Sunday, February 20, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 9 - Sunday - Durame, Shinshicho, Families, and Theft

The day started early.  We left for Durame around 6:00 AM.  We filled 2 of Holt's white vans, with luggage strapped onto the roof of each.  I had heard horror stories about the drive, so I went back and forth about rather or not I should take some motion sickness medication.  It tends to make me dizzy and tired unless I REALLY need it, so I ended up opting not to take it.  Turned out that I really didn't need it.  The roads were a little more smooth and a lot less congested, therefore the drivers drove FAST - which was a little unnerving.  However, they weren't winding, hilly, and awful like I expected.  Until we were about 30 minutes outside of Durame anyway, then they got horrendously bumpy and winding. 

Sometimes it pays to be short.  Poor Mike.  During that last 20 miles or so, he had the options of bending his head forward or to the side thereby risking injury to his neck when we hit the bumps, or crashing his head into the roof of the van.  :-)  (Tall, future travelers, you may want to take a helmet. ;-)

As I expected and had heard, the drive was absolutely beautiful.  Like, breath-takingly beautiful!  Very lush and green.  Very spacious.  Gorgeous mountains off in the distance.  Wide open spaces.  Traditional mud huts, and occasionally a shanty town along the road. 

Traditional hut with "false banana" trees surrounding it

Ethiopian Countryside

Kids playing in the shade of a tree along the road to Durame

Mud hut surrounded by "false banana" trees

About half-way there, we stopped for coffee, snacks, and a bathroom break.  My anxieties about the day were building and I didn't feel much like talking.  Plus, I was tired - just tired of being there, tired of being tired, tired of being emotional.  
Shortly after we turned at the intersection to head towards Durame, we turned off the road and into the Shinshicho Health Center.  We all visited the restroom which was a "squat pot" outhouse area down over the hill behind the clinic.  Then, we met with the doctor who runs the Shinshicho Clinic.  He took us on a quick tour of the facility.  A few years back, Holt renovated and reopened the clinic after it had been closed for some time due to lack of funding by the government.  Currently, Holt continues to fund Shinshicho with some government funds also being contributed for supplies and materials.  The patients who come to Shinshicho do not pay for the services that they receive.  HIV testing is conducted on all the children who are treated, as well as all the pregnant women who come for prenatal care and/or delivery assistance.  Anyone who tests positive is referred to a larger HIV/AIDS clinic in the area.  Children receive some immunizations there when they are treated.  Most people travel far distances in order to come for treatment.
After touring the current facilities, we were walked out back to see the large construction area where Holt is leading the construction of a surgical center for the Shinshicho area.  It is a much needed facility in an area where there is little to no medical care available for most people.
Shinshicho Health Center sign at entrance

Shinshicho Health Center buildings

One of the examining rooms at Shinshicho
A room used to deliver high risk babies/pregnancies at Shinshicho
Other side of the delivery room
New Construction for the surgical center that is being built at Shinshicho
After being rushed through our tour of Shinshicho because we were running behind schedule, we loaded back into the vans and headed into Durame.  We stopped at the one and (I think) only hotel there for lunch.   They were expecting us and quickly sat us and offered us a choice of one of 3 different meal selections.  For the most part, we were all very subdued and quiet, nervously looking toward our upcoming meetings with the birth families.  Some of us looked over the questions that we had written down to ask.  I recopied ours onto a piece of paper with space to write the answers on the same sheet of paper.  Mostly, it was just busy work, trying to keep our minds off of the nervousness we were all feeling.


The street in Durame outside the hotel where we ate
A neighborhood child chasing the Holt van into the orphanage

 When we finished eating, we again loaded into vans to drive the very short distance to the orphanage in Durame where we would be meeting with the birth families.  Children from the surrounding community ran after the van and were shouting, "they're here. they're here." as we pulled into the gates.  We were ushered into a room that was set up for us with rows of chairs facing the front of the room where a TV sat in the corner and one of the staff persons was roasting coffee beans and preparing a coffee ceremony for us. Tesfaye, the coordinator of the day from Holt, explained the process to us and introduced us to the social workers/translators who would be facilitating our meetings. 

