The road to Lake Langano

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!

I resume our travel blog …
… as we were heading south of Addis Ababa towards Lake Langano.

The best times in our lives, and certainly the best vacations, have been by ourselves in the bush somewhere. For our family of four, this started with our last trip to Langano. I think that is where we really started to become a family.

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Five years ago, when we picked the girls up, we had to stay in Addis and Adama most of the time. We were waiting for their visas and were city bound. However, as soon as their visas were announced, we heaved a huge sigh of relief, and headed out of town to Lake Langano.

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Now, five years later, we were heading down the same road… but with long legged girls writing in their journals in the backseat, and grandma and grandpa enthusiastically thumbing through a bird guide for Africa in the middle. I had time to look out the window, and simply enjoy the scenery.

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There is a huge difference in landscape and lifestyle between west and south of Addis. South of Addis, you enter the famous Rift Valley, one of the best locations for bird life in the world. Along with Langano, there are a series of famous lakes: Lake Awassa, and Lake Ziway. The land here too, here, is over farmed, but it is not done with the same density as west of Addis. The families own bigger farms, and you can see during harvest season bigger piles of wheat and teff. The trees becomes sparse, and the land is dry. There are less big ficus trees, but millions of shorter acacia trees.

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Our destination, Lake Langano, is the brown lake amongst the blue ones. It seems silly to be heading for the only brown lake in the area… Really, it is the color of milky English tea. But it’s one of the few lakes that doesn’t have bilharzia, so it is perfectly safe to swim. The girls do love swimming! The other attraction is the eco reserve on the south side of the lake. Last time we stayed at Bishangari Lodge, and we wanted to return to the same lodge, due to the eco reserve. Within that preserved forest, is one of the few intact ecosystems in the whole region. The cabins delightful… And the whole place is off the grid solar with compost generated methane cooking.

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As gorgeous as the lakes are, don’t expect much for tourist services in this area, on the road in. We did have a delicious vegetarian dish at the “Tourist Restaurant” in Lake Ziway. But except the eco-lodges, there really isn’t much to eat, sleep in, or do.

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A funny thing happened on the way into the lake.

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We had just turned off the highway and were heading down the dirt road, when we saw a bunch of camels. I looked around and didn’t see anybody who belonged to the camels, so I started taking a couple of pictures. Sure enough, three Southern tribesmen popped out of the bush and surrounded the front of the car. In angry voices they demanded payment for the camel pictures. I follow enough Amharic to understand the negotiation and they had settled on 10 birr as payment for the grievous affront.

One of the guys came around the side and stuck his arm in the window for the payment, muttering angrily at us. When I put the 10 birr in his hand, he gesturing wildly at my wallet and wanted some more. He scowled, he shouted! But the deal struck is a deal done, as far as I am concerned, so I lost my temper. I smacked him on the hand, and replied in a firm voice “bucka!”

He withdrew his hand, and we pressed on in the van. The girls were nervous at the time, but as soon as the van pulled away, they thought it was hilarious that I had smacked the hand of the tall, angry, Southern tribesman. I think the tribesman thought it was a little funny too, because amongst the anger in his eyes I saw a little bit of humour as we drove away.

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As we drew near the lodge along the dirt road, the evidence of wealth coming from this local employment was everywhere. The houses got nicer, the children looked healthier, and there were even obvious medical centres and schools. It was really nice to see the positive effects of this tourism industry. You can also see when local tourism is working well when there isn’t a lot of begging. The children were delighted to see a Farengi vehicle, as I’m sure they do several times today, but they didn’t shout “money!” But rather just waved and smiled. That’s a good sign of stable income and non-dependence on handouts. Again this is not everywhere in Ethiopia, so I really noticed it.

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When we stopped at the lodge, we were greeted by the gahri, horsecart, that trucked our bags over to the cabins. As soon as we got out of the van, you could just feel the pressure and the stress level of traveling go down. It was such a good idea…

After unpacking our bags in our cabin godjos, the girls immediately got into their swimsuits and headed for the beach. We all grabbed our books and binoculars, and set out in the sunset, watching the birds with wonder and anticipating a dinner of locally caught fish.… Heaven…

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Enjoy the pictures on our way down to the lake. I will post many more as the week goes by.

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Rediscovering Habeshaness: Ethiopian Language

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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Over the past week, it’s been fascinating to see the girls adding mannerisms and language, to embrace their Habesha-ness.

