Writing Your Story

The story of the Soviet Union is one of sadness, greed and tragedy, not only domestic tragedy but exported tragedy as well. Early on, they had burned through the resources and accumulated wealth of the Czars and were forced to pursue a political philosophy of militarism and expansionism. After they had raped and pillaged Central Asia they still needed more tribute. The only economic component of growth known to their system was taking from someone else. Of necessity, they eventually turned their sights on the resources of Africa, but needed a stronghold. In 1974, a Soviet sponsored coup overthrew Haile Salassie of Ethiopia, the second most populated country in Africa. They established a Marxist-Leninist military junta known as the “Dreg.”

In 1977, neighboring Somalia captured part of Ethiopia. Fifteen thousand troops from Russia, Cuba, South Yemen, East Germany and North Korea arrived to support the “Dreg.” Following the border dispute, the USSR just kept pouring in more “advisors” as well as armaments, tanks, jet fighters, rocket launchers and guns until every strategic location was controlled by the Soviets. Then came the genocide and forced deportations of dissidents to neighboring countries. Man-manipulated “famines” forced millions to become refugees as the Soviet leadership explained, “You don’t need to kill all the fish, simply drain the pond and all the fish will die.” 

The “famines” galvanized the resistance groups under the leadership of Seeye Abraha in the northern regions. They, too, were going to write their story. Another story would be written by a young man of royal linage, Daniel Yohannes, from Addis Ababa who was whisked away from Ethiopia to be educated in the US. Daniel became one of Project C.U.R.E.’s first board members.

For over 20 years the freedom fighters desperately tried to overthrow the Soviet-directed regime but no one came to Ethiopia’s aid. The free world simply said. “Well, some day the Ethiopians will realize that the Soviets are a menace and will throw them out.” The only weapons the freedom fighters had to use against the enemy were ones they could take away from the communists. The only show of international help came from organizations shipping food in response to the “famine.” Much of that aid was confiscated by the communists and sent on to Russia to help cover the food shortages there.

In 1996 I met a dignified Ethiopian woman in Denver. Her name was Tadeleah and her home was Addis Ababa. I met her at a fund raising dinner where I was speaking to help raise money for the shipping costs of millions of dollars of donated medical goods from Project C.U.R.E. into Ethiopia. Tadeleah had been a freedom fighter during the Soviet occupation. Twenty years later she was a Cabinet Member in the newly formed government and Minister of Women’s Affairs for Ethiopia.

On my next trip into Ethiopia I was accompanied by Daniel Yohannes. We were welcomed at the Addis Ababa airport by Seeye Abraha, new Minister of Defense for Ethiopia. Also there were the Ambassador to the US, the Governor of the Tigray region, the Minister of Health, and Tadeleah. All had been leaders of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRKF). They were busily engaged in restructuring a new Ethiopia after the miracle victory over the communists. They were now writing their new story.

One of the evenings I was in Addis Ababa Daniel and I were invited to Tadeleah’s home for dinner. We were graciously received by her three daughters. Her lovely home featured wood floors and comfortable furnishings. Tadeleah had prepared a traditional Ethiopian meal where soft, spongy bread made from teff called “injera” was stacked four layers deep. Each slice was about 20 inches in diameter and the stack covered a low round table where we gathered. Placed on top on the injera were food items, such as spinach, squash, corn, fish, lentil beans and rice. As we talked we would tear pieces of injera from the top slice, pinch or scoop up a vegetable or meat and put it into our mouth. As we were finishing our injera one of the girls placed a covering on the wood floor and built an open fire of charcoal in a cast iron pot. She roasted coffee beans by gently shaking them over the fire and then meticulously brewed the coffee over the same fire. The uniqueness of the ceremony was exceeded only by the aroma and taste of the Ethiopian coffee.

During the dinner I commented about a picture close to the table and asked if the man in the picture was her husband. Tadeleah confirmed that it was and hesitatingly she began sharing with us the heart-rending tale of the price of freedom in Ethiopia. Her husband had been an early leader in the resistance fighting. The communists had captured him and forced Tadeleah to watch as they tortured him to death. Tadeleah became one of the fiercest and most respected leaders in the movement. 

When she was captured she was leading a group of women and girls out from a village that had been surrounded by the communists. They were firing mortar shells and grenades into the village killing the inhabitants in the crossfire. Tadeleah had sneaked into the village and tied the women and girls together in a group so they would not get separated as they attempted to escape to safety in the dark of night. The enemy discovered their escape and caught them. Tadeleah, who was dressed like an old pregnant peasant woman, managed to escape again, but as she was leaving, a young girl with tears in her eyes begged her not to leave them because they would then have nothing and no one. Tadeleah then came back to try to help them one more time. That time the enemy rec­ognized her and she was condemned to death. For the next 13 years she cheated the firing squad but remained in solitary confinement until she escaped again. She told us that close to half of the freedom fighters were women and when the com­munists would capture a group of their forces they would nearly always shoot all the women on the spot because they were the fiercest fighters, being the last to ever surrender their weap­ons. The women could absolutely terrorize the enemy and get the advantage in close hand-to-hand fighting. It was because of the important role that the women had played in the war that they now had been given some of the most important jobs in the new government. I listened very carefully as Tadeleah relived her story.

Rogue nations write their stories, insurgency freedom fighters write their stories, and each individual writes his or her story for history. We are the sum total of every moment and every event of our lives on this earth, and we decide how each episode will shape our story.