Friday, February 25, 2011

GO PENS!!!

So I was rooting through the basement today for something, and happened upon a bag with Christmas presents that I had purchased for Markos when I thought that there was a chance we'd have him home by Christmas.  It was a Penguins jersey and pajama pants that matched ones I had also bought for Daniel. 

Daniel is so happy to have someone here to coerce into to invite to play hockey with him - pretty much on a daily basis.  Markos gets to use the little Penguins stick that Daniel got as a gift after one of the many deck hockey sessions in which he's participated.  And Daniel has the thrill of having someone shoot on him so he can play the coveted goalie position which we refuse to allow encourage against him playing.  

It was so cute today when I gave Markos the Penguins gear.  He immediately started saying, "Hockey.  Daniel.  Hockey." and then proceeded to drive me insane persistently talk about it for the next hour and 1/2 while we waited for Daniel to get home.  I was responding that, yes, he could play hockey with Daniel when he got home.  The second Daniel got off the bus, Markos ran to him and said, "Daniel!  Hockey!" and the two of them ran off down the street to play hockey.

What I failed to realize is, that Markos thought he was REALLY going to get to play hockey....like with gloves...and skates...at a rink!!!!  He was SO mad that we weren't actually going to play hockey.  Again, ummm, it would be helpful if you knew how to skate, Markos!  Then, Daniel got mad because Markos refused to play hockey in the living room like they usually do because he was mad that they couldn't play hockey at the rink.  (ahhh, the joy!)

I managed to appease him a little by putting gloves on him.  Granted, they were cute little doggie gloves, but he didn't care. 

Great.  Now, I will probably end up having TWO boys playing hockey someday.  Better start saving now!   But first stop, ice skating lessons.

in his new Penguins gear




Check out the gloves!  They don't offer much protection, but they're awfully cute!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 11 - Tuesday - Let the Chaos Begin

Not surprisingly, as I checked my pictures to see if I had any for this day, I did not.  This was the day when the trip went from planned to complete chaos.  It was supposed to be the day that we all went for our scheduled appointments at the U.S. Embassy.  It was supposed to be the day that the children were legally declared to be ours by the U.S. government and granted IR-3 visas so that they would also become United States citizens upon entering the United States.  It was supposed to be the day, but it was not.

Instead, we got up as planned and got ready for the day.  We had the morning free to play at the guest house with the kids.  For the most part, we all played out in the courtyard area.  The kids played with bubbles, with balls, with those little dogs that you drag around.  We ordered our lunches in advance because we had to be ready to leave at 12:30 pm.  We all packed up our gear for the embassy -- paperwork, toys, snacks, drinks.  Then, we went down to the dining room to eat.  While we were eating, Dr. Fikru and Robin from Holt showed up at the guest house.  They requested that we all finish eating as soon as possible and meet in the family room on the second floor.

When we all gathered there, Robin started, "well, as you all can imagine, if we are calling an emergency meeting like this with you all, it is probably not good news...."   As all of our hearts began to race, blood pressures began to rise, hands began to sweat, and stomachs began to churn, she explained that, without notice to them, the United States Embassy had changed their procedures and 5 of the 8 families there were being affected.  Prior to our travel, the embassy had sent notice that they were completing additional investigations on all cases.  However, previously, if they had questions on cases, they would send them to Holt within 2 days of submission (which had occurred 2 weeks prior).  With our cases, they had requested additional information THAT morning.  They refused to grant interviews to any cases where they needed additional information.  She told the 3 families who had been cleared that they were fine, that they would be going to the embassy that afternoon as originally scheduled.  The rest of us, she told that we could not go.

She explained that they did not want to lie to us, that some of the documents and "proof" that the embassy was requesting were things that not only had they never asked for before, but also were things that did not exist.  Other cases, she said were easy, but that they just needed time to get the documents to the embassy and to get the embassy to grant the interviews.   She explained that what they wanted to do was talk to each family privately to explain what the embassy was requesting in their particular case.

Thankfully, although we were not amongst the families who had been cleared to go, we were amongst the families that they anticipated to be an "easy" fix.  Basically, the embassy was questioning a lot of custody/relinquishment issues.  They wanted to know if Markos' father was remarried.  Because if he had, then I assume they would have wanted to ensure that the new mother also wanted to relinquish.  Markos' father had not remarried, so it was not an issue, they just needed a statement to that effect.  Robin told us that they currently had staff driving all through Wolayta and Durame on motorcycles looking for birth families to get documents and information; they had already been in contact with judges in the different districts to get court statements and letters from judges, etc.  She was hopeful that they would get the document to the embassy either that day or the next, but could not tell us when the embassy would clear us for an interview and if we would be able to make our flight out on Thursday night.

Other families' cases were not as easy.  It was very frightening.  Two families were basically told that they had no idea if what they were attempting to get was even going to satisfy the embassy's demands.  And, that if not, they did not have any idea how long it was going to take or what they would do next.

The 3 cleared families had to leave to go to the embassy.  Dr. Fikru and Robin were going with them and planned to spend the entire day there, working on the other cases.  It was very bittersweet for those families.  Hard to be happy and relieved when dear, new friends were devastated and terrified.  The same applied to the mood at the guest house for the next few days.  We all laughed and played with the kids and enjoyed one another's company, but there was always that air of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety lingering over everyone's heads.  I had that feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach - unsure if I was going to lose my breath or get sick - for pretty much the rest of our trip.  And I trust that I was not alone.

When the first three families returned, Eric and I had already changed our clothes and were hanging around when one of the drivers ran in and said, "Stark family - come now!"  Turned out that Holt was able to get our documents and get them to the embassy so they were rushing us there for our appointment.  We rushed around and changed our clothes again, grabbed some toys for Markos and ran off to the embassy.

The driver and the Holt staff person drove us to the embassy as fast as possible (scary!).  However, the excitement quickly ended when we arrived at the embassy, waited in the first security line to get into the building, were getting ready to go through the second security point and metal detectors, and were met by Dr. Fikru and Robin.  They apologized and said that there had been a lag in emails crossing and that the embassy was refusing to see us.  That they did have our document and that they had cleared us, but that they refused to interview us unless an appointment had been confirmed via email from the Holt office!

Oh. My. Gosh.  Seriously?!  You want to talk about beaurocratic idiocracy!  We saw the letter that was sent by the embassy to Holt.  Apparently, because they were THERE, they had told the embassy that they wanted them to see us that day, but since it wasn't emailed, the embassy wouldn't accept that.  It makes me furious now, especially hearing about continued difficulties with the U.S. Embassy with other families even now, but at the time, we were just SO relieved that we had been cleared, that we didn't even care.  We said fine - we'll come back tomorrow.   And, we all turned back around and headed back to the guest house.  Our sweet friends smiled and gave us the thumbs up as we pulled in the drive, but we shook our heads no, and explained what had happened. 

So, at the end of the day, only three families had been granted visas for their children and five families continued to wait.  At 7:00 that evening, Dr. Fikru and Robin came back to the guest house to update us on the days' outcomes.  They were still working on cases.  Some documents had been secured and were either in route to the embassy or had already been delivered to the embassy.  Other documents were still being worked on.

We had seen the embassy's email with a tentative appointment and it was 9:00 am.  We asked if that was when we would go, and they told us that once they emailed the embassy accepting the appointment, then they had to wait for the embassy to email back confirmation of the appointment so they would call us in the morning and let us know.

It was not a good night to sleep.  We were all exhausted, stressed, sad, disappointed, worried, and just generally upset.  It should have been a night of celebration.  A night when all the "work" of the trip was complete and we could all just sit back and enjoy the rest of the trip, but alas, it was not.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 10 - Monday - Awassa & Northward


I don't know that I'd call my sleep on Sunday night restful; it was more just complete and utter exhaustion, mentally and physically.  Regardless, the room was fairly nice, albeit hot!!  We really wanted to sleep with the windows open, but our screens didn't lock into place and were right at ground level so we were leery to just leave them so that anyone walking by could push them to the side and climb right in our window.  We ended up leaving them open for as long as we could, then we shut the windows in the room, but left the bathroom window open with one of those OFF mosquito repellent fans running by the window to try to keep the mosquitos out.  I don't know if it was the fan or if the mosquitoes just weren't bad that night, but we never saw a single mosquito while we were staying the night in the southern region where we had to worry about Malaria.  Figures.  Paid for and took those meds for nothing.

We actually got a wi-fi connection and I was able to check email on the NetBook for the first time the whole trip.  I got an email from Workineh at the guest house, telling us that they had the cribs and beds in all the rooms, ready for the kids, and that he hoped that our trip was going well.  What a sweetheart that man is!

Our room in Awassa

The bathroom was a bit of a tease.  It had this fancy shower with all these different jets AND we had hot water, although it took forever for it to get hot.  Unfortunately, when I attempted to try out the fancy shower, the water pressure was not great enough to actually use the fancy jets and so instead of a hot water massage, I got sprinkled with then freezing cold water (apparently all hot was lost in the attempt to change the jets!).  It was quite a disappointment.  Eric laughed hysterically at me as I whimpered, and yelled, and panicked, trying to change the jets back to the nice, hand-held shower nozzle with hot water!

The teaser shower in Awassa

We met up with the others in the restaurant for breakfast at 8:30-ish.  After a breakfast of deep-fried French toast (a tad rich for breakfast!), we headed out to the vans to load back up and drive north to Addis.  We were told that Awassa is a spa/resort area.  A wealthy area if you will.  I guess in some ways, it was more 'upscale', but not really.  Eric loved seeing these:

Ethiopian chariots

and he kept joking about Chariots of Fire.  It did seem as though there were more 'wagon' type vehicles on the road.  The drive was just as beautiful as it had been on the way down to Durame.



We actually weren't on the road long, before we stopped again.  Tesfaye had mentioned something about "taking us to see the lake".  We all thought that we were just making a quick stop to sight-see at Lake Awassa.  We pulled into a gated resort and the drivers parked for us to get out.  Several of us left our bags in the vans because we thought we were just stopping for a few minutes.  Turns out, that after we had been there for a while, we discovered that one of the vans was gone, and that the Holt staff and social workers (who were riding back up to Addis with us) were gone.  Someone informed us that they had left to go to a meeting in Awassa and that they should be back in 30 minutes or so.  It would have been nice to have known that was what we were doing, because I had no purse, no money, no tissues (for the bathroom), and no sunscreen (and it was sunny & hot!).

It was beautiful there though!  Our travel group joked that, in a few years, we're all going back to Ethiopia and we are staying there -- at the Lewi Resort and Spa.  We figured we'd plan on a mission trip while we're there, but that we'd stay at the spa - kind of the best of both worlds.  It was right on Lake Awassa.  We were told that occasionally, you can see hippos in the water (although we didn't see any).  We did, however, see a lot of monkeys all around the resort as well as 2 bald eagles in a tree by the parking lot!  There was a beautiful pool with swinging basket chairs and hammocks, a mini-golf course, and a restaurant on the patio right along the water.  There were boat docks and beautiful little villas.  The public bathroom even had toilet paper and soap!!   ;-)  (thank goodness since I didn't have my tissues!)

Mariah and her mom toured one of the villas.  She said they were beautiful.  I can't remember now, but I think the quoted price to stay in one was $120 US/night!!  Seriously, if you want to go to a beautiful resort for cheap, try one in Ethiopia!  We chuckled because the man who was giving them the tour was very proud of the fact that at their hotel, each room comes with 2 towels AND washcloths.

Eric had his wallet in his pocket so we sat down on the patio by the lake and drank a soda while we waited.  We sat in the parking lot for a while and watched the monkeys.  They would come down right by you and were very playful.  While we were drinking our sodas, we laughed because there was a breakfast buffet still set up under some tents along the patio and the monkeys were sneaking in and climbing up on the tables and stealing food.  The workers would get mad and chase them away.  Justin tried to get bread to feed them but was told that you're not allowed to feed the monkeys.  haha!  I guess it's like the geese at the lake that we visit in the summer -- you don't feed them or they'll never leave! 

The pool at the Lewi Resort

The villas by the lake

The walkway down to the patio area, pool, and lake

a monkey just sitting on the rail by the parking lot

the patio by the lake (tents on the right are where the buffet was)

mini-golf, Ethiopian style!

Beautiful, Lake Awassa

Lake Awassa

patio area where we sat and drank a soda

Eric and I at Lewi Resort on Lake Awassa
Traffic as we are driving north again

more wagons

There was some confusion with the schedule again.  We had been told that we would be stopping at a grocery store for those who had children who were still drinking formula to purchase the formula that their children would need.  Then, we were being told that we were behind schedule and we weren't stopping, which upset us because...uh....well, it's not OUR fault we're behind schedule.  YOU are the ones who dumped us off at a hotel for almost an hour while you went to a meeting.  Anyway, it worked out and after we visited a few grocery stores, people found what they needed in the way of ET snacks, formula, etc.

