Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Morning...

Tunsi is coming home!

Congratulations to my sweet friend Amy who passed court today.


Marta is coming home too.

It's been a good morning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Five Years...

Five years ago today I was diagnosed with cancer. 'Five Years' is supposed to be some sort of milestone. It is one of the first questions my social worker asked me during the home study process," Do you have five years?" Well yes, thank you, today I do.

I am reprinting my post from last year. I am doing this for two reasons. First, I desperately want to feel the way I felt when I wrote this. I was hyper-aware of the sweetness of life. I was bubbling with gratitude for even the smallest things. Today, I don't feel like that. I feel hopeless.

The second reason is, I'd like you to do me a favor. I wouldn't ask unless I thought it was extremely important. Please read the last paragraph that is starred. Thank you.

Four years ago today, I received a phone call that shook me to my core. It went something like this...


"Well, I have to say that most of these reports come back and they are ambiguous. There is nothing ambiguous about your report Julie, you have cancer."

How do I describe what I was feeling at that point? It is difficult. Unless you have heard these words said to you, it is almost impossible to know what it feels like. I guess it felt like a rug was pulled out from under me, and I was falling face first into a cement floor. I immediately called Steven and asked him to come home.

It is scary. It was the scariest thing I have ever gone through. Just writing this has made me start to shake and sweat and cry a little bit. I am lucky. I am so very lucky. I had an easy cancer, thyroid cancer. They basically take out your thyroid, nuke you with some radioactive iodine and send you on your way. It most cases it does not return. You have to have follow up scans and tests, and you are on thyroid replacement medication for the rest of your life, but comparatively, still easy.

Everyone says that when you have cancer you inevitably start appreciating life more. (Once you get through it). It is definitely a cliche, but it is also true. You become very grateful, very quickly for all of the things you have in your life.

You think about the people you love, and how happy you are to know them. You notice the sun. You notice the moon. You look closely to see how big and brown and beautiful your husband's eyes are.

You touch your dog's back and think that you have never in your life touched something so soft. You thank God that you live in America. You thank God that you have health insurance. You feel the love and anxieties of all of your friends, and all of your family members. It makes you very mindful. It stops you in your tracks. It weeds out the fodder. It brings you some clarity.

People may say the wrong things when they find out about your cancer. Like, "No wonder you couldn't stay pregnant," or " That explains why you are so sickly looking," or "What will Steven do without you?" In retrospect, you just have to laugh. People get scared too. People don't really know what to say. It shakes them up too. It makes everyone think about their own mortality.

I am so very lucky. I cannot imagine having to go through that alone. There was a woman who was rolled into the nuclear medicine room I was in. I was waiting for a scan. She too, was waiting for some sort of scan. She was in bad shape. I do not think her cancer was thyroid cancer. I do not think she was about to receive any good news. She couldn't talk, she mumbled a bit. All of the sudden a bad odor took over the room. This woman had soiled herself. A nurse, (one who had obviously been absent on the bedside manner day of nursing school), started berating this woman. "I told you to tell me if you needed to have a bowel movement. You don't even have a diaper on , What are you doing!!??" She continued to yell at her. I said, "Please, please, leave her alone." The nurse rolled this woman out, probably to yell at her in a more private setting. This woman was so helpless, and so sick, and the only one around her was treating her like shit. Truthfully, if the nurse had been more attentive to her, she probably wouldn't have had an accident. Anyway, the point, what was my point? Yes, the point is, I am grateful. I am grateful that I have someone, many someones to help me through the challenges of life.

This is Boyd:

Steven made Boyd the healthy thyroid for me while he was waiting for me to come out of surgery. He thought I might be sad without a thyroid, so he sewed me a new one. Levity, very important when facing cancer. Steven never left my side. Not for one minute.

Have you ever been in the hospital ? Have you ever had surgery? When you finally came home, what was the first thing you wanted to do? I had been very ill from the morphine. I had retched and retched. My hair was matted with blood and sweat and who knows what else. I wanted a shower. Well, since my neck was all bandaged up with gauze and tape, I was told I could take a shallow bath, but no shower.

Steven washed my hair for me.

