Transcript: A Woman and A Nation | Jul 06, 2018

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a gray blazer over a white shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says SHE WAS MARRIED AT JUST EIGHT
YEARS OLD TO A MAN WHO WAS MORE
THAN 20 YEARS OLDER THAN HER.
HER STORY WEAVED IN AND OUT OF
THE PIVOTAL MOMENTS OF
ETHIOPIA'S HISTORY, AND IT WAS
HER GRANDDAUGHTER... AIDA
EDEMARIAM... WHO WOULD TELL IT.
EDEMARIAM IS A SENIOR FEATURE'S
WRITER AND EDITOR FOR
THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER...

Aida is in her early forties, with long curly black hair. She's wearing a dark blue blouse and a silver chain necklace.

Nam continues AND
WE'RE PLEASED TO WELCOME HER TO
TALK ABOUT HER DÉBUT BOOK:

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover features a black and white portrait of a young woman. The cover reads "The wife's tale. A personal history. Aida Edemariam."

Nam says WELCOME.
IT'S NICE TO MEET YOU.

Aida says VERY GOOD TO MEET YOU.

Nam says SO, AIDA, CAN YOU SAY YOUR LAST
NAME FOR ME
AGAIN... [LAUGHS]... BECAUSE I DON'T
THINK I SAID IT PROPERLY.

Aida says IT'S EDEMARIAM.

NAM SAYS SO WHAT A GREAT BOOK.

Aida says THANK YOU.

Nam says THE WAY... THE WAY YOU TELL THE
STORY OF YOUR GRANDMOTHER REALLY
TAKES YOU BACK TO THAT HISTORY.
AND I NOTICE THAT YOU'RE TELLING
HER STORY, BUT WE DON'T REALLY
HEAR YOU.
WHY DID YOU DO IT THAT WAY?

The caption changes to "Aida Edemariam. Author. 'The wife's tale.'"
Then, it changes again to "Yetemegnu."

Aida says THERE ARE A COUPLE OF REASONS.
ONE OF THEM IS... I KNOW THAT LOTS
OF BIOGRAPHIES ARE WRITTEN THAT
WAY, AND THERE IS VERY GOOD
REASON WHY THEY ARE, WHICH IS TO
SAY THAT THIS IS A SUBJECT OF
HISTORY.

A map of eastern Africa appears briefly on screen, highlighting the location of Ethiopia.

Aida continues THIS IS ONE PERSON DESCRIBING
ANOTHER PERSON AND JUST MAKING
THAT CLEAR.
BUT I THINK, ACTUALLY,
AUDIENCES, YOU KNOW, ARE QUITE
SOPHISTICATED, AND THEY
UNDERSTAND THAT, SO THAT'S THE
FIRST THING.
THE SECOND THING IS THAT MY
BACKGROUND IS VERY DIFFERENT
FROM HERS.
IT'S... I WAS... I GREW UP IN ETHIOPIA.
SHE LIVED ALL OF HER LIFE
IN ETHIOPIA.
BUT I WAS TRAINED IN THE SORT OF
WESTERN TRADITION, AND I THINK
THE TEMPTATION, IF YOU START
INJECTING YOURSELF, IS TO START
EXPLAINING THE OTHER... YOU KNOW,
YOU START EXPLAINING ETHIOPIA,
START EXPLAINING... AND I DIDN'T
WANT TO DO THAT.
I WANTED ETHIOPIA AND MY
GRANDMOTHER TO EXIST ENTIRELY ON
THEIR OWN TERMS.
AND FINALLY, YOU JUST GET IN THE
WAY.
YOU JUST KIND OF... IT'S HER
STORY; IT'S NOT MINE.

Nam says WHY DID YOU WANT TO TELL HER STORY?

Aida says WELL, THERE... THERE ARE A COUPLE
OF REASONS.
I LIKE LISTENING TO HER.
SHE SPOKE SO WELL.

NAM SAYS AND YOU DID... YOU TAPED
INTERVIEWS OF HER FOR OVER 20 YEARS?

Aida says WELL, THE FIRST... I WENT BACK TO
THE TAPES TO TRANSCRIBE THEM.
THE FIRST ONE I'VE GOT IS IN
1997.
I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY I DIDN'T DO IT
ALL THE TIME [LAUGHS].
I DIDN'T DO IT... BUT, YOU KNOW,
OFF AND ON FOR... SINCE 1997,
WHICH I GUESS IS NOW OVER 20
YEARS.
AND I'M A JOURNALIST, I GUESS.
I KNOW A STORY WHEN I SEE ONE.
BUT I ALSO, MUCH MORE
IMPORTANTLY, JUST LOVED
LISTENING TO HER.
SHE WAS REALLY... SHE WAS SUCH A
GOOD SPEAKER AND SUCH A GOOD
STORYTELLER AND SHE WAS FUNNY AND...

A sepia-tone picture shows Yetemegnu in her forties, standing outside a house, in the sun. She wears a white robe and a white headscarf.

Aida continues BUT MOVING, AND IT WAS
JUST... I WANTED TO... AT SOME
POINT, I STARTED TO THINK THAT
IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO TAKE
ON THE CHALLENGE OF ATTEMPTING
TO TRANSLATE THIS THING THAT I
ENJOYED SO MUCH INTO ENGLISH,
AND TRY AND MAKE THAT LIVE AGAIN
IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE.

Nam says BECAUSE IT WAS AMHARIC, IS IT?

AIDA SAYS AMHARIC, YES.

Nam says AND THIS IS YOUR FATHER'S MOTHER?

Aida says YES, YES.

NAM SAYS SHE GETS MARRIED AT
EIGHT...

Aida says YEAH...

