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My back is killing me from the old mattresses on those beds. The shower is a trickle, and hits me at about belly-button height. Forget clean hair. The food is your basic bland cafeteria food (Q: for how many consecutive meals can you serve the same baked beans? A: four). We come home exhausted. For me – the uber-introvert – it is a whole lot of togetherness and social interaction, which taxes me even though I like it. For Elsa – the mega-extravert – it is heaven, but it is also sensory overload and she tends to melt down afterward.
But Ethiopian Heritage Camp is priceless, and I intend to bring Elsa every year until she is, oh, 30.
We get to hang out with families like ours. Nobody asks stupid questions like whether I’m trying to be Angelina Jolie. We get to soak up Ethiopian music, dancing, language, coffee ceremonies, and – on the last night – awesome Ethiopian food. I get to bond with parents who have gone through a lot of the same stuff, and who have similar interests and priorities. I learn a lot from them.
We get to relax, dance, sing, attend lectures, run around on the grass, eat ice cream, and remember how important it is to be – and stay – connected to the place where our children come from.
This year, we heard stories from young adults, adopted into the US as children, who had recently returned to Ethiopia to find their birth families. Some had happy stories – others did not. They also talked about what it was like to grow up apart from their home, their culture, a big part of themselves. Tough stuff – but so valuable to hear.
Our kids learned some traditional games – a hilarious Ethiopian version of duck, duck, goose, for one thing – and music and dances. They got to hang out with other kids who looked like them, who have similar stories. This isn’t even in Elsa’s consciousness yet, but it will be – and when the hard stuff does dawn on her, and she has tough questions and feels adrift, I want her to have longstanding connections with these friends from camp. I want her to know she is not alone.
The pictures below don’t show any of the activities, but I loved this man.
I don’t even know his name – he was one of the Habesha adults who was just there, hanging out at camp. Elsa and Ephraim stormed onto the court when they saw him shooting hoops and waiting for his friends.
He just stopped what he was doing and totally focused on them and played with them. He could not have been any sweeter or more patient.
This is pretty much what all the Ethiopians who come to camp are like – they are present, attentive, lovely, and so very generous in giving of themselves to the little ones.
We are so lucky to have them.
Registration for Ethiopian Heritage Camp 2010 is open, people!Thursday, July 29, through Sunday, August 1, 2010 Scotts Valley, CA
Go HERE to register.
Elsa and I will be there – what are you waiting for?
Today, January 7, is Christmas in Ethiopia – called “Genna” or “Ganna”.
Here is some cool information about the holiday and how it is celebrated: Ethiopian_Christmas
This photo was taken during one of my many visits to Toukoul orphanage while I was in Addis. I would visit Elsa for about an hour in the morning, and sometimes again the in the afternoon, hoping to get her accustomed to me and lessen the jolt when I eventually took her home.
More often than not, Elsa conked out on me about 15 minutes into my visits.
At the time, I thought they purposefully scheduled visiting times during nap hours to allow for these peaceful and lovely little sleepy interludes (who doesn’t love a sleeping baby on their chest?).
I now know that going to sleep is a classic defense mechanism – very common in orphanage babies – when a child is overwhelmed by stimulus. I think my appearance and intense attention and affection was probably just too much for her to handle after a while, so she simply went to sleep. Pretty effective, actually.
This is a shot I’ve never posted. In fact, when I look through photos of Ethiopia, I tend to zoom past this one because it makes me uncomfortable. It is not a good picture of me, nor is it a good picture of Elsa.
But it is a good picture of a moment.
This is the moment I took Elsa out of the orphanage for the last time and she became truly my own – we were literally crossing the threshold into a new life.
Will it surprise you to hear that this moment was the one and only time during my adoption process that I cried? It’s true.
I didn’t cry when I got my referral. (Seems everyone else I know who has gone down this adoption road did.)
I didn’t cry when I passed court, or booked my trip, or arrived in Addis, or even (to the shock of everyone, including myself) when I met Elsa for the first time. I didn’t cry when I visited her village in the Sidama zone.
But at this moment, I was taking Elsa away from everything she knew, from every loving person with whom she had bonded, from every familiar food, smell, bed, and place. She had already lost her family, and as of this moment, she was losing her country, her culture, her language, her sense of belonging, her home.
As I carried her through this doorway, she retained only the clothes on her back. She was losing literally everything else.
So while I was thrilled (and terrified) for myself, I was devastated for her.
And this is the moment when I lost it.
This photo is one of my favorites from my time in Ethiopia. I love it because it shows such genuine affection and bond between Elsa and one of her nannies.
I am so grateful that Elsa ended up in the Toukoul orphanage (that is, if she had to go anywhere other than her own family)… they may not have have much in terms of resources, but they are so generous with love and affection.
Today, Elsa and I head off to the mountains of Santa Cruz to go to Ethiopian Heritage Camp!!!
I am so excited!!
We’ll pick them up at the San Francisco airport early this afternoon, then the four of us will drive on down to Mission Springs Conference center for 4 days and 3 nights of Ethiopian food, music, culture, lectures, community, coffee ceremonies, fun and games. And we’ll have other friends there too – Jesi and her adorable twins, and the fantastic ABC (Amara, Becky and Chris).
Unless something has dramatically changed from last year, the area where camp is located is bereft of wifi (or even cell phone coverage). So I’ll be silent for a few days… talk amongst yourselves.
And when I come back, I promise to post photos and tell tales.
Seriously, this coffee is so very delicious.
It comes from Elsa’s home town, Aleta Wondo. And they return a percentage of the profits right back to Aleta Wondo – no middleman. If you are in the market for Ethiopian coffee, please give this a try!! (good karma for you, too).
I joke about Elsa being on America’s Next Top Model, but this is no joke.
Sara Nuru, a gorgeous Ethiopian (how redundant) raised in Munich, has just won the German version of ANTM (hosted by Heidi Klum!).
Check out some of the news coverage here.
Woo to the hoo!