Written by Cindy Horswell of the Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — The skinny Ethiopian boy was only 4 years old when his struggling family left him at an orphanage, certain this was his quick ticket to an adoption in America and future success.

But Ayenew, who didn’t know why he’d been abandoned, was equally certain that God was angry with him.

His frightened almond-shaped eyes were the only means he had to communicate his utter confusion as he spoke a language — one of the 80 used in the African nation — that no one at the orphanage in Addis Ababa understood.

His only solace came when he befriended another boy his age, Kidane, who had been ordered to share his bed with Ayenew.
They later helped each other fend off bullies and consoled each other when they were whipped with hoses and boards.

But in 2010, after three years in the orphanage, Ayenew was adopted by Trish and Bill Devany of Spring Branch. They arrived the morning after he’d prayed that someone would want him for their son, even though he thought God couldn’t possibly see him there.

“It was my luckiest day,” he said.

Kidane was happy for Ayenew, saying his friend had been much “sadder” than he and less able to cope. Ayenew’s new family left a photograph of the two best friends standing together for the last time. Although elated about his new life, he hugged his best friend and cried about leaving him behind.

That was the last the boys saw of each other — until this week in Houston, when the two 9-year-olds were reunited.

Kidane flew here with his new parents, Valerie and Russell Haveman, who took him to their home in Bismarck, N.D., a year after Ayenew left.

“It’s fortunate that Kidane ended up in North Dakota,” said Ayenew’s mother, Trish. “He loves the snow, which our son would hate. The Ethiopian national language doesn’t even have a word for it. They just call it ‘frozen rain.’?”

Both boys had kept the framed picture of their last day together in the orphanage by their beds in their new homes, reminding them how they used to sing each other to sleep in the darkness.

They sang again, in Ethiopian, after first hugging and greeting each other in English. Kidane translated, saying it asks “God to come here, bring the children close to you.”

His mother, Valerie said, “It’s wonderful to hear them sing and talk together. They have such a shared history that nobody else could understand.”

Ayenew came from a southern Ethiopian village, nestled in the green countryside where his birth father grew coffee. He recalls helping tend crops and herding cows into thatched huts at night to protect them from hyenas. His modest home had no electricity or running water, and food was scarce. Yet he felt safe and loved there.

Still, his birth parents knew his future was bleak. So they took him to the orphanage, wanting more for at least one of their seven children.

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