Tag: returned peace corps volunteer

Remembering Tafari Makonnen School

Former TMS Main Entrance


I’d loved teaching at Tafari Makonnen School, so it was a must stop during my visit to Addis Ababa last May.  My Ethiopian friend Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu had graduated from Tafari Makonnen, known these days as the Entoto Technical and Vocational Training College, in 1967, so he was able to arrange for a guided tour of the campus on the second day of my visit.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I’d taught English and ancient history from 1964 to 1967 at Tafari Makonnen, which in those days was widely regarded as Ethiopia’s premier secondary school.  Named after Ras Tafari Makonnen – Haile Selassie before his coronation as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 – Tafari  Madonnen School was, if I recall correctly, the first secondary institution re-opened after the Italian occupation during World War II.  The Emperor, deeply concerned about his namesake, personally invited a group of French Canadian Jesuits to administer the re-opened institution, whose subsequent stellar academic performance proved the wisdom of his decision.   When I arrived at Tafari Makonnen in September 1964 – a 22 year-old with a newly minted BA degree from the University of Illinois, a couple of months of teacher training and absolutely no teaching experience – I was, indeed, fortunate to be taken under the wings of the headmaster, Maurice Richer, and a number of superb mentors among the Jesuit fathers, most notably Marcel Gareau, a masterful history teacher who taught me how to bring the subject to life in the classroom.


Former TMS Administration and Classroom Building

Teaching at Tafari Makonnen School was an immensely satisfying experience for a number of reasons.  Not only was teaching a close fit with my skills and temperament, it was also a heady experience to be part of a tremendously important, high-stakes enterprise:  educating the future leaders of Ethiopia.  Tafari Makonnen was an elite public school with an extraordinary record of sending its graduates on to higher education in a country that so desperately needed university-trained citizens, and we TMS teachers were keenly aware that our students would lead their country into a new era after the long reign of Emperor Haile Selassie.  Furthermore, the fact that the overwhelming majority of the students I taught at Tafari Makonnen School took education very, very seriously, as their preeminent path to a rewarding professional career and a life of economic security – neither within the reach of the great majority of Ethiopians – inspired us to even greater effort in the classroom.  I don’t think any of us TMS faculty members in those days questioned the importance of our work to our students’ future lives and to Ethiopia’s future development.

TMS Current Affairs Club


Based on a mere hour-long guided tour of the Entoto campus over the lunch break, which didn’t include observing any classrooms in session, I’m not qualified to comment on what’s happening educationally at this latter-day incarnation of the Tafari Makonnen that I knew almost fifty years ago.  The campus looked pretty familiar in terms of physical configuration – with most of the buildings from my days there still in use – but the pervasive aura of physical neglect saddened us as we walked around campus.  Not surprising, we saw little evidence that money was being invested in physical maintenance.  Probably the most dramatic surface change I noticed from my days at Tafari Makonnen in the 1960s, beyond the physical deterioration, was social:  boys and girls holding hands and strolling arm in arm, something I never saw at on the Tafari Makonnen campus I knew.  So cultural change marches on, at least in the capital city.

As Berhane Mogese, Tesfagiorgis, and I strolled around the campus of what had been Tafari Makonnen School, my mind was flooded with vivid memories of my teaching days there.  I’ll share three of my trips back to the past with you.


TMS 11th Grade English Class

Berhane, Tesfagiorgis, and I enter the handsome stone-faced building that you see straight ahead as you drive down the road leading to the campus, just past the flag pole where students in my day assembled for the ceremonial raising of the Ethiopian flag every morning before filing into their classrooms.  When I was teaching at TMS, this building housed the headmaster’s office and, I think, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade classrooms of what was then known as the school’s Academic Section. We’re standing by the newly re-installed bust of Ras Tafari Makonnen at the foot of the stairs leading to what was in my day the teachers’ second floor common room, where we faculty members prepared lessons and marked papers between classes.  Standing there with my friends at the bottom of the stairs, I’m suddenly transported back almost fifty years.  In my mind’s eye, it’s late morning in October or November 1966, and I’m sitting at my desk near the door to the common room, correcting student copybooks, when I hear “Psst:  Mr. Eadie.”  Wondering what’s going on, I get up, go to the door, and find my whole 11th grade girls’ Commercial Section English class lined up single file on the stairs.  Standing at the head, the class prefect, Konjit, I think her name was, says:  “We’ve had a meeting, Mr. Eadie, and we decided to come and ask you to return to class.  We promise to work very hard from this point on.”  Thus ended on a positive note an audacious educational experiment that might have caused me real problems with the TMS administration, had they been aware of it, and, in the States, would probably have cost me my teaching position.  Looking back, I’m amazed at the temerity (ignorance?) of my 24 year-old self.

