Adventure in ET – Part 10 (The Final Chapter)

We’ve reached the end of our journey.

It’s been fun, and challenging, to recount our tale of adoption. The sights, smells, sounds and emotions are still very vivid for us. We hope our story has stirred a fresh gratitude for our God. Thanks for traveling with us!

Here’s links to the rest of our story.
Intro

Monday, September 8, 2008 – Rockford, Michigan

I suppose the account of our experience would be incomplete if I didn’t record our homecoming. So, I’ll start by rewinding to Friday night, September 5.

After a long day, we arrived at the airport is Addis around 6:45pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:15pm so we had plenty of time. After getting through security (if you can call it that) it was necessary to exchange our ET money back into U.S. dollars. We were told to exchange at the airport – and only at the airport. So while Katrina went with the girls to get in line for ticketing, I proceeded with a wad of ET cash to the ubiquitous “hole-in-the-wall.”

I lined-up behind a gentleman who apparently did not approve of the exchange rate he was getting. He was making doubly (and triply) sure the clerk knew about it. I was in a hurry, and about ready to pay the guy just to move along. When it was finally my turn, I anxiously plunked my pile of birr down at the window and gave a look that said, “Let’s get this done. Give me some greenbacks!” The nice man behind the counter looked at me and calmly said he could only exchange a maximum of $150US. I responded with a good ole’ American, “Say what?” I stood there – shocked. Trapped. Over a barrel. In a pickle. Cue the sweating. My first thoughts was, “I can’t take this stuff home – Meijer doesn’t take Ethiopian birr.”

So, I resigned myself to get what I could. The nice man said he needed a passport to do the transaction. I pulled out the bag of passports we had been clutching to our persons the entire trip. It had all four of our passports. Noticing the number of passports, the clerk quickly blurted, “Oh, you’ve got four passports. I can do $150US for each one.” Harps played. Angels sang. This Dutchman was happy.

I caught-up with Katrina just as she was checking in. Somehow in the melee we got our tickets, checked our bags and didn’t lose the girls. On to immigration.

Our task at immigration was to complete a cryptic form for each of us. Our leaving Ethiopia depended on our ability to correctly complete this form. We were at our wits end (or so we thought) and the girls were getting pretty mischievous. We guessed on half of the questions, wishing it was multiple choice.

Completed forms in hand, we proceeded to another nice man behind a counter. Fortunately, he indeed was nice and we made it through. Then we waited. We ordered food. And waited. We went to our gate. And waited. Looking back, I’m not so sure why we were in such a hurry.

In the end, our flight left Ethiopia about 1½ hours late. It got a little wacky in the boarding area with about 20 adoptive families waiting with their children. The delay was frustrating as we all just wanted to board the sardine can that would carry us to our blessed America. To add to the crazy and cramped (pun intended) conditions at the gate, my friend Montezuma was trying desperately to make his way onto the flight.

Our girls were very excited about the plane. We divided and conquered as we had 2 sets of seats, one in front of the other. Katrina sat next to our oldest, me with the younger. One benefit of our midnight departure was that it was nighttime – which means we could reasonably hope that our girls would sleep. Our oldest slept pretty well. The younger – not so much. The young one insisted on watching the in-flight movies. Unfortunately, all the movies on the menu were PG-13. As an alternative, I set her up with some music. But that wasn’t good enough. We exchanged some “friendly fire” – her pushing buttons on her arm rest, me pushing “corrective” buttons. All that button pushing (literal and figurative) was just a foretaste of the battle of wills to come. The younger and I finally managed to get about 3 hours of sleep before they turned all the cabin lights on for breakfast – at four in the morning.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. Overall, the girls did as well as can be expected after being cooped-up in a hotel room for 3 days followed by a 30-hour journey home.

The flight did not provide respite from my friend, Montezuma. His resurrection at the Addis airport vaulted him to the top of my “to worry about” list as I pondered the horror of airplane restrooms. To close the book on my illness, let’s just say that I am still struggling a bit here at home. But, I survived the journey back home without significant incident or accident. Your prayers were vital to that end.

Although I said the trip was mostly uneventful, there is an incident that I must recount. Someday, it will be humorous.

