Kids Traveling Back to Ethiopia

Reading adoption blogs is always interesting because you usually have piece together the story. The format of a blog doesn’t give you someone’s life story right away and unless they have a handy about page that lays it out for you, you generally have to read a ton of blog posts to piece their life together. Even then it can still be difficult. It’s kind of a challenge. A creepy, stalker-like challenge.

Anyway, I’ve been reading some blogs from fellow Ethiopian adoptive parents and it’s been interesting trying to piece the stories together. One especially interesting story comes from the Knutzen family in Washington. They have five children, two older children who have graduated high school and three children adopted from Ethiopia who seem to be around 14 years old.

Earlier this year half of the family traveled back to Ethiopia to be in a wedding and connect with birth family. The father, oldest daughter and two of the adopted children went on the trip.

The girl, Meron, was a junior bridesmaid in the wedding of a family who had cared for her for the first five years of her life (like I said, sometimes the story is hard to figure out). From the pictures it looks like an incredible moment to be a part of.

The boy, Joseph Abel, was able to meet his birth family and hear about his birth parents (“Joseph also was impressed to learn his birth father was a professional soccer and volleyball player!”). His grandmother thanked God for Joseph’s visit because she doesn’t think she’ll live much longer. Joseph was also able to get a photo album of some of his baby pictures and was able to determine his actual birthday from a banner in one of the photos. I can’t imagine what a treasure that would be.

They also visited the care center where they had lived and heard local history about donkeys.

I don’t know this family at all, but it’s cool to read about their story and the opportunity for these kids to travel back to their homeland. These children were adopted when they were older and have a greater connection to Ethiopia with families, memories and even language, but traveling back to Ethiopia is something we’ve always wanted to do with Milo. I hope someday when he’s old enough and prepared for it we can do that. Maybe even more than once.

Quick Thoughts on LOST

I was writing a big long entry about LOST but it just seems kind of dumb. So instead I’ll offer a few quick, mostly spoiler-free thoughts.

  • Like most new TV, I ignored LOST when it first came out. But my first real exposure to it came when I was a youth group leader at my church and one of the kids would rush out the door as soon as youth group was over so he could get home in time to watch the show. It seems kind of funny now, but this was pre-Hulu and all our online watching. The show was that captivating.
  • I later got hooked when a few former coworkers were chatting up LOST and I realized I had to stop waiting for the DVD and catch up on the show. Serialized television can be kind of frustrating, but when they really work like LOST, it’s addictive.
  • Near the end the writers made a point of explicitly telling us they weren’t going to answer all our questions. At one point they even worked it into the show’s dialogue. They’re the writers, it’s their show, they can do whatever they want. But you know what? Screw you. Egging people along for six years with mysteries you had no intention of answering is cruel.
  • At the same time, claiming your enjoyment of the show is now a waste because they didn’t answer your questions or didn’t tie it up the way you like is ridiculous. Yes, answers and the ending will color how we view the entire series, but that doesn’t negate your initial enjoyment of watching the show. The ‘oh my gosh what is down the hatch’ feeling I had in the beginning is in no way diminished by how the show ended. If you claim LOST wasted your life, then you never enjoyed it in the first place.
  • In the end I think LOST was really about the characters and not the plot or the mystery, which I think explains your take on the ending. If you were all about the characters, you probably loved it. If you were all about the mystery and what the heck is the island, you were probably disappointed. I enjoyed the ending for what it was, but I think long ago I subconsciously realized LOST wasn’t going to resolve the mysteries.
  • I love how the show made fun of itself. For all the seriousness of the characters and the mystery, the show still had a sense of humor about it. The best were perhaps when Hurley and Miles debated time travel or when Kate openly mocked the name “Christian Shepherd.”
  • [FINALE SPOILER WARNING] One thing I’d really like to see: A wacky comic book spinoff of Hurley and Ben’s time as protectors of the island. Somebody get on that. (Rumor is we might get to see a glimpse of Hurley and Ben as protectors of the island on the DVD extras, but that’s not the same. I want to see comic book Hurley giving comic book Ben a noogie and everyone laughing it up.)

Yeah, that was still long. Well, you should have seen the first draft.

