Saturday, November 27, 2010

Court Trip - Post 3 - Coffee, Churches, and Overwhelming Need

Once we discovered that Holt would not be picking us up until 2:00 pm, we made arrangements with the guest house staff for them to take us to do some sightseeing. After we ate breakfast, we gathered in the lobby for an authentic coffee ceremony that the guest house had prepared for us. In Ethiopia, women prepare coffee for their husbands anywhere from 1 - 3 times a day. As part of a traditional coffee ceremony, they take green coffee beans and roast them over a small fire.

Once the beans are roasted, they walk around and allow people to smell the freshly roasted beans.

Then, they grind the beans and add them to a pot of heating water. When the coffee is finished, each person is served a small cup of coffee to enjoy together. We only had one cup; however, some traditions call for a total of 3 cups to be served.

After we finished the delightful coffee ceremony and played soccer with the neighborhood boys, we all loaded into the van and set out through the streets of Addis. We passed the runners who were all participating in "The Great Ethiopian Run" - the largest 10 K held in Africa.

As we drove to the top of Mt. Entoto, the side of every street was lined with beggars and people living on the streets, with adolescent boys working as shoe shines, and piles of trash.

There were animals walking along the roads and shanty-like "houses" on every spare piece of land.

We wound higher and higher up to the top of the mountain. Our van seemed to barely make it higher and higher up the steep, winding road, and yet there were people walking the steep incline carrying their yellow water bottles to get water for their families.

At the top, we visited a museum which contained Emperor Menilik and Empress Tutu's royal clothes, Bibles, drums, and other historical items from when the capital of Addis Ababa was first organized as a city.

We also saw the very first church that was built on the site by the Emperor, as well as the current St. Mary's Church.

We toured the Emperor's Palace from 1883. It was amazing given the time when it was built. My favorite part was the horns protruding from the walls of the dining room that were meant for hanging meat!

Eric and I at the overlook area on the grounds
I was smiling on the outside, but my heart was breaking on the inside. You see, after we toured the museum, Kendra and I were walking up the hill to the church and 3 little girls had approached us. They kept begging, "pen", "pen", "please, pen". We weren't sure if they were asking for a pen or if that was Amharic for something else.

Without thinking, I opened my purse and pulled out my pen. Their faces lit up. "Pen!" "Pen!" they cheered as their little hands darted out for the pen. I handed the first girl my pen and the other 2 kept begging, "pen", "pen". Kendra handed one of the other girls her pen, but we had no other pens. The third girl looked devastated. "Pen", "Pen", she begged.

"We don't have anymore", we apologized. Devastation on her face. "Can you share?", Kendra asked. Heartbreak.

I failed to notice the growing crowd behind the 3 girls as we watched her sad little face. In an effort to give her something, I pulled a pack of crackers from my purse. Her face lit up. Then the other two girls' hands darted out. "Hungry", "food", "hungry". I handed them each something, then noticed hands shooting in from everywhere. Children, women with tiny babies, elderly women. "Food", "hungry", "food", "please", they all begged. I handed out the granola bars and crackers that I had as fast as I could, but I ran out long before the outstretched hands were gone. Our driver saw the commotion and came to our rescue.

But, as the crowd dispersed, I saw a little girl, about 7 or 8 years old. She was standing back from the crowd. She had her little brother on her back. He looked to be about 2 or 3 years old. Her eyes were sad and pleading. She was dirty and alone with her brother. Her little hand was held tentatively out a little at her side. "Please, food", she mouthed. Fighting the tears, I mouthed, "I'm so sorry. I don't have any more." "Please, food", she begged. "I can't," I said, "I'm so sorry." She followed us for a while. She hung back a few feet behind us, but when our eyes would meet, she would plead as she moved her hand out a little and mouthed, "please, food".

