Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New house progress

To be honest,  there isn't a lot of progress. We have been driven almost insane by our contractor's promises and failure to keep those promises. You all remember in the beginning he said it would for sure be done by April, no problem. Then they pretty much weren't at the house at all in April. We told him we'd already sent out Vivi's birthday invitations since he said it would be done, so he said he'd have the bathroom done for sure by her party. Then he said he hadn't ordered the sink yet, but we would have drywall and tile and he'd put the utility tub in there so people could wash their hands. Well, he did get the toilet hooked up, which we appreciated, but the day before the party there was still no door on the bathroom, no tile, no sink, and no drywall. We used cardboard to patch up a couple of holes in the wall so nobody could see into the bathroom, and put a table next to the toilet with hand sanitizer and toilet paper on it. It was very classy ;)

He is still swearing it will be done by the middle of June, but so far, almost nothing is done. We have tile in the bathroom, and the tub is installed, but we still need the bathroom vanity with sinks and bathtub faucet, the toilet got moved back out so the tile could go in and it hasn't been replaced, and the rest of the house needs new drywall, windows, flooring, the kitchen cabinets and everything that goes into putting the kitchen together, and the back room, which was really damaged, has to be basically rebuilt inside and out. Not to mention the grading on the outside of the house, putting in the patio, and patching up the garage. Raise your hand if you think that will all be done in 2 weeks. Anyone? No? Neither do we. 

But here is our current pride and joy, the tile and tub in the bathroom. I put in a before picture to show the difference. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Journey is coming home soon!

Phew! Now that I finally got the whole trip journal up, I can continue with our current life. I didn't want to interrupt it with other stuff.

On the 18th of this month, we learned that Journey's documents were submitted to the US embassy in Ethiopia. This morning, we learned that she was cleared! With the help of our agency, we submitted a couple of dates in June and they will try to fit us into their schedule. We should hear on Tuesday, and will most likely be sometime in June. Eric is going alone this time, and will spend 4-5 days away. He'll get Journey and have an interview at the embassy, then it will take a couple of days to get her visa, and then they can come home!

We'll keep you posted!

Day 7: Goodbye for now

To read about our adventure from the beginning, scroll down :)

I got all of the packing done the night before after getting back from visiting Little Boy so that we would have the whole day to spend with the kids. We woke up early to do some last minute packing, then got a ride to Journey’s orphanage. We spent some time playing with her, and were so sad to have to leave. It was a good thing our driver came to get us or we never would have left her! We all gave her lots of hugs and kisses and headed out.

We went back to the guest house for lunch, then walked to Little Boy’s orphanage. We wanted to stretch our legs since we knew we’d be on the plane for so long later, and it gave us a chance to get a few more pictures of the surrounding area. We stopped at a couple of shops along the way, a bakery, where we got a small loaf of bread for 1 birr (17 birr is $1 US), then we came to a tea processing and packaging factory. We had already bought a little bit of Addis tea because we liked it so much, but we bought a few more for gifts and souvenirs. We stepped into a store during a short downpour of rain and found some really cute spiral bracelets. I had seen women and girls wearing them. We haggled a little for a better price, and then went on our way. Little Boy ran right up to us again, and we took him outside to play. The big kids were in school and the other little ones stayed inside so Vivi and Brother had the yard to themselves. We got a lot of good pictures of them playing together. Brother even got Vivi to touch dirt, something she has been refusing to do! Little Boy was picking up little bits of dirt and bringing them to Eric, and Vivi sat and watched for a few minutes, I could tell she really wanted to do it too. Eventually she gave in and was all excited that she and brother were playing in the dirt together.

We went back inside to play and to see the other kids one more time. When it was almost time to go back to the guest house, I tried telling one of the nannies that we were going home, and asked her to explain to him that we would come back. She said something to him, and he looked at us and nodded. I hope he understood!

More hugs and kisses and we were on our way. We ate dinner at the guest house, rice with a tomato sauce with beans and a bit of meat in it. It had a real comfort food flavor to it. Then it was time to drag all of our luggage out to the gate. Abraham came to pick us up, loaded our stuff, and took us to the airport. 
During the drive, Abraham, who likes to talk and seems fascinated by American culture, told us about how he sees the differences between Ethiopians and Americans. He said that in America, everyone knows email and computers, even if you are a farmer. But in Ethiopia, he is a modern city man, but he doesn’t know email. It was really interesting to talk to him about the differences between our cultures. At the airport, Abraham hugged us and thanked us and wished us a safe trip. We took one last glance of Ethiopia, and then went into the airport. 

It was recommended that we arrive to the airport 3 hours early. We didn’t think we’d need that much time, but did it anyway, just in case. We were so glad we did! We stood in line after line, first to get our stuff scanned and walk through a scanner, you know the whole ‘take of your shoes’ things. Then to the airport packaging area, where we got our big basket wrapped for the plane, then in a looong line to check in. Luckily we got to leave our checked baggage there, and were able to talk to another adoptive family while we waited. We had to wait in 2 more lines to show our passports and tickets and customs to claim our stuff. Then we had to go up the stairs and stand in line to get checked in at the gate. We got all the way to the front of the line and the guy checked our tickets and told us we were at the wrong gate. Doh! We ran down to the correct gate and had to wait in line AGAIN! The family we had been talking to in line downstairs came and found us, and were holding Vivi’s ‘Little Tiana’ doll. Having so many other adoptive families in the country was such a blessing! At the gate, get this, we had to take off our shoes again, and go through another scanner! And we though American airports were tough! We had bought a piece of chocolate cake for Vivi while in line at the airport, which they served it on a glass plate with a metal fork (in an airport?!?) so when it was time to go in, we wrapped it in a napkin and returned the dishes. I was stopped and had to open the napkin and explain why I was carrying chocolate cake in my hand through the scanner. They were running everyone through so fast, and the guy who took our passports and tickets from Eric just tossed them on the conveyer belt along with his wallet, and it all went through ahead of him and there was a big crowd of people trying to get their shoes back on and collect their stuff, so he got a little bit stressed about that. And by the time we got through that, it was time to get in line to get on the plane! We were almost to the plane when Eric remembered that he had forgotten to grab a bag of extra souvenirs I had bought in the airport, and had to run back. They still had it, phew! It was such a relief to sit down on the plane!

