Category Archives: EthiopiaStudio

Happy times and high stakes

Musse and Jesmina deGuzman blow on kazoos during the pajama parade at "Lyle's Pajama Party," held before Childsplay's Sunday afternoon performance of "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Warm flannel pajamas and cozy slippers on a brisk December afternoon. Pizza and pretzels, cookies and lemonade. Face painters, costumed characters, crafts. The giddy abandon of parading around a place more typically associated with culture and refinement while blowing on kazoos.

A play based on a favorite childhood book. A cast of characters clearly devoted to the excellence of their craft. And the company of two young children who have become very dear to me in the two and a half years I have known their family.

A few blocks away, a group of graduate design students near the end of a semester-long project. As I sit with two wide-eyed children in a darkened theater at Tempe Center for the Arts, these students prepare for a performance of their own. Their final review is Tuesday and the stakes are high. Not just for them, though this project will likely be part of any future career-related discussions and job interviews. More pressing than that are thoughts of a trusting, grateful  community in a remote Ethiopian village where a lot of people are counting on them.

Their task: designing a campus where 2,500 children — some who walk to school each day from up to 10 kilometers away — will be educated. The process has been exhilarating, agonizing, exhausting. The hard work and long hours have been full of frustrating uncertainty, conflicting opinions and the challenges of team dynamics. The determination to persist came from a place of higher accountability than grades or degrees. Unlike most graduate-level design studios, where final plans remain theoretical, these plans will be used to build a school.

A school that the parents of my two young theater companions have pledged to build.

Phoenix architect Jack DeBartolo 3 AIA, an adjunct professor at The Design School at ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, leads a discussion with graduate architecture students at EthiopiaStudio 2.0.

Now we are 2

A Sesame Street-theme cake for Tesfanesh and Solomon, now 2.

Tesfanesh and Solomon deGuzman — the children I first met as babies in Ethiopia — are 2 years old. They shared a birthday party Saturday with their older brother Musse (who turns 4 this week) at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. Big sister Jesmina (yet another November birthday!) enjoyed her party at a different location the night before.

Musse's party included a Captain America cake and an actual Captain America character.

The train park was filled with families celebrating birthdays Saturday. Balloons were tied to nearly every picnic table; all the ramadas were full. Gifts and pizza and cake covered every surface. Children ran in and out of giant inflatables rented for the occasion. The miniature train ran around its track nonstop, its horn tooting a friendly warning as it reached pedestrian pathways. The passengers’ smiling faces and waving hands added a sense of shared community to the festivities.

It was a day of milestones; none more remarkable to me than the fact that this was the very park in which I first met the deGuzman family more than 2½ years ago. The place where I first started learning about the arduous process of international adoption. The place where I shared a secret yearning to see Africa and Keri deGuzman said, “Come with us!” The place where a story began and a friendship was formed — both of which have changed my life in ways I could never have predicted and continue to discover.

The babies (they will always be “the babies” to me) are happy and thriving. I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but when I do, I thrill to their ready acceptance and recognition. It’s as though they know we are linked in some inextricable way, simply because I was in the room during those first few magical moments they spent in their parents’ arms. The day they became part of a family.

Jesmina had a cowgirl/boy-theme party Friday at Pump It Up in Scottsdale.

Brian and Keri deGuzman have a way of building family around them. With their own closest relatives living in far-flung parts of the U.S. (and abroad), they have created a family around them in Arizona. As four birthdays were celebrated in less than 24 hours, there were smiles and hugs among those of us who have found ourselves pulled into this loving and welcoming circle.

Even in the midst of this joyful flurry of activities, I could see that Keri had other children on her mind. She and Brian remain very much involved in projects to benefit the children in Ethiopia who will never ride a miniature train, never receive a pile of brightly wrapped packages, never taste a birthday cake and never know the security of a true family.

As the party was ending, I heard Keri talking with another mother who expressed interest in helping with fundraising efforts for the construction of Shebraber School in a remote village southwest of Addis Ababa. As they talked, I could picture the graduate architecture students who are part of EthiopiaStudio 2.0 at The Design School at Arizona State University  who were no doubt working that very moment on plans for the school, which Brian and Keri have pledged to build.

The students, under the guidance of Phoenix architect and ASU adjunct professor Jack DeBartolo 3, AIA, are giving a presentation Wednesday — a trial run, of sorts, for their final presentation in December. Like me, they took a chance, followed a yearning and found themselves drawn into a new level of awareness from which they will never return.

RELATED WRITING

Other blog posts about Ethiopia and the deGuzmans’ adoption story.

Sharing an Extraordinary Experience (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

An Ethiopia Adoption Story (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

Changing by Design (PHOENIX magazine, August 2011)