Saturday, March 31, 2007


Unpacking the Trip – Part 7
Part of an occasional series with thoughts on our trip to Ethiopia.

We were in the taxi when our driver said, "You Americans are so innocent." Since English is just one of several languages that Jacob spoke, I assumed he meant to use the word "naïve".

We had been discussing another family that was adopting a teenage girl who was handicapped. I objected to Jacob calling us Americans innocent.

"But Jacob," I said earnestly, "we can fix her handicap in America."

I did not really know if this was true or not, but I knew that if the best medical care in the world could not fix it outright, it could do something amazing and make it much better.

"I know," said Jacob. "No one in Ethiopia would have anything to do with her. That is why I say Americans are innocent."

It sank through. He was using the other definition of the word innocent – guiltless. What an incredible thing for a savvy Ethiopian to say, knowing full well that the involvement of the US government in Ethiopia hasn't been perfect over the years.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Test Driving a Family of 11

Today we had over three siblings for the afternoon and evening. Adding three well behaved kids to the mix actually makes things a little easier, not harder. There are some differences, however. When it came time to clean up the yard, I first sent out a message (by both messenger and walkie-talkie) for all kids to rendezvous on the deck for a pre-cleanup meeting.

When we all finally sat down for dinner, my wife and I were lucky enough to be sitting beside each other. (All of the kids wanted to sit by other kids.) My wife leaned over and whispered, "When the Smith family sits down to eat, they have one more kid than this at every meal."

Then it dawned on me. This was not just watching some kids, this was more than that. This was a test drive for a larger family. What is going on??? We have had these kids over many times before and it was always just fun and games. Now my wife is planting seeds in my mind of a larger family when we have been a family of eight for just one month.

It is hard to know what to say to such whispers.

Luckily, I was saved by the bell. Well, not a bell, but the next best thing. F.G. was yelling about the fire on the stove. Evidently when you cook for nine kids you have a lot to think about and putting a plastic strainer on a gas burner is not one of them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fun Photos

Yesterday we went to the zoo. The kids had a great time seeing all of the animals. At the petting area, F.G. decided to braid the goatee of a goat.

Here is a family shot at the zoo.

At dusk that night the kids were playing on our play set. This shot is of K.D. climbing the pirates' rope ladder.

Here is a shot from today when we went to get ice cream.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How Long Does it Take to Adopt?

So how long does it take to adopt? Every one's story is different, but here is how it happened for us.

1. Decide to adopt (Time: 30+ years) This first step takes the longest. I recommend you get started on it right away.
2. Pick an agency (Time: 3 weeks) We picked an agency, then changed our minds and picked a different one. Be sure to talk to people who have used the agency you are thinking of.
3. Complete a home study and dossier (Time: 5 months) It should NOT take this long, but it did for us. In the end we spent a month waiting for a government agency to send us a letter we did not need.
4. Wait for a referral (Time: 0 days!) This is the beauty of adopting slightly older children -- there is no wait time for a referral. We identified the children we were adopting long before we had our dossier done.
5. Wait for a court date in Ethiopia (Time: 3 months) It should NOT take this long, but it did for us. This is the hard part because there is nothing you can do.
6. Wait for a U.S. Embassy date in Ethiopia (Time: 3 weeks) This is a busy three weeks as you buy airline tickets and make final travel arrangements to be in Ethiopia for the Embassy date.

All in all, from when we signed our agency agreement to when we brought our kids into our home was less than 10 months. Just about the same amount of time it takes to have a birth child.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Will I be sent away?"

F.G. asked my wife the other day if she was going to be sent away. She does not speak English yet, so she couldn't say it in so many words. So instead, she pointed at each one of our kids and said their names and then said, "Maria?" She wanted to know where Maria was and why she was not here. Would whatever happened to Maria happen to her?

You see, my wife and I had been fostering for about four years. Maria went back home after spending a year and a half of her two and a half years with us. We deliberately did not accept any more foster kids after she went home because we did not want our soon to be adopted kids to see other kids come and go and wonder if they too would have to go.

But best laid plans . . .

