Saturday, January 30, 2010

Scary Totoro

When the movie you're watching gets a little bit scary, this is the best way to protect yourself from getting scared. Abe does this every time Mei meets Totoro in his current favorite film, My Neighbor Totoro.You can watch this terrifying clip by clicking here. The scary part starts around the 3:40 mark.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rejecting the Single Story

On a yahoo group I'm a member of, the subject this week came up about appropriate attire for your embassy appointment in Addis Ababa. An American posted advice on how to dress, including this statement, "You don't need to go in your best shoes or dress as this would actually not compare to the local peoples best dress."

Anyone else cringe? Well, yes, a brave Ethiopian member of this group responded, politely asking for clarification about what this person meant. A few people came to the defense, saying this person meant no harm and why are we all so sensitive anyway? I so appreciated the Ethiopian woman's response:

"Although I have never claimed to be a
"I-Know-Everything-About-Ethiopia-So-Come-Run-And-Ask-Me", I do know first hand
about my life experiences coming from the African Diaspora and how that can lend valuable insight to people who are adopting children who look like me. If my being protective of the culture to which I belong to is offensive to
anyone on this board desiring to parent a child of Africa, I then question
whether you are preparing yourself for the reality of being in a
Transracial/Transcultural/Transethnic relationship and what it will take to build and nurture positive self-concepts within your child(ren) from Africa as they take on life here in America.
For anyone who would "assume" the "locals" are all poor and without, NOPE. Talk (sic) a walk downtown while in Adis Abeba, visit the Malls, yes Malls, watch the business women crossing the streets in their heels with a soulful swagger as they strut with their briefcases in tote. Ask them about Gigi, the designer and they will gladly point you in the direction where you can buy Ethiopian, not traditional clothing (there is a difference).
So to set one's mindset into thinking "Starving Ethiopia" that's displayed
over and over without seeing the totality of a nation, one would come to the
conclusion that the "locals" best don't compare to Americans best---but then
again, I don't know what the OP meant and would never put her/him on blast without knowing what was meant."

Today, I had another enlightening conversation with my Ethiopian friend Daniel about this subject. He mentioned something about how this person who made the remark about American dress vs. Ethiopian dress must be only "listening to one story." This afternoon, he sent me a link to this speech given by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, and I'd love for you to watch it too.

We're still working out details on the time and place for our meeting of the Ethiopian immigrant community with Ethiopian-adoptive families, but one detail is for sure: we're here to reject the single story. Watching this video made me tear up in excitement about what this group could accomplish in terms of peace and understanding, for us and for our children.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Calling All Oregon/Washington Families

At the nonprofit for African immigrant-refugees where I have been volunteering for the last nine or ten months, I have gotten to know an Ethiopian man named Daniel who I have had several in-depth conversations with about adoption, Ethiopian culture, the raising of children, and community. He is a stellar person, simply stellar. His ideas regularly challenge me, and I am so thankful to have met him.
Our friend Daniel, dispenser of parenting advice and other forms of wisdom

He is eager to help in a project to connect the many Ethiopian adoptive families in the Portland area and the Ethiopian immigrant community. We had an informal brainstorming session this week about the many amazing things a project like this could bring to our area. While we were in New York, we attended an event at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem that served as a wonderful example of what can happen when an adoption community blends with the immigrant community of their children's country of origin. The Ethiopian community of Riverside Church has come alongside the Ethiopian adoptive families in the area to provide Amharic lessons, cultural events (including home-made injera!), and general support. What an amazing thing.

an impromptu birthday song at Riverside Church in Harlem

If you live in the Portland/Vancouver area and are interested in seeing what we could develop here in the Pacific Northwest, please leave me a comment with your email address and/or write me so I can get your name onto a list. Daniel and I are hoping to have a meeting with anyone who might be interested in starting a group like this sometime around the end of February. Daniel is looking now for a location, and I am gathering together the families. We are excited about what could come, both for us as parents and for our children. Let's build our village.

If you'd like to join us, here is my email: ourownrooney at gmail dot com.
Abe with one of his several African grandmothers in Portland

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Dr. King, thank you"

We got to spend some time with the author of this piece while in New York, once in Harlem, again in Hell's Kitchen. Sitting together sharing comfort food on a frigid day, her thoughts about race made my brain do all kinds of twisty backflips. Then she made me cry. She has a way of doing that. Her son is remarkable, which you can get an idea of in this post.

Go read it.