Nam says TO A MAN WHO'S 20-PLUS YEARS
OLDER THAN HER.
TAKE US BACK TO WHAT HER LIFE
WAS LIKE THEN.

The caption changes to "A life, not my own."

Aida says MARRIAGE WAS SO MUCH... I MEAN,
EVEN IN THE WEST, I'D SAY, IT
WAS SO MUCH MORE A CONTRACT
BETWEEN FAMILIES THAN IT WAS
ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY
HAD TO LIVE TOGETHER [CHUCKLES].
SO IT WAS... IT WAS FAIRLY COMMON.
SHE WAS VERY YOUNG, BUT IT WAS
FAIRLY COMMON.
I MEAN, AND AGAIN, I GUESS IT
DOESN'T MAKE IT OK, BUT IT... YOU
KNOW, IT WAS SOMETHING THAT THE
SOCIETY UNDERSTOOD AND IT
HAPPENED FREQUENTLY.
SHE WOULDN'T REALLY HAVE
UNDERSTOOD WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO
HER, I DON'T THINK.
SHE THOUGHT IT WAS A PARTY, YOU KNOW?

NAM SAYS SO YOU WRITE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Blind vows." The quote reads "A ring was threaded onto her third finger, another onto the man's. It would be years before she understood what she had promised. For the moment all she knew was a thickening of the air, a seriousness, a flutter of –what? Apprehension, perhaps.
More prayers."
Quoted from Aida Edemariam, "The wife's tale." 2018.

Nam says SO HOW DOES AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD
GIRL ADJUST TO THIS NEW REALITY
OF BEING MARRIED?

The caption changes to "Aida Edemariam. The Guardian."

Aida says SORT OF UNDERSTANDABLY, SHE
LIKED TO KEEP PLAYING.
THAT WAS ONE THING.
SHE... IT'S A TRANSITION SHE
DOESN'T NECESSARILY UNDERSTAND.
SHE'S NOT... IT'S A KIND OF
TRANSITION INTO BEING A
GROWN-UP.
YOU ARE NOW THE MISTRESS OF THE
HOUSE; ALTHOUGH, YOU DON'T HAVE
THE TRAINING FOR IT, AND YOU
DON'T HAVE... I MEAN, THERE WOULD
HAVE BEEN A LOT OF HELP.
THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN PEOPLE
WORKING IN THE HOUSEHOLD; THERE
WOULD HAVE BEEN... BUT YEAH, SHE
WASN'T ALLOWED TO NECESSARILY
PLAY WITH THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
CHILDREN.
ALTHOUGH, ABOUT A YEAR AFTER SHE
WAS MARRIED, HE WENT SOUTH TO
ADDIS ABABA, SO YOU... YOU KNOW,
THIS WAS THE WAY THE SORT OF
SYSTEMS WORKED.
YOU WENT DIRECTLY TO THE SORT OF
CENTRE OF POWER, AND THEN YOU
PETITION... YOU SORT OF HUNG
AROUND AND YOU WAITED AND,
YOU KNOW, YOU'D LOOK FOR
PROMOTION AND STUFF.
AND HE WENT AWAY FOR ABOUT AT
YEAR, AND THEN SHE... AND SHE WENT
BACK TO HER GRANDMOTHER, AND I
THINK SHE WAS PROBABLY ALLOWED
TO BE A CHILD AGAIN, AND...

Nam says AND THEY DIDN'T... WE SHOULD SAY
THE MARRIAGE WASN'T CONSUMMATED
UNTIL A LOT LATER.

AIDA SAYS NO, IT WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN,
NO, NO.

Nam says SHE HAD HER FIRST CHILD WHEN SHE
WAS 14.

Aida says ABOUT 14.
I MEAN, THE THING I SHOULD SAY
IN... IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO SAY
EXACTLY WHAT YEAR... ANYBODY WAS BORN OR... YOU KNOW.

NAM SAYS NO BIRTH CERTIFICATES.
IT'S THE SAME IN UGANDA.

Aida says YEAH, YEAH, YOU GOT IT.

NAM SAYS I SOMETIMES PLAY WITH THAT
WITH MY BIRTH DATE... MY AGE.
"HOW OLD ARE YOU?"
I'M LIKE, "SOMETIMES I'M THIS
AGE," AND, YOU KNOW... BECAUSE I
DON'T HAVE A BIRTH CERTIFICATE.

Aida says EXACTLY.

[BOTH CHUCKLE]

Nam says WHAT WAS YOUR GRANDFATHER LIKE?

Aida says I NEVER MET HIM.
SO, ANYTHING I KNOW ABOUT HIM IS
THROUGH HER EYES.
AND AS I TRIED TO... I TRIED TO
SORT OF ENTER INTO HOW SHE WAS
AT HER DIFFERENT AGES, SO I
GUESS I SAW HIM FROM HER POINT
OF VIEW AS A CHILD, AND HE WAS,
YOU KNOW, A GROWN-UP WHOSE JOB
IT WAS TO RAISE HER, IN FACT,
BECAUSE SHE, YOU KNOW... HE TAUGHT
HER.
HE TAUGHT HER TO COOK; HE
TAUGHT... YOU KNOW, HE BEGAN TO
TEACH HER TO READ, ALTHOUGH,
THERE WAS A DECISION THAT THEY
WOULDN'T CONTINUE THAT.

NAM SAYS SO SHE LEARNED THE ALPHABET
BUT NOT READING.

Aida says BUT NOT TO READ, YEAH.

Nam says WHY NOT?

