Saturday, July 23, 2011

101 Amharic verbs

A few days into our Amharic lessons, we realized that learning verbs was going to be very, very complicated. I was able to get pieces of the puzzle from our various books and iPad apps, from our wonderful tutor, and from a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. Still, what we needed more than anything were multiple examples of conjugated verbs - in English letters since we haven't learned fidel yet - categorized by how they're conjugated. Like this book of Spanish verbs but in Amharic. I couldn't find anything like that. So for the last few weeks I've been working on making my own verb chart. I tried to check every infinitive against two different sources, and our tutor looked over the whole list, so I think it's fairly accurate. Any mistakes in it are entirely my fault.

You can download the verb chart here.  The first page has a pronunciation key, a few definitions, and a key to the kinds of verbs organized by color. The next thirty-four pages contain 101 verbs, listed alphabetically by English word. I hope people who are starting out in Amharic find it useful.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Orphanage closures

Lots of news swirling around the internet lately about mass orphanage closures in Ethiopia. In trying to find something substantiated, I came across this:
Please go to this site and add your information IF YOU HAVE VERIFIED NEWS and are not just repeating rumors. 
I - and I'm sure many other APs and PAPs - am particularly interested in the reason for these closures. If it is, in fact, part of the Ethiopian government's plan to root out corruption, it is very good news. I just hope there is a solid plan in place for the children who lived in these orphanages, one that includes family reunification if at all possible.
Again, please post any information you have at
Thank you!

Monday, July 11, 2011


I went to church yesterday. I had not been in a church for about eight years, but when I discovered that there was an Ethiopian Orthodox church here in our city, I had to go.

I had emailed with a man from the church whom I'll call Ato A and he had told me I was welcome to come anytime. So after putting it off for a few weeks, I decided yesterday was the day. Our tutor warned me that Ethiopian Orthodox services are very long, and Ato A had said the service was from 8:00AM to noon, so I was prepared.

I was late getting there because the church was hard to find, on a gravel road. When I arrived the doors were closed and the service had already started. I opened the door onto a foyer where people could leave their shoes. Then there was a little hallway, and I could see into the main room of the church. When I came in everyone was prostrate on the floor praying. I wasn't about to walk in stepping over people, so I waited in the hallway until people stood up, then I moved into a pew toward the back.

The men were all on the left side and the women on the right. All the women had their heads covered with a white scarf, called a ne'tala. Most of the women also had a matching white dress. The men also wore the scarf, but over their shoulders. When more and more people came in and all the women had the ne'tala on, I wished that I had known to cover my head.

The service had a lot of similarities with the Greek Orthodox service. Lots of chanting in an ancient language (in this case, Ge'ez), lots of repetition, incense, ritualistic gestures etc. People stood the entire time. After I had been there about 45 minutes, the man across the aisle from me, who I discovered afterward was Ato A leaned over and whispered, "You can sit down if you are tired." I did sit down a couple of times when a woman with a baby and an older woman sat down, and I used them for my cue for when I should stand back up.

Most of the service was just chanting. At three different times people got prostrate on the floor again. I did the sit-on-the-edge-of-the-seat-with-head-bowed pose, and other people were doing that too. At one point a young man came around with a big book followed by another young man carrying a fancy umbrella. Everyone did a quick forehead-lips-forehead-lips touch to the book. I skipped that part. 

At 10:15 we sat down for about one minute. A group came to the front. Then everyone stood back up and the group started singing and dancing. This part of the service was definitely more African. A man played a drum and everyone started ululating. This was my favorite part so far because it reminded me of Namibia.

After the singing was a reading. This part may have been in Amharic. At this point I can't hear the difference between Ge'ez and Amharic. I recognized a few words throughout the service (igziyaber = god, nachu = you are, mefelleg = need, memar = have mercy and habhab = watermelon... OK, probably wrong on that last one). The reading was about Dawit (David), Samuel, and Petros (Peter). I've heard of David and Peter, but I thought one was old Testament and the other new Testament, so I really had no clue what part this reading was from.

Finally the priest came out and talked for about 15 minutes, again I think in Amharic. Then everyone lined up and went to the front where the priest would do something and then put his hands on people's heads. I asked the woman next to me if I should go and she said yes, so I got in line. When I got to the priest we did an awkward little shuffle - was I supposed to kiss something? His hand? A cross? - and then he put his hands on my head and sent me on. I got a paper cup with "holy" water in it, walked around to the back, and the service was over.

Overall it was as monotonous as a Greek Orthodox service. I have to say that standing listening to chanting for over two hours does induce a trance-like state. Maybe that's the point.

After the service I met Ato A and he told me to get some tea and bread from the building next door. I went over and got some bread, and then stood around outside trying to catch someone's eye. I was kind of surprised that no one asked who I was. After a few minutes a man did come over and tell me to go back in the building and get tea. Since the tea wasn't ready, he told me to sit at a table and wait.

I sat next to a kid and said hi to him, and then I said hi to the woman sitting next to him and introduced myself. She smiled and shook her head to show she didn't speak English. So I tried Amharic - sime Kyra new = my name is Kyra. She looked a little alarmed, and turned around and called out to a group of women behind her, I think asking what "Kee-rah" meant. Finally the kid tapped her on the shoulder and said simwa new = it's her name. The woman just smiled and shook her head again. First attempt at Amharic in public - FAIL! Our tutor says that she probably didn't speak Amharic either, but some other Ethiopian language. Either that or my accent is terrible.

