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Archive for the ‘Adoption Travel’ Category

I have hesitant to share this post, so it is a bit late. Yet I feel it is good for me to write these things. I desire to be true to the story and to you, to share the whole of it. I also feel it will be good for our children to hear these things; it is part of their story. And for those of you who are preparing to bring home children, your story will be different, yet you will have challenges. Hopefully, this part of the story will help you prepare for your challenges and remind you to set your mind not on the hope that we gain by bringing home more children but the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

After we were greeted by our family and after we introduced the children to everyone, the big group of us wandered off to the luggage carousels where we were crazy-thankful to get all of our luggage! That meant that not only did we get all of our clothes back, but we also had coffee to share with friends and family, souvenirs to decorate our house (so the kids will at least have something familiar to look at here and there), and Christmas gifts!

As we headed out to the cars, it dawned on me for the first time that we would have to get in our van, the six of us, alone. No one was riding home with us, so it was just us – for the first time ever. It was exilarating and terrifying all at once. I was also exhausted which is probably why I was having to work really hard to hold back tears at the thought of caring for all of these children at once!

It took a bit of adjusting to get all of the car seats in the correct places, but once we did we drove out of the parking garage and started our long drive home. We normally don’t think of the drive from the airport as “long,” but after so many hours on planes that drive was indeed looooooooooooooooong.

As we sped along the highway, there was one point when I looked back and was shocked at the view. Y and Dimples were positioned in their five-point harness car seats for the first time. (Y uses a booster now, but we put her in the five-point harness because it is more comfortable for sleeping and not nearly as escapable as a booster. We were afraid that she wouldn’t understand the concept of having to STAY buckled in.) Their eyes were huge! In Addis the children just rode wherever; there is no such thing as car seat safety. Being strapped in and unable to move around was new…and threatening. At least for the last year of their lives, they had also probably not ridden in a car for a long period of time or at such a speed as we were cruising; every bit of that was written on their face and in their stiff body posture. I could barely reach them, so I couldn’t effectively comfort them. It was absolutely heart breaking, and worse, I began to sense that this was the end of our honeymoon. I began to have a sense that this thing we were doing was only going to get harder.

To make matters worse, when I couldn’t look at Y and Dimples anymore, because my heart hurt to see them scared, I looked back and Bubba and Little Man. Previously their seats had been in the middle row, but that night they were all the way in the back of the van. We had been so far away in Addis; now I had them back with me, yet they seemed so far away…and my mommy’s heart just broke into a million tired pieces.

Unbelievably we made it home. Handsome’s parents were staying with us, so they helped us drag all of the luggage in, unload the most important stuff, and unload our brains a bit. It was good to tell someone a bit about our trip, and they were polite to listen to all of our tales – they even did a great job of seeming interested, though we must have been fairly incoherent by that point in time.

When bedtime came, we got everyone changed and dressed, and miracle of miracles, they slept! All four children went to sleep at just the right time. We followed not too long after. Sleeping in my own bed was pure bliss!

Over the next days and weeks, we began to re-learn how to be a family and adjust to our new normal. We have never for a moment wondered if we did the wrong thing, yet I can only attribute that to God’s steady, guiding hand. There have been many, many times that Handsome and I have shaken our heads in wonder as we just couldn’t figure out what to do next. I have held my children through tantrums and screaming fits, a desperate attempt to express what they couldn’t tell me in words. I have watched as Y’s eyes filled with tears, because she wanted so badly to tell me something but didn’t know the words. I have cried as I so badly wanted to tell her something, but I just didn’t know the words. I have watched Dimples struggle with being two, which I had previously decided was terribly hard, and unfamiliarity all at once – it seems a burden that is too heavy for such a small child. I have watched somewhat helplessly as these children work to find their way in the world; while I can ease much for them, I cannot take away the wounds that they have incurred in their past or take away the sense of newness of this place.

They are making huge strides, as you all know from reading here, and we are so proud of them. The new normal seems more and more normal every day, yet I am still very aware that this new normal is hard fought and not easily won.

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This flight was much, much less painful than it could have been. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful we were for that; we felt our friends and family must have been praying for us! When we got off, we were bound for US immigration and customs… -from Part XXI

When arriving into the country one must pass through a maze that is called Immigration, then another maze that is called Customs. We de-planed with a mob of other people. Because we had two young children and lots of s.t.u.f.f., we were toward the back of the pack. This turned out not to be such a bad thing, as most of the pack headed off to the lines where the Americans go. We guessed that since we were headed into the country with two people who were not technically American citizens yet, we were supposed to pick the shorter of the two lines – the one for foreigners.

It was with shaking hands that I dug out all the necessary documents – passports, visas, those sealed envelopes…and then waited. When we were called, the lady behind the glass was none too kind. I don’t remember what she asked us, but her tone of voice was short and her words condescending. I have been through customs before, and I have had less-than-polite people behind the glass; but this was different. She was sure that she had the right to talk down to us. That is, until she looked at our passports, and her tone suddenly changed. Instantly, she was a completely different woman. She politely took our envelopes to the correct place and escorted us to the next waiting room.

…where again I started shaking or perhaps I started shaking harder. I don’t remember what all happened there, but it involved us suddenly being the most important people in the room (thank God it was fairly empty) and moving to the front of the line. It also involved us saying good-bye to our manila envelopes, because whatever was inside seemed to quench the curiosity of the man who opened them. I do believe that he told us something about congratulations or some such thing. Wish I could remember that; I’m sure it would be a great moment to tell the kids about when they are older and understand the gravity of it all.

From then on, we were free to bring our children into the US…though not yet our luggage.

