Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd...

This coming Sunday and Monday, April 13th and 14th, there will be an Ethiopian conference at Harvard. Here is the link. The keynote speakers are Rebecca Haile and her father Dr.Getatchew Haile. They will be giving a presentation called, "Unto the Second Generation: Dual Perspectives on the Ethiopian Diaspora."

Steven and I had the opportunity to hear these two speak. I highly recommend that you give them a listen if you have the chance.

Rebecca was extremely helpful and welcoming to us. I hadn’t read her book yet, and really wished I had (I have just finished part I). Her book is all about identity issues. Here is a review from Henry Louis Gates Jr.,

"Part travelogue, part history, part memoir, Rebecca Haile's Held at a Distance shines a bright and unique light on Ethiopia, a country in whose fortunes we as Americans and Westerners have been concerned for some time, but which remains in large part a mystery to many of us. Today, Ethiopia, for far too many people, is synonymous with poverty and warfare; but for generations of African Americans, it was the font of black civilization itself, the spiritual source of visions of a united and prosperous Pan-Africa, the living testament to the glories that were Black Africa. In her bold new book, Haile moves far beyond the one-dimensional headlines that encapsulate Ethiopia in the Western press to provide as rich and nuanced a portrait of her native land as I have seen. It's an important and beautifully written volume."

Rebecca’s story is harrowing and heart breaking. In Los Angeles, when I saw her father I thought naively, 'oh, he is in a wheel chair because he is getting on in years'. Not at all the case. In fact his paralysis is the result of the violence he experienced in Ethiopia.

The two of them, like any father and daughter, or any two people born of different generations, are not in total agreement on every issue. What was evident, however, was the great love and respect they have for one another. This love between Rebecca and her father was palpable. The way that they looked at each other was something beautiful to behold. He was so proud of her, and she too, was in awe of him.

We also had the opportunity to speak to Elias Wondimu of Teshadi publishers. He will also be at the Harvard event. His company publishes and carries some great books about Ethiopia. Here is his link. Tsehai may be quite helpful for adoptive families looking for additional resources. He too, was warm and helpful to us.

If you still need a reason to go, this guy will be there too.

His name is Dinaw Mengestu. His book, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, was very good. His writing is lovely, and it is a good peek into an immigrant's view of life in America. It takes place in Washington D.C.

Steven and I got a lot out of the event we attended. One of the things that I learned by sitting in a room full of Ethiopian immigrants is that there is a longing; a deep, heart breaking yearning to see Ethiopia thrive as a democracy. There was loss in that room. There was loss of language, culture, religion and country. These are huge loses that I can’t even wrap my mind around. There is a great sadness in having left something behind. There is a constant struggle to connect with the past, while simultaneously moving towards the future. This is something our kids will have to face, and as Rebecca said, "It is very difficult, very, very difficult.”

I mentioned that all of these people were warm, welcoming and helpful to us. They all seemed to support Americans adopting kids from Ethiopia.(I guess if they weren’t okay with it, they would probably have kept it to themselves). The one thing that a panel speaker DID have a problem with, was the time spent in Addis. He found it appalling that an American family would fly to Addis Ababa and spend only one week. He flies back and forth constantly from Los Angeles to Addis, and said that the kids coming back with their adoptive parents are completely traumatized. He thought that Ethiopian children needed a lot more transition time. I know it isn’t feasible for most American families to spend a long time in Ethiopia; people have jobs, other kids, responsibilities and commitments. The adoption agencies don't allow you to spend any more time with your kids. This man confirmed my suspicions that you really won’t learn much about Ethiopia by spending only a few days in Addis Ababa. He told us to travel out of the city as much as we could, and to spend as much time in Ethiopia as possible.

The event is not all heavy academic-ey lectures! There’s music and art too!

(I think this post may be irrelevant because the only New Englander that I know who reads this blog already knows all about the event. Katy, please tell us how it was.)


  1. So what am I, chop suey?!?
    I consider myself a die-hard New Englander thank you very much :)
    I had read about this event and thought it would terrific. I'm dissapointed it didnt work out for us to go. Im hoping Katy will report back as well.

  2. Oh Anna, sorry, I am just bad at geography. I thought Philadelphia was a state until about 9th grade.

  3. Wow, it is really weird that about a week ago I ordered that very book by Rebecca Haile from Amazon and then I come here and find your discussion about it. We must live in the same mindosphere... I didn't go looking for that book on Amazon, I happened to be ordering other books and came upon it. I had never heard of it before, but the summary intrigued me. I love this post about the Ethiopian immigrant discussion - very enlightening!

    BTW, I am an "ex-northeasterner" that reads your blog...does that count? (who am I kidding, once a northeasterner always...)


  4. I did catch Elias Wondimu and thought it was so interesting that despite DC being the leader in #s of Ethiopians in America, all the publications and media of the Ethiopian Diaspora comes out of LA. Hahvahd was wickid awessome.