Tewolde Gebreegziabher, Ph.D

Last attended year : 1947

Oh, My Old School, Oh My Past Future

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 second grade.

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 moonlight.

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 self-confidence.

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 abroad.