Adventure in ET – Part 7

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

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

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

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.