Aida says WELL... [CHUCKLES]... THERE'S A... THE
PRIEST WHO WAS HIRED TO TEACH
HER, I... READING BETWEEN THE
LINES, I SUSPECT HE THOUGHT SHE
WAS QUITE BRIGHT AND... WHICH SHE
WAS; SHE WAS EXTREMELY
BRIGHT... AND THAT THIS WOULD
CAUSE PROBLEMS.
HE... THE SORT OF SPECIFIC THING
HE SAYS WAS THAT, YOU KNOW,
"SHE WILL LEARN THE PSALMS, AND
SHE WILL CRY TO GOD,
AND GOD WILL LISTEN TO HER..."
YOU KNOW, THERE'S A... BUT ANYWAY,
FOR WHATEVER REASON,
THAT STOPPED.
BUT YEAH, SO I SORT OF SAW HER
THROUGH THOSE EYES, AND THEN AS
SHE HAD MORE CHILDREN AND... YOU
KNOW, THEN THERE WAS MORE... IT
WAS A MARRIAGE, AND, YOU KNOW,
THE CONVERSATION HAPPENED AS IN
A MARRIAGE.
SHE STAYED HOME A LOT.

Nam says WHY... DID SHE TELL YOU WHY THAT WAS?

Aida says AGAIN, IT WAS NORMAL.
IT WAS NORMAL.
IT WAS... YOUR WORLD WAS YOUR HOME
AND THE CHURCH, LARGELY.
HE WAS QUITE JEALOUS.
HE WANTED... YOU KNOW, HE KNEW
THAT SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL AND
DIDN'T WANT
ANYBODY... [CHUCKLES]... SO THERE WAS... YOU KNOW, HE...

NAM SAYS AND HE WAS VIOLENT
SOMETIMES TOO, RIGHT?

Aida says YES.
HE... AGAIN, THIS IS FUNNY... IT'S
FUNNY BECAUSE I WAS THINKING
ABOUT THIS.
THE... THERE'S... AGAIN, THERE'S
A... IT... THROUGH... WHEN CHILDREN
ARE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL, CORPORAL
PUNISHMENT WAS THE NORM, SO WHAT
YOU... YOU KNOW, IT'S ALMOST LIKE
A... IT WAS JUST SOMETHING
THAT... AGAIN, IT'S LIKE THAT WAS
THE WAY THINGS WERE.
I THINK HE OCCASIONALLY TOOK IT
TOO FAR AND HE HAD TOO MUCH OF A
TEMPER, BUT HE... THAT WAS
SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.

Nam says WAS SHE LONELY?

The portrait from the book cover appears in close-up.

Aida says I THINK SHE ALWAYS FELT HERSELF
TO BE LONELY.
I THINK THIS IS A... SOMETIMES A
QUESTION OF PERCEPTION, BECAUSE
THERE WOULD HAVE ALWAYS BEEN
SOMEBODY AROUND.
LONELINESS... THERE WOULD HAVE
BEEN SOMEBODY WORKING IN THE
HOUSE.
VERY QUICKLY, THERE WAS
ALWAYS... I THINK CHILDREN SHE SAW
AS HER SORT OF SALVATION FROM
LONELINESS.
I THINK YOU NEED TO THINK OF IT...

NAM SAYS HAVING CHILDREN, RIGHT?

Aida says YES, HER CHILDREN.
HER MOTHER DIED WHEN SHE WAS
VERY YOUNG.
HER MOTHER DIED WHEN SHE WAS
ABOUT NINE, AND I THINK THERE IS
A SENSE OF LOSS ABOUT THAT WHICH
JUST CARRIES THROUGH MOST OF HER
LIFE.
AND SO SHE... IT WAS AN
INTERESTING THING, SHE OFTEN
FELT LONELY EVEN WHEN SHE WAS
SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE, I WOULD
SAY.

Nam says IT'S ALSO INTERESTING THAT
HER... YOUR GRANDFATHER RAISED HER
BECAUSE HE WAS 20 YEARS OLDER
THAN HER.
AND THEN WHEN SHE HAD CHILDREN,
SHE WAS RAISING CHILDREN, BUT
SHE WAS ALSO STILL A CHILD.
I SUSPECT THAT, YOU KNOW, I
THINK YOU GREW UP PROBABLY VERY
FAST

[CHUCKLES]

NAM SAYS A LOT FASTER, YEAH.

Aida says I MEAN, YOU KNOW, I THINK WE
HAVE A... I MEAN, EVEN ADOLESCENCE
IS KIND OF... IS QUITE A NEW... IS
QUITE A NEW CONCEPT, REALLY,
SO EVEN IN CANADA OR,
YOU KNOW, IN BRITAIN... ADOLESCENCE IS QUITE A RECENT
CONCEPT, I THINK.
I THINK THERE'S A... YOU KNOW, SHE
HAD... SHE HAD TEN PREGNANCIES,
AND THAT... AND SHE HAD HAD TEN
PREGNANCIES BY HER MID-30S.

Nam says HOW WERE THOSE EXPERIENCES FOR HER?

Aida says WELL, PREGNANCY IS NOT EASY FOR
ANYBODY NECESSARILY.
I THINK IN A COUNTRY WHERE
MEDICAL CARE IS QUITE FAR AWAY,
IF... YOU KNOW, I THINK... AGAIN, AS
WAS TRUE ACROSS, YOU KNOW,
DEPENDING ON... DEPENDING ON SORT
OF THE ARRIVAL OF SORT OF
MORE... THE POSSIBILITY OF A
CAESAREAN, FOR INSTANCE... I THINK DEATH IS VERY CLOSE
IN... AND BIRTH.
THEY'RE VERY CLOSE TO EACH
OTHER.

Nam says BECAUSE 40 DAYS WAS... IF A YOUNG
BOY WAS BORN, 40 DAYS WAS WHEN
THEY WOULD NAME THE CHILD, AND
THEN 80 DAYS FOR THE GIRLS?

Aida says YES, THE BAPTISM.

NAM SAYS THE BAPTISM.

