E&E RPCVs
My Memories of Mike Brady
     by Wondimu Mekonnen

I REMEMBER THE DAY I saw Michael Brady (Mettu, Harar 68–72) for the first time. It was just like yesterday.

It was on Monday, 30 September, 1968. I was totally new to the town of Mettu and to St. Gabriel School. I had come from another town to start my eighth grade. I sat in the classroom a stranger among teenagers excited by the start of a new school year, and curious and puzzled to see me, a new little face, among them. In order to be closer to the teacher’s desk and not to be bullied by other children, I sat on the first row desk. Nobody was brave enough to ask me who I was or where I came from. They left me alone.
     
The first lesson was Amharic. Not bad at all! The second period was Mathematics. Alemayehu Woldaregay, the teacher, was superb. The third period was an English lesson. I expected another Ethiopian. To my bewilderment, a totally strange looking unexpected white young lad walked in. All of a sudden, the noisy class went dead silent. The children’s eyes were wide open. I did not understand why they were so shocked given they had been in St Gabriel for more years than I and must have been used to those strange looking people. I shifted my eyes from the strange human being to the silent children and then back to the teacher. I carefully watched his youthful shining face like an angel. “Was that really a human or a heavenly being?” was the idea that went through my small head. His eyes were deep blue. I had never seen such eyes before. I wondered if they could see anything at all. That was the first time I had ever come so close to a “ferenji” — a white person.


Mike in the Ethi 10-Maine "mugbook"

     After settling down his books, he cleared his throat and said: “My name is Michael Brady. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. I came from the West Coast of the United States of America. I will be your English teacher.” He talked in a very weird accent. “Aha!” I said to myself. “So, you are a stranger too, just like me? We may probably just make good friends.” He started with me asking our names, what we wanted to be when we finished the eighth grade and the like. I took that opportunity to let the rest of the class know who I was though Michael did not know what was going on. By the time he got to the last student, the period was over and we were allowed to break for lunch. That was the beginning of a life-long relationship.
     Science class started in the afternoon. Another young American Volunteer came in and introduced himself as Ted. He did not seem interested in our life history like Mike. Without wasting any minutes he started teaching his science classes. Ted was completely different from Mike. He kept himself to himself.
     Michael took very close and personal interest in each one of us. He seemed more concerned about those children from very poor backgrounds. When others never went anywhere near those who walked barefooted, looked dirty and wore torn clothes, Michael preferred to spend more time with such kids than anybody else. He quickly won the trust of every student, starting from the smallest to the biggest. We all were drawn to Michael more than any teacher at St Gabriel. One by one, many students started confiding their problems with this caring and warm young man. Our classes with Michael were exciting. While some teachers had some problems in the classes, Michael faced no trouble whatsoever.
     
He naturally blended himself with the environment. We quickly forgot he was a “ferenji” - foreigner and an American, as a matter of fact. We all thought he was one of us, a closer person to trust next to our natural parents. He started going to villages with his students and gave out malaria and other tablets to the sick. He ate what the locals ate. Parents started knowing him and inviting him to their houses. Michael was absolutely overwhelmed by the nature and behaviour of Ethiopians. He was attracted to the fact that they did not have much, but they generously shared with other people whatever they had. They enjoyed giving away more than receiving. He fell in love with the land and the people. Mettu became his adapted home.
     Mettu at the time was without running water or electricity. Mike seemed not to notice the absence of theses basic necessities. It was as if he lived the whole of his life there, like everybody else. This and other non-suitable life styles did not get at Mike. Mike became more popular than any one in Mettu. Wherever he went, children called him by name and followed him. He talked to everyone with interest. Knowing that he cared for everyone, every one cared for him in his/her own way.

The next year
The school year flew passed before we even knew it. We students sat for the Ministry of Education Eighth Grade Examination. Winter came (summer in the Northern Hemisphere), and then we all went away. In September 1969 we all returned to Mettu to learn if we had passed our exams. Mettu could only provide education up to eighth grade. Anyone who wanted to go beyond that had to go to Gore and continue high school at the only high school in the province of Illubabor at the time. Until that time, only students from well-off families were able to continue their education. For many poor students, eighth grade was the end of their education. As they could not afford to go to Gore and continue their studies, they were forced to return to their villages and help their parents with farming or coffee picking.
     When I met Mike in September 1969 after vacation, he was so happy to see me and expressed how proud was he of me. He gave me a huge hug, took me aside and told me that I scored hundred out of hundred in all subjects in my exams. He asked me about my future plans. I told him I would go to Gore and continue my high school there. He offered me assistance if faced a problem in Gore. I promised to ask him for help if I needed it. Upon returning from talking to Mike, I found out that The Commercial School of Addis Ababa was chasing after me. I bought my ticket and flew to Addis to start a new life. But I kept on inquiring about the fate of my fellow classmates who passed their exams. To my delight, I found out how Michael supported each one of those who could not afford to go to Gore and continue their studies. He personally arranged to meet their expenses and supported each one of them to continue their high school studies, many of whom would have otherwise quit. He even took more children in the lower grades to his house, fed them, clothed them and looked after them. As the Peace Corps Volunteer allowance was not enough, he somehow managed to secure some assistance from his family and went on helping the needy. He managed to get clothes, shoes and blankets from the his family and friends in the US and distributed them to the poor children.

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