I stumbled upon a message recently, as I was flipping through one of the reporters’ notebooks I took with me to Ethiopia. It was written on a blank page buried in the middle of my notebook, as though intended to provide a surprise — a delayed gift from a charming 10-year-old boy who lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“I love you,” it said. It’s been a long time since a little boy has written those words to me.
As I realized what I was seeing, I was overcome. It’s been weeks since my visit to Ethiopia. Sometimes, in the overwhelming rush of minutia that consumes my days, I almost forget I was there. Then something takes me back. And I realize this experience will never leave me. It continues to change me. I have many remaining lessons to learn from it.
The child’s name is Nathnael. His father, Zerihun, works with Christian World Adoption, the agency through which Paradise Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman adopted their four children. I traveled with the deGuzmans to Ethiopia in July, when they welcomed their two youngest children, Tesfanesh and Solomon, into their family.
Keri, Zerihun and Brian.
Zerihun had invited us to dinner at the end of a long, exhausting day of meetings and tours. As his wife and several other family members finished preparations for a traditional Ethiopian meal, the rest of us relaxed in the family’s cozy living room.
Zerihun’s two youngest sons — Nathnael and 7-year-old Bereket — were particularly excited by the occasion and openly curious about their guests.
I had brought a copy of the May 2009 issue of Raising Arizona Kids to give to Zerihun’s family. Our cover that month featured Keri and her two older children, Jesmina and Musse. My chance meeting of her at a photo shoot was the genesis for this entire experience.
Nathnael started flipping through the pages of the magazine.
“What is your favorite subject at school?” Keri asked.
“My favorite subject is English,” he said, his words clipped and British-proper.
Nathnael’s eyes, still focused on the magazine, rested on an APS advertisement featuring Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash.
“Do you know who that is?” Keri asked.
We all laughed, marveling at the power and reach of the NBA‘s marketing prowess.
“He’s a basketball player, as you can see,” Nathnael said.
“He can fly…” Bereket whispered softly, his tone full of awe.
When Nathnael saw me pull out my audio recorder and reporter’s notebook, he started hovering over my shoulder. As I often found myself doing during this trip, I made a conscious decision to be less of a journalist and more of a human being.
Yet another gift from Zerihun's family.
I explained why I was traveling with the deGuzmans and that I hoped to write a book about their family’s adoption experience. I told him that I was taking notes and recording the conversation to help me remember this special evening at his home. I asked if he wanted to help.
Nathnael took my reporter’s notebook and pen and proceeded to write down the names and ages of his brothers and sister. Then he decided to do the same for everyone else in the room. He seemed so interested in the process that I told him I was taking the night off.
“You’re going to write my story for me,” I said. “I’m just going to enjoy my dinner.”
This is what he wrote:
Hello. My name is Nathnael Zerihun. Tonight we have new people to the house. So we are enjoying what we have for Monday night!
Now everybody is introduced to the Ethiopian food. Now we are ready to eat. Now we have started eating. And everybody is enjoying the food. Brian loves kitfo [minced raw beef, heated and marinated in a spicy chili powder-based spice]. Everybody loves the baby. That’s new for us.
Karen loves most of the food as we do. I am giving the night off for Karen because I am writing what she writes for today. Kiry has a coca or coke. Karen has pure, lovely water. Brian had a Coca-Cola or coke in American. It’s good they say.
For some reason, he skipped four blank pages before adding:
My only regret is that I got so absorbed in Nathnael’s journalistic efforts I forgot my own responsibilities in that area and failed to get a photo of him. Here is a group shot that I snapped with Brian’s camera. Nathnael is in the middle in the striped shirt.