Saturday, March 29, 2008

Obligation or Desire?

Sometimes we do what we are obligated to do and sometimes what we desire to do. Of course, the line is a little fuzzy, especially if you are prone to wanting to do the right thing. I remember having some episodes early on in the process of adopting Anna where I wondered if this was what I really wanted to do or not. A seventh child? So soon after we just adopted? Starting over with a child who was only four? But these episodes were brief because Anna was K.D.’s sister after all and it was clearly the right thing to do. There was an obligation that was unshakable.

One time when I was wondering about adopting Anna, CrazyMom told me a story about how one of her blog friends had a husband who was dragging his feet. Then, after the little girl came into their home, the girl was able to wrap dad around her little finger. It was a cute story, I supposed, but I am a much different type of guy.

Last night I was putting Anna to bed. As I was sitting in her darkened room and rocking her, she rested her sleepy head against my breast. I felt the love for a child sweep over me. At first my mind wandered back over the day that was filled with many smiles as Anna trucked all over the house. Then my mind wandered back to Ethiopia and the orphanage at which Anna was staying. It was a good orphanage, I thought, but how different that nighttime routine must have been than the nighttime routine for our family. It was sobering to think about and made me enjoy the moment with Anna even more. But it also made me grieve a little for the children I saw at Kidane Meheret who would go to bed in a room packed so tight with cribs that they would have to crawl over several in order to get to theirs. Children deserve family nighttime routines, I thought.

Why don’t more people adopt these kids, I wondered. But then I remembered my own reservations about adopting Anna and how it was the obligation I felt that carried me through. Now, with Anna in my arms, those reservations seemed foolish and I could only feel the desire I had for Anna.

And isn’t that how it often is. As we go about doing the things that we ought to be doing, those things become the desires of our hearts. For scripture tells us, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thank You For Adopting Anna

F.G. really loves kids and she has been having a ball playing with Anna for hours. The other night we were eating supper and F.G. was just gazing across the table at Anna. She said, “Dad, thank you for adopting Anna.”

From time to time CrazyMom and I will get asked a question about how the birth kids are faring since the adopted kids have arrived. The question stems from a concern that adopting might have had a negative impact on the birth kids.

Well, we have been very fortunate and all of our kids are doing great. Adopting has added a new richness to our family in areas such as culture, race, food, and awareness of the plight of others in the world. It has been wonderful for our kids and our family.

The transition to an adoptive family may have been easier for us than for some since we were fostering before we started down the path of adoption. Our birth kids were ecstatic the first time we told them we were adopting. Adopting meant that the next kids who came into our home would get to stay and would not have to leave.

Another reason why birth kids do well is the same reason adoptive kids do well. Kids are just so adaptable. Our kids from Ethiopia arrive on the scene where everything is different and they just say, “So this is how it is here. OK.” And they go on. Our birth kids do the same. “So this is how it is now. OK.” And they go on. Oh, to be young again.

After all of this talk about how wonderful everything is, it is important to say that things are not always pretty in our house. People get annoyed with each other. We get upset with the kids. The kids fight and carry on as kids do. But it is just the normal family stuff. A difference I do see, however, is that when two of our birth kids are fighting, I don’t think much of it and I deal with it as I normally would. When a birth child is squabbling with an adopted child, however, I find myself sometimes overanalyzing the situation. I don’t know if this hyper-sensitivity to how relationships are going will eventually fade or not, or even if it should.

So in this area of concern about adopting – is it good or bad for the birth kids – for us it has been a blessing. Our birth kids are the better for it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Work or Zoo?

I have to go back to work on Monday, so CrazyMom and I mapped out the remaining days to help ensure everything gets done. This afternoon was my time to go into work to do some prep work. This afternoon was warm and sunny. This afternoon we went to the zoo.

Princess Anna had a grand time being escorted around in her chariot with eight personal attendants.


Here is CrazyMom with her brood.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hospital Photos

Life was good at the start of our stay in the hospital. This is pre-IV, pre-sputum extraction, and pre-everything else. All smiles here.

Napping . . .

Playing . . .

Here Anna is breathing some gas to induce a coughing fit. This was the first go around and Anna was still compliant at this point.

The hospital was great about little extras to make it fun for Anna. Just about every day a nurse would show up with a little gift bag or something fun for Anna.

Here Anna is looking out the window, but not asking to go outside. We were amazed that for three days she was fine with being confined to the room. It was as if this is how life is now and that is that.

Anna's one field trip from the room was to go get a CT scan. She was happy about it because she likes getting her picture taken.

CrazyMom arrived on Easter with Anna's Easter basket.

This was in the first half of the stay when Anna still trusted nurses.

With lots of time to kill, it is a great opportunity to get your hair done.

