News & Notes 702:Tekeste Berhan G. Kidan
Tekeste Berhan G. Kidan
In 1996 I met Tekeste the first time through the International Zone work. I was working on the first steps of the Unity Pavilion and Tekeste was initiating the Africa House project. My early encounters with him taught me that unity is not just an intention and feeling: it is something material, truly supporting each other, a oneness in action.
I had the great privilege to work closely with him and to find someone who was more than a brother for me and with whom I could walk fearlessly.
Tekeste was a person with complete and unwavering faith. In his correspondence with his spiritual teacher, Father Woldetensai, he writes; “In order to attain grace, we should be ready to confront endless hardship happily”. He truly lived this and in the work had two modes only: when things would open up Tekeste would say: “Miracle, Miracle”, and when there was struggle: “Divine, Divine”.
Tekeste’s passport stated that he was born in Ethiopia on 25 December 1938. The date was probably right, but according to Tekeste he was born some years earlier. In 1966, after his studies, he joined the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He had met his spiritual teacher, Father Woldetensai (who later was to become the Archbishop Dioskoros of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) for the first time when he was 10 years of age. He later met him again in 1959 .This made a great impression on him and a strong and close relationship developed. His correspondence with Bishop Dioskoros has been preserved and part of it is published in his book [Towards Tomorrow – Auroville and Africa – A journey towards the Future].
From 1966 – 1976 Tekeste served as a diplomat in India. He became close friends with Vinay Verma, the brother of Aster Patel. He also became very intimate with Kalu Sarkar who spoke with him about The Mother, Sri Aurobindo and their vision of Auroville. In 1969 he came to visit the Ashram and participate in the first anniversary celebration of Auroville. Kalu’s brother Mona Sarkar became the intermediary for Tekeste to meet with the Mother. This was the beginning of a deep and life-long friendship with Mona, Chanda and other members of their family.
After his first visit to the Ashram, Tekeste wrote to the Mother: “Sweet Mother, I have seen your ashram. I was extremely happy. I have seen what God looks like and I have seen what bad evil looks like. And I have received your blessings with great pleasure; I have felt it, Mother. I will give it to whoever needs it. Sweet Mother, more blessings. About Auroville International Township’s aim, I wish my country to be the second country to support this wonderful idea, which is based on spirituality to realize human unity. I will do my best to support this idea with your blessings. Your child Tekeste B.G. Kidan”
The Mother replied: “My blessings are with you. A bientot, Mother”
Tekeste then wrote both to the Emperor Haile Selassie and to Father Dioskoros about the Mother and the creation of Auroville. As a result of this, Emperor Haile Selassie and Bishop Dioskoros were, after India, the first Head of State and religious leader to express in writing their respects to the Mother and support for Auroville and the ideals it stands for.
After 1976 Tekeste was posted as a diplomat in Cuba. He had never looked towards marriage, but was closely connected with his large extended family and helped bring up and provide education for nieces and nephews. On retirement he returned to Ethiopia where, in memory of Bishop Dioskoros, he started up an NGO for helping women.
In 1996 Tekeste came back to India to settle down in Auroville. Since 1970 he had dreamed about the creation of a second Auroville in Ethiopia. Through a close friend he had secured the land towards the manifestation of this dream: a small mountain in central Ethiopia. Now, when settling in Auroville, his focus became the creation of a Pavilion for Africa in the International Zone. In his early years and during his time in the Foreign Ministry, Tekeste had become aware of, and very deeply touched by, the early African Unity Leaders. They were an inspiration throughout his life and he deeply shared their vision. After talks with Roger Anger, it became very clear to Tekeste that what he was working for was not a Pavilion just for Ethiopia, his goal was a House for all Africa. In the beginning Tekeste worked quite alone in his work but he never hesitated, he persevered whether he saw results or not. He had been given a work and he would do it. Together with Helmut (Grace) and in collaboration with Satprem (the Earth Institute) he brought professors and students of architecture from the Addis Ababa University to Auroville. A competition was set up for the design of the Africa House project, and it was won by Brook Teklehaimanot, then a student, now the Chair of Architecture at Addis Ababa University. This model was much appreciated and fully approved by Auroville’s Chief Architect, Roger Anger and land was assigned for the project. The present temporary structures for the African Pavilion only occupy a corner area of this land.
When the Auroville International Conference was held in Addis Ababa in 2011 it was a dream fulfilled. The event was very successful with a large participation of AVI members and Aurovilians. Many Aurovilians had come to make presentation of their work, there were interactions with President Girma Wolde-Giorgis, and presentations at the University were well attended by professors and student alike. Also the media amply reported on the event. Tekeste had succeeded in bringing Africa to Auroville and Auroville to Africa. He was very happy.
On returning to Auroville life became quieter for him. The Parkinson's disease which Tekeste suffered from started to affect him more. But he kept up his morning walk to Matrimandir, eating lunch at Arka and playing tennis in the afternoons at Certitude. He kept up as long as he could his Sundays with Shraddhavan at Savitri Bhavan, would regularly go to the Ashram’s Samadhi and see Monada and Chandaben and other friends. He also went for a visit to Atlanta to stay with his nieces Genet and Alemnesh and their families. During the last years several of his family members came to see him in Auroville, including his dear sister-in-law Samainesh and Genet and Tesfaye from Atlanta. They also stayed in touch by phone, both from Ethiopia and USA. When they came, it was a joy for Tekeste to hear and speak Amharic, and he who normally would be rather quiet was then pretty talkative. That Elene, his youngest niece, had settled to live in Auroville was a great joy for him. A few months before his death his great nephew Moses came to live here and help with the care taking. Moses was there with him when Tekeste passed away. His family meant a lot to Tekeste.
But Auroville was also part of his close family, as was the Ashram, and he had many brothers and sisters here, a large family of the soul. The African youth who took up the Africa House project, Tahir, Clapton and Iraguha, referred to him with love and respect as ‘Elder” and he was very happy that the African participation in Auroville was growing. He loved his home in Courage community and at the point when it was becoming clear that he could no more travel, he chose to stay in Auroville. When regaling how last New Year’s night, at midnight, he insisted that his night helper walk him down to the Courage gate where community members were busy sending up fireworks, Tekeste’s eyes would shine up at the memory, his smile clear like starlight.
On hearing about Tekeste’s passing, his nephew Temesgen wrote me...he has departed to the Divine peacefully, may his soul rest in peace. I know that it was his wish to stay in Auroville until the end of his life on earth. He was always being led by the spirit of the Lord and he loves being obedient to the Divine's will...I Thank God for all his brothers and sisters and his loved ones who were in contact and close to him till the end.
I knew Tekeste in many moods as we lived closely during our work together in Ethiopia. For me, he is the heart of my heart, a brother and friend, who more than anything taught me about faith. He had courage and perseverance, humor and could also at times be rather obnoxious. Though people did not always quite understand him, there was a clarity to his purpose and consequence to his action and all who knew him greatly respected him. He made Ethiopia my country too – I am eternally grateful for the adventure that he took me on. No depth too deep, no height too scary when you are with a person like him, it’s just work and you do it. One step in front of the other without any calculation or expectancy. Miracle, Miracle, Divine, Divine.