The trip over was relatively uneventful-it was just hard to travel for so long and have so many thoughts running through my head about meeting our sons. Such excitement and nerves at the same time. We arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a few hours later than expected as our stop in Sudan took a few hours longer than expected. Daddy O immediately exchanged Dollars for Birr and I waited in line for customs. Customs took about an hour, we purchased our Visa's and our passports were stamped. I was pleasantly surprised that our luggage made it with no problems and it was too late at night for anyone to hassle us to carry our baggage to security. A driver was there to pick us up and we were off to the Guesthouse.
The Ritmo Guesthouse is specifically for families adopting through our agency and if I remember correctly is a 7-8 room, 2 1/2 bath, two story house with a common dining room and family room area, a small efficiency kitchen. There was a wonderful staff working around the clock including guards, a cook, and someone who cleaned and did laundry by hand.
The Ritmo was a fantastic option for us-many hotels do not allow adoptive families to let their children stay with them on site and the guesthouse allowed us this option and was only a short walk to Layla (the facility where our children were staying). Breakfast was included and for a small extra fee we could sign up for lunch and dinner as well. We rarely ate out as it was much easier to eat with a 4 year old and an 8 month old at the guesthouse than at a restaurant. I absolutely loved the local cuisine and could not get enough of injera and shiro. Daddy O on the other hand survived mainly on oatmeal packets and good old mac and cheese!
THE FIRST NIGHT
We arrived after midnight and were greeted immediately by the guesthouse staff and showed our room. There weren't too many families staying that particular week, so we lucked out and got the "master bedroom". It had a private bathroom, a queen size bed, a twin bed, 1 set of bunk beds, and a crib. After seeing our 'digs' I was overjoyed to meet two families I had corresponded with online before hand-the adoption community I have met has been wonderfully supportive and it was great to finally meet a few of them. They gave us a tour of the guesthouse and a quick rundown of the meals and drinks in the fridge and Daddy O and I were off to unpack and get some rest before the big moment. We were told that staff would be over around 9 am to pick up 3 families to meet their children. Since it was about 2 pm our time, coupled with strange sounds in a strange place (first it was social hour outside by the dumpster, then the street dog social hour, then the roosters, and then the call to prayer by the Mosque), not to mention our excitement, we probably got about 2 hours total in restless sleep.
Day 1: INSTANT FAMILY
We were picked up along with 2 other families to meet our children. I just remember thinking how surreal it all was-we had been thinking about this moment for years and it was finally here! What do you do/think in the minutes/moments before meeting your children for the first time? We stopped at AHOPE, the facility where Family X and Family Y's kids were staying. To witness mothers and fathers meeting their children for the very first time was an amazing experience. My heart was literally overflowing. I had Family X's camera ready to capture the first moments in the vehicle and I heard Mommy X exclaim "There's my son! There's my son!"
I don't think we had stopped before she was out the door and scooped up her adorable son. Looking through the camera I saw a woman so full of love for her child, her embrace and endless kisses for this sweet child brought tears to my eyes. I looked for my husband and finally found him beneath scores of children. He was holding one child in each arm and there were several children tugging at his legs, surrounding him. Kids were all around us, hugging us saying "Mommy, Daddy?" It was heartbreaking to tell them that no, we are not your Mommy and Daddy. Whenever we locked glances, I could hear his thoughts-they were the same as mine: "I had no idea it would be this way, that people would be pleading for a family like this, that we would have to look into a child's eyes and say, no, we are not your family." Being there and seeing this first hand made me want to take every last one of them home or personally find them a family.
This interlude lasted maybe 15 minutes and we were all back in the vehicle on the way to Layla where we would finally meet Boy O and Baby O. I could barely contain myself-we had seen pictures of our sons through other families eyes since December. We spent countless hours dissecting and interpreting these photographs. Does Boy O ever smile? Does Baby O ever sleep? We had been informed 2 days before traveling that Baby O had the chicken pox, so I was also anxious to see how he was doing. The list of questions go on and on.
