Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Endings and Starfish

My last blog entry was on my birthday, just about a month ago. This time of year is so busy with holiday planning and activities. I find I am always caught off guard about how quickly everything happens between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. I never quite get to all the things I want to – including blogging. But I am happy to be back . .

Part of my birthday celebration included a lovely quiet Italian dinner with my husband of eighteen years. Our kids are the center of our universe but we still enjoy a little couple time when we can. When we got home, the house was quiet. I was leafing through the mail and saw the newest edition of our adoption agency's quarterly update - WACAP Today (they are available on WACAP's website). I look forward to reading it because the stories included are heart warming and uplifting, not the usual fare you find on the nightly news. One article particularly caught my eye. I saw the familiar face of a severely malnourished little girl looking back at me.

We had seen her when we were in Addis to pick up Leyla about a year ago. I remember her vividly. The head caregiver at the house held her most times that we were there. This little baby girl was so tiny and frail. I was struck by her shrunken cheeks which were a stark contrast to our Leyla’s round cheeks. I inquired about her. I was told that she had just arrived and was likely premature. She had been adopted by a family that was prepared to deal with whatever special needs she might have after her rocky early start to life. The article in this edition talked about how she was doing now after having joined her family in the United States, a number of months before. It was striking to see the change. Her cheeks were now full and her smile infectious. It was an amazing birthday gift to see her smiling face looking back at me and reading about her happy ending.

Sometimes the need you see all around and hear about through the various new sources is so overwhelming. It is hard to know what to do and you know whatever you do will be insignificant in comparison to the need. Seeing this type of amazing happy ending is good encouragement and inspiration. My oldest son shared a story with me some time ago that provides another good perspective. I heard it again recently and was glad for the reminder.

Both my sons (pictured below) love finding starfish, like the lovely purple specimen above, around Seattle where we live.

The Starfish Story
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The young man paused, looked up, and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean." "I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die." Upon hearing this the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

(Loren Eiseley, a anthropologist, shared this encounter he had on the beach (he was the 'wise man'). See the link to his book on the side if you are interested in reading more.)

It is good to be reminded of happy endings we can have a part in if we choose and that we can all make a difference for someone.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Birthday - Happy Homecoming

Today is my birthday. It is also the day we brought Leyla home from Ethiopia last year. I can’t imagine a better birthday present. Thinking back on that day and the days that led up to it, there were both feelings of joy and expectation for us and bittersweet feelings for those she left behind. We visited Leyla each day while we were in Addis. The day before we needed to return to the states, we were able to take her back to our hotel with us. (It was a wonderful hotel recommended by the Greek Embassy in Addis – you can find a link on the side of the blog. We would highly recommend it.) Going to pick her up that last time, we were filled with excitement. It had been hard to leave her each day although we knew that was best for her transition. Leyla had a regular caregiver who we did not immediately see when she arrived. She was also surrounded by children of all ages who were waiting for their parents to come and take them home. Two other little girls were going with their families on that day.

We were greeted by the director who is an amazing man. He is an Ethiopian lawyer that has focused his considerable talents and energies toward helping the children in his country. He is an inspiration. It is clear he loves each of those children he is charged with and they him. Leyla was dressed beautifully for the occasion. When it came time to take our leave, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Leyla’s regular caregiver came out and it was clear she had been crying. She kissed us all and retreated to her room. It broke my heart. But I reminded myself that is was wonderful that our daughter had been surrounded by such love.

Then it was the children’s turn to say good bye. We had enjoyed playing with the older kids during our visits. There was one little boy of 4 that we were particularly drawn to. He had a smile that lit up a room and was a fierce little soccer player even though the only place to play was the cement drive into the courtyard. He came and hugged Leyla with tears streaming down his face. He them went back to the other children only to come back and hug Leyla tightly a second time and shower her with kisses on her little round face. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I watched. I took comfort in knowing that some wonderful family was coming for that sweet little boy soon.

