Tag Archives: Christian World Adoption

An Ethiopian adoption story – a chance to hear it told

July 2010: Keri and Solomon.

I’ve heard her tell it dozens of times but I never tire of the story. When Keri deGuzman tells people about the remarkable journey she and her husband, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D., took to adopt their four Ethiopia-born children, she is transformed.

Any pre-event jitters evaporate as soon as she begins to talk. There is no place for discomfort she may feel about public speaking. This isn’t about her. It’s not even about the four beautiful children that she and Brian are raising, though the children are the underpinning for her amazing and still-evolving story.

When Keri speaks, it’s about the millions of other children. The ones who don’t have clean homes and nutritious foods and the chance for meaningful education or productive lives. The orphans of Ethiopia.

Keri will share her Ethiopia adoption story at 10:30am tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) at Scottsdale’s Mustang Library. I’ll be with her, adding what I can about my experience traveling with her and Brian to Ethiopia last summer, when they welcomed their two youngest children, Solomon and Tesfanesh, into their family.

Keri’s four Ethiopia-born children are happy, healthy, thriving — and cherished. The story about how they came into her life is beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. Hearing it will be a perfect kickoff to the Easter weekend.

After flying all night from Addis Ababa, Keri and Brian unite their family at Washington's Dulles International Airport. The two older children, Jesmina and Musse, stayed with Brian's parents, who live in the Washington, D.C. area., while we were in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is calling

Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgi and his guests (from left): Haddush Halefom (who oversees the Acacia Village project for Christian World Adoption), me, Zerihun Beyene (who works for Christian World Adoption), Brian deGuzman, M.D. and Keri deGuzman. Photo courtesy of the president's office.

I had a dream that I was back at the palace in Addis Ababa, sitting in the office of Girma Wolde-Giorgi, the president of Ethiopia. I was waiting for the president to enter his spacious office so I could interview him for a story.

I saw the same high ceilings, the same heavy curtains, the same bronze cowboy statue on the massive desk — the very statue that intrigued me when I was in President Girma’s office last July, during my trip with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman.

At the time, I found it ironic. There I was in Africa, thousands of miles from home. And yet what drew my attention was a cowboy, that classic icon of the American Southwest.

I didn’t ask President Girma how a cowboy statue found its way to his desk. Our meeting that day was about the deGuzmans, who were in Ethiopia to welcome two babies into their family. They were invited to meet the president because of their involvement with Acacia Village, a home where 250 children can be nurtured, healed and transitioned into adoptive families. President Girma serves as honorary chairman of the board for Acacia Village, a project of Christian World Foundation.

In my dream, I was waiting in his office by myself, tending to unfinished business. I woke up before I found out what that business was.

A few days later, someone else told me about a dream she’d had. In her dream, I was staying at a beach house in California. The deGuzman family—Brian, Keri and their four beautiful children—had come to visit me. And so had my staff at Raising Arizona Kids magazine. I was fixing lunch for everyone. It was some sort of special occasion.

Ethiopia is calling to me in every way it can. In my own dreams and even in the dreams of someone who is close to me, I am reminded that there is work to be done, stories still to tell.

I have lost some ground in the last few months. The period between November and the end of February is always the busiest and most stressful for my small staff. It begins with research and fact checking for our 128-page Schools, etc. guide to education, which mostly happens in November. December brings double-issue production deadlines for the book and our January magazine.
The holidays throw us all off our game, as various staff members take vacation time to be with family and friends. And then, once we return to work in January, we’re back on deadlines for February, March and the last weeks of planning for our annual Camp Fair.

I knew that I would make little headway with my Ethiopia writing during this time, so I made a conscious, proactive decision to ride it out without punishing myself (too much).

But now it is time to get back on track. After this week, when the April magazine goes to press, I must recommit my time and attention to this story, which has gotten under my skin, dominating my conscious thoughts and seeping into subconscious ones, too.

Ethiopia – Winging it with a prayer, and support from some pros

When I traveled with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman to Ethiopia last July, I kept wishing I had eight arms: two for writing notes, two for taking pictures, two for recording audio and two for capturing video.

