Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ethiopian Art by Dereje Dimissie

by Liz

I saw Dereje Dimissie's work in Addis at the Makush Gallery (I think) while we were there but didn't have a chance to make a purchase. Luckily I found him again online and was able to get in touch with him (when the power grid allowed!) and we purchased this amazing painting from him through the mail.

I really admire his depictions of Ethiopian women. Strong, noble, beautiful. His work speaks for itself. If you're looking for something beautiful to grace your walls and inspire your family contact him (I hope he doesn't mind my shameless plug)!

His email is:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We all Love Shoes!

by Liz

I can't say it enough. I LOVE! It keeps the creative juices flowing and out of trouble. If not for Zazzle, I'd be spending time and m
oney surfing for more home decor, which
Dan keeps reminding me we
definitely don't need.

So, Zazzle does a social service in addition to letting me design fun and frivolous tshirts, mugs and now, yes, SHOES! What girl doesn't love shoes? And
what designer doesn't love a new medium?

Here's mine:*

These were all inspired by my latest line of Jungle Safari birthday stationary which I designed for the Communities United Benefit Auction. Another women donated her cake-making services and we put together a cute little set. I think I'll donate one to the Ethiopian Orphan Relief auction as well (

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Music Across the World

by Liz

I just came across this song and then the site. The song Stand by Me was profoundly moving. Ru was mesmerized.

The music is wonderful. Street musicians from across the world playing the same song separately were mixed together into one song that weaves, bobs, unites, transcends.

The metaphor of music dissolving boundaries plays well upon the soul. Please enjoy it too at

Pass it on.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Language, Language

by Liz

Been thinking about language alot lately.

As my 20month old (!) tests her increasing vocabulary and I hear my colloquialisms in baby tones I can't help to ponder my long term effect on her language place in the social realm of communication.

What I'm saying is that yesterday she responded to my question about bananas for breakfast with the painfully New England response of "yup." (cringe or cute?)

As we've been trying so hard to curb our tongue from more offensive utterances we overlooked the small sentence punctuations. I wonder how often the valley girl in me still says "like." I imagine I'll find out soon.

In the bigger context there's looming my responsibility to keep all her options open in regards to her homeland.

Amharic is the main language in Ethiopia - at least in Addis Ababa, the capital (which she's not originally from). I don't even know what the reigning language in her hometown of Tepi would be. And Amharic is hard. Different alphabet, tongue-twisting words, sentence structure based on the gender or social standing of the audience, lots of subtleties... I like the challenge of trying out new languages but I admit that Amharic really intimidates me.

Usually while traveling I make sure to arm myself with the basic words of polite social interaction; please, thank you, hello, goodbye... I still can't get through "thank you" without a tongue trip up. "Am-eh-say-ge-nah-lo". I feel my Ugly American-ness is glaring loudness every time.

But, I owe it to my daughter to give her a fighting chance if she should want to explore her culture more fully as an adult. I know you need the language to do this. I know I can't teach her myself, so I must find something that can. For now I've been trying to keep Ethiopian music and the one Ethiopian kid's DVD in constant rotation in hopes that her ears will form a familiarity to the words that will imprint themselves for later learning. I'm looking for more help in this audio training. Here are some links to my current research into Ethiopian language:

1) Tsehai Loves Learning:
A cute DVD of puppets singing and dancing to Amharic lessons (with written english translations). Really for Amharic speaking kids, and not something that even an adult could learn from despite the subtitles. I play it so the language will sound familiar to her. She has loved it since we got it at 12 months.

2) Amharic the EZ-Way-
I've been considering this program of conversational Amharic for travelers. It looks approachable. Its made for PC platforms. I have a Mac. I wrote the owner and he responded promptly promising a 30day guarantee. I think I should try it out.

3) Teddy Afro - Ethiopian Pop artist. We picked up several of his CDs in Ethiopia. Probably hard to find here based on a quick search of Amazon. They have several compilation discs

4) Rosetta Stone - not available in Amharic. I posted a request for the language but based on the size of the language group I'm doubting that Amharic is high on their development list, despite requests from noisy adoptive parents like yours truly. (but I still encourage noisy adoptive parents to put their 3 cents in...)

