Friday, October 23, 2009

Squatters' Rights


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

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

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,

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.


Rich said...

Emily and Steve, Your family is truely amazing. I can't imagine this adventure you are living. This experience will be over soon enough and you and all 4 of your children will be home. How exciting is that? Time has a way of passing in a non stop fashion, that at times, only seems slow and at times rushing by. But it plods along at its non stop pace and things happen in the mean time. We're so excited to get you all home. You are in our prayers and in our hearts.

Jodi said...

I love your analogy of the roller coaster. I’ve often thought, while reading your posts, that you must feel like you are on a roller coaster, not knowing which way it will turn from moment to moment. I’ve also thought your blog has become like a really good book to me, I have to wait patiently for the next chapter each day. Thank you for writing in such detail this difficult journey. I am happy for you that it finally seems to be winding down.

Rachel said...

I'm breathing a little sigh of relief. Sad that you're not all traveling together, but relieved that it still seems to be working out. I really think you should share your blog with the Ethiopia yahoo adoption groups. There is such a need for your brutal honesty and the adoption world is so small. I logged in to my China Special Needs group the other day and one mom was venting about the hardships of a boy who is seizing all the time and losing his functionality for good. The outpouring of love and understanding from other adoptive parents was amazing.
I too have looked forward to your blog every day and I can't wait to see you all...Steve...any way you and the girls can fly through New York?

mabeyssayhi said...

Happy Birthday Charles! And to all the Steve Swensen family--see you all soon! Love, mom

Corinne said...

What an incredible experience you are giving to J and R. Honestly. All of you - as hard and full of obstacles as it's been, I can tell that you are learning so much and seeing the world in a way that many of us never will. I know Heavenly Father is so aware of you and your little family.

garth bruner said...

I read your blog, I feel, with the same intensity as you write it. On stressful days, I read fast. Thankfully, this entry I seemed to read with a little sadness of course for Steve, but more relief as well. Even though we are not really in your shoes, our prayers and constant thoughts have been! You haven't forgotten Charles Birthday, you have allowed him to see his parents and siblings shine. Happy Birthday Charles! Steve, we hope that we will see you sooner than later back on US soil. Much Love, Jen

mrice said...

Good luck Steve. Happy Birthday Charles. Welcome Home Emily, Jasper and Ruby. We already love you, Tinsae and Birhane.

What a beautiful and inspiring family you all make.

I'm sure you are looking forward to many things about being home. HOME-- where your new story will begin.

mrice said...

Again, that last comment was from me, not Michael. We are on our own adventure in NYC and DC the last few days and I've been logged on with his computer. Did you hear we had the same flight with your dad out to NYC?

emilysouthers said...

the intense panicked feeling in your writing has been replaced with a calm acceptance that this adoption will be finalized soon, just not on the timeline you had planned. good luck with everything. we will keep sending our thoughts and prayers your way until ALL of the Swensen family is safely tucked in at home in Bountiful.

Brooke said...

Oh Em and Steve, My heart is breaking that you are not all coming home together. I do think that you are wise to come home with the children Emily. It will help them get back into the normal pattern of things at home and I think you need to be home about now. I know Steve will be fine with the girls. He is most capable and it will be nice for him to spend time with the girls since once he gets home I'm sure work will be crazy busy. I hope and pray that he will bring your two African beauties home soon. Wishing you all safe travels and a speedy return.

Roxey said...

Oh Em. My heart aches for you, yet I also stand in awe. You are amazing and your adventures and journeys through life never cease to inspire me. Happy Birthday sweet Charles. See you all soon and have confidence...your strong spirit and devotion chooses what is right. Much love and prayers.

Charlotte said...

What a ride. Thank you for keeping us posted and for giving us so much information and insight. I believe we do feel like we already know your girls a little bit. We'll keep praying for things to finalize and for all the trips home to go as smoothly as possible. I hope after a long nap you'll find some energy to continue to write. We are all hooked on this new series you know.

Amy D said...

Happy birthday, sweet Charles. Emily, your posts are riveting. They're way better than a novel :) I'm so glad Char told me about them so I could catch up. Best of luck as you work out the last-minute details and make your way home. I so appreciate your honesty as you've shared so many things on your blog. I feel like I know your girls already :) Can't wait to meet them!

JenSav said...

How do you do it all Em? I can't believe all that you've been dealing with and especially on Charles' day. You and your story are inspiring. I love you.