    Water in Ethiopia

    Women in Kenya walking to collect waterThe April issue of National Geographic has an in-depth story on water in Southern Ethiopia. This hits home for a number of reasons—including our continuing commitment to clean water (we’re trying to build a well, remember?) and the fact that Southern Ethiopia is Milo’s birthplace.

    I’ll pull out some especially poignant moments, but I’d suggest you read the whole article (read the printer version to avoid pagination)

    • The article follows Aylito Binayo, a 25-year-old woman who lives in the village of Foro, in the Konso district of southwestern Ethiopia. Her life story can be told around watershe dropped out of school at 8, in part to help her mother haul water. Today she spends 8 hours a day hauling water for her family. And the water she brings home is dirty and unsafe.
    • Hauling water is women’s work. The only time a man hauls water is in the few weeks after a child is born.
    • Here’s an incredible picture (second picture in the flash slideshow—silly National Geographic, not giving direct links to pictures). Villagers digging a trench for pipes to bring water to their village. They sing while they work: “We can do anything!”
    • The author carries a jerry can of water (weighing 50 pounds) with Binayo, but can’t make it up the hill. The author switches with a child, who has half a can of water, but the child can’t make it up the steep part of the hill: “Binayo takes the heavy jerry can from the girl and puts it on her own back, on top of the one she is carrying. She shoots us both a look of disgust and continues up the mountain, now with nearly 12 gallons of water—a hundred pounds—on her back.” I carried 40 pounds of water last year—it sucked.
    • The average American uses 100 gallons of water a day in the home. Binayo uses two and a half.
    • She washes her hands with water “maybe once a day,” but not with soap, since her family can’t afford it. She bathes “only occasionally.” They don’t elaborate on what ‘occasionally’ means.
    • She washes clothes once a year: “We don’t even have enough water for drinking—how can we wash our clothes?”
    • Another incredible picture. A group of women in Northern Kenya walking across a desert to get water—they’re carrying the same yellow jerry can I did last year. Let me tell you—it sucks.

    The article ends on a heart-breaking note:

    “She has never dared think that someday life could change for the better.”

    That’s a brutal reality we’ve left our fellow brothers and sisters in. That’s why a portion of the proceeds from my book are going to build a well in Ethiopia. I hope you’ll buy a copy. Or forget the book—make a donation directly to charity: water.

    Book Update

    I’ve avoided blogging non-stop about my book, so it seems safe to talk about it again (go buy a copy!). There are a few cool things to report:

    • First and foremost, we’ve officially raised $784 for charity: water. That’s clean water for 39 people. Only $4,216 to go. But unofficially another $96 has been raised by books sold that I haven’t been paid for yet, which brings us to…
    • My jaw dropped the other night when I saw this tweet: “I LOVE your book. I just ordered 40 copies 4 gifts in my adoption classes.” Wow. That’s just incredible. (Speaking of which, if you’re interested in multiple copies of my book, let’s talk—I can make you a deal.)
    • That massive order, plus the other books sold and our pre-order, puts us at 114 copies of Addition by Adoption sold. I’m now in the top 21% of the publishing industry (if you like facts that don’t mean much). Not too shabby for a self-published collection of Twitter posts.
    • I’ve also signed up to have a booth at the annual Ethiopian picnic in the Twin Cities, the Summer Mehaber. It’s put on by the Ethiopian Kids Community, an organization that serves families with Ethiopian American children, so it’s a lot of adoptive families. I’m hoping it will be an ideal audience for the book, but I’m also a little freaked out about what to do with a 10′ x 20′ booth. I’m also hoping to hire some people to run the booth for me, both because sitting in a booth all day and hocking my book is something I’d be terrible at, plus I’d rather be at the picnic with my family all day. It also means diving deep into the real world of marketing—spending money to make money. It sounds ridiculous, but I don’t have a lot of first hand experience with marketing and direct sales (i.e., how many books do I need to sell at the event to cover all my expenses and make it worthwhile?). I’m just a writer!

    At any rate, the book project keeps marching on.

