These remarks were originally for a 40-day Remembrance service hosted by Ras Media on July 24, 2021, posted here.
Getatchew Haile was many things to many people. To some, a renowned scholar and educator for his devotion to his research and studies, to others, a devout follower of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. But to me, he was just my Ababa. Supportive, kind, funny, and caring could not describe half of the things that made him who he was.
As a child, I didn’t know much about his story, or, at least, I never really understood how much he went through. All I knew was waking up at six A.M. with my cousins to run to his bedroom and watch morning cartoons with him. Or seeing him play chess, a game I did not really understand yet, but was mesmerized with the precision and concentration he could devote to a small board with a few pieces of wood on it. Mostly, I knew how he made everyone feel, the impact that he had on my family. The smiles and warm conversation between him and my mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and my Emiye. I could see that he was more than a person, someone who could light up a room without any effort at all.
But as I learned more about him from those around me, my perception of him shifted. I still saw those wonderful qualities that made him my Ababa, but it changed my perspective. It amazed, and still amazes me how someone could be so kind and forgiving to a world that had been so needlessly cruel to him. Even in a wheelchair, he always found a way to smile. I’m not sure that I could have done the same, and he forever serves as a role model for what I can look to, how to act in the face of oppression and severe hardship.
My only regret is that I never got to show him exactly what I could become. I haven’t yet accomplished remarkable feats, become an acclaimed professor or founded a world class boarding school, or can even speak his language, like some of his other descendants. But I know that for him, it does not matter. From every interaction that I had, I knew that he always saw the potential within me, and believed that I could do great things. I now know this to be true, because if I possess even a fraction of his strength, dedication, and tenacity, I will have more than enough to accomplish anything that I set my mind to, and for that I am forever thankful for him.