Friday, March 27, 2009
Tigist and Mebratu's 'Abetee'
While we were in Ethiopia to pick up our children, we stayed in a guest house with a few other adoptive American families. One of those families was also with our agency and was adopting a son who was from the same village as our children. When we picked up our kids from the foster care center and brought them back to the guest house, it was immediately apparent that these three were buddies, or, 'abetees'.
For the next few days, they played non-stop and constantly chattered in their native Wolaitian language. This was actually one of several graces that God planted in our life during that nightmarish week. Tigist and Mebratu were very good anyway, but to have a close friend to pal around with initially was quite a treat for them and quite a relief for us so we could focus on one sick baby.
We also flew on the same flight home to the U.S. together and then parted ways at Dulles (D.C.) airport when they went on to the Northwest and we flew home. It was a tearful moment to see these sweet children part, one more time, from their last link to 'home' and their former life, which they had almost completely left behind, save for the memories in their little heads. Strangely, the kids did not cry, just their new families. My hunch is that this one last breaking from their past was small compared to the other losses they had already grieved (and still are grieving). I don't know - emotionally, I still haven't figured my kids out and probably never will, but that's another post.
I recently contacted their 'Abetee's' mom and we arranged a phone call for the kids to chat and catch up. Tigist and Mebratu were quite delighted at the thought of getting to talk with him over the phone. They spent all of last night's dinner practicing and thinking about what they were going to say. (which my other kids turned into a silly session of thinking of all the wacky things they could tell Abetee about their new life with us... and the conversation went south from there).
Today the phone call came and I ran outside to pull the kids in to talk to Abettee. It was a little different than we expected. In the first 30 seconds, I think we heard some Wolaitian phrases tossed back and forth ( it was hard to tell because Mebratu kept screaming in his high-pitched little voice 'ABETEE!!!') He was in shock, I think that you could hear a familiar voice come out of that black thing that hangs on the wall (I don't think he's ever used a phone before) Then, I got down close to Tigist and listened, urging her to use 'words', and talk to Abettee with their 'Wolaitia words'. What happened next was so fascinating and at the same time, it made me sad. She looked at me and seemed confused at first. Then, I think she got what I was saying, that she could have a conversation with Abetee in her native tongue. She looked up at the ceiling like she was thinking very hard and then she looked a bit uncomfortable and confused at the same time. Her mind was grasping for Wolaitian words.... but they were gone. After only 9 weeks in the U.S., her native language has almost disappeared. I had assumed she would/could speak it now, if just given an opportunity.
But this experience today confirms what other adoptive families have told us. They lose their native language quickly. Not to say that they are talking up a storm in English. Quite the opposite. I have actually been frustrated with the 'wall' we've hit lately in her English. (Not so much with Mebratu who speaks much more English than she does.) I think that with Tigist being older (almost 8), she has entered the silent phase. She has no language right now. She is continuing to absorb English but does not speak it.
I know this is true because she and Sophie and I were listening to 'Adventures in Odyssey' tonight and she busted out laughing at the kid who wrote the poem about 'loving pants'. She got it! So, I think she does hear so much more than she speaks.
And so it was a bitter sweet kind of day. I see the Ethiopian identity of my children fading fast. I'm happy and excited for them to come into their own here, as Americans-- because that is what they are now. And I know that the new identity as Americans and as our children is ultimately going to bring them happiness. But at the same time, I am grieving for them. That so much has been lost and that the old Tigist and Mebratu that spoke a remote tribal dialect of southern Ethiopian, are leaving us for good.