My Ethiopian Children Navigate Culture Shock in Addis

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

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It’s four am, and my children are jumping on the sofa in their makeshift sleep caps and bunny/owl sleep masks, singing “if you are happy and you know it, wiggle your bum!” At the top of their lungs. Ah, jet lag. They held it together until 3:30, but then the rooster started, and they just couldn’t sleep anymore.

Today is off to an auspicious, if not early, start. This is our second day into my twin 7 year olds’ first return trip to Ethiopia. If you haven’t been following our blog for the last eight years, we adopted our girls almost five years ago, when they were 2 1/2. Because of our adoption agency going bankrupt, we ended up living together in a guest house on Bole for two months before we were able to bring them home. Since then, I’ve been back to Ethiopia several times, since I run a charity that works here. But this is my daughters’, and husband’s, first trip back.

Our first day, we arrived on the early flight in Addis before 7am. On board: Sugar and Spice, Jason and I, and Gramma and Grandpa. It’s gramma’s fourth trip to Ethiopia, but Grandpa’s first, btw. I had just finished five flights in a row, and the rest of them a big drive and three flights. But there was no rest for the wicked. My strategy was to keep everyone busy the first day, to get rid of as much jet lag, as quickly as possible. Still, I wanted to ease the girls back into the hustle and bustle. I don’t really remember the feeling of overwhelming busyness, but I do know I had it those years ago.

After an exciting ride back form the airport “donkeys! Ah-hee-ya!” And “Wooshas! Look at that mommy dog and her puppies!” We settled in tour little guest house. This is the perfect place for our family… A little house, literally, with a compound and additional motel rooms, right in the modern Howlett district. I stayed here for three weeks seven months ago, and really liked it. Daddy blew up a soccer ball, and the girls were off… Playing soccer with the young guard, babbling at him ceaselessly in English. They hear a little of Amharic from our friends, just enough so that they understand some basics. That, with a lack of caring about language differences, and they were feeling comfortable. But as soon as we hit the street to go for brekkie at Kaldis, the metropolis of Addis in construction came crashing down.

“I want to go home,” Sugar whispered to me, as she picked her way along the dirt path beside the train construction on Haile Gebra Selassie Road. “It’s dirty here.”

Sugar lasted fifteen minutes more, until we were in the mall, waiting for the macchiatos. “I don’t think I like it here,” she said. “I like Canada better. I’m scared.”

Ok, we knew this would happen, and had talked about it with the girls, but I was surprise at the immediacy of the culture shock. For adults, it usually takes longer to sink in. But for my seven year olds, it’s very much right on the surface.

Fast forward a few errands, a lunch of shiro in a university cafe, and a visit to the Natural History Museum later. We met up with the Executive Director for Hope for Children in Ethiopia, and our contractor for Vulnerable Children, the charity I run. We went to the lovely grounds where the ten teenage former sex trade workers we support are receiving their training. It used to be palace grounds, in the heart of the city. While we met, the girls played in the bushes and swung on the hammock. I could just see their anxiety levels come down. Then off to the ten girls’ new house, for a visit and a coffee ceremony.

That is when the girls came back alive. The ten girls are total sweethearts, by the way. (You should totally make a donation to help us pay for their new home, and support another cohort of girls go through the program!) they giggled, answered questions, and even asked us intelligent ones, such as about the natural resources in Canada, and what we like to eat. Since they have all decided to take intensive cooks training, Sugar, aka the Little Chef, immediately felt a kinship with them. This is my super shy little girl. Wow. Of course, my girls were jumpy (super duper tired) and ran around a lot, in true Canadian child fashion, but they made real connections with the girls. Sugar showed off her Kung Fu moves to one of the girls out in the courtyard, and Spice made small talk with a few other girls.

I definitely saw the benefits of being a part of the Ethiopian Canadian diaspora community, right before my eyes. The coffee ceremony, the way of visiting… They were all familiar to the girls. And they were truly comfortable (still impatient! But comfortable!) at the ten girls’ house. I saw their cultural fluency at play. It was wonderful.

Today, we are off to Nakemte to see their family. If yesterday is any indication, I expect that as soon as we leave the city, they will be a lot more comfortable. Yesterday, Sugar asked “can we get dirty when we go out to the country?” I assume she bases this on going to gramma and .grandpas house out in the country, and getting dirty there. “A little, honey,” I replied. “But you also have to look good for your family.”

Just as I am closing this up, I can hear the girls nattering to each other on the sofa, working on their journals. Their conversation is peppered with Amharic words… “Ishi? …Wooshas? …Wooha!” Music to my ears.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle Q
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 12:44:22

    I’m so glad to hear you are all safely there. The twins were so happy your girls are there and wondered how things were going.Thinking about all of you often!
    Michelle

    Reply

  2. K
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 16:39:27

    I am so excited to read this! My son and I are planning our first trip back in April, and I’ve been looking for other people who’ve blogged about their trips. I will be following along! Have a great visit with your people!

    Reply

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