On the road, in the van, instead of arguing,
“Yes!”
“No!”
“Yes!”
“No!”

They, with a bit of a smirk, yelled at each other,
“Ah-o!”
“Ai-del-em!”
“Ah-o!”
“Ai-del-em!”

Bucka!” (enough!)

The girls have also been trying to integrate the yes and no gestures back into their bodies’ vocabularies. The raised eyebrows indicate yes, and the shoulder shrug indicates no. Usually, the only time we saw this at home was if they were super tired or super surly… Then we would see the barely perceptible shoulder shrug.

But in Ethiopia, they are trying to start using the gestures again. With Spice, it’s subtle, but with Sugar, it’s almost comical. She refuses to say yes; instead, she opens her eyes super wide and raises her eyebrows dramatically to the heavens. It’s super cute, honestly. The are still working on picking it up from others, though…

I can understand a lot of Amharic, especially around the topics of family and home. I also have collected probably at least a hundred words in my travels. So all the Amharic the girls know is from me. They haven’t ever really used it, though, until this trip. Mainly, their vocabulary is around all the animals, which is their favourite topic of conversation in any language. They’ve also been learning the numbers, and a few bits of small talk.

These are small bits of progress, but it’s delightful to see. Over the past few days, they have been feeling more and more at home. They really don’t seem to care if their vocabulary is limited; they feel like they belong.

The big big day: visiting our Ethiopian family

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!

Yesterday was a big big day for our family. We don’t share the details of our girls’ Ethiopian family publicly, but suffice to say, we have an open adoption, and huge extended family in Ethiopia.

With any large family, there are bouts of drama, and our Ethiopian family is no exception. It’s hard sometimes navigating the politics and cultural expectations, when you just drop in for two days from across the globe. I’m sure we made mistakes… But I also know we have clear cultural and familial ties because of these visits, and the letters and photos send back and forth, in between.

We spent the morning deep in the countryside, far far away from the town. One group of the girls’ relations is literally the poorest family I have ever met in Ethiopia. I’ll remind you, that I run a charity that helps poor and vulnerable families. So I’ve seen my share of poverty. But the abject circumstances that they live in are quite astounding. It’s the second time we’ve visited them, and it was a very positive, warm visit. The girls made their best connection there, playing with the children. Sugar especially felt very comfortable.

We make sure the the girls are privy to all of our discussions, so that they understand what we talk about, and hear the stories straight from those involved. The rural family faces the greatest challenges, but it is the one we can’t help. Not at all. Money really doesn’t solve all problems… Even with all our resources, we can’t help a dang bit. It’s so frustrating. Their own Ethiopian family can’t help, and we can’t either. So they stay in these dreadful circumstances, and we just hope that an opportunity to help might present itself next time we visit.

Our other family groups live in suburban and urban areas. The most positive experience for the girls was out in the dusty countryside. But the second was a long visit in a meeting room in our hotel. The key ingredients were that We just had a couple of people involved, so that we got to chat and interact without a lot of observation. Honestly, one thing I find so annoying in Ethiopia is that it’s very hard to have a private conversation, without neighbours, hotel workers and people on the street crowding around. So you have to make your own privacy.

The visit to the suburban house was a case in point.. It was a mess. Our relative carefully arranged for about a thousand distant (and I mean distant) relations to show up at his house, so we were met by 50+ people on arrival. Sugar couldn’t even get out of the car. Spice managed to get through the crowds with grandma and I to the house, where just four or five people crowded in. But there was no way Sugar was getting out of that van. She melted into a puddle of tears on the floors. So we made our apologies and exited. I’m sure they will be talking about our rudeness for years to come. The girls just can’t take that much attention… And it don’t think they should be expected too.

The rest they managed well, though. After an extremelly long day of stress, new people and visiting, they crashed in bed, satisfied. We had seen almost everyone we wanted to see, and it had gone better, in most cases, than we could have asked for.

Sugar said one of her best moments was actually right before her worst. When she didn’t want to get out of the van, we let one of her cousins in to chat. She said “she was super nice, and cute! I know she’s supposed to look like me, but I didn’t realize she would be so smiley and nice. When I was scared to get out of the van, she gave me a big hug.”

Sugar’s favourite moment was out in the countryside, visiting with a younger relative as well. “She has two dogs, just like us… Even a puppy! And I really like it that she looks so much like me.”