When they came to take do the last sputum extraction, Anna had hit the wall. She screamed and cried the entire time. This had the side benefit of getting her all worked up so she coughed better for them, but it was pretty painful. After that a nurse came in to take her vitals. Up to that point, Anna would raise her arm in the air showing her armpit to help the nurse out. This time she immediately covered her face to protect her nose and mouth and started saying "I don't want" in Amharic. After the vitals they came in with the first of two oral medications that she needed to take before she could go home. It was not pretty and they eventually gave up. The nurse ground up one of the pills and left it with me. I mixed it in some salsa and then dipped bread into the salsa and fed it it Anna. Then I started talking to Anna about going home to see her brother K.D. Up to that point she never wanted to leave, but the prospect of seeing her brother got her really excited. I showed here a syringe and told her she had to take drink one more thing and then we could go home and see K.D. She understood. When the nurse came back in she was skeptical, but Anna let her put the syringe in her mouth and she took a squirt of the medicine. Anna shuddered at the taste and began to turn her head and I reminded her this was the last one and then we could go see K.D. She gave a big smile and drank the rest down. The nurse was stunned.

Here the nurse is taking out her IV. Anna was so ready to go that as the nurse was giving me the departure instructions Anna was dragging the bags over to the door.

Now that it is all over, hopefully enough time will pass before Anna has to engage the medical community again. They say time heals all wounds. I don't think that is true, but I hope time helps in this case.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Not Dying? Then Wait ‘Til Monday.

Friday morning Anna went to an international adoption clinic for her big coming-to-America checkup. When she got home around lunch time, the phone rang and it was the clinic. Some concerns had come up about a chest x-ray and we were told to go the hospital to have them look into things. It was now Friday afternoon – Good Friday at that. Anna was not dying. We should have waited until Monday to go to the hospital.

Over the 78 hours we were at the hospital we had three different doctors, one resident, four nurses, and evidently a lot of substitute lab workers. Painful procedures were performed on Anna to extract sputum to send off for lab work. The labs were then lost or not ordered properly and had to be repeated multiple times. On Monday when I finally came to the conclusion that it was time for us to leave even though the reordered lab work was not back yet, I had a hard time convincing other people until I found this argument.

CrazyD : Suppose the lab work comes back positive. What happens then?

Nurse or Resident : We prescribe this drug and you can go home.

CrazyD : Suppose the lab work comes back negative. What happens then?

Nurse or Resident : We prescribe this other drug and you can go home.

CrazyD : So here is a good idea. We will go home now and whenever you get the labs back, you call and let me know which prescription we should have.

Nurse or Resident : Ahh. That makes sense. But we can’t send you home. Only the doctor can do that.

Problem was doctor #3 did not come to see us on his Monday morning rounds. I got the resident to page him. Then I got the nurse to page him. Then I got our nurse from the day before to page him. Then I stood in the center of a busy hall looking like I was lost. Everybody who saw me would stop and ask if I needed help. I said yes, I am looking for Dr. SoAndSo and they would run off and try to find him.

At 2 pm the doctor finally showed up. He was nice and if the circumstances were different, I think I would have liked him. I went through my argument about going home and he said no. More sputum samples were lost and he wanted to collect two more and wait for the results of a particular lab which should be ready soon since it was sent in on Friday. I was not happy, but there was nothing I could do. CrazyMom went home and I prepared for another night in the hospital.

Well, a few hours later the doctor came back with a nurse. The doctor had called to find out when he could expect the lab that was ordered on Friday that he wanted back before he would release us. Turns out it was also lost. He had to get another sputum sample to send in, but he did not have the heart to have us wait in the hospital for 2-3 days for the lab work to get done. So Anna, who was by now at the end of her rope, went through another sputum extraction and then we came home.

As I write this now Anna is sleeping in her own bed for what will hopefully be a full night's rest without any nurses taking her vitals. In the future, I hope to provide expert care for Anna by never taking her to the hospital on a Friday, unless she is dying.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Shoes

Having a big family is wonderful, except when it is not. One of the times when it is not for me is when I am dealing with shoes.

Big family life is often about systems for success. We currently have a system for failure that involves church shoes and still-too-large-hand-me-down shoes in the kids closets, every day shoes that can be worn in public in the hall closest, and everything else (play shoes, rain boots, snow boots, hiking boots, roller blades, soccer shoes, flip flops, and water shoes) in the garage.

Our system fails in the garage. Navigating from the garage to the house is an extreme sport due to the number of shoes scattered by the door. CrazyMom and I will occasionally send a shoe organizing troop to the garage to sort and straighten all of the shoes, but the resulting pathway lasts only for a day.

I get so frustrated that my usually calm demeanor escapes me. Last summer I emerged from the house carrying a heavy box and I tripped over the plethora of shoes. Since nobody was around, I let my frustration carry me out of control and I starting kicking all of the shoes towards the garage wall where they belonged while making loud caveman grunts. Just as I was reaching the peak of my therapeutic temper tantrum, I happened to look over my shoulder and I saw someone in my neighbor’s driveway staring at me in disbelief. Ugh.

Well, I think I have converted our system of failure to a system of success. I purchased every family member a personal shoe bin and made the easy to follow rule that your shoes go in your bin before you come into the house. We are now 48 hours into the new system and we still don’t have shoe mayhem. My probability for insanity may be going down. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What is in a Name?

CrazyMom wanted me to write a post and let all of you know that Anna’s real name is not Anna. Anna is just her fake blog name. Her real name is . . . well . . . I can’t say here.

You see, CrazyMom and I had a little “incident” at breakfast this morning. I was telling her about how a woman came up to me at church and asked me, “How is Anna doing?” using the blog name, Anna, rather than her real name.

