Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snickers Satisfies You

Phew!  It's a good thing I came home when I did.  Remember how I was complaining that there were no fruits and veggies to eat in Ethiopia?  Well since I've come back I've made a point of changing my diet.  I am now subsisting entirely on Halloween bite-size Snickers and Diet Coke.

P.S.  Tomorrow night at about 9:00 PM, Steve and the girls will be on Utah soil.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bekkah!!

I woke up a couple times in the night to text Steve and see if there was news.  Finally, there was.  He was given an interview at 3:00 PM, 6:00 AM our time.  I had already prepped him, so I didn't plan to wake up--but then did, mysteriously, right at 6:00.

At 7:00 he just texted me to say "Bekkah!"  This is a very useful Amharic word that means finished and enough all in one.  So it's official!--we're finished.  The visas will be ready for pick up tomorrow morning, and we hope to get the group a flight out tomorrow.  I asked if the girls understood, and Steve said they seemed "giddy."

Thanks, everybody!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm A Little Teapot

All day long I've had percolating in my mind a great blog post, full of insightful details.  Trouble is, it's now barely 9:00 PM, the kids are just asleep, and I can hardly keep my eyes open.  I do have some news, though, so I can't go to bed and leave people hanging.

Shall I tell you the news right up front?  We found out today from our very helpful Senator's aide that both the fingerprints are in and the visas were sent to the embassy today.  This was after business hours in Addis, but we're hoping it means--finally--an interview tomorrow morning.  I was especially grateful for this news coming today because Steve had sounded very discouraged on the phone earlier.  It had been hard to sit around waiting for a call for yet another day and have business hours end with nothing.  It was a really pleasant surprise for him to get good news right before bed.

Jasper and Ruby and I arrived home last night at midnight.  It was an exhausting two days of travel and, though the kids had been extremely eager to get home, even they sad it was sad to have our adventure come to an end.  Still I would say the journey helped us come home on a high.  Throughout our time in Ethiopia I've been reading There Is No Me Without You, which I quoted in an earlier post.  During some of our hardest days in Ethiopia I also happened to read hard parts of the book, like the detailed discussion of AIDS and suffering orphans.  But as I sat on the long plane right from London to Minneapolis, I neared the end of the book and got to read the wonderful follow-ups stories of happy and well-adjusted orphans at home in the States with their adoptive families.

Most of these stories were of older adoptive children, and it made me feel excited all over again to have the honor of these children in my home.  It also gave me confidence that everyone will eventually adjust and everything will eventually work out.  I read of the how typical it is for families to have second thoughts in the first days, but how thrilled and grateful they are in the end.  I thought to myself, "Gee, if I hadn't already just adopted a sibling group from Ethiopia, I think the end of this book would make me want to go out and adopt a sibling group from Ethiopia."

Then we landed in Minneapolis.  Jasper was wearing his knitted hat from the Leprosy hospital.  It is knitted in the colors of the Ethiopian flag, and says "Ethiopia" on the front.  Walking through the Minneapolis airport with Jasper in that cap was like walking with a celebrity.  The airport seemed to be full of employees from Ethiopia.  First the men in the gift shop stopped us, then a guard, a cart driver, two food court employees, and more.  (On Sunday in London we had even had an Ethiopian man call to us on the street when he saw Jasper's cap.)  Across the board they were absolutely thrilled to talk to someone who had just come from Addis.  They wanted to know where we'd been, what we thought of the country, what words we knew, and about the girls we were adopting.  They wanted to tell us what part of the country they were from.  They were so friendly and excited--literally flagging us down as we walked by their various posts.  They all congratulated us on our two girls and said "God Bless You."  It made me feel like I am part of a very happy, large, and welcoming new family.  I was excited all over again.  I told Steve if he really wants a pick-me-up on his layover, he just has to have the girls wear something traditional and walk through the airport.

This and a Burger King stop put me and the kids in good moods, so we enjoyed spending the rest of our (three hour!) layover in Minneapolis riding the moving walkways.  Have you been to that airport?  There are a lot of them.  We made ourselves stand still for the whole length of each walkway.  I tried to convince Jasper he could be arrested for standing on the walking side, and tried to convince Ruby these rides were more fun than Disney World.  We had a good time.

Our last flight to Salt Lake was in a tiny plane with turbulence as bad as riding in Gecho's van through the potholes.  I was so exhausted I was sick but--as on every other flight--couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep because of the child/children sleeping on me.  I perked up to see my parents and Steve's at the airport, though, and then was completely re-invigorated when we pulled up to our house.  The neighbors had decorated it beautifully--outside and in--with our Halloween decorations!  There was a huge welcome sign on the garage signed by the neighborhood, and even Halloween candy to treat my neglected sweet tooth.  And the whole house was dusted and vacuumed.  I have the best neighbors in the world!  This was the best homecoming I've ever had and if I'm still on Montezuma's Revenge then last night was definitely full-speed ahead to the top of the track.

I'm hopeful that Steve will be able to leave Addis Ababa Thursday night and be home by Friday night.  Keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No News is Not Good News

Monday has come and gone here in Ethiopia with no news at all. We sat
here at the guest home pretty much all day, waiting and hoping for a
phone call. None came. There are still day trips I would like to
take, but not at the risk of missing the all-important phone call.
Instead, I gave the girls baths, Tinsae re-braided Birhane’s hair, and
we watched random shows on Al-Jazeera and other Middle-Eastern TV
stations that we have here. Only a handful are in English, which
obviously holds my attention better, but we’ve spent our fair share of
time watching cartoons that have been translated into Arabic or some
other foreign dialect. There are two Ethiopian stations but they are
both government run and the programming seems rather random.

Feeling extremely stir-crazy and without the stomach for one more
dinner of injera and meat drowning in oil and spices (recall that last
night, I all but skipped dinner, opting instead to eat dry handfuls of
Apple Jacks that Emily bought as her anniversary present for me –
that’s the official 13-year anniversary item right? I can’t Google it
right now to double-check), we went out to dinner. It was just a
restaurant attached to a hotel, but the Lasagna I had wasn’t bad,
although it was still swimming in the red-oil they cook all meat in
here. The girls ate injera and meat and seemed happy as clams. Mom,
you’ll never believe this but I would just like a side serving of
vegetables with one of these meals. We had an orange one day with one
of our meals, and cooked carrots another, but the only other thing
that has been available is bananas. Now you understand why we were so
excited when we went to a place last week that actually served salads!

So, I remain on what we were initially calling the 2-week African
adoption stress diet, although it is still quite effective even after
2 weeks. It’s not without its downside however. But, were I to go
into those details, I would certainly be labeled as providing TMI—Too
Much Information and since this is a family friendly blog, I’ll let
the better part of discretion rule the day. However, if we ever try
to market this effective appetite limiting and weight-loss inducing
diet, we’ll certainly have to list all those side-effects, for which
you should call a physician, like you hear on TV.

Tinsae still protests many of the breakfast foods around here, even
though they are prepared with her tastes in mind. This morning, we
had their equivalent of pancakes, although it looked more like thick
crepes or Ethiopian flat bread. But just add syrup and it was good by
me. Nonetheless, she refuses to even taste these creations. Today,
Berhane decided to hold solidarity with her sister so I let them just
drink their juice. Even the kitchen staff was clearly scolding them
in Amharic for not eating. By about 10 am when they were looking
around the room for food, I told them they couldn’t have any since
they didn’t eat any breakfast. I figure if they won’t eat in their
own country a hybrid dish that even the cooks feel they should be
eating, I’m not going to stop the hunger pains.


The other half of the family seems to be doing well. They went to see
a movie and by text, Jasper said he laughed through the entire thing.
I believe it. He’s a hoot to take to movies because he is one that
really enjoys the funny parts and gives full-volume belly laughs
throughout. I talked with them by phone in the airport and Emily was
lamenting the next 17 hours of her life in the air, but hopefully the
time will fly. Sorry.


It’s confirmed that the horse we have been so sick about every time we
drove by has passed on. This, after we drove through Debre Zeit and
Aki made more inquiries about the horse hospital located there for
these crazy Americans who were willing to spend good money on someone
else’s abandoned horse. Nonetheless, what a horrible final couple of
weeks this poor animal had and what a sad way to die. We have
continued to be disturbed by the treatment we see of so many of these
beasts of burden here.

During the girl’s quiet time today, I though I would pass the time by
watching one of the DVDs that are here in the guest home. These are
not real DVDs, but rather someone’s copy on Imation DVD-Rs but I
figured it would still be better than lying restlessly while they
slept. However, whoever originally copied them apparently had to use
two DVDs and wouldn’t you know it, only the first disc is here. So I
have now seen the first half of Mission Impossible II and Mission
Impossible III. Argh! Even the entertainment leaves you unsatisfied.

Oh well. We’re hoping for better news tomorrow.

