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Saturday, August 27, 2011

SUBMITTED!!!

Just a quick update on what's going on with us these days! We were submitted to the Embassy this week! That was really really good news because it means they'll actually start working on our case (hopefully) soon.  It means if all goes well, I really might only need to be in Ethiopia two weeks or so.  Of course there are no guarantees about anything so I could still be there lots longer.  But being submitted this early was wonderful!!

Not much else is up with us. I'm trying to get ready for the trip, trying to get the house ready to add a one year-old! We visited with my sister-in-law, my nephews, and my niece this week and had an awesome time.  I love those kids so much. I don't know how I got such great nephews and such a sweet niece!! Love them!

I thought the wait might get easier after I bought a plane ticket to Ethiopia. I was wrong. It's still hard to wait. I wonder every day what he's doing. As I think about what to pack for our trip my heart hurts because it still seems so far away.  And I still have no idea when we'll finally be able to come back home and join the rest of the family.

But time is moving by pretty quickly. Some close friends of ours got married this weekend. Rob got to do the wedding and the kids were in it. It was a wonderful day! And next week we'll be in full-swing fall with dance classes, soccer practice, and the preschool "tea parties."  I'm glad for lots of activities to keep me busy!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Not an Adoption Story...or is it?

Well, this isn't an adoption story.  Except that it is. Let me explain.

When we first started meeting people in the adoption community, I was immediately struck with how genuine everyone seemed.  Imagine walking into an event knowing no one (not even the host) and immediately feeling at home, having great conversations with every random person you happen bump into while chasing your kids around a stranger's home.  That was our first experience and has been every subsequent experience when we've gotten together with other adoptive families.

And I realized something about people in the adoption community. When you are willing to change your definition of "family" to include those who might not carry your same DNA, something happens to your ability to be open to friendships too. I've connected quickly with people in the adoption community even when it would seem unlikely that a friendship would begin!

But that's not just limited to adoption.  I have a friend who opened her heart to another family, a refugee family from Vietnam, and when she shared her story at church the other day, I was in tears the entire time.  I immediately asked her if I could share her story on the blog.

This is an adoption story. Not the legal sense, but my friend adopted a family and that family adopted her in return. It is amazing what happens when we stretch just a little bit and open our hearts to those who are different from us.

Here is her story, in her own words:

Four years ago, an American woman sat in a church very different from her regular church.  It was a hot, humid, and rainy Sunday in May.  There was no air conditioning but the room was packed.  The woman was the tallest person there and the only one with blonde hair and white skin.  The service was all spoken in a language she did not understand.  At the end of the service a new family to the U.S. was introduced to the congregation.  There were 6 children in matching green rain coats, their mom and their dad.  Their eyes were big and scared. The moment the woman saw them, something stirred inside her.  She wanted to know this family...these strangers from Vietnam.
A few weeks later, the woman managed to get the family to her house for what turned out to be a very quiet dinner.  The new immigrants did not know how to eat the spaghetti she had prepared for them and they had difficulty communicating.  The woman was disappointed.  She felt the evening had been a failure.  Still something inside her pushed her to pursue the R’mah family.
But the woman was naive. She underestimated their needs.  She overestimated her ability to meet them.  

She messed up.  
She felt overwhelmed.   

You see she thought she could help them without it costing her very much.  She was wrong.  Yet nothing other than the birth of her two boys has brought her more joy! She experienced so much!  She watched the mother skin and clean a deer on her kitchen floor.  She witnessed the miracle of surgery to fix their son’s facial birth defect, a surgery he could never have received in Vietnam; and she tied an umbilical cord with her shoe lace when the mother couldn’t make it to the hospital and had her baby at home.
Through everything, the American woman was amazed and humbled by the faith and courage of this family.  Their faith had cost them so much....their home, their extended family, their whole way of life.  The father, Tona, lived in the jungles of Cambodia running for his life.  The mother, D’joan, took care of all 6 of her children, and worked, while Tona was hiding.  It would be three years before they would be together again in the U.S. where Tona would see his 3 year old son for the first time.  All because they were Christians.
The family taught the woman valuable lessons.  She learned that she could not change and grow without changing who she spent time with and the experiences that resulted.   Because as Henri Nouwen wrote, "You don't think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking." 
The woman’s life, as well as the lives of her family and friends, has been enriched in a way that only God could design. All because two mothers, across the world were praying at the same time.  One in a rice field in Vietnam, asking God for someone (a stranger) to help her family when she came to the U.S. The other in the suburbs of Greensboro, NC asking God to send her someone (a stranger) to help.   


I am thankful He answered both.



The Rmah family, taken when they were all together in Vietnam

This is how God makes a family!

Laurie's boys!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

WINNER! - Connected in Hope!



Thank you SO much to all of you who participated in the giveaway! I'm excited to think of how many more people are aware of the women who carry firewood at Entoto Mountain and about what Connected in Hope is doing about it.  A few of you mentioned you'll be returning around Christmastime to buy Christmas presents - please don't forget!  I love giving gifts that have real meaning behind them.

