Tag Archives: Ethiopia

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.

An unexpectedly nostalgic afternoon

Heading home. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to share this picture. It was taken sometime in the middle of the night as an Ethiopian Airlines jet sped across the Atlantic Ocean in a hurry to reunite a family.

And for many years to come, I imagine, that family will introduce me with this story: “Solomon fell asleep on her lap on the way home and she didn’t move for eight hours! She didn’t even have her seat reclined, so she was sitting straight up the whole time!”

I don’t remember being a bit uncomfortable. As an empty nest mom of two grown sons, what I remember was the sheer bliss of holding a sleeping baby. I was somewhat wistful, in fact, when Solomon, then just 8 months old, finally woke up and went back to his parents, Brian and Keri deGuzman. I knew my moment was over. Soon we would land in Washington, D.C. This child and his sister Tesfanesh, just a few weeks younger, would be surrounded by two other siblings, two grandparents and a family friend, all of whom couldn’t wait to meet them.

That was a defining moment in my Ethiopian journey. From that point on, I knew, my claim to some sort of connection with these children was something I’d have to work hard to maintain. And after what I’d experienced with their family — 14 months of waiting, a trip to a land far away — I didn’t think I could bear that.

I don’t always see the deGuzman children as much as I’d like, but I do make an effort to connect every few weeks. I had hoped to meet with Keri this Friday, but she had other plans. So when I heard she was bringing 4-year-old Jesmina and now-15-month-old Solomon by our building today, I grabbed Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist and we went upstairs to visit.

Jesmina was getting her tightly curled hair washed, combed out and braided at Hairloks by Arlette Natural Hair Care Salon. (In the “small world” department, multimedia journalist Vicki Balint did a piece with the salon’s owner, Arlette Pender, on the challenges of styling African-American hair. The video went viral on YouTube and has been seen by more than 17,300 viewers.)

Keri has learned to do Jesmina’s hair herself, but periodically brings her to the salon, where her daughter will take any amount of pulling and tugging required of a comb-out without a whimper.

Keri had Solomon with her today, too. He spent quite awhile pretending he didn’t remember me but coyly watched and smiled. When Keri, Solomon, Mala and I walked outside for a bit, Keri could tell he’d warmed up to me and handed him over. “You can take him for a walk,” she said, knowing that was exactly what I wanted to do.

Mala and I walked him right down to our office, where he held court as the rest of us oohed and ahhed over him. We gave him some water, a cracker and a piece of cheese. When we showed him a copy of the December magazine cover that features his whole family, he pointed straight at Brian and said “Da, da!”

Mala was the one who noticed he looked sleepy. So I took him outside and walked him around our courtyard, finally stopping by the fountain, swaying and humming as he slowly settled down, rubbing his fist up and down against my stomach, then dropped his head onto my shoulder and fell sound asleep.

When Keri came by about half an hour later to retrieve him, this is what she found.

Enjoying a repeat moment I never expected to have. Photo by Mala Blomquist.

How to sell a book: Step 1? Be famous.

In late January I signed up to take a Writer’s Digest webinar called “3 Secrets to Selling Your Nonfiction Book.” A few days after I paid for the session, I was invited to observe an open heart surgery scheduled the same day at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center.

It wasn’t a tough choice. The chance to stand in the operating room watching cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. do a double valve repair and maze procedure on a 60-year-old Valley wife and mom was a once-in-lifetime opportunity and an experience I will never forget. (Find related blog posts here.)

At one point during the six-hour surgery, Brian looked up at me and said, “Bet you thought I was kidding about all this heart surgery stuff!” It was certainly a different look at his life. Six months earlier, I was riding around Ethiopia in a white Toyota Land Cruiser with deGuzman and his wife Keri, who had just adopted their two youngest children. (I wrote about that experience, “An Ethiopian Adoption Story,” for our December magazine.)

I knew the audio transcript of the webinar would be available after the event, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I found time to listen to it.

Continue reading

Small world stories – weekend edition

On Friday night, I went to the movies with my cousin’s daughter Andrea, a junior at ASU. We went to see “No Strings Attached” at Harkins Scottsdale Fashion Square. It’s not like I was expecting it to be a great movie (although the characters were very endearing). But I think Natalie Portman is a wonderful actress and I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Ashton Kutcher ever since my sons and I started watching (and laughing hysterically at) “That 70s Show.”