CrazyMom had made an entire photo album of Maria with our family for the year and a half she spent with us. It is clear from the photos that Maria was an integral part of our family and that she was not a birth child. F.G. discovered the photo album, poured over it, and now wanted to know where Maria was.

"Friend," CrazyMom said.

CrazyMom was not sure if F.G. knew what the word friend meant, but she knew that trying to convey to F.G. the nature of foster care was not possible. "Friend" was enough to satisfy F.G. either because she knew the word or just because the tone of the response was calm and reassuring.

Then it happened again. Another photo album discovery, lots of pictures of our family with two little girls who don't look like us, lots of questions from F.G., "friends" from CrazyMom.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

First Family Bike Ride

First of all, I was not planning on a family bike ride today. They are just too much work. I was in the basement working on my multi-year project of trying to complete the finishing of the basement when CrazyMom came to get me. All she wanted me to do was get her bike off the ceiling of the garage and put air in the tires. No big deal. So I went.

Well one bike led to another with a little air here and a few adjustments there. Pretty soon I was just one bike and a tag-a-long away from having everyone outfitted. I still was not that inclined, however. I had already done too many tires. But then Miss Bookworm came to me and I could tell she really wanted to do a family bike ride.

"Just think of it dad. We would all be together," she said.

So I went over and started taking the last bike (my bike) off the ceiling and the tag-a-long off the wall.

Of course, it was a great time. Here is a shot that CrazyMom got of 5 out of the 8 of us as we rolled down the road.

We pulled into a small park (more like a community play set) not too far from our house. (Try not to notice that we let our kids crawl up the outside of the slide.)

I can get engrossed in my work and it is nice to have a wife and child who don't leave me to rot in it, but come and rescue me from it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Escaping from Leper's Village

Unpacking the Trip – Part 6

It was in the late afternoon on our fourth day in Ethiopia and we found ourselves in the back of a mini-bus with our driver and new friend, whom I will call Jacob. He was not driving at the moment, but rather two others were driving the mini-bus we were in (imagine a VW van) and had pulled up to a large black iron gate. They were yelling intensely, but with an air of respect, out the windows of the bus pleading our case with a well-armed guard. They were trying to convince the guard to open the gate and let us pass through. I could see open space, lush grounds, and a nice building beyond the gate that looked nothing like the poverty that existed on our side of the gate.

The rifle-toting guard would not budge. He was so unmoved that I am not sure if he even spoke. It was clear that this would not be a way out of Leper's Village for us.

This was not exactly what we had planned on.

Note: I know that blog culture expects short posts and this post is very, very long. You had better get a cup of coffee.

Our plans for the day were formed many weeks earlier while we were still in America. Some old friends of ours passed through town and told us of a couple from their church that recently sold all that they had and moved to Ethiopia to be missionaries. "You have to go see them," they told us. So after multiple emails, plans were set for us to head out of Addis Ababa to visit them.

The air in Addis Ababa is thick with diesel fumes from the many vehicles that billow smoke – but still run – and so are not in need of repair. We were looking forward to the fresh air on the trip to Debre Zeit, but to no avail. The road to Debre Zeit happens to be the main road from Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti, which is a critical port for the now land-locked country. The truck packed road was also all downhill. As we drove out of the cool altitude of Addis we encountered ever rising temperatures.

Upon arriving at Debre Zeit, we weaved our way through the city trying to get to the "bobagayu" (lake). Despite a phone call for directions, Jacob regularly asked passersby if we were going the right way. Although this seemed wise at the time, in the end this resulted in our being directed the wrong way around the lake. In a country with marginal roads, being directed the wrong way in a 1980 Russian built taxi is not to be taken lightly. After much confusion, an elderly gentleman got in the car with us to show us the way. He led us on a "road" onto which I would have been uncomfortable taking my 4WD pickup truck. Bowling ball sized stones jutted out of the packed dirt. I suggested a couple of times that we get out and walk to take the pressure off the vehicle, but Jacob insisted it would be OK.