I asked the girls for advice, for other kids who might be visiting birth family. Sugar said: “It can be kinda scary, but after you are there for a while, you can relax. Then you can talk and visit. Afterwards, even if it was scary, you feel good.”

Spice: “You don’t have to be scared, because your family will keep you safe… But seeing your birth family can be pretty nervous. Before, you don’t know what’s going to happen. If they are really excited, it gets scary. But if they are calm and you get to visit, you really enjoy it. I’m glad I saw my family.”

One week until Ethiopia…

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Well, it’s only one week to go… And we will be taking our girls back to visit eat Ethiopia for the first time. It’s funny because they are seven years old, and their priorities for this trip have been, in order: the spa, seeing bush pigs, and visiting their family. So that is how we have structured their trip.

If you are new to this blog, we adopted them in 2009, in the midst of our adoption agencie’s bankruptcy. I was blogging back then too, but our old blog imploded a year or so ago. Anyway, I ended up being two months in Ethiopia with newly adopted 2.5 year old twins. Ah, the memories. Since then, I’ve traveled back several times to run our charity, Vulnerable Children Society. My mother is now going on her fourth trip!

So it will be my husband and I , our 7-year-old twin girls Sugar and Spice, and my parents. It’s my father’s first trip, and my husband was in a bit of a daze the last one, so I think the major culture shock will probably come from them.

We only have 10 days in country …which really is nothing.

Basically, we will spend a day in Addis visiting one of our projects, a retraining program for teenage sex trade workers. And probably short visit at AHOPE. Maybe a visit to the natural history museum, if we can swing it.

The next day, we leave for Nakemt, which is where our daughters are from. We will be visiting their family, which should be a long and interesting process. That’s putting it mildly… We have one of those “complicated” family situations. We hope the girls won’t be too traumatized by it, and will come away with some good memories as well as bad. We’ve visited before, but not with the girls in tow.

Back to Addis for one day, where we will spend the day at another project: the Love and Hope Center on the outskirts of Addis, in the burbs of Kality. We will be installing the new Literacy Library, doing a craft with the 70 kids, and making plans for new projects, such, perhaps, a community garden.

Then off for four days at Lake Langano, to sit in the bush and look at the hippos and the monkeys. We are really looking forward to this bit. My father is a wildlife biologist, and he’s never been to Africa. So he’s got himself a book of wild birds of Africa and is so excited to try it out. My girls are also animal crazy… Did I mention that I am a nature freak and my husband is a veterinarian? So they are really happy about spending some time in the bush. I think it will also be a really good opportunity to decompress and deal with any trauma or big stuff that comes up when visiting their family.

We will visit the orphanage that they came from, on the way down, and some friends at Debra Zeit on the way back. Then we have one more day in Addis… The thing my girls are looking forward to the most. A day at the spa! I have also hired a guide to take the boys out doing touristy things in Addis. The guide, who I’ve used before, has instructions to take them to nice tejbett and other male focused activities :-)

Anyway, we are looking forward to it. There’s a lot of planning, so much that no one will ever know about, except me. But it will all be worth it.

Let’s just hope our passports arrive back from the embassy before we have to leave!!

One month countdown to Ethiopia

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Only one month to go in till we leave as a family for our first “homecoming” trip to Ethiopia. Who is on board? Me and daddy Jason, Sugar and Spice as well as Grandma and Grandpa. The six of us will be spending 10 days in early February back in our girls home country.

When we started planning our trip back in December, we asked the girls what their top priorities were for the trip. It will be their first time back to Ethiopia since they came to Canada in 2009. With out any hesitation, the girls agreed that their top three priorities were

  • seeing bush pigs, monkeys and other wildlife
  • going to the spa in Addis, and
  • visiting with their family in Ethiopia.
  • We only have 10 days to spend, so we, with grandma and grandpa’s blessing, planned the trip around what the girls want. First, we are taking a short trip out to Nakemt’ to see the girls family. Then, after a day in Addis and a chance to check on our Vulnerable Children Society projects, we will be heading down to Lake Langano. When we picked the girls up five years ago, we spent a delightful week in the bush at Lake Langano, and are looking forward to spending for relaxing days there again. The girls were scared of the bush pigs and monkeys then, but they are a lot more used to animals now! Lol

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    It seems ridiculous to spend all that money to go for 10 days, and I wish we could have stayed longer. I only got that much time off, though, and in 10 days, we should get done what the girls want to do.

