Adventure in ET – Part 8

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Thursday, September 4, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Not much new today. We are stuck in the hotel because we cannot be seen in public with the girls. It’s a precaution against those who may disfavor what we are doing in our adoption – that is, outsiders coming inside to take away Ethiopian children.

So, in our sequestered state we are looking forward to the biggest task of today, which is to go to the U.S. Embassy. There, we will complete the last of our paperwork (for now) and get travel Visa’s for the girls.

Since yesterday, my physical condition has worsened. The nausea is extreme, and my head is just pounding. I’ve been pouring-out continual petition to our Lord that Katrina would remain healthy and patient with our girls. She has been doing most everything since we got them. I am also praying that I will be well enough to ride to the embassy for our appointment. I cannot miss that appointment. We can’t leave the country without getting Visa’s for our girls. As their father, I have to be present.

Update: God answered my prayers from earlier today. I am a long way from well, but did make it through our 2½ hour appointment at the U.S. Embassy. To add to the fun, our paperwork was messed-up (Alemu?) and we had the joy of being waited on by “Mr. Grumpy Pants”, a 20-something kid from the States. I found it ironic (but not unexpected) that a fellow American would be the snarkiest person on this trip. In the end, we got through redoing our paperwork and a rather long wait. We were issued the necessary Visas and popped-out at the bottom of the embassy stairs to cheers and high-fives. Hopefully those cheers brought a little bit of sunshine to Sir Grumps-a-lot.

Later in the day, Katrina ventured back out to shop. This time it was because of need, not desire. She went with Getachew (an associate of Alemu) to get some shoes for our youngest. Despite our best guesses, the shoes we brought for the girls are about two sizes too big. Of course, they being skinny as rails and undernourished doesn’t help. Our plan is to have the older wear what we intended for the younger while buying some shoes for the younger to gets us by until we can get home. Katrina snagged some snazzy “Tom & Jerry” Velcro athletic shoes – with lights! We could soon be dealing with some serious coveting (yes, I would like a pair for myself)

(Katrina here: Surprisingly, I was ready to be pretty firm on a price for the shoes. I was aware that I was at a disadvantage as soon as we pulled into the mall. This wasn’t a market or street-side shop where bargaining is expected. The man smelled my powerlessness and went for the kill. The cheaper shoes (which he branded inferior—he’s never heard of Walmart!) were out of stock. Finally, I just said, “Achi” (okay) to the more expensive Tom & Jerry’s. He then wondered if I might also need some pants.  “Nyuh” (no), I responded and gave him my hardest “You’re-a-big-turkey” stare. He should count himself fortunate, as no 4-year old has ever had a pair of $20 shoes in the De Man family. Yet another first for us.)

Tonight was the night Alemu had arranged to take the group to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, complete with dancers. It’s an end of trip celebration, and a gift from Alemu to us. I’ll let Katrina tell about that experience. I was still going toe-to-toe with Montezuma and this tribe. My night consisted of switching between BBC news and The National Geographic Channel on the television (those were the only stations in English).

The girls? Ah, yes. The girls. Well, as part of the evening, Alemu had arranged for babysitters for all of the group’s children. That way we were free to enjoy an evening out. It also gave the kids a break from us (which they needed). Even though l was unable to join the festivities and stayed at the hotel, we chose to leverage the babysitting so I could get some rest. Frankly, our little beauties would have eaten me alive in my depleted state.

(Katrina here: the traditional dinner dance was nice. I can only give it that adjective because I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want more Ethiopian food. I didn’t want to listen to the music anymore (Sami, our driver, had given us our fill via a cassette tape that looped endlessly). I didn’t want to sit on a backless chair and eat with my hands. I guess our Embassy compatriot’s mood (a.k.a. Mr. Grumpy Pants) had spilled over and I had lapped it up. As I observed our fellow travelers, though, we were all in the same place—tired and ready for bed. As I sat there, I also replayed, like a slow motion movie flashback, many moments of the last 8 days with these people. Perspective is everything.)

Late tomorrow night…we head for home.

Adventure in ET – Part 7

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008 – Addis Ababa & Diebre Zeit, Ethiopia
Montezuma is not done with me.

I’ve been battling an intestinal foe since Monday. He keeps hanging around, but has been tolerable. Yet, as today wore on, things got worse. By the time we arrived back at the hotel with the girls, I was big time sick. But enough about me. On to the real news of today.

Before going to get our girls, who are at an orphanage in Diebre Zeit, we had to travel to Adera, an orphanage here in Addis. At Adera was the child of another family in our travel group. We went with them so we could all be briefed at the same time by the orphanage director who oversees Adera and the orphanage in Diebre Zeit.

The visit to Adera was good. First impressions: the orphanage was small, but well cared for. The men and women who care for the children are compassionate and patient. The sense of community and family in Ethiopia is strong. Adults and children of all ages interact freely. Each adult seems to take responsibility for children near them, even those not their own. At our hotel, the adult employees interact with the children in wonderful ways.

With Montezuma waging war inside me, we headed for Diebre Zeit around noon. It’s about a 40 kM drive from Addis. It was an anxious 40 kM.  

Upon entering the neighborhood area where the orphanage was located, we were greeted by the familiar chanting of Muslim prayers (no roosters this time). The orphanage itself was slightly larger than Adera. As we walked into the main room, we could see the children having lunch. Our oldest daughter was seated at the end of a table right next to the door. Our other daughter was next to the wall at a different table. I recognized them instantly. One daughter gave me a knowing, but empty glance. The other was more interested in lunch, and seemed a bit perturbed by our interruption. They both looked scared. I know they had seen our pictures and been well coached as to why we were there. In fact, on the way back to Addis, we asked the social worker if our girls knew what was happening. He asked the girls if they knew, and our oldest responded, “We are going to America.” Still, the experience was surreal for everyone.

