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Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Perfect Day!

It has been essentially a year since I've last written anything regarding adoption, and it's not because of lack of things going on in our lives.  In reality, I have so much to write, but that will come one day.  We're still processing through much, and once I'm/we're ready- there's much to say!

I'm writing this about a day (yesterday) that turned to be a perfect day, and I'm using this as a means to never, ever forget how utterly wonderful life can be.

When my family and I learned last fall that we were going to be moving back to Olympia, WA, I started looking into Ethiopian groups here.  Seattle (an hour away) has a very large, active Ethiopian community, and they even have an Ethiopian Community Center.  Looking into this, I found that the center offers language and leadership classes to youth.  It was something Ron and I discussed and knew we needed to be a part of the center's programs.

It took a good 6 months of being back in the U.S. to actually "make the time" to go to the center.  Last Saturday, we made the hour drive in the morning for a family community day.  This is held once-a-month at the center and is for families and children.  When we arrived, there were about 5 other adoptive families at the center for a play group.  That was wonderful in itself.  The other parents and I just needed to look around the room and briefly at each other, and we all "got it."  We didn't need to ask questions.  We know what each other's "hard" is, what a "daily struggle" is, what "adjustment" means, etc.  There was a deep understanding and community just being in that room.

But then something even more wonderful happened!  A lady name Marti, who is from Ethiopia, and migrated to the U.S. over 20 years ago, started a group activity for us all.  She is a volunteer at the center and is amazing.  We sang songs in Amharic, learned some of the alphabet, ate delicious Ethiopian food, laughed, and learned some cultural tidbit.  My girls loved singing the songs and I loved watching, knowing that through the Center, they would not forget these magical things they learned when they were little, and can share them one day with their children.

When the morning was over and our stomaches were stuffed, we had a break before the afternoon activities began.  Once a month on Saturdays, the center offers a youth leadership program for kids ages 11-18.  There were at least 15 kids, mostly girls- and mostly girls adopted form Ethiopia.  Both Mebrate and Meskerem participated and it was fascinating to watch.  They played games, read poems and stories, spoke in Amharic, and discussed the challenges of being Ethiopian living in the U.S.  They discussed culture, leadership and service.  I couldn't help but look through the window and beam.  I loved watching the girls- each with their own style, hair, personality and story, work together.  At the end of the session, we were treated to dinner and filled our stomaches for a second time that day.  Doro wat and injera are a perfect topping to a rainy day!

Our girls were invited to participate in a cultural dance for next weekend, which they both said they would try.  Roots Ethiopia, an NGO that works to provide education and bring books to those in need in Ethiopia, is having a large fundraising event in Seattle next weekend.  Ron and I were already planning on going for a date night, so it became even more special knowing our girls would preform.

Yesterday, it took over an hour and a half to get to the center from our house due to the awful rain and traffic.  Nonetheless, when we arrived at 3:30, our girls we just on time to begin rehearsing their series of dances for next weekend.  All the kids sat around a table and discussed the plan.  Marti helped to guide the group, but constantly asked that every child gave their input, saying "providing input is what leaders do."  I almost melted.  She gently talked to my girls about cultural differences from Ethiopia and the U.S.  She explained that while in Ethiopia it was well received when a girl was quiet and shy and did not make eye contact, in the U.S., it is good for girls to be assertive, express their thoughts, and look at adults when talking.  I loved how she was able to explain this the way she did, and how my girls responded to what she said.

Once the kids had a plan, they started dancing.  Aidan- our 3 year old, is not part of the performance, but insisted on dancing with the kids in line for 30 minutes.  I almost died, it was beyond precious to watch my 3 kiddos!  Nearly 2 hours later, the girls had worked through 6 different cultural dance and had picked out traditional clothing to wear for next weekend.  They looked wonderful and loved doing what they did!

Then something even more wonderful happened- they were invited to dance and be part of a fashion show next Sunday also in Seattle!  There is an orphanage in Ethiopia that has lost funding and might close.  A group of adult adoptees (people who were adopted) in Seattle from that orphanage are hosing a fundraiser on Sunday at an Ethiopian restaurant to raise money for that orphanage.  It was so touching to hear their story, and why they are doing what they are doing.  Talk about goosebumps!  So of course we said yes!  So the girls will have 2 dance performances, and all 3 kids will be in a traditional Ethiopian fashion show next weekend- all for amazing causes in Ethiopia.  OHHHH my heart!

For information on Ethiopia Reads, click here: http://www.ethiopiareads.org/

For the event on Sunday, November 22 from 6-9 for the orphanage in Seattle, click here: http://ibexseattle.tripod.com/id2.html

When the girls were wrapping up, Marti talked to the group again.  I wish I had a recorded what she told the kids as it was unbelievable.  When the kids dance, she told them, "When you dance, make eye contact with everyone there.  When you make eye contact, you connect, and when you connect, you change them.  And when you change them, they help!"  And she also talked about the need for increasing education in Ethiopia, as she explained that with education comes opportunity, and opportunity brings hope and change, and change brings security and peace.  And finally, she talked about the importance of having integrity, being kind, and always doing what you can to be a good person and reach out so that the world can become better.  She explained that good can outrule bad if we do enough good.  She words were so powerful I started crying, and looked over to my girls and saw that they had tears in theirs eyes, too.  When we all connected eyes, we started laughing- what a moment that was!

