Friday, March 18, 2011

I am an 'Opia (Ethiopia) Baby!

As we prepare to visit Ethiopia for the first time since bringing Leyla home two years ago, I see elements of this East African culture becoming woven into our life. Leyla is beginning to understand pieces of her story. She excitedly exclaimed to me the other day, “I am an ‘Opia baby!!” Ever since we went to a celebration at the local Ethiopian Culture Center, she speaks often about “’Opia.”

She has an amazingly close but different relationship with each of her two brothers. She recently told me, “My boys came from ‘Opia too.” I explained that her brothers came from mommy’s tummy. She looked straight into my eyes with her piercing black ones and replied “I came from ‘Opia. My boys came from mommy’s tummy.” I loved that her tone implied no judgment but was simply a statement of fact. Then she giggled her infectious laugh and hugged me tight. Her little arms wrapped around my neck with the tickle of her black ringlets on my cheek takes my breath away every time no matter how often she does it.

I see signs she feels a pull from her native land. I found her playing with a traditional Ethiopian coffee pot (pictured). I am not sure how she got it down but she is resourceful. As I watched her play, I thought such a pot was certainly a part of her earliest experiences. She seems drawn to things in our house that originated from Ethiopia. I love seeing it. It both feels natural and right. But it doesn’t feel sufficient. And I know it is my responsibility to make sure we honor her heritage.

A facebook page called something like "The Ethiopia no one tells you about” reminded me of the dual purpose I had for this blog. First, I wanted to raise awareness of the need that remains there. I also wanted to show the rich history and immense beauty. This page was filled with lovely images of the people, land, music and food very different than the stark photos more often associated with that region. This is the Ethiopia we saw and I want my children to see. Not to forget the need but not let it dwarf all else that is wonderful there. Here are some amazing sights from our first visit.

The family is abuzz with anticipation. My sons have never been. As my eldest enters high school, I see this trip as a reminder to him, and his brother, they are global citizens. They are now directly tied to three continents and four peoples. We are learning how big and small the globe really is.

For my daughter, I want Ethiopia in her memories; through pictures, stories, art, food and culture. My husband is Greek. We took the kids to his homeland since they were infants. My parents are Dutch and although less frequently, we visit Holland too. Those countries are home to us rather than foreign lands. We treasure the multi-cultural richness of our lives which now also includes Ethiopia.

People ask me, “Why don’t you wait until she is old enough to remember?” I understand the question. But I am greedy for my daughter. I want more than memories of a special trip for her. I want her country to remain a vital part of who she is. I want her to see herself in pictures there at different points in her early life. I want her to hear stories of trips that she might not remember. I want her to see her family in her land as we embrace it as ours too.

I believe those pre-memory experiences are powerful influences. I want those experiences to be the framework of her ties to her birth country supplemented through our everyday efforts. I desire the same for the whole family but more acutely for Leyla. I want Ethiopia to truly be home for my amazing‘Opia baby.