Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Embassy Trip - Day 4 in Ethiopia

Today began again with getting up hoping to hear right away from the US Embassy. This time regarding when our interview appointment will be. That meant multiple refreshes of the email as we got ready, during breakfast, and as we gathered our stuff to go out. Finally, shortly after breakfast the elusive email arrived! Unfortunately, they couldn’t schedule us for the same day but we do have our appointment first thing Wednesday morning. Yeah, this is the last big step beyond getting the kids traveling papers. Our last hurdle will be requesting it all be processed and ready by end of day Thursday instead of Friday morning as is normal with Wednesday appointments so we don’t have to change flights to Friday. We’ll see what they say.

Our first full day with the kids and we decided no use just sitting around so out we went for some MORE retail therapy with Fekadu, Joel, and the Gillis family. Have we mentioned lately just how much we love and enjoy Fekadu and Joel?? Well, it’s a whole bunch. These guys are wonderful. They picked us up around 9:30 and off we went first to the Former Firewood Carriers for MORE scarves. The kids got to see how the scarves are made, and Nen even took a turn working the loom. It was cool to see him just jump right in. Then we went in and shopped. There was a big change since our first trip. The prices were lowered on all the scarves and baskets to 60 birr each! Although price really isn’t a big concern when shopping there, it really is all about helping out these cool ladies and their families AND getting great scarves at the same time. Yes, we bought several (or more than several), and Nen picked out two for himself!

Next we visited the shops at Shermada (sp ???), right outside the former firewood carriers, and also the post office. We had to keep an eye out on Nen a bit, he just didn’t have any fear and would walk around close by where we were looking. He also has VERY specific tastes. He DID NOT want any traditional clothing but was VERY interested in finding a hat just like mine (Craig’s). I think that’s pretty cool. We found Achole another VERY cute dress and Nen wanted a bright blue scarf they had in the same shop. At the post office area we found Nen an Ethiopian team soccer jersey that fit pretty well and each of the kids were allowed to pick out a carved wooden animal. They had a lot of fun looking around and Nen would have emptied my pockets if we would have let him get everything he liked (we didn’t, and he was very respectful when we said no). I don’t think he understands you have to pay for what you are choosing.

After shopping we headed over to Fekadu’s home for another wonderful meal cooked by his mother. This time she served Doro Wat at Fekadu’s request since we had talked about liking it and had made it at home. The entire meal was very yummy and the kids chowed down on it. Achole has been very interesting when it comes to meals. She is perfectly capable of feeding herself but prefers either Sherri or me feed her. I think this is a great bonding time and we are more than happy to meet her needs. Next came the coffee ceremony, MUCH anticipated. Right before the coffee was ready, Fekadu asked me to come inside to look at a presentation he has given to teenagers at several churches. It was VERY good and I was honored he wanted to show it to me. At the same time (yes, this was planned) the rest of the crew was prepping a surprise. When we came out there was an beautiful and VERY delicious birthday cake for me and they were all singing happy birthday. Yeah, I totally fell for it and was honored beyond belief at the consideration and love that was bestowed upon me. Fekadu and Joel had been planning this for some time.

Finally, it was time to head back for naps and some down time. We were all tired. Sherri, Jordan, and the kids took long naps while I chatted with many of you on FB early this morning US time. After dinner the Gillis family stopped by with another birthday cakethey picked up when they went to the Sheraton for dinner. How cool is that! Two birthday cakes and JUST because we celebrated my birthday in Ethiopia I’m now 8 years younger!! (it’s 2004 based on the calendar used in Ethiopia) I’ll take it!

We ended the day with baths (a first with the kids). Achole did not like it and cried the entire time but now she’s clean and very quickly rebounded. Nen, had a blast playing in the tub and let me wash him from head to toe. Lots of lotion, a little Elmo, and then all three of the kids are now in bed. We’ll be following along soon. We have an early start to the day tomorrow and will be leaving the hotel for the US Embassy at 8am. Good night!