At one point during the flight, our youngest decided she no longer wanted to wear her seatbelt. I discovered this when we hit a bit of turbulence and were required to buckle-up. To use a hockey expression, that’s when our little precious “dropped the gloves”. While attempting to help her get buckled, tears flowed with screams close behind. Instantly, all eyes and ears were one this little African girl sitting with her dazed, airplane restroom-phobic father as they engaged an epic battle wills. In the end, the belt was buckled. It was not a victory to savor. Little did I know that this would be round one of what will forever be known as, “The War of Personal Protective Equipment.”

The warm-up to round two began as we approached DC. More turbulence, this time from tropical storm Hannah. As the bumps began, I stared nervously at the overhead console, waiting for the little light behind the unlatched seatbelt symbol to illuminate. I desperately hoped the pilot would let us enjoy some of the bumps. You know, a bit of amusement park fun to end this long journey. A few jolts, and few laughs, a butterfly in the stomach – it would be a riot! Reality killed that dream as the light illuminated. The subsequent “dong…dong” of the cabin bell signaled the official start of round two.

The last 40 minutes of our flight was filled with tears, screams, whimperings and sniffles (from me and my daughter). I fastened and re-fastened her seatbelt at least a dozen times. Finally, I got desperate and tied a knot in one side of the belt to keep her from loosening it.  The other side I held in tension with my hand as she tried to squirm out the topside. She continually screamed the name of her sister while sobbing. It was emotionally painful for all of us. But the belt stayed buckled.

As we landed, it felt really good to be in the States. Our first impression: it smells so good here! The first impression of our oldest: it smells funny here! Interesting.

Upon exiting the plane, we herded like cattle through customs. We presented our sealed, super-secret documents from Mr. Grumpy Pants in ET to the nice man behind the counter. He was very calm. Seemed sedated. He stamped our stuff and we were done…so we thought.

While stopping at the restrooms, I noticed others in our group waiting for their luggage. I found that odd and asked if they had checked their luggage through to their final destination. They said they had, but were told they needed to get it here and then re-check. Once again, cue the sweating. Apparently our sedated customs officer forgot to tell us that key piece of info.

I found our luggage, which had already been taken off the conveyor (helpful, but slightly disturbing). We loaded-up and headed out through another checkpoint. It was now about 10:15am and our flight from DC to Chicago was to leave at 12:24pm. Our flight from Addis arrived late in DC so our comfortable layover was quickly evaporating. But things were still looking good. What wasn’t looking good was the deluge of rain pouring down on DC at that moment. With tropical storm Hannah churning outside, there was decent chance our flight might be canceled or delayed. That would be nightmarish based on our physical and mental condition at this point in the trip.

As we pushed our luggage through what we thought was the last checkpoint, a nice man (we met lots of nice men) sitting on a stool (not behind a counter) said to take a right turn and get in line. I turned right. I wanted to scream. There was a line of 30 people in front of us, each coaxing mountains of luggage forward. They were waiting to hand yet another nice man (who reminded me of Puddy from Seinfeld) their super secret envelopes that had been opened just a few minutes prior.

I wanted to lay down right there and assume a fetal position. Katrina and I were both like dangling nerves. Time was ticking. Puddy was slow. And we had no idea why we needed to be in this line.

In the end, we only waited about 15 minutes before being called to the front. There, a nice man told us to have a nice day. Apparently, we had finally passed U.S. customs. Another collection of nice men took all of our super secret documents from the super secret envelopes and put them in a pile for delivery to some super secret place to do…something secretive.

We exited with only our girls, passports and luggage. It felt like closure. The girls were US citizens (mostly – more dollars are required to make it “official”). More importantly, they are our daughters.

The rest of the journey was great. We arrived about ½ hour early into Chicago to partly sunny skies. We drove the last 3-hours. On the way, we introduced the girls to Popeye’s Chicken and biscuits. They turned-up their noses, but certainly ate their fair share.

As we neared home, we called the family who had been caring for our boys the last few days of our trip. They were anxious for our call, and had their van loaded and ready to bring our boys home. They arrived shortly after we did. The boys burst into the house – our friends close behind with a camera to capture the moment. It was an amazing reunion – and introduction.

Each of the boys greeted the girls with a hearty “Selam”, which is “hello” in Amharic. The girls were a little stunned, but knew they were meeting their brothers. The girls greeted the boys with a traditional Ethiopian handshake—right hand extended, left hand holding the right elbow, and then a slight bow. They all interacted well. Shyness left quickly. It was good.