I will never, ever forget this moment, as long as I live. He gently tilted my head back and washed my dirty hair. I could feel all of his tenderness at that point. I could feel his strength, his love, his fear, his warmth, I could feel everything. It was one of the most intimate moments of our whole relationship. I had never felt anything more comforting. It was so good to be clean. It was so good to be loved. It was so good not to be alone. It was so good to be home.
I am so grateful.

What does this have to do with my Ethiopian adoption? What doesn't it have to do with it. Everything that has happened in our lives has led us to this point. With baited breath we wait for the day when we learn who our children will be. Our experiences, our sickness our health, have brought us to this point. We wait. We reflect. We gather strength for what lies ahead. We take a breath, and are mindful of all that we have, and all that we have lost. We stand tall and embrace a new day. We take joy in a spring breeze. We smile as our pup rolls around on a cool patch of grass. We gaze at each other and are present. We stop and smell the lilies.We are full of emotion and anticipation. We are alive.

I am grateful.

* Please check your neck. Take your hand and put it around your throat. Feel for lumps. The only reason my cancer was found early, was because I had a superstar doctor. At the time, all my thyroid tests (blood work) were completely normal. You can go to a doctor, and have your thyroid tested and still have cancer. I was very lucky. Some people are not. Some people lose their ability to speak, along with a chunk of their face. I am not trying to scare you, just make you aware. If you do feel a nodule, don't panic. As my doctor told me, 98% of the time it is nothing. It is most likley a lymph node that you are feeling anyway. Make sure during physicals that your doctor feels your neck and throat. Okay, that's it. No more public service announcement.

More links about Thyroid Cancer , HERE.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Steven, always the realist said, "That's a whole year from now."

Our flowers have already bloomed.


This fortune was a hell of a lot better than my last one from this restaurant, "You will inherit money and jewelry." Uhm, yeah I did, because someone I love died.

Say hello to my little friend, (but say it like Al Pacino in Scarface)...

I heard him scurrying up my window screen. I hope Moses doesn't eat him.

Happy Monday.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

For Sara...

I don't know why I was thinking of Sara so much while listening to this today. She received her referral last week for a beautiful baby girl. She has consistently sent me love through the internet, and I am grateful. Sara is a soulful mama to two beautiful boys, who are going to be stellar big brothers.

Does anyone else have a mad crush on Ray LaMontagne? Even though he seems like the twitchy love child of Joe Cocker and, well, whom? Someone fabulous I am sure.

Happy Sunday.

I was going to do a Garden Tour, but it is raining. Perfect weather for some Ray, and a hot mug of coffee.

Congratulations Sara. I can't wait until you shelter her in your arms (How's that for a wrap up! Cheeeeeesy!!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Their House.

In my family when someone dies there is a wake, there is a funeral mass, there is a burial. There is public grieving and remembering. A group of people gather with one person on their minds. There is collective sorrow. There are chairs or pews to hold those who are too sad to stand. There is music. People speak kindly of the deceased. There is ritual.

When Chris died there was none of that.

Yesterday, by putting together this montage, I attended the wake and funeral of my mother-in-law, seven months after her death. I wept for all that has happened, and for all that has not happened.

It is true that grief begets grief. You read about someone dying, a stranger to you, or even a friend or relative of a friend , and suddenly their loss becomes your loss. The death of someone you love comes rising to the surface, and you feel yourself become undone.

Steven and his brother, today on the 20th of March, hand over their childhood home. The house they grew up in will no longer belong to them. It has been sold. There will be new cars in the driveway, there will be a new family living inside. A man and his wife will move in, look around, and feel comfort in owning a new house. They will feel the desert heat. They will open the sliding glass doors and walk out into the yard. They will sit around the hearth on a chilly desert evening and they will consider themselves home.

On our way to Santa Fe last Christmas we stopped at Chris's house. It was a very sad place to be. Steven had someone come in to repair the fireplace. Several men worked for two days repairing it. Yesterday, as I was looking for pictures, I noticed that so much living happened around that fireplace. So much living.

For my husband and for my brother-in-law Mark, I love you, and I share in your grief. This house will always be your home, no matter who lives in it.

Look at the pictures. How could it not?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on Haregewoin Teferra and her Children...