Of course, we continue to recognize there are far more serious
problems than ours in the world. One we’re aware of is my brother
Rick’s little boy who is in the hospital with H1N1 complications.
We’re praying for you Chase and hope you can go home soon.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slow News Day

Updates

The London Half
Let's see. . . . Sitting in a nice London hotel room,
watching British comedy on TV, having put
my used toilet paper in the toilet (though Ruby forgot and put
hers in the waste bin), and had a good ol'
Subway sandwich for dinner. The best part
was seeing Sara and Dave and Hattie once more before
heading back to the States. Besides the flying all night with two kids asleep on me, thoroughly bothered to watch other passengers enjoy the extra room created by my three missing family members while we three present ones squished together for hours, I count this a pretty good day for this half of the family.

The Addis Half
Let's see. . . . Traditional Ethiopian injera for dinner--girls loved it, Steve
decided to go with handfuls of Ethiopian Apple
Jacks instead. But Tinsae's choice of
Mary Poppins for the evening movie? Sounds like everyone was happy with that. Otherwise, they went to church and spent a slow, quiet day at the guest home. It's not bad, but also getting old to pass yet another day just waiting to see if there will be fingerprints at the embassy in the morning.

The Horse
Yesterday when we returned from Meki, we thought we saw our friend the
poor, starving horse lying on a side street, dead. Oh, we hope so. It would be a gift for the horse, and a fitting end to our journey together to have him depart the same day as at least half the fam.

Steve was pooped and I'm blogging from
a phone, so it's a good thing it was a slow
news day today.

The Hardest Goodbye

Though we knew this was coming, tonight (Saturday night) was hard, very hard—for everyone.  Emily, Jasper, and Ruby are waiting at the airport now to catch their flight to London in about another hour and a half.  They’ve actually already been there for over an hour as we were told by the staff they needed to get there four hours before their flight.  Not!  We were a little late getting there according to that timeline, but it was still over three hours early.  At least they have Coke Light there (hopefully cold, although Emily neglected to mention that in her text) and luckily enough Ethiopian Burr to last until they leave. They'll finally arrive home Monday night at midnight, after spending a day in London so Sara, Dave and Haddie originally planned so could meet their newest family members.  Oh well, best laid plans...

But it was really hard to say goodbye.  Emily sat with Tinsae and Birhane in the van and cuddled them as T started to get really emotional.  She wasn’t crying yet, but was clearly very affected by having her new mother leave.  I think Ruby was actually the first to start crying as we travelled the half hour to the airport.  I held her close as the tears ran down her cheeks and nose.  I asked her why she was crying and she said she didn’t want to leave me.  Nothing tugs at a Dad’s heart more, or makes him feel as good.  It’s rare to have those kind of tender moments when your kids are really expressing their true feelings for you.  Savor them.  I did. 

We arrived at the airport and then the flood gates opened.  I think everyone started crying as we all embraced each other and Emily once again assured the girls that she would be waiting for them in America.  Just yesterday, once we knew that we would not be able to travel all together, we sat down with T and B and explained the situation to them.  We had previously told J and R but Tinsae clearly knew there was something going on.  Emily asked one of the receptionists to come in and translate as she explained that we couldn’t get all the problems fixed with our paperwork for the adoption in time.  We had tried so very hard so that we could all travel together, but now that wasn’t going to be possible.  Emily said that she would take Jasper and Ruby with her to America and Dad would stay with them here for a few days more until we could also travel.  Tinsae looked very concerned as the receptionist hadn’t yet translated anything.  She then talked to her for about 45 seconds and you could see the relief flood over T’s face.  It was clear she was expecting something much worse.

Just today, we learned that she had previously asked Gecho and Aki if she was going back to the orphanage a few days ago when she could sense problems.  They had said no, but she was clearly worried.  This was so touching to learn today.  We wonder how many other gems that would give us insight into her personality and thoughts so far have been lost amid the language barrier that keeps us from understanding all the quick interchanges she and Birhane have with the staff here.  Obviously, staying a few days with Dad here was much better news that what her little mind had been fearing.  But tonight, you’d never know that this was going to last just a few days.  Both T and B sobbed as they said goodbye at the van as we unloaded the luggage from the roof rack.  I told them that Dad would be staying with them and that I would be right back, but in the meantime, Gecho would stay with them in the van while I helped Emily, Jasper, and Ruby up to the terminal.

In the parking lot, there were two little girls selling gum it turned out, although at first I thought they were just asking for a handout.  This is very common everywhere we have gone.  Obviously, we are magnets for anyone selling something and Aki was vigorously shooing them away in Amharic.  I’ve been surprised at how sharp he seems to be talking to them sometimes, as I’m sure they all think we live where the streets are paved with gold.  Comparitively, they’re right. But we’re already giving so much to this country in the form of adoption fees that it has put my mind at rest most of the time to allow Aki to send them away from us.  However, we have still given quite frequently to anyone who has approached us for a handout.  When I realized they were selling gum, I went over to see if they had the banana gum that Jasper discovered at a little shop across the street from the guest house.  He and the rest of the kids love it.  I asked her how much and she said 10 Burr for one pack—we bought four for that price at the shop here.  We settled on 7 Burr for two packs and I caught up to our little group and gave them to Jasper.

Once we reached security at the bottom of a hill leading up to the terminal, Aki and I could go no further.  At this point, Jasper and Ruby were sobbing as bad as Tinsae and Berhane had been when we left them in the van.  I hugged them both so tight and told them how much I loved them and we would all be together again real soon.  I told them I would be home for Halloween (a major concern they have both shared on MANY occasions) and told Ruby I had bought the banana gum they love.  Their tears left me pretty misty as I hugged Emily goodbye.  She said, “If you die, I’ll kill you,” which is our standard departure farewell.  I so wished I could help them push the two luggage carts up this hill to the terminal, but security wouldn’t allow it.  Aki had greeted a friend at security there and he jumped up and helped push one of the luggage carts up the hill.  He wouldn’t even accept a tip when they reached the top, Emily said.  Now that’s a real friend.

As I turned around to head back to the van, it suddenly hit me that Emily didn’t have much Ethiopian money with her.  I hollered up to them, but they just looked at me with expressions like ‘what do you need?’  Aki’s friend came down the hill and Aki wadded the 100 Burr note (the equivalent of about $8) that I had gotten out of my wallet and threw it up the hill as far as the worn wad of money would travel.  As Aki explained quickly and as we both gestured, he ran it up to Emily.  As he came down the hill, I reached for a 10 Burr note to give him as a tip and he wouldn’t accept that either.  I put my hand over my heart and nodded my head to slowly and deliberately to him, a common gesture here that is as magnificent in meaning as it is simple.  It is ‘Thank You,’ ‘I’m Honored to Know You,’ and a host of other unsaid feelings that can suit so many different situations.  I held Tinsae and Birhane close the whole ride back to the guest home and felt grateful they come from such a country as this, with people as selfless, kind, and generous as those we have had the pleasure of interacting with.

Upon returning to the guest home, Tinsae went in quickly and while Birhane was all smiles and giggling like usual, by the time I saw T through the windows of the entrance doors, she was wiping her eyes with tissues and crying again.  Gecho said to me, “I’ll give her some advice” and proceeded to give her a ‘buck up’ kind of message judging by the tone.  I’ll have to ask him in the morning when he drives us to church what he actually said.  It was strange coming into the room where we have lived for two weeks with its queen size bed, cluttered with a few of the last minute items that are sorted out as being unessential to the trip at hand and Jasper and Ruby’s empty bunks.  Now what, I thought.  Tinsae took over and started talking to Birhane—the only word I understood was pajamas.  Ok, maybe this won’t be that hard for a few days.

While they had some wind-down time reading magazines (they love books and magazines, even catalogs as they seem fascinated just looking at all the pictures in them), I texted with Emily for about a half an hour.  She said Jasper and Ruby bawled for almost 40 minutes after we left.  When we talked by phone a little while later, Emily said everyone at the registration desk was concerned asking why they were crying.  By the time they stopped, their faces were puffy and eyes swollen.  When I talked to them on the phone, Ruby wasn’t her normal talkative self and Jasper started to cry again.  It’s really special to have your nine-year old son tell you he loves you so much and he will miss you so much.  Jasper even said he was going to save all his banana gum until I got home.  What generosity.  In the van when we were all going to the airport and Emily asked Aki to see if there was anything more Tinsae was concerned about because she was being so emotive and quiet, Jasper suggested, “Why doesn’t Tinsae just use my ticket to go to America and I’ll stay here, that would be okay with me.”  What a kid.  Jasper, you’re the greatest.

After talking with both kids and blubbering through my own “I love yous” to Jasper, Emily got on the phone and we talked for a few minutes.  Though the connection wasn’t that great, she asked me to read what I had written thus far.  She chided me, saying “The tone shouldn’t been sad—it’s exciting.  This is the home stretch.  For one thing, I don’t feel sad.  I feel great.  I’m excited more than sad because I get to go home, prepare the house, get the Jasper and Ruby back in their routine and you’ll be there in just a few days.”

She said that after they had gotten through all the check in procedures and security, she asked Jasper and Ruby why this was so hard.  They said they were sad to be apart from me and to leave me in a foreign country, something they’ve never done before.  They said they are really going to miss me and this is the hardest thing in their lives, ever.  Ah, shucks—that is high praise.  But really, tonight was two weeks of pent up emotion for them.  As Emily talked to them more, Ruby asked why fingerprints have to expire.  Jasper cursed our agency and said that the last two weeks have been so hard.  They both mentioned going to the embassy everyday, something that took more of a toll on them than we realized.

