The end of Ethiopian adoption: how it happened

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It was almost exactly 6 years ago the Jason and I became the parents of two beautiful little Ethiopian girls. Aren’t they growing up beautifully?

This last week, we learned that there would be no more Ethiopian adoption for Canadian families.  Both programs are now closed … And no more children will find families in Canada.

Although it wasn’t a surprise, the email that came from the adoption agency had sad note of finality to it. When I shared the news with my almost-nine-year-old daughters, one of them commented wistfully “that makes me sad, because there are so many children in Ethiopia that really need homes. I’m not sad for us, but I’m sad for the kids who will live in orphanages and who won’t have a family.”

I have to admit I feel the same way. Since I am in Ethiopia every year, and have had an active role in this last adoption attempt, we’ve known for a while that it was highly unlikely to adopt from Ethiopia again. My sadness for those unadapted children was more nuanced though, because I see a system that has failed them. Some families will likely be much more surprised that there is no more Ethiopian adoption. What went wrong? How did adoption stop, when Ethiopia sent thousands of children to live in Canada only a few short years ago?

Here’s my take on why there won’t be any more new adoptions from Ethiopia to Canada.

First… The big picture. In the early 2000s, international adoption kicked off in earnest in Ethiopia. As has happened many times across the globe before, the demand for children catylized a system into overdrive. There was real social need for childcare and for non-institutional, long-term placement solutions, as this was the height of the HIV epidemic. Adults were disappearing, neighbours and grandparents were overrun, and domestic adoption wasn’t on the radar for the average Ethiopian.

Due to the demand, more orphanages and agencies popped up than anyone could oversee and handle.  Adoption agencies started getting competitive, and more than a few resorted to bribery, child solicitation and other horrid forms of corruption. Meanwhile, there were other agencies doing good work, checking and ensuring the authenticity of the adoptions. We can’t forgot those! And then, there was the grey area. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time in Ethiopia around child care organizations, I know there are a lot of well intentioned people who brushed aside the complicated ethical concerns of international adoption to ensure children were placed in a home. A change on the paperwork to make the children more adoptable, or easier to pass through the courts. I heard stories like this over and over, from both sides of the pond.

Of all our friends who adopted children from Ethiopia,  I would say that roughly half of those adoptions were tainted with some lies, or shortcuts along the way. Ours is one of the others… The legitimate, honest adoptions where everyone knew what was going on. Since we have an open adoption with our girls’ family, we know that the big information information we received about the girls’ background was true, and they really did need to have an adoptive family. But a complete pre-adoption story was the exception, not the norm. All those other fibs, lies and outright injustices Started to come out as children got older and could talk, and the international adoption parenting community got rightly pissed off. Many people hired investigators to find their children’s birth families and true stories… All which should have been clearly shared by adoption agencies and orphanages in the first place!

With all these pissed off parents and investigators running around, and the cracks showing in some agencies’s methods, the government started cracking down on adoption. Regions had backlogs. Judges weren’t available. The ministries issued statements. Meanwhile, the government was auditing the heck out of the agencies, and (good job Ethiopian government) managed to close down many of the more blatantly corrupt orphanage and agencies.

Back in Canada, things were going amuck for the two adoption agencies that had open Ethiopian programs.

First, the Imagine Adoption bankruptcy. If you haven’t been following my blog for six+ years, then you may not know that we were caught in the middle of that fiasco with our girls. In fact, I was the one who had to break it to the Ethiopian staff that their employer was broke. Our twins had become legally ours July 3, and then on July 13 I found out that our adoption agency was bankrupt. My mom and I flew to Ethiopia on six hours notice (not knowing how long we were staying…) and the rest is history. But that bankruptcy was due to the director of the agency spending the money, that was supposed to be feeding and caring for our children, on a new pool, horse and house renos. Oh by the way, she finally was “sentenced” this year. It’s amazing how she got away with stealing from the mouths of orphaned children in a third world country. There is a special place in hell for that kind of person. Eventually, another agency took over the Ethiopia adoption licence and the program limped along. They aren’t taking new clients for Ethiopia

The other licenced agency had financial difficulties not a few years later. We put in our oar with them for this second adoption, but heard this past week that they are closing their program. For the last couple of years, we had two organizations barely making it along. What a mess.

