Sunday, December 31, 2017

Three wins

Today each year I look back on the year and think of all the resolutions I didn't keep, the goals I didn't achieve, the Nobel Prize I didn't get... This year, for a change, I'll focus on three wins:
  1. I ran my first and second half-marathons. For the first my goal was just to finish. For the second I set a time goal, and I made it.
  2. I drove with my children across the country. We left T at Niagara Falls and reunited 3 weeks later in Seattle to spend a week in the San Juan Islands. In between we drove to Toronto, Lansing, Lake Michigan, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, the Badlands, the Black Hills, Bighorn National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman, Lolo National Forest, and Spokane. We learned history, saw beautiful geography, and met old family and new friends.
  3. I helped local candidates win elections. I knocked on a lot of doors. In May, I helped keep cross-filed Republicans off the Democratic side of the ballot. In November, I helped elect Democrats to county council for the first time in forty years and I helped flip our local school board. 
What were your wins in 2017?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Parenting win

This fall D was going through a phase where he never asked for anything, he DEMANDED it. I came up with this reminder to help him change his behavior:

- Friendly face and voice
- Ask, "Could you...?" "Could I...?"
- Reason (give one)
- Thank you (say it)

The genius part is that the acronym spells FART. He makes a grumpy demand. I say, "D, could you FART please?" Hilarity ensues, behavior improves.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


This happened one year ago. A had just turned eleven.

He was fundraising for his school. We were walking on our street together. I was standing two houses away from him to give him some independence while he knocked on doors and took orders for chrysanthemums.

He was knocking on H's door. A police car was driving by. When the officers saw him, they swerved across the road and came to a sudden stop against the curb, facing the wrong way. Two officers watched him. Both their heads turned and they watched my 4'9" eleven-year-old son.

I called out, "It looks like they're not home, sweetie."

Both heads snapped toward me. The car swerved back to the right side of the road and sped away.

For a year, I have tried to come up with an alternative explanation. I keep telling myself, "Maybe they were concerned about a kid locked out of this house." But there was no, "Hey bud, need some help?" And after they saw me, no, "Looks like you got this, Mom." No words at all.

A sudden swerve. Watching. And another sudden swerve away.

They weren't concerned. My local police saw my 4'9" eleven-year-old brown-skinned son and they were suspicious.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

End of school year

A has finished 5th grade (on to middle school!!!) and D has finished 3rd. They both had good years.

A's accomplishments were mostly about academics and independence. His teacher allowed him a lot of freedom to manage his own time and he excelled at his work while remaining challenged and interested. His math abilities are through the roof - he averaged 100% for all four quarters and scored at the 99.9th percentile on a nationally normed test of math achievement. This last score, along with his reading achievement and his teacher's recommendation allowed A to qualify for the gifted program. It's funny, because traditionally "gifted" means an out-of-the-box thinker but A is just really, really good at achieving in the box. If he's gifted, it's at sheer stubbornness and determination. The boy will not give up until he has plumbed the depths of the box, explored every corner of the box, owned the box. But out of the box? No, thank you. Still, he is becoming more independent. He walked home alone from school most days this year. He spent a weekend at the beach with his best friend's family. And his favorite memory of 5th grade - four days at an outdoor education camp in Maryland - nature studies, swamp crawls, and zip lines.

D also had academic success this year with solid A and B equivalents. His place to shine is memorizing all kinds of facts - presidential history, basketball stats, and geography. Name a year, he can tell you who was president. Name a basketball player, he can tell you how many points he scored his rookie year in the NBA. Show him a blob and he can identify it as the outline of Belarus (next year I'm definitely registering his school for the National Geographic Bee). The way D learns many of his facts is interesting - he reads the same materials multiple times and then sings information to himself while he shoots an imaginary basketball... ♪ MARtin Van ♪ BUren (swish) ♪ 1837 to (swish) 1841 ♪. People are constantly amazed by how much he knows. His other big accomplishment was social - for the first time he has been willing to inviting friends into his space at home. He made a really good friend in N. They've been inseparable at school and have been spending time together outside of school too. It's been exciting to see D step out from under his brother's shadow and form such a strong friendship on his own.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What else are we supposed to do?