Thank you, Dr. King.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Choco and Owen

Since getting back home from New York, I've been nesting. There is nothing like being back in your own digs after a time away. Abe and I went yesterday afternoon to our library to restock the top of his bookshelf, the place reserved for library books (when I manage to pick them up off the kitchen floor). As I've mentioned here before, sitting in the children's section of our library is one of my favorite things to do. Yesterday, without looking for it, I came across a copy of A Mother for Choco, a book that has been on my mental "get this book" list for well over a year. I'd never read it, just knew it was about adoption.

I'm sure most adoptive families have a copy of this at home already; I'm just slow on the take. If you're like me and haven't gotten around to reading this book, go get it. I sat down with Abe and read it through, finding it difficult to get through the last few pages, especially when I got to the unexpected twist at the end.

Since we read it yesterday, he's asked to read it at least five more times. I'm not sure how much of it he "gets" right now. He may just like the story and the illustrations. But he does ask for this one over any of the other ten or so books we came home with last night. And he also has been calling himself "Choco," and me "Mama Bear."

He's been assigning us new names for a couple of weeks now. Most recently, he has been "Ponyo" and I have been "Totoro." For the last week we were in New York, I was pretty much exclusively Totoro. One day as I sat Ponyo on the toilet, he said, "Totoro, I like Japanese cartoons." He also told me last night that he is Japanese. Oh, and the name he's assigned to Ted? Chicken. No idea why. Abe=Ponyo. Mom=Totoro. Dad=Chicken.
This is Totoro, the fat guy with big teeth

We also got a book called A Mama for Owen, which is the retelling of a true story about an orphaned African hippo who found a new "mother" with a tortoise after the 2004 tsunami. I liked it, especially since the tortoise was actually a male. The book was criticized for being either too flippant in the face of tragedy or too traumatizing for little ones. Like Autumn, I don't believe in completely shielding our children from suffering. How else will they learn compassion?

Also like Autumn, my heart can't help drifting towards those children in Haiti who were almost home with their adoptive families when the earthquake hit. I also can't help feeling overwhelmed at the number of newly orphaned children now in Haiti. What will happen to them? All I know to do is give, to read, to pray, and give more. There are so many Chocos and Owens. So many.

Give to the Red Cross

Compassion International

Doctors Without Borders

Mercy Corps

Monday, January 11, 2010

Leaving New York

This evening we walked home through Hell's Kitchen. Ted used to live here. We found his old apartment, walked inside the still broken front door and found that his name is on his old buzzer. He used to have mold growing on the walls. It wasn't the nicest of places.

As we walked down "Restaurant Row," I found myself continuing to look upward, still entranced by these majestic buildings. At every turn, I find something unusual, something that piques my interest, something I want to photograph. How long would I have to live here for this
wonder to go away?

When I was 23, I left the United States borders for the first time by flying to Budapest. I couldn't believe I was there. I had this sense of amazement that Hungarians also ate french fries and that their trees looked the same as ours. Looking back, I don't know what I was expecting. These were the days before high-speed internet, so I didn't have city photo blogs to look at (at least that's my excuse for being so naive and stupid). I just spent the first few days there in nonstop amazement, excitement, giddiness even, to be in a new and foreign place.

For years after that, I would sometimes lament how this wonder was probably lost forever. I was no longer a travel virgin. I did feel a little bit of that wonder when we first landed in Addis Ababa, but that was different because it was late at night and I was distracted by more important things. I think I had figured that my wide-eyed wonder was gone for good.

Not so. I've spent this last month wide-eyed, sometimes mouth-agape. I can't stop looking. I look up at the tops of buildings, down to the interesting garbage on the street (no kidding), inside shop windows, and my favorite: through the subway window into the subway train that is traveling along side me. I so love when this happens. We clip along, clip along, clip along, together, two trains full of people, on separate tracks, no one minding the other, and then whoooosh! one of us speeds away. Just once, I want a passenger on my parallel train, my brief subway travel buddy, to look up at me, wave, maybe blow a kiss. That might make my whole year if it happened.

I love this city. I really do. Today while wrapping up a leisurely lunch with this lady, that wonderful Alicia Keyes song started playing, "Empire State of Mind." How perfect was that? I had to stop myself from tearing up.

I have loved being here.
I don't want to stay, mind you. I miss big majestic trees in the Pacific Northwest. I want the comforts of my own home, and I really miss my friends and neighbors at home. I'm ready to go back to some form of normal life. But the best gift I've gotten from being in New York City for a month was that I was able to experience that "23-year-old in Budapest" feeling all over again. I thought it was gone forever. New York brought it back to me.

Dear city, thank you: for a month, you made me naive and stupid again. That was an amazing gift.

In NYC, we like to eat.

