In quest for one’s roots

When the young man began searching for his biological parents, this was what he knew of his own rather humble beginnings: he was born in Addis Ababa, left inside a church by his mother and was then adopted by a Dutch family. However, he had no idea that his pursuit to find his biological parents would lead him to numerous twists and turns. Giving up one’s child is not something easy and finding one’s roots could also turn out to be quite difficult, writes Tibebeselassie Tigabu.

In this particular neighborhood, there is no clear distinction between private and public life. There are no secrets and everything is exposed and is known by everyone. However, in some instances, the truth might be diluted with rumors and exaggerations.

The arrival of Girma Seggar, 22, in the Kaliti area about a month ago was not seen differently. His unfamiliarity was questioned and scrutinized by the people living in the area. Girma parked his grey Toyota Vitz on the gravel road and that attracted the attention of the semi-urban settlement.

“Doesn’t he look like her?” many whispered to each other and one woman responded, “He looks very much like her.”

Girma was on a mission. He wanted to know his roots and started to explain to the community that he came from the Netherlands looking for his deceased parents.

Adopted at a young age, Girma arrived in this area to look for his father. That was when he was told stories concerning his mother’s private affairs with various men, how she died of HIV/AIDS, the relationship she had with her abusive husband and her three miscarriages. Older women, who claimed to have known her, told him that she was only 16 when she was married or when she had him. They then started speculating about who would be a potential father—was it the waiter or the man who was in the military? The older women kept on guessing.

A tall light-skinned woman with faded tattoo on her neck started to weep while looking at Girma; the young dreadlocked diaspora who speaks a foreign tongue. He tried to make perfect use of the little Amharic he knows and asked her if she knew his mother. “Yes! I knew your mother. She was a close friend of mine,” she said in a very sad mood.

The whispers continued between the light-skinned woman and his mother’s aunt, which again led another neighbor to intervene and say that she also knew his mother while code-switching between Amharic and Oromiffa. Girma stepped inside the huge semi-rural mud-covered house and sat to talk with the women about his parents. He showed them a tattoo on his back with his mother’s name—it made them really sad.

Even though there were so many potential fathers at hand, one of the women said it was Alelign, the husband. “But,” the woman started to say, “If she [Girma’s mother] had a baby in wedlock, why did he [Girma] become a secret?” she asked in a speculative manner. Then she realized one thing and said that Alelign was an abusive husband and Girma’s mother faced three miscarriages. So she had to run away to protect her baby. Girma also seems to believe this observation. He said it is obvious that if the relationship was abusive, she did not want him to grow up there and had to run away. “She lost three babies and maybe she felt that I had to live; but I don’t know,” Girma said.

The woman was sure and did not even flinch for a moment that he is Alelign’s son, which led Girma to believe this new narrative. Still, everything was confusing for Girma; his adoption, his father, everything.

The official story he heard was that he was abandoned inside Abo Church in the Saris area with a note addressed to his uncle (his mother’s brother). In the note, his mother apologized for leaving all of a sudden but said that she wished for a better life. Having a deep affection for his biological mother, he strongly believes she abandoned him so that he can have a better life. “I cannot imagine what it feels to abandon your child but am sure that she sacrificed everything so that I can have a better life,” Girma said.

After he was found, one of the priests notified the police and he was taken to Black Lion Hospital. During his stay at the hospital, a Norwegian adoption organization wanted to take him but refused after his blood test.

The little helpless boy was brought back to the hospital because his blood test showed that he was HIV positive. The only choice he had was to be transferred to a local orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. While waiting for a vehicle to go to the orphanage, a Dutch woman named Pauline saw him and said that he looked strong to have HIV/AIDS when compared to other children who are infected by the virus. “What can I say? I guess it was luck,” Girma said.

According to Girma, the Dutch woman took care of him for three weeks and transferred him to a woman named Askale, who takes care of abandoned and disabled children. After aggressive antiretroviral therapy treatment, he was declared HIV negative and was finally put up for adoption. 

“I was adopted by a Dutch couple whom I came to know as my family,” Girma said, adding that his adoptive parents are great. “However, I always felt some void and that there is something missing in my life.”

When he was a baby—whenever he sees a black woman—he would ask his adoptive mother if that person was his mother. “I envied the black community in Holland. You need to have someone who has the same ethnic background as you. In an environment such as Holland, you are constantly reminded of you alienation,” Girma said.

So did he experience racism? “Of course! There were a lot of incidents,” Girma said.

Upon his arrival, their neighbors gave his family chocolate-coated marshmallow treats a.k.a. “negro kisses” as a welcoming present for his adoptive parents. “They just wanted to say that they adopted a Negro,” Girma said. “I was smart and good in sports and they liked me but they reminded me that I was different,” he said.

