Chapter 3: Diamonds in the Sky

Dear Tadi,

a (112)

Being friends with you wasn’t like being friends with anyone else in Zewedu. With the other kids, I played soccer in the dusty field next to the school. I traded jokes and collected bottlecaps and chased stray chickens with a stick. Typical stuff.

But you…you were like a fairy who took me by the hand and led me into this world of magic that I’d never known existed. Suddenly, Ethiopia wasn’t just a little village full of gossiping tongues and elders who scolded us for our mischief. It became this great, wide world where kings once ruled and anything could happen.

Remember that night when you convinced me to sneak away from the village to see the stars? “But it’s dangerous!” I said when you first suggested it. “We’re not supposed to go into the bush at night.”

You rolled your eyes. “Danger is everywhere, day or night,” you said with a shrug of your shoulders. “If you spend your entire life hiding in your hut, you’ll miss the things that make life worth living.”

I was still unsure. But when you appeared at my bedroom window late that night, I crawled out to meet you. Quiet as a breeze, we slipped out past the boundaries of the village, where nothing but darkness awaited us. I was shivering, so certain that a lion lurked behind every rock – a real lion, with sharp teeth and a ferocious appetite.

Suddenly, something dark and fast darted out from a clump of tall grass. I shrieked like girl. You clamped your hand over my mouth. “Shh! It was only a bushpig,” you said, laughing. I scowled and shook your hand away, partly annoyed, partly embarrassed, and mostly still scared out of my wits. I was tempted to turn around and march home, with or without you. But then you said, “Look up, Leon.”

I looked up. In that moment, I forgot all about bushpigs and even lions. Because the night sky had suddenly sprung to life. It was an ocean of black ink on which someone had spilled millions and billions of tiny sparkling diamonds. (Have you ever seen a diamond, Tadi? I hope that when you do, you will think of that starry night, just as I do).

a (110)

Most of the time, we didn’t do such risky things. We played imaginary games and made up stories so complex, that we often lost track of the original plot. When we were thirsty, we’d race to your home for a bowl of fresh milk.

b (137)

When we were hungry, we’d head to my home for Mama’s tamales. My papa was always happy to see you. He called you Tadita and treated you like a daughter.

And now I am sad, thinking of my papa, who loved three things most in the world (besides me): First, horses, including our family’s horse, Pelé. Next, Papa loved the church where he preached, and all the people in it.

a (120)

b (183)

But more than anything or anyone else in the world, Papa loved my mama. He treated her like royalty, and danced with her under the moonlight, just because. He was pretty romantic, my papa. I guess that’s where I get it from.

a (101)a (99)

“Do you think you will fall in love and get married one day?” I asked you once. It was the kind of question I could only ask you, because the other kids wouldn’t understand.

You chewed your lip as you thought. “I don’t know about falling in love,” you said. “But I’m sure that my father will arrange a good marriage for me when I’m old enough.”

a (87)

I gaped. Arrange a marriage! It was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing. But you acted as though it was an ordinary kind of future. Maybe it was for Oromo kids, but not for me. I knew that one day, I wanted to be in love. I wanted a girl who I could treat like royalty and dance with in the moonlight, just because.

But that summer, everything changed. A drought sucked the water from the savanna, causing everything to wither away. And the soldiers came to Zewedu, causing our future dreams to wither away, too.

b (13)

b (7)

Your friend,




Chapter 2: The Fortunate One

Dear Aurelio,

My life has changed so much since I last saw you. I wish that I could speak with you, to tell you all that has happened. But I don’t know where you are. Have you returned to Ethiopia? Are you still alive?

a (80)

I do not miss Zewedu. I know that I should, but I do not. My memories of our village are haunted – yes, haunted, like the ghost they said I was.

I heard the whispers everywhere I went. “There she is! There’s the Ghost!” Shopkeepers refused to serve me. Mothers told their children, “Do not play with her. She will bring bad luck to our family.” Bad luck? Ha! Didn’t they know that my name, Tadelech, means Fortunate One? (I learned a new word for this – ironic).

The Oromo people – even my own family, have dark eyes that shine like the moonlit night sky. Their skin is like cocoa, like deep, rich earth, like the bark of the acacia tree, like cumin. But when I was born, the midwife took one look at my wriggling body, with skin as pale as the underbelly of a fish, and told my mother to let me die. Something had gone terribly wrong. Bad spirits had leached the color from my skin and drained my eyes of sight.

a (70)

My mother was furious. She threw the midwife from our house, then raised me as though nothing were wrong. And really, other than the way my skin blistered and burned in the sun, nothing was wrong. My eyes, though light, could see just fine. I was healthy in every way. Still, the people of our village treated me like a monstrosity.

a (191)a (199)

To protect me, my parents did not send me to school. For years, I stayed home and helped with the cows and chickens, and cared for my baby brother, Fisha. But it was lonely sometimes, especially when I saw the village children run past in their matching uniforms. I wanted so much to go to school, to make friends, to be accepted.

Then one afternoon, my mother surprised me with a new school uniform. This was it! At last, I could go to school like all the other children. Eagerly, I pulled on my new clothes, then went to visit the schoolyard, where the village children were still playing.

“What are you doing here?” said one of the girls in an unfriendly voice as I approached.

“You don’t belong here,” said another girl, sneering. “You should leave. Go home!” She made shooing motions, as if I were a stray animal.

a (207)b (109)

I kept swallowing, fists clenched in a tight ball, trying not to cry. I wanted to run away from the scowling group of kids. I wanted to tear off my strange, stiff new uniform and bury it in the dirt. But I couldn’t. I was frozen there – an unmoving target for a group of hunters.

