Monday, May 27, 2013

"Hi, Mom" Is The Most Beautiful Sentence

Day #2 started off really well, just like yesterday. We started our day at 9:00 a.m. (In Ethiopia, that means 9:45, everything is very laid back). The Addis View Hotel driver took us to the IAN offices to have a debriefing for court. Court will be on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. We were able to look through her file and discover a little more information on her. (***For the protection of her privacy, we are not allowed to share this information on a public media site, but would love to share all about our little girl with you in person!)

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and then we were able to go back to the care center and see Tarikua! When we pulled up and I jumped out of the van, I heard a little voice yell "Hi, mom!" I looked up and Tarikua was hanging out the window waving at me! It was the most precious thing and my heart just melted.

She had me at hello.

We went into the care center and were greeted by all the little kids, who were enthralled by the zippers on my purse. Tarikua came downstairs and gave us big hugs and kisses, a much different response than yesterday. She took us by the hand and led us upstairs to her room. She showed us her bed and told us all her friends names.

At first, there was a language barrier and we kind of looked at each other like....uhhhhh...what do we do?

But then we got out the iPhones, and nobody can resist The Apple. We showed Tarikua the photos on Nick's phone and this turned into about an hour of showing her her family in photos and videos. She was starting to put two and two together, like who her brothers and sister are. We sat there on her bed surrounded by all the other girls laughing at silly pictures of Wrigley, watching videos of Owen roller skating, and learning the relationships between the kids.

Soon it was time for everyone to eat lunch. Nick and I sat on the floor while the kids ate. Injera and lamb were for lunch today. There were 4 nannies downstairs taking care of the kids. All the kids are so cute and so well behaved! They all sit in their chairs nicely and quietly. There is no arguing or grabbing or whining or asking for more. They patiently wait for their food to come. And afterwards they all clear their plates.

When Tarikua was done eating, she came and sat on Nick's lap. A minute later, a little boy, probably 2 years old, came over crying because he had gotten in trouble and wanted Nick to console him. It was very cute. They we asked Tarikua if she wanted to play again and she took our hands and led us upstairs. This time we played clapping games and sang some songs. Tarikua seems comfortable and happy with us now.

Then it was time to leave for the day. She gave us kisses and hugs, and I even got a kiss on the lips! I love this girl so incredibly much. Nick and I are completely smitten and can hardly wait for the minute we get to see her again! We are so blessed she is our daughter. Thank you Lord for allowing us to be her mommy and daddy!

After we got back to the Addis View, Joel was there to pick us up. He decided to take us to Entoto Mountain today. The ride up was crazy. It was up the mountain side with no guard rails and there were people everywhere going every which way. Entoto Mountain is the site of the first Ethiopian Orthodox church. It is also the site of the first Emperor's (Emperor Milinik) castle. Joel took us through the Emperor's museum, which was filled with royal clothing and artifacts from the Emperor's reign in the 1890's. It was very cool.

The we saw the first Orthodox church of Ethiopia, which was just a small round hut. Down the lane was a castle that consisted of three small buildings: the living quarters, the bedrooms, and the guest rooms. It was not what you or I would expect a castle to be.

Entoto mountain is said to have Holy Water on it that can heal the sick and elderly. Many people come to Entoto Mountain to drink the water so they will be healed. Some elderly people will come to live and pray on the mountain until they die. We saw both types of people living in small tents built on the side of the mountain waiting for healing.

After Entoto, we headed back down the mountain to a restaurant, Lucy, named after the oldest known discovered human bone. The food was really good and we got to spend time with Joel learning more about him. (Joel became a close personal friend during our trip, almost like a brother to us!).

Then we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest while it rained and stormed outside.

After our little rest, we headed down to the Addis Cafe for a machiatto (best ever!) and some dinner. We ordered a cheeseburger each and some french fries. When they brought the food out, we were shocked to find HUGE burgers (enough to feed two) and french fries PLUS the ones we ordered because we didn't know they came with the burgers. Needless to say, we didn't even eat 1/4 of the food and our total bill? $11.11!

We ended our night on a little walk up and down the street a couple times and to a market where we bought some berberi. It was a very fun, educational and relaxing day!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Blog I Was Supposed To Do While Away...

So I promised a blog update every night from the heart of Ethiopia...

It didn't happen.

But not because I didn't want it to. The Wi-Fi in Addis Ababa was scarce, to say the least, if non-existent. We were told our hotel had it, but it never worked. And we were guaranteed that it would work at the Hilton, but again it managed to escape our digital devices.