Emily explained they don’t need to worry about anything, those are grown up things that they shouldn’t even necessarily know, let alone worry about.  But she encouraged them to just cry and let the emotion out.  Yes, they’re missing their Dad, but this two-week experience has been emotionally exhausting for them too.  We are both so proud of them and admire them for being so eager to embrace this life changing adoption of two sisters.
Obviously, worse things happen to people than being apart for a few days for sure.  But the point is that while it’s no big deal, this is the climax of a couple of very difficult weeks for all of us.

Whew! 

With all that out of the way, let me tell you what we did today.  After being told that we couldn’t go to Meki, or anywhere outside of Addis for that matter, Gecho called Aki and said he had gotten all the approvals needed and we could go.  Wow.  It took him over two hours and five different government offices to get the approval stamps necessary for our trip.  (We asked him for the form later in the day, with its five different stamps of approval so we could keep it—a clear demonstration of his commitment to helping us better understand where these girls come from.)  So by mid-morning, we were off on our ~120 km journey south to Meki.  We had Jasper come with us, although we left Ruby with her sisters as we thought that would make the day go better.  Jasper really didn’t want to come, especially as we waited for two hours to leave, but in the end, I think he really enjoyed it. 

The scenery on the way to Meki is much more of what he expected Africa would be like.  It seemed considerably drier country that our earlier day trip to the Portugese Bridge and the Blue Nile Valley.  That road side of that earlier trip was dotted with little farms, a patchwork of fields, and even dairy farms crowded with cows.  It could have been Cache Valley if not for the traditional grass huts.  Today, however, the color palate was all the yellowish tone of dry grasses with acacia trees and fiber plants growing in haphazard fashion.  There was actually plenty of farming going on in this southern region as well, but it bore little similarity to the greenery of the farms in the north.  We saw men and women winnowing their crops, cutting the hay with sickles (is that spelled right since I can’t Google it?) and little boys herding cows that towered over them.  We even saw a large group of camels (should that be a different word too—like a gaggle of geese or a pride of lions?  Oh Google, where are you when we need you!).

Anyway, after a couple hours of driving, we reached Meki, the largest city we had seen on our journey.  This was actually a bit surprising for us, as we had envisioned more or a village.  We drove around and really got a great view of the city as it happened to be market day there.  The streets were crowded with people selling their wares.  Words cannot do justice to the complete randomness of what is available for sale.  There are women sitting on the ground behind their small but neatly stacked piles of potatoes, carrots, beans, cabbage and other vegetables I couldn’t name.  A vendor right next to them might have a blanket of random shoes for sale while another may have baskets of every size and shape, depending on whether you’re looking for a flat round one to hold injera (the staple flat bread that acts as one’s fork when eating firfir and other dishes) to large colorful baskets that could easily serve many different purposes in the countryside.  From sunglasses to t-shirts to religious parasols to bleeting sheep and goats, the market has it all.  It was a great day to be in Meki.

We knew from Tinsae’s description that they lived somewhere between the river that runs through town and the market we were rather conspicuously driving through.  Aki asked someone where Kabele 01 was, their exact block (as they don’t actually have specific addresses here, even in Addis) so we could drive through it.  I had the camera rolling out the window the entire time so if your stomach can stand the jolts from the pot-holes while you watch, it should make for some good viewing someday.  We don’t know how much T & B will want to remember about their past life, but we hope to have enough information to share with them when they have questions or want to see where they came from.  While so many things looked the same with what we see in and around Addis Ababa, we just wanted to make sure we had the images that may bring things to their remembrance at some future time.

Before leaving Meki, we stopped at the Frank Dubisa Hotel, or Hooteelaa Fraank Dubbissa according to the sign in Oromiya, the language spoken by the predominant tribe in that region.  Their language is actually derived from Latin if you can believe that, just a phonetic spelling for it.  This was the sign about the toilet: Qulqulleessittuu.  Cognicere anyone?   We avoided the Liver with Kidney on the menu although we did think the Shish Kibebe listed on the Lamp Dishes page had a certain familiarity to it, but the silent ‘P’ threw us off and we couldn’t place it.  Jasper absolutely loved the cheeseburger he ordered, proclaiming it was the best one he had EVER eaten.  It helps that he said he was starving when we left the guest home at 10:30 and the protein bars we’ve packed along with us have lost their allure at this point.  Gecho and Aki shared a chicken wrapped in injera which they also indicated was extremely tasty.  We topped off lunch with ice cream.  I was yet again the ‘designated eater’ for the strawberry cone Emily ordered.  It tasted like I was eating frozen perfume in ice cream form and a piece of cinnamon gum still couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth for miles after we left.  (As Emily mentioned in an earlier post, back in the archive of this blog somewhere you can read about some of my other ‘designated eater’ duties performed in remote villages in Uganda when hairy goats meat and other dubious dishes were served to us as the guests of honor when we visited 2004.)

When we arrived back in Addis, we drove by the Fistula Hospital, a wonderful place that we had just wanted to see from the outside ever since we arrived.  I won't go into detail here, but seeing the documentary, A Walk To Beautiful after we had already decided we would adopt from Ethiopia convinced us this was the right place.  We have two copies of the DVD at home and would be happy to loan them to anyone interested.  It is a very moving story. 



Overall, it was a great outing and a wonderful day.  We were so glad Jasper came along with us as this is surely a memory that will stay with him for a long time.  We’ve learned so much about the people, the culture, and the everyday sights we’ve seen by peppering Aki and Gecho with our questions.  At the same time, it has perhaps drawn us closer with them since we have shown such an interest in their country and everything around us.  We not only appreciate their time and patience they’ve shown us, but view them as true friends.  They seemed to indicate the same today as they eagerly shared their addresses, phone numbers, email and even Aki’s Facebook name with us.  They said very few families invite them to eat with them when they go out, instead making them wait in the van while the family eats inside. Aki said we are only the second family he has ever invited to his home, the first being an Australian couple he invited to his wedding celebration.  What an amazing experience and journey this has been. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

Let me just say right now, Don't get your hopes up!  I don't want you
to read the title and think we're all together on a plane to the US.
The plan is still the same, for me to leave tonight and for Steve and
the girls to leave sometime next week.  And I promise--we really feel
fine about it.  "Are you still feeling good?" I just asked Steve.
"About staying? Yep! Fine"  he answered. So there you go.  Proof.  I
think we feel really good because, as Steve put it this morning, all
the variables are present and accounted for, so there appears to be no
more bad news on the horizon.  Anything else, like travel issues,
delayed flights, etc., are old hat to us and couldn't get us down at
this point.  Plus, we have my dad's angel assistant, Carol, on
standby.  She's a travel/tight spot wizard, and has gotten our family
out of more than few scrapes.

I say "expect the unexpected," which seems to be the theme of our
lives, because we were just laughing about that upstairs.  I thought
I'd write a quick, rare morning post about it.  Africa's theme seems
to be to expect the unexpected, too.  We came down this morning ready
to leave for Meki, only to have Aki tell us Gecho is at the bus
station and can't get a travel pass.  "What does that mean?"  we
asked.  We have noticed we've stopped at little checkpoint things
along the way at times, and sometimes Gecho hands over a few Birr and
gets a slip of paper.  It seemed like the most casual
going-through-the-motions affair I've ever seen.  Well apparently,
because Gecho has a van he has to have one of these passes everytime
he leaves Addis.  Today, for some reason, they've decided not to give
any more out.  "Why?" I asked Aki, being the American who expects
justification for everything.  "I don't know," said Aki, looking at me
like 'why on earth should we know?'  Well, maybe we can go somewhere
else--not Meki (we're really eager to get this "date" in away from the
kids before I leave.  Maybe we'll have to just sneak out and find a
COLD Coca Cola Light, and a subtitled Cinema.).  No, says Aki, they
won't let Gecho leave the city to go anywhere.  We briefly considered
a public bus, but Aki pointed out that they are crowded and smell bad.
When an African says that, you know it's triple as bad as you can
imagine.  (Back in the archives of this blog somewhere you can read
about our nine-hour bus trip from Uganda to Rwanda in 2005.  We took
one of those public buses, and it was truly one of the worst
experiences of my life.  People are three to a seat, in the aisles,
and all smelly, which only aggravates my terrible motion sickness.)

So, we are currently investigating hiring a car for Gecho to drive.
Although, Gecho just called Aki and said the van and minibus drivers
are all up in arms, so there may be hope.  Perhaps a quick hostile
take-over of the bus station will produce travel passes?

So, here we sit on our first embassy-free day with time to go to Meki,
with an unexpectedly cancelled trip to Meki--the only place we were
determined to go.  But hey--we're just laughing.  It grants me my
first-ever, unexpected free morning to blog for a second without
waking Rowlina, the night receptionist, and being the cause of her
failing nursing school.