We were told that there would be three interview rooms being used at the same time.  The families were divided into three sessions of meetings, and there were translators in each room.  The birth families were waiting in a separate area, but would join us and sit with us for the remainder of our time together once our meeting was over.  We were in the second session of meetings.  We spent the time mostly in silence, praying for our friends who were in their meetings and for our upcoming meeting.  The majority of meetings lasted about 30 minutes or so. 

When it was our turn, they came and called for us.  We went into a tiny room where three people already sat.  We sat in chairs in a U-shape in the little room.  Markos' father sat in front of us with a translator on each side of him.  He appeared sad and defeated, but he did not cry.  He held some things in his hands and mostly looked down at his lap.

Markos was born in Wolayta and his family speaks Wolaytigna.  Therefore, there was a double translation required for our meeting.  We would ask a question.  Gelila would translate from English to Amharic.  Then, the social worker from Wolayta would translate from Amharic to Wolaytigna.  For the most part, we were just free to ask whatever questions we wanted to ask.  We asked about Markos family, about his birth, about his siblings, about his mother.  We asked about the extended family and family traits.  We asked his father's wishes and desires for Markos.  And, we asked about his life as a boy.  We asked these things for Markos.  For him to know details about the first few years of his life when he is older.  For him to know about where he's from.  For him to know what his first parents were like and what they went through.  The details are his story and will mostly remain private for him to tell if he chooses to do so when he grows up.

I will say though, that a parent's desires and wishes for their children are much the same regardless of rather one lives in poverty or wealth, in the United States or in Ethiopia, in hard times or in good times.  He wants the same things for Markos that we do.  Sadly, he just had to make a horrible, painful choice in order to make those things happen for Markos.

I mentioned before that we had purchased a Bible for Markos while we were in Ethiopia.  We took the Bible to our meeting with his father.  We showed it to him and explained that it was for Markos when he is older.  His father smiled and was happy to hear that his son would have a Bible.  We asked him if he would like to write or dictate a transcription for the front of the Bible for Markos to read when he is older.  So, he dictated a short letter to the translator and she wrote it in Amharic inside the front cover of the Bible for him.  Then, he wrote his name and signed the Bible.  Gelila translated the note for Eric and I later and we wrote it in English and sealed it in an envelope for Markos in the future.  Again, the contents of this special letter, from father to son, shall remain private for Markos.

Eric and I had both done fairly well with keeping ourselves together, but near the end of the meeting, as I tried to tell his father how very sorry I was for his loss and how much we would love Markos and care for him and do our very best to make sure that all his desires for his son would come true, I started to cry...and cry....and cry.  Eric started to cry, then noticed that Markos' father was giving him a strange look.  So, he somehow pulled himself together and finished the talking for the rest of the meeting.  We gave Markos' father a framed recent picture of Markos and a small photo book containing more pictures of Markos and pictures of our family and home.  He loved looking at the pictures of Markos. 

He presented us with a small gift as well.  He gave us a candle holder made of clay from the soil where they live.  Along with the candle holder, he gave us a bunch of grass.  The translator explained that in Ethiopia, it is customary to exchange a bunch of grass when one is making a promise or entrusting someone with a large responsibility.  By giving us the grass, he was asking us to make a promise, to assume a huge responsibility; and by our accepting it, we were accepting the responsibility and agreeing to the promise.  The three of us hugged and our meeting time was over, so we stepped outside together to have photos taken.  I wouldn't feel right posting Markos' father's picture on a public site, but here is a cropped picture of the two fathers holding their gifts.

There was mass confusion after the meetings because we had been told that Holt had a photographer who would travel with us and photograph these sorts of things so I hadn't taken my camera outside for our meeting.  When we went out, however, a Holt volunteer approached us and asked if we had a camera and wanted pictures taken.  I ran back into the room to get the camera because of course we wanted pictures of Markos' birth father for Markos to have.  All around us stood small groups of adoptive families with birth families embracing, crying, hugging, looking at pictures.  I was having a hard time keeping it together. 