We were subdued in the ride back to our hotel as we were faced with the reality of the loss that is part of every adoption. We loved our daughter already so much but her journey to us was not a simple nor an easy one. We then needed to shift our focus to the preparation for the 33 hour trip back home although the thoughts of the intertwined joy and loss remained. Traveling with an infant who has never traveled that type of distance without knowing their routines or how to comfort them is a daunting task. We worried needlessly. Leyla was a trouper. She wanted to look at everything and seemed to enjoy making eye contact with as many folks as possible.

We arrived on my birthday. Our boys met us at the airport with our friend Jon and flowers. When we came up to our house, Jon was kind enough to take our first picture as a family of five – it is the one above. You will notice that Leyla has her hands firmly in her brother’s hair with a twinkle in her eye. That moment was the first indication of many how well and easily Leyla became part of our crazy family.

After I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the 4 year old boy who had been so sad when we left with Leyla. I told the story to my adoption coordinator and asked if she could reach out to his family and see if they would be willing to stay in contact. What I found out amazed me, the little boy was adopted by a family about one hour from our home. We were able to visit them all over the summer. He is doing great and his story is in the blog “Another Markquart” linked on the side. He shares a birthday with his mother – another beautiful connection.

There have been so many on this journey. Another amazing year has passed. I feel so blessed . . which takes me full circle to why I feel compelled to share through this blog and give back. My birthday wish is that everyone find the joy and peace that comes through being part of something bigger than yourself and doing what you can to leave this world a little better place than you found it. Happy Birthday to me!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

When you choose to adopt a child of another race, you know that your family will be conspicuous. You also know that you will have to address prejudice and ignorance at some point. What surprised me was how quickly we had our first chance to address it with one of our sons. One night I was tucking in my seven year old son and I asked him about his day at school. (He is pictured here with his beloved little sister on Halloween). My boys and I have great conversations as they wind down for the day. I know part of it is stalling but I also believe part of it is their brains processing the events and impressions of the day. He seemed quite upset and said one of his classmates had said something to him that really bothered him. He said, "M told me that I should not have a sister that is a different color than me. I was so happy about the adoption (we were still waiting for his sister at that time) and his comment took some of my joy away." I then braced myself as I asked him to explain that a bit. In the back of mind, I worried that he might ask why did we choose to adopt from another race or that he wished his sister would be the same color.

I was uplifted by his answer, "I wish he could be happy about it like me." I then did what mothers often do. I offered to "help" or "fix." I said, "Why don't I talk to your teacher so she can discuss this with M." He looked me straight in the eye and said very matter of factly, "Mom, he is just a little kid; he doesn't know any better." Humbled by that answer but still in mommy help mode, I asked, "Maybe I could explain to M how his comment made you feel." This offer was also rebuffed with a "Mommy, he is my friend and I should be the one to talk to him." I tucked him in and left struck by the wisdom of his seven year old words. I checked in with him a few days later to see how the conversation had gone. He said, "We had a good talk; now he wants to have a sister of another color too but his mom said no because he already has three sisters."

This exchange has come back to me as I see folks study our family - we range from white, shades of olive brown, and dark brown. I know some of this attention is just innocent curiosity. We have found also that much of this attention is very positive and encouraging. We have gotten support from many we meet. However, there is a small portion of that attention that is negative or disapproving in some form. I believe prejudice is generally learned behavior or comes from not being well informed. I also believe taking the time to reach and educate in a positive way can change someone's perspective. I was very proud of my little boy and he taught me a lot by his approach.

He said he wants to do his part to help the people of Ethiopia. We are planning on putting on a bake sale together to raise money. He is my baking buddy (mostly he likes the tasting part). I think it is never too early to get my kids involved with helping other less fortunate or talking about tough issue. And as I found out, the student can become the teacher too in the process

Friday, November 13, 2009

First Meeting

This time last year we were preparing for our trip to Ethiopia to pick up our daughter. I am finding myself remembering how I felt during those anxious and uncertain months. They were filled with expectant joy but also with so many questions and fears. We first thought we might take our sons with us. We were served with a healthy dose of reality when we found out all the shots we needed to get to protect us from communicable diseases. It was a vivid reminder that much of the world has many more challenges and many fewer opportunties than we have here. We decided that taking the boys at this stage with all the other stresses was probably not the right decision for our family. A family friend, who we found out was also adopted, volunteered to take our boys for the time we were away which was an amazing gift to us. They told us it gave them a way to be a part of what we were doing.

