THE EARLY DAYS
As an elementary school teacher, my mother, fortunately for us, understood child psychology. More importantly, she had unlimited love for her children, my older sister, and me. My earliest memories were characterized by such caring of a loving mother. Our father who was a very ambitious, hard-working civil servant (a banker), was known for his notorious sense of humor and joyful attitude towards life. They were both born and raised in the Piassa area of Addis Ababa (ye Arada Lidjoch).
My father lost his biological mother who is Ethiopian when he was five years old, and his father who was Greek a few years later. Subsequently, he was raised by his step-parents in the Dejach Wube area. My mother was raised by her very strict Greek father and conservative Ethiopian mother in the Doro Manekia area.
When my older sister was born in 1963 as the first child of our immediate family, my father got a major break in his professional life. “Our first born is my lucky charm because right after her birth I got my first real promotion”, once wrote my late father. Up to the late 1950s and early 1960s, foreigners held most of the supervisory and managerial positions in government-owned banks. This new era of the 1960s represented a period of assertive promotion of Ethiopians into managerial positions, at a rapid pace. By the late 1960s, the banks were able to staff their highest executive positions with Ethiopians. The late Dr. Teffera Degefe, the giant in Ethiopian banking, once wrote about my late father, “it was while assessing the performance of our staff that I gradually came to know Telahun’s potential. He has a characteristic smile and charm in his interpersonal relations. He worked with energy and enthusiasm as he had career aspirations and the determination to succeed. In the latter part of the 1960s and 1970s, Telahun was manager of the main domestic banking branch of Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) Addis Ababa, known as the Main Addis Ababa Branch. I observed then that he maintained excellent customer and staff relations, at a time when personal service in banking was in vogue. Telahun was greatly valued as a branch manager because he was loyal to his colleagues and remarkable in his dedication to CBE”.
I came into this world under these national conditions on October 26/1965. There was an air of promise and hope. Young professionals were enthusiastic about the future, and the possibilities for them and the country seemed endless. The talk among the professional and intellectual circles primarily focused on building a better and more affluent society.
After attending the Greek school for a year, I joined Saint Joseph school as a KG student. My mother had taught there previously but was working for the Maritime Transit at the time. While in elementary school, I remember vividly the Marxist revolution of 1974. Our fourth-grade teacher one day came to class and immediately wrote the word “Socialism” on the blackboard and asked if any of us knew the meaning of it. We did not. That night, as it was our family tradition to go out to dinner as a family once a month, we were at the Lalibela Restaurant located around the national stadium. I was sitting by the window upstairs. Suddenly, the loud marching mass of young men and women on the streets holding up slogans that read “Land to the Tiller”, meant that we had to cut dinner short and head home.
During this time of revolutionary upheavals in 1974, the whole idea of bank “restructuring” a la sociaaliste was with the purpose of centralizing power. By mid-1976, Dr. Teferra Degefe was unceremoniously removed by the Military Government at gunpoint and put under political detention. My late father was removed from the Main Branch and was demoted as manager of the minor Bole branch. To his credit, and for the sake of the institution he loved, he accepted this unfair demotion and served the bank until his retirement in 1983. But, when he eventually resigned a few years later, discouraged by the fact that young political appointees were “destroying the bank we built carefully”, he was imprisoned.
At that time, with her passion for young children and education, my mother was running the successful Nursery school called Bira Biro that she had founded and established from scratch. Unfortunately, a few months later, the government decided to give full control of the school to the employees, and my mother was removed.