Mom, can I go play basketball?
You know I don't like you going anywhere.
Aw, Mom, just to the rec center to play basketball.
Listen, any trouble happens, you walk straight home.
I will, Mom, I promise.

Mom, I want to go to this party.
Your grades are good, you've earned some fun.
And I'll be there with my own brothers.
Absolutely no drinking, you hear me?
Of course, Mom.
Any trouble happens, you get in the car to come home.
I will, Mom, I promise.

When they killed Trayvon, we were told our sons must never wear hoodies or get in trouble at school; otherwise, they deserve to die.

When they killed Michael, we were told our sons must never walk in the street or be rude; otherwise, they deserve to die.

When they killed Tamir, we were told our 12-year-olds must never be immature; otherwise, they deserve to die.

Tell me, please, tell me, what else are we supposed to do to keep them safe from the people who are supposed to keep them safe?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Goals for Return Trip #2

I had three goals for our trip to Ethiopia. Let's see how well I did.

Goal #1: Give our kids a positive experience of Ethiopia.
We absolutely met this goal. Six months later, the boys are still talking about visiting their family, about Lalibela and Lake Tana, about the food, even about the Edna Mall. There were definitely things about Addis that they didn't like but those were minor compared to the pride and knowledge of their country that they gained. I give us an A.

Goal #2: Do it as affordably as possible.
We spent about US $4,800 for six weeks. This includes lodging, transportation, food, activities/guide/interpreter fees, and souvenirs, but does not include gifts to family in Ethiopia. It works out to just under $120 per day. We cut costs by mostly staying in guesthouses in the "budget" and "moderate" categories, and by camping for our week in the kids' village. A good strategy was to find cheap accommodation near a nicer hotel, then get a day pass and use the hotel's pool and other facilities. We probably saved the most money by not having a driver. Instead we used a combination of mini-buses, buses, bajajes, and locally arranged private cars. For longer distances, we flew using the huge discounts available to anyone who enters the country on Ethiopian Airlines (for example, Lalibela to Addis was only $63 for me and $53 for each child). We only used an interpreter when we were in the village and the rest of the time English and my minimal Amharic were sufficient. For tourist attractions we found the guides on site or those arranged by our guesthouses to be very good and affordable and we didn't need to bring an outside guide. Despite getting ripped off a couple of times, we did well. I give us an A-.

Goal #3: Be a bottomless well of patience.
I knew the trip would be challenging for the boys and from the first day I saw behaviors that I hadn't seen in years. One of the boys returned to what I call "shadowing," where I start to say a sentence and he finishes it with me but with a quarter-second delay - "What would you-you like-ike to-to drink-ink? Do-do you-you want-want a Fanta-anta?" This was actually a helpful strategy for him to learn English. On our trip I was generally understanding when he started to do it again. But have someone shadow you every day for weeks without a break and you will see how grating it gets. There was also a lot of complaining from one boy, especially when it came to walking anywhere. I did a good job being patient with it but it didn't leave much patience for other annoyances. Between the shadowing and the complaining, I had two blow-ups on the trip. And by the end of the six weeks, with my husband around to share parenting, I had moments when I literally hid from my children. Overall, I give myself a B-.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 7

We woke up at 5:00AM to be at the small Soyema bus station at 5:30. There are two buses a week to Konso, and there are always more people who want to ride them than there are seats. We waited outside the gates, and when they were unlocked at 6:00AM, T and our teacher friend rushed in like it was Walmart on Black Friday. Luckily we got seats. The bus left the station with every seat full but no one in the aisles, in adherence with transportation regulations. Then it drove two blocks down the road and picked up everyone else who hadn't been able to get a seat. I entertained myself on the two-hour ride to Konso by waging a silent battle for six inches of floor space with the woman next to me.

The day before, T and I had climbed 30 minutes up a hill to get cell phone reception and call Chuchu, our resident guardian angel in Konso. He was waiting for us at the bus station. He took us to breakfast, to the rock formations known as "New York" -

and on a tour of a Konso village. Very cool winding rocky streets and hundreds-years-old community houses where teenage boys spend their nights guarding against invaders.

Chuchu had arranged a van to take us to Arba Min'ch. He said that four years ago I wrote him a review on TripAdvisor that made his tour business take off, and because of that he didn't want any payment. I think his business took off because he's a great guy and excellent tour guide. We did persuade him to accept our tent as a gift, so now he can also offer camping tours (I have his contact information if you're interested).