After a few minutes, our friends had us circle-up and hold hands. We were blessed by their prayers for us that covered us with love and wrote the first line of the story of our family of seven. We could not have been more richly blessed and honored upon our homecoming.

(Katrina here: Yesterday (Sunday) we spent a quiet day shuttling the boys back and forth to church. They were starting new classes and didn’t want to miss. I was mostly home with the girls, though we did get to see a few people at church during pick-ups, which was pretty emotional for me.
In the afternoon, we all went outside to ride bikes (or learn to ride bikes in the case of two little girls) and scooters and play basketball and draw on the driveway with chalk. I took some pictures and at one point, brought one to Chris that showed all five kids playing basketball together. “We have five kids!” I said. “FIVE kids. This is totally real, Dude. We have five kids.”  Chris’ eyes glazed over as he spoke mostly in garbled syllables. Perhaps the remnants of Montezuma? Or a wave of shock and awe at our situation?

When we brought the boys to church for their evening class, Chris and I ran to Meijer to get a new tube for a bike tire, training wheels, shoes and belts for the girls (tiny waists). The girls took to Meijer as if they had never not known the likes of that place. They touched everything, the younger panting like a dog at many things. The older wanted some very cool socks even though she has about 15 pairs at home already. We are well aware we now have a little diva in the family. The other one we could call “The Screecher.” You just wait, you’re gonna hear it at some point.

On the way home, our middle son sat between the girls, who were wearing their new $2 pink flip-flops. When he came to the back of the van to help me bring in our bags, he saw the many versions of pink Disney Princess bike helmets the girls had chosen. “Oh, Mom. Did you have to?” he asked, rolling his eyes and grabbing a helmet to bring in. He’s a trooper!)

It’s good to be home. The other day I said to Katrina I thought our adopting is as much about the work God wants to do in our hearts, as it is about providing for two orphaned girls. We are already seeing the truth of that statement. Our journey to Ethiopia is over. But the story started there colors our lives today. And tomorrow. We are being called to a deeper understanding of what it means to give, serve and love. To be part of a bigger story – God’s story.

Adventure in ET – Part 9

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Friday, September 5, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Montezuma is dead.

I woke this morning feeling about 80%, which is miraculous given my condition the past few days. After some breakfast and lunch, I think I’m on the mend. Words can’t capture my gratefulness to God for strengthening me. Katrina and I both need to be on our “A” game for the 30-hour journey home. We leave tonight (Friday) around 10pm Addis time. We arrive in Chicago sometime after 1pm (Chicago time) on Saturday. We covet your prayers for patience, sleep, good health and uneventful flights.

As we wait, some final observations about hotels in Ethiopia. First, there are no vacuums. They simply mop the carpet. Seriously. Also, there are no screens on the windows. Doesn’t matter how high you are (we’re on the 5th floor) you can open the window and have unencumbered access to the outside. Finally, when the water supply shuts off (which it does daily) and air gets in the pipes, there’s never a ban on drinking. No “boil before you drink” notices. The sporadic water supply is just a normal part of life here. Even so, I think I have an idea about how I encountered my friend “Montezuma.”

Our agenda for today is simply to amuse ourselves while we wait to leave for home. It’s been quiet, which is nice. But we’re running out of ways to stay occupied. About every hour, we do a “family run” up and down five flights of stairs. We’ve also had piggy back races around the foyer that joins the rooms on our floor. We’ve played “toss the stuffed giraffe” for about as long as any of us can stand. We’ve colored – a lot. Needless to say, we’re stir crazy. At least after lunch we were able to persuade the girls to take a nap. They are pretty worn out – as are we.

(Katrina here: Today, they are installing wireless in the hotel. What?!??! They came to our door to apologize about the noise. I told the owner of the three Desalegn Hotels that if in the future people can have email from their rooms, we are more than willing to endure the noise. When I almost hugged him, I think he knew my level of homesickness was extreme. I’m sure the lady in the internet café next to the hotel was a bit curious this morning as I kept wiping tears from my face.)

