ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
To watch the tiny triplets named Poulos, Petros, and Fekerte as they gurgle, wiggle, and smile on the playground of a spartan foster home here, it doesn't seem possible that they've already survived serious hardships - or that they're about to join some of the world's most privileged children.
Nine months ago, in a remote and dusty town, their mother died during childbirth, along with a fourth newborn. Weak and ill, the three survivors were brought to a teeming orphanage and then to a warm-hearted nurse, who stayed up three nights straight, to ensure none of them passed away.
Now, like growing numbers of African orphans, they'll soon be transported by adoptive American parents into a world of minivans, Macy's stores, and play dates. Their new home: a five-bedroom colonial in New York's wooded suburbs.
Their story hints at how the explosion in international adoptions by US parents is now reaching the globe's remotest regions. While US foreign adoptions have long centered on Russia and the Far East, Africa has seen a small but steady increase over the past few years, making for record numbers of adoptions from countries like Ethiopia and Liberia.
"There's a clear and growing will- ingness to form multiracial and multinational families, and that's teaching us all new things about what families look like," says Adam Pertman, head of New York's Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Here in Ethiopia, Americans adopted 114 orphans during the US government's 2002 fiscal year. In fiscal 2003, 190 were adopted. In 2004, some 400 to 500 adoptions are expected. That could put Ethiopia in the top 10 countries from which Americans adopt.
In 2001, Liberia became the second sub-Saharan African country to be in the top 20 US adoption spots, with 51 adoptions. One agency alone has placed about 140 Liberian kids in the US and Canada since 1996. Sierra Leone is the only other African country that allows American agencies to facilitate adoptions. (Others allow them on a case-by-case basis.)