Monday March 06, 2017

Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes on her harrowing journey to Canada

Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes has written a memoir called "Fire Walkers" in which she describes the family's escape from Ethiopia and trek across the desert.

Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes has written a memoir called "Fire Walkers" in which she describes the family's escape from Ethiopia and trek across the desert.

Listen 11:44

Thousands of Ethiopians fled their country when the brutal Derg regime seized power in the mid-1970s. Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes was only 14 years old when she and her family left their home in Addis Ababa and began their harrowing escape by foot across the Danakil Desert to the neighbouring country of Djibouti in 1980. It was over a year later that they arrived at their final destination, Canada. In her memoir Fire Walkers, Gebreyohannes describes that perilous trek she made nearly four decades ago.

How the journey changed her

I filter everything I do every single day through that lens. The kindness, the compassion, the hard life we lived, my parents' struggle, my brothers' suffering, everything — it just makes me a better person. When I interact with people in my day-to-day life, I always try to filter through that, especially if I see people needing help. 

Her father's hope and resilience

He grew up hearing about Ethiopians defeating a common enemy and keeping Ethiopia independent for centuries. Ethiopians were very proud people then and I'm sure they still are. So he has that in him. This desert wasn't going to defeat him. He's done it. His ancestors have done it before. And that kept us very strong, because he was 100 per cent sure we would make it.

Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes' comments have been edited and condensed.