Finally we pulled up to the gate of our destination, from the wrong direction. Ethiopia is a land of gates. Arriving at just about any destination, there is often a large foreboding gate and one is never quite sure what to expect on the other side. As we stood in front of the large green gate we were tired, thirsty, hungry and about to meet people we did not know. I did wonder what we would see on the other side. As the gate opened, the central theme of contrasts played again through my mind as we saw a lushness that matched the grounds of the Hilton. The several hours of fellowship with our new friends was remarkable and refreshing on a deep level.

On the trip home, it was clear to me that something bad had happened to Jacob's car in the rock field we had driven through. He denied it at first, saying, "This is Russian made. It is a sturdy car." But I could tell he was being polite. He was driving with two hands on the wheel and even stopped once to look things over. I knew this was not good for Jacob. This is just the sort of thing that can cause a major economic setback from which recovery is not certain.

I debated in my head if I should offer to pay for the repairs needed. I hesitated at first knowing Jacob would resist and not knowing how much it would cost. Upon a moment's reflection, I realized that it did not matter how much the repair cost. For if it were inexpensive, it would be no big deal and if it were expensive, then how in the world would Jacob pay for it? An expensive repair would in no way jeopardize any of the things that make me rich (food, clothing, shelter, access to health care, etc) while it could seriously jeopardize the welfare of Jacob and his young family. So I started a discussion with Jacob about how one's greatest strength can be a weakness. We had a great discussion about this idea and then I pointed out that one of his greatest strengths is his politeness and how this strength might be a weakness if it did not allow him to receive help from others.

He resisted at first because, after all, he is very polite. It was in the moment that he acquiesced that I thought I sensed a shifting of the shoulders – a slight relaxing of tensed muscles, perhaps. It seemed like a good moment.

But good moments come and go.

Upon reentry into Addis Ababa we were greeted with more construction. This forced us off the main road onto a dirt road also under construction. There was a traffic jam since a truck also forced off the main road had hit a temporary power or phone line strung too low across the road. Eventually, someone stood in the road holding up the line by hand so all of us smaller cars could pass under.

Then, about 200 yards later, the taxi died.

Jacob and I got out and he looked the car over. He checked to make sure there was gas in the tank in the back and checked the heat on the gas pump. Then he pulled the gas line off the pump, sucked hard, put the line quickly back on the pump, and then turned and spewed the gas out of his mouth. It was to no avail. Jacob walked up the street to try to find another taxi for us, but there weren't any taxis. The area of town we were in was too poor for people to afford taxis.

I was rather surprised by what happened next. Jacob told us he would escort us home but we would have to leave the car. Leave the car? Really? You have to understand that this car represented life to Jacob. He depended on it. He was entrusted with it by his extended family, all of whom contributed funds to him so he could buy it and have a life as a taxi driver.

"Jacob," I said. "Are you sure it is OK to leave the car here?"

"It is OK," he replied, but I could not discern if it was the truth or if it was his politeness again.

So we all took off walking. K.D. on Jacob's back, F.G. proudly carrying a backpack, and my wife and I. A spectacle, to be sure.

We walked a couple of hundred yards to a bus stop where there were mini-buses. I could tell Jacob felt a little uneasy since his casual saunter seemed a little more deliberate. He left us at the bus stop while he went off and talked for awhile with a driver of a mini-bus. After a few minuets of debate and arm waving, he came to get us. He had basically rented the entire mini bus for us. I found out later that the price Jacob negotiated was about 10 times what they would normally get for a bus full of people. We paid 70 birr (less than $8 US dollars).

The four of us plus Jacob piled in the back as the door operator from the inside and another man on the outside with a crow bar tried to close the door. (The door operator is the guy who normally does not get a seat on the bus but crouches near the door, opening and closing the sliding door and taking the money) The driver was impatient and started going before the door was closed, leaving the man with the crow bar behind. After a hundred yards or so, it was obvious that the door was not going to shut so the driver pulled over and came around the van to demonstrate yet again how to close the door. The trick is not to try to keep the sliding door in the tracks as you close it but to slam in into the track at the very last moment.