“Did you correct her?” asked CrazyMom. Grammatically it is correct to use a “?” here, but the tone was more of a “!” and the look in her eyes conveyed that what she was really saying was, “I am going to be polite and ask this as a question, but I am pretty sure you did not correct her and you should have.”

“Well, um, you see,” I began as I was bringing to bear all the intellectual power I had to navigate the situation. “It was not like it was just her and me. There were lots of people around and so . . .”

“There were lots of people around, huh? So now everybody thinks her name is Anna and you didn’t bother to set the record straight?”

In order to buy some time for my brain to work, I turned to Anna who was sitting next to me and said, “Here you go Anna” as I fed her another bite.

Unfortunately, I called her Anna rather than her real name. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

A bit of history is in order here. When it comes to naming a child, CrazyMom generates a list, talks to me about it and I respond with funny, vague, and irrelevant comments. She then picks a name and then I provide a little satirical humor and offer a crazy alternative. Finally, the child officially gets the name CrazyMom has picked out. I am confident that marriage counselors would not recommend this model, but it has always worked for us before.

CrazyMom has naming rights because I think that you just pick a name that you like and then call the kid that name. CrazyMom understands that naming a child is more complex than the IRS tax code. Who knew you could not name a child the same name as any family member up through second cousins? Or that all names that coworkers have used for their kids are off limits, but only if the child was born in the last 10.5 months? And evidently the list goes on.

Another reason that CrazyMom has naming rights is because I am more prone to call them by numbers anyway. If we are out with the kids and have to go our separate ways I will say, “Hey, Hon. I am taking 1, 3, and 4. You’ve got 2, 5, and 6.”

For some crazy reason when it came to naming Anna I broke our naming model and said I wanted the name Anna. CrazyMom pulled out the IRS code books and showed me why the name could not be Anna. I then passively aggressively named her Anna on the blog. The unfortunate part is that many family and friends have read the blog daily for weeks before actually meeting the little munchkin. So to them, she is Anna.

So for everybody out there who knows us, please bail me out here and next time you see CrazyMom, ask her how __________ is doing, and not Anna.

Of course, when you see me, you can ask how Anna is doing. :-)

A Journal Entry

(Editor’s note: Here is a journal entry from Miss Bookworm. She wrote it while we were in Ethiopia and another family with seven kids was at our house watching our six kids.)

Things around here have been hectic. But it’s been fun, too. We have had lots of music and dancing and singing.

I also think that we’re going to try to talk to my parents and Anna today in Ethiopia. Anna is so cute; I can’t wait for all of them to come home.

I really would like to go to Ethiopia and see how they live, and try to help. I like how they use their resources and admire how they are strong and not idle. I think it would be fun to learn their language and to be able to communicate with them with their own language. I wish to let them know that God loves them, and that they do have a purpose in their life on earth.

What has really set me off about this is the Ugandan Children’s Choir. I saw their faces and realized how much they loved God. I also saw that they wanted others to share their joy of having Jesus in their heart and lives.

It’s amazing how active they were on stage. They were a ball of energy, dancing and singing. As I stared at them I wished I could be up there with them, I wished I could know them. They were so eager to share their joy with others; it was amazing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sodo Ethiopia

Several readers have inquired about Sodo (or Soddo as we sometimes see it spelled). I have created a web album of pictures taken in the town of Sodo. If you are going to stay in Sodo, I reccomend that while you are in Addis you go to the Bekele Molla hotel office and make reservations so that you can be sure to get a room in the best hotel in town. Here is a slide show.




Here is a link to the online web album in case the slide show does not work for you.

Sodo Ethiopia

The Honeymoon

Things were great in Ethiopia with Anna, but as I mentioned in some previous posts, Anna sometimes developed an attitude. Since every picture we posted was of this little sweet smiling child, you probably don’t believe me, but I have proof. Here is a clip of Anna having a fit about taking a nap. Notice the shoulder shrugging and the face twitching, both of which she intends to be disrespectful. (By the way, I LOVE the silent fits. I can put up with them all day long. Hopefully she won’t learn that kicking and screaming is more effective than shrugging and face twitching when trying to raise mom and dad’s blood pressure.)



Since we have been in the states, things have been even better. We are enjoying a full-fledged honeymoon period right now. Anna is one happy girl. I think that her getting sick and having expert loving care from CrazyMom helped as well as seeing us interact with our other kids. She has realized that this is how life is in our house and even if the little princess gets told no sometimes, life is still pretty good. She often had twitching fits when we put her to bed in Ethiopia and the other night she started with a little attitude as well. I took her around to say goodnight to all of the kids and when she saw that they were going to bed too, she got over her attitude.

Each day is still full of fun discoveries. She got to play in the tub last night and had a grand time dumping water on her face. I wanted to let her go as long as she wanted, but I eventually had to pull the plug on her.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Forever Changed

After 19 hours on a plane from Ethiopia, CrazyMom, Anna, and I landed at Dulles airport. When we cleared customs and immigration we had to go through security again to get back to where all of the gates were for our next flight. We were selected for a special intense high tech security search. It appeared to me that we were selected to provide some diversity to the middle aged dark-skinned males who were also selected for the special search. We eventually made it through and were off for our gate.

Then it happened. I saw a mom at the bottom of the escalator we were on who was about the same age as CrazyMom. She was cheerily shepherding her four blond-haired birth kids through the crowd. Envy crept over me as I remembered my life with just four birth kids. But those days are gone now and there is no going back.