After what seemed like an insurmountable buildup, the moment had arrived. My arms were aching to hold my children. It was terrifying! Once we were at Layla, we waited outside Boy O's classroom and the staff brought him out to us. We had been told that morning that he had not been told of our impending arrival and we were nervous as to what his reaction would be. He looked a bit shell-shocked, but I knelt down and gave him a great big hug and began to cry-he was beautiful! He looked just like the pictures, but was more beautiful in person-his eyes have always looked to me as if he has seen the world and even though he was quietly hugging us, those eyes were taking everything in. Daddy O knelt down to hug him and what a sweet, sweet moment to stand back and observe. I can also tell you now that these two have such a special connection and are very close.
BACK AT THE RITMO
Now a family of three, we went upstairs to our room and showed him his bed. We had bought him a backpack and filled it with gobs of activities and toys and he remained fascinated with rocket balloons, puzzles, and toy cars. He was especially happy to receive his very own pair of sunglasses. After everything in the backpack had been inspected his attention turned to our luggage and once it and our belongings passed his inspection we went to play outside with the other new families. It was wonderful to have other adoptive families staying with us-we would gather out in the courtyard and the kids would play to their hearts content. Adults would pull up a chair and chat about the day's events. Without their support and valuable input, I don't know what we would have done. Especially that first day.
During this time, we learned from the staff that it would be possible to see the doctor who had treated Baby O later that afternoon and as we played soccer in the courtyard of the guesthouse, we anxiously awaited 2 pm.
KIDANE AND THE DOCTOR
Before we were taken to the hospital to see the doctor, we made one stop at the Kidane orphanage for Family X to meet their daughter. I stayed outside holding Baby O-we didn't want to go in and expose him to anything since he was ill, but Daddy O went along to take pictures of their first meeting. He said it was awesome once again to be a part of such a happy moment. He left them for some privacy and came to join me sitting outside-I sang "You are my sunshine" over and over until he fell asleep. Family X plus one then came out to join us and we drove to see the doctor. It didn't really look like a hospital to me, but the doctor did come out-he had administered the IV and informed us that the chick pox on his head had become infected (hence the swelling) and their method of treatment was two rounds of intravenous antibiotics twice a day for 5-7 days. We did feel somewhat better because we had feared internal swelling due to a high fever. He said we would be able to take him back to the guesthouse with us on Wednesday evening and that he needed a skull X-ray the next day to see if the infection had spread. So even though we were relieved in one sense, it wasn't over and I continued to worry. We dropped Baby O off at the nursery for the evening and went back to the guesthouse for dinner. We were all in bed by 7:30 pm. I think all three of us were exhausted mentally and physically by the days events! I wasn't sure what to expect as far as sleep was concerned-would our son miss Layla? Would he be sad? About 10 minutes after laying down, I heard a faint "Mommy?" I walked over to his bed and kissed him on the forehead, rubbed his back for a few minutes and he was sound asleep snoring. What an awesome kid! I can't wait to hear what his perspective of this day was from his point of view when he is older. I hope he remembers it.
DAY 2: EMBASSY
Monday morning was the trip to the U.S. Embassy for an interview. In my understanding, this is the last step before they can process the children's Visas. Parents and children are required to be present in the interview, so we needed to wake up early to be ready for the 8 am appointment. Events at the embassy seemed to go smoothly; however, it did seem to take a long time. Usually our agency has embassy appointments on Wednesdays, but the upcoming Wednesday was a holiday, so the embassy staff was trying to accomplish 2 days of adoption interviews in 1 day. Luckily one of the other families was smart and had brought coloring books and crayons (now a staple in my purse for a quick cure for boredom). It saved the day! When we were eventually called into the interview the questions I recall were along these lines: Are these the kids you intended to adopt? Was anything about their history not disclosed? Do you plan to meet the birth family if at all possible?...There were probably a few more, but they were of a similar fashion. After this, we received some official documents and were told we would receive our Visas in a few days.