We were taken to the guest house to basically drop our stuff off, then we went to the care centers to pick up our kids.  We traveled along with the others while they picked up their kiddos, then some of them who were in our van went with us to CC3 to get Markos.  We all had a little laugh when we piled in the vans at the first care center because as we sat in the seats and were waiting for everyone to get in, one of Stephanie and Mike's boys started to get upset and cry.  Stephanie then started to get upset because she thought he didn't want to leave.  None of us knew what he was saying, but when one of the Holt staff came over, he started to laugh because he was basically freaking out because the van door was open and he was insisting that we can't drive with the door open and wanted us to shut the door.  Stephanie was very relieved that not only was her son not upset to leave, he was very safety conscious!  :-)

When we pulled in to CC3, Markos was in that same common room and the nanny walked him out immediately.  We hugged and said hi, then immediately were ushered into the little office by the common room to change Markos' clothes.  The care center is always short on clothes and shoes, so they prefer that you bring clothes and shoes to change your child into when you take them.  You basically get to take the child, but nothing else.  So, we changed Markos quickly and gave her the clothes and shoes that he was wearing, and that was it, we were free to go.  It was strange.  Markos would have been totally happy to jump onto the "mini-bus", but I urged him to go say goodbye to his friends.  The nanny gave him a kiss and a hug and she had him peek his head into the room where all the other kids were sitting.  He smiled and waved emphatically as he said "ciao!" to his friends and they all yelled goodbye to him.  It was very sweet, but sad, too.

Markos was also fairly safety conscious and insisted on sitting on the seat and on buckling his seat belt.  The other kids had all done the same, so we could tell that the nannies must make them sit with their seat belts buckled anytime they're taken anywhere.  He was very attentive to watching out the window as he nervously grinned at us over and over.  Stephanie and Mike's twins were singing, as they often did, and began to chant, "America, America" over and over.  Very cute.  But, the funny thing was, when we pulled into the guest house where we were staying, we are pretty sure that the kids all thought it WAS America!!  They would talk about America whenever we'd pull into the guest house gates the rest of the time we had custody in Ethiopia.  All I could think was, "wow - if you think this is America, just wait until you really see it!"

We had ordered dinner prior to leaving for Durame the day before because we knew we'd get back to the guest house right at dinner time.  So, we headed downstairs and had our first meal together.   After we ate, we went upstairs and happily found that there was some hot water so we washed Markos.  Our tub did not have a stopper, so it was more of a modified shower, but Markos thought the sprayer was hilarious!   At first, he was panicked and didn't want to get washed.  I suspect that the kids frequently had to endure freezing cold baths at the care center and it had not been a pleasant experience for most of them.  However, once he realized that the water was warm, he loved it.  He also loved that he could control the sprayer by turning the water on and off.  Oh, how I wish I could post the video of his naked little body standing in the tub, turning the water on and off, laughing hysterically every time.  It is the cutest thing EVER, but alas, I don't want to be arrested for kiddie porn or anything, so I shall refrain from sharing that little gem (until he's a teenager and has his first girlfriend, then maybe...)


Markos ready for his first meal in the guest house
Markos with his very favorite toy!

OOH, and the ear buds are pretty cool, too!

Once he was clean and all lotioned up, we put his jammies on him and we were all ready to crash - Markos in his twin bed next to ours, and us in the queen bed.  He went to sleep surprisingly well and stayed asleep all night.  I, on the other hand, tossed and turned all night worrying that he was going to fall out of the bed because he's a very restless/active sleeper!  Well, that and the fact that he was with us!  After everything the past year, he was actually in OUR custody!  Praise God!

Clean, moisturized, and ready for bed

You mean, I can really sleep WITH my new radio?!  Awesome!



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.

Durame

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

Photo Break

We interrupt the current stream of posts from our Embassy trip in order to bring you this photo break.

We had our first family photo shoot as a family of 5 yesterday. The kids were wonderful and we are thrilled with the pictures. I was even asked to sign a Model release so they can use Markos' pictures in advertising and in the store for displays. (he's already a star!) ;-)


Markos - home 3 weeks, taken 2/19/2011


 






The Stark Family - taken 2/19/2011

Our kids - 2/19/2011
Happy Family

New collage for the living room
Photos taken at The Picture People in the South Hills Village Mall by Chrissie.  She's awesome!