I have these envy episodes from time to time. As I enter a restaurant and see two young lovers sitting by a window at a dainty table for two engrossed in deep conversation, an envy episode can start. As I stand there with children in my arms and at my feet and multiple waiters around me trying to pull together enough tables for my family to sit down, I remember when it was CrazyMom and me at the table for two by the window. But those days are gone now and there is no going back.

At each stage in life it seems like I have gone through an irreversible transformation that has brought more people into my inner sphere - from being a single to being a husband, from being a husband to being a birth dad, from being a birth dad to being an adoptive dad.

Each expansion of my inner sphere has brought less time for me and it is my selfish side that kick-starts the envy episodes. But after a moment it fades because I look around me and see my wife and all of my kids and I feel the richness and the significance of living for others rather than for self. Yes, it was fun in the early days when it was just CrazyMom and me. But I have been forever changed and the fun of yesteryear has been replaced with the joy of today.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The First 48 Hours


We have been home for 48 hours now and Anna has been sick nearly the entire time. When she first got home she was still good enough to go around the house exploring with a trail of kids behind her. Each child was more than willing to pull out and show her anything she looked at. It was a lot like last year when F.G. and K.D. first came into the home except that it was old hat for CrazyMom and I and we left it up to the kids to show her around the house.

By evening time, Anna had developed a relatively high fever. We have had other kids get sick when we fly and we suspect it has something to do with all of the recycled air on the plane. Nineteen hours on a plane with several hundred people is a little extreme, after all. Despite our weariness, CrazyMom and I set our alarm for every two hours during the night to check on Anna and administer drugs as appropriate.

Anna was a sleeping lump on the couch the entire day on Saturday, eating nothing and only taking a few sips of liquids when strongly encouraged. Her fever did break about 1-2 am Sunday morning and while she is still lethargic, she has been up and around some today. Our kids are anxious for her to be better so they can play with her. Hopefully that time will come soon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Home Again



We made it home safe and sound. All is well and life is good.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Off to America

We get to leave tonight for America!  We are all very excited.  Anna keeps asking, "America?" because yesterday we told her "neggay" for tomorrow.  Then today she kept saying "ahoon" and we assumed that it meant today and so we agreed.  Anna's attitude was going south and we figured out that "ahoon" means now, not today.  We eventually had to track someone down to explain to her in Amharic that we would not leave until after supper.  I think we have it all straight now.

 

The big event of the morning was going to get Anna's hair done.  The shop across the street from the Ritmo braided her hair (as you can see above).  They did not speak English so we made some hand gestures and then sat back to what would happen to her hair. It turned out great, of course.  They charged $25 Birr plus we gave them a $5 Birr tip.  That is about $3 USD.  Well worth the price.

 

This will be our last post until we get back to the states.  Until then, chow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

AAI’s Layla House

Some of the adoption agencies operate their own care centers (or orphanages) and some just use other care centers in Addis.  AAI operates their own care center and a few of their kids are at other centers.  CrazyMom and I had the opportunity to visit Layla house today.  It is the sixth care center we have now visited in Addis.

 

Our overall impression of Layla house was WOW!  We sometimes use the expression that one thing is head and shoulders above the rest.  Layla house is a torso, head and shoulders above the rest.  We have heard that Merrily Ripley has been working in the area of adoption for many, many years (she has adopted 18 children of her own, started AHOPE in Addis, and started AAI).  I can't imagine how many care centers she has visited in her life, but she evidently brought all of the best things that she has seen the world over and put them into Layla house. 

 

Here are a few of the particulars that we saw.  CrazyMom was looking into a room with only five infants and a worker.  She commented on what a great ratio of workers to infants that was and the person showing us around said, "Oh, there are actually two workers in this room.  The other must be taking a break."  When we were in a toddler room we found out that they strip, wash, and remake the beds EVERY day.  CrazyMom was very impressed, but I don't thing she is going to alter the frequency of the sheet washing program in our home.  (She would not let me say how often she washes sheets on our blog.)  The older kids have anywhere from six to ten kids in a room and EACH room has a room mother that sleeps in the room at night.  The kids go to school on the grounds from 9am to 3pm each day, which is more rigorous than the Ethiopian schools.  All of the kids have daily showers.  There is a doctor on site every day caring for the kids and if a child is at a different care center, they bring the child to Layla on a regular basis for the doctor to see them.  They have six caseworkers and when we walked by their room today two of them were there working with some children.  There were a lot of different play spaces for the kids and even green grass and flowers, which were a sight for sore eyes.  The appropriate age kids also go to a computer lab twice a week to learn English using Rosetta Stone software, keyboarding, and word processing skills among other things.  And the list goes on.

 

Of course, the thing that gets one really excited is to see a compound with a 143 smiling and happy children.  I guess at some point a care center can be too good and the children would rather stay and have fun and play with their friends rather than leave with their new parents.  We will hope that Layla does not cross that line. 

America, the Father of the Poor

I have been thinking recently about America and the relationship she has with the rest of the world.  Paul Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health, put on my radar screen a US/Haitian "development" project that built a huge dam for hydro power.  This dam flooded a valley and displaced many subsistence farmers driving them to higher non-farmable land.  Left to fend for themselves, they became the poorest of the poor.

