Articles by Richard Lyman:
March 31, 2013 by Richard Lyman
November 18, 1962 was a day of public celebration in Gondar. Our Peace Corps director, Harris Wofford, arrived from Asmara and accompanied us to the “Unity Day – Ethiopia and Eritrea” celebration on Tukul Hill (the mountain behind the post office). There gathered were many hundreds of local nobles and officials from throughout the province. The Governor and other high officials were sheltered in a large army tent where a crush of men tried to sit as close to the Governor as possible. The celebration was held in recognition of the Eritrean assembly vote which dissolved the Federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia and allowed Eritrea to be annexed to Ethiopia.
A week after the event I spoke with a Tigryean merchant from Asmara who told me that the Emperor got the approval of the Eritrean Assembly by sending army trucks throughout Eritrea rounding up all the Assembly members and hauling them to Asmara at gun point. He went on to relate that the Ethiopian government would not let any of the American or European Counsels near the Assembly members on the day of the voting. A year later while I was learning more about Ethiopian agriculture during a two weeks’ stay at Alamaya Agricultural College, a student whose father had been a member of the Eritrean Assembly corroborated what the merchant had reported.
February 10, 2013 by Richard Lyman
Fifty years ago Gondar was a very different town. We understood that it had a population of a little over 10,000 and was compact enough so almost everyone, ourselves included, could easily walk on most errands. There were the Italian occupation buildings centered on the hill near and above the Piazza and many ancient castles and churches. Weeks after arriving there in September 1962, several of my students agreed to take me on a walking tour to some of the businesses in the town.
Early one Saturday morning we met on the Piazza in front of the Foto Prince Makonnen Shop across from the Cinema Bar so I could buy a roll of high speed black and white film. As I look at the photos I took that day, I can recall memories of my interactions with the shop owners and the bustling of daily life around Gondar.
August 23, 2012 by Richard Lyman
When I was assigned to teach agriculture at Haile Selassie 1 Secondary School in Gondar I had a lot to learn about agriculture in Ethiopia. Unknown to me at the time of my arrival in Gondar was the fact that there were two agricultural extension agents in the area, Ato Arega Effende and Ato Yilma Degafa. Ato Arega was assigned to Gondar and points south and Ato Yilma to the north around the Debat area. They were both a big help to me.
According to sources in the American Embassy the Extension program worked well as long as the Extension Service was part of the Ministry of Agriculture. However, after it was reassigned to the Ministry of Education it was neglected within that bureaucracy.
July 9, 2012 by Richard Lyman
The Bath of Fasiledes has now been restored with the help of funding from the Government of Norway. When my son, John, and I visited Gondar, Ethiopia in 2006 the work was still in progress with stone masons rebuilding walls. This fascinating structure was created during the reign of Emperor Fasiledes (1632-1667). It is a stone walled compound within which there is a giant rectangular pool. Situated within the pool is a three story castle. The Bath was only a short walk from my house.
In fact, it was across the road from the third compound of our school where all the school gardens were located. Between my house and the Bath was the sports field which contained the charming monument to Zobel, Fasiledes’ favorite horse.
June 30, 2012 by Richard Lyman
I don’t recall the issue of censorship being discussed in our Peace Corps training program at Georgetown University during the summer of 1962. Our means of communicating with home were very basic and primitive when compared to the instant internet communications of today. My weekly letter home was anticipated and shared with family members and friends.
Among my parents’ generation there was a great reservoir of good will towards Ethiopia and His Majesty Haile Selassie. They remembered with great emotion his 1936 appearance before the League of Nations where he appealed to the world to take collective action against the Italian Fascist invasion of Ethiopia and their horrific killing of civilians.
May 22, 2012 by Richard Lyman
Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia we were not allowed to own private vehicles. That at least was the rule, however, not so in practice. Only days after landing in Gondar one of our twelve fellow volunteers purchased a very used VW bug for $300 Eth. On September 24th my diary noted that the driver had tried to avoid hitting a cow and as a result the car had ended up in a ditch. When the volunteer went back the next day to retrieve the car it had disappeared. That was the end of that vehicle story.
The only other private Peace Corps owned motor vehicle in Gondar was a well used European motorcycle bought by Jack. It was forever in need of spare parts and repair but while running it gave Jack a certain jaunty air.
May 7, 2012 by Richard Lyman
Aba Gebre Meskel (Father Servant of the Cross) was the morals teacher/orthodox priest assigned to our Haile Selassie 1 Secondary School in Gondar, Ethiopia. My sense was that he arrived at about the same time as the twelve of us. Even without his turban he was very tall. As our nearest neighbor we saw a lot of him and gained a deep respect for his views and good works. While on our Easter visit to the ancient churches of Lalibela (Peace Corps Diary: Ethiopia 1962-1964 Part 2) he shared his opinions on the state of the Orthodox Church. Government agencies and programs would recruit workers through secondary schools like ours.
On one occasion a two year long program in Addis to train better educated students to become school morals teachers came to Gondar to recruit participants from among our 11th graders.
April 9, 2012 by Richard Lyman
As I write this I am listening to a 16 minute “bootleg tape”, now a CD, of the concert Martin Benjamin and I performed on March 9, 1963 (49 years ago) in a talla bet (beer house) in the arada (market) of Gondar, Ethiopia. Marty was the lead on the guitar and I just did my best to follow along. I doubt either of us would be described today as a couple of aging rockers. The flavor of the concert was Kingston Trio, aka “Gondar Duo”.