In Arba Min'ch we stayed at the Soma Lodge, right on the edge of the escarpment. Positives - amazing view, comfy beds, interesting fellow travelers including a group of adult adoptees returning from Spain, a large troop of baboons living right below us on the cliffside. Negatives - barely functioning bathrooms.

In Arba Min'ch we arranged a boat ride to finally see the famous crocodiles of Lake Chamo -

and we walked in Ne'ch Sar National Park. 

The rest of the time we hung out by the pool at Paradise Lodge. Honestly, we were done. After the great week in the village everyone was ready to go home, but we had a couple of days to wait and it was more pleasant to be in Arba Min'ch than in the pollution of Addis.

We flew to Addis on August 19 and stayed in a little hole-in-the-wall hotel. We had our last meals with friends, went shopping for gifts and food to take home, watched some of the Rio Olympics, and in a last minute surprise, got to see Dawitt, our wonderful guide from 2014. In the early morning of August 21 we took an ancient Lada taxi to the airport and flew home.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 6

This post is going to be about our week with our boys' family. For the sake of privacy I'm not going to use names or relationships. I will refer to all adult relatives as aunts and uncles and all children as cousins.

We spent our first night in Burji in Soyema, the only town in the area. At 5:50AM our interpreter (a local teacher who is a friend of a friend) called to say that he was with the boys' family. I asked for a little time to get ourselves together and by 7AM we were at the cafe for our reunion.

Reunion was beautiful and joyful but I won't be posting any pictures. Here's a picture from later that morning.

A was immediately comfortable with his family. He remembered them from our last trip. D was happy at first but then started to feel confused and needed to stay at my side.

After a while we went to the home of the family we had stayed with on our last trip. The adults visited while the kids hung out with a niece we had met two years ago. A few people went to the store for food to take with us. Finally we loaded people and bags into two very stuffed bajajes, and drove out to the village.

Last time we had come in April when there wasn't much farmwork that needed doing, and a huge crowd had greeted our arrival; this time we came at the first harvest / second planting so the village was quiet, with everyone off working. We set up our tent behind Uncle M's house. Some extra cloths were hung up around the outdoor toilet for additional privacy. We brought out the soccer ball and the kids got a game going. By now D felt comfortable too. As people returned from the farms they came to greet us. Kids came to stare. We went to visit the family of another child adopted to the US who lives in the same village. Then after a dinner of injera and eggs, and as a slight rain started, we went to sleep in our tent.

The next day I felt sick - maybe the eggs? After breakfast we walked down with Uncle M and our teacher-interpreter to see the farmland.

Along the way we met the relative of another child adopted to the US, who lives in a nearby village. It was heartbreaking to have only a single picture and no news to give. I told our interpreter that the child now uses a different name in the US. Our interpreter declined to translate this information.

In the late morning we returned to Soyema to buy more supplies from the twice-weekly market.

We gave everything to Aunt M, with whom we had arranged for meals during our time in the village. In the afternoon I still felt sick, so I lay down while the kids played soccer. All evening a continuous stream of people came to greet us.

The following day after breakfast we all went with Cousin C to the farmland on the hill above the village. Uncles W and M brought oxen and we all had a chance to try to plow. Plowing is a lot harder than it looks.

Later in the morning we had coffee in Aunt C and Uncle D's yard and more people came to see us. 

Then we moved into the house for a more private conversation. We had lunch with Uncles W and M and Aunt M, and in the afternoon the kids went to play soccer. 

After lunch our interpreter left to take his father to the clinic in Soyema so we were on our own. Luckily we have enough Amharic that we could communicate the basics, and with our interpreter gone, more people who before only spoke Burji came forth as knowing some Amharic.

Aunt M was one of the people who knows Amharic and the next morning I tried to help her in the kitchen (I was not very helpful). After breakfast Uncle W took us to the small village market to show us off and buy the boys some sugarcane. Then I was able to communicate to Uncle M that the boys wanted to help Cousin C bring the cows to the farm. It was T's turn to feel sick, so I went with the boys to the upper fields. They really enjoyed driving the cattle up the hill. At the top of the hill Uncle M plowed while the boys watched the herd and played. After a while D was feeling sick too, so I returned to the village with him. A stayed with Cousin C to watch the cows. Later I asked him how he and Cousin C communicated and he said they pointed at things and named them in English and Burji, counted, said the alphabet, and created miniature plows out of sticks. It didn't matter that they didn't speak the same language, they are the same age, and they had fun together. 