About a mile away across a small valley we could see the part of town to which we needed to go, but Jacob explained to us that the drivers said the bridge was closed for construction and so we had to go another way. As we drove the road appeared to end and we continued on a dirt road with lots of rocks. The road was just a little wider than the van and packed with people. It was obvious that not only do "ferenges" (foreigners) not go here, but neither do mini-buses.

The poverty was incredible. The sides of the road were lined with walls made from all sorts of scrap materials, primarily tin and sticks. We could see over some walls and through openings in others. There were mud rooms for houses, no running water, children half dressed with the telltale enlarged stomachs. We rode in silence.

One boy walking along the road reached out and merrily grabbed my arm which was resting in an open window. When I looked down at my arm I saw red and in a split instant a million thoughts went through my mind. Was that the boy's blood? Was that my blood? Did my skin break open? Was that our blood? The HIV panic moment passed quickly when I noticed that what I saw was not red, but orange. The boy was probably eating injera with a berbere sauce on his hands that was then wiped onto my arm when he touched me.

Jacob explained to us that this was Leper's Village. Yet another reason not to put my arm back in the window.

Presently we came to the iron gate - our passage out. Jacob said that beyond the gate were the grounds where the lepers doctor and the "hospital" were. If the rifle touting guard would let us through, we could get to the other side where the roads were that would take us home.

But the guard would not.

The drivers turned around the van and started snaking through Leper's Village in another direction looking for an alternate way out.

As we were bouncing along the road at a walker's pace, I was struck with how I could feel in the very members of my body the confidence that comes with privilege. Sure we were seeking to escape from Leper's Village, but it was a stress-free adventure for me with no doubt about the outcome. Even if this bus broke down (which was a real possibility seeing that a nasty noise in the frame had recently developed that was not present at the outset) or if things got really bad and we had to call the US Embassy, I never doubted our "escape".

This confidence stood in stark contrast to that of the many people within arm's reach of me who were also hoping to escape from Leper's Village. Hoping for a job, for a better life, for better medical care, for better nutrition for their children. What was an imminent certainty for me was an elusive dream for them. Rather than an air of adventure, theirs was an air of desperation.

We did make it "out" and back to the guest house where we enjoyed a very nice home-cooked meal. Such is a life of privilege.

By the way, Jacob did get his car fixed. It needed a new ball joint (93 Birr) and the labor to put it in (25 Birr). The total bill in US dollars was less than $15, which I happily paid.
The gas pump just needed to cool down.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rough Day for Buddy

Buddy took a bad spill on his bike on Tuesday. He was wearing a helmet - but it was on backward and sitting too far back on his head. Here is a photo from Tuesday night before the scab and bruising set in.

Being a little gun shy of bike riding, he switched to basketball. He was proud of himself for shooting a few hundred baskets. As his reward, he got one of the biggest blisters I have ever seen on his toe. It packed so tight with fluid that it hurt at all times. When I suggested that I pop it with a needle, he was leery. (I told him one time that taking a splinter out of his foot with a needle wouldn't be too bad - and I was wrong.) But after another hour or two of pain, he agreed and within moments he was feeling much better.

Also, Wednesday was the first day of spring and Rita's Italian Ice gives away free a free "ice" (think of a slushy, but better) to anybody who shows up. So all eight of us hopped into the van and went in order to enjoy the unseasonably warm day we were having.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tough Kids

We in America sometimes get a little soft with our cushy lives. Having some kids join the family from Ethiopia can be a good reminder of that. At their tender age they have already experienced more grief and loss than what I have experienced in my life. And they have experienced this loss under conditions far less favorable than what I can fully understand.

I find myself, despite my best efforts, being a little bit harder on my birth kids. Having been to Ethiopia and seeing what I saw, I now expect my kids to eat the crust of their pizza before they get the next piece and the like. In some sense, I expect them to toughen up.

And then WHAM! It happens yet again to me. When will I ever learn???? Just as I point my fingers at the kids expecting them to toughen up, God points out the three fingers pointing back at me. (Yes, you have read that line before because it has happened before, and then before that, and again before that . . .)

The other day I took a lid off a pot that CrazyMom had delivered to the supper table and I pulled my hand back quickly because it was hot. F.G. immediately reach out her hand and grasped the lid and held on to it while she looked at me. Hard to miss that indicator that maybe I am the one that should toughen up.

