Friday, March 4, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 13 - Thursday - Celebrations and Goodbyes

January 27, 2011.  My 40th birthday.  Our last day in Ethiopia.   The day we were boarding a flight to travel home to be united with the rest of our family.

When we went down for breakfast, our travel group surprised me with a birthday cake.  It was very yummy.  Markos was excited.  Cake for breakfast.  Yum.

Happy birthday to me!

We spent the morning playing at the guest house.  Isaias graciously opened the van and allowed the kids to play in the van.  The boys loved sitting in the "machina".  They took turns sitting in the driver's seat.  He would even shut the doors and drive them around in a tiny little circle in the parking lot.

Markos and the twins playing in the van

We played with rocket balloons and, of course, Markos was always carrying his little mp3 player, which he referred to as "musica", so we were never without music!  Then, at some point, (the details have escaped me now since I have no notes from this point forward on our trip), Holt called to tell us that they would be picking Eric, Markos and I up to take us to Care Center 3 for Markos' Farewell Ceremony.  The remainder of the group was still on hold with their Farewell Ceremony since they still had not all passed their Embassy appointments.

Markos being Mr. Independent and blowing up the rocket balloon by himself

Eric helping with the rocket balloons

Truthfully, by this time, Eric and I really didn't even care about going to the farewell ceremony.  First, we really hated the fact that we had to take Markos back to the care center again.  He very obviously became afraid when we had gone back to the CC previously to meet with the nurse, and when we had pulled into the other Care Center to pick up the rest of the group.  We also were just exhausted by this point.  We didn't really feel like going through the stress of loading back into the van and driving across town to get to the CC.  We were still very worried for our friends who were still anxiously awaiting news from the Embassy regarding their appointments.  We just weren't feeling it.  Staying at the guest house and just relaxing and sitting outside sounded better at the time.

As it turned out though, we were both very happy that we went.  It was much nicer than we expected it to be.  The kids were happy to be there.  They were happy to sing for us.  They were probably happy to get cake (although we didn't get to see it).  Once Markos relaxed a little, I think he enjoyed it, too.

When we first arrived, they led us into "the" room - you know, the one where we did everything at CC3.  :-)  There were two rows of chairs lined up on one side of the room, and on the other side, 3 chairs behind 2 little tables.  We were instructed to take our seats in the front of the room, while one of the nannies whisked Markos away to get him changed into his traditional Ethiopian outfit.  While he was in the other room changing, Markos' friends who were attending filed in and took their seats.  Some whom we had met previously flashed us big smiles and cute little waves.  They were all VERY well behaved.  They sat, with arms crossed in front of their chests, quietly waiting for Markos to enter the room.

Markos' friends ready for his farewell ceremony

When he emerged with his adorable little outfit on (including super cute little shoes!), they all began to clap and chant his name.  His shyness began to show itself again.  Much like his Emama and his big sister, he is not a fan of being the center of attention.

Markos, all dressed up, and ready for his party

The nanny walked him back to Eric and I and he immediately wanted up on one of our laps.  As we sat together and had some pictures taken, the children stood up and began to perform some songs for us.  They were very cute.  They all sang out, loud and lively.  They smiled.  They danced a little.  They clapped.  The nannies made noises with their tongues to add to the liveliness.  After a short while, one of the nannies grabbed Markos' hand and had him stand front and center with his friends.  He was not happy about it.  He complied but he got his pouty look and just stood, looking shy.... mad.... scared... it's hard to say.  But he definitely wasn't happy about it.  He did eventually begin to clap along and his face softened a bit.  He still wasn't singing along, but he was participating.

Singing songs at the farewell ceremony

As they finished up one of the songs, a cake was brought in and sat on the table in front of where we were sitting.  The kids sat and Markos rejoined Eric and I in the front.  The nannies took the cake and cut it, giving Eric, Markos and I each a piece along with a bottle of soda each. 

