Sharing our culture

We have been bringing the kids to Dessie Restaurant in Wheaton, MD since the first week of their arrival in the US. We used to stop there at least once monthly, sometimes twice, but we suddenly realized that it had been months since we had been there. We don’t go out to eat all that often, and there are a couple of restaurants that are very close to our home that make it an easier and quicker choice to go there, rather than the 20-30 minutes it takes to get to Dessie.

S reminded us of that this morning, and asked that we go there tonight.

The day was a long one for me – I’m covering an inpatient medical service in the hospital at work this week, covering for a colleague who was called away, and, although we don’t have a lot of patients, we do have a couple of complicated cases. Thursday is normally a late day for me, and I was counting on Dad to pick up boys. I figured we would all meet at Dessie, and I’d drive straight there.

Thursday is also S’s karate day. We are grateful to our friend whose twin kids are in S’s class, and she picks S up from school and brings them all to karate. I or Dad then pick up all three kids, S + the twins, and bring them all home and feed everyone. As it happened, Dad and I both managed to forget about karate, and I was just about to take the exit off the freeway to head to the restaurant when Dad called me and said “Did you remember that S has karate?”

“No, I hadn’t.”

Neither had he.

I was a little closer to the karate studio at that point, so I kept on the freeway and went to the studio to pick up S, while Dad and J went to the restaurant.

I apologized to the twins’ mom about not being able to take them home and give them dinner, but, then I thought, “Why don’t we take them with us to Dessie?”. So, we agreed on a revision of the plans, and I loaded up all the kids and off we went!

Now, the twins are fraternal, one boy and one girl. Twin Girl is a bit of a picky eater, as I’ve learned, so I really wasn’t sure what she might eat, but I figured we’d work it out.

We drove the 30 minutes of so that it took to get there, and ran from the car to the restaurant (none of the three kids had thought to bring jackets, and it was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping). Dad had already ordered, and so we knew the food was coming. Dad had specified “not too spicy”, in hopes that our guests would find the food appealing. Kids ordered drinks, Twin Girl trying mango juice, which she liked so much she had a second, and both boys having Cokes (a real treat, since we have an only-water-with-dinner rule, and we almost never have soda in the house!

The food arrived. S took charge, demonstrating how to take the Injera bread/pancake, tear it into the right size to scoop up bites of food, and pop it in one’s mouth. The twins gamely gave it a try. But then, within a couple of minutes, tears started to appear in the eyes of Twin Girl, her face formed an anxious frown, and she said “My lips are burning!”

We tried cold water.

We coaxed her to eat some of the bland split yellow pea “wat” (stew).

We tried having her eat the Injera (which she bravely tried, but she didn’t really like it, as she admitted later).

The owner came over, and asked how things were, and we told her, honestly, that everything was lovely, but that the chicken dish was too spicy for Twin Girl. She asked if she could bring some chicken cooked with no spice. We asked Twin Girl if she’d like that, and she nodded yes, so the owner left to arrange this special meal.

While we waited for the special order, I gave our sad little guest a lip balm from my purse (especially in the winter, I am never without lip balm, usually more than one, as my lips are constantly chapped). That helped a bit, and the water started to help a little, and the second mango juice helped a little bit more.

Then the special order spice-free chicken was served. And our picky friend ate it all!! And asked for more!! I can’t tell you how relieved I was. It’s so hard to invite someone to a new place, and to ask them to try new foods, and then see them suffer. S was quite worried about it, and he was also clearly glad that she now had something she could eat.

After the meal, as we were getting ready to go, the three friends discovered a pointed basket sitting in the front of the restaurant. It looks a little like this (“borrowed” from a blog on another adopting family who took some fabulous pictures in Ethiopia –


The twins and S each took a turn posing with the basket on their heads. The owner was so kind, and didn’t scold them or us for treating her basket as a toy! She has been so kind to us from the start, and she is always to warm to us and the boys.


I drove the twins home, and Dad took our guys in a separate car to our house to get them to bed. It was late. On the way, the twins asked me about S & J’s country of origin (“Where is Ethiopia?”), and we talked about favorite foods and how food can remind you of home. They told me their favorite foods (pizza and fish sticks), and we talked about how, if they were in a different country, having familiar food would help to feel not so lonely and scared.

When I was 4, my parents and I travelled to my father’s country of origin, Sri Lanka, and we lived there for a year and a half. I started school there, and, by the time we left, I spoke the language fluently (but, sadly, lost it completely). 35+ years later, when we returned for a visit, the strongest emotions were raised in my by the smells, and, even more, the tastes – triggering memories that are so deep and so primal. So many people talk of how preparing and sharing food is a way to show love. For me, the importance of food also rests in its connection to culture and history, and I so want our boys to keep as much of a connection as they can to the land of their birth.

I have to get to work on strengthening their linguistic ties, as well. Are there any Amharic tutors out there?? Let me know…

2 thoughts on “Sharing our culture

  1. Kelly says:

    I found your blog when you linked to mine… nice to "meet" you! We are in Baltimore. Perhaps we will cross paths some day at a local adoptive family gathering.

    1. Janaki says:

      I would love that!! We actually have quite a bit in common, and I look forward to reading your blog to learn more of your story.

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