Court! And thoughts on international adoption

It rained like a monsoon yesterday, I had a sore throat, and we took it easy waiting for our afternoon court appointment. The sidewalk between our hotel and Layla house are made of some kind of tile which become so slippery in the rain that it’s a wonder we didn’t fall and show up for our appointment smeared with Ethiopian sidewalk grime. Fortunately we were just wet when we climbed into the van at the orphanage. Our process has been a little unusual in that we didn’t wait for a court date to come here, we just came as soon as we could get a good itinerary. AAI had told us we would likely get an appearance with the judge to fulfill the requirements for court, but we’ve been a little unsure.

We traveled to court with another couple who are adopting 10-year-old and 12-year-old sisters. This was their second attempt at court, as there was a missing letter last time from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. We all climbed the stone stairs up several floors, and sat in chairs against the wall around a square room outside the judge’s chambers. We sat there for a while…maybe 30-45 minutes, along with Eleny from Layla house. The other couple were called first, and disappeared behind a gray door. Within six or seven minutes, they walked out with big smiles and a little teary-eyed. They passed! Now they have only to wait for their embassy appointment to know when they can bring their girls home. The assistant motioned for us to come in and to sit in chairs against the wall in the judge’s small office.

The judge was a rather youthful, graceful woman, very soft-spoken so that we had to lean forward to hear her. She first confirmed that we wanted to adopt three children, and asked if we had any children at home. Then she asked if we weren’t able to have children or if we just preferred adoption. We told her that we hadn’t been able to have children thus far, and that we had desired children for eight years. She asked us if we were learning something about Ethiopia and the culture. We replied with a few comments about our enthusiasm about her country. She asked if we had met the children, and we shared four photos of us with our children that we had printed in town a couple of days ago. She REALLY seemed to like the photos and was quite satisfied with our sincere joy about Alex, Melkam and Tarike (Eliana). Her final question was if we understood that this was a permanent decision and that once it was complete we couldn’t reverse it. Charles said ‘Absolutely!’ She smiled and said, “That’s all I need to know.”

Charles thanked the judge for making time to see us (since we didn’t have an official court appointment). She bowed her head slightly and said “It is my honor also.” I suddenly felt conspicuously under-dressed for the occasion. Ethiopians in general are beautiful and proud, tall and slender with great posture…they carry themselves as though they are royalty. The judge was no exception. It was overall such a positive experience, and it gave me confidence that the country is doing it’s best to process their millions of orphans in a respectful, caring and professional way.

Which brings me to another topic…the ethical question of international adoption. It is a very real concern, to take a child out of his or her culture. The better solution would be to help Ethiopia solve their own issues so that children can stay with their families, or children who have lost their families can be adopted within their own country. This is the ideal. Unfortunately, with approximately five million orphans in this country, the complex issues that are causing so many children to be orphaned will not be solved quickly or easily. And what of the children who are in orphanages now? Time is ticking for them and they are already missing out on important milestones while they wait for a family to call their own.

You’ve all spent time with the babies of your friends and family. Most young children have some stranger anxiety, and they are very attached and dependent on their primary caregivers. The babies here are desperate for contact. There are excellent nannies and volunteers at Layla  (and the babies know and love them), but still the babies don’t get held and cuddled and interacted with nearly as much as a baby in a normal dedicated family situation. As a result, they reach out all the time to the nearest adult. They make eye contact with you and implore you to pick them up. And when you do they cuddle in, the thirst for love and affection is so very obvious. It is heartbreaking. They need to go home to a family as soon as possible. The same goes for the older kids who have lost parents or families. They don’t have time to wait for Ethiopia’s economical, political, or medical issues to be solved. There is still time for them to live and become all that they were born to be.

Charles had the opportunity to go to a 6:30am men’s prayer breakfast yesterday at the church we visited on Sunday. There were fifteen men there, and aside from him, the pastor, and a Frenchman, all of them were Ethiopian.  They studied Ezekial 2 and 3.  Great books – kind of odd from a traditional perspective – but very meaningful.  One of the key messages he took away was the importance of being true to what you’re being called to be (do what you’re called to do, say what you’re called to say), no matter how much others may be deceptive, hurtful, or bull-headed toward rebellion against those very messages that you believe to be true.