Aida says YES, AND IT'S... AND YOU STAY... I
MEAN, IN SOME WAYS... I MEAN,
THERE'S A LOT TO LEARN FROM IT.
I COULD HAVE... YOU KNOW, 40 DAYS
OF YOURS TO STAY HOME AND TO BE
LOOKED AFTER.

NAM SAYS AND TO GET BETTER.

Aida says AND TO BE LOOKED AFTER.
YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Aida says YOU GET LOOKED AFTER.
I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF, YOU
KNOW, WESTERN WOMEN WHO COULD... I
WAS GONNA SAY...

NAM SAYS BECAUSE WHEN YOUR MOM HAD
YOU, SHE DID THE OPPOSITE...

Aida says YEAH, YEAH.

NAM SAYS AND YOUR GRANDMOTHER WAS
LIKE, "YOU NEED TO REST."

Aida says YEAH.

Nam says WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR HER
EMOTIONALLY, BECAUSE SHE DID
LOSE SOME OF HER CHILDREN?

Aida says I THINK PROBABLY TERRIBLE.
SHE... THE FIRST CHILD SHE LOST
WAS BEFORE SHE WAS BAPTIZED.
SHE WAS A GIRL.
AND I THINK IT'S PROBABLY WHAT
WE NOW CALL A COT DEATH.
AND ANOTHER DIED... I THINK IT WAS
FROM MALARIA IN THE ITALIAN WAR.
AND THEN OTHERS WERE... OTHERS
DIED A BIT LATER.

Nam says SHE SEEMED TO ENJOY MOTHERHOOD,
DIDN'T SHE?

Aida says YEAH, SHE WAS A GREAT MOTHER.

[CHUCKLES]

Aida says A GREAT GRANDMOTHER.
YEAH, SHE DID.
SHE ABSOLUTELY DID.
SHE KIND OF... SHE WAS... SHE HAD AN
EXTRAORDINARY EMPATHY APART FROM
ANYTHING ELSE.
SHE HAD AN EXTRAORDINARY... AND
SHE WAS INCREDIBLY GENEROUS,
INCREDIBLY... IT'S... I KNOW THE
CLICHÉ ABOUT MOTHERHOOD IS ABOUT
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, BUT NOT
EVERYBODY CAN ACHIEVE IT,
ABSOLUTELY.
AND SHE JUST KIND OF INHABITED IT.

Nam says SHE EVEN FELT IT FOR CHILDREN
THAT WEREN'T HERS, LIKE IF SHE
SAW THE SOLDIERS.
SHE WOULD WONDER ABOUT THEIR
SAFETY AND HOW THEIR MOTHERS
WERE WORRIED FOR THEM.

Aida says YEAH.

NAM SAYS AND SHE WASN'T ANGRY AT
THEM; SHE WAS JUST... IT WAS JUST
THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT THEY WERE IN.

Aida says IT'S KIND OF... THAT'S SORT OF
WHAT I MEAN ABOUT EMPATHY.
SHE KIND OF SAW PAIN AND FELT
IT, VERY IMMEDIATELY.
AND SHE... YOU KNOW, AND SHE SAW
THEM AS... YOU KNOW, IF YOU SEE
SOLDIERS ANYWHERE, I MEAN,
ANYWHERE ACROSS THE WORLD,
I ALWAYS THINK, "GOSH, YOU LOOK
YOUNG."
"WHERE'S YOUR MOM?"

[LAUGHS]

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Aida says YOU KNOW, AND SHE FELT THAT
VERY...

NAM SAYS SHE WAS WORRIED ABOUT THEM,
THEIR WELL-BEING.

Aida says YEAH.

Nam says AS YOUR GRANDFATHER BECAME MORE
IMPORTANT IN THE CHURCH, HOW DID
THAT AFFECT YOUR GRANDMOTHER'S LIFE?

The caption changes to "Aida Edemariam, @AidaE."

Aida says IN SOME WAYS... IN SOME WAYS IT
MADE IT MUCH EASIER BECAUSE, I
MEAN, THEY... THEY WERE IMPORTANT
IN THE SOCIETY.
SHE SORT OF GREW INTO A ROLE
WHICH SHE LOVED, I THINK, AND
ALWAYS MISSED, ACTUALLY, OF JUST
BEING IN CHARGE OF A HOUSEHOLD.
AND, YOU KNOW, SHE WAS A REALLY
GOOD COOK; SHE LIKED... YOU KNOW,
SHE WOULD BE... SHE LIKED... THEY
HAD THESE YEARLY PARTIES FOR
BA'ETA, WHICH IS... WHICH IS
THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF
MARY TO THE TEMPLE, AND THAT
HAPPENED EVERY YEAR.
AND SHE SPENT MONTHS... I SORT OF
DESCRIBE IT IN THE BOOK,
THE SORT OF MONTHS OF
BUILDUP TO THIS PARTY.
AND I SHOULD SAY IN PARENTHESIS
THAT I'VE SORT OF STRUCTURED THE
BOOK VERY MUCH IN TERMS OF
RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS AND THE SORT
OF CYCLE OF MARY...

The caption changes to "Connect with us: TVO.org. Twitter: @theagenda; Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram."

NAM SAYS AND YOU HAVE PRAYERS
THROUGHOUT IT AS WELL.

Aida says YEAH, THE SORT OF BASIC... THE
SORT OF LIFECYCLE OF MARY,
AND THE SORT OF MARIOLOGY, AND
HER LIFE, THE WAYS IN WHICH HER
LIFE SORT OF BOTH ECHOES AND
SORT OF IRONIZES THAT WORSHIP.

NAM SAYS IS THERE A REASON WHY YOU
DID THAT?