Any other ideas? please send them my way!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Finding our rhythm

by Liz

There are days that pass in a flurry of routines, errands, meals, diapers, laundry, work, diapers and then its bedtime and we lay down to start all over again.

And then there's the shining moments that sneak up when you least expect, maybe pass undetected at first but tap on the shoulder of your conscience later... those moments of finding a rhythm as a Mom, as a family, and watching your little one find a rhythm of her own... when she lifts up her knee to walk up the front step like a Papa, when you ask her to point at a snake in the book and she can - three pages back, when the baby monitor exposes her trilling a song of her own during naptime... when she just has to wear your favorite pair of boots... when she watches an African drum show enraptured and then approaches the drum and finds it will sing for her too... when you arrive at the daycare and she jumps from her chair with glee...when she wins yet another friend at the playground and then takes your hand to toddle back to the car.

Our baby is stepping into the parade from observer to participant.

Little things wrapped in big things. Moments that hint at futures. Isn't it thrilling to imagine the songs she'll sing?

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Shopping & Souvenirs from Ethiopia

by Liz

My last post got me to recalling how in the pre-travel days when I had nothing to do but worry about details large and small of our trip to Ethiopia, in my lighter moments my thoughts would turn to "the souvenirs."  The less selfish side of me wondered what type of gifts I could find to give our little girl on the yearly celebration of her adoption day. Special little things to remind her of the culture, arts and life of her homeland... it was definitely one of the more pleasant things to contemplate. It occurred to me that other adoptive parents may enjoy the same diversion. So, for all those other families out there waiting; here's a list and some photos of my shopping successes in Addis. Most of the items were from the shops in Post Office Square (mainly from my favorite stand on the main corner across from the parking lot), and from the gift shop at our orphanage, Toukoul. The Toukoul gift shop sold a great assortment of woven scarfs, handmade quilts, table cloths, cloth animals and dolls, doll outfits (on the famous Ethiopian doll- the only one made in Ethiopia - see him/her in the photo - yes its gender neutral!) and the proceeds go back to the orphanage to help fund their Werku program to teach job skills to single moms so they can keep their families intact. So, on to the booty: 

1. Ethiopian Jewelry - I like the colorful chunky kind (ie. not the really expensive fine gold kind - its available at the Hilton but its not my style). Some of my favorites shown here came from the gift shop of the museum at the University of Addis Ababa (which I'd recommend - not just for the shopping mind you!). The rest is from the Post Office Square market. The finer silver items which look like Ethiopian Orthodox crosses are sold by the weight. One of the necklaces has a Haile Selassie coin on it.

2. Wood Carvings: Widely available but more expensive than I'd anticipated are the carved wooden animals. While you can find them here in the States (for about the same price), I like to know they're straight from the source. The male and female figures, which I love, came from the gift shop at the Hilton which has some surprisingly competitive prices. I always like to check their wares, go out and compare against the market and then know I could get them there if all else failed. I really liked the sculptural quality of the wooden hair pick. I think it may be better as decor than in use... its pretty sharp! The biblical painted piece is a reproduction and was described as what the early priests used to illustrate their stories since paper was not available. The art on it is representative of stylistic trends we saw in much of the Ethiopian art in galleries and museums. We were told the early painting styles were introduced by early Italian missionaries.  Another piece not shown here is a small stool hand carved out of a single piece of wood, it was a bit of a challenge to pack - but once we need a "time out" spot it will be worth every bit of the effort! There were many many great household items carved from wood - trenchs, game boards - all beautiful... if I'd only had more room!

3. Textiles - Embroidery and woven goods made great gifts for all my friends (in addition to the wooden salad spoons that pack easily and have a great modern look with their black and
 white bone handles). The traditional clothing we saw in Addis and during our trip to Awassa was mainly white with embroidered edges. We had hoped to go to Harrar which is known for the more colorful textiles but since it was rainy season we didn't make it.  The women of
 Werku who work for the Toukoul gift shop had made the very colorful scarfs shown in the photo with the molded plastic "original Ethiopian doll" dressed in their handmade male or female dress (at top of this post). I didn't see this doll available anywhere else in my travels so I felt lucky that they had them available, they also made the rag doll shown here. Each plastic doll has a tuft of molded hair on top and could easily be male or female (or hobbit...look at those toes!). The quilt, backpack, giraffe and rag doll in the photo were also from Toukoul. Some other items I found for my little girl were a cloth purse and a tshirt with Haile Selassie on it for her teenage years.

