Mesfin Tadesse and I are co-authors of the book Lucy’s People: An Ethiopian Memoir.
I was an Australian teacher and librarian. Mesfin Tadesse told me about Ethiopian culture. I asked, ‘What is it like to live in Ethiopia?’ In 2016 we visited, then wrote his inspirational memoir. My grandfathers were soldiers and farmers that faced the 1930s Depression. This was nothing compared to survival under the Ethiopian communist Derg 1974-91.
Ethiopia is now under attack by foreigners and rebels with sanctions piled upon them. I help by supporting registered Ethiopian charities that by-pass inept or corrupt NGOs. Listen to our radio interview on the injustice of what the world is doing to Ethiopia.
Mesfin is an Ethiopian engineer and, in Australia, he is a registered master builder. How he survived the communist Derg and served his people through work is an inspiring story. Never would Mesfin or his family compromise mother or country. His mother was Falasha, which is Ethiopian Jewish. From her, he gained unique insights into an ancient culture comprised of geniuses. He shares these in Lucy’s People.
View his Ethiopian television interview on “Former Veterans” program. Mesfin speaks in Amharic after the 1st five minutes; I speak in English briefly at the end. Meto Alike is Lieutenant Mesfin Tadesse. A teenage conscript, he served with Airborne.
The Meaning of Yerada Lij
Yerada lij is you. It is an Ethiopian Amharic term that means “smart and self-sufficient supporter of the helpless”. Yerada Lij Australia is our publishing imprint for Saba and Lucy’s people series.
Ethiopia’s Emperor Menelik II also wore hats. In 1895, he gave 2 to Australia.
About Ethiopian Amharic
Amharic is the lingua franca of Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians are bilingual. When I visited in 2020, children as young as 3 wrote in both Amharic and English. They were using 2 different writing systems. Ethiopia is home to more than 80 languages.
Despite what you hear in the wicked West, Ethiopians get along with each other – visitors too. In 2021, a waiter returned my laptop when I left it on a bench and it had begun to rain. She shunned reward; we struggled. My 65 kilograms and 4 extra decades were no match for her 45 kilograms and scintillating yet serious youth. Fortunately, Mesfin found a quiet workaround. The woman was a yerada lij.
UNDP Scholarship Student
From the age of 14, Mesfin survived military conscription, prison and torture. However, wherever he worked, the world benefitted. His education and career began in Ethiopia.
By the age of 17, he had graduated from Building College in Addis Ababa as a construction engineer. He then received a UN Development Programme scholarship to Cairo University. Mesfin topped his 1st year course in civil (water development) engineering. Upon graduating, he returned immediately to Ethiopia to work under the Derg regime. He was 1 of 3 that did so.
In 1991, he sought asylum in Kenya with his young family, where he built water supply for refugees.
Building in New Zealand Earthquake Zones
In 1994, he went to New Zealand. There, he built in earthquake zones and introduced locals to an Ethiopian traditional method of preserving freshly poured concrete. This saved his boss when a pour was mistimed.
Forced to work as a garbage collector upon arrival in New Zealand, Mesfin invented the sulo rubbish bin for automatic lifting onto trucks. Contracted to work on an airport in Fiji, he refused to clear-fell coconut-leaf houses (makuti) and coconut-palms: the homes and livelihood of uncompensated locals.
After moving to Australia, he built the first block-and-timber combination fences. While volunteering as a bushfire fighter, saving Victorian wallabies was a highlight. He was also a volunteer ranger in Victoria and Western Australia, using his own vehicle.
Aussies dish out racial abuse, but Mesfin would go to the battlefront for Australia. In Western Australia, he is a registered master builder. Immigrants like him build nations.
Rather than existing 1,000 years as a mouse, live one day like a lion.—Patriot Mama Teliqwa
Where were the people who built the traps? They were Noongar – First Nations in southwest Australia. I asked the adults, but all were silent.
Papua New Guinea in the 1960s housed the under-belly of racism. We’d moved there for my father to teach agriculture. He mistreated the locals as well as us. Mum asked to separate; he held a gun to her stomach.
In Madang on the coast, grown locals drove us and worked in the house. Aussies disparaged them by calling them ‘boys’. Ex-pats were furious when all children—local and ex-pat—rode to school in the tray of the same ute (utility truck), rolling all over each other and shrieking in delight. At school, the New Guinean children’s open-sided classroom looked fun. But Aussie staff segregated us at study and play.
We then moved to a cattle station in the mountains. They were impassable; only way in and out was by helicopter. Barred from interacting with locals, I never mastered the creole language Tok Pisin although I defied my father and befriended the ‘house boys’, especially Anton. Mum had to send me away to protect me from Dad’s fury.
18 months later, she escaped. Dad was boss of the region, so she forged his signature to go on leave to Australia early. She left with my 3 tiny siblings and 1 suitcase.
Ten years later at work in Australia, I served all people and still remembered Anton. After I left, he would gaze at my photo with its toothless grin and say, ‘Ah, Yanet.’ The name stuck and inspired my pen name.
- Radio interview with Raymond Grenfell: RTRFM radio. Indymedia. 7 November 2022. Podcast, 47 min. https://rtrfm.com.au/podcasts/indymedia-on-rtrfm/ (We speak after 19 minutes; the program begins with the Perth rally following the murder of 15-year-old Noongar Cassius Turvey.)
- Television interview: Balageru Television. “Yekedimo Serawit=Former Veteran”. Episode 13. Pt 1. Dec 23, 2020. YouTube video, 26.57. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oO_ab6dMH4&list=PLGL5IxyPcU2sdW2S5En_2YRlxBoLJvHcJ&index=3
Photos: Mesfin at Lalibela © Ianet Bastyan 2017, Ianet in Addis Ababa © Mesfin Tadesse 2021, Gfirsse Dam © Mesfin Tadesse 2020, Mesfin in the US © Jenny Chamberlain 2007, Oyster Harbour Fish Trap Site © Ianet Bastyan 2015
Yerada Lij Australia logo: © Ianet Bastyan 2020