We had to collect our bags and then stand in line at customs. While I was managing the children, Handsome did the heavy lifting. It took a long time to get the bags. The customs agent standing near our luggage carousel must have sensed that I was exhausted; after a while of watching us, he walked over, told me the children were doing very well, and handed me a piece of candy for both of them. Or maybe it was for me; either way it was a welcome encouragement.

Customs was relatively easy. Long ago, when I did my student teaching in Wales, I bought my wedding dress. After living there for months, I brought it back to the states in a big sealed box; inside, the dress was hidden in layers and layers and layers of tissue paper. For every minute of the flight back, I was terrified that the Customs folks were going to rip into my giant box and all of my tissue paper and that white silk with their dirty, stamp-marked, grubby fingers. I imagined that not only would I have a forever-stained dress, but I would never ever be able to get it back in that box or get the box sealed like the shop did! I remember hugging that box to my being and willing it to be invisible. In the end, I did get a lot of questions and a raised eyebrow or two, but they did not open my precious wedding gown box!

On this journey home, all we had was a few bags of spices, some souvenirs, and a lot of dirty, stinky clothes – oh, and some coffee for friends and family. While I was prepared for some level of disappointment, I just wasn’t too worried. And I didn’t need to be. They wanted to know what kind of spices we had, but they didn’t care about anything else. They didn’t even want to look in our bags.

We did have to get the heavy luggage back on the conveyors and on their way again, but that was okay. Even better, once we had done that, we walked through a set of double doors and realized that we had made it. We were almost home…except for that one last flight.

We grabbed what turned out to be a less than ideal dinner and remembered why we hate eating in airports, then we headed to our gate. Our gate changed, so we headed to our new gate. Once there, we had some time to freshen up. I changed my clothes and the kids’ clothes and was nothing less than grateful for that opportunity! I was also thrilled to use my toothbrush and wash my face!!! The bathroom was clean and smelled fresh – pleasant even (!), and again you can’t underestimate the excitement I experienced over those little details.

It was just then that I began to be concerned. This is what the remainder of our waiting time looked like:

the kids, seeing snow for the first time

I just kept telling Handsome, “I have to get home toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!” He continually reassured me that we would.

When they called to board our plane, I was jumping up and down inside. Perhaps on the outside too; I can’t remember exactly! We stowed our luggage and buckled ourselves in and hunkered down for our last flight. Then we waited. Some other group of people was running late or something, so we waited for a good while.

When we finally pulled away from the gate, all I could think was, “Aaaah!” I just couldn’t wait to see Bubba and Little Man! I couldn’t wait to be at the end of this journey and sleep in my own bed in my own time zone. Y had fallen asleep rather quickly, and I was very thankful. I was exhausted too.

We taxied to the runway. It seemed that we were sitting on the runway a long time. Occasionally the pilot would come over the intercom and tell us our number in line. I distinctly remember him telling us that we were seventh. A little later, we were third.

Then instead of announcing that we were ready for take-off, his voice informed us that we would be returning to the gate to be de-iced. I started to cry just a bit.

The de-icing took a while, but I manged to keep the tears to a steady, silent flow.

Then the pilot came on and said that we would not be leaving the gate for a while on account of the snow that had turned to ice.

We called home and let them know that our flight would be late. The crowd that was there to greet us told us they would wait.

Then the pilot came on and said that we would not be leaving the gate at all, because the airport had been shut down by the FAA on account of the snow that had turned to ice.

Then I turned into a puddle.

I felt really bad for the guy sitting next to me. My husband was in the seat behind me, some poor soul had the distinct privilege of sitting next to my sorry blubbering self. At that point I had been traveling more than thirty hours, and I’m pretty sure I had not a shred of keep-it-together-ness left. I was literally sobbing out loud, and I couldn’t help it. The only conscious thought I had was that I needed to get home to my children!

We made the horrible phone call to let friends and family know that we would not be coming home for a long while, perhaps for another day. The crowd of friends who had gathered to greet us told us that they would be sure to get a picture of everyone before they went home.

I cried some more.

The pilot told us that we could get off of the airplane, but he also encouraged us to stay on the airplane. He wanted to leave as soon as it was possible…and these storms often pass quickly.

Eventually, they did re-open the airport and move our plane to the de-icing area. There were two planes ahead of us, and de-icing was not supposed to take long. Two hours later, they were just getting to us. The ice had slowed, but it was still enough to make our de-icing a long process.

After four hours on the plane, while de-icing, they served us water. Shortly after that, we took off. I was SO glad to be in the air, so glad that we didn’t crash into an icy heap at the end of the runway, and so glad to be on the last leg of the trip…oh, and so glad that Y and M had slept the entire four hours on the ground! Talk about miracles!

I didn’t sleep much on that last leg. Y woke up and wanted to be entertained for a bit, and the adrenaline coursing through my veins would not allow it either.

It was a short flight, and when we landed they found a gate for us relatively quickly. We made our way off the plane, finding that, of course, it was near the end of the long concourse. The walk down that concourse still seems forever long in my mind. Every bit of me was exhausted, and my eyes were burning from the sobbing. The kids wanted to be carried and felt like lead weights in addition to the backpacks that were hanging off our tired shoulders.

When I finally rounded the bend at the end of the concourse, I heard both my children call to us and watched them come running. I have a picture that is all blurry, but it is the most accurate picture – it is exactly how I remember it, blurry through my copious tears. Those hugs were just SO sweet.

Returning home – that’s the whole reason we took this trip. So many trips that we take are because we want to experience what is somewhere else. This trip, while wonderful in the seeing and doing and experiencing, was a homecoming from the very beginning. It was these seconds of finally feeling all of my children pressing into me at once and laughing with them and taking them all in – this is why we went to Ethiopia.