I think it was God's way of saying, "PUT DOWN THE PHONES! Immerse yourself in your daughter's culture! Enjoy the beauty of the people, the city, and the history!" And if there is one thing I have learned from this entire adoption journey is the God is ALWAYS RIGHT! And I am grateful for the lack of distraction.

We had the most AMAZING trip. Nick and I's lives were changed by Ethiopia. We not only welcomed a new child into our family, but also became a part of Ethiopia. Ethiopia will forever be who we are now, and we fell in love with our new culture.

Luckily, I was smart enough to blog the old fashioned a journal. I wasn't able to update you all each night of our trip, but now I will share my journal with you, each night at a time to help you all experience what we experienced. Enjoy!

May 5, 2013
"We've arrived! After 16 hours of flights and two countries later, we have found ourselves at the Addis View Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! The journey here was remarkably smooth and could not have gone any better. We took off from O'Hare Airport and flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, Turkey. The flight was long (12 hours!) but it went alot faster than I thought it would. Once in Istanbul, we had a one hour layover until our next flight. It's interesting to see that every airport has everything in their language plus English, which really helps us American travelers who only speak English.

We found our gate for our second flight and could instantly spot the Ethiopian people heading home. They are all so beautiful. It's hard for me not to stare. The women are all so distinctly beautiful and flawless in their skin tone and features. They have the best hair ever! And it's completely opposite of my stick straight, fine hair. So many of the women resembled Tarikua, it was incredible, and it made me even more excited to meet her. The most noticeable thing was how friendly they were to everyone. They smiled at every passenger boarding the plane with us.

We boarded our second flight and made way for the 4.5 hour flight to the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. When we arrived in Addis, it was much what I expected from an airport in Africa: simple, starch, and small. We first had to go through customs, where the lady asked me if was REALLY me in the passport photo. I've lost 15 lbs since the beginning of the year and I guess the customs agent could not tell it was still me from the photo. Luckily, she let us go through without any other problem, but I never thought of weight loss as an issue until that moment.

After customs and exchanging our money ($1 = 18 Birr, making $1000 = 18,000 Birr or in other words, a large stack of cash), we got our luggage and headed out to the city of 4 million people. I'm not going to lie, it's daunting to be the only white people who speak your language walking into a crowd of Africans who speak in a tongue you don't know. It's easy to feel threatened and out of control. Truthfully, I sort of wanted to turn around and head back to the airport and catch a flight back home.

But we didn't, we pressed ahead one step at a time. Our driver met us and took us to his van. The first thing that hit me was the strong stench of exhaust. Already tired and overwhelmed, the smell nearly knocked me over. After we loaded the van, we instantly saw the driving situation here. It's each man for himself. There are cars everywhere (and it's 2 am, mind you) and people walking each and every way. There appears to be no rules of the road, but somehow it seems to work. We drove through the city at 2 a.m. on Easter morning and there were people EVERYWHERE, dressed in traditional white garb. Easter celebrations begin at midnight after a 2 month fast of no meat. So the celebration was just beginning!

We passed by the largest Orthodox church, which was the most ornate, beautiful complex I've ever seen. It was surrounded by people sleeping around it, waiting and watching the beginning of Easter. We arrived at the hotel and with great relief found a beautiful, huge room waiting for us. I fell right to sleep and slept like a baby for hours.

At about 9:00 we got a surprise phone call from Yared (a staff member of our adoption agency)...we are going to meet Tarikua today!!! More to come...

(Later that day)
Yared was coming at noon so we got dressed in Easter clothes and went downstairs to check out the area. It's intimidating walking around and everyone staring at you. The houses are all crumbling stone and drywall with corrugated metal roofs. Everywhere we drove there were people, animals: goats, donkeys, dogs, etc. walking in the street. Yared arrived and took us to see Tarikua!

We got to the Care Center, which is in a new building, in a newly developed part of the city. There are large gates surrounding the center. The nanny let us in and we were immediately led into the courtyard, which led to the dining room. The kids were all starting to gather for an Easter celebration lunch. They had the coffee ceremony all set up and lamb cut up for the Easter dinner. As we walked in, the kids started gathering around us to shake our hands and say "Selam". They were very polite and sweet.

I noticed instantly that Tarikua was not in the room. I looked over to the stairs and before I could see her face, I saw her hair. She came downstairs with a pep in her step and a smile on her face, but as soon as everyone turned to her and said "Tarikua!" and Nick walked over to her, she froze.