Aida says YES, BECAUSE IT WAS SO IMPORTANT
TO HER.
IT'S INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO
ETHIOPIA.
CHRISTIANITY IS VERY IMPORTANT
TO HER LIFE.
IT'S VERY IMPORTANT TO... I MEAN,
WOMEN ACROSS THE SORT OF
ORTHODOX AND CATHOLIC WORLDS... MARY IS A... IS AN INCREDIBLY
IMPORTANT FIGURE.
BUT I THINK WHAT'S ALSO
IMPORTANT ABOUT MARY IS SHE'S
LOOKED UP TO; SHE'S LOOKED UP TO
AN INTERCESSOR; SHE'S WORSHIPPED
AND LOOKED UP TO FOR COMFORT.
BUT MARY IS PERFECT, AND IF YOU
WERE MEANT TO MODEL YOURSELF ON
MARY, YOU'RE ALWAYS GOING TO
FAIL.
SO IT'S A KIND OF... IT'S QUITE AN
EFFICIENT BOTH IDEAL AND
SUBJUGATION SIMULTANEOUSLY

[CHUCKLES].

Nam says AND YOUR GRANDMOTHER AT ONE
POINT, SHE WAS HAVING A HARD
TIME... SOMETHING HAD
HAPPENED... AND THEN SHE WAS
PRAYING TO MARY, AND SHE SAID,
"I'VE NAMED ALL MY CHILDREN
AFTER YOU."

AIDA SAYS YES, YES.

Nam says "HELP ME."

Aida says YEAH.

Nam says GIVING US A BIT OF AN ETHIOPIAN
HISTORY LESSON, TELL US HOW THEY
GOT TO BE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN.

Aida says WELL, IN ETHIOPIA, OR JUST IN
WHAT MY SORT OF GRANDMOTHER
OR...
ETHIOPIA IS AN INCREDIBLY OLD
CHRISTIAN COUNTRY.
I MEAN, IT'S... IT'S BEEN
CHRISTIAN FOR 1600, 1700 YEARS.
I THINK... SOMEBODY WAS TELLING ME
THE OTHER DAY THAT SOME OF THE
OLDEST-KNOWN GOSPELS OF THE NEW
TESTAMENT ARE PROBABLY TO BE
FOUND IN ETHIOPIA... THE OLDEST,
YOU KNOW, SORT OF TRANSLATIONS.
SO, THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IS
INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT, AND GOES
THROUGH EVERY PART OF... I MEAN,
THERE ARE... IT'S SORT OF 50-50
NOW, I THINK; IT'S CHRISTIAN AND
MUSLIM.
BUT THE CHRISTIAN... WHERE SHE WAS
LIVED, IT WAS VERY HIGHLY
CHRISTIAN.
IT GOES THROUGH EVERY PART OF
PEOPLE'S LIVES.
IF YOU SORT OF... IF YOU
IMAGINE... I DON'T KNOW IF YOU
READ SOMEBODY LIKE HILARY MANTEL
OR CHAUCER OR... PEOPLE LIKE... THAT WAY IN WHICH
THE CHURCH... AND IT'S TRUE IN
SORT OF SOME COUNTRIES NOW... THE
CHURCH IS PART OF PEOPLE'S DAILY
LIVES IN A VERY ABSOLUTE WAY.
AND REMEMBER, THE CHURCH ALSO
CONTROLLED THE WRITTEN WORD TO A
GREAT EXTENT.
YOU KNOW, THEY HAD SORT OF... THEY
CROWNED KINGS; THEY... EVERYBODY
HAD A SPIRITUAL CONFESSOR.
THERE WAS A KIND OF... THERE WERE
TWO GREAT POWERS.
THE GOVERNMENT... WELL, THE
EMPIRE, THE ARISTOCRACY, THE
CHURCH, AND THAT WAS INCREDIBLY
PART OF... I MEAN, EVEN THE
LANGUAGE.
SO IT'S NOT JUST THE CHILDREN'S
NAMES.

[SPEAKING AMHARIC]

Aida says IS "HAND OF
MARY."
IT'S... YOU KNOW, IF YOU SAY
"THANK YOU."

[SPEAKING AMHARIC]

Aida says "MAY GOD
GIVE... MAY GOD," YOU KNOW,
"RETURN IT TO YOU... MAY GOD GIVE
IT TO YOU."
IT'S JUST PART OF THE WARP AND
WEFT OF EVERYTHING.

NAM SAYS YOU CAN'T SEPARATE IT?

Aida says NO.

Nam says AND WITH YOUR GRANDFATHER'S
POSITION, YOUR... THE FAMILY'S
FORTUNE SEEMED TO BE TIED WITH
HE EMPERORS.
HOW DID HAILE SELASSIE RULE ETHIOPIA?

Aida says I GUESS THEY WERE TIED TO THE
EMPERORS IN A WAY THAT ALMOST
EVERYBODY WAS.
IF YOU... THERE'S A... YOU KNOW, IF
YOU IMAGINE A... IF YOU IMAGINE A
SOCIETY THAT'S INCREDIBLY
TRIANGULAR...

Nam says FROM THE TOP DOWN?

Aida says THE EMPEROR AT THE TOP.
YOU KNOW, IT'S AN EMPEROR AT THE
TOP, AND ABOVE THE EMPEROR, GOD.
YOU KNOW, THERE WAS A KIND
OF... THE EMPEROR... WELL, I MEAN,
HE RULED... HE WAS AN ABSOLUTE
MONARCH.
AND HE WORKED VERY HARD TO MAKE
IT... YOU KNOW, TO MAKE IT
CENTRALIZED.
SO WHEN MY GRANDMOTHER WAS BORN,
IT WAS ALSO AN EMPIRE, BUT IT
WAS MUCH MORE LOOSELY ORGANIZED,
SO YOU HAD MUCH MORE, YOU KNOW,
REGIONAL KINGS, HAD A LOT OF
SINGULAR POWER.
TITHES WOULD GO TO THEM.
BY THE ZENITH OF HAILE
SELASSIE'S REIGN, IT WENT TO THE
CENTRE.
AND YOUR GRANDFATHER ENDED UP
BEING A JUDGE?

