Dr. Seifu Tirfie
IOCC, Country Representative
“When I left then war torn my country Ethiopia, my primary objective was to study engineer which I loved and return back to serve my country. This however was not the case. When I left my country to one whose name I didn’t even know, I didn’t just get an education but I found my wife, had two kids, gained a doctorate degree, got a good job and lived in much love and happiness, no less than what I would have gained if I had stayed in Ethiopia.”
My first time out of my country was the journey I took to the former Soviet Union’s capital city, Moscow. This trip was in August 1989, due to the scholarship opportunity I had received
at the time. 1989. After a three-day stay in the beautiful city of Moscow, I began a train ride that would take me to the city I was assigned to: The Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan’s capital city, Baku. By God’s plan, my current wife, Mrs. Belaynesh Nida, had changed her destination from the city she was assigned to Baku. Our first meeting was at the train station. And so, after a two-day long train ride, we arrived at Baku.
My first impression of Baku was how similar it was to the city of Harar, where I was born and grew up; especially the old city which had a wall around its perimeter just like the Jagol wall in Harar, with few doors on the outside and very narrow roads within. As time went by, I found that Baku in fact a city where a Persian, European and the Soviet Union civil engineering and architecture work embraced city.
There were many Ethiopians and students of other nationalities going to colleges at the time in Baku. When I was pursuing my language education, stating that my campus consisted of students that represented the entire world would not have been an exaggeration. There were people from multiple African countries to people
from Arab countries, Asia, Latin America, you name it! I remember traditional music from different countries would play from all directions, especially on holidays.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan further opened its doors to the world. By saying “Come! Let us work together,”, Azerbaijan, and especially Baku, became a place where investors from around the world flooded to, giving the city an international atmosphere. The hospitality and kindness of the citizens of Azerbaijan made it a country that was easy to adapt to.
The acquaintance between Belaynesh and I that began during the train ride from Moscow to Baku formed into a strong relationship with in a year of living in Baku.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union brought about economic depression, political turmoil, as well as Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan territory, an act that was rebuked multiple times by the UN and which displaced many Azeris and caused serious problems in the country. Even so, most of the Ethiopian students still committed to completing the education that they came there for. The support that was given to us from our teachers, fellow classmates as well as our fellow Ethiopian’s truly helped us to get through this time.
In 1995, after completing my education and graduating with honors (my wife Belaynesh also graduated that same year), I started working at World Vision, a non-governmental organization primarily aimed at helping internally displaced people. This opportunity opened the door for me to further learn about Azerbaijan, it’s heritages and their values. My job also allowed me to visit different parts of the country, which revealed to me that this small country (no larger than the size of the Tigray region in Ethiopia) had such a versatile landscape and such rich traditions. For example: Linkaran, a tropical-like region where oranges, lemons and tea leaves grew, the snow covered Bazarduzuna Shadag mountains, the low- altitude and desert-like area around the Kuran river, and of course, the great Caucuses mountain range. This small glimpse of little Azerbaijan proves that it has all the varying landscapes and climates of the world. Azeris mention this fact with great pride.
A wonderful new chapter of our lives began when my wife gave birth to two daughters: Betty and Mary. For work purposes, we all moved from Baku to a city known as Mingechivir. We were also able to travel to several cities and areas around the countryside of Azerbaijan. These travels greatly helped us to closely understand the people humbleness, generosity and their immeasurable and incomparable values. The beautiful hand-woven carpets of Guba, the stunning hand-made jewelry of Lagech, the baklava and silk works of Shekei, the pomegranates and their juices of Goychay, the ancient open-museum of Gabstan, the unique mud-volcanoes (volcanoes that spit mud instead of lava), the natural fire (Yanar Dag) that sprouted from the grounds in Baku all year round, the sacred area of fire worshiping in Atashga, the list goes on and on. On top of this, Azerbaijan is the proud possessor of nine intangible and two tangible UNESCO world heritages.
Amongst the things that I will never forget about Azerbaijan is the local markets called Bazar. From year to year, the Bazar offers a variety of vegetables and fruits, products of farm animals and crops that are displayed in gorgeous ways, making the Bazar somewhat addictive! The negotiation attempts made with the vendors to get a better price on products, the gracious price discounts we were offered when sellers knew we were African, and of course the offers to take goods for free are some of the things about the Bazar that will never leave my memory.
When summer time came around, we would try to find ways to get away from the unrelenting heat. Often times, my family and I would pack up and travel to the evergreen forests of the countryside where we would set up a tent and camp out. The locals never showed any signs of disrespect but were rather always welcoming. The wonderful natural recreational places that we visited included Zakatala, Oguz, Gah, Gabala, Shekei, Shamah, Tovuz, Gusar, Hachmaz, Masal, Lenkran, Giyanja, Geadeabek, Ismail and many others. The memories we made in all these places will stay with us forever. During our visits, we often listened to traditional music that touched our hearts. One such song was Mugam (similar to an Amharic song called “Tezeta”). Mugam is now recorded as world cultural heritage.
The other favor from Azerbaijan was that after couple of years of obtaining my Master’s degree in Engineering in 1995, I was offered a scholarship to pursue a research for PhD. In 2005, I was awarded my PhD in engineering. My position at work grew to a Country Representative, a position I held for six years until the year 2010. My wife Belaynesh also spent six years as an accountant at my children’s school, Baku International School.
As my kids grew older, the question of their identity became a serious issue. Even though they were born and raised in Azerbaijan, they still were eager to know about their parent’s country, Ethiopia. Especially when their school friends would go back to their home countries, my kids would often ask when they would get the chance to go back to theirs. Soon after this, our twenty-one year stay in Azerbaijan came to an end, when we all moved back to Ethiopia in July, 2010. Since we regularly used to visit Ethiopia before then, the move was not too difficult. As time went on, our best memories of Azerbaijan kept coming back to us. For example, the recollections our favorite dishes that we could never tire of, like Tandir Chorek, Zavod Chorek, Lavash, Kabab (Lula, Teka, Basturma), Piti, Plov, Gutab, Lavangi, Dolma, Dushbar, Kufta and our favorite desserts like Baklava and Shekerbura. As best as we could, we attempted to remake these foods here in Ethiopia, never succeeding in getting them quite right. The memories of the holiday Novruz Bayram are especially nostalgic, the feel of which is very similar to that of the Ethiopian New Year.
The close friends that we made in Azerbaijan whom we consider our second family often came to Ethiopia to visit us. We also wish to one day go back to visit Azerbaijan again. With God’s grace, I believe our wishes will one day be granted.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the great people of Azerbaijan, who offered me such boundless respect that it allowed me to now call Azerbaijan my second home.