|We Stand in Defense of America
by Abebe Kebede, North Carolina
I am a member of one of the Ethiopian newsgroups, Ethiolist, which has an EthioForum section.
One of the Ethiopians who had Peace Corps teachers posted a wonderful statement about Ethiopians in America. I have received Abeba's permission for it to be published at the E&E RPCVs website.
You are invited to respond to Abebe's essay at our Guestbook. Access is at the bottom of the page.
I CAME FROM A FAR AWAY PLACE for graduate school. My life in my country of birth had its own moments. We were poor but very proud. That was the time we never knew anything about freedom. Freedom was prescribed to us by our parents. When I was growing up, we had Peace Corps coming to our towns, Ms Joyce, Ms. Toner, Ms. Hubert, Mr. Sheneider and so many of them. They lived with us and they broke bread with us. They taught us about their way of life and we taught them about ours. This was in the late 1960s.
They taught us about James Brown, Elvis Presley, and great musical giants. We taught them about Asefa Abate and Mary Armede. I remember there was an American Musician in Haile Silassie I theater who was part of the group who sang " Egnam Alen Musica" (We Have Our Own Music). These were great individuals. They helped several students from the countryside who had to walk back to their villages during the weekends. They showed us the light, that was education.
The first time I touched a typewriter was in Ms. Toner's house; the first time I tasted chocolate was in Ms. Toner's house. The first time I played ping pong, and my first chess game was with the Peace Corps. They brought great ideas to us. They showed genuine care for us, their neighbors, and they displayed human nature at its finest. They never looked down on us. In fact they participated in every ritual we conducted. They came to christening of babies, they ate with us during borenticha (traditional party) they came to our weddings, funerals, they slept in adobe houses and on beds made of mud. They left their good life in America just to live with us and share their knowledge.
Life was pretty simple, Peace Corps came and gone. In our community some cancer was brewing. Particularly the generation before us. They began talking about communism and imperialism. Our language became too foreign and too fashionable. For the first time those in high schools and colleges began reading communist literature. Mobs were created almost instantaneously to defame and demoralize the Peace Corps. They were accused of being spies. Students were demanding the removal of Peace Corps from all schools in Ethiopia. I remember one time students boycotted class, and parents brought their kids to the school and demanded that class must begin. A mob of students started harassing and abusing parents and Peace Corps. This marks the beginning of the "Ethiopian Revolution." Finally this particular generation started the long march to its own death in the hands of communists who established themselves in 1974.
What transpired between 1974 and today, are immense humanitarian catastrophe, red terror, drought, disease and displacement of people in millions. Ethiopians started living in bordering countries. The kind Americans, brothers and sisters of the Peace Corps, saved many thousands by sponsorship and adoption through their churches, synagogues, and their government representatives. These kind Americans gave us shelter, food, and clothing that our own government, and our fellow Ethiopians did not. We are thrown away like dirt, killed and humiliated by our own leaders. America and its people on the other hand, driven by their great faith in God and their respect for human dignity protected us and allowed us to live in their neighborhoods with no less right than theirs.
ALMOST 30 YEARS LATER, I met a Peace Corps in Benin. A young 20 year old university graduate, who lives and works deep in the country side. She reminded me of our Peace Corps in the 70's. I asked her why she became a Peace Corps volunteer. She says, I want to learn about my students and know exactly how I can
Americans are people of different breed. They understand, live and breathe humanity. The attack that took place on Pentagon, and the World Trade Center is an attack against these kind people, and I do believe that it is an attack against the African Community. The people who perished in this senseless attack could have been one of those kind Peace Corps.
My heart and my prayer go to the victims and their loved ones. We Ethiopians share your pains. We know and understand despair. Several Ethiopians, who you sheltered, fed and clothed have also perished during the attack on September 11.
We stand in defense of America, our home far away from home.
American mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers,: May the tears you shed bring lasting healing to your wounds. May God put his soothing hand on you, bless you and give you the strength to move on.