An Ethiopian Doctor Records the Destruction of His Homeland

An Ethiopian Doctor Records the Destruction of His Homeland

Dr. Tewodros Tefera treats men, women and children who, like him, escaped the increasingly brutal violence in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. He records their stories in his little black notebook – and sometimes wishes he were dead.
By Fritz Schaap and Andy Spyra (Photos)
Refugees in Hamdayet: Driven from their homes Foto: Andy Spyra / DER SPIEGEL

For the first time in almost four months, he has been able to reach his mother, he says. She is doing well and is with his siblings in Aksum, he says. His face is then overcome by an odd radiance. “And I have a new sibling!” “Dissolve and Disappear” He says his mother could no longer stand the uncertainty of not knowing whether he was still alive or had been killed in the violence. For weeks, he says, she didn’t leave the church. One day, the priest showed up with an orphaned infant. His mother, Tewodros relates, made a pact with God: “I’ll take care of this child and you, God, take care of my son.” Then Tewodros grows serious. He thinks he knows when the orphan lost its parents: on the last weekend in November. That was when he lost his last remnants of hope that he would ever be able to return to his home. It was the moment when the massacres of Aksum were taking place, of which Tewodros has heard so often.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”16″]”If I couldn’t do anything, I would just dissolve and disappear.”[/perfectpullquote] Tewodros Tefera

Several hundred civilians were killed by Eritrean soldiers within just two days. Eyewitnesses report that dead bodies were lined up on the streets. The soldiers forbade families from burying their dead – until the hyenas came down from the mountains at night.

Tewodros recalls a patient who told him he had been forced to dig mass graves. He says he can’t return to a country where such a thing has happened, nor does he want to.

Later, he is again sitting on a plastic chair behind the clinic. A rusty kettle is sitting on glowing embers surrounded by three bricks. It is in the evenings when Tewodros breaks down, when the stories he has jotted down in his black notebook during the day come back to haunt him.

“What keeps me going is the fact that I can help here,” he says. “If I couldn’t do anything, I would just dissolve and disappear.”

He cries.

“I would love to speak with my children. But what should I tell them? Who knows when I will be able to see them again?” He does know one thing though: It won’t be in his homeland.