Sunday, September 21, 2014

Colorado trip

I'm late posting this, but back in August we flew out to Colorado to visit our Burji friends in Denver and to camp in the Rockies.

Things I want to remember from our Colorado trip:
  • That moment at baggage claim when I turned to see a man swooping down on my children with his arms outstretched, and them scrambling into his hug as if they'd known each other all their lives.
  • Playing soccer with a bunch of Ethiopians, most of whom are Burji.
  • The freshly killed and cooked goat for D's 7th birthday (he now has a summer birthday, too). I'm a strict vegetarian, but this is what he wanted for his birthday, and this is what he got. 
  • M telling D, "You are Burji. You have a strong heart."
  • NO ONE asking about our kids' names: "A__? You mean _____? D__? You mean _____?" the way most Ethiopians do.
  • Our campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park. The mule deer walking through our campsite. Cooking over a campfire every night. The Milky Way. 
  • The high-altitude lakes. The COLD water in the streams feeding the lakes.
  • Doing several leisurely walks with our kids, and then doing an actual hike with significant elevation gain. Rock climbing at the end of the hike. Note to self: Things go well on a long hike if I bring a chapter book to read aloud from every half mile or so.
  • LOOK, ELK!!!!! WOW!!!! Look, elk! Cool! Look, elk. Meh.
  • The aerial obstacle course that A completed in Estes Park. As my sister would say, "Dweam come twue."
  • D terrified to ride a horse. D overcoming his terror. D telling me, "I am Burji. I have a strong heart."
  • Vedauwoo State Park in Wyoming and the huge boulders that A and I climbed, just the two of us.
  • Our gorgeous shortcut on a dirt "forest" road in southern Wyoming: huge sky, ranches, horses, pronghorns. 
  • My normally very calm husband yelling "EVERYBODY GET OUT OF THE CAR!!!!" because the car was on fire he saw a bald eagle.
  • Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in North America. Watching the temperature drop, feeling the wind pick up, and finally, seeing snow fall. 
  • D calming his anxiety by repeating country names over and over and over: MaliMauritaniaMalawiNigerNigeriaIndiaChinaKazakhstan BangladeshBangladeshBangladeshBangladeshBanGLAdesh BanGLAdeshBanGLAdesh... Not a good memory, but I should remember it.
  • Back in Aurora, meeting another Burji man and discovering his mother is Gooda, which means that my kids are considered his "uncles." 
  • The weekend after we returned, D playing Monopoly with his cousin C, smiling with his eyes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

More summer

  • We spent a day with our friends from Burji who were adopted at the same time as A and D. How I love and value this family. This time I noticed some little similarities between A and their older boy: they both drop ending consonants when they speak; they both cradle the younger ones' heads when their picture is taken. Funny how these things I thought were unique to my child might turn out to be culturally based. 
  • I marked my own 30-year anniversary of moving to the United States. This is the defining event of my life. It led to a 20-year identity crisis, moving to Africa, and eventually, circuitously, to my children. I wonder if my children's move to the U.S. is destined to be the defining event of their lives.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why I like food restrictions

Today I took my students out to eat after class. I hadn't been able to do it before now because most of them had been observing Ramadan. At this time of year and this latitude, Ramandan means seventeen hours with no food or water. For a month, my students would wake up at 3AM to pray, eat, and guzzle water. After 3:30AM, they couldn't eat or drink again until 8:30PM.

Out of respect for my students, I left my water bottle at home for the month of July and didn't drink any water while I was teaching. My first class is two hours long and you can bet I made a beeline to the water fountain as soon as class was over every day. I can't imagine seventeen hours.

So maybe it's surprising that I really value my students' practice. I don't mean the health benefits of fasting, and definitely not their obedience to an invisible sky being. I mean how fasting strengthens their sense of who they are. Eating is such a basic (obviously) and tangible thing that we do. Every time my students don't do it, every time they pass by a water fountain or ignore a rumbling stomach or a parched throat, they are saying to themselves, "I am a Muslim. I am part of this group. This is what WE do." The sense of identity and belonging that food restrictions confer is incredible.

This is the same reason I don't let my children eat pork. T and I are vegetarians, but when we are out, we allow our boys to eat meat. But not pork. Neither Muslim nor Orthodox Christian Ethiopians eat pigs, and I am 99.99% sure you would not find a single person in Burji who eats pork. My kids know this. They know that they don't eat pork because they are Burji. Every time they turn down a hot dog, a ham sandwich, or a pepperoni pizza, they are, in a very basic way, reminding themselves that they are Burji. Something as essential as food strengthens their ethnic identity. I love that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bring Love In

"On August 17, I will run a half marathon in a national park not far from where my family still lives, and where I lived for my first 5 years of life. I am running to raise funds for Bring Love In, an organization that unites women who are widows with children who need mothers. Bring Love In also works alongside families who need just a little economic help (about $40 a month) so that they can keep their children with them, and out of orphanages."

Read the rest here:

We are supporting Aselefech. I hope you can too:

Friday, July 18, 2014

First month of summer

Weekend 1 - We meet my sister's family for a two-day rail-to-trail bicycle ride with a night camping in between. A rides all sixty miles on his new bike. D rides thirty miles, alternating between his bike and a tag-along, with the remaining thirty miles in Yiayia's car. Proud of both boys. Amazed that they still have energy for soccer, swimming and the playground after finishing their rides.

Weekend 2 - We drive to Maryland and hang out with my brother's family. Swimming. Bike riding. We love being out in the country. And the amusement park. And World Cup soccer on the big screen.

Weekend 3 - T takes the boys to visit his sister's family in Massachusetts for July 4th. They ride bikes, eat ice cream, hike in New Hampshire, explore in Vermont. I stay home with the dog. Oh, bliss.  Oh, long walks and yard work, oh, my clean house.

Weekend 4 - A turns nine. Legally, he turns eight, but after our trip to his village, we know he's nine. We had celebrated his eighth birthday in the winter, knowing he was at least six months older than his legal age, but it will be a summer birthday from now on, and we will consider his birth certificate wrong by one year.

In between we visit parks around Philadelphia, hang out with our wonderful neighbors, set up a basketball hoop, play at the park. I start teaching two new classes. The boys go to camp starting the second week of summer. They play outdoor games, swim every day, go on field trips. They love it, but eight hours is a long time for D to follow the "hands and feet to yourself" rule. I start a daily ritual of wrestling with him every afternoon, both to give him that full body contact and to keep A from getting kicked in the head so much.

Good summer so far.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What was it like for an agnostic adoptive family in Ethiopia?

Honestly, nobody cared. Very few people asked about religion. We were blessed a lot, and I blessed people right back. The few who did ask were surprised that we don't follow a religion. They thought it was funny. As if I'd said, "We don't eat solid food." They laughed and moved to a different subject.