    Oh, of course, the spa (Boston Day Spa) is the last day!

    So I have booked hotels, arrange for a driver, arranged for translator who speaks Oromiffa, and am in the process of organizing our Vulnerable Children Society trips. A lot of planning goes into 10 days! But let’s hope it will be relatively seamless.

    On the list for this week as well, are the vaccine visits to the doctor. Gramma and I are up-to-date, but Jason, Grandpa and the girls might need a booster or two. Plus, there is always the requisite order of prescriptions for ciprofloxacin… LOL

    I’m not sure who is more excited… The girls, or me.

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    Updating Lifebooks with an Open Adoption

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    Yesterday, I took two hours and rewrote the girls’ story, pre-Canada.

    The last time I wrote the lifebooks, I did it for three year olds. Then, I focused on the details that were meaningful at the time: what they ate in the orphanage, who their friends were, and the little that we knew about their family.

    What a difference almost 5 years and several trips to Ethiopia does make. Of course now I’m writing it for almost 8-year-olds, but the level of detail is so much higher. I don’t think I could tell the girls as much as we do know, if we didn’t have an open adoption and I haven’t been to visit their family. The story is so much more complete… And make sense when you have multiple viewpoints. I’ve spoken to the orphanage, the adoption agency, their caregivers, their family, and even included little details from things I have learned while traveling.

    If you’re not familiar with lifebooks, the point is to facilitate your child’s understanding of their life before they came to you. Lifebooks are not about the adoption process… There about the child’s life, and what is important to them. We all know how children forget details as they grow, and so the lifebook is a concrete reminder of where they came from. It also helps prevent magical thinking and filling in the gaps.

    When people hear that I have a life book for the girls, they often ask about format. But the format is very simple. I just chose a pretty page layout, put a picture at the top of each page, and wrote little paragraphs of the story along the bottom. Some wonderful tips I got about lifebooks are:

  • Tell the story in the parent’s voice to the child directly. Use the second person.
  • Tell them what we don’t know, so that they don’t fill in the gaps,
  • Frame the story chronologically, and fill in details as they grow. It’s also important to include ages, but dates are not as important.
  • Include as many pictures as you can. But don’t put in people that aren’t the real people. They may fantasize that a random Ethiopian is indeed their mother/uncle/friend. So for pages that don’t have family members or real people, a drawing or a background picture is a better choice.
  • What I don’t do is include the official documents of their adoption. This is recommended for children who need concrete evidence of their adoption and their legitimacy in the family. However, my girls always remember through the process of stories. So for them, the more storybook approach is more relevant.

    To celebrate the new lifebook, we all laid on the bed last night and read through one of the copies. The girls were engaged and interested, and the language is easy enough that they could even read parts of it themselves. One of my daughters is very uncomfortable with feelings, so she pretty much jumped on the bed the whole time. But she said she enjoyed herself afterwards, and thanked me with a big hug. The other one craves for information and pictures, so she sat quietly, reading along with me. Funny how twins are so different, even if they share the same story.

    Oh, about the twin thing. I actually have exactly the same book for each of my twins. They really do have the same story… There are only a couple of details that are individual. So I just change the name on the cover. I do have a copy for each, printed and slid into plastic sleeves. That way, they can play with their own book, as much as they like, without worrying about damaging it. They each keep it in their “private” suitcase under the bed, and haul it out whenever they like. We also make a routine of dragging it out every few months, and reading it through. It’s a wonderful conversation starter.

    I would love to know how often people update their lifebooks. After all, their life pre-adoption doesn’t change… But sometimes, especially in open adoptions, our understanding does. And of course, there is a language development as they grow.

    Have any of you dear readers updated your lifebooks?

    Five years ago this week…

    We received an update on the twin two year olds we had been matched with! We had received a referral in October, 2009, and this was our first update.

    Sugar, November 2008
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    The girls were so darling… They had their heads shaved, due to a fungus on their heads when they moved from the orphanage. The jerseys were the tradition home’s soccer team. I don’t know if they played against anyone else, or if they just played against each other! Lol

    Spice, November 2008
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    At this point, the girls couldn’t dress themselves yet. They were only 83 cm (2’8″) tall and weighed 21 lbs. it’s hard to understand how tiny they were. When I met them 9 months later, they still had that toddler bowlegged gait, and at 3, had the gross motor skills of a typical 18 month old. Tiny.

