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…

Surprising Adoption News: a new file, a new country

Last year we were very excited to open our file to adopt again from Ethiopia, and now we are excited to say that we have opened a file in the USA for fostercare adoption as well.

Ethiopia was, in fact,to the third country we had tried for our second adoption. First, there was the DRC (Congo) that we pulled out of within a matter of months. I could see the writing on the wall, and sure enough, the program is closed now.

So we switched to Lesotho, a small boutique program run by a fantastic agency in BC. Due to the country’s elections, politics and eventual compliance with The Hague Convention, the adoption process slowed to a trickle. We were just poised to receive a referral, when, The agency for Ethiopia started accepting applications again.

So we made the hard choice, and jumped ship to Ethiopia. (A little summary of our adoption timeline.)

At first, it seemed like things were progressing well. But now I’m honestly not sure if anything is going to happen. We took a risk pioneering a special needs program, and it doesn’t look like it will pan out anytime soon. And the general waiting list has a very, very long wait time. Ethiopia is an outside bet, at the moment.

Anyway, the kids are getting older, and I’m feeling the urge more and more strongly to add to our family. Jason would be fine with just the two girls, but my urge to add kids isn’t going away… It’s intensifying.

We’ve had many discussions with the kids about their priorities, and most important to them is that they have a brother, and that he (or they) have brown skin. It’s very important to them that they outnumber us, and we are totally down with that. Since their are precious few kids (read: almost none) of colour in BC, and we aren’t up for a baby (I have changed one diaper in my life, and I’m not about to start now…) so that leaves US fostercare. And through a strange twist of adoption rules, we can have our file open in both the US and Ethiopia at the same time.

I’m actually very excited about adopting through US fostercare. Like most crazy adoptive mothers, I’ve spent late night trolling through the waiting child website, imagining kids faces superimposed in our family picture. There are so many beautiful kids, funny kids, shy kids, outgoing kids, and normal kids… And they all deserve a family. There are an inordinate amount of black children in fostercare, and black boys are most overrepresented.

I’d always been told that you can’t adopt through US fostercare to Canada… But that isn’t actually the case. It’s totally possible… It’s just hard. The individual child’s casework at the county level has to agree to work with one of the extremely few Hague-approved-for-outgoing-adoptions agencies that actually does fostercare adoptions. I can count these agencies on one hand, in the whole USA, by the way. And then our agency in Canada has to be cool with it, and have a good working relationship with a US agency.

Luckily, so far, the starts have aligned as far as agencies go. Now we just have to find the kid… And convince their county social worker that Canada is a good option! Lol

Wish us luck in this next leg of our adoption journey!

One (or two!) sons from America (or Ethiopia,) here we come!

Every Day Ethiopian Culture

One of my besties, M, got back from Ethiopia a few days ago. She has been visiting her family for the last two months, and it was long overdue that we should sit down and have a coffee.

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I was running horribly late on Friday, as I have been all week. But when I walked into my friend’s house, and out onto the back deck, I immediately felt calm and better.

My other bestie, T, and our new friend and neighbor Y, were sitting on the back deck munching away at some Ethiopian breakfast.

As we sat, and chatted, about work, family, and M’s recent trip to Ethiopia, I remarked on how infused Ethiopian culture is in our daily lives. It maybe just the small things… But isn’t culture like that?

We sat on mattresses and on the floor, around shared plates of food. M made us proper coffee, and we sat and chatted. I was the rude one… I only stayed for 45 minutes. Normally you sit and chat for hours. Visiting like this is this intricle part of Ethiopian culture, and it’s not only a part of my children’s lives. It’s a part of mine.

On a deeper level, it’s amazing how much of our lives have been enriched by adopting our daughters and subsequently connecting with Ethiopians. Not only have I gained family, friends, and a vocation… But we have more cultural touchstones, more traditions, and more community in our lives.

