Ethiopia: Ninety Minutes With Prof. Sarah Joe


I was driving around Piassa the other day; when the usual habit for having morning coffee crossed my mind. I started to move slowly looking for a parking lot. Noting that there was no free space all the way, I turned round and went directly through the wide open gate of Etegue Taitu Hotel. Under normal circumstance, I have not taken anything outside my home in the last three months; for fear of contracting Covid-19. I parked somewhere and went straight to the front door. On the veranda, I pulled a chair and seated comfortably. A waiter clad with white shirt and green skirt came and smiled for me. I ordered black coffee.

An old lady came out of the bar and sank in the comfortable couch near the door. There were a couple of chairs in between us; and that was safe. I took a glimpse of the lady. She was around 65, I guessed. She had that mixed race look of the Caribbean. She put a book (entitled Haillesselassie- a diplomat or a saint) and a newspaper on the table. Before my coffee, the food she ordered arrived. The lady smiled at me before she started to eat. I was startled when I saw the food was a typically Oromo culture cuisine called 'Afagn'. It is made of too much chopped garlic, green paper and beef all sauced together.

"Excuse me Madam, have you ever had that food before? Otherwise, you have to be careful because it is very hot and chilly," I said.

The woman looked at me with wide smile. She couldn't look more than that as I was wearing the mask covering most of my face areas down my eyes.

"How extraordinary!" she exclaimed.

"What?" I said.

"Excuse me Sir; but I came here almost a year ago to do a research for my second book; but what I had learned so far is many of Ethiopians are amazingly quiet. Hospitable; yet many of you hardly socialize. Anyway, thanks for notifying me. Yes, I love this food. I sometimes wonder why scientists are worrying to find cure for Covid-19; when it is right here in Addis Ababa," she said pointing her hand to the food.

I laughed out loud. While I was watching and laughing at the lady struggling to make a good ball of injera, the waiter came to me and served the coffee with smile.

"Sir. My name is Sarah Joe. Why are you laughing at me? Do you think you are the only one who knows how to eat injera? Believe me! I know far more about this wonderful country," the lady said.

"Endale, that is my name,' I said nodding my head and added, " Alas, no shaking hands." She was obviously excited to have someone to talk to, I could see in her eyes.

"So, you are a writer?" I asked.

She wiped her hands with a tissue paper and picked that book from the table. "This is my first book," she said.

"May I?"

"Yes of course, why not?" she handed it to me. It was about Hailessellassie. I turned to see the first page. I saw her hand written words and signature; it says 'to my friend Asfaw Temesgen, with; love' - Professor Sarah Joe. 'She is a professor!' I said to myself with surprise; and turned the second page. The title of the second page says 'about the Author,' I skimmed it quickly. Professor Sarah Joe had a PHD in African studies and anthropology; served five years as lecturer in Michigan University, PHD also in archeology, MA in philosophy; conducted many of public lecture, compiled fifteen proceedings in the US and Europe. Spent most of her lives conducting researches; worked as a Consultant, BA... .it seems endless. I couldn't believe how charismatic the woman in front of me was.

"Had I not signed on it to give for my friend I knew here in Addis Ababa University; I could have given it to you," she said.

I closed the book and gave it to her. "Thank you, It is OK!" I said . "Can you tell me a little about your second book?" I inquired.

"No, I can't," she replied. But after a few seconds of silence between us, " As I told you earlier, I know a lot about Ethiopia. What I witnessed here since I came a year ago is in fact not as happy as my prior assumptions,"She gasped for air. I waited in patience for her to talk.

"You know I have travelled almost half throughout Africa. Colonization has its deep rooted impact on many of the nations; the root causes of every single socioeconomic and political problem goes back to the days of slavery. Colonization left no good in the continent. When I came to Ethiopia, I had expected to witness something different. When I saw none; I asked myself, were those conclusion I made for my premises after I saw the rest of Africa wrong? Because, I saw no difference at all." she said.

"But madam, you know we are independent all the time; and my land has never been colonized," I asserted.

The professor smiled and said, "Yes, you are independent; the whole world knows that. The black people in the Caribbean are proud of Minilik's victory more than any of you here can imagine. But that is not the point. Had you known your history, you would not have endured bloody ethnic mayhem among yourselves. In the rest of African countries, ethnic clashes were believed to emanate from the most detrimental impact of colonization. You are not better off, my friend.

A nation that has never been colonized stays united; upright and proud. A white man comes to take a black land, that is colonization. You managed to overcome when the rest of Africa couldn't. Therefore, enlighten me; if you have any other thing to keep you united than this priceless triumph?" she paused for few second and said, "You had history of war lords during the medieval periods like the rest of the world. You had the same monarchical rule like the majority of the nations in the globe. In fact yours had been the longest and uninterrupted ones; which of course should have made you proud. It is all in your mind," she said pointing her finger to her head and continued.

The British turned the monarchy into a huge attraction and national image. History need not have to be captivating all the time. You simply extract the most fascinating ones out of it and leave the rest just as something gloomy of the past" she took time to breath and continued to talk.

"You just colonized your own mind and your own history! WHY DON'T YOU TRY TO UNDERSTAND THAT?" she asked me staring directly into my eyes.

"I don't know! I really don't have answer for that difficult question," I said keeping my head down.

"Listen to me Mr. Endale, you are the origin of the ancient world. Many of the ancient manuscripts looted from your country assert how things started from this mysterious land. Be it astronomy, medicine or religion, Ethiopia had it before the rest of the world. You are the cradle of mankind. Let me tell you a secret;" she said getting closer to me; the way people do when they tell a secret and said, "Older than Egypt is Ethiopia!"

"The British speak loud about the 'Stone henge' which is nothing but piles of huge stones laid one on the other. Paris has the Eiffel tower. But, you have everything. But believe me my friend; the whole world knows about the stone henge more than your Axum Obelisk or the solid rock marvels at Lalibella. You snatch everything the old world had in ancient times; leaving the cheaper medieval ones to us. So, we are jealous of you."

By the spur of the moment a heavy rain started to pour.

I saw the watch in my phone and couldn't believe I stayed there for an hour and half. I stood up. She gave me her business card and I gave her my phone number before I departed.

"Mr. Endale, May I ask... .what do you do for living?" she asked me with smile; and added, "Just to know"

"Not much, Madam; I am just a government employee; and ... ." I took time what to say next "That newspaper you are having," I said pointing at 'The Ethiopian Herald' that was on the table below her book, "I sometimes contribute articles for that paper!" I said.

"Great!" she said raising her eye brows.

Editor's Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald.

The writer can be reached at

More From: Ethiopian Herald

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.