Markos' Farewell cake

As we ate, the children stood and sang another song for us.  When they were finished and sat down, we were already being told it was time to leave.  So, Markos was told to say goodbye to his friends.  He went around and hugged and kissed each child.  Then, he gave the nannies hugs goodbye.  It was a bittersweet, precious moment for Eric and I.  I only just realized tonight that Eric videotaped it, so you can see the sweetness for yourself. 



Ciao!  Ciao, Markos!!  (He was more interested in showing them his musica.)

After Markos said his good-byes, Eric and I followed and we each gave every kid a hug and kiss goodbye as well.  Oh, how these kids tear my heart to pieces.  One boy, Negesh, whom we had played with for a few hours on our first trip, latched his arms around my neck as he planted a big kiss on my cheek.  He clung to me for the longest time and I know he did not want to let go (and frankly, neither did I).   He did the same to Eric.  I still cry every time I think about it.  He was the sweetest boy.  I pray that he has already been matched with his forever family and that he too will soon be saying goodbye and heading home to his new life (if he hasn't already).   That day though, it was all Eric and I could both do to get to the van before we were alternating between putting on our happy faces for Markos, kissing him and smiling and cheering, and then staring out the window to secretly wipe the tears away that were streaming down our faces.

Markos didn't seem sad at all.  Saying goodbye to his friends at the care center didn't seem nearly as hard on him as seeing it was on Eric and I.  It was obvious he had been through this before.  It was obvious that these kids had been prepared very well for what would happen, for where they'd be going.  They knew the process.  We were his Emama and Ababa.  He was going to America.  That had been the goal all along.

We went back to the guest house and spent the afternoon there resting and playing.  The others were at the embassy!!  We prayed for favor for them.  We prayed that their documents would be rushed and that, miracle of miracles, after the week we had all had, that we would all be leaving together that night as originally planned.  One of my favorite memories from the trip - which I did have a picture of, but unfortunately, it was very blurry - was when the van pulled into the guest house lot after their embassy appointments.  Markos and I happened to be outside on the upstairs balcony off of the family room.  The van pulled in and the familiar "God is Great" song was blaring from the radio of the Holt van.  Some of our group was outside playing.  The guest house driver and some of the staff were outside.  Everyone's attention quickly shifted to the van, and as the news was shared that everyone passed and that they had everyone's documents, cheers erupted from everyone.  The picture that I had was of Isaias, the guest house driver, standing by the van hearing the news through the open windows, then lifting both hands and raising his face to the sky to praise God.  It was a very moving moment.  Everyone rejoicing together.  Acknowledging God's faithfulness.  Celebrating His provision.

The day was flying by and there was still much to do.  They informed us that they would be returning soon to take us all to Care Center 2 for the remaining Farewell Ceremony, then to the Holt offices to get our documents, then back to the guest house.  Mike and Stephanie and Eric and I had an earlier flight than the rest of the group, so we were getting really worried about time.  We talked to the Holt staff person and instead of going to the offices, we were all given our documents and such at the Farewell Ceremony at CC2.  Prior to leaving for the ceremony, we brought all of our luggage down to the lobby of the guest house and had everything completely ready to go.

Markos was more relaxed at the other's Farewell Ceremony, probably because he was able to stay with us the entire time.  He got to eat some more cake and drink some more soda.  (which is always great before a 24 hour trip home!)  Unfortunately, he spilled soda and cake all over his traditional outfit, too.  We watched his friend's cut their farewell cake, got our documents, and said some more goodbyes.

Stephanie and Mike with Israel and Dawit cutting their cake

Markos saying goodbye to Miruk

Then, we rushed back to the guest house, loaded our luggage onto the van, said some more goodbyes and we were off again.

Markos getting one last hug from Isaias and Workineh

Loaded up and ready to head to the airport.  Yes, all that luggage was just ours and the James'!  We aren't sure how the others managed to get all their stuff to the airport!

Sometime around 9:00 that evening, after yet another VERY LONG, very busy day, we said goodbye to Ethiopia and boarded our flight bound for Washington, DC.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Update X3

Just a few updates:

Video Update:
First, after sharing our adoption video, I heard from a few people who said they were really disappointed that I didn't include pictures of all 5 of us together in the video. So, prior to ordering our DVD copies to keep, I updated the video just a little at the end and added a few family pictures.

We received the DVDs a few days ago.  Yesterday, Markos saw the cases. He immediately started asking to watch it, so we watched it together. He was very cute - getting excited with every new picture, and pointing, and exclaiming, "Markos!", "Emama!", "Ababa!", "Markos' bed!", etc, etc, etc. After we finished watching, he excitedly requested, "again!". And so he proceeded to watch it, oh, like 7 times in a row. :-) Then, when Eric got home from work, he ran to the room with the TV and pointed to it and told Eric, "Markos CD!". (He calls all discs CDs regardless of rather or not they are computer discs, music CDs, DVDs, or Wii games.)

I have to say, One True Media did a great job with the DVDs. If anyone is looking for software to use to make video montages, it was an easy program to work with, had lots of options, and has a free version (although, I upgraded for $20 or so in order to be able to include captions in the videos and use other features with the premium version). It was well worth it though! I've made several videos - from our Arizona trip, for Eric's and my wedding anniversary, and for the adoption. Anyway, if you haven't yet seen our video, here is the updated version.



Well....
Also, about a month ago, Eric and I started a Charity: Water campaign to raise $5000 in order to cover the costs of drilling a well in a developing nation like Ethiopia. Many of you have supported that effort and we thank you! The campaign lasts for 90 days. We still have 58 days remaining in our campaign, and already, we have raised $4617!!!  That means that, so far, 230 people will have clean, fresh water for the next 20 years. Thank you! Thank you! If you haven't yet donated and wanted to, please go to our site at:
http://mycharitywater.org/starkfamily
You can donate by credit card online, or if you prefer to send a check, you can send it to:

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


Please make checks payable to Charity:Water and be sure to write our campaign code on the subject line of the check.  It is MYCW-13206.  If you wish to include a message for the website & are mailing a check, simply include the message with the check in the envelope.

100% of all donations go directly to the water project and are tax deductible.  If you donate online, you will receive a receipt for taxes immediately via email.  If you mail a check, it will take a few weeks to process and you will receive a receipt within 3 - 4 weeks.

We look forward to being able to share with you the exact location of the well that we have all funded together in the next 12 - 18 months!!

1 Month Home:
So far, so good.  We had our 1 month post placement visit this past weekend.  Markos is beginning to be a little more flexible with his eating/food choices so that is making life easier.  His English is coming along at an amazing pace.  Seriously, these kids are SMART!  His relationships with each of us are getting stronger and stronger -- unfortunately, this also means that he and his siblings are beginning to fight like...uh...siblings.  Ugh.

As many of you know from Facebook, we're having sleep issues -- basically, I get none and Markos doesn't apparently want any unless I am with him.  We're working on it and trying different things.  (Melatonin, music, changing night lights, me creeping my way out of his bed and onto the floor)  Sadly, my favorite Ferber technique which I used with great success with both of my biological kids is not an option with a newly adopted kiddo.  I am trying hard to remember that Markos is very scared, and that he has already lost 2 parents so it's natural for him to not want me to leave him - even if it is just to go into the other room to sleep!  Sometimes when I look into his terrified face when he thinks I'm leaving his room, I can't help but to start to cry thinking about how awful it must have been for him those first weeks/months in the orphanage when there was no one to lay with him, rub his back, and comfort him when he was so scared and sad.  But it's still just plain hard to get no sleep and then to have to function all day with the knowledge that you won't be getting any that day (except MAYBE an hour tops IF Markos naps and you can nap with him) and you most likely won't be getting any that night either.  Please continue to pray for Markos' feelings of safety and security, at night especially, so that these sleep issues will get better!

