Sansom Tesfamariam - December 2, 2016
I remember my first day in America. It felt like I was born again, a second chance to see the world differently. I once saw my world very dark, where blood splashed everywhere. There were a lot of innocent lives that postponed the world due to the dirty politics. I was five or six or younger when I witnessed bullets and bombs exploding innocent children’s, women’s, and men’s bodies. I still remember some of the faces of dead people. I always think what those children’s lives would have been. Some of them might have been doctors who could’ve looked after our elders. Maybe, some of them could have been educators who could have made us understand the world we live in. Or others could have been inventors who could have made life easier and so on. But they were gone in under 72 hours. I am working hard to become a doctor. But the road was, is, and will not be easy because there are so many ups and downs. I don’t have a place to live in. I stayed at Rosemont College for the year working as a residential assistant last summer so I had a place to live.
I have only memories around the war; I have flashbacks sometimes. Sleeping outside of our house with my grandfather one day so I could enjoy looking at bright moon, Ethiopian or Eritrean soldiers exploded the car that was going around telling people to leave the area. The explosion was so close to our house that it felt like it was our house. The war took place in the border of Badme between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
My house in Badme: Where I was born. Since there houses were made of dry grass, there burned easily. On the picture, we were rebuilding it.
Where Badme is in the border. The large pointy green color right on the borders of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
My father and mother were of different nationalities; my father was Eritrean and mother Ethiopian. Since the war was between Ethiopia and Eritrean, I never saw my father after the war. We escaped through Eritrea and came back to Ethiopia, only with my mother. I hated growing up in Ethiopia without a dad. Not too long after, my mother said goodbye forever as well. Without my dad, my world was half dark. When my mother died, I lived in dark world. I was too young to witness all of the negativity life could give you and would go to the top of the mountain, stare at the sky, and ask God why I was going through all of this.
I began working at early age to support my little sister and my older half-brother who was invested in school. His father was Ethiopian, so he was getting a little light from him.
I started drinking excessively and smoking secretly. The villagers would not give me their faces. They didn’t disapprove because I was Samson, but because I was doing things no young child should do. They gave up on me as much as I gave up on myself.
I barely passed my classes with almost "D-" grades, but chose drinking and soccer over school. I had no life. I was not favored by anyone. I got tired of people treating me differently. I wanted to change. I wanted to prove to people I was as smart as their children. I returned to the top of the mountain by myself with a book. I would open it and then close it after five minutes; I’d get so bored. But then I’d open it again because staring at the sky was boring, too. Reading became my favorite thing to do. I was crazy about alcohol called “Siwa” and soccer. Then, reading books made more sense to me than drinking or playing soccer. I’d tell people about the books I read and impress them. I liked impressing people.
There was and still is a question in my heart about my mother. If there were doctors in Badme, would she be alive now? We don’t know why my mother died, but I knew she could have been saved if she gotten proper treatment. This made me curious, so in addition to reading books required for my classes, I started reading library science books too. I wanted to know what happened to my mother. Some said it was snakebite and others said something else. Snake’s poison kills people in a matter of hours or a day if not treated properly. My mother was sick for about a month. I knew it was not snakebite; we would have seen the bite and her skin was as smooth as normal individual’s.
This is what drove my focus. I was transformed from a D- student to one with an A+ average. I became the valedictorian and an example for others. A lot of kids liked me and started to study with me. Eight of us became close and became the best students in our classes. Not all of them were in my grade; some of them were seventh grade, but we still studied together. I would help them, but it was not easy.
My half-brother crossed the Eritrean border to Ethiopia and settled in the refugee camp. As soon as he learned about the passing of our mother, he told the International Organization for Migration that he wanted to take care of us. My sister and I were really struggling with life and chose to join him at the camp. We then were told that we were going to come to America. It was a very emotional time for me. I thought God heard my sadness and anger at having to go through all the darkness. He taught me a lot of things.
I only knew a few English words when I arrived in America—all my classes were in my language until high school. I had an English class in elementary school, but they only taught us to name things. I made a lot of friends in high school. They laughed at my English, but I used it to my advantage and laugh with them. They liked how outgoing I was and taught me how to speak. I wasn’t able to get into Central High School because of my English level, so I was forced to leave my half-brother’s family and live on my own to attend school. I lived on my own for about five years and it’s not easy. I believe, however, that it is part of the life I am meant to live, so I am enjoying it despite the conditions.
When I transferred to Lower Merion High School to get a better education, that’s when the Naples and Ms. Avivah Piniski (and her whole family) became important figures in my journey. The Naples let me stay in their garage apartment. Despite being in college now, they continue to help me. I hope one day I can be like them. Ms. Avivah has been helping me since my arrival in the United States. She is a wonderful mother to many refugees and never gives up on anyone. Ms. Avivah and Ms. Naples still continue to support and guide me and I am very thankful for them.
I attended Albright College following high school, where, unfortunately, I lost my mission. I did more socializing than working on my dream. Even though I would lose some credits, I decided to transfer to Rosemont College. I recovered a semester by taking 18 credits each semester. In pursuit of being a doctor, I am a biology major. I am completing minors in business, chemistry, and biochemistry. I currently work in the library and the Student Academic Support Center. I am able to support my sister with the little money I make working on campus. And I joined some clubs and also run cross country.
Taking all these classes, working, and being a student-athlete is very hard to manage, but I like challenges and being active at all time. Sports have become very important to me. Being an athlete at Rosemont College is helping me be a leader—something that will benefit me in the future. Running keeps me healthy and strong. Rosemont College gives me the opportunity to be myself and express who I am while getting to know so many diverse people. I come from strict Orthodox Christian family. However, I am growing to understand and appreciate other religions. I have made friends almost from all types of religions. Loving others is what matters to me regardless of another person’s background. I joined Campus Ministry because I want to serve others as others have served me.
I survived a war at a young age, grew up without parents, and spent so much time fighting life. I had to learn to speak English in five years and to make decisions like going to college despite the challenges I faced. It was all worth it because one day I hope to save lives, so that children don’t have to grow up without parents.
I want to thank the Rosemont College staff for all they have done for me. I extend my appreciation to the staff in Cardinal Hall who are so friendly. Last, but certainly not least, I am so thankful for Campus Ministry and reaching out to the people who are less fortunate. I am becoming a bigger fish in small pond. May God be with all of you!