Back in Ethiopia, enough adoptive families had stayed at the Hilton and Sheraton where the politicians hang out to cause concern over the mass exodus of children leaving the country. Many of the families didn’t stay to learn about their children’s culture. They just flew in, ate $30 salad buffet lunches at the overpriced luxury hotels, and flew out again with their babies in tow. The wealthy Ethiopians, government officials and hotel staff were astounded.

Orphanages and agencies closed their doors, and also routinely didn’t get post-placement reports back to the people who had placed the kids for adoption in the first place. Many birth families didn’t get any information about their kids, and told their painful stories of loss to the media. Justifiably, people were outraged. Culture is so important in Ethiopia, and for children never to connect with their birth families again and to be disconnected from their culture was a loss for the families, but also for the country.

And then the horror stories started filtering in. I was in Ethiopia when the story of Hannah Williams broke. I was sitting in a cafe, meeting with some of our partners for the NGO I run. One man mentioned in grief about “all the kids that were dying that had been adopted.” I was confused, and didn’t know what they were talking about, until I managed to get wifi the next day and learned about the tragic death of that poor little girl. It was horrible. And it forever changed the way the average Ethiopian saw adoption.

Thousands of Ethiopian children found loving homes overseas. Many of those adoption were honest, and good solutions for children that needed homes. But there was also corruption, financial mismanagement, lies and deceit, pissed-off parents, concerned government and judiciary systems, grieving birth families, a horror story of one beautiful little girl, and a proud Ethiopian people wondering why their children weren’t being raised as Ethiopians. So bit by bit, the house of international adoption in Ethiopia came falling down. And now, in Canada and many other receiving countries, it’s gone.

International adoption doesn’t solve orphan crises. It can be a good solution for some children that need a home, and don’t have other options. however, adoption never does address the root issues that lead the children to need homes in the first place. Now, more than ever, we need to help our Ethiopian friends fight poverty, foster social equality, spread education and keep families together. If you were considering adopting from Ethiopia, or had children from Ethiopia touch your life in some way, I hope you’ll consider helping one of the many organizations take care of the country’s children. They need your support more than ever.

We appreciate your donations for our charity, Vulnerable Children Society‘s work on behalf of children and families.

On a personal note, I am so grateful the people who safeguarded our children, and enabled them to find a home with us. I am thankful for the girls’ family, who saw a way when there was no way to care for the girls. I’m grateful to the orphanage that shared everything they knew about the girls’ family with us. I am grateful to the judge who gave me a complete heart attack as we went through seven court dates, just to ensure that the reason for adoption was actually true. (It was.) And I’m grateful that our first adoption agency, in the throes of bankruptcy, didn’t have the capacity to intervene in our relationship with the girls’ family. Lastly, we are grateful to our girls, who have enriched our lives in countless ways, and who we love more than anyone in the world.

Melkam Fasika

Two weekends ago we had the pleasure of going for an Easter celebration at my Eritrean friend Aster’s house. It was a joyous, relaxed occasional, with a plethora of food and good company.

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We had a dazzling array of food. It’s neat to talk with Aster and the other Eritrean women about the differences and similarities between Eritrean and Ethiopian food. There are more similarities than differences, of course. That’s the way we feel about each other. One of my two besties is Menbi, who is Ethiopian. And the other of her two besties (one is me!) is Aster. I remind myself on occasions like that that not everywhere would gatherings of Ethiopians and Eritreans take place. To add to that, there were Orthodox, Evangel Christians, Muslims and Buddhists at this Easter celebration. Both Jason and I felt blessed my our community and the acceptance of Habesha friends. We love it that 1/2 of the conversation is in Amharic (with side conversations of Tigrayan and Oromiffa) and 1/2 in English. It helps my brush up on my Amharic understanding when the conversation is mixed, too.

