Such Friends

by John Woods (Jimma 65–68)

ON SEPTEMBER 14, 2002, I played father of the bride to my older daughter Wendy at her wedding in Minneapolis. It was a memorable day. The weather was as perfect as you could ever expect, and the bride was more beautiful than even, I could have imagined.

One of the many things that made this a special day was having my old and dear friend from Jimma, Ibrahim Abdulahi, and his family as guests. Back in 1967, Ibrahim and I were very close buddies. He was the Philips sales manager for southwestern Ethiopia and just the nicest person you'd ever want to know. Several years ago, he and his family immigrated to the U.S., and they now live in Kennesaw, Georgia. His wife, Anna, is Chinese, and her father owned a big Chinese restaurant in Addis Ababa all those years ago. She speaks, of course, fluent Amharic, as well as English, a Chinese dialect, and perhaps a few other languages. They have three daughters, Aida, 27, Nadia, 16, and Lydia 14. They are all beautiful girls. Aida was born in Ethiopia.

Wendy, 28, and Aida have been pen pals and e-mail buddies for 16 years, but they had never met and had never even spoken to one another on the phone. From the time they are youngsters in elementary school, they have maintained their connection first by mail and now mainly through e-mail and one of those Internet chat lines. So the wedding allowed them to meet in person, and it was quite moving to see. I am sure they will be lifelong friends.

John walks Wendy down the aisle.

Ibrahim and family

As for Ibrahim and me — we picked up right where we had left off in Jimma, without missing a beat. Of course we were both so much older then — "we're younger than that now"! — at least we acted like we were. Ibrahim is a pretty remarkable guy. When Aida was attending college at Kennesaw State, Ibrahim, decided to go to college as well and so daughter and father attended the same school at the same time. Ibrahim graduated in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and is now an assistant manager for Wal-Mart. No surprise that his employees love him.

Wendy's wedding took place on Saturday. On Sunday, Ibrahim and his family, several members of our family, along with assorted cousins and others went out to dinner. When we returned to our hotel around 10 PM, we saw another wedding party in the lounge area. The bride still had her dress on as did the groom, groomsmen, and bridesmaids. They looked decidedly Ethiopian to me, so being slightly bold, I said, "habasha naccew?" Immediately came a loud and surprised, "awo." We all then chatted for a while, and somewhat spontaneously, the group sang a special Ethiopian wedding song dedicated to Wendy and also to the other new bride, Tsehai Alemayehu. They were very surprised that a ferenge like me still remembered my Amharic (I've kind of willed myself not to forget), but equally surprised to hear Anna, a Chinese woman, speaking absolutely fluent Amharic. Quite a scene.

One of the Ethiopian bridesmaids, Gelila Million gave me her card (she works in advertising at the Best Buy headquarters). We exchanged e-mails, and she has promised to prepare a complete Ethiopian meal when next we visit Minneapolis to see our daughter and new son-in-law.

What a memorable ending to a memorable weekend. As I said that night and repeat here, I am a lucky guy to have such friends.

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