The Flight out of Ethiopia


Germai and Haftam

Excerpt adapted from the story The Flight out of Ethiopia

Falego Gadai has no memories of her flight from Ethiopia. No memories of her mother, Haftam, darning the white cotton dress that two-year-old Falego tore as they trekked under the pale glow of the crescent moon. No memories of the torrid landscape she and her family traversed. No memories of animal carcasses strewn on the trail nor of withered folks lying prostrate in their wake, their thirst never quenched from even a drizzle of dew. But Falego's sister, Meleshu, who was seven then, has never forgotten those sensational sights. Nor has their mother. Even now, twenty-five years later, Haftam still shouts in the night when African vistas steal into her Levantine sleep.
     Falego Gadai has no childhood memories of tranquil nights in her ancestral village, Tikel Dengya; nor memories of nights when the sounds of her parents' slumber, rhythmic and soothing, echoed in their rustic Ethiopian tukul. She can't recall her father Germai's voice whispering in her tender ear—"Tesfanech, tesfanech" (my hope), as he crooned in Amharic while rocking her cradle. With the passage of time, her father's features had faded in Falego's mind. She explained, "My mother stole us at night. We never said goodbye to our father. I don't remember that, as I was only two, but for years, my older sister Meleshu was very angry. 'Why didn't he come to Israel? Why didn't he say goodbye?'"

Haftam Dreams

Excerpt adapted from the story The Flight out of Ethiopia

The heavens conspired with Haftam the night she stole her daughters. Slivers of moonlight darted in and out of the pleats on Falego's travel garment. Once a sky blue Mogen David had embellished the toddler's dress; now, under the crescent moon, the star was invisible. So was the Sudanese border.
     Haftam's uncle, a medicine man, led the family on the exodus out of the Gondar province. En route, Haftam's sandals buckled and the savannah tickled her toes. Then the terrain shifted; the scorched earth scalded her soles. Within days, the dust whitened her skin and permeated her airways. But she stepped up her pace. Among the approximately dozen travelers were the very old and the very young, and their rumbling stomachs beat hollow. As they crept past villages of Coptic Christians and Muslims, they inhaled—not even a whisper could be heard. Underfoot, venomous snakes slithered in the rocky hideouts. Spotting a seething reptile, seven-year-old Meleshu screamed.
     Terrified, Haftam halted. She debated with herself. Germai was right. Perhaps we should return home, she thought. Then, stupefied, she dreamed of a white man—the Prophet Eliyahu Ha Navi (Elijah)—intercepting her. Falego explained: "In her dream, soldiers were flogging people with a belt one by one as they crossed the bridge to Sudan. My mother feared that she too was going to get hit. As she approached the white guy guarding the crossing, he asked, 'Haftam, why do I see fear in your eyes? Why do you look so terrified? Why don't you believe in your God?'"

The Ethiopian Tunic

Excerpt adapted from the story The Flight out of Ethiopia

No one apprehended the family as they crossed the bridge to the Sudan, nor during the seven months they subsisted in the refugee camp waiting for the secret airlift to Israel in 1984. No white man in a flowing tunic greeted them upon arrival at the airport, as Haftam had dreamed. But after the family settled in Haifa, she visited the revered site on Mt. Carmel, where Eliyahu Ha Navi is believed to have ascended to heaven. She prayed for the safe deliverance of all her family members from Ethiopia. In 1991, her prayers were answered.
     In Israel, the Gadai family no longer had to camouflage their religious identity. Yet Falego still remembers how her schoolmates taunted her: "When we arrived in Israel, people still questioned whether we were Jewish or not. I remember in third grade, I was the only Ethiopian girl in the class. I never thought I was different because I was black. Everyone around me was white. I never saw the difference in color. One of the girls asked me, 'Why don't you color yourself white, and be like us? Or do you want me to color you?' I don't remember exactly what I answered, but I was really offended. I went home crying to my mother. 'Where is the place where everyone is black like me? Maybe we should go back there.'"