The following is a detailed account of our trip: (in chronological order from top to bottom)
D-Day -1: Miracle #1 actually occurred Thursday night. Pam and Fred were going to spend the week at our home, so the kids could sleep in their own beds and achieve as high a degree of normalcy in our absence as possible. In preparation for this, Pam brought her work computer over so we could set it up and she would be able to work from our house. I quickly got things connected and Pam left. I powered up the PC just to make sure Internet and printing and all were working properly only to encounter the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death). Her work computer would not boot. I apologize for the ensuing geek speak, but it is necessary to convey the full force of the situation. I tried safe mode, last known good and even boot to command prompt…no go. I scrounged for a Windows 2000 installation disk to boot to recovery console but then did not know the admin password in order to authenticate. Yeah, I could hack the admin password but the PC is actually property of Pam’s employer and they would likely frown on that! What to do? Not much can be accomplished on a Win2K workstation without the admin password. Even if I could get a boot disk built which would support NTFS, authentication would still be required. It was about 8:00pm Thursday night. We were leaving the following morning. The last thing on God’s green earth I wanted to deal with is my mother-in-law’s crashed workstation, but if I couldn’t fix it, she couldn’t work. So I went to the Internet in search of a tool to get into the NTFS partition. By the way, the kernel error is an incompatibility between a Logitech mouse driver and W2K SP4. Because the system is usually hooked to mouse and keyboard via KVM, apparently this had not been an issue until moving it to my house: perfect timing, as always. The Internet reveals an obscure tool for booting and obtaining read/write access to NTFS: NTFS4Dos from Avira! Eureka! Two small problems: even though I now knew what I needed, I couldn’t find it anywhere for download, not to mention that, even if I could get it to work, I still need to authenticate via admin password for it to help! Foiled again. So I scrounge through my desk drawers in desperation looking for some sort of Linux boot CD and, lo and behold, I stumble across a Linux UBCD (ultimate boot CD). With little to no hope, I popped it into the drive and booted the PC. Much to my glorious surprise, the CD actually contained NTFS4Dos…what are the odds?!? Hope began to emerge though only faintly. I still couldn’t authenticate. I needed to rename the Logitech driver and replace it with another. I clicked through the menus, launching NTFS4Dos and then in vain instructing it to rename the file…and it worked. I don’t know why, it didn’t even ask for authentication. As you can imagine, I was praying feverishly at this point and actually beginning to believe it might work! I booted yet again and have never in all my days been so happy to see the login prompt for a Windows 2000 workstation! Only one small remaining problem: W2K does not initialize new hardware until after login, meaning it still will not recognize the keyboard or mouse, as they are USB. I scramble yet again, as I seem to recall giving an old PS/2 keyboard to my daughter to play with! One more time, what are the odds? I dig through my daughter’s toy keyboard out of the toy bin, plug it in and glory to God – it worked! With calamity narrowly averted and with the help of a Guinness, I breathed a sigh of relief and retired for the evening. Seriously, trust me on this: miraculous is the only word for it.
ET Day 1 (Saturday): The day of departure was finally upon us! We headed to the airport approximately 13 hours early because you can’t be too careful about such things! We checked in at the NWA counter and the dreaded moment of luggage weigh in arrived. We had six bags, three of which were stuffed to the gills with orphanage donations. Our largest bag weighed in at 57 lbs…ouch. The very kind but completely unsympathetic gal behind the counter asked if we would like to rearrange our luggage. Considering I spent half a day doing so the day before, I said fat chance. I wanted to ask her whether she thought the little orphan boys should do without shoes or the little orphan girls should do without vitamins, but I refrained. She weighed two more of our bags, both of which were overweight. I did mention that they were orphanage donations, to which she politely responded, “that’s nice, how about $50 please?” Ok, she probably didn’t say precisely those words, but that is what I heard. I told her I thought her scale was off, which helped a lot, and then threw my credit card at her. Off to a good start.