Friday, June 20, 2014

If you are contemplating contact

If you are an adoptive parent who is just beginning to think about contacting your child's first family, you probably have a lot of questions and doubts in your mind. You may not be sure that contact is a good idea and you may be worried about what a relationship with this other family would be like. Here are some thoughts that I hope will be helpful to you.
  • In order to feel comfortable contacting your child's other family, you need to accept the truth about your own family. You may have always told yourself and your child that there is no difference between her and a biological child. You have to accept that there is a difference. Of course you love her just as much as you would if she were yours by birth. But her story is different. She was not yours "from the moment she was conceived." She was not "born in your heart." She was conceived in another woman's body and was born to another woman. You may long for a reality in which your child was only ever yours, but wanting something - even desperately wanting it - doesn't change the past. Honor your child by accepting the true story of her life.
  • Change your definition of family. In my last post I compared the role of a parent to "any family relationship in which a role is filled by more than one person." Maybe this description makes you cringe. But I am her mom, you might say. If She is her mom, that makes me Not the mom. That's because mainstream America sees family like the first circle below. The role of the mother and father can only be filled by one person, so in order for a new mother and father to step in, the old one has to step out.

         But what if instead we saw family like this?

After adoption

Before adoption

        A big circle of love surrounding your child. No one has to be replaced. We
        just add new people to the circle. If you can think of family like this, you
        won't feel your role as a parent in any way threatened by the existence of
        another parent.
  • Recognize that you have 99% of the power. Especially if you've adopted internationally, you've got to stop and ask yourself what you find so threatening. The family who relinquished your child is not going to get on a plane, come to America, and take her back. You control the what, where, when and how of the relationship. You also decide where your child lives and goes to school. You teach your child your language and your values. If your child loves, misses, or just knows about another parent, none of those things change.
  • Understand that you don't have to like them. You might not want to acknowledge the other family because they are so different from you or hold values you do not like. I will admit that if the people who share the most genetic material with my children lived in my neighborhood - and weren't my children's family - they would almost certainly not be my friends. We have very little in common and I find some of their cultural practices abhorrent. That does not make them exist any less or lessen their connection to my children. Your child may have come to you from a family with different beliefs than you, from neglect, from abuse. Your acknowledging their past does not mean you like it. It's just telling the truth. 

Friday, May 30, 2014


Over the last few years, and noticeably the last few weeks, I have read about adoptive parents not wanting to stay in contact with or even talk about their child's first parents because it would be "confusing" for the child to have more than one mother or more than one father.

A and I experienced the confusion firsthand when we were in Ethiopia. But we managed to get through it, and I want to share how we overcame it.

Here's what happened. We were in Burji. We were having a normal, pleasant conversation. Then someone asked A a question about his father.

A looked at me. I looked at A. We didn't know which father he meant.

So confusing!

Somehow, I found the words. The words that melted the confusion away. Adoptive parents who fear confusion might want to write this down.

I said, "Which one?" 

Which. One.

I know. I'm pretty sure I'm a genius.

You know what happened next? The person said, "Oh, the Ethiopian one." And then we were able to answer the question. Because we weren't confused anymore.

I know what you're thinking. Which one. It's tricky. I mean, it's TWO words! What if you get them backwards and you say, "One witch?" And then there's the alliteration. What if you accidentally say, "twitch twon?" Or "flitch flon?"

But dear adoptive-parent-who-withholds-a-relationship-with-your-child's-first-family-for-fear-of-confusion, you can do it. Be strong. Be a warrior. Practice in the mirror.

Which. One.

The amazing thing is, that once you have mastered these words, you can use them in other situations. Suppose, for example, that you have three brothers. And someone says they are looking for your brother. You can say, "Which one?" Or say your child has two grandmothers. Someone asks a question about her grandmother. She can say, "Which one?" You can apply this phrase to literally any family relationship in which a role is filled by more than one person, and there will be no more confusion.

So dear I-just-don't-want-my-child-to-be-confused parent, now you can go ahead and send that letter to, hire a searcher to find, mention the existence of that other parent. Or is something besides fear of confusion holding you back?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ethiopian-inspired parenting

On our recent brief trip to Ethiopia I observed some things about children. The children that I personally observed behaved very differently from A in two ways: 1) they were much more obedient and 2) they were much more independent. That may seem like a contradiction, but it's not. When the kids (that I personally observed) were interacting with adults, they did what they were told quickly and without arguing. But most of the time they were not interacting with adults, at which time they did whatever they wanted. So ask Hailu to bring water for the guests to wash their hands and he jumps to it, but then he can go wander around town with no adult interference.

The way most Ethiopian adults that I observed acted toward kids was also different from how most American adults act toward kids in two ways: 1) they gave a lot of positive reinforcement and 2) they gave almost no negative reinforcement. When a kid did what she was told, contributing to the smooth running of the household, she was talked to, lovingly teased, hugged, included. When a toddler was cheerful, he was passed around, played with, praised. When a kid was standing around wailing, he was ignored. When A complained about being tired or bored, he was ignored. Not ignored in a deliberate I'm-going-to-ignore-you-until-you-change-this-behavior kind of way, more like not noticed. Like you might not notice a squirrel scolding you from a tree.

I suspect that my observations about children and adults are connected. Often children who do not receive enough positive attention misbehave in order to receive negative attention, because any attention is better than nothing. This way of interacting with children turns the behavior on its head - behaving to get attention, because it's the only attention they 're going to get.

My observations in Ethiopia made me adjust some of my interactions with my own kids. A and D each have a behavior that had been a challenge for me. For A, it is tattling on D, either by actual tattling or by scolding D while staring directly at me, waiting for a reaction. For D, it is continuous complaining:  "I don't want to, it's boring, why do I have to, I don't like it." And I had fallen into a pattern of reacting. For A, addressing the tattling, addressing whatever D did, telling A to look at the person he was talking to. For D, calming, giving reasons, distracting, threatening. Since our trip, I've been working on giving no reaction at all to these behaviors. A stares at me while saying, "D, why did you bump into me?" and I go on preparing dinner as if I haven't heard. D storms off into the other room wailing, "You ALWAYS want to go to the park! I DON'T WANT to go to the park! I DON'T LIKE the park!" (Note: D loves the park) and I continue filling the water bottle and collecting balls and gloves.

Of course I don't ignore them if they have a legitimate complaint. If D actually wrongs or hurts A, which he has done a handful of times, I will address it. If D seems genuinely upset by something, I will snuggle with him and talk about it. I am just referring to the knee-jerk tattling and complaining that doesn't seem to signify anything more than a bad habit.

I think I can say this adjustment is working, even though the boys are continuing their behavior. It's working because it's letting me stay calm and direct my energy toward meeting my boys' more real needs. In other words, their behavior hasn't really changed, but I feel I'm becoming a better parent. Maybe lack of reinforcement will eventually extinguish these habits.

So any thoughts on this parenting strategy? Is there any down side that I'm not seeing?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ethiopia return trip Part 6 (back to Addis)

Day 10

Our last morning in the Ethiopian countryside was in Amaro. Dawitt's family has a coffee farm there, and we had breakfast with some of his brothers and family friends before they headed out to the farm. We also randomly ran into a woman on the street who spoke flawless English and explained to us how to make bulla out of enset.