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Here are the pictures that go with the last couple of Ethiopia posts. I just simply forgot to put them in, and it seems easier just to make a new post out of them…and this way, you won’t have to go digging to see them.

Y, fresh out of the bath. While many things about the HIlton in Addis didn’t seem luxurious (notice the mold on the walls behind the tub), the ability to wake up every morning and hop into a hot shower then dry off with one of these big, white, soft, thirsty towels was truly wonderful. There was more than one morning that (besides the grace of God) that hot shower was what got me through the day!

We took the kids to the salon on our last day. I wanted Y’s hair to look nice for our arrival home, and I didn’t want to have to do it on my own for as long as possible after we got back. I figured I’d have enough on my plate, dealing with jet lag and all! The ladies at the salon were very sweet to her, and it cost me, if I remember correctly, less than $10! Her hair looked beautiful for approximately five days.

Here is M getting his hair done and loving every minute of it – or not.

Little boy – big bread.
(If you look closely you can see my mary-jane style crocs;
they were the perfect thing for this trip. Comfy, durable, and washable!)

Just after boarding our first flight (Addis to Frankfurt) – Ephraim is checking out his passport while Handsome and I say, “Really, is it possible that we could BOTH have an extra seat next to us?!?

Y buckling up for the second flight (Frankfurt to Chicago);
this was obviously before the thrill of the seatbelt wore off!

We were given ice cream as the dessert to one of our meals on that flight. I was thrilled that the kids got to try ice cream yet less than thrilled that they were going to try that sugary snack for the first time in such an enclosed area. No worries though, neither really liked it – too cold.

Here is Y finishing her first bite of ice cream, with the paprika chip waiting in the wings for its moment in the spotlight. All the while she is watching the little screen in front of her.

I love this picture – it’s as if he’s saying, “Lady, what are you doing with that thing – again!?!”

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On the airplane, we found our seats, and over and over Y said, “Aeroplana? Aeroplana?!” She was positively delirious with excitement to ride on an airplane. That lasted right up until we took off…from Part XX

At the beginning of that first flight, Y was very happy to get settled in. It was late at night, way past bedtime, so she was happy to have a blanket and a pillow. She spent a bit of time just looking around the plane. She was even excited when the plane started moving. But when the plane made that jump that happens as the wheels leave the ground and you are suddenly airborn, her eyes got so big that I thought they might just pop right out. She was suddenly scared, and my heart broke for her. I was suddenly the mother of a child who was loosing everything – everything she had ever known to be good and comforting. My heart sank.

M, on the other hand, was a puddle on Daddy’s lap – sound asleep.

I always worry about my children’s ears when we fly, and I know all the tricks – chewy foods, pacifiers, drinks, bottles, sippy cups, gum, candy…you know it – anything to help them pop their ears. I concentrated on this task – partially to avoid the mental anguish that was creeping up on me but mostly to avoid a whole lot of pain on Y’s behalf. But before I knew it Y was asleep, leaning on me, completely unconcerned about the condition of her eardrums. I tried a bit to rouse her, but that was not going to happen. So I did what any responsible parent would do; I went to sleep too.

This is nothing short of a miracle, as I have never ever slept on a plane before. My first flight was on Christmas break on my sophomore year of college – to Chicago then on to London. I had just turned 20. Since then, I have been on more flights than I care to even think about; many of them have been long, and quite a few have been to overseas destinations. I had never slept on a plane. Until that night, on our way out of Ethiopia. I slept hard, like I hadn’t slept for weeks. And when I woke up we were in Sudan.

I went back to sleep. I didn’t really want to be in Sudan.

Y was kind enough to sleep all the way through the very long stop in Sudan, and M slept through most of it. For these gifts we praised God!

When we took off again, it was then that I got the big-eyed, oh-no-what-is-wrong look from Y. She pointed to her ears then, and I was able to fix that ouchie with a quick drink. I know she thought I was nuts for making her drink water when her ears hurt, but that crazy was nothing compared to what she was about to encounter in her new home! And, honestly, between you and me, I was thrilled to be able to play the good mommy role for a few seconds.

When we landed again we were in Germany…Frankfurt. Now when we landed there on the way to Ethiopia, the morning was crisp and clear and downright beautiful. I remember it very clearly. Quite the opposite, I don’t remember a thing, not a single thing, about when we landed there on the way home. I don’t remember the weather or how we de-boarded the plane or what part of the airport we were in or pretty much anything else.

What I do remember is that we had the hardest time navigating that darn airport. There was construction everywhere, and the signs were less than helpful. Our gate got changed. There was security everywhere, and on one of our trips through a security checkpoint I had an overzealous lady who knows almost as much about me as my husband now. She touched my underwear, people! And to top it off, I had to give up my water! So we are a hundred hours into what would stretch out to be a 36 hour trip, and after being violated, I had to give up my water!

Just after that trip through security we figured out that our gate had been changed. We thought for a bit that we were going to have to go back out of that secure area and find a new area of the airport with our new gate (all that humiliation for nothing!), but that didn’t turn out to be the case. What did happen is that my husband had to run back to the main area to get something (I don’t remember what), and I sat on a bench planning out what I would do if he didn’t return before our flight took off! Would I take both kids by myself on the long flight or would I wait for Handsome in this foreign airport that had turned into a torture chamber for me? I never did decide, because his trip didn’t take nearly as long as I was anticipating! Then our little family had to walk a mile to find some seating while we waited for our gate to open. The gates in the Frankfurt airport, unlike American Airports, are closed until just before the flight, when they actually feed your boarding passes through their little machines and let you in to the secured area. That leaves little to no seating available to passengers whose gates aren’t open yet. It was not pretty.