The ride home was fairly easy. The plane took off at 10pm, and we were exhausted, so we all slept for a lot of the flight. Vivi got a little antsy toward the end, but we made it to Washington DC, then the little plane to Detroit, where my dad picked us up and brought us home sweet home!

Day 6: Shopping Day!

If you haven't read the first few days, scroll down! :)

Day 6, the day before our last day in the country, we got up early and wanted to get as much done as possible. Knowing that Eric would be back soon and could pick up any souvenirs we missed was a comfort so we didn't feel too rushed to get everything.

We hired a driver named Gimra to take us shopping on Churchill street in the morning. We expected that he would just wait in the car, but he came with us and helped tell us if the prices were too high. He also insisted on carrying our bags for us. Even though the street was crowded with people, we were the only white people, and when we got out of the car all the shop owners started calling to us to come to their shop. We started checking off our list of souvenirs we wanted to get for ourselves and for family and friends. After spending time with Little Boy, we realized that the size 4 traditional outfit we got him was too big, (he’s maybe an inch taller than Vivi and only a little wider), so we got a smaller one, a dress for me, a drum for Little Boy and rag dolls for Jenavieve and Journey, some really cool paintings on goat skins of biblical scenes, an Ethiopian style wooden cross, an Ethiopian flag (that a guy tried to charge us $20 for-we kept telling him no until he finally let us have it for $12, which we thought was fair enough), jewelry, scarves. I love that the people in the paintings look Ethiopian, which is more historically accurate than the blond haired, blue eyed art you can find in America. Gimra took us to a shop with just a walk up window that sold good berebere, Ethiopia’s famous spice mix. Then he took us to Tivoli, an American style restaurant. The food was very very good! Eric got a ridiculously spicy soup and a chicken burger with fries, and I got curry teriyaki chicken with rice. We also got some more of their thick, strong coffee, mmm!

We went back to the guest house for a little rest before calling for a ride to visit Journey. All of our usual guys were busy so we called another guy from the agency approved list, Ermias. While driving, he informed us that he is not just a driver, he is also a tour guide. He pointed out a lot of buildings and landmarks along the way. Another little thing about Addis is that you are not allowed to take pictures of any government building, including the presidential palace, court house, and police station. Ermias said it is for protection. The funny thing is though that everything has a big wall around it, so even if you did take a picture, you couldn’t see anything.

When we got to Journey’s orphanage, we were surrounded by the usual group of kids as we made our way up to the baby room. Journey was sitting in a crib with some other babies, and her face lit up when she saw us. I picked her up and she smiled at all 3 of us, which was so sweet! The nanny took her and changed her diaper and washed her face, then gave her back and we went outside to play. Sister Joan of Ark, the European nun who speaks English very well, saw us and came over to ask how court went. She was so happy that we passed. She told us that usually once a child passes court, they get moved to Layla house, our agency’s main orphanage, so that it’s easier to keep track of them and so that if they need to take them somewhere, they don’t have to drive the 20 minutes out. Journey is well known at the orphanage because she has been there for so long and is so sweet. Even the gate guards knew her name and she smiled really big at them. It must be bittersweet for them to see her go,

Sister Joan of Ark also shared her concerns with us about MOWA (ministry of women’s affairs) trying to slow down adoptions to prevent fraud. They cut down drastically the amount of cases they are processing each day-we just squeaked in before this happened-and the sister said that their goal is to stop international adoptions from Ethiopia. She said she doesn’t want to think about what would happen then, and she fears for the children because they need families, not an institutionalized life. We all hope it doesn’t come to that, that they can figure out a better way to prevent fraud.

Another family from our agency is waiting for a court date for 2 kids at this orphanage and asked us to check on them for us. I asked Sister Joan of Ark about them and she brought them out to play with us. We got a lot of pictures and spent enough time with them to know a little bit of their personalities. I’m so excited to be able to share that with their family while they wait.

After they went back to play with kids their own age, Vivi was hungry, so we sat down for a snack. I set Journey on the table, holding on to her because although she can sit, I still wasn’t sure how stable she was. She watched Vivi eating, then suddenly put her arms out on the table and started crawling! The table was small, so I took her over to the big porch and set her down in crawling position to see what she would do. Sure enough, she took off! It wasn’t in her paperwork that she could crawl, and the first day we just held and cuddled her, it never occurred to us that she might be a crawler. Another thing was that her paperwork said she has cerebral palsy, and another American who saw her said she didn’t know if that was true, but that her legs were pretty stiff. This could have been a true delay, or just a delay from being in an orphanage and not getting a lot of chance to use her legs. But watching her crawl, she didn’t seem to have any problems at all. We will see when she gets home.

Our visit with her went by so fast, and it was this day that we realized how hard it was going to be to leave her for an unknown amount of time. Having met the nannies at all 3 orphanages, they are all wonderful and we know she will be in good hands, but it will still be hard.

Ermias drove us by some more places he thought we should see, and made sure we were able to get pictures of the war memorial of those who died when the Italians invaded, and the big lion of Judah statue. He took us to a place with good whole bean coffee to buy, which pretty much finished our shopping list. We came back to the guest house, walked down to the shop to get a coke (which costs about 25 cents), and saw a herd of cows walking down the road. Vivi enjoyed mooing at them. Then it was time for dinner-spaghetti with boiled cabbage and bread.

After dinner, Abraham picked us up again to take us to see Little Boy. When we walked into the room, he ran up to Eric with a big grin and gave him a huge hug. He has definitely started forming a bond to him, but I think it will take him a little while to bond to me. Little Boy's 2 closest friends, Abebaw and Tariku, started posing for pictures right away. There are more boys than girls there, and all the little boys loved Eric. They even organized their own group shot on Eric’s lap, calling their friends into the picture, putting their arms around each other and saying cheese. One of the families I had emailed with before our trip came to see their little boy and we talked for awhile, which was nice. The nannies, despite carrying for kids all day every day, really enjoy playing with the kids and were going out of their way to play with Vivi so we could have some one on one time with Little Boy. They were hugging and kissing her, and they know she loves babies so they kept showing her the babies. She saw one nanny drinking tea and said “hot tea! Hot tea!” the nanny went out and got her her own cup of hot tea. The patience and love they have for kids is just remarkable. There are times when Vivi is especially whiny and clingy that I can’t wait for Eric to get home so I can get a break. These nannies are always holding someone, and seem happy to do it. They are such a blessing to these kids while they wait for families!

