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Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302: Zare Alkesen, Negge Ensekalen

First, we extend our prayers and condolences to the victims of Ethiopian airline flight 302 and their survivors. The details of the crash that took the lives of 157 passengers and crew, many of whom were non-Ethiopian citizens, are still developing and we will amend this article as news filters in. As we await updates from investigators, we want to take this occasion to pay respect to those who perished and to present a ray of hope in a time of heart-breaking sorrow. To this end, Mel Tehawade and I are giving our takes about the meaning of the Ethiopian airlines. Our aim is to honor the victims, comfort their survivors and give some historical background to the Ethiopian airlines. As we mourn, let us never forget that the sun eventually appears after the shadows of grief stricken us.

Mr. Tewahade’s Perspective

Seventy-three years ago, in 1943, Ethiopian Airlines started flying using a couple of planes that were acquired from United States. Limited by supplies but blessed with limitless ambition, Ethiopian airlines took off to become the pride of Africa and one of the leading airliners in the world.  TWA (Trans-World Airline) soon got involved by helping and training Ethiopians. Most of the crew were American at the start of the airline, but eventually a self-sustaining airline comprised of Ethiopian pilots, crew and airport personnel took root and blossomed.

In time, many Ethiopians got trained to perform more technical aspects of running the airline. Ethiopian airlines is a model of what happens when determined people are armed with the tool and know-how to empower themselves. From pilots, ground crew, engineers to radar operator and beyond, Ethiopians took ownership of this great airline and worked with great dedication and love to build a leading edge company that is a source of inspiration for not only Ethiopians but Africans world-wide.

Oromo leaders at the time gave a huge plot of land called Bole to build the current airport. The airport was moved from the old location to the current location in the mid-sixties. Many Ethiopians (including Eritreans) worked overtime to build Ethiopian airlines. Amara, Tigres, Oromos and an endless array of ethnicity and communities worked together to build a resilient airlines that is called the “Spirit of Africa.” Ethiopian airlines is a testament of what happens when people put aside their differences and work together for the collective good.

Haile Selassie inspecting the delivery of airplanes in Ethiopia, under his leadership and the vision of employees, Ethiopian Airlines became the crown jewel of Africa.

Ethiopian airlines owes its success not only to the hard work of low and mid-level staff but the smart decisions of executives. At every turn, short-term gains were disavowed for the sake of long-term success. Instead of cutting corners to save money by buying substandard airplanes from the former USSR, Ethiopian airlines invested in safe and reliable planes. Ethiopian Airlines has grown by leaps and bounds during the last 20 years; it is estimated that it will double its size in 20 years. Ethiopian airlines is a great example of how Ethiopians working together with love and respect can produce a great result.

As we pray and ponder on the tragedy that befallen us on flight ET302 this morning, let us remember that after the mourning comes a season of hopefulness. We cry for the victims today, but tomorrow we pick up the pieces and get busy building a better Ethiopia.

My Perspective

I am deeply saddened by the crash for Ethiopian airline flight 302 for a lot of reasons. My father Fikremariam Million, who passed away on December 22nd 2001, used to be an employee of the Ethiopian airlines. We enjoyed a life of opportunity and middle-class success in Ethiopia largely because my father worked at Ethiopia’s finest company. When we left Ethiopia in 1982 as refugees fleeing the brutal Derg government, the 757 that flew us to America was the angelic wing that delivered us to freedom.

My connection to my once homeland is tenuous; separated by time and distance, the memories I have of Ethiopia is foggy at best. The green, yellow and red that graces the tail of Ethiopian airlines planes is one of the few things I hold onto to remind me of a home that only exists in my mind for now. When I drive by Dulles International Airport and see an Ethiopian airline plane, my mind is flooded with the times I used to anxiously await my dad’s arrival once he arrived back in Ethiopia after an overseas trip. In this way, both my dad and Ethiopia live on through the majestic wings of the Ethiopian airlines planes.

This is a picture of my father Fikremariam Million and me as I greeted him at Bole International airport in 1981.

Hearing about the crash of flight 302 and the death of all passengers on board was a shock to my system for a lot of reasons. I felt as though my own family member was on that plane even after I was assured that we did not know anyone on that plane. In a lot of ways, a family member was on that fated flight; I know that a child somewhere in the world—who anxiously awaits his parent’s return as I used to in Addis Abeba at the age of seven—will never feel the embrace of his parents again.

The victims on flight 302 were not just Ethiopians, in fact the vast majority of the people who perished were non-Ethiopian. American, Canadian, Slovakian, Russian, Israeli, multiple nations were touched by the awful news of a sudden catastrophe. Death has no boundaries, sadness is not limited by dialect, pain and passing do not differentiate between flag color, ideology or identity.

As we mourn together without turning to what divides us, I pray that we come together in the future by default instead of waiting for these tragic moments to bind us.

We are all interconnected in this way, one man’s tears or another woman’s burden is our own the minute we realize that we too—but for the grace of God—could be the ones grieving over loved ones lost instead of reading about victims. I pray that the people who perished on flight 302 find eternal peace. I likewise pray for healing and comfort for the families and friends of the victims who are currently feeling the weight of sorrow on their shoulders.

Our lives here on earth are but a whisper; here today and gone tomorrow, all we can do is enjoy each and every moment. As I was writing this condolence letter, I ran into a most amazing woman who told me that she has stage four cancer. Yet, instead of being shrouded by sorrow, she makes it a point to give back to others. Our time is finite but the legacy of kindness we give to others is infinite. This is the lesson of Ethiopian airlines, the people who built an airliner out of thin air in the 1950s live on decades after they perished.

In the same way, the people who perished on flight 302 will continue living, their lives paved the way for a new generation of thinkers and doers to pick up the pieces and push forward. Let us remember the lives lost on #Ethiopia|n Airlines flight 302 but let us celebrate life that continues and the lives they touched while they were living. Rest in eternal peace:: Click To Tweet

A Poem to Ethiopian Airline Flight 302

A majestic bird

green, yellow and red on your tail

you carried the soul of Africa

the spirit of Adwa soared with you

the essence of community your wings

the love of Ethiopians your jet fuel

symbol of audacity and defiance

Ethiopian airlines yegna

Bole ye Ethiopia abeba

We mourn for the victims

we grieve for their survivors

tears shed for people gone too soon

but where there is sorrow today

may God heal hearts

and mend sadness

Rest in eternal peace

 

Zare alkesen, negge ensekalen (today we cry, tomorrow we will smile)::

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal. He is currently the chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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