Meanwhile, the large hall next door in the Community Center had been rented out by a local Ethiopian church for a special service.  We started to hear the hymns and chanting and knew the service had begun.  Here is a video of what that sounds like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g-T13fk0ic.  When we went to leave, there was a car in the parking lot parked directly behind ours in the aisle of the parking lot, preventing us from leaving.  As I figured the owners of the car were at church, I shrugged it off and we decided to grab some Ethiopian food for dinner.

We first found a local market with teff to make injera and other Ethiopian goodies.  Then, looking for a restaurant, we walked through streets in the dark in the rain.  When we found a restaurant on the other side of the street, we raced across the street to the simple building.  There was something about that moment that was perfect, and as we were running, I told the girls, "I feel like we're back in Ethiopia."  They said, "WE DO TOO!"  Again- magic!

The restaurant was wonderful and the food was even better!  We ate our hearts out and made sure we had ordered enough food to take home for leftovers.  The girls loved the wait staff and talked in Amharic with ease- getting a new confidence speaking Amharic to adults in the U.S.  We listened to Ethiopian music and made up funny stories.

It was then 7:00 and time to go home.  Walking back to the center, the service was still going on and we still couldn't get our car out.  A volunteer tried helping by passing around a sheet of paper with the license plate number of the other car, but as this was a religious service, many attendees did not want to pass the paper during the service, so we were still "stuck."

There must have been over 250 people at the service, all dressed up.  The women wore their traditional white Ethiopian dresses, and all had white scarves around their head- the traditional dress for church.  The priests were conducting a sermon and at that point, I figured, "Just go with it."

Many people in the lobby apologized for us being stuck, but every time, I said, "Men-ne-mai-de-lum" or "no problem" in Amharic.  That always brought smiles, laughter and understanding.  Several people tried to help us more, but finally I said, "Everyone is here for church, which is a wonderful thing, so it's ok.  And now my girls are able to listen to the service in Amharic, so it's even better."

The girls stood in the hallway and listened, smiling.  Mebrate even had tears in her eyes at one point.  Although they don't say it much, I know they miss Ethiopia.  They loved being with so many Ethiopians, in traditional dress, listening to Amharic.  It was familiar and that was just what we all needed.

We took a break from the service for chips and Ethiopian coffee.  While talking to the lady working at the small shop, she spoke in Amharic to our girls.  In the conversation, it came up that she is from the EXACT same small town one of my daughters is from- I could not believe it.  And my daughter remembers that her house was near the only gas station in town.  Well...this lady's family just so happens to own that gas station!  She did not know my daughter's biological family, but just meeting someone from the same town, with shared memories was UNBELIEVABLE!  I mean, what are the chances of that?!?!?!

By that time, a chant/song/clap/celebration had begun.  It is so hard to explain what this sounds/feels like, but it is amazing.  Here is a video of something similar!  The singing, yoddling, clapping, chanting and energy are unbelievable!  Last night's song was almost as moving as being in Lalibella for Christmas.  Just amazing!  The girls and Aidan really got into it!  I had no idea what was being said, but with clapping, I was able to partake as well!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5PaKUeIhwQ&list=PLdr-WkGibXxi6KqP1lhu4mX5Mh9YVT6V1

I had definitely realized that I was the only non-Ethiopian in the entire Center at this point.  And I was the only woman without a headscarf.  I snuck away real quickly to the backroom where the extra Ethiopian dresses were held and found a scarf to war.  When I returned wearing a scarf, the girls couldn't have smiled anymore.  They later told me in the car that when I put the scarf on, everyone was talking about me, saying they were surprised at how nice I was.  I explained to the girls the importance of being respectful, which they seemed to really understand!


At 9:00, the service was coming to an end, and we were told that the person blocking us in had left and we could now leave.  We hugged many of our new friends good-bye, ran to the car, and headed home.

In the car, I reflected on the day.  So much had gone "wrong" with the weather, traffic and parking situation, but it all turned out perfectly, and in a way better than I could have imagined.  I also smiled thinking of how the whole situation had made me feel.  I was the only blonde there- the only white person- the only adoptive mom.  In a place where theoretically I should have not fit in, I felt more at home at the service and with everyone there than I have anywhere else in a long time.  It's funny how love and shared experiences and understanding can do that :)

Today, leaving church, our girls said, "Hey Aidan?  Do you remember yesterday?  That was a GREAT day!  Being in Ethiopia."  That made my heart smile.  Needless to say, we will be visiting the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle often.