Didumo Alemo, left, visits her half-sister, Estefew Alemo, who she had not seen in 18 years.
Didumo Alemo, left, visits her half-sister, Estefew Alemo, who she had not seen in 18 years.

Archived Story

A journey for closure: Local woman returns to Ethiopia to find answers about past

Published 10:41am Friday, June 7, 2013

Like puzzle pieces, an array of photos sat on Didumo Alemo’s table Tuesday morning in Austin, bridging a gap from her father’s death decades ago to her most recent trip back to Ethiopa this spring.

Didumo recently returned from the trip to see her father’s grave and to visit family members who live in the city of Gambela, where her father died in 1992 after fighting for peace in the politically torn region. After her father, Agwa Alemo, died, Didumo and her sisters had nowhere to go. A Catholic mission group eventually took them in and supported them, but Didumo later fled to Kenya, and eventually came to the U.S.

Didumo Alemo returned to Gambela, Ethiopia, in April to see this gravesite, where her father, Agwa Alemo, is buried, and to visit her family members who live in that region.
Didumo Alemo returned to Gambela, Ethiopia, in April to see this gravesite, where her father, Agwa Alemo, is buried, and to visit her family members who live in that region.

One faded, black-and-white photo shows a spry, slender teen, full of youth and vigor. It’s Agwa at age 17. Another shows Agwa sitting next to a friend and colleague nearly 30 years ago, both with giant smiles on their faces. They both fought for peace and equality.

The most recent pictures show a single, fenced-in grave. But it’s not a typical gravesite. Agwa was an icon and an inspiration to people, Didumo’s husband, Loch Othow explained while looking at the picture. Internet posts and blogs label Agwa as a hero, a man who fought for peace. Yet even those accounts cannot clearly explain why he was killed for his views.

Recently, officials in Gambela have discussed moving the gravesite to put up buildings. Didumo wanted answers. She wanted to see the gravesite and ask again why her father was killed decades ago. She wants her children to remember their grandfather and for what he stood.

Until late March, Didumo hadn’t seen her aunts, uncles, cousins and half-sister in 18 years. Her decision to go back to her birthplace and father’s grave was one for faith and closure. She was nervous, and so were her children and husband in Austin.

“I was worried about it a lot,” Othow said.

In March, Didumo spoke to members of her congregation at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Austin about why she needed to make the journey. They supported her.

Didumo returned to a region where she said it’s hard to distinguish enemies from friends. She could tell people knew she was no longer living in the region. Some questioned why she risked returning to the region. They wondered, did she want to be killed, too? The region is still somewhat unsafe, especially outside the cities.

“When you go from Gambela to another village, 45 minutes to an hour, you’re going to see where some car was hijacked or where people were killed,” Didumo said.

Still, Didumo saw improvements in the region. Gambela is growing, with new roads and buildings. Didumo is happy with some of the change, and she can feel some optimism in the region.

“I saw the dream of my father there,” Didumo said. “The changing is what my father expected before he died.”

So Didumo pushed through, and she and family members united, visited her father’s grave and asked current political officials some pressing questions. Again, they wouldn’t give her the answers. Like an old, weathered puzzle, some pieces may always be missing.

Didumo's father, Agwa Alemo, left, sits with his friend and colleague, Okok Ojulu, about 30 years ago in Ethiopia. Ojulu had to leave Ethiopia to live in Kenya, in exile.
Didumo’s father, Agwa Alemo, left, sits with his friend and colleague, Okok Ojulu, about 30 years ago in Ethiopia. Ojulu had to leave Ethiopia to live in Kenya, in exile.

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