Day 5: A slow day

If you haven't read the first few days, scroll down!

Eric and I were both up all night with a stomach bug, so we took the morning off and just stayed around the guest house. We took a little walk and got some pictures of the flowers that grow here, then came back for a nap. I was so worried that we would be sick all day and not get to do anything, but luckily after the nap we both felt better. Vivi did develop a cough though. Little Boy and Journey both have coughs (along with most of the kids at the orphanages) so it didn’t surprise me. The siblings sharing their sicknesses starts now!

In the afternoon we called a driver to take us out to the Hilton to reconfirm our flight. Apparently if you don’t reconfirm, they might give away your seat. Luckily our seats were still there. The Hilton was in downtown Addis, it was so busy, even in the middle of the day. One thing that is so different here is the traffic. There are no street names, no speed limits, no traffic lights. You basically drive and honk if someone gets in your way. But a HUGE difference is that nobody gets mad about it. Road rage is not a thing here. If someone honks at you, you get out of the way. If there’s a traffic jam, you sit and wait. They have traffic circles with no yield signs, you just go, or if there’s a car going faster than you, you let them go first. There are no crosswalks, people cross the street wherever they are, even in the middle of a busy road. They just walk, and cars don’t slow down. They honk if a person isn’t getting out of the way fast enough, but the people seem pretty unfazed by the honking. Even the animals understand the traffic here. I saw a dog look both ways, wait for a couple of cars to pass, then trot across the road. People walk goats and donkeys down the sidewalk without any lead lines and they never stray. One of the other families had to move out of the way for a herd of cows just walking down the sidewalk. 

Anyway, we got back to the guest house and hung out for a little while until dinner was ready. Eleyhu’s wife (can’t remember her name, but she’s super sweet) made a yummy stew with beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions. It was so good to have a home cooked meal. We ate with another guest, a retired surgeon who was there doing surgeries on kids with cleft lips and palates. 

After dinner, one of the agency drivers picked us up to take us to see Little Boy. Again when we got there the big kids ran to the driver and asked who we were here for. He said “Little Boy family” and they started running around and cheering. A girl took my hand when we got out of the van and asked “Little Boy to America go?” I said yes but not today, and she looked very happy for him. She kissed Vivi’s hand, then started calling to the other kids, and I thought she was instructing them to kiss her hand too, until I realized that they were smelling her hand! I had put vanilla scented hand sanitizer on awhile before, and I guess her hands still smelled like it. The kids  He did a lot better this time, he was only shy for a couple of minutes before playing with us. A volunteer came in to meet us and ask whose family we were. When she learned we were Little Boy's family, she said “you must see him dance!” One of the nannies said something to Little Boy, and he went and turned on the tv to some kind of music channel. He and the other kids started dancing, and of course Vivi joined in too.

After leaving Little Boy, we had our driver, Abraham, take us to a grocery store to pick up some things. I got a couple big bags of shiro; when I asked our agency group what they bought, a lot of people said they wished they had gotten more shiro. With Eric going back at least one more time I can get him to pick up more if we really love shiro wat. We were also looking for shelf stable milk because Vivi went through it faster than we expected, but couldn’t find any. 

We went back to the guest house and looked through our souvenirs a little before heading to bed.

Day 4- Court

If you haven't read the first few days, scroll down!

We woke up early and got dressed and ready for court. We were picked up in a van with the other family that had court with us, as well as Eleni and a guy that I believe is the agency’s lawyer. We drove to a tall building and walked up like 6 flights of stairs (we were advised to dress nicely, so I wore a skirt and heels. I regretted the heels all day!) and into a crowded room. Eleni told us that everyone in the room was there for adoption. There were people speaking all different languages, it was pretty cool. We learned that knowing the right people makes a difference, because we were taken in after about only 5 minutes of waiting. The court hearing for our family and the other family happened at the same time. We were led into a room with a couple of women behind desks. The judge asked whose kids were whose and then asked about our other children, if we had met our new children, if we had become educated on Ethiopia, adoption, and possible identity issues that could come from adopting a child of another race and culture.

Then she said that Journey’s documentation was complete, and the other couple’s daughter’s was complete, but that Little Boy's was missing something and would have another hearing May 13th. Then she said “Elshaday (the other girl) and Selam have complete files. They are now yours.” she thanked us and that was it, we were on our way.

**To explain about not passing court for Little Boy, we don’t have to go back for the next court date because we appeared before the judge this time, and the agency's lawyer will act on our behalf.**

After court, we got back in the van, and went to Sabahar, which is a silk factory. And by factory, I mean rooms of people working spinning wheels and looms. We got to see silk worms and the butterflies they turn into, and the silk they spin. It was a really peaceful place, quiet, with lots of pretty flowers. We bought a pretty silk scarf that I think we are going to put in the girls’ room, and also some cotton washcloths.

We got back in the van and drove to a basket shop, which was a little hut on the side of a quiet road that was FULL of stuff. Baskets in all shapes and sizes, sculptures, wood and metal carved crosses, wood furniture-it was hard to move in there without touching something. We got a food serving basket with a lid, a big round basket with a lid that I LOVE even though it is huge and will be an adventure to get home, an open shallow basket, and a mancala set.