Juggling the tools of my trade. Photo by Brian deGuzman, M.D..

Without that option, of course, I had to keep making judgment calls about which tools of the trade to pull out to help me remember details from the events and conversations that were so quickly unfolding. I’m not trained as a multimedia journalist, so my first instinct was to forgo the higher-tech audio/video efforts and all the related beginner’s-level fumbling and lack of confidence. My comfort zone is words and pictures; that’s where I tended to focus. But certain events demanded more.

When that happened, I did the best I could to wing it, praying fervently that the audio/video was really recording, that I’d get it transferred onto my laptop properly, that I wouldn’t get home with nothing to show from the extraordinary moments I had witnessed.

I have about half an hour of video footage from the first intimate moments the deGuzmans spent with their new babies in a foster home that provides care for children who have been referred to families through Christian World Adoption in Addis Ababa. The quality of the footage is not that great. I was fighting not just inexperience but small, cramped spaces, inadequate light and restrictions against photographing any of the other children at the foster home. I was also determined not to interfere with a moment that was deeply personal and spiritually powerful.

The events of that Saturday afternoon fulfilled a journey that began more than three years earlier, when the deGuzman’s adopted their daughter Jesmina, now 4, and continued a year later when they adopted their son Musse, now 3. With these two babies, Solomon and Tesfanesh, the deGuzman family is complete.

Four months later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I shut myself off in my home office, determined to learn Final Cut Express so I could edit my video footage from that day into something people might actually watch. Something no more than three or four minutes long.

I did okay with the editing but got completely stuck on some of the technical aspects. So I’m grateful for the support and encouragement of a real multimedia journalist, RAK staff member Vicki Louk Balint, and audio/visual production expert Rob Turchick of yipDog Studios, both of whom spent several hours at my house one day cleaning up my mistakes while I played on the floor with Rob’s youngest son, Tyler.

I am also deeply, humbly grateful to the deGuzmans, who invited me to share this journey with them and trusted me to convey it to others.

Ethiopia – the babies are thriving!

I hadn’t seen the deGuzman babies since their birthday party in mid-November. So when I stopped by the family’s Paradise Valley home yesterday morning for a visit, I was pretty sure Tesfanesh and Solomon had forgotten all about me.

Keri greeted me at the door with Solomon in her arms. As I expected, the now 1-year-old toddler (who spent nine blissful hours on my lap during the flight home from Ethiopa last July) nestled his head against his mom’s neck when he saw me, curious but shy.

“He’s playing hard to get,” Keri said, confident that my bond with her children was intact. We greeted each other warmly, eager to catch up on the last few weeks’ flurry of holiday activities, family visits and progress on projects the deGuzmans support in Ethiopia.

Tesfanesh deGuzman.

I heard laughter down the hallway to the left. When I turned to look, I saw Tesfanesh crawling furiously down the hall in my direction. Instinctively, I got down on my knees to put myself at her eye level. Without a moment’s hesitation, she crawled straight to my thighs, using them for leverage as she hoisted herself up to standing and held out her arms for a hug.

I almost lost it. And I definitely lost any resolve I may have had to get back to the office any time soon.

I ended up spending three full hours with Keri and the babies — and also had a moment to catch up with Brian deGuzman, M.D., who had returned from a bike ride as I arrived that morning and had a bit of time at home before heading off to his work as associate chief of cardiovascular surgery at The Heart & Lung Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. (As he kept insisting he would, when we were still in Ethiopia, Brian calls Solomon “Minte,” an affectionate nickname based on his first name, Mintesnot.) The couple’s other two children — 4-year-old Jesmina and 3-year-old Musse, who also were adopted from Ethiopia — were at preschool.

Solomon deGuzman in the family playroom. A map of Africa is on the wall behind him, part of a wall-size map of the world that was already there when deGuzmans bought their house.

The family has pretty much adjusted to their hectic, happy lifestyle and the babies are thriving. Solomon (who did eventually warm up to me) is wiry, strong and as charming and flirtatious as ever. As he moves toward the “terrible 2s,” he’s also developing a knack for drama — moments of frustration quickly manifest in piercing cries and explosive jumps that suddenly stop when he is comforted, distracted or appeased.

