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.