After breakfast we started driving north. The road climbed and climbed. The view was beautiful.

In Yirga Cheffe we emerged onto the ridiculously potholed main road and took it north back to Awassa. There we went straight to the restaurant where we were meeting our friend Belayneh.

Belayneh is starting a business connecting adoptive families with families in Ethiopia. He is a trained social worker and a wonderful person. If you have a child from Sidama and are looking for someone to facilitate communication with family or help you plan a visit, I highly recommend Belayneh. His business is called Ethiopia Birth Family Connection and you can find it on facebook.

After leaving Belayneh we visited the brother of a friend here in the U.S. and then met four more of Dawitt's sisters and brothers (did I mention there are eighteen in all?). Finally we left Awassa around 6PM. We reached our guesthouse in Addis after midnight.

Day 11

Our last day in Ethiopia. A and I went for a walk from our guesthouse all the way down to Meskel Square. On the way we passed the prime minister's palace, the president's palace, Africa Hall, and great views of the city. In Meskel Square I took photos of the new elevated railroad that's being built. This city is growing fast.

Meskel Square
Dawitt and his sister found us at the Square Garden Cafe in Meskel Square. While we were sitting there sipping our mango juice, Dawitt casually mentioned that the balcony over our heads is where Mengistu Haile Mariam used to give his speeches. Creepy.

There was a big expo going on in the fairgrounds behind Meskel Square (you can see the first few tents at the edge of the photo). We wandered around a bit and I bought six kilos of spicy red crack berbere to bring home with us. Finally it was time to return to the guesthouse and pack up. Dawitt and his sister took us to the airport.

Saying good bye was hard. I will never, ever forget everything that Dawitt did for us. Before, I couldn't even imagine what a visit to our boys' family would be like. Now I feel like we can easily do it again.

And we will do it again. We'll stay longer next time.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ethiopia return trip Part 5

Day 8

Dawitt had proposed an excursion to Arba Minch, so very early Sunday morning we left Soyama and drove west. Several young people from Dawitt's family came with us. The road goes south of Lake Chamo and then turns north at Konso. Two and a half years ago, T and I had gotten our car stuck in the Segen River, but now there is a nice bridge.

 In Arba Minch we visited a crocodile farm, where crocodiles are raised for their skin. Unfortunately the boat tours to the wild crocodiles were not operating. We also were not able to see Nechisar National Park because we didn't have the right kind of vehicle. But we did visit the forty springs that give Arba Minch its name and spent a relaxing afternoon splashing in the water. For dinner we went to the gorgeous Paradise Lodge, which has a view of Lake Abaya to the north and Lake Chamo to the south. We drove back to Konso to spend the night in a hotel that another of Dawitt's brothers is building.
view of Lake Chamo from Paradise Lodge

Day 9

I definitely got too much sun in Arba Minch because I was exhausted and nauseated all the next day. In the morning we drove back to Burji and went to the school to deliver our donation of backpacks. I was able to stay upright and give a little speech. The principal called the top students to come and receive backpacks and I shook each child's hand and gave them their award. But then I really needed to sit somewhere cool. A wanted to stay and play soccer with the kids after school, so I agreed to let him stay there while I went to the home of one of the village leaders to rest. A spent the next couple of hours not only away from me, but away from any English-speaking person. An adult from his family stayed with him. This was a very meaningful moment for me, coordinating with A's Ethiopian family to care for OUR child.

In the afternoon we went back to Soyama. Except for a visit to a local development organization, I spent most of the afternoon in bed. Luckily A had kids to play with and relatives to visit with.

In the evening we drove one last time to the village to say our goodbyes. The mood was good. I think everyone was happy with how A is doing and felt confident that they would see him again before too long.

From the village we drove north to Amaro and spent the night at the house of yet another of Dawitt's brothers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ethiopia return trip Part 4 (second day in Burji)

Day 7

Teenage boys make the best babysitters, especially if they like soccer, are really tall, and can easily pick your kid up and carry him around. A had a lot of fun with Dawitt's younger brother Y all day, and I was thankful to have him around.

It was Saturday, which is market day in Soyama. After breakfast, Dawitt, Y, A and I walked around looking through the stalls set up along the road overlooking the market itself. I bought some soccer jerseys for the boys and T.

Then we met up with A's people again and they took us to see the orphanage where our boys had lived in Soyama. It is now a family home. No one was there, but we went in the yard and looked around. A had little memory of it.

From there we walked to the market itself. We bought some fruit and retreated to the shade of Dawitt's sister's stall to eat it.

After lunch, we were in the van about to leave for the village when a relative came to find us. Within minutes we were surrounded by relatives, old neighbors, and curious onlookers. I helped A greet the relatives one by one and I made a little speech. Then we got back in the van and drove to the village.

At the village, we were walking toward a shady spot where we could sit and talk when I realized that A wasn't with me. I backtracked to the van and found him playing soccer with the village kids. I was thrilled that he already felt so comfortable and left him to play with Y and the kids while I went off with a small group of adults.

That day we had a long conversation about life in Burji and life in America, with Dawitt doing a wonderful job translating as usual. I took notes on the yearly planting cycles, weekly and daily routines, and gender roles. We talked about the effects of climate change. I explained some of the ways life in America was different, and described our family's daily routine. They thought it was very strange that we don't grow much of our own food, that T cooks better than I do, and that the average American woman gets married in her late 20's. We laughed a lot. The whole time we were talking, A was having a blast playing soccer. He said it was his favorite part of the whole trip.

After a very nice afternoon, we said our goodbyes and went back to Dawitt's house in Soyama.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ethiopia return trip Part 3 (Burji)

Day 6

We all met for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. After breakfast, I asked A's people about the Burji clan system. Every Burji person I talked to in the U.S. asked me what clan our boys are in, so this seemed like important information. Working together, A's people came up with a list of twenty-two Burji clans. Our kids are Gooda. That means that their ancestors were from the Gooda "house." Every other Gooda, no matter where they live, is considered their "brother" or "sister" and they have a mutual obligation of assistance. The clan is passed down patrilinearly, a woman retains her clan upon marriage, and a member of a clan cannot marry another member of the same clan.

After I'd written down the information about clans, it was time to set off for Burji. Dawitt asked me to drive again. The road was newly-graded gravel and was much better than the main highway. It took a little over an hour to get to Burji. It was a really beautiful drive.

We went straight to the village and drove directly to the new school to deliver our donation of school bags. Here's some of the video Dawitt shot of the drive. The voices you hear are those of Dawitt and the kebele chief:

Unfortunately, when we got to the school the students had already gone home for the day. So we got back in the van and drove over to the house of one of the village leaders. That's when the real excitement began. Up until then, the only people who knew A was returning for a visit were the people who came to Hagere Mariam - a couple of relatives and a couple of village leaders. They had not told anyone else we were coming because, until they saw A with their own eyes, they hadn't completely believed that it was true. The morning before, they had made up some excuse for going to Hagere Mariam, and had gone off without telling anyone else their real purpose. So now, when A hopped out of the van, people reacted as if they were witnessing a miracle.