The flight was long and uneventful: 10 hours from PDX to Schipol (Amsterdam); three hour lay-over; 8 hours to Bole (Addis Ababa), with one hour in Khartoum for re-fueling. Upon arrival in Addis, we spent a delightful two hours standing in line, getting a visa, being bullied by the airport “staff” who apparently were not actual airport staff and having some valuable items stolen from a duffle bag. Welcome to Ethiopia!
When we emerged battered and bruised from Bole, we were on sharp lookout for our driver, who was supposed to have a sign with our name on it! Unfortunately, there were no signs to be seen. I would have settled for “Smith!” Nothing. I began to get that sinking feeling…our driver probably didn’t show or got sick of waiting for us. But then, to my absolute amazement, I recognize a face in the crowd! I only know two faces in all of Ethiopia: Tomas and Sarsina. Tomas eagerly greeted us, introduced us to our driver, who did not need a sign because Tomas knew us, and told us our daughter was waiting in the parking lot! We were speechless.
A little history is in order: on Wednesday prior to our departure, I emailed our agency hoping to find out exactly what would transpire once we arrived in Addis. When would we meet Sarsina? As we arrived late Saturday night, could we get her Sunday? Details! I needed details. The response was that Rahel was in church on Sundays and that we would probably get to meet Sarsina on Monday. Monday!?!? Probably?!? This made me unhappy. I sent an email or two and made a phone call and purposed in my heart that I did not need anyone’s permission to go get my daughter. Rachelle suggested I calm down a bit. I said, “I AM CALM!” Little did I know that Sarsina meeting us at the airport was already in the works.
Return to Bole: Sarsina is in the parking lot! We found out later that she had forgotten her ID and they would not let her into the airport without it. Naturally I had imagined this moment many times over the past few months. Until that moment, we were not even sure she knew when we were coming? Would she be excited, petrified, anxious? Should I hug her, shake her hand, blubber like a child (I was leaning towards the latter)? “She’s waiting in the parking lot!” And the moment was upon us.
We entered the parking lot and I spied her from afar. My heart was pounding and I was so terribly elated just to see her. When she recognized us she began running towards me, right into my arms. Unbelievable. I spontaneously decided to combine hugging and blubbering like a child. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life. Sarsina was smiling from ear to ear and seemed overjoyed to meet us. Miracle #2.
When we arrived at the guest house, we were unsure as to whether Sarsina wanted to stay with us that night or go home. We asked Tomas and Sarsina enthusiastically asked to stay with us! Tremendous. So concluded day one in Ethiopia, wildly beyond our hopes and dreams.
ET Day 2 (Sunday): As I recall, we actually slept reasonably well the first night. Ethiopia, near as I can tell, is never quiet. At night, the dogs begin to bark, sometimes the generators kick on and sometimes, if you happen to be staying at the Yeka (room 106) a goat dies outside your window all night long, every night. At first, I thought it was a child wailing, then I reasoned that could not be and it must be a cat or some form of farm animal, but I now believe it was an alien sent to earth to torment me. In any case, we slept and invariably woke at 2:00am ready to get up! Fortunately, most mornings, a hot shower awaits, with water pressure near that of a spitting child but I digress…
We had nothing planned for Sunday, as we had expected to be scheming to get our daughter. We went downstairs for breakfast, which consisted of an omelet, toast, fresh juice and coffee and was served by Sarsina’s older brother, Mare [pronounced “mare” (like a horse) + “a” (like “uh”)]. It was plain and simple and delicious. Sarsina was served toast, and Rachelle handed her the knife and butter. She looked quizzically at them both and then attempted to cut the toast at an angle with the knife. It was adorable. She had obviously never used silverware.
After breakfast, we hung out in our room. We looked at pictures on the laptop, tried to learn some Amharic words and spent a lot of time staring and smiling at one another. I confess we were initially somewhat dismayed at how little English Sarsina spoke and understood.
Ayele [pronounced “eye” (as in eyeball) + L
(like the letter “L”) + a (like “uh”) arrived
to drive us to visit Sarsina’s home, Tomas and Baraket [pronounced
“bare” + “uh” + “ket” (as in “cat”ch)].
Much to my chagrin, just prior to his arrival, Rachelle confessed to feeling
extremely poorly. I think it was mostly jet lag (exhaustion, nausea, etc),
so she stayed in the room.