We had lunch at Uncle M's house and then Aunt C insisted that we have a second lunch at her house. By then our interpreter was back and T was going to return to Soyema with him to run an errand at the bank. They went to the road to look for a bajaj, and when one pulled up, T looked in the back and saw a young man we had met in Colorado! He had told me he would be in Burji getting married and would look for us. His family is from a village on the other side of Burji but as the only ferenjis around, we apparently weren't hard to find. T and our interpreter took our Colorado friend's bajaj to town while he stayed and translated for me.

The next two days we had private conversations with each member of the family and with the other local families whose children are in the US. In each house we sat and talked, with our interpreter translating, and I filled pages in my notebook. Uncle W told us about how he and Aunt M got married. Aunt M told us about how hard it was to grow up without a mother. Aunt C told us about working in the fields when she was very young and being scared of the monkeys. Uncle D - who is a spry 80 years old - told us about the Italians. They talked about what our boys were like when they were little. Uncle W disappeared for half a day to go get a relative from a village in the highlands and when they returned, we found she looks exactly like A. Aunt C told us that Uncle D was a chatterbox in his youth, just like D. 

A and D were interested in some of these conversations but not all, so at times while we talked they went off with other relatives. They went with Cousin C to load a donkey with water from the pump. They spent a couple of hours driving oxen in circles to thresh 'tef, having a blast and getting covered with 'tef dust head to toe.

The last day we said our goodbyes over meals at Uncle M's house and Aunt C's house and then we returned to Soyema. 

Our week in the village was the highlight of our six-week trip. Logistically, it worked out really well. The tent was comfortable enough. Buying food and hiring Aunt M to cook for us was great. Having an interpreter unconnected to adoption and whose father lived in the village was very important. T, D, and I each had a day when we felt sick, but it was nothing serious. The outdoor toilet was better than expected. The weather was cool and dry enough that a week without showers was fine - we just used a lot of wipes and I wrapped my hair when it got greasy. 

More importantly, for that week our boys were surrounded by love. They got used to walking down the main road and having old women rush up and hug them. People argued over whose house they would eat at and cried over who they looked like. Staying a week allowed us to meet more distant family that we hadn't known existed. We were there long enough to stop attracting crowds and join the family in their daily activities. A week gave me context for a situation that I have mixed feelings about. We got to know personalities, see how people interacted with each other, and imagine what it would have been like for our boys to live here. It was a wonderful week.

Read Part 7

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 5

After Lalibela we flew back to Addis to wait for T. I halfheartedly tried to book an overnight tour to Awash National Park but couldn't justify the US $400 pricetag. Instead we stayed in Addis, ate fir-fir at Depo St. George House, went to the Edna Mall (Ethiopia's version of Chuck-E Cheese), saw a movie, went to the Natural History Museum, swam at the Hilton pool, and visited with our old Amharic tutor (yay!) who was in Ethiopia for a wedding. Arafat took us to the airport to wait for T on the night of August 3. We had to wait in the parking lot, since they only let travelers into the airport. Funny D quote - when T came out he was backlit and hard to recognize; D scolded me, "Didn't you see his BROAD shoulders? His RIPPLING muscles?" Umm, no, I didn't see those things.

We gave T one day to recover from jetlag and then flew to Arba Min'ch. We stayed at the Tourist Hotel, which has cramped rooms but the best restaurant, with garden seating that takes up the entire grounds of the hotel. Unfortunately, maybe because Arba Min'ch has fewer tourists than the historic circuit in the north, it seemed like every store, bajaj driver, and tour operator was trying to rip us off.

The next day we did a tour of a Dorze village, which was sort of interesting but a very fixed set of experiences - go here, look at this, taste this, buy, buy, buy. The best part of the tour was when we stopped the car on the way back and walked through the conifer forest - a completely different ecosystem than anywhere else I've been in Ethiopia. It looked like the Rocky Mountains. Back in Arba Min'ch I found a print shop to make photo albums for our kids' family - I got LOTS of opinions about which photos I should include - and took A to get his hair braided.