 

While in Sodo, a birth family member said to me, "God bless America, the father of the poor."  She was thanking America and me for caring for the children of Sodo, Ethiopia.  The statement came as a bit of a surprise to me, but it was an honor. 

 

These are just two vignettes among thousands that remind me that America is large and complicated.  Some love us for the good, wholesome, and generous work we do in their areas and some hate us for the destructive, careless, and self-serving work that we do in their areas.  It was a blessing to see that at least some of the people of Sodo are truly grateful for the children that have been adopted from there and see America as the father of the poor.

It is a Question of Honor

The first time CrazyMom and I adopted, we debated about making a trip down to Sodo to meet any surviving family.  The agency we were using at the time discouraged us from doing so.  They said that is was a long and difficult trip and we would be on our own since they did not have the time or resources to help us with it.  They said the children have already said their goodbyes and it would be hard for them to go back.  They said the family members might ask us for money and complications could arise.  Our time in Ethiopia was short and so we acquiesced and did not go to Sodo.

 

Over the last year we were a little disappointed we had not gone to Sodo and wanted to try to make it happen this time.  In talking with people about the trip, someone asked us to think about what we would have to gain by going.  In reflecting on this question, I decided that I did not have much to gain although I was highly interested in going.  But when I thought about the birth family members in Sodo and my adopted children, I knew that they had a lot to gain.  If I were in a position where I and those around me could not care for my children and I had to give them up for adoption, I knew I would not be satisfied with a photo of the adoptive family.  I would want to see them with my own eyes.  I would want to see how they interacted with my children so I could know that everything would be all right.  And so I knew we should go to Sodo.

 

 The agency we are using this time is philosophically at the other extreme about visiting family.  They say it should be done.  They say that it is good for everybody, especially the children.  They say that when the children see a surviving family member give their blessing to the new parents, it is significant for the children.  And they are not all talk.  The agency brings the adoptive parents to Addis or takes the adoptive parents to the family.  They also send a social worker to the meeting to translate and provide expert care – even if it is an overnight trip to Sodo.  They find the time and resources to make family visits happen even though their fees are less.  It is a priority for them.

 

When we were in Sodo a family member asked me who came to pick up the children a year ago.  I said that it was CrazyMom and I and as I said it, I became angry.  I was not angry with them; I was angry with myself.  I could see in the body language that the real question was, "Why did you not come last year?  Why have I had to wonder about you for a whole year?" but they were too polite to ask the question that way.  And so I was angry with myself that I had not listened to what I thought was right and made the trip to Sodo a year ago.

 

A different family member told us, "Thank you for honoring us and honoring the children by coming to see us."  The statement brought into sharp focus for me the issue at stake.  It was a question of honor.  I can hear the birth family asking, "Will the rich American family that can provide for our children care enough to take the time to come and meet us?  Will they honor our family with a visit?"  It is very satisfying for me to know that I was able to honor the family on this trip to Ethiopia.  While I did not think that I had much to gain on the trip and it was more for the children and the family, I now agree with AAI - it is good for everybody.

 

(Disclaimer – I am not an expert in the field and every child/family is different.  There may very well be good reasons for you not to visit the birth family.  This is simply what I experienced.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Coming Home Early

We got the wonderful news today that our paperwork set a new time record and finished up today.  As soon as I heard, I ran out the door and flagged down the first blue taxi I saw to take me to the Ethiopian Airline office at the Hilton.  I was hoping that I would get lucky and get three seats to the US tonight (Tuesday), but they were booked.  Ethiopian Airlines does not have a flight on Wednesday but we were able to get on the Thursday flight.  This will put us back in our home airport on Friday at 2pm – a full day earlier than the original plan.

 

Anna is doing great, although she is playing favorites.  She has developed a little attitude with CrazyMom and then she is all warm and fuzzy with me  "Don't bite the hand that feeds you" is evidently a phrase she has not heard yet.

Monday, March 10, 2008

To Sodo and Back

CrazyMom, Anna, and I made an overnight trip south to Sodo.  This is the town that all three of our Ethiopian kids are from.  It was quite the adventure that can't be contained in the 400+ pictures that we took.  There were many aspects to the trip, but in this post I will focus primarily on the overarching impressions of rural Ethiopia.

 

When one travels out of Addis, there are several dominate things that you see.  The first is the people.  You get to see a lot of people because the road is a corridor of life.  People meet on the road, hang out on the road, carry critical supplies like water, food, and fuel on the road, sell their goods on the road, and use the road to drive their livestock to water.   You see men and boys as young as six bearing sticks and driving cattle or goats to water. You see donkeys in various states of health carrying loads of all kinds.  You see women and girls carrying wood or other supplies too heavy for their bodies.  You see children on the way to or from their 1/2 day of school.  You see babies wrapped tightly on the backs of their mothers or sisters.  You see many, many, many people looking for a ride. 

 

It is hard not to reflect on how much effort these people expend getting unsafe drinking water to their homes and how little effort it takes for me to turn on a faucet.  Imagine walking miles to a creek carrying a child on your back just to dip water into your dirty yellow jug while others are bathing and doing laundry nearby. 

