He would get up when the sun rose in his small village in southern Ethiopia. There were no clocks and no watches and he didn’t know how to tell time anyway, but he said he knew that if he didn’t run quickly to get to school on time, he would be beaten.
Weyessa “Ace” McAlister was 8 years old. He had to run six miles each way.
“The reason we run to school is mainly to avoid the punishment.”
Weyessa “Ace” McAlister
There were 100 children in his class. He ran to school for about three years, until the day his grandfather told him that he and his younger sister would have to go to an orphanage in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. There were 11 children living in his grandparents’ house at the time. Weyessa’s father had died when he was 3. His parents had divorced, he said, and he had no contact with his mother.
Around the same time, in western Massachusetts, a couple with four children was raising a small boy, an orphan from Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. While there were already children in the household, Steve McAlister said he and his wife thought it would be beneficial to have siblings with similar ethnic backgrounds.
“That’s how it began,” he said.
Some friends had adopted children from Ethiopia, so the McAlisters traveled there and found Weyessa and his sister, Masho, in the orphanage. The McAlisters, Steve and Rosemary, adopted both of them.
For Weyessa, everything was new and strange. When he first went to the city in Ethiopia, he saw his first car and his first television set. When he came to the U.S., he took his first airplane ride. It was terrifying. He got carsick when he had to ride in a car. He didn’t speak English. He had no idea where Great Barrington, Mass., was, the town where he would live.
Sports, though, they were the same. He loved soccer. He had never run with shoes, or on a track. But he adapted.