So what’d led my 11th graders to march almost a quarter-mile across campus from what was then the Commercial Building to find me in the teachers’ room?  Well, earlier that morning in that 11th grade girls’ English class my growing frustration with the girls’ lackadaisical work came to a head when, once again, the majority weren’t prepared for class.  I was convinced they were a bright group of students who could perform academically as well as the boys in the Academic Section if they only believed in themselves and really tried, but they clearly didn’t think so.  With absolutely no forethought, much less planning, I announced to the girls, who sat there mouths agape, stunned:  “That’s it.  I work too hard to put up with this laziness, ladies.  I know you can do good work, if you only cared, but you don’t, and so I don’t anymore.  I’m leaving class now, and I’m not sure when I’ll return, if I ever do.  Konjit, please make sure the class is quiet for the rest of the period.  Goodbye!”  Then I walked out and headed across campus to the teachers’ room.  Now, after the girls have made the effort to come find me and invite me back to class, what can I do but agree to return? So I walk down the stairs and back to class with my 11th graders that morning, and I’m pleased to report that they became an exemplary English class, eager to learn and always prepared for class for the rest of the year.  How’s that for meticulously planned educational reform?  Who knows?  Maybe my lack of good common sense at 24 was in some ways an asset.

After returning to the states, I’d think every now and then about my radical educational experiment at Tafari Makonnen School, and I’d wonder about its long-term impact.  Then one day in the early 1990s, my answering service called to say that they had a message from the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, asking me to call.  Curious, I immediately punched in the number that’d been left, which connected me to the office of the Minister of Education.  When I announced who I was, I was immediately put through to the Minister, who turned out to be one of my former students from that 11th grade girls’ English class, Genet Zewde.  I’m obviously not reporting the results of a scientific survey, but I was gratified to hear from Genet, who is now Ethiopia’s ambassador to India, that she’d recently spoken at a women’s conference, where she told the story of a young Peace Corps teacher who by walking out of class one day taught her a powerful lesson about the importance of setting high expectations and meeting them.


A few minutes later, Berhane, Tesfagiorgis, and I have moved through the foyer of the same building to the classrooms circling a courtyard.  We’re standing at the door of a classroom that belonged during my TMS teaching days to my 10-C boys’ English class in the Academic Section; again I’m transported back almost a half-century.  As a 22-year-old,

TMS 10th Grade English Class

one of my many flaws was, and I must confess continues to be, a tendency to exercise my caustic sense of humor without thinking about the consequences.  I can see my 10-C students sitting there almost a half-century ago, as I return corrected copybooks. I see myself make a sarcastic comment about the class’ performance; I don’t remember exactly what I said.  Anyway, I can tell that I’d offended many in the class, but I don’t give the matter another thought before returning to class the next day.  I’d dumbly discounted one of the traits I most admired about my Ethiopian students:  their tremendous pride and sense of dignity.  I see myself walking into 10-C the next morning, and no one stands.  They just sit there, glowering at me.  Now, you should know that students at Tafari Makonnen, and probably at all schools around the Empire, in those days stood when the teacher entered class and also when reciting or answering questions.  So there I am facing my 10-C boys.  Their not standing is an unambiguous insult, and as I stand there, my heart’s thumping and I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks.  A minute or so passes as we face each other.  Then the class prefect stands and announces:  “Mr. Eadie, you insulted us in class yesterday, and we want an apology.”  Thank heaven, I’m able to swallow my pride and apologize. The class then stands, I invite them to sit, and we get back to work on that notoriously hard-to-explain

TMS 10th Grade English Class

subjunctive tense.  I’d learned an invaluable lesson from the class, one that I took to heart:  No matter how diligently you prepare or how well you acquit yourself in the classroom, you never earn the right to treat your students with less than full respect.    Believe me, for the rest of my days at Tafari Makonnen, my tongue was under better control, and I have the dignity and pride of my 10-C English class to thank for that important lesson.  By the way, the boys in 10-C were unfailingly polite for the rest of our year together.