(this blog is suffering for lack of photos)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New York Moment 25, part II

On the subject of serendipity:

My niece and I had taken the train all the way down to South Ferry, trying to find the New York Unearthed Museum, which we'd read had all kinds of dug-up relics from all over the city, including the infamous Five Points district (of Gangs of New York fame). Though having an address, I couldn't find it. We wandered a couple of blocks and then asked two women about to cross a street if they knew.

One of the two women was wearing a big winter coat, with a fuzzy fur-trimmed hood. I could hardly see her face. She was very helpful, almost overly helpful. She wasn't sure where it was but gave me her best guess with explicit instructions, lots of pointing this way and that. When I thanked her, she smiled this huge smile, and as I turned to walk away, I realized and told my niece, "I think that was Natalie Portman!"

My niece, eye-roller extraordinaire, did her eye-rolling thing and assured me it wasn't. But come on: Natalie Portman has an unmistakable smile. After seeing it, I realized how much this lady's voice sounded just like hers too. I mean, exactly like it. And Natalie Portman lives in New York, at least part of the time, right? And she also seems like she's a very nice person, the type of person who would stop to give detailed directions on the street (even though the directions we got weren't at all helpful in the end).

Later on that night is when my niece had stayed in the apartment with Abe so that Ted and I could go out to dinner for New Year's. On our way home, we stopped into a Food Emporium for milk. As we were checking out, I saw Natalie Portman's face on the cover of Marie Claire.

Serendipity, right? I took a photo of it with my phone and sent it to my niece. She probably rolled her eyes. I guess I'll have to wait til heaven to ask God if that was really Natalie Portman who gave us directions on a street near Battery Park in Manhattan. I do think it was.

New York Moment 25

On New Year's Eve, Ted and I went to dinner and walked home via Washington Square Park. I realized how little I knew of the history of this park except that Henry James lived there and wrote about it in a few of his novels (of which I've only read one).

The next day, my niece and I took the train up to Zabar's. She fell in love, saying it may have been the best 15 minutes of her whole time in the city. She's an avid cook, may go to culinary school.

We walked outside and meandered over to a bookseller who was set up on the sidewalk with a few tables of used books. On the very last table, I saw a copy of a book called It Happened in Washington Square Park for $5. I bought it and gave a short lesson to my niece about the word "serendipity." She rolled her eyes. Like I said, she's 13.

New York Moment 24

I was walking down the street this morning, pushing Abe in the stroller, heading by myself to the 1 train to get us to Riverside Church. I've become an aggressive pedestrian, crossing the "New Yorker way" by paying little attention to 'walk' sign and simply crossing when there's a break in traffic.

I got to the corner to cross this morning and noticed the 'walk' sign was lit. Not one driver paid any attention to this fact. I had to wait while one SUV and 3 taxis went their merry way through this intersection. I got so mad after the second car, that I found myself standing beside the stroller, right arm extended palm up in front of me, yelling, "What the heck?!" ready to start kicking or slapping the trunks of the passing cars who didn't care that a woman with a child was trying to cross. And trying to cross legally this time, I might add.

I'm thinking we need to get out of town before I get myself killed.

This was my first solo stroller moment, and I was happy to see how helpful other train commuters were with picking up the bottom of the stroller to get up and down the stairs. I didn't even really have to ask. People were very eager to help. Pedestrians of the world, Unite!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New York Moment 23

You don't want to be in Penn Station on Saturday night in January. Apparently, this is where girls from Jersey come to party on the weekend. We'd gotten in around 9:30 from Philadelphia and were having trouble finding a functioning escalator or elevator to get us to the street level for our short walk home, so we wandered downstairs past gaggles, and I mean gaggles, of girls wearing tight clothes and what one facebook acquaintance of mine calls 'hooka shoes'.

A two-man band was playing Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." When we first saw them, one of these girls had started dancing beside them, obviously very drunk. Her friends were standing five feet away taking pictures and laughing. Our second pass through, again looking for a way out of this subterranean train station party, found a larger crowd gathered, watching the same drunk girl as she danced. A homeless man had laid down nearby, next to a column, settled in cozy for the night.

Tam bo li de say de moi ya
Hey Jambo Jumbo
Way to parti o we goin'
Oh, jambali
Tam bo li de say de moi ya
Yeah, Jambo, jumbo
Yep, stuck in my head.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New York Moment 22

I went into Katz's Deli to wait for Ted and have lunch. I know they must be out of this world, but I'm not sure I'm willing to pay $13 for a sandwich. After breaking a bottle of ketchup, chatting with the owner, and looking at the photos on the wall, I left. That was my Katz experience.