The long flight to Ethiopia by way of Amsterdam gave my husband and I lots of time to think and talk about this journey we had embarked on both literally and the longer path ahead. It is hard to wrap your mind around that your child was born and lives half a world away with a reality so different from our own. Meeting Leyla for the first time was a life altering experience in some ways very similar to the experience with the births of our two sons and in some ways very different. The memory that is most vivid for me was watching my husband’s eyes fill with happy tears when he saw our little girl for the first time. These are some of the photos from our first meeting.

As part of that first meeting, we were treated to a traditional coffee ceremony. It was a wonderful way to meet our daughter and be introduced to a part of her culture. The women wore beautifully embroidered dresses and the floors was decorated with reeds. The smell of fresh coffee roasting filled the air and there was a true sense of celebration.

Legend has it that more than 1,000 years ago, a goatherd in Ethiopia’s south-western highlands plucked a few red berries from some young green trees growing there in the forest and tasted them. He liked the flavour – and the feel-good effect that followed and the rest, as they say, is history. The Ethiopian province where they first blossomed – Kaffa – gave its name to coffee. Ethiopia is the original home of the coffee plant which still grows wild in the forest of the highlands. While nobody is sure exactly how coffee was originally discovered as a beverage, it is believed that its cultivation and use began as early as the 9th century.

The Blue Nile Children’s organization arranges traditional coffee ceremonies as part of their fund raising efforts on behalf of Ethiopian children. It is something I would like to do to share this amazing experience with my friends and family while helping this great organization. Their link is on the side of my blog. If you don't have an opportunity to sponsor a coffee ceremony, consider buying Ethiopian coffee - I have highlighted a few of my favorites. Their economy is very dependent on their coffee exports and it is a small way you can contribute.

Friday, November 6, 2009


My elder son was always excited about adopting a little sister. He adores his little brother and wanted to have a little sister too. When we were getting closer to the time we needed to travel to Ethiopia to get his sister, he started to worry. He asked me, “What if I don’t love her like I love my brother?” This is one of the big questions many have in adoption although not all are able to ask it aloud. I assured him that he would love her although it might take time. He persisted, “But how do you know?” Truth was I didn’t. The process of becoming a parent and particularly becoming a parent through adoption is a leap of faith. With our boys being old enough to understand the process, they needed to take the leap with us. After his sister arrived, he no longer worried about loving her. He was completely smitten. But he had a new worry, “What if she doesn’t love me? My brother has to love me. She doesn’t.” Over the months she has been with us, she has shown him that she loves him too – very much. You can see the love they share in this recent Halloween picture. Taking our sons consciously with us has been one of the many amazing gifts of this journey. When you start this process, you have no guarantees about the outcome but you leap anyway.

This same son asked me if a lot of folks followed my blog. I told him honestly that I did not think so but that was not why I was doing it. I did find myself a little disppointed that not many people choose to follow at least publicly. I was at my yoga class recently and the instructor read a poem to the class which was found in Mother Theresa's room. It made me think again about why I was doing this blog. This blog was something I felt compelled to do. I had the same feeling about adopting our daughter. This might just be my journey of discovery and something that I can share with my family. That is enough. I hope you all will "do something anyway." There was real peace for me in the approach to life advocated by this poem.


People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them...anyway.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

God's Forgotten Children

A friend asked me recently what Leyla’s future would likely been if she had remained in Ethiopia. There is no easy answer because you never know the path she would have taken. Looking at her now pictured here in her full raingear happily posing at one of her brother’s soccer games, it is hard to imagine her any other way. But if you look at the circumstance of so many children in Ethiopia today as an indicator, her chances for getting adequate nutrition or reaching a ripe old age were not good. Basic education, medical care, things we often take for granted, would not have been readily available. In Ethiopia today, there are literally millions of orphans who have lost both parents to starvation, HIV and other communicable diseases. One statistic I saw that struck me - there is one doctor for every 250,000 children.