Remember how I had to give up my water? I was in a foreign country, where I didn’t want to drink the tap. And it was breakfast time, and I was thirsty – you know, the kind of thirsty where you feel like you might just turn to dust and blow away. So I tried to exchange some money to get myself (and the kids) a drink. Because of the surcharge, I was going to have to exchange ten or eleven dollars to get enough to buy a small bottle of water! Ack! Just as I was talking myself down from that crazy-ledge, Y needed to use the restroom. I had just seen one, so I we walked around the corner and easily found the women’s restroom. There was a brick wall posing as the cleaning lady at the doorway. She was very not interested in helping us; as a matter of fact, she made it rather obvious that we could NOT enter. There was a “family” restroom there, but it was locked…so I stood there pondering, “What I am going to do with my little girl who needs to use the loo?” Still, cleaning lady is merciless. I decide to see if there is another restroom further down the concourse. We walk for a while; there is NOT. As we walked back to the original bathroom, I was just praying that God would spare my sanity and allow me to avoid leaving security and wet little-girl pants and somehow get me into a restroom! When we got there, the family restroom was open – hallelujah!

When our gate finally opened, we practically ran for it and were able to secure a few seats near the door to the plane (essential since we would want to board as early as possible with the kids). It wasn’t until we got on the plane that we realized that we had been blessed with a huge gift! We had somehow managed to be seated in an economy plus row…and not just any economy plus row but the last one!!! This put us right in front of the hallway to the restrooms – normally not a good thing – but with two little ones, it turned out to be a great thing. And being in the last row meant that we could lean our extra large seats all the way back without bumping into anyone behind us or feeling guilty for being in their space. It was wonderful, and I haven’t even mentioned the extra legroom!

I could streeeeeeeeeeeeeetch my legs out and still have a little room. It was SO very exciting. By this time, Y’s little body had determined that it was day time, and she spent most of this flight awake. We had packed a lot of toys and snacks and games, and she loved watching the little television…so she pretty much entertained herself. In addition, we got more meals than I knew what to do with, so Y spent much of her time eating; when you haven’t had food regularly, turning down offered food is NOT an option. I did a few things with her, but I was so wiped out that my eyelids kept involuntarily closing.

We had so much leg room that at one point we were able to let M sit on the floor and play. He didn’t stay down there long, but it was long enough that he was happy to get back in his seat. Before the flight I figured that we would spend much of our time pacing up and down the isles with him, but he managed the flight very well. He too ate every chance he had, he played a fair amount, and much to my husband’s delight, he even slept some.

This flight was much, much less painful than it could have been. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful we were for that; we felt our friends and family must have been praying for us!

When we got off, we were bound for US immigration and customs…

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As we walked away to the car, my tears spilled out in a steam that I thought might never end. To think of saying good-bye to my children forever. To think that maybe I could hand them back, that they could stay with her, that we could start over and do it all differently and yet to think that the reality is so very different…It is devastating and mind-numbing and overwhelming, yet my hope lies in the fact that God has a future planned for these children. It includes hope, and for some reason that I can’t quite comprehend yet, it includes us. -From Part XIX

As we pulled up to the Hilton, we had to re-do what we thought was already done. We had to say good-bye to Getachew. As if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, I was truly grieved to say good-bye again. He was gracious and walked us into the hotel, and we thanked him there for the last time.

We had paid to stay in the room for the afternoon. We could have checked our bags with the front desk and wandered around the hotel until it was time to go to the airport for our 10pm departure, but we felt it would be best for the children to have a place to lay down for nap time and best for us to have a few last minutes to pack and re-pack and a shower at the last possible minute. When traveling, I never underestimate the power of a hot shower or my toothbrush! When I started traveling, my grandma told me that a friend of hers always said, “I can handle just about any travel crisis, if I have my face soap and a toothbrush.” That pretty much sums up all my travel theories!

After the children ate lunch and napped, we got everyone dressed in clean clothes and headed in multiple stages down to the Hilton lobby. Everyone else was doing the same; after all it was Friday night, and apparently the Hilton lobby is the place to be on a Friday night…so we started our trip with a bit of chaos. Handsome did get the bill paid though, and we had everything ready and settled.

But the van (that our agency promised to send) did not come and did not come. Handsome was walking back and forth between the front entrance and the area where the kids and I and our small pile of luggage were camped out. Finally, just as we were preparing to get a cab (and pay a price that was a terribly disappointing way to end our trip), the van showed up. We knew that we should still have plenty of time, but we learned as we piled into the van that the other couple already in the van were running a bit behind and would be cutting it close to get to their flight. We were all so very ready to go home, so that van ride was unsettling to say the least. I wanted to watch out the windows at the nightlife, yet I only found myself being frustrated at traffic and wondering, “how much further?” the entire way.

When we finally got to the airport and past the security line, our van was greeted by several beggars, and I was struck at the irony of us toting all of the STUFF all over the globe yet unable to give much to these men, several of whom had significant disabilities. I don’t remember if Handsome gave them anything or not, because just beyond the scope of our car I was shocked to see the mass of people crowding into the airport. I’ve seen large crowds of people, but I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this crowd. Everyone seemed to be moving in a different direction. Some had bags, and some did not. Some were begging, and some were simply trying to get through. Some were actual security, and some were simply trying to get us to pay them to push our carts. And here we were in the midst of it with two relatively unknown children, a heap of luggage on an unwieldy cart, and a plane to catch – outside the airport, under the cool blue sky. Then the security guards want to see our passports and our tickets – talk about an uncomfortable place to be pulling out your passport!

