Tag Archives: Keri deGuzman

An update on the deGuzman kids, as their mom prepares to return to Ethiopia

Keri deGuzman will board a plane tomorrow morning bound for Washington, D.C. On Thursday, she will check in at the Ethiopian Airlines counter at Dulles International Airport. On Friday morning, she will arrive in Addis Ababa — her fourth trip to the capital of a resource-rich but infrastructure-poor country where more than four million children have been orphaned by poverty and disease.

Her return to Ethiopia comes nearly a year to the day after the trip she and her husband, Phoenix cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. made last July to complete their family through the adoption of two Ethiopia-born babies.

I was with them on that trip, and memories from the experience linger on the edges of every thought I’ve had since we returned.

This time, Keri is going to Ethiopia by herself. This time, her purpose is not the fulfillment of her lifelong dream to be a mom but the passion she and Brian share for improving the lives of so many other Ethiopian orphans who may never know the experience of having a family.

I visited Keri and the busy, bustling deGuzman household on Saturday. It had been a few weeks since I’d seen all four kids — Jesmina, Musse, Solomon and Tesfanesh — and it was wonderful to have a few hours to reconnect.

Solomon and Jesmina.

The children are thriving. Four-year-old Jesmina, the doting oldest sibling, is growing tall and strong, writing her name and asking a million questions. I could see the wheels turning as she figured out how to piece together a small puzzle I brought from home. Jesmina will be starting school in the fall and is clearly ready. She is smart, insightful, empathetic, observant. You know how seriously she takes her role as eldest when she warns her mom that one of her siblings is doing something they probably shouldn’t.

Mussse.

Charming, affectionate 2-year-old Musse is a solid mass of all-boy, in constant motion and fascinated by trucks. (He has quite an impressive collection of them.) Sometimes all that concentrated energy results in unintended results, like when he accidentally breaks a blue crayon his sister is using to draw a picture. As Jesmina voices her protest, he looks up in wide-eyed innocence. In the next moment, his quieter, tender side is evident as he takes his little brother’s hand and leads him down the hall to play. We hear the boys giggling together — a musical, magical sound.

And then there are the babies. The beautiful, even-tempered babies I first saw in a tiny nursery at the foster home in Addis Ababa a year ago.

Solomon.

Solomon and Tesfanesh are babies no longer. They are full-fledged toddlers, with all the commensurate moments of joy and challenge that presents for their parents. Solomon, in fact, is precociously moving into the “terrible 2s,” his burgeoning sense of self resulting in moments of loud defiance and swift evasion — often accompanied by an engaging, heart-melting grin.

Tesfanesh still wears the all-knowing, “old soul” look I noticed the first time I laid eyes on her. She no doubt comes from a long line of wise, introspective women; their legacy lies deep in her thoughtful, chocolate-brown eyes.

Tesfanesh.

Tesfanesh is starting to say some easily understandable words — most notably “Tessy!” when I held her in my arms and pointed to her picture on the wall. I was touched to see that one of the framed photos was a shot I took when the family was united for the first time upon our arrival back in Washington, D.C.

“That’s my picture!” I said.

“I love that picture,” Keri told me. “It’s the only one we have of the six of us together for the first time.”

I listened to Keri describe her expected itinerary during her week-long visit to Ethiopia. I have been to all the places and projects she will visit: the Acacia Village community in Addis Ababa, where Keri, a pediatric intensive care nurse, will initiate plans for a much-needed medical clinic; the Sheberaber Primary School in a tiny village west of the capital city, where plans for classroom buildings will be discussed and the Wolaitta Village construction site in Soddo, where there will soon be a beautiful, clean home for hundreds of orphaned chidren.

Phoenix architect Jack deBartolo 3 and his wife Tricia will be there, too. Jack will return with a team of ASU graduate architecture students in September, when they will do research to design classroom buildings at the Sheberaber school. (Keri is lobbying for me to go along.) Jack’s first EthiopiaStudio team designed the Wolaitta Village project, so he, too, will be checking on its status.

