A PHD candidate at Waldeba
It’s not often that one meets a woman who was a PHD candidate retreating to a remote monastery. But Emahy Wolete Kidan Desta is that kind of person. She has been living a solitary existence, much of it spent in silence and in prayer in Waldeba monastery. She has her bachelor degree from Denison University in International Relations, her second degree in World History from Kent State University in Ohio and begun her PHD in African Studies in Atlanta University.
Her life today is a far cry from her scholastic life in the US but it has given her “inner calm and peace” she says. She gave up the world and her formidable academic credential to become an Orthodox Church nun.
Emahoy Wolete Kidan leads a quiet life in Waldeba “simply to seek God through prayer, the celebration of the church and community life.”
She spoke beautifully and simply about the choice she has made during the course of her life. Shining through her comments were her devotion to her belief, her reverence for the teaching of the word of God, and her convictions about the importance of commitment.
Emahoy Wolete Kidan spent the majority of her teenage years in Addis and attended in the former Menen boarding school during the Emperor’s time.
In her early 20’s, she briefly taught at her former school Menen before leaving to the US. She earned her first degree in International Relations from Denison University. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she considered going on to graduate school. But instead, she decided it was time to come back home and enter the work world. She started working at the Ministry of Information and years later at the American Information Service, the US Embassy. She was responsible for the preparation of a magazine, Panorama.
She was also active in the theater, appearing in plays. She has also participated in the preparation of laureate Tsegaye Gebre Medhen’s play “Tewdros”. She played the part of Tewabech, the emperor’s wife. She also played in Moliere’s ‘the Doctor in Spite of Himself’ which was translated into Amharic as “ye fez doctor.”
Even though she liked the job, Emahoy had to go back to the United States to do her master’s degree. She did her M.A at the Kent state University in Ohio and begun her PHD in the Atlanta University. She came back home to complete her fieldwork for her thesis. She never went back and didn’t finish her PHD.
But rather, she started teaching at the Harar Army Academy. There she also used to edit a monthly magazine, Weekly Flash. She fought passionately for the issues that she believed in, including peace.
It was just after Derg took power and its heavy hand was felt everywhere in the country. She wrote an article in the magazine telling the military government to hand down power to a civilian administration. It was a daring thing to say that cost her job. She came back to Addis. But still she was in the Derg’s black list who accused of her being an EPRP member.
It was pure speculation but she had to run away to Baher Dar where she took refuge in St. George church. Subsequently soldiers came to the church where they severely beaten her. She survived after taken to hospital. While this sad event has deeply affected her, it was not a direct factor in her decision to become a nun. She wanted to enter into ‘a deeper awareness of God’s presence in her life’. She started spending her time praying, going to daily mass as well and readings of psalms and scriptures.
She also started teaching and saw her rising excitement about becoming a nun.
She headed to Waldeba. It was a bizarrely improbable place for her. Most people who joined there are in their seventies and eighties and some of them more than ninety. It took four years for her request to be granted. In those years, she was forced to dwell in a cave near Waldeba. Some of her relatives were understandably angry with her for abandoning a prestigious and lucrative career in favor of monastery.
She herself admits it was at times a tough road but she kept plugging along because she enjoys “the serenity and peace that are unshakable”