Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

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Ethiopia – The adoptions are final

With Judge Owens: Musse, Brian, Tesfanesh, Jesmina, Keri and Solomon deGuzman.

As The Honorable Bernard C. Owens took the bench in his courtroom at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa, Brian and Keri deGuzman were trying to settle two energetic toddlers. Keri looked up at the judge uncertainly.

“Can he have a cracker?” she asked, referring to her son Solomon, who was squirming on her lap.

There was a brief moment of complete silence — enough for me to start wondering if maybe crackers aren’t allowed in court. Then the judge smiled. “Why not?” he said. “Anything that works.”

Crackers were offered all around and the squirming stopped.

“The universal silencer,” Judge Owens said. Then he got down to the business of the day.

A full eight months after they first held two small babies in their arms, the deGuzmans were in court Wednesday to finalize the adoptions of Tesfanesh and Mintesnot-Solomon Brian deGuzman. Because I had been with them on that very first day, in a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Keri invited me to join them for the court appearance. Brian’s parents, who live in Potomac, Md., also were there.

Owens is the same judge who granted adoption petitions for the deGuzmans’ older children, Jesmina (4) and Musse (2), who were also born in Ethiopia. Keri reminded him of that as the proceedings commenced, adding that “this is probably the last time we’ll be here to see you. But you never know!”

Deputy County Attorney Janina Walters posed a series of questions to verify the information that would go into the official records: the deGuzmans’ full names, the children’s full names, the correct spelling for each name and the dates of birth for both parents and children. The deGuzmans were asked to swear to the accuracy of the documentation in their petitions.

The judge then declared that it was “in the best interest of the children” to grant the petition. And just like that, it was done. The judge, the court clerk, the lawyer and all of the deGuzmans clapped their hands in celebration.

I pulled out my camera (allowed in the building only for adoption proceedings) and snapped pictures of the family, first with Judge Owens and then with Walters, who is expecting a baby this summer. She said that her next case, coincidentally, involved another adoption from Ethiopia.

As we exited the courtroom, we saw Steve Dershimer and Elizabeth Anthony of Ahwatukee and their adorable 17-month-old daughter. The two families greeted each other like old friends. I was momentarily confused. Did they already know each other? Or was this just the instantaneous bonding of people who have shared a  similar journey to build a family?

It was, in fact, a little of both. I heard Steve tell Brian, “We feel like we already know you because we have read all about you in the [Raising Arizona Kids] magazine.”

The daughter he and his wife are raising is also named Tesfanesh. In Amharic, the name means “I am hope.”

Big sister Jesmina (4) holds Tesfanesh as they wait for the judge to enter the courtroom.

Three generations of deGuzmans.

Brian and Keri with Tesfanesh and Solomon.

With Deputy County Attorney Janina Walters.

The deGuzmans with Elizabeth Anthony, Steve Dershimer and their 17-month-old daughter Tesfanesh.

Memories of Japan

I have a standing appointment each Tuesday morning at 9. Afterward, I typically stop by a nearby coffee shop to get a coffee and a bottle of water. Then I pull out my laptop and get to work. Though the location offers free wi-fi, I try to avoid using it. Internet connectivity breeds distractions. This is my editing time and I need to focus.

Like clockwork, four other people show up at the same coffee shop at the same time. First, an elderly couple shuffles slowly through the door with someone who appears to be their daughter. A bit later, a younger woman, probably a granddaughter, arrives. They order drinks. The man helps his wife remove her sweater. She starts coughing and he slowly, ever-so-lovingly rises from his chair to pat her gently on the back.

They sit at their table for about an hour, laughing and talking and sharing stories. They seem very happy to be together. I look up at them periodically and smile. It’s a nice thing to witness — three generations enjoying each other’s company.

The gentleman has started acknowledging me, typically starting a conversation about my laptop. As in, “I just can’t figure those things” or “How do you like that model?” Today, as I was packing my laptop and getting ready to leave, he said, “Was that made in Japan? Because I understand that there won’t be any more computers coming from Japan for awhile. Cars either.”

I nodded, solemnly acknowledging the momentous disaster in Japan. “It’s terrible, isn’t it? Hard to even imagine.”

“You know I lived there for awhile,” he said. “During the war. I’ve been to a lot of those cities. I still have friends there. I wonder if they are alive.”

He told me what it was like to be a young member of the U.S. armed forces in Japan at that time. How he was initially hesitant to communicate with the Japanese people. How he started out “hating them” because they were the enemy. “But, you know?” he said. “Once I lived there for a while and got to know them as human beings, I liked them very much.”

His companions started their own preparations to leave. The granddaughter gave me a look. You know, the one that says, “Thanks for indulging him. For being nice and listening to him.”

I was only too happy to do so, thinking as I did about the many times when I was younger and didn’t get it. When I’d listen impatiently, half-heartedly, to the stories of elders in my own family tree. Stories that will be lost to history because I couldn’t be bothered to give them my full attention or, better yet, to write them down.

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Musse, Brian, Tesfanesh, Jesmina (standing), Keri and Solomon deGuzman with Judge Owens.