Tesfanesh, who is a few weeks younger, remains sunny and serene. She is insatiably curious and (so far) very patient with the process of discovery.

It’s been six months since I traveled with the deGuzmans to bring home these two beautiful babies, born into poverty and orphaned in a country more than 9,000 miles away from Arizona. They are happy, cherished, growing and developing right on track. What could be more remarkable?

MORE about the deGuzmans

My December 2010 article, “An Ethiopia Adoption Story,” is now archived online.

Read more blog posts about my Ethiopia journey.

Happy birthday(s) in the deGuzman family

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Two of the deGuzman children have birthdays today. Jesmina is 4. Musse is 3. And yes, they were born on exactly the same day, one year apart. In different villages in Ethiopia.

Their mom and their younger siblings, Solomon and Tesfanesh, also have birthdays this month. So November’s a pretty big month in the deGuzman household. And on Saturday, dozens of the family’s friends — along with Keri’s mom, Carol Drivick, who lives in Naples, Fla. — gathered at Arcadia Park in east Phoenix to celebrate.

I was there because, well, I’ve been at almost every major deGuzman family event in the last 20 months. Ever since I agreed to travel with Keri and her husband, Brian deGuzman, M.D. (a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center) to Ethiopia last July, when they welcomed Solomon and Tesfanesh into their family. The trip has been the subject of many blog posts and an article that will appear in the December issue of Raising Arizona Kids.

It was hard not to think of that trip as I watched all four deGuzman children enjoy their shared party. (It must be confessed that Solomon and Tesfanesh slept through a good part of it.) Four months ago, the babies were sharing a crib in the tiny bedroom of a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Before that, they were living in an orphanage in the impoverished village of Soddo.

How seemlessly they have folded into this loving family and adjusted to this bountiful life, which has room and resources for inflatable bouncy slides and magic shows and facepainting. For friends and food and birthday presents times four. And even four separate birthday cakes.

“These kids are growing up in a home where they have a lot, but that’s not it,” Carol told me. “It’s the love. I see it in this home. Brian and Keri adore these children. And as they raise their children they try to capture each moment. “

As they raise their children, Brian and Keri also plan to involve them in outreach projects (including Acacia Village) they already support in Ethiopia. During every happy family celebration for their own children, they are also thinking about the many others — millions of others — who remain orphaned or abandoned in Ethiopia.

The happy ending to their family’s story isn’t an ending. It’s the beginning of another story about commitment and purpose and what one family can do to make a difference in the world.

For now, however, it’s enough to celebrate these four young lives.

And oh, yes. Keri’s birthday, too. Her was Nov. 10. Brian had to go out of town that day, so he brought her a beautiful bouquet of flowers after he dropped Jesmina and Musse at school and headed home to pack his bag.

I asked Brian what happens when it’s his birthday.

“Not much,” he said. “Keri usually buys me an ice cream cake and when I come home from work she tells me it’s in the freezer.” He smiled, looking around at the his beautiful family and cherished group of family and friends. “It’s okay. I’ve already had my birthday.”

Ethiopia – operation cover shoot

I’m working on a story for our December magazine about the deGuzman family of Paradise Valley, whose Ethiopia adoption journey I’ve been following ever since I met them in March 2009. This past July , I followed them all the way to Ethiopia, where I witnessed the first moments and days they spent with their two youngest children, Solomon and Tesfanesh. And at least every two weeks since then, I’ve stopped by to visit and marvel at the babies’ growth and progress.

Jesmina mugs for my camera while Michelle checks Dan's set-up on the computer.

Yesterday, I showed up at their house at 7:45am with staff photographer Daniel Friedman and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams. Our mission: to get a cover photo for our December holiday issue with all six members of the family, four of whom are under the age of 4. Wisely, it was decided to leave out Romeo and Lily, the two family bulldogs.

Michelle wanted to set the scene as though it were Christmas morning and all four kids had crawled into bed with Mom and Dad. When we arrived, Keri was ready. She’d purchased several sets of pajamas for each member of her family and had them all lined up on a divider wall in her living room so Michelle could choose colors and patterns she thought would work best together.

