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.
©Douglas C. Eadie All Rights Reserved