I’m sure that when you watch the video of my recent interview with Fr. Festo Mkenda, SJ, you’ll agree that his forthcoming book on the Jesuit presence in Ethiopia, A Splash of Diamond, will be a must-read for all – including former, present, and future students and teachers – who love and admire Tafari Makonnen School. Fr. Festo, who is on the history faculty of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, devotes a chapter to His Imperial Majesty’s namesake secondary school, which remained for years the Jesuits’ most important ministry in Ethiopia.
Discussing A Splash of Diamond with Fr. Festo during our video interview evoked fond and vivid memories of my tremendously fulfilling three years on the faculty of Tafari Makonnen in the mid-1960s. It seems only yesterday that Fr. Marcel Gareau invited me to his TMS office to share sage counsel on bringing ancient history to life for my ninth grade students. And a fond memory of Fr. Paul Beaudry comes to mind. He is sitting outside his tent with me and fellow TMS Peace Corps teachers Garber Davidson and Randy Sword – at the end of the day at our Boy Scout vacation camp at Lake Langano, glass of sherry in hand, reminiscing about past holiday camps.
Our readers might find interesting my thoughts on the French-Canadian Jesuits who served as TMS administrators and teachers and who are featured in Fr. Festo’s upcoming A Splash of Diamond. The following is excerpted from my December 2012 post at this blog:
“…..It was easy to forget they were Roman Catholic priests since they wore normal business attire, were addressed as “Mr.”, and never discussed their Roman Catholic faith in the classroom at TMS. But early in my three-year tour of duty at TMS, it was obvious to me that these were men of God on a single-minded mission: to contribute future Ethiopian leaders to the country they so passionately loved who were not only superbly educated, but also imbued with a strong sense of public spiritedness. Looking over my TMS files this morning in my study, I came across the June, 1967 issue of the Tafari Makonnen School Ensign. In the opening pages, the TMS Director, Maurice Richer, one of the Jesuit Fathers, beautifully defines for the graduating seniors what being educated means:
Your intelligence may be in your hands and in your fingers; in your memories or in your imaginations; in your powers of abstraction or in your powers of concentration; in your quick minds or in your logical powers of reasoning; in your hearts and intuition or in your sharp analysis of facts; in a scholarly life spent within the four walls of a library or in the active life with the boundless horizon as a limit.
You may have one or many of these traits; but if you don’t live and think for others and in terms of others, if you don’t use your gifts to make others happy, if you always set yourselves as the norms of all things, if you think that you have everything to give, but nothing to receive, to me you will never be able to claim that you are intelligent persons.”
……In December 1974 – a time of upheaval in Ethiopia – a Christmas letter arrived at my then-home in Columbus, Ohio, from the last Jesuit Father left in the administration at TMS, Marcel Gareau, who had been an invaluable mentor to this fledgling history teacher in the 1960s. It closes with this Christmas wish:
From a land where so much is changing nowadays, and where so much remains to be done, we ask that your prayers obtain for all concerned the selflessness we are taught in the birth of the Lord, without which we cannot achieve the peace and order we yearn for.
Sadly, that peace and order would be long in coming.”
I’m pleased to share this fascinating podcast featuring distinguished Tafari Makonnen alumnus Petros Aklilu, who discusses his experience at TMS and in the States as an American Field Service student, reflects on TMS’s tremendous contribution to Ethiopia and to the many students it shaped and nurtured, and on Emperor Haile Selassie I’s legacy – especially in the field of education.
Born in Addis Ababa in 1948, Petros joined TMS in the fourth grade, after three years at Patriot School. Selected for the American Field Service Program in 1965, Petros spent the 1965-66 school year in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school. Having spent a year at Haile Selassie I University, Petros joined his brother Tesfaye at Oklahoma State University, where he was awarded the BS degree in economics, and went on to earn his MS degree in agricultural economics from the University of Massachusetts. After spending two years as an economist at the Awash Valley Authority and completing his Ph.D. course requirements at Cambridge University, Petros began his illustrious 31-year career at the World Bank, retiring in 2007.
“Retirement” isn’t an accurate description of Petros’ post-World Bank life. He founded a nonprofit, “Community Development and Oral History,” dedicated to helping rural communities realize their dreams and have access to primary education and clean drinking water. And Petros was instrumental in creating the Tafari Makonnen Alumni Association of North America, serving a three-year term as its first President.
