Shining A Light on the Dark Continent

Monthly Archives: February 2018

From riches to refugee: Ethiopian woman shares her story

I officially finished the blog that will become a book on Dave’s travels to Eastern Africa. But I don’t want the blog to end there. I still want to talk about people and places in the area, some whom I’ve met and others whom I’ve read about. I hope you will continue this journey with me.

At the beginning of February 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting Hermela Sundys. Hermela is originally from Ethiopia and she showed our women’s group how to host an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. Dave remembered the time he had three such ceremonies in one day – and he was not a coffee drinker. By the third one, he was pinging.


Hermela, right, shakes the coffee beans while cooking them as her sister serves an already prepared cup of coffee.

The coffee ceremony was interesting, but her story fascinated me more. Her family was upper-middle-class living in Northern Ethiopia where her father was an executive at an oil refinery. During this time, Ethiopia was in a civil war. The area Hermela lived would become what is known today as Eritrea.

One night, authorities told Hermela’s family leave. The rebels were coming and they planned to blow up the refinery. So, the family packed up what they could carry and headed south. The ended up at the border between Ethiopia and Djibouti. The French soldiers in Djibouti would not let the refugees in so a refugee camp set up right there on the border. Overnight, Hermela’s family went from well-to-do to poor with only a few possessions they brought with them.

Eritrea just north of Ethiopia gained independence from Ethiopia during the civil war which ran from 1974 to 1991.

Eventually, after the war, her father got a good paying job and the family climbed out of poverty. Then he died leaving her mother to raise the children alone. After finishing high school, Hermela joined her sister, who worked as a waitress in Bahrain. They would send back money to their mother.

The sisters opened a coffee shop in Bahrain in an area off-limits to the U.S. military in the country. But one day two soldiers walked in. She told them they had to leave because the area was off limits. But one kept coming back. She eventually married him, they moved to the United States, where they are raising a family of their own.

Hermela speaks at different organizations about Ethiopia and her faith and the Ethiopian Orthodox Religion. If you remember from the blog, one of the three coffee ceremonies Dave participated in was with the Ethiopian Orthodox Pope.

From left, Navy Chief Petty Officer Antoine Roach, Navy Chaplain Captain Jon Cutler, Ethiopian Orthodox Pope Paulos I, and Dave.