Dan got busy setting up lighting in the master bedroom while Keri calmly applied makeup and put hot rollers in her hair. Brian fed pancakes to 2-year-old Musse while Michelle took on the challenge of styling 3-year-old Jesmina’s ultra-thick hair.

Michelle took this picture of me with Tesfanesh and Solomon.

I busied myself playing with the babies so everyone else could get ready.

 

Brian good-naturedly donned baggy, navy blue pajamas for the shoot, showing no sign of stress or concern despite the fact that he had only a short amount of time to participate before he had to hightail it to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, where he was to give a talk on women’s heart conditions. (He is a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center, a sister facility.)

Keri emerged from the master bath, looking radiant in blue-and-pink plaid flannel pajamas. “Yeah…like I always look this good when I get up in the morning!” she joked.

When Dan said he was ready, Michelle positioned each member of the family on the bed and Dan starting shooting.

Michelle talks to Jesmina (whose face is hidden) as she positions the kids on the bed.

I always marvel at the grace under pressure that Dan and Michelle exhibit under such circumstances. It’s tough to get six people to look good and smile at the same time. Especially when two of them don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. I think all of us were silently praying for that one, magical moment when everyone looked happy at the same time.

Tesfanesh was calm and observant all morning.

Tesfanesh, who has a beautiful smile, was calmly observant and serious throughout the entire shoot. Solomon, who is typically gregarious and charming, was curious and subdued. Energetic Musse was squirmy and squiggling;  his facial expressions kept changing at the speed of light from giggly to glum. Jesmina alternated between smiling with beauty and ease — the perfect model — and clenching her jaw in a forced smile, determined to earn the reward her parents had promised after the morning’s work: a family lunch and ice cream at the Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale.

We tried “cheese!” and even “Oreo cookies!” We squeezed squeaky toys and shook rattles. At one point I put a rattle on Dan’s head. That tactic worked for a few seconds; the two older kids, Jesmina and Musse, seemed to think it was pretty funny.

I can’t wait to see Dan’s pictures.

Musse gets a loving tickle from Mom.

Jesmina plays with a doll the ever-thoughtful Michelle had brought to give her.

After the photo shoot, a walk around the neighborhood with four kids, two dogs, a stroller, a tricycle and a bike.

Jesmina on her bicycle, a gift from her grandparents.

Solomon and Tesfanesh enjoy a snack in their double stroller.

Musse and Jesmina encounter a minor obstacle while burning off post-photo shoot energy.

After the walk, some playtime...and then naps all around.

Ethiopia – A delayed gift

I stumbled upon a message recently, as I was flipping through one of the reporters’ notebooks I took with me to Ethiopia. It was written on a blank page buried in the middle of my notebook, as though intended to provide a surprise — a delayed gift from a charming 10-year-old boy who lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I love you,” it said. It’s been a long time since a little boy has written those words to me.

As I realized what I was seeing, I was overcome. It’s been weeks since my visit to Ethiopia. Sometimes, in the overwhelming rush of minutia that consumes my days, I almost forget I was there. Then something takes me back. And I realize this experience will never leave me. It continues to change me. I have many remaining lessons to learn from it.

The child’s name is Nathnael. His father, Zerihun, works with Christian World Adoption, the agency through which Paradise Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman adopted their four children.  I traveled with the deGuzmans to Ethiopia in July, when they welcomed their two youngest children, Tesfanesh and Solomon, into their family.

Keri, Zerihun and Brian.

Zerihun had invited us to dinner at the end of a long, exhausting day of meetings and tours. As his wife and several other family members finished preparations for a traditional Ethiopian meal, the rest of us relaxed in the family’s cozy living room.

Zerihun’s two youngest sons — Nathnael and 7-year-old Bereket — were particularly excited by the occasion and openly curious about their guests.

I had brought a copy of the May 2009 issue of Raising Arizona Kids to give to Zerihun’s family. Our cover that month featured Keri and her two older children, Jesmina and Musse. My chance meeting of her at a photo shoot was the genesis for this entire experience.