I walked up the hill with the others, and as I attempted to zip my purse back up, I noticed 2 nutri-grain bars in the bottom of my purse. It took every bit of strength that I had not to go back and give them to the little girl, but I couldn't. I had already disregarded the warning about giving out food or money to beggars in public, thereby causing a near riot. I felt guilty for involving our driver and didn't want to create any more problems, yet my insides were ripping apart. It was all I could do not to completely lose it and burst into tears. I literally hurt inside. That little girl, caring for her baby brother. She was starving and alone. A little girl who should have been playing and attending school. Instead, she was caring for her brother and begging for food for the two of them to survive. But the worst part was, I HAD SOME right there in my purse and couldn't give it to them. My small contribution couldn't begin to touch the overwhelming need. It was one of the saddest moments of the entire trip for me. Their little faces still haunt me. The desperate, pleading little girl and her brother. The girls faces lighting up over a pen. A cheap pen that I probably have hundreds of laying around my house. Not even a fancy pen. Just one of those free pens from the bank or the insurance agent, and their eyes lit up. Like we had given them a pony or something.

I know it sounds stupid, but the heaviness in my heart was lightened just a little bit later that night when I found out that one of the guys in our travel group had slipped the 3rd girl a pen during the chaos.

We are so blessed. There is so much need around the world. One person can't fix it, but together we all can help.

Court Trip - Post 2 - In the Morning Light

I suspect that when many of you looked at our pictures of the inside of the guest house yesterday, you thought -- "well, THAT doesn't look bad!". And, you're right. It wasn't. It was beautiful. But, it was a guest house for visitors. These, on the other hand, are the views out our windows when we awoke the next morning.

Looking out our bedroom window toward the back/side of the guest house

One of the women who lived there was doing laundry by hand

Looking off the side of the balcony of the family room

One of the women who lived there was drying all kinds of peppers and other veggies in the sun on sheets of corregated tin.

(God, forgive me for whining and complaining when I have to walk down the stairs and throw clothes in the washer, add detergent, and turn on the machine. I could have to walk for miles, carrying a large jug of water every day, wash the clothes by hand, and hang them out to dry in the dirty, dusty air. Forgive me for whining and complaining when I have to open a can of veggies and toss them in the microwave. I could have to grow them myself, dry them in the sun in order to save them, and then cook them over an open fire made from fire wood that I have to collect myself.)

Looking off the family room balcony toward the front/side of the guest house

As the time grew a little later (we were up early!), more and more people were out walking around the alley by the guest house. These boys were playing soccer. They were wearing worn out flip flops and other sandals and playing with a beat up, half flat ball. We had taken some new soccer balls with us to donate to Holt and AHOPE so we got one and headed out to play with the neighborhood boys.

The boys were surprisingly good. They laughed at Eric when he TWICE let the ball roll into "hazards" that we don't have to deal with in the United States on a soccer field. First, he let the ball roll (and then he nearly stepped into) a giant dung pile from the animals.

Second, he let it roll to the other side of the street where it landed in an open sewer drainage ditch. Excited to have a new ball, one of the little boys jumped right down into it despite the women around yelling at him, but thankfully, sweet Workineh from the guest house took it and washed it at the guest house for us after that. At that point, it was time for us to leave, so Eric gave the ball to one of the boys to keep and I gave them all snacks that I had in my purse - just little individual sized packs of granola. We know that they will all share the ball and play together, because that's how they are. Loving, community-oriented, and kind. There is no me-centeredness in Ethiopia like there is in the U.S. It's a beautiful thing! And, these boys were sweet, beautiful boys who deserve so much more than a new soccer ball and a pack of granola!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Court Trip - Post 1 - Leaving on a Jet Plane

We had been waiting for this day for a LOOONG time, and finally it had arrived! Our departure date! The day we'd be leaving to head to Ethiopia to meet our new son.