Here is a photo from tonight of our tough (and yet sweet and delicate) F.G. carrying Buddy on her shoulders. I think he weighs as much as she does.

A Heartfelt Thanks

Last Sunday, like the Sunday before it, and I suspect like the Sunday to come, I found myself standing in the lobby at church feeling a bit overwhelmed. One of the things that happens on my Sundays is "the brief encounter". In the small spaces between or after service people come up to check in with me to see how things are going.

Of late, these brief encounters have been more characterized by intensity in the eyes, earnest words, soft touches on the heads of our kids, and a recounting of how the individual has been praying for us. It is remarkable to me how much love can be conveyed, or better, transferred to me in such a short amount of time. One such encounter would not be overwhelming, of course, but it is not just one that occurs. The brief encounter plays out 10 to 15 times and by the time my wife and I pile all of the kids into our 12 passenger van, we pull away from church having felt the love of God.

I think of the Casting Crowns song that says:

"But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching"

and I am so glad this is not a question I am asking. The Body is reaching out to us and we are the better for it.

This is not the only way that the Body is reaching out to us, however. Just this last week our credit card bill came and it was quite large. We had charged all of the airfare for our travel to Ethiopia to bring our new kids home. I was in the process of checking out where the funds might come from to cover the credit card bill when we got a check in the mail from our church. A few weeks earlier our church hosted a time for the three families who are adopting from Ethiopia to share with the congregation and during that time many members of the congregation donated funds to support the adoptive families. The check we got in the mail was just over the amount of the bill for the airline tickets for our two kids. It was a wonderful and well-timed blessing.

The support from church combined with the support of others in the form of gift cards, donated furniture, child care, and kind words has made me realize that one of the reasons my wife and I can take on big things in our lives is because of all of the support we get from others.

So a big thank you to all of you – friends and family near and far. Without your support we would not be able to do what we are doing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bike Riding and Loving America

While we were in Ethiopia we noticed that we did not see any bicycles around. When we asked about this, we were told that people don't have bikes and they either walk and/or take the bus. Because of this, we assumed that our kids would not have ridden bikes before. While we were in Ethiopia they seemed excited about bikes (or "cycles" as they call them) by their reactions to pictures of our kids riding bikes.

Back in the US, F.G. got to "ride" a bike for a few moments inside another person's house. The next day at yet another friend's house, F.G. went outside with someone and in less than 15 minutes they came running in to tell CrazyMom that F.G. was riding. F.G. is athletic, but it is hard to believe she could begin to ride that fast. Hmm, maybe she did have some prior exposure.

The other day we had unseasonably warm weather and it was a great day to be outside and play. F.G. spent hours and hours on a bike. She was wobbly at the beginning of the day and riding like a pro at the end. Here are three short video clips that show the progression throughout the day.

Every time during the day that F.G. would ask if she could go ride her bike and CrazyMom said yes, F.G. would thank her, tell her she loved her, and hug her repeatedly. Then the other day F.G. indicated that she loved America and pointed to the back yard, the front yard, and then said, "cycle". So, I guess we can infer that what she loves about America isn't her great loving family, the wonderful meals, the new clothes, or the opportunity for education. It's the backyard, the front yard, and riding her bike.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Activities from the Third Day in Ethiopia

Unpacking the Trip – Part 5

On the third day of our trip to Ethiopia we set off mid morning to go to the Hilton to swim. Entering the grounds of the Hilton was like entering an oasis with the lush vegetation, stonework, staff, shops, etc. The kids had a grand time swimming. We are not sure if they had ever swam before since there was a little initial hesitation. Once they got started, however, the splashing and laughing were almost non-stop.

Above is our friend and his little guy jumping into the pool with K.D. in the background.

When we left the Hilton, we told our driver that we would like to get lunch. He said OK and we were off to who knows where. He took us to "The Cottage". We were a little nervous when we walked in about whether our kids' behaviour would mesh well with the linen tables clothes, nice dishes, and flower vases on the tables. It ended up being a great place to eat and the Ethiopian waiters were kind and accommodating (even down to removing the vase of flowers before it ended up falling over again). It was fantastic to have such a great driver who would just choose for us a restaurant that he knew would be appropriate. The meal was excellent, but it was a little more expensive. The bill for the four of us was $13.

