“He is the best teacher I have had at this university,” a student wrote last January in the evaluation of Zenebe Beyene.
Zenebe is the assistant dean at the School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University and a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He taught JOUR 400 International Communication during January Intersession at Ole Miss.
Thus, it was exciting to be invited to dinner by Zenebe’s family when I was in Addis last week. I had traveled to Ethiopia from Dubai to try to finalize the partnership agreement between Addis Ababa University and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at The University of Mississippi.
Dr. Gebremedhin Simon and his wife picked us up about 7:15 at the Hilton Hotel in Addis for the 15-minute ride to Restauraunt Yod Abyssinia for an evening of Ethiopian food and folk dancing.
When we entered the restaurant our hosts were already seated. They included many of Zenebe’s family and his wife Hanna’s mother and uncle. When we walked up, everyone stood.
I greeted Nigist Teshome, Zenebe’s sister, a brilliant business woman; Genet Reta, Zenebe’s sister-in-law; and Aberash Teshome, another of Zenebe’s sisters. She works as an accountant at St. Mary’s College. Then I gave Shibeshi Beyene, Zenebe’s brother, and Berhane Gelan, Zenebe’s mother-in-law, a big hug. I met Tafesse Wondimagegnehu, Hanni’s uncle, for the first time.
Tiblet Gebremariam, Zenebe’s mother, greeted me for the first time since she left Lincoln more than a year ago. Then I hugged Teshome Beyene, Zenebe’s father, the 73-year-old patriarch of the family who had been ill off and on for the last decade.
What an honor.
He has not been well for the last decade and had not been able to join us for a previous dinner. However, he made a special effort to be with us this time.
He was wearing a long, black winter overcoat and a brown stocking cap. He does not speak English and I do not speak Amharic, the trade language and his tribal language, but we understood each other and, when necessary, Hanna’s mother and Zenebe’s brother translated throughout the night.
I sat at his right side and watched him throughout the evening. He is only five years my senior, but he has survived incredible hardship. He endured the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who ruled from 1930 until 1974 when the Derg took over under General Mengistu Haile Mariam.
His older son, Shibeshi, had been in Megistu’s military and when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took over in May 1991 anyone associated with the Derg was out of work. So Shibeshi works for enterprises created by Zenebe.
Meles Zenawi, now Prime Minister of Ethiopia, emerged as the leader of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) when that party defeated the Derg. He was Head of the interim government of Ethiopia, May, 1991–; elected president on July 23, 1991; elected Prime Minister in 1995, 2000 and 2005.
I had met Zenebe the first day I visited the Graduate School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University in October 2004. He took me to lunch, and I immediately observed his efficiency and organizational talent.
“We would love to have you as a doctoral student at Nebraska,” I told him.
We did not have the budget for such a commitment, but I believed having an alumnus like Zenebe would enhance Nebraska’s reputation.
Zenebe knew English well. He had a reputation as an honest able leader whose RECORD of good grades and military heroism had gained him respect throughout the university.
During his first year at Ethiopia’s Naval Academy, he had been captured by the Eritrean military when he went to graduation ceremonies at Massawa. For two years he did hard labor as a prisoner of war. (Of his graduating class of 16, eight died during the war; one managed to escape and seven were captured. From those 100 naval candidates who went to the graduation, more than half died. The majority of the survivors were captured.)
Clearly, Ole Miss students are fortunate to have a classroom teacher of Zenebe’s knowledge and experience.
Clearly, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media has enhanced its reputation.
Thus, it was a very emotional evening for me as I enjoyed an Ethiopian dinner complete with Ethiopian dancers and singers. The family was expressing their thanks to Ole Miss for Zenebe’s opportunity to teach at the Meek School.
However, we were the ones to express our gratitude for the honor of having Zenebe in Farley Hall.