For any of those dear readers adopting a child from another culture, I heartily encourage you to reach out to that child’s birth community. You can’t manufacture friendships… Those simply happen. M and I are like sisters because we are, not because she is Ethiopian. But you can increase your chances of finding good friends, if you proactively seek out people of your child’s culture. Your children’s lives will be enriched, and their foundation solidified… But you might find special friends and hidden joys as well.
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5 Tips for Successful Adoption Homeland Travel in Ethiopia

By popular request, I have compiled some of our family’s tips on successful homeland travel in Ethiopia. Not that I am an authority on the subject!… Others travel much more often than we did. But we had an amazingly successful trip, with happy children, happy grandparents, happy parents, and happy birth family at the end of the trip.

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1.Plan your trip around your children’s wants and needs at this time.

We talked extensively with the girls about what their priorities were at this point in their lives, at seven years old, and 5 years from their adoption. Our recent trip was as much about reconnecting with Ethiopia, as it was about seeing family in person. So the girls made the priorities, and we executed them. We made sure that no one else’s priorities took precedent, and so we were able to do exactly what the girls needed on the trip. In our case, that was to go to the spa, spend time in the bush with wild animals, and see their family.

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2.Take only useful people.

When planning the trip, we really thought about who we should invite and take along. We decided to invite my parents, and it was a great move. First of all, my mother has been to Ethiopia many times, and is comfortable in most situations. My father, well I was a little worried about him! in advance… I didn’t know how he would handle the culture shock. He just got very quiet for a few days, and after that, was like a duck in water. But I knew that the girls feel safe around him, and he would provide muscle , if needed. (Complicated family stuff.) He was also very helpful keeping an eye on the girls, and breaking the ice with young Ethiopian family members. The flipside is to make sure you don’t invite anyone to go on vacation. Homeland travel is about the kids, and their priorities can even easily get overthrown by adult priorities, especially people who have spent a lot of money to fly across the ocean.My advice is to not to take anyone who needs babysitting themselves. If they are uncomfortable in other cultures, not well-traveled, or have other high needs, take them on a cruise some other time. So in a nutshell, my tip is to take only people who want to be there to support the kids, not people who have their own agenda. Harsh, but that’s my advice.

3.Run scenarios about birth family.

Everybody has a different story, and everybody has a different relationship with their extended family in Ethiopia, or the country of your child’s birth. We have an open adoption, and my mother and I have this did the girls family before. But the last time that the girls were in personal contact with their family was five years ago, when we picked them up. So we knew exactly which family members we were going to see, but we didn’t know how they would react with the girls. We ran 1000 scenarios… And one or two more right before we left. We talked to doctors, counselors, and Ethiopians about what might happen with various groups of family members, and all that consultation and scenario forecasting totally paid off. The important part of this is that we talked through each scenario with the girls. No matter what happened, we knew what our plan was. The girls knew that if they were overwhelmed, we would allow them to stay in a safe place with a parent or grandparent. They also knew that they were not allowed to run off, and knew some of the cultural events that might happen. I can’t stress enough how much this paid off. We have extremely complicated extended family, and it helped us navigate what would have been several overwhelming days. (A side note, some people object to us saying our family, but within our open adoption, that’s what our I feel can family calls us and that’s what we called them. Family. And the parents and grandparents are included!)

4.Expose your child to as many cultural practices as possible before you go.

Honestly, we didn’t plan this. It was a complete surprise, how much the girls connections with Ethiopian Canadian culture and my many visits and experiences from Ethiopia paid off. The girls learned a few words that they have heard before in short order, the language wasn’t the mean thing. The main thing was that they understood the basic intricacies of social interaction. They knew that anybody who was connected to them in anyway would scoop them up and smother them with kisses. They knew to make themselves scarce and quiet when adults were having coffee. They knew to take their food last after the adults, and that stuffing their faces was mandatory. All those little tiny things really paid off, and the girls felt completely comfortable in Ethiopia. Well not completely… Sugar did find Addis too busy for her. But aside from that, they were right at home. Fish in water.

5.Build in time for processing feelings.

My girls actually suggested that I put this on the list, because for them it was a huge part of the success of the trip. When we were planning our adventures, we made sure that we had time just as a family, without the excitement of Ethiopian family, friends, or volunteering. Even time away from the grandparents. For us, the times our little family feels closest is in remote locations with few distractions. Every family is different, but you know when you really gel and connect with each other: You need to make sure that this happens during the trip. My dad suggested that we go to the bush, Lake Langano, after our visit with the girls’ family, just in case they had big feelings to process. Well, the big feelings still haven’t arrived… But having that space and time with us together was wonderful. The girls also said they really appreciated having every evening together, with no distractions. We made sure that, when in Addis, we stayed at the same guesthouse each night, with private space and a little garden. That meant that there was consistency in location and in routine, even amongst our travels.