FYI, we have asked Aki to put out feelers about saving the horse down
the street.  It appears there is a horse hospital in a town about an
hour away.  If we pay a significant fee, they may be willing to drive
to Addis and pick up the horse.  It's true that they would probably
just euthanize him, but he is dying a slow and horrible death and I
think that would be better.  I'm sure they are surprised we'd consider
paying for such a thing.  To us, it's a chance to finish one thing,
help one thing happen right, while we are here.  My mom might say it's
my bleeding heart again, but I'd like to give the animal some dignity.
He's been with us on our entire two-week journey here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Squatters' Rights

FRIDAY NIGHT:

Have you ever been to Knotts Berry Farm?  (This is the point where I
usually Google any proper name I use to make sure I’ve spelled it
right.  Since I’ve had no Google most of the time here, I’m sure I’ve
slaughtered many spellings, and I ask the Knotts’ forgiveness if I’ve
insulted their farm.)  Because I went there as a child and rode
Montezuma’s Revenge (again, can’t Google Montezuma), the ultimate
example of a scary, crazy amusement-park ride will for me forever be
that one.  Nevermind that in the past 25 years they’ve come up with
much crazier, scarier stuff.  For me as an 8 or 10 year old, the idea
of whipping forward through a loop and up a hill, and then plunging
backward down that hill and backwards through the loop was absolutely
miserable.  Upside down AND backwards? I road it at least once—just to
prove to my sisters I could—and hated it the whole time.  I’m sure I
screamed bloody murder, as I still do involuntarily on every ride
(much to Jasper’s delight).  I’m sure my lifelong motion sickness was
present and accounted for.

Well, the past couple of days Ol’ Montezuma and his revenge have been
on my mind a lot.  I’ve been thinking about how people often describe
an experience as an “emotional rollercoaster,” and how this reminds me
much more of an “emotional Montezuma’s Revenge.”  At times we have
barreled forward, full speed ahead, zooming easily through daunting
loops to amazing heights.  But at other times—usually within the same
day—we have felt ourselves falling down the same hill, speeding just
as quickly backward through equally daunting loops, only to be right
back where we started.

On the surface it would seem that our paperwork frustrations have been
the culprit—yanking us mercilessly back and forth.  But over the past
week I’ve asked myself many times why those relatively small issues
have burrowed so far under my skin.  And they are relatively small if
you think of them in terms of life or death, or adoption-ending, or
even the type of things many people have appeared at embassies for
throughout our history—like desperation to flee a war-torn country, or
determination to rescue a child who’s been kidnapped by a foreign
spouse.

We knew all along that our situation would work out.  It was only a
matter of extra time and effort, and taking extra guff.  What I’ve
finally realized over the past two days is that these superficial
obstacles only cut you deep when they strike your own areas of inner
fear and weakness.  My darkest moments over the past two weeks have
not been when we discovered yet another delay at the embassy.  Rather,
they have been when those glitches made me question this adoption
altogether.  I always say how much blog comments and emails keep me
going.  Well here’s an example:  two comments we read tonight really
helped.  Emily Southers reminded us that if you are truly inspired to
do something, there WILL be a way to get it done.  And Emily Rice
reminded us that we too often think if something is right it will be
easy to accomplish.  The opposite is usually true.  We must persevere
through the obstacles.  Thanks, Emilys.

(Another comment that made my week was from my friend, Sydney, who
said “Your blog is way better than TV.”  Coming from you, Syd, my
fellow couch potato, that is high praise!)

As Steve said we would, we woke up and headed straight to the embassy
this morning.  I must interject here that this was “straight to” in
Addis Ababa terms.  That means that on our way there we were
rear-ended twice on a hill by a taxi driving with no brakes.  Gecho
and the taxi stopped in the middle of the road, causing a huge traffic
jam and a gaggle of interested spectators who happily—Ethiopian
style—came out to the car to offer Gecho their opinion about the
damage.  We waited patiently in the rickety old van, giving the crowd
their fill of staring at white people, until the traffic cop arrived
(on foot) to draw chalk lines around the cars.  Then (Ethiopian style)
the guilty driver jumped into OUR car, and Gecho gave him a ride to
the traffic office.  That still amazes me about this culture!  They
can argue and still be nice to each other at the same time.

Anyway, we finally arrived at the embassy to find it deserted.
Fridays are half-day and very empty.  Linda came out to speak to
Steve.  She gave us the bad news that there were still no
fingerprints, but also very kindly gave Steve some more info about the
process, and her best guess that the fingerprints would be here on
Monday.  She assured him that everything else was completely in order
and ready to go.  She was very sympathetic and said that the ways our
agency had failed us were unforgiveable—that catching these paperwork
issues is the very reason you use an agency.

Though I thought this would most likely be the outcome today, I was
very dejected.  Steve had thought it would actually pull through and
our miracle would be complete.  But it probably didn’t hurt for Linda
to see that I was on the verge of tears.  We sat in the embassy for a
while talking things over, and Steve suggested we go back in and ask
them for another power of attorney, this time giving my authority to
Steve.  I had been opposed to the idea of him staying instead of me
because I somehow felt it was my duty.  But I had to admit he was in a
better state of mind to stay than I was.  Many of the things that are
stressing me out here—like staff interfering in parenting when I’m
trying to lay down my own parenting rules—just don’t bug him.  He’s
not the Mom.  Steve convinced me that he really didn’t mind the idea
of staying, and that three more days of missed work could be forgiven
in such a situation.  He filled out all the paperwork and dragged me
back upstairs, and had them chase down an official to please give us
one more power of attorney (they normally don’t do those on Fridays).
They helped us kindly, and once we had that resolved I think we both
felt much better.  It was almost a relief to know that there was no
more hope for us all going together on time.  You get sick of waiting
and hoping, and it was good to know finally what our new plan would
be.

It’s not Ethiopia that’s making me extremely eager to leave.  As I’ve
written, I have had a great experience with the Ethiopian people and
country.  In fact, I want to stress that in this whole process it was
our agency at fault, and the US government who slowed us down.  There
were no problems whatsoever with the Ethiopian paperwork.  One of my
greatest fears about this is that our experience will deter other
people from adopting from Ethiopia.  That would be tragic.  The
children are wonderful, the people are welcoming, and I still think
it’s one of the best countries for international adoption.  Just
choose a better agency and you’ll be fine!

Ironically, I was paranoid and over-researched our agency.  We ended
up with a large and very reputable agency, and waited six months with
them.  But then, about a year ago, I started to feel antsy and wonder
if I should look elsewhere.  I could tell that large agency, CHSFS,
was very popular and was having an increase in its wait times.  I felt
I should look around, and that’s when I found our current agency.  I
didn’t know this when I signed with them (I won’t say the name yet but
please email me if you are a prospective adoptive family and want to
know), but it is only ONE MAN in Oregon who works through ONE attorney
here in Addis who BUGS the embassy staff.  He has no other staff on
the ground here, and indeed no other staff in the US!  I’m not sure
you can even call that an agency.  He promised a very short wait, and
was working with an orphanage we really liked.  It felt right to
change, so we did.  It’s hard to say now whether I regret that
decision, because we could only have gotten these particular two girls
through this agency.  Still, I do regret all the trouble it’s caused
us and the many people who’ve helped us.  I feel like a grand fool.
Ah, well.  If I’m a fool at least I’m making it public.

All in all, I think we’re feeling pretty good tonight.  We’ll take one
last road trip tomorrow, to see the girls’ village (without them, of
course), and then J and R and I will leave for the airport, to arrive
in Salt Lake Monday night.  Steve and the girls will follow as soon as
possible, we hope no later than Wednesday.  Saffron/Tinsae seemed to
take the news well.  From the look on her face as she was waiting for
the translation of what I was saying, I think she was expecting
something much worse.  Three to four days extra here with Dad didn’t
sound bad in comparison.

Meki, where the girls come from, is about two hours from Addis.  We’re
especially excited to visit because last night Tinsae suddenly opened
up to “Grandpa Gecho” at dinner and started telling him about her life
there.  She told him exactly where she used to live, so that Gecho
said he would be able to show us the exact place.  I  wouldn’t want to take the girls back to Meki now,
but I hope we can get some photos and video that will be useful to them in the future if they want to see what their past looked like.  I’m really grateful for Gecho, for creating such an atmosphere of
trust that these little girls feel they can tell him anything, while
they still remember it in their own language.  As we bump along
through busy Addis, you hear a constant, high-pitched chorus of
“Gecho” this, and “Gecho” that from T and B.

And finally, a note about the kids.  T and B are finally attempting a
little English.  Last night all four kids, including Jasper, had a
great time playing together.  This was really encouraging, as I have
worried about Jasper seeming to be left out.  Ruby also seems happy,
and to be adjusting well to the age issue.

We had the amazing experience today of having lunch inside an
Ethiopian Muslim home.  Aki and his wife have been living with her
family for the past 40 days, as is the custom here when you have a new
baby.  As today was day 40, it was a day of feasting and celebrating
before the young family returns to their own home.  Aki invited us to
his in-laws for lunch after the festivities.  It was a remarkable
insight into Ethiopian life that most travelers probably never get.
We spent a great two hours sitting on the floor eating traditional
food while being watched by our hosts, watching a traditional coffee
ceremony, and participating (by force) in traditional Ethiopian dance.
I mention all this in reference to the kids because it was a reminder
of how T and B are right now still very much a product of the culture
into which there were born.  We sampled the traditional food, a sort
of hard mashed-potato taste made of powder with a pepper liquid in the
middle, but filled up mostly on the pasta that was also served.  T and
B ate some pasta, but filled up on the traditional dish that tasted
strange to us.  Then Tinsae proceeded to wow the crowd with her
excellent traditional dancing.  When Aki’s family asked where she had
learned to dance so well, she pronounced matter-of-factly in Amharic,
“TV.”