The following morning we were sitting in the garden restaurant when a man sat down next to us and holy crap, it was Chuchu!!! The guy who had rescued us from the river back in 2011!!! We had kept in contact with him for a while but over the years we had lost touch. It was great to see him again and as it turned out, he helped us out again. Our plan that day had been to go to Konso and spend the night at the hotel owned by our friend's family but Chuchu told us it was a bad idea. A man had been killed by security forces in Konso that morning and there were soldiers everywhere. He told us to go ahead to Konso but he would arrange for us to continue straight through to Burji. So while we were on the 3-hour bus ride to Konso, he was making phone calls. Outside Konso soldiers stopped the bus and had everyone get off and show ID. They were friendly to us but we were very aware of their big guns and unrestricted authority. Back on the bus we continued until the outskirts of town where a group of people flagged the driver down and asked, "Do you have two ferenjis with two kids with you?" Chuchu had sent them. We got off and they immediately drove us out of town.

A few hours later we arrived in Soyema, Burji. The local teacher who would be our interpreter in our kids' village came to meet us and took us to dinner and the local "hotel."

Read Part 6

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 4

Our next stop was Lalibela, a short and easy flight from Gondar. We stayed at Villa Lalibela, a small guesthouse that is an extension of a family home. The family was very welcoming; we shared coffee and a meal with them and watched Turkish soap operas together. Best of all, an English-speaking 13-year-old was visiting Grandma from Addis Ababa, and for a while the kids were convinced that we had come to Lalibela to play soccer with Nathi and that the 12th-century rock-hewn churches were secondary.

When I finally persuaded the kids to leave the guesthouse and walk around town, we got a bad first impression of the tourist facilities when two wannabe guides got into a shoving match in front of us and pushed both me and A. Back at the guesthouse A was consoled and the manager organized a soccer game with the neighborhood kids to take his mind off what happened. He was feeling better soon and a delicious meal at the Sora Lodge restaurant right on the edge of the cliff helped.

The next day we went to the churches, bringing our own guide organized by Villa Lalibela. At the main office the manager had heard what had happened, apologized, and gave A free admission. Those guides really were an aberration because everything else about the church tour was very organized and professional.

The churches were, of course, fantastic. It really boggled the mind to look at these majestic structures and think that they were hand carved out of the mountains.

Just as cool as the churches - and very fun for the kids - were the tunnels, trenches, and twisting staircases we walked through to get from one church to the next.

We visited the north group of churches before lunch and the south group after. When it started raining in the afternoon, we went back to the guesthouse to play with Nathi.

On the third day with the sun shining, we returned to Beit Giyorgis for pictures. Note that entrance tickets to the churches are good for five days.

We also went to the north side of town to have lunch at the very cool Ben Abeba snail sculpture/restaurant. We stopped at the Ethiopian Airlines office for tickets and then hung out with Nathi and at the Sora Lodge during the rainy afternoon.

Read Part 5

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 3

Soon after we arrived in Addis Ababa, we heard about deadly clashes between protesters and soldiers in Gondar. It was difficult to get any information about the situation because during the following days the government shut off internet access. The government also tightly controls the media. The best we could do was ask a friend to call a friend in Gondar and get information from there. When we got to Bahir Dar, which is three hours south of Gondar, we got a little more information. Then a traveling family we had met called with a first-hand report. For an American who is used to instant access to multiple news perspectives on almost any event, this circuitous route to information felt very foreign.

Because of the continued uncertainty, I decided on a private car from Bahir Dar to Gondar rather than a public bus. First we decided to stop in Awra Amba. This is a small community notable for its efforts at gender equality and religious tolerance (more here). It was a little cultish but interesting, and the community is doing well, with a big weaving workshop, school, and home for the elderly. After Awra Amba we continued north on a gorgeous drive past green farmland - mostly corn and rice - and up into the mountains.