My parents arrived Thursday evening around 8:00. Daniel was at ice hockey practice with Eric while I finished up last minute packing & list-making. Meals were prepared and in the freezer for the kids while we were gone. Emergency numbers were compiled and amongst the other papers containing schedules, directions to the various hockey rinks where Daniel had games while we were gone, and medication, doctors, and insurance information. We were as ready as we were going to be.

Friday morning, we awoke early and left for the airport before anyone else was awake. We had 4 large suitcases packed to the maximum weight - all containing donations for AHOPE and Holt. Then, we each had a personal carry-on item and another small carry-on which contained all of our clothes and stuff for our trip. Good thing we were only staying in Ethiopia for 2 days total!

At the airport in Pittsburgh, things went very smoothly and we were happy to discover that once we had successfully managed to haul our luggage to the check-in point in Pittsburgh, we did not have to retrieve it again until we landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Yay! Somehow 50 lbs. in a suitcase seems a lot heavier than picking up a 50 lb. child.

Our first flight went very smoothly and we landed in Toronto an hour and 1/2 later. Then we had a few hours lay-over before boarding another flight to Frankfort Germany. Aside from having to sit on the tarmac for close to 30 minutes to wait for the crew to dig through the luggage to find someone's bags that had to be pulled from the plane, it also went off without a hitch. Despite the length of sitting on the flights, my back held up amazingly well. Again, in Frankfort, we had a few hours lay-over, but we just got something to eat and sat around, trying to rest before our final flight.

Finally! It was time for our last flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! We're coming, Markos! We boarded our final flight from outside due to construction in the Frankfort airport. That was a little strange, but I didn't care as long as we got there ASAP.

Although we were exhausted by this point, adrenaline, anxiety, and excitement kept us going. Not to mention, with views like these, who could sleep?!

When we were ready to land in Ethiopia, the pilot announced that there was a backlog of flights waiting to land and so we would have to circle for a while before we could land. Yuck. We circled for about 20 minutes, before we finally landed at 9:35 pm, Saturday night.

Once in the airport, we anxiously made our way through customs (which could not have been easier!) Neither of us was asked a single question. Then, we happily retrieved all 4 of our bags from baggage claim and exchanged our U.S. dollars for Ethiopian burr. We exchanged $400 U.S. and received a huge pile of Ethiopian burr -- 6,587.84. The exchange rate is $1 to 16.4696 burr. You know how you see those commercials asking for your donations and they claim that you can feed a child for only $1 a day? Well, it really IS true and that is why! Our money goes a long way over there!!

We walked outside the baggage area and there was a large crowd waiting outside. Almost immediately, we saw our driver holding the "Holt International" sign. Then, we saw the others in our travel group who had also just arrived. At this point, Mariah and Brian from South Dakota, Stephanie and Mike from Vermont, Heather and Tyler from Oregon, Amanda and Justin from Oregon, and Eric and I were there. We waited and waited for Kendra and Dic (also from South Dakota) but they were stuck in an unusually long visa line, so our driver decided to take us to the guest house and come back for them later. The rest of us had gotten our visas through the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC before we left the states.

We quickly realized, after loading all the luggage and all the people into two vans, what the other families meant went they warned us about the roads and the driving there. It is controlled insanity. The roads are awful; and there are few, if any, traffic laws, signs, or stop lights. It was dark when we arrived, so we couldn't see much, but as we turned and began driving out of the airport, I looked out the window to see a man walking down the sidewalk with a machine gun strapped on his chest. Hmmm. "Now, there's something we don't see in the U.S.", I thought.

The guest house was not far from the airport, although it WAS definitely tucked away off the road. We eventually figured out that this was the sign that marked the turn for us:

The Jemimah Guest House (pronounced Gem-e-mah, not Jemimah like the syrup!) was surrounded by a large, gated wall. There were guards working the gate all the time. Each time we approached, the van honked the horn and they opened the gate so we could get in. The staff working the desk were extremely friendly and helpful, as were the drivers. They always insisted on helping with your bags and helping you carry things to your room -- not because they wanted tips, just because that is how the Ethiopian people are. Very caring, very helpful, very service-oriented.