From there we stopped at a cd shop because another family with us has an Ethiopian daughter at home who wanted a cd from a specific artist. We got a kids dvd of Christian songs in Amharic. We were dropped back off at Layla and 2 of the families we had gotten close to went out to lunch, then back to Laya to talk to Gail about the embassy process and to sign some papers. This was when we finally saw a copy of Little Boy's birth certificate and learned his birthdate. It is approximate and probably not the day he was actually born but it is something, and he should be home to celebrate his 4th birthday with us. Gail also told us at this time that if we wanted to process their visas separately we could, so that Journey wouldn’t have to wait until Little Boy's documentation was just right. There were a lot of adoptive families at Layla that afternoon, and we had a good time talking to everyone and comparing stories. When adoptive families are the minority in play groups and the local community, it was really nice to have a community of all adoptive parents.

We finally got a ride home to change shoes and let Vivi have a nap (which she decided she didn’t need) and the wife of the guest house owner invited us to the traditional coffee ceremony. She had fresh grass and flowers on the floor with a little stool on top of it. On top of the stool was a tray with tiny tea cups and saucers. Next to that, she had a free standing little burner and she was stirring coffee beans with a stick on a round metal plate, roasting the beans. When she was done, she walked around the house and blew the fragrant smoke from the beans around. Then she took the plate outside and set it on the ground, where she continued stirring and took out beans that were bad. I didn’t notice a difference between the good and bad beans. Then she got out a big wooden mortar and what looked like a railroad tie, and the guard sat down and crushed the beans while the woman went inside to make popcorn. The beans smelled soo good as he was crushing them!

Once they were all crushed, he poured them into a cup and took them inside. She had water boiling and spooned the coffee grounds into the pot, swirling it around, and then put it back on the burner for a few minutes. She served the popcorn (popped in a pot with oil and then topped with sugar) in a big basket on the floor, which Vivi thought was pretty cool. Then she poured little cups of coffee for everyone in the guest house, and we sat and talked while we enjoyed the thick, strong coffee and the sweet, crunchy popcorn. It is such a peaceful, relaxing tradition!

We were supposed to meet everyone for dinner at a nice Ethiopian restaurant, but Vivi decided not to take a nap and was quite cranky so we decided to skip and instead had a relaxing evening at the guest house, and took a walk down to the grocery store to get some yummy snacks.

Day 3, part 2-One mishap after another

If you haven't read the first few days, scroll back to the beginning! 
We chose the guest house based on a file we read from our agency on different guest houses. It said it was about a 10 minute walk from our guest house to the orphanage. Eric thought the directions sounded really easy, so we started walking, and walking, and walking, and I didn’t recognize anything, but Eric thought we were still going the right way. When we came upon an ornate church, we knew we had never seen it before and must be going the wrong way. We turned back and tried a different way and soon realized that wasn’t the way either. It was starting to get dark and we didn’t have any way of calling anyone. I was nervous that people would notice that we were lost (we were the only white people on the street) and try to take advantage of that. We quickly made our way back to the orphanage and the guard, who didn’t understand our problem, led us into the orphanage. Vivi had fallen asleep on our long walk.
Apparently none of the English speaking nannies work at night. We ended up in the same room that Little Boy was in, and tried explaining the situation, but they didn’t understand us. Eventually we got across that we needed to borrow a phone. Eric called Zewdu to see if he could pick us up, but he was at the airport and couldn’t come for an hour. Being the only driver who knew how to get to our guest house, we didn’t have a choice but to wait. We communicated with the nannies that we would be there for 1 hour, and they got us chairs and invited us to sit and play. The room was all kids under 4, and they were all so sweet! Little Boy sat back and watched as other kids came up to us and started playing. Eric taught them a simple hand clapping sequence that they all wanted to do. Little Boy best friend is very outgoing, and as he and I played the hand clapping game, Little Boy slowly scooted closer to watch, and then went to Eric and put his hands out to play the game.
On a separate note, we met the family of Little Boy best friend through email, they live in Indiana. We are planning on getting together after both boys are home and settled in. They haven’t been assigned a court date yet but asked us to get some pictures of him and share any stories of our time with him.
I noticed that one of the other boys was holding the car we had given Little Boy, which we knew they would end up sharing, but when Little Boy noticed, he tapped Eric’s leg, showed him the car, and made a whimpering sound. We had brought 2 cars, so Eric pulled the other one out and gave it to him. He went over to the other little boy and traded for the first car, then brought it back to show Eric.
One of the older boys saw my camera, and came up to me. He tapped the camera, said “photo” then pointed at himself and said “me” and then stood there with a big grin. I took his picture and then let him look at it. He thought it was the coolest thing!
We were all having a good time when suddenly the light in the room slowly faded away, and suddenly it was completely dark. Some of the babies started crying, and we couldn’t see a thing, the power went out in the whole area. The nannies seemed unfazed, one went to the closet and got out a couple of wind up flash lights (and by wind up I mean that you had to keep winding it to get light; if you stopped, the light went out) and another nanny came back in with a lit candle. She poured some wax on the end of one of the cribs and stuck the candle into the wax. They handed a flashlight to Eric, and all the little boys wanted to try turning the handle. Little Boy sat back and watched as the other boys tried, and then when he decided he knew what to do, he asked for a turn, and did it exactly right. 
The nannies started putting pajamas on the kids and put the littler ones to bed. The bigger boys played with us for a few more minutes, then one by one decided to get into bed. We thanked the nannies and told them we would wait outside and they said no, stay inside and wait because it was cold outside. So we sat back down and hung out. Little Boy kept popping his head up to look at us and smile, and when Zewdu came to get us, he waved and said “ciao”. As we walked out to the car, Eric said “I’m so glad we got lost!”. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 3-the day that felt like a whole week!

If you haven't read them yet, here is Day 1 and Day 2. Again, bear with the long story, I wanted to record every moment!

We woke up early on Monday and Eric boiled some bottled water for tea. Since the guest house didn’t have any water for a shower, we sponge bathed with baby wipes and called Zewdu, the only driver who knows where our guest house is, to arrange for him to pick us up later that morning to go to Layla House, our agency’s main orphanage. We were supposed to meet our coordinator, Gail, who would take us to Journey’s orphanage to meet her.