We drove back to Layla to meet with the doctor before Baby O's X-ray appointment. The embassy had taken quite a long time and Boy O was HUNGRY! The kids in his class were just starting to be served lunch, so we dropped him off for the afternoon. The appointment wasn't for another 1 1/2 hours and we decided to eat out at a restaurant close by. We arrived back at Layla with time to spare but soon learned that the doctor and nurse had already left for the appointment without us. We were unable to find anyone we knew or could communicate with and walked back to the guesthouse-I was upset and cried the whole way-Daddy O tried in vane to make me feel better, but the helpless/useless feeling, the complete lack of control was just so maddening. I tried to lay down and rest for awhile and was surprised when staff called, said there had been some confusion and within 5 minutes, picked us up to meet Baby O, the doctor and nurse at the hospital for his skull X-ray. By the time we arrived the X-ray had already been done and we were told that the infection had not spread. This was great news, but again, we were just so confused. One thing after another. We held Baby O all the way home-he would not take much of his bottle and fell asleep almost immediately.
We stayed with him at the nursery and held him for another couple of hours and waited for Boy O to finish nap time with his class.
We all walked back to the guesthouse hand in hand and went out to dinner at the Caribou restaurant with 2 other families. These outings were so much fun as it was Boy O's first time at a restaurant and it was a welcome break from the events of the afternoon. That night was the first night I slept without waking up once, noises and all. All of us were exhausted.
DAY 3: SWIMMING ADVENTURES
We were so fortunate to be able to tag along with an older school group from Layla on a field trip to the Hilton swimming pool. Boy O could barely contain his excitement-we had communicated the news to him by making swimming motions with our arms. After a few tries and looking ridiculous, I think he got the picture. As a side note, I will say that I tried very hard to look up words and phrases to ease communication, but I always seemed to mangle the pronunciation and Boy O would give me a very confused look.
I wish I had taken pictures of the van ride over to the Hilton from Layla with the kids. I was reminded of seeing 40 clowns jump out of a small VW bug or reading about 25 people fitting into a phone booth-it was so much fun crowding into that van with the kids. Their excitement was contagious! We arrived at the Hilton and piled out of the van and the Hilton guards lined all the kids up from shortest to tallest. Boy O was in front and seemed very pleased to be leading the pack. We all walked through the metal detectors, the spacious lobby and out to the pool. It was impressive. There was a main pool for swimming and adults, but then 4-5 smaller pools around the main pools perimeter (all of them heated !). We headed over to one of the smaller pools and all the kids changed into their swimsuits, hastily took the required shower and tried so, so hard to walk (as kids try to as they are being told not to run) and finally jumped in. I tried hard to spend time in the pool but I'm kind of a wimp when it comes to splashing and that seemed to be a very popular thing to do, mostly I just sat on the sidelines and watched. Daddy O gained the respect and attention of all the boys as he squirted water between his hands with perfect aim several feet away into some one's face. It was hilarious to watch them try to master this ancient art of pool play as the most successful effort went (at most) a few inches.
We had a wonderful time, enjoyed some coffee poolside, relaxed, talked with the staff before getting the kids out and dressed. We headed over the outdoor eating area and each child was able to have an ice cream cone. After such voracious activity, the kids were content as could be licking their ice cream cones. What a great day and the pictures say it all!
Later that afternoon we were surprised to receive the boy's Visas early and both families we had been staying with at the guesthouse changed their flights to leave later that evening. I was happy for them, but at the same time sad to see them leave. They were incredible and their presence was comforting and helpful.
DAY 4: ARRIVAL OF BABY O
Wednesday was the day that Baby O would receive his last round of IV antibiotics and we would finally be able to bring him back to the guesthouse later that afternoon. The situation with Baby O had been difficult-it was difficult to see him sick on that first day-it was difficult to be absent during his skull X-ray and to be absolutely honest, it was difficult for me to visit him in the nursery for over an hour at a time. I don't know if it was the events of the past few days or just nervousness about being a new parent, but Daddy O really took over when it came to this. He spent countless hours in the nursery feeding, playing, and changing him-while I spent time with Boy O and tried to fulfill picture requests from waiting parents. Baby O's personality was starting to recover and the day before he had been alert and full of smiles.
