I’ve been reading a lot of Ethiopia-themed books lately (I was pleasantly surprised at how well stocked our library was for kids’ books), as I’m trying to thoroughly embrace our family’s new heritage. One of the books I came across is called The Return by Sonia Levitin and it tells the incredible story of Operation Moses.
Operation Moses was a covert evacuation of Ethiopian Jews (also known as Beta Israel) in 1984. Facing religious persecution and famine in Ethiopia under the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, some 13,000 Jews escaped Ethiopia on foot and made for Sudan. Israel then airlifted the refugees to safety with the secret cooperation of the Sudanese government. It’s estimated that 4,000 died on the way trek to Sudan and another 1,000 were left behind when operation became public and other Arab nations pressured Sudan to stop the secret evacuations.
Many of those left behind in Sudan were later brought to Israel as part of the U.S.-lead follow-up mission, Operation Joshua, in 1985.
The situation didn’t change until 1991 and the Ethiopian revolution when Israel took advantage of the political instability to evacuate the remaining Ethiopian Jews as part of Operation Solomon. More than 14,000 were evacuated in a 36-hour period on 34 different flights. Today there are still several thousand Ethiopian Jews remaining in Ethiopia.
It’s an incredible story and bit of history you don’t really hear about. The Return tells the story from the perspective of a teenage girl who evacuates Ethiopia. The book gives a pretty detailed portrayal of the life of a rural Ethiopian Jew. You actually don’t get much of sense of what was actually happening with Operation Moses until the very end, which for me just prompted more research (and I’d love to do more beyond Wikipedia and a few random articles).
It’s another layer to the incredible history and people of Ethiopia.
One month a year my church hosts the county’s overflow shelter for homeless families. It’s called Project Home and it’s something I’ve supported for a while now. It’s the organization we were raising money for when we spent a night homeless.
This week I finally volunteered for the organization, sleeping over at my church on Monday night as an overnight volunteer and spending Tuesday evening there as well. There were four families spending the night at our church, five adults and 11 kids. They spend the day at family shelters, finding services they need, working or whatever they need to do, and come to our church for around 12 hours, from after supper until the morning. We offer snacks and breakfast, and then provide whatever they may need. Usually that means keeping the kids entertained while the adults relax.
It’s an eye-opening experience. These are families being chewed up by poverty and the economy. You can see how out of sorts the kids are, in a strange place with new volunteers every night and parents who are pushed to the edge. And I said we’re the overflow shelter—we’re actually the overflow for the overflow shelter. Some months there’s even a third overflow shelter. The need is tremendous.
I’ve been wanting to volunteer with Project Home for a long time, and this year it got to the point where I don’t think I could face my good friend Mark Horvath if I hadn’t volunteered with Project Home. Mark is good at kicking my butt that way.
While I’m glad I finally volunteered, and I’m up for doing it again, I felt completely inadequate. I’m not the outgoing, talkative person who strikes up conversations with ease. I did my job, but I never felt like I did it very well. I guess I felt like these families deserved something more. And they do.
I’ve written about a number of adoption stories lately, many of them happy, heart-warming tales. But not every adoption story is so good. Adoption inherently involves some form of brokenness, so no matter what there’s already some heartache involved. But in some cases even that measure of hope that comes to a broken story is lost.
These stories suck. But I want to be honest that they happen. That’s pretty obvious after that whole putting a kid on a plane to Russia debacle, but sometimes we need less sensational and more real stories. I don’t want to imply that these cases are completely devoid of hope—I’m kind of an annoying idealist that way and believe hope can eventually come to the darkest situation. But in the midst of that darkness it can be pretty impossible to see the hope. I can only pray it’s there.
The story, in a nutshell, is that they discovered the 5-year-old boy they were trying to adopt had been abusing their toddler-aged daughter. A history and pattern of abuse emerged, something that’s sadly not uncommon for institutionalized children. They had to make the painful decision to relinquish the child and ultimately chose to return to the United States.
We were talking with some fellow adoptive parents the other night about the issue of embracing our children’s culture of origin. One mom made the comment that having a child adopted from Ethiopia means that her entire family is now Scottish and Ethiopian. There is no distinction—the Ethiopian child is now Scottish and the Scottish parents/children are now Ethiopian.
Saying it doesn’t make it so, but it’s a helpful attitude to have. Ethiopian culture isn’t some add on we endure to humor a child. And it’s not simply that child’s culture to the exclusion of the rest of the family. The entire family needs to embrace that culture. Likewise the adopted child needs to embrace the family’s culture. We blend, mix and share.
This is the kind of cultural blending that happens when people get married or when step families are formed—of course some families require more mixing that others. It’s natural that we embrace the culture and background of our loved ones.
I’m not sure why but in adoption there’s a temptation to leave that culture one step removed. We definitely want to embrace it, but we think of it as the child’s culture and not our own. We’ve mistakenly done this to some extent with Milo, thinking that we’ll dive into Ethiopian culture classes when he’s older and can appreciate it. But the rest of the family should learn that stuff too and there’s no need to wait for Milo. Heck, we could have been doing that before he came home.
Not that we haven’t been embracing Ethiopian culture. We were already doing a lot, but this brings it one step closer. For me, I think it’s about internalizing it. I always seem to be one step slower on this stuff, but I’m getting there. I even started an Ethiopia page to begin collecting the helpful resources I’m finding (most of which my wife has found; See? One step behind).
