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Senamirmir Projects: Interview with Ato Amha Asfaw


Senamirmir:   At the outset, Senamirmir would like to congratulate you on your outstanding literary work and continuing effort on Ethiopic computing.

Ato Amha Asfaw:   Thank you. I thought this interview would be in Amharic. "Ingdeh inentebateb".

Senamirmir:   Can you share with us about yourself, your childhood, and up-bringing?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I was born some 56 years ago on hamle 7, 1939, on Monday at 5:30 oíclock in the morning (July 14, 1947, Monday at 11:30 AM) in a town called Welisso. I spent the first few years of my life in Debre Birhan, Nazareth and Hamer Bako in Gemu Goffa. When I was about 8 or 9 years old I was sent to a boarding school in Addis. The first school I went to was called Sudan interior mission. It was located near "Beqlo Bet". Then I was transferred to Princess Zenebe Werk boarding school. The rest of my school years were spent in "Arbegnoch", "Tefferi Mekonen" and "Kokebe Tsebah".

Senamirmir:   You dedicated two of your works to your parents. Can you share with us about them?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   My motherís name was Trunesh Welde Mariam. She was the daughter of a farmer in Bale known by the nick-name Minjare Weldemariam. He was a very enlightened person. All his children including the girls were taught how to read and write. In those days (about 80 years ago) very few people used to teach their male children let alone the female ones. So my mother was my first teacher. I learned how to read and write Amharic at home. I do not know where she got it but my mother knew some basic arithmetic too. To every child, his mother is the most beautiful and the smartest person; but in my case, my mother was truly smart and beautiful. In addition to Amharic she could speak Oromigna and Wellayitagna. She died about a year ago.

My fatherís name was Asfaw Gebre Amanuel (Dej.) His father was a farmer in Minjar. He was a fighter under the leadership of the famous Ras Abebe Aregay during the Italian occupation. Most of his life he served as provincial governor (Awraja Gezie). He was the kindest person I knew. I could never think about him without tears coming to my eyes. You may not believe me but I just used a Kleenex tissue to dry my eyes. I really miss him.

Senamirmir:   How did you develop an interest for writing and arts?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I had a relative called Getachew who was a student at the art school in Addis. He taught me some basic skills of drawing. As for writing poetry, I believe all Ethiopians are poets. The Ethiopian culture is one that encourages poetry.

Senamirmir:   Have you ever exhibited your art work in public? If not, why?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   No; I do not consider myself an artist good enough to display his paintings in public. Besides I paint once in 2 or 3 years and my paintings end up as gifts to my friends or to my church. The old tradition of offering what you create with your hands to your God is very therapeutic even for non religious people like myself. It gives you the satisfaction that the ugliest of your works will be beautiful in the eyes of your God.

Senamirmir:   Senamirmir: Who are your idols?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I do not have idols but I admire many people. Menilk, Abebe Aregay, Haddis Alemayehu, Mesfin Welde Mariam, Getatchew Haile, Kebede Michael, Seyifu Metaferia Frew, Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, Tekle Tsadik Mekuria, Mengstu Lemma, Mekonnen Endalkachew, Tilahun Gesesse, Fatuma Roba, Girma Negash, Pawlos Gnogo, Languston Hughes, Tolstoy, Gogol, Pushikin, Bertrand Russel, Newton, Einstein... And lately Abba Bahry, Abba Giorgis, Jean Christopher Ruffin ...

I also admire people like Ato Dulla Abdu and yourself. I admire your work in software development and specially your efforts in Houston to make Ethiopians and disadvantaged minorities computer literate through you computer centers and clubs. Most of all I admire your effort to produce Amharic books on computer technology.

Senamirmir:   A list of your personal hobbies?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   Writing poetry, book binding, painting, and traveling.

Senamirmir:   When did you leave Ethiopia for US and why?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I came here in August 1974 to attend a college.

Senamirmir:   What is your research area at University of Missouri? What project are you working on now?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   As a graduate student I was working on Retrieval Systems and Artificial Intelligence. Now we are working on models to predict acute toxicity of different chemicals on aquatic species. My specific job in this research group is developing softwares that incorporate the above models.

Personally I am now interested in studying the characteristics and the laws governing Amharic poetry.

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