We did a little more shopping before returning to the guest house and had a chance to sit down and have some machiato (coffee) and shai (tea) for about 15 cents a cup.

When we returned to the guest house, our friend watched our kids and my wife and I went to AHOPE. AHOPE (AFRICAN HIV ORPHANS: PROJECT EMBRACE ) is an orphanage for HIV positive children who have no family or friend options for their care. Starting in 2004, AHOPE has been able to have access to ARV medications for the children that they have in their care. Having heard so much about this place, it was a real blessing to be able to actually visit and to deliver some over the counter medications and other supplies that we had brought from America. I will post more about this visit later.

Bedtime on the third night was heart warming. The kids thrived on knowing the "routine" we had been establishing the previous two nights. They took a lot of pride in knowing where to put their dirty clothes, how to brush their teeth and the like without us having to show them. It was obvious to us from the quiet dreamy smiles on their faces as we tucked them in that deeper bonds were already beginning to grow.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Eating Ethiopian Style at Home

The first weekend back in the US CrazyMom cooked an Ethiopian meal. It was a big hit with F.G. and K.D. K.D. kept yelling "Dosysee! Dosysee!" Dosysee means "I love you" but we were not sure if he was talking to CrazyMom for making the meal or just stating how he feels about injera (the traditional Ethiopian bread).

We had doro we't (chicken stew), misr we't (lentil stew), alecha we't (vegtable stew), and iyab (lemony cheese mixture).

In the vein of over documentation, here is a short clip of CrazyMom serving it up.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Surreal Experience – Two Boys Touch through a Pane of Glass

Unpacking the Trip – Part 4

While the last post was all about what we did on our second full day in Ethiopia, this post is about the conflicted heart that I had.

My heart was troubled because I was simultaneously experiencing both an intense joy and an intense pain. I felt an unbelievable amount of joy as we finally were able to meet and begin to get to know our new kids. I also felt an unbelievable amount of pain as I saw around us the suffering of so many others.

I have been to third world countries before (Honduras, Peru, and Kenya). I have even been to third world countries when there was a drought (Zambia and Zimbabwe), but I was younger, more naïve, and doing the tourist thing so I did not (or chose not?) to notice the tragedies around me.

This experience was much different. Ethiopia seemed poorer and the plight of their people more difficult. My heart was more involved since we were adopting some of their children. I knew more and I was desperately trying to see through the American scales on my eyes.

But looking with new eyes can be painful. On this second day I was riding in a mini bus with the other families that were adopting that week. We stood out on crowded streets, especially when many of the crowds are beggars desperate for money. Unemployment in Ethiopia is 47%. This means that the disabled have virtually no chance of getting a job as well as many able bodied workers. And so they turn to the streets, looking for coins with which to buy bread. The healthy, the disabled who are healthy enough at least to crawl to the streets, women carrying babies, and children are all there. At a rare stop light our mini bus paused and a young boy, about two years older than K.D., came up to the window to beg. When he saw K.D. in the van along with all of us "forengees" (foreigners), he got excited and K.D. and the beggar boy started speaking rapidly to each other. The beggar boy put his hand on the window and K.D. did likewise. K.D. turned to me without taking his hand off the window and was yelling. "Papa! Papa! Papa!" He wanted me to look – to see the boy.

I did look. I did see the boy. And I was seeing past my American scales. And what I saw haunted me.

I saw a world full of children. I saw that the children had no control over where they were born. I saw some kids being born in America, some in Europe, some in China, some in South America, some in Ethiopia. I saw the more than 4 million Ethiopian orphans along with who knows how many more living in poverty. And I saw two boys, touching though a pane of glass. One of those boys was being thrust into a life with all that the world could offer and his future was intensely bright. The other boy must fight for survival begging on the streets of a poor country and his future looked intensely dark.