And without further ado... our winner is:

MELISSA T. 
(who happens to have the coolest job ever! Check her out:

I'm excited that she won... she's been praying for our adoption journey for about forever!  
Congratulations Melissa!!! :)

And if you didn't win but still want a cool ball, here's the link to Connected in Hope's store: http://store.connectedinhope.com/.  I really am obsessed with their scarves. They're awesome!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How do you choose?

I know the "mom standard" is that we treat all our kids the same. But the truth is, we don't. It changes daily, or maybe minute-by-minute.  Some moments one child's needs will be greater than another's.  And sometimes it's hard to tell. And sometimes we choose wrong.

I'll never forget the time that we drove to the Natural Science Center with baby Allyn screaming the whole way 'cause she was hungry. I wanted to go ahead & get there so Rob and Riley could go in and I could nurse her in the car. Good thing it's only 5 minutes away because halfway there I realized I had placed Riley's need to see tigers over her need to eat! Oops.

But there have been other times when Allyn's needs come first.  We don't get to stay as long at the pool as some of Riley's friends because we have to leave in time for her to take a nap.  He doesn't get to participate in as many extra activities because of finances due to having two kids or the schedule of having two kids.  A good friend of mine always tells her kids, "We have to do what's best for our family" in those kinds of situations.  I've since stolen that line. It works well.

So now I'm in another place where I have to choose.  I have two children I adore who live here in the US. Two children I never leave. I work part-time because I couldn't stand leaving Riley in daycare when he was a baby.  I kept Riley home one day a week from his 4-day-a-week class because I didn't want him at preschool that often.  I am a mama who keeps her kids close, maybe too close at times, but it's working for us so far.

But now I have another child. A third one I love just as much as the first two.  He lives in an orphanage half a world away.  Right now, I have to choose. Do I stay home until the US Embassy gives me the okay to go get him or do I go and get him out of that orphanage as soon as possible, knowing that will take me away from my other two for several weeks?

I chose today. Today I bought a plane ticket to Ethiopia with a return date one whole month later.  I am hoping and praying that I won't need to be in Ethiopia for an entire month.  Please pray with me that the Embassy processes us as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Right now, my third child is the one with the greatest need. He needs to be with his mommy. He needs to learn what a mommy is.  Will this be hard on my other two? YES. Absolutely. It'll be hard on me to be away. So hard.  But right now, I can't stand the thought of a child of mine living in an orphanage when he could be with me instead.

So I'm going!!! Sept 13th I head to Ethiopia, not knowing exactly when I will get to come home. I am certain I will doubt this decision many times over as it gets closer to that date.  But I also embrace this adventure we call parenthood, with all the crazy sacrifices we make. It's what makes me a mommy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So you're done right? WRONG!

TWO MORE DAYS OF OUR GIVEAWAY...

Oh my goodness!  I owe my friend Amber big time for listening to me whine last night. Let me just share with y'all what the last week has looked like for us:
  • Sunday: Find out a family member is very ill 
  • Monday: Pass court - Amanuel is legally our son!
  • Thursday: minor surgery for Rob, find out we might actually have to update our homestudy (something we've been really hoping we could avoid)
  • Friday: find out our Grandmother Haynes has gone to be with Jesus (sad for us, not at all for her!)
  • Saturday: work 12 hour shift
  • Sunday: work 12 hour shift, Rob leaves for KY to do his grandmother's funeral. Forget to switch cars and have to ask the babysitters for a ride to the airport.
  • Monday: Single parenting, find out we do indeed need to update our homestudy. Talk with social worker to schedule crazy expedited homestudy. Homestudy scheduled for Friday. Oh and I have jury duty on Thursday. Told social worker the house will NOT be as clean as it was for the first home study. Also talked to someone about booking tickets to Ethiopia.
  • Today: Take Allyn to pediatrician for 3 year appt; pick Rob up from airport, head straight to the bank to get money order, then straight to County Courthouse to pick up criminal records (or really, proof that we have no criminal record). Rob needs to get a few more things notarized and then he can mail the whole packet off today!

WHEW!  Thank God I had a feeling we might need to update our homestudy so I did most of the leg work two weeks ago.  But even with that, we've been scurrying to gather together new employer letters, financial statements, two different types of background checks, and making sure everyone's medical forms were current. Really truly, if I hadn't gotten everything together and organized two weeks ago, I would have had a nervous breakdown yesterday. Praise God for foresight (something I certainly don't always have!)

And I just was so frustrated. We passed court last week. All I want to do is go to Ethiopia and bring him home. I don't want any more paperwork, I don't want any more interviews, I don't want to wait on my own government to do their own investigation before I am allowed to bring my own son into the country (insert foot stomp). I feel like Allyn when she crosses her arms, turns her back to us and says "HUMPH!"

But I've seen God caring for us even through all the craziness! I really wanted to travel together with a friend to Ethiopia and she passed court too! So while I won't be going to Ethiopia with my family, I won't be alone!  And some other, very new friends of ours have offered to let me stay with them if I end up in the country for longer than I expect.  AND another friend of mine arranged a contact for me to get plane tickets for about $500 less than I would have gotten with our travel agent.

