We are heeding the advice I got from Ethiopian friends and from Americans familiar with Ethiopia, and are bringing the following:
- Clothes (this was what most people recommended). Since I am not sure who we will see on our visit, I got a variety of sizes for both genders and for both adults and children. For the men's clothes I got button-down shirts, jackets, and canvas pants. For the women's clothes I got long skirts from stretchy fabric and large scarves. The children's clothes are polo shirts and button-down shirts. Everything I got could be described as somewhat formal and conservative (no T-shirts) but comfortable and practical. I got the clothes at thrift stores, discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, a workwear store, an Islamic clothing store, and by raiding my kids' closet for shirts they have never worn.
- A duffel bag to put the clothes in and leave with the family.
- A photo album with captions written in English and Burji. (Galatome, jaal!)
- Solar powered lights that can be used as flashlights or to give light inside a hut at night.
- Soccer balls, with a couple of pumps and a supply of pump needles.
- For donations to the community, I've decided to go with school supplies, since I am a teacher. I will shop for them in Ethiopia. It would be very heavy to carry school supplies across the Atlantic, and it will be good to put some money into the local economy. And if I wait until I get there, I can try to find out exactly what supplies would be most useful.
- Bring nothing. When you are visiting your child's family before you have received your visa from the U.S. embassy - in other words, while you are still in the midst of the adoption process - then you should not bring anything besides photos. But when you are returning after two years away, I think bringing nothing is wrong. Any relative returning from abroad would bring something, right? Even if that something is just a token. To come completely empty-handed just seems rude. (An exception I can think of is if the child was removed from an abusive family. You may want to see them to give your child some closure, but you wouldn't feel obligated to bring a gift.)
- Bring a lavish gift that will set the family apart from the community. The latest iPhone, designer shoes etc. can create the impression that you are exchanging material wealth for your child. It may also encourage other destitute families to consider relinquishing their child in hopes of receiving material support. And it will cause problems for the family after you leave, because people in the community may now expect them to have more resources to give.