We were waved through after juggling our two children, our six bags, our four passports, and our four plane tickets and who knows what else. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and decided that it was ok that I just sweat off all my newly-applied deodorant, if it meant I was going to get home.

And that is when we entered into the next security line. Just inside the doors of the airport, one must go through all of the typical security measures – take off shoes, take off anything metal, take off jackets and children in carriers, take off backpacks and dignity. And so we did – to the tune of two frustrated children who were ready for bed and ready to get on with the show. After all, they were not able to really understand what was going on and what was about to happen to them.

When we had made it through that hurdle, I hurt. Physically. Hurt. And we still had to drag all of our big luggage to the long lines that would get us our boarding passes and some freedom (from said luggage). And wait we did. I was surprised that we did not wait all that long in the line, yet it took just about forever to actually get our boarding passes. And when we did, we didn’t have all of them. One leg of the trip was all weird, and they couldn’t issue seats for it. Ug! The good news was that they took our luggage from us.

We went from there to the next area, where we filled out some small form and took it to the line and waited for the next open desk. There they interviewed us as a family and allowed us to take the children out of the country.

And we were suddenly on the other side of civilization. We had made it to our gate, and we had time to spare. The gate was not open yet, so we waited in the hallway and talked to three other adoptive families. I was so very intrigued with their stories, their adventures. One dad had traveled way outside of Addis and even spent the night in a remote area with monkeys overhead. One family had had the opportunity to help with babies who were coming from an orphanage to their agency’s home; the mother told of the desperate condition of the babies and the tears she shed hoping for their futures.

When our gate finally opened, we stripped for security yet again.

I spent the next hour or so chasing the kids around the enclosed gate area. I really, really didn’t want to start getting out the toys and such that we had packed, and I knew we were going to be on planes for a very, very long time; so I was pretty much okay with whatever they did so long as it didn’t involve scaling the walls of the enclosure!

When they finally allowed us to walk to the plane, I though I would explode. I was so very thrilled to be going home. I was desperate to stay. I was exhausted, yet I knew the trip was just beginning. I was so excited to see my children that I started crying at the mere thought of them, and I was giddy at the thought of introducing Y and M to everyone.

On the airplane, we found our seats, and over and over Y said, “Aeroplana? Aeroplana?!” She was positively delirious with excitement to ride on an airplane. That lasted right up until we took off…

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He told us that Y & M’s birthmother would meet us there at 9am. She was going to meet us; we were going to meet her! – From Part XVIII

dec-01-2007-031a.jpg

Again I woke up crazy-early. Not only was this our last day in Addis Ababa, but this was the day that we were supposed to meet our children’s birthmother.

Words cannot express all of the crazy thoughts that rambled around in my head that morning. I mentally dressed Y a billion times. We were at the end of the trip and this meeting had been such a surprise, so most of the clothes we had brought for her were dirty or not what I wanted her to wear for such a special meeting. I wanted her to look perfect; I wanted her to look like she was doing well and like I knew what I was doing. I wanted her hair to cooperate and her clothes to match and her shoes to fit. Then there was Dimples; with his big belly and short legs I had struggled to dress him all week. But we had the outfit that he didn’t wear to the embassy (since I couldn’t take my camera anyway), so I determined fairly early that he would wear that. Now if there was only a way to keep him happy the whole time we were there!

We met Getachew in the Hilton lobby at exactly the time we had asked him to arrive. I had to talk myself into each step as we walked to the car. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go, rather I was just so nervous. And overnight, when I was not sleeping, I had rehearsed every reason that we should not be doing this. There were many, yet none very compelling.

The drive seemed very short, and as we pulled up to that gray concrete block wall again I went from trying to remember to take each step to trying to remember to breathe. But we had arrived early; we would probably have a few minutes to settle in.

Except when we walked in, we were told that she was already there waiting for us, and we were led to the same room where we had given out lollipops and learned names of waiting children the day before.

And that is where my memory ceased to function.

I remember thinking that she was taller than I had envisioned and that she was dressed well. She brought a family member with her, and I was thankful that she had that support and someone to discuss us with.

She answered every question we asked, and she seemed oh, so genuine. She spoke with dignity and hope in her voice. She was composed, though not at all lighthearted.

I was a mess. I was writing notes and trying to get my mind around it all, talking to her, asking questions, trying to remember everything, feeling responsible for the duty of sharing this experience with Y and M – just trying to take it all in and keep my chin off the floor while trying to wrangle two restless children.
We ended the meeting by taking pictures of the children with their birthmother. I wish I had taken some of just her. I have one picture that we got of her profile that shows her beauty especially well.

As we stood up to leave, I wished we could stay, yet I didn’t know what else to do. Perhaps we should have taken them to lunch or coffee or something, but we didn’t. Handsome was holding M, and I was holding Y. Once we were outside, their birthmother leaned into them – first Dimples, then Y. She whispered something to them, then said good-bye. It was in Amharic, so I could not understand…but that was enough to send me over the edge.

As we walked away to the car, my tears spilled out in a steam that I thought might never end. To think of saying good-bye to my children forever. To think that maybe I could hand them back, that they could stay with her, that we could start over and do it all differently and yet to think that the reality is so very different. She is a single woman with children in a place where cultural norms do not allow for single women with children. It is devastating and mind-numbing and overwhelming, yet my hope lies in the fact that God has a future planned for these children. It includes hope, and for some reason that I can’t quite comprehend yet, it includes us.

So I put one foot in front of the other, breathed one breath after another all the way back to the Hilton, where I really only had time to ponder it all in the seconds between caring for the children and preparing everything for the long flight home.