4. Woven goods - colorful woven baskets and serving trays were easy to find and pack and a 
good way to store and present all the great jewelry. The leather items will be fun to send her off to kindergarten with.

5. Artwork - We bought only three souvenir type pieces while we were in Ethiopia although we'd hoped to find a piece from a local contemporary artist. We did visit a couple nice galleries in downtown Addis but with limited funds ended up with our custom-ordered angel (see previous post), a historical style (repro) piece on an aged wood panel, and the biblical triptych shown in the photo with the carved items.  There were paintings available in the markets on stretched leather and parchment which some of our friends purchased. The frames made the packing process difficult. Our angel was able to be rolled and traveled well. 

6. Other Shopping Adventures - One of our favorite spots was a grocery store called Bambis. It was a relatively large one with a fascinating selection of local snacks, tea, chocolate, candy, liquor, coffee and some gift items. The italian pretzels were addictive! There was also a very nice but small grocery at the Hilton accessible from the parking lot.

Packing tips - We were lucky to be at our guesthouse with some seasoned travelers who advised us to save our plastic water bottles and any newspaper or shopping bags we received. When it came time to pack, we cut the tops and/or bottoms off the bottles to make tubes to pack delicate items like the wood carving in. It was genius! We had brought a spare duffle bad and was able to get all the bulky items in it padded with clothing and the very thick quilt we'd bought. The only casualty was one carved wooden candlestick.  

Start making your lists!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

One of my Favorite Souvenirs of Ethiopia

by Liz

Our stay in Ethiopia afforded us some travel time to the city of Awassa, a drive around the legendary Mercato in Addis and many trips around the hills and streets of Addis mainly from the viewpoint of our chauffered Landcruiser - (we're sad to say it was our gilded cage).

Still, we did manage to grab some time to gather some treasures to bring home for our little one's yearly celebration of her homeland - which we've yet to find a good name for. The best contender so far (and far better than "Gotcha Day" is the Amharic word "mels" which I found in Rebecca Haile's book "Held at a Distance." She defined it as "literally a homecoming." In the context of her story it applied to a party being thrown for newlyweds... that's the best I've found yet... let me know if you've come across anything better?

Our favorite souvenir is this painting of an angel- an iconic image referrencing the fresco artwork from the church at Gondar. We had admired similar paintings on the ceiling of a small shop in the Post Office Square and the owner offered to have his friend, the artist, make us our very own version. We picked it up a couple days later; custom made just for us!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tribute to Toukoul Orphanage in Addis Ababa Ethiopia

by Liz & Dan

(For more photos click on our slide show at the top of the page)

A photo tribute to Ru's first home in Ad
dis Adaba Ethiopia and the nannies, nurses, staff and doctors who held her, calmed her fears, wiped her nose, rocked her to sleep and taught her that the world is not such a bad place. To a staff that held her in their arms and in their hearts (some even had photos in their wallets)... there were tears shed on both sides as Ru took her leave. We will be forever grateful for your kindness.

Writing the Story

-by Liz

A lifebook, adoption story, birth album - a great creative project no doubt... but oh, the pressure! We had dutifully uploaded all the photos from our trip to Ethiopia onto the Walmart site ... and each time I logged in the ads to "Create a Memory book" winked at me...

For months now I've been tweaking, retooling, noodling, wondering... whats the best way to tell the story to a toddler, a child, an adolescent?... what pictures would I most want to see if I was in her shoes, how would I tell a story with so much meaning and so little detail? What could I tell her about her homeland when I'd seen so little from the confines of our daily gilded cage of a commute to the Toukoul Orphanage?

In the end I settled on a poem I found on an adoption site (below), a brief narrative and a hope that the pictures we have will tell a thousand words. Ultimately the story will be hers to create and to tell. We titled it "Rukiya comes Home"

We didn't give you the gift of life,
but in our hearts we know,
the love we feel is deep and real,
as if it had been so.

For us to have each other
is like a dream come true.
No, we didn't give you the gift of life,
Life gave us the gift of you.

Take a look and tell me if you think its ready to print?
Click Here to view our Ethiopian Adoption Memory Book