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One of the other gems of the day was when I was talking to the Jordanian woman who lives in Aster’s basement with her family. We had met before, but didn’t know each other’s families. “Which one is your husband?” She asked. There were two white women , including me, at the celebration, so she didn’t know if we were the interracial couple. “The white one, I chipped back with a smile.” As a mom of two daughters who live as minorities in a majority white culture, I relish those few moments when my us and I are the ones in the minority.

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The last highlight of the day was the honour Aster bestowed on me when she asked me to make coffee for everyone. Granted, she was using my jebuna (Ethiopian coffee pot,) since I have the biggest one in our group. But instead of just using it, she asked me to prepare the coffee. For those of you that don’t know, in Ethiopian culture, the woman of the house prepares the coffee. If she has a daughter that is old enough (her daughter is getting there, but was playing with the other kids,) she can do it, or a younger relative. Anyway, my punchline was that I was enlisted as a younger cousin or member of the extended family would be, and it tickled me pink.

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I hope you all had lovely Easter celebrations as well, and enjoyed the peace and friendship of your communities.

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Love has no labels

I remember, before we adopted the girls, people asking me if we could possibly love “someone else’s children as much as we would love our own.” The simple answer is that we couldn’t love them more. Not possible. It doesn’t matter that we share parenthood with others. The funny thing about love, is that it is endless… through loving, you only open your heart more, and make more room for love. It opens you up to share with others, and not to be threatened by others’ love.

Sometimes we get too hung up on externalities, like where a child is born, or what religion we believe in. Love doesn’t see externalities. There is a fundamental need that we have to love, and to share that love with others. As the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying: “The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.”

We can’t be colour-blind or ignore the society that we live in around us. But only through loving unabashedly, regardless of colour, religion, gender, age or ability, can we change that society to be more just, and more compassionate.

No Teen Adoption – HUGE Disapointment

Late last week, we found out that we definitively couldn’t adopt the teens that we were hoping would join our family.

I was pretty devastated… I spent a couple of days crying. And then I didn’t talk to anyone about it, which is uncharacteristic of me. I just didn’t think most people would understand why I was so upset.

Partly, I was grieving the idea I had, and the plans I wanted to make with those kids. I wanted to take the girl to Paris one day, and set the boy loose in the woods with my dad to go live-trap wolves. I had plans for bedrooms and the next few years. I could see it.

But mostly, I was just so insanely disappointed and sad for the kids. The chances of them getting adopted by someone else, statistically, are miniscule. And although we were very interested and invested, we couldn’t get one BC agency to revise our homestudy to adopt the kids.

At the outset – let me be clear. I’m not mad at any of the agencies – I know they are all non-profits and trying to avoid risk, so they can continue to do the work that they do. They want kids adopted and they want the family placements to work.

It’s just such a dang shame that not one of them could step up to the plate.

One agency said they wouldn’t support adopting kids over 6 years old. The second had no problem with older children adoptions, but they wouldn’t consider an adoption out of birth order. The third and fourth didn’t have the capacity. One explained that they had a huge contract from the local ministry, and were busy with that, and the other had gone through a lot of staffing changes lately. The last agency commented that if it was 6 months from now, they might consider it, but at this time, no.

No blame – I’m certainly no upset with any of these caring individuals who make adoption their life’s work. Just so so so disappointing.

It stinks that it didn’t work for any of them. So these kids that have a place in my heart will never be able to be adopted by us.

I hope with all my heart that someone else might be able to add them to their family, and they will have the love and support that they deserve.

And as for us, well, after licking my wounds, I will get back to scrolling waiting children lists. For kids 6 and under…

Adoption update

So far, there isn’t much to report on the adoption front. We have four homestudy agencies in our province, and so far, three out of four of them have said no to updating our homestudy. I’m working on the third (again) and the fourth.

It’s proving extremely difficult to adopt any child over 7 years old. One agency has a “no kids over 6″ policy. Another is fine with older child adoption, but has a “no out of birth order” policy. (The third says they don’t have the capacity.)

As someone that runs a nonprofit, I understand risk management. I get that if you’ve been burned a few times, you put a policy in place to avoid the risk. I don’t blame the agencies at all. They are all great agencies…

BUT it seems a crying shame that no one wants to look at our particular case, or the particular kids we are interested in… We’ve been caught between policies, and two kids may or may not get adopted because of it.

