Friday, November 29, 2013

Home :)

In a nutshell, we're home! As happy and comfortable as we were in Africa, it is good to be in our own home.  It was a novelty to be able to flush toilet paper again, and I had to think about putting my toothbrush under the faucet when brushing my teeth.

Before we left Ethiopia, our guest house had a coffee ceremony for us.
Roasting coffee
Coffee ceremony
In the airport in DC, headed home in Thanksgiving day
Our flight from Addis to DC was long, but there was an extra seat next to us, so I was able to lay down to sleep.  The flight from DC home was practically torture- after traveling so long, it seemed to stretch on forever.  My father in law and brother in law met us at the airport, and mom came to bring us home.  She had cooked a full thanksgiving dinner for us, and had it ready minutes after we walked in the door.
Mommy-made Thanksgiving dinner, with suitcases
Also, when we got home, I was met by an incredibly clean house (the elves even vacuumed my stairs...) and framed "maternity" pictures and pics of my kids all over the place.
Elves' work in my house
AND, I got a big box from my best friend in New York-- she put together a bunch of little packages for me to open whenever I'm especially missing my kiddos.

So, yeah, my friends pretty much rock.

Now begins the very last waiting phase in this whole process.  I'll keep y'all updated as things unfold.  Thanks for following our family!  :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hikes and Snuggles

We're leaving today, and I wanted to stick in one last blog post before we left.  We've had some free time, so we've taken some long walks back behind Addis into the countryside.  Dirt roads, donkey carts, and fried pastries...  So wonderful to absorb the sights, sounds and smells of non-city Ethiopia.

"Street sambusa" with lentils- basically deep-fried
pastry with filling, for 12 cents each.  So yummy!

One of the Orthodox churches half way up a mountain.
Hiking at 7,500 feet takes it toll! 

We also went shopping at the merkato and post office market:

And, of course, we had to say goodbye to our precious kiddos.
Two of the wonderful caregivers that have loved on my kiddos

I put my necklace on Jayce as the one his birth mom gave him
fell off.  I do have the original now, and will save it for him for later.

The caregivers gave me the opportunity to pour
buna (coffee).  They tried to take Anya from me,
but I pretty much refused.  :)  I can do both at once.

Jayce's fuzzy head is officially addicting.
Nothing better than happy nap snuggles with
my little man.

Abba, I pray that Your protection would surround my kiddos
and that they would be aware of Your presence
in the coming months of transition.
For Jayce, make his arms strong to do Your work,
his mind quick to understand Your Truth,
his heart soft for others in need,
and his feet swift to run to Your arms.
For Anya, may her small hands be skilled to serve others,
her heart be compassionate as You are,
her eyes see people as You do,
her mouth speak Your truth with love,
and may her feet be quick to run to You. 
I trust You with my kids.  They are Yours. 
Thank you for the gift You have given me.  Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Adventures in Gambella

As many of you know, we ventured out of the comforts of Addis Ababa and into the wilds of Western Ethiopia.  Our children were born in a small town in the far west of the country.  From the very beginning (getting to the airport), it was a memorable venture. 

Just a note: Mom, we are safe and sound.  Please don’t worry.  J 
Inside the Taxi-Bug during one of our breakdowns

Not a great pic, but the soldier and the goat
Now, instead of a regular taxi, we took a “taxi-bug” (my term) to the airport.  They are the little three-wheeled golf-cart looking things that zip around on the side streets.  “Zip” may be too generous of a term.  “Putter” might be more accurate.  The trip should have taken us about 15 minutes.  Instead, we went half the speed of regular cars, ran out of gas once (our driver had a Gatorade bottle of gas for a refill), and broke down 3 times.  Once we started to roll backwards into traffic, and once we were smack in the middle of a busy round-a-bout.  It was actually rather hillarious! 

Eventually, we made it in the vicinity of the airport where our driver booted us out of the taxi-bug, indicating the airport was “that direction”.  We could see pieces of it above the trees.  We paid him his 100 birr (About $5), and began walking.  We asked directions about 3 times and finally made it! 

The flight itself was uneventful, thankfully.  As we flew over Ethiopia, we were struck by the amount of farm land.  Wow, it’s beautiful!  We flew over a mountainous area, and lastly over lush green.  Somehow I expected Gambella to be brown and grassy.  Nope.  There are beautiful green trees everywhere! 
The “airport” in Gambella is a glorified landing strip.  The “control tower” is literally a shack with wires poking out of the top, and before we departed the following day, we watched a soldier chase a goat off the tarmac.  For real.  