Aside from that, we're doing very well.  Markos still gets very shy when he is around new people.  At one point, we had discussed having a "Meet and Greet" type of party after we had been home for a while, but we have realized that this won't be possible.  He just wouldn't do well with it.  He would want me to hold him the entire time and he would just bury his face into my shoulder and wouldn't talk to anyone.  But, we're not worried about attachment issues anymore, so if any local friends want to stop by for a visit, please consider yourselves welcome to stop by (but please call first - remember I get no sleep - this makes showering optional on most days!)  ;-)  

Lastly, we're planning our first weekend trip away.  (Yikes - wonder how little sleep we're going to get at someone else's house.)  We are going to my parent's house for the last weekend in March so our family can stop by for visits, too.  Again, no party or large gathering is possible at this point.  Hopefully by this summer though, maybe for his birthday or something.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 12 - Wednesday - Answered Prayers

Although we were told that Holt would call in the morning to let us know, we decided that since we had seen the 9:00 AM time on the letter that we read from the Embassy, we would get up early and get ready -- just in case.  Turns out that it's a good thing we did because as we were finishing breakfast, the Holt van came to get us.  The lady from Holt, after having to wait a few minutes for us to grab our stuff, said, "Did you misunderstand when we were coming?".   (ugh!!!!  Seriously Holt, you HAVE to work on the communication in country!!!)  I kind of laughed and responded, "no, we didn't misunderstand.  We were told that you would call and tell us if we got the appointment confirmation."  She simply said, "oh."  And off we went.

We arrived at the embassy after a few stops to pick up other staff and some paperwork.  We waited in line outside the embassy as before, but this time we actually got to go through the second security point, through the metal detectors, and into the embassy.  At the metal detectors, I was asked if I had any electronics in my bag.  I responded no (because we had been warned that we were not allowed to take phones or cameras or anything else electronic into the embassy), but the guy looked at me like 'are you SURE?'   Again, he asked but this time he clarified, "any toys with batteries?" and I remembered that in the little toy bag that I had brought for Markos, there was a little spinning flashlight toy (which he loved).  I pulled it out, at which time Markos freaked and wanted it.  The guy was actually pretty nice with Markos about it and told him he had to leave it there, but he showed Markos where he was going to put it (in this little wooden cubby hole/mailbox type bin along the wall) and he gave Markos the claim ticket to pick it up.  It was kinda funny because the big plastic ball on the top of the toy was too big to fit in the cubby so the whole ball part was sticking out and looked absurd.  I was thinking, "oh great!  now I have to make sure Markos doesn't lose this little slip of paper or he's not getting that toy back and is going to freak out!", but thankfully, Markos quickly bored of carrying the slip of paper and gave it to Eric.

We went in and the Holt lady took a number and went to the window to start submitting the next travel groups cases while Eric and I sat down in the very full waiting area with Markos.  It was a little funny because the Ethiopian man sitting next to me started talking to me in English and was telling me all about how he wanted to be a reporter and how had written several articles and was there to try to get a visa to come to the United States to go to school.  I complimented him on his English and wished him luck.  He was very nice, but he started to ask things like where we lived in the United States and could he have our address or our email or our phone number so that if he got to go to the U.S., he could "be our best friend".  :-)  I chuckled and kept avoiding the questions.  Then, he began to talk about our adoption and asked about our agency and then started saying how he could write an article about it...when he gets his visa and comes to the U.S.....and again, could he get our email or our address so he could write this article.  I told him about Holt and suggested that if he wanted to write an article, that he could contact them and they could help him out with any information he needed.  He really was very nice, and was very hopeful when his number was called and he went to the window to apply for his travel visa.  He didn't come back so I don't know if he got it or not, guess I'll have to find another new best friend.

