Pictured while touring ancient churches carved out of the rocks in Lalibela, Ethiopia, from left, back row, are Jacques and Jane Cousineau, Joan Doupe, Jeff Doupe. Front row: Gabby Doupe, Emmett Doupe, Anna Doupe and Bob Doupe.
Anna Doupe and her husband Jeff first visited the landlocked east African nation of Ethiopia in 2008, when they were bringing home their then-nine month old daughter Gabrielle. Since then, though Gabrielle has experienced life here in rural Southwestern Ontario in her adoptive nation of Canada, her parents have endeavoured to keep some of the culture from the country she was born in her life.
“We celebrate Ethiopian New Years and Christmas, which are at different times of the year because they have a 13-month calendar,” Doupe said. “Ethiopian New Years is actually in September and Christmas is in January. So, we’ve always tried to include that.”
In addition, they spend time with the friends they made during the adoption process, who have also adopted children from Ethiopia. Several times a year they’ll head to London’s Addis Ababa Restaurant, which offers up Ethiopian cuisine, and Doupe herself has become skilled at cooking several Ethiopian dishes. But despite all these ways they’ve kept Ethiopian culture alive in their home, “We always knew we wanted to go back there at some point,” Doupe said.
“We wanted to go when our kids were old enough that they would remember, but also in hopes our parents were young enough that they could still come and enjoy the trip with us,” she said. “This was a good time for us to go with our kids and parents at the age they are.”
From May 14-28, Doupe’s parents Jacques and Jane Cousineau and her husband Jeff’s parents Bob and Joan Doupe joined the two of them and their children Emmett, 10, and Gabrielle, 8, on a one-of-a-kind trip to Ethiopia including stops in the capital city of Addis Ababa, a resort in the lakeside city of Bahir Dar, and the ancient holy city of Lalibela, home to rock-hewn churches dating all the way back to the 12th Century.
Doupe said they planned the trip based mainly on recommendations from friends. “A lot of people in the adoption community who have adopted kids from Ethiopia actually go back quite often,” she said. “So, there are lots of resources there I could reach out to in planning the trip.”
There first stop was Addis Ababa, where they had arranged to hire a driver with a van to transport them around the city and also to translate for them, as the most common language spoken there is Amharic.
Doupe said she was told around 7 million people live in and around the capital, which was in the middle of a busy construction season, spurred on by a great deal of Chinese investment in the region. “It’s an adjustment for us to go to a city, because we live in St. Marys,” she said. “But as well as there being people everywhere, people walking goats and donkeys along the side of the road, we were also adjusting to a different culture.”
Doupe described visiting a centre run by the group Canadian Humanitarian, through which the Doupes sponsor a young Ethiopian girl in Addis Ababa, allowing her to attend school as well as before- and after-school programs. “They talked to us about what they’re doing, and where the money goes that we send,” she said. “We took some donations there as well, and got to meet the little girl there who we sponsor, who is about 7-8, and we got to see where she lived. It was very cool to do that when we were in the city.”
They also visited a museum housing the fossil remains of “Lucy,” which was hailed as an important link in human evolution when it was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, and spent a night out enjoying a traditional Ethiopian dinner along with dancers and music. On their return to the capital several days later, they traveled to Mount Entoto which, at around 3,200 metres above sea level (about twice as high as Denver), is a popular training site for Ethiopia’s many excellent long distance runners.
Doupe described Bahir Dar as a “tropical-feeling city” where they had some rest and relaxation, as well as going on a hike across some suspension bridges and seeing the Blue Nile Falls.
And, even though they weren’t sure it could happen when they left Canada, the trip also included a morning spent with Gabrielle’s birth mother. “It’s really difficult to locate people in Ethiopia,” Doupe said. “It’s not like here where everyone has a fixed address and a phone and things like that. We didn’t know that would happen when we went, but we had been searching for her and we were lucky enough that that happened.”
Reflecting on the trip, Doupe said one lasting impression she had of the country was the diversity of the different areas they saw. “A couple of the places we went to were at a super high altitude, so it wasn’t very hot, even though we were close to the equator,” she said. “It was only about 24 degrees when we were in the capital, so it was quite comfortable. When we went into the north, it was really majestic and mountainous, and we looked over lush valleys and sat out and watched the sunset over this beautiful view. Then, in Bahir Dar it was very tropical with palm trees and a lake.”
Sounds like a trip worth making again in the not too distant future.