In Gondar we stayed at the Fasil Lodge. I'm not sure I'd recommend the location. On the one hand, we could walk right to the castle compound, which is the big tourist attraction in Gondar. On the other hand, the most visited part of town attracts a lot of hustlers and we got hassled A LOT. The southern part of Gondar might be a more attractive option on a future trip. Aside from a burned-out bus in the town center, there was no sign of the recent violence in Gondar.

The castle compound was great. We had a FANTASTIC guide named Nigusu whose contact information I'd be happy to share. The tour included six castles -

a bajaj ride to Debre Berhan Selassie church -

and another bajaj ride to Fasilidas Pool (only filled for Timkat in January).

We were lucky to have dry weather during the tour but Gondar gets more rain than other parts of Ethiopia. It started raining in the afternoon and continued all through the next morning. Our next destination was Kossoye, higher up in the mountains on the road to Amba Giorgis, and we departed in the rain. At the local bus station competing teenagers yelled at us to get into their minibuses until someone won by grabbing our bags, then we drove around town with the teenager hanging out the window yelling for passengers until we were full. Thirty minutes out of Gondar, the minibus dropped us off in what looked like the middle of nowhere - just a few shops on the side of the road. I asked a woman where the lodge was and she indicated that it was just off the road up ahead. A bunch of kids came running up so I asked for hulet 'tankara lijoch - two strong children - for the tiliq borsawoch - big bags - and we set off with our entourage to the lodge, which turned out to be close by.

Befiker Kossoye Lodge is right on the edge of a cliff at 3,000 meters but we couldn't see anything because we were in the clouds. It was really cold and a fire was built for us; it felt like a ski lodge. We were the only guests there, which felt a little weird. But once again we got super lucky with the weather because the next day was clear. The views were incredible. We were told that on a very clear day you can see all the way to Eritrea in the north and Sudan in the west.

We went on a guided hike in the morning and I took approximately a million pictures. In the afternoon we attended a reception for one of the workers at the lodge who had just gotten married. Here's a view of the sunset, walking back from the village -

The next day we took the Amba Giorgis bus back to Gondar. We visited Empress Mentewab's palace where we peered at the empress's bones by torchlight (the power was temporarily out; though it came back on, the kids asked the guide to continue with the more atmospheric torch). The rest of the day it rained and we were stuck inside.

It seems perverse that we were being tourists in a time of violence, but life appeared to be continuing normally all around us.

A few days after we left Gondar, there was a huge demonstration that was met with violence. A few weeks later, at least 26 people were reported killed in Amba Giorgis.

Read Part 4

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 2

Bahir Dar was green, clean, and friendly, and there was lots to do there. The kids and I agree it was our favorite city in Ethiopia. We stayed at The Annex, a small guesthouse with a beautiful garden full of birds that was a short walk from the lake. I can't say enough good things about this place. The people were very welcoming, were great with the boys, arranged activities for us.

On the first day we just hung out at the guesthouse for a while, then walked the lake path along Lake Tana, and took a bajaj out to dinner. A bajaj is a little three-wheeled cloth-sided taxi that putters along at 20mph. Riding in bajajes was one of the kids' favorite things about Ethiopia.

On the second day we joined a tour to the Nile Falls with a van full of Ethiopian tourists. It was a beautiful green drive out to the Nile gorge and then a nice walk first to an overlook -

then across a suspension bridge -

and then to the falls themselves.

After the falls we continued on a loop back to the van and it began to rain. It was pouring by the time we reached the bank of the Nile upstream from the falls and took a tiny boat across. For a while we took shelter with some kids cooking corn and then we took a very muddy shortcut through the kids' village. When we got back to town, we changed out of our muddy clothes, and took a bajaj out to dinner at the Desset Lodge, right on Lake Tana.

On the third day, the bajaj adventures continued. Gashaw, the guesthouse guide, arranged a private bajaj tour for us. First we went to a viewpoint overlooking the city, near Haile Selasie's palace (we could only do a drive-by of the palace itself, as the guards didn't let us stop).

Then on a quiet road, the driver let the kids take turns driving the bajaj, which was a HUGE hit.

After that we went to the extravagant Amhara Martyrs Museum, with its sculpture gardens, towering monument, and enormous (but mostly dry) fountain.

Then we walked across the Nile Bridge (the one in town) and looked at the hippos. Finally the driver dropped us off at the Tana Hotel at the far end of the lake path, where we had a late lunch with a lovely view of the lake, surrounded by beautiful yellow birds that jumped all over our food when we stepped away from the table.

