I was born in Inda Girogis Riba Gered. I heard calves, goats
& towards the end, even cattle together with my friends. In mornings
of rainy summer days we use to hear the roaring or lorries in Adwa.
When I first walked to Adwa, I was 7 years old. Adwa was very far away.
Every Qusquam Mariam, we walked to Mai misham, my mother’s village.
Even mai misham was very far away. Then we moved to Zengui, on the way
to Mai misham. Even from Zengui, Mai misham was far away: well I was
small in the world of the big adults. But not too small to learn to
read & write in Tigrigna, Amharic and Ge’ez with my father, but with
my mother, as my teacher.
My aunt, w/o Tiberih Tewolde Medhin, who taught in the Queen of Sheba
School in Adwa, took me to stay with her and go to school. Her father
and my grandfather, Haleqa Tewolds Medhin Gebru, had taught in the Queen
of Sheba School I was then 11-1/2 years old. My grandfather was nearly
bed ridden. He taught me a lot from his bed. It was nice and easy
going to school with my aunt and my 2 cousins, Netsannet and Terfu.
Even at school, the first day was easy. My aunt took me to the school
office. I was sent to the first grade. But before I even sat dawn, the
teacher asked me questions and obviously I answered them to his
satisfaction. So, he sent me back to the office, which sent me to the
On the second day of my school, his Royal Highness Ras Seyoum Mengesha
Governor of Tigray came to visit Adwa. We had to walk in a procession to
the Awraja Administration office (Fisssho) to welcome him. Our sports
teacher and his ever-present cane were in charge of the procession. I
wore a jedid tibbiqo and trousers with meshgegh. The town kids found it
below their dignity to allow me to join their procession, so they
joined hands to push me out. But soon, our sports teacher came and his
companion cane landed on my bare tighs. So I moved in to walk in line.
As soon as he turned around to walk away, they again pushed me out. Then
he came back. As soon as he turned around to walk away, they again
pushed me out. This happened several more times before my ordeal was
over as I happily saw the back of our Royal Governor.
In a few days, I acquired khakhi juba and fiddo. Nobody noticed my bare feet. Only those that had shoes were noticed.
One week later, I was again sent to the office. The office again
sent me to another class, the third grade. I stayed in that grade the 2
months left of the first term.
In the second term, I was promoted to the fourth grade, and at the end
of the year to the fifth grade. Four grades in one year? Credit it to
my parents. [To] them, it was clear that education in Tigrigna and
Ge’ez also helps. It helps me still. Everyone in Tigray now accepts that
education in Tigrigna helps. I tell you that education in Ge’ez helps
equally. It opens the door to Ethiopia’s massive literature of the past.
My rustic attire was soon forgotten and I got many friends. Deep
inside, all the pupils of the Queen of Sheba School were as rustic as
myself. But some of them were, like myself, more overtly so. They walk
to their parents every Saturday, often for more than 6 hours, returned
the next Sunday with enough food for a week, and lived in groups in
rented rooms. Often, they had to eat only the qitta they themselves
cooked. So, I had it easy eating good food and sleeping without worry.
Some of our teachers were very good. I Particular remember two, an
Ethiopian and Indian, who knew well what they were teaching and enjoyed
answering our questions. Some were unfit to teach because they knew
little. Others were unfit to teach because they had warped
personalities. I remember one particular teacher who felt unsure about
himself and did not want to answer questions. I used to ask my teachers
many questions. He went to my aunt and tried to frighten her by saying
that I would go mad if I continued thinking about complicated subjects
and asking precocious questions. Fortunately, she told me about it and
we both laughed it off.
Girls were particular targets of many of the bad teachers. As we all
know, girls are already at a disadvantage because they have to help in
the kitchen while boys have free time. So, they are often forced to be
late to school. We had a beautiful and good natured girl in our class.
One day she came into the classroom just after all of us had got in.
One horrible man who was meant to teach us then shouted at her, “where
have you been, you prostitute? were you delayed by some man?” we
laughed: the teacher’s ignorance was evil, and ours was cruel. She
never came back to school after that insult.
Many of our teachers drunk siwa and mies excessively. Even some of the
pupils did. One of the teachers often fell down and scarred his face.
We could not see the scars on the rest of his body.
And all the teachers carried canes, and used them on us liberaliy. One
day, one of these good but pupil-bashing teachers. Hopped on the top of
my desk Then he started asking us questions one by one. Every time as
pupil answered wrong, the cane landed on my head. At last, I could not
bear it and broke down and cried. He briefly realized what he had done.
He left my desk for another, but he continued to bash-the next head.
In spite of all this, we respected and obeyed out teachers. We studied
hard. Studying at home was not easy. Adwa had an electricity generator
that gave low power from dusk to 10:00p.m. But, it was often out of
order. Anyway, most houses had not been connected to it, and even those
connected had very dim bulbs. When the night was clear, we studied in
But we all had textbooks. And we were taught English and Amharic by
teachers who mastered the languages. And our class size did not exceed
40. And we were all confident that we would succeed and serve our
families and our country and change the whole world the better. To us,
the world was set to steadily improve: and Ethiopia was a great country,
and Ethiopians were the best people.
And in my Eight Grade class of 1947 Ethiopian calendar, there were 23 of
us: and we all passed the national examination; and we came out top in
the country; and those who followed us and who followed them the Queen
of Sheba School was the best!
Now I hear that textbooks are scarce and that the teachers of English
and Amharic can hardly speak the languages. Understandable, since it is
early days, the teachers of Tigrigna have little understanding of the
grammatical rule that govern the language. The school leavers can thus
not express themselves effectively in any language. And the class sizes
are greater than 100. I know that the two decades of chaos that followed
Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule have sapped people’s confidence. Many
Ethiopians feel that, after all, they may not be the best. The scarcity
of jobs upon finishing schools has particularly undermined the
confidence of the young in their future. Young people dream of leaving
the country for good. The global condition which makes the rich richer
and the poor poorer darkens the prospects for the future. It is,
therefore, understandable that many of our young want to join the rich
in the developed countries. And, the once home of brilliance, my old
Queen of Sheba School, has had its past glory largely replaced by
despondency. Am I wrong? I hope that I am. But I fear that I am not.
What do I prescribe then?
The negative global situations need not stop us from engaging in
creative economic activities because we have a large internal market and
we can thus ignore the outside world as a market for our products.
The time of chaos is past. We can look forward to a peaceful future.
Peace if conducive for work. Therefore, we can look forward to a future
when good work will fetch good rewards. And work restores
For good work, we need good education. We, ourselves, can do much to
solve our own educational problems. As I have already pointed out, our
teachers of 50 years ago were neither well trained nor well behaved. But
they believed in hard work. Their caning us was meant to convince us
to work hard. The condition of pupils at home was definitely worse than
is the case with present day pupils. There is not reason why teachers
and pupils cannot now work as hard as when we were pupils.
With cooperation among all in the town of Adwa and its surrounding
countryside, more schoolrooms can be built. This would remove
overcrowding, the government might help in this, and it should be asked
to do so; but their now are thousands of schools in the country with
needs similar to that the Queen of Sheba School. If we want to excel as
in the past, we must exert ourselves also as in the past. The same can
be done about the shortage in books even more easily.
Therefore, the teachers, the pupils and the people, including those of
us who live in other parts of Ethiopia, must work hard if the queen of
Sheba Schools is to restore its old brilliance. Otherwise, the queen of
Sheba’s ghost holding the sword of Solomon the judge will haunt us.
And the penalty will be abject poverty and perpetual aims seeking from