    You can see how bright they were, though, even then. And scared, and nervous, and little.

    Spice and Sugar, September, 2013
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    What an amazing thing, to see them five years later! There is something to seeing a child blossom in a home. Although they’ve barely put on any weight this past year, the girls continue to grow. They are now tall enough to ride the surfing machine at the swimming pool!

    As good as the care at the orphanage and transition home was (at least until near the end) it’s my experience that a child can only truly blossom and come into their own, in a permanent home.

    Cheers to five years!

    Spice, Mommy and Sugar, October, 2013
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    The adoption eagle has landed! Dossier arrives in Ethiopia

    We are very excited to announce that Jason and I are officially paper pregnant again!
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    Our dossier has landed in Ethiopia and we are on our way to a new son. It’s so exciting!

    Adoption is full of waiting and those occasional milestones. It’s an extreme race of hurry up and wait. And wait. And wait. You do get tired of the wait. I forgot about our adoption most days (quite contrary to the daily haunting that happened when I was waiting for the girls.) the news on Friday was a wonderful wake up out of my mid-adoption oblivion.

    We have been in the stage of pre-process for quite some time. It’s so invigorating to meet another milestone and have our paperwork land in Ethiopia. For anyone not familiar with the Ethiopian adoption process in depth, our dossier includes our homestudy profile of our family, as well as 1000million notarized copies of every important document in our lives. Now in Ethiopia, this dossier will soon be sent to various government agencies. And then the dossier will be ready for presentation to an orphanage.

    When a child becomes available for adoption, then appropriate parents are selected. I have no idea how long it will be untill we are selected as the best parents for a two, three, or four year old boy. It could be a short time, since we are open to a variety of special needs, or it could be a super long time. But usually the agency does not send a dossier that does not have a reasonable expectation of being matched with in the expiry of two years. So it’s definitely a positive that our profile and paperwork have arrived on Ethiopian soil.

    Let’s hope that we have more news to share in the coming months, on our way to a new Ethiopian side.

    In the meanwhile, I will retrain myself to immediately go out and buy boys clothes and start nesting. After all, our little one’s new room is full of shampoo and body lotion. :-)

    All we want for our birthday is… a Coffee Ceremony!

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    Like many Ethiopian adoptees, our girls have more than one birthday. In Ethiopia birthdays are not as important as here. They simply aren’t celebrated. I remember I gave my friend M her first birthday gift ever… And she was in her 40s. It was a canning funnel to get hot coffee beans inside her jebuna. Not a big gift! But her first one.

    Our girls get no shortage of gifts on their birthday. Their paper birthday, that is. However, we are lucky enough to know their true birthday, and we celebrate this one very differently. It’s a mix of Ethiopian tradition and Canadian custom.

    The last few years we have had Ethiopian food and invited family to celebrate. (Family includes their Ethiopian “auntie and uncle” as well.)
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    When I asked them what they wanted to do this year to celebrate, the girls said that all they wanted was for me and my girlfriends to have a coffee ceremony in their honour. How sweet was that? And a lot easier than cooking up a feast, that’s for sure.

    I thought this was kind of funny in a way, since the girls would not even be drinking coffee. But they obviously recognize the cultural significance of coffee drinking and told me that they just wanted to run around with their friends while I and my friends drink coffee. Ok, then!
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    Well, my grandmother and my aunt were in town for the girls’ “Ethiopian birthday” as well. So we had their Nona (great grandmother,) great-aunt, Canadian mom and (for the drinking part) dad, Ethiopian pseudo-auntie, good friend, another good friend and their assorted children for coffee. The girls loved it! And we all had a nice relaxing morning as well.
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    The other thing it made me think about is who constitutes the girls family… All those pieces of birth family, adoptive family, and family by choice.
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    After everyone had gone home, I continued the tradition that we started the first Ethiopian birthday the girls celebrated in Canada, four years ago. Each birthday we give them a little piece of Ethiopian silver jewelry. This year was seven ring… It looks so big on their hands! But they just loved it.
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    I would love to hear what other people do to celebrate their children’s true birthdays… Any other special traditions?

    Ethiopianness, Africannness and Blackness in Canada

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    A mom from the US posted this article on one of the Facebook groups I belong to, written by Kuukua Yomekpe about the invisible cloak of “Blackness” that people with dark skin or African heritage wear in the USA.

