’s tour was finished and he and his family decided to give the lion to the nearby hotel as the tame animal could not be returned to the wild. The German shepherd, however, would go home to America with the family.

In the weeks before their departure from Addis, the lion was successfully transferred to the gardens of the Guenet Hotel, but when the family realized the German shepherd was so lonely and unhappy with the loss of his companion they decided to leave the dog, giving him to the Guenet where both animals could live peacefully in the small cage in the hotel gardens. And it was there that we found them when we arrived in Addis Ababa.

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I LEFT ETHIOPIA in the mid-sixties and did not return again until the early ’70s. While I had a short list of old friends in Addis that I wanted to see, high on my list also were the lion and the German shepherd in the gardens of the Guenet.
A day or so after arriving in Addis, I took a taxi to the hotel which had thankfully not changed much in the years I had been away and I walked into the garden to find the cage.

The cage was where I remembered. However, the door was wide open and the lion was gone. Sitting alone in the middle of the empty concrete floor was the old German shepherd.

I walked inside to the front desk of the hotel and asked about the lion and was told the animal had passed away only months before. In fact, it was such a news event an article had been written about his death in the Ethiopian Herald, the English language newspaper in the country. The staff found a copy of the article that detailed the demise of the lion and I sat down in the lobby of the old hotel and read the account.

Several months early when the lion was suffering from an infected tooth, doctors from the Pasteur Institute of Ethiopia decided to drug the animal so the tooth could be extracted. Unfortunately the dart of drugs was too much for the old animal and it died before it could be saved. The hotel had not yet decided what to do about the lion cage for the dog still lived there, spending his days waiting for his lifelong companion to return.

I gave the article back to the receptionist, thank him for the information, and then I went out into the garden and walked through the open gate and inside the cage. I knelt down beside the German shepherd and petted the old dog one last final time, then I left Addis Ababa and Africa.

I have never been back.

Reminiscences

Remember Glen and his legacy of green

A returning PCV discovers living memories of Glen Gish (Mekelle 63–65)

By Janet Lee (Endeber 1974–76)

EACH MORNING I walk into the city from my compound, about 35 minutes away, to begin work at the Segenat Children and Youth Library in Mekelle. I know that I am being watched; the call out of “ferengi” is a bit hard to miss.  Occasionally, small children will greet me. Some will walk with me and attempt conversations or wait until I speak to them first. On occasion I am greeted by an adult, but usually only if we have met previously. As I near the library, school children recognize me as part of the library and shake my hand in welcome.

One day in mid-October, a kind and gentle man entered the library.  Ato Teame Gidey had observed me for some time walking down the street, sometimes alone, sometimes with Ato Yohannes Gebregeorgis of the  Tigray Libraries and Literature Development Project. Ato Teame wondered what I was doing for such a long time in Mekelle and where I was going each day. He soon discovered that my journey led to the Segenat Library. He was overjoyed to see such a beautiful library established just for children. He found out that I am a librarian and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who worked in Ethiopia years ago. I am on a six-month sabbatical leave from Regis University in Denver to return to Ethiopia and work with Ato Yohannes in setting up the Segenat Children and Youth Library.

Ato Teame is a retired educator who taught throughout Ethiopia for over 30 years. When I told him that I, too, had been a teacher in Ethiopia, with the Peace Corps during the time of Haile Sellasie, his eyes misted over. He named off all of his former Peace Corps teachers. Like Ato Yohannes, and other men of his generation, he had been taught by Peace Corps Volunteers in the ’60s and early ’70s.

There was one Volunteer of whom he spoke most fondly. Mind you, these Volunteers were here over forty years ago. The Volunteer was Glen Gish and he ran the forestry club at a local high school. Ato Teame regaled me with stories of Glen and how the forestry club planted tree after tree in a reforestation effort between what is now the Hilltop Hotel and Mekelle University. He spoke of the sorrow that the students shared with the Volunteers when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and recited a Tigrigna poem that they had written that expressed their sorrow as well. He promised to get a copy of the poem as well as to show me the certificate that Glen had presented him after his service in the forestry club.

He invited me to take a “little” walk with him up the hill, past Glen’s house where the club met and watched films, and walk among the vast forest of trees that Glen and the forestry club had planted and that remains alive today.

The “little” walk turned out to be a bit more of a march, as Ato Teame, his son Adam, and I hiked up the mountain, stopping frequently along the steep switchbacks to view the city of Mekelle, what was once a small town of 50,000 people and now a proper city of nearly a quarter million people.

