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.

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

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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!

Adventure in ET – Part 5

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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.

Adventure in ET – Part 4

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~ Adventure in ET – Part 3


August 31, 2008 – Awassa, Ethiopia

We were beckoned again this morning to prayer by our Muslim friends. Not to be outdone, a rooster offered his morning call to worship. (perhaps he was a Muslim rooster?) Awakened from our sleep, we started the day.

I should mention a bit about our hotel here in Awassa, the Lewi. It is very nice – a bit nicer than the Desalegn in Addis. However, one noticeable difference is the bed. The mosquito net hanging over the bed was new (we are now in malaria country). But the real uniqueness of the bed was its extreme firmness. I’m not talking a super firm, padded mattress like we’d find back in the States. This puppy is box spring firm. In fact, we checked to see if we were sleeping on the box spring, it was that hard. The funny thing is that we actually slept pretty well. I think our good sleeping can be attributed mostly to exhaustion rather than an affinity for overly firm mattresses.

The view outside our hotel again brings together a poignant dichotomy. In the alley outside our room is an unfinished building and more tin roof shacks that people call home. Clothes lines crisscross an open courtyard where garbage is everywhere. We have a clear view into a makeshift restroom. What I see is hard to reconcile as I anticipate a hot shower, a breakfast buffet and a strong coffee.

A quick update on my red, sore, itchy eye that I developed on the plane ride over. God answered prayer as it is nearly back to normal with only a little tenderness and itch. I’m thankful that it was nothing more than a slight irritation rather than full-blown pink eye.

Well, the biggest event of today was meeting our daughter’s mother. At breakfast our group had a nervous giddiness as we anticipated meeting the relatives and caregivers of our children prior to their being adopted. We were well aware of the emotions those meetings would likely invoke.

The meetings occurred at a neutral site. It was actually the place our girls spent their first couple of days away from their mom (“M”). It was a very small clinic about ½ mile from Lake Awassa. It had a little kitchen, sleeping room with about a dozen cribs and an office. The bathroom was open-air and smelly. There were a half dozen turtle shaped kiddie potties lining the cement wall. The clinic was surrounded by walls and fences which enclosed a small yard. In the yard we saw several lizards about 6-8 inches long climbing on the concrete walls.

We didn’t know who was to meet their child’s family member first. The order was pre-arranged. Katrina and I were chosen to go first. I wanted to go first, mostly because I dislike prolonging stressful situations.

As we waited, we milled about in a gated 20ft x 20ft cemented courtyard. This courtyard bordered a dirt road that was busy with activity. As Katrina and I contemplated our role as pioneers for the group, we were suddenly summoned to the interviewing office. Almost on cue, a woman appeared at the gate. She was traditionally dressed with a white wrap that covered her head and body. She was about 3-4 inches shorter than Katrina and shuffled her feet a bit. She made little eye contact with anyone and seemed embarrassed or ashamed.  It was M, the birth mother of our girls.

We proceeded ahead of M into the office and situated ourselves in chairs – me on M’s right, a young male social worker across from M, and Katrina directly across from me. The social worker did the interpreting and Alemu used our camera to videotape the next 20 minutes. A third gentleman, the director of this clinic, was also there with his assistant.

After we all settled into our chairs, there was a few seconds of awkward silence. I contemplated how to handle the ball that was clearly in our (my) court. Observing that Katrina was getting emotional, I knew I had to lead. I stepped into the tension by introducing myself and Katrina. M responded in kind. I carried the conversation further by telling her where we lived, which led to the photo album we had prepared for her. It was the only thing we could give her – no gifts or money or anything of value is allowed to be exchanged. The album was a simple way to give M a glimpse of the life her daughters would experience as part of our family.

I opened the album, bridging the gap between my leg and M’s. I explained each photo to her (through the translator). The second photo was of our boys. In that photo they are holding a photo of our daughters. M recognized her girls and pointed curiously. As I told her the names and ages of our little men, she began to relax. I sensed she was pleased to see our boys so happy, holding construction paper hearts and a photo of her girls. This was a welcomed change from the sadness she brought with her. This was also the first time I experienced the common Ethiopian practice of taking-in a quick breath as a way of acknowledging something or someone. She did this several times during our meeting. I found this behavior to be inviting and honoring.