I have taken this directly from Melissa Faye Greene's Blog...

Dear Friends,

By now you may have learned the shocking news that Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra has died suddenly after a short illness. We don't know what caused her death; she felt sick for a couple of days, went to the doctor, came home without a diagnosis, felt sick again, and that was the end.

We are grieving, yet we have no time to spare: 59 children survive her, many of them toddlers and babies, the majority HIV-positive.

World Wide Orphans--the New York-based organization that has overseen the medical care for Haregewoin's children for many years--has stepped into the breach. They have assumed full custody of the 42 HIV-positive kids.

These heroic measures come at high cost: we estimate $200,000 will be required in the coming year (about $4,600 per child) to cover food, healthcare and medicine, education, clothing, and caregivers for the 42. Once their basic needs are met, the children’s paperwork will be sorted out; some may be eligible for adoption, others may have extended families in a position to allow the children to return. But that is for the future. The crisis is now: keeping these children fed and clothed, paying the salaries of loving caregivers to act as stand-ins for their late parents, making sure there is no break in the life-saving healthcare provided by WWO.

Haregewoin lived with these children seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for ten years. She is irreplaceable. The smallest ones, of course, have no idea what has just happened. Please let us work together to act as foster parents in absentia for these little ones. Thank you in advance for any amount you can give.

Online contributions can be made at www.WWO.org.
Specify Campaign for Haregewoin's Children.

Or checks may be sent to:
511 Valley Street
Maplewood, New Jersey 07040


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photo Every Hour (ish)- Lazy Sunday.

Evelyn had the idea to do this. She was inspired by Kristine's post.

HUGE DISCLAIMER ABOUT MINE: You will not enjoy this post if you dislike carbs, dogs, Obama stickers, or lazy people.

HUGE DISCLAIMER #2: Dear social workers, I do normally function at a higher level. I am just a little tired and down, and just a wee bit sad. I went to bed very late, and clearly didn't get enough sleep. Our Saturday before this was filled with festive friends, and festive festivities, I swear.

7 am ish...

Bleary eyed coffee making. What is that item holding down our broken coffee maker you ask? Why that is one of Steven's many inventions, The Tofu Press. He designed and made this decorative, functional, heavy item to press all of the excess water out of tofu to give it more flavor. Now that we are back to being carnivores, we find that no amount of metal or anvil like apparatus could make tofu more palatable, THUS said device now serves as a weight on our broken coffee maker.

While the coffee brews I immediately get my BINKY....

8 am ish...

The feeding of the hounds. Yep, there I am in my sexiest lingerie (or what married people wear to bed) preparing the most important meal of the day, for the most important dogs of the day. Because they are getting on in years, this is more involved then you may think...

Then Moses is sent out to retrieve the paper...

This has its pros and its cons...

9 am ish...

I put in a Costco home-made quiche...

I check to see if perhaps, by some stroke of luck, a rare Sunday proposal has been given to the ever patient Evelyn...

I decide to check on Steven who is already hard at work sifting additional concrete from our garden soil. I hand him some quiche....

And he shows me something beautiful...

New Mexico green chile, growing smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles.

10 am ish...

I go inside, shower, and settle in for a heart to heart with Moses...

I talk with him about his arthritis, and I ask him not to die before he has a chance to meet our kids.

11 am ish...

I check on Steven...

I surf...

I read...

I snack...

I nap...

2pm ish...

I check on Steven...

He seems hungry, so I make him a turkey and cheese sandwich on sourdough. He washes it down with a Leffe...

I peek in the studio. I think that I will start to be productive...

I get distracted by a rare display of affection between my two pups...

4pm ish...

Steven finds me on the couch and makes fun of me for using my phone and laptop simultaneously.

We decide it is time to go on our daily walk...

We see a sad sign...

Every other day you would find two young, affable men working meticulously on said engine. Someone has stolen their beloved VW engine, and broken their hearts.

5 pm ish...

Steven has a spontaneous plumbing project...

6pm ish...

I feed the hounds again.

7pm ish...

Steven surveys his garden and says, "I'm just about ready to hire someone to finish this." He is joking of course. He is tired, he is getting 'The Sundays' (You know the feeling of dread that sometimes comes over you on a Sunday evening).