A handled everything incredibly well, but the first hour or so of our visit was COMPLETELY OVERWHELMING for him. I will keep the details of these reunions private, but I will describe a few things that made them easier. First, I insisted very firmly that we go somewhere more private and limit the number of people who could interact with us at one time. Dawitt made this happen right away. Second, I used my camera to show people videos of D, taking the attention off of A. Third, we got out the soccer balls and got a couple of games going. Finally, I took videos of some of the kids and showed them the videos of themselves, which proved to be almost as exciting as staring at us (some children even tried out English phrases).

We spent most of the day at the village. There was a coffee ceremony and many speeches. I gave the gifts we had brought with us. I delivered photos and news to two other families who have children in the U.S. and I took photos and videos.

Around 4PM we went back to Dawitt's family's house in Soyema, the main town in Burji. Two of the village leaders came with us. We met some more of Dawitt's many siblings  and had a very late lunch. Then Dawitt and his stepmother graciously invited A and me to stay the night there.

In the evening we went for a walk around Soyema. Then we sat in the courtyard of the house, I delivered some messages from Dawitt's brother in Colorado, and his siblings in turn gave me messages to deliver. It was all quite formal and very different from how this kind of conversation would go in the U.S. It was more like speeches again (by the time we left Burji I had given a lot of speeches).

Finally before turning in I went to use the toilet. It was a typical squat toilet and while I was peeing a mouse ran out of the hole and I peed on the mouse. Of course I screamed and ran out too. From then on, Dawitt, A and I referred to going to the bathroom as "visiting the mouse."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ethiopia return trip Part 2 (reunion)

Day 5

It is hard to feel you are having an "African adventure" when your hotel shower has three kinds of shower jets, a radio and an AccuWeather forecast. Dawitt and B joined us for breakfast and we were enjoying the fancy buffet on the hotel balcony overlooking Awassa when the kebele chief called. A's people were already at our meeting point in Hagere Mariam!

Earlier I posted about some good advice for planning a return trip. I would add scheduling the initial reunion away from the home village. We met our people in a hotel about an hour's drive from the village, and it was so much better to reunite without hundreds of people watching.

We got on the road and started driving south. Hagere Mariam is about 120 miles south of Awassa, so in theory it would take 3 hours to get there. But the road south of Awassa is incredibly bad, and gets worse the farther south you go. By the time we were past Dila, there were not only giant potholes everywhere but also the pavement had warped into "waves" so that driving was a little like riding a speedboat over a choppy ocean. So the trip took more than 6 hours. South of Dila Dawitt let me drive for a couple of hours, which was exhausting, but fun. Dawitt was wonderful about not saying anything when I hit a pothole particularly hard, just raising an eyebrow at me. I'm happy to report I did not hit any of the people, goats, donkeys or cows sharing the road with us.

There is road construction going on from Addis Ababa all the way to Kenya and beyond, and when it is done, the upgraded East African highway will make travel much faster.

We finally reached Hagere Mariam in the middle of the afternoon and checked into the Bule Hora hotel. B went to catch a bus to continue his trip south to his family in Yabelo. Then Dawitt went to get A's people.

A and I waited in the hotel courtyard. A chewed on some sugarcane. We both felt nervous and at the same time blank, from not knowing what was going to happen.

I asked the receptionist to videotape our reunion. A went upstairs to our hotel room for a few minutes. Then the van pulled in the courtyard.

Part of me wants to write about the moment of reunion, to show that moment to people who choose to not keep in touch with their child's first family, to say, They feel exactly as you would if you hadn't seen a beloved child in two years. But it is not my moment to share.

Later we were sitting together on the hotel balcony and Dawitt was showing our photo album. We had shown him the album a few days earlier in Addis and when he started talking, he remembered every detail and who everyone was. I will never forget that moment, looking at Dawitt and feeling such gratitude that I will never adequately express it.

That evening we all had dinner together at the hotel restaurant. It was actually very comfortable. I talked about the boys' school success, their personalities, the things they liked to do. It was like any other getting-to-know-you conversation I might have, except with an interpreter.

After dinner we had a partially successful attempt to Skype with my mom and D. We got a very pixelated video and were able to shout a few words at each other.

Finally A and I went back to our room, and everyone else went to sleep at the homes of nearby relatives.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ethiopia return trip Part 1

Day 1

Our plane from DC was a little late, so A and I had to rush through the Dubai airport. We got to our gate just as the flight started boarding. A few hours later we were arriving in Ethiopia. It was early afternoon. As we dipped below the clouds, A got his first glimpse of Addis Ababa and said, "I like it."

We got our bags with no problems and the owner of the guesthouse was waiting outside. The guesthouse was on a side road a little bit behind Addis Ababa University, between Arat Kilo (Fourth Kilometer) and Sidist Kilo (Sixth Kilometer). After we got settled in, we set out to find some dinner and an ATM. We walked along the side of the university and then down the main road (King George St.). We had no luck with a working ATM, but I had some cash from our last trip. We found a little restaurant with courtyard seating and had shiro for our first dinner in Ethiopia. Being back was wonderful. A seemed a little intimidated and commented that there were more cars and more people in the streets than he thought there would be. He had no conscious memories of Addis (but unconscious memories are there. By the next morning he felt completely comfortable, which is not like him in a new place).

We were both jetlagged and A fell asleep at the table. After dinner we stumbled back to the guesthouse and were asleep by 6PM.

Day 2

B, the cousin of my Colorado friend, is a student at the university and he had asked me to call him when we arrived. I called him before breakfast and he came over mid-morning with Dawitt, my Colorado friend's brother. Dawitt was to be our driver, interpreter, host and guide during our trip south. I'm going to use his name because I want to shout it from the rooftops how wonderful he is. Where do you go when you've gone above and beyond above and beyond? That's where Dawitt went.

After we all got to know each other a little, we set out to run some errands in Addis. Dawitt was driving. We went down toward the city center and tried a few spots until we found an ATM that accepted my card. We picked up a plug adapter for charging my camera. And we drove to the transition home where our boys had spent ten weeks while waiting for their visas to be processed. I expected it to be mostly empty because I knew our agency had drastically decreased the number of adoptions they were processing. But it was completely empty. I found out later that the agency had moved out of that building almost a year ago. Now there was no one there but a young security guard. He was nice (and curious) enough to let us come in and take photos. We went up to the roof deck and I showed A where he and D liked to stand and watch the nearby construction (still going on). We took photos of the living room where the kids had performed their goodbye ceremonies.

For lunch, Dawitt and B wanted to take us somewhere special. We went to a Yemeni restaurant and they gave A piles of all kinds of meat, including goat liver. I told him he had to at least try everything. Since I'm a vegetarian, I got away with bringing in shiro from the restaurant next door.