But that’s not why I wanted to see the movie. I wanted to see it because Greta Gerwig, the actress who plays Patrice, best friend to Portman’s character Emma, is a Sacramento, Calif. native who went to school with my son Andy’s girlfriend.

On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I went to my niece Mandy’s soccer game at Pecos Park in Ahwatukee. We’ve followed her Ladybugs club team for the last couple of years, astonished each time by the growing confidence and skills that we see in Mandy and her teammates. The girls won their game handily (3-0) and afterward, we went to lunch with Mandy, my brother Bob, my sister-in-law Judy and my 14-year-old nephew Ben.

Ten-year-old Phoenix dancer Kendall Glover.

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, Mandy told us that Kendall Glover, who is competing in the finals for the CBS Show “Live to Dance” goes to her school. And that Paula Abdul showed up at a school assembly to surprise Kendall with the good news. And that Paula gave Mandy a hug!

On Sunday morning, I saw an email from someone I’ve never met before. Somehow this mom heard about my trip to Ethiopia last summer with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman. She was writing to ask if I had any pictures of the Soddo orphanage we visited.

“My daughter was in that orphanage last year and I was hoping that you would have pictures that I could get,” she wrote. “I know you can’t show pictures of the kids but was wondering if you have any of just the orphanage itself?”

I was happy to send her the link to a post I wrote on July 30, which shows several pictures of the orphanage. The children are no longer living in this facility; they’ve been relocated to a temporary building pending construction of a new orphanage at Wolaitta Village. A project that was designed by graduate students of the EthiopiaStudio project at ASU’s School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture.

Small world indeed.

What’s on my nightstand

I used to be very linear when it came to reading. I would never start a new book until I’d finished the one I was on. Lately, I find myself engrossed in several books simultaneously; all seemingly distinct and yet, for me, inextricably linked. Here’s what’s stacked on my nightstand:

Out of Africa by Isak Dinessen

“Out of Africa” is my all-time favorite movie. I could watch Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in their romantic flight over the pristine landscapes of Kenya a million times and never tire of it. I can hum the soundtrack for that sequence without a moment’s hesitation. But I’d never read the memoir by Isak Dinessen that inspired the movie. My husband, who knows how much I love the movie — and how interested I’ve become in all things Africa since my trip to Ethiopia last summer — bought the book for me at Christmas. I love that the author’s real first name is Karen and that she was born on April 17 (our wedding date) in 1885 (exactly 100 years before my son Andy was born).

The Best American Magazine Writing 2010

It was Andy who gave me the next book I’m enjoying. As a writer himself (he works for POLITICO in Washington, D.C.), he knows how valuable inspiration from the great writing of others can be. Former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham wrote the introduction to this volume of what has become an annual collection of the country’s best, as selected by the American Society of Magazine Editors. I love the way he describes his fervent belief that, regardless of where the magazine industry is headed in this fast-changing technological world, “the love of story is what endures through the storms and crises.”

INFIDEL, by Ayaan Hirshi Ali

This one is a loaner from my mom, with whom I often swap great books. She knew I would be interested in it, partly because the author spent some of her early life in Ethiopia. Her description of what it was like to undergo female circumcision (at her grandmother’s insistence!) made my skin crawl. Her escape from a forced marriage and the stifling roles facing women in her strict Muslin community is inspiring.

Lanie and Lanie’s Real Adventures by Jane Kurtz

I became a fan of author Jane Kurtz last summer, when she stumbled upon a blog I’d written about getting shots for my trip to Ethiopia and responded to let me know she’d grown up there. I immediately subscribed to her blog, “The Power of One Writer,” then purchased (and read) all of her children’s books that are based in Ethiopia.

I discovered that Jane also has authored two books in the American Girl series. Her character Lanie was the “Girl of the Year 2010″ and is a naturally curious adventurer amid the wonders of her own backyard.

I never had a daughter, so I missed the whole American Girl experience. Jane’s books are giving me a taste of it. And her blog posts, many of which focus on her continuing efforts to provide books to the children of Ethiopia, inspired me to make the first of many modest but heartfelt contributions to the Ethiopia Reads program.

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz

The full title of this formidable book is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing.

Sounds like kind of a downer, right? The author, who has treated children who have undergone all sorts of horrific experiences, describes what happens to the brain when children undergo extreme stress — and how innovative treatments are helping them overcome early trauma to live happy, healthy adult lives.