I was struck again with the sort of uncomfortable feeling that these
girls have had a whole life separate from us—a very different life.
That can make you feel apart from each other.  But at the same time, I
thought of how quickly that will all be taken away from them, and they
will become just like us.  That will help us feel more united and the
same.  That will be a nice feeling, but will also be at the expense of
most of the culture that is right now dear to them.  I’m not saying
that’s a bad thing:  that’s international adoption.  I’m just saying
it’s worth acknowledging both sides.

I was also struck by how comfortable Jasper and Ruby are now in this
foreign place, and how comfortable they were at this family’s house.
They joined right in the dancing, and even asked for more.  They sat
on the floor and tasted the food.  They don’t even balk now at
squatting over a hole in a concrete floor when using the bathroom.  I
can’t imagine doing that at their age.  (In our bathroom here, Birhane
still lifts up the toilet seat and sits directly on the bowl.  We’re
trying to break her of this habit, but it’s hard when we go out to
restaurants and they have removed the seats altogether so everyone can
sit right on or squat right over the bowl.)

And now, wish Steve the best for the next few days.  He’ll have to
hang in here while I get to enjoy toilets that take toilet paper and
drinks that have ice.  He’s a very good sport.


This post is brought to you by the letter C, for Charles, of course.
Happy Birthday today, Buddy.  We’re sorry we’ve had so much going on
that we’ve not been focused on you today.  We love you.  Jasper and
Ruby often say how great it would be to have you living right now.
Jasper, especially, misses having a brother.

Montezuma’s Revenge


 Tonight, Emily is speechless.  Astonishing, you say!  Well it’s true, so here I am, the quiet guy writing our entry for the day.  She had already brainstormed the whole intro to today’s blog (didn’t know we put so much thought into it, eh?), hence the title above.  I tried my hand at duplicating what we talked about last night, but I ain’t no writer.  Get me talking about the economy, the markets, or even specific stocks and I’ll talk your ear off.  (Now I’m not actually that one-sided, but you get my drift, I hope).  Actually, it’s not so much that she’s speechless, but rather, she’s had her ear glued to the phone all evening as everything was turned on its head about six hours ago.

This morning, I woke up weepy and frantically hopeful.  The thought of having to leave Emily behind to sort things out and have to face the embassy interview by herself has been horrible to accept.  I slept quite restlessly last night and every moment I awoke and turned over, I would say a quick prayer that we would somehow get a call from Abebe with the news that our fingerprints were here and we could go in for our interview today.  The morning passed with no call. 

I finally couldn’t stand it anymore so I called him.  Emily didn’t elaborate but last night in her post, but Abebe called us with a question from the embassy about whether we had done an addendum to our home study since we initially thought we would be getting younger children.  The addendum that Emily actually learned about on her own and had the presence of mind to ask our agency about modifies our initial approval to allow us to adopt an older child.  Luckily, we had it and had brought it with us as we understood.  We were thrilled to have finally done something right it seemed. 

Anyway, in my call to Abebe after lunch, I asked if he had called the embassy with the news that we had brought the addendum to our home study with us.  He said in his overly confident tone, that No, he hadn’t called the embassy but that they knew we had the form and the minute he hears from the embassy he’ll call us.  Now wait a second.  HOW does the embassy know we have the addendum here if you haven’t called them???  They called just last night enquiring whether we had the form, so the rational thing to do is call them back and give them the answer.  This is the system we feel trapped in, advocates who should be on our side, proactively calling on our behalf but ….  We’ve learned not to push Abebe because he can turn the rude on really fast, so I thanked him and went back to composing a talk in my mind about unanswered prayers.

As I watched the cell phone today, hoping it would ring at any second, it never did.  Just like that watched pot that never boils.  At about 4:45 pm, Abebe called and as I fumbled with the phone, it was all I could do to answer it.  We had a poor connection (yes, it happens even in the country, not just with all your overseas calls) but the gist of the conversation was that he had just received a call from the embassy asking about our home study addendum (see above paragraph!!) and when he told them we had brought it with us, they apparently said that was all wrong.  Forget the fingerprints, even if they come in, things are so fouled up since the addendum wasn’t processed correctly by our agency that there is no way to complete the adoption now.  WHAT?!?!

We went into high gear, gob smacked by this development.  We started calling the US and spent the next four hours racing to make some copies of this notarized document, then gave a copy to another adoptive mother Abebe put us in contact with who is returning to the States tonight to give to our agency.  We spent significant time on the phone while we were in the city center having dinner, a lucky thing since we get better cell coverage there.  Long story short, our Senator’s office pulled significant strings and Ralph and his assistant, Carol, have leapt the tallest building ever in a single bound.  As we were pulling away from dinner, Carol called us and asked if we could send her a scanned copy of the addendum and they would work that through the system.

Now take a step back here.  That seems like a simple request, but imagine where would you go to get a document scanned in an ‘un’- developing country like Ethiopia after 8 p.m.?  Carol said a fax might work but obviously who knows what clarity the phone lines around here would carry as anyone who has tried to call us will attest to.  Well, we go back to the phenomenal people here at the guest home where we have stayed.  Our driver, Gecho, drove us to an internet cafĂ© where we found a scanner!  As they rebooted the computer twice to see if they could get it working, a lone cockroach ran around on the desk and no one seemed concerned about it but me.  As Emily navigated a bathroom stop with all the kids and no toilet paper (but this time, the toilet did have a seat), I eventually got the pages scanned and sent off.

The path they took from Carol’s hands from there is amazing.  Truly, nothing short of a miracle as they passed from our agency’s hands (where it apparently needs to originate) to the USCIS (Immigration Services) where the document received some stamp of approval and then on to the National Visa Center.  Without Carol and our Senator’s aide, this would have all been required to be in hard copy form and could have easily taken a few weeks.  Apparently, the National Visa Center has even agreed to send the form on to the Ethiopian embassy so they’ll have it there in the morning.

Now, have no guarantees that all these Herculean efforts by so many people on our behalf will lead to anything tomorrow.  There’s still that pesky issue of fingerprints floating around out there somewhere that apparently need to be approved, as if my fingerprints have changed from 15 months ago!  Then there’s the fact the embassy said it takes two days to issue a visa or next day turnaround for a Thursday application. But on Friday, when the embassy is only open half a day, I can’t imagine they would come in on Saturday for us.  Nonetheless, we are holding on to the glimmer of hope we feel at this point, as so many people, some of whom we don’t even know, have rekindled our tired lamps that the winds of daily discouragements had nearly blown out.

We have decided that the only possible way this might work is if we go to the embassy in the morning, hoping that things have made their way to them and they will grant us the exception of a same-day interview.  Further, if they can somehow issue a visa for our girls before our Saturday night flights, we can stay together as a family.  Otherwise, we face the difficult task of splitting up so as not to incur as many further costs from what has already been a very costly, especially emotionally, journey to get to this point. 

Signing off for now,

Steve

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lame

Written WEDNESDAY NIGHT but internet connectivity, like so many other
aspects of life right now, has been very frustrating…


Today was a pretty lousy day on all fronts.  The kids all fought and
whined.  We had to make another humiliating appearance at the embassy
to take care of power of attorney, in preparation for the depressing
prospect of Steve leaving and me staying here.  Still no fingerprints.
We went to the leprosy hospital which was a really cool place, but
all the people were at lunch, the guy from the branch who works there
was off for the day, and Ruby had a total breakdown.  Gecho got a
flat.

The highlight of my day was having the first green vegetables I've had
in recent memory.  The only fruit and veg I've had is cooked carrots
on two occasions, and bananas here and there.  If it weren't for all
the Coke I'm drinking, I'd be all plugged up.  I haven't had much
appetite the last couple days, unless you call a craving for Ibuprofen
an appetite.  But tonight at a really-almost-American-like restaurant,
called LimeTree, I had a Caesar salad.  I devoured it.  I also ate
half of Steve's Greek salad.

For the first time in over 10 days, we actually forgot to take our
phone to dinner.  When we returned we had a missed call from Abebe,
who had received a phone question from the embassy.  This is great
news--they are looking at our file.  We also received a really
encouraging email from a Senator's aide, indicating that she had
received a response from the embassy promising attention to our case.
This is wonderful news!  This was an even bigger highlight than my
salad.

I'm only cautiously optimistic, because tomorrow is the last possible
day we could have an interview and still get out of here Saturday.
That means they would have to get fingerprints tomorrow and schedule a
same-day interview.  That seems like a slim chance, but now that
they're making an extra effort I really hope it will happen somehow.
I guess the biggest obstacle is still having the fingerprints arrive,
though, because that's something without which they absolutely won't
proceed.

