Shining A Light on the Dark Continent

Author Archives: Vicki

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.

The Long Trek Home

“I couldn’t get to sleep until about 1:30 a.m. I was keyed up and excited the night before a long flight,” Dave wrote in his journal. But this wasn’t just any long flight. After almost seven months, Dave was finally going home to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Vicki. After finishing up last minuteContinue Reading

Scary Storms at Home

All day on May 24, 2011, the weatherman was saying closets and bathrooms were not going to cut it during the severe storms crossing Oklahoma. People needed to be in underground shelters or leave town.   We didn’t have a shelter in our Moore, OK home and unbeknownst to Dave, one of those storms wasContinue Reading

Sister Donna remains dedicated despite break-ins

  A lot happened to Sister Donna Francis since Dave last saw her in December 2010. On Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, a mob of 20 to 30 people broke into the Heartland HIV/AIDS Orphan Girls Residents and Vocational Training Center and tore down a wall Donna built to protect the children from the wildContinue Reading

Last Trip in Africa

  Dave went on his last trip out of Djibouti to Ethiopia in May 2011. This time he introduced Chaplain Bill O’Sullivan, his replacement at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, to the Civil Affairs teams he worked with around Ethiopia. “Happiness is having your replacement on the ground,” Dave said. Bill quicklyContinue Reading

A Christian in a Muslim country

  Sometimes we run into someone who leaves a lasting impression. For Dave that person is Toufik Housseine from Moroni, Comoros. Toufik is the director and Dean of the American English Language School. He also is a First Lieutenant in the Comoran Defense Force Toufik attended the Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base inContinue Reading

A vacation in Montepulciano, Italy

After the conference in Padova, Dave and I rented a car and drove to Montepulciano, Italy in Tuscany. We both loved the name. It is fun to say. We wanted to relax and spend time together after the conference. We chose Montepulciano for the wine. Driving into town was interesting. The GPS took us throughContinue Reading

Chaplains need to focus on values

When engaging with Africans, chaplains need to know the people’s view of them and build their trust, according to Colonel Monwabisi Andrew Jamangile, Brigadier General-Select for the South African National Defense Force Chaplain Service. Jamangile was speaking to the U.S. African Command Chaplains’ Conference in March 2011. Jamangile was speaking as the head of theContinue Reading

A Break in Italy

Usually during a six or seven-month deployment, the military member does not get to see their spouse in the middle of the tour, so when the United State African Command chaplains planned a conference for mid-March in Padova, Italy, Dave jumped on the chance to bring Vicki over. He also got a four-day pass toContinue Reading