I ordered this book after seeing it mentioned in one of the many international adoption newsletters I am following as I continue my research for a book about the deGuzman family’s Ethiopian adoption story.

It showed up in my mailbox the same day I talked to a man about the son he and his wife adopted from China two years ago — a child who proceeded to scream nonstop all the way home on the airplane and for the next four or five weeks afterward. The toddler, who had been left in a crib, basically untouched, for the first 18 months of his life, was developmentally delayed. He couldn’t walk. He was hypersensitive to stimulation — unexpected touch, sights or sounds. With the loving support of his determined parents, and the intervention of physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, he is now doing well.

I’m eager to read about others who were that lucky.

What it was like to watch open-heart surgery (Part 1)

A lot of people have been asking me what it was like watching open-heart surgery. Many of the questions emanate from all-too-human fears that such an experience could be upsetting. There is, after all, the blood. The open chest. The saw.

I won’t lie; I was more than a little bit worried about how I might react. After all, I almost fainted in the doctor’s office once when my son had to have stitches removed from a deep cut in his arm.

But the last thing I wanted to do while I was in cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D.‘s operating room yesterday was become a problem for him or his team. So when one of the operating room nurses wheeled a chair up behind me before the procedure began, I took note. And when she warned me that “most people lose it when the surgeon  starts the saw,” I paid attention.

I was not sitting in a room high above the operating theater, separated from the reality of the surgery by a wall of glass, like you see in “Grey’s Anatomy.”  I was on the floor in the operating room itself, right behind deGuzman, who is associate chief of cardiovascular surgery at the Heart and Lung Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center. I was wearing dark blue scrubs. I had a surgical mask over my face, protective eyewear (“which you’ll need in case the blood starts shooting out,” I was told) and a shower cap-style hat over my hair.

Oddly, what bothered me most was the surgical mask and eyewear. It was claustrophobic, and my eyewear kept fogging up with each breath I took. I had to do some serious talking to myself about settling down and staying focused on the experience before I finally adjusted to the uncomfortable sensation.

When deGuzman and surgical resident Christina Lovato, M.D., began preparing for that first incision at 11:18am, I trained my eyes on the monitor above my head to my left. Somehow, watching what was taking place two feet in front of me on the overhead monitor gave me the distance I needed to adjust to the experience. I glued my eyes to the screen, taking deep, full breaths as I realized that skin and tissue was being cut, and as some of the tissue was burned away from the sternum to make a clear path for the saw. (The smell of burning flesh takes some getting used to.)

The first whir of the saw was a bit jolting but I quickly became absorbed in what I was seeing. Lovato needed only four seconds to separate the thick bone. “It’s all in the teaching,” deGuzman said, jokingly, clearly proud of his confident, capable student.

I could no longer focus on the screen. I was ready to see the real thing. So I cautiously peeked over deGuzman’s left shoulder,  wide-eyed as I saw the open chest cavity and the beating of the heart.

The surgeons cut away the pericardium (the sac of tissue that contains the heart and major vessels) and there it was: the heart itself. Yellowish, not red as I expected. Pumping away and yet, I knew, not pumping efficiently. There were problems with two valves that open and close between chambers. The valves are supposed to close fully after every attempt the heart makes to push blood forward. But in this heart, two different valves were allowing blood to leak back into the starting chambers because the damaged valves could not fully close. That was forcing the heart to struggle and push even harder. And there were other problems with this heart that caused the patient, a woman, to experience the unsettling symptoms of atrial fibrillation (cardiac arrhythmia).

One by one, with infinite patience and calm, deGuzman tackled each one.

Tomorrow: The view from the anesthesiologist’s chair.

Preparing for surgery

Before I left for Ethiopia last summer, I spent three days visiting my sons in Washington, D.C. While they were at work each day I spent quiet time alone, reading, writing, walking and thinking. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to settle my thoughts and prepare myself for the experiences to come.

Tomorrow I will be in a hospital operating room all day, watching a skilled surgeon perform open-heart surgery. It’s an opportunity few non-medical people will ever have and I am not taking it for granted. I want to be fully present, undistracted by my workday life, prepared to absorb and learn.

This time I went to the mountain preserve at sunset, seeking emotional and spiritual preparation. As I trudged around a gentle, circular trail, listening to the frantic yipping of coyotes on a nearby slope, I tried to quiet my mind so I would be ready for yet a new adventure.