Is it truly impossible to adopt a child over 6 years of age, out of birth order, into BC right now?

Guess well wait and see what agency #4 says….

Uphill battle to adopt teens from fostercare

Tonight I’m pretty bummed out. Life is generally good – the kids are doing well, our new business is picking up and Africa Sleeps is flourishing. I’m getting time with my husband to tango each week, and everyone in my immediate family is healthy.

BUT… I am so incredibly frustrated with our potential US fostercare adoption. It seems like a whole bunch of factors are against us, and I wonder why it needs to be this difficult.

First, we found them.

I watched their video late one night, by accident. I was trolling the waiting children lists for young boys to adopt. One of the county sites didn’t screen by age, and doing the scroll, I came across their video.

They were so lovely – I just couldn’t believe how much we had in common. We have so many similar interests, and our personalities seem to compliment. I laughed at their jokes, smiled ceaselessly to myself, and thought “these kids are perfect for us.”

A sister and a brother – both vibrant, funny, determined, and so supportive of each other. Lovely kids… in their teens.

The next day, I hesitantly showed Jason and the girls the video. I expected him to laugh in my face – these are teenagers that I was interested in. They were the furthest thing from our plans. But the girls’ said they thought the “big kids” were great… and soon after the girls went to bed, Jason started figuring out how to divide one of the rooms in our house. He’s not a hasty man. To the contrary – he’s always dragging his heels. But when he saw that video, and over the following weeks, he couldn’t help but he drawn in. IT was so obvious – the kids were perfect for us.

I was smitten – but I wanted to know more. The second time you adopt, you ask the hard questions. You know what you can handle and aren’t afraid to walk away. I spent the next couple of weeks on the phone with the kids’ adoption recruiter, our US adoption agency, and then the kids’ guardian ad litem and case worker. Jay and I made ourselves late for work in the morning several times, talking to the people who know them, and learning about the hell they have been through. Suffice to say, no children spend years in care without having been through a lot. But the more we learned, the more we were interested.

I talked at length with my friends, my sister, my mom. A few people thought we were nuts – but many, especially those that have a good understanding of adoption and teens, lent their support.

For the record, I know teen adoption has a large element of crazy – the transitions are extra rough and parents can never expect the same kind of relationship they’ve had with children grown in their care. But I truly believe that you can have an enormous influence on teens, even if they were parented by someone else. You can become family. I reflected on the teen exchange students and au pairs who had lived with us. One girl – I was second only to her immediate family in finding out she was pregnant. Another boy invited Jason and I to his wedding across the globe, because we mean that much to him, all these years after he lived with us. We’ve had a big influence on many of these kids. And most importantly – kids don’t stop needing parents when they turn 18. I’m 37, and I’m still being parented by my parents – it just looks different. But they are there for me, and their grandkids, whenever we need them. I want that for these teens.

There have been many obstacles since we saw the video two months ago. The biggest question we’ve been asking ourselves – do we really want to take this on, at this time in our lives? I mean, we are the most financially vulnerable we’ve ever been, and up to our ears with the new business. Jason’s practical side has since started to take over (as our bank accounts are dwindling..), and if you ask him now, he’d say they are the right kids for us, but it’s the wrong time. He’s on the fence. And this is one of those things where both parents have to be at least 80% on board.

The process – court, immigration… it’s all complicated. There is a reason few Canadians adopt through fostercare. There is no template, no program. Plus, with the older sister’s age, it is even more complicated. That said, our US agency put all the pieces together, and we’ve found a way. The process can work. We CAN adopt them. Check that box.

So then, two more big barriers… will our homestudy agency in Canada let us adopt teens? (We were approved for 2 children under 7.)

And then, will the kids go for it? I mean, it’s a huge decision – leave everything you know, and fly across the continent to start a new life, in a new country, with a new family? That’s one heck of a leap of faith.

Well, we may never know if the kids would go for it or not, since yesterday I found out that our Canadian agency isn’t on board. It’s just too out of the box for them, and they have a policy of no international adoptions over 6. These kids are way over 6…

There might be another agency who will support us, and update our homestudy. I’m waiting to hear back.