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Sheka handed us the children’s passports (with the visas inside).Then we had to say good-bye to Getachew. After spending so much time with him, I found it terribly sad to say good-bye. I became keenly aware of the treasure that our children would be leaving behind – a people that are so open and kind that you feel like friends after only a short time. -From Part XVII

The rest of our day was fairly mundane: lots of phone calls including one from home that made me ache to my very core (I so desperately wanted to hug my other children and to see their smiles in person! I absolutely could have jumped through that phone to get to my children, if it weren’t for these darn hips!), lunch, a nap for the kids, packing for us adult types, but there were a few things worth noting.

We decided to have lunch with another adoptive family, and we all decided to eat at the restaurant at the Hilton. It was so very interesting to see the hotel staff interact with the children. They were so very attentive to the children, and it was obvious that they did not want to see the children upset at all. Trouble was this was also the day that Y and M started to test the waters. It was all small beans – running ahead in the hotel lobby, not following directions or answering us. It was a good sign in the sense that we knew they were getting more comfortable with us. BUT it was horrific for lunch! I felt so very conspicuous, and I was terrified to correct the children in any way in such a public place for fear that the Ethiopians would think us Americans unfit parents… yet I feared not correcting the children for fear of them thinking we were too permissive. Oy! Lunch was stressful, and I was so very thankful to beat a hasty retreat back to the room and the bags that needed to be packed. And on the way back, the very nice maids managed to give our children fist-fulls of hard candy which then had to be pried out of their little hands for fear that they would choke.

As we tried to pack Y was very clingy. As the evening progressed, I definitely noticed a change in her demeanor. And we had a first: she hurt herself while playing in the room, and she cried. A real cry. It was the first time we had seen her cry, and it was the first time that I had been able to comfort her. I was so very thankful for that opportunity, the chance to be her mommy.

Later that evening I was able to meet our agency’s director in the lobby of the Hilton. He had been sick that week, so we did not meet him to go to the embassy or any of the other times we thought we would. I was supposed to get something from him for another adoptive family, so he came to meet me. We had a wonderful discussion, sitting on the couch where it was confirmed that I was not a VIP earlier in the week. He shared with me some of his plans for the future and about a new orphanage that he would be a part of. He also encouraged us to try to meet the children’s mother, if it was at all possible.

And that leads me to the most important thing that happened, the last phone call of the day. It was the director of Enat Alem. He told us that Y & M’s birthmother would meet us there at 9am. She was going to meet us; we were going to meet her!

I probably don’t need to tell you that I went to bed, but I sure didn’t sleep. Our last night in Addis Ababa was like so many of the others, long and dark but full of the noises of the city – dogs barking and howling, cars and sirens, planes, and the general restlessness of city life.

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He returned to the car just as we did. We left [the orphanage] and headed for the shops near Churchill Road again. -from Part XVI

It was certainly a day of contrasts. From a government funded orphanages to the shops near Churchill road – I was struggling a bit with mental and emotional whiplash, yet we had so much stuff that needed to be done before we left the country.

Our first stop was at the same shops that we visited on Tuesday. I had struggled so much to shop on Tuesday that I had not bought all of the things I wanted. Since Tuesday, though, I had made a List (did you see that capital L?); I knew exactly what I needed and exactly which shops to go into to get it. Y and I entered the first shop. The lady in the shop obviously recognized me. I smiled and said, “If I buy many things, will you give me a good discount?” She smiled back and said, “No, I not give you discount for buying lot. You good customer. You come back. I give you good price.” So I bought everything that I was hoping to get there, and she did indeed give me what I thought was a good price. When I entered the second shop, that lady also recognized me. I hoped that they recognized the blond hair and light eyes, not that they remembered that I paid way too much for everything…either way everything there was ridiculously cheap. The lady in the second shop was so sweet to Y and M, talking with them and smiling at them. After I bought bracelets and leather necklaces and a few other things, she wrapped up two beaded necklaces. She told me they were for the children. (I have set them aside and can’t wait until the children are older and they will understand the kindness of the woman in the shop.)

When we emerged from the second shop, we found Getachew in a car talking with three or four other men. As soon as he saw us, he ended his conversation, hopped out of the car and joined us in his little car.

Our next stop was a book store. I was looking for a cookbook that had been recommended to us; I didn’t find it, but I did buy a coloring book for Y and a cassette of Amharic songs.

We also hoped to find a soccer ball for the Care Center. The ball they had was literally falling apart, so we were hoping to be able to replace it. We went and looked in several stores, but we couldn’t find a ball that was made of leather (or anything resembling leather). All of the balls we found were rubber, like playground balls. We knew that wouldn’t last a day at the Care Center, and they seemed a bit expensive considering what we could get for the same price here in the US. It was really depressing to think that not only are things so very expensive for many Ethiopians, but the things they buy with their hard earned money may not be good quality. It reminded me of one of the things that Getachew had told me when we were at the mercado. He told me that in that giant market there are different areas in which you can buy clothes. One area has new clothes from Europe and America. Another area has new clothes from Africa. Another area has used clothes from America and Europe, and yet another area has used clothes from Africa. It frustrated me to think of those who want and need good quality clothing yet find it out of their reach. How frustrating!

After not finding a quality soccer ball, we decided to change our focus entirely. One of the things that I wanted to purchase was a piece of jewelry for Y – a gift for when she is older. I went to many, many jewelry stores and in the end found something that was pretty, modest, and hopefully will be a treasure to remind her of her first home.  (Shhh – don’t tell her!)