 

The houses the people live in also stand out.  You see a lot of the traditional round thatch-covered huts called gojobets.  The sides are made of sticks put into the ground close together.  The nicer ones have been covered with a mud/straw mixture to keep out the elements.  The nicest ones have been painted on the outside with warm earth tones or some even had paintings of animals.  Most of these homes have established their compound by setting up some sort of boarder of rocks or sticks in the ground.  I have seen many picturesque photos of these huts nestled in the hills overlooking a valley.  While they may be picturesque, the reality of living in one without running water anywhere nearby is much different.  In addition to the traditional round homes, some of the homes had the same building materials but were in the more modern rectangle shape.  The nicer homes had tin roofs.

 

Every so often you pass through a rural town that in some ways reminds one of America - a main drag through a small town with a cluster of shops and stores.  Every once in awhile there is an eye popping nice building that is multi story with glass windows that seemed a little out of place.

 

The road was pretty good most of the way.  They are working hard at paving it and there are only a few miles left to be paved.  A trip that we heard takes seven to eight hours only took us six on the way down (due to a lack of signs on a poor detour) and 5.5 hours on the way back.  When the road is done the trip could be done in five hours or less.

 

Another overarching impression is that of dust.  It is currently the dry season here and there is a fine, ever present and always penetrating dust in the air.  It gets into your nose, your eyes, your mouth, your hair, and your camera.  It floats around the inside of the vehicle and settles on everything.  One of the first things CrazyMom and I did when we returned was to take a long, hot shower.  While we were able to get a room in Sodo's nicest hotel ($11 a night), there was no water available.

 

Finally, I was impressed with the beauty of the country - the rolling hills, the mountains, the Acacia trees, and all of the farmland.  It was truly gorgeous.  And despite the tough life of many of the people, I witnessed far more smiles than any other expression.  This journey will certainly be one of the highlights of our trip to Ethiopia.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I Don’t Have a Family

Today we went back to the orphanage where Anna lived for a farewell party with some other adoptive families.  I had an errand to run so I went separately and got there a half hour or so before the main group.  Sister L. showed me to the official waiting room but I asked if I could roam the courtyard with the children instead.  "As you wish," she said and she disappeared to take care of other demands.  I had a crowd around me but I eventually made it to some stone steps leading into a building.  I sat down in the bright sunshine. The kids closest to me sat down as well pressing against my side and back as well as sitting at my feet. The younger kids would hold my hands or gently rub their hands on my arms to see what white skin felt like.  The outer group of kids had to stand and was generally comprised of older kids.  I passed the time trying to learn names and my pronunciations were often atrocious.  When I would finally get a name right, the child would quickly raise and lower their eyebrows in a sign of approval. The kids with better English skills played the role of translators.  They would ask me a question, I would respond, and then they would tell the others in Amharic what I had said. 

 

A little later I was walking again with the perpetual but ever changing crowd around me.  I felt a child's hand come into mine as had happened a hundred times already, but I did not look down until I had finished trying to learn another name.  When I looked down there was a young girl about five looking back up at me.  Her face was sad and her large brown eyes were soft and a little moist.  I bent over to ask her what her name was, but she spoke first.  "I don't have a family," she said softly not averting her eyes from mine.

 

I was taken aback.  In all the fun I was having with the children I had forgotten that Sister L. had told me that all of the kids know who has a family and who does not.  There are the "haves" and the "have nots".  Here I was looking into the eyes of a have not.  I put my other hand on her shoulder and said, "Soon.  Soon." 

 

But will it be soon for her?  How do I know?  Of the 170 children at K.M. not all will get a family soon and some will not get a family at all.  I witnessed today a bright handsome older boy saying goodbye to two good friends – something that he has done too many times before and now he is again left behind.  I also spent time with a beautiful girl who had strong English skills.  She is now a forever have not.  She was passed over too many times during her last eight to nine years at K.M. and now she is 16 and no longer adoptable.  Since she had nowhere to go, Sister L. transitioned her from being a child at K.M. to being a worker at K.M. 

 

And so it is at K.M., and at other orphanages in Addis Ababa, and in other cities in Ethiopia, and in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.  Millions of children will go to bed tonight in a crowded room in an orphanage.  When they lay their heads down they will be acutely aware of the haves and the have nots in the room with them.  And the have nots will say softly to themselves, "I don't have a family."

Going Away

Anna started her day with a bath.  The above photo is just after her bath when she was sitting on the bed.  She was getting all cleaned up for the big event of the day which was a going away party at K.M. with some other families (more about that in the next post).

 

After the going away party there was lunch on the town.  Anna had a little fit over sharing her ice cream that comprised of no noise at all but a continual shrugging of the shoulder with her head turned.  Another mom with us had a hard time not laughing because of how cute it was.

 

After lunch it was back to the guest house for another parting of ways.  An adoptive family that has been at the guest house ever since we arrived was leaving for America.  It was great getting to know them and it seems a little too quiet at the house now that they are gone. 

 

We will not be posting for a day or two because we will be traveling out of town and will not have internet access.  We will catch you up when we are back in Addis.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Shades

There is another family staying at the guest house with us and they are adopting two older boys.  It is fun to see how much affection they show towards Anna and how they take care of her.  Today, one of the boys took off his headband and glasses and put them on Anna.  The look was not quite right so he pulled out her ponytail and adjusted her hair as well.  You can see the results in the above photo.