We went back to the guesthouse in the late afternoon, and B entertained A with arm-wrestling, ninja battles, and a push-up competition while I took a nap (thank you!). He stayed until our friend S came to take us to his house for dinner. S is the brother of our old Amharic tutor, and we had met him and his lovely family on our previous trips. He has three very entertaining children who speak pretty good English. Every time the littlest one did something mischievous, his slightly older brother would shake his head and say wearily, "This is so embarrassing." The night ended with the kids chasing each other around the coffee table. A had so much fun he didn't want to leave.

Day 3

In the morning we walked over to the National Museum. The human evolution exhibit had been my favorite on our first trip, and I wanted to show A. He preferred the imperial crowns and especially the swords, which reminded him of Ninjago. There were several school field trips at the museum, and the youngest students were far more interested in me than in Lucy. A did not like that at all, so we hopscotched around the museum avoiding the kids.

After the museum we walked south along the main road and had lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating, then we walked back to the guesthouse for a rest. By this point A was already feeling comfortable and he walked ahead of me. I let him get a good way ahead and just watched him walk. He looked completely at home. He never once looked back. My heart felt like it would swell right out of my chest.

In the afternoon we met up with B at the university. We visited the Ethnological Museum (more swords) and walked around the campus.

Back at the guesthouse, B gave A some sugarcane. Now, in two years, A has only shared about five memories of his life in Ethiopia. But as soon as he bit into the sugarcane he said, "We had this in Burji." B confirmed that there is even a kind of sugarcane called Burji sugarcane. When we went out again, A was chewing and spitting like an old pro. He and B walked ahead of me arm in arm and my heart got really big again.

In the evening we had a special visitor at the guesthouse, the man who works as a driver for our adoption agency. When our kids were in Addis they loved this man, because he was very kind to them and because his presence meant a ride in a car. When they first came to the U.S. we spent hours looking at his pictures on facebook. It was wonderful to see him again.

That night we went out to dinner with another American adoptive family who was in Ethiopia for their first return trip. I think it was great for A to see other kids who were in a situation similar to his.

Day 4

We had a lot of delays this day. First we were supposed to meet B at 9AM but he couldn't get anyone to check him out of his dorm room until 11AM. Then we walked to Piazza to buy some school bags. (Earlier I had told Dawitt I wanted to make a donation to a school in Burji. He had called the kebele chief of our boys' village and had reported that the students needed backpacks.) But we couldn't find the right kind of bags at Piazza, so we decided to go to Merkato instead. We tried for a long time to catch a minibus. There was traffic everywhere, both in front of us and on the sidewalk behind us. Then we moved to an even busier spot full of minibuses, cars, beggars... we were darting around the minibuses trying to get one before the rush of people who were all trying to get on the same vehicle. A was not too excited about shoving his way onto a minibus, but finally B found one that was practically empty.

At Merkato we bought a pile of backpacks and B went to find Dawitt. A and I hung out at the backpack stall having a nice cup of coffee and talking with the stall owner. When B came back with Dawitt we drove back to the guesthouse, got all our stuff and drove to the garage where our van for the trip south was being checked over.

The garage was a business owned by Dawitt's family, so we got to meet his sister and a couple of his brothers (there are 18 of them in all!). A got to practice being hugged and kissed a lot. We had lunch near the garage while we waited for the van to be ready. And waited. And waited. Waiting is a characteristic of every African society I have been in across the continent. I might be a little sad if I ever have a trip to Africa that doesn't involve a long wait somewhere. Ordinarily A hates to wait, but maybe he was getting in the swing of things - or maybe it was his new tablet - but he was perfectly happy hanging out by the garage all afternoon.

The van was finally ready at 6PM. I was so happy to be on the road. We reached Awassa around midnight, checked into a swank hotel and went right to bed.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Some general notes about our trip

The family of my Colorado jaal are possibly the nicest people I have ever met. Our trip was a smashing success because of Dawitt.

Memories may not be conscious, but they are there. A felt at home much faster than he usually does in a new place.

Waiting is the quintessential African pastime.

Children in Ethiopia are treated and behave very differently than children in the United States.

The moment when they reunited... thank goodness there is video, because I could never adequately describe it.

After the intensity of the first reunions had passed, it was all very comfortable.

I am proud to be part of a group of adoptive families who are staying connected to their children's first families.

If you think our children are only ours, you are completely, totally, off-your-rocker, gone-round-the-bend, not-playing-with-a-full-deck, out-of-your-mind DELUSIONAL.

Our next trip must be much longer.

Details to follow...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gifts and donations

Let me start out by saying that there are a lot of different perspectives on gift giving from adoptive families to first families, and I do not think there is any one right way to go about it. It all depends on your family, your situation, and the situation in the community your child's family is from. I will share what we are doing, and a few thoughts on what I wouldn't do, but there is no way to generalize from one family to other families.

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.
Again, this is just what we are doing, and it doesn't mean anyone else has to do it. I do feel there are two options that are probably inappropriate for visiting adoptive families, but even for these options, I can think of exceptions. The two probably-inappropriate options are:
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
Our overall guideline was to bring something in line with expectations for a visiting relative, but err on the conservative side. A Burji woman here in the U.S. sent me a large suitcase packed full of clothes and shoes to take to her family; we are taking much less for our family. I had a momentary freakout that our family would be disappointed that we didn't bring more, until my jaal in Colorado knocked some sense into me: "You are bringing them A so they can see him with their own eyes. Do you really think they care what else you bring them?"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Burji history

In the beginning, the Burji lived at Liban.

Liban was located in what is now southeast Ethiopia, near the meeting of the Ethiopian, Kenyan and Somali borders.

In some tellings, Liban is located further north, in the homeland of the Amhara. If you need to get on the good side of the most privileged ethnic group in the country, it's helpful to have a common origin to point to. The Burji are a very small ethnic group, so they have to be "practical," "flexible," (Kellner) and "versatile" (Amborn) in the details of where they came from.

The Burji shared their ancestral land with the Konso and the Borana, until an argument drove the Burji out and to their present homeland on the slopes of the Amaro Mountains just southeast of Lake Chamo. The Burji have lived here for around 400 years.

The Burji became expert farmers, famous for their agricultural skills. This made them different from the majority of the peoples in the region (e.g. the Borana), who were herders.

At the end of the 19th century, the army of the Ethiopian Empire pushed south, subjugating the indigenous people and setting up a system of compulsory labor called gabbar. Huge numbers of people took their animals and fled to British Kenya. For the next thirty-five years, the herders moved back and forth across the border, avoiding now the Ethiopian neftenya, now the British tax collectors. Whole villages would vanish overnight from one country and appear in the other.

But the Burji were farmers, not herders, so they couldn't move around. Being practical people, they accepted Ethiopian rule. Under the gabbar system, they were partitioned out to work for the northern settlers. Their crops were drained by the north.

Then the Burji began to leave. Not back and forth across the border like the herders, but permanently moving southward into Kenya, reaching Marsabet, Nairobi and even Mombassa. Many of the Kenyan Burji became successful traders and businesspeople.

