Written by Efrem Alemayehu M.D
After graduating from the Addis Ababa University Medical School, we (the present members of Hakim Workeneh and Melaku Bayan Society) left Ethiopia for North America in the late 70s and early 80s. We left our beloved Ethiopia to further our education because of political unrest and other personal reasons. We left Ethiopia during the rainy winter, or in the summer time, a season filled with plenty of sunshine and comfort. Global warming and environmental degradation have changed the climate of Ethiopia from what it was then. Many are dealing with harsh and extreme weather conditions. But I digress. We landed in various parts of the U.S. and Canada, in the scorching heat of the summer or in the bone-piercing cold winter. Because of the newness of the season, we accepted winter with excitement. Many of us who settled in areas with snow have winter stories to tell. Let me tell you mine, as it will give you a glimpse of my early life in Canada.
I arrived in Canada on June 6, 1984. From the airport in Hamilton I took a taxi to McMaster University Campus, where I was to stay for three weeks until I found my own apartment. I was met by a hot and humid day. The day brought back memories of the few months I had spent in low land Ogaden in the late 70s, in South East Ethiopia, in the Harar province. I found a two-bedroom apartment in west Hamilton and moved in. It was strange to be in the apartment alone. For the first time since I got married, I was alone. Two months later, ; my family joined me. The time I spent by myself was an experience I will never forget. It was a time when I sometimes ate pasta for my breakfast, a remnant from my dinner of the previous day. The summer passed and was replaced by a cool rainy fall, with many thunderstorms. I thought to myself that this cold business was not so bad at all, or so I thought until winter arrived.
My wife and our three children were excited when they saw the white cotton-like snow falling from the sky to cover the ground like a blanket. This was, of course, accompanied by the bitter cold wind, which I have never been able to get used to since then. We covered ourselves with layers and layers of clothes to stay warm. The blowing wind which often accompanied the snow made walking difficult. It blocked our vision. And there was the black ice that formed on the streets and the sidewalks after the snow stopped falling and when the temperature increased, causing the snow to melt and freeze again. Black ice made driving dangerous and walking risky. The ice on the ground was so transparent that one could not recognize its presence easily. This was the time when people would fall and break their bones in their extremities. I fell victim to the black ice. After my second fall, I stopped counting. Luckily I didnâ€™t break any bones, but after that winter I always made sure to examine the sidewalks closely for black ice when the temperature changed. If an immigrant, especially one who comes from a warm area tells you that they have never fallen in the winter, donâ€™t believe them. They are lying.
Three decades after our arrival in North America, after surviving the harsh winters, and the many ups and downs of life, my fellow physician friends and I came up with the idea to form a Society. And that idea has finally come to fruition. Now we are bonded together â€“ under the umbrella of an organization with a vision of promise. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Zergabachew Asfaw, who initially suggested the establishment of our society. It is fitting for our Society to bear the name of the first physicians of Ethiopian origin, Dr. Hakim Workneh and Dr. Melaku Bayan. I believe that we are at the beginning of a long, challenging and ultimately fulfilling journey. As stated in the Societyâ€™s mission, we have critical and important work to do. I have no doubt that with our collective effort and unwavering commitment we will achieve our objectives â€“ to make meaningful contributions to improve healthcare in Ethiopia. I have no doubt that the almighty God will help us achieve our goals.
Ethiopian Medical History
Photo: Dr. Melaku Beyan. Dr. Melaku Beyan became the first Ethiopian medical doctor to complete his education in the United states in 1935 (Dr. Workneh Eshete became the first Ethiopian doctor to obtain a modern medical education in 1882)
The non-governmental organization, People to People, has just released The Manual of Ethiopian Medical History by Enawgaw Mehari, Kinfe Gebeyehu and Zergabachew Asfaw. The purpose of the publication is to teach the future generation of Ethiopian medical students and health care professionals about Ethiopiaâ€™s medical history.
Mekele University and Bahir Dar University have reportedly agreed to incorporate the study into their medical education curriculum.
Enawgaw Mehari, MD
Kinfe Gebeyehu, MD
Zergabachew Asfaw, MD
Senior Graphic Editor: Matthew I. Watt