Steven hops in the shower, and I pop some ginger candies.

I'll spare you the rest. We will probably stare at some sort of colored box (TV, Binky etc) for a bit, I will put on my sexiest pj's, we will brush our teeth, and climb into bed.

March 15th.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


See what Mama Dog is barking about here.

If you haven't had a chance to read her whole blog yet, pour yourself a cup of something and dig in. She is a brilliant writer, with a lovely soul. I am starting a campaign to get her to move to Los Angeles. And not just because I am in love with her dog Tulip.

Happy Saturday!

We are off to celebrate LT today!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I occasionally work as a substitute teacher. Originally I had tried to get a part-time job in the office of our local public charter school, with the sole intention of checking it out as a potential school for our two small kidlets. You can read about my experiences at this school here, here and here. It is Waldorf 'informed,' whatever that means.

In an ideal world, our kids would go to Montessori, (my mom owns and operates her own Montessori school in Wisconsin). After a few years of Montessori they would move on to Kindergarten, and then to elementary school at an exceptional Los Angeles public school. (Is that an oxymoron?) Private school here is absolutely ridiculous. It costs between 15-30 k for preschool, per child.

I started attending neighborhood council school board meetings a few years ago. (Yes, I was the crazy, childless woman in the front row asking about API scores and percentages of high school graduates that go on to four year universities). I did have a few awkward moments when people would ask me, "How old are your kids?" and I would answer, "Well, I don't actually have kids." You could see them trying to figure out what on earth I was doing at the meeting, as they surreptitiously moved away from me.

If you read through the Waldorf posts that I mentioned, you may see that I have very mixed feelings about the enviable, smaller class sized, public charter school, located mere blocks from my home. Westside parents compete in an Olympic manner to get their progeny a spot at this school.

The things that I really like about it are that the kids are highly imaginative, and can tell an amazing story. They don't watch television during the week and therefore their play never involves Dora the Explorer or Strawberry Shortcake. They build imaginary submarines that they fly to the moon. They gather pilots and wizards as their flight crew, and establish new kingdoms on Mars. They are creative little kidlets with long attention spans.

There is another public school blocks away from our house. It is an LAUSD school. It doesn't have Japanese lessons. The kids don't learn to knit Gnomes, and there is no lavender spray to be found. It doesn't have as much money, and it lacks in parental involvement.

Last May, Steven and I attended the fundraisers for these two schools.

Here is the picture from the Waldorf-y charter school's event...

Here is the picture from the LAUSD school...

Notice anything?

Could the charter school BE ANY WHITER? For all of their diversity claims, for all of their multi-cultural curriculum ideals, their May Day celebration looks really, really, white to me. Where are the children of color?

Our LAUSD school looks much more diverse, wouldn't you agree?

I think I feel more comfortable with the Funky Chicken (the dance that the latter school did at their party). As romantic as it is to skip around the maypole and celebrate spring, I think I will walk with my kidlets to the 'lousy' public school around the corner. The principal is an African-American woman, and the API scores go up every year.

This is not to say I won't play the Ethiopian adoptee card at a prestigious westside private school if I am able to. The public middle school situation in Los Angeles scares the living shit out of me. I have tutored many middle schoolers here, and it is not pretty. The sex and drugs start at a surprisingly early age. Ever heard of a 'lipstick party'? Unfortunately I cannot describe this on my family-friendly blog. There are gangs too. Crazy stuff. I am not saying that it doesn't go on at the private middle schools. (The joke when I was growing up was that the private schools just had better, more expensive drugs). If I can get my kids into a truly diverse private school (on a scholarship for instance) where they will be saving Darfur and editing films at age eight, I won't hesitate. Although I dread hearing, "Well mom, Ptolemy's family goes to Aspen every spring!! Why can't we go to Aspen mom?" Yes, believe it or not , in a what may go down in history as the most pretentious name given to any child by a Hollywood actress, I just read an article about so and so and her son Ptolemy. Spare me.