I think it hit her then that these strange people were here for her. She was pretty timid towards us, but she gave Nick a hug and then me a hug. I kissed her cheek and told her we were her "annot" (mother) and "addot" (father)."
She smiled at me. She told me she was 7 and I told her, her outfit was beautiful and her hair and bracelets were pretty. She took pictures with us and let us cuddle her. We told her our names and she said "Nick" when I pointed to him.

It was time for them to eat, so she sat down with the other children. Yared took us on a tour of the care center. Second floor was the play room and boys room. The boys had made paper ring chains and hung balloons in their room for Easter. On the third floor was the girls' room (also decorated) and the infant room. We visited with the infants for a while and they were adorable!

Yared led us back downstairs to say goodbye to Tarikua. We gave her hugs again and she kind of ignored us :)

We then had the special treat to celebrate a traditional Ethiopian Easter dinner and coffee ceremony at the Yared's home! Yared has a beautiful home and was so gracious to invite us to experience the culture first hand. His two sons were dressed in little green suits, and they were so adorable and very sweet. They gave us handshakes and hugs to welcome us in their home.

We sat down for a dinner of injera (a spongy bread used to pick up food rather than a fork), Doro Watt (my favorite! chicken cooked in a spicy sauce with Berberi spice), and Tibbs (lamb). The night before that very lamb was grazing in Yared's grassy area before they slaughtered it themselves.

We were not in "Kansas" anymore!

After dinner, we were treated to a coffee ceremony. If you didn't know, Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and coffee is Ethiopia's biggest export. Of all the coffee I drink, Ethiopia by far is my favorite bean. A coffee ceremony consists of roasting the beans over a small fire in the home and then everyone smells the roasted beans and then they make coffee with it. It's all very ceremonial and beautiful and it was one of my favorite parts of the dinner. And it tasted AMAZING!

By this time is was 3 or 4:00 in the afternoon and I felt like we had had a pretty full, culturally eye opening day, but it wasn't going to end there. There were two other men from IAN who we had shared the day with, George and Monty. They had the great idea to go to The Stadium and watch the Ethiopia vs. Egypt soccer game, which is a big match up in Ethiopia. Nick, of course, heard soccer and was sold.

Our plan was to head to The Stadium and purchase tickets when we got there. The Stadium was sold out and there were people everywhere on the street. As soon as people could see we were trying to buy tickets, they started to surround us. I was getting a little nervous because we were shoulder to shoulder with all these men who were taller than me trying to get us to buy their tickets. The cops were getting angry at the gathering crowd and started swinging their billy clubs at the people. The mob kept getting larger as more people were interested in the "forenjis" (foreigners).

We had no luck getting tickets, which I was pretty relieved about, and decided to watch the game at a hotel. On our way out we saw a group of people who had climbed the stadium lights and were watching the game from about 4 stories up on the lights.

It was a pretty incredible day and a head first jump into Ethiopia. The highlight for sure being our sweet baby girl and I can't wait to see her tomorrow!!!"

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Travel to Ethiopia Eve"

I can hardly believe it's here! I'd be lying if I said there was never a thought that this day might not ever arrive. If you followed our emotional journey, you know my faith has been tested on every level. As I look back on the past 2.5 years, where of course hindsight is 20/20, I can see where God had the most perfect plan that I myself could have never imagined. There were times when I couldn't see Him anywhere but then realized He had walked ahead of us to prepare the way. Times where I felt like we were walking in the dark without an ounce of light, only to find that He was behind pushing me when I was utterly afraid to move. When I felt like each obstacle and trial He put us through was entirely too much, He stood by me, held me and said "No, my child, it's just what you need to prepare you for the ultimate adventure I have for you." A mommy to 4 amazing children! So here we are, two and a half years into our adoption journey, at the eve of our trip to Ethiopia. Tomorrow night we will fly 12 hours to Istanbul, Turkey and another 6 hours to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where our beautiful, little girl is waiting. The moment we saw her smile light up her face, we fell in love. We've been blessed to receive pictures, photos, and personality updates from all the other families in our agency. And they all say the same thing: she's gorgeous, so sweet, loves to cuddle, has amazing hair, and has a killer smile. We cannot wait to meet her!!! We will arrive on Sunday morning and get to meet Miss T the next day. We will get 2 hours a day to visit and get to know her. Our adoption court date is Wednesday and until that time we cannot tell her that we are her mommy and daddy. The hope, obviously, is to pass court that day and when you wake up Wednesday morning we will have already posted a picture of our newest family member. I cannot wait to introduce her to you!!! I hope to update everyday on our blog, to tell you and show you all the adventures we have planned. This is a chapter in our lives we will never forget, and praise the Lord, He will continue to walk with us every step of the way!