Visiting Sarsina’s home would likely have been much different had we not already seen pictures and videos and had some idea what to expect. Her home was on a busy street, with a relatively new and seemingly upscale university across the road. Entering her home involved walking through what I can only describe as a corrugated metal wall into a small “courtyard” (about 10’x10’ perhaps) using the term very, very loosely. Their home is roughly 8’ x 12’ or thereabouts, the size of a reasonable bedroom in the good ‘ol USA. Did I mention that four of them live there?
Atmospherically, I was keenly aware of Sarsina, of her demeanor and of how Tomas and Baraket related to her. It made me a tiny bit uncomfortable, as she appeared a tiny bit uncomfortable. She obviously did everything around the house, from cleaning to cooking to waiting on the men. I realize this is the cultural norm, it was just difficult to submit my daughter to their authority. In any case, she “tsked” as she walked through the “courtyard” like a mother returning to find her errant teenage sons having made a “mess of the place.” She straightened things a bit and seemed perhaps a little embarrassed. She then began to make tea, accompanied by the bananas we had brought and some bread. Again, everything was surprisingly delicious.
Tomas shared with me how happy he was that we had come and that we were adopting Sarsina. He said he believed everything happens for a purpose and that he believed God had made our family for Sarsina. I told him we agreed. We talked about various things, often returning to photos. Although we had obviously intended the photo books we sent ahead to Ethiopia to be for Sarsina, it seemed as if she basically had no possessions. Everything was theirs, especially the photo albums, which were apparently very precious to them. I had a photo of the Kileen family because I wanted to ask some questions about Kalkedan and Havtomo. When I showed them, you’d have thought it was solid gold. They gently struggled with one another as to who got to hold it and look at it. Baraket actually kissed Kalkedan’s picture. They asked if I might have another one, and I told them they could keep it! They were thrilled.
We stayed for a couple of hours. I gather that in Ethiopia, guests receive the best food and it is somewhat difficult and insulting to say “no” when offered anything to eat. We had at least two or three large pieces of bread and multiple bananas! Poor Jeremiah could not keep up with eating what Sarsina handed him, so I dutifully ate his bananas while no one was looking! These were precious moments. Sarsina obviously has a servant’s heart and enjoyed waiting on us.
When we returned to the Yeka, we ordered some food from a nearby restaurant with the help of Jitu [pronounced “G” (as in the “gee” whiz) + “2” (as in “two”)], who was absolutely invaluable to us throughout our stay. We ordered shiro something or other (a spicy, chick-pea concoction, reminiscent of meatless chili/bean-dip), another dish which was unrecognizable even to Sarsina, lots of injera and, of course, chicken nuggets and French fries for Jeremiah! I wish we had waited for our first taste of Ethiopian food, as it was much better elsewhere.
The front desk called us at about 6:00pm and said our food was “coming.” So we waited for another call. Knowing that things moved slowly, we waited until almost 7:30pm, at which time I walked downstairs to investigate, only to discover that “coming” meant “arrived!” It had been sitting for an hour and a half. We ate regardless and, as mentioned, it was not very good, not terrible, but not great. Jeremiah’s chicken nuggets resembled small potatoes and were fried balls of chicken sausage or some such. He was nonplussed. French fries are apparently universal, despite lack of ketchup.
Then followed our first stupid American moment; okay not our first but our most obvious. We had tons of food left over and we proceeded to wrap it up and throw it away. The following day, around noon, we happened to be passing the shared kitchen area only to discover the staff eating our leftovers. They had apparently fished it out of the trash and were thoroughly enjoying it. Humbling. For the remainder of our trip, when we had leftovers, we neatly wrapped it and set it on the counter, indicating to the front desk that we were finished with it.
Following dinner, we retired for the night, drifting off to dream to the cacophony of yips, yaps, grunts and squeals.
ET Day 3 (Monday): I do not specifically recall when, but we often awoke to the additive harmony of generators howling in the mornings, as the power was out frequently. Internet worked only now and again and, apparently everyone at the Yeka attempted to take showers between 5:30-6:00am, which always resulted in extremely low water pressure and occasionally no hot water.