Our last stop of the day was at Bambi’s, the international grocery. I’d been in many a grocery like this. I rather enjoyed the time there, yet I sorely wished I could read some (ANY!) Amharic. We stocked up on berbere, mitmita (a spice hotter than berbere), tea spices, coffee (for a friend), and bananas. M saw the bananas and decided that he needed to have one right then and there. He started wailing uncontrollably. Up until that point we had always been able to distract him and avoid the meltdown, but nothing was going to distract him from that banana…and he was not going to wait. I felt every eye in the store boring through me, and I hurriedly begged Handsome to take him outside while I finished shopping. As I put our goods in the tiny conveyor belt and then paid, I was literally shaking so much that I had trouble handling the money. In the end I got what we needed and walked back out into the sunshine with the grocery bags.

On our way back to the hotel, Sheka called Getachew and told him that she would meet us to give us our visas. THE VISAS! Those little stickers were why we were in Addis to begin with! When we got back to the Hilton, we jumped out of the car and were so excited to have those visas in hand. Sheka handed us the children’s passports (with the visas inside) and the infamous sealed envelope. (All of the official paperwork is sealed in a plain manila envelope and handed to the families. It is not to be opened until someone at US customs in the US opens it. I think this is done in all foreign adoptions, and I have heard many a parent talk about the temptation of opening that envelope – just to know what is inside.)

Then we had to say good-bye to Getachew. After spending so much time with him, I found it terribly sad to say good-bye. I became keenly aware of the treasure that our children would be leaving behind – a people that are so open and kind that you feel like friends after only a short time.

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“We got back to our room at the Hilton, changed the kids into pajamas, watched some bad television, caught up in the journal, and went to sleep. And for the first time, sleep I did…” –From Part XV

After literally sleeping for only two to three hours a night for days, I felt like a new woman when I woke up at 5:30. I just couldn’t believe it; I was thankful and relieved and thankful and thrilled to have slept for so long, though I was still the first one awake and up.

We met Getachew at 9 in the lobby of the Hilton. This was our second to last day in Addis, and we had lots to accomplish. First and foremost we wanted to visit Enat Alem, the orphanage where our children had lived for a time. They had actually lived two different places. We thought we were heading to the second place they stayed.

At one point along our drive, I asked Getachew if we were near Mercado. Getachew told me, “No, this much worse than Mercado.” And that was how I learned not to ask where we were. As we drove along down increasingly narrow and bumpy roads, I was fairly sure I agreed with Getachew. There were still people everywhere, but their clothes grew more and more tattered. The buildings looked less and less like buildings and more and more like shacks. Then Getachew turned left down a road that was the bumpiest thing I have ever seen. There was a lady standing in the road. As we turned, she moved the pole that supported the laundry line that hung across the road; I thought, “Dear Jesus, please give our car wings, because there is NO way it is going to make it over this road.” Rocks jutted out everywhere. Then Getachew stopped, and I slowly realized that we were there. He may have even said, “This is Enat Alem;” I’m quick like that. We were parked next to a gray concrete brick wall.

Getachew and Handsome went to the door in the wall to see if we would be allowed in. I stayed in the car with the children, wondering if I wanted to know what was on the other side of that wall.

We were told that yes, we were welcome. I grabbed the children and the bag of donations and walked toward the door. As we entered the courtyard area, Y walked very close to me. I was very aware of her, and I was struggling to take in all that I could see – a small dusty, dirty play area with a merry-go-round, a pathway that led to a number of rooms, peeling paint everywhere, the tiny fenced area that contained every living green thing in the compound, and so much more.

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**Let me stop here for just a second to tell all of you reading that I have struggled so much with how to portray this part of the story. The memories of our trip are so very good, and I have only wanted to tell you good things. Yet I would be remiss if I left out the sad parts of the story, the parts that still haunt me now, the parts that make Ethiopia a country of 4-6 million orphans, the parts that brought us there in the first place. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the reason for sharing any of this is to remind myself and you that this world is so much bigger than our very comfortable American lives. So there you go, take it or leave it. This is really how it all happened.**

We were taken down the walkway between the buildings then into the building on the left. Through gestures we were told to sit down. We had no idea what was going on. We sat down and waited. A little bit later several children and a teenage girl entered the room and sat down. They all tried to talk to Y, but she was not going to give up a smile much less a word. We asked if we could give the children lollipops, and we had Y do it, hoping she would warm up. She didn’t, but we did get to ask the children their names. Meanwhile, M was on my lap making yet another mess with a lollipop.

It seems like a distant memory now, but so enjoyed getting to meet those children. I felt so awkward, holding Y and M and trying to be sure that M didn’t break anything or act unruly…yet wanting desperately to get past the language barrier. As I asked each child his or her name, I would try to repeat them. I was thinking, “This, this name that I am saying, is the only thing this child can call his own.” And I failed miserably at pronouncing most of them.

We eventually asked if we could see more of the rooms and perhaps take some pictures (for the children as they grow up and want to know more). A gentleman who we think is the head of the orphanage showed us around. He spoke very little English, but we got along just fine. We took pictures of a couple of the well worn bedrooms.

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By this point in the adventure we have figured out that we are at the first orphanage in which our children lived. Knowing that this is where they were first taken, Handsome asked the gentleman if he knew anything about the children’s family. We were taken to another room with a couple rickety metal desks. The gentleman looked through some files. Eventually, to our surprise, he pulled out a file on our children. He proceeded to tell us several things that we knew, then he looked at us and said, “Would you like me to call the children’s mother; I have her number?”

I wanted to jump up and down and holler YES! But truth be told I also wanted to hide and pretend I’d never heard the question…or that I didn’t understand the broken English. I wanted desperately to meet this woman, yet I was terrified of this woman who gave birth to these beautiful children. I wanted to honor her and wasn’t sure what was more honorable – to meet her and possibly break her heart with yet another final good-bye or to slip quietly away with the children that she desperately loves. I wanted to be able to tell the children about her and give them the gift of pictures of her; I wanted to be able to ask her the questions that they will someday ask me. I had prayed and prayed that God would allow the right thing to happen. I had thought the opportunity to meet her had passed us, as we had not had a chance to ask Getachew to go to the address that was given to us. So when that opportunity was given to us so nicely wrapped up in a place where we never expected it, we considered it a gift. And we said yes, please call.