There is much more to that story – but for the purpose of this blog, he had personal conversations with several of the attendees.  After some initial formalities of introduction, it became clear why Charles was in country.  He shared a bit of our story to the larger group as an introduction and after the breakfast, he found himself talking to a few men who wanted to know more.  From our research, Charles knew that there were pockets of the population who were against international adoption in Ethiopia.  As with many countries, when the need is so great, and the demand equally high for healthy kids, there exists the perfect chemistry for bad people to do bad things (Ethiopia has had fewer problems than many other countries).  As Ethiopia has wrestled with the poverty of the country (and approximately 5M current orphans), they  have also struggled with the reality that people (in other countries) are going to parent a generation of Ethiopian children in a way that is potentially absent of the associated culture of Ehtiopia.  This has a profound impact on most cultures and Ethiopia is no different.  As a result, Charles found himself in a gaurded and polite, but very passionate conversation with some of the men in the group.   The primary concern they voiced was that these kids are going to undergo an identity crisis as they grow up.  A few examples were given that seemed well known and highly publicized in-country which typify the reasons why international adoption is a bad thing.  Charles came back to the hotel very thoughtful and humbled by two key elements: 1.) He was surprised that pride of country seemed to supercede the importance of growing a generation of children who know and fear God – even within a community of believers.  Meaning, these men were more stuck on kids knowing about their culture than being trained and disciplined to know their God-given purpose in the larger perspective of the world.  2.) Although the poverty is so visible in Ethiopia, a similar poverty of spirit exists in the US – but that the momentum of the US is so great, few people see it – and fewer people ever want to see it.  Prior to the conversation about international adoption, one of the gentlemen asked Charles (in an attempt to connect in some way that might be mutually meaningful) if he had seen that the buying demand for automobiles had increased in the US.  The implication of the comment was ‘the economy must be getting better because people are buying cars in America’. While the Ethiopian perspective might be that things could be getting better if Americans are buying cars – this American’s perspective was that of a perpetuation of Americans buying what they can’t afford.  Instead of facing the reality of limited resources, incentives are perpetuating a synthetic reality that keep America from facing truths of brokeness and ultimatly, fixing them.

It’s easy for Americans to say: the American cultural export that we’ve monopolized for the past 60 years is good for any culture and therefore – American’s adopting Ethiopians is good.  Regardless of how easy this is to say – it’s not true.  As I’ve mentioned, Charles and I have struggled with the reality that we could parent a child (or children) who still have living mothers!  What gives us the privledge to parent these kids just because we have more financial resources than a mother who can’t feed another mouth?  The reality is that no-one has a ‘right’ to parent biological children – or adoptive children.  It’s our priveledge, one that requires massive humility and incredibly sobering responsibility. It’s the primary relationship that models God’s love to His children and the relationship that establishes the responsibility to grow/develop children according to God’s ways.

What is good and true is that people have purpose.  This purpose is God-given; our jobs as citizens in this world (whether American or Ethiopian) is to find that purpose in ourselves by seeking our Creator, define and support policy that makes that purpose aligned with our outward culture, and to develop that culture to raise generations of children who do the same.  The America that believes in the false reality is no place to raise a child in this context—nor are the streets of Ethiopia.  In short, through an authentic understanding of being the parents we’re called to be and to respect God’s purpose more than a culture (no matter how nationalistic, or economically driven), we can be hopeful that we’ll be successful in this endevour.

When we returned to Layla after court, conversations with Gail (the director) and Temesgen (the lawyer) confirmed that we were done with court and would not have to travel back here until it’s time to bring home our kids. It doesn’t mean we have passed, because the children’s files have not been reviewed by the judge and won’t be until a scheduled court date, probably in January. But our requirements are complete. This was GREAT news!

I went into the compound to see our little ones and was greeted with the most awesome enthusiastic ‘Momeee!’ from both Alex and Melkam who ran over to hug me. Then they pulled back, looked into my face and said “Dadee?” and I laughed and pointed to where he was coming in. Both ran for hugs with him. Then for the first time, as we were hanging out with them and holding their hands, the started to fight off the other kids, claiming us as their own. The other children come up for hugs, or will grab and kiss our hands or just want to hold our hands. The boys were having none of it. I wish I could understand what Melkam was shouting at them as he tried to push them away! I told him he had to share, and he had no choice anyways, as the orphans are very very persistent.

Eliana (Tarike) also recognizes us now, and she is really working on crawling. I think this is indicative of her personality. She will look across the room and identify what she wants (me, for example, much to my delight) and then put her head down and do a baby version of the worm to get there. Then she’ll look up and check her progress and just smile! She’s fantastic. As are the boys. We are so excited to bring them home and have you all meet them!


2 responses to “Court! And thoughts on international adoption

  • melanie vonachen

    What an amazing and moving post, Kimberly! I cried as I read some of it aloud to Keith. Thank you so much for sharing so many details of this journey with us. I open your blog every day, anxiously awaiting your experiences, thoughts, and insights. So glad your dreams are coming true!

  • Melissa

    So wonderful to read that the court process went so smoothly. Drove by your house this morning taking the boys to school and wanted to take a photo for you of the whole place covered in fresh snow. Can’t even begin to imagine what the kids will think of all this cold white stuff!! What fun their first snow will be! Love you guys!

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