Day three began as usual: omelet, coffee, fresh juice and toast, delightfully satisfying. Our driver picked us up at about 10:00am and we headed to Hope’s Infant Home to drop off formula and to meet Sally (not her real name) who was clandestinely visiting ET. Hope’s Infant Home was very neat and tidy. The children were absolutely, jaw-dropping adorable. One little boy in particular caught our eye as he lie rather motionless with a pained expression on his face. Sally explained that he never smiled and was unresponsive to the nannies. Moments later, while in the play area, Sarsina picked him up and began cooing and making faces and gently playing with him. He immediately began grinning and lit up like a baby boy should. Sarsina was amazing, as usual, in her element with the babies. It was great fun to watch!
The caregivers seemed a little leary of us, some giving
us glares, others openly smiling. At one point, Jeremiah spied a lizard
in the garden and took a photo. A couple of the caregivers and the gatekeeper
found this incredibly amusing, as they thought he was taking pictures
of the meager garden. They were chuckling at us goofy Americans. We did
not bother to explain.
Off to Kechene Children’s Home, the largest state run orphanage in Addis, supposedly housing almost 200 children. A friend in the US had children waiting at Kechene and had not received updates in months, so we were on a mission to get in and visit them and take pictures if at all possible. Our driver had a little difficulty finding the joint and when we did it was surreal, a bit like in a horror movie. The spirit of the place was formidable, dark and foreboding. When we entered the sprawling compound, it appeared vacant. We noticed a woman working and Ayele asked who we should speak to about seeing the children in question. I brought a photo with their names and ages written on it and told Ayele that I was prepared to “make a donation” if we could see the boys. The woman directed us to the office where we met who I assume was the orphanage director. After some conversation between the director and Ayele, he informed me that the children were not there, that they had been moved a month and a half prior. So we left empty handed, so to speak. As we left Kechene, a handful of toddlers emerged from a ramshackle building. They initially looked very excited to see us and we smiled and waved. The next few moments were a bit confusing as we more closely observed their countenances, one child in particular. A little girl, who looked like she might have had dried blood on her face, rushed towards the car, wide eyed and intent on reaching us. She began kicking rocks towards the car and then groping for a stone to throw at us. She was probably two to three years old. She had a look in her eyes that sent shivers up my spine. As we drove off, I reasoned that I must have been reading things on her face that were not really there. No toddler could have such anger and hatred. I put it out of my mind and diverted my attention to the scenery outside just in time to see a large rock go whizzing by my window. Fortunately she missed. God help those children.
From Kechene, we went to weaver’s market where we watched some skilled craftsmen scuttle thread and weave intricate, beautiful patterns in cloth. Amazing. We purchased a scarf for Sarsina and left for souvenir shops. On the way out, Rachelle spotted traditional ET coffee pots and we stopped to look. However, Sarsina did not approve. She evaluated the pots with an expert eye, thumped them gently and pronounced them too expensive. So we left.
Apparently shopping areas are divided more or less by types of goods. Around weaver’s market, the shops were primarily traditional ET clothing. In the souvenir area we found carved wooden animals, coffee pots, mortar and pestle and a few gift items.
Following a stop for more bottled water, we headed “home” to freshen up before dinner. We then went to Fasika to meet Sally for traditional ET cuisine and traditional dancing. We ordered the equivalent of a sampler plate and partook of various exotic flavors from a ground spinach paste to barely cooked ground meet in delicious spices to shiro and doro all wrapped in dark or light injera. I was determined to try everything, with the exception of the barely cooked meat. However, my daughter had other plans. She promptly chose the tastiest morsel of the barely-cooked-meat-stuff, which is apparently Sarsina’s favorite, and plopped it into my mouth! In truth, it was delicious. The sites, the smells, the tastes: we just soaked it all up. ET began to become part of us and I confess, I liked it.