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Hopefully these tips and tricks for homeland travel are useful to you. Again, every situation is different, but I recommend going as soon and as often as you can afford. We told the girls that their next trip will be within five years, and they are happy with that. In closing, the second-biggest question I always get is about the fallout of our trip. “Do the girls have unresolved feelings, or big nagging doubts or questions?” We ran the scenarios! Lol, as you we’ll imagine. But the truth is, the culture shock and angst simply didn’t happen. Maybe because we were so prepared, or maybe because we were lucky, but our trip to Ethiopia was a highlight in the girls’ lives so far.

 

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 all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

Frugal Fridays: 5 Tips for Homeland Travel on a Budget

I’ve had so many questions about travel logistics, that I thought I would restart my Frugal Friday blog posts with this one on budget homeland travel to Ethiopia.

We were gone for two weeks total, which is not a very long time, but we managed to fly around the world and back again for almost exactly $8000 Canadian. Not bad! Here are my tips on how to have a wonderful time, without breaking the bank.

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Be flexible in your flights.

There were four of us flying, and we had a pretty tight timeline. Usually, to save money on tickets, it’s best to be flexible on departure and arrival dates, and to fly out of airports with a lot of service. I literally finished class and drove to the airport, however, so I at least didn’t have this luxury. What we did was drove to Seattle, which is across the US border. Sometimes driving from your hometown to a major metropolitan center can save a bundle. This saved our family at least a couple thousand dollars, so it is well worth it. This is even with an international Airport in our own backyard. I had to fly out of Kelowna, so I met my family on the way. But my big flight tips are this… Be flexible and when you have to leave, drive to a major metropolitan center, and be prepared to take a red eye flight every now and again.

Also watch those airport costs… Do you know that we paid more for food in airports on our trip then we did in country? That’s ridiculous! And something we will try to change next time. We always travel with food replacement bars, and fruit bars, and a water bottle. Although I don’t use the water bottle in country, it does save us at airports. Also, make sure that you are bringing luggage that fits your luggage allowance. It makes a ton of difference in the long run. We also travel with a tiny scale that allows us to we are luggage and save hundreds of dollars of overweight charges. That is a gadget worth the investment.

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Manage transportation costs.

In country transportation, I mean. In Ethiopia, as well as many other emerging economies, there are different prices for different categories of people. Taxis in Addis Ababa, for example, have a foreigner price, a foreigner that lives in the country price, and an Ethiopian price. If you are not prepared to barter dramatically, it’s simply best for a foreigner to get a driver. Or of course, you can ride in town buses. But if you want the convenience of going where you want to go, I driver quickly becomes a lot cheaper than a taxi. We have a great driver to recommend… His name is now home, and on our last trip had the extremely reasonable rate of 800 per day in Addis Ababa, and 1000 per day outside of the capital. Of course, you also pay for fuel, and his food and accommodation. But when you traveled as much as we do, it’s worth having someone at your beck and call.

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Barter and budget accommodation.

This might may surprise some people, as accommodation often is the second biggest expense. But not with my family! We find that people often spend way too much money, since they are used to western conveniences and don’t take time to look for something at a reasonable price. I understand that there is a good market for hotels at the same rate I would play page in Canada… But that is not for our family.

We stayed at perfectly reasonable hotels, and never spent any more then $40 US a night. Our hotel in the account, was only $20 a night. So first, choose a place without a lot of frills. But secondly, realize that everything is negotiable. If you are staying for more than three nights… Ask for a discount! If you have more than one hotel room and have rooms for drivers and translators, ask for a discount. If you have a popular blog or have sent lots of friends to the same hotel… Ask for a discount! These are not unreasonable request. You can also discuss room or bed upgrades and breakfast as well. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t try to take advantage of business owners in developing countries. However, bartering is part of every day life, and reasonable small discount of 10 to 20% for extended stays are the norm, not the exception.