This week the Los Angeles Times reported that 9,000 LAUSD employees will be laid off. I am not sure what this means for our local public school. I am, however, thrilled to report that my mom is selling her school (any Midwesterners want to buy a Montessori school?) She is retiring in forty days. She is planning on setting up a mini-Montessori in our backyard studio for our kidlets. That way, if affordable preschool is an issue, I can become an over-zealous homeschooler in my back yard. I will teach them about SCIENCE. No, just kidding. I don't know anything about science.

It seems obvious to me that the LAUSD public school is a much better choice for our children. I have sat in on some classes, talked to parents, and attended some open houses, but I would certainly love your opinions.

Really, I think what it comes down to is the Funky Chicken vs. Once Around the Maypole. If that is the case, well then, no contest. Funky Chicken wins every time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Friend or Family Feature: Guest Blogger Edition- Rebecca Haile-Part II. Ms. Haile answers our questions...

First, thanks to everyone for all of your positive comments. Really, I could be a guest on this site any day.

Here are my responses to your questions, in no particular order.

I'm curious how often, if ever, she goes back to Ethiopia? Does she take her children?

I have only been back once since my family left in 1975/1976. We left as refugees, and for years returning was out of the question for safety reasons. In later years we didn’t go because we didn’t have the money for the trip and because I’m not sure my parents wanted to go as visitors – they were waiting for the day we could go home for good. When I went in 2001 I was an adult, I had the resources and time to make the trip on my own (my parents still have not returned), I didn’t yet have children, and I was reconciled to the idea of going as a visitor and not a citizen.

I look forward to going again, and hope to take my kids soon. (At six and four, they are still a bit young.) I look forward to exposing them to the history and culture of a country that is a part of their heritage, and I look forward to introducing them to family and having them understand that they are connected to real people who live half way across the planet. I’m excited for them to experience ways of living that will be so different from what they are used to here in New York City. And I so hope the trip will feel natural rather than forced, and that they will appreciate all that is different but also feel some genuine connection – sort of like their relationship with their grandparents. We will see how all these grand plans turn out.

I wonder if she could comment more on the dynamics between the Ethiopian-American community and the African-American community? One of the things I think about is that my future child will have a whole cultural background from Ethiopia that I want to preserve as much as possible, but that he or she will most likely be perceived as African-American in this country - what are the implications of that for raising a child?

I’ve thought about a lot about the dynamics between these two communities, and happened to address the question in my joint remarks (with my dad) at the Harvard conference last April. Here is what I said then:

“A third prediction is that the new generation will redefine the relationship between Ethiopians and the existing African American community. The relationship between Ethiopians and African Americans has not always been good, and I’ve found this to be a very sensitive subject for the first generation. At worst, Ethiopians can be overly prejudiced – this is the uncomfortable flip side of what my father has described as our sense of ourselves as a separate peoples. At best, we come to the United States with little appreciation of the history associated with African American culture and are therefore susceptible to all manner of misunderstandings. For example, when I was a freshman, Williams College invited me, as it invited all African American freshmen, to come to campus a few days early for orientation. Neither my father nor I knew what to make of the invitation – in retrospect I know that I did not have the cultural compass with which to decipher the meaning of the gesture. Did Williams think black kids needed special help? Did it expect its black students to be part of a unified group? Was there something going on I did not understand? Clearly, there was.

For its part, the African-American community has not always been understanding of the culture and history that is specific to Africans or Caribbean blacks.

The next generation is changing all of this. We reject the prejudices of our parents and have developed a much better understanding of the complexities of race in the United States. Moreover, as we come of age in the United States, particularly in urban areas, we often find that an “African-American” identity is as reflective of our experience as any. Again, in the interviews I conducted in Los Angeles, “African American” was a top choice.”

If I am right, as I hope, the historic disconnect or unease between Ethiopians and African-Americans will be less of an issue going forward.

How will Ethiopian children be perceived or self-identify? As I wrote in my initial post, the Ethiopian-American population is growing, and that growth brings greater opportunity for cultural preservation. At the moment the Ethiopian or habesha identity remains strong among those born in Ethiopia or born to first generation parents. But even a community of 500,000 is a tiny minority in the United States, and adopted children will have a much weaker tie to Ethiopian culture. So I think it is quite likely that adopted children will find a home within the African American community, and that they will almost certainly be seen as African American by others.