We had some time before Zewdu came, and our drinking water supply was almost gone, so we walked down to a store around the corner. The road outside the guest house was dirt, but the next road we had to turn on was a walking only road with piles of rocks, pits full of water, it was quite a trek. There were a lot of people walking the road. Jenavieve spotted a woman with a baby on her back and an older girl, and pointed and said “a baby!” The woman smiled and we smiled back and then kept walking. The woman let the baby out of the sling and he came running over, we thought to say hi to Vivi. But once he got to us, he put on a sweet smile and started walking along side us with his hand out. This kid was not as old as Vivi. We were warned not to give money to people so we smiled at him and then kept walking. After a couple of minutes of chasing after us, his mom called him off. A few minutes later, a little girl about 5 years old came running up to us with a smile and her hand out. It was sad how young the kids are trained to beg. We passed a little ‘village’ of tiny tin walled houses, and a couple of big, nice looking buildings. The way ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ mix in this city is fascinating. We finally made it to the store and bought a case of water, and some Addis tea, then headed back to wait for Zewdu.

We got to Layla a little early and were escorted into an office to wait. Finally someone came out and told us that Gail was not coming, another woman would go with us to meet Journey, and the agency family liaison, Eleni, would pick us up at noon. The woman who went with us didn’t speak much English so we didn’t really talk to her.

When we pulled into Journey’s orphanage, kids came running to meet us, hugging our legs or trying to pull us along with them. There was a little play yard with a slide and some swings so Vivi got to play while we waited. The woman who brought us came out of a building with another woman, who led us inside and instructed us to wait there. Yet another woman came out and took us around the orphanage, telling us about what they do and different programs they have. The older kids were in school on the compound, so we saw lots of babies and special needs kids. Most of the women had a baby in a sling on their backs. Crippled children laid on a blanket in the sun, and mentally impaired kids wandered around. Toddlers mostly stayed near the nannies. The nannies were so busy the whole time, hand washing clothes and hanging them on the line, pouring water on the concrete yard of the compound and using a brush to clear dirt away, picking up a crying baby or toddler as they continued on with their chores.

Our guide brought us back to the front of the building and asked if there was anything else we wanted to see. Apparently there was some sort of misunderstanding and she didn’t realize that we were visiting adoptive parents. Journey was actually in one of the rooms she showed us, sleeping on a blanket on the floor with some other babies. We had a laugh and she apologized. She thought it was so funny that she led us right past our daughter without realizing it.

She took us back up to one of the rooms full of cribs and picked her up to show us. She tickled her a little to wake her up and an English speaking nun came in and said she recognized us from our picture and knew we were Selam’s parents. As she woke up and looked at us, Vivi waved at her and said “Hi baby!” The English speaking nun said “this is your big sister!” and both women smiled at them staring at each other. Then she told us that because it was the day after Easter (the biggest holiday in Ethiopia), the nuns had to go to a meeting (I think she meant gathering or service rather than meeting) but that we could take her anywhere on the compound. We went outside and sat for a little bit. She kept looking at us and furrowing her eyebrows like she wasn’t sure about us. She didn’t cry, she was very peaceful. The nannies told us she has always been a very calm and peaceful child. We gave her the little photo album we brought her, meant for babies with cloth pages and a bar with little rings on top. She really liked it, she kept looking at it, and when one of the nannies came by and stopped to say hi to her, she held out the photo album to show her. The nanny made a big deal out of it, oohing and ahhing over the pictures and Journey smiled and looked proud. All of the nannies were so nice and seemed to have endless patience for the kids.

It wasn’t long before some of the kids started wandering over and trying to look at the photo album and trying to get attention or get into our backpack. Journey had a tight grip on her photo album. We let the kids look at the pictures while she held it, making sure they didn’t grab it away. They enjoyed looking at the pictures. Every once in awhile we would get swarmed with kids and we’d get up and walk around for a few minutes.

The big kids came out for recess and came in groups to look at us. One boy and a couple of friends came over and he was so excited to use his English, which was really good. He asked our names, told us his name is Hailu, he is 10 years old, and he likes to learn English. He was very very polite and despite his small stature, was respected by all the other kids. When a younger kid tried to grab the photo album away, he would tap their shoulder and say something to them and they would step back. He looked through the pictures and wanted to know who everyone was. He even knew the word dolphin (the cloth part of the album had sea animals).

Another little girl ran up to us all excited, and said “very good! Very good!” and then giggled hysterically. A lot of the kids pointed at the album and said “photograph”. Jenavieve had a good time playing with the kids. Even the older boys were coming up to her and making faces or mimicking her movements to make her laugh.

Journey warmed up to us and we started getting smiles and even a couple of giggles. Vivi wore her ‘I’m the big sister’ shirt and we brought an ‘I’m the little sister’ shirt that we put on Journey for some pictures. Vivi was pointing at her and identifying her eyes, nose, hair, etc, and Journey reached for Vivi too. There were a couple of sweet moments when Vivi would give her a hug or a kiss or sing a song to her.

Suddenly, we heard drums and then singing, and the guards opened the gates and told the children to move out of the way. A procession of people dressed in religious robes and head dresses came in, singing songs, clapping, and some had big drums they were playing. At the back of the procession were 2 people holding a fancy looking umbrella over an older man in robes. As they came into the compound, everyone followed them over to one of the concrete yards. The older man was escorted inside and everyone else stayed outside and continued singing and dancing. Everyone was clapping and during parts of the songs the women were making ayayayay sounds. Jenavieve LOVED it and was smiling and clapping along.

A man came up to us and asked if we understood what was going on. We said no, and he explained that Easter is their most important holiday and celebration lasts 55 days. They have days where they fast and days where there are festivals. Then he translated a couple of the songs for us. One was about being washed in the blood of Jesus, and one was about believing in God’s word. Then he asked if we liked their celebration and said he hoped we would come celebrate with them again.

The older man came out with a big metal contraption, almost like a chandelier, with some metal rings on it that made noise. There was incense on it and he walked through the crowd with it. Journey started to relax into me and fell asleep while we swayed to the music. The procession danced and sang back out of the compound, and it was time for our ride to come pick us up, so we took Journey back upstairs and a nanny put her in a crib. We waved goodbye, and on our way back down the stairs, Eleni was coming up to find us and tell us that the van was there.

