Far From His Native Ethiopia, a Psychiatrist Raises a Family in the Ozarks

May 12, 2014

Today, we’re looking at a country that’s unique among its African neighbors in that, except for a brief time under Italian occupation, it remained independent through the era of colonization—and that independence stretches back over 2,000 years: Ethiopia. 

    

Dr. Dawit Weldemichael, a psychiatrist with Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains, grew up in Addis Ababa, the capital city. He was a studious child, he says – unlike most children in his city.

“We don’t have any restrictions in Ethiopia. A child is born, you find him on the street [playing],” he said.

Weldemichael’s parents are from Eritrea, a neighboring country that used to be part of Ethiopia. He says he never saw the two countries as different, because they are very similar. There’s a language difference, but many people speak both languages, like he does.

Weldemichael’s wife, Sophia, was a neighbor of his growing up.

“Her mom was actually the friend of my mom. And I happened to see my wife then, but we were not dating or anything like that. We just basically grew up together,” he said.

Then, she moved to the United States before he did—and after he went to visit her family’s home, he got to know her better.

The two decided to get married.  But it wasn’t the best time for a traditional Ethiopian wedding…not then, at least. Weldemichael says that’s because some family members were unable to come to America, and an Ethiopian wedding must include family and many, many guests.

“You may call 500, or 1,000 people. So, people gather around. They eat. They dance. They play. All night long. It’s very costly,” Weldemichael said.

Although they had a small ceremony to wed, they still plan to have that large, traditional Ethopian wedding eventually.

Weldemichael said he and his wife try to retain some of their traditions back home—like respecting your elders—while leaving some traditions behind, like the male-dominated family structure in traditional society.  He said his children have taught him new parts of American culture, particularly in regard to language.

Again, that was Dr. Dawit Weldemichael, a psychiatrist at Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains, Missouri, talking to us about his home country of Ethiopia.

This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU.