Saturday, February 5, 2011

Settling in

Just a quick post to let you know that we're still alive and doing well.  Markos is settling in and bonding well with everyone.  He and Daniel are beginning to play together a lot more, which means certain destruction of our house, because they play like....well.....BOYS!  *gasp*

Unfortunately for Markos, Daniel has a significant size advantage over him.  But, it doesn't stop Markos from trying to keep up.  As soon as he's willing to put down the toy that he was playing with before, he might do a little better.  It's hard to be a swordfighter with an over-sized whistle necklace on, a car in the other hand, and a sword that is a bit too big for you!

We're still working on the sleeping and eating areas, but neither is too horrible -- I just spend a lot of time walking on egg shells and/or sneaking out of rooms.  The communication is coming along as well.  He is beginning to use more English and occasionally, we can actually tell that it's English!  :-)  Lots of times, we can't tell.  He seems to be the kind of kid who wants to get things right the first time, so oftentimes when I try to get him to repeat after me, he won't for a long time, but I can tell he's thinking about it, then all of a sudden a few days later, he'll just say it perfectly.

He has a few little electronic toys that teach letters and their sounds.  His two favorites are:
"R is for Rooster.  cock-a-doodle doo" and "K is for Karate Kick.  Hiiii yaaa!!"  They both crack him up.  He will say the cock-a-doodle doo and the hiiii yaaa all the time.  He finally said "rooster" at the table this morning, but when I tried to record him saying it, first he said what I was working on with him last night, "I love you" -- which is way better than rooster anyway! 

Last night, we took Markos to Daniel's hockey game. It was his first evening outing. He seemed to enjoy it, although he was a little mad at first that he didn't get to go out on the ice and play. Ummm. Learning to skate first might be a good idea, and some equipment wouldn't hurt either, especially when you only weigh about 32 pounds.

Anyway, all is well here. So far, the transition is going better than we ever expected. Someday, I will be able to talk on the phone again and perhaps leave the house more to see some of you.  Oh, and please forgive the condition of my house in the videos and pictures that I post over the next few weeks/months.  Cleaning is last on the list at this point and, in my defense, the vacuum cleaner isn't working and needs a new filter which was supposed to be delivered on Tuesday but has apparently been way-laid by the various storms around the U.S.  Someday, I will also be able to vacuum again. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 2 - Celebrating Timkat!

We arrived in Ethiopia a few days early due to it being the only way for us to secure a direct flight from Addis Ababa to Washington DC on the way home.  We were thrilled to have, in essence, 2 full days free before our arranged adoption schedule (aka. fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adoption chaos!).  We had spoken with one of the guest house staff prior to our arrival and had planned a day trip north of Addis Ababa for Thursday, but decided to play Wednesday by ear.  We were concerned that we'd be too tired from our travels there, or would be delayed, and felt it was safer not to plan anything "big" for the day. 

Another couple who was traveling on the same flights to and from Ethiopia as we were, with whom we had become friends during our court trip, were also planning to do the sightseeing with us on Wednesday and Thursday.  We were to arrive in Ethiopia at 8 AM on Wednesday morning (after having left Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning at 6 AM ).  The snow/ice storm that hit the east coast delayed our flight a little then held us hostage on the plane in DC for a short time while they cleared the inch of ice from the stairs that we were to use to exit the plane; thankfully, however, it did not affect our flight to Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, it completely way-laid our friend's plans - trapping them in Burlington, VT.  Thankfully, with the help of their travel agent, they were able to rebook their flights from Montreal, rent a car and drive to Montreal, and still make it to Ethiopia on Wednesday, but at night instead of in the morning.

We actually were very tired and feeling mighty gross when we arrived, so we unpacked, got showered (er, rinsed off in the speediest way possible with freezing cold water), ate some lunch, and then ventured down to talk to Workineh to see what we could do for the day.  As it turned out, it was a great day to be in Addis.  It was the festival of Timkat.  If you, like me a few short weeks ago, don't know what Timkat is, here is a great explanation from the Ethiopian Embassy's website.

'Timkat' - The Feast of Epiphany

This is the greatest festival of the year, falling on 19 January, just two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. It is actually a three-day affair, beginning on the Eve of Timkat with dramatic and colorful processions. The following morning the great day itself, Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist is commemorated. The third day is devoted to the Feast of St. Michael, the archangel, one of Ethiopia's most popular saints.  Since October and the end of the rains, the country has been drying up steadily. The sun blazes down from a clear blue sky and the Festival of Timkat always takes place in glorious weather.  Enormous effort is put into the occasion. Tej and tella (Ethiopian mead and beer) are brewed, special bread is baked, and the fat-tailed African sheep are fattened for slaughter.Gifts are prepared for the children and new clothes purchased or old mended and laundered.
Everyone - men, women, and children - appears resplendent for the three-day celebration. Dressed in the dazzling white of the traditional dress, the locals provide a dramatic contrast to the jewel colors of the ceremonial velvets and satins of the priests' robes and sequined velvet umbrellas.
On the eve of the 18 January, Ketera, the priests remove the tabots from each church and bless the water of the pool or river where the next days celebration will take place. It is the tabot (symbolising the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments) rather than the church building which is consecrated, and it is accorded extreme reverence. Not to be desecrated by the gaze of the layman, the engraved wooden or stone slab is carried under layers of rich cloth.
In Addis Ababa, many churches bring their tabots to Jan Meda (the horse racing course of imperial day) accompanied by priests bearing prayer sticks and sistra, the ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets, and swinging bronze censors from which wisps of incense smoke escape into the evening air. The tabots rest in their special tent in the meadow, each hoisting a proud banner depicting the church's saint in front.  The priests pray throughout the long cold night and mass is performed around 2:00 a.m. Huge crowds of people camp out, eating and drinking by the light of flickering fires and torches. Towards dawn the patriarch dips a golden cross and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the altar. Then he sprinkles water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ's baptism. Many of the more fervent leap fully dressed into the water to renew their vows.  Following the baptism the tabots start back to their respective churches, while feasting, singing and dancing continue at Jan Meda. The procession winds through town again as the horsemen cavort alongside, their mounts handsomely decorated with red tassels, embroidered saddlecloths, and silver bridles. The elders march solemnly, accompanied by singing leaping priests and young men, while the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old Testament.
Although we missed the 2 AM mass and the morning festivities when apparently EVERY church in Addis and the surrounding areas were at Jan Meda, Havit and Isaias from the guest house took Eric and I out to experience some of the Timkat festivities.  We were able to see some of the processions as they left the area.  Seemed as though every new street we turned down, we passed another procession.  They came along and decorated the streets with flags and banners.  It was a BIG deal.  You could tell when a  procession had already passed because the street would be covered with confetti.  It was amazing to see so many people out, worshiping God, and spending the day celebrating their faith.  We stopped a few times to watch processions.  The different youth groups in the churches would do dances and sing songs, while wearing matching outfits.  We got out and joined one of the processions for a while to get an up-close and personal view.  So fun to be out amongst the people.

Timkat procession from Jan Meda back to their church

Tabot in the center of the procession, surrounded by priests and covered by umbrellas

Loved this billboard (and appreciated the fact that it was the ONLY landmark that actually helped me to know where we were while driving around Addis!)

Another procession - we got out and walked with this one for a little while

And it keeps going and going and going!

After walking with one of the processions, we went to Jan Meda and spent some time just walking around the grounds.  It was so much fun.  There were still a lot of people there.  They were still celebrating and laughing and playing games.  Little boys were running games where people tried to toss coins into a styrofoam container.  They had big games of 'heads or tails'.  There were huge groups surrounding an Ethiopian version of a pinata.  We had fun watching this.  Someone, usually a confident young man, would be blind-folded and taken some number of paces away from a clay coffee pot filled with candy, hanging from an Ethiopian soccer goal overhead crossbar.  They would then be turned around, handed a big stick, and would then attempt to walk the same number of paces back, take one swing, and hope to hit the coffee pot.  The funny thing was that the crowd surrounding the game would get involved.  Isaias laughed and told us that half the crowd was trying to mislead the participate, the other half was trying to help.

A tree just inside the grounds at Jan Meda

Timkat celebrations continuing at Jan Meda

Occasionally the priest at the nearby church would spray holy water out onto the crowd as a symbol of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.  We had to laugh at this a little because it reminded us of our own children at the misting tents at the zoo and amusements parks.  All the kids were standing in the water and would come out completely drenched, all smiles and laughs. 
People running to get sprayed with Holy water

As we strolled through the crowds, people were friendly and sweet.  Thankfully, it was mostly a reprieve from the heartache and pain of the poverty.  Only once the entire time we were there were we approached by a small child, begging for food.  Mostly it was a day of fun and celebration.
These three cuties were so excited to come and shake our hands and show off their English, "hello".  They loved having their picture taken and begged, "again, again!"  They wouldn't stop dancing, so I switched to video. (Watch video below.)  Their mom was so sweet.  She just covered her face in embarrassment that her children were such hams.  I would have recorded them all day though, they were so darned cute!

As we strolled, Havit and Isaias filled us in on the traditions and the games that were being played.  Havit shared stories about how she was not raised Orthodox, that she was raised in more of a protestant church and when she was a little girl, she always felt left out during Timkat because all the other children wore the Orthodox crosses and she was the only child in her class that didn't wear one so the other kids made fun of her.   Eric bought a few beautiful handcarved wooden crosses that a little girl was selling.  We also bought some food that everyone was walking around eating.  They were these shelled beans that were sold in a big bunch.  They tasted like fresh pea pods.  Isaias bought some and shared with us, but Eric really liked them so he bought some more.  Although they were good, I refrained from eating too many because I was thinking, "raw food in Ethiopia, shells or no, I don't want to take any chances".  Eric, on the other hand, thought, "yummy!!!"   Silly Eric.  Silly, silly Eric.  Let's just say that he took this remainder of his bunch back to the guest house and spent the next few days offering them to anyone who might need something with a laxative effect.  :-)

Wish I could remember what these were called.  I won't tell you what we were calling them a few days later.

When we went back to the van to leave, these three ran over to shake our hands and again attempt to impress us with their English.  What sweet hearts!

Sweet boys who came to talk to us as we were leaving the Timkat festival

After we paid the guy who was guarding the van, Havit and Isaias dropped Eric and I off at Avanti's and we enjoyed a great late lunch.  Eric was a little smarter this time and did NOT order a nearly raw steak.  He stuck with the pasta - good choice!  Then, we returned the guest house to unpack, relax and wait for our friends to finally arrive.  It was a wonderful day. We were happy just to have the time to go out and spend the time with the Ethiopian people. How can you not love this?!!! 

From Ethiopia - Post 1 - The Hut out Back

The last time we were in Ethiopia, work had begun outside the Jemimah Guest House on a "Cultural Center".  As I understand it, men from the Southern region in Ethiopia had been hired and brought to Addis to construct a hut, like the ones that they build to live in down south.  Their families came too; and they all live on the premises.  The last time we were there, the center post was up, and a framing of sorts was completed on the sides and roof.  The sides were nearly finished, but that was about it.  This time, however, the entire hut was nearly complete.  There had been some hold-up as they had run into difficulties being able to get the straw that is used for the thatched roof, so it was not quite complete.  Regardless, it was amazing construction.  A lot of bamboo was used, along with some other type of wood, of which we never did find out the identity.  When we drove north our second day in country, our guide from the guest house showed us the area where they went to cut down the tree used for the center post. 

Look at the inside of that roof.  It was beautiful - like a giant hand-woven basket!

As seems to  always be the case in Ethiopia, there is never any "waste".  They use all the shavings, cuttings, and little left-over pieces for other parts of the process or for other things.

This is one of the builders.  He was SO proud of his construction.  There was a TOTAL language barrier between us when we were out there, but he made it very clear that he wanted me to take his picture with his project.  When I showed him the picture, his smile was huge!  He also eagerly showed us his "tools" that he was working with - a stick with a piece of metal tied to the end!

This is the other gentleman who was working.  He was thatching the roof (in his bare feet - owww!  Although, I have to say, they looked WAY tough enough to handle it!).  He wanted us to climb up on the roof with him.  I politely smiled, giggled, and said, "no thank you!".   I still haven't quite figured out the ladder contraption he was using.  There was a regular (also hand-made) ladder at the bottom, but then the top was tied to that little segment of a ladder which he moved around on the top of the roof.

Last time we were there, we were told that the workers and their families had been offered a room in the guest house during the construction.  They proudly declined and are instead living in the area outside - where the sheets are hanging, and also to the right where you can see the "door".    My guess is that it's probably still a step up from their home as they are being provided food and water in addition to payment for their services.

Monday, January 31, 2011

We're Drilling for Water!

Some of you were warned before we left town.  For the others, SURPRISE!!!  
We're here to ask you to give of your money!  :-)  
I know, it's everyone's favorite request to receive!  
But, it's important.  Really, really important. 

To save myself time (which I have very little of right now since we just got home with Markos a few days ago), I am just copying the email that I sent out to friends and family here.  If you've already received it, sorry.  You can leave now (and go to the mycharitywater site & donate).  Thanks.