We slowly worked through the rest of the pictures. M saw pictures of the girls’ room and I told her how we would home school them. I showed her a picture of our kitchen and eating area, at which she became more animated. After observing the poverty and hunger in Ethiopia, it is easy to understand why.

The conversation continued and we all relaxed a bit. Despite her outer timidity, M was forthright and firm with her answers. She began making more eye contact with Katrina, and even cast a few sideways glances at me. We asked some general questions and learned a few things about M, our girls and their extended family. I asked what kind of work M did. The social worker said that M is very sick and lies down often. Katrina asked if she would like something to drink. She eagerly took the water we had brought with us. It appeared to us that she is not doing well. 

We asked M about her religious beliefs. She said she is Orthodox Christian. This was a great opportunity for us to share our faith. We told her we are Protestant Christians and went on to explain how faith and church life is very important to us. We had talked earlier about the many adopted children in our church and showed her a picture that include adopted children of color. That resulted in a quick draw of breath and a smile.

The last page of the photo album had a handful of Bible verses written in Amharic.  There was also a brief personal note from Katrina and me. We wanted to be clear with M that our faith guides our parenting. During and after the meeting, Katrina and I felt a powerful connection with M in regard to faith. Katrina asked M if she had a favorite Bible verse. She hedged a bit. My guess is that M is illiterate. Nonetheless, she offered some advice that was an encouragement to all in the room: “Don’t count on any other; count on God.”

Our meeting coasted to a natural close. It became obvious to us that life for many Ethiopians is about survival, not specific personal details of likes, dislikes, and dates. Katrina asked M about things the girls like. She grinned and said they are very happy children and that one of the girls really likes toys. Her advice to us was they have each other, they will help each other, and everything will be all right. When asked how she wanted her girls to remember her, she simply said that she wants them to know that she is okay and not to worry. It was a sad moment. M is far from okay. 

Despite a staid countenance, it was obvious that M still very much cares for her daughters.  When I asked her if she had any questions for us, she made a simple request for pictures of the girls – many pictures. She smiled wide as we promised as many as she would like. Her request brought home the reality of why we were sitting in this room together.

We finished with the compulsory photos of the three of us. When those were complete, Katrina kneeled in front of M and took both of her hands. She told M that she was her sister and that she would care for her girls as a sister would. I told her that we loved her and she responded that she loved us as well. I followed with a last word of saying we would pray for her. She responded likewise – and I believe her.

With that, we all stood. Katrina and I both shared with M the customary cheek-to-cheek series of three hugs. I also received a handshake as a show of respect. Our meeting felt complete. Each shared a confidence that what was happening was good. We found M to be a loving mother who wants the best for her girls. I believe she saw us as parents who desire to provide the love and faith that will allow her girls to thrive.

Katrina and I watched M walk through the courtyard and toward the gate. She stood there for a moment. Katrina had left my side, overcome with emotion. I looked around, wondering what I was supposed to do. Quietly, M walked off – I didn’t see where. 

A few minutes later, we noticed a woman standing near the main road. Katrina asked me if it was M. I said I didn’t think so; I thought she had walked the other way. We watched the woman for a few more minutes.  Perhaps it was her? She was holding something under her shawl that could easily be the album we gave her. As we wondered, a blue and white taxi pulled up. The woman turned back to look at the gated courtyard where we stood. She waved and got in. It was M. I waved back, sick in my soul with guilt. She was standing out there alone, much like she has been alone the past few months. It felt unfair. Even though we wouldn’t have been able to communicate well, I wish I could have stood with her those last few minutes. I wish I could have paid for her taxi. I wish I could tell her – again – that I will work hard to be a good dad for her daughters. I regret missing that opportunity. But I’m confident she knows Katrina and I will do our best. Her wave was both confirmation, and blessing. 

