Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lucky To Be Adopted

Did I ever tell you that I was adopted?

Yep. I was taken in by an Afghani family back in the 1980's. They had boys my age that liked to play soccer. They had cute girls and they had a mother that cooked food like I'd never had before. It was a significant step into a new culture for me.

Actually, my church had chosen to sponsor a refugee family from Afghanistan. I knew a little about the plight of the Afghani people after the Russians invaded but I didn't really know what to expect when this family came to Maine. The only experience I had with refugees was in a Tom Petty song.

 Our church was going to help them get settled and acclimate them to a new life in the United States. My parents were involved in the process, and I was just along for the ride.

As I got to know the family, I couldn't help but spend more and more time with them. All that really mattered to me was that they had boys my age, pretty girls that would smile at me and a mother that could cook. It was no wonder that I found myself over to their house many an evening. And it always seemed that I'd arrive just a little prior to dinner. Funny how that'd happen.

I knew I'd offend them if I didn't stay to eat with them, and I can still recall their mother saying "I like to see you eat". I certainly didn't want to disappoint her.

Well, today, I sat down to an Indian food buffet with one of my Afghani brothers, Fawad Atebar.  I hadn't seen him in about 30 years. He's a few years younger than I and almost as good looking. He and his wife and children were in Maine and he chased me down. It was wonderful to see him again and catch up on his, I mean our, family.

It reminded me of those wonderful days with the Atebar family. His father was a major general in the Afghani army. He was forced to flee and wound up in the U.S. It was a difficult adjustment for a family that had everything back in Afghanistan but had to start over here.

I remember playing soccer with the boys and even sister Reta would join us on occassion. I remember going to the movies and going swimming and just spending time with the Atebar family in their home. I met other members of the Afghani community. They were all wonderful people. I had one of the best and most competitive games of volleyball when myself and one other American joined a bunch of Afghani men for some fun and intense games.

For a kid in high school, it was a tremendous learning experience. I learned all about their culture and the injustice of the Soviet invasion. I even wrote an essay in high school based on a story General Atebar told me. It was about Afghani children finding shiny objects that looked like toys, only to discover they were Russian mines that would blow up in the hands and faces of the innocent. A lot of my views on war and justice were certainly formed during that time.

Growing up in Maine, I hadn't met a lot of people that were different from me. The red-headed red-necked kid from Texas that moved up the street from me was about as foreign as it got.  The Atebar's had a different religion. They're culture was completely different to me. They looked different. I was the pale shaggy-haired white son.

And did I mention the food? My family, you know the one I was born with, were never really adventurous when it came to meals. My Dad never could learn the difference between a taco and burrito.  So Afghani food was completely new to me. I still don't know what the dishes were called. I just called them good. And  I just know I still miss it after 30 years.

They were good-hearted people. They had been through great hardship and faced adversity I couldn't imagine. Yet, they were kind, gracious and wonderful. They were my family.

After living in Maine for two years or so, they moved out to California, where another son had settled. That was the last time I saw them or heard from them until reconnecting with two of my Afghani brothers via Facebook.

When I talked to Fawad on the phone the other night, he told me how he had gone to visit my mother and how grateful his family is for what people like us did for them way back then. General Atebar now has 32 grandchildren. Fawad and his lovely wife have three of them. They are wonderful kids, one of which gave me a huge hug when she first met me and couldn't get enough hugs from her Uncle just before she left. It made a wonderful day that much greater.

When I think about how well the family is doing now and the start they had here, I'm glad and proud to have been part of it. It is nice knowing that helping somebody in such a way can have such a wonderful impact. I really wasn't trying to do good, but I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do so.

But what amazes me most isn't what we were able to do for them back then. It is what they did for us. I've been thinking about all the benefits of being part of their family, all the fun we had, all the things I learned from them, the impact they had on the person that I've become.

It was a great experience and a great gift to my life. I'm so lucky to have been adopted.

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