After that Ato A came in and sat down and talked to me. He told me about his family and a little bit about the service. I asked him about getting a ne'tala and he said his wife could get me one. Then I went over and talked to the priest. He also seemed to not speak much English, and he quickly switched to talking to me through Ato A. He invited me to a big celebration on August 20. I had prepared a respectful but honest answer in case he asked me about my beliefs, but he did not.

Around 11:30 things were winding down, and I left. I felt like I'd taken my first little trip to Ethiopia. I had had no idea there were so many Ethiopians in our area, and I'm glad I went.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Advice from T

          So far in our wait we have had two disappointments with the waiting child list. Without getting into details, I'll say that both events were difficult for me. They were difficult for T also, but he's much better at recovering from disappointment. Equanimity is T's middle name. I asked T for advice on how to move on after a match doesn't work out, and his advice was pretty good, so I asked him to write a guest post. Here it is, complete with a graph, because Lovable Nerd is T's other middle name.

Emotionally Surviving the Wait

Step 1: Be prepared. Before diving into applications, home-study, and dossier work K and I did some reading on adoption (K far more than me) and attended some information sessions. We did enough research to know adoption was going to be an emotionally draining process. For statistics geeks out there, Figure 1 shows the normal distribution of adoptions along the continuum from “nightmare” to “sunshine and daisies.”

For those of you who are not statistics geeks, this graph has a very simple explanation. Ninety-five percent of adoptions will fit into the blue shaded zone, meaning they will be emotionally exhausting. Only a handful of adoptions will go so smoothly that they fit into the “sunshine and daisies” category. However, it is also important to note that only a handful will fit into the “nightmare” category.
          There are a few points that can be made by this graph. First, when the emotional roller coaster hits, think back to this graph and remember, this is what we signed up for. Second, and this is very important, if you think you are having a sunshine and daisies adoption, don’t let your guard down. Chances are, something will happen to draw you into the shaded zone and you should be prepared for that eventuality. Finally, if you think you’re having a nightmare adoption process, chances are you’re not and you might benefit from talking to others in the adoption community at various stages of the process. These conversations will probably help you understand that your experience is “normal.”

Step 2: Understand your emotions. It is important to remember that because of the circumstance your emotions can be on a hair trigger. Think about it: you’re getting ready to add a child or children to your family for the rest of your life. You don’t need me to tell you that this is not a trivial event, but be aware of how the gravity affects your emotional response. This goes for the ups as well as the downs. While the ups feel good when you’re experiencing them be aware that a setback can bring you back down. If your emotions were already running high, albeit a good high, the swing in emotion will probably be more severe in response to the setback.

Step 3: Attach to children not ideas. There may be times during the process where you feel very close to being matched with a child for adoption. You may have seen pictures, or even have been offered a referral, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. This will probably be one of the hardest times of the process because the promise will send you to a high emotional state and the let down will feel severe.
My advice in these situations is to approach with extreme caution. The tendency is to get very excited, and I understand this. However, with this excitement your mind starts racing, you look at the picture, and in your mind you’re holding that child. You imagine him/her running around the orphanage playing, or running around in your back yard playing with the dogs. You’re becoming attached to this child before s/he even knows you exist.
Attachment post-adoption is very important; pre-adoption attachment may be counter-productive. If all you have is a picture and basic information about the child, chances are you’re not getting attached to a child, you’re getting attached to an idea. I try to avoid the inclination to let my mind wander into the "what could be" realm because it only serves to make loss of the referral/match more difficult to deal with. Additionally, if you become attached to the idea of a child, the reality of that child could be very different, which in itself could cause hard feelings.

Step 4: Let go. If your referral/match doesn’t work out I recommend thinking of the event as “what happened” as opposed to “what happened to me”. At this point what happened is now in your family's history. Worrying about what happened or where the child(ren) will end up won't help coping. Look forward to the match that will eventually work for your family. Don’t take it personally, and don’t waste time ruminating over what you could have done differently. Remember it is “what happened” in this situation. Next time it may be different.

          This is my advice for dealing with the ups and downs of the waiting process. I’m sure the post-referral period involving travel, court, embassy and first family visits will have some intense emotional moments. Being in the waiting period I can’t speak on these events. Maybe when we are at that part of the process K will ask me for another guest post.

Hope this helps,

Monday, July 4, 2011

Good article

by Paula O'Loughlin,
I thought the analogy to losing a child was pretty powerful.

Accepting That Grief Can Last A Lifetime

      Often I fear that too many of us - both in the adoption community and in society at large - see grieving as it relates to an adoptee's loss as a one-time occurrence.  In fact I know some who view their children's grieving as an isolated incident that begins upon their child's arrival into their families and whose pattern of grief is somehow expected to adhere to time-inflicted parameters.  So many times I read and hear about grieving portrayed as an "event" or prolonged series of episodes that is thought to have an end date, as if there is a finite conclusion that caps off the compulsory nights of crying, or days of our children refusing to establish solid eye contact or weeks where our child may seem reserved, upset or unusually withdrawn.