From the other side of the world: Freshman from Ethiopia relates experiences

January 22, 2015 — by Rachel Hull and Michelle Leung

Sept. 24, 2011. Four years later, freshman Solomon Bailey can still remember the exact date he came to America — and he will likely never forget it. 

Sept. 24, 2011. Four years later, freshman Solomon Bailey can still remember the exact date he came to America — and he will likely never forget it.

Solomon hails from Gonder, Ethiopia. After his parents passed away when he was 4, he was placed in the care of his aunt, and when she too passed away five or six years later, he ended up in an Ethiopian orphanage.

The orphanage was fairly small and housed more than 100 children. Because it was part of an apartment building, the children were not allowed to play for fear that they would disturb  tenants with their noise.

Instead, they mostly watched TV and movies, which Solomon said sometimes made him unhappy because he wanted to be outside playing soccer.

He said the orphanage was “not really strict,” but certain restrictions conflicted with his individual needs.

For example, he and all the other children were required to sleep for four hours after lunch, which posed a problem for Solomon, who often has trouble sleeping.

“We’d get in trouble if we don’t sleep,” he said. “We can’t get dinner or something if we don’t sleep. We have to go to sleep.”

One year into his time at the orphanage, he was adopted. His adoptive parents found him through Adoption Associates, Inc. (AAI), a Michigan-based organization that facilitates both domestic and international adoptions.

Four years ago, Solomon and his biological sister Bertukan, 12, joined the Bailey family, which includes two other adopted children: Bereket, 11, also from Ethiopia, and Alex, 17, from Russia.

His adoptive parents are Howard Bailey, who helps sell businesses, and Tanya Kudar, admissions director for nursery through grade eight at Waldorf School of the Peninsula. Solomon described his dad as fairly laid-back, whereas his mom is somewhat stricter.

According to Solomon, prospective parents working with AAI have the opportunity to visit an orphanage in Ethiopia for a week before taking any children home. After the week is over, the parents return home while the children they intend to adopt are extensively tested for diseases.

Upon arriving at the more affluent Saratoga, Solomon was welcomed by members of his new family. He said that he and his father have become particularly close, and Solomon enjoys playing tennis and talking with him.

“Anything I would ask him, he would do it. He supports me,” Solomon said. “I love soccer; I’m a soccer player, [so] any time that I have soccer, it doesn’t matter what: he will allow me to play. Even if I don’t do [my] homework, he will still let me play.”

Solomon said that his bonds with his adopted siblings are strong as well. He often plays basketball or soccer with his sisters, and he draws and plays video games with his brother, a person Solomon described as an artist with a particular knack for drawing cars.

Solomon said that for him, having an older brother is “really awesome.”

“He lets me do anything,” Solomon said. “He shares his stuff with me; he helps me with things. Like usually I have [soccer] practice at 6, and he will do my chores for me so I don’t have to come home tired and have to do all that stuff. And when he leaves, I do his stuff, so we help each other.”

Despite his family’s welcoming attitude, Solomon initially struggled to adjust to life in America. Although he was exposed to English because of the Americans who frequently visited his orphanage in Ethiopia, he still found the language difficult to catch on to.

“In the beginning, I couldn’t talk, because I don’t know how to talk,” he said. “I don’t want to mess up; I don’t want people to think I’m not smart. So now when I talk to someone, I’m not 100 percent sure that what I’m saying, if I’m saying it right or if I’m saying it wrong.”

Solomon also noticed that the sense of community in Saratoga is vastly different from that in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, Solomon and his neighbors interacted on a daily basis through activities like playing on the streets in front of their houses. But since Solomon’s current home is in a semi rural area, this is no longer possible.

“There, the neighbors are much closer to each other,” he said. “We’re like a family, just a town, we’re like a family. Here, it’s not like that. We knew each other, like we talk when we see each other, but we can’t really spend time with them.”

Solomon initially attended the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a private school in Mountain View, before he switched to Saratoga for his freshman year.

Part of Waldorf’s philosophy is the notion that electronic media and technology are detrimental to children’s development, and thus the school focuses more on activities such as singing, painting and knitting.

“There, they won’t allow any electronic device, so the school is everything handwritten, hand-drawn and everything, like you can’t use a computer,” Solomon said. “So my dad said it would be a better education for me to come here and learn.”

In addition, according to Solomon, Waldorf’s sports programs are not comparable with a public high school’s.  As an up-and-coming soccer player who is now on the school’s varsity team, he felt that Saratoga High would give him more athletic opportunities.

Initially, Solomon was slightly overwhelmed by all of the unfamiliar faces at SHS, especially since at Waldorf, there were only about 20 students in each grade.

“[In] the middle school, we were like family,” he said. ”Everybody knew everybody. I knew all the kids in the middle school and even the high school. It was a small school.”

Though SHS is not nearly as tight-knit, Solomon said that teachers and students here have treated him well. He also knew a few students before moving schools because he plays soccer in Saratoga’s American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).

Ultimately, his life in Saratoga has been defined by his family. He can still recall his excitement when he met Alex for the first time.

“My brother, he wanted a brother,” Solomon said, “just like I wanted a brother, because I’d never had a brother.”

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