    Run Fast for Ethiopia

    Another cool adoption story involves a boy adopted from Ethiopia who wanted to raise money for his homeland (there’s no public blogpost on this one, so I’ll leave off the names—though the identity will be obvious to the people who know). He organized a charity run, dubbed “Run Fast for Ethiopia,” and raised at least $170 for the Hossana region in Southern Ethiopia. The money will go to buy cows, chickens and plant a vegetable garden as part of the fundraiser for the Summer Mehaber, an annual picnic celebrating Ethiopian culture here in the Twin Cities.

    I didn’t hear about the event until the day after, but I so would have been there.

    The boy’s sister also did a fundraiser of her own, hosting a garden tea party for the ladies.

    Hotel Pools, McDonald’s and a Funeral

    Last weekend we went to the funeral of Abby’s uncle, Lee Erlandson. It was a whirlwind 32-hour trip:

    • We intentionally picked a hotel with a good pool to give the kids something to do. Turns out Milo is suicidal around pools. He’d just walk right off the edge into the water, not even attempting to jump or push off at all. I thought he was going to crack the back of his head on the side of the pool, never mind the whole toddler drowning thing.
    • We had to explain a funeral to Lexi, who was still trying to process Jesus dying and rising again from Easter. Not a good combo.
    • Lexi had also been watching Beauty and the Beast in the car and wanted to know who killed Uncle Lee and whether or not he was a princess. Thankfully we had that conversation in the hotel and not at the funeral home.
    • Lexi managed to sit through a 75-minute service with a minimum of interruptions and outbursts. Milo, on the other hand, spent most of the service outside with Abby. Yes, we were those weird people who brought kids to a funeral. We actually had no babysitting options and thought it would be a much shorter service. In retrospect, I think sitting through the service with a 4-year-old brought some levity to the whole thing (though I’m not sure if anyone else felt that way).
    • And when did McDonald’s get so swanky? We stopped for a quick break and enjoyed a little Nickelodeon on the personal TVs in our cushy booth. I was tempted to bring in the laptop and check out the wifi with a little frappuccino. OK, not really. But it was an option.
    • I know I’m not good at smalltalk, but I’m really bad at funeral smalltalk. I think “So how’s it going?” was the first question out of my mouth to just about everyone. Including a brother and son of the deceased.

    What I found especially thought-provoking was the funeral itself. The service stretched on so long because they opened it up for anyone to share memories about Lee (open mic at a funeral?). I didn’t know Lee very well at all—I’ve only seen him a handful of times—so it was interesting to hear coworkers, friends and teammates share their memories and impressions.

    Continue reading Hotel Pools, McDonald’s and a Funeral

    Adoption Rescues Us from Our Own Faults

    Tague and Lisa Harding of Minnesota adopted two boys from Uganda a year and a half ago. The family was featured in a CBN story on the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VI event held in Minneapolis last month.

    Lisa expressed a beautiful sentiment about the common misconception of ‘rescue’:

    “People have said, ‘Oh, aren’t they lucky, you rescued them from whatever. And I think, Are you kidding? I’m the lucky one. I get to be their mom. And I get to be daily rescued from my selfishness, and my impatience, and things that are just as disease-ridden in my soul.”

    That’s an incredible attitude. Some days I think I’m drowning in my impatience.

    Apparently this CBN story is drawing more attention because of comments Pat Robertson made after the story. I don’t quite understand why anybody still listens to that guy.

    Grandparents Parenting Again

    This is another cool Ethiopian adoption story.

    Matthew and Amanda Johnson from Minnesota have two children, both adopted from Ethiopia: Samrawit, 7, and Teshome, 5. Amanda traveled to Ethiopia with her parents last year to bring Samrawit home. Amanda’s parents have talked about “finishing well” for a few years now, and had been dreaming about what that could be. They had been empty-nesters for a few years and loved it.

    But that all changed.

    While in Ethiopia they met two brothers: Berhane, 13, and Tsegaye, 11. And they decided to adopt them. As Amanda writes:

    “And so the last few days of the trip involved a lot of soul-searching on the part of my parents.  They knew they couldn’t go into this for the wrong reasons.  “Saving a child” was simply not good enough.  They knew it meant a total life style change, almost starting over.  They knew it would be hard.  These kids have a lot of grief and trauma.  The kind of stuff you cannot just love away.  …  Then, as it goes, they started to get excited, thinking about all the new things they would get to experience with the boys.  They started to see the boys in a different way, looking at each of them for their strengths, their potential.

