Hailu Robele has held numerous jobs in Chicago, Troy, Michigan and El Paso before finally retiring and moving to Silver City full time a couple of years ago
It’s a Wednesday night and Hailu Robele is engrossed in a favorite hobby in his Silver City home. He is focused, yet merry, as he tosses garlic and spices into a dish bubbling on the stove without measuring anything. The kitchen smells wonderful, and it’s obvious even before tasting anything that he has mastered this favorite hobby of his.
Hailu Robele, now a U.S. citizen, is a native of Ethiopia, a country rich with ancient culture in the eastern part of Africa. As a young man, he worked happily as a tour guide giving tours to visitors from all over the world. But during Ethiopia’s long civil war he was forced to flee to Sudan to avoid imprisonment by the militant Derg that ruled Ethiopia at the time.
Robele walked for 10 days through the desert to reach the Sudanese border in 1983. He arrived in Sudan with nothing but the clothes on his back and the hiking boots he would keep for decades afterward as a reminder of that difficult time.
Because of the connections he had cultivated with tourists from other countries, including one with an adviser to President Reagan, Robele was able to achieve refugee status and was resettled in 1986 in Chicago, where he would make friends, hold jobs, meet his future wife and build a new life for himself.
“They told me, ‘You’ve been approved in two countries, the U.S. and Canada, and you have to choose one,’” said Robele. “I chose to go to the U.S. I think the reason was because I grew up with an American kid who lived in my neighborhood and we were very close friends. We always played together after school. That’s how I even knew how to speak English, was starting from that time with him. And that’s why I liked America, I had that influence.”
Years after last seeing each other in Ethiopia, Hailu Robele was able to reconnect with Peter, his childhood American friend, who was living only two hours from Robele’s own home.
Hailu Robele’s life in the U.S. has been successful by any measure. He has held numerous jobs in Chicago, Troy, Michigan and El Paso before finally retiring and moving to Silver City full time a couple of years ago. He’s been married to his wife, Nadine, for 28 years and the couple have three children, Joseph, 27, and Sophia, 26, and Hilari, a daughter adopted at 5 years old from Ethiopia, now 22. Joseph has a master’s degree. Sophia is currently working toward a master’s degree and Hilari, a graduate of Aldo Leopold Charter School, attends the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.