On the fourth day in Bahir Dar we did a private boat tour of Lake Tana. First we docked on the Zege Peninsula where a guide took us to the 14th century Ura Kidane Mihret monastery. Gorgeous colorful, sometimes violent paintings, also a nice museum.

Back on the lake, the boat captain let the kids drive the boat, another huge hit. Then we took the boat to the outlet of the Nile, where we saw hippos, birds, and some kind of swimming lizard.

We had a late lunch at the Desset Lodge and then walked around town some more and found the beautiful public gardens.

In the late afternoon we went back to the guesthouse and the boys had a great time playing soccer in the street with kids from the neighborhood. No common language needed.

On the fifth day, the kids played soccer all morning. In the late morning we got day passes to the Kuriftu Lodge and spent the rest of the day at the pool. There were other kids there and the lifeguard spent hours organizing races and games. In the evening we hung out with an Ethio-British family who was in the country for a development project. They were driving to Gondar the next day. We'd heard about unrest in Gondar and I wasn't sure if we should go so they said they would call with an update.

The next day A felt sick so we took it easy all day - reading, games, laundry, hair braiding. We heard from the Ethio-Brits that everything was calm in Gondar, so we decided we would go there next.

Two weeks after we left Bahir Dar, security forces killed at least 30 people there.

Read Part 3 

Ethiopia return trip #2 Part 1

The 17-hour flight from Newark to Addis was only half full, so we could stretch out and sleep. We stopped for about an hour in Lome, which looked beautiful from the air.

In Addis, we stayed at the Choice Guesthouse on the south side of the city, in Gotera. We knew we'd be flying in and out of Addis a few times so we wanted to be fairly close to the airport. The people at the front desk were very friendly, and although the room was small, there was a courtyard where the kids could play soccer. The guards, who didn't have a whole lot to do, were always willing to kick the ball around with the kids (we brought a One World soccer ball with us, which I highly recommend, as it lasted through our entire trip over all kinds of rough terrain). There was a small outdoor area for eating breakfast. We got most our meals from the "Depo St. George House" next door. Yes, there were drunk people there at 8:00AM, but their addictive fir-fir was the best we tasted in all of Ethiopia.

We mostly got around Addis by mini-bus. Every ride was a small adventure. Will we get on this one? Will we sit in a seat, or on the wheel well, or on top of each other? Who will we meet? On our first mini-bus ride - thunk! - an entire wheel fell off and we all got out in the middle of Bole Road. The kids still think that's hilarious.

Being in no rush, we spent a few days in Addis seeing the city and recovering from jet lag. On our first day, after switching mini-buses, we went to the Harmony Hotel (short walk from Bole Road), which has an indoor pool and a good restaurant across the street.

On the second day we took the new light rail train to the Stadium terminal, walked across Meskal Square, and from there took a bus to Amist Kilo (we figured out how to buy tickets and find the stops just by asking people, who were invariably helpful and kind). We coincidentally had lunch in the same restaurant where A and I had had our first meal on our last return trip. A funny little story - D ordered 'tibs and they kept bringing him chips until finally I was able to remember enough fidel to write down ጥብስ and impress the hell out of the kitchen staff. After lunch we went to the National Museum. The evolution exhibits there are great.Then we took a mini-bus back to Meskal Square, walked back to Stadium, and got on the rush hour train. Holy crap, that was CRAZY. At every stop we thought, there is just no possible way they can get more people in here, but somehow they did. When it was time to get off at our stop, A literally had to punch someone in the stomach to make a path. The kids still think that's hilarious. In the evening we visited with Arafat, brother of Dawitt, who was our guide on the first return trip, I delivered gifts from his family in the US, and he gave us a cell phone.

On the third day, we spent the day with friends who have kids the same age as my boys. Mostly the kids played on the PlayStation and watched TV. I actually think ordinary experiences like that are really important - they help the kids understand that living in Ethiopia doesn't have to feel that different from living in the US and gives them a sense of the range of "normal" life in Ethiopia. The same goes the Hilton Hotel pool, where we spent the fourth day. I had thought I would hate going to the Hilton - and it did feel weird to be in a place full of White people - but the kids met so many other kids with such a range of backgrounds - Ethiopian-Americans visiting from the US, Ethiopians who had previously lived in the US, Ethiopian-British, Ethiopian-Swedish - and I think it was really good for them to see such a spectrum of what it means to be Ethiopian.