And as we stroll by the row of what had been 9th grade classrooms behind the administration building, I suddenly find myself smiling as I recall an incident in one of my 9th grade ancient history classes.  I walk through the door, business-like and solemn as usual, that morning, and, inviting the class to be seated, I turn to open the two hinged blackboard sections that had been folded over the center section, so I can outline today’s lecture – if I recall correctly, about the Code of Hammurabi. I notice several students smiling as I turn, but don’t think much about it since they’re usually in a good mood after my Peace Corps housemate Randy Sword’s biology class.  In addition to being an excellent teacher, Randy, now a very successful physician in the Los Angeles metro area, was also a fun-loving guy who managed to entertain while getting his points across.  So, opening the blackboard, I’m struck speechless as I confront Randy’s large, vividly colored drawings from the sex ed class he’d taught immediately before mine.  I stand there dumbfounded  while the 9th grade boys are convulsed with laughter.  But I soon join in the laughter before getting to the considerably drier world of ancient Babylonia.    I did and do subscribe to the notion that all work and no play…….


On a more somber note, over the decades that have passed since my Peace Corps teaching days at Tafari Makonnen School almost a half-century ago, I’ve pondered a very complex question that has no easy answer: What difference did my and my Peace Corps teaching colleagues’ efforts in the classroom ultimately make in terms of the long-run economic and political development of Ethiopia?  Over the years, it’s been gratifying to hear from former students who believe that in some modest way my teaching has helped them build successful careers in medicine, law, education, social services, etc., but to be honest, the great majority of success stories I’ve heard about have to do with Ethiopians living in the United States.  That’s not at all surprising when you consider that the dark period under the Derg and Mengistu Haile Mariam – when even being a high school or university graduate made you a prime target for imprisonment, torture, and execution – lasted for 17 years, until 1991.  However, there are former students like Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu, Berhane Mogese, Tesfamichael Tekle, and  Genet Zewde  who have managed to build productive careers and satisfying personal lives while remaining in Ethiopia, despite the challenging, often dangerous times they’ve lived through.

But these are individual success stories that tell little about the long-term impact of  our work in the classroom so long ago.  I’ll address this question in a future blog as part of my Addis Ababa Homecoming series.

©Douglas C. Eadie  All Rights Reserved

Finding Haile Selassie


His Majesty Haile Selassie I, “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” Emperor of Ethiopia – the absolute monarch of a feudal kingdom for nearly 44 years – had been dead for almost 40 years when I returned to Ethiopia for my first visit since returning to the United States in 1967 after three years as a Peace Corps teacher at Tafari Makonnen School in Addis Ababa.  The Emperor had been deposed by a group of military officers known as the “Derg” in 1974 and was most likely murdered in 1975 by the Derg, which under the brutal dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam began a reign of terror that resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 Ethiopians – many of them educated youths – by the time Mengistu fled Ethiopia in 1991.  When I arrived in Addis on May 15, most of the obvious signs of Haile Selassie’s long reign had disappeared.  For example, the former Haile Selassie University was now Addis Ababa University; Tafari Makonnen School (named after Ras Tafari Makonnen, Haile Selassie’s name before his coronation in 1930) had become the Entoto Technical and Vocational Education Training College; Jubilee Palace, which the Emperor had built to commemorate the silver anniversary of his reign, now housed government offices; and, of course, the once ubiquitous photographs of  the Conquering Lion no longer graced the walls of countless offices and homes.  In 1967, Haile Selassie had seemed the very embodiment of the proud spirit of this exotic, never-colonized kingdom, but on my return I found His Imperial Majesty a dusty relic of ancient history to the great majority of Ethiopians.