As you’ll learn from the podcast, Petros – like so many other TMS graduates – feels tremendous respect and affection for TMS, which not only shaped him intellectually, superbly preparing him for his postsecondary education and highly successful career at the World Bank, but also profoundly influenced his character. Indeed, as Petros describes his TMS experience in this podcast, Tafari Makonnen School offered its students a “well-rounded” education in the highest sense of that term.
Like many other TMS alumni I’ve talked with over the years, Petros gives full credit to Emperor Haile Selassie I for fostering education in Ethiopia in the face of significant resistance, but regrets the absence of serious reform in other areas that might have averted the reign of terror following His Imperial Majesty’s overthrow. The photograph above, showing Petros with the Emperor, was taken in 1967 during HIM’s visit to Haile Selassie I University, where Petros was a first year student. As I mentioned to Petros in a recent email thanking him for sharing this wonderful photograph, when I see photographs of HIM, I often feel a jolt of emotion – I think because as a 22 year-old American teacher at TMS, the Emperor symbolized – to me – the spirit of the ancient kingdom. He was, to me, a distinguished and romantic figure, whatever his flaws. And, of course, can you imagine anyone looking more regal than HIM? For a man of small physical stature, he certainly loomed large!
On my visit to Ethiopia in 2012, I saw the bust of Ras Tafari Makonnen that Petros talks about in his podcast, which has been rightfully restored to its central location in the foyer of the former TMS Administration Building. I thought you’d like to see it.
I deeply appreciate the time Petros dedicated to recording these reminiscences despite the hectic life he leads in what is erroneously called “retirement.” His contribution makes Entwinedlives.com an even richer resource for readers interested in Ethiopia and in the proud history of the distinguished educational institution that was so close to His Imperial Majesty’s heart. Enjoy Petros’ podcast, and please do share your comments!
When my former Addis Ababa housemate and fellow teacher at Tafari Makonnen School, Garber Davidson, told me that a former TMS student of ours, Abebe (now known as “Abe”) Abraham, would be coming with him and his wife Sally to the reunion lunch of our Peace Corps “Ethi III” group in September 2011 in Washington, Abebe’s face came immediately to mind. He’d made an indelible impression in my tenth grade English class at TMS – not only as a serious-minded and hard-working scholar at the top of his class, but also as a tremendously outgoing, socially adept young man who made friends easily. There was no question in my mind that, God willing, Abebe would succeed at whatever professional path he chose, and I was delighted to learn when we reunited in 2011 that he’d founded a highly successful firm in 1989, CMI, whose mission is “to provide management and support services utilizing innovation, technology, and knowledge-sharing to improve performance and reduce operational costs.” He, as President & CEO, and his wife Azzi, as Chief Operating Officer, work closely together at the helm of CMI, which has been featured in the Black Enterprise “Top 100” list for three consecutive years.
It gives me great pleasure to publish Abebe Abraham’s fascinating audio memoir at entwinedlives.com. Over the course of a half-hour, Abebe describes his experience as a TMS student, reflects on Emperor Haile Selassie’s place in Ethiopian and world history, talks about the life he has built in the United States, and shares his thinking about Ethiopia’s future.
I am pleased and honored to share with you this memoir and recorded reminiscences of another highly distinguished TMS alumnus, Dr. Moges Gebremariam, M.D., who graduated from Tafari Makonnen School in 1965 and received his M.D. from Haile Selassie University in 1972. He maintains a private practice in internal medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. He was kind enough to contribute the following memoir to Entwinedlives.com, and also to record a podcast that reflects on his TMS experience, life in the United States, and Emperor Haile Selassie’s leadership. I am indebted to Dr. Moges’ son, Eyasu Moges, who spent several hours assembling and transmitting the photographs that enrich both the following memoir and the podcast
MOGES GEBREMARIAM, M.D.
My father used to tease me by saying that I enrolled in TMS because of a natural disaster. The disaster was my voice. It sounded so bad to him it shattered his lifelong dream of proudly presenting me to Yeneta Afework, his old teacher, and to Head Priest Melake Hayl Tedla of Intoto Raguel. I still remember those painful contortions of disgust and disappointment that used to form on my father’s face every time he made me practice the songs of the Holy Mass. After two years of rigorous and often desperate coaching, he gave up on me and realized the inevitable. His first born son was not blessed to serve the Lord as a deacon. It just was not meant to be. So he took me to TMS to try my luck with the “Ferenji” education. Fortunately, all of the drilling and discipline I endured during my father’s coaching helped to make me a good student at TMS. I always stood first, second, or third in my class. I was also blessed with inspiring and nurturing teachers like Ato Abebe Techan, Abba Meaza and “Ato Aseffa the scientist”, who always captivated me and opened new worlds of imagination in my little mind.