We got onto a full van with other families from our agency. 3 of the families were adopting older children (6, 9, and 14) and they were allowed to take the kids out and spend the day with us. We drove to a restaurant for lunch that had everything from spaghetti and pizza to doro wat (Ethiopian chicken stew). Vivi wanted rice and chicken so we ordered a chicken cutlet that was breaded and fried and came with rice and a potato dish. Eric got doro wat.

It was nice to talk to other families too. One of the families actually sat directly behind us on the plane, we knew we were both adoptive families but didn’t ask what agency. Another family I had been emailing with for awhile before even learning about our court dates because she has a daughter with similar hand issues as Journey.

After lunch we got back in the van and drove up Mount Entoto, the highest elevation in Ethiopia. At the top of the mountain was a very cool church built in the 1800s. It was built in an octagonal shape, representing God and 7 arch angels. There are 3 rings to the octagon, representing the holy trinity. The very inside being for the ark of the covenant, the next one for communion, and the outer one for worship songs. The 2nd ring was completely covered on all 8 sides by oil paintings on canvas pasted to the walls of biblical scenes. It was very cool, but you had to pay extra to take pictures so we just enjoyed looking.

We also went into a cave that was used as a church before the church was built.

We got back in the van and started the drive back down, stopping at one point where there was a clear view of the city to take pictures. We continued down the mountain, and stopped on Churchill street to do some shopping. It was our first experience in the shops. They had so much stuff, and most of the items don’t have prices because haggling is expected. We were also told to expect to be charged more because we are white. The shop employees tried to be very helpful and talk us into buying more things. I asked to see some dresses for Vivi’s size, and he would pull one out, show me, and if I said no, he tossed in into a pile on the floor. I collected a handful of little dresses, and even found matching traditional dresses for Jenavieve and Journey. I showed them to Eric, who was playing outside with Vivi, and decided on a couple other dresses. I also got a dress for a friend who adopted from Ethiopia in 2009 and her daughter is outgrowing her dress. Then I looked at little boys’ outfits and found a nice traditional one to go with the girls’ dresses. They were tough hagglers and hard to talk down in price. It’s hard to haggle when you really want the item you are holding, because you don’t want to walk away from it. Eric was able to talk them down a little though and then it was time to get back in the van. We went back to Layla and exchanged more money (we were only allowed to exchange $100 at the airport) and then headed over to Little Boy's orphanage. As the van pulled in, kids rushed to the doors and crowded around us as we got out. Eleni said something about us being there for Little Boy and all the kids got excited and started yelling his name and running around looking for him. Meanwhile, Vivi saw their playground and decided that she was not going to go meet her brother, she was going to go on the slide. I picked her up and carried her inside anyway, and just as a nanny carried Little Boy around the corner, she started screaming and having a fit and scared him. I took her back outside to the slide while Eric spent a couple of minutes inside with him. The nanny coaxed him outside, and all the kids crowded around him as Eric gave him a matchbox car we had brought for him. We had been told by everyone who had met him that he was shy at first so we were expecting it, but he also seemed uncomfortable by being the center of attention, and after a minute asked the nanny to take him back inside. They were all apologetic and assured us that he would warm up to us, but we weren’t worried. The director of the orphanage came out to talk to us and tell us about their orphanage and other outreach programs, and while we were talking, Vivi was running around with the big kids, and they were doing all kinds of silly things and making her laugh hysterically. The director kept stopping midsentence to laugh too and kept saying what a happy child she is. Vivi discovered that her nonsense noises don’t need translation and she was doing different movements and noises and then cracking up when the whole group of kids did what she did.

The director took us into the office then and put Little Boy's latest report and a few pictures of him on a cd. She told us more about him, then gave us directions back to our guest house and we went on our way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Our trip to Ethiopia Day 2-A whole new world!

If you haven't read Day 1 yet, you can see it here. These posts are long, but bear with me. I wanted to remember everything!

We got off the plane onto the tarmac and onto a bus that drove us over to the airport building. The staff was very friendly and tried to be helpful, but we had a hard time communicating with them! It really gave me an appreciation for people who come to the US and don’t speak English. One guy kept asking if we needed transit, and we didn’t know what he was talking about. Finally he said “you stay in Addis or need transit?” apparently he was going to direct us to our next flight if we had one. The next couple of people we ran into we were able to say “we are staying in Addis”. We had to stand in long line to get our visas. It was hot and stuffy and smelled like body odor and that combined with the high elevation was making me dizzy. I stood in line and pushed our bags forward while Eric chased Jenavieve around. Luckily, she came back to tell me something and a woman came over and said “is this your daughter?” and took us to the front of the line. 

Getting our visas was a pretty informal process-10 or so people in dress suits sitting at tables that were pushed together to make a long line. They worked in pairs, one person did part of the paperwork, then passed it to the next person. They asked us a few questions that took a few minutes to figure out and answer in a way that they understood. They did a lot of talking to each other while we were there and it was a different experience to be standing there not understanding a single word. But suddenly it was over and we were off to the next stop, another line to stand in. A guy quickly directed us to the front of the line again (it pays to take your baby with you!) and we gave our paperwork to a guy in a booth. I’m not sure what he did, but he spent most of the time looking at Vivi and making faces and saying things to her in Amharic (she got that a lot on the plane too, I think they may have thought she was an Ethiopian adoptee too). 

We were then directed to baggage claim. Vivi and I sat on the floor and ate some raisins  and watched the cart of suitcases while Eric stood in line to exchange our money. We noticed how long the line was to take the suitcases through security so I picked Vivi up and started trying to push the big cart over to the line. An employee swooped in, grabbed the cart, and pushed it to the back of the line, then leaned against it, indicating that he wasn’t going anywhere. I had heard about this, they were eager to help for tips, and it was nice to have him push the cart for us. Other guys were trying to help other guests too, and still others were standing around, looking for someone to help. Then, a kid up farther in the line threw up. All the guys saw, but nobody did anything about it. I enjoyed that our guy pushed the cart and let me walk way around the mess, but I was very puzzled that they all just walked around it. Eventually the family brought someone over with a mop. 