Haile Selassie might be largely forgotten now, but during my ten-day visit, my Ethiopian friends Berhane and Tesfagiorgis and I encountered him often as we traveled around the sprawling capital city of over 4 million, even though we hadn’t consciously set out in search of the late Emperor.  We met His Imperial Majesty:

  • At the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University, where Ato Mammo Haile, who’d been a member of the Emperor’s household staff and was now in his 80’s, proudly showed us uniforms that Haile Selassie had worn and where Tesfagiorgis and I posed for the camera before a photograph of the Emperor at his most majestic.
Looking at Haile Selassie Uniform at the Institute for Ethiopian Studies
  • At the former Tafari Makonnen School, where we were pleased to find that a handsome bust of Ras Tafari Makonnen had been re-installed in the foyer of what had been the main administration building during my teaching days there.
Ras Tafari Makonnen Bust at Former TMS
  • At the beautiful Kiddist Selassie (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, which Haile Selassie completed after the Italian occupation and where an elderly Ethiopian Orthodox priest who had seen the Emperor worship at the cathedral many times showed us the tombs of Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen, and the ornate thrones where the Emperor and his Empress sat during Mass at the cathedral.
Plaque at Kiddist Selassie Cathedral
Tesfagiorgis, Doug and Priest on Tour of Kiddist Selassie
  • And at the main gate of the former Jubilee Palace, where as we walked and drove by Berhane, Tesfagiorgis, and I could see in our mind’s eye the Emperor emerging in his Rolls Royce for a drive around his capital city.


Every encounter with His Imperial Majesty during my visit brought the Emperor vividly

back to life in our minds, so he was very much with us in spirit during those ten days, which isn’t surprising when you realize how large he’d loomed in my and my Ethiopian students’ lives back in the1960s.  I’ll never forget first encountering Haile Selassie in my modern history course at the University of Illinois-Urbana, when I read his stirring address to the League of Nations in 1936 after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.  It wasn’t much later that I saw the Emperor in person for the first time – in November 1963, walking beside French president de Gaulle, who towered over the diminutive ruler, and other world leaders in President John Kennedy’s funeral procession to Arlington Cemetery.  Standing on the street that sad day in Washington, watching the procession pass, I thought to myself, “Haile Selassie is a lot shorter than I imagined, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a man who cut such a dignified and regal figure; this is a king if there ever was one.”  So when, having joined the Peace Corps my senior year at Illinois, I learned that I’d been assigned to teach in Ethiopia, whose face came immediately to mind?  The Conquering Lion of Judah, of course

Berhane and Doug Looking at Haile Selassie Throne at Kiddist Selassie 


Since Haile Selassie I was such a constant and vivid presence as Berhane, Tesfagiorgis, and I toured Addis and sat at the table enjoying traditional Ethiopian meals of  injera (a very nutritious and delicious kind of flatbread with a tangy, mildly tart taste and rubbery texture ) and wat (a variety of vegetable and meat stews), we naturally spent a lot of time talking about the still-mysterious, endlessly fascinating ruler who’d sat on the throne of Ethiopia for almost a half century – pondering his place in Ethiopian history and his contribution to Ethiopia’s economic and social development.  As I think about our discussions over those ten days, some highlights stand out in my mind.  First and foremost, the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah was not only a masterful politician, he was also a true statesman, in the sense that he was genuinely and passionately committed to Ethiopia’s modernization – certainly technologically and economically speaking, although his commitment to social and political development is far less certain.  However, we agreed that it would be a mistake to idealize or romanticize the Emperor, who was, in fact, an absolute feudal monarch who didn’t brook dissent and never hesitated to have opponents of his regime imprisoned and hanged in public squares.