Ato Teame Gidey amid Glen's trees

Ato Teame shared his memories:

Mt. Chomaa (meaning “sweet” as in tasty or savory) was ideally suited for vegetation and the reforestation project, and, under Mr. Glen’s direction, fifty to sixty boys scampered up the mountain to plant trees one by one right at the beginning of the rainy season. People at that time would only cut, slash and use the native trees for wood for fires and never thought about planting trees for the future. The Governor of Tigray would meet the boys at the summit of Mt. Chomaa with bread and marmalade, and tins of sardines. The boys would gather in excitement and “boogie” and dance the “twist” and sing songs by Elvis Presley. Mr. Glen’s fingers “touched the soil” and the people readily accepted this new notion of thinking about the next generation.

As Ato Teame and I surveyed the area, I noticed a fire pit with the remains of a bonfire or “demera” for celebrating the recent Meskal holiday. I can imagine now how thousands of youth would have sung and danced and lit straw torches from the bonfire and then when twilight came, process down Mt. Chomaa in zigzag fashion lighting up the mountain. Were it not for the efforts of this one Volunteer and a group of stalwart boys, forty-five or more years ago, this mountain may have remained barren. And thanks to the memories of Ato Teame, a gifted story teller, the legacy of Glen Gish, who died of cancer in July of 1982, can be retold today.

Reminiscences

Ethiopia Before

On the road of forty years a donkey

cries, lamenting his load of

eucalyptus leaves for the cooking

fires of Addis, and in the not-yet light, slumps

and dies.  Even so, he’s whipped by

an Oromo, whose wife has just

stillborn their eighth child.

Rise with me now,  from the dust

on the road to see herds and

huts and then one house, where, safe

behind walls set with broken glass, a ferengi

yawns and longs for his thesis on Yeats.

At night the stars hang closer than

his ceiling at home.  They do it

With altitudes, he says, and forgets.

But eucalyptus ghosts will

waft along his road, riding death

tanks past the donkey.

— Benjamin H. Thomas (Addis 62–64)

Reminiscences

A tale of two lives in Eritrea/Ethiopia

From Kagnew Post as a military dependent to Dembi Dollo as a PCV

by Ginger (Mary) Kayton Hajoglou  (Dembi Dollo 72–74)

1962
How could Africa be so cold? That was my first impression upon landing in Asmara, Eritrea, in November of 1962. I was 12. My family and I were accompanying my father to a military base for the next three years. For three months we lived in the Hamasien Hotel waiting for our household goods — including a red Chevrolet.

My father, who was a nonconformist when it came to living on Kagnew Post, chose to rent us a house “on the economy” in the Casa Bunda area in town. We had Tigrinian neighbors on one side and Greek neighbors up the hill.  We soon had friendly relationships with both. I attended a DOD school on post. We all loved living in Africa and made many trips to Massawa, Karen, and other local spots. I used to walk alone over a mile to school through the poorest of poor neighborhoods and I always felt safe. I don’t think my parents knew I walked.

There were two major events that happened while we were there. First, Eritrea became part of Ethiopia. My father was put on alert to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice if there was violence. However, it was all very peaceful. The second was the assassination of President Kennedy. We joined the world in grieving.

Two other events stand out in my mind as well. The very first Peace Corps Volunteers came to visit our school to talk about their experiences and the work they were doing. I don’t remember any names, but perhaps they remember us. Second, one year the Army spared no expense in importing fireworks for a Fourth of July display for the military families. However, no one bothered to tell the town what was going to happen! The morning after the grand show, we discovered many Eritrean families had fled the town thinking the post was under attack. I could go on and on with memories, but to sum it up, I cherish my time in Asmara with all the wonders it had to offer.

1972
Let’s fast forward to 1972. Here I am in Ethiopia again, but now as a Peace Corps Volunteer, sworn in and everything. There were 120 of us in my training group, but half didn’t make it to a second year. I trained in Shashamanie with one group, and the others, further south. Our trainers were wonderful and thanks to them my Amharic was passable. It was quite the experience since we were rewarded for not going to Addis on our days off; we were encouraged to live locally and visit local areas of interest.  I don’t think the Peace Corps was quite ready for us though as I received a first aid kit with some band aids and a thermometer!

I lived in Dembi Dollo, Wollega, far to the West of Addis. The Amharic I worked so hard to learn was useful in town, but most people spoke Galligna so I learned the essentials of a third language. I flew in and out of Addis and Dembi since there were rocky roads in the dry season and no roads in the rainy season. It was a place of plenty, especially compared with the east of the country that was suffering from drought. Because of my status as a “Peace Corpse,” I had wonderful interactions with the town leaders including an Araja Governor. There was a large Italian and Greek community with which I became very close, as well as my fellow teachers. I lived through a strike by students that resulted in gun fire and injuries. There was no school for three months, though the teachers showed up everyday and signed in. Once it calmed down, life went on as usual.

My two years ended in a boom. Haile Selassie’s government was overturned; and I was in Addis the day he was transported to jail. Nothing was the same after that.

Peace Corps promised “the toughest job you’ll ever love” and it delivered.