Ethiopia to America: Junior Shares Her Adoption Journey

Junior Jameson Ellerbee looks down at a dress that her parents bought for her shortly before she left for the United States. It was the first time she'd gone shopping for something that wasn't food.

Junior Jameson Ellerbee looks down at a dress that her parents bought for her shortly before she left for the United States. It was the first time she'd gone shopping for something that wasn't food.

Junior Jameson Ellerbee looks down at a dress that her parents bought for her shortly before she left for the United States. It was the first time she'd gone shopping for something that wasn't food.

Tony Madden, Reporter

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On February 4, 2008, Menkem Eyob’s life changed for the better. The day that she thought would never arrive came; she was adopted from her crowded orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was on her way to a new life in America.

Menkem, now known as junior Jameson Ellerbee, often gratefully looks back on everything that happened in February of 2008.

“I was given an awesome opportunity,” Ellerbee says.

Ellerbee’s journey to the United States was never something she actually thought would happen. She described how there were so many children in her orphanage that potential adoption was often thought impossible.

“America was like heaven…We can’t imagine heaven now, and I couldn’t imagine America then,” Ellerbee said. “…I think it’s kind of a miracle.”

Ellerbee was only eight years old when she and her brother Filimon Eyob (now Josh Ellerbee) began the long journey to America. They were on their way to a much better life, but had to learn to overcome countless cultural barriers in the United States. Ellerbee says that one of the hardest was learning English, as she had spoken the Amharic language since she was born.

“I didn’t speak any English, so communication was a big problem with my family,” Ellerbee said. Ellerbee went on to explain how within a year, she had near completely forgotten her native language of Amharic and was able to speak fluent English.

She also emphasized how much more conservative the people of Ethiopia were than in the United States. She described how it was strange not to see as many women wearing hijab in the U.S.

“Women are more modest,” Ellerbee explained.

The treatment of women was another cultural difference that Ellerbee had to face in the United States. She explained how women are often treated with little to no respect. She says that “traditional” family values were still very important in Ethiopia.

“…Men would go to work and females would stay home and take care of the children,” she said.

Ellerbee went on to explain how it was even often frowned upon for women to get an education. She says she doesn’t actually think high school would be a part of her daily routine if she’d never been adopted.

“I don’t know if I would be trying to get more education just because women don’t do that that often,” Ellerbee says. “It’s not very common.”

Cultural differences in American society weren’t the only thing Ellerbee had to face after the adoption. She described how home life with the Ellerbee family was strikingly different than life in the crowded Ethiopian orphanage. She explained how everything from school to the meals were strikingly different.

“We would wake up and have breakfast at a certain time…Then some days of the week we went to school; it wasn’t very consistent,” she says. “So whenever we couldn’t go to school, we’d come back and do chores.”

According to Ellerbee, the “women in the kitchen” stigma was even seen in the children’s daily chores.

“Women would most likely be in the kitchen doing dishes. Some guys had to hang up the cloth diapers,” she said.

Ellerbee says that while she’s grateful to live in place where misogyny and sexism isn’t as big of an issue, she didn’t have as much of an issue with it as one might think.

“If we don’t see anything else that’s better than that, we’re not concerned with it. I hadn’t seen anything better for women,” she says.

Ellerbee is now, however, unspeakably grateful to live in a place where gender equality is so prevalent. She’s particularly grateful for her access to education, which she most likely wouldn’t have had if she still lived in Addis Ababa.

“I was able to receive an education and go to school and reach my full potential,” she said.

Ellerbee went on to explain how exceedingly grateful she was through the adoption, as she was finally able to have a home and a family. Her new life in America did not, however, stop her from staying in contact with family members back in Ethiopia, which Ellerbee appreciated greatly.

“It wasn’t a closed adoption…I still have a few cousins that I communicate with on the daily basis,” Ellerbee said.

One of Ellerbee’s favorite memories from the transition from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Springfield, Missouri was one of the first. When the Ellerbee family first came to Ethiopia to bring both Ellerbee and her brother back to the United States, they went on a shopping trip. Ellerbee bought a white dress (photo above right) and scarf, along with a small leather purse. It was the first time she had gone shopping for anything other than food.

“I felt so wealthy wearing the purse,” Ellerbee said. “The idea that I would have things of my own to put in the purse was more exciting.”

According to Ellerbee, she was also taken aback when she saw how many personal possessions her family had. It was an unusual concept to be so fortunate where she was from. She remembers one story in particular about the clothes in her sister’s closet.

“I put on every clothing I saw…When I could not put on anymore clothes, I carried them with me,” Ellerbee said. She went on to explain how when she went into the living room with all of those clothes on, her family laughed at her, but she didn’t understand what was so funny.

“I wasn’t sure why they were laughing all the time. They had all these great clothes and I was confused why they would leave them,” Ellerbee said.

While Ellerbee’s journey to America definitely improved her life, the adoption brought with it many lessons. Some were good lessons, and some not so good. She described how she often feels regretful because she understands that many of the kids in the Addis Ababa orphanage were not as lucky as she was.

“Bad things do happen to good people…I’m very grateful, but at the same time I feel kind of guilty…Everyone deserves happiness,” Ellerbee says.

Having been through all of this, Ellerbee even learned more about herself. She explained how she thinks adoption of a child is in her future, too.

“My mom was adopted and I think she felt like she owed something to the world. I think I would do the same,” Ellerbee says. “You get something, you give something.”

Ellerbee has but one thing to say about her adoption that she believes everyone could benefit from. She says that while she learned it from her childhood, the lesson is still relevant to everyone.

“Life is life. Whether you live in Ethiopia or here, life is just as difficult- maybe just on a different scale. But you still have to work hard every day and you still have to persevere, because you’re always going to be faced with difficulty,” Ellerbee says.

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Ethiopia to America: Junior Shares Her Adoption Journey