African smiles

We live in a small town, waaaaay up north in the Idaho panhandle. When people hear we are from Idaho, they always think potatoes. No, don’t think flat, agricultural landscape, think mountains and trees. When they ask me how far north, I always say, “Almost to Canada.” to which they invariably respond, “Oh! That IS far north!” Yes, it is. We get a lot of snow, our summer is short but the summer days are long, our winter is long but the winter days are short, and it takes a long time for people who immigrate from other countries to make their way this far inland. Our town severely lacks diversity. We’re VERY predominantly white!

I have written about this topic a few times in our adoption journey because it’s something we considered carefully before bringing three Ethiopian children home to live here. And now it’s something we think about as our kids have become part of our community; we watch for racial issues and we pursue cultural opportunities that will help them not feel so alone.

Well, one of those has arrived! This last week we took our kids with us to the opening night of The Festival at Sandpoint, which started with artists from South Africa.¬†Simultaneously the Matsiko Childrens Choir arrived in town, with children from Liberia and Peru. They sang our National Anthem to open Thursday’s show, and then they hung around for the duration.

We are hosting two Liberian boys and an American group leader starting tomorrow. It’s a crazy decision considering all that’s going on in our lives and family, but I think it was the right one. I consider it a gift to my kids to house and feed three more big boys for a week. No, I do not have all the meals planned yet and YES I’m panicking a little!

We got to meet Prince and¬†Ezekiel, our temporary kids for next week, at that opening show. When they learned we were to be their host parents this coming week, they rewarded us with enormous African smiles, filled with love and warmth, and they threw their arms around us for big hugs. It was JUST LIKE when we welcomed our two girls from Uganda for a week a few years ago. Africans I’ve met from many countries have this incredible gift of love and friendship…if they decide to welcome you, it will be a welcome to remember!

My kids were fascinated and overwhelmed by these bigger boys (I think they are 11 and 13), so comfortable in their own skin, offering big hugs to their new friends. Alex clung to my side and watched them wistfully for a good thirty minutes as they danced to the opening performers. What dancers they are, and what unabashed fun they were having! Alex wanted to be with them, to learn to be like them, in the worst way. “Go!” I told him, encouraging both the boys to hang out with the kids from the choir who were beginning to draw a crowd of children. Finally, Alex worked up the courage. He loitered around Prince for a while. Melkam, always the social butterfly, quickly engaged in a game of tag with some of the younger kids.

Before long, there was a full-on wrestling match going on in the grass at stage right! Alex’s smile was from ear to ear as he tussled and tackled with Prince while other kids rolled around in the grass and pig-piled with each other. I saw Melkam being toted around on someone’s shoulders. Our friends’ kids, adopted from Ethiopia and China, were in the fray with those from Liberia and Peru. Kids of many colors linked hands and began dancing in a giant circle together, welcoming all comers, regardless of age, size or color. I can’t tell you how my heart swelled!

The best part was seeing my oldest, my responsible boy, the one who reminds me which things are dangerous on a daily basis, lose his inhibitions. He danced with abandon, he laughed with his whole body. He relaxed and was himself. It was a beautiful thing!

Our house will be packed to the gills this week with eight of us here, and I’m afraid of how much food we are going to go through, but I hope this week will help my kids feel more proud of who they are, and less uncomfortable with expressing love. Because two really fun big boys, with skin similar to theirs, will be modeling for them what it’s like to be proud of who you are, able to express love openly, and comfortable in the beautiful skin God gave them. Thank you, Lord, for this great opportunity! May you be present and at work at our house.


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