Fanning flames: Iowa author recalls teen years spent in Ethiopia – Sioux City Journal

by Zelalem

At its core, a good memoir is like the lens of a camera.

Not only should the autobiography allow for the chronicling of a past event, it also requires the author to examine the incident with the maturity that comes with the passage of time.

Those were the thoughts racing through the mind of author Tim Bascom when he was writing “Running to the Fire,” a coming-of-age memoir depicting a Midwestern teenager — the son of Christian missionary parents — growing up in the streets of Addis Ababa during the Marxist revolution in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s.

“My dad served as a medical doctor when we first moved to Ethiopia,” Bascom recalled. “I was 3 years old when we got there and 9 years old when we returned (to the United States).”

Bascom’s family went back to Ethiopia when he was in high school.

“My earliest memories of Ethiopia was of a gentle place where everybody was shown respect and deference,” he explained. “When my family returned during the revolution, we were considered the enemy and targeted as imperialist sympathizers.”

The teenage Bascom’s struggle with his faith as well as his role of being the white American Christian missionary child brings energy to “Running to the Fire.”

The director of creative writing at Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa, Bascom will be giving a reading of his 2015 memoir at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Meis Recital Hall at Briar Cliff University, 3303 Rebecca St.

“If we do not pay attention to the causes behind a revolutionary change, history has a way of repeating itself,” Bascom said. “That was true in Ethiopia under Marxism. It’s also true for the countries existing under ISIS rule.”

When you returned to Ethiopia, you were attending a boarding school for the children of missionary families. Did you feel a bit removed from the action?

“I felt protected but, since the school was in the capital city of Addis Ababa, we were still exposed to Marxism. We saw all of the check points. We even saw dead victims who were left on the streets.”

As restrictive as Marxism could be, you also found certain aspects of Christianity to be imperfect as well, right?

“Our teachers demanded that we attend devotions at a certain time, and dancing was forbidden. That made me skeptical over what God’s plan really was.”

It sounds like you’re still a bit skeptical.

“I was inspired by religion but also thought I fell short. While I was appreciative of my parents and the sacrifices that they made, I think the impact of Western mission on the developing world has been mixed.”

I know you wrote “Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia” — a memoir depicting your early life in Ethiopia — more than a decade ago. Do you think “Running to the Fire” is a much different book since you waited a longer time to write it?

“I think it is. Any memoir should be an interaction between the past and the present. I’m a different person today. That means the books will also be different.”

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