Ivan Gaidarov is a noted Bulgarian doctor who spent his formative years in various towns within Ethiopia. A doctor, who has a wealth of experience, Gaidarov reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on those years he spent in Ethiopia, on what the relationship between Bulgaria and Ethiopia ought to be and on his time spent at Addis Ababa University. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Share with me the highlights of your time spent in Ethiopia?
Ivn Gaidarov (MD): I spent almost 12 non-consecutive years in Ethiopia during the period 1969-1983 accompanying my parents who were both medical doctors working in Ethiopia through long term agreements between the various governments of the two countries in this period, both during the reign of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile-Selassie I and later on during the Derg regime. From 1969 to 1974 we’ve been allocated in Jijiga where my father was a physician at the county hospital, while my mother used to work as a physician at a leprosy center in a village called Bisidimo, near Harar.
We used to travel extensively through the then Ogaden Province, reaching out to friends and patients as far as Kebri Dahar and even further south, to the Ethio-Somali border.
During that period, we’ve traveled to many other regions of Ethiopia, including Asbe Teferi, where there were other Bulgarian doctors working at the local hospital. As you might guess, it’s pretty difficult to highlight such a lengthy experience in a narrative and found it difficult to narrate to my family as well. This prompted me to take my whole family on a trip to my Jijiga roots in 2016 after such a long absence. I must admit, this was immediately perceived as the trip of a lifetime, so touching and so full of emotions shared with my closest relatives. We visited the city landmarks, the houses we used to live in, the school where myself and my sister were attending, the hospital my father used to work in.
Of course, meeting some old friends and making new ones made our stay a memorable one. We also used the trip to once again visit one of the holiest sites for our family, the Saint Gabriel monastery in Kolubi, halfway on the road Harar-Dire Dawa.
What was most memorable for you growing up in the country?
A tough question. I can’t really say what could be more memorable for a person than to regard a foreign country as his own country. Until not so long ago I had more years spent in Ethiopia than in Bulgaria. My childhood, my teenage years and my first two university years were spent in Ethiopia, so imagine what it is for such a person to adapt when returning back to Bulgaria, where for years I felt myself as a “faranji” in my home country. Even today, I feel more Ethiopian than a Bulgarian. I owe my education, my knowledge, my culture, my outlook to Ethiopia and we still use basic Amharic language to securely communicate with each other when no one is to understand us, very often cook Ethiopian dishes, respect both Ethiopian and Bulgarian religious and national traditions. I’ve brought my both kids as Ethiopia loving persons and you can’t imagine the fascination our visit to Ethiopia created in them. Through genetic tests with the Genographic Project by National Geographic Society I traced my ancestry genetic roots to Ethiopia, just north of lake Tana and the Siemen mountain range, so I’m even physically related to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia and Bulgaria share a close relationship. Tell me about that?
True, such links existed during the reign of Emperor Haile-Selassie I and later until the fall of the Derg regime in Ethiopia and the communist totalitarian regime in Bulgaria. They were mostly cultural, educational and humanitarian relations which unfortunately dissolved during the years from the early 1990s until now, where nowadays most of the relations are based on sporadic tourism and very modest trade, mostly coffee.
It’s a pity but this is the price we paid for rebuilding the legacies of our both totalitarian regimes and the deep socio-economic crises brought by them to both countries. There were times in the late 1970s to early 1980s where 120 Bulgarian doctors were working throughout Ethiopia and hundreds of Ethiopian students were studying at various universities in Bulgaria, but nowadays this has practically ceased. The new world order has new demands and we’re adapting to realities.
What do you think that relationship ought to be moving forward?
And here comes this logical question, what from now on? Following the relationship between Ethiopia and Bulgaria in the past it’s now up to politicians and business people to revive them and to adapt them to the current level of developments and needs of our two countries. My humble opinion is that we can be of benefit to each other not only in terms of tourism, like sightseeing, spa and religious tourism, but also revive educational activities, post graduate studies and research.
At the same time business-oriented minds can fill in the vacuum for demand in terms of goods and services to be offered between the two countries. I have my own observations and when interest comes, I can share the for the mutual benefit of our two nations.
How about your time spent at Addis Ababa University?
I had the privilege to be part of the Medical Faculty of Addis Ababa University where I started my medical education back in the early 1980s but due to termination of my parents’ contract by the Bulgarian side the whole family had to return back to Bulgaria where I completed my medical studies. During 1979-1983 my parents were moved from Jijiga and were both medical doctors in Addis Ababa, my father being a surgeon at Ras Desta Damtew hospital and my mother as an internal medicine physician at Tikur Anbessa Hospital. During my studies at Addis Ababa University and later at the Plovdiv Medical University back in Bulgaria I had the rare chance to compare both medical educational institutions and benefit from each of them.
This helped me much in achieving a decent and open education which was established at Addis Ababa University, not limiting myself to socialist-oriented dogmas which was established in Bulgaria at that time. The years spent in school in Addis and the Addis Ababa University were my ‘door openers’ for me becoming and had a major contribution to what I currently am and I’m extremely proud with my achievements.
I’m also attaching few memorable photos I have with me now, taken from various stages of my life in Ethiopia, although we have thousands of them in the family and it’s extremely difficult to choose any one of them instead of another one. One of my favorite ones is where me, my father and my son are on the shore of lake Bishoftu and I call it “Three generations of Gaidarov family in Ethiopia”. Of course, memorable are the photos with His Imperial Majesty, at Kolubi as a teenager and nowadays with my family, but it’s a long, long story.