Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy 3rd Birthday, Happy Memorial Day, Happy National Day in Ethiopia . . .

On May 27, 2008, a little baby girl was born in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. We would see her face for the first time 4 months later in our referral picture. Our lives were forever altered when we met her at six months old in person in Addis Ababa. Much change occured in three short years. She is no longer a tiny infant with huge eyes silently taking in the world. Now she is a feisty, chatty, take the world by the tail, adorable pre-schooler. She owns the heart of each member of the family with her fierce, joyful nature. We celebrated her full third year of life with a delicious Ethiopian dinner at a great eatery named Kokeb . Kokeb means star in Amharic, a literal translations would be "Star Restaurant". Leyla is definitely the "star" in our family, pictured below. Leyla apparently was not in the mood to flash her trademark smile. Having a long Memorial Day weekend to spend with the family is heavenly in the hustle and bustle of life with two working parents and three active kids.

If Leyla were still living in Ethiopia, she would likely be celebrating a different national holiday. They commemorate May 28, 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, a united coalition of insurgent factions, took over Addis Ababa signaling the downfall of the Derg regime. I realized that year was significant to us too. In 1991, Michael and I married. And later that year I entered law school.

In Ethiopia, the Marxist Derg seized control throwing out Haile Selassie I, the previous Emperor from 1930 to 1974, beginning a civil war that lasted from 1974 to 1991. It is reported many thousands were killed during campaigns against ethnic groups in rural areas. The Derg regime is considered by many as responsible for among the worst human rights abuses during its seventeen years in power. Today, many participate in parades and popular demonstrations in larger Ethiopian towns and cities to celebrate their downfall. The celebrations are designed to be a reminder of the humanity and equality of all peoples.

As we get ready to travel back to Ethiopia, we look forward to seeing and learning more about this amazing country. We are excited to see the new Ethiopia Reads Library in Bahir Dar giving children from Leyla’s hometown the chance to read, thanks to generous donations from family, friends and even strangers. We were asked what we would like on the commorative plate. I gave it some deep thought because we wanted it to reflect so much: our gratitude to Ethiopia, our hope for its children, our desire for our daughter to be at home in her birth country as well as our deep and abiding love for her. We settled on:

This library is for the children of Bahir Dar, birthplace of Leyla Marie Fasika, beloved daughter of Ellenore and Michael Angelidis and cherished sister of Dimitri and Damian Angelidis.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." Frederick B. Douglass.

Pictures of the school that will house the library and the children who will read the books are below. We can’t wait to meet them this summer.

But there is always more to do . . so much need. We are now working on funding for a second library in Addis, Ababa. We are approximately a third of the way there. Damian and I are planning a bake sale here in Seattle. If you are in the neighborhood, enjoy some delicious goodies and help out a good cause. We are calling it . . “Baking for books.” I you are in a position to help, you can also donate on-line or contact me for information if you want to send a check.

All children should have the opportunity to learn to read and to be forever free. This weekend, we joyously celebrate with Ethiopia the equality of all people.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mother's Day(s) -- Antrosht-- Comes after the Rains Stop . . at least in Ethiopia

Celebrating Mother’s Day is a special time for me. My husband and my kids each have their own way of making me feel cherished. The method changes as they grow but the sentiment is true. This year, my 10 year old was proud to have prepared my morning coffee and brought it to me in bed. He then produced a homemade card which introduced his power point presentation. It showed his quirky nature including "a mom graph" and favorite things he likes to do with me. He had been tucked away in secret for days working on it. My 14 year old designed a card. The cover showed his artistic talent which included a number of clever hidden messages I would likely have missed without his explanation. Inside, he opened his heart providing me a peak into his inner self and his view of our connection. My 3 year old got into the act with a wonderful painting of a butterfly where the wings were her hands. She’s couldn’t quite get the celebratory wording of the day right. She kept telling me “Happy Mother’s Time,” which seemed almost better.

Since she is adopted from Ethiopia, I wondered how mother’s day is celebrated in her home country. I found familiar dates in the US have different significance elsewhere as I blogged about previously. Having been raised by Dutch parents and marrying a Greek native, I learned not to assume a significant day for America is necessarily significant elsewhere. What I learned was quite interesting.

Ethiopia celebrates Mother’s day(s), “Antrosht,” in the fall, after the rainy season. It doesn't have a fixed date but can occur in October or November depending on when the rain lets up. The family celebrates with a meal and continues the festivities over two to three days. I like this version already. The children bring ingredients to make a traditional hash. Girls are charged with bringing butter, cheese, vegetables and spices; the boys with bringing a bull or lamb. I was fascinated that it broke down gender lines even at this young age. I imagined Leyla bringing her ingredients. I think she would embrace her part as she enjoys the culinary arts. As soon as she spots me begin activities at the kitchen counter, she pushes a bar stools, significantly taller than she, over next to me. She then excited climbs up, anxious not to miss a thing. Once she is safely perched, she scans the landscape and asks, “Can I help, Mama? PLEASE!”

In the Ethiopian celebration, the mom prepares the meat hash. A little different than my ideal Mother’s day where I don’t have to lift a finger. (I did say ideal, this has never actually occurred). Also the mother and daughter there put butter on their faces and chests as part of the ritual. This could be fun although maybe not so good for my combination complexion. Having caught Leyla experimenting with my creams and lotions on more than one occasion, I imagine she would have fun with this.

They dance and sing songs about family and heroes. This I like too. Leyla is moved by music. When she hears a favorite song on the radio, she enthusiastically orders, “Dance with me, Mama!!” I scope her up and happily swinging her around. We both laughing giddily. Her ten year old brother, my budding photographer, took some pictures of us cavorting about a year back, seen below. She never seems to tire of it. And my soul soars when I have her in my arms joyfully moving to the beat or watching her twirl with abandon alone. She also loves to make her own music. When we drive around on the weekends, I hear her little cartoon character voice blending with the pop vocals emanating from the car stereo. I find a spontaneous smile spread across my face as I peak at her sweet face in the rear view mirror. She sings purely for herself which is truly beautiful.

After the rainy season finishes in Ethiopia this fall, we may celebrate a version of “Antrosht” or Ethiopian “Mother’s Time” in Seattle (ironically when the rain starts here) to honor of my daughter’s heritage -- now part of our family fabric-- and to honor motherhood which shouldn’t be celebrated just one day a year.