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Poor Country, Rich Culture

When people in the United States think about Ethiopia, they often revert back to news stories about poverty, strife, famine and HIV/AIDS.  There is no denying that Ethiopia has suffered each of these unfortunate blights.  And upon first glance, a visit appears to reinforce these impressions, something not hard to do in a county where corrugated metal is a premium construction material.  

Leaving impressions at the surface level, however, leaves 99% of Ethiopia undiscovered.  Like dismissing a burn victim as emotionally crippled because of scars of the skin, not getting beneath the surface of Ethiopia will leave the real beauty of their culture and people undiscovered.

If I had to sum up Ethiopia, I'd have to use the phrase shared with us by a CHSFS representative during our stay: "We are a poor country, but a rich culture". 

So true.

One thing you'll notice the beauty of Ethiopia is their reverence for the young.  Everywhere we went, we saw children being hugged, kissed, praised and instructed.  Ethiopian adults appear to have child radar, always on the look-out for the youngest around them and quick with their assistance.  For western parents, such "care" can be surprising for we come from a country where children are the sole purview of their biological parents.  No true in Ethiopia, where parenting appears to work on the proximity system, i.e. you're closest, so you're the Father!

This expression of care and community extends to relations between adults as well.  Three kisses -- left, right, left -- is a very common greeting, even between men.  If not that, then at least a hug, or the ever manly handshake-shoulder bump.  Touching is equally free.  A man holding the shoulders of a women while talking, or two men holding hands crossing the street, are both common public occurances.  So, when you're there, you can either stand away and risk the offense that such behaviour would cause, or you can go with the flow and get more love from strangers that you ever thought imaginable!

Beyond the physical, you'll also find that Ethiopia has a proud psychological profile as well.  Everyone in Addis Ababa will be quick to point out the following facts: Ethiopia is one of the longest-standing countries in human history and, despite multiple occupations, hasnever been colonized; Ethiopia is home of "Lucy", the oldest, most complete pre-human skeleton ever discovered, making Ethiopia the cradle of human existence; and Ethiopia is the home of Amharic, the native language that is based on one of humanity's oldest, and most original, alphabets.

So, when you visit, look beyond the poverty and look into the deep, rich culture that Ethiopia has to offer.  Once it gets under your skin, it will never leave you! 


Home Again

Thanks to a comfortable and uneventful flight on Ethiopian Airlines, we arrived home to the US yesterday.  With four less duffel bags and one additional child.  This trip was a powerful experience and one I can recommend without reservation to anyone interested in international adoption.  If adoption is not for you, no worries: check out Ethiopia anyway.  It's a marvelous culture just waiting to be shared.


CHSFS: An Organization to Watch

During our time in Addis Ababa, we had the opportunity to meet with Children's Home Society & Family Services (CHSFS) Regional Director for Africa, Asnake Amanuel.  Asnake has spent the last five years creating one of the world's most innovative and exceptional international adoption programs in Ethiopia.  Now, his attention has turned to expanding the mission of CHSFS to attack the root problems that lead to the need for adoption: health, eduction and family development.

On a tour of the organization's programs, CHSFS representatives highlighted their initiatives in both areas.   For example, we got to visit The CHSFS Sipara Special Mother & Child Health (MCH) Center.  This new facility, complete with a full-service hospital, went operational in October 2007.

The Sipara Center is providing services to needy families in Addis Ababa city at a low fee not even sufficient to cover its operating costs. The range of services rendered includes pre-natal care, post-natal care, wide range of reproductive health services and voluntary counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS. Sipara has five main departments with different subdivisions under each department; Outpatient, Inpatient, MCH, Diagnostic and pharmacy departments.  The facility has a full-inventory pharmacy.

In its first full year of operation (2008), Sipara provided 16,222 out patient 1322 inpatient, 1072 delivery, 9648 antenatal care (ANC), 7083 immunization services to mothers and children.  Recently, the facility has achieved a steady pediatric outpatient and emergency out patient departments (OPDs) service load of 70 patients daily, makING Sipara one of the busiest health institutions in the city.

We also had the opportunity to visit CHSFS Africa's new private school in Addis Ababa.  This institution has a campus complete with it's own stadium-sized athletic facility.  The school teaches a modern curriculum in English to over 400 students for Addis Ababa and the surrounding region.  The school provides education to families in need, as well as charges tuitions of city families seeking a top-notch eduction.  This fusion approach to the institution is one of CHSFS's attempts at a more entreprenuerial, self-sufficient model of social improvement.

The organization also maintains schools in rural regions, including a school in Ottoro.  They are currently constructing a new school in Medula, a village in the southern Tembaro portion of the country.

For more information on the activities of CHSFS Africa and how you can get involved, visit their website.



If you want to say "I love you" in Amharic -- the native language of Ethiopia -- you say Wed-de-halo.  Yesterday, we had the chance to say these words for the first time to a little boy who joins our family.

I've not posted about this fact prior, however the specific reason we've traveled to Ethiopia is to complete the adoption of our new son.  We started the process about a year ago and yesterday was the beginning of its fulfillment.  Dad (Ababa), Mom (Mama) and Sister (Enet), met our new family member for the first time at his care center in Addis Ababa.  The union was a joyful and powerful one.  Our son, being almost five, is very cognizant of his situation and of the adoption process.  Desite the unknown, he let go of his fears and greeted us with smiles, hugs and kisses.  We could do nothing but return the same.

Since the first meeting, we've been able to spend much time with him and have come to understand more of his background, cultural experience and personality.  He's willful, but quick to smile, loving, playful and very curious. In short, he's just like the rest of the family.

This morning, when a plane flew over head as we were playing with his new "kwas" (ball), he stopped pointed up and said: "Ae (look), airplane.  America."  He's ready to go and we're ready to have him home.

Adoption is not for everyone, however for us, union with this little boy has proven to be everything we had hoped for and more.  We welcome him to the family and look forward to giving him an upbringing that includes love, opportunity and boundless dreaming.

Adoption is a journey, not an event.  We're glad to be taking this journey and recommend others at least consider it.  For more information about adoption in Ethiopia, visit Children's Home Society & Family Services (CHSFS).  This agency has extremely high standards and has developed practices that are leading innovation in international adoption.


Dig In!

If you want to eat in Ethiopian restaurants, bring clean hands and a taste for spice. Ethiopian food is served on a large platter not unlike a pizza tray. A large, pizza-sized injera, or ethiopian bread pancake made from a grain called tef, is placed on the platter, then all of the different dishes are ladled into place on it. Vegetable dishes are usually placed on one side and meat dishes on the other. This aids is "fasting" observance -- observant orthodox Christian Ethiopians skip meat and animal products on Wedsdays and Fridays.

You'll notice a lot of red sauce on the plate. That's chili powder called berbere and it's a staple of the Ethiopian diet. I've not encountered anything too hot to handle, but some of the dishes certainly flirt with that line!

Ethiopian meals are eaten family style, with a twist: no utensils other than your digits and no plates; everyone eats off the same platter using pieces of injera bread.  Rip off a square, lay it on what you want, pick up by squeezing in on the four corners, then roll to make it bit-sized.

To deal with sanitation, it's custom and ritual for everyone coming to the table to wash their hands. Once you're there, however, all bets are off. Fingers get dirty and no one considers it rude. Just wash again after and you're good to go.