When our number was posted on the electronic boards, we walked to the window (the Holt lady was already up there), but she told us to go to the other side of the room and wait over there because they were just transferring us to the other side -- the U.S. Consulate side.  So, we headed to the other side.  There was a little play area there and the bathrooms were there, so that worked out.  There were some other families from another agency there ahead of us.

When we were finally called to the window, we walked up with our paperwork, Markos, and the Holt lady.  The gentleman working was very nice (we thought).  He began asking simple questions, then proceeded to the questions we knew to expect -- "did you meet the child prior to court?  Can I see your visa stamps on your passport to verify you were here for court?  Is this the child that you wish to adopt?" -- easy, peasy;  then, as slick as can be, he slipped in there...."So, I understand that you met Markos' birth mother?"  We both were taken back and said, "no.  his birth mother died."  "oooh, oh, yes, I must have been looking at some old papers."  We didn't think anything of it.  He continued with the normal questions.  "You understand that the child will enter the U.S. on an IR3 visa.  Are there any medical conditions that you are aware of?  Did you meet the birth father?"  Then again, another slick question..."so, I see here that Markos' birth father has remarried."  (we knew that this was the issue that the embassy wanted Holt to clarify prior to them rescheduling our interview, so now we were a little suspicious.)  We both were taken back again, but responded, "No. Not that we know of."  And, again, he shuffled things around and said, "oh, yea, ok, I must be looking at someone else's file."  (uh huh.  right!!)  So, after a few more questions, he said, "ok.  I will issue Markos' visa and we should have all of his paperwork ready by 10:00 AM Friday morning."  Again, taken back, and panicked, Eric and I both looked at him and before we could even start pleading, he said, "oh.  Is your flight before that?"  We explained to him that we were supposed to have had an appointment the day before and that our flights were leaving on Thursday night and asked if there was any way they could rush the documents and have them done the next day.  He said he'd check for us when he was done.  He did, and said it wouldn't be a problem, that they'd have them done by Thursday morning at 10:00 AM.  Praise God!!!!!

So, with HUGE sighs of relief and maybe just a few tears (mostly just of relief/release), we happily headed out of the embassy.  Markos traded his claim tag for his flashlight toy.  When we got in the van, we shared some Twizzlers with Markos and the Holt lady and driver.  As we drove, they asked us if we wanted to go to Markos' care center to talk to the head nurse (whom we STILL had not gotten to talk to despite the fact that we had now had custody of Markos for 2 days!).  We went, but most of our questions we had already figured out for ourselves.  When we pulled into the courtyard, the kids who were out there playing started chanting, "Markos! Markos!".  He smiled, but he was clinging to us for all he was worth.  We weren't there for long.  She answered a few questions for us, although she seemed highly annoyed with it.  Markos did calm down a little when he saw one of his favorite nannies upstairs on a little landing.  He ran up the stairs to give her a big hug and kiss.  By the time he came down, we were finished and were heading back into the van to leave.

We arrived back at the guest house and learned that one of the other families had received news that they had been cleared and they were headed to the embassy that afternoon.  There were still three families that had not been cleared.  They were talking directly to the embassy and attempting to figure out what they wanted to do.  Upon talking to the families who had gone to the embassy the day before, we discovered that the interviewer was, indeed, purposely trying to trick us with the suspicious questions.  He had done the exact same thing with several of the other families.  Wow.  And, he seemed so nice, too.

We played for a while, ate lunch, and then Eric took Markos to our room to lay down for a nap.  I went to the living room to hop on a computer to send an email to family and friends to let them know our good news.  After a short while, someone ran up and said, "Lori, Dr. Fikru is here to see you.  He wants you and Eric to come downstairs."  My heart immediately began to pound, because of course, after the events of the past two days, I immediately expected some horrible news.  Instead of getting Eric (because I didn't want to wake Markos and we couldn't leave him in the room by himself), I walked down the stairs.  He and Tesfaye were standing at the bottom of the stairs and someone (I forget who now) asked me, "Lori, do you remember Dr. Fikru and Tesfaye?"  I said, "yes, I do.  Hi.  It's nice to see you again....I think."  They kind of laughed, but not really enough to calm my nerves.  I explained that Eric was in our room with Markos napping and asked if they really needed him to come.  Dr. Fikru said, "it's ok, we can go to your room.  He should really be there, too."  (ok, can you say - PANIC?!!)  Seriously, I really wanted to just start crying right then and there, but I didn't.  I went in and got Eric up and then opened our door and the 4 of us stood inside our room while Markos slept in the bed.