While we waited for the others in our group to meet their children’s caregivers, we interacted with local children walking up and down the dirt road adjacent to the clinic. A man from our group went to a small food stand just outside the gate to the clinic and bought lollipops for $0.10 US each. He handed these out to kids as they passed by. Me and another man from our group joined him as word spread of the “white people with candy”. As they came for the candy, we also took photos of these children. They are absolutely fascinated with seeing their own face on the back of our cameras.

Towards the end of the morning, Katrina decided she’d get in on the action. She purchased 10 birr of candy and, naively, stood outside the gate with all of her candy exposed. Suddenly, about a dozen kids made a mad dash for her. One of the clinic assistants, as well as Sami our driver, had to provide security as she distributed the lollipops.

After our emotional meetings we had lunch and then headed into the countryside. Our intended destination was a “coffee ranch.” We passed through a typical middle class residential community in Awassa. As we did, our guide insisted on showing us some coffee trees growing in the wild. Sounds a little strange, but this is the birthplace of coffee, you know.

We stopped alongside the road on a hill outside of town. There, we saw some coffee trees. It was a bit underwhelming. If there were hot cups of brewed coffee hanging from the branches, that would have got my attention. While gawking at the trees, we interacted with a small community of about 30 men, women and children. Some were excited to see us, some tenuous, and some actually ran away. A very tall man wearing a white skull cap stepped forward. He appeared to be the “chief”. He led us up the road a bit and gave us a tour of the residence of an old gentleman. 

A typical middle class residence in Awassa is a circular grass hut about 15 feet in diameter. The hut is made with bamboo (or something similar) and has a conical, thatched grass roof. The inside is thickly coated with soot from the cooking fires. There was a cot for sleeping, a cooking area, two goats and a small cow (yes, they were inside the hut). There were no windows and it was extremely dark. Our group commented on the darkness and our guide retorted with, “why do you think they have so many children?”  We all laughed and a man from our group commented that he was planning to construct his own hut (no, it wasn’t me that made that comment).

The people in Ethiopia are all extremely friendly and gracious. The children laugh and wave and smile. Their eyes are inviting and warm. The adults are gentle and pleasant. It makes for a wonderful interactions despite the language barrier.

We all pinched ourselves as we boarded the van thinking only National Geographic photographers get to experience what we just did. Touring the hut was certainly a highlight. We continued to the coffee ranch which was still about 45 minutes away.

We entered the old capital of the Southern Region (can’t remember the name of the city) which was very busy. In the poorer sections, kids came very close to our van and were insistent on running alongside us. Our guides spoke harshly to them, yelling at them to go away. They were concerned that one of the children would get hurt, which would mean trouble for all of us. It must have been in the midst of this yelling that we lost our way. There was confusion as to how to get to the ranch, so we simply pulled over and looked for a teenage boy who could show us where to go. That’s how Jamal enters our story. He became our guide, and the envy of his friends.

The road to the ranch was the worst we’d seen to this point: slippery, unpaved, and very rocky. But we were determined and made it to the ranch – with Jamal’s guidance. The “ranch” was really a posh resort tucked away in a jungle-like setting. Several bamboo bungalows greeted us. It was obvious this was a retreat for the wealthy. But we were not there to enjoy such Ethiopian opulence. Unbeknownst to us, we were there to trek through the wet, slippery, muddy jungle.

We began our jungle hike heading down hill, following a man who’s English was bad and tour-guiding worse. Fortunately, Alemu was with us. Unfortunate for Alemu was that some bug had crawled up his pant leg and was making its presence known in an unpleasant way. Alemu erupted into a strange jig and grabbed, swatted, pulled and pinched at his upper thigh region. It was quite humorous seeing this confident, authoritative man thrown into a panic over a bug.

Not to be outdone, Katrina decided to do the “I’ve got a bug in my pants” jig. (Katrina here: my jig was nothing like Alemu’s because I actually killed mine right away and another lady in our group also had a visitor in her pants. Those were sneaky bugs that don’t bite until they got above the knee. I’m not making this up!) I’m glad these ladies and Alemu were at the front of the pack, absorbing the wrath of mysterious African biting bugs. The rest of the group didn’t have any trouble.