Then you stepped forward. “Leave her alone,” you told the other kids. Just like that, the group dissolved, and everyone went back to their games. I stared, wondering who was this brave boy with the odd straight hair. Like you read my mind, you spoke to me. “My name is Aurelio,” he said. “Aurelio Fernando de Leon Cruz.”

I burst into giggles. I couldn’t help it. That was the longest name I had ever heard! The Oromo people all had one name – a given name. You had four. “My name is Tadelech,” I said.

a (88)

You rolled my name a few times over your tongue. “How about if I call you Tadi, for short?” you asked.

“Okay.” I smiled. Any name was better than The Ghost. You repeated your name a few times for me, but it was very hard to pronounce. “I will give you a nickname, too,” I said. You waited. I thought about how part of your name sounded like the English word for lion. I thought about how, when you spoke to the other children, they all responded to your authority, as though you were the leader of the pack. “I will call you Leon,” I said.

A huge grin spread across your face. Then you lifted your head and growled, lion-like, at the sky.

You became a lion. And I was no longer a ghost. And from that day forward, we were the best of friends.

a (93)




Chapter 1: Sea of Gold

Dear Tadelech,

The flashbacks happen all the time. There I am, in the middle of school, or walking down the street, then bam! The world around me fades away, and I am back in Zewedu with you. The round copper sun warms my head as I run along the dirt paths of our village. Neighbors in colorful dress smile as I pass, calling out, “Akkam jirta? Maatiin akkam?”

a (49)

My family’s hut was next to the missionary church where my parents worked, at the edge of the village. And beyond that, the land seemed to stretch on forever, like a sea of gold. “God’s cradle of life,” Papa used to say about the grasslands, about all of Africa. “The place where everything began.”

a (18)

My life began there, too.

When I was very young, I thought I was Oromo. Although I spoke English and Spanish with my parents, I spoke the Oromo language outside of home. I ate the same spicy bowls of itoo for dinner as everyone else. I even went to the village school, where I made friends with the Oromo children, and learned to do sums and write in Amharic (which always looked to me like baby scribbles).

a (182)b (52)

“But you are not Oromo, tontito,” said Mama. “You are American, like me, and Colombian, like your Papa.”

I could hardly believe it. Especially when they began to fill my head with stories about their home in America. Brightly-lit supermarkets filled with every kind of food. Buildings so tall, they touched the sky. Busy streets filled with cars. To me, America sounded like an impossible place, like a dream.

“When I grow up,” I said, my eyes wide, “I want to go there.”

a (155)

Although I was not Oromo as I had once thought, I was still accepted among the other children of the village. From sun up to sundown, we played in the streets or in the savanna on the outskirts of town. One day, some of the kids were talking about a ghost.

“Her eyes are as white as ash,” said Gabra. “And her skin is as pale as bones.”

“My mother passed the Ghost on the road yesterday,” said Saba in a hushed voice. “And this morning, one of our goats was dead.”

The other kids giggled nervously. I said nothing. My parents had taught me not to believe in ghosts. Still, even under the hot African sun, a cold shudder ran through me. Real or not real, I had no desire to meet this ghost.

I do not know if you will ever read this letter. I plan to mail it to Teacher Hosanna at the village school in Zewedu. If anyone will know where to find you, it is her.

Your friend,

Aurelio de Leon


The Lion and the Ghost


Follow the drumbeats to the heart of Ethiopia, where the blue expanse of sky stretches on for eternity, and zebras and elephants roam free across the golden savanna.



Here lies the tiny village of Zewedu, which was once home to two unusual children. Aurelio and Tadelech were the best of friends until rebel soldiers appeared and ripped apart their quiet village. Torn away from the only lives they had ever known, the two children reach out to each other across the unknown distance…


Chapter 1: Sea of Gold

Chapter 2: The Fortunate One

Chapter 3: Diamonds in the Sky

Chapter 4: The Night of Fire

Chapter 5: Coming to America

Chapter 6: Peaches and Wine

Chapter 7: The Mexican from Africa

Chapter 8: The Grooviest Man in the World

Chapter 9: Something is Missing

Chapter 10: The Flight From Rainbow Acres

Chapter 11:To Live Deliberately

Chapter 12: Mail-Order Bride

Chapter 13: Living in a Small Town World

Chapter 14: 632 Silvermoon Lane

Chapter 15: Ghostly Emergencies

Chapter 16:The Girl and the Gift

Chapter 17: All That Glitters…

Chapter 18: A Haunting in Asteria

Chapter 19: Cold Spell

Chapter 20: Curse of the Moon

Chapter 21: His Heart’s Desire (Part 1)

Chapter 21.5: His Heart’s Desire, Pt. 2

Chapter 22: Pirate Bay

Chapter 23: The Desert Rose

Chapter 24: Miss Baker Feeds the Hungry

Chapter 25:Vroom!

Chapter 26: Guess Who Came to the Wedding

Chapter 27: Purple Rain

Chapter 28: Mysterious Ways

Chapter 29: Dream Chasing

Chapter 30:The Fairy Nephew

Chapter 31: Stomping Grounds

Chapter 32: Journey to Senalat

Chapter 33: Disneyland Daddy

Chapter 34:The Anonymous Donor

Chapter 35: My Own Two Hands

Chapter 36: The Savanna Calls

The Lion and the Ghost Music Video