And today, both times I had to park at a parking meter, there was already time on the clock so I didn't have to put money in.  I know that's really minor, but it felt so good, like a little confirmation from the universe that we're on the right track.

And in case you think you've missed something... no, we haven't gotten clearance to go get our boy. I've decided I just can't wait until they've cleared us to go over there! So I am headed to Ethiopia mid-September with very high hopes that I won't have to stay longer than 3-4 weeks or so.  Please pray we are submitted to Embassy as quickly as possible and that the Embassy clears us as quickly as possible!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

GIVEAWAY - Connected in Hope


I hope you read my post about the day in Addis when we visited the women who used to carry firewood.

In case you didn't, here's a little refresher:

Meet the women of Mt Entoto:

Look closely - she is not wearing shoes


They carry firewood.  Every day.  Six hours a day.  Backbreaking work, walking down the mountain. Why? It's their only hope. They have families to feed. And with no education, no skills, and hungry children - you do what you have to do.
These are pictures of motherhood, of survival.

But if you read my blog, you know there are some amazing women working hard to empower the firewood carriers to change their lives.  Connected in Hope works with them, EMPOWERS THEM, so that they may spend their days weaving beautiful scarves and baskets instead of carrying staggering loads of wood.  The women have a little shop in Addis where they sell their creations, and Connected in Hope sells them on their website as well.

And when Connected in Hope contacted me to see how I could help spread the message further, I was so excited!  They want to do a giveway on our blog!!  And I really do want to share their story of hope. 

You know you want to win one of these awesome little balls:
Ball is about 5-6 inches and each panel has a letter or a number in Amharic. 

To enter the giveaway do one or more of the following and leave a comment below (one for each) telling us what you did :  

1. Sign up for the Connected in Hope email newsletter (found at the bottom of www.connectedinhope.org) (one entry)
2. "Like" Connected in Hope on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ConnectedinHope) (one entry)
3. Follow Connected in Hope on Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/ConnectedinHope)(one entry)
4. Subscribe to the Connected in Hope blog (www.connectedinhope.com)

and for 10 extra BONUS entries purchase something from then Connected in Hope store and then come back and leave a comment telling us what you bought!  Those scarves are so beautiful... and fall is coming!

Don't forget to leave me a comment for each entry - that's the only way I'll know what you did!

The winner will be announced on Thursday, 8/18/11

Monday, August 8, 2011

5 million orphans - MINUS ONE!!!

There are approximately five million orphans in Ethiopia...

MINUS ONE!

We passed court!  Amanuel has a family!

Allow me to introduce you to the newest love of my life:




We are overjoyed!  And he turns one next week... I think a family is a pretty good birthday present, don't you?

Stay tuned for our travel plans... and a really cool giveaway I already had planned for this week!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That Rollercoaster Ride...

Just a quick update. After I hit "publish post" on my last blog post, the rest of our a day was a little hectic.  Which was good, because I never had a chance to really break down and cry about not passing court. I kind of figured it would hit me at bedtime.

Well, at 3:30, we got an email from our agency saying that the court has decided to stay open one more week to help process families who are just waiting on their MOWA letters AND that MOWA is working hard to issue as many opinions as they can to help free up the backlog.  This is amazing news - it means we really have a chance to pass court next week!

And... to top it all off, a friend told me that she saw that someone who had court three days before we did found out that they passed court on Friday!

So THANK YOU to all of you who are praying!  And please keep it up - and maybe, just maybe, I'll become a mom to three next week!!!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Praising Him

Oh to hold those little hands again...

I've been thinking about this blog post for the past several weeks.  And every time I thought about writing it, my chest tightened and tears sprang to my eyes.  Today is the day that court closes in Ethiopia. It will not reopen until about mid-October.

We did not pass court before they closed.

I had planned to title this post "Crushed."

Because I am. I am crushed.  As far as we know, this means we'll hear nothing about our adoption until mid-October.  Hopefully around then we'll hear that we've passed court.  And then we start the 3-5 month process of getting an embassy appointment and finally bringing him home. The thought is so overwhelming right now that I'm not sure I've even really begun to accept that this is how it is.

It means there's very little hope of having him home by Christmas, or even this calendar year.

And yet...one of my favorite songs is "Blessed be the Name." Two verses go like this:

Blessed be Your name when I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your Name

Blessed be Your Name on the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name.

I still praise God today.  Yes, I am crushed. Yes, I cry and I'm not sure how to handle the long months ahead, but I still praise Him.  There really is joy in my pain.  This is what it means to follow God. Joy, even in the midst of struggle.

I praise Him that we got a court date in July (I thought there was zero chance of that happening).

I praise Him that I got to meet our boy.  That I have memories of holding him, of looking into his big beautiful eyes, to keep me going. And that A is the most adorable, sweetest, most incredible little boy.

I praise Him that, although there is a wait, He has provided a way for orphans to have families.

