Monday, May 12, 2008

Birthday's Not Celebrated, Birthday's Celebrated

Traditionally birthdays are not celebrated in many parts of Ethiopia. They are not even remembered. When I was there I met Hanna at the Addis Kiddan Guest House and I was asking her about this and she said that in fact, what I had heard was true, they do not celebrate them. When I asked her how old she was she said she did not know- she just always says 28. And she was serious, not like here where we would like to forget. It would be easy to forget how old you were if you never really had to keep track of that.

We still have to think when people ask us how old Michael is- I mean I finally think I have it down now that he turned 6. I feel like I can say "Six." more and more without explaining that he if probably really 7. And its really bad when poeple ask what are the birthdays of our two youngest because we always have to think and remember what it says on the official paperwork and what we have decided on our own and what we have heard from the birth family. What is amazing- at least with the infants- if CWA (Christian World Adoption) would just ask the person who brought the child a simple list of intake questions- they would get a fairly exact birthday- these women remember when they birthed their babies, "It was the second Sunday after the Ethiopian New Year. I remember it was a Sunday because we had gone to Market the day before." They KNOW. Or "How old is the child?" the grandfather replies, "He was five when we brought him to CWA." If they KNOW this then why does the child suddenly become this child without a story- with no history, with an age being guessed after a 5 minute visit with a doctor? Even the nannies at CWA felt that Michael was older than 3...why not at least listen to them? He was very very small- wearing 18 month old clothes- clothes that no longer fit our 2 1/2 year old baby boy- so I can see why a child who was probably deathly silent at the doctors would be called 3...but once around him for 24 hours the staff at the Addis Kiddan Guest House KNEW he was older just by having conversations with him and watching him play. So here are some pictures from two years ago when we went and met Michael and Yabsera- I tried to pick ones that showed you how really small this kid was....

Here is Michael at the Addis Kiddan Guest House with a Soccer ball we bought from the guy down the street for a buck. We gave it to Ahope when we left. See how he compares with the size of a smallish soccer ball?
Here he is eating at the Ghion- it was amazing to watch this kid eat! He would put so much food away and then at the end he would tear the napkin into strips so he could share the one napkin with you- he would then mash up the food for you and try to get you to eat it- it was clearly what he saw the older people in his life do. Note that he is standing at one of those low ET tables.
Here he is at the lake guys? I can't remember- the one with the "resorts" at it...
Here he is playing with the sprinkler in the yard at the guest house...the shorts were 2T sized and he was swimming in them.
Here is Michael Maren's birth grandfather. A farmer from a remote village in South West Ethiopia- arguable one of the poorest areas of one of the worlds poorest countries. Why was Michael so darned small for his age? He had very little food. He could hardly walk when he came to CWA. They commented on this when they talked about him- that they let him go because he was "So smart" they knew he would be ok- and they mentioned that he was often "angry" because he stomach hurt...why did his stomach hurt? "He was hungry all the time." This is his house. He is proud of it- because its so big. They are holding his photo album- and they are proud of him for doing something so darn difficult.
These are the people who cared for Michael when he was sick, and hungry, and very very small- all waving to him and in the video clip they are singing to him. Its beautiful. But notice the child with the orange hair- indicating severe malnutrition. It breaks my heart to feel so far away from his roots and not be able to do much to help them directly. I just love the joy on their faces- can you see it? There is real joy here even in this difficult state.

So- fast forward to two years later- Michael is turning 6- in America time- in the Ethiopian world he is 7...on paper he is 5! (Are you starting to understand the confusion? We Americans really like dates and birthdays a whole lot...) So here is the Ethiopian born American little boy on his 6th birthday. "Michael what would you like to do its your birthday?" "I know! I have a GREAT idea! Lets put blankets on the porch and all eat outside!" "Ok, good idea- but what would you like to eat? Its your birthday meal?" "Macaroni and Cheese!" It was by far the easiest birthday ever. He would have been happy to get one small toy car quite honestly.
He set it all up himself and told us all where to sit. And it occurred to me that - back in the village somewhere in South West Ethiopia, this was how his birth family would be sharing a meal. Sitting on the ground together in song.

And notice how he sits in this photo and then look back at the one with the soccer ball from two years ago- same kid- sitting the exact same way...but that child was sacred and angry (he has told us that many times- how angry he was because he was so scared the whole time he was with CWA and when we came to bring him home) and this child- this 6 year old- has joy.

Many go back to Ethiopia and see everyone!

....and Yabsera...he just wants his


paige said...

Happy Birthday to your lovely big boy. Birthday on the porch--a fabulous idea!

Anonymous said...

I have many tears in my eyes. You weave a story so magically and with such verocity.

Renee said...

Your boys are beautiful! It has been a blessing to see them grow in your love and in your home.