Down the trail a ways, we climb up to a cave where the daughter of some Ethiopian king hid for five years while her father fled to Europe. She not only hid in the cave, but also stashed some weapons that apparently helped in the regaining of power by the Ethiopians. After being a bit confused by the story, and thinking the King to be a wimp for leaving his daughter behind, we trekked back out, past the pants bugs, and on toward the elusive coffee trees (this was supposed to be a coffee ranch, right?). We did stumble upon about a dozen trees planted sporadically. I had seen enough and was ready to settle into one of the posh bungalows for a “mekato”. But I was mistaken as apparently we still needed to take the wildlife portion of the tour. 

We walked quite a bit more, all the while getting muddy. We entered a gated area. I cynically wondered what they were keeping in, or out. We trudged on. Finally, we slowed to a stop as our non-English speaking guide pointed to the trees. It was hard to see at first, but eventually we made out a Colobus monkey. These monkeys are black and white, rather large, and have a long tail with a big tuft of white hair on the end. As we began to focus our cameras, suddenly 4-5 monkeys chased each other through the treetops. It was pretty neat. Then, on cue, a single monkey perched in a leafless opening for the perfect photo-op. 

With monkeys seen and photographs taken, we made one last stop to view the garden used to supply the ranch restaurant. The lettuce was interesting as far as lettuce goes, but it was a relief that our next (and last) stop was the restaurant for a drink and the use of a clean restroom (Katrina here: a twenty star restroom by Ethiopian standards—I took a picture of it, I loved it so much).

As we relaxed with another Mekato, we enjoyed seeing “Jamal the King” have a Coke (major treat for him) and interact with us “frenges”. I’m sure we made his month with an 80 birr tip ($8 US). As we rode back through the town, he sat a little taller, basking in the awe of an admiring crowd who watched him ride in a van with a bunch of “wealthy” Americans.

Adventure in ET – Part 3

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

Saturday, August 30, 2008 – Addis Ababa to Awassa, Ethiopia
Well, it was a rough night for most of our group. Based on reports at breakfast, jet lag was rampant. Me and another fellow both got about 4-5 hours of decent sleep. The rest didn’t and were up doing various other activities. At 3am, the Muslim calls to prayer began over the loudspeaker somewhere within earshot of the hotel. I didn’t hear them until about 5am when my alarm went off. It was about that time Katrina finally fell asleep. I roused her gently around 6am. Fortunately for her, misery loves company and she was well accompanied at breakfast.

We began the 250 kM trek to Awassa, the birthplace of our daughters, around 8:20am. We were excited about seeing more of Africa and getting closer to the day when we would meet the birth mom. We headed South East out of Addis, which was different from the tour route of the previous day. The scenery was also different – a bit more industrial and a few less people. We had to stop about 10 minutes into the trip to get some rope to secure our luggage to the roof rack of the van. As I’m writing this, I wonder how our luggage was secured prior to obtaining the rope?

Anyhow, while stopped for the rope we were immediately greeted by young boys, probably 7-12 years old, selling their wares: wafers (cookies), gum/candy and other items. We were too far away from the central city to give them a meal ticket. They didn’t appear to be as destitute as some we’d seen, but nonetheless were very poor. Two of the boys were friendly with wide smiles. They also were eager to have their picture taken. While taking a photo of these two, a third joined them and promptly gave the universal sign for “you’re #1”.  I missed this gesture as I took the photo, but the rest of the group didn’t. We all laughed at my “photo of the day.”

Continuing out of Addis, we drove past a military camp, air force base and a prison.  We were not allowed to take photos near these areas since doing so meant we would be imprisoned as well. We observed construction in progress on several buildings, the biggest of which were probably only 4 or 5 stories. There was a steady stream of animals and people wandering both sides of the road.

After a couple of hours, we stopped in a small town to have a “mekato”, which we came to discover is like a macchiato. We pulled into a small gated parking lot of a decent, middle class hotel nestled among the shacks of the poor. Needless to say, the Ethiopian “mekato” was enjoyed by all – even the non-coffee types.

