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From Ethiopia to Fort Collins

January 16, 2009

When Menwyelet Atsedu looked out of his Fort Collins hotel room window, he wondered why he didn't see anyone walking. There were plenty of cars, but no pedestrians. On Aug. 3, 1987, Atsedu was just beginning his cultural education in the United States.

Atsedu familyAtsedu, who came to Fort Collins from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was puzzled why no one was walking, so he decided to investigate. “I began walking north toward downtown,” he says. “There were a few people on the streets, but not nearly enough. I began to wonder, where did everybody go?”

Cultural differences

Unlike U.S. culture, where daily life moves quickly and eye contact is typically avoided, Ethiopian culture is very social. People don’t use drive-up banks; they stand in line and speak with others in line, even if they don’t know them. Ethiopians kiss and shake hands when they greet. Young people and children bow to older people to show respect. Each morning, neighbors hold a traditional coffee ceremony and chat, a ritual that typically lasts an hour.

With a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Alemayehu University of Agriculture in Ethiopia, Atsedu arrived at CSU on a scholarship from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture to study natural resource management and pursue a master’s degree in rangeland management, which he earned in 1990. He also earned a doctorate in rangeland ecology from CSU in 1995.

Family reunited

After living and studying in Fort Collins for two years without his family, Atsedu brought his wife, Etage Asrat, and three daughters - Mahlet, 10; Melat, 8; and Meron, 3 - to Aggie Village where they lived for six years. “It was difficult for my family to adjust in the first few months, but we lived in student housing in Aggie Village where many international students live,” says Atsedu. “My daughters were comfortable to mingle and play with other international kids.”

Atsedu has worked most recently as an agriculture specialist in southern California. At the Otay Mesa Port of Entry on the California/Mexico border, Atsedu inspects fruit, vegetables, fresh cut flowers, and other agricultural products that enter the country.

The Future

Each family member would like to return to Ethiopia or another developing country to help others. Mahlet wants to start a non-governmental organization in Ethiopia with her sisters. “The Ethiopian Student Association propelled us in this direction. We have a passion for helping people, especially children,” she says.

Meanwhile, Atsedu would like to have an international agricultural assignment in Ethiopia or elsewhere. “I like to be close to people who need help in many ways,” he says.

Family Restaurant

Currently, Atsedu’s wife and daughters spend much of their time at the family’s restaurant, Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine, located at Harvard and College Avenue in Fort Collins. Working hard to provide a delicious dining experience, the women also give customers a glimpse of the Ethiopian culture.

 “Some people still have a skewed image of Ethiopia,” says Meron. Even so, the women enjoy answering the questions and acting as local diplomats for their home country. “I am proud of my daughters in many ways,” says Atsedu. “Watching them grow up under difficult circumstances and getting where they are now is one of my greatest satisfactions in life.”

This article was originally published in Around the Oval magazine. To subscribe to Around the Oval, become a member of the CSU Alumni Association.