 Dear family and friends,

As many of you know, Eric and I have recently traveled to Ethiopia on two different occasions for our adoption of Markos.  While we were there, our hearts were broken over the extreme poverty and the depth of need for just basic essentials of life -- food, water, clothing, shelter.  Everywhere we drove while we were there, we saw yellow water bottles.  Children carried them, donkeys had them strapped to their backs, boys walked along pulling or pushing make-shift carts loaded with them.  We were told that, on average, the majority of people in the Southern region in Ethiopia, where Markos' surviving family lives, walk 6 miles a day to find water. 

We saw people filling their water bottles in dirty streams where they waded in along with their cattle.  We watched boys and girls scoop water from filthy puddles on the sides of the road.  We could always tell which way the nearest water source was, by the direction that people were walking with their water bottles.  At our guest house in the capital city, we experienced several water shortages while we were there, when the water would just be shut off for hours until the guest house could have some water trucked in. 

Until you see it for yourself, until you experience not having water, it's really hard to imagine.  We take so much for granted here in the United States. 

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

Lack of clean drinking water was most likely the major contributing factor to the reason that Markos is now our son.  He lost a mother, a 5 year old brother, and a 3 year old sister to "diarrhea".  With no mother to care for him, no mother to walk miles for water every day, his father was forced to make a decision that I can't fathom.  If Markos would have just been a little older, chances are great that he would have had to assume the job of walking for hours each day to get the families' water supply.  We saw many little boys and girls, out walking alone, with their yellow bottles.  These boys and girls then can't attend school, the cycle continues, and, as Markos' father said to us when we asked him about his childhood, "It is all the same.  Nothing ever changes."

Eric and I have decided to give up our birthdays this year.  We have also asked that people not buy Markos a bunch of gifts (that we really don't "need").  Instead, we are asking that everyone consider donating to our Charity: Water campaign to help us raise funds to drill a well in a developing nation like Ethiopia.  Each well serves an entire village of 250 people and will provide clean drinking water for 20 years!  Seriously, $20 will provide clean water to someone for 20 years!!  That's less than one fast food meal for a family of four.  100% of all donations go directly to the water project.  Additionally, Charity:Water trains the local people to drill and to maintain the well, helping to keep the projects sustainable.

Words can't describe the depth of poverty that we saw.  Please consider donating to our campaign.  Water = life.  Water = hope.   Things can change for these people with a little help from you and me.  You can donate online via credit card or you can send Charity:Water a check.  Just please be sure to write our campaign code on the subject line of the check.  It is MYCW-13206.  The mailing address for checks is:

Charity: Water
200 Varick St., Ste. 201
New York, NY 10014

If you wish to include a message for the website & are mailing a check, simply include the message with the check in the envelope.  Charity: Water will enter these donations to the web page by hand.  All donations are tax deductible.  You will receive a receipt with every donation sent.  (Online donations will receive an immediate receipt via email.  Mailed donations will receive a receipt within 3 - 4 weeks after the check is processed.)  Our campaign can only last for 90 days.  We are starting now,a few days after my 40th birthday.  We will end on April 29th, about 2 weeks after Eric's birthday. 

Please help however you can:

1) Go to: to make your donation. 
Or, if you prefer, mail a check, including the campaign ID# (MYCW - 13206), to the above address.

2) Help us spread the word. 
Feel free to forward this email to all your friends and family or to give the above web address to people.

3) Pray that we can successfully raise the $5000 needed to drill a well and provide water to a community in great need.

Thank you for your support! 

For those of you who weren't already  aware, Eric and I just returned from Ethiopia with our new 4 year old son, Markos, on Friday.  He is an absolute doll with a smile that lights up the room!  Feel free to check out our adoption blog at for pictures and videos.

With love,
Lori & Eric Stark

P.S.  A little challenge for us all -- when we returned from Ethiopia on Friday, Mackenzie surprised me with a "birthday present".   She gave me $150 of her own money that she had been saving to buy herself an i-Pod touch or an i-Pad to put towards the Charity: Water well project.  Eric and I have matched her gift.  If a 13 year old can give almost all the money that she has been saving for months, surely we all can give something.  Right?!  ;-)
And so that there is at least a little new content, here are a few pictures that we took while in Ethiopia of people carrying their water jugs, some wells that we passed, etc.  I tried to take about 350 more than this, but it was from a moving van on horrendous roads so they're a little bit blurry.  I picked a few of the best for you, my fine bloggy friends.