    “They started the paperwork on the plane home.  Last week they finished their home study.  This week they start their dossier.  With any luck the boys should be home before summer.”

    Amanda’s dad is in Ethiopia right now to bring these boys home. Amanda’s parents actually had a chance to meet with the boys last year and ask them if they wanted to be adopted. I can’t imagine making a decision that quickly or being able to jump through the appropriate hoops while in the country. That’s some impressive commitment on the part of these parents, the social workers and agency.

    I also can’t help but think how incredible this is for the family. Samrawit and Teshone will have two Ethiopian uncles. Berhane and Tsegaye will have a niece and nephew from their country—and Samrawit was at the same care center. Amazing.

    It’s definitely not the kind of thing every grandparent could do.

    But as Amanda wrote, “I cannot think of a better way to finish.”

    $12.12 for Ethiopian Adoption

    I’ve been coming across a lot of cool adoption stories lately, especially as I poke around at blogs from other Ethiopian adoptive parents. I’ve been tweeting a few of them, but I think it’s worth sharing them here. Gives a little more room to the story and isn’t quite as ephemeral as Twitter.

    Adam and Amber Stutzman from Oregon are waiting to bring home a baby girl from Ethiopia. Right now they’re waiting for a referral and have entered the single digits on the unofficial waiting list. I remember those days—you get pretty jumpy waiting for that phone call.

    They’re diligently raising money—more than they originally planned since Ethiopia now requires two trips—and perhaps their best donation just came from a second grader in the form of $12.12:

    I went to our kid’s school and one of the little girls that is in the 2nd grade came up and she gave me a pencil box with money in it. She had made bookmarks and had been selling them to family and friends and it was ALL for our baby—to help bring her home!

    I love it when kids blow us away with their generosity and heart. That’s pretty cool.

    Immigration Protest: “It’s Not About Us”

    I’ve confessed before that I’ve turned into a pretty sappy guy of late. Today while listening to a news story on immigration I felt those familiar heartstrings being pulled. The tears weren’t coming—not just yet anyway. But if the story went on it could have gotten ugly.

    It was a story on The World about a group of immigrant students who held a sit-in protest in Senator John McCain’s office in Arizona. They spoke with one student, Yahaira Carrillo, who has lived in the United States since she was seven. Her parents were migrant farmer workers for a time and she was brought into the U.S. illegally by them, with no choice in the matter. She’s been in the United States her entire life and considers herself an American. However, she has no path to citizenship. She represents as many as 65,000 students who are in the U.S. illegally, brought here by their parents. Now they’re being punished for their parents’ mistakes.

    These students’ only hope is a piece of proposed legislation, the Dream Act, that would give students like them a path to legal citizenship.

    Carrillo sounded like your typical American college student. She didn’t have a hint of an accent and says she speaks and writes English much better than she does Spanish (though that shouldn’t matter). The only thing she’s ever known is America and if deported—something she could face after the protest—she has no idea where she would go. And that’s when I felt the heartstrings being pulled:

    “We knew what we were facing by going into the Senator’s office, we knew that deportation in the long run is a possibility. But It’s not about us, it’s about something bigger. What matters is the Dream Act, what matters is all of these thousands of young people—like I said, it’s 65,000 a year who graduate who don’t have a path to follow their dreams.”

    When Carrillo says she loves America, she’s not just full of it. She wanted to join the Marines and spent a year in an ROTC program before realizing that she’d never be able to join the Armed Forces as an illegal immigrant.

    “I love this country,” she says, “I want nothing more than to contribute fully and as much as I can to it.”

    Call my sappy, but that kind of initiative and sacrifice on the part of her fellow undocumented students is incredible. I’m no expert on the Dream Act after listening to a five minute radio story, but it seems to me that students like her who didn’t have a choice in breaking the law should have some option other than deportation.

    Immigration is a pretty touchy topic these days. I certainly don’t know what the best solution is, but as I read a New York Times piece on the generational divide over immigration, I was reminded that only a hundred years ago my grandparents’ church still had services in German. We are a nation of immigrants. We should never forget that.