A few weekends back, we attended a fundraiser for a local Ethiopian charity, Blue Nile Children’s Organization (link is included on the right). Blue Nile is working to address the basic needs of some of these children through sponsorship and to address some of the medical needs through building a local clinic. At this fundraiser, delicious Ethiopian fare was served while we were entertained with Ethiopian music and dance – reminding us of the beauty and depth of the Ethiopian culture.

At one point during the evening, an Ethiopian young man of 18 came up to read his poem about Ethiopia. He captured in words the harsh reality of life for too many of Ethiopia’s children. He provided a much more graphic and detailed answer to my friend’s question. His poem moved my husband and I to tears with both its eloquence and heartbreaking details. I hope it moves you too.

God's forgotten children
by Minilik Yewondwossen

God's forgotten children,
Who roam through unpaved roads
Carrying coffee in their insides
With dark eyes,
Open hands, and
Empty stomachs.

Slender skeletons shimmyshakin' dust from the clutch of an empty hut.
Little girls braiding imagination from their feet to their hairlines.
A place where you would see a child thumbsucking 13 months of sunshine from empty skylines
Whose blooming blue veins resemble the blooming Blue Nile.
How can we not provide for those who ask for so little?
When we constantly beg for so much.

With sun-kissed skin,
So much laughter you thought they carried the wind.
And just enough God in their smiles to baptize your sins.
If it is joy we are after then the tragic and comic communicate through laughter.
This be an ode to thee
Dream that tucks itself in the riverbedsheets of the Blue Nile.

And the contortionist orphans,
Fitting dreams into time capsules,
That were never intended to shed sand.

In the crevices of back alleys roams the frequencies of an orphan's lullaby that imprints marathon footprints marching for the distance.

Collecting postage stamps in tin buckets.
So, they can throw love letters down the throat of a dormant God who does not wish to respond.

A young child so dark and tall you'd mistake him for Hakeem.
His 'Dream' is not the NBA but food the next day.
And with a body worn-out and broken like a promise
His eyelashes outstretch like arms waiting to grasp the world
As if to say, 'Examine the archaeological remains.'

Cuz with an ongoing civil war that is far from civil
Lucy is not the only skeleton dug into barren soil to be examined with a chisel.
So while newscaster's mundane small talk brush over narratives of death in Africa's East
A child circumscribes city less planes with eulogies.

The God Forgotten Land that had the most humble stake in her rigidly loose faith
Mothered her firstborn with absolutely no mistakes.
A name once extended to the entire African Plane
The Land of the Burntface;

Ethiopia: the first place a child was ever raised.

The first ground a human being laughed, ate, wept, slept, and prayed.
The only nation in the world that resembles a crooked heart try'na to skip itself to the nearest body of water.

The only land I claim citizenship without a Visa
Or any regrets

So Forget: American Express.
Ethiopia: 'Never leave home without it.'

Friday, October 23, 2009

Connections and Learning

My sons both had different reactions to the idea of adopting a little sister from Ethiopia. The first who was eleven at the time was quite excited. He liked the idea of being a “diverse” family. He thought it made us all “more interesting.” My younger son, seven at the time, had questions. “Weren’t families supposed to look like each other? She wouldn’t look like us, would she?” I asked him if I looked like his dad or his brother. He said “No” quite candidly since my sons bear a strong resemblance to their Greek dad and little to me. He seemed satisfied with that answer. We did not discuss it further until we received the referral picture of his sister. It was amazing – she looked like he did as a baby. Even he saw the similarities and lots of other people commented on it. Within a few days, he proudly had that picture of her on his desk. He asked special permission from his second grade teacher to keep it there until his sister came home. It amazed me how his questions had been answered in such an unexpected way. His sister, pictured here while she was still in Ethiopia, both looked like him and did not look like him.

This journey through Ethiopia to expand our family has had so many interesting connections and learning and they continue. As I was looking for ways to give back, I came across the Ethiopia Reads organization. Their link is included on the side of my blog. I wanted to learn more and found the biography of the gentleman who started the program, an Ethiopian who fled his country but then returned. I learned that the organization is based in Denver where I grew up – another connection. I have included a write up about the founder. His way of giving back is somewhat unique. In a country with disease and famine as significant issues, he has focused on providing food for the mind – something just as important. We are collecting books around our house to send to his libraries. If you have extra books lying around, you might consider doing the same.