The light turned green. We pulled away. One boy was left behind.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Activities from the Second Day in Ethiopia

Unpacking the Trip -- Part 3

This series of posts is all about our trip to Ethiopia, delivered in small bits over time. Here is what we did on the second full day in Ethiopia (the first full day with our new kids!).

We all went shopping in the morning. One of the places we went was to a coffee shop to purchase some Ethiopian coffee. It is said that coffee originated in the land of Ethiopia. When we were walking out of the store, a gentleman talked to me for a little while. When he heard that we were adopting the kids that were with us, he wanted to make sure he understood correctly that they would be going to live with us in America. He seemed very pleased to find out that they were. As I was talking to him, K.D. was playing with the camera on my shoulder. What a great surprise it was when I got home to find that he took a picture of the man. As we parted, the man said to me, "God bless you for what you are doing."

After a little more shopping we had lunch at a pizza place close to the guest house. Here is a shot of us eating outside.

After lunch we got all dressed up to go to the U.S. embassy in order to get immigrant visas for the kids to enter the U.S. We had a few minutes to hang out outside at the guest house while we waited for our ride to show up. Here is one of my favorite shots from the whole trip - the three kids on the steps of the guest house.

Here is a great video of the kids doing some singing while we waited. The woman's voice you hear in the background is the missionary who started the guest house.

In the evening, our adoption agency hosted us at a very nice traditional Ethiopian restaurant. It was so nice that they had guards with metal detectors at the doors to enforce their strict "no gun" policy. The next two video clips are 30 second clips of the band and a singer. There is a fair amount of background noise, but I think you can still get a flavor of the music.

Many of the art in Ethiopia has to do with the Queen of Sheba and her visit to King Solomon. Even the lamp shade next to us depicted this scene.

Finally, here is a shot of our communal "plate" of food as well as part of our dinner party enjoying their meal.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Found - Dress Up Clothes!

F.G. and K.D. found the dress up clothes tonight. Here are a few photos of that and some other shots from the night.

While all of the fun was going on, Miss Bookworm was back in the office plugging away with her homework.

Frugality, Gum, and Great Grandmothers

Sometimes I puff my chest up a little as I feel proud about the fact that my wife and I are frugal (or at least my wife is). My wife shops at Aldi's, cuts coupons, and shops for clothes at the thrift store (but only on the last Wednesday of the month when things are half price). That is frugal!

Or is it?

The other day I was in charge of the masses when CrazyMom was away. F.G. wanted some gum so I gave her a piece. Now I admit that I don't know if she has had gum before and I did not watch to see what she did with it and all of that other stuff I should have done. When I came home from work the next day, my wife started asking me about gum. It turned out that F.G. was found chewing gum sometime during the day. I was pretty sure that F.G. chewed the gum the night before and that she had brushed her teeth and did not have it then. We started to wonder if she stuck it somewhere for the night.

While we were talking about this, F.G. somehow understood what we were talking about, ran off, and came back with 1/3 of a stick of gum. She evidently had a third of a stick the night before, a third of the stick that day, and was saving the last third for the next day!

This is just one incident along with many others. K.D. got a look of horror when he dropped a jug of juice and it broke. I don't think wasting food goes over very well in Ethiopia. F.G. and K.D. found a coin in our house, knew it was money and that money is valuable, and marched off to find CrazyMom to give her the coin.

When I use to go visit my great grandmother in the nursing home as a child, she would often talk about the old couple down the hall. The OLD couple down the hall!!! Ha! What did she think she was?!? I learned from this that old is relative and I am learning from F.G. and K.D. that frugal is relative as well.

While we were in Ethiopia, the missionary couple we were staying with told us that if you give an apple to an Ethiopian who is hungry, he will not eat it. He would take the apple to the market, sell it, and use the money to by a few loaves of bread. That casts a whole new light on what it means to be frugal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"To Grow"

Unpacking the Trip -- Part 2

When we were at the care center to pick up our kids, we got to spend several hours there where we played with the kids, signed papers, and ate lunch. One of the highlights for me was to go to the "class" that they had. There is a teacher/counselor who holds class with all of the kids. The class started with singing led by one of the older girls.