At the time talla was made by women and sold in their houses. Walking around the market I would observe the green gesho leaves drying on mats in front of the talla bets. The mats were also covered with a mixture of wheat and barley which was wetted and was allowed to sprout. The pounded gesho leaves and wheat/barley were then placed in large (5 gallon) clay jars filled with water where the mixture was allowed to ferment. The resulting beer had a taste somewhat like the smell of silage.
March 25, 2012 by Richard Lyman
Days after our arrival in Gondar we were approached by numerous students asking for employment in our house in exchange for a place to stay and a small stipend.
While, as I’ve indicated in a previous chapter, we were reluctant to admit we needed help we were impressed by the story of one tenth grade student, Yimer Mekonnen.
In exchange for Yimer’s help with laundry and market purchases we converted a “summer kitchen” off of the porch into his room. Like most students Yimer was from a small farming village far away in the province. In my “Peace Corps Diary: Ethiopia 1962-1964 Part 2” I wrote of our cross country walk from Lalibela to Debre Tabor. We walked within sight of Yimer’s village, however, although we offered, he declined to visit.
March 12, 2012 by Richard Lyman
Marty Benjamin, John Stockton, Dallas Smith and I who shared a house in Gondar had the naïve notion that we were going to be self sufficient and live without servants. Little did we realize that in Gondar servants had servants. It took us several months to put aside the quaint notion of complete independence and hire much needed help. The fact that of the four of us only Dallas liked to cook should have been a red flag from the start. Within a week we opened a charge account at Ato Ghile Berhane’s “Ghile’s Store”.
It was a wide glass fronted store just around the corner on the Asmara road from the post office. Behind a tall counter were two engaging young men who would retrieve what we wanted from the floor to ceiling shelves. Our bulk purchases like rice and pasta were poured into cones formed from used Swedish newspapers. We were intrigued by the sight of several boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes on the top shelf off to the left side of the store. We never asked who requested them and the cereal was still there two years later.
February 29, 2012 by Richard Lyman
When we arrived in Gondar, Ethiopia on September 21, 1962 we were assigned to houses rented by the Peace Corps office in Addis. John Stockton, Dallas Smith, Marty Benjamin and I were given a house on a hillside surrounded by several acres of fields across from the school.
The house was enchantingly reminiscent of a Joseph Conrad novel. It was of frame construction set on a massive elevated stone foundation. Each of the four rooms had louvered doors opening onto a veranda which surrounded the entire house. The metal roof added more to the mystique, especially during the rainy season when the sound of the intense rains made being heard difficult.
The house had been built by an Italian engineer for his own use during the period of Italian occupation of Gondar (1935-1941). By 1962 the ownership of the house was murky at best. A man who called himself the “landlord” would appear at our door but we suspected that he was an agent for some important person or government body that had taken ownership after the war.
February 21, 2012 by Richard Lyman
During our Peace Corps stay Gondar was an important market town for much of Begemedir Province. The overwhelming majority of residents of the town and countryside met their daily needs by participating in the weekly Saturday market. The market was attended by thousands of people and took place on a large stony field about two miles from our house.
On Saturdays when I wasn’t busy supervising students tending their gardens at the school I would enjoy visiting the market. I was there often enough so vendors knew me and were comfortable with my photographing them at work. Early each Saturday morning farmers and their families from the south and west of Gondar would pass our house with donkeys laden with grain sacks made from sheep skins.
January 22, 2012 by Richard Lyman
In the early 1960’s from north of Gondar in the Simien Mountains to south of Gondar in Ambover there lived thousands of Falasha Jewish Ethiopians. The name “Falasha” is not politically correct today, however, it was the only name we ever heard used. Since the 1980’s over 80,000 Ethiopian Jews have been permitted to “return” to Israel.
Within our school in Gondar we were told that there were three Falasha students, however, no one was ever identified. Once in my classroom I broke up a severe teasing episode where one of my students was being accused of being a Falasha.
December 29, 2011 by Richard Lyman
The “Gondar 12”, Madelyn Engvall, Jack Prebis, Charlie Callahan, Frank Mason, Andrea Wright, Patricia Martin-Jenkins, Peggy and John Davis, Martin Benjamin, John Stockton, Dallas Smith and I, arrived on the flight from Addis. Gondar is in the historic, traditional and remote Begemedir Province which stretches from north of the Siemien Mountains to the south of Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile). We were assigned to the only secondary school, Haile Selassie I Secondary School (HS1SS), in the vast province.
December 8, 2011 by Richard Lyman
As with my two previous posts I am drawing stories from the diary I kept while a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in Gondar, Ethiopia. In Amharic the word “tarik” has the meaning of both “story” and “history” so this is my “tarik”. I’ve told my son, John Lyman, that I will try each month to provide a new “tarik” until I exhaust the material. There will be no chronology to the stories. My daily diary entries are essentially a verbal record.
There were no newspapers and radio was limited to the BBC, VOA and a few eastern block stations. News in the government newspapers printed in Addis usually revolved around which factory HIM (His Imperial Majesty) visited.