Robert Kaplan wrote a book about the Ethiopian Civil Wars of the 70's and 80's called Surrender or Starve. I wrote Mr. Kaplan this brief letter about our family's foreign exchange student Bedru Beshir.
May 30, 1990
Mr. Robert D. Kaplan
In 1969 my family hosted an Eritrean student for the school year. We lost contact with him several years later. In one of his last letters he alluded to circumstances which hinted at some kind of incarceration.
I was always more concerned about Vietnam and Watergate than in the events going on in Ethiopia. The cultural differences between our family and our guest made it impossible to be frank and open about life back in his homeland. By the time censorship entered the picture, it was almost too late to ascertain what exactly was going on. If it had still had been possible up to 1974 to find out, certainly the Dergue closed all avenues of communication after that date.
I decided several months ago that it was time to try and find out what happened to Bedru if it was at all possible to do so. I had heard of a Presbyterian Eritrean minister, of all things, residing in Iowa. I have since written to the pastor.
I also went to the Library to get some books on Ethiopia and checked out the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. It was there that I discovered an article of yours in the Atlantic which gave me more detail on Eritrea and the EPLF than I found anywhere else. I wrote to the Atlantic asking for your address but did not hear back from them. I checked out all the libraries in Northern Minnesota until I found one with your book Surrender or Starve. I just finished it and have ordered a copy through a bookstore.
I was hoping you could suggest people I could contact who might be able to help me find out about Bedru.
When the famines began to make the news in the early 80's I assumed that because Bedru was educated and lived in Massawa he would be spared that hardship. I figured that even if he had returned to his home in Adi Ugri he would be better off. After reading of the appalling conditions under Mengistu I have no more illusions.
My friend was a partisan of the ELF and he was a Moslem. What might have happened to him in the internecine battles between insurgencies I have no idea. He could have been a victim of the Emperor, the Dergue or any of the guerilla groups which your book describes.
All Bedru ever wanted was get an education and stay out of trouble. I wish I could say more for my efforts to help him than that I tried to learn his fate 21 years after he left my home.
By the way, it was the publishers of your book who gave me this address.
Thank you for any help you may be able to extend to me.
2101 E. 4th. St.
Duluth, MN 55812
P.S. I am very impressed with your dedication to ferret out the truth in the horn of Africa. I know you make little money at what you do and I know that most people don't give a damn about what you have accomplished. Perhaps it is some consolation that, when all is said and done, the truth you have revealed will outlast the material things you have foregone.