Nathnael started flipping through the pages of the magazine.

“What is your favorite subject at school?” Keri asked.

“My favorite subject is English,” he said, his words clipped and British-proper.

Nathnael’s eyes, still focused on the magazine, rested on an APS advertisement featuring Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash.

“Do you know who that is?” Keri asked.

“Steve Nash?”

We all laughed, marveling at the power and reach of the NBA‘s marketing prowess.

“He’s a basketball player, as you can see,” Nathnael said.

“He can fly…” Bereket whispered softly, his tone full of awe.

When Nathnael saw me pull out my audio recorder and reporter’s notebook, he started hovering over my shoulder. As I often found myself doing during this trip, I made a conscious decision to be less of a journalist and more of a human being.

Yet another gift from Zerihun's family.

I explained why I was traveling with the deGuzmans and that I hoped to write a book about their family’s adoption experience. I told him that I was taking notes and recording the conversation to help me remember this special evening at his home. I asked if he wanted to help.

Nathnael took my reporter’s notebook and pen and proceeded to write down the names and ages of his brothers and sister. Then he decided to do the same for everyone else in the room. He seemed so interested in the process that I told him I was taking the night off.

“You’re going to write my story for me,” I said. “I’m just going to enjoy my dinner.”

This is what he wrote:

Hello. My name is Nathnael Zerihun. Tonight we have new people to the house. So we are enjoying what we have for Monday night!

The Food

Now everybody is introduced to the Ethiopian food. Now we are ready to eat. Now we have started eating. And everybody is enjoying the food. Brian loves kitfo [minced raw beef, heated and marinated in a spicy chili powder-based spice]. Everybody loves the baby. That’s new for us.

WOW!

Karen loves most of the food as we do. I am giving the night off for Karen because I am writing what she writes for today. Kiry has a coca or coke. Karen has pure, lovely water. Brian had a Coca-Cola or coke in American. It’s good they say.

    Huray Happy new food

For some reason, he skipped four blank pages before adding:

My only regret is that I got so absorbed in Nathnael’s journalistic efforts I forgot my own responsibilities in that area and failed to get a photo of him. Here is a group shot that I snapped with Brian’s camera. Nathnael is in the middle in the striped shirt.

Ethiopia – an update on the babies

The night we flew back to Phoenix: Brian deGuzman (gray T-shirt) hugs family friend Dinesh Wilson while Keri (right) introduces Brooke Wilson and Maria (in blue) to the babies. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

It’s been a little over a month since Brian and Keri deGuzman brought their babies home from Ethiopia. From the moment they first held Solomon and Tesfanesh, life has been a whirlwind of activity.

While we were still in Ethiopia, each day meant a new destination and new people to meet. Throughout it all — hours of bumpy car trips, bottles and diaper changes in every imaginable environment, endless sets of arms begging to hold them — the babies were remarkably calm. They barely made a peep during our trans-Atlantic flight from Addis Ababa to Washington, D.C., where they met their Ethiopia-born big brother Musse and big sister Jesmina for the first time and spent several days with grandparents, extended family and friends.

It’s like they knew all the commotion was peripheral to the essential reality of their young lives: They have a family. They have a home.

Keri can’t explain it; she just knows it to be true. “When we walked through the door, I looked at Brian and said, “Oh, my gosh. They know that they’re home. They knew that Washington, D.C. wasn’t their home, or anywhere else that we were before we came home. But as soon as we walked in the door it was like they were just happy. Tesfanesh lit up. They went right into their cribs — no problem. They weren’t scared.”

When I visited the deGuzmans’ Paradise Valley home for a few hours last week, I was astonished to see how much the babies have changed. Solomon, now about 9½ months old, looks like he’s grown a foot. His body is as long as his mom’s entire torso and his legs seem to go on forever. He is charming and quick to smile. He enjoys sitting in a bouncy chair and crawling around on the floor — he’s so fast he disappears around the corner if you blink your eyes.

