I am fairly certain that the first time I ever heard about Ethiopia was when I was around 9 years old. The devastating famine of 1984-1985 was in the news, and I remember seeing the images of children and babies that were quite literally starving to death. I’m sure we all remember those images: the swollen bellies, the stick-thin arms and legs, the leathery skin, the flies that the children were too lifeless to swat away, the visible lack of energy and the blankness in their eyes. These images have stuck with me since then, and for so long, they were just about all I knew about Ethiopia. I knew that Ethiopia was a poor country that had a drought so bad that thousands and thousands of people died. BABIES died.

Of course, as time passed and I grew older, I learned a bit more about Ethiopia. I could locate it on a map. I knew that a lot of good long-distance runners come from Ethiopia. And I knew that Ethiopia was the birth place of coffee, the beverage that makes my husband a much more pleasant person to be around in the morning.

But that was just about it. I didn’t know much at all. My brain would still default to those images of the dying babies when I heard mention of Ethiopia. It’s amazing how tough it is to shake shocking images like that.

It wasn’t until the past few years, as we started down this path to building a family, that I learned more about Ethiopia. I now know that most of Ethiopia is actually a green and fertile land. I became aware of the beautiful spirit and welcoming kindness of Ethiopian people. I have learned about customs and calendars and attire. I love Ethiopian food, and I’ve made it myself in our home. Of course, this is not all I know about Ethiopia, and I certainly have a tremendous amount more to learn, but it certainly makes it clear to me that Ethiopia is so much more than those images of dying babies.

I have come to embrace and truly love Ethiopia. I can only imagine that love will skyrocket when I am allowed the privilege of raising one of her children, and I am afforded the opportunity to set foot on her soil. I cannot describe how much I am looking forward to experiencing Ethiopia. It is incredibly important to Craig and me that we raise our child with as much Ethiopia in our lives as we can. We recognize, though, that it will never be enough. It will never be the same as if he or she were to be raised in his or her native country. But we vow to do as much as we can to continue learning, to continue embracing.

Now, as I see the images of the current drought in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya – images again of dying babies – I find myself profoundly struck by the situation. They are the same images I remember from my childhood. They are the images that I will admit popped into my mind when we first learned that Ethiopia was an option for us to consider in international adoption. [To be very clear, though, that was not a factor in our decision-making process. We have never been in this to save a child; we are adopting to build a family. I don’t mean that to sound callous, but it is the truth.]

In this current situation, however, the images are different to me than they might have been in the past. Those babies look like our future child. Those babies are Ethiopian (and Somalian and Kenyan). They are from the place we have grown to love, even though we haven’t been there yet. And they make me wonder: Is our future child suffering in this drought – or in some other similarly terrible situation? Is his or her family struggling, fighting for their lives? Are we going to have a real, palpable connection to these images I’ve seen for years and years? I suppose I am so struck because we already do, in some abstract way.

I know that hunger, poverty, and sickness play significant roles in leading some Ethiopian families to the indescribable decisions to place their children for adoption. I know I will see and feel more about this once we learn who our child is, gain information about his or her background, and appreciate the incredible opportunity to meet his or her family. But all of a sudden, some of this is hitting me like a ton of bricks. This horrible situation, accompanied by the heartbreaking images, is moving the potential realities of our future child’s life a bit from the abstract to the real. And I know it will only become more real with time.

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7 Responses to images

  1. Kelly says:

    International adoption is complicated and I love that you’re not afraid to address some of these (sometimes uncomfortable) topics. As always, you’ve managed to make me think. Like you, we did not adopt to save a child but to start a family. No matter the hardships our children would have faced in their birth countries, WE are most definitely the lucky ones that they joined our families. Thank you for making me think and for being open with your feelings. I know I’ve said it before but you and Craig are going to be wonderful parents.

  2. Love this post. And can relate to it so much because I, too, was introduced to Ethiopia as child through those images, and they were powerful. As I read the news the past couple of weeks about the drought and famine, the pictures have taken on a whole new meaning.

  3. Jaclyn says:

    Well put. We, too, adopted to begin our family and not “to save a life” but in the end you take on your child’s history and culture and everything that involves. It is complicated but worth it and it makes you and your child’s story complete, sad parts and the good parts. We are incredibly lucky to be able to parent these amazing children. I am so looking forward to you meeting your child and embracing his/her history and to begin the next chapter for all of you.

  4. Meg B says:

    Very, very well said, every bit of it. I cannot wait for you to land in Ethiopia for the first time. When we stepped out of the airport for our first trip I recall how nice the air smelled =) We fell in love with our kids, the staff at the care center and the country while we were there. My heart breaks each night when I watch the news. This week sometime we’ll be traveling to southwestern Ethiopia for our family visit. I wonder how our kids’ family members are coping…

  5. kwatkinsinfl says:

    Well said. I think this is one of the reasons we didn’t abandon ship when all the drama started in Ethiopia – we have fallen in love with a place we’ve never been. It’s hard to explain that to people who haven’t been in this boat. And kudos to you for admitting that you are not trying to save babies. I hate it when people tell me what a great person I must be for rescuing kids’ from their horrible conditions. UGH…again hard to explain to them if they haven’t been in my shoes.

  6. sue says:

    this is a beautiful post kelly. so much to think about. i wholeheartedly agree with kelly c that you and craig are going to be wonderful parents. your lives are going to be enriched by your child in so many ways. i love how international adoption stretches us – not only emotionally [hello patience!] but culturally as well. i have no doubt that you will completely embrace the culture of your child. we are all so lucky not only to adopt our beautiful children, but to adopt their culture as well.

  7. Christine says:

    Wow… there is just so much to process here… but the thing that strikes me to the most is how amazing you are going to be when raising an Ethiopian-American. I cannot wait to see that!

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