Custodian “Gabriel” Gebremichael Tells His Story

Back to Article
Back to Article

Custodian “Gabriel” Gebremichael Tells His Story

By Aidan Hersh

Ghebretinsa “Gabriel” Gebremichael is a custodian at Tam and can be seen driving around campus in his easily noticeable mini-truck. However, there is more to his life than working at Tam. Gabriel moved here from the Eastern African country of Eritrea in 2001. “I was about 16 or 17,” Gabriel said.


Custodian Ghebrestinsa “Gabriel” Gebremichael’s home country is Eritrea.

In the decade before Gabriel came here, Eritrea was engaged in a conflict with Ethiopia in order to win their independence as a nation. Gabriel was a child in Eritrea at the time, and he experienced the war, like many other Eritreans did. “It affected us a lot because we had to stop school,” Gabriel said. “My classmates, two or three guys, passed away. The Ethiopian soldiers would be around my house and they would tell us to bring them water; and water isn’t everywhere [in Eritrea]. It would be like walking from [Tam] to San Rafael. You would walk with the donkey to get water for them.”

This conflict ended in 1991, however, less than a decade later, the two countries began to fight again and the Eritrean-Ethiopian War started in 1998. “We were good for about seven years and there was a lot of freedom,” said Gabriel. “People got rich and went to school. But something happened and then there was another war. And still, nothing was solved and [the government] didn’t say anything.”

Life in Eritrea is hard to compare to life here in Marin. Not only have there been devastating wars in years past, but the country is largely driven by agriculture. “80 percent of the people in the country work as farmers,” explained Gabriel. “I started doing this when I was ten years old.”

Unfortunately, the farming in Eritrea isn’t exactly the same as the farming here due to the fact that water isn’t as abundant. “Since most people live on farms, they have to wait for the rain to come,” Gabriel explained. “If there’s no rain, you can’t do anything. For the three years of the war, there was no rain.” In Mill Valley, we have more water than we need. If we ever want a glass of water, we can simply walk to the sink and fill up our cups in a matter of seconds. In Eritrea, it’s different. “You have to leave your house to go to another place, and you would ask people to give you some food and water,” Gabriel said. “I didn’t have to do this, but there were a lot of people [who did], like my neighbors. I went back to visit my home in 2009, which was a dry year, and I couldn’t believe it. All of my neighbors were gone. They closed their houses and they were gone.”

It’s hard to find two ways of life that are more different than Mill Valley and Eritrea, so it was in no way easy for Gabriel to transition into living here. “It was very tough for me to be understood and to learn the language,” Gabriel said. “I came here without knowing anything. The only thing I heard back [in Eritrea] was, ‘Oh, America is good! If you go to America, it’s the best country you’ll ever see!’”

Gabriel knows that things are not quite that straightforward. “[America] is full of freedom, but it’s hard to live here,” Gabriel said. “There are opportunities to do a lot of things, but at the same time, it’s stressful. It’s hard, but you have to be able to handle it.”

Despite these constant challenges, Gabriel said that he could not be happier to be living here in Mill Valley and working at Tam. “I’m so happy to live here,” Gabriel said. “I used to live in a poor place, and I don’t want to live there anymore. I have a chance to improve myself now.”

There are definitely many perks to living and working here, and Gabriel makes the most out of everything. “I like working here because I get good communication with the students and staff,” Gabriel said. “I play a lot of sports; I play whatever I want. I play basketball even if I’m not good at it. I play soccer even though I’m not good at it.”

As for his future, Gabriel doesn’t expect to be leaving Mill Valley or even Marin anytime soon. “For the rest of my life, I am going to live in Marin County,” said Gabriel. “I don’t think I am going to move.”