After our drinks we continued the dusty trek South. We were slowly losing elevation as Addis sits, on average, at about 2600 meters. The countryside was green with rolling hills and mountains in the background. The ride for the next hour was pretty monotonous. The roads were paved and in very good condition (no freeze/thaw cracks here). We passed through a few small villages, which all began to look the same.

About the time we were coming down from the caffeine of the mekato, our guide Alemu indicated we were entering Diebre Zeit. Diebre Zeit is the town where our girls are staying. It is also where the children of two other families are residing. As we drove through, there was a nervous tension in the van. Someone asked where the orphanage was. As we approached a “Y” in the road, Alemu pointed and said, “down there.” I felt nervous, excited and sad.  Everyone was quiet for a moment, replaying that vision we have each replayed many times – the day we meet our Ethiopian children. The noise of the town and the endless honking of horns brought us quickly back to reality.

The images from the journey from Addis to Awassa are difficult to describe. As the miles passed, a heavy sadness settled on all of us. Hoards of people simply wander along the roads. Cattle, donkeys, horses, dogs and goats accompany them. We saw grass huts in for the first time while in Ethiopia. These huts were very small, typically 8ft x 8ft mud “cubes” that served as living quarters. It became common to see the youngest children, those under 3, not wearing any pants. Occasionally an older child could be seen simply lying about 5 feet from the road, head in hands, watching the traffic. Groups of men would be sitting and chatting at the mud cubes apparently having nothing to do – whether by choice or circumstance.

I found myself asking, “what do these people do?” I began to ponder how my “doing” is tied to my “being”. These people appear to be doing little or nothing. Yet, they exist, and are pleasant and smiling. Their demeanor is a sharp condemnation as I sit here in a very nice hotel (even by American standards) journaling on a laptop while waiting to fill my stomach at breakfast. My musings are more than an intellectual journey into social justice theory. This is about identity; who am I really, and where do I go to find that identity?  I wonder the same for these people. What is it like to wander, traveling and sleeping with your animals, which are life to you? Our backpacks are stuffed with purified water, hand sanitizer, and a plethora of lotions and creams to make us look and feel good.  As we condition our skin and pamper our bodies, Ethiopian eyes are looking. Their arms reach inside the van, and the few English words of “money” and “you buy” or “it is good” assault your ears and conscience. It is overwhelming, and at times, crushing.

Our trek into the poorest of the poor lasted several hours. At one point the sad familiar was broken by the sight of a young man dragging an 8 ft water snake across the road to a group standing nearby. The snake appeared to be a good 6-7 inches in diameter in the middle and likely made for a good meal that evening.

For lunch we stopped at a very nice restaurant (no, we didn’t eat snake). Katrina order roasted lamb and I went exotic with a plate of spaghetti. Others went ethnic. Alemu had us all try some injera bread covered with traditional Ethiopian spices. Injera is like a rubbery pancake, grey in color and has a tangy, almost vinegary taste. Traditional Ethiopians spices are slightly warm to the taste with more of a curry flavor than tomato. It’s good, but I can’t eat much of it.

After lunch we stayed at the restaurant for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. A young girl roasted and ground the coffee beans. She poured the ground coffee straight into the water and then heated the coffee until steam came out of the pot. While waiting for the coffee to heat, a large tray of popcorn was passed among our group and then around the restaurant. The coffee was excellent, as was the experience. What wasn’t excellent were the bathrooms. The dirtiest we’d seen yet. No toilet seats and just all around filthy.  Ok for the men, but the women practiced their hovering skills.

As we neared Awassa, the landscape became greener and there was more agricultural activity. Corn (or maize) is the primary crop. We also recognized some soy beans and rice. There were people weeding the tef fields – tef being a valuable crop. I believe our guide said it is used in food for those that need a gluten free diet.

We stopped at Lake Lagano (about 70 kM from Awassa) for a break. Upon entering the very bumpy and stony road that went for about a mile to the lake, we were approached by several children selling their wares. These children were ill, dirty, and extremely poor. A few had noticeably rotten teeth. This contrasted with the resort on the beach on Lake Lagano where some in our group took a paddle boat ride before we had a cold drink of Fanta, Pepsi, or water.

