Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp was great — beautiful location, well run, lots of fun…a truly edifying experience. I expected it to be all that, but I was surprised at how emotional and thought-provoking it was, too. While the children were in activities, the adults attended workshops, talks, and panel discussions of our own. B and I took cooking and music classes; had the opportunity to listen to an artist and author talk about their experiences in Ethiopia; and heard many interesting perspectives on transracial adoption, race issues in America, culture, traveling to meet birth/first families, and more.
I’m still processing it all, but I thought I’d share some of the takeaways that are foremost in my mind at the moment. Many of these aren’t new thoughts or ideas, but they were solidified or affirmed for me this weekend.
1. We are all Ethiopian now.
When we adopted our girls, we adopted everything about them — including their birth culture and relatives. My own country of origin, cultural influences, and heritage — as well as B’s — are now part of our daughters’ story, and theirs is part of ours. Even our extended family members are now linked to Ethiopia because their grandchildren/nieces/cousins are Ethiopian. I knew this on a certain level before, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I understood more deeply what that means. (Now if only I could arrange to inherit my daughters’ eyelashes.)
2. Best to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
As a number of speakers pointed out, adopting transracially and transculturally is bold. Society doesn’t understand it (and in many cases doesn’t support it). Issues like race, discrimination, adoption, identity, and cultural integration are hard enough to talk about let alone having these issues intimately affect your parenting. Families like ours can help create change, but we also need to be prepared for the discrimination, prejudice, and misunderstandings that we — especially our children — may face.
3. I’m very grateful that my parents were (and are) countercultural.
I’ve appreciated this for a long time, but this weekend it struck me again that the way I was raised gives me confidence in my parenting. The issues were different for my family of origin, but there are parallels to draw: We stuck out; we were different; my mother was often the Lone Ranger, going against the grain, voicing unpopular views, or challenging the status quo. I developed a strong sense of confidence and self-awareness without having to be like everyone else; I hope my daughters can do the same. My own family, my daughters, don’t have to follow any path but our own.
4. I can’t fix everything for my kids, and I can’t prepare for everything, either.
I know this intellectually, but I’m a fixer and a planner. Hearing other parents’ stories at camp, I was reminded that, as much as we’d all take bullets for our kids, we can’t always fix their pain, erase the hard parts of their past, or anticipate everything that will come their way. Being a warrior for my kids and accepting that I can’t make everything okay is a delicate dance. All parents contend with this, but adoption adds its own layers.
5. My instincts are good.
I could tell myself this before, but I guess I doubted it sometimes. Every parent does, right? The camp challenged me and gave me some new things to think about, but I left feeling like I’ve got a decent grasp of what we’re doing well and where we can improve.
6. Ethiopians are the loveliest people.
This camp is run by Ethiopians, directed by a dynamic woman and staffed by volunteers, many of whom were young Ethiopian women who are great role models for our daughters. As a past event planner, I was impressed by how well-organized the program was, while still feeling very laid back and relaxed. Most big events have a hard time finding that balance, and it struck me as part of the Ethiopian touch. As diverse as they are, Ethiopians are generally kind, gentle, dignified, humble, strong, resilient, and determined. They value family and children, faith, tradition, community, education, and celebration. It was meaningful to connect with wonderful Ethiopian Americans who want to enrich the lives of children, talk about hard issues, and celebrate adoption and family. (And they are gorgeous people to boot.)
7. B is better at traditional Ethiopian dancing than I thought.
Just hoping that the adult dance competition segment from Saturday night doesn’t end up on YouTube. Enough said.
Anything you’d like to know about culture camp? Ask away!
Images: Zoe Saint-Paul and B