Aida says HE WAS A JUDGE.
HE WAS A JUDGE; HE WAS AN
ADMINISTRATOR AND PRIEST WHO LED
44 CHURCHES...

NAM SAYS THE LOCALE WHERE THEY
LIVED?

Aida says YEAH, IN SORT OF ALL OF
ETHIOPIA.
YEAH, SO...

NAM SAYS AND THEN THINGS CHANGE.
FROM YOUR BOOK, YOU WRITE ABOUT
A HORRIFYING EVENT IN 1936.

Another quote from the book appears on screen, under the title "An attack from the heavens." The quote reads "And then one day an answer: six specks in the sky, specks moving faster and straighter than any bird, growing bigger and bigger, until she could hear them roar.
Closer and closer the specks came. They looked like crosses now, stubby dark crosses, trailing smoke. The streets ran with women, children, clergy, the infirm –anyone able-bodied had marched away with Ras Kassa or quietly disappeared. As the thundering drew near they threw themselves into ditches, huddled against the walls, behind trees. O Queen of Heaven, save us."

Nam says DID YOUR GRANDFATHER TELL YOUR
GRANDMOTHER ENOUGH ABOUT THE
POLITICAL SITUATION IN ETHIOPIA
THAT SHE COULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD
WHAT WAS HAPPENING?

Aida says I DON'T KNOW IF ANYBODY WOULD
HAVE... I MEAN, HE WOULD HAVE
UNDERSTOOD THAT... HE WOULD HAVE
UNDERSTOOD THE POLITICAL
SITUATION PROBABLY, BUT I'M NOT
SURE.
AT THAT POINT, I THINK SHE WAS
PROBABLY QUITE YOUNG, AND I'M
NOT SURE HE TOLD HER ANYTHING.
I THINK LATER ON THAT SHE
UNDERSTOOD A GREAT DEAL MORE.
BUT I DON'T THINK ANYBODY SAW
THAT HAPPEN... SAW THAT COMING.
THE ITALIANS HAD... ETHIOPIA WAS,
AS FAR AS I KNOW, THE ONLY
AFRICAN COUNTRY TO REPEL AN
INVADING EUROPEAN FORCE IN I
THINK IT WAS 1896.
ACTUALLY, AND EMPEROR AND HIS
EMPRESS, SHE READ... SHE LED TENS
OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, AND THEY
REPELLED THE ITALIANS, AND THE
ITALIANS NEVER REALLY FORGAVE
THEM FOR IT... AND THEY, YOU KNOW, CAME BACK.
AND THEY HAD THE DOMINANCE OF
THE AIR.
THAT WAS SOMETHING... IN
ETHIOPIA... YOU KNOW, ETHIOPIA WAS
AN INCREDIBLY MOUNTAINOUS
COUNTRY.
IT'S ONE OF THE REASONS WHY IT
HADN'T BEEN COLONIZED BEFORE.
AND THEY... THEY USED THAT.
I MEAN, THEY USED MUSTARD GAS.
THAT WASN'T A MUSTARD GAS
ATTACK, BUT THEY USED MUSTARD
GAS, AND THEY WOULD JUST CROP
DUST, YOU KNOW, WHOLE SECTIONS.
AND THAT IS NOT HARD TO... YOU
KNOW, IS NOT EASY TO FIGHT
AGAINST.
AND THAT... YOU KNOW, THAT
WAS... THAT WAS ETHIOPIA'S
EXPERIENCE OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR.

Nam says WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE UNDER ITALIAN
OCCUPATION?

Aida says I THINK INITIALLY IT WAS JUST
THE WAY IT HAD ALWAYS BEEN.
IT'S AN INTERESTING THING, I
THINK.
WE THINK... WHEN WE READ THE NEWS,
WE ALWAYS ASSUME THAT THE WHOLE
COUNTRY IS EXPERIENCING A WAR,
BUT ACTUALLY, THE WAR COULD BE
DOWN THE ROAD, AND YOU COULD
JUST BE GOING TO FETCH WATER AS
YOU ALWAYS DID, YOU KNOW?
AND I THINK THERE WAS A CERTAIN
AMOUNT OF THAT.
BUT AS THEY... THEY SORT OF
TIGHTENED THEIR HOLDS ON THE
CITIES AND NEVER REALLY OWNED
THE COUNTRYSIDE, THEN THEY WOULD
HAVE BEEN... THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN
GLIMPSED MORE OFTEN.
AND, YOU KNOW, I THINK SHE WAS
AFRAID OF THEM.
AS YOU WOULD BE... [CHUCKLES]... OF
AN INVADING FORCE.
BUT I DON'T THINK... THEY DIDN'T
HAVE A HUGE CULTURAL EFFECT IN
TERMS OF HER LIFE.
THEY DID HAVE... THEY DID... YOU
KNOW, THEY DID THINGS LIKE BUILD
ROADS AND PROVIDE PIPED WATER,
FOR AT LEAST THEIR AREAS.
AND THAT DID CHANGE
INFRASTRUCTURE AND LANGUAGE
AND... A LITTLE BIT.
THERE'S STILL... YOU KNOW, IF YOU
WANT TO FIX A CAR IN ETHIOPIA, A
LOT OF THE WORDS ARE ITALIAN

[CHUCKLES].

Nam says AND IT CHANGED A LOT FOR YOUR
GRANDFATHER AND YOUR
GRANDMOTHER'S LIFE.
LIKE, IT SWITCHED IT UPSIDE DOWN.