                                                            

There is more to tell about our trip up the mountain, but it is a tale too long for tonight.  I will try to find time soon.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Day on the Town

One of the gestures in Ethiopia is the way people say yes.  They do a quick lift of the chin, or upward nod, along with a raising of the eyebrows.  At times Anna is a little shy and she says yes with just the slightest raising of the eyebrows.  Another gesture among the youth is to turn their head to the side and shrug the shoulder to which they turn their head.  I think the appropriate translation for this is "whatever."  Anna does it beautifully and as she becomes more comfortable with us, she does it more often.  She is so cute when she gestures "whatever" that it is hard not to smile and laugh.

 

Today we went out on the town and did a little shopping.  After getting back to the guest house CrazyMom took out Anna's braids which were a little too tight for her.  It was a long process and Anna did great sitting still for it.  Well, she sat still for the first half of it and slept through the second half.

 

Tomorrow we are off on a small day trip up a mountain that overlooks Addis Ababa.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

AHOPE and Embassy

Before I tell you what we did today, I first want to tell you more about Anna.  The true Anna emerges more each day.  Last night I was running around and hiding in different places playing a little hide-and-go-seek / peek-a-boo with her.  She would give me this smirking grin and then laugh and giggle whenever she found me.  This morning, when I saw her for the first time I peeked out from behind the door at her and her face just lit up, then she did her grin/giggle/laugh routine.  She gets livelier each hour that goes by.

 

Anna is also a professional snuggler.  The very first morning CrazyMom got up to take her to the bathroom and I was still in bed (no comments on that one please).  When CrazyMom came back to the room she dropped Anna off on our bed and left to do something.  Anna immediately worked her way up to my side, slipped one arm under my neck, threw her other arm over my neck, and buried her face into the side of mine.  When we are out and I am carrying her in my arms at random times she will throw her arms around my neck and give me a big hug and kiss.  I am not sure, but it almost seems like she does it when other people are watching us to show them that this is her dad.

 

She seems to be attaching very fast and is comfortable with us loving on other kids.  Tonight I had another girl who is at the guest house sitting on my lap and Anna would catch my eye, but she was not possessive.

 

Now for the day.  We went to AHOPE this morning to deliver all of the donations that we carried over.  It was enough to fill the trunk of our taxi cab – but keep in mind these are tiny Russian made cars.  It was great to spend some time again at AHOPE this year.  There are a lot of good things going on there.  It was great to see how Anna responded in this environment.  Even though she did not know the kids, she would go off to play with them.  After a few minutes she would come back to "check in" with us by getting a hug or briefly being held, then she was off again.

 

This afternoon we went to the U.S. Embassy with the other AAI families.  Everything went as expected, which was great.  The photo-of-the-day is of Anna all dressed up and playing around after the embassy appointment.

 

Tomorrow is a day out on the town with a driver who worked with us last year.  We are anxious to see him!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Another Day in Ethiopia

Today was a day just to hang out without much on the calendar.  We went and visited Layla House, which is an orphanage connected with Adoption Advocates International.  While we were there, we had a doctor look Anna over and, although Anna was not at Layla house, he had seen her before and so he had a file on her.  It was nice to see that some of the ailments she had a few months ago they had been able to clear up.  We did also end up going to a local clinic for a stool sample.  This clinic made the "photo of the day" and is shown above.

 

We walked home from lunch and stopped in a few "stores" along the road that are generally not frequented by "forengees", or foreigners.  I bought two loaves of fresh baked bread for 1.25 Birr each.  When we were here a year ago I recall the loaves only being 1 Birr, so I guess inflation is everywhere.  While a Birr is only 10 cents USD, it does represent a days wage for the lowest end workers.

 

During Anna's afternoon nap, I went out and roamed a bit.  I blended in really well and nobody took me for tall white lanky American.  Actually, lots of people would call out to me and say a word and point.  I would smile and say hi but I had no idea what they were talking about.  I then came upon a really fancy restaurant – the fancy type with tablecloths, English speaking waiters and entrees for 50.00 (Birr that is, which is $5 USD).  I looked up and saw the name of the restaurant – arco  something or other – the same word that everyone was calling out to me.  I guess everyone who saw this wandering forengee figured I was lost and were directing me to the only place around that made sense – the fancy restaurant.  So much for blending in.

 

Now, CrazyMom tells me that the only thing people are interested in is more info about Anna and she has not been happy with the limited amount that I have provided.  Here are a few paragraphs that she wrote that will fill all of you in:

 

The first thing we've noticed about her personality and behaviors are how different they are from K.D. (editor's note – I have failed to tell blog readers that Anna is K.D.'s little sister.  Sorry!)  She's been VERY mellow and content and quiet.  Her fine motor is great and she is a tidy eater.  Last night she got a little bit of shiro wet on her shirt.  At first she didn't notice it, but when she did, she took a bit of injera (for lack of a napkin in the hole in the wall restaurant) and tried to wipe it off.  She neatly licked each finger clean if she got any sauce on it. And, as opposed to K.D. a year ago, she eats everything in sight and gladly picked up the very tough meat and barely cooked onions from dinner last night and popped them in her mouth and commenced the big chewing project required to get them down.  It's entertaining to watch her eat because she just doesn't quit. 