Dinner was followed by dancing. Three dancers and a live band wore traditional ET costumes and danced traditional ET dances representing different regions of the country. The drums were particularly cool: four piece, no bass drum, no snare, no cymbals, just open bottom cowhide. Very cool. During one particular bone-jarring, “how-the-flip-do-they-do-that” dance, the dancers circulated through the audience attempting to coerce onlookers to participate. Sally was targeted and, despite obvious serious reservations, stood and put on her best groove, shoulder racking and all! It was a hoot, no less so because she is truly Caucasian in every sense of the word! Both of our drivers participated, but Sarsina topped them all! She went toe to toe with one of the female dancers and danced like a pro. What an experience.
As all good things must come to an end, almost three hours from the outset of dinner, we retired for the evening. It was an amazing day.
ET Day 4 (Tuesday): So Tuesday morning rolled around, the day before our embassy appointment, and we needed to track down Rahel. Unfortunately, our driver was busy with someone else, so we called Sally, whose driver graciously picked us up on their way to Hope’s place.
We spent a couple hours just hanging out with the children again. The staff performed a coffee ceremony on our behalf, and finally Rahel showed up. We completed our paperwork without issue.
We took up donations for KVI prior to our arrival in ET. We ran out of room for supplies in our luggage and so took about $150 US to ET with us to give to the orphanage. As we hung out and observed the caregivers at Hope’s Infant Home, we were moved deeply by their labor; watching them clean and wash and hold the babies. So we purposed to give each of the caregivers some money. Since the orphanage was staffed 24/7, there were about 23 caregivers total. We were able to hand them each 50 birr. You’d have thought we gave them a $100,000! They were so incredibly grateful. Humbling is such an understatement. Needless to say, their demeanor changed dramatically. They smiled and laughed and said broken “thank you’s!” Big fun.
With our embassy paperwork done and no driver, we headed back to the Yeka for the remainder of the day. Sarsina was in the habit of taking afternoon naps and so we crashed out.
During our down time at the Yeka, we sat in the courtyard, looked at flowers, played Frisbee, took pictures of enormous insects, learned some more Amharic and generally worked at being silly and having fun.
That evening, we joined forces with Sally and Kathy, Kathy’s newly adopted daughter and bio daughter and Kathy’s sister Geri and headed to the Top View Restaurant, an Italian joint oddly enough on the top of a hill overlooking Addis. The atmosphere was very cool. The food was not too shabby: I’m thinking about one notch below Olive Garden, which in ET tasted pretty damn fine!
Prior to dinner, we headed to the restroom to, well, do what you do in the restroom. Jeremiah and I headed into the men’s and Rachelle headed into the women’s and Sarsina followed us into the men’s room! Fortunately the urinals had dividers! Jeremiah whispered in astonishment, “Sarsina is in here!” I whispered, “Just pretend you don’t see her and she’ll figure it out soon enough.” She quickly grasped the situation and made a hasty retreat! It made for a memorable moment.
I ate ravioli in cream sauce, chased by an Ethiopian St. George beer. Jeremiah had meat lasagna, Sarsina had spicy spaghetti and Rachelle had chicken kabobs. All in all, it was a very pleasant evening.
ET Day 5 (Wednesday): I am not certain, but I believe it was actually Tuesday night that the weight of the world descended upon me. Earlier in the day, I had observed some laborers mixing concrete by hand and carrying small batches of mud up two or three stories of steep, wooden ramps, slowly and painstakingly building a concrete, multi-story building. I was taken aback by the labor-intensive process and asked Ayele how much a laborer might make in a day. He replied that they likely made somewhere around 30 birr a day: the equivalent of less than $3 US. As I sat on the porch of our room at the guest house, with my snazzy Samsung Netbook in my lap, it occurred to me that I recently paid an Ethiopian-laborer’s wages for an entire year for my Netbook! Frankly unbidden and unwelcome numbers tumbled through my head: dinner the night before cost a month’s wages, a latte back home more than entire day’s wage, my shoes a month’s wages…on and on. I began to weep. I felt pitiful, selfish, small and greedy. I recalled having asked a few of the company owners from the business where I work if they might know of a place to get a stethoscope or two and perhaps an otoscope, as these were specific needs of an orphanage we were visiting, knowing full well that they all had more than one and that their combined income was greater than $3 million/year, and I recalled their response. I received one: “I have two stethoscopes. One is extremely poor quality. You can have that one.” When it was given to me, I gauged the value at about $9 and it came encrusted with earwax. Sitting overlooking slums in Addis, I wanted to scream, even more so: I wanted to change. All I knew to do was cry.