Monday, March 12, 2012

Embassy Trip - Day 3 in Ethiopia

So why did we skip Day 2? Well, it wasn’t because we didn’t have a great time. Not at all. We went to church with Fekadu and Joel. The reverend and other staff remembered us, greeted us, and welcomed us as return visitors during the service. Great message on trusting God, not idols, not yourself, not what YOU can do, but to have pure faith in God like Paul. Then we went to lunch at Yared’s house to celebrate his youngest sons second birthday. It was so nice to have an opportunity to spend time with Yared and his family away from the bustle, confusion, and often times sheer joy/stress of the adoption world and care center. Our lunch was fantastic! Followed by a great coffee ceremony and a shot of ouzo. Yikes, I’m too old for that. Did a little shopping and looked around at the Makush art gallery (which by the way the restaurant is still open it appears). Didn’t leave with anything but someone sure had their eye on a large painting of a typical Addis city scape. Finished the day off with dinner at the Top View restaurant with Kasey and Grant Gillis (the Gillis girls had crashed already)

Now on to DAY 3. So we woke up hoping, praying, and begging for an early email from the US Embassy. Yeah, no luck. We hung around the hotel until 9, constantly refreshing the email, then left for the care center. Spent a couple of hours there and again great time with the little kids, Nen, and Aryiat. Played lots of basketball with Nen, built amazing structures with Achole and several other of the young kids with Duplo blocks, watched Kate, Ariyat, and Nen jump rope like no other, even have some great video of it. We ended the morning with the kids (Nen, Ariyat, and Achole) and a few others having a blast playing with Talking Tom on our iPhones. Oh my gosh, if you have an iPhone and are coming over this is an app you don’t want to forget. Nen and Ariyat were talking to it (it simply repeats back what you say to it, and does a bunch of other silly stuff). Then they started singing to it, long fun songs they learned at school, and they would get such a kick out of Tom singing it back to them. We even heard Achole chattering away at Tom sitting on Sherri’s lap (and we had barely heard any words from her before that). It was a complete hoot.

At some point Abebe and I had a good chat about next steps with the US Embassy. Typically they respond very quickly after the birth parent interview (even told Kasey Gillis that when they went up to have a document notarized later that afternoon). Abebe suggested we write another respectful email letting them know we were in country to meet with the aunt and if at all possible to have our interview this week it would be much appreciated. So we did it and sent it off about 1:45. Didn’t hear anything back within the next 30 minutes so we decided we couldn’t just sit around and stew about it. So off we went with the Gillis family for a little retail therapy at the Makush art gallery. In the end, BOTH families purchased similar paintings from the same artist Kasey and Kristen have from their first trip. Negotiated hard and got a fair deal for a beautiful large painting of a typical Addis city scape. By the time we left and got back to the hotel it was about 4:30. So typical Addis, the internet was acting up and it took FOREVER to finally get connected and get Sherri’s email updating. Immediately we see a response from the US Embassy that says….. well it said a whole bunch of stuff, was sent to the wrong agency, but all we really needed to see was you’ve been cleared and can schedule an exit interview. Sherri had to type out a response on her iPhone with shaking hands, but we managed to get it sent off and then jumped in a van to go pick up the kids. Yared had called ahead to the care center so they were expecting us. By the time we arrived the nannies had cleaned up both kids and dressed them very nicely. Achole had on a cut little dress with leggings and Nen handsomely dressed in pants, a t-shirt (donated by Kasey Gillis!), new shoes, and a cool red hooded sweatshirt. The staff were so happy for us and the kids. We were only there 10 minutes then off back to the hotel to hang for a bit, dinner, then bed.