    That was very very interesting and me ponder over my morning espresso. I wonder what journey my daughters will go through? I’ve thought about this topic many times before, about how we frame our daughters’ identities, since we have such a huge influence on them while they are still young. But what I haven’t thought about is rejecting or embracing the cloak that others see them wearing. I also wonder what that cloak looks like in Canada… We have such a different history, different demographics, etc. But then again, we share in much of the US media, so?…

    When talking with the girls or about them (kids get just as much from overhearing conversations as they do discussions they are involved in…) we emphasize their Ethiopian-ness, but rarely African-ness, because I don’t want their identity generalized. Also, because Ethiopians don’t think of themselves as African… Not really. Now sometimes, there is a bit of cultural snobbery associated with this, but mostly it’s because Ethiopia has been a country for so long and has developed very distinct food, cultural practices, etc. distinct from its continental neighbours. I’m not saying this cultural assumption is right or wrong… But I still don’t want my kids’ Ethiopian culture lost in general Africanness.

    We live in Canada, so certainly they’d aren’t African American… The Martin Luther King civil rights movement, the history of slavery, a Black president, etc. in the US has nothing to do with their heritage, and very little to do with any African Canadians in Western Canada. Yes of course, I know about the Underground Railroad and Canada’s slave history. But demographically and historically, that’s not part of the general Western Canadian African heritage.

    Not to say that we are oblivious to the history of slaves, the railroad, and the African American experience. One of my daughters is named after a human rights activist at the time of Martin Luther King; we tell her context and story, and have books on these topics that we discuss. We want them to know about current culture and history too. But again, it’s not our daughters’ story. It’s not their heritage narrative.

    All this said, “Blackness” is a narrative, a cloak, we see over and over again in (mostly US) media, and it will be a lens many peole will see my daughters through. Yomekpe writes about those “properties” of the cloak (jail, slavery, teenage mother, etc” that people often associate with Blackness in the USA. I am interested in is bridging her experience with this cloak to the Canadian experience with this cloak. We have different assumptions, or “cloak properties” (just borrowing her terms here) in Canada. We have different history, demographics, media, laws, etc.

    I’ve talked to my Ethiopian friends and other African acquaintances about this several times, and I know the cloak is quite a bit different in Canada. It exists! of course. But I don’t know if I could articulate it. I think maybe I’ll frame it as this and ask friends as the occasion arrises in the weeks to some… “What does the cloak of Blackness look like in Canada? What are the properties of the cloak?”

    But back to my daughters. They are Ethiopian (heritage,) African (geographical,) and Black (race.) I know what we emphasize now, but as they grow, will they reject the cloak of Blackness, because the “cloak properties” aren’t their heritage or story? Or maybe the Canadian cloak IS part of their narrative or heritage? Or will they claim it, because it becomes part of their experience, and they want to be empowered in the context many people see them in? I guess we’ll just have to see.

    PS: the picture above is one I found on my ipad one day, after the above mentioned daughter got a hold of it. Little mischief maker…

    Culture Camp Parenting Challenges

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    Being away for a week with our children at culture camp is a real blessing for our family. Still, it is not with it out its challenges. It’s hard for the children to get enough rest, their behavior gets all out of whack, and some influences are less than positive. When you get home the adjustment is also difficult.

    I thought I would write about these challenges that our family has experienced going to Harambee. I would love to hear what is coming later in life for us! If you have some pearls of wisdom to share too. And I think it’s also important to share the challenges so that we can be prepared for them and strategize about our parenting approach in unusual circumstances.

    The first challenge is the schedule at camp. In the past, we have found that when we had a daily quiet time while staying in the trailer, the girls are way less overstimulated and better slept. Usually that quiet time includes reading, playing quietly with stuffies, or simply having a nap. (Usually the parents are the ones having the nap!)

    This year, however, soccer was right after lunch. And although there were no choices to make in the schedule, which was nice, we found that there were no spaces either. So it was very difficult to get out of the action and take a rest. At night, there were teen activities going on until the wee hours. This is awesome for the teens, and I wouldn’t want it any other way for them. That said, our trailer has been parked beside the playing field for the last two years, and getting the kids to bed each night was a huge challenge. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner! But for the last two nights I gave the kids melatonin and that helped immensely to get them to sleep. They also slept in a little later in the morning because the melatonin overwrote the sunshine factor. Note to self for next year.

