Tag Archives: Ethiopian 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.

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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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?

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.

Taking comfort in small things that make a difference

In a week consumed by tragedy and despair, we hang on to every scrap of hope. Stories of heroic efforts, a community coming together in shared loss, a congresswoman who was shot point blank in the front of the head now breathing on her own.

We want to believe, in the midst of our shock and confusion, that something meaningful will come of this. That people who promote extreme attitudes, rhetoric and divisiveness will reconsider what they say. That the rest of us will stop rewarding them with our time, our attention and our ratings.

It makes me wonder why we have allowed ourselves to become so fascinated by ugliness and negativity. When did we become so addicted to gossip, criticism and extremism? Are our own lives so boring, so unrewarding, so lacking in creative challenges that we must find relief in the false sense of security that comes with arrogance and superiority? Do we really believe it’s better to fight each other than it is to collaborate? Are we really more comfortable blaming others for our problems instead of digging deep inside ourselves to correct them?

I got news this week of progress that is taking place in the village of Soddo, Ethiopia, which I visited last summer with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman. The emails provided much-needed perspective in this week of disbelief and pain.

The nursery at the new orphanage facility in Soddo.

The children at the orphanage I visited have successfully been relocated to a new, albeit temporary, home. (The original orphanage lost its lease this month, when its landlord decided there was more money to be had converting his property to a bed-and-breakfast.) The new facility is smaller but adequate and the staff has been working hard to help 30 small children adjust to their new surroundings. Orphanage Director Stephne Bowers and her staff are filled with hope. The new location is within view of the entrance to a property that will soon be developed into a permanent home for these, and future, abandoned children.

Building self-sufficiency, one chicken at a time.

There was also word of a new project created to help impoverished members of the local community reclaim self-sufficiency. Children’s Cross Connection, a non-governmental organization working in collaboration with the Ethiopian government’s Department of Women, Child & Youth Affairs, gave each of seven widows eight chickens, which they will raise and breed to create small businesses of their own.

A community social worker will visit the women to offer guidance and observe the chickens’ health and care. In a month or two, each of the women will “pay” for their business by returning a healthy adult chicken back to CCC so the project can continue to help other women.

We can’t prevent ugliness in the world, but we can control how much of it we allow to enter our lives. I am not listening to radio commentators this week. I am looking at pictures that show me how powerful some tiny, hopeful steps in the right direction can be.

Photos courtesy of Stephne Bowers.

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.”