by Joy Casey in Ethiopia
My flight to Ethiopia on Wednesday, I am happy to report, was uneventful. Got out of the airport at 8:30 in the morning hauling three 50# bags plus a computer bag, grateful to be welcomed by my longtime friend and colleague, Abebe. We stuffed suitcases on top of cases of formula that go to the orphanage and wound our way through crazy heavy traffic until we finally left Addis Ababa behind. Adama was our destination where five birth families of adopted children would meet with me to receive pictures and updates. This is one of the best parts of my job. Over the years I have grown so fond of aunts, grandmas, sisters and mothers of children – it is like meeting old friends. Today was no different. There were tears of sadness and joy, the kissing of pictures and exclamations of delight and thanksgiving.
Reading update letters out loud with Abebe translating is sometimes challenging, especially if the letter is from the child. Theirs is a first-world context so they are telling their sister or birthmother about the 4th of July fireworks or snowboarding or spending the day at the ocean’s edge. One boy illuminated the joy of gardening – scooping cow manure and all! Parents talk about all the activities and achievements of their children and I get blank looks when I mention tennis, golf, bass fiddle, whale watching or home schooling. There simply is no schemata (life experiences) to hang these pictures on for them.
Living on a farm in rural America conjures up an idyllic picture in most of our minds… and it is a rather ideal place to raise kids. But in Ethiopia, the countryside is a place of deprivation, thirst and back-breaking work, offering premature aging.
The cultural chasm between Ethiopia and the U.S. hit me full force today. But despite their inability to truly grasp the details, these Ethiopian families trust. They have put their precious children in God’s hands. Because a connection between birth family and adoptive family has been nurtured through pictures and letters, the birth families have also come to trust the moms and dads raising their kids. Their lack of understanding American culture does not for a minute diminish the peace they have achieved in knowing their offspring are cherished and loved.