Back in Ethiopia, the Italians invaded from Italian Somaliland in 1935. The Ethiopian army fought the Italians all over the south for the next four years. The Italians were brutal, using poison gas against civilians. For many Burji though, the Italians were actually an improvement, since they abolished the gabbar system.

By 1940, the British had joined the fight against the Italians. In 1941 Emperor Haile Selassie returned to the throne from his exile in England. Now the Burji were punished for supporting the Italians. More fled to Kenya.

We are now within living memory, and I am not comfortable feeling my way through events that I may get wrong. I will fast forward through the overthrow of Haile Selassie, the murderous Derg, famine, and war to the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), currently in power. The current constitution has organized Ethiopia under a model of ethnic federalism. The country is divided into regions, zones, and woredas based on ethnicity. Burji is a special woreda (meaning it is not part of any zone) within the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR). In theory, the model of ethnic federalism means that each ethnic group enjoys a large degree of autonomy. In practice, there are at least two problems. One, there is disagreement about where boundaries were drawn. Many Burji, for example, live in the area around Hagere Mariam, but that area is now part of the Guji zone in the Oromia region.

Two, dividing the country among ethnic groups brings differences to the forefront and exacerbates inter-ethnic conflicts. The Burji have been involved in at least two conflicts in the last decade. One was with the Guji, over shared resources in the Hagere Mariam area. The other is a current conflict with the Borana that began in northern Kenya and has now spilled over into southern Ethiopia (Burji woreda, where we are going, is not involved in the current conflict).

I'm looking forward to going to Burji and learning more about its history.

Resources to read about Burji:

- Amborn, H. (2009). Burji: Versatile by Tradition.  In Schlee, G.  & Watson, E. (Eds.) Changing identifications and alliances in north-east Africa.
- Boru, A. (2004). Burji recognition in the Kenya constitution. Cultural Survival Quarterly.
- Debelo, A.R. (2012). Emerging ethnic identities and inter-ethnic conflict: The Guji-Burji conflict in south Ethiopia. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism.
- Fresh Clashes Erupt in Moyale between the Borana and the Burji. (2014, February 17).
- Hundreds Displaced Following Moyale Clashes. (2013, December 6).
- Kellner, A.  (2006). The Burjis' Liban tradition: An example of a practical interest in the past. Proceedings of the XVth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies.
- Kellner, A. (2006). The significance of the oral traditions of the Burji for perceiving and shaping their inter-ethnic relations. In Schlee, G.  & Watson, E. (Eds.) Changing Identifications and Alliances in North-East Africa.
- Mahmoud, H.A. (2009). Breaking barriers: the construction of a new Burji identity through livestock trade in northern Kenya.  Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Papers.
- Oba, G.  (2013). Nomads in the shadows of empires.
- Wolasa, T. (2010). Introduction. Yaayo Burji Dictionary.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New answers

This blog post isn't going to be relevant to a whole lot of people, but when you realize you've gotten something wrong for several years, you feel like writing a blog post about it.

Here is a quick quiz about Ethiopia:

1. How long has the country of Ethiopia existed?
2. Was Ethiopia ever a colony?
3. What language is spoken in Ethiopia?
4. What do traditional Ethiopian clothes look like?
5. What are some important sights in Ethiopia? 

Here are the quick answers, as might be given by our adoption agency, by a cursory Google search, by many Ethiopian Americans, by me during the last few years.

1. How long has the country of Ethiopia existed?
The country of Ethiopia is one of the oldest in the world. The fabled Ethiopian Queen of Sheba, who had a son with King Solomon, lived in the 10th century BC. Homer and Herodotus wrote about Ethiopia in the 8th and 5th centuries BC. 

2. Was Ethiopia ever a colony?
No. During the Scramble for Africa, the Ethiopians defeated the Italians at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. Ethiopia is the only African country to have never been a colony.

3. What language is spoken in Ethiopia?
The main language is Amharic. It's a Semitic language that uses an alphabet called fidel.

4. What do traditional Ethiopian clothes look like?
The traditional clothing is the shamma, which is a long white cotton cloth, often with embroidered edges. A heavier version, more like a blanket, is called a gabbi. Women cover their heads with a gauzy ne'tela. 

5. What are some important sights in Ethiopia?  
The stelae at Axum, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the castles of Gondar, Bahir Dar, Lake Tana and the Blue Nile. 

But for my children, none of these answers are correct. 

My children are from the south of Ethiopia, not from the center or the north. And that's a whole different history and culture.

I realized this over a year ago (See Whose culture is it anyway?) but until recently I hadn't tried to find the answers that would apply to my kids. Busy learning how to be a family and all. Only now, with our trip to Burjii coming up, am I finally doing some research.

So here is my first attempt at new answers.

1. How long has the country of Ethiopia existed?
The country of Ethiopia, with its current borders that include the south, has existed since the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century.

I just read Nomads in the Shadows of Empires. One of the most interesting parts was about how the Ethiopian empire and British Kenya drew the frontier line between the two countries. Something I had never thought about before.

2. Was Ethiopia ever a colony?
Yes. The states of what is now southern Ethiopia were invaded and colonized by the army of Emperor Menelik. The Amhara neftenya (soldier-settlers) enforced a system called gabbar among the indigenous population, which was something very close to slavery. Some would say southern Ethiopia is still colonized.

3. What language is spoken in Ethiopia?
Of the approximately 85 languages in Ethiopia, the most widely spoken first language is Oromiffa. It is a Cushitic language related to Somali, Sidamo and Burjii. Cushitic languages use the Latin alphabet, not fidel. Other language groups in Ethiopia are Semitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. Amharic is the most widely spoken second language due to the Amhara conquest and the resulting (now-past) language policies.

4. What do traditional Ethiopian clothes look like?
Each ethnic group has its own traditional clothes. Traditional Burjii clothes are made from a bright blue woven cloth. The shamma, gabbi and ne'tela are traditional Amhara clothing.
5. What are some important sights in Ethiopia?  
The sights listed above are all in the north. Most of the southern Ethiopian sights listed in tourist guides fall into the categories of wildlife (Ne'chisar National Park, Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary) or anthropological (lower Omo valley). I am sure there are historic sites that are important to the people of southern Ethiopia, including sites marking their struggles against the Ethiopian empire and against the Italians. But I don't know what they are yet.

Final thoughts:

History is written by the victors.

Ethiopia ≠ Amhara

"It is time to move beyond... 'empathy with the victors' and tell the story of the vanquished, the poor, those who can't 'write,' those who have no 'Book' in their name.  - Teshale Tibebu, The Making of Modern Ethiopia

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Open Int'l Adoption in Haiti (link to blog)

I was glad to read this and am looking forward to the next two parts:

An excerpt:
I think it is our job as people of love to uplift the marginalized and to be more than fair. If we are honest we know that we hold the power. We (adoptive parents) have the passports and the money and the ability to be connected and jet around the world. With great power comes great responsibility. We made a decision many years back that no matter how intimidated we might be by entering into an open adoption relationship, it was the correct thing to do and a way we could tip the scales of injustice back the other way... 