Ethiopia Reads News
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Yohannes named Top Ten Hero of the Year by CNN

Denver, CO -- Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a native of Ethiopia and children's literacy advocate, has been named a Top 10 Hero of the Year by CNN. . . . .
A former political refugee who worked as a librarian at San Francisco Public Library, Mr. Gebregeorgis is the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. In a country where 99% of schools have no libraries, Mr. Gebregeorgis and Ethiopia Reads are improving lives, one book at a time.

. . . . Growing up in rural Ethiopia with very little access to books, Gebregeorgis was 19 years old the first time he picked up a book for pleasure. This experience went on to shape his life as a literacy advocate, children's book author, and co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization based in Denver, CO and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.. . .

In 2002, Gebregeorgis left his job in San Francisco and returned to Ethiopia. With 15,000 books donated by the San Francisco Children's Library, he opened a children's library on the first floor of his Addis Ababa home. The library was so deluged by children that it soon required the addition of two large tents.

Today, Shola Children's Library records an average of 60,000 visits per year. Additionally, Ethiopia Reads is planting libraries in public schools across Addis Ababa and Awassa at the rate of one per month. Ethiopia Reads has published six bi-lingual story books for children.

Gebregeorgis lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he serves as the Executive Director of Ethiopia Reads.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Starting to Pay it Forward

It’s been a little over one year since we received and accepted the referral of our third child and only daughter – Leyla – who was born in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The entire experience has moved and changed me in ways I could not have imagined. Becoming a mother for the first time twelve years ago with my eldest son was also a life altering experience. However, this time the experience extended far beyond me and our immediate family and friends. This time the experience left the entire family forever connected to a country and a people half a world away from where we live and worlds away from how we live. In all the craziness of settling into having a baby in the house again, adjusting to a family with three wonderful but busy kids, I had a pull to do something more, give back beyond the confines of our family, and honor this new connection.

The challenges in Ethiopia currently are almost beyond comprehension – there are millions of orphans, HIV and Hepatitis and starvation have ravaged the population, the life expectancy is an unbelievably under 50 years old. There are many more statistics like that to hammer home the desperate plight of this African nation.

However when we were in Ethiopia and when we look at our daughter, we also see so much joy, rich culture and possibility. And we have discovered there are lots of ways to help start to improve the situation in Ethiopia – both small and large. I started this blog to honor the gift Ethiopia has given my family by trying in some small way to be part of the solution for the current challenges. I want to help people learn more about this amazing culture and the ways they can lend a hand. This is all new to me so I imagine there will be lots more learning on my side too.

On my blog, I have included some opportunities to get involved I have found. It could be as simple as buying Ethiopian coffee and supporting their exports or using “Good Search” for your search engine and they will donate to a charity that focuses on Ethiopia. I have also included books to help provide a more complete picture of the issues and the underlying causes of the current situation. Educating yourself and others is an important step toward solutions. My plan is to highlight efforts we have undertaken as well as stories I learn about. I am happy to share our adoption experience with those considering that step. I also welcome thoughts and ideas about learning more about Ethiopia or opportunities to get involved.

Currently, we donate clothes, toys and other supplies we collect from family and friends to WACAP, our adoption agency. These donations are then are sent back to Ethiopia for children waiting for their adoptive families usually with families that are going to pick up their child. Knowing Leyla’s outgrown clothes and toys are being used by another Ethiopian child is a wonderful feeling. When we traveled to Ethiopia to meet her for the first time, we took two big suitcases of supplies. Now we are happy to fill them for other families.
We also sponsor a number of children in Ethiopia through WACAP’s sponsorship program so they can stay in school and remain with their families. Blue Nile also has a sponsorship program that you can participate in. These types are tough here is the United States too right now and there are lots of worthy causes. I hope you will consider Ethiopia as you decide where and how to reach out to those less fortunate pulling on you too to help or learn more. Until next time . .