Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a journalist and an author. I was born and grew up in Ethiopia. I taught history for less than two years in my early twenties. I worked for Addis Ababa Bank for almost three years where I organized a labor union along with a few class-conscious colleagues. As a Secretary General of the Bank Workers Union, I was lucky enough to witness the first baby steps of a burgeoning labor organization in Ethiopia. In 1973 I became a journalist working for a government-owned daily newspaper written in my native language, Amharic. Journalism is the profession that opened my eyes, fashioned my imagination and shaped my world view. It also got me in trouble with the government in the 1990s. I was accused by the totalitarian government of inciting the public, though as a matter of fact I was reporting the truth. After I came to the United States in June 1994 for journalism training sponsored by USIA, I decided to stay here and applied for political asylum.
What made you decide to become a journalist?
I have been a journalist for the last four decades. I first joined the profession to make a living, but in a few months, I fell in love with journalism. The profession is so exciting and competitive. You come across people of different careers and get involved in reporting different events. This is a profession where you can never get bored. Even with all the risks involved in working as a journalist under a tyrannical regime, I still preferred to stay in this exciting career. The hectic newsroom taught me time management, responsibility and discipline.
Tell me about some of the work you have accomplished in your career.
As a journalist, I have traveled extensively to all provinces of Ethiopia and many countries of Africa and Europe and talked to people of different professions. My reports and programs were often related to agro-industrial production, labor unions, peasant associations, civil wars, border conflicts, revolutionary movements and upheavals. I spent frightening months on the front lines of civil wars and border wars. I spent some fearsome days and nights in Ethiopian jails accused of “inciting the public” in my journalistic work. I had a chance to report on Ethiopia’s unusual wildlife, intriguing historical and religious sites and breathtaking scenery. I have written for print and electronic media. I have produced television programs and hosted panel discussions on many subjects, presented research papers in symposiums and wrote six books.
How does the library help you in your work?
The library is my second home. Here is where I spend the most time next to my residence and work place. While I was studying computer science, I used the library as a place to study and get books on the subject. In addition, the books I read on interview techniques helped me get a job as an Internet systems engineer in a web hosting company. When I was writing my books, the library was where I got most of the reference books I noted in my bibliography. I use books I borrow from the library to produce documentary programs for broadcast to East Africa via Ethiopian Satellite Television. These would not be possible without the help and resources I get from the public library. The library is my favorite place. I can’t think of life without books, and I appreciate the service and hospitality that library professionals give to all users.
Describe your library life with your children.
I used to take my children to the public libraries of our neighborhood (Richard Byrd, George Mason Regional and Centreville Regional) at least three days a week for a few hours when they were in elementary, middle and high school. This helped them to develop a culture of reading and love for books on any subject. Every time they asked me to take them to a playground, I told them that they have to spend at least two hours in the library reading books before going to places of their choice. This system worked well, and through the years, they became good readers and successful students. Particularly my son Daniel has made books his best friends. He got his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Radford University and worked as a research assistant for the FDA and later became a department head in a food processing company. He is now studying at George Mason University to get his master’s degree in global food security. His success is based on his love for books, which he nurtured by going often to the public library.
What do you like to read for fun?
Other than reading and writing, my hobbies are sports, music and travel. I read books about these subjects for fun. I also like to read joke books, biographies and autobiographies of famous people. Examples are books about soccer, swimming, and sightseeing, travel magazines and biographies of great people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, etc.
Do have any memorable library moments that you recall?
Some days I was so late leaving the library I left after most of the lights were put out. I lived with the fear that I might be locked in one day. One evening, I was in a hurry to evacuate before it was locked, and I forgot my reading glasses on the table. Luckily, they kept them for me, and I got them the next day, for which I am very grateful.
-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library