Our trip to Ethiopia two years ago was very short compared to our trip to China (10 days vs 3 weeks). So we didn't get to experience much of its life and culture. It was such a whirlwind experience. We were somewhat isolated in the Hilton Hotel complex, where you had everything you needed within its walled off compound. They even had naturally heated swimming pools.
The first thing that stands out in my mind is that the Ethiopians look much like your "typical" African American. Meaning, their complexion is light coffee brown. Much of their clothing is semilar to ours and the metropolitan city of Addis Ababa is huge and crowded. Walking around I felt like I was in any metropolitan area where there happened to be more blacks than any other ethnic group. A lot of times when you see the TV shows, news casts, and commercials about the poverty in Africa, they show the west and south African regions where their complexion is deep dark brown - near black.
I travel frequently, being African American, and tall (6'3"), I'm used to standing out in a crowd. Not so here. The only time I stood out was when Pam was with me. White people stand out in Ethiopia. What a change. Here in America, when black people pass each other on the street, especially if they are in an area where they are the significant minority, they acknowledge each other's presence. Normally it's just a slight nod, purposeful eye contact, or a hand wave. Pam likes to call it the "secret handshake". It's a semi-subconscious was of saying, "We're in the same fraternity, and we know we share this experience. In Ethiopia, every body's black, so no need for the "fraternity handshake". It was an interesting feeling that I'm not sure I can adequately describe.
When the children came to us, I mentioned before, they only spent a few hours with us the first day, but after that day they were all ours. We spent that time talking to them and trying to assure them that we were going to try to take good care of them, etc. In retrospect, I doubt they understood 10-20% of what we were saying, but they smiled and nodded as if they did. It's a little more difficult with older children than with young toddlers. With toddlers, you just play! That's communication enough for them. It's more cerebral with the older children. What do you say? What do they comprehend? How scared are they? What do they think they want out of this relationship? How soon will they push the "limit line", and what do you do when that happens?
LJ was much more mature or at least tried to act like it. It's funny, just like any relationship we were all trying to impress each other. I guess that's human nature. Once we got to really know each other and were able to relax more, we could see she was a scared little girl, just like any other child would be under the circumstances.
AJ was a tween and fit her role rather easily. The funniest thing about her was she didn't appreciate her role as the younger sister. She wanted to be the older one and the two clashed frequently when trying to explain things to us or helping out in tasks. Still to this day, they compete on who know more about any given subject (past or present). AJ was and is quick to smile and laugh. She's not your non-stop giggly girl, but she loves to laugh.
JJ was just a scared little 4 year old. He did whatever his sisters told him (even if it was different from what we told him). They were his comfort and security, especially AJ.
While in Ethiopia we had to decide whether to continue feeding them their native foods or begin to incorporate Western foods into their diet. We decided on the native foods. BIG mistake. You would have thought we were trying to feed them live rats. They looked at our food and dang near refused to sit down, let alone eat the food on their plates. Someone told them that America had lots of Ethiopians and that their food would be readily available. Rude awakening for them. It was a serious uphill battle at the chuck wagon, let me tell you.
Later I'll tell about all the misinformation and wives tales they learned about America.