Today, my college roommate and I oohed and ahhed over how little we'd aged in fifteen years and then had dinner in the Village. She's the best. I love her. I am sad so many years went by with no contact. Thanks to facebook, we found each other again. I love facebook. I love Greenwich Village. I love hair dye and face cream that keep us looking (relatively) young. I love that she lives in Brooklyn. I love that her husband met us at the apartment and shared a bottle of wine. I love that she donned the Wild Thing puppet and had Abe stand on his head, spin and dance. I love that she read Walter the Farting Dog to Abe, using all kinds of odd voices.

Tonight while putting on nightcream that helps me still get carded in wine shops with my college roommate, I was humming to myself that old song I learned in girl scouts:

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other, gold.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New York Moment 21

No theme to this one, just a dumping ground from my memories of my last two days, roaming the city on my own as the boys have been stuck at home napping and watching Japanese animation to get over their fevers and snotty noses.

On the train going uptown, a frantically cheery woman stepped on, with the voice of a kindergarten teacher with a bullhorn and began thanking us for taking her pamphlet about veganism. She preached to the captive audience about the ills of eating meat, including heart disease and impotence. He voice was getting shriller and shriller. A huge African American man in a puffy black coat made eye contact with me, rolled his eyes, and smiled when she said, "impotence." I rolled my eyes too, and we both shook our heads. By the time she told us that our bodies become "graveyards for animals" when we eat meat, she was yelling. She was scary. Then she left the train.

Nearly every New York block must have at least one coffee/deli place. I stopped in one this morning on my way to the subway. I asked for a sesame bagel with a 'shmear' and a small coffee. The lady behind the counter coudn't believe I only wanted a small. She picked up her large cup, took a sip, and toasted me. I filled my cup with half Ethiopian, half 'tiramisu' flavored. It was mediocre coffee but what a great feeling to warm my hands on the train with my cup and eat half my bagel. The other half kept me going through the afternoon when I ate it while walking down the stairs of the Met, heading to my crosstown bus, the one that cuts straight through Central Park.

I am going to miss these bagels. The smell of the fresh ones straight out of the oven, the garlic and onion, the seeds, and steam and toasters.

There was a white six-year-old boy with what looked like his nanny, a beautiful and statuesque woman who I think was African (what I could tell from her accent). She had a long-suffering way about her, that this was her charge, and she was trying her best to be patient with his nonstop questions and comments like, "Have you ever been to Harlem? I bet you've been to Harlem. What? No? You haven't been to Harlem? Why haven't you been to Harlem?" He was excited to look out the window and comment on where we were and where we were going. Upon reaching the East Side, he said, "Oh, it's the Upper East Side! I love the Upper East Side! I like it here best. I like the busy-ness. I like to be busy. I like the Upper East Side. Can you move over? You're crowding me. I want to look out. Oh, I like the Upper East Side."

Walking through the Village, I looked down to the lower level window of a Doggie Daycare business. The place was packed. Probably ten dogs were laying on cots in the middle of the room. A bulldog was, uh, inappropriately invading the personal space of a small black dog, from behind. I couldn't help snickering like a 12-year-old boy but also felt embarrassed. Finally, one of the workers yelled so loudly that I could hear it from the street, "Hey! You! Cut it out!" as he shooed the randy bulldog away.

I was disppointed that my tourguide at the Tenement Museum didn't know where Al Smith was from. Shouldn't she know that? I'm both fascinated and spooked by the old tenement housing, getting the same feeling there as I did in certain rooms at Ellis Island. New York City must have a lot of ghosts in it.

On our way to dinner, we passed Schimmel's Knishery, on Houston in the Lower East Side. If you have the chance, go. It's been around for a long time. We got a potato knish, straight out of the oven. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten. Abe forgot his hat there. We'd made it six long blocks west when we realized it was missing. I ran the whole way back to retrieve the hat (I'm not a runner, not at all). Carbo-loading via potato knish is a miraculous thing.

New York Moment 20

Tonight after reading Abe his story in his bed, he said, "Let's talk about Little Bear," which is one of his favorite subjects.

The story about Little Bear went something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a little bear named Little Bear. He was living for a few weeks in New York City, and one day he went with Mother Bear and Father Bear on a train to a place called Yonkers to visit Father Bear's old friend Andrew. They went to Grand Central Station and got on a big train to take them to Andrew's house.

Andrew had three boys for Little Bear to play with, and the littlest boy was almost the same age as Little Bear. Little Bear kept crashing into the youngest boy so much that the boy hit Little Bear and made him cry and cry. So Mother Bear came downstairs and wiped Little Bear's tears away and told him, "Little Bear, I told you that you need to listen when your friends tell you to stop doing something." Little Bear nodded and went back to playing.