I praise Him (lots) that my dad's cancer, although it has returned, has not spread and is treatable! He WILL be around to meet his next grandchild! :) We just found out the details yesterday, so this was great news!

I praise Him that we've been allowed to be on this incredible journey called adoption.  We are so honored that we will get to be A's parents.

I praise Him for my incredible husband, who not only holds me up along this journey, but happily joins me on our crazy adventures in life.  I'd be lost without him. He is amazing.

God is good. Oh He is so good.  Even in the hard times.  Lots of people tell me I'm strong or ask me how I do it.  I have only one answer - Jesus.  I am not strong, but He is.  I am not doing this on my own.  There is no earthly way I could get through this adoption without God.  For that matter, I don't know how I'd make it through this life without God.

Please pray for us. This is hard. I mean HARD.  There is a little boy growing up in Ethiopia without a family. We love him. He's ours in our hearts. Which means there is a family in North Carolina growing up without a son, without a brother.  All these months when we could be loving on him, giving him individual attention, letting him bask in the love of older siblings (okay, and maybe feeling the irritation that comes with older siblings). All those months when he could be part of a family. But instead, we wait.

I just praise God that He can handle all of this.  Because I certainly can't. Not on my own.

(We do have a tiny glimmer of hope. I try to not to post rumors or really much of anything about the process because I want to be respectful of the Ethiopian government.  But the only thing that has helped me keep it together this week was a tiny rumor I've been hearing that if you are only waiting for your MOWA letter, you might still be able to finalize your adoption during the rainy season.  We won't know if it's true unless it happens, but just having that little bit of hope has helped me out immensely!  Guess I can praise God for rumors, even if they're not true!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gondar!

I have a confession to make. I wrote up a whole post on Gondar and our crazy trip there... and I made myself re-write it.  We had a bad experience while we were there and got taken advantage of by the guy who was supposed to be our driver.  And, mostly because we were already just tired and emotionally drained, we let it sort of taint most of our trip.

I wrote a whole post in which I painted this dude as a villain all the way through. And couldn't click "publish." 'Cause you know what? I'm no better than he is.  Yes it was wrong of him to take advantage... but every day I participate in a system that is built upon taking advantage of others.  Along with a whole host of selfish things I do every day.

Plus, the power differential was so great between us.  Here's this young kid, with no steady income to speak of, living in a country where just getting by is a struggle.  Again, I am not justifying his actions, but in the grand scheme of things - it is more likely that he needed the money more than we did.  Although I will admit I had to go through being just plain mad about it in order to get to thinking that.

So... here is our trip to Gondar with a much healthier point of view.  Dang it, I just needed to knock myself off my own high-horse this time. :)  Why is it so easy to be judgemental?? argh.




Our boy is from Gondar. It's a city about 11 hours northwest of Addis Ababa, three hours east of Southern Sudan.  We flew and it only took about an hour.  We knew when we got our referral that we just had to travel to where he was from.  I think I've mentioned before that the hardest part of receiving our referral was the lack of information. So many questions we'll never be able to answer for him.  I wanted at least to go to his hometown so that I can tell him about it and so he'll have pictures of it.

Gondar was it's own little rollercoaster of a trip for us.  We woke up at 4:30 in the morning in order to head to the airport at 5.  If you read the blog post about Friday in Addis, you know we were just emotionally exhausted and kind of ready to head home already.

We arrived in Gondar and there was a cheerful looking boy holding a sign that said "cassell welcome to gondar."  On the way from the airport, our driver Dawit told us he had our day already planned out. He had talked with our agency, knew the areas we wanted to hit AND said he'd take us out somewhere where we could see some monkeys (you should have seen Riley perk up at the mention of monkeys).

We got checked in to the hotel (Quara Hotel - it was really nice!) and met Dawit at the front desk.  He informed us we were going up Simen Mountain to see some monkeys.

I figured he meant we'd drive out of the city a ways and see some monkeys near the road.  In Swaziland, there are orange groves and monkeys always go in and steal the oranges. You can see them from the road.  I just assumed we were in for the same kind of experience.  Boy was I wrong...

We had a BLAST! It was some of the craziest hiking we've ever done.  Muddy as all get-out and no real paths to speak of. We wandered around and the local children followed us.  It was cute. All they knew how to say in English was "hello!" and they'd just repeat it over and over!

And it was some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. These pictures don't do it justice!  Giant cliffs leading down to a valley with waterfalls on the other side.  Beautiful!



We hiked around up there for a few hours. And I was thinking to myself "this is great! We so needed this to lift our mood."  Riley had so much fun but it was tough going for him.   A lot of the places weren't super-safe and so he needed to be carried and I think a couple times Dawit and the guide he hired to go with us grabbed him by the arms a little rougher than he liked.  I'm not complaining at all - they kept him safe!  If it had just been Rob and me with Riley, it would have taken us 2 hours longer to help Riley across. In some places, the guide had to help ME across!  Of course, Riley insisted over and over that he could do it himself.  I can't stress enough how far DOWN those cliffs were! Yikes!