I used to look up to the senior students and always wondered if I would ever grow up to be like them. They were giants in my mind, whose alleged talents and exploits were exaggerated beyond belief. …….. Ferocious fighterslike Mebrahtu, Cheffikey and Tigabu; great runners like Makonnan Dori and Seyid Moussa; boxers like Girma Drsom, Debebe Eshetu, and Haile-Michael Demisse; and sports heroes like Itana, Iyasou, Tezerra and Tesfaye Gelagai.
High school was full of happy days. The teachers were not like those grade school teachers such as Seife and Akalou, who surely would have been jailed for child abuse had they been teaching in this century. There was no more corporal punishment by Ato Sebhat and Ato Fresenbet, not to mention Ato Birru, whose full-time job was to administer beatings and lashes to unfortunate students day in and day out in Mr. Gagnon’s office. Some afternoons as he walked back to his home, he used to complain to us of his tired arms from too much work! Yes, from dishing out too many lashes for too many bad students!
I was immersed in the Boy Scouts at TMS. I prided myself on earning and collecting merit badges. I enjoyed the campfires, hikes, trips to nearby places like Tinsis, Washa-Mickael, and Akaki’s AZ pool (named for Alemayehu Zegeye), Mennagesha, as well as far away places like Awassa, Langano, Chercher and Harar. Our scout master Father Beaudry’s devotion to us was unparalleled. Every opportunity he got, in groups large and small, or individually, he never tired of counseling us. He convinced me to become a doctor. “Healing the sick, caring for the poor is a noble profession pioneered by St. Luke and Christ himself,” he used to repeat to me. I, therefore, abandoned my favorite subject, geography, and Father Turenne, my geography teacher, to join the Faculty of Science at Haile Selassie University.
In 1965 the Arat Kilo campus was almost like a foreign land to me. The faculty, the students and the whole political atmosphere felt strange and hostile. By the next year even some of my own alumni from TMS shocked me by their new-found iconoclastic views: contempt and condemnation for everything we had held dear in our hearts – for Ethiopia, America, the Emperor, God, our Church, our history and our culture, etc. Street demonstrations, agitation, condemnations and class boycotts became common events.
By the time I graduated and went to Bahr Dar as a junior doctor, the political mood of the country had changed so much that revolution was imminent. For two years, Bahr Dar became my little heaven. I had everything I needed: a lakeside bungalow, a second-hand Volkswagen and a small rubber boat to take me to my own private island in Lake Tana – a small uninhabited island near Kibran Gabriel, where I spent weekends alone or with a few select buddies.
At the airport in June 1974, as I boarded a plane to the USA for four years of training so I could return home to become a famous specialist, I remember thinking about a book called “Montezuma’s Daughter” by Rider Haggard. In the book, the narrator, leaving England for the Americas to avenge his mother’s murder, bids farewell to a villager by saying, “So long.” Upon returning home after twenty long years of unexpected adventure, when he met the same villager, he remembered that and observed, “I never thought how long ‘so long’ was.” In my case “so long” lasted thirty-one long years before I returned to Ethiopia in 2005.
Ethiopia exploded in 1974, three months after I left. The Emperor was deposed. So many high officials were executed! So many students, so many innocent citizens were massacred! So many perished for nothing ! The Red Terror was in full swing. In 1978 when my own mother pleaded with me not to return home I knew things were really bad in Ethiopia. It also put me in a dilemma. I had to adjust my status here in America. The thought of applying for immigrant status felt so shameful and degrading for a proud Ethiopian like me that it almost paralyzed me with fear. But one day, after my friend, Dr. Ahmad Moen, assured me that to apply for a “Green Card” was neither an act of treason nor a stigma, I did it, and became an immigrant! Only a year later started the flood of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to every corner of the earth; all of them including my own brothers and sisters, vying and dying to get the lifesaver called ‘the Green Card’. How foolish I must have been only a year earlier!
Years came and years went by so fast: residency, fellowship, moonlighting, private practice, CME, children, marriage, mortgages and meetings – meeting after meeting. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years flew by fast. After every long day of hard work when my body hit the bed, I would always find myself still half a day behind: things to do, bills to pay, projects to finish, deadlines to meet, promises to keep, and, yes, as Robert Frost said, “still miles to go, and miles to go before I sleep.” Multiply that one day by forty years and it gives you the whole story of my life in the United States.