...If you are considering a reunion in the immediate or distant future, let me assure you, sitting in an awkward situation speaking choppy language to folks that you don't really know how to relate to never killed anyone.

And the whole post here:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Advice about planning a trip back

I have gotten a lot of advice from many different sources about our upcoming trip to Ethiopia, so unfortunately I cannot properly credit these. But the two most useful pieces of advice so far have been:

1 - Find a guide / interpreter from the same ethnic group as your child.

The more I learn about the history and culture of the Burjii, the more I realize how important this is. The Burjii are a very small ethnic group who have been scattered across countries, languages and religions. Despite their differences, the overriding commonality is that they are Burjii, and they seemingly will do anything to help one of their own. There is a level of trust there that I think would not be afforded to an outsider.

2 - Just going counts as a success.

We may want to learn more about our children's history, grow their identity, feel more connected to their family, bridge some cultural barriers... but if none of these things happen, it is OK. If we can just physically get ourselves to their homeland, that counts as succeeding... This is the advice I come back to every day. It is a wisdom that keeps me sane and grateful for the amazing opportunity we have.

Friday, March 14, 2014

We interrupt this snow...

At one point in late February I looked at the calendar and realized that between snow days and holidays the kids had only been in school for six days the entire month. No wonder we were all so grouchy. Then the first week of March we went to south Florida.

We flew into Fort Lauderdale and the first two nights we stayed on a boat in this marina.

We swam at the marina pool.
 We went to this beach.

Then we drove to the Everglades. We rented bikes at Shark Valley.

We looked at alligators and birds.

The next day we went to Sanibel Island. We collected shells and visited the wildlife refuge.
After two nights we drove back through the Everglades, stopping to take an afternoon canoe ride through the mangroves.

We spent the last two nights near Key Largo. We visited a coral reef. We swam. We saw a goliath grouper, sting rays, and dolphins. We had Key lime pie on a dock.
On the last day we kayaked around a state park in Miami before heading back to the Fort Lauderdale airport.

The trip was just what we all had needed. The moment we hit that 75 degree sunshine, everyone's mood skyrocketed. There was a little anxiety from the kids  - chirps, squeaks, whistles and screeches from one, even more nonstop jibber-jabber from the other - but not enough to stop them from having a great time. The pouting, complaining and yelling that had been going on all of February almost completely stopped. But the biggest difference in mood was with ME. The last few weeks I had been - how do I put this nicely - an impatient, sarcastic &#%@, but in Florida I was back to being the patient and compassionate mother that I want to be all winter long.

Now we're back in Pennsylvania. It's cold, but the good moods remain. Crocuses and tulips are starting to come up in our yard. Soon it will be spring.

One more look at that water before I go.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Update on preparations

We leave for Ethiopia in about five weeks. Here is the update on our preparations:

- Ethiopian visas: Fed Ex should deliver tomorrow.

- UAE visas: The UAE consulate says we don't need them. All my Saudi and Kuwaiti students who have flown through the UAE agree.

- Shots and other vaccinations: Mostly done for A. He gets one more shot later this month and we'll fill his prescriptions right before we go. My vaccinations are still good from the last trip, and I still have some unexpired prescriptions.

- Accommodation in Addis Ababa: We are staying at a guest house near the university. Many guesthouses are in the Bole area and I remember there being many ferenji in the area and as a result, many aggressive peddlers. The university area is much quieter, while giving easy access to restaurants, shopping and museums.

- Driver to take us south
- Interpreter
This is where things get a little vaguer. My new Burjii friend in Colorado has asked his brother in Ethiopia to drive and interpret for us. He is 100% sure his brother can do it. I have exchanged some brief messages with the brother, who says he is ready for anything. So while my American side is screaming out for dates, times, names, places, prices and reservations, I am trying to breathe and relax and trust that we are in good hands. I have lived or spent time in eight different African countries. I know that it is not only culturally appropriate to start a journey relying heavily on faith, it is also more realistic. Sure, everyone can promise me that a specific car will deliver me to a specific hotel at a specific time on a specific day for a specific price, but why make a promise that will probably be broken? Better for me to trust that these are good, kind people who are looking out for my child because he is Burjii, and somehow, insha'Allah, it will all work out.

- Accommodation in the south: Rumor has it there is a hotel in Hagere Mariam, near the edge of Burjii.

- Tell family we are coming: Done, both through Colorado's brother and an Amharic-speaking friend on our end.

- Try to prepare family with realistic expectations (A no longer speaks Burjii etc.): This was good advice, but I don't think it's going to happen.

- Photo albums for family
- Videos of D to show family
- Gifts/donations
I will work on these when we return from Florida.

- Prepare A emotionally: We are talking about our trip a lot, but I don't think he understands the reality of it yet. He gets sad when a Burjii person tries to speak Burjii to him and he doesn't understand.

- Prepare D for our absence: Often D gets so stuck on what he doesn't have that he can't appreciate what he has. We told him we are going to Florida and he mostly wanted to know why we aren't going to California. The trip to Ethiopia has been different. I don't know why my child has chosen this moment to focus on the positive, but I am so grateful he has. My mother will come down while we are gone and he is unequivocally excited to have yiayia all to himself.

- One last preparation that I hadn't planned on: Colorado is teaching me some words in Burjii!

I am so excited about our trip!!!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Getting closer

Anyone reading this blog might get the impression that not much is going on in our preparations for our Ethiopia trip.

They wouldn't know about the Burjii man in Colorado, who has spent hours talking and texting with me, who sent me a Burjii dictionary, who has patiently and with good humor answered my every question, who is connecting me with his brother in Soyema.

About his Burjii housemate, who taught me how verbs work.

About the Burjii man right here in Philadelphia, who met us for dinner.

About the Burjii man in Tennessee, who invited us to visit and just sent me the phone number of his brother in Soyama.

They wouldn't know about the warmth and encouragement with which we have been embraced, with which our children have been embraced.

They wouldn't know because I haven't been able to find words to express my gratitude, admiration and relief.

You have taken a place that seemed almost impossibly remote and brought it close.

Thank you are the most inadequate words in the English language, but they are what I've got.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Another bad agency exposed

I saw this news today:

Four Employees of Adoption Services Provider Charged with Conspiracy to Defraud the United States in Connection with Ethiopia Operations

Four current and former employees of International Adoption Guides Inc. (IAG), an adoption services provider, have been indicted by a grand jury in South Carolina for allegedly conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with IAG’s adoption services in Ethiopia...

Charges include paying orphanages to sign off on contracts of adoption; paying bribes to Ethiopian government officials; creating counterfeit U.S. Customs and Immigration Service forms.  
Read the rest here.

When we were first starting out and researching agencies, I contacted IAG. They had an office near us in North Carolina. In reply to my inquiry email, they sent me photos of and information about every child on their waiting child list. I thought this was very weird. I had no homestudy; they didn't know the first thing about me. That alone made me cross them off our list. Later I heard many horror stories about them.