Dr. Fikru began to talk and started apologizing for the situation in Durame with our camera being stolen.  [At which point, I almost felt like laughing because I was immediately SO relieved that they were here about the camera.  As long as it had nothing to do with Markos, I could have cared less at this point.]   He assured us that they took it very seriously, that they questioned every staff person and every volunteer that was there.  He explained that it was the first time that anything has been stolen from an adoptive family at the birth family meetings, but that a few years back, one of the staff's cameras had been stolen from an unlocked van.  He acknowledged that there were definitely some loose points in the Durame trip this time around, and he assured us that they were working very hard to tighten those areas to ensure that this never happened again.   He stayed very professional and very serious, until he reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out our camera!!  Then, he had a huge smile on his face as we cheered and hugged him.

I grabbed the camera and quickly turned it on as I was saying, "honestly, I don't even care about the camera!  Are the pictures still on it?!"  He chuckled and said, "I think they are, maybe even a few extras."  And, sure enough, they were all there!  All the pictures that we took on the way to Durame, and all the birth family pictures!  Oh, happy day!!!!

He explained that from time to time, they hire outside people who need money to do odd jobs around the care center.  That day, there were a few men there doing some work for them.  They were not to be in the area where we were at all; however, when they began questioning staff, one of the staff reported seeing one of the men in the room where we all were.  He was questioned and denied being in the room.  Other staff were questioned and confirmed that they also saw him, so he was questioned again.  This time, he admitted being in the room, but denied taking the camera.  On the third questioning, he finally admitted to taking the camera and returned it.   We don't know what will happen to the man, but Dr. Fikru informed us that "theft is a very serious offense in Ethiopia."  When they left and went downstairs, Eric said to me, "I'll be back.  I want to talk to them."  I didn't know what he was doing.  I assumed going to thank them again.

I found out later that Eric had gone down and asked them not to press charges against the man who had taken the camera.  He had, after all, given us the camera back.  Eric pleaded that the driving force behind the theft was poverty and need, and that we would rather give the man some money, than see him punished for resorting to stealing to possibly feed his family.  Dr. Fikru understood Eric's desire, but said that they can't do that.  They can't set the precedent that, if you steal, you'll be given money (which we also understand), and that as unfortunate as it is, they have to press charges for the same reason.  We understood, but Eric felt like he had to at least try.  An answer to our prayers that we got those pictures back, but a sad situation overall.

My notes from the trip stop on this day.  I'm pretty sure that we spent the remainder of the day waiting for news for the other three families, wondering what we were going to do about the farewell ceremonies that were supposed to occur that day but had been postponed until we found out what was happening with the other families' embassy appointments.  I know that at some point, the staff at the guest house cut down some sugar cane outside the guest house and showed us how to chew it.  All the kids already knew how.  They happily gnawed at the opened pieces of the plant, and with sticky faces and sticky hands, ran around outside the guest house playing with bubbles, other toys, and playing ball with Workineh, Isaias and even the guest house gate guard.

One thing is certain though, that night when we laid our heads down to sleep, we did so with prayers of gratitude, with intense relief and with overwhelming thankfulness.  It would have been enough to simply recieve the embassy appointment and obtain approval for Markos' visa, but to receive our camera with all the pictures still on it, that was amazing.



...I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power,  
together with all the Lord’s holy people, 
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations,
for ever and ever! Amen. 
Ephesians 3:17 - 21