On the fifth day we took a taxi to the airport and then a quick flight to Bahir Dar.

Read Part 2

Return Trip #2

It has been almost exactly six months since we returned from our six-week trip to Ethiopia. We arrived back in the U.S. as the already bad situation in Ethiopia was deteriorating. More and more protests against the government were leading to more and more mass arrests, burnings, and executions. I held off writing about our trip because I didn't want my description to be construed as encouragement to go to a potentially dangerous environment.

Things are outwardly calmer now. The declared state of emergency has worked in silencing opposition. Internet access has been tightly controlled, with some areas of the country just now being able to get back online, something almost unimaginable here in the U.S. but very effective in getting the world to forget what's happening in Ethiopia. To be clear, none of the problems that led to the protests have been solved. As this article says, a tight lid has been put on a boiling pot. It's keeping things stable at the moment. But it could erupt again at any time.

Nevertheless, things are calmer now. And Ethiopians who make their living from tourism are asking for people to visit. And visiting your adopted children's first families is so important. So I'm going to go ahead and describe our trip, and I'm OK for now with adoptive families who have carefully researched the security situation in places they plan to visit construing it as encouragement to go.

I had three goals for the trip:
  1. Give the kids a positive experience of Ethiopia.
  2. Do it as affordably as possible.
  3. Be a bottomless well of patience.
I'll write about our trip first and then about how well I met my goals. Read on...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Check-in on family plan

After the election T and I created some guidelines for our family for moving forward. Checking in to see how we are doing:

1.    Accept that we don’t live in a democracy.
This one is going pretty well. We have been following the news with a growing sinking feeling but not with shock. It’s important to stay calm and focused because constant outrage is emotionally exhausting.

2.    Try to change the government anyway.
We have set up ongoing donations to the ACLU. We’ve increased our number of phone calls to senators and representatives by about fivefold. All four of us attended the Women's March in DC, which was exhilarating but which was also just the beginning. This week I went to a weekly gathering outside our Republican senator’s office (and learned he refuses to meet with his constituents) and tomorrow we will be surrounding the Loews Hotel where the Republican leadership is meeting. T attended the most recent meeting of the local Democratic committee and submitted both our names for committee positions. We haven’t done any volunteering yet. But given that neither of us is a “joiner,” our other actions are a good start for us.

3.    Support people who may be directly affected by new government policies.
We've set up ongoing donations to Planned Parenthood. I've been more consistent about giving money to people panhandling and we bought furniture for a local shelter. With the press under attack, I paid for a subscription to the Washington Post (as opposed to getting free articles from incognito browsers like I'd been doing - sorry, Jamie!). We hung a Black Lives Matter sign on our house to make our support visible. Still haven’t done any volunteering. We should think about that.

4.    Build community
We’ve hosted a few dinners with neighbors whom we didn’t know well but we’re already sliding off on that. One of these days I will reach out to the Trump supporters down the block, but I’m not there yet. T joined and now leads the local chapter of the Bicycle Coalition, working on building more bike-friendly communities.

5.    Take the high road
Our goals were to be aware of privilege, look for areas of improvement in ourselves, avoid sensationalism, and support people who support our goals, even if we disagree with how they’re achieving those goals. For the first two I’ve mostly been reading, to try to broaden my perspectives on privilege and politics. Avoiding sensationalism means being very careful about how we get our news - as much as possible I’ve been reading original documents or watching original video rather than reading and watching through the filter of news summaries or opinion pieces. The fourth part has honestly been the hardest, maybe because when someone completely disagrees with you politically, it’s not disappointing when they do something you don’t like, but when someone mostly agrees with you and then does something you don’t like, that can be challenging. So for example, the White man who stood against the current of the crowd at the Women’s March accepting high-fives for clearing the incredibly low bar of not voting for Trump probably has 90% of the same goals as me, but infuriates me far more than my senator who would destroy the planet, regulate my body, and incarcerate my neighbor. I definitely need to work on empathy.