I’m not sure what the “implications” of this will be. Obviously, every parent in a biracial family should be prepared for the issues associated with raising a child that does not look like his/her parents. But since the adoption of Ethiopian children is a relatively new phenomenon, the question of how this particular group of internationally adopted black kids experience the added element of coming from Ethiopia -- or even whether there will be a general, rather than family- or child-specific, experience that can be described -- remains to be seen. In my own multi-cultural family, the plan at the moment is to incorporate all of our cultures into our lives as much as we can (again why I am so grateful for my parents and look forward to visiting Ethiopia). Going forward, I hope I can take my cues from my kids to figure out what they need and what they enjoy and try to respond to both.

I have been thinking about what you wrote about being a child in Ethiopia. I am remembering, too, that you wrote in your book, "Ethiopia is not a country where adults fret over children's feelings." Would you expound on that a little bit? Is this a cultural or generational difference in your opinion?

I think it is both. Clearly, attitudes toward parenting and children have evolved in this generation. There is no question that children are treated with much more respect, and that parenting is a far more thoughtful and intentional enterprise than it was twenty or thirty years ago.

But in the case of Ethiopia there is also a strong societal element. Ethiopia remains a traditional, conservative country that has not experienced anything like the relatively steady (if turbulent) expansion of human and civil rights that Western countries have witnessed over the last 50-100 years. Ethiopian children simply don’t have the rights and respect that children in the United States have. Violence toward children (corporal punishment is widespread and socially acceptable), low school enrollment rates, child labor, female genital mutilation, discrimination toward children born out of wedlock, born with disabilities or orphaned because of HIV/AIDS – the attitudes and statistics regularly reported in United Nations or private studies on these topics are simply appalling. All of this feeds into a societal view of children as second-class citizens who are expected to defer to adults at all times. Even in urban, professional families, children just are not seen as individuals with opinions that matter or preferences that should be respected.

Sometimes when I’m with my sister or cousins and one of our kids throws a tantrum or refuses to eat what’s been served or demands red rather than blue socks when everyone is already late, and the parent of said kid is working hard to reason with or settle down the kid, another one of us will joke: “Just one summer in Ethiopia! Just one short summer, that’s all it would take and this kid would shape right up.”

Ethiopia has a long, long way to go on this front.

I am curious if Ms. Haile has made any observations about what the Ethiopian community living in the US feels about so many Ethiopian children being adopted and raised abroad.

I know that readers of this blog are well aware of all the pro and con discussions surrounding international adoption, which in the case of Ethiopia generally means the adoption of black kids by mostly white families. I can’t say where the Ethiopian community comes down on these issues, as I don’t know of any surveys or studies of attitudes. Anecdotally speaking, I can report that within my own group of family and friends people generally express the same mix of support and concern I see expressed elsewhere, with the older first generation being somewhat more in favor and less concerned about how adopted children will fare in their new families than people my age or younger who’ve grown up here (which may tie to the overall generational/cultural attitudes toward children discussed above). In addition, I hear more concern about the government’s role in the process, and also some sadness around the idea that “we can’t take care of our own.”

Here is something I think about which falls a bit outside the usual discussion: whether adoptive families will in time become engaged advocates for Ethiopia. It isn’t sexy, the long term business of pushing for a democratic government or good US foreign policy in the Horn or advocating for infrastructure or the development of good farming practices (discussed below). It isn’t nearly as clear-cut or gratifying as responding to a heart-breaking famine or loving a beautiful child. But Ethiopia desperately needs such advocates. I don’t mean to say that adoptive families have a special obligation – I know that decisions about what causes to support and how are personal ones informed by many factors. But if such families do help raise awareness about Ethiopia, or if they do become involved with these issues, then that, I think, would be a significant and very welcome consequence of adoption.

If Ms. Haile would also kindly be willing to entertain the complex issue of foreign aid in Africa, I'd be very interested to know how she feels. I've heard some say that a whole generation of people in Africa know nothing but subsisting on aid as a way of life. Is aid helping more or harming more the people in Africa?

This is indeed a complex issue and I don’t have any special expertise in the area. So please take my comments accordingly.