Keri and Brian have pledged to provide the funding for much of this work. Fundraisers they and others are initiating will provide whatever else is needed. From the moment she and Brian left Ethiopia with baby Jesmina in their arms, they have known this is their calling. “We can’t forget about this place,” they pledged to each other — and to a country nearly 9,000 miles away.

Homecoming, July 17, 2010.

RAK Archives
An Ethiopia Adoption Story.
Sharing an Extraordinary Experience.

Father’s Day and finding my way

Where's Karen? I'm in there to the right of the tall guy in the blue shirt (my son David), in this picture I took reflecting off The Bean In Chicago earlier this month.

My husband was suffering from allergies (or a cold, we weren’t sure which) yesterday, so his Father’s Day was spent quietly. We opted out of our Sunday routine — which typically involves a hike or long bike ride — in favor of lazily lounging around. Dan’s only goal for the day was to make some progress toward finishing the third book in Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy.

Both of our sons called in — Andy from Washington, D.C. and David from his new home in Chicago — to enjoy catching up with their dad. All three of the men in my family are extremely knowledgeable about politics and government (which I am not), so I enjoy listening to Dan’s side of the conversation from my perch at the kitchen island, knowing that this is a special bond they share (along with a love of all things sports). My conversations with our sons typically take a different tack. I ask about household/daily life stuff and girlfriends. I share news about extended family members — their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Quiet Sundays give me a chance to make some small amount of progress toward catching up and getting organized for the week ahead. I spent several hours sifting through emails, writing to-do lists and tending to naggy, small tasks that always seem insurmountable when you’re in the midst of a busy work day. And with no small amount of initial hesitation, I dove back into my Ethiopia notes.

My motivation was an email I received from a mother in New Mexico. She has written a book, Finding Aster, about her own Ethiopia adoption journey. I found out about her because of all the Google alerts I have set up related to international adoption — part of my continued research for the story that began when I first met adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley in the spring of 2009 and which, I hope, will find its own book form if I just keep taking small steps to make it happen.

When I found out about Dina McQueen’s book, I subscribed to her related blog. Anyone who writes a blog knows how exciting it is to find out that someone has subscribed to it. Every time I get a message that someone has subscribed to my blog, I click through to find out who that person is. Dina apparently does the same. She found me, found Raising Arizona Kids and wondered, no doubt, about my interest in her adoption story.

She called my office while I was in Chicago helping David settle into his new apartment earlier this month. So she followed up with an email:

When I called your magazine to inquire, I was told about your interest in Ethiopia, which led me to your feature article on your 2010 trip to Ethiopia. Which led me to the remarkable story you wrote about accompanying Brian and Keri to Addis Ababa as they met their two new children. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I was quite moved. Especially as I learned how much some adoptive parents are doing to support their children’s homeland. And how ‘stuck’ I sometimes feel without the resources to do more.

What I can do, however, is share my story and my platform with others who may be able to help me get out there and speak. My mission, basically, is to encourage adoption as a viable and vital way to grow a family. Concern about the environment and women’s health, as well, of course, as the massive issue of parentless children world-wide fuels my passion to keep on connecting with others.

I have ordered a copy of Dina’s book and I look forward to reading it. One of the reviews I read particularly intrigued me. The reviewer said that Finding Aster could truly be called Finding Dina, because of the magnitude of personal growth the author underwent during her journey to become a parent.

With Keri deGuzman as we checked in for our flight to Ethiopia last July. We were both wearing T-shirts promoting Acacia Village, an orphanage the deGuzmans support in Addis Ababa. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Personal growth — and continued striving for it — is intrinsic to my ongoing connection to the deGuzman family and their continued commitment to the many children who remain orphaned in Ethiopia. It is time to stop hiding behind my fears of being inadequate to the task of telling their evolving story.

Finding Aster may well help me get back to the task of finding myself.

Affirmation — and a challenge — from colleagues in the press

Last night, the Arizona Press Club honored journalists from statewide publications large and small with awards for exceptional work in reporting, writing, photography and design. Raising Arizona Kids was among the publications honored.