What I love about this approach to blending cultures in a family is that it’s not the child’s responsibility—it’s the family’s responsibility. So when a child is struggling with identity issues and wants nothing to do with their culture of origin (which is pretty common for internationally adopted children) that doesn’t mean it disappears from the family entirely. The stubborn kid doesn’t want to go to a cultural event? That’s fine. But I’m going because I enjoy it. It’s my culture, too.
You can’t explore books about Ethiopia without coming across children’s author Jane Kurtz. She grew up in Ethiopia with her missionary parents in the 1970s and has published dozens of books, a number of them focusing on Ethiopia. Her latest success has been with the American Girl series Lanie. Jane currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and is planning a trip to Ethiopia next month.
1. What’s your favorite memory about Ethiopia? What’s the most distinctive thing about the country that clearly says to you, “This is Ethiopia!”?
I lived in Ethiopia for most of my childhood—in the countryside and in the city, as a toddler and as a kid and as a teenager, with my family and in boarding school—so I have a tangle of memories from all that time. I love the sense of connectedness and relationship. People pay attention to their families and sometimes even strangers in intense ways. I love the sensory richness: the smell of bere bere that soaks into everything, the unexpectedness of donkeys on a busy street.
I actually woke up to Milo storming into our bedroom at 5:45. We graduated Milo to a real bed last night and are now very appreciative of the cage-like qualities of a crib.
But after that I saw the incredible Pioneer Press feature on my book, Addition by Adoption: Kids, Causes & 140 Characters, complete with a little photo gallery and lots of details about my life as a twittering dad. I love that they mentioned my blogging history going back to 1998—and my comment that it was really bad back then (it was). I’m glad they included our latest addition at the very end. And I can’t quite pick a favorite picture—our kitchen dance party with Lexi in her ballerina, the fact that Milo in sporting his Red Wings shirt, or the five of us—dogs included—piled around the laptop (a rare moment indeed). But my favorite part about the story is that I didn’t say anything stupid to the reporter.
If you’re checking out my site for the first time, thanks for stopping by:
And a bigtime thanks to everyone who makes this stuff happen. I should specifically mention TriLion Studios and Ronald Cox, who volunteered to do the book’s cover and layout respectively, and the Pioneer Press for doing such a great story.
The book is normally $9.99 on Amazon and $2 of every copy goes to charity: water to build a well in Ethiopia. But at Friday’s Social Media Breakfast you can get a copy for $8 and $4 of that will go to charity: water. It’s cheaper, no shipping, no waiting and double the money goes to charity. Score.
Tomorrow’s event is being held at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Last time I was at the Target Center it was for Sesame Street Live (which gets a nod in the book). Before that it was U2. Oddly enough, I’ve never been to the Target Center for a Timberwolves game. The size of the venue will have little to do with the size of tomorrow’s crowd, which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view (my fear of public speaking and my desire to raise cash for charity: water are clashing on this one).
I’m hopeful tomorrow’s event will be a good chance to connect with people and get closer to building a well in Ethiopia. You can read more about the discount or learn more about SMBMSP.
I dropped my cryptic hints last week and today I can give a little more info: We’re adopting again! Head-spinning changes, indeed.
She’s an 11-year-old girl going into 6th grade and she’ll be joining our family this summer.
Due to the sensitive nature of this whole process, we won’t be sharing a lot of details. But she’s got a beautiful smile and likes to ice skate and draw.
We’re obviously pretty stoked. We’d been exploring a second adoption but we had no idea it would happen this quickly. It’s kind of throwing our entire summer into a tailspin, but that’s OK. It’s a good tailspin.
And happy birthday to me! Couldn’t ask for better birthday news.
I tweeted yesterday about a big, hairy, life-changing phone call (in a good way). The details are still confidential, so I can’t share anything.
But a few days back I was talking to a reporter for a story about Addition by Adoption (yes, a real live reporter—the publicity machine continues, though again I won’t divulge my sources, don’t count your chickens and all that) and we were talking about this very blog. I bragged that I’d been blogging since 1998, but then had to fess up to how awful it was back then. Full of diary-type yearning that were completely incomprehensible to anybody but me. Rather than being up front and clear about what I was writing about, I was vague and obtuse. Occasionally I think it worked (of course my blog posts didn’t have titles back then). But mostly it was weird. I’m glad I stopped.
But considering the confidential nature of this potential life changing deal, it seems like being vague and obtuse might be just the thing… or not. I tried some of that, and it felt just as pretentious as it did back then. Bubbles floating on air and all that.
So you’re left with one of those obnoxious, I-have-a-secret-na-na-na-boo-boo blog posts. It may come to nothing. And it may change everything. And wow, focusing on any kind of productivity is impossible.
I came across this ad on the MPR site today (specifically the Newscut blog) and I couldn’t help but click. I mean, c’mon. All that’s missing is a cartoon bear ready to snack on those yummy kids.
Sadly the site the ad linked to wasn’t as compelling. It was for the Gunflint Trail Association’s canoe trips. A similarly styled graphic on the site linked to a PDF with details on upcoming workshops for family canoe trips.
Sadly, no immediate answer to the pressing question of whether or not my children will be eaten by bears.
Props for some engaging advertising. But the lack of follow through is kind of lame. If you’re going to take an edgy approach like this, you have to go all out.
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.