I think that if you are looking at aid from the perspective of a hungry family, it is hard to be “against” it. I know that if my child were suffering from malnutrition and I had no options I would take any assistance I could, no matter what I felt about the source of the help or long term impact of my decision to take the help.

However, if you look at whether aid as it is currently designed is helping or hurting the goal of food-independence, there is a lot to worry about. It is sobering to think that Ethiopia was ever known as “the breadbasket of Africa.” Ethiopia has plentiful rivers, abundant rainfall and fertile farming regions. A frequent reaction from people arriving in Addis Ababa for the first time is surprise at how green the city is. Ethiopia does not, however, have modern irrigation systems; it does not have decent roads via which food can be transported from productive regions to arid ones; it does not have farmers with access to fertilizer or pest-resistant hybrids or anything remotely resembling 21st century farming practices; it does not have a market economy (all farms are state-owned) that rewards farmers for good decisions or a democratically elected government concerned with general welfare rather than self-preservation.

Direct food aid doesn’t do anything about these underlying problems. Worse, it may be counterproductive because it distorts local markets and undercuts local farmers – this in a society where an astonishing 85% of the population makes its living from agriculture. So what is the rationale for having such a small percentage of US aid to Ethiopia allocated to farming development -- less than 5% of all aid, and by several estimates less than 1% of all food aid? Or for the United States to require that all direct food aid come in the form of food produced in the US rather than allocating some money to buy food from Ethiopian farmers in regions not affected by drought?

Readers of the book will recall that my Uncle Tadesse, whom I admire, has made it one of his life’s projects to advocate for an irrigation system that harnesses the water of the highland rivers and delivers it to farming regions in a reliable manner. He is absolutely convinced that Ethiopia can feed itself.

The good news is that the shortcomings of aid are well known. And while the political realities in donor countries may frustrate reform, private foundations such as the Gates Foundation have begun experimenting with forms of aid that are designed to address the underlying issues. Hopefully these measures, together with homegrown efforts like Tadesse’s, will produce some long-term results.

[There was a question about "There is No Me Without You” but since I haven’t read the book (yet) I can’t answer it.]

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fill Me Up...

Life is difficult, wouldn't you agree?

My husband surprised me last night. He had been out shopping for work. He hit the thrift stores. (A little background, Steven has always thought that it is a bad idea to purchase anything for our future children. A lot of this has to do with the losses we have experienced in the past, and it also seems to have something to do with his being raised Jewish (apparently Jewish tradition discourages getting anything for the baby before he or she is born). Last night, after a disheartening week, my husband walked in the door with these....

Yep, Giraffe kiddo chairs, complete with sippy cup holders, and a compartment to hold your books, or Goldfish, or toys, or mini-remote control. This item of hope, found at the Goodwill Store made me really happy. The night before we had had a long discussion about a new development in Ethiopian adoption. I don't want to go into it here on the blog too much, but in a nutshell, kids waiting for adoption will not be allowed to stay in agency care centers anymore until after they pass court. We were feeling sad and worried about this, and what it might mean for the kiddos. I was feeling discouraged and depleted, anxious and angry.

Somehow this chair purchasing, something that was completely out of character for my husband, eased my mind a bit. I pictured our two kids, side by side in their little chairs, sipping on sippy cups in our living room. I thought, "Oh this will be a good chair for them to sit in when I do their hair." I thought about all the places these little chairs could be perched; on the sidelines of a soccer match, at a Fourth of July celebration, on the pier at my parents' house, in the Habesha Garden. These chairs made me feel like it was going to be okay. The purchasing of them, in of itself, reveals a lessening of pain in my husband. It is hard to have hope for the future if the mind is full of grief from your recent past. These chairs, grubby and used, hinted to me that maybe Steven was a little bit excited about the adoption. There is a lightness in his act of purchasing them, a hopefulness in their sagging seats, a promise of a future in their tattered edges.

For a moment I glance at the chairs. The sun streams behind them. They are empty, but look eager for occupants. I think about my husband in the middle of his work day stopping in his tracks when he sees them. I picture him placing them gently into the back of his car. I think of him thinking about our future.

I think about him being hopeful, and it fills me up.

Fill Me Up - Shawn Colvin