Seeing the Ethiopian Prime Minister in Washington, D.C. (Photo by D. Monterrey)

(Photo by D. Monterrey)

MONTERREY--My Extended Family & Crashing the Party

There's the family you get and the family you make. And the parties you crash!

Debbie Monterrey
August 03, 2018 - 6:48 pm

by Debbie Monterrey,

There's the family you're born into (and I'm so lucky to have a fantastic one). There's the family you marry into (and I have great in-laws). 

And then, there's the family you acquire. In our case, through adoption. 

Everyone's adoption journey is different, but for us, we not only gained two children, but an extended family made up of the people we traveled through foreign nations with to get our children. Added benefit is gaining yet two more nations on our planet with which to connect (and sometimes stumbling upon an opportunity to see the Ethiopian Prime Minister! More on that later).

This year, 2018, has been The Year of Reunions. In January, it was a family cruise with my parents, my sister and her crew and my husband and kids.

In June, it was our biennial Hubei Reunion. In 2005, my husband and I traveled to China to bring home our beautiful daughter. We traveled for two weeks from Beijing to Wuhan (a sister city of St. Louis) to Guangzhou with 10 other families. To say we bonded during the experience would be an understatement, and the majority of us have kept in touch even before Facebook made it easy. We've had reunions held around the country, watched our families grow and relished not just watching our daughters run in a pack, but all the little brothers in this group becoming fast friends. 

Our 2018 Hubei Reunion
Photo taken by Cedar Lodge worker on my behalf on my phone

In July, we had our first Ethiopia reunion. Four families from around the country met randomly in Addis Ababa in 2010. We traveled the countryside and welcomed into our lives beautiful children. In our case, our now 9-year old son, Bekele ("Beck"). We shared news on Facebook and made efforts to see each other if we were traveling to another family's neck of the woods, but FINALLY, we all agreed upon a weekend to meet up in Washington, D.C.

Our 2018 Ethiopia Reunion
Photo taken by passerby on my phone at my request

A few weeks before the Washington trip, I saw on the AP wire that the new prime minister of Ethiopia was going to be visiting DC the same weekend we were there. How coincidental, the moms of the group agreed. Wouldn't it be neat to see him? 

Upon arriving in DC, I saw Ethiopians everywhere (turns out the DC area has the highest population of Ethiopians in the USA).  We knew there was a big event at the convention center, but one of our families said the line was around the building early in the morning already. We had passes for the White House tour and assumed we'd just miss the whole thing.

The gorgeous Ethiopian hostess at a sidewalk cafe told us she was heading there, that we should, too, that the mayor had declared it Ethiopia Day, and the prime minister himself was set to speak that very afternoon at this event, which was free with no tickets necessary.

My husband, the kids and I finished up lunch, texted the other families that we were heading to the convention center "just to see" and would report back. After a long-ish walk on a very hot day, we found a huge throng of Ethiopians, as promised, lined up all around the building. So we joined the line.

Crowd shot outside Washington Convention Center in DC to see Ethiopian Prime Minister
Photo by Debbie Monterrey

Two of our families managed to find us in the throng of thousands and we all stood there wondering what was actually going to happen inside. We really had no idea what to expect, but when you plan your Ethiopia reunion and it turns out to be Ethiopia Day and the Ethiopian Prime Minister is in town, you wait around and see. You crash the party.

Upon entering the convention center, we were amazed to see the entire floor filled with a sea of people (as many as 20,000) and the red/orange/green colors of Ethiopia's flag. Many of the speakers we couldn't understand (they were speaking Amharic), but the excitement was palpable.

When Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed took the stage, the place went crazy with cheers and waving flags and chants ("ABIY! ABIY! ABIY!"). I only caught a small part of what he said but could ride the wave of euphoria, nonetheless.

On the way out, probably the only other white people in the crowd of thousands sidled up to us and, noticing our kids, told us they, too, had adopted from Ethiopia and had just happened to be in town for the weekend when they heard the prime minister would be speaking.

We all marveled at our luck and how welcomed we all felt at the event.

What a blessing.

Ethiopian PM Dr. Abiy Ahmed (Photo of T-shirt taken by D. Monterrey)
Ethiopian PM Dr. Abiy Ahmed (Photo of T-shirt taken by D. Monterrey)

"Demolish the Wall. Build a Bridge."

For the rest of our time in Washington, D.C., we ran into many Ethiopians and every time we'd say we were at the Dr. Abiy event, it felt like we were being welcomed into their circle. And to a person, they gushed about Dr. Abiy, the reforms he's making in Ethiopia, including tearing down the wall between it and Eritrea, bringing peace and normalized relations. (For more on Abiy, Ethiopia and Eritrea, read this from The Atlantic).

I love my ethnically diverse family, both related and adopted. The more the merrier.

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”--Desmond Tutu