As we left the lake resort, we decided to stop at a very small craft stand. The crafts were made by the women living there. Proceeds supported a woman’s clinic. As was typical, our van was mobbed by the children we had to shoo-away on the way in. A few in our group bought items after some hard bartering. We bought two simple stone carvings from two of the children. They cost us $1 US each. We passed on buying the live gecko on a stick that one of the children had, but only because we didn’t know how to pack him in our carry-on! (apologies to our sons back home)

We finally arrived in Awassa around 4pm. We were all very tired, but not too tired to pass on the often mentioned, and much anticipated, “hippo ride.” We drove a couple miles from the hotel to the shore of Lake Awassa. All eyes were on the “white people”, or “frenge” as we made our way through the crowd to the boats. We found out later that most of the reason for the spectacle was that Americans are the only ones who take the hippo ride.

The ride was fun, but a little nerve racking. For one, there were thunderstorms all around the lake with rain obviously falling in some areas. We left our rain jackets at the hotel as we were tired of carrying them all day inside the van (it rains a lot in the van, you know). Second, the boats we were riding in were barely navigable. The hulls flexed and the bottom was filled with a couple inches of water. At the halfway point of the ride, after assuring us that only small crocs (caimans, we believe) are in this lake, our hippo guide bailed a bit of water. We all made nervous jokes about the seaworthiness of the vessel. He seemed relaxed, but that offered little comfort to us Americans with expensive digital cameras and no lifejackets in sight.

After seeing four hippos who treated us with a couple of yawns and a pseudo breech out of the water, we made a slower than desired voyage back to our adoring fans at the boat launch. Upon reaching dry land, we once again made a spectacle of ourselves.

For dinner, Alemu took us to a popular pizza place. It was not so much a pizza place as it was the home of an ADHD Butcher and the “Dancing Fry-Guy.” Words are inadequate to describe the scene. What is certain is the FDA would have shut this place down in an instant. In brief, picture a 3ft diameter flattened wok sitting above a 3ft square pit  of fire. In this wok-like pan is oil. Into the oil the “Dancing Fry-Guy” ceremonially places meat supplied by the ADHD Butcher. The butcher gets the meat from sheep carcasses hanging in a white booth next to him.  Both the Butcher and the Fryer dance and flail and gyrate as part of the cooking activity. Fry Guy tosses oil on the fire to make a ball of flame while Butcher bangs and twangs his knife in a maniacal rhythm of slicing and dicing. The fried meat is combined with some peppers in a bucket and served. 

All parts of the sheep are cooked – yes, all. When Fry Guy and Butcher are done, only the spine remains – which is hung trophy-like in the “bacteria booth.” It is good entertainment, and certainly a unique Africa treat. Oh, by the way, the pizza was very good, as was a green pepper/guacamole-like sauce they served with it that had a little bite and was rather salty.

As if our day had not been eventful enough, we made one last stop for “good beer” since the beer at the place that fries sheep carcass apparently had inadequate brew. We wouldn’t know…

Adventure in ET – Part 2

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:
~ Intro
~ Adventure in ET – Part 1

Friday, August 29, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

(Katrina here, Please note: I’m sure many of you were worried for me as to whether I was able to use the hair dryer this morning after Chris’ crazy electrical moment. I was. I have no hair issues to report at this time! But it was interesting to wake up three hours later and read that account while Chris was able to keep sleeping.

We had heard that the Ethiopian people are very sweet natured. It is true. The sound of their speech is very soft and easy and they are very humble. We had also been told how important it is for us to try and use their language. Well, we’re mostly getting laughed at and then talked to in English. “Chigger alem”, I guess or “No problem.”)  

We had our first Ethiopian coffee this morning. Very strong, and good. Drank it straight-up – no Splenda here! Spent breakfast with another couple traveling with us. We had a nice time chatting and discovered they go to a church similar to ours in the Detroit area.