Mary L. Holden. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Writer Mary L.Holden was recognized in the Non-Metro Writing/Social Issues Reporting category for her April 2010 story, “Casting a Light on the Shadow of Abuse.”

Mary put a lot of heart and soul into this project, which involved interviews with researchers and medical professionals who work the front lines in child abuse prevention and treatment. She listened to horrific stories about the unimaginable ways some children are mistreated by adults who typically lack the tools or knowledge to deal productively with the stresses and emotional damage in their own lives. She put a personal face on the issue by sharing the story of a Surprise family whose daughter was abused by a caregiver. She provided insights into the longterm damage of abuse and how it can manifest in adulthood.

James Motz of Surprise and his daughter Lilian, who was brutally shaken by a caregiver. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

The judge, Suki Dardarian, managing editor at The Seattle Times, described her entry as “a well-crafted story about the medical and emotional toll of child abuse. While it is a well-covered story, this reporter used strong cases and compelling writing to draw the reader through her story.”

Taylor Batten, editorial page editor of The Charlotte Observer, judged entries in the Best of Arizona/Features Blog category, to which I had submitted several of the blog posts I wrote about my experience in Ethiopia last summer, when I accompanied Paradise Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman on their journey to welcome two orphaned babies into their family.

Observing a distribution of food to starving families in Soddo, Ethiopia. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

“Barr produces memorable storytelling from an emotional and at times dangerous trip,” Batten wrote. “She is a powerful writer who captures the emotion of her subject while also revealing a bit about herself in an authentic way. Fantastic photos.”

It’s weird to be typing those words about yourself. As an editor it is my job to make other writers look good. I have attended many Arizona Press Club Awards events in the past 21 years to joyfully support my writers as they accepted awards. But in 35 years of writing and editing (give or take a few lost to graduate school or raising small children), I never once received an award.

What I’ve decided is this: It’s great to have a piece of paper that gives you membership in a small cadre of professional journalists whose work is deemed by peers to go above and beyond. It’s even better to hear the specific feedback, which envelopes your fragile writer’s ego like a soothing, restorative  balm.

But the very best part is the spark it ignites that grabs your imagination, rekindles your hope and challenges you to go out and do something even better.

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.

Continue reading

Ethiopia – Yet another coincidence

Many times in the two years since I first met Brian and Keri deGuzman, I’ve been astonished by the connections and coincidences that have sprung from their journey to build a family through international adoption.

I wrote about one of those “Oh, my gosh!” moments yesterday, when I described the surprise that awaited the deGuzmans as they exited the courtroom where their new youngest children’s adoptions had just been finalized.

There has been a new development since I posted yesterday’s blog: I got an email from the deputy county attorney who handled the case, Janina Walters.

“I wanted to write to let you know of an additional interesting tidbit of information about yesterday’s adoptions,” she wrote. “When I came back to the office, I saw the [December] magazine and read the whole article. I had not seen it before. Weird, since it is what I usually pick up at the doctor’s office!

“I knew Dr. deGuzman was at St. Joe’s and something was niggling in the back of my mind. I read the article and the connection with Dr. [Lishan] Aklog and all of a sudden it hit me! My stepfather (who is more like a real dad) had valve-replacement surgery about three years ago. Dr. deGuzman stepped in at the last minute to perform the surgery on my dad and his aftercare was with Dr. Aklog, with whom  I discussed my dad’s recovery.

“At the time, my mom and dad were telling me about the deGuzman story and their adoptions as well as another surgeon’s in the same group. They asked me if I had handled their adoptions because they knew the family had gone through our office.

“My parents were tickled when I told them that I had met the family and handled the adoption hearing. I found your blog and my dad sat and read it with a huge smile on his face. He couldn’t tell me enough about how nice, patient and warm Dr. deGuzman was to him.”

Janina closed her email by asking if we had an extra copy of the December magazine story so her parents could see it.

It will be my great pleasure to send her one.

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.

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.