One thing I had not anticipated is that having the process be really
crappy and stressful makes you question the whole adoption.  I guess
it's like when you have a horrible moving experience, and wonder if
you really should've moved in the first place.  I'm trying to be aware
of this fact and stay logical, and not doubt everything that felt good
before, but it's difficult.  I also see the girls bonding to the staff
here, to whom they can speak Amharic.  That's one of the things that
worries me about staying longer--that it will really slow our bonding
with each other.  And I know the sooner we really bond, the sooner
we'll both feel better about things.  Though I now know quite a few
Amharic words, I started putting my foot down a bit today and
insisting on English.  I also refused to let anyone else comfort B in
Amharic during her tantrum today.  I made her stay in the room with
me, until I finally put her in the shower to distract her from her
bawling.  It's still quite a novelty, and by the time I got her
dressed again she had given up (about an hour).

You'll all be asleep during the crunch hours tomorrow, so please wish
us the best before you nod off.  An interview Thursday is our last
hope of going home all together.

This post is brought to you by the letter 'L', as in, the Lame horse
who is still in the median in the middle of our road, after 10 days.
He is starving to death.  You can now see every bone.  Though I see
and give to beggars on the street every day here, this is the sighte
that most breaks my heart.  I've never been a big animal advocate, but
there is something about this beast of burden abandoned in the middle
of a busy urban area.  People seem to believe in helping people here,
but not animals.  I'm no longer wishing I could somehow pay for a vet
to pick up this animal; now I'm wishing I were Jason Bourne, and I was
staying here speaking the language perfectly (as he always does), and
I had a gun with a silencer, and was a softie inside (as I know he
is), and could sneak out tonight and put this poor horse out of his
misery.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Embassy Shmembassy

I know people are wondering, so I wanted to let you know that our embassy visit today did not go well.  Our new fingerprints had not yet been processed, so they would not interview us.  For some reason--I'm really not sure why, as we were very calm and polite--the adoption staffer with whom we spoke was extremely aggitated and rude.  I understand that she could not interview us without fingerprints, but I don't understand why she was so upset with us, or why she wouldn't give us any information.  We asked for an estimate of how long it might take to get them back, or when we might possibly be able to get another interview.  She refused to answer anything, even just to give us an estimate.  She told us not to come back or call--they would contact our agency rep (Abebe) when our fingerprints were in.  She told us we never should have come--that we had been told not to travel without fingerprints and had violated that.  This is not true, as confirmed by our agency.

There is a very nice group of women staying here at Ethiopia Guest Home with us.  They are here on business for a nonprofit called Lifewater.  One of them worked in the state department for several years, at various foreign embassies, even with adoptions.  She tells us there actually is a lot they can do for American citizens abroad, to make exceptions and expedite things.  Both she and Abebe and Radu (agency) told us the best next step was to contact a congressperson or senator for help.  We are currently pursuing that with Ralph's help.

Thanks for all your prayers and concern.  We realize this is not life or death:  it would just be very scary financially to have to find a way to stay here another week, and to change all our plane tickets.  It would also be very stressful.  It is already difficult with four kids in our room, two who have been traveling for weeks and two who don't speak English.  They are a bit stir-crazy. 

We will already have been right in the capital city for two weeks, because this issue has forced us to cancel all our travel to other parts of Ethiopia.  Though we have really loved Ethiopia, everyone is asking us what we are possibly doing in the capital for two weeks.  There are some things to see here, and some day trips, but much of the great stuff is in other parts of the country.  Because of these issues, we have been forced to stay tethered to the capital and cancel all of our other travel.  We have certainly enjoyed seeing a lot of Addis and its surroundings, but we bounce around in an old van all day in heavy traffic in Addis, or on the road.  The kids are starting to hate the car rides and be hyper in the car.  It goes without saying that there are no seatbelts, and T and B have no sense that you must sit in a moving vehicle.  The kids are also getting less willing to eat the food--it's not wholly American and not wholly Ethiopian, so none are very happy.  We can't eat local fruits and vegetables unless they are carefully washed, and our guest home rarely serves them.  So, Steve and I are starting to feel plugged up.  With all this, the thought of adding on a third week is really a tough concept. 

Again, we love Ethiopia and would have loved to really see her sights.  We're just disappointed to have cancelled all the best stuff and stuck around here, only to have things STILL not work out.  I must say, though, that all the people here have been absolutely wonderful.  They are open, loving, friendly, and patient.  They have tended our kids, braided their hair, tried to accomodate their picky food tastes, and driven us everywhere, waiting for hours in the car for us.  The guard fetches us Coke and Fanta.  They all translate constantly for us.  (Today we had them explain Halloween, and that you must apologize to your siblings when Mom tells you to.)  One employee we don't even know went out of his way today to find us and express his sympathy that our embassy visit had not gone well today.  Being turned away from the embassy on the verge of tears today, I really don't know what I would have done if we hadn't had such great people waiting for us back here.  I will never forget the kindness shown us here.  I never would have guessed that we'd feel more comfortable here than at the embassy.

We did try to distract ourselves today by going to the national museum.  We try to go somewhere everyday.  We saw the famous "Lucy" and other of the worlds oldest skeletons, oldest ancestors of man found here that make Ethiopia a good candidate for Cradle of Humanity.  The museum is a confusing contradiction--like everything else in this city.  Some great treasures inside, but outside rundown, weeds overgrowing the statue of Haile Salassie, and the museum's sign resting against an old tree.  The museum guide told us he believes it was the Derg--the socialist government that took over after Salassie in the 70's--who ruined Ethiopia and set her back so far in development.

A few positive notes:

-The receptionist today told me my Amharic has improved a lot since I arrived.  That's good--and I still have another week.  I'll be fluent by then!  Except maybe I'm speaking too much, because the girls aren't attempting much English.

-I still have another week to benefit from this African diet (although today I had them take me to an upscale store and I bought expensive cheer-us-up treats like peanut M&M's.  I bought Steve an Apple-Jacks-Look-Alike cereal for an anniversary gift.  Thirteen years today.).

-Today at the museum there was a group of several French adoptive families there, all with their little babies and toddlers.  Unlike the first day at the orphanage, where I looked a bit longingly at the babies, I had no desire for them today.  Rather, I felt like we were the lucky ones, with our two older African Beauties, and those families must all be jealous that we had these wonderful older children.  That was a good realization to have. Sometimes I look at Tinsae, whose hair is now braided up off her neck, and think she really could be an Afican Queen.  Her bone structure is beautiful, graceful, and elegant--something she never could have gotten from my genes.  And Birhane's dimples and bubbly chatter turn heads.  We are the lucky ones. 

-Blog comments, phone calls and emails of support:  these are definitely a highlight, and have really kept me feeling positive throughout this trip.  I think back on specific things said online or on the phone frequently throughout the day.  All your support--and I mean EVERYONE--has meant the world to us.  We feel already love our girls, and love us, too.

Love to all,
Emily

FYI:  In the photos on the last post, the man in the yellow shirt is our translator and friend, Aki.  He goes everywhere with us.  He came to church with us on Sunday and loved it.  I think he made some good new friends there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Abyssinia

 A note to my previous entry about freaking out over T's age:  Ruby was an integral part of talking me down from that ledge.  I first spoke to another adoptive father staying at the guesthouse, who previously adopted a girl listed as 9, who turned out to be 11.  I asked him how it had gone with their other daughter at home.  He said they explained how she would always be the first daughter they had, even if not technically the oldest.  He said they're fine now.  I then casually talked to Ruby while doing her hair, and asked her sort of casually what she thought of the whole age order thing.  She said she really didn't care what grade Tinsae was in, as long as she wasn't in first.  "I just want my own grade to myself--just like I like to have my own cup to myself.  You know."  Very good 6-year-old logic.  I then brought up the idea that, no matter what eventually shakes out, we know she came to our family first, and that must have been how Heavenly Father planned it.  I said we were lucky to have had a very special six years together.  "Yes, Mom," she said.  "It's like we were all coming in car rides, and I got there first."  Exactly.  Then she added, in her new pre-teen talk, I guess, "You know, Tinsae and I are like, pals."  This conversation was wonderful--it meant the world to me.


Today, again, T refused breakfast.  This time I didn't offer her anything else.  B refused also, even though she'd liked the waffles before, as a show of solidarity with her sister.  T and R also had their first altercation:  T had our digital voice recorder, which I brought to record them speaking Amharic.  Mostly it gets a lot of little girls giggling.  Ruby wanted a turn, and kept saying "Ebakesh."  (Please.)  Tinsae wouldn't give it, so Ruby grabbed for it and accidentally poked T in the eye.  We made her apologize, and gave T a hug.  They both sulked a bit.  I thought it was great--this is much more like typical sister behavior than friend/sleepover behavior.  As for the breakfast thing, these little episodes are not stressing me out as much as I thought they might.  It just seems so expected.  The bloom is a bit off our rose now, and they're probably missing the comforts of the orphanage.  I'd rather have these things start to happen now, with translators around, than wait until we're home.  Aki says they see these same things for a few days with all the children.  For the most part, our days are still surprisingly easygoing.  After the kids are in bed, Steve and I still look at each other and say it feels like we're tending.  This is so surreal!! It reminds me of when I brought Jasper home from the hospital and I thought, "I don't know you from Adam.  Are they really going to trust me with you?"  It's not a lack of desire to bond, just an acknowledgement that it happens little by little, day by day.