After a really good (and spicy) breakfast we settled into our first full day in Africa. Katrina napped as I tried to get my mind around why I’m even here (I do know why, but I was in a deep-thoughts kind of mood). I spent an hour or so thumbing through the Bible, looking specifically for verses about adoption or being chosen as God’s children. I became a bit frustrated as I searched for that clincher verse from which to write this really great expose’ that correlates God’s adoption of us (His children) to our adopting of our daughters (Yididya and Melat). In the end, the last verse the Spirit led me to was, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I may not be able to get my head and heart completely around why I am here (other than the obvious). But the steps of these ten days were determined in eternity-past by a faithful and loving God. In that, I must rest content. This part of my story is as much about my own dying to self as it is about bringing home two orphaned sisters who need love, care, and Jesus.

On another note, I woke-up with a puffy, red, and sore eye this morning. Similar to pink eye, but hopefully not as bad. It still bothers me tonight, but I don’t think it is any worse. I’ve been putting antibiotic ointment on it with hopes of doing a self-cure. We’ll see.

At 2:00pm we were taken by our driver, Sami, to accomplish two things: get our flights outta here confirmed and then take a driving tour of Addis. After having no issues with the flights, we set out on an interesting journey around Addis Ababa – the capital city of Ethiopia.

Addis is a dichotomy. It has the extreme poor, as well as the wealthy. Just outside our hotel room, men and women work along side each other to build very nice homes for government officials. The workers use a restroom, which we can look down into. It is basically metal corrugated roofing slapped together. I suppose the poor and the rich living together is true in any big city, but it seems especially noticeable here.  

Later, we saw a man eating from a rain-soaked bag of garbage sitting in the street. If that wasn’t shocking enough, he got chased away by another man who apparently wanted the garbage as well. More startling was the sight of a man dressed only in the remnants of plastic bags. I spotted at least a half-dozen blind people. There are many children begging. We were told not to give them money. Instead, we are to give them a ticket for a free meal. We bought 40 tickets for the equivalent of $2 US.  Pretty amazing. The sad thing is these tickets are used to barter for other things. We observed a few kids trading the tickets for suckers.

Men and boys urinate in the streets. Men were washing themselves with the reddish-brown water running down the roads from a rainstorm (it’s the rainy season here). This was the same water into which the urinating mentioned above was occurring. And for good measure, this water was used once more to rinse large plastic bags that I assume would carry something of value at some point. 

Very few people appear to be doing anything. Most just lean against buildings along the sides of the road. When we stopped to purchase the meal tickets, we were mobbed by 4-5 men selling necklaces and maps of Ethiopia. They were very insistent, even sticking their arms inside our van. It was a little uncomfortable.

There are goats, cows, and donkeys free-ranging in the poorer parts of the city. There are also dogs here and there and an occasional cat. At one small open area, three boys were playing soccer about 20 yards from a very dead and bloated cow.

Traffic is crazy. The air very smoky/smoggy. Everything runs on diesel and horns are continuously honking – although politely. People are constantly crossing the road wherever they wish. Driving lanes are non-existent. During our whole 1.5+ hour tour I think I saw only two stoplights.  

Overall, it was an enlightening tour. I felt sad that so many like our daughters will have to grow-up in the squalor of the poor section of the city. Yet, I was excited to think that God has chosen them to be a part of our family and come to America where they will have the opportunity to thrive, be fed, be warm and drink clean water. We are blessed people.

In true American fashion, after our tour we stopped at a coffee shop (Kahli’s) that looks strangely like Starbucks (no mermaid on the sign, but the baristas do wear green aprons). All I can say is Starbucks has nothing on Ethiopian coffee. Pike Place seems like Sanka compared to ET coffee. Oh well…

We ate at a Thai restaurant tonight. Katrina commented that we had to come all the way to Africa to eat our first Thai food. Tomorrow (Saturday) we head to Awassa, which is where our girls were born and where their mother still lives. We will meet her either Saturday or Sunday. We have much anxiety about that meeting. We have a small photo album to give to her showing our home, church and family. We also included some Scripture in Amharic (the primary language here) with hopes that a gospel seed will be sown. The girl’s mother is HIV positive and knows her life is ending soon.

Adventure in ET – Part 1

The journey begins…now!