When I was finally able to go to sleep, I dreamt of meeting two children, both of whom I knew to be sick. Despite the fact that they were ill, they seemed in good spirits and I asked them how they were doing. They both replied that they were doing well. The younger of the two departed, and I asked the older again, sincerely how he was doing. His face changed and became sorrowful and he responded that he was in great pain but that he didn’t want anyone to know. I began to weep yet again and cried out to God, “Why must his be?” God responded that there is much suffering in the world. I asked Him how He could possibly bear it and He responded, “I welcome them home.” I woke to a wet pillow. The remainder of the morning, I struggled to hold it together. Now, in retrospect, I am struggling to maintain the feeling.
Wednesday was our Embassy date, so we did not plan on going out in the morning. Our appointment was at 1:30pm, our driver was supposed to pick us up at 12:30pm. At breakfast, Mare handed me his phone and said that Tomas needed to speak with me. Tomas explained that their home was in Sarsina’s name, that they needed her to go with him and Baraket to sign some papers transferring the registration into Tomas’ name and that their appointment was around 10:00am. It was about 10:15am when we had this conversation. Upon learning of Tomas’ request, Sarsina looked somewhat unhappy, but I didn’t want to refuse Tomas and so agreed she could go with him but that I was going along as well. They showed up at about 10:30am and I told them we had to be back by 12:30pm in two hours to go to our Embassy appointment. He responded, “We’ll try.” I did my best Yoda impression and said, “There is no try, only do! We MUST be back in two hours,” and off we went in an ET taxi!
Of course, I was along to protect Sarsina, but she was convinced the opposite was true and gently took my arm and led me around, guiding me across the busy streets and smiling to reassure me everything was ok. I liked it.
When we arrived at the office building, the “Ministry of Records” or some such, Tomas and Sarsina went inside while Baraket and I enjoyed buna, very fine buna at that. We made small talk and he asked me off-handedly if my cell phone worked in ET? I whipped out my Nokia E71 (about a $400 unit…yeah that’s almost a month’s wages) and replied smartly that it did indeed, to which he cheerfully queried, “Can it be your gift to me?” I stuttered for a moment and said something thoughtful like, “Um, err…no,” and then tried to change the subject. He went on to ask about my “company,” Gladius, as I had given Tomas a business card with my email address on it. He was genuinely certain that he could be a great asset if I would sponsor him and bring him to the US! I said it’s a pretty small company. He said, “How small?” I said, “Um, just me.” He pursued another tack. “Susan Killeen sends us money. She is a very good woman. Maybe you should send us money?” He went on to describe the hardship he would experience in Sarsina’s absence, specifically that she made the injera and that he would no longer get injera, only bread. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so gracious at the time. I just smiled and pretended to have no idea what he was talking about. A few hours later, after reviewing the conversation in my mind, I wanted to track him down and tell him what I thought of his hardship!
About this time, Tomas and Sarsina returned and Tomas looked unhappy. There had apparently been a mistake on their paperwork and they had been unable to get the papers signed. Not knowing when or if we might have time to return, he was exasperated. He decided to try again in our remaining few minutes and they went back inside. The re-emerged at very nearly 12:30pm looking much relieved and we headed for a taxi. We were late but not terribly so and believe it or not I was pretty relaxed. We arrived at the Yeka at about 12:45pm. I had purposed in my mind that if, worse came to worse, I could call Ayele and tell him to pick up Rachelle and Jeremiah and meet us at the Embassy. Unfortunately, I never told Rachelle that and she was moderately panicked that we were late and that she had no way to contact me.
We made it to the Embassy in plenty of time to sit and wait. I had pleasant conversation with an American adoptive family who was adopting a boy that Sarsina apparently knew. We exchanged contact info and commiserated regarding our frustrations with Hope and Shimeliss. This was a definite theme shared in almost all encounters with Hope families!