We went back into the waiting room and sat together.  We had taken Eric's NetBook with us with pictures loaded onto it and short video clips of Markos playing so that he could watch them.  He loved watching them and seeing all the pictures of Markos smiling and laughing and playing.   During our meeting, he had told us that Markos most resembled him (which we could see the second we walked into the room), and as we watched videos and looked at pictures, he would occasionally point to Markos' eyes and then point to his eyes, etc., as if to say, "see - he has my eyes".  When we went into the room, I threw my camera on top of my open bag on the floor against the wall.  At one point, I couldn't take it anymore and I had to get up and leave and go outside to have a good sob.  I stood behind the building sobbing about all the loss in that place, about the sacrificial love that was given to save these children, about the world we live in that makes such choices even necessary.  Once I finally got myself semi- under control again, I went back in and sat with Markos' father and Eric again.  Eric gave Markos' father a bottle of water that he had in his computer bag.  He opened it and chugged half the bottle in one drink, then put the cap back on and put it under his chair to take with him when he left.

Once the majority of meetings were completed, a Holt staff person called for us all to come out for a group picture, so we all got up and filed out.  Pictures were taken and then we were basically told to "say goodbye now and get your things".  So, we hugged again, said goodbye, and went in to get our bags.  We all walked out the gate and next door to the orphanage as the birth families were ushered elsewhere.  As we entered the gates there, I went to get my camera out to take pictures and it was gone.  

Long story short - after we emptied our bags (several times), had our friends empty their bags (several times), went back and forth between the two buildings (several times), talked to every staff person who was anywhere near, it was determined that it was gone.  Someone had taken it.  During the search phase, I was in a panic - rushing around and trying not to completely freak out.  After we determined that we weren't going to find it, I lost it again.  I pretty much missed the entire tour of the Durame orphanage and instead, stood outside with Eric, crying on his shoulder and desperately wanting to get out of there and get to the hotel where I could just sob alone.

I really didn't care at all about the camera.  Our sweet new friends, Stephanie & Mike, graciously gave us their extra camera to use for the remainder of the trip.  I didn't really care about the pictures that were still on the camera from our trip to Durame.  I knew I could easily get copies of everyone else's pictures.  Thankfully, most of the other pictures had already been loaded onto the NetBook to show Markos' father so the only pictures that were on the camera were pictures from that day.  All I cared about were the pictures of Markos' birth father that were now gone and could never be replaced.  Yep, I was a wreck.  It wasn't pretty.

When the tour was over, we loaded back into the vans and again began driving.  This time, north, to Hawassa where we'd be spending the night before we returned to Addis Ababa the next morning.  The hotel was very nice.  I tried to calm myself with the fact that the one social worker had taken a picture of us with Markos' father so at least we'd have one.  She warned me that my eyes were closed in it, but that she did at least have it of his dad.  We ate dinner there and the room was fairly nice.  It was the only time the entire trip that we actually were able to pick up Wi-fi on the NetBook and connect to the internet.

The day seemed like it had lasted at least 2 or 3 days!  It was the most emotional, exhausting, devastating, and, at the same time, very special and memorable day EVER.  I think I cried so much that I was nearly numb by the time we went to bed that night.

The hotel we stayed in that night in Hawassa

A few more pictures from the drive:

Ethiopian countryside
Children trying to get water from a mostly dried up river bed
Beautiful traditional home in Southern Ethiopia
Countryside in Southern Ethiopia
People gathered around a well outside Durame
Traditional hut on drive out of Durame


  1. Such a beautiful post Lori. I have tears streaming down my face!! Thank you so very much for sharing. I think constantly about how this day will be for our family. I'm not sure how I will even begin to put it into words, you did such an amazing job!

  2. Wow, great post. This brought back so many memories and I too had tears streaming down my face! I cannot imagine how much more emotional our next meeting will be, seeing Joseph's birth family for a second time, a second adoption?? You think there are any good anti-cry meds I can take? I had such an incredible headache that night!

  3. Hy all, great post!
    My child is from Shinshicho and I'd like to know something more about this remote place.

    Please could you provide some more info about the localization of Shinshicho?

    Your help would be greatly appreciated.

    My best regards,
    Domenico Marzilli