Aida says YEAH.

Nam says WHAT HAPPENED?

Aida says AS... I MEAN, I GUESS THIS
HAPPENED IN... AS HAPPENS IN WAR
OVER AND OVER AGAIN, THEY... I
MEAN, THE ITALIANS FIRST ENTERED
GONDAR FAIRLY EASY, BECAUSE THEY
HAD BASICALLY OVERRUN... YOU KNOW,
THE EMPEROR HAD THREAD FLED; THE
EMPEROR WENT ABROAD.
HE WENT... HE LIVED IN BATH FOR
FIVE YEARS.
AND INITIALLY THEY CAME IN, AND
THEY SORT OF TOOK OVER THE
CASTLES AND TRIED TO ESTABLISH A
CIVIL... YOU KNOW, TRIED TO
ESTABLISH WHAT THEY... WHAT DID
THEY CALL IT?
ANYWAY, THE ITALIAN EMPEROR... YOU
KNOW, THE OUTPOST... OUTPOST OF
THE ITALIAN EMPIRE.
BUT THEN BECAUSE THINGS CHANGED
IN EUROPE, BRITAIN REALIZED THAT
THEY, YOU KNOW... THEY SHOULD
ACTUALLY PROBABLY HELP ETHIOPIA,
EVEN THOUGH THE EMPEROR HAD BEEN
ASKING THEM FOR YEARS TO DO SO,
AND THEY CAME IN TO... AND THEN
THE WAR REALLY... YOU KNOW, GONDAR
WAS BOMBED; THEY HAD TO FLEE.
SHE LIVED IN EXILE IN A LITTLE
VILLAGE OUTSIDE.
HER HUSBAND WENT TO TEND TO THE
WOUNDED AND THE SICK ON THE
BATTLEFIELD.
AND, YOU KNOW, THAT WAS A
DIFFICULT TIME.

Nam says AND YOUR GRANDFATHER ENDED UP
BEING IMPRISONED AND DYING IN
PRISON.

Aida says YEAH.

NAM SAYS WHAT EFFECT DID THAT HAVE
ON YOUR GRANDMOTHER?

Aida says ABSOLUTE... I MEAN, SHE... I MEAN,
OBVIOUSLY IT'S DIFFICULT IN AND
OF ITSELF AS, YOU KNOW, SHE... AT
THAT POINT, SHE WAS A MOTHER OF
SEVEN CHILDREN, AND SHE... HE
DIDN'T FEEL THAT HE WOULD GET
JUSTICE WITHIN... WITHIN THAT
TOWN, AND SO HE ASKED HER TO GO
TO ADDIS ABABA TO PETITION ON
HIS BEHALF, PETITION TO THE
HIGHER COURTS.
AND IF THE HIGHER COURTS DID NOT
DECIDE IN THEIR FAVOUR, TO
PETITION TO THE EMPEROR.
SO SUDDENLY, AFTER YEARS OF
CHILD-REARING AND BEING AT HOME
AND GOING TO CHURCH, SHE
SUDDENLY FOUND HERSELF IN ADDIS
ABABA MAKING... MAKING TESTIMONY
IN THE COURTS.

A black and white picture of Yetemegnu shows her wearing a light dress and dark headscarf.

NAM SAYS AND YOUR GRANDFATHER
ACTUALLY HAD FORESIGHT THOUGH
BECAUSE HE... MAYBE HE SAW IT
COMING BECAUSE HE ADDED ROOMS
ONTO THEIR HOME...

AIDA SAYS YES...

Nam says IN A WAY BECAUSE HE WANTED HER
TO HAVE FINANCIAL SECURITY.
IF ANYTHING WAS TO HAPPEN TO
HIM, THAT SHE WOULD BE ABLE TO
RENT OUT THE HOME... THE ROOMS.
READING THAT TO ME WAS LIKE, YOU
KNOW, THAT WAS AN EXPRESSION OF
LOVE.

Aida says YES.

NAM SAYS EVEN IF YOU DON'T SAY IT.

Aida says YES, I DON'T THINK... I MEAN... I
THINK, YES, SHE WOULD HAVE SAID
THERE WAS LOVE, AND HE... YOU
KNOW, HE DEFINITELY CARED, AND
HE WAS... YOU KNOW, HE WAS
VERY... IT MIGHT NOT HAVE OCCURRED
TO HIM TO TELL
HER... [CHUCKLES]... BUT THAT
WAS... HE WAS CARING FOR HER, AND
HE CARED, YOU KNOW, VERY DEEPLY.

Nam says AND THERE WAS ANOTHER MOMENT IN
THE BOOK THAT... I THINK ONE OF
THE FEW INSTANCES WHEN YOU PUT
YOUR VOICE IN IT, AND YOU... THERE
WERE SOLDIERS AND THEY WAS
SHOOTING UP INTO... THERE WAS A
STORM, AND THEY WERE SHOOTING UP
INTO THE RAIN CLOUDS, AND YOU
WERE WITH YOUR GRANDMOTHER AND A
COUSIN, AND YOUR GRANDMOTHER
PUSHED YOU AND YOUR COUSIN INTO
A WARDROBE, AND SHE PUT HERSELF
IN-BETWEEN YOU TO PROTECT YOU.
WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE
WITH HER?

The caption changes to "Matriarch."