We saw monkeys!!!
Thankfully, we were quickly met by Del, the director of the Ethio-Berlin orphanage out there. The road from
the airport into town is about 3 miles of dirt and gravel.  On either side was grass 8 feet tall, and green trees and shrubs.  It was so beautiful!  Occasionally we drove through a few herds of goats or cows grazing. 
Our car got stuck in the mud :)
The hotel there ($25 night) was nice and perfectly adequate.  I am pretty sure it was the nicest in town, and we saw many businessmen there along with representatives from the Red Cross, Norwegian health organizations, United Nations, etc.  After a lunch of sheep and injera, Del said that they had found Anya’s birth mom, and we could meet her!

For my daughter’s sake, I won’t share details or pictures of this precious girl, but the meeting was totally
worth the trip out to Gambella.  It was an honor to communicate to her how much we loved Anya, and how thankful we were for the privilege of raising her.  We did get a short video and several pictures. 
We were not able to meet Jayce’s birth mom, but the orphanage did have pictures of her, which was great.  We were able to tour the orphanage where our kiddos spent several months, and we saw their beds and their play yard. 

Then, the most unheard-of thing happened: Dell showed us pictures of Anya within days of her birth!  Virtually no international adoptive mom gets true baby pictures of her kiddos, but we did!  SO precious!!!! 
We also learned a little about Jayce.  His name, Niyal, means “rain” in one of the local tribal languages.  How stinkin’ cool!  I LOVE rain!  J  Our hostess here in Addis, Yeshi, commented that “rain is good!  In Ethiopia, rain is life!”  It seems an appropriate fit with his name, Jayce, meaning “healer”.
Gambella as a town is pretty much “Africa”.  I’m not sure how else to describe it.  Many roads are dirt and
there are thatched huts just outside the city.  Some houses are made from mud.  People bathe in the river, drink the river water, and congregate by the river to stay cool.  We had some of the most delicious coffee there, sitting by the river.  We later learned the coffee was made from river water. Mom, we’re fine, the coffee was boiled and no harm
We're soaking with sweat,
but it was a pretty river!
came of it!  I met an older gentleman by the river who spoke excellent English.  He was born and raised in Gambella, educated there, and had a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology.  He was so kind, telling me about his two sons, and warning Philip not to cut his lip while trying to eat sugar cane. 

One of the funniest things was seeing a lady carrying a backpack.  Balanced on her head.  They carry everything on their heads, from mattresses to bundles of sticks.  The Gambellan people are truly regal.  Many are the tallest, darkest people you’d ever run across, and they stand and walk like they are in a king’s palace.  They are graceful in everything.  Many of the men have chevron-shaped scaring on their foreheads to indicate their tribe.  While these ridges sound, well, tribal, they are actually quite beautiful and add to the stately bearing of the people. 

Over all, it was an incredible experience. I’m super thankful we went, and I think we have a much better
perspective of where our children were born.  Del showed us around town, including the women’s center where they have 20 treadle sewing machines to train women how to sew.  We hiked up the only mountain in Gambella to an Orthodox Church and a beautiful view of the surrounding region.  And, because I was interested in local crafts, we went to the prison.  Yup!  The prisoners make beaded things and sell them.  I picked up a few necklaces and a bead-covered gourd.  On the way back, we stopped in the market and I got a few yards of cloth for my mom.  Mom, it’s pretty nutty, but maybe you can make an apron or something from it.  It was fun to find and buy.  I hope you like it! J

Our flight left about 4pm.  The check-in for the flight was an office desk that people crowded around.  “Standing in line” is not a part of the culture here.  We were handed a hand-written boarding pass, with no seat assignment.  Basically, when it was time to board, we all just crowded on the plane and sat wherever there was room. 

Del requested that when we return to Addis, we bring toys for his orphanage.  He also requested that we purchase a laptop for him (he pays us back, of
course), and he will come to Addis when we return for Embassy to pick it up.

Landing in Addis, we didn’t have a ride waiting for us, so we started to walk.  No, we didn’t walk the whole way.  Only a little ways into the city to find a taxi that wouldn’t charge us an arm and a leg.  We hoped for another taxi-bug, but I guess they don’t usually run in the busier parts of town.  It was hard to be petitioned by so many beggars as we walked along the streets.  So much need and hurt, and no way to truly help.
The women's center with the sewing machines

Mom, as I said, we survived, are safe, and none the worse for wear.  We’ve only a week left in country, so we’ll be home soon.  
Our tickets headed back to Addis
Gambella countryside from the top of the mountain

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Few Fun Pics

A few fun pictures from today's visit:
Baby girl is walkin'!  She was doing great!