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Spend money where it counts.

We chose to go to Bishanghari Lodge for three nights… Which was not cheap, by any standards! But it was worth every penny, and is the experience my girls will remember for the longest. We also never skimp on eating out, or on food or drinks with our meals, which is in direct contrast to Canada. In Ethiopia, it is so inexpensive to eat out… You might as well enjoy it and not worry about pinching a few dollars here and there. This also pertains to tipping… Make sure that you tip your hotel staff appropriately. The service will be so much better the second time you visit! And it’s also the Fairway to treat people in the service economy, in an emerging country.

Lastly, don’t spend money where you don’t need to.

Sure, we bought the girls new suitcases for Christmas. And yes, those are included in the $8000 Canadian. But we didn’t need to new clothes for this trip, or fancy travel apparatus, or exorbitant gifts for family. People can spend a fortune before they ever leave home. So think about all those pretrip expenditures, and if they will really add value to your trip. You can save a lot of money by not shopping until you reach your destination!

I hope those tips are helpful! Happy home land traveling!

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. Enjoy the 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 all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

Visiting, Shopping and the Spa: our last relaxing days in Ethiopia

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 all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

After five eventful days in the sun at Lake Langano, we were ready to head back to the capital. We still had a few things to do… Visit friends, visit the folks who run the orphanage the girls lived in, go to the spa and spend the girls’ saved allowance on Ethiopian toys.

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It was a peaceful ride back from Langano, but a long one.

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First, we stopped in at the orphanage where the girls lived for the better part of a year. It’s a different building than then, but the folks who run it, Selam and Wondu, are the same. We’ve visited and kept in touch over the years, but it was the first time we had visited them with the girls. Wondu was delighted to see them. I thought it was so interesting… He’s the only person in Ethiopia who asked about their personalities, their likes and dislikes. Most people, after seeing the girls and knowing they are ok, well… That’s enough for them. But he was genuinely interested. Selam was on her way back from Addis that day, so we met up with her for a brief visit at a truckstop. She was amazed to see them in person… They were such puny pants when she saw them last in Addis.

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Then we stopped in at my friend Menbere’s family’s house. I’m not sure how many times I’ve been there… Maybe four? But anyway, it feels like visited extended family. The girls quickly grabbed their friend N’s cousin, and they played coffee ceremony on the floor and outside, while the real thing was brewed in the living room. It’s was sweet to see Menbere’s sister teaching her daughter about coffee ceremony. Apparently now that’s she old enough to be going to university, (she was just home on spring break,) she’s old enough to take over coffee ceremony duties. Or at least, be schooled by her momma.

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I should also mention that Amaye’s house is my favourite locale for Ethiopian food, in all of Ethiopia! Seriously, Menbi is such a good cook, but here sister might even be better. I’ve eaten in countless Ethiopian restaurants, and she always has them beat. And just for me, they make countless fasting dishes… Let’s just say we all arrived with empty stomachs, and let groaning and and happy!

We had a quiet night at our guest house in Addis, and then our last day in Ethiopia were spent doing the last thing on the girls’ “to do” list: going to the spa!

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I can’t even express how excited the girls were… This was their number one thing to do in Ethiopia. You see, they’ve been seeing pictures of mommy going after each Ethiopian trip, and it’s something we could never afford at home. So we had a gorgeously relaxing day at Boston Day Spa… I mean, look at this kid’s face!

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They were treated like little little princesses! They didn’t have flip flops small enough for their feet after the pedicure, so the ladies carried them bodily over to the manicure table. So sweet!

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The girls had saved their allowance for weeks to spend in Ethiopia, and our last stop before the plane was… You guessed it… The toy store. Yes, my kids go to Ethiopia, and return with more stuffies. Do judge.. They have an addiction.

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And then that night, we left Ethiopia. It took a few days to get home, with three cancelled flights, but we returned happy and healthy. Well, happy, anyway! Lol

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On the discussion board I belong to, a popular topic is “what age should I take my kids back to Their birth country?” Well, my answer is this: as soon as you can financially swing it. I’ll be back in the fall, but id can’t wait to bring the whole family again. Especially our two little Habeshas.

Stay tuned for my tips on successful homeland travel!

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!!

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