 

She has a sweet and ready smile and is starting to talk to us a little bit.  We went for a walk early today and stopped in at a tiny "supermarket".  She enjoyed pointing out things she recognized, namely biscoot (cookie) and caramellow (candy) and macaroni.  She's quiet and a bit shy, but has told several strangers her name when they've asked her and showed preference for being held by us over the social worker from the orphanage who went with us to the doctor this morning.

 

Tomorrow should be a big day for us because we get to go to the U.S. Embassy for our visa interview.

Monday, March 3, 2008

We Made It!

After a four hour delay in Washington DC, we finally arrived in Addis a little after noon local time.  It has been a whirlwind ever since.  While we were still in the airport, we talked by cell with an AAI contact and she asked if we wanted to go get Anna in 40 minutes or if we needed a little time.  After the grueling trip, we decided we needed a little time.  We went to the guest house, unloaded luggage, took a quick shower, and then were off to meet Anna.

 

We were taken to the KM care center and, after meeting Sister Lutgarta, we were led through a gate, a walkway, another gate, across a courtyard, up some steps, and into an upper hallway.  As we were going down the hall we saw Anna sitting on a counter through a window.  She was all smiles, which was refreshing to see since she was somber in all of the photos we had seen so far.  After waving through the green iron grid window for a moment, we went around and into the room.

 

There were 25 kids, a dozen cribs, two strollers, three workers, and now our escort and us.  CrazyMom made here way through to Anna and picked her up.  Anna was all hugs and smiles.  The room was so small and there were so many bodies, I could not physically get through, so I started interacting with some of the other kids for the moment.  This was officially naptime and it was clear that our arrival had ruined any hope for that.  Things were getting pretty chaotic and so we were led off to another room where we could spend a few minutes alone with Anna.  After a few more minutes of interacting in the courtyard with lots of kids, we were off.

 

For dinner we ate at an Ethiopian restaurant that redefines for me the term "hole-in-the-wall."  The 11 x 18 foot dining room had holes in the walls, had tiles coming off of the floor, and had 6-8 random wall decorations.  An 8x10 of a white person passed out on a bed with a keg took the cake.  Anna ate and ate and ate.  Part way through the meal, I stopped eating to make sure there would be enough for her.  She ate as much as I did, and then kept going.  "Bacca?" CrazyMom would say, which means "done."  Anna would shake her head no.  Once, CrazyMom picked up the tray with the food on it to take it away and Anna interpreted the move as CrazyMom handing her the tray.  She reached out and pulled it closer to her.  We did eventually cut her off because we were afraid of what would happen if she ate any more.

 

Anna is now asleep in the room.  Today she appears to be a happy 4 year old girl.  She may be a little small, but she seems heavier than what we were told, which is good.  She prefers to sit and kiss the photos in the albums we brought her rather than run around and play.  But that is just today.  It will be fun to discover more about her tomorrow.

 

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Packing for Ethiopia

Heavy. That one word sums up our luggage. We are trying to pack in as many donations as possible and the net result is heavy bags. I had sent out a short list of requested items from one of the orphanages to my colleagues and a few friends and they responded with a host of supplies. The killers were the bottles of hand sanitizers – especially those hefty 64oz jugs. Then there was the 13-pound pediatric medical reference book that the orphanage nurse had requested. HEAVY.

In addition, some people donated some funds to help out with the cause. CrazyMom took the kids to the thrift store on 1/2 price Wednesday and they shopped for the kids at the orphanage. Since F.G. had lived in an orphanage, she was the expert. In addition to the pants and belts that had been requested, F.G. insisted on buying pajamas. She said the kids always wanted to wear pajamas, but they did not have any. At one time CrazyMom was searching for a matching top to some pajamas and F.G. said, “Oh, it does not matter. They wear anything.”

This photos shows what they bought with the $125 donated – 34 pairs of pants, 20 belts, 15 pairs of pajamas, and some miscellaneous items. This was added to the other clothing items that were donated.



Shopping for donations reminded F.G. of a time when an adoptive mom brought a lot of clothes to the orphanage she was at. After the mom left, the workers spread all of the clothes out on the floor and let the kids go through and pick out one outfit. F.G. found an outfit she really liked but then an older girl wanted it. The girl hit her in the mouth and knocked out a tooth. She did not tell any of the workers because she did not want to get the girl in trouble. Later, one of the other kids was walking around holding up their pants. F.G. switched pants with her since her pants were a little smaller.

This photo shows one of the bags filled with donations. We repacked several times last night to get the weight just right (or so we thought).



When we were checking in at the United counter, it turned out that my scale at the house was off a little and several bags were a few pounds overweight. They agent let us know that but said he would only charge us $50 for the one bag that we had packed to be 70 lbs. That was fine with me because I was using $50 that someone had given me to pay for the extra weight luggage. After he had taken our money and given me the change, he started asking us about what we were doing. It turns out that he is from Ethiopia and goes back every summer on mission work with his church. He asked me to give him back the change and when I handed it to him he returned my original bills. Looks like an orphanage in Ethiopia will get the $50 rather than United Airlines.

We are in the airport now waiting to go to Washington DC where we will have to spend the night. More to come later.