|Semira at the Lucy Land Guesthouse in Addis Ababa (Dec 2011)|
People ask me all the time whether Semira remembers her life in Ethiopia. Most people assume that she doesn't since she was still a young child when we brought her home (3 1/2 years old). The truth is young children are able to remember quite a lot. They just aren't good at communicating those memories. When a child is raised in the same stable and nurturing environment from the very beginning, this process goes unnoticed. But when a child experiences serious grief and loss during this time, the memories are more obvious.
Put simply, Semira does remember many things from her past. Over time, though, I have noticed that Semira's memories of Ethiopia are becoming more intertwined with her life here. She will tell a story with remarkable similarities to characters and circumstances of her family situation in the U.S. I have also watched her replace the probably more accurate versions of her memories of Ethiopia with those from a fantasy life. As a result, Ethiopia became a Utopia, especially when things aren't going so hot in the Prager household. Semira is a very perceptive little girl, often wise beyond her seven years. I think her life experiences have certainly contributed to this. She is also stubborn as hell (a trait that is trying for the parents, but will most likely serve her well later in life).
Semira's life is full of contrasts. Life here in the United States is certainly a lot different than Ethiopia. You don't need to look far to see how life in the USA is one of privilege compared to the basic life of many Ethiopians. It's not just material possessions either. It's about opportunity. And yes, race must be acknowledged as part of the equation. None of these are simple topics to discuss, especially with children. But often times the most difficult subjects are the most important. If I sit around waiting for the perfect time to tackle these issues, I will be waiting for a long, long time.
It's not to say our trip was perfect or that it didn't have its ups and downs in terms of Semira's homecoming, but overall it was a very positive experience for our family.
- She readily admitted before leaving that she was nervous about not speaking Amharic anymore. This was a big one! She was worried what Ethiopians would think. Well, of course, they loved her. Many were very surprised that the farangi (white) guy (Steve in this case) could speak Amharic, but the Habesha (Ethiopian) girl couldn't.
- She was absolutely uncomfortable with the poverty, mostly with the many people approaching us for money. Instead of just admitting it, Semira became super loving, asking for piggy back rides down the street and requesting constant hand holding.
- She fancies the more upscale western hotels and makes no bones about it. Funny how that happened.
- While she loves eating Ethiopian food, many times she really wanted something else off the menu (another thing she would never admit).
- She felt really special having her hair done in ways beyond my current capabilities. She was proud of her hair instead of ashamed. I did get scolded several times by the Ethiopian ladies for the knots in her hair. My take away message is that I need to branch out and increase my hair styling abilities. It is important for Semira's image of herself.
- She likes being around people who look like her. We try our best; but try as we might, her world is more white than anything else.
- We met several adoptive families while traveling. We went out of way to spend time with one family from Australia. It's good to find others walking in your same shoes and to share experiences. I hope Semira realizes there are other kids like her with some of the same feelings.
- Our biggest disappointment was not finding her Ethiopian mother this time (Steve had met her on a prior visit). While I can't guarantee the outcome of finding her, I did promise Semira that we would do everything in our power to contact her. Nevertheless, this might have been for the best - as Semira matures, she will likely be better equipped to handle the possibility of seeing her again.
- We visited the Thomas Center and had the opportunity to reminisce where it all started for our family of four.
One trip did not provide any specific resolution, but it was eyeopening for everyone. The trip provided us with an opportunity to engage with our Ethiopian daughter in Ethiopia and to allow her to experience Ethiopia and to "refresh" her memories. For that, I am thankful. We owe it to Semira to take her "home" every few years. I knew that before. Now I am making it a commitment.
|My girls and me with Abdissa, the wonderful in-country director for CHI, our first adoption agency.|
|Semira visiting the former Thomas Center (this is where she resided in Addis).|
|The former Thomas Center (now administrative offices and laundry facilities).|
|Former Thomas Center|
|The new Thomas Center (not far from the former one).|
|Meeting my sweet Semira for the very first time.|
|Semira showing Lily her room.|
|Semira with Selihome, Abdissa's wife.|
|Semira with the staff and nannies.|