Well, we can almost smell America. A few weeks ago, we read an email from another family who was returning to the U.S. from ET. She closed that email with, “God Bless America!” I laughed as I felt her statement cliché. Well, today I echo her sentiment. Can’t wait to touch-down in Washington DC, and proclaim with a renewed sincerity, “God Bless America!” We are a blessed people.

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

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:

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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

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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!

Adventure in ET – Part 5

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:
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Monday, September 1, 2008 – Awassa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I know in Mexico they call it Montezuma’s revenge. I don’t know who to blame while in Africa, but somebody (or something) took some serious revenge on me last night. Part of last night was spent fumbling around in the dark for small green pills with an unpronounceable name. By process of elimination (no pun intended) I think I found the desired medicinal binding agent. Down the hatch it went. I feel better this morning. We’ll see how breakfast goes…

This last morning in Awassa we were taken to some shops that would be able to sell us traditional dress. Most of us wanted to at least get our children dress from their birth country. In the midst of the shopping, our guide Alemu got into a heated discussion with one of the vendors. Apparently Alemu felt this vendor should be a little more flexible with his pricing. The vendor held firm. Can’t blame him. It’s easy to be firm when you have Americans standing in your shop that want your stuff, will likely never be back, and are standing with money in their hands. I don’t think we were helping Alemu’s cause.

Katrina and I have never been good shoppers. I’m too cheap and she’s indecisive. We wandered from store to store not buying anything. Meanwhile, the rest of our group was negotiating deals and hauling bags of goodies back to the van. We kept our cool in the tension and did end up getting some nice (and affordable) traditional gowns for the girls, as well as for us and our boys.

We had lunch at the same restaurant as the previous day (the Lewi). Afterward, Alemu said we were going to a place to buy coffee beans. We were excited because we wanted to share with our friends back home the excellent coffee we had been enjoying.

Our driver, Sami, took us to the south side of Awassa. As we spotted a market similar to those in Addis, Sami pulled off the road next to an alley. Alemu shooed us out and led us down the alleyway to a busy intersection. We crossed the road and went directly into the crowded, muddy, smelly marketplace. 

In the market, we saw people carrying dead and alive chickens, huge buckets of eggs, other small livestock and various plastic and indigenous crafts. Eventually, we came upon four women selling coffee. Here, I need to pause. You see, each of us in the group had a vision of buying coffee that looked much different than what we were about to experience. Even after four days in this 3rd world country, we still anticipated buying coffee that had been roasted to various levels of darkness, packaged in a breathable foil pack, and given a creative name to indicate its flavor or region of origin. Seems we had been brainwashed by Mother Starbucks. The women selling coffee in the market were sitting under umbrellas in front of 50 pound burlap bags that were also shaded by large umbrellas. These bags did contain coffee beans – but they were green (unroasted) beans. We all stood motionless for a bit. I cast a nonchalant sideway glance hoping to spot a bag of brown, roasted beans. Nothing.

Alemu pressed the buying by asking a lady in our group how many kilos she wanted. She responded with savvy and asked the questions we were all pondering. Then she bought some of the green beans. The rest of us did likewise. Katrina offered comfort to the group by stating I know someone at work who buys unroasted beans and that a simple hot air popcorn popper will roast them just fine. I joined the attempt at consolation by suggesting roasting techniques I observed two days before at the coffee ceremony. Others said we could just “google” it. In the end, we were able to justify our purchases and comfort ourselves in the ability of the internet to answer all of life’s tough questions. Katrina and I bought 3 kg of raw beans for $7.50 US. A steal, roasted or not.

After the coffee debacle, we headed back to Addis Ababa. We all dreaded the 250 kM trip. The van seats had padding only slightly softer than the bed in Awassa.

All in all, the trip went smoothly. The only excitement was when Sami nearly hit two dogs and a donkey. Dodging animals that lazily wander across the road makes travel in Ethiopia frustrating. The roads are always busy and littered with people, carts, taxis, large trucks and animals. Horn-honking is a language as well as genre of music in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, as music it is cacophonous, and as a language rarely interpreted correctly. Still, honking horns are an integral part of the sensory experience of Ethiopian life.

As we entered the outskirts of Addis, heavy smog enveloped us. It stung my eyes and others complained of feeling dirty. We stopped for dinner at the Green View restaurant, which had excellent pizza. 

The trip to Awassa was an amazing experience. Despite the arduous journey, it was well worth it – pants bugs and all.