Monday, February 4, 2008

Learning Ethiopian Culture from the Inside Out: Part 2

Part 2: What is Ethiopian Culture?

Part 1: How Do We Learn Culture?

I started out like most of us I'm sure searching the internet trying to find out anything that I could about Ethiopia. The first things that I learned were about the historical significance of the country. I learned that it is the place where the oldest human remains were found making it perhaps the birthplace of civilization. I learned that it had a rich spiritual history and was linked to early Christianity and even the Ark of the Covenant. I learned how Muslims, Evangelical, and Orthodox Christian live in harmony. I read article after article about the physical beauty of the people and their beautiful loving hearts. I read how they love, care for and nurture their children. I learned about doro wot, injera, coffee ceremonies, and celebrations like Timkat. I poured over pictures of Gondar, The Blue Nile, Axsum, and Lailebella. I read about 75 million people speaking 85 different languages living in a country that bordered the Red Sea.

I learned facts about Ethiopian culture. Just the facts. Facts alone help me see Ethiopia from the outside looking in. Reading about a coffee ceremony is not the same as smelling the aroma of the beans or learning quiet lessons through casual conversations while the coffee is being made. I could have a coffee ceremony in the US for symbolism but there is more to culture than that.

What's funny or sad is that even though I know Ethiopia is a country I approached it like it was a city. ETHIOPIA! Northern Ethiopian is not the same as southern Ethiopia. They have different foods, different customs, different dress, different language, and even different histories. Ethiopia is divided into nine regions. It's sort of how we talk about the Midwest, the Northeast, or the West. Sure we share some American customs but there are some things that are East coast and different traditions and customs in the Midwest. Ethiopia's geographical regions are much more diverse than America.

I realized that where I began learning about history was the Ancient history of Ethiopia. To understand my children I would have to learn more contemporary history of Ethiopia. What led to the poverty? Why are there orphaned children? What happened to the parents and why? One of the first questions that I asked the agency was, "How does Ethiopia feel about children being adopted and taken away from the country?" How do children come to live in orphanages? What was there life like before that? Most importantly if my children remained in Ethiopia what would life be like for them. Sorry, I don't believe that they would simply perish if it were not for me. The God that I believe in always has a master plan. If they lived and I focused on "life" and not despair what, would life be like for them at 5 and 6, 12 or 15, or into the age of dating or marriage?

Learning Ethiopian history and culture from the inside out meant putting myself in the place of the child or my children. If I stood in their shoes, if I tried to imagine what it was like to be them everything changed. A child led away from their village and family may be proud of Ethiopian history but from the inside they are wondering where they are going, what will happen to them, and why. For a 3 or 4 year old history is what my mother made me for dinner last week, the songs their father was singing the last time that they saw him, and the child that they played with every day. Their history lesson wasn't leaning the names of dances but watching their elders dance and trying to imitate them. Their history is the last thing that their mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, or grandmother told them just before they headed to the orphanage.

Helping them preserve their heritage meant really understanding how to explain to them that with all the historical significance, rich spiritual history, 75 million people and 85 languages that they had to come to America live with a woman that can't make injera or speak their native tongue. For every day that they live with me remembering small things from their past, longing for foods, sounds, and their mother's touch I know that they are wondering if they will ever get to return home. I believe that my job is to make sure that if they do, that they still feel some connection that is more than symbolic.

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Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]