But time is ticking.

My husband is worried about money, trying to balance providing for his family and still interested in these American kids.

Ug.

Everything is saying “just throw in the towel. This is too hard.”

But I don’t WANT to. Dang it. I want to adopt these kids. I want to divide a room, and shuffle kids around the house, and register my new kids in highschool, update the family picture, and travel to Gramma and Grandpa’s with a near-death minivan. ( I would miss you, dear station wagon.) I want to parent these kids, and give them the family that thy deserve.

I just don’t know if I’ll be able to swing it or not.

8 years old! A look back through my twins’ birthdays

It seems like yesterday that we stepped off the plane and my daughters, clinging to me, arrived in Canada, on their third birthday. But it wasn’t yesterday… It was five years ago yesterday. How time does fly!

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In other ways, it does seem like the girls have been with us forever. I don’t think anybody in our family can imagine what it would be like without them. Not only have they completed Jason and I, but they have found irreplaceable places in our extended family’s heart.

It’s amazing to see how they have grown over the years… Mostly straight upwards. We look back to the pictures when they first arrived and they were so tiny, compact, and soft. Their skin is still like a baby’s bottom, but they are all arms and legs when they crawl into my lap now.

Enjoy the pictures from this time of year, for the last eight years. Most of the pictures were taken within a week or so of their birthday. Their “paper birthday,” that is. They came into care on August 28, and so that is their birthday on paper. (Their true birthday is on Meskerem 3, which is a couple of weeks ahead into September.)

Happy birthday, my darlings.

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A little bit of progress

Hmmmm… Looks like something may be happening with our US adoption after all. We’ve been talking with an adoption recruiter, and our homestudy has now gone to the kids guardian ad item and their case worker…. Excited to see if we will get to the next step!

Adoption tennis: Are they interested too?

Adopting through fostercare is very different that adoption through a traditional international adoption process. Most of our friends who have adopted from Ethiopia, China, etc. can relate to suddenly seeing your kids’ faces one day in an email, and then affirming that you do, indeed, want to adopt these children proposed to you.

(a little trip down memory lane..)

Fostercare adoption is more of a two-way street. Everyone has to be interested in each other, and it goes back and forth. We enquire – the kid’s case worker then asks for our homestudy. (We’ve put in several inquiries so far on waiting children, and only a few of the children’s case workers have asked back for a homestudy back. Are we so unattractive as a family? Nope – understandably, most case workers want their kids to be adopted in state.)

Last week we sent off our homestudy for the most interesting sibling group. We saw their video, and we couldn’t get enough of it. I think we’ve watch it 20 times now. We are pretty jazzed about them… it could be an amazing match. This Monday we had a long discussion with their adoption recruiter about the kids. The agency seemed pretty interested in us, and we are even more interested in the kids, knowing some more background. Now the ball is back in their court. Will the kids be interested in us? Would they want to move so far from what they know? Would they take a chance on a multiracial family? Would they like twin 8 year old sisters?

It would mean a new life, in a new culture, and to be in a family for the first time in many years. That’s a lot of change, and a big leap of faith to take, to become permanently a part of a family.

Mid week, and counting… hopefully we will hear something positive back at the end of the week, or early next. And then, the ball will be back in our court, finding out even more about the kids. It’s kind of like adoption tennis.

Natural Hair and Skin for Kids of Colour

Check out this interview with your truly, Arnica Rowan of Africa Sleeps, and Tamara of Natural Hair Rules, written by Rachel Garlinghouse on Adoption.net!

It’s great reading about another person’s perspective… :-) thanks Rachel and Tamara!

“Arnica: The biggest challenge is the learning curve about a totally different type of hair: picking knots out from the roots up, scheduling hair time, finding products that work and developing your styling skills.The other, less talked about challenge is scrutiny from other adoptive parents. I think often we are too quick to judge and not quick enough with encouragement. Hair isn’t a competition; it’s about community and care.”

Read more!

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Harambee 2014

Another year, another fabulous week long culture camp. This year had its truly special moments… And some unexpected surprises.

