Three months after coming to the US, 38 year old Tedros remembers life before his long journey. Born in Adisba, Ethiopia, Tedros attended school until he finished his High School education. Around the time of his graduation, the Eritrea’s forces beat Ethiopia’s army. During this short period of peace, Tedros began nursing school in Eritrea. Politically, the region was unsettled and he only was able to complete one year of schooling before Eritrea declared independence leading to more disputes with Ethiopia. These two countries would battle for 13 years.
Eritrea requires its citizens to support their country by participating in the National Service. Tedros entered and served for 10 years as a medical assistant. Early during his service, he met his wife. Tedros was married in 2002 in his local church. He and his wife had one daughter and would have a son soon after.
Work with the National Service is very difficult and workers do not receive a salary. Furthermore, during his time in the National Service, Tedros went almost 4 years without seeing his family. He frequently requested to visit them but it was not granted. As a punishment for making so many requests, Tedros was sent to a desolate place to work. One day as he was in the forest collecting wood, he decided to escape. He ran for about an hour to cross the Ethiopian border and enter a refugee camp. The border is forbidden and is the site of a military base so it is very dangerous to cross.
At the refugee camp, Shimelba, the occupants made houses out of soil, water and wood. At first, Tedros shared a house with a roommate, but later he was the sole occupant. The UNHCR provided the refugees with 1 kg of wheat, sugar and oil but there was still not enough food. Since refugees cannot work legally in Ethiopia, there was no money to purchase more food or other things he needed.
After 4 years in the camp, Tedros made the long trip to the United States. He arrived on May 17, 2011 to be greeted in the airport by a World Relief worker and a person he met at the camp. There were other refugees from his camp on his flight as well. As he came, Tedros confronted fears of the approaching language barrier and the culture. He didn’t know what it would be like. “What can I do?” he asked himself.
Tedros says that he was eager to go to the US because it offered peace and democracy. Eritrea, he says “had no democracy.”
He didn’t know anyone in America besides the friends he met at the camp who had immigrated before him. He moved in with one of these friends and has lived there for three months now. Upon seeing the apartment in which he was to live, Tedros says, “It is good; it was not like that before [in Eritrea].” Tedros and his roommate share the chores in the house, taking turns cleaning and cooking. They enjoy cooking traditional Eritrean food in their home.
Since arriving, Tedros has become involved in ESL classes and attended a Job Club at World Relief where he learned how to fill out job applications. He applied to hotels and stores but is still searching for a job. He says that World Relief has helped him in many ways, learning to fill out applications and matching him up with volunteers who will help him. “Everything [about World Relief] is good for me,” he says.
Tedros says he likes being in the US. One thing he really enjoys is basketball. While there is nothing he has found that he says he doesn’t like, he has come across difficult aspects of the life in the US. Perhaps the biggest challenge has been learning the language, but he is eager to learn. Tedros is already is fluent in both the language of Eritrea, Tigrigna, and that of Ethiopia, Amharic.
Tedros regrets that he was not able to spend more time with his family while he was in Eritrea. His father passed away but his mother, grandparents and children still live there. His daughter, 13, and son, 9, both live with his grandparents while his wife is working in Greece. He hopes that one day they will all be able to join him in America and has already begun pursuing this possibility with World Relief Spokane’s Immigration Department. In other plans for the future, Tedros desires to continue learning English and other knowledge in America.
When asked what he would like to tell volunteers and those who help refugees he replied, “Helping- it’s a good thing. Thank you for you help.”
-Stacey Eyman, August 2011