So we played in the room for a while and both kids were pretty calm, but having fun and starting to relax just a little bit. Then off to dinner at the hotel. This was pretty stressful for both kids and neither one ate much but we all had enough to hold us over. Both of them seemed pretty tired so we came back down to the room to play a bit more and get ready for bed. Hummmmm, play a bit more.. well, we pulled out a few toys and that lead to both kids finding the “toy box” (just one of the suitcases). So out came several items, but the BIG hit were little battery powered monster trucks that drove forward. They had a blast running them all over the room, under the beds, over other toys, clothes, US, or whatever they could find. It didn’t take long for Achole to really start to open up and for those of you that have seen her at the care center the quiet, reserved little girl that just wanted to be held, was running around the room, chattering like crazy, laughing hysterically, and just having a blast! We KNEW there was more to her personality and were so happy to start seeing some of it. Finally it was time for bed. The kids both happily put on their new PJ’s, brushed their teeth (well at least Nen happily did that) and we tried to read a book. Achole was still pretty awake, but she did listen some. Sherri and I laid down with them and it took a bit, but finally both finally gave in and went to sleep. No tears, no significant fear we could see. I would call this quite successful for the first night. I’m sure this will change, as it should. There is a whole lot of scary change coming into their world in the next few days, weeks, and months. For now, I’ll cherish the memories we have of finally having our kids with us for the rest of our lives.

Dear friends, this has been a long journey and the last few weeks have been very hard and stressful. We don’t know what we would have done without so many of you encouraging us, lifting us up, praying for us, and being there to share in our joys, fears, and when we just needed to vent or show you the same picture for the 43rd time. You all mean so much to us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Embassy Trip - Day 1 in Ethiopia

After 13 hours in the air, we landed safely in Ethiopia! We are soooo not looking forward to that 17 hour trip back home. After about 8 hours, I start to think I’m not going to survive the sitting. We made it through getting our Visas, customs, and finding our luggage in less than an hour. It was so nice to come out of the airport to the familiar face of the hotel driver waiting for us!

We made it to the hotel and met up with another adoptive family with our agency…love being able to meet in person after being Facebook friends for so long. Today was a HUGE day for us. We were able to meet our kids’ aunt. Although we didn’t get much information from her, it was still an honor and a blessing. We were able to give her a photo book full of pictures of the kids from our December trip and pictures of us. She was so appreciative of the book and seemed to treasure it. The kids didn’t seem to have too much of a connection to her, but they also haven’t seen her since last June. I’m guessing Achole doesn’t really remember her much. She is a kind, gracious, and shy woman. It was important to her to know the kids would receive a good education. She also shared with us that our kids’ birthparents were Christians. She seemed very relieved to know the kids would be raised as Christians in our home as well. We were excited to be able to purchase a plane ticket for her and her baby to fly back home – the bus ride back to Gambella is long and difficult. The tickets for both of them cost less than a dinner at the Cheesecake Factory!

As soon as we arrived at the Care Center, Achole was across the courtyard and at my feet wanting to be held. She is such a little snuggler! Nen came immediately to Craig and gave him a big hug. It was great to see they remembered us. Nen even referred to us as Mom and Dad. It was wonderful to see them again and very difficult to leave them. We are waiting to see if we receive a response from the embassy on Monday before we bring them with us to the hotel.

As a funny side note, we had a few boys today that were seeking our attention. I had 2 little ones (about 3 years old) on my lap while Craig was holding Achole. These 2 boys had an all-out head slapping brawl while sitting on my lap because they wanted my attention and the camera. The camera had to go in my bag!

We spent the rest of the day back at the hotel getting ourselves organized and resting. We have all 3 slept better already on this trip than we did on our last one. We now have one suitcase dedicated to being our ‘toy box’. We also brought our own little food pantry this time around.

Tomorrow we will be going to church with our friends, Fekadu and Joel. We visited this same church the last time we were here. We are excited to visit again – their passion is inspiring!! They also host a Compassion International sponsorship program. We will also go to see our kids again tomorrow. We are looking forward to the day we can drive out of those gates with them!