    In any case, rest and sleep were our big issues. Combine that with the extreme heat that we had last week, and I had some very grumpy children for the majority of the week.

    Which leads me to my second challenge: extremely challenging behavior. I probably had more backtalk, screaming, tantruming and heaven knows what else last week than I have seen since January. I know it’s a combination of the stimulation, lack of sleep, and too much heat. But holy! The kids were a handful. And this is par for the course each year, give or take a few tantrums. A few friends said to me that this age, 6/7 years old, is particularly challenging. But we do have extreme behavior every camp.

    So do you tow the line and expect the same reasonable behaviour from your children, camp or no camp!? Or, do we say that these are exceptional circumstances and allow more exceptional behavior. hmmmm… I know that we were very understanding and patient for the beginning of this past week, but it was only near the end that week, when we gave the girls a serious talking to, that the behavior started to turn more normal. I think next time we will show empathy and understanding for the heat sleep issues. But the screaming at me and two-year-old tantrums… We let that go on too far. Next year, I think we will have to clamp down on that beginning. It just became a way too difficult week for me. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the whole thing, because I was getting so much grief from the kids. (Perhaps from the overtired, overheated husband as well…!)

    One of the most positive things about culture camp is the girls making new friends, hanging out with other children of color, and seeing all the older girls and boys. This has a flipside though. There is a lot of peer pressure at camp. We don’t have teenagers yet, so keep this in relative context. But different parents have different rules and it can be difficult to tell your child “these are the rules because this is the way we do it in our family,” when their friends have different rules of engagement. There are also more subtle things… A benign example is hair. I really don’t like color in the girls’ hair, but since all that other little girls have color in their hair, well then, mine end up having colour in their hair as well.

    Obviously this isn’t a big challenge, it’s just something that we have to navigate over and over again. And we find ourselves adapting our way of doing things to fit in with the social norm. Which isn’t entirely bad thing either! It’s just a challenge to figure out what is important for them to have in common with their peers, and what is not.

    The last challenge is adapting back to life at home. For example, life is pretty free and easy for the six, going-on-seven year old girl at camp. The girls are not allowed to go on the paved vehicle road, but they basically wander all day long from cabin to cabin, from RV to RV. The dirt roads throughout the camp are safe and we trust in our neighbors to keep the kids safe. So they wander.

    When we get back home, however, things are different. There are cars on our street. Fast ones. And we actually don’t know all of our neighbors that well. So we ask the girls to stay in our yard, and they must ask permission before they go to somebody else’s house. And there really aren’t as many places for them to go as the endless supply of friends’ cabins at camp. When we got back this weekend, the girls started biking on our street and running around out of the yard, despite the reminders. We got a lot of protest when we put the rules back in place. But camp is camp. And home is home.

    I would love to hear what challenges do you have encountered with your kids in the camp experience. It’s going to share these ideas so that we can be a little better prepared for these unusual situations. Do you sweat the small stuff? What do you go with the flow on, and put your down for?

    Of course it’s all worth it! I don’t want to make it sound any other way. We love going to camp and it’s a huge blessing for our family. That said, part of growing is overcoming challenges. And I certainly do a lot of growing as a parent at camp…

    Hello Again from Harambee

    We are back at home after another jam packed, culture filled, full-of-friends week at Harambee Summer Festival in Naramata! Enjoy the pictures of our last few days…

    PS to Parents: I try not to put any child’s face on my blog if I haven’t asked their parents first. The minor exception is big big group shots. But if you see your kid’s face on here and aren’t happy about that, of course, just comment and I’ll doctor / remove the picture. :-)

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    Getting their hair done… Braids with colour it is! The ends came undone the same day though… They had used to water and it didn’t work. So Mommy set the ends of their hair on fire (literally) and hopefully it will last a month or two!
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    Drumming every morning… Just in case you wanted to sleep in…..
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    Chatting with friends old and new.
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    Let’s escape and drink wine! One great thing about Naramata is the plentiful tastings….
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    hanging out with our neighbours at camp. The girls each found a BCF ( best camp friend) in the trailer next door. And they came with a cute little brother…
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    Many a potluck…
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    And the final night celebration is always a highlight of dancing, music, drumming, spoken word… Awesome!
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    Uncle B stopping in for a visit to pick up the trailer at the end of camp
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