And we really did see monkeys!  Colobus monkeys and baboons. Really close! Check 'em out:



The family of baboons - we actually hiked right over there and ended up standing right where they are!
We headed back down the mountain and had perfect timing - the rain started as we got back to the car!  And I learned something - rivers there are REALLY affected by the rain!

Here's a river I happened to photograph on our way up the mountain:

And check it out on our way back DOWN after it had started raining:

Abebe at Oziopia (our guest house) had told us a story of how he lost two friends when he was a boy because they were swimming in the river and it had rained in another area but they didn't know it.  The water suddenly came flooding through. He and one friend just ran naked away; his other friends tried to grab their clothes and they were swept away.  Now I understand how that could happen.

We had left most of our luggage in Addis because we didn't want to check all those bags for just one day in Gondar.  But in our efforts to bring as little as possible, we each only had one pair of shoes and Rob and I had planned to wear the same jeans both days.  Oops.  But we had had such a great time we didn't really care. I figured "who cares if I have muddy jeans for a plane ride home?"

We got back to the hotel and the driver had said he wanted to eat lunch (we had eaten granola bars and didn't really feel like stopping to eat).  Here's where the taking advantage part happened. I don't need to go into details, but it was just a bad situation.

After that, we were kind of deflated.  We still hadn't gotten to see any of Gondar so we had to stay with Dawit if we wanted to learn about the area.  And we didn't really trust him anymore.  So anytime he tried to take us anywhere, we were doubtful.  And it was still raining.

When the driver returned from his lunch, we went out to the address that we have from our boy's history.  If it hadn't been so rainy, I think it might have been an emotional moment.  But we were dodging giant rain drops and jumping over mud puddles.  It may have been good to have a distraction - my emotions had been stretched enough by that point.

Next we visited Bridge of Hope (formerly Bridge to Israel).

Bridge to Hope is the orphanage where our boy was in Gondar.  It's really a great place.  Had it not been raining and if we hadn't been so bummed out/frustrated by our driver situation, I think we would have enjoyed being there.  The social worker, whose name I never caught, showed us around.  It really is a cool place. They are a model orphanage for other places in the country.  The kids live in "family houses" and they have a farm and dairy cows to generate income for the orphanage.  But it was raining and it was hard for us to be there just "touring" without anything to do.

After Bridge of Hope, we drove over to the Kusquam Mariam Church.  It's a super-old church in the village area where our boy is from.  I've been wanting to go. The ruins really are beautiful. I need to go back and do my research and learn more about Ethiopian history 'cause Gondar is important.  Gotta figure out exactly how! ;)
Kusquam Mariam church
Oh, I have to tell you HOW we got to the church!  Remember how I said it started raining as we left the mountain? And how it never stopped? Well, roads aren't paved in Gondar. So they get muddy.  And the church is on top of a hill.  The van couldn't make it up the hill because of all the mud.  We were stuck!

So we got out of the car and walked up the hill in this mud! I wish I could tell you that I considered it part of our adventure, that I happily joined the other regular folk walking up the hill.  But I'm going to be honest: I had a bad attitude. I am fairly certain I gave Rob a death look for having agreed to walk up that hill.  I've never walked in mud like this - you sink in about an inch with every step.  Remember - we had no other shoes and no change of pants!  Thank goodness no one fell!
This is the mud we walked in!
So we checked out the really cool church.  Then, muddy, wet, cold and tired, we headed back to our hotel.  Thank God there was a restaurant in the hotel. I don't think we could have handled trying to find a way to go somewhere.  Rob went down to the restaurant and asked if we could get our food to take away.  They looked at him like he was crazy and we figured out why: he came back to the room with pasta wrapped up in tin foil and some forks! ha ha!  We didn't care. We ate it and were all in bed by 8:15.


Good thing we went to bed early in Gondar... because the nearby church service started at 5 am.  So shortly before 5am, we hear VERY loud preaching over a loudspeaker. Interspersed with VERY loud (although very nice) singing.  I stayed in bed and listened, trying to sleep, refusing to admit defeat until about 7.  Rob gave up and got up at 6.  Riley must have been exhausted -he slept through the whole thing!

We met up with Dawit at 8 and we walked over to Emperor Fasiledes Palace.  He couldn't really tell us much about it so I need to go find a book somewhere.  There were actually lots of different ruins of different palaces with signs saying which ruler had which.  It's a big place.  I mean B-I-G.  Lots of palace ruins. Pretty impressive.
Fasiledes Palace

Another part of the palace, overlooking Gondar

We still had tons of time before we needed to be at the airport so we decided to go to the market just so we could see it! I am glad we went - it was craziness!  People EVERYWHERE! And Dawit told us that it was actually not crowded at all since it was a Sunday! 

The market was much bigger than it looked. At the edge, there were people all in the street with their wares spread out in front of them on tarps or in wheelbarrows.  But we walked down a little lane and suddenly there were stalls everywhere with clothes and food and household items! It was huge!
Fresh veggies!