Haile Selassie and Empress Menen Tombs at Kiddist Selassie

But in stark contrast to Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was a brutal and systematic destroyer of human capital responsible for the imprisonment, torture, and execution of thousands of educated Ethiopian youth, Haile Selassie made a tremendous investment in education, which of all development tools was probably closest to his heart.  Tesfagiorgis and Berhane along with many of their compatriots will never forget receiving their university diplomas from the hands of the Emperor himself.  As it turned out, Haile Selassie’s deep faith in education and the high priority he placed on expanding educational opportunities in Ethiopia are somewhat ironic, since many, if not most, newly educated Ethiopians had by the mid 1970s become vocal critics of the feudal monarchy and  certainly played a major role in bringing the Solomonic line to an end.  And what most saddened us as we reflected on the Emperor’s legacy during our many long discussions during my Addis odyssey was Haile Selassie’s failure to lay the foundation for an orderly transition to some kind of representative government after his death.  In the end, apparently, he was so enmeshed in the absolute feudal monarchy that he was incapable of reaching out to, and building an alliance with, the new educated class that he had created and that might have led a peaceful, post-monarchical transition.  Instead, the Emperor became an isolated, out-of-touch leader, leaving a vacuum that the astute Mengistu Haile Marian so adroitly exploited, at a horrific cost to Ethiopia..

Note:  The Associated Press Wire Photo of Emperor Haile Selassie I walking with other world leaders in President Kennedy’s funeral procession appeared in the November 25, 1963 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

©Douglas C. Eadie  All Rights Reserved

Addis Ababa Homecoming


Goodbye At Bole Airport

Three Ethiopian friends accompanied me to Addis Ababa’s Bole         International Airport the evening of May 24 to catch my 10 p.m. flight back to   the  States after my ten-day visit – my first since leaving Ethiopia in 1967 after three years there as a Peace Corps teacher:  Berhane Mogese, an attorney in private practice whom I’d met my first week in Addis in 1964; Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu, who had lived with me and my housemates for two years while studying at Tafari Makonnen School; and Tesfagiorgis’ wife, Almaz Aklog.  It’d been such a busy last day in the Ethiopian capital – including my filming a half-hour video clip of Tesfagiorgis talking about his two years in prison almost 35 years ago after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie – that I hadn’t really had time to feel sad.  We were certainly a lively group on the drive to Bole, laughing about Tesfagiorgis’ getting lost two or three times as we walked around Addis, his native city, about Tesfagioris and I getting left in the dust by our friend Tesfamichael on our long trudge up to the top of Entoto Mountain, and Berhane’s heartfelt devotion to his always ringing cell phone.  But it really hit me as I was hugging my three friends goodbye in the parking lot at Bole that we might never see each other again; after all, this was our first reunion in almost 50 years, and we were now in our sixties. When I turned to wave to my friends standing in the parking lot before walking into the terminal, tears were running down my cheeks.


Berhane, Doug and Tesfagiorgis at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies

I hadn’t returned to Ethiopia to see the sights as a tourist, although I’d love to go back some day with my wife Barbara to introduce her to this beautiful and exotic country.  The primary reason I’d returned after my near half-century absence was to spend concentrated time with Berhane and Tesfagiorgis, whom I’d said goodbye to in 1967, so I hadn’t made plans to venture outside of Addis Ababa, now a sprawling city of over 4 million.  You see, I’d been out of touch with Tesfagiorgis and Berhane since the mid-seventies, when Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by a military group called the Derg, and the brutal dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam soon killed his way to power.  It’s estimated that over 500,000 Ethiopians were killed during Mengistu’s reign of terror, the great majority of them educated youth, and as the years passed, I assumed that Tesfagiorgis and Berhane were among the victims.  However, over the past year, learning that Tesfagiorgis and Berhane were alive and well, and reuniting with other former students now living in the States, including Abe Abraham in Washington and Tariku Belay in Minneapolis, I felt powerfully called to make my first trip back after almost fifty years.

To be very honest, on my 13-hour Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis on May 14, there were moments when I wondered if  I’d taken leave of my senses.  Doing the tourist thing would have been a no-brainer; re-visiting Axum, Lalibella, Gondor, Harar, and Lake Tana would, with a couple of days in Addis, have very nicely filled the time. But here I was about to spend the full ten days with two fellows who’d been only 17 or 18 when we’d last seen each other.  What did we have in common after living our adult lives totally apart?  I recalled my time with Berhane and Tesfagiorgis fondly, but I couldn’t possibly know who they’d become over the past 45 years.  In Tesfagiorgis’ case, we’d carried on an extensive email correspondence over the prior nine months, and had talked by phone twice, so I knew a lot about major milestones in his life, but the person I would soon reunite with was yet a mystery.