He did, and he got no answer.

By this point in the meeting the children were getting antsy, and I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed. The gentleman told us to call back later in the day, and he gave us his phone number.

We took a few more pictures, and we left. As we walked out of that small run-down orphanage, I was so thankful to walk out of there with our children, knowing they would not return to that life. Yet I was sobered by the fact that this was the second time this week that our children had said good-bye to a place that was familiar, a place that had been home, and I wasn’t even sure they comprehended it. I was heartbroken to leave so many more behind. All children should have someone to tuck them in at night, someone to know them, to calm their fears, to gently discipline them, to love them. And yet I was powerless take them all – or even one more – with me.

As we stepped into the sunshine on the other side of the gray concrete wall, I saw Getachew down the street, talking to the vendor in the booth on the corner and drinking an orange soda.

He returned to the car just as we did. We left Enat Alem and headed for the shops near Churchill Road again.

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Walking back into the hotel I was sad that the morning had to come to and end, yet the kids needed to rest…and my brain needed a break to process all I had seen, heard, and learned. –from Part XIV

Again, we ordered room service for the kids to eat. We tried a lamb stew…or rather they tried lamb stew. I had packed a few cup-a-soup packets for the days that we would eat in the room, and I felt like I should eat what I brought…so I did. Well, I tried to. I won’t be packing cup-a-soup again any time soon. I think in the half a cup that I managed to down, I had an entire month’s salt intake. I don’t eat a lot of salt, so my little taste buds were screaming at me, “Stop, stop – we give UP!”

We put the kids down for nap, and I settled into a spot on the king size bed and tried to make phone calls. I had about eighty-six calls I needed to make – to confirm our flight, to the head of our agency, to Sheka who was supposed to get our visas to us the next day, and on and on; and I was hoping to get them all done in one quick burst then take a nice, long nap. What do you know, I picked up the phone and the system was down. I was finally able to make calls, but I had to go through the switchboard each time. And each time the operator would write down the number, then dial it, then connect me; it was a bit tedious. I can only imagine the operator was SICK of me. But finally, I did get in that nap; I slept so very soundly!

When I woke up, we still had a bit of time, so I went shopping. The Hilton in Addis Ababa is not just a hotel; it is a city. There is a grocery, a bakery, an art store, souvenir shops, a bar, several restaurants, and lots, lots more. I hadn’t been exploring without the kids, so it was good to just walk around for a bit. I found some jewelry I really liked – 4500 birr – decided to pass. A basket for 2000 birr – passed on that too. I almost bought a little wooden painted chicken for my aunt for 40 birr, but I didn’t. (I wish I had. I also wish I had bought a few more things for our kids, including one of the quilts that I saw that was really cool.) In the end I only bought us a couple large bottles of water.

When I got back up to the room, it was time to get ready. We have some friends in the States, T & L. Years ago T’s parents took in a teenage boy from Ethiopia; he had come to the states to avoid being kidnapped or “drafted” into the army for the war that had overtaken Ethiopia at the time. That boy is now a man. He, Wheat, was educated in the States and has returned to his homeland and is a farmer, married with one child. He told us that when he returned to Ethiopia the officials told him they were surprised; when they issue a visa for an Ethiopian to visit the states, they assume he will not return.

T’s parents have also moved to Ethiopia, where they live with their son and his family. They have learned much Amharic and are serving the people of Addis in many ways. Wednesday night was the night that we were to meet T’s parents, O and C.

They chose to meet at a place called The Carnivore. It was definitely a ferenge place, but the food was good and we had great company. We had planned to meet at 7, this would get us there before the typical Ethiopian dinner hour, 8:00.  They showed up almost an hour late.  Apparently the road they normally take had somehow been closed; they had to find an entirely different route that was much less friendly and much less direct.

We talked about the meanings of our children’s names, and they shared lots of fun stories about adapting to life in America. Though Wheat was older, it was valuable to hear of his experience. Wheat also tried to translate a bit for us, but Y was not interested in talking to yet another strange person. She wouldn’t say a word to him. We understood her hesitancy, yet we were disappointed. One of the things that we most wanted to know was whether she wanted an American name or wanted to keep her Ethiopian name. She never gave an answer, so that night we chose to keep her Ethiopian name. Wheat also told us that M had been calling Handsome, by a name that is a term for affection. That was a sweet thing to know! We also learned that Y likes French Fries! We got to see pictures of Wheat’s farm and his wedding, which took place in Ethiopia – both were amazing and beautiful.

In the end we paid about $44 for all of our meals – six adults and three children.

As we left The Carnivore, I was sad to say good-bye to this family. I had never met them before that night, yet I could have listened for days to all they had to tell us about Ethiopia and their experiences. I was also sad knowing that though they have e-mail access, it is not easy or fast. It will not be convenient to stay in contact with them, though we will try.

As we left the restaurant, Getachew pulled the car up so we could hop right in. He had been waiting for us. We had asked him to join us for dinner. He said that his wife was waiting. I assumed that he would go home to eat while we ate. Instead he had waited for us while we ate – the whole time. I felt like such a clod when I realized that his poor wife was still waiting for her sweet husband to come home.

We got back to our room at the Hilton, changed the kids into pajamas, watched some bad television, caught up in the journal, and went to sleep. And for the first time, sleep I did…

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