After the singing, there was a lesson about adoption. Notice in the picture below that the teacher wrote the word adoption in English on the board. I think she may have done that for my benefit.

From Ethiopia Trip...

One of the things she asked the kids (we later found out since the lesson was in Amharic) was why they were going to America. Our K.D. raised his hand and answered, "To grow."

Just two short words sums up the perspective of our new five year old on what adoption means. Having the opportunity to grow is something we take for granted here in America. While my birth kids never think twice about having this privilege, K.D. understands well that not all kids in the world are so lucky.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Fun Photos

Thoughts from THE EVENT – Meeting the Kids!

Unpacking the Trip -- Part 1

The last post had a first round of photos from the trip which included when we first met the kids. As I look back over my journal, it is filled with random thoughts to remember from the day. Here are some of them.

When our car pulled into the care center, it was swarmed with kids. The workers shooed away all but three – our F.G. and K.D. and the child our friend who was with us was adopting. When the car door opened, K.D. was there to jump on me. "Papa! Papa!" he kept yelling over and over as he latched on to me and would not let go. It was not so much a sentimental moment, it seemed to me, but rather a moment where he was finally able to lay his hands on his trophy. I was a prize – a new dad from the land of America – to be ushered around and displayed to all. K.D. was quite possessive for the first few minutes, shoving away any child who came too close. He was also very determined not to be left behind. If I went too close the car or had to get something out of it, he would run and jump in the car. There was no way he was going to be left behind!

F.G. took hold of my wife as she opened the car door. She kissed her repeatedly and clutched her tightly for awhile. It seemed like she suddenly became aware that she did not know how long until we were going to leave and she took off and disappeared inside. She returned moments later with a small clear plastic backpack with an item or two in it. Nothing looked particularly valuable but I suspected that any possession could be a prize possession for a child at the care center. She gave it to K.D. to wear on his back. It was not until later in the day when we were back at the guest house that we discovered what was in the backpack. There was a small wallet/purse that had two square black and white photos about 1.5" on a side of her mother. What a treasure indeed.

It is fascinating to look back on this event with almost two weeks under our belts now. We have been told that the bonding that needs to take place between a new adoptive parent and child can take anywhere from one hour to one year or more. We are fortunate that the bonds seem to be developing quickly for us. F.G. and K.D. already at random times will say "dosycee" (Amharic for "I love you") to us. They love to crawl up in my lap, invite me to play with them, and F.G. in particular loves the game we play of catching each other's eyes. We would love them, of course, if the love we have for them was not reciprocated. But how sweet it has been for us that it has.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Photos from Ethiopia (Round #1)

Here is a first round of photos from our trip to Ethiopia. It covers the trip over there and the first day when we got to go to the care center and meet our kids and take them with us.

Being a Better Parent

Since we are currently enjoying the "honeymoon" stage, I have been thinking recently about why it ever has to end. If everybody loves the honeymoon stage so much, why leave it behind? I saw the seeds of change this morning as K.D. wanted something that Little Foot had and Little Foot pulled back. Up to this point, he would give K.D. whatever he wanted. And as I extend my finger to point at Little Foot, as it often the case, I notice the three fingers pointing back at me.

You see, I have been a better dad lately. I have been doing more of the "extras" that I have done at various times in the past. You know, the things like making sure I track down every kid (and mom!) whenever I leave the house or arrive home to give a hug. Being sure not to miss tucking the kids in at night. Catching the eye of my kids on a regular basis to help ensure that bonding is taking place. Not touching my office work from when I get home until supper and instead building blocks and reading with the kids. Now it would be wrong for me to do this for just the new kids, so I have been doing it for all of my kids of course. That is why adoption is making me a better parent of my birth kids.

The last few days have been wonderful, but I know it will change and a lot of it will be because of me. I must fight the temptation to stop doing the extras, to become complacent, to take for granted all of the small joys we share with our children. I hope I will not let the hectic pace of life seep in and contaminate my priorities. I hope I can be the better dad I have been lately for a long time.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The ABCs of Adoption

Here is a short video clip that covers all of the ABCs of adoption!