Time has flown by so fast that now they tell me I am a senior citizen! Me a senior citizen? Me a grandfather? I can’t believe it. No way, I still cling to my youth, my TMS, and my Ethiopia. I have been fortunate in my life to have a wonderful wife, Abebayehu, three loving children, Eyasu, Lydia, and Joseph, and a granddaughter, Eden. I have been blessed by so many dedicated friends and family members, who make life worth living, as well as many saintly Americans who went above and beyond to make me feel welcome and become successful. Yes, I am the beneficiary of so much kindness from so many people who themselves have so little. This world is full of good people. I will always be indebted to America, my people, my school and my country.
Our duty to God and country is to make this world just a little better place for those who are less fortunate than us. I hope TMSAANA will continue to provide us the vehicle. I want to commend TMSAANA and encourage the Board to keep up the good work.
I’m pleased to share this new podcast, featuring TMS alumnus Ermias Amare, who talks with me about his new book, “Reminiscences of TMS,” which the Tafari Makonnen School Alumni Association of North America (TMSAANA) is printing and distributing. As you’ll learn from Ermias’ podcast, writing this memoir of his student days at TMS was an intensely emotional experience. Even over fifty years after his graduation from TMS, his passionate attachment to the distinguished educational institution that we former students and teachers revere has lessened not the least.
“Reminiscences of TMS” not only recounts in great detail Ermias’ classroom experiences from the second grade through his graduation, Ermias also writes fondly about the Addis Ababa of his student days – its physical, social, and cultural features, including the vivid religious celebrations so characteristic of Ethiopia’s capital city. He paints a full picture of the Tafari Makonnen of those days, as not only an outstanding educational institution that well-prepared its graduates to succeed at the university level and in diverse professional roles, but also provided them with a rich social experience. And Ermias reminded me as we recorded this podcast that the academically stellar school we love and respect – while it was elite in terms of performance – was a public institution with an incredibly diverse study body, both socially and economically. One of the tremendous gifts Tafari Makonnen gave its students was the living proof that a cohesive culture can be multi-faceted in terms of ethnic identity and social and economic status.
Ermias Amare has without question written an important book – a must read – about an important institution. I’m looking forward to talking with Ermias in our next podcast recording session about his forthcoming second book, which he says will venture well beyond the walls of the Tafari Makonnen compound.
I’m pleased to share these two videos of the keynote address I delivered at the third General Assembly of the Tafari Makonnen Alumni Association of North America on May 29: “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 day 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.
Please do share your thoughts by commenting on this post.
In this fascinating podcast, Randall Sword, MD, who recently retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a highly successful career as a physician in the Los Angeles metro area, talks about why he joined the Peace Corps back in 1964 and about his experience as a Peace Corps trainee at UCLA that summer and as a teacher at Tafari Makonnen School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from fall 1964 through spring 1966. I shared a house with Randy, as his friends know him, only a couple of blocks from Tafari Makonnen, across from what was then Itege Menen School – along with Garber Davidson our first year in Ethiopia and Dave Karro our second.
In addition to being a great housemate – good humored, easy going, and really fun to spend time with – Randy was an excellent teacher who worked tremendously hard at his new profession and was very popular with the boys in his science classes. We both taught all of the ninth grade classes in the academic section – Randy biology and I ancient history – and no matter how hard I worked to bring those long-ago times to life for my ninth graders, once Randy added a sex ed component to his biology curriculum, I couldn’t hope to compete on the popularity front.
Randy and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable weekend together at my and Barbara’s home in Tampa Bay last February, getting reacquainted and reminiscing about our teaching days at Tafari Makonnen. For the first time I realized what a life changing experience the Peace Corps had been for Randy. As he recounts in this podcast, by the time his two-year tour of duty at TMS was drawing to a close in spring 1966, Randy knew he was meant to be a physician, and the self-confidence he’d acquired as a Peace Corps Volunteer without question stood him in good stead as he went about translating his new vision into reality when he got back to the States.