Baby girl "walked" over to her daddy, who
caught her with big brother's help!

Jayce was the sweetest ever with his little sister!

She loves her daddy!

Walking takes a LOT of concentration!

This water bottle thing is kinda new and
doesn't always work very well.

Philip kissed Anya, and then Jayce copied him.
He was so gentle and sweet!

Touching the top of baby sister's head.  It looks like
he's blessing her! :)
Jayce, when Philip got out the camera

Silly little man grabbed mommy's glasses! :)

A Note to Myself, and Other Adoptive Families Headed Towards Ethiopia

This is a very long, mostly adoption/culture-related post that won’t apply to most people.  Just sayin’.

Seat belts aren't necessary
When my husband and I travel internationally, we know we stick out.  There aren’t tons of white people here in Addis.  In fact, it’s rather surprising to see another one on the street!  So our glowing skin must scream “American tourist” in so many languages.  However, that being said, we do try not to stand out any more than we have to.  We try to get along as best as we can with the nationals and not demand too many “American” things.  So I’m compiling a list of things that have helped us and might also help another family traveling to Ethiopia.  Feel free to add to my list in the comments section!

Women: Mostly, they wear skirts here.  Long pants are acceptable, but primarily it’s longer skirts.  Tops have sleeves and do not show any cleavage.  Indeed, the only tank tops I’ve seen are on white girls.  Usually there is a wide scarf to wrap around your head or neck, or whole self.  Many women wear scarves over their heads, Muslim or not.  According to our hostess, it doesn’t matter one way or the other for most women.  You can do whatever you want.  Nothing has to match, as long as it covers you!  Looking “cute” here isn’t necessary, thank goodness!

Men: I think I've’ve seen one pair of gym shorts.  Long pants are definitely the norm.  It’s not super warm here, so long pants aren’t a burden.  Long or short sleeve shirts are ok, but certainly no tank tops. 

Shoes: Closed-toed shoes are almost necessary.  Because of the uneven ground and random bits of debris, it is great to have something more substantial protecting your feet.  In the rainy season, I’d suggest rain boots since the streets turn to mud with even the slightest rain.  Many of the side
I love international stop signs.  They are not
very common here, and no one seems to
pay attention to them.  Hmm.
streets are not paved.  This isn’t an indication of a “bad” area necessarily.  They just haven’t gotten to putting cobble stones on the roads yet.
  • ·         Most things are given or received with the right hand.  I’ve noticed that this is not an absolute, depending on the circumstances: a woman holding a baby might find the only hand available to pick up a diaper bag or give her baby food is her left hand.  Evidently that is ok.  But waving, picking something up, eating, accepting something handed to you… go with the right hand. 
  • ·         It’s respectful to shake hands or give/accept something with your right hand, and your left hand supporting your right forearm near the elbow. 
  • ·         There is a greeting where someone will extend their right fist about waist level.  Treat it like a handshake.  This caused mass confusion for me, but evidently if someone’s hand is dirty, they will present their fist or the outside of their arm.  Just shake their wrist lightly. 
  • ·         Greetings are done with a slight bow to show respect.
  • ·         Greetings between women that have previously met: the whole kissing thing on both cheeks.  Yup.  I’m one who freaks out at women kissing me, so thankfully this is just a kiss-sound in the direction of your face while pressing the sides of your heads together.  (Usually.)  You always kiss both cheeks, not just one (so I was reprimanded), and it seems like the more you know someone, the more times you kiss them.  I don’t see this among men, but from time to time I’ve seen it between and man and a woman, but it’s infrequent.  Men pretty much don’t touch women unless it’s a handshake in greeting, and women don’t really touch men.  
  • ·         Men are more touchy-feely in general.  It is common to see men walking down the street with their arm around each other’s shoulders, holding hands, leaning on the other, etc.  It’s not creepy, it’s just friendly. 
  • ·         Unlike some other cultures, there really isn’t a class system here.  People are respectful of each other, rich or poor, and regardless of tribe/region.
  • ·         Tribal markings are pretty common, so don’t be shocked to see women with tattoos on their face.  Usually they are pretty subtle- dark tattoos on dark skin. 
  • ·         It’s acceptable for men to turn to the side of the road to urinate.
  • ·         It is common to eat with your hands.  It’s not a lack of propriety, and it’s not done sloppily.  Actually, the Ethiopians have made a sort of art form of it.  Napkins are a totally Western thing. Don’t assume one will be provided!
  • ·         Most things are done with cash, including our guest house, driver, taxi, etc.  Bring plenty, as there are not ATMs on every corner.  A 25 minute drive across the city, two hour wait, and a drive back may cost you $40.  A safe estimate would be about $150/day.
  • ·         It seems as if most Ethiopians are honest.  Even the times we’ve walked the streets at night, I’ve felt safe.  Now, remember that Ethiopians blend in with the dark, and are hard to see.  J  We, however, are like glow-sticks.
  • ·         Animals aren’t pets.  There are horses, donkeys, dogs, goats, etc., in the most unique places (i.e. middle of the street), but they are either used for work or let free to roam.  Approaching to pet is probably not wise.
  • ·         Electricity and wifi aren’t always reliable.  In the first days we were here, we had 36 hours without power.  It was unusual for it to last that long, but power outages of 30-60 minutes are not uncommon.  Don’t assume you’ll be able to always use or charge your kindle/smart phone/ipad/laptop etc.  Data is actually illegal for most people here (I think our lawyer here has it). 