In a series of ten posts, Katrina and I will share the journal we kept during our trip to Ethiopia in 2008. We are looking back to remember and celebrate the expansion of our family through adoption. Here’s the intro to this series if you missed it.

So sit back, scan the selection of in-flight movies, keep your pillow, blanket and ear plugs close. Oh, and don’t forget to take your malaria meds!

May our story be one that draws us all into a deeper understanding of God’s grace.

Thursday, August 28, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

After 30 hours of travel, we touched down in Addis Ababa around 7:30pm local time. We were certainly ready to be off the plane, which had confined us for the better part of 15 hours. We had a brief refueling stop in Rome, but could not leave the plane. I looked hard for any historical points of interest as we landed and departed Rome…but was stymied.

(from Katrina: It was fascinating to go over all these bodies of water and land formations that we have studied for three years in home school. I flew by Ireland, over the island of Crete, the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara Desert.)

Things have been relatively uneventful. We were blessed with great driving to Chicago on Wednesday morning – no delays and plenty of time to get checked-in at the airport and have a restful lunch.
From Chicago we flew to Washington DC. In DC we changed airlines, which required us to return to the main terminal and check in with Ethiopian Air. The scene at the international ticket counter was our first experience of truly feeling like foreigners. Several non-American airlines were crammed into an area about half the size of the ticket counter at GR Ford International. The place was packed with bodies, garbage and luggage. In the end, we got our boarding passes and had our luggage ID numbers linked with our Ethiopian air tickets. So, hoping for the best (for us and our luggage) we went and waited another three hours for our flight to Addis Ababa.

New experiences continued on the flight over. English became the second language and we seemed to have been seated in the middle of an Ethiopian family reunion. Katrina and I tried to learn some Amharic (the primary language of Ethiopia) on our drive to Chicago. Unfortunately, our repertoire is not beyond “ow” (yes) “yikerta” (excuse me) and a few other poor attempts at “hello”, “thank you”, and “fine”. We watched bits and pieces of Prince Caspian 3 or 4 times and caught several unsatisfying but adequate cat naps.

Upon touching-down in Addis, there was thunderous clapping from many on the plane. Not sure whether that was custom or relief, but Katrina and I were totally aligned with them in their gladness to be finished with the flight. After exiting the plane, we followed the crowd to get our temporary Visa. The whole process was organized, but confusing. Our passports were being shuttled around with several others. The organizational side of me was going crazy as my eyes were glued to the ones I knew were ours. We are very grateful that all of our luggage made it – even with a last minute gate and airline change in DC.

The next important task of the evening was to exchange some money. Katrina and I had a friendly debate (we were too tired to argue) about how much to exchange.  We consulted with the three couples we are traveling with, which only added to our confusion. In the end, we all ended up with a huge stack of money since the rate of exchange is about 10 birr = 1 US dollar. Seems strange to tip with a 10 birr bill.

We had a meal tonight at our hotel with the rest of the group. Our contact here, Alemu, gave us a few instructions for the next day or so. Tomorrow we will take a driving tour of Addis. The rest of the day is for recovering after our long trip. Saturday we leave for Awassa, which is 4-5 hours south of Addis. There we will meet with the birth mother of our daughters and any other family.  The roads are reported to be good (at least by Ethiopian standards).

Well, it’s now after midnight local time. I should have gone to bed 20 minutes ago because I just fried my buddy’s power converter while trying to charge my laptop. Yes, I am a degreed electrical engineer so let the jokes begin. I figured all I needed to do was make a series of plug connections that got me from the US plug to the African outlet. Makes sense, right? I also know the voltage here is 240, but that’s why I was using the converter. Things were great for about 10 minutes, but then a hiss and a pop were promptly followed by a thin trail of smoke that rose alongside my desk. I quickly tossed the converter in a sink of water to stop the melting (no, it wasn’t still plugged in) and prayed there were no smoke detectors. All is well…mostly. Katrina is already in bed and doesn’t know yet that due to my inept plugging and converting she may not have a way to dry her hair in the morning.

(from Katrina:  One of the families we were scheduled to travel with received word on Monday that something with their paperwork was amiss so they were not able to come. What a hard shock that would be!)