When he was young, Panos Tewodros could sometimes be “hot-blooded.” Working as an import manager with Charalambos Tsimas, better known as Bambis, a contraction of his first name, for the supermarket of the same nickname, it could be stressful. But Tsimas would want him to see the big picture, focus on the long game. That is where the reward was, he believed.
And that was what he had in mind when he moved to Ethiopia, in his 20s, broke, without a clue, but with a connection that would set him off on a life journey that encapsulates in many ways the experiences of the eccentric non-Ethiopian communities that have lived for several generations in Addis Abeba.
By the time he passed away after a month in the hospital, following multiple surgeries in Athens, Greece, on January 14th, 2021, at 90 years old, his imprint on Ethiopia’s modern retail industry was well-established. Even the name Bambis would stick as the neighbourhood's unofficial name on Jomo Kenyatta Street where the supermarket still stands.
Tsimas’ family goes way back in Ethiopia, perhaps a century ago. It was part of a Greek community that was attracted to the country through factors such as the close affinity between Greek Christian orthodoxy and the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, the latter of which was a state religion until the mid-1970s.
Born and raised in Vamos, a town in Crete, Greece, he arrived around the same time Panos’ fathers did in the 1950s. It was to work for his uncle, who had an established business here in Imperial Ethiopia. He worked for about half a decade there, gathering experiences before branching out on his own.
He borrowed 20,000 Br, a fortune at the time, and opened a grocery store in Senga Tera. It did so well that he was able to establish a supermarket large and prominent enough to have the neighbourhood named after it – a small piece of capitalism in a big and bungling feudal state. And that was it – the big picture he had imagined.
It was a business he was personally involved in running into his late 80s, with Tsimas “surprisingly active for his age,” as Panos put it. It was not all a bed of roses. There were snags along the way. Foreign currency shortages have long been a headache, and two years ago, Aschalew Belay, founder of Belayab Motors, took over operations at the supermarket. However, it continued to be owned by Tsimas, according to Panos.
“It's his actions that count,” says Pinelopi, one of his four daughters. “There is nothing about him I can say that speaks louder than his actions and how he loved Ethiopia.”
Being an important business person, he would inevitably take an interest in the country where the business was based. But Tsimas went further and cemented the relationship his family had with the country.
He took Amharic courses at Haile Selassie University before it became Addis Abeba University. He married Eleni, who was born in Ethiopia, as were his daughters. It was a relationship interrupted by the rise to power of the Dergue in 1974. It led to a migration of non-national communities and expatriates. This was when he had to move back to Greece before returning in the 1990s.
“He had a tremendous love for the country,” said Panos. “He believed things were getting better.”
There was more to Panos than just supermarkets and Ethiopia. There was also philanthropy and Greece. He contributed to the Greek Community School in Addis Abeba and donated one million Birr worth of dialysis machines to Zewditu Hospital.
His long years in Ethiopia did not mean that he severed ties with Volos, where he was born. He was involved in voluntary organisations and associations and gave to a church and a hospital in the town.
“Working tirelessly and persistently, he managed to become a successful businessman in faraway Ethiopia, but he never forgot the place where he was born and raised,” said Konstantinos Maravegias, a Greek MP, expressing his condolences.
PUBLISHED ON Jan 23,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1082]
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