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.