Anyway, enjoy the post below.  We'll try to add some photos.

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Today we met a wise old museum guide in St. Mary’s Church at Entoto  This, the first Orthodox Christian Church in Ethiopia, sits atop a hill on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, next to the old palace of Menelik II..  I was, as usual, asking many questions.  As we walked away I asked Aki, our translator, for clarification about Ethiopia’s religious history.  Aki, who is young, did not know the answer and insisted we go back to the guide so I could understand.  The guide answered my question, and noted my curiosity with a smile.  He whispered something that struck me distinctly, and crystallized thoughts I’ve been having since I first began reading about Ethiopia.  “You are now part of Ethiopia’s family, with your children,” he said in a thick accent.  “You must come back here, and bring others.  The Western world thinks of Ethiopia as the very lowest of Africa.  Someday in the future they will again recognize that it is the top.” 

As we walked away from the guide, I told Aki the old man was right:  Unfortunately, most of the Western world does think of Ethiopia as only poor and starving.  I used to, also.  He said to me, “You are a writer.  Someday maybe you will write a book telling the truth about Ethiopia to the world.”  I don’t know that I’m the right candidate for that, but I think I can manage a blog post.  I am reading one of the great books already written about Ethiopia, There Is No Me Without You, by Melissa Fay Greene.  She explains what the old guide meant, why Ethiopia was once the top of Africa.

“Standing like a mountain fortress above the Horn of Africa, near the confluence of the Red sea, the Arabian sea, and the Indian Ocean, ancient Ethiopia defied foreign conquerors for millennia and traded in slaves, gold, ivory, spices, gems, textiles, and animals with ancient Eqypt, Persia, Arabia, the Roman Empire, and India.  Five-thousand-year-old Egyptian hieroglyphs mention the preference of the pharaohs for myrrh from Ethiopia.  For centuries, Axum, the highland Ethiopian kingdom of the Amhara people, was the dominant Red Sea power, builder of castles and massive stone monoliths, minter of gold, silver and copper coins.  Third-century CE Persian writings named the world’s four great kingdoms as Rome, China, Persia, and Axum.”

“The Ethiopian script and alphabet, the Ethiopian church, the Ethiopian calendar, the Ge’ez script (the first written language in Africa) and Ethiopian literature, the illuminated Ge’ez Bibles, the Ethiopian clock, Ethiopian holidays, and indigenous styles of architecture, painting, oral poetry, dance, and tapestry survive uncompromised, undiluted, unique on the planet.  And the handsome, slender, prideful Ethiopian people know it, too.”

“For how many millennia were the Abyssinians [the name of ancient Ethiopia was Abyssinia] sitting up there on their rocky plateau, discussing literature in coffee shops, while, in barbarian Europe, less evolved of the Homo sapiens clubbed each other with rocks and rode warhorses and lofted spears at each other?”  [Coffee first came from Ethiopia—it was first harvested in the forests of Kaffa.]

So why, then, is Ethiopia in the state it is in?  There are many reasons, but one—ironically—is that Ethiopia managed to fight off colonization by European powers.  Italy did occupy Ethiopia for five years, by deceiving its emperor with a fake treaty.  Ethiopians fought desperately until the Italians gave up, so it never materialized into a full-fledged colonization.  This is a point of great pride for Ethiopians;  however, as a result Ethiopia never had the benefit of millions of dollars of infrastructure investment from a wealthy foreign power.

Ms. Greene explains some of the other reasons Ethiopia lost its place in line, like world financial policies, poor national political and economic management, and AIDS.  Ethiopia’s ‘development’ clock began to turn backwards,” she says.  And she notes a point I had never considered before:

“’Terminology like ‘developing countries’ [gives] the impression that the whole world is moving in the same direction, albeit at varying rates,’ writes Mark Heywood . . . . “The whole world is not moving in the same direction.  Many so-called ‘developing countries’ are more accurately described as undeveloping countries.  They are going backwards. . . . Infant morality is on the rise again.  Adult life expectancy is going down.  Poverty is increasing.’”

Sometimes when you’re speaking to Ethiopians here in Addis, the capital city, its hard to believe this.  They are on Facebook.  They have TV stations ranging from Al Aqsa to the BBC.  They are healthy and well-fed; they have radio quiz shows asking which three executive-branch Americans have won the Nobel Peace Prize.  (Can you name them?)

And yet, here in the capital city, shepherds and goatherds guide their animals down the side of every busy road.  A starving, injured horse, with a huge, infected red tumor on one foot making it lame, stood helplessly in the middle of the road for two days on a busy road right around the corner from our guest house.  Steve and I were so disturbed we finally decided to call a vet—but the next day the horse was nowhere in sight.  We have only seen one working traffic light.  And when traffic does stop due to congestion, beggars immediately spot our white faces and appear at the windows of our van, asking for anything.  Today at the zoo two very trendy-looking young women begged for a photo with Jasper because he’s a handsome, blond, white boy.

And yet again, our Ethiopian guides are always kind to the beggars, and encourage us to give something.  There is no road rage, though cars are constantly honking within inches of each other, headed in every which direction.  And have I mentioned that gas station attendants stand in there parking lots with wads of thousands of Birr—the currency—right out in the open?  Steve and I couldn’t believe our eyes, but Gecho assured us there is no danger of theft.

It begins to seem impossible to put your finger on this country, to sum it up or describe it neatly.  Perhaps it is really two countries, and they both come together in Addis Ababa.  Because when you talk to these city friends about the “countryside,” as they call it, they speak as if it is almost a different world.  When I asked about female circumcision, Aki looked shocked and said, “Perhaps some, but only in the countryside.”  In the capital city, most people speak and read both Amharic and English.  In the countryside many are illiterate.  Characteristically, though, the Ethiopian people are open, and acknowledge these differences.  It is very similar to their two-pronged view of adoption.  As one Ethiopian official says in the book, “I am deeply respectful of the families who care for our children.  But I am so very interested in any help that can be given to us to keep the children’s first parents alive.  Adoption is good, but children, naturally, would prefer not to see their parents die.”

I have asked Aki a couple of times whether Ethiopians resent our being here, taking their orphans.  He assures me they don’t, and the attitude of those we come across bears him out.  Today at the zoo, we were as much on display as the animals.  Everywhere we went people stopped to stare at us, to look at Jasper and Ruby, and to watch us interact with Tinsae and Birhane.  I could tell some were asking Aki questions about us.  But they are smiling at us.  They greet Tinsae and Birhane.  I get the sense that many people in Addis think of these orphans as “countryside” children.  I wonder if that is correct.

Many people ask us, “Why Ethiopia?”  In the beginning my answers were mostly related to the reasons Ethiopia makes adoption reliable and quick, and produces children who are generally emotionally healthy.  Steve and I did know, however, that you are strongly encouraged to choose a country whose culture interests you, so that you can help the children feel pride in their heritage.  I still believe this strongly—Ethiopia is not right for everyone; rather, adoption is such an emotional leap that every family should only pursue the country that speaks to their hearts.  For us, it happened over time.  It was when we learned many of the things above, as well as Ethiopia’s fascinating interactions with ancient peoples of the Bible, that Steve and I felt we really could love this culture.  Now that I’m here, seeing this green and beautiful countryside, learning the history, meeting kindness at every turn, and unlocking the mystery of these two girls, I realize it would be impossible for me not to love Ethiopia.  I’ll have no problem instilling pride of heritage in Tinsae and Birhane.


It’s 11:00 PM, and I have to smile as I watch Steve carry little adorably crazy-haired Birhane to go “shent.”  I think this would be much more difficult if you didn’t have previous children.  For us, we’ve learned that when a 3-year-old wakes up crying in the night, it’s pretty much always because they need to go to the bathroom.  Among other things, there are two things in particular that I find really fascinating about Birhane’s approach to this whole situation.  One is how she is different from other 3-year-olds, and the other is how she is different from her sister.

Birhane has clearly been through it, and learned not to whine about it.  It sure makes it look like I’ve been spoiling my kids with too much validation all these years.  I’m sure the best parenting approach is somewhere in between.  Birhane is clearly sick, so I’ve made her take all sorts of medicine, from a gross, powder-water cough medicine, to half of one of Jasper’s Allegra (OK, Dr. Lizzie?), to Tums, to Tylenol.  I can’t believe how she takes it all like a pro.  She’s clearly never had anything chewable, so she insists on swallowing them all, no matter how I try to demonstrate chewing.  This was rather shocking because I gave her the Tums first.  Those suckers are pretty big!  Yet she took them, put them on the back of her tongue, took a swig of water and swallowed.  You could see that the size and taste were alarming, but she went ahead without a peep.  With the cough medicine, as soon as I fill the spoon this little mouth opens wide—it’s like a weird twist on Pavlov’s dog.  Again—it clearly doesn’t take good, but no whining, just some water, please.  And she doesn’t even have a clue why or what I’m giving her!  I can’t imagine this working with either of my previous 3-year-olds.  She also stops whatever she’s doing right when I ask her, and gets in her bed and goes to sleep right when I point at it.  We’ve gone through two unpleasant lice washings, one of which got soap in her eyes.  She made some mild sounds to alert me to the problem, but remained calm and accepted my remedy of cold, water-bottle water poured on her eyes.  It’s amazing!  I’m sure these are all benefits of orphanage life that will sadly disappear as soon as she realizes I’m bluffing at this whole thing.  For now, I’m enjoying it while it lasts.  And whose idea was that to give us two kids who were already potty-trained?  I’m really liking that idea.