I don't think this is the end of IAG. Indictments do not equal convictions. But at least in the future, when prospective adoptive parents inquire on a message board about IAG, there will be something official and legal to point them to, something that can't so easily be dismissed as rumor, as "if it didn't happen to you personally, you shouldn't talk about it."

Friday, January 31, 2014


I have been reading a lot about Ethiopia lately. I'm doing it because I want to learn more, but I've also noticed that the kids seem to love seeing me do it. When I talk about what I've read, A always pays close attention. And D appears to not be listening, but later he may insert Menelik or Haile Selassie into a Jedi vs. Sith light saber battle. I think it's important that the kids see that Ethiopia is valuable not just to them, but to all of our family.

Here are some of the books I have enjoyed the most:

The Battle of Adwa (Raymond Jonas) - I love history books that read like novels. Menelik II in his campaign against the Italians comes across as a genius.

The Sign and the Seal (Graham Hancock) - Part history, part "Raiders of the Lost Ark," part "Da Vinci Code." You need to take it with a large grain of salt, but you will learn a lot about Ethiopian history.

Beneath the Lion's Gaze (Maaza Mengiste) - Very good novel about the fall of Halie Selassie, the Derg, and the Red Terror.

Three Famines (Thomas Keneally) - About Ethiopia, Ireland, and Bengal. Whatever your problems are, at least your government is not purposely trying to starve you to death.

Changing Identifications and Alliances in North-East Africa: Ethiopia and Kenya (Gunther Schlee and Elizabeth E. Watson) - Catchy title, huh? I bought this book because up to this point, the history that I was reading was the history of northern Ethiopia. When Menelik came to power, Addis Ababa was at the southern end of Ethiopia. The land that is currently southern Ethiopia, including Burjii, was not part of Ethiopia at all. This book is ethnography, not history, but it has two whole chapters on the Burjii. I'm trying to pull together what little information on Burjii history I can find, and I'll write more about it later.

What books about Ethiopia, especially about the south, would you add to this list?

Monday, January 20, 2014

48 Hours: International Adoption (about Celebrate Children International CCI)

If anyone you know is considering using CCI, please urge them to watch the CBS 48 Hours piece called "Perilous Journey." It is about Celebrate Children International (CCI) and Sue Hedberg. 

It is my fervent hope that this report will finally put CCI out of business. If people don't care about adopting stolen children, then maybe they will be moved by the closing statement: "If CCI is not Hague accredited by July, it will no longer be able to initiate international adoptions."

Find more information from the U.S. State Department:

I notice an uptick in people reading my old post on CCI. And look at Google Trends for people searching CCI adoption:
Check out the spike for January 2014.
Maybe people are coming to their senses and finally doing a little research before selecting this terrible agency.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Is anyone talking about it?

One of the main reasons we picked Ethiopia was the likelihood of contact with our children's family. Starting out, we understood that we were expected to work through our adoption agency. We planned and fretted about how we could get around that. It turned out to be easy - we just learned to ask for phone numbers in Amharic and got the kebele chief's number at our meeting with the family.

It wasn't until much later that we realized just how many families have ongoing contact, including phone calls and visits. Online groups are full of talk of packages and searchers and trips. As I write this, two families I know - one in real life, one online - are in Ethiopia visiting family. Two more families I know will be there in April, when we go. Five others have recently made this trip. Continued contact is not only possible, it's common.

But so far I haven't found anyone who has blogged about it. Obviously there would be many parts of the trip that would be very personal and that anyone concerned with their children's privacy would be reluctant to share. But there would be other parts that would be about logistics and normal family time, not that different from organizing a trip to visit a relative in another state. I would love to find a blog that tells the story of a trip back.

Does anyone know any?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One and not the other

Our plan from the beginning was to return within the first two years for a visit. Around the 15-month mark, we started wondering how that would be possible. It was very clear that D was not ready. He has come very far, but he still has a hard time with unexpected changes in plans, waiting, and crowded or noisy places. We didn't want a trip that would be ten days of non-stop stress for him. Then it occurred to us that we didn't have to wait until both kids were ready. A is emotionally mature enough. He can handle uncertainty and talk through difficult feelings. This trip could be just for him.

We very cautiously floated this idea to see what reaction we would get. D was upset, but it turned out that he was only upset about A getting to go on an airplane. He didn't really care about not going to Ethiopia; he just wanted to go on a plane again. So we promised him that he would get to go on a plane too. Then we bought tickets to Florida for early March. Shhh... it's a birthday surprise.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Going back

Big news! We are going to Ethiopia! A and I are. We leave April 5th.

Here's a preliminary list of things to do before we leave:
  • passport for A - DONE
  • Ethiopian visas
  • UAE visas? Do we need to get these in advance? Advice please!?
  • shots and other vaccinations
  • accommodation in Addis Ababa
  • driver to take us south
  • accommodation in the south.  Not sure if we'll stay in Burjii or somewhere where there's a hotel. Closest hotel I know of is about four hours away.
  • interpreter. We would much rather have an English-Burjinya interpreter instead of an English-Amharic-Burjinya team of interpreters.
  • tell family we are coming
  • try to prepare family with realistic expectations (A no longer speaks Burjinya etc.)
  • photo albums for family
  • videos of D to show family
  • gifts/donations?
  • prepare A emotionally
  • prepare D for our absence
I've recently been in touch with many people who have made this return trip and gotten great advice. Am I still missing anything?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Holidays 2013

We had a good holiday. We learned some things from last year and kept things very low-key this year. We didn't get a Christmas tree until ten days before Christmas. We didn't put any gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve. A few boxes that arrived in the mail were put briefly under the tree, but then D had a huge meltdown over his breakfast choices and I realized it was really about the boxes and put them safely away. The weekend before Christmas we drove down to Virginia to visit grandparents and friends; the 65-degree weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the weekend and the distraction.  When we came back the kids both decided to spend the day before Christmas doing homework packets as a way to soothe holiday nerves - you can call addition worksheets many things, but "filled with anticipation" is not one of them. We let Christmas sneak up on us stealthily, and that worked for us.

The evening before Christmas we had our now traditional Ethiopian feast. Christmas morning we opened presents, then we spent the day playing games. Right after opening new games and toys the kids wanted to play with old ones - another way to lessen anxiety about the unknown. Eventually we moved on to the new things, racetracks were set up, helicopters were flown, and it was a great day.

On New Year's we went to our neighbors' house for a party. I had the kids nap with me in the afternoon. A actually stayed up until midnight, having a blast. We arrived at the eleventh hour to the "Year of the Selfie" and had lots of fun with the camera. D crashed in a corner, but woke up at midnight for the Happy New Year's. New Year's Day we took the train to Philly and caught part of the Mummers Parade.

In between there were museum visits, bounce houses, play dates and lots and lots of Star Wars. My goal was to keep the kids busy but relaxed and myself sane. T was also able to take time off here and there and be around for lots of family time. It was a good break.