Tropical North Queensland,
The distant past in our lives
I was teaching Maths at General Wingate School from 1958 to 1961. On the flight to Ethiopia, we became good friends with AtoTsegayeRetta, who was sitting next to us. He said to me,"Have you ever met an Ethiopian?" "No," I told him. "Well, you have now," he said, and then introduced himself. He became Head of the Geography & Mapping Institute. After our return to England, he spent a day with us when he was in London.
Our son was 3 months old when we arrived in Addis, so he will be 53 this year. We asked the students and our servants to speak to him in Amharic, and at the age of three he could speak Amharic, and had an English vocabulary of about 2000 words. My Amharic was just about nil, but my Chinese wife, who grew up with several languages, could converse quite well.
A great friend at GWS was the teacher of Amharic, AtoMezgabeAbraha, who was a regular visitor. He loved my wife's Chinese, Indian and Burmese cooking. An Italian friend, with whom I corresponded, after we left Addis, enquired about Mezgabe, on our behalf, and found that he had returned to Asmara and married.
My experience at the G. W.S
Joining the G.W.S. in October 1968 after two years in Dessie was a vivid contrast. The school was then considered as one, if not the best in the capital and the staff was for the greater part British from the headmaster, the highly-distinguished M.King, to the teachers, and managed in a British manner which was completely alien to me. It took me sometime before I got used to the the system of headboy, prefects, housemasters, duty master… And the teachers lived on the compound which was quite convenient to reach the class on time, but really inconvenient for the private life especially for a young bachelor. Still the life of the compound was pleasant, warm and friendly between the staff members, it was easy to pop in for a beer, or a game of cards could be arranged at any time after dinner. My neighbour, the chemistry teacher M.Kingmanwould often knock at my door for ''a quick drink'' down town which would generally mean coming back after midnight. I was the only French teacher, as a result I had to teach from the 9th to the 12 th grade. The new ones were eager to learn a new language and from past experience I knew I would have to answer all sorts of queer questions like why is it male, why is it female…? Due to the selection at the entrance of the school, the students were very bright and I was often challenged by difficult questions, and regularly I had no other answer that ''it's like that'' which did not satisfy the audience! the 12TH graders were particularly tough and I often had to answer quickly and to the point. Some would come at the end of the class for more explanations. But in five years at the Wingate I never had any problem of discipline or argument with the students; they were all very nice to me. The school offered many facilities for sport and competitions were organized between ''houses'' (dormitories) and I liked to join the boys for a game of football or a race on the bottom field.
The late sixties, early seventies were marked by political disturbances in Ethiopia and the Wingate was also affected, months of endless strikes were frustrating for the teachers, idle on the compound, the ethnic riots were probably the most traumatic experience during my stay. In 1973 I decided to leave the Wingate and try a new experience in the field of journalism while remaining in Ethiopia.
Still my experience at the G.W.S has been very valuable, professionally and humanly speaking and I feel particularly proud to-day to continue to entertain close relations with a number of my former students in Addis but also in some other parts of the world and with a few teachers nearly half a century later.