Spices
Chickens anyone?
After the market, we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to the airport. I mentioned earlier that Gondar is only about 3 hours from Southern Sudan.  And y'all know about all the unrest that's been going on over there.  The UN had used Gondar as a headquarters for sending peacekeeping troops over:

It was crazy to see all these UN trucks - I'd only ever seen them on the news.

We had another slight altercation with our driver again at the airport but the WONDERFUL Gladney staff saved the day. We called Belay and were able to resolve everything over the phone.  We waited very uneventfully for the plane, boarded, and were SO glad when we arrived in Addis!  Boy had we missed Abey and everyone at Oziopia!  And just to drive home how amazing Abey is - he met us at the airport with presents for me and for Riley!  He picked out a t-shirt for Riley (which fit him perfectly) and an injera plate for me.  He even wrapped them in wrapping paper!  

The best part was that the wrapping paper had roses all over it with the words "Conjugal Bliss" in script. ha ha ha!

Next and last post from our trip: the loooooooongest day ever - our trip home!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Friday in Addis - the hardest day of my life

I've compared pregnancy with adoption before.  When we first started the process and people told me adoption was hard, I (very pridefully) thought "Sure, but I've given birth with no pain meds. It can't be harder than that."

Let me tell you, friends.  Adoption is harder than birth with no pain meds. (okay, I have to qualify that - I had a birth where I intended not to have pain meds and was very prepared. I have a few friends who wound up with unmedicated births when they had no plans to do it that way.... that might be the hardest!!!).  Or maybe it's all just hard.  Becoming a mom is the most joyful and most difficult process you'll ever experience, regardless of how that child lands in your family.

Because I was sick Thursday night and Riley had been sick during the day, we asked Abey to pick us up a little later than usual for our last visit with our boy.  We slept in a little bit and Rob woke up feeling bad.  He managed not to actually get sick, but here's a little plug for bringing Cipro with you: If you're traveling to Addis - don't forget the Cipro!

Riley cried that morning as we were getting ready. He said, "I don't want this to be our last visit with A___."  I just hugged him and told him I understood.  We drove to the orphanage that morning in silence.  I just kept wondering how in the world I was going to hold it together when it was time to leave.  I had already burst into tears several times during the trip just thinking about it. As surreal as it was to finally be meeting him on that first day, it was just as surreal that we were actually going to have to say goodbye.

We got to the orphanage and spent another absolutely joyful hour playing with A.  We played with the other kids in his room, who by now we really felt like we'd gotten to know. Another little boy was really interested in Riley that day, too. He's quite a hit in Ethiopia - ha ha. A is getting close to walking. He'll be walking by the time he's home, that's for certain! My bet is he'll be walking by the end of summer.

At one point I pulled A onto my lap, facing me.  I put my forehead to his and whispered a prayer in my heart that God would bless this adoption, that we would not have to be apart for as long as I feared.  I held him close and just tried to capture the feeling in my heart so that I could always remember how it feels to hold him during the long months when we are so far apart.  I started to get teary so I had to let him go. I really didn't want to start crying any earlier than I had to.

And suddenly, the hour was over.  Rob turned to me and said "It's about time to go."  I lost it. There was no graceful goodbye, no tears-in-the-eyes sweet farewell.  I took a deep breath, placed my hands on either side of A's face, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and I had to get out of there.  I did NOT want to cry in front of all the kids.  I said to the caregiver as the tears started down my cheeks and said, "It's time for us to go" and I was out the door.

A's room is on the 2nd level and there is a little landing outside his door before you get to the stairs. I went around the corner, put my face in my hands and just wept.  There is no easy way to say goodbye to a child.   It is so difficult to meet a child you love, one you desperately want in your family, and walk out the door, not knowing when you'll see him again. We have absolutely no idea how long it will be until we see him again.

Rob said one of the caregivers started crying when I left.  I can't imagine how hard it is on their side. They love the kids but know they will leave.  And they see the pain the adoptive parents go through when they have to walk out the door of the orphanage, leaving precious children behind.

I pulled it together long enough to get all of us in the car, only to start crying again as the car pulled away. By this time Rob was crying too.  Riley very sweetly held out his arm and said "Hey Mommy, wanna use my fleece to dry your tears?"

Everyone's stomach was still recovering and we needed some comfort food, so we decided to eat American food for lunch. After a quick stop at Tomocca Cafe to buy some coffee to take home, we ate at Island Breeze.  Their brick oven pizza was really good. And we ran into some Americans there. They were missionaries from Raleigh!  It was great to get to talk with them and hear what they've been up to.

We pulled ourselves together, ate a good lunch and prepared for the afternoon. We were going to be visiting the government orphanages that afternoon.  I have to say that's probably not the best activity just after saying goodbye.  It was tough.

We only visited two of the three orphanages our agency supports. There was a new manager at Kolfe, the boys' home, so we weren't able to visit there that day.  We visited Kebeteshaye, the orphanage for babies through age 8, and then Kechene, the Girls Home.