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The two biggest changes from previous years were events that took place right before camp. First, our regular location, the Naramata centre was embroiled in labor dispute, and the entire place was shut down three weeks before our camp. Can you imagine moving 88 families and 500 some odd people to a new location on three weeks notice? Well, that’s exactly what we did. We ended up in Sorrento, at the peaceful and quiet Sorrento center. It was very different than Narmata. Our former location is right in the middle of town, and we’ve had some positive and negative experiences being in a very small town with more than 300 children color. And I am not just talking about the heat graffiti that made provincial news. We also have 300 children on bicycles, and there can be a lot of clashes with the locals when you have 300 children getting about the village.

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In Sorrento, the center was outside of the hustle and bustle, in a secluded place to itself. There were no bikes allowed… Which was a total positive, if you ask me. There were very few locals to deal with, except for the very appreciative merchants who made special note of thanking our camp for the economic impact over the week. We stayed in very humble cabins, forgot to bring our dogs, which was a real treat. Maggie is getting too old to put in a kennel, and both of the dogs just really appreciate being with us. So we stayed in this little cabana with electricity, but no running water, and just have a lovely time.

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The other unexpected event before camp was a connection with a boy in Newfoundland. You may have heard about Torrence Collier, and the extreme bullying and racism he encountered in the small town he was living in in Newfoundland. Well, our Harambee families heard about him as well, and invited him and his mom and dad to come to camp. Together, we raised enough money for the flights and some expenses. I had a few discussions with his mom over the week, and it was so wonderful to see them be embraced by their peers, Torrence come out of his shell, and to hear about their plans for change in the future. It speaks to our community that we were able to fund raise, and welcome him and his family within two weeks of camp. I think it had a positive influence on a bunch of other children there… And you will see a picture below of him dancing up a storm and feeling very much part of our community. We hope they will return next year!

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As for the rest of camp, it was the same dizzying array of drumming, dancing, swimming, soccer, and other family and cultural activities. This year both Jason and I felt like we got a lot more time with the girls, even though we had to jail them in the cabana if we wanted to see them. They have a few super good friends there, and wanted to spend every waking minute. But a tip from the wise, (that’s us!) Little family time goes a long way to helping them cope with an extremely stimulating camp environment. We made them come home for every meal, and spend one hour in the afternoon, on their beds, just doing nothing. I swear that is what helps them keep it together over a week of complete excitement.

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We also trying to take a field trip every year, in an attempt to get a little break from camp. This year, our visit to Sorrento timed perfectly with my aunt, uncle and cousin seeing at the cabin down the lake. My little cousin S had just come back from Sierra Leone, where she lives, and it was wonderful to catch up with her. My uncle drove us around the lake in his boat and they made us supper too. Delightful!

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I brought some of my Africa Sleeps products with me, as a couple of people wanted to see what I had. Little did I know that there would be a vendor fair, on the short two weeks notice of moving camp, and countless others who were interested in my products. Many many thanks to those families that supported our organic haircare and skincare business! How are cabaña was like a revolving door of hair consultations and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

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There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

If you are interested in joining us another year, please visit www.Harambee.ca

Groovin the Adoption Process


The last few months, I’ve made a bit of a hobby of adoption. I mean, we’ve been so completely busy with the clinic opening in (gasp!) three weeks, when I am too tired to sleep, and just need a topic switch, I troll the waiting children lists.

Like I said… a hobby. I’ve been cool and collected, and not too terribly crazy. This isn’t like our first adoption, where I didn’t breathe for a year. This time, despite all the bumps, I’m pretty relaxed about the whole thing. As far as my personality relaxes, anyway! I’ve been taking the search for our next kid/kids one bite-sized step at a time.

I’ve placed many inquiries, and a couple of social workers have  asked for our homestudy. But nothing has panned out so far.

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But today, as I sat in the salon waiting eternally for the girls’ braids to be finished (their annual visit) I was in the groove, and relaxed, and open… and I think I may have found the match for us.

8 hours later, when we finally came home with extensions swinging, I showed Jason and the girls, and they smiled and chuckled. It was so obvious.

Cross your fingers… it’s not exactly what we had planned. But it might just be the match for us…

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