In Holland there are youth sport clubs and he was in one and happened to be the only black kid a team.

He said that after various games, the players shook hands with one another but refused to shake his hand because they said, “it was dirty”. In addition to that, according to Girma, they made monkey sounds and the referee did not do anything. “I was 11 and they made me feel like I was nothing,” Girma said.

Two years ago, he went to purchase an iPad at a second-hand store and when he handed cash to the receptionist she refused to accept the money alleging that it was fake. “She said that she knew my type and I told her to get the police and that I got the money from an ATM,” he said. Police came and after the commotion it was resolved. “You always need to prove your worth. You have to smile in Holland to remind them that the black community is good. It drains your energy when your every motive is questioned. I don’t feel that here,” Girma said.

Girma is not bitter but is rather full of energy about his future plans. “It didn’t make me a victim. There are far worse things and it actually made me see through it. If I put a lot of energy to it, it is going to be a distraction. It distracts me from what I really want. I believe that the new generation is different in Holland because of the exposure. The Prime Minister’s daughter might listen to Lil Wayne; so, yeah, it is changing,” Girma said.

His adoptive mother did not hide his story and initiated the search of his biological parents. Since there was no platform, they announced his life story on Fana Radio some ten years ago.

Information about where he was found and some details where attached in the police files along with his adoption papers. Coincidentally, his uncle was listening to the radio and after that showed up with a pile of pictures of his deceased mother.

He learned about the difficult childhood of his mother who was also adopted at a young age. She was married at a young age, run away from her marriage, gave birth to Girma and left the baby at the church. After a short while she was sick and died of HIV/AIDS.

They went to Abo Church together to trace what happened. But the burning question was who his father was? According to Girma’s uncle, she was very secretive about the father and said that he was a driver from a far place. Girma also believed this story for so long.

This, however, changed when he met a certain Ethiopian man in a tournament in Germany, while he was playing football with the Ethiopian community there. Girma talked about how eager he was to go back to Ethiopia and showed his family pictures to the Ethiopian man. The man said that he identified an individual in one of the pictures as the man who adopted his biological mother and suggested connecting him with his own father who happens to know details about Girma’s family.

The father knew Yenenesh (the name of Girma’s mother) and a boyfriend, Demiss, before she was married. So Girma contacted Demiss, who would potentially be his father. The family accepted him well and many of the family members talked about possible similarities. “He saw me like a son and I wanted to believe that he was my dad,” Girma said. 

When Girma left for Holland their farewell was very emotional but the DNA result proved that they were not related. According to Girma, they were so disappointed that they accused his adoptive family of trying to tamper with results but he later on found out that it was not true. “If I am destined to find my father, I will find him,” Girma said.

He did not give up and for the second time he found another potential father. According to Girma, the dates, the story and the timeline all seemed to match up with the previous information he had.

Especially, when looking at the picture of his second potential father, he started to believe in the possibility that he might turn out to be the father he was looking for. In this latest adventure, Tadele Bitul (Eng.), a renowned figure that was instrumental in the return of the Axum obelisk, became a potential great-uncle of Girma.

Engineer Tadele embraced him with open arms though he did not have enough information about Girma since he lived most of his life abroad. His potential grand-aunt, a very spiritual monk, also accepted him as part of the family. When he was in the house she grabbed his hand and studied his hand structure and said that he is in the family. He met the rest of the family, including a very nice uncle. Girma showed pictures of his childhood that sparked a surprise from his uncle’s side who showed him a picture of his daughter saying they look like identical twins. “Honestly, we do look alike but more babies, who are not related, also look alike,” Girma said.

The feeling was good but considering his last experience with the former potential father he is wary about the possibilities. “I have been there before. So, emotionally, I didn’t want to dwell on it. I was happy that there is a potential father but I kept in mind that DNA result is basically everything,” Girma said.

He learned a different version of his potential father’s story. He is not abusive but was rather a good man. “It is very important to know what kind of person he was. I want to find myself in that,” Girma said.

“Since, he died young, you cannot ask the family to paint his real picture. So I don’t know what the real picture is,” Girma said.

Though this time around, he is a bit sure when taking into account the looks and the timeline but does not hide the fact that he is nervous. “If he is not my potential father, I honestly don’t know where to start,” Girma said.

Secrecy and many confusing stories are in the middle of the whole situation. “The story changes from time to time since it is not written. People want to add their own truth. Yes, it is very difficult to get a picture of what happened 22 years ago,” Girma said.

Girma is a passionate football lover and plays for the DHC in the 2nd highest league of amateur football in the Netherlands, and the fourth tier in general. He also works for a company called R and D on a media project that is in the process of starting a television show that analyzes football to fully utilize the untapped potential of football in Ethiopia for development.