My heart said I was doing the right thing, but, believe me, in my head, I was less certain, and I was feeling pretty apprehensive as I walked out of the terminal at Bole International Airport the morning of May 15 to our reunion in the parking lot.  As it turns out, I needn’t have worried; I knew in our first hour together that my heart had been a trustworthy guide.  I plan to write several blogs about my Ethiopian trip over the next few weeks.  I’ll also be sharing photos and video clips.  For now, I’d just like to share three vivid impressions from my 10 days with Berhane, Tesfagiorgis, Almaz, and their friends:

  • Walking through the new Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum near Meskel Square with Tesfagiorgis and Berhane, looking at the hundreds of photos of young victims, including many from the school I taught at, Tafari Makonnen, really brought home the tremendous cost of Mengistu’s reign of terror, in terms not only of shattered lives and immense human suffering, but also of the arrested development of an already desperately poor country.  The cost to Ethiopia of losing over half a million educated young people is incalculable.  A deep sadness came over me and my companions as we scanned those photos covering the walls, but anger as well.  Such a pointless and tragic waste of Ethiopia’s most precious resource!
  • Both Tesfagiorgis and Berhane suffered under the Derg, but their spirits weren’t crushed, and their lack of bitterness and their gratitude for the lives they have lived since those dark days under Mengistu are testimony to the resilience of the human spirit – and to their strength of character.  As we passed those ten days together, I realized that what had drawn me to my two Ethiopian friends originally, back in the mid-1960s, and what had kept them in my mind so vividly during our separation, was their fundamentally life-affirming natures.
  • And, finally, on a somewhat poignant note, as we made our way through the Addis Ababa Museum looking at the fascinating photos from the city’s early days and strolled by what had been Emperor Haile Selassie’s Jubilee Palace, reminiscing about how exciting it was to see his Rolls come through the palace gates, we realized that our still-vivid recollections were only ancient history to the great majority of Ethiopians.  Time does inexorably march on!
Goodbye Feast Of Injera And Wat

Enough for now.  Stay tuned for more on my Addis Ababa odyssey.

©Douglas C. Eadie  All Rights Reserved

Welcome to my Entwined Lives Blog

Berhane Mogese, Doug Eadie and Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu in Addis Ababa, May 2012

“Entwined Lives” is my first really personal blog.  It’s the direct result of my return visit to Ethiopia in May 2012, for the first time since returning to the States in 1967.  A couple of years earlier, I’d discovered that one of the Ethiopian students who’d lived with me and my Peace Corps housemates in Addis, Tariku Belay, was alive and well and living in Minneapolis.  Then, a year or so later, the day before I flew to Minneapolis to reunite with Tariku, I learned that another former student who’d lived with me in Addis, Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu, was alive and living with his wife Almaz in Addis.  I had been out of touch with both of them since the mid-1970s, when the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown and a reign of terror began under the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, and I assumed they’d been killed, along with hundreds of thousands of other young Ethiopians. Finding the long-lost Tesfagiorgis in March 2011 got me to thinking seriously about returning to Ethiopia after almost half a century.  And seeing old friends from my Peace Corps training program at UCLA and reuniting with a former Ethiopian student now in the States, Abe Abraham, at the Peace Corps fiftieth anniversary festivities in Washington in September 2011 sealed the deal.  I was definitely going back.

Tariku Belay today

Having spent a wonderful two weeks in Addis on my homecoming trip, getting reacquainted with Tesfagiorgis and another former student, Berhane Mogese, and meeting many of their friends and family members, I came back to the US determined to write about  my Peace Corps and Ethiopian experiences and about the lives of former Ethiopian students and my fellow Peace Corps colleagues.  Thus was “Entwined Lives” born.

The first five blog posts you will read here originally appeared at a less accessible site, so they are being re-posted here at Entwined Lives in the order they were originally posted.

Tesfagiorgis Wondimagegnehu today

©Douglas C. Eadie  All Rights Reserved