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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home

What If My Adopted Daughter Had Grown up in the Country Where She Was Born?

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest daughter, Lemlem, and I both woke up sick: scratchy throats, runny noses, fatigue, and simmering fever. I kept her home from school, and managed to set up back-to-back doctor visits for both of us. As we arrived at the pediatrician’s office, a mother waiting with her baby and young son immediately caught my eye. This family looked unmistakably Ethiopian. The little boy appeared to be six or seven, about the same age as my Ethiopian daughter.  Suddenly I found myself facing a dilemma. Should I try to strike up a conversation in my feverish, possibly contagious state, or let this golden opportunity pass by?

The Northern California county where we live is reportedly home to more than 25,000 Ethiopians, but somehow, our family seldom crosses paths with any. Sure, there is one family in our neighborhood with an Ethiopian mother and a French father, and a boy on my son’s basketball team has an Ethiopian dad. One of the security guards at our health club is an Ethiopian man. Still, it seems like the only time we encounter a traditional Ethiopian family is when we deviate from our regular routine, like going out to an Ethiopian restaurant for injera and wat.

Lemlem and I settled into our waiting room seats, and she shot me an excited, sideways look that said, “Do you see what I see?”  By now, the mom in question was distractedly tinkering with her cell phone, but the little boy was unabashedly staring at us.

“Play cards with me, Mama,” Lemlem whispered, pulling a deck from her purse.

“Why don’t you ask the little boy to play?” I whispered back, but she just shrugged and dealt me in. The boy continued to stare, monitoring our game of Crazy Eights with interest. When his baby sister suddenly erupted with a loud gurgle that startled everyone in the office, we all -- two mothers and two children -- exchanged smiles.

Lemlem and I finished our game with the little boy was still watching us. “Would you like to play this time?” I asked him. He nodded gravely, and I waved him over.

“What is your name?”

“Berhanu,” he said softly.

“Is that an Ethiopian name?” I asked, knowing that, of course, it was.

The boy nodded. I introduced Lemlem. “She is Ethiopian, too.” The boy’s eyes shifted from my pinkish face to Lemlem’s brown one, and I could see him trying to make sense of a mismatched mother and daughter, but he didn’t say a word.

As the children began to play together, I couldn’t help but picture my Lemlem living another life, in another place, surrounded by people who looked like her—a life more smooth and seamless than the colorful mosaic of a life than fate has ultimately brought her. I sensed a depth and a peacefulness in that imagined existence that felt very compelling.

The game and my ruminations ended abruptly when a nurse called Lemlem’s name, mangling, as always, its Amharic pronunciation. The nurse hurried us into an exam room, and the opportunity to make a lasting connection with the Berhanu and his mother (who had managed to seem both pleasant and disinterested toward us) was lost.

Later, I tried to talk to Lemlem about everything that I’d been feeling, in a way that she would understand. “It was cool that you got to play cards with an Ethiopian boy today, don’t you think?” I said. “If you still lived in Ethiopia, you’d get to do that all the time.”

“When I lived in Ethiopia, we didn’t have any cards,” she said.

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Love it!

By junofoxtrot on Monday, March 07, 2011 at 9:05 pm.

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Meet the Author

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Ethiopia, India

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