“Take a train to Gondor and spit on my father’s grave”


Fasilides Castle built in 1635 by Emperor Fasilides Adam Sagad who is credited with founding Gondor

Fasilides Castle built in 1635 by Emperor Fasilides Adam Sagad who is credited with founding Gondor

That was my Dad’s request back in December 2007, just before we traveled to Ethiopia to adopt Meskie. He was none too pleased at my response, which while sympathetic, explained in no uncertain terms why it wasn’t going to happen.

In essence:

  1. Ethiopia does not have a national train system.
  2. The trip to Gondor from the capital city of Addis Ababa would take several long days of driving in poor road conditions.
  3. Taking said road trip would be a unique form of torture with three children ages 1, 2 and 5 (two in diapers and one likely thinking something along the lines of “Who are these pasty aliens who have taken me away from everything and everyone I knew?”)

Confused? Well, you see, my paternal family’s connection to Ethiopia dates further back than our 2007 adoption. Eight decades further in fact.

My grandfather was a member of the Italian army that invaded Ethiopia in the 1930s; he left Italy when my Dad was three. Apparently preferring the African nation to La Bella Italia, he never returned to his wife and four young children. In fact, he had at least one child with an Ethiopian partner and lived a long life in Gondor, a city in northern Ethiopia.

Growing up without a father is never easy. Doing so with a poor, single mother in post-war Italy was particularly difficult. My Dad, who passed away in 2009, told me stories of being shipped off to relatives, who were less than thrilled to have him there… other than as a form of free labor. The experience left emotional scars that never quite healed.

Remarkably, he was able to rise above his circumstances to be a devoted and loyal husband and father. He wasn’t perfect. None of us is. But he was loving; he was steadfast; he was there.

As we drove into the city of Gondor yesterday, I felt a flood of emotions. I found myself wondering what led my grandfather to make the decision he made so long ago. What kind of life did he live here? Did he realize the pain he caused? Did he regret it?

I also wished I could call my Dad and tell him we finally made it here.

Will I find my grandfather’s grave? Not likely. Will I spit on it if I do? Probably not. But just being here, I can in some small way bear witness to the pain my Dad carried. And that feels like enough.


Enjoying a coffee ceremony from the Church of Debra Berhan Selassie in Gondor

Enjoying a coffee ceremony across  from the Church of Debra Berhan Selassie 



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