Björn came to Ethiopia as part of the Peace Corps but became Onni's right hand and Operations Director at ALERT.

"Onni was my best friend. You couldn't tell that he was 25 years older than me".

-Björn Lundmark

The Emperor's sauna

I arrived in Ethiopia in 1971 as a Peace Corps employee, to build up schools. But destiny wanted different. On my first day there, Onni Niskanen appointed me Maintenance Manager at ALERT and asked me to teach the leprous patients to run the hospital.

One day, Onni came by and asked me if I could build a sauna. "Yes, of course, I can", said I. "Okay", said Onni, and he asked if I had a dark suit. Well, I thought, what use would a dark suit be when I build a sauna? "Where shall I build it?" I asked, but Onni did not answer that. We agreed on a time the next day and Onni came to pick me up. I jumped into the car and we went up to Entotto, where the palace is and that is where we drove in, where the lions lie in chains, and then I understood! "What the hell are we doing here?" I asked. "This is where you will build the sauna", said Onni. "Oh", said I. We went in and we met Medferiashwork, the Crown Princess. She was the wife of the Crown Prince, Asfaw Wossen, and she spoke English fluently. She showed us where she wanted the sauna and I said to Onni that we have to get the support for this from my boss. (We did not tell her that). Onni contacted Arne Karlsgård, who was actually my closest Manager in the Peace Corps, and told him "Björn is building a sauna at the palace". "No, no, no!" said Arne. "Do you not read the papers, how critical they are to the Emperor? It would be news of the world if Swedish journalists found out that a Swedish Peace Corps employee was building a sauna for the Emperor!" Then I said that what I do in my spare time is my business, is it not? Arne agreed on that, but asked me to be very careful with how I accept payment. So, we got his approval, but he did not really want anything to do with it. Then I talked to Onni to get approval for ordering things from Sweden, like a heating unit, insulation, fir panelling and some other things. Onni's brothers Arne and Erik arranged everything in Sweden. When the shipment arrived, there were not any problems at all, we just picked it up at the airport and drove it up to the palace. I picked four good workers from the leprosy village and we went up on Saturdays and Sundays to build the sauna. The Crown Princess was a very nice person and asked very much about Sweden, about my family and so on.

We were treated to meals every day we worked there. It was fantastic! Imagine my workers, who lived in the leprosy village, in houses made with cement sacks, metal scrap and other stuff, sitting with me at the table, served by servants in white gloves. They had never eaten such a white Injera. It is normally grey, but the whiter it is, the more posh. We continued the build and it went very well. When it was finished, the Crown Princess came to say thank you. When she wanted to pay me, I said that I could not accept any salary, because that would cause trouble with SIDA. She did understand all that, but I felt that my workers should have something. I know that they received big envelopes and later I learned that they received more than a year's salary. That is, they each received an ALERT salary! I thought that was good! She asked me if she could help me with anything and I told her that I need to have some spare parts for my old Saab and that the Customs procedures were so difficult. Also, I wanted to buy a tape recorder from Sweden but the import tax was very high on such things. She said to let her know when my shipment had arrived at the airport and she would send someone to help me get my things out from the Customs. That worked fine and all my boxes went straight through Customs. I received a pair of cufflinks with the Ethiopian shield on and I could accept that as a gift. That is how the Imperial sauna was built and in hindsight, I can say that it was a very nice experience for me!