Growing into Oblivion

(Part I)

After a long day at the office, sitting on his usual "thinking" chair by the window, Tesfa  was trying to relax by listening to traditional music from his home country, Ethiopia. By all standards, Tesfa was a successful professional who should be pleased with his career. To top this, he is also married to the woman of his dreams, a loving woman who adores him and their three beautiful children.

But, despite all this, he could sense the beginning of the occasional depression that seems to consume his very being … a sense of not having made the right decisions in his life and the wandering of whether his life on this planet has been worth anything meaningful. This seemed to happen even when he was in his home country, Ethiopia, albeit with much less intensity. But, it has become acute and unbearable since he left home.

He was a very disciplined student who excelled in his academic activities, an avid reader of literature and history, a responsible and upstanding citizen who strove to better his life and of those around him. His exemplary character, acute intelligence, analytic mind and ingrained sense of responsibility were almost legendary among all those who knew him.

Yet … the simple pleasure of being at peace with himself eluded him.

Listening to the haunting instrumental music on the shepherd's flute, he went deeper and deeper in thought. His ever challenging conscience, which seemed to enjoy such moments of despair by posing its piercing questions, eventually started its onslaught.

'So,' his conscience nagged, 'when did you get off the right track in your life?'

'The obvious point of departure would of course be when I left my country', he thought sadly.

'Hmmm…You tend to come up with simple solutions to complicated problems, don't you?' his conscience admonished 'But, how would that explain your depression back home?'

As always, the assessment was right. There has to be a much a better and deeper explanation. So, in part to satisfy his never-failing but always nagging lifetime companion, his conscience, and in part to answer this question that he has been asking himself for ages, he began to think about what the reasons might be that made his life miserable, despite his best intentions, good will and hard work.

As he thought deeper and deeper, he couldn’t find the answer in his choice of career. He always loved being an educator. In fact, this was the reason for his choice of Educational Policy as his main area of specialization. After excelling in all aspects of his studies, he had eventually become a Professor of Education in the national university. His Ph.D. dissertation was on the genesis of the educational policy of his country and its relationship to the ancient traditional school by the orthodox church. Through hard work and dedication, he helped build his department to be one of the best in the university. He was liked by all his students and colleagues.

So, failing to find the reason in the recent past, he sank deeper and deeper into the remote past --- back to his childhood years.

- 2 -

It all started on that fateful day when his father decided to enroll him in the trendy modern school, lovingly referred to as "asquala".

"My son, " his father said beaming with pride "Tomorrow, I will take you to the place where you will be molded into becoming a very important person."

"Yes, Papa" he answered with excitement. "But, where is it? … What is it?" he asked in anticipation. In his quick and imaginative mind, he visualized a magical place where he would be transformed into a very powerful person with everything at his finger tips.

"You are now almost seven years old" his father said "So, it is time for you to go to school."

"But, I am already going to school," he protested with disappointment. He has indeed been going to the local church to study under the tutelage of Yenieta, the priest-teacher at the church of Saint Mary of Zion. The prospect of getting out of the yoke of Yenieta's strict discipline was very tempting. Indeed, he had lost track of the many times he has tasted the legendary and very painful pinching of Yenieta which seemed to be provoked by the slightest (real or imagined) offenses of his students. In fact, Tesfa (as the little boy was called; meaning hope in his language) was indeed a very bright and disciplined child who rarely got into trouble. For this, he was on the "favorite" list of Yenieta. So, one can imagine the penalties that the other more troublesome children received at the hand of the unyielding teacher.

Yenieta would sit on his stool under the big tree, waving his Chira from side to side out of a lifelong habit and in a futile attempt to get rid of the ubiquitous and annoying flies. With his majestic white beard and his traditional head cover that identified him as a member of the clergy, he looked as ancient a relic as the old tree he sat under. He supervised the daily activities of his pupils wrapped in his thick cotton shawl, Gabbi, that once used to be white but had become gray from years of use and continuous abuse by the chronic dust that seemed to engulf the open-air school at least once a day. The students would sit around him with their small study books. Yenieta would ask them to recite the Geez alphabet or one of the ancient religious passages from the church's teachings. With the older kids acting as tutors, the children would then embark on a timeless chanting that have been used for centuries by generations of children who were lucky enough to go to school. Yenieta would seemingly fall asleep on his stool. But, woe to the child who would think that he could take advantage of this apparent freedom in order to act silly or create some sort of trouble with peers. Yenieta would notice immediately, and would severely punish the culprit with diabolical enthusiasm. The painful pinching of Yenieta would sometimes be enhanced by the use of various diabolical improvisations such as putting pieces of gravel to intensify the pain. He would then go on a lecture on 'how parents have the highest hopes for their children's future, how the mother church expected its children to be pious and dilligent in their studies'. Yenieta would then, almost surely, finish with a shout "You are hopeless! Go on with your studies!!!" and the students would scramble back to their studies, careful not to be the next victims of punishment.

'Yes', Tesfa thought with amusement, 'Yenieta is indeed a mean character and it would be nice to be free of the daily hassles'. But, despite all this, he loved Yenieta with all his heart. All the children have long ago realized that Yenieta's love for his pupils was indeed as intense as his punishments. More importantly, Tesfa thought, he would sorely miss his friends. So, it was with mixed emotions and apprehension that he received his father's announcement.

His father had indeed sacrificed a lot by deciding to send Tesfa to school. As a poor peasant, he could have used Tesfa's help in the field. In fact, his friends and other family members have ridiculed the ambitious expectations that he had for his only son. He did not know what his son will be learning in the "modern" school, but all he knew was that he did not want him to end up being a poor peasant like him. With the promises of the modern schools that seemed to be mushrooming in the regional cities, he thought that his son might end up being an educated and important person. So, ignoring the teasing of friends and plea of other family members, he enrolled his only son in the so called "Asquala".

"Aren't you happy?" his father asked. "You are being given a chance that none of your friends are getting. I expect you to be a good student and I also expect you to tend to the cattle before and after you go to school every day."

"Yes, Papa" Tesfa answered.

"I will also take you to town tomorrow to buy you new clothes," his father added.

"Yes, Papa" Tesfa answered with pleasure and excitement. This last piece of news was surely an obvious source of happiness.

  ... So, this was how the journey to the fountain of "knowledge" started, years and years ago… with high spirits and boundless hopes.

Tesfa proved to be an excellent student and his parents beamed with pride at his progress.

Every day, Tesfa's father would ask his son what he learned in school. Tesfa would proudly recite the alphabet and demonstrate his writing. At other times, his father would ask him simple arithmetic questions and Tesfa never failed to provide the correct answer.

His father would then beam with pride and turns to his wife declaring "I tell you Askalu, this boy is going to become liq, liqe liqawnt, an important scholar."

So, the journey continued … with Tesfa making significant strides and his parents lavishing him with encouragements and rewards.

At last, the day came when Tesfa had to start studying the English alphabet. When his father asked him that evening about his activities in school, Tesfa's answer, was for the first time, alien to him. It was a slight setback on the daily routine. Tesfa's father understood that sooner or later this day would come. He fully understood that Tesfa needed to study the language of the Ferengi in order to further his education. Nonetheless, it was the first rift between father and son.

So, the journey continued … with Tesfa making significant strides and his father continuing to ask his son about the daily activities in the school.

(to be continued)



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