A Swallow of Diversity

MacKenzie Nies

Adventure and new experiences were always second nature to my family. We were always traveling and meeting new people; my parents had a hard time letting the world spin around them. We were your everyday-all-white-American family. My mom and dad both worked

jobs that came with great flexibility; they would rarely miss a soccer game, piano lesson, ride to school, or a good night kiss on the forehead. My brother and I enjoyed these luxuries,

while trying to keep up with our parents’ need to stay busy. Though they were busy, their hearts always desired to make a change. Throughout my 18 years under their roof, they instilled a passion for family, life, and love. Growing up, I always knew they had big dreams and even bigger hearts, but I never expected them to take a leap of faith and adopt. After adopting twice, we realized that not only did we gain two siblings, but also an appreciation for Ethiopia.

 

My family’s journey of adoption all began with a piece of spongy injera bread and a plateful

of Alicha Wat (Ethiopian stew). We had just found a place to sit down at the Ethiopian Adoption Family Festival, and I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to eat this interesting meal in front of me. Hesitantly, I placed the unfamiliar cuisine in my mouth. That initial swallow was a struggle, to say the least. After a long battle, the Alicha Wat made its way down my throat and into my stomach. I gazed across the table at my parents fighting the same battle, and ever so slightly shook my head. To my left, my brother was refusing to put the food in his mouth after he took a single whiff. As politely as possible, we shifted the food around our plates, so it looked like we enjoyed the meal. We pushed in our folding chairs and headed to the garbage to dispose of our poor efforts at embracing what would become our second world. Heading out the doors of the Ethiopian Adoption Family Festival that day, my thirteen-year-old self knew we had our work cut out for us.

 

When my “normal” and “average” family exited the doors of the Ethiopian Adoption Family Festival, we also exited the doors of our “normal” and “average” life. Our bookshelves filled up with every book my mom and dad could find on adoption and Ethiopia. My brother and I went through our old toys, thrilled we got to share them with a new brother. We were excited for the change, ready to expand our family of four to a family of five, and patiently waited for the call to hop on the plane to Ethiopia.

 

That call came (twice), that plane flew (twice), and our family’s hearts grew (twice). Ethiopia gave us two of our most precious gifts: Mitiku and Genet. In 2009, Mitiku, my sensitive yet fearless brother, joined our family. He is now thirteen and still puts a smile on my face every day. A quick year later in 2010, my spunky and creative sister Genet completed our family.

She is now ten, and I’m lucky to call her my best friend.

 

Mitiku and Genet were brave beyond anything I had ever known. While showing little fear, they jumped head and heart first into a new family with skin that did not match their own. They moved into a new house with a million buttons and gadgets they never knew existed. Mitiku and Genet blended into our family. We loved them immensely and did our best to blend Ethiopian culture into their world.         

 

I will never know how Mitiku and Genet felt being submerged into a new society that still feared diversity and differences. Yes, my heart panged with disbelief and sadness that a little boy would have the nerve to call my sister’s gorgeous hair a “circus afro.” Or that another boy would not play with Mitiku because his skin was not the same, but in no way could my heart feel the pain my siblings did when their diversity was not appreciated, or even accepted. Rather than letting the rude comments from outsiders tear us apart, we took the opportunity to grow closer. Each comment drove us to incorporate Mitiku and Genet’s world into ours.

 

My parents steered their focus toward appreciating Ethiopia and the beautiful family which that country had given us. We cracked open cookbooks, searched the Internet, and contacted other families who had opened their hearts to Ethiopia. Each path we took led to the same simple recipe: Alicha Wat. It was the easiest and most concise Wat to make, and the majority of the ingredients were available in our local grocery store. Traditional Ethiopian food is served “family-style” on a large round plate. The different Wats, comparable to thick stews, are placed around the plate. Rather than using silverware, spongey-sour injera bread is used to scoop up the Wat. This family-style way of eating Ethiopian food helped my siblings stay connected to their home country.  The Alicha Wat roasted in our oven for hours while the juices of the cabbage and carrots caramelized and the spices wafted throughout the house, curling in and out of each of our bedrooms. My siblings and I made our way into the kitchen, allowing the deep smell of culture and diversity to lead the way. We sat down at the counter and waited for mounds of Alicha Wat to be placed on our plates, excited to share the dish as a unified yet diverse sibling group of four.  


This extra time and effort my parents took to incorporate Ethiopia into our lives resulted in a growing love for the rich cuisine we had previously struggled to consume. With each swallow we fought society’s fear of diversity; we took a swallow of Alicha Wat, a swallow of a beautiful culture that was starting to blend into our own. My family grew stronger knowing that our hearts were not only connected at home, but also 7,690 miles away in Ethiopia. With time and lots of patience, the food that we had choked down at the Ethiopian Adoption Family Festival became a food that we gladly swallowed. Alicha Wat is now a family staple, a food we are proud of, and a dish that blended two worlds.

Alicha Wat

 

1 head cabbage, sliced thinly

5 peeled carrots, cut in wedges

5 peeled potatoes, cut in wedges

1-2 onions, slice thinly

1-2 tbsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. garlic

½-1 tsp. cinnamon

¾ cup oil

 

Mix together in pan, cover with foil.

Slow cook at 250° for 2-3 hours until soft.