*The family turned out to be from our agency and when I spoke to her about it later, she said nobody said anything to them about it, and they ended up asking if they were supposed to clean it up themselves! Luckily they did not.*

The guy didn’t speak a lot of English, but he tried to make conversation anyway. He pointed at Vivi and said “she is your son?” I smiled and said “yes, she’s mine” (I didn’t know if it would be polite to correct him or not). He made a confused face and said “oh....but...she is black!” I again smiled and said “yes, she is”. Finally Eric got the money exchanged and came back. I whispered to him that we had to tip the guy, and he pulled out 10 birr and thanked the guy. He looked at it, then called to one of the other guys and said something in Amharic. The other guy made a face and shook his head, and our guy turned back to us and said “this is so small! 10 birr is so small!” Eric said “sorry, we are new, I don’t know how much to tip” and gave him another 10 birr. He showed them to us and said “this is so small!” I had also read that white tourists to Ethiopia are often seen as wealthy and to expect to get charged more for things, and about the act they put on about acting offended at such a small offer. We weren’t the suckers he pegged us for! So we smiled, thanked him, and went on our way.

We put our luggage on a conveyer belt and picked it up on the other side, and then we were through security! There was a huge crowd of people waiting outside security for their family and friends, we got to see a lot of sweet reunions. We traveled in pajamas so we went into the bathrooms to change and then met with a guy from our agency who was hired to drive us and another woman to our guest houses. 
He led pushed our luggage cart out and loaded it into a rickety, boxy van that didn’t have seatbelts. It took him a couple of tries to start it. Vivi climbed into the car, perched on the seat, and said “Bapa cd please!” (My dad made a cd of him reading stories to Vivi and she listens to it every time we’re in the car). We started driving, and got to see a lot of different people and things as we went. Some people were dressed in traditional clothing, while others wore jeans and t-shirts. There were people just standing on the sidewalk with a pack of live goats, and a pile of furs to sell. We also saw fruit stands placed randomly on street corners, a tent with a woman selling plastic buckets in different sizes and colors, and lots of young kids wandering around by themselves. Traffic laws seem a little lax in Addis-the driver used his horn more than his turn signal and people crossed the street literally right in front of us. 

We got to the other woman’s hotel first, and noticed that all of the hotels and guest houses as well as other buildings were surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire, and have a guard standing outside. Many also had a gate that had to be opened to let cars through. After dropping her off, he turned to us and said he didn’t know where we were staying. We told him the Addis Kidan Baptist Guest House and he said he’d never heard of it. We gave him the phone number and he tried calling but it wasn’t going through. He said cell phone service wasn’t working well that day. He also tried calling our agency liaison but that call didn’t go through either. We knew that it was walking distance from one of the orphanages, so he drove there and started asking people on the street. The first few people had no idea where or what it was and we started wondering how we picked an invisible guest house.

He finally found someone who knew and drove up to a big metal gate with stone walls surrounding the building. He honked the horn and a guard looked out, then opened the gate to let us in. The guest house was beautiful and the yard around it was even more beautiful! Flowering plants in all colors, palm trees, it looked so nice! We were met by the guy who runs the guest house and he helped us take our bags to our room, and then gave us a tour. Our room was in the back of the building and had one big bed and a bunk bed, a table, 2 chairs, and a night stand. The table and night stand had candles and matches sitting on plates in case the power went out. Then he took us to the bathroom, which was in a little building behind the guest house. A toilet, sink, and indented area in the floor with a little shower head above it. He showed us how to make the water hot but said that it doesn’t stay hot for long. 

Then he took us up into the house which had a living room, dining room, kitchen, and another bathroom. He showed us how to make the water hot in that bathroom, then said “right now, we don’t have any water, but, we hope it will come soon!” in a very cheerful voice. 

He told us that we can use the kitchen for whatever we want for $1 a day, or we could pay a few dollars a day to have them cook our meals. Internet and phone usage are 5 cents a minute on the honor system, you just write in a notepad how many minutes you spend on the phone or internet. 

We spent a little while exploring the yard and house, and tried calling our liaison again but didn’t get through. We had some lunch, then took a little nap. Eric and I woke up and did some unpacking and tried to call our liaison again, but Vivi slept for 8 hours! Poor baby hadn’t had a long chunk of sleep in 2 days and we could not wake her up. Of course she woke up right when we were talking about going to bed. 

The original plan was to meet Little Boy at his orphanage, but because we couldn’t get ahold of the liaison, we ended up staying at the guest house and just relaxing, which was nice too, especially letting Jenavieve get in some much needed sleep.

Our trip to Ethiopia Day 1-travel

We spent the night at my parents’ house because they were going to drop us off at the airport. Vivi must have picked up on our excitement because she decided not to nap that day, and then when we went to Nana and Bapa’s of course she was all excited and bouncing around. We weighed our suitcases and rearranged some things while Vivi played with them. We all went to bed around 12:30, and got up at 3:30 to get to the airport at 4:30. We parked, checked our bags, said goodbye to my parents, and then got in line to go through security. They had a separate line for families of small children so we got to go right through. Vivi wasn’t thrilled about putting Tiana in the tub to go through the scanner and made sure everyone knew it. The security guys were so nice though, one told me to send Tiana in first, then run through the people scanner to watch her come out. As soon as she came out the other side, the guy running the scanner grabbed her out of the bin and gave her back to Vivi, and then she was all smiles.

We didn’t have too long to wait before getting on the plane to Washington DC. It was dark and stormy, and the plane was TINY-2 seats on one side, 1 seat on the other side and only like 20 rows. We had 1 flight attendant. Vivi was a little grumpy from not getting enough sleep, and didn’t like being strapped into her own seat on the plane. Then it was time for takeoff and she had a total meltdown. She screamed all the way up, and all the way down, and any time we hit turbulence (as we flew through the storms). It was an hour and a half flight that felt like years! As we were waiting to get off the plane a few people were saying “you made it!” to Vivi. One woman said “is this your home?” to which I replied “nope, we have a 13 hour flight to Ethiopia after this” and everyone looked quite relieved to not be going there with us. 