There was a family room off the lobby, and another family room on the first floor. Our bedroom was very simple, but very beautiful. Our bathroom was also very nice. It had only a stand-up shower, but it was very nice and clean. We were thankful that our room was only up one flight of stairs because Addis is at almost 8000 feet above sea level -- a very high altitude -- so just climbing one set of stairs nearly killed each of us. Our hearts would be beating out of our chests and we'd be completely out of breath. Tidbit for those who like trivia: This is why so many Ethiopians are good long distance runners! Their bodies get very good at processing oxygen due to the altitude! Ours, not so much. ;-)

We explored the guest house a little, tried (unsuccessfully) to get the internet in the upstairs family room to work, talked with the other families a little, then went to our rooms to unpack a little and crash in bed, anxiously awaiting our orientation and trip to the care center to meet Markos for the first time!

Our room

Our bathroom

The upstairs family room

The other side of the upstairs family room

Tomorrow, we meet Markos!!! Oh happy day!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Markos is yours"

We are home, and now a family of 5. Our trip was absolutely amazing. It is so very hard to put everything into words. And, frankly, I am still so tired that I am not even going to try right now. Over the next few weeks, I will blog about our trip in detail, but for now, I will just say it was truly life-changing.

Markos was absolutely darling. He is a tiny little thing, full of personality with a little touch of ornery that we got to see. He is very curious, very active, very athletic, and reminds us a great deal of Daniel. Those two working together might spell trouble! ;-) We were able to spend about 3 hours with him the first day and an hour the second day. We had a great time playing together. We gave him a little car that talks when you push the light on the top and he absolutely loved it. When we arrived the second day, he ran to me and gave me a big hug (** heart melting **) then he smiled really big and said, "machina?" ("car" in Amharic) hee hee. So, I'm not sure if he was happy to see us or just happy to get his car back, but either way, we were happy!

I know you are all dying to see pictures (and believe me, I'm dying to share them), but our agency is very conservative and asks that we not share them on public forums until we travel to pick him up. But, copying the ideas of some of our creative adoption friends, we took this one to share with you now.

We gave Markos a bracelet and Eric and I each had one. We all put them on together at the care center and will wear them until he comes home. Mine says "Faith". Eric's says "Dream" and Markos' says "Courage". I was glad we had them because when Markos noticed my watch and was pushing all the buttons on it and then tried to take it off of me, I was able to say, "oh wait, I have something for you". (and keep my watch!)

Our travel group was AWESOME! We so very much hope that we get to travel again with the same group of families. We had a lot of fun getting to know some of my online buddies in person and getting to meet their husbands. There is something special about getting to share something like this with others. Here is one of the pictures our driver took for us when we were visiting St. Mary's Church, built in 1885, on top of Mt. Entoto.

We were able to give him the family album that I made for him. He was so darling as he looked through it. He had a very proud little smile as we looked through, and when we finished looking, he jumped up to play, but tucked the album under his arm and tried to play while holding it. When he realized that would be too hard, he went over and hid the book under the TV stand shelf. Then occasionally, he would go over, get it out, sit against the wall and look at a few pages, then hide it back under the shelf and play some more. He would also slam the door shut anytime someone would leave it open, as if to say "stay out - mine".

The nannies were wonderful and when each would see him in with us, they knew we were his family. They would come and stick their heads in and congratulate him, shake his little hand & kiss him on both cheeks and hug him. His little friend who was able to come and play with us the first day was equally thrilled for Markos. He would actually yell and tell anyone who came near the door, "Markos America!". So heart-warming to see a child be so genuinely happy and thrilled for another child.

Lastly, of course, as you have figured by now, we passed court. It was unbelievably fast. In fact, we were the last family to go in to the judges chambers and one of the other families timed us. We were in the room for 72 seconds, at the end of which, the judge proclaimed, "Markos is yours."

Praise God!