Guys everywhere are selling brooms and mopw
Things to bring:
Just up the street from us: a few local fruit markets
  • ·         A converter.  The plugs are different here.
  • ·         Airborne/Zicam/anti-cold stuff.  It’s currently saving my bacon.
  • ·         Hand sanitizer.
  • ·         A water bottle, since you’ll be using it all the time.  You can’t drink the tap water, so even brushing your teeth will be from a water bottle.  Bottled water is pretty inexpensive.  Because of the high elevation, you must drink more water than normal! 
  • ·         Anti-diarrhea medicine (for when you don’t drink enough water).
  • ·         Melatonin.  My friend in China told me to pick some up before I left the States to help me adjust to the time change.  It’s great!  It makes you sleepy, but not groggy, and when you’re wide awake at 2am, ready to start the day, it’s a life saver! 
  • ·         Powdered laundry soap in a bag.  Our guest house will do laundry for us, but I feel bad asking someone else to wash my clothes.  You can bring fewer clothes this way, too.
  • ·         Bug lotion/spray.  She says they are not mosquitoes, but they sure sound like mosquitoes and they itch like mosquitoes.  And they are heck when you’re trying to sleep.
  • ·         Anti-itch stuff for the not-mosquitoes.  They are driving me nuts.
  • ·         Ear plugs.  A MUST.  Great for the airplane, and even better for the 2am-10am Orthodox Church music that happens between Thursday night and Sunday morning.  We figured out that the sound carries, but is amplified as it echoes off the concrete building outside our bedroom. 
  • ·         A backpack- carries everything discretely.
  • ·         Dust masks if you have allergies to dust or diesel fumes. 
  • ·         Obviously you need passports, but you MUST bring them to your court appearance!  And, you need them to exchange money. 

Donkeys high-tailing it off the road

About the kiddos:
  • ·         At least for our orphanage, there is a need for cloth diapers (with snaps or Velcro), and clothes.  It would be nice to bring some as a gift.
  • ·         It is not uncommon to see boys wearing girls clothes or vice versa at the orphanage.  In fact, our son came out in girl clothes when we first met him, and we had no idea he was ours…  it made for a few awkward moments of “is she ours??” before we were enlightened.  Oops.  Parenting fail.
  • ·         It seems as if children are dressed in layers upon layers of clothing.  Our son was wearing a onesie, a dress, flannel pants, and a hoodie over it all, and the day was mild and cloudy.  Our daughter was wearing a onesie on her head as a hat, along with multiple rompers. 
  • ·         Don’t assume that the lack of “American standards” in the orphanage indicates a lack of care of love for the children.  At least where our kids are at (and we are VERY blessed!), our kiddos are well fed, clean, loved, looked after, and…. moderately safe?  J No hand rails, baby gates, soft floors, table bumpers, etc.  But, I’d rather they have concrete with love than all the stuff in the world without love. 
  • ·         Bring cookies or chocolate to bribe your child to stop screaming at you.  It works, and it’s cultural to feed someone you love.  We found chocolate wafers at the market for about 60 cents.

I’m sure there are more things, but this is all I can think of at the moment.  J  Hope it helps!

*** A few other things I thought of:

  • Don't flush the toilet paper.  There is a trashcan by the toilet where you throw it away.
  • "Standing in line" is not part of this culture, in general.  If you're not assertive, you may be constantly pushed to the back.
  • Carry toilet paper with you.  It is not always provided in public restrooms.
  • It is common to be patted down by security before entering a building.  Men with men, and women with women, but it is a very thorough pat down.  
  • A "yes" is often indicated by a sharp intake of breath and a jerk of the head upwards.