A young man admitted us to a yard where corn and squash grew. He led us around a small house made of mud over a framework of sticks and held together with a coat of paint. In the back doorway, dressed in their Sunday best, were Mamo's wife, Aberash Wolde-Semhate, 24, and their five-year-old daughter, Addiss Alem Mamo, and three-year-old son, Tabor Mamo. Tabor's brave little handshake was cold and trembling. The young man who had let us in was Samuel, Mamo's 19-year-old son by his first wife, Aymalem Beru, who is now dead.
Inside we were shown to a dim sitting room. The wood floors were smooth and clean. Incense was in the air. Aberash poured us glasses of talla, a home-brewed beer. "If a guest does not accept the food and drink offered in an Ethiopian home," our interpreter had warned us, "the host feels so bad, it's like a natural disaster."
Aberash lifted her glass and solemnly apologized for Mamo's not being able to welcome me into his house. As we drank, I lifted my eyes and saw, hanging on the wall, Mamo's Olympic gold medal for the Mexico City marathon and his silver from the 10,000. The Munich marathon bronze was nowhere in sight.
"I am so thankful for this," Aberash said. "For your remembering that your runner friend still lives."
I admitted to her that I didn't really know Mamo that well. So Aberash opened a photo album and gave us a thumbnail sketch of her husband. He was born 64 years ago in Ada, about a marathon's distance southeast of Addis Ababa. He is a member of the Oromo tribe. "He is a strict [Ethiopian] Orthodox Christian," she says. "During the Dergue, party committee meetings were on Sunday mornings to keep members from going to church. Mamo solved that by going to church before dawn."
Aberash was introduced to Mamo seven years ago, shortly after his first wife died. "Before, when I was in school, I ran a little, not seriously," she said. "But I read about and I loved them, both of our heroes, Abebe Bikila and Mamo."
She dropped her eyes, a little embarrassed. I don't know what I expected to find in Mamo's home, but the simple, rustic room and Aberash's tender loyalty hardly seemed consistent with a totalitarian absentee master. I took heart, and I asked the questions that I feared the most.
"Had Mamo indeed been a Revolutionary Guard?"
"He told me he was nothing," said Aberash. "He was on a kebele committee—a committee for development—and also coached."
"The prosecutor's office said he will be charged in a killing," I told her. "Was he involved?"