All in all, there’s not much to say about the actual getting of the girls. It was a bit anticlimactic. They were in shock. So were we.

As we toured the orphanage, our girls close, but wary, it didn’t take long to observe their sisterly bond. The younger imitates the older in nearly everything. The older is definitely a mother hen. In fact, before leaving the orphanage we found her in a bunk with a little girl, about 18 months old, who was new to the orphanage. Our daughter was comforting and playing with her. We hope this is a sign of a soft and nurturing heart.

As we went to leave the orphanage, one of the caretakers called our daughter to her, kissed her, and said an emotional goodbye. It was obvious that in the 3 months our oldest had been at this place, she had captured many hearts.

With our van full of curious, excited and anxious people, we scurried back to Addis. It was about 4pm when we settled back into our hotel room – this time with twice the occupants. I immediately crashed on the bed. Montezuma had me expelling and wanting to expel from all ports. I also had a headache as intense as I’ve ever had. Not the best state of health from which to begin bonding with our two little girls – girls who were getting more comfortable by the moment with their new surroundings and feeling a fresh boldness to test boundaries.

In these early moments of life with our little ladies, Katrina and I are very grateful for family and friends who have been praying for us during this trip. We have certainly felt that support. Even though I am quite ill, Katrina is receiving and displaying supernatural patience and unusual energy to deal with our lively and lovely girls. She’s awesome!

Adventure in ET – Part 6

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~ Adventure in ET – Part 5


Tuesday, September 2, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A quick word about the weather.

It is the rainy season in Ethiopia. Everyday we’ve had thundershowers, primarily in the late afternoon and overnight. The temperatures have been around 80 in Addis, and mid to upper 80’s in Awassa. We are very thankful to be here during the rainy season as the weather is pleasant. The Ethiopians are all wearing long sleeves, pants and jackets. That seems like a bit much for us Michiganders, but in contrast to how hot is gets here, 80 is chilly.

We visited two museums today. The first was the Ethiopian National Museum. The second was at Addis Ababa University and is housed in what used to be the emperors palace. The museums were interesting, but not particularly captivating. At this point I think our group is very tired and just wants to get our children. Nevertheless, it was good to understand at least a little of the culture that our kids were born into.

After the museums and lunch, Sami took us on a shopping trip to some specially selected shops. We found, again, that our bartering skills were severely lacking – even with all of our Dutch blood. Katrina had a woman happily wait on her as I watched from the other side of the store. I was glad to see Katrina finding things that we had been looking for and planning to purchase. However, I was getting a bit nervous about the stack of merchandise our helpful attendant was gladly piling on the counter for us. 

Once the selecting and piling was finished, I joined Katrina at the counter. I knew this was the time to put my hard-bargainer game face on. Well, either I had a poor game face or our lovely assistant knew that if it came down to Katrina getting the goodies or me killing the deal to save a buck or two, Katrina wins every time. So, as the attendant went through the pile to confirm our purchases, Katrina voiced a cheery “okay” after each one. What Katrina didn’t realize was that every time she said “okay” she was not only agreeing to purchase that item, but also agreeing to the tagged or stated price. I grinned (painfully), instinctively clutching my wallet. In an effort to save some face, I got the attendant to round-down the price from 1345 birr to 1300. My last-minute bargaining saved us 45 cents US.

(Katrina here: Chris is being so nice with this moment—it could have been an icky time for us. I have no interest in bartering and actually find it distasteful because the prices are cheap and as I look all around me I can’t justify 50 cents. And it must be written all over my face. Oh, well. Chris was very generous.)

We shopped at a few more stores. Then Sami drove us to a coffee bean shop that was supposed to be the best in Addis. I want to describe it as a hole in the wall, but everything here is a hole in the wall. And yes, this coffee shop had roasted coffee, ready to grind and brew. Everyone in our group purchased mass quantities, all the while wondering what we’re going to do with all of the coffee we’ve purchased over the past couple of days. Katrina and I alone are bringing home 7 kg (about 15 lbs). But at $4 US for a kilo of roasted Ethiopian coffee, the more the merrier. We’ll have to pack our beans strategically to avoid an airline surcharge for overweight baggage.

Today was also the day that two of the couples in our group got their children. Things seem to be going well. Apparently it didn’t start that way as one child cried the entire time at the orphanage. One of the children is a 6 month old boy who seems happy and content. It makes the rest of us long to get our children. It also makes us wonder how well (and quickly) our new children will attach to us.

We had dinner tonight with just one other couple (a brother and sister) from our group. It was a nice dinner at the Green View. Yep, pizza – again. I don’t think any of us are particularly fond of Ethiopian food. We shared an interesting discussion about church and faith. Both of them are Catholic by upbringing. He is quite involved with his church. Katrina had a nice conversation with her about faith.

We finished the evening with a 9pm visit from Alemu. Visa forms for our girls needed to be completed so Alemu could take them to the embassy in the morning. I must say, I felt a little uneasy with his unfamiliarity with the forms. Our social worker in the States said that Alemu would know how to handle all the paperwork. Honestly, I think we knew more than Alemu. Oh well, it’s done. Praying for uneventful processing with no glitches.

Tomorrow, we get our girls!