It is both a pleasure and distinct honor to present this memoir by distinguished Tafari Makonnen School alumnus Dr. Aklilu Habte, who recorded it expressly for Entwined Lives. When another distinguished TMS graduate, Bisrat Aklilu, suggested several weeks ago that I contact Dr. Aklilu, whom I hadn’t met, about recording his reflections and reminiscences, I was, frankly, skeptical that he would be willing to spend the time. I was aware that he was in the midst of an ambitious writing project – a history of the development of higher education in Ethiopia – and couldn’t imagine he would welcome the distraction. But, thank heaven, Bisrat was insistent, so I telephoned Dr. Aklilu, who, to my delighted surprise, readily agreed to do the recording. Before providing you with an overview of Dr. Aklilu’s illustrious career, I want to thank his son, Ameha Aklilu, who took time from his tremendously demanding schedule as a senior IBM executive to assemble a treasure trove of photographs that you’ll see as you listen to the podcast.
Dr. Aklilu received his baccalaureate degree with distinction from the University College of Addis Ababa (later Haile Selassie I University) in 1954, the Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Manitoba (Canada) in 1955, and the Master of Education and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio State University in 1956 and 1958, respectively. From 1958 to 1969, Dr. Aklilu served as Head of the Education Department, Dean of the Faculties of Arts and Education, and Associate Academic Vice President of Haile Selassie I University, and he was the University’s President from 1969 to 1974. From 1974 to 1977, Dr. Aklilu served as Minister of Culture, Sports, and Youth Affairs in the Government of Ethiopia.
Dr. Aklilu’s long and illustrious career has also included serving as Director of the Education and Training Department at the World Bank and Chief of the Education Division and Special Advisor to the Executive Director of UNICEF.
You might recall that in one of my early posts at entwinedlives.com, I wrote that when I got an email from Berhane Mogese not long after learning in March 2011 that the long-lost Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu was alive and well and living in Addis Ababa, I knew for sure that I had to return to Ethiopia for the first time in almost 50 years. I’d met Berhane my first week in Addis Ababa in September 1964 – at the Peace Corps office, where he was working over the summer, if I recall correctly. He wasn’t a student of mine at Tafari Makonnen School, but he dropped by my home several times on visits to Addis. A charming, extremely bright, well-spoken young man, Berhane, who was always good company and a welcome guest, clearly had a bright future ahead.
After returning from the United States, where Berhane had spent a year in Ohio as an American Field Service student, living with an American family and attending high school, Berhane earned his law degree at Haile Selassie University and began a highly successful legal career, including service as Presiding Judge of the High Court of Ethiopia. As the years passed, and Haile Selassie’s overthrow was followed by the Red Terror under the dictatorship of the Derg’s Mengistu Haile Mariam, I lost track of Berhane, assuming he – along with hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians – had most likely perished. So reading his email in March 2011 was a joyful experience.
Berhane was a wonderful host on my return visit to Ethiopia in May 2012, driving me and Tesfagiorgis all over Addis Ababa in his car and hosting us in his home. You would have to experience the traffic in Addis yourself to appreciate how indebted I am to Berhane! He kindly agreed to spend an hour in my room at the Jupiter International Hotel in Addis, recording this video, in which he talks about confronting American culture as an American Field Service student in Ohio.
A little over a year ago, I returned from my first visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia since I’d returned to the States in June 1967 after my three years there as a Peace Corps teacher at Tafari Makonnen School. During my two-week stay in Addis, Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu, the former Tafari Makonnen student who’d lived with me and my Peace Corps housemates for 2 ½ years, spent several hours with me in my room at the Jupiter International Hotel, talking about his “dark days” under the military regime – the Derg – that overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. If you’ve read my earlier blog posts about Tesfagiorgis, you already know about the extremely risky and stressful period he went through when he lived two lives: holding an official position with the Derg while secretly working against it. You also know that during the two years he later spent in prison, Tesfagiorgis had come within a hair of being executed.
While we sat in easy chairs facing each other in my room at the Jupiter Hotel in May 2012, I videoed around an hour of Tesfagiorgis describing his dark days. After I got back to the States, I roughly edited the video into a clip of almost 36 minutes, which I posted privately on YouTube since I wasn’t sure about the most appropriate way to share it with a wider audience at that point. This morning, thinking about my next post at Entwinedlives.com, I recalled the clip, and realized that the time had come to make it public. By the way, today Tesfagiorgis is just as much of a perfectionist as he was almost 50 years ago as a Tafari Makonnen student, and so when he saw the video after I posted it privately almost a year ago, he found a minor factual error (the name of a musical instrument, I believe) and a couple of rough spots he thought needed smoothing out. I must confess that what you’ll be watching is the original, unimproved version, but I trust that you will find it as moving as I did when I viewed it again this morning.