For the other part, it’s clear that Birhane is too young to be set in her ways or realize what she’s going through.  She started calling me Mama within 24 hours.  She tries, and seems to like, just about every food she is offered.  (Ice cream didn’t make it past a few licks—too cold!  She liked the cone so just ate that until I realized what was going on, and ended up holding a melting ice cream in my hands.  I couldn’t eat it because she’s sick.  That felt like a very typical parenting moment within this strange world.)  We had a funny moment with waffles yesterday morning.  They were from a heart-shaped waffle maker, and had the resulting pattern, but still looked kind of round, like injera.  Injera is basically the national bread here.  It is large, flat, soft, and circular, and tastes like sourdough bread.  They roll it up here, and use it to eat with—as a way to pick up their food.  Birhane looked questioningly at this bumpy, strange-shaped piece of injera.  She decided to give it a go, and started to roll it up from the side.  It didn’t roll well at all, and so she announced (in Amharic) that she didn’t like the food.  We hadn’t caught on, and so were offering to get her something else.  The Amharic cook, however, Tigist, was wiser.  She showed Birhane how to break it into pieces, and then made her try some.  Of course Birhane loved it.  We then gave her syrup, and she proceeded to eat the whole thing by using the pieces to mop up the syrup and eating them, one by one.  She found a way to make it like injera, anyway.  In fact, Birhane rarely uses a fork.  She is always willing to attempt it, but soon resorts to her fingers, injera-style—tonight she even ate spaghetti with her fingers.  She is quite happy and easy-going all the time.  She attempts English words quite easily, out of the blue, and looks at you in a very straightforward manner.  She is attached to her sister, though.  Today I took her downstairs to color while Jasper and Ruby did homework.  Tinsae was still napping in her bunk.  After a while, Birhane suddenly slipped out of my sight even though she was sitting right next to me.  I got up to look for her, a bit panicked.  I found her on the stairs, coming down in response to my call.  She explained that she had just been going to find Tinsae.  Of course the only word I understood was Tinsae, but she jabbered on and motioned confidently and I got the gist.  We woke Tinsae and brought her down with us.

Tinsae, on the other hand, is understandably a bit wary.  We saw two different sides of her today which we have expected, but hadn’t seen much of yet.  We weren’t alarmed—just took notice, and probably breathed a sigh of relief to see that we got through it fine.  This morning, Tinsae refused even to try the French toast.  This is not quite like our French toast, but is made by the Ethiopian cooks here in their own way.  They serve a mix of Ethiopian and American food.  This is the first time Tinsae has not been willing to try something.  I think she was really tired.  I took her across the street to the market to pick up something else.  We have no snacks to speak of (the secret to the success of our African diet is the Lean-Cuisine size portions they serve, and the dearth of snacks), and I felt she has been such a trooper so far that she should be excused for refusing one meal.  She picked out some biscuits (cookies) and—I thought—ate enough.  But it was clear as the morning went on, from St. Mary’s Church to the zoo, that she was hungry, tired, and maybe more.  She would only admit to Aki that she was cold.  I had stupidly dressed her in short sleeves on a cool day.  She would not smile or play, and I worried that maybe I had been showing Birhane too much attention.  She always wants to sit by me or in my lap, and she is sick.  Honestly, though, we felt we couldn’t blame Tinsae for whatever might be going on in her mind.  We can only imagine what she’s feeling, and she’s really been on her best behavior.

She was still quiet through the lions and monkeys at the zoo (all I can say about that is PETA stay out, and the rest of you, don’t listen to Jane Goodall’s My Life with the Chimpanzees like we did, and then go in this zoo).  But then we discovered a children’s playground.  This was at least as good as the worst state fair or local carnival you’ve ever been to.  You know those power wheels cars we have for the kids to drive?  Well they had two old ones, and were charging money to ride them around in a circle.  Jasper didn’t even want to ride because it looked so boring, unless it was just to drive Birhane.  But the operator pulled him and Ruby in with this “the white kids WILL go together attitude” and Jasper played along.  It was really weird.  Of course a crowd gathered to watch them.  Then he let Tinsae and Birhane go, and they loved it.  This is when Tinsae could not resist a smile anymore.  She loved it.  She quickly graduated to fast driving.  There was also a scary Ferris Wheel, a pair of old metal slides, and some swings.  Tinsae was in heaven and was just beaming by the end of play time.  She had been a bit cold to me earlier, but came up after playing and said, “Mama, shent.”  Meaning, she called me Mom and trusted me to help her find a bathroom.  Tinsae is much slower to attempt English than Birhane, and also won’t speak a lot of Amharic on command.  She is happy to translate for me as needed, though, and clearly knows a lot of English—the orphanage staff was chiding her for acting as if she didn’t.  Last night she and Birhane sang the ABC’s and counted to 100 in English.  I’m not sure why she is hesitant to speak much, but I don’t feel any hostility from her.  I get the sense she’s just waiting—waiting to feel more comfortable, and to be able to say what she wants to say the way she wants to say it.

One thing she does do is play and giggle a lot with Ruby.  Tonight was a giggle-fest!  Who knows what they’re always laughing at, since they can’t speak more than a couple words to each other, but they’re enjoying something.  They are two peas in a pod.  This frenzy could get old if it went on forever, but I know it won’t.  Right now it’s like having a friend on a vacation for Ruby.  Eventually it will be more like just sisters.  You can tell that sometimes Tinsae gets sick of playing, and she’ll want to come sit close to me.  Even Ruby wanted to take a break and sit with her dad for a while today.  (All of this sitting refers to the car, as we drive a lot.)  She and Ruby will get a little irritated over electronics.  They are like an addiction to Tinsae right now, and Ruby gets tired of her interest in them.  Ruby doesn’t necessarily mind sharing as much as she wants Tinsae’s attention.  You can see Tinsae has learned to hold her own with other children and won’t always give things back when Ruby asks.  But as soon as I step in and say something she responds obediently and immediately.  She clearly feels she must be absolutely obedient to me for some reason.  Again, she doesn’t yet know that I’m just faking it.  She took a very long afternoon nap today, which I think was the complete remedy to her mood of the morning.

Ruby, on the other hand, did not nap.  Rather, she decided to throw a tantrum that started at lunch and lasted for an hour.  It was the biggest doozy I’ve ever seen from her.  I’m sure she’s exhausted, and emotionally overwhelmed.  Steve and I stayed calm and handled it the way we always do, with warnings and time out.  We eventually just put her in the next room with her food, because her screaming was making nap time impossible.  We left the door open and said she could come back when she was done crying.  Tinsae and Birhane watched the whole affair wide-eyed.  I was worried, but this is life.  I hope they didn’t think I was saying something mean to Ruby they didn’t understand.  I hope they saw that we remained gentle and reasonable with her.

As for Jasper, he’s either pretty content, or blocking us all out.  He loves Birhane, and has appointed himself her caretaker.  She thinks he’s fabulous and chatters away at him.  His response is to repeat back to her everything she says in Amharic.  She seems to accept this as encouragement to keep talking.  She even fell asleep on his lap yesterday.  He doesn’t seem bothered by the whole Tinsae-Ruby twosome, except to make sure he’s doing his big-brotherly job of bugging them from time to time.

All in all, I would say we’re doing pretty well.  Though we’re really enjoying sight-seeing, it’s getting really difficult to live in one room, and I’m getting very little sleep with Birhane’s coughing.  Ruby and Jasper are getting sick of travel all together because it’s been four weeks.  And Tinsae and Birhane need routine.  Therefore, we’re really eager to get home!!  We’re going to be hard-pressed to make it to next Saturday with happy campers.  If  our fingerprints aren’t ready and we have to wait another week, I don’t know how we’ll survive.  Or how we’ll afford it, for that matter.  Please, no!!

P.S.  Tinsae and Birhane’s last name is Ayalew because that was their father’s first name.  Ethiopians take their father’s first name as their last name.  Women don’t change their names when they marry.

P.P.S.  Melissa Greene’s book also hits the funny stuff on the head.  She describes how it feels to be an American woman here, next to an Ethiopian woman. “I always felt like Major Gangly White Woman next to her,” she says. And this comes from a woman much smaller than me.  Imagine how I look around here!  I forget until I see our photos.

P.P.S.  I think I may have to wait and start posting in the morning.  I found out in conversation with Rowlina, the night receptionist, that she goes to nursing school all day.  So the sleep she gets at this job is her only sleep.  Now I feel even more guilty for disturbing her in the office at night.