We deplaned onto the tarmac and Vivi was freaked out by the plane noises, so Eric picked up our carry-ons (we had to put them in the bottom of the plane because it was so small) and I ran through the rain, dodging puddles while carrying a screaming toddler. We were now officially DREADING the 13 hour flight! We had a 4 hour layover before leaving for Ethiopia so we took our time walking down there, then put the Tiana movie on and had some snacks.

As people started showing up at the gate, we were very encouraged by the amount of kids who would be on our plane. It’s nice to not be the only ones! The flight was made up mostly of Ethiopians with a handful of other adoptive parents going either to court or to pick up their child, and a mission group on their way to Malawi. I noticed a big change in attitude with the people on this flight. Other parts of the airport when Vivi was having a fit, we got all kinds of wary looks that clearly said “I hope you aren’t on my flight!” (which I totally understand and don’t blame them!) but at the gate to our Ethiopian flight, the kids were all running around, some of them touching other people’s things or fussing or doing other things that might have annoyed most American adults. But nobody so much as rolled an eye. If a baby was fussing, people would come over and sing a song, and if a kid was touching someone’s stuff, that someone would smile and talk to them. It was such a relaxed atmosphere!

Our plane came in from Ethiopia and we watched everyone come off the plane. There were 7 families returning home with their newly adopted children, it was so sweet to see, and got us so excited for our turn!

Vivi fell asleep for most of the layover but woke up when we stood up to get on the plane, and was not thrilled to be getting on another plane as we walked down the boarding dock. This plane was HUGE! 2 aisles, 9 seats in each row (in groups of 3) and a tv in the back of every headrest. The headphones for the tv were free to use and they had a bunch of movies and tv shows, as well as games and a slideshow of maps that showed all kinds of statistics about the flight, how far we were from our destination in miles and hours, how fast we were going and how high, and a cool map of the world that showed a line from Washington DC to Addis Ababa and a picture of a plane that followed the line so we could see where we were. 
We also got pillows and blankets, and little bags that had a sleep mask, a pair of socks, toothbrush and toothpaste. There were at least a dozen flight attendants who were all very friendly.

Vivi was upset at first, but Eric asked if we could keep our ipod touch on since it isn’t a phone (the first flight said all electronics must be off) and she said we could keep it on so Vivi got to watch “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast over and over while we took off. She still freaked out as we took off and hit some turbulence, but then she relaxed and the rest of the flight was awesome! 

We brought a lot of toys that kept Vivi occupied during the beginning of the flight, then she took another nap. They brought out dinner, we could choose salmon or beef. The salmon came with pasta and a chunky tomato sauce, and the beef came with mashed potatoes and some mixed veggies like zucchini in a yummy gravy.  It also came with a salad (complete with olives and tomatoes that made Vivi’s day), a roll, crackers, a chunk of cheese, and a yummy cheesecake for dessert. Vivi also discovered that when the flight attendants came by, she could ask them for “juice please” and she would get juice! We don’t give her juice at home so it was a special treat for her, and it kept her happy. 

A couple of hours into the flight they turned off the lights and a lot of people napped while others got up and wandered around. We talked to a couple of the other adoptive families and swapped stories, and Vivi enjoyed watching the babies on the plane. The flight attendants announced that we could go to the kitchen and help ourselves to sandwiches and drinks, while they went up to the 2nd floor to nap, so we took Vivi for a walk and got a sandwich and some juice, then tried to get some sleep. I don’t sleep well on planes or in cars because of my back, but I did get a couple of hours in. Then I passed the time watching tv shows on the plane tv and playing sudoku on the ipod touch. 

A couple of hours before the end of the flight, they turned the lights back on and brought around hot towels. I didn’t know what it was until I saw people in front of us washing their faces, and it was so refreshing! Then they brought breakfast out-a fruit cup, a roll, a croissant, butter and jam, and yogurt. We were quite well fed! The last 3 hours of the flight dragged on a little, but overall it was a pretty tolerable flight. 

Pretty soon, we started to descend and we got our first glimpses of Ethiopia!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday Vivi!!!

Vivi's favorite dessert, 'dodos'

Singing happy birthday-she didn't want to wake up!

Why do you keep taking my picture???

We finally told her there were donuts and that sparked her interest

Blowing out the candle

She tasted each donut before deciding which one she wanted.

Yes, the chocolate one. 

Cheese! Gotta love that afro bed head ;) Happy Birthday Princess!

Monday, May 2, 2011

We are home!

We got back from Ethiopia yesterday afternoon but have been on a crazy sleep schedule trying to adjust back to our time zone.

We had an amazing time in Ethiopia and I'll be posting about that this week but I just wanted to post an update about court. We passed court for our daughter, but our son's file was missing some documentation, so he has a new hearing date of May 13th. We don't have to go back for the next court date, we will have a representative go for us.

Because the kids are currently in different orphanages and have never met, we may be able to go back and get Baby Girl first, then Little Boy when his paperwork is ready. For Baby Girl, it could be as soon as 5 weeks from now.

Because Little Boy didn't pass court yet, we can't share his picture yet, but I can introduce you to our newest daughter...
Journey Matilda Selam

Journey was born March 12th, 2010 in Ethiopia. We chose Journey for obvious reasons, her life has already been an incredible journey and she is so resilient. We chose Matilda for 2 reasons. It means 'battle strength' which we thought was a nice meaning, and also for Roald Dahl's character Matilda, who was an amazing girl born into less than ideal circumstances who beat all the odds.

We felt that both of those names suited her well because she may have some special needs and challenges to face. We don't know the severity of these special needs and won't until we get her home and evaluated. After meeting her and seeing how she is developing, we believe that her earlier reports make the problems seem much worse than they are. We will see. She will need surgery to repair some finger issues and possibly some sort of treatment for a lazy/underdeveloped eye, and who knows what else, if anything, but she is not slowed down by any of her issues. She definitely has a strong personality, she smiles, laughs, crawls, and likes to explore. She loves Jenavieve, and even though she was a little shy to Eric and I when we first met, she was excited to see us every time we visited after that.