Tesfanesh is a serene, stoic beauty. Now about 8 months old, she also is growing taller and stronger; seeing her sit confidently on a blanket surrounded by toys I am reminded of the room at the Soddo orphanage where these babies got their start. The wise director has a strict rule for the nursery: The babies are to be in their cribs only when they are sleeping. Every waking hour is to be spent on a clean, padded mat on the floor, propped up by Boppy pillows and the loving arms of nannies so that the babies can experience the movement, play and intellectual stimulation so important to those first months of development.

The deGuzman babies are healthy and thriving; their pediatrician has pronounced them completely perfect. I hear no trace of the chronic wheezing Tes had while we were in Ethiopia. Both children continue to battle ear infections but that’s not unusual for babies their age.

Jesmina (3½) and Musse (2½) are back at preschool at The Solel School, where they occasionally stay an extra hour for soccer. Their dad is back to his hectic schedule as a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center. Keri maintains almost daily contact with friends in Ethiopia and is full of news about the people we met and the projects she and Brian continue to support there.

Life is starting to settle into a routine — as much of a routine as is possible, that is, in a household with four children under the age of 4.

Tesfanesh remains calm, contented, quiet, observant.

Keri with Solomon, who was just up from a nap.

Maria, who helps Keri with the children during the weekdays, gives the babies their first taste of yogurt. (They loved it.)

Solomon can crawl out of sight in the blink of an eye.

Tesfanesh is now sitting easily and jealously watching Solomon, who's a couple of months older, scoot around on his hands and knees. Sometimes she reaches out and grabs his hair as he shoots past her.

Keri took Solomon with her to pick up Jesmina and Musse after preschool; Tesfanesh was ready for a nap so she stayed home with Maria.

Heading down the colorful hallway at The Solel School in Paradise Valley.

Keri straps Solomon, Jesmina and Musse into car seats for the trip back home.

Musse, Jesmina and Solomon play on the floor with Maria. Jesmina was using markers to decorate the inside of a diaper box.

Musse and Keri enjoy a playful moment on the couch.

Ethiopia – Craving reconnection

Everyone kept asking me how the babies were doing. I was running out of answers because I hadn’t seen them.

August in my household was a fun but flurried month of arrivals and departures. We welcomed both of our grown sons home for separate visits from Washington, D.C.. and reveled in the chance to catch up with their friends who stopped by to visit. We helped my cousin’s daughter from Pennsylvania get settled at ASU. We hosted family gatherings so everyone could  spend time together.

Assessing the damange following our second flood.

Work was busy, too. We were still upacking and resettling after our two-month evacuation following The Great Office Flood of 2010. Then we experienced a second, though smaller, flood on Aug. 17. This time, thankfully, just our conference room was affected when refuse water from the hair salon above us rained down for several hours.  (Note to self: Next time we move, make sure the business above us is not so water-dependent.)

My Ethiopia experience was feeling increasingly distant and I was not finding the time I’d hoped to spend sifting through notes and recorded conversations in an effort to document more of that journey. I knew the deGuzmans were busy, too, adjusting to life with four children under the age of 4, getting the older two back into a preschool routine and hosting their own friends and family members who wanted to meet the babies.

Then, in yet another instance of “small world” coincidences and surprising connections that have entered my life since I first met Brian and Keri deGuzman in March 2009, I got an email from Keri.

She’d just run across the book Both Ends Burning: My Story of Adopting Three Children from Haiti, by Craig Juntunen of Scottsdale and wanted to make sure I knew about it. Keri was excited about the book because it paints a positive picture of international adoption.

Raising Arizona Kids ran an article about the Juntunens last December and mentioned the book. Scottsdale writer Sue Breding is still following their story; she is writing a “one year later” update for this December’s magazine and is planning a trip to Haiti with Kathy Juntunen at some point early next year.

Solomon deGuzman.

When I wrote back to share that coincidence with Keri, we made plans to get together. I told her I needed a “baby fix.” Time, like the now quick-crawling Solomon, was getting away from me.

Next: Pictures from my visit and an update on the babies.

Ethiopia – a new model for the long-term care of orphans

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine converted to a new website platform. Find this post here.