The small, neat living room is softened by nervous laughter and introductions. Entering someone’s home sometimes feels invasive or disrespectful, but Tadege Gabrua and his wife, Tekabo Tewolde, express a comforting gratitude toward everyone they meet.
“The people of Longmont are extremely nice,” Gabrua says. “We appreciate their hospitality.”
Even after five years of living in Longmont, Gabrua and Tewolde still consider themselves beneficiaries of hospitality. They moved to the city from Ethiopia in March of 2006 to join their daughter, who had lived here with her Ethiopian-American husband for 10 years. Gabrua and Tewolde left their parents, three children and several siblings in Ethiopia.
“My relatives are there,” Gabrua says. “I don’t think I miss them very much because we go to Ethiopia very often.”
Tewolde smiles quietly as her husband talks. She will interject occasionally in her native language, but her English is limited. Gabrua’s English is perfected from his career as a high school geography teacher in Ethiopia, where English is the primary language of instruction. Though he retired before he moved to the U.S., he currently volunteers once a week as a teacher at the St. Vrain Adult High School. He was laid off from his job at a turkey processing plant in 2008, at which time he decided to seek help.
“An idea came into my mind: if I went to the senior center, then they could secure me a job or give me advice,” Gabrua says. “And I went there. They facilitated all this.”
Gabrua is very specific about how the senior center helped him improve his family’s quality of life.
“Here, we enjoy a good life for three specific reasons,” he says. “Number one, I get my old age pension income. The second reason is the Medicaid insurance, which I think will partially cover our health service expenses. The third reason is the Inn Between subsidizes our house rent.”
The Inn Between, a transitional housing service in Longmont, helped Gabrua and Tewolde find housing in 2010. The Inn Between will subsidize their apartment for 24 months, as the service’s intention is to facilitate self-sufficiency. The couple has already applied for permanent housing.
“We want to continue this life,” Gabrua says.
Tewolde, 61, and Gabrua, 60, were arranged to be married as children in rural Ethiopia. Their families were immediate neighbors. After Gabrua finished school, they married.
“Ethiopia is a traditional society,” Gabrua says. “Most of the time marriage is arranged marriage. It works for us.”
The couple’s children in Ethiopia – a lawyer, car mechanic and pharmacist – are unmarried. Tewolde and Gabrua have decided to let their children make marital decisions for themselves.
“We give them the chance to choose,” Gabrua says. “Partly I support arranged marriage and partly I don’t support it.”
There are other characteristics of Gabrua’s home country that he both likes and dislikes.
“Ethiopia is, relatively speaking, a very stable country now,” he says. “Democracy emerges at one time and it matures through time. We have some things: there is freedom of press, there is freedom of worship, you can oppose, you can support.”
Despite this progress, Gabrua is quick to point out the reality of the situation.
“Don’t forget that Ethiopia is a developing country,” he says. “We cannot say that life is as good as in America. We cannot say it. We still have problems. But we expect to see some good things in the near future.”
Gabrua says he and Tewolde have had almost entirely positive experiences since their immigration in 2006.
“That’s the most interesting thing that we feel,” he says. “Almost all our experiences are positive. Almost all the people whom I’ve met are very positive and kind.”
One adjustment the couple has had to make is with the weather. The wet and dry seasons in Ethiopia did little to prepare them for a Colorado winter.
“When the winter became very severe, we were scared, of course,” Gabrua says. “But now, we are used to it.”
Once they adjusted, the seasons became one of their favorite parts of life here. Gabrua’s sense of continuation applies to the seasons, a well as his own family’s transition.
“That’s the most important thing,” he says. “When summer is over, you come to fall, when fall is over, you come to winter, when winter is over, you come to spring. That is good.”
Published in Longmont Magazine on 11/12/11.