We spent most of the day playing soccer in the courtyard of the guesthouse. Even the guards got into it and were really helpful when Boy O tried to change the rules in the middle of the game. We put him down for his afternoon nap and Daddy O strapped on the baby carrier and went to pick up Baby O. I spent the time creating a diaper changing station in the empty room next door. As much as I hated to see the other families leave, it was great to have the house to ourselves and an extra room for smelly stuff! Daddy O arrived back about 20 minutes later with baby in hand and we used that hour to give him some one on one time. It was SO nice to have interaction with Baby O and Baby O only. I no longer found it difficult to spend time with him-I finally felt like we were his parents. Having two active boys turned out to be a bit more active than we had thought and once again, we all fell into a deep sleep that night (including Baby O).
DAY 5: ADDIS ABABA
I woke up on Thursday thinking we had hit the baby lottery. He slept through the entire night and even through breakfast. This was nice, because we could give Boy O some one on one attention. As far as future sleep was concerned, hitting the baby lottery was not the case and every night after that seemed to be different as far as feedings and changings. In hindsight, the effect of the antibiotics probably had not quite worn off yet and made him drowsy.
Ethiopia is an incredibly large country (I believe it is twice the size of Texas), so exploring the country side was not really a feasible option for us as we did not want to leave our kids for any length of time. Up until this point, we hadn't seen much of the capital city besides the airport, U.S. Embassy and the hospital/clinic so we decided to drop the kiddos back off at Layla for a few hours and hired a wonderful driver and interpreter to take us to see a few of the sights. The interpreter's name was Bisrat and he was absolutely unbelievable. He spoke excellent English and had great knowledge about Addis Ababa and was just an all around super guy. He had a great passion for the sick and the poor and worked specifically to help children affected by leprosy. We wanted to get some souvenirs and clothing for the boys, so he took us to the Leprosy hospital/colony where they spun and wove cotton cloth into scarves, clothing and bedding to be sold to continue the efforts of benefiting Leprosy facility. Apparently the prices here were the best and we did find the cost to be very reasonable. We had them take us to the Hilton, where we reconfirmed our flights home and exchanged more money. From there it was some shopping, but I really didn't like trying to haggle so I bought a few trinkets and we asked if we could travel outside the city for a bit. He took us up to Entoto Mountain and we saw several beautiful churches and observed a completely different way of life outside Addis Ababa. The women were carrying huge amounts of Eucalyptus on their backs down the mountain to sell and the further up we went the air cleared and a more farm-like atmosphere appeared. Lots of mules, goats and sheep as well as fields of different endemic grains and vegetables. It was breathtaking. From the mountain top you could see how large and sprawling Addis Ababa really was. Since we are runners, Daddy O inquired about the stadium and Bisrat also took us to the stadium where all the world class elite runners and the national soccer team trained. It looked a bit run down by western standards but it was great to see where the 'magic happens'!
After seeing many more churches, statues, and memorials around the city we were dropped back off at Layla and hoped to finally get a tour of the entire facility and see where Boy O's room and belongings were. Boy O enjoyed showing us where he had lived and introduced us to everyone that walked by. One thing I noticed was that everyone knew his name and always had a hug and a kiss for him. He was loved and treated well by all the staff and it was very apparent that the feeling was mutual. We were shown all the nooks and crannies of the place and even though the atmosphere was chaotic, the sound of children's laughter filled the air. They were so happy.
We walked back to the guesthouse, had dinner, watched a movie and fell into a deep sleep once again. Except tonight Baby O woke up a couple of times and we remained tired into the next morning.
DAY 6: HISTORY
Friday was the day we were able to investigate our sons' history. It was incredibly informative, insightful and emotional. We will never regret doing this and hope to answer as many questions as possible for them later on in life. This is their personal story and we have chosen to keep it that way until they decide to do otherwise, so we will refrain from mentioning the days activities and places we visited to protect their privacy. I can say that I came away with a great sense of pride about their country of birth, their culture and a much greater understanding of a different way of life and hard decisions that are made by families every day. I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience and highly recommend to parents interested in adopting internationally to travel and pick up their children. You will not regret it.