Then everyone ate some delicious salmon and couscous, and all the boys wrestled a lot. Then Little Bear got in Andrew's car to get to the station to catch the train to take them back into New York City. When they got back to the apartment, Little Bear brushed his teeth and got into bed where he fell asleep and dreamed all night about the delicious New York bagels and cream cheese he was going to eat in the morning at breakfast.

The end.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New York Moment 19

Abe paid very close attention on his tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island:
We think he's got the basics down:

New York Moment 18

Strawberry Fields is, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook, the most visited part of Central Park. My niece and I entered the park from W. 72nd St. and made our way to the teardrop shaped memorial with the mosaic "Imagine" in the center, a tribute by Yoko Ono to John Lennon. My niece doesn't know very much yet about the Beatles, so I wanted her at least to see the crowds of people who are drawn to this memorial.

The "Imagine" mosaic was swarming with people posing for pictures. I wondered how many people were there just because they had the same guidebook I had and wanted a photo.

A scruffy man was sitting on one of the benches with a guitar playing Beatles songs.
Three or four couples were sitting peacefully on the benches, listening to the music, seemingly there as a sort of pilgrimage. I took photos of them and walked away without one of "Imagine." This was New Year's Day.

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

New York Moment 17

Today by myself on the subway, four guys got on the train, one shouting at everyone, introducing us all to "the great Ben E. King." My first thought was, "Oh great, I'm closest to these guys who are just going to be asking for money or ranting about something." One day last week, a guy was loudly asking for money and I encountered another very large man walking 14th St ranting about Islam.

My fears quickly dissipated as these four men, the New York Transit System's Four Tops, began a beautiful rendition of "Stand by Me." I mean, really gorgeous harmonies and emotion. Like any New Yorker though, I wouldn't look at them directly. I did all I could to avoid eye contact. Everyone else on the train was doing the same thing. The men passed me by and an Asian tourist dropped some change into their cup. I smiled.

These kinds of things are what I'd always heard about: the energy of New York. This mishmash of people, all generally getting along (as far as I've seen), bumping up against each other, helping each other out, but avoiding eye contact as much as possible. As an introvert and curious observer of humanity, I can dig it.

(my "New York Moments" are officially getting all out of order, and I'm still finding that I post a couple in one day, skipping other days. Oh well. It is what it is. My excuse is that I have a sick husband and rambunctious 2-year-old living with me)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New York Moment 16

While my niece was here, we were tourists. I wanted to squeeze in as many of the big New York things in the short eights days she was with us. The downside of all this running about is, well, all the running about. It becomes exhausting. I found myself getting stressed about missing a train connection and stressed by the crowds of people (the week she was here is the busiest time of year for many tourist attractions in the city, the week between Christmas and New Year's).

One day, we simply decided to take it down a notch. She picked one museum she was interested in visiting, and we headed that way, not worrying about time. We found out the museum was closed when we got there (no functioning phone number to be found prior to us leaving), so in the spirit of taking it easy, we wandered around in the fresh snow of Battery Park and tried to get our bearings, tried to figure out what to do next. I gave her a couple of options, and she picked riding the Staten Island ferry. Good choice.

We mosied over to a coffee place and got a snack. We mosied to the ferry. We spent the short ride there and back taking photos of the Statue of Liberty and making strange faces. The goal was not to get one single normal picture. I tried to sell my niece on the merits of standing in front of a mirror to perfect one's ugly faces, a hobby shared by me and a couple of my friends. I'm not sure that I convinced her but she certainly laughed a hell of a lot on this ferry ride.

Because of our no-stress goal for this day, we ended up doing and seeing a lot of things, by chance or by serendipity or whatever you want to call it. Sometimes it pays to be Taoist for a day, especially if disgusting and silly faces are involved.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New York Moment 15

Please forgive me, but this post is going to be a plug for something I think any thrifty visitor to New York should do. Grand Central Terminal offers free tours every Wednesday at 12:30 in the main hall, near the clock. Go. Set two hours aside to take in the history and trivia that the guide named Martin, aka "Marty," a retired high school teacher, says he has to let out so that he can sleep at night. Because he was a teacher, the man can project. There was something beautiful about the way his strong New York accent would reverberate through the marble halls of Grand Central, over the constant din of the half million commuters who pass through the terminal daily.

I was enthralled the entire two hours. I think I may have embarrassed Marty after the tour by thanking him and telling him that, as a history lover, this tour was the best thing I'd done so far in the city. Not only is this a tour of Grand Central, but it's a history on the United States railroad system, the buildings surrounding the terminal, and of New York City at large.

There are two guides who do the Wednesday tours. Make sure you get Marty. He is the best. Here is a glimpse: