Hope, Sandra: Asmara American High School, Asmara, Eritrea: 1971-1973

I had heard about the high school at Kagnew Station, Asmara, Ethiopia, at an NSF Math Institute in Frankfurt during the summer of 1970. I applied, and received a phone call offering me the position while practicing for graduation at Lakenheath—a two-piano duet instead of the high school band. It took me five seconds to accept. I received my orders at the end of June—I shipped my vehicle at my own expense because London CPO said I wasn’t eligible (I was, and in the end, they paid.)

It was a long flight from New York to Rome, and finally to Asmara. I was met at the airport by Mary Davis, a 2nd grade teacher, who became a very good friend! I was assigned to an apartment in the “teachers’ compound”: 2 BR, study, living/dining room, bath, and a small kitchen, utilizing gas bombolas—my first experience with those! We were living at 8,000+ feet above sea level. The high school was located on Kagnew Station main post; many students lived on a separate compound, as well as on the economy. I hired a maid—well, she was handed down from the previous occupant, and the gate guard was provided by the military. The PX, Commissary, Clubs, and Chapel were on Main Post, so my daily journey was from the Compound to Main Post and back. There was a Mosque in back of the compound, and the Catholic Cathedral and the American Consulate were in the area.

Asmara was basically in lock down during that first year. I could drive to the edge of the city on one of several roads—but was stopped at a gate, guarded by the Ethiopian military. The only way “out” was by air. We were free to drive almost anywhere within the city. If there was room on the military helicopter, we could ride the chopper. During the second year, the restrictions were lifted somewhat and we were able to drive the 100 km. to Massaua in a convoy initially, and eventually in small groups.

I think I taught 6 classes (6 preps) with 1 prep period: Geometry w/o an answer book one year, and Algebra II the next; the usual business classes: Typing (manual typewriters—the one IBM Selectric was on loan to the post commander’s secretary), Shorthand, Accounting, and one section of Junior High Typing. I sponsored the school newspaper and I did the school funds. The funds operated the same as anywhere except there was no bank! I made deposits at the Army Finance Office. Another major difference: our CPO was in Athens and Finance was in Turkey somewhere. A phone connection to either was next to impossible. We had the usual high school/junior high activities on a very small scale: football—3 teams: 2 played each other and the 3rd acted as reserves. Homecoming parade! My second year we presented “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and I did the piano accompaniment.

After two years, I was assigned to San Vito Air Station, Italy—and easy transition because both Kagnew and San Vito were security bases.

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