Before I tell you about our afternoon I want to make a quick note: I do not like poverty tours. The idea of traveling somewhere with the sole purpose of viewing the struggles of other human beings makes me shudder.  There are trips in which you can travel to third-world countries and are guided around to see their misery, their brokenness. (Actually, I even heard of some of that going on in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina).  I guess the point of things like that is to bring awareness.  But in my opinion, it seems like a bunch of wealthy people sticking cameras in the faces of their brothers and sisters who are suffering.  You can get a great "tour" of poverty by going and working alongside those in poverty.  Be wary of trips where you aren't actually going to be doing any work.

So...going to the orphanages without any specific job we were there to do was very uncomfortable for me.  However, I think it is important for adoptive families to see the reality for many kids in Addis.  Our boy is in the Gladney care home - he has 6 children in his room with two caregivers.  The baby room at Kebeteshaye had 45 babies in one room, 2 to a crib, with three caregivers.  Big difference.

Our time in the baby room was a little frenzied. Forty-five babies. Three caregivers. We went around picking up crying babies; every baby we picked up was wet. It's not that the caregivers aren't doing their jobs - they are just vastly outnumbered.  There were very few moments in there when I wasn't tending to more than one kiddo at a time - holding one, and rocking/patting another that was still in his/her crib.  Most of the babies in there were less than 4 months old, but there were 4-5 who were older. The oldest stood up in his crib and held his arms up to me. I was already holding a baby, but I just shifted the baby to one arm and used the other to pick up the older one. He was soaking wet. We changed his diaper and he got right back into my arms and clung to me. He grabbed my shirt in his fist and did not let go the entire time I was there.  When it was time to leave, I pointed to the picture of a couple that was above his crib - he was going to be adopted.  He smiled at the picture but when I put him down, he just crumpled to the floor of his crib and cried.

Tell me how it could even be possible NOT to adopt again after being in that room. Forty-five babies. Most dropped off by the police because they'd been abandoned. And that was just one of the two baby rooms. We didn't spend much time in the other room but I did notice that one baby was in a carseat on a chair.  No crib for that tiny one - just a carseat.

We went next to the girls home, Kechene. Many of the girls started out at the home for babies and younger children.  There was a little boy there, Simon, who was a little older than Riley.  Another family that was with us had brought their 6 year old and Simon just grabbed the boys' hands and let them around.  Anbes, the Gladney in-country staff member, told us Simon had been there at least three years. I think he was at the girls home because he had an older sister.  Simon showed us all around - showed us their bedrooms, which were lined with bunk beds all across every wall with a table in the middle. About 12 girls per room.  I'm not sure how many adults are there at any given time.

The other thing about the older kids' homes is that kids are often there temporarily. For example, if a single parent goes to jail, the police take his/her kids and brings them to the orphanage. They stay there until their parent/s can come back to get them.  Can you imagine how scary that would be for a child?

I am glad I went to see the government orphanages. I think it is important for adoptive parents to see it. You don't have to go, it's just something that our agency offers.  I do wish there were something we could do while we're there, but I know Gladney doesn't have the staff to arrange for that kind of thing.  I actually plan to ask if I can go back when we return to Ethiopia. Not because I want to see it again - trust me, seeing something like that once in a lifetime is enough.  But because I want to go back in and love on those babies. Pick them up and cuddle them, pray for them and just let them feel loved even if for only 20 minutes.  To take some of the burden off of those caregivers, even if it's just a little bit.

Needless to say, Friday was a tough day.  We were exhausted.  And honestly, once there was no longer an opportunity to go back and see our boy, I just wanted to go home. I missed Allyn.  But we still had one more leg of our trip - traveling to Gondar to learn more about our boy's homeland.

And, oh my, was our Gondar trip a doozy...  :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thursday in Addis - Court day was more eventful than we expected...

We'd been told to be at the Gladney office by 10:30 so that we could go to court with the attorney at 11.  So we were a little surprised when our driver told us on Wed evening that he needed to pick us up at 7:30 because court was early! We figured something had changed so we planned to be up early.

That morning, Riley woke up feeling sick. He kept saying he thought he might throw up but he never did.  We all dressed in nicer clothes that day for court (you don't really need to be super-nice... more like church clothes).  Since Riley was in nice clothes, I grabbed some extra clothes for him because we planned to go back to that awesome playground that afternoon (and you should have seen how dirty he was when we left!)  As an afterthought, I grabbed some plastic bags just in case he really did need to throw up.

We got in the car with our driver and headed to the Gladney office.  After a little bit Riley said, "I really do think I'm going to throw up."  I reached for the plastic bags just as he threw up all over himself (and me).  Poor baby. This may be TMI, but at least I was able to catch most of the 2nd round in the bags.  We pulled over on the side of the road and took his clothes off and I wiped him down with the antibacterial wipes I carried with me (BRING LOTS OF THOSE if you're going to be traveling to Africa, by the way).  Thank goodness for the extra clothes I'd brought along!!!  Abey, our amazing driver, ran over to the nearest stall and came back with toilet paper and a bottle of water. Have I mentioned Ethiopia is the land of no paper towels? I'm fairly sure I never saw any the whole time we were there. We cleaned Riley up the best we could & continued on to the Gladney office.