TOMORROW: “An Ethiopia Adoption Story,” the sequel

A full eight months after they first held two small babies in their arms, Brian and Keri deGuzman appeared at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa today to hear The Honorable Bernard C. Owens finalize the adoptions of Tesfanesh and Mintesnot-Solomon Brian deGuzman. Owens is the same judge who granted adoption petitions for older siblings Jesmina (4) and Musse (2).

I was in the courtroom to follow up on my December story about my journey to Ethiopia with the deGuzmans. Look for more photos and my update (including an amazing “small world” story) tomorrow.

Ethiopia: The other side of the waiting

Laundry hangs out to dry at a foster home in Addis Ababa.

Two days after welcoming two beautiful babies into their family, Brian and Keri deGuzman returned to the foster home in Addis Ababa where their children had been living after the family’s adoption referral was made.

They had gifts and donations for the staff and children, and a visit to make with a small boy who had a history of seizures. While Brian (a cardiovascular surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix) and Keri (a pediatric intensive care nurse) met the child and talked to the nurse, one of the foster home staff members showed me around the compound.

It was good to be back to record my observations. The first time I was there was extremely emotional, and focused completely on the deGuzmans’ first few moments with babies Tesfanesh and Solomon.

Clothing, and even a freshly washed teddy bear (upper left corner) dry in the tentative sunshine.

It was laundry day. Though it was the rainy season, the sun was out for a few hours and that opportunity would not be neglected. Hand-washed shirts and shorts, blankets and socks were spread everywhere — on the railing leading up the stairs to the house and spread across straw mats on the lawn and driveway.

I was not allowed to photograph any of the children, which makes telling the visual side of this story difficult. I can show their clothes hanging on the railing and their shoes leaned against the walls of the compound, which had rolls of barbed wire across the top, looking like a prickly Slinky had been unfurled.

Shoes lined up against the wall of the foster home compound.

I can tell you that there were toys and books, clean spaces to play and eat and loving caregivers who were both happy and heartbroken as each charge left their care to join new families.

Shelves full of stuffed animals await children who are napping.

At one point, I was invited to enter a bedroom shared by some of the older children. I saw their shoes lined up outside the doorway, so I removed my own before stepping into the large room lined with bunk beds. The children greeted me enthusiastically, laughing and shouting and urging me to come near. It was all I could do to avoid running to each one and hugging them hard. But I knew they weren’t quite sure who I was and I didn’t want to confuse them.

So I smiled and waved, quickly ducking back into the hallway. A little girl started wailing hysterically, inconsolably. Distressed, I looked at the staff member who had invited me to look in. “She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’ll stop crying soon.”

Suddenly it became painfully, sickeningly clear. To orphaned children who are not babies but in fact old enough to understand that their lives will soon change forever, the mere glimpse of an  American visitor can be upsetting. The appearance of a woman with light skin and blonde hair is not an everyday occurrence. It is understandable that a little girl who yearns for a family might be confused. Could this be my mother? Have I been abandoned again?

From the moment I first met the deGuzmans, in March 2009, I followed each step in the wait to complete their family. Each hurdle. Each delay. The frustrations and the celebrations. Now, for the first time, I considered the other side of the waiting.

Ethiopia: Is the window for adoptions closing?

Shoes lined up in the hallway of an Addis Ababa foster home where children who have been referred for adoptions wait for their families to come.

I have Google alerts set up on the phrases “Ethiopian adoption” and “international adoption.” I did that as soon as I learned I would be traveling to Ethiopia with Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman as they welcomed two Ethiopian babies into their family.

I wanted to keep abreast of what others were writing about adoption in Ethiopia. So every weekend, I get an email summarizing recent posts about these two topics . Typically they link to new blog posts by parents who are waiting for adoptions to be finalized. Sometimes joyous, sometimes twinged with frustration, the posts help me understand the mindset of an adoptive couple facing the long and uncertain wait to bring a child into their home.

Last week, as the world absorbed news of a devastating tsunami in Japan, waves of unsettling change loomed on the other side of the world. I got an email from Keri deGuzman sharing news that the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs had announced its intention to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90 percent, beginning this month. Then my Google alert chimed in with several stories on that decision, including one by Andrea Poe of The Washington Times, who writes that Ethiopian adoptions may be in peril. Because of accusations of child trafficking and fraud, many American adoption agencies that facilitate adoptions are under review by the Ethiopian government. “There’s a danger that the window for adopting from Ethiopia may be closing,” Poe concludes.

Which would leave an estimated 5.5 million orphans — casualties of poverty and illness — in the worst kind of limbo. Domestic adoptions are rare in Ethiopia. And there is little infrastructure to provide ongoing care for so many children.

Allegations of improprieties in the adoption process must be investigated. But to shut down the whole system is an overreaction with severe consequences that impact vulnerable children the most. International adoption is never going to be more than a drop in the bucket of possible solutions (only 2,500 children were placed for adoption in 2010) but what is in its place?

Another Ethiopian adoption story

The Twietmeyer family.

As if I needed more reminders of Ethiopia…

Illinois couple Carolyn and Kiel Twietmeyer talked to The Today Show’s Jenna Bush Hager about adopting six children from Africa, including two that are HIV positive.

This wonderful story aired Monday.

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.