I also came away with some very strong views on international adoption. Traveling over to Ethiopia, I felt strange as I looked around the plane and could very easily 'pick out' the couples adopting that week. It's not hard. I had heard many stories about how some Ethiopians had a negative view of international adoption from their country. In fact that is the main reason we were not allowed to travel outside much with our children. I have also heard negative comments from Americans-usually grumbling about how we should adopt from our own country before we went to another. When we landed in Ethiopia, I thought I could understand how some people might be angry that people were adopting children from their country. Once in country, I had the opportunity to visit 5 different orphanages and saw hundreds of children that needed families. Some facilities were better than others-one in particular was hard to stomach-the children were not well taken care of and the grounds were atrocious. The pictures I took (they are not posted) will never convey the sights and smells we saw that day. The pleading looks in children's eyes as we turned to leave or the reaching out to touch you as you pass by would never transfer from a photograph. Layla was by far a superior orphanage where the children are happy and can just be 'kids'. I realized that these were only 5 orphanages-there are hundreds of others around the city and country. If the people of Ethiopia are sensitive to seeing foreigners adopt Ethiopian children, they need to start helping the children and people who need it so desperately. The poverty and conditions I saw people living in will stay with me forever. I feel more strongly than ever in international adoption and adoption in general. This is what it comes down to: these children need families and it doesn't matter where the come from-they just need and want a family. And they deserve it.
DAY 7: DEPARTURE
Saturday I woke up with a sense of excitement-we would be departing by plane from Ethiopia at 11 pm. We spent most of the day packing and getting things ready. We made the grave mistake of telling Boy O the previous day that we would be getting on an airplane soon to go home to America. The question: airplane? airplane? airplane? airplane now? Not a moment went by when the word/question of the airplane would come up. We even had one of the guards translate for us that we wouldn't be leaving until late that night-he seemed to understand, but as soon as we got back up to the room, I heard: "Airplane? Airplane now?"
We spent the day playing soccer, doing puzzles and coloring. We needed to be at the airport about 3-4 hours early to make it through customs and several security checks, so we left at 6 pm for the airport. As we loaded our luggage and climbed into the van there seemed to be a permanent smile etched on his face. He was SO excited! When we finally got to the airport and through customs (they detained us for having coffee-once they found out the beans were roasted, they let us through), it was too dark to really see a lot out the window and Boy O was pretty disappointed. We had also purposely skipped his nap in hopes of him sleeping through the long flight to Amsterdam, so he was also incredibly cranky. Disappointment and crankiness (with a Tbsp of boredom) are not a good combination and he was quite the handful to say the least. People must have thought we were nuts. Baby O on the other hand was an absolute dream waiting for the plane-he was fast asleep attached to Daddy O in the baby carrier. Thank goodness we finally saw a plane out in the darkness-that gave us about 30 minutes of a good mood from Boy O. He could barely contain his excitement as we boarded the plane-the airline attendants thought he was the cutest thing (of course that soon changed when he constantly pushed the help button). As soon as the plane took off Baby O woke up and proceeded to scream for the next half hour. I'm sure this was pure heaven for the other passengers. The flight was long and crowded, but after an hour both boys slept practically the entire way. We had a 3-4 hour layover in Amsterdam and were glad to board the plane after we heard that the volcanic ash in Iceland was holding up flights throughout Europe. We spent an extra 2 1/2 hours on the tarmac in addition to a 12 hour flight back to the US, but it was worth it. It felt good to be on American soil once again.
HOME SWEET HOME
We have been home for approximately 3 weeks now and things could not be going better. The first week was tough-I caught a horrendous cold and got pink eye, but now that I've caught up on some sleep and have gotten used to the increased activity level in our home, things are great! I read so many adoption books before we left and my head had been filled with horror stories and issues to be watchful for. So far we have not experienced anything out of the norm and the boys are in picture perfect health. Baby O is crawling, laughing, and eating us out of house and home. Boy O has turned out to be quite the joker and is our darling suction cup. We could not have asked for better children and parenthood is pretty awesome. Even though things are great, I wonder every day how people with more children manage! These two are quite the handful. I find myself napping at the same time and going to bed early. Television, computer time, phone conversations are a thing of the past, but I think as time goes by, I will discover how to be a tad more efficient.
This was such a long post and probably a snooze fest for most, but it will also be a record to share with our boys. Thanks for tuning in!