Our socialist education led the Ethiopian government to maintain a warm friendship and fraternity with the countries of the Eastern bloc. Since the camps in Ethiopia followed the Socialist ideology, we were seen as part of the socialist unity. That meant, some chosen children were allowed to join an exchange program. In 1987, I finally got my big chance.
We were evaluated based upon our academic performance and other criteria. Whenever the summer season came, the children, who performed best, were sent to visit different Socialist countries by a special command of the president. Socialist countries like the Soviet Union (USSR/CCCP), Cuba, the DDR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria or Hungary were the options we had.
During the Cold War, the Eastern bloc countries founded the Warsaw Pact. Under the leadership of the Soviet Union, this contract secured military support for all states included in the treaty. It was supposed to secure an Organization of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. Since the Soviet Union was leading the contract, it was seen as the “Big Brother”. Every country aside from the Soviets was one of the sister states. The Soviets wanted to spread their Socialist or rather Communist ideology as much as possible. Therefore, they were eager to maintain friendships with other socialist countries outside from the Warsaw Pact. Ethiopia was one of them, since the Soviets had already supported the country during the war with Somalia.
In 1987 I finally became one of the candidates. Four children were sent to each country, that was part of the list, so that sixteen students were chosen. We didn’t get the chance to choose the country we like to visit, though. If I could, I would have chosen the Soviet Union. Our library shelves were crowded by Russian fictions, novels, fairy tales and children's stories. I was eager to visit the USSR. Not only me but also the rest of my friends. Everyone of us was mad about the Soviet Union. But I was chosen to visit the DDR.
When I was little, I watched dozens of movies about World War II. I had read many books about Adolf Hitler and his racist ideology, too. The stories about concentration camps like Auschwitz and some others in Poland were horrifying. What I knew about Germany and Germans was their brutality and savagery against other humans. For me, all Germans were the same: Terrific beasts, like those from our traditional fairytales. I was sure, they were against black people and extremely racist. So I was highly ambitious to be sent to Russia. I was under pressure and mental stress before we were told which country we were going to visit. Because of my gratuitous hostility I was not interested in visiting the DDR.
On the day, when we were told which country we would visit, I got the worst news: I was one of four others my age, who would visit the DDR – one of the countries I hated the most. A teacher was going to fly with us and lead our delegation. I took it as bad luck to my life.
To be continued...
Text: Shimelis Haile Aga