Aida says IT WAS GOOD.
SHE WAS... I'LL SAY SHE WAS AN
AMAZING GRANDMOTHER.
YOU COULD SORT OF SIT THERE.
SHE HAD THESE... YOU KNOW, OF
COURSE ETHIOPIA, THE
MORNING... PEOPLE START WORK VERY
EARLY... PARTICULARLY THE WOMEN,
START WORK VERY EARLY IN
MORNING, BUT THEN YOU GET A
PAUSE AT ABOUT SORT OF 9:00,
10:00, AND YOU SIT DOWN AND YOU
ROAST SOME COFFEE AND YOU POUND
THE COFFEE AND YOU BURN SOME
INCENSE AND MAKE SOME POPCORN
AND YOU JUST KIND OF, YOU KNOW,
CHAT.
AND THAT WAS THE KIND OF... IT WAS
JUST KIND OF... IT DEFINES WARMTH,
AND, YOU KNOW, IT WAS JUST... YOU
JUST SORT OF SIT THERE AND
LISTEN AND LAUGH, AND THAT WAS
MY... THAT'S ONE OF MY... PROBABLY
MY EARLIEST MEMORIES OF HER,
YEAH.

Nam says FAMILY TO HER WAS EVERYTHING.

Aida says YES.
YES, IT WAS.
AND SHE WOULD... YOU KNOW, SHE
WOULD COMPLETELY... WHEN SHE... I
MEAN, MY GRANDFATHER DIED IN
PRISON, AND MOST PEOPLE WOULD
HAVE PROBABLY STOPPED AT THAT
POINT, BUT SHE WENT BACK AND SHE
SPENT THE NEXT FIVE, SIX YEARS
WAITING TO SPEAK TO THE EMPEROR
TO CLEAR HIS NAME AND TO GET,
YOU KNOW... AND IN THE END, WHAT
SHE GOT WAS EDUCATION FOR ALL
HER CHILDREN.

NAM SAYS HOW SO?

Aida says BECAUSE THE... WELL, THE
EMPEROR... IT'S VERY INTERESTING,
THE EMPEROR COULD HAVE BEEN LIKE
JUST THE EMPEROR, HE COULD HAVE
BEEN MINISTER OF DEFENCE, IF HE
WANTED TO, BUT HE WAS MINISTER
OF EDUCATION BECAUSE THAT WAS
WHAT HE CARED ABOUT, AND HE KNEW
THE FUTURE OF HIS COUNTRY WOULD
BE THROUGH EDUCATION.
AND, YOU KNOW, HE ESTABLISHED
ALL THESE SCHOOLS, AND THAT WAS
A THING THAT HE... YOU KNOW, IF
VERY BRIGHT CHILDREN... AND
THERE WAS PROBABLY A SLIGHT
CLASS ELEMENT, BUT NOT ALWAYS... WERE SENT TO BOARDING SCHOOLS
IN ADDIS ABABA AND, YOU KNOW,
TRAINED AND OFTEN THEN SENT
ABROAD, AND THEY WERE EXPECTED
TO COME BACK AND LEAD ETHIOPIA
SORT OF INTO THE FUTURE.

Nam says INCLUDING YOUR FATHER WHO BECAME
A DOCTOR.

Aida says YEAH, AND HIS BROTHER BECAME A
DOCTOR, AND, YOU KNOW, THE GIRLS
BECAME... YOU KNOW, THEY WORKED IN
AGRICULTURE AND ECONOMICS.
I MEAN, IT CHANGED... IT CHANGED
OUR LIVES, ABSOLUTELY.

Nam says ISN'T IT INCREDIBLE THAT YOUR
GRANDMOTHER WAS UNEDUCATED,
AND SHE LEARNED HOW TO READ TEN
YEARS BEFORE SHE PASSED, AND...

Aida says ABOUT... I THINK SHE WAS PROBABLY
IN HER 60S...

NAM SAYS IN HER 60S...

Aida says BUT THEN SHE... THEN HER
EYESIGHT FAILED TEN YEARS LATER,
WHICH WAS BASICALLY A TRAGEDY
BECAUSE SHE SORT OF FINALLY
COULD READ, AND THEN SHE
COULDN'T SEE.
BUT ANYWAY.

[CHUCKLES]

Nam says BUT IT'S JUST INCREDIBLE THAT,
YOU KNOW, MARRIED AT EIGHT AND
RAISED SO MANY CHILDREN ON HER
OWN AFTER YOUR GRANDFATHER DIED,
AND THEN TO HAVE YOUR DAD BE A
DOCTOR AND YOUR AUNTS AND UNCLES
AND YOURSELF HERE.
I MEAN, IT SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT
THE DETERMINATION OF
SPIRIT... INDIVIDUAL SPIRIT.

Aida says SHE GAVE US... YOU KNOW, SHE GAVE
US OUR FUTURES.
SHE GAVE US THE FUTURE OF
CHOICES THAT SHE DIDN'T HAVE.
I MEAN, I GUESS ONE THING THAT I
WOULD... YES, SHE DID.
AND... WHICH IS ALWAYS SLIGHTLY
BITTERSWEET FOR THE PERSON WHO
DOES THAT... BECAUSE YOUR CHILDREN THEN GET
ON AIRPLANES AND GO AWAY.
AND THEN YOU... YOU KNOW, SO IF...

NAM SAYS YOU OPEN UP TO THE WORLD TO
THEM, BUT NOW THEY LEAVE YOU.

Aida says PRECISELY, YES.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Aida says WHICH IS... BUT SHE GAVE... SHE GAVE
US THAT, AND SHE... YOU KNOW, WE
HAVE A HUGE AMOUNT OF BE
GRATEFUL FOR.

Nam says AND THIS BOOK IS INCREDIBLE.
I CRIED; I CHEERED FOR HER.

[AIDA CHUCKLES]

Nam says AND IT'S BEEN SUCH A THRILL
SPEAKING TO YOU.
AND FOR YOU FOR RECORDING YOUR
FAMILY'S HISTORY FOR GENERATIONS
TO COME, WELL DONE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Sandra Gionas, @sandragionas."

Aida says THANK YOU.

NAM SAYS THANK YOU.

Aida says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Watch: A Woman and A Nation