We got to the office & went to the bathroom to finish cleaning up. Still no paper towels. I always figured it would be hard to clean up throw-up with toilet paper; now I know.  I scrubbed myself up the best I could and we went to the conference room to wait. Riley was feeling better, but I was worried about what the rest of our day would look like!  And just another note about how awesome Abey is - he cleaned up the car AND washed Riley's clothes. I tried not to let him 'cause I really didn't want him to have to clean my kid's throw up, but he insisted and I was so surprised to see that he also washed Riley's clothes. I figured we'd just rinse them & throw them in a bag and I'd deal with them later.  Abey is just awesome.

When Belay, the director for the in-country staff, got there he was confused about why we were there! He said we didn't need to be there till 10:30!!!  Our driver and one of the other in-county staff had gotten confused and brought us 2 hours too early!!! But by the time Belay told us, we only had a little over an hour, so we didn't have time to go back to our guest house.

We went to Kaldis, which is like Ethiopian Starbucks.  It's funny. There are Kaldis everywhere, just like Starbucks, and their logo is the same shade green.  But sorry Starbucks, Kaldis is better!  You just can't get better coffee than in the place where coffee was invented!  Riley felt better enough to eat some toast. Abey, Rob, and I had coffee.  (and we had a tiny bathroom incident in which I thought I was in the men's room... ask me about it - it was very funny).

We had a little time to kill so we asked Abey if there was anywhere where we could do some shopping. He took us to the Ketchene Girls Shop! We had wanted to go there anyway!! It's a little shop near the Gladney office and all the proceeds go to the Ketchene Girls Orphanage (we visited there the following day - I'll write about it, I promise).

You know what I've noticed?  The places where the proceeds go to an organization or an agency have better prices than the retail places.  Interesting.

Now might be a good time to tell y'all about my plan of the 18 gifts.  I planned to buy our boy 18 different things while we were in Ethiopia. And each year on his birthday, I'll give him one of those items that we bought and can explain to him why it's a part of Ethiopian culture or how it related to our trip to see him.  It sounded like a great idea, but once you're in-country, 18 different things begins to feel like A LOT!  But we found some things at the Ketchene Girls Shop.

We headed back to Gladney and by then, Riley was back to normal!  He and I even were racing around the little grassy area they had outside the office (he beat me, but I'm convinced he cheated somehow!) We met with the attorney and headed to court. I felt like we'd already had a full day and it was only 11 am!

Our caseworker, Sara, is just awesome and had prepped me really well with what to expect for court. I wasn't nervous at all, although I did spend most of our time waiting praying that somehow our MOWA letter had magically appeared and we'd actually pass court that day.

We waited 2 hours to see the judge.  You wait in a big room full of people. It's mostly adoptive parents and their attorneys, but also some birth family.  People are called in in groups to see the judge and then they come back out very quickly.  Most of the time people were chatting (sort of) quietly.  But when some birth family went in to the judge's office and came back out there was a hush that fell over the room - you could feel the respect and empathy towards that family.  We waited. Riley had begun to feel sick again (we brought along a plastic bag, thank goodness) and after several "false alarm" runs to the hallway, he fell asleep.

We waited until that entire room cleared out. We were the LAST family to see the judge. It was a long wait, but the good part was that Riley got a pretty good little nap in.  It turns out the clerk never pulled our file so our name was never called.  We went into the the judge's office and sat down.  I was very impressed with the judge. I knew she was female since our agency always says "she" when they talk about the judge. I guess I was expecting someone older.  She is beautiful and young and elegant.  And her questions are thoughtful. We answered a couple of questions for her and she told us she couldn't approve our adoption until she received our MOWA opinion and that was it.

Since Riley was sick, we tried to grab a quick lunch before heading back to the guest house so he could lie down.  We ate some Ethiopian food (all Riley could manage was to eat some injera) and we headed home.  Poor Riley was sick again in the car on the way home but I was MUCH quicker with the bag so we made no mess that time. blech.

By the time we got home, I wasn't feeling so well either. We had plans to meet Hirut (from Connected in Hope) for dinner at Yod Abyssinia and I didn't want to miss it so we rested all afternoon and headed out.

Yod Abyssinia is amazing. I need to email my caseworker and tell her to put it on the recommendation list of things to do in Addis.  If you are going to Addis Ababa, you MUST go.  We got there at 7 and the singing started around 7:30.  The food is amazing (well, I don't know that personally - I'll explain later), and they have traditional singing and dancing. It was great. Plan to stay all night. We were there till almost 9 and had to go 'cause Riley was tired but the dancing was still going on when we left!

Unfortunately for me... I got sick once we got there.  At least the bathrooms were clean! :)  I felt better enough after that that I made it through the rest of our time there and really enjoyed the singing & dancing. I couldn't eat a thing. And I barely made it home before being sick again... although I did bring myself a plastic bag just in case!  Ugh.

Court day was much more eventful than we had expected.  We all went to bed early, very aware that the next day was our last visit with our boy...