Early in 1960, Emperor Haile Selassie I asked Bitwadad Sultan Alimirah Hanfare to bring a group of Afar students to Addis Ababa to mingle with other Ethiopians in a boarding school. I was amongst 24 Afar students from Awsa sent by the Sultan. We were escorted to Addis by Fitawrare Yayo Hamadu to the palace of the Crown Prince Asfaw Wassan where we were then put at the guest quarters. After staying for a few days, we were finally taken to the office of the Crown Prince to meet him.
The interpreter began introductions with Aydahis, the first son of the Sultan, followed by the Sultan’s nephews, Hanfare and Mohamed, then the children of the former Sultan, Habib and Alimirah Mohamed Yayo. Finally, My cousin and I were both introduced as first cousin’s of the Sultan. The rest were introduced as “simply Afars”, a phrase that became a running joke amongst my friends for some time to come.
The day after, we were taken to Guenete Leul Palace to meet the great Emperor himself. Our interpreter was about to begin his introductions when the Emperor interrupted him and asked, “are they not all Afars?” To which the interpreter responded we were. The Emperor said there was no need for introductions then and we should begin with Amharic classes with everyone else right away.
The next day, we were enrolled in Class Adal-Class for Amharic. For the duration of our schooling, we stayed at Tafari Mekonnen. Our dorm was controlled by Ababia. There, we met Mohammed Yassin Mahamoda, an Afar student finishing his last year at the school. A few months into school, something happened. Fighting began in the city. We wanted to know what was happening but before we could, the Sultan’s people evacuated us to Aysaita. It was only later on that we found out about Mengistu Neway’s coup attempt against the Emperor. To be continued.