I came from the southern part of Ethiopia. I remember having two brothers; one was older and one was younger. The younger one passed away when he was 1 year old from drinking dirty water. I got to see him be born and also die in the same year.
I lived in a hut with my step-mom, dad, and my two stepbrothers. We had a donkey and I slept by him on the floor. We did chores everyday like sweeping and getting water from the pond. We had these nice neighbors who lived next door to us. We didn’t have much food in our hut, so I would go over to their house and they would give me powder or something like that. One time my hand got burned over a fire and it hurt. My neighbors helped me that day. I went over there and they took care of me. They were really nice. I was around 3 years old I think.
I remember the day the bus picked me up. It was the first time I had ever seen a bus and it was really big! I had to pack up my stuff and the grown ups told me to be on my best behavior. We drove to a care center in the capital city of Addis. It was kind of like a big hotel where all the kids who were waiting to be adopted lived. It was better than my hut because we had food. I lived there for a few months. I was one of the older kids at the care center, so I got to take care of the little kids. I’d get their milk for them and feed them and play with them.
I remember seeing pictures of my new mom and dad before I met them. I was really excited to go live with them. Then I remember the day I met them for the first time. I ran to the gate and my dad was there!
We had a big party for all the kids who were being adopted. We dressed up in our [traditional Ethiopian] outfits. We had Fanta, a cake, and a big feast! We took a big picture of all the kids who were being adopted by the gate. After that, we went to the airport. It was really big and had luggage carts everywhere.
When we flew to Cincinnati there were a lot of people waiting at the airport. My family members were there and that’s when I met Eli. He said, “Hey T! I’m Eli and we’re going to be buddies!” He’s still my best friend.
We went to our home first. My cousins and my Grandma and Grandpa were there. I could never remember everyone’s names! I really liked my house when I first saw it. I remember walking in my room: it was blue and orange and had a bed! Oh- and we ate Chipotle. Eli didn’t like it, but I did. My first meal in America was Chipotle.
Amy: He just kept shoveling it in. He didn’t speak English yet, so he’d just keep giving us a thumbs-up and smiling. In Ethiopia, to honor someone, you share some of your food with them by hand-feeding them. Tariku kept hand-feeding us some of his Chipotle that day. It was so sweet.
I miss the food in Ethiopia the most. Every year we go out for Injera (a main staple in the Ethiopian diet) to celebrate my “gotcha day” (adoption day).
I also miss my friend Bereket who was at the Care Center with me. Is he adopted yet, mom?
Amy: Not yet buddy. He had to go back to where he came from. We tried looking for him, but we couldn’t find him. If we had, we might have had to have a serious talk about another adoption.
We had dirty water in Ethiopia and I remember that because my brother died from drinking it. When I turned 5, it was my first birthday in America. Because I talked about dirty water a lot, my mom found Charity Water. She asked me if I wanted to help and I said, “yeah.” I wanted to help kids in Ethiopia have clean water, so I gave up getting presents and instead asked people to help by donating money.
For the past few years, I’ve talked to kids at my school about it. I get to speak to different classes and tell them about the dirty water I drank. My mom and I take a jerry can with us (that’s the can we carried in Ethiopia to get water.) We fill it up with water and let other kids pick it up and try to carry it so they can see how heavy it is. They gave me money for Charity Water. I’ve raised over $30,000 for clean water projects since that birthday and I want to keep on doing it.
Two years ago Scott Harrison (CEO of Charity Water) invited me to come to New York. They have this big ball where you dance and eat and stuff. We flew on an airplane and when we got there, I saw the Statue of Liberty and was like, “What is that thing?” Then we stayed in a hotel and Charity Water called my mom and said they got us a horse carriage. They took us on a carriage tour through Central Park and they showed us famous people’s houses. They told us where to eat, like this really good hamburger restaurant. After that, we went to the Charity Water office. We got to see and try out one of the new pumps that had actual water coming out of it. It was one of the new models that they’re using in Africa. Then I got interviewed there because I raised money for them. Everyone at Charity Water is so nice! I got to see Times Square, the Apple Store and the Lego Store. We even got to see people ice-skating and we drank really good hot cocoa.
Then we got all dressed up and went to the Charity Water party. I met Tony Hawk there, but I didn’t think it was him because he looked too old to ride a skateboard. There was lots of confetti too. We stayed up til 3am drinking water and soda. I was the only kid still awake!
Amy: Tariku was 1 of several special guests invited to the ball that year. Usually, Charity Water will host an annual ball geared towards raising funds for their work overseas. But this particular year they took a different approach of honoring some of the people who had raised money for them. They chose Tariku because they were so inspired by him, his story, and his efforts.
My heart feels happy here in America. I still think about Ethiopia though. My mom and dad said we can go back when I’m a little bit older, like 12 or something. When I talk to kids at school, I like to tell them about what it was like to live in Ethiopia and how good we have it here in America. It’s also cool to share with them how we can make a difference, even though we’re just kids.
I remember that night like it was yesterday, but it was six years ago, just four months after we’d brought Tariku home from Ethiopia. I was lying in his bed, snuggling him before he fell sleep when he looked up at me and in his newly acquired English language said these words:
“Mommy, why they (my birth family) no give me food? Why they give my brothers food but not me?”
“Why they leave me alone in the dark?”
“Why I sleep on the floor with the donkey and they all sleep on the bed?”
“Why I no have clothes and they have clothes?”
I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. It took every ounce of resolve I had not to immediately burst into tears. I put my hand on his face and simply whispered, “I don’t know, son. I’m sorry. It wasn’t right, but I can promise you this: We will always give you the food you need. We will never ever leave you alone in the dark. You will always have your own bed to sleep in. You will always have the clothes you need. You never have to worry about those things again.”
“Okay, mommy,” and he rolled back over and went to sleep. My tears fell like a torrential downpour.
While in Ethiopia, in addition to suffering the effects of serious starvation and parasites from the dirty water, he also was subjected to severe abuse by those who were supposed to love and protect him. This has left him with both physical and emotional scars. His memory of some of those incidents is fading, either because of the passage of time, or because his brain is suppressing them to protect himself.
Fast-forward three years from that night snuggling Tariku, and I found myself on a ranch in Colorado at a retreat. One of the women there who knew nothing about me was praying for me. In the middle of her prayer she stopped, caught her breath, and then said, “Wow, does your son ever have an anointing on him for justice!” I’ll never forget that moment, because it was a confirmation of what I’d felt since getting to know my son. It also was a strong reminder to me that God is a redeemer of all things – even the things that make no sense.
What I believe is this: Tariku suffered many things that no child should ever have to face. But it is precisely what he suffered that has made him who he is today – a tender and kind boy with a gigantic heart. His compassion for those who are hurting and in need is simply humbling. Whether he is playing in a fountain downtown with a lonely homeless man who suddenly finds himself smiling as Tariku splashes him, encouraging a friend at school, or raising money so people can have clean water, Tariku has learned to look out for those who are overlooked in the world because he knows what that feels like himself.
When I look at my son, I am simply in awe. I am so proud, so humbled, and so blessed to be his mama. While I wish that the character traits I so admire in Tariku could have been formed in him some other way, I trust the Keeper of his journey. For I know that the beauty that’s born out of suffering is some of the most powerful stuff of this earth.
If you’d like to contact Tariku and Amy directly, you can email them at: email@example.com
Photos by: Chris and Jenny Telfer