When our time came, we headed upstairs for that fateful moment, admittedly a little nervous as this seemed the final hurdle to overcome. We swore that our paperwork was active, answered questions about Sarsina’s parents (both deceased) and about who had forfeit parental rights (Sarsina’s grandmother) and were then handed a piece of paper to sign acknowledging that we were aware Sarsina had class-II TB exposure and would require further evaluation and possible treatment in the US! As we were not aware of this, we stammered a bit and swallowed hard and wondered precisely what this meant? We know of other families who were not able to bring their children home to the US because of inconclusive TB tests! Were they going to let us complete the adoption? Our minds raced and our hearts pounded and we did our level best to appear nonplussed, as we gathered we were supposed to have been told this by our agency already. By the grace of God, we continued, signed here and there and were dismissed to await Sarsina’s passport/visa and our adoption packet. It was an intense few moments and, yet again, I wanted to have stern words with Hope but refrained, comforting myself with the singular thought: come Friday, when they hand us the passport/visa and paperwork, we are DONE with them!
As we were emotionally exhausted, we returned to the Yeka for the remainder of the day and evening, ordering takeout for dinner.
One Afternoon: One afternoon, we found ourselves sitting in the lobby of the Yeka while our room was being cleaned. The television was loud and obnoxious in the sitting area and the generator was howling outside, so the lobby remained. All at once, a fellow American rushed the front desk crying out for scissors! She had a shower cap on her head and a somewhat crazed look in her eye and proclaimed, “We have lice!” She had just adopted a five-year-old little girl and had attempted one lice treatment already. The woman at the front desk reported that they had no scissors but offered a kitchen knife? We sucked air a bit when she replied, “We’ll just have to do it razor style,” meaning cutting the little girl’s hair. Moments later they emerged from the kitchen area with a steak knife in hand! The American was accompanied by a 13-year-old young lady also from the USA who was actually in ET with her family. She had apparently been to ET three times already, was on her fourth adoption trip with her mother and frankly had more experience with adoption than all of us in the room combined. She was the one holding the knife when they re-entered the lobby, grasping it by the blade! I had visions of “razor” style with a butter knife and ventured, “Um, is that knife even sharp?” They said of course and I asked if I might see it. They handed it over and I ran my finger down the blade confirming my suspicion. I could have sat on it to no ill effect: dull as a proverbial hoe. Being the helpful fellow I am and not being one to go anywhere without a sharp knife, I cheerfully volunteered a blade only to immediately wonder the wisdom of handing anyone in the room a “razor” sharp knife! Nevertheless, I was committed and went upstairs to retrieve my trusty Swiss-Army knife, complete with smallish pair of scissors and a very, very sharp blade. I handed it over while offering a prayer for the little girl’s scalp.
Unfortunately, the panic was somewhat contagious, and we
found ourselves sitting in the lobby desperately trying to resist the
urge to scratch our heads. Lice in ET is hardly worth mentioning, but
we are Americans and parasites are the stuff of horror movies, not everyday
life. We nonchalantly examined Sarsina’s scalp while still standing
in the lobby and, despite her impeccable composure, I am certain the knife-wielding,
shower-cap ensconced, “razor-style” American was flashing
through her mind and she looked just a little anxious. Fortunately, there
was no cause for alarm and our sympathetic itching subsided leaving us
with chuckle fodder for the remainder of our stay in ET. Oh, the stuff
ET Day 6 (Thursday): No offense to anyone except Muslims, but I’m not fond of Muslims, particularly when awakened at 5:00am by their off-key chanting blared from a crackling loudspeaker. I actually preferred the barking dogs and the aforementioned dying farm animal. I remarked in passing to our driver something to the effect of “doesn’t that piss everyone off?” He replied, “Muslims are always bothering people in the morning.”
In any case, following our forced passive participation in a Muslim worship service, we had an omelet, toast, fresh juice and coffee and hit the road. Our first stop was the black market! I needed to exchange some USD for birr and asked our driver where best to accomplish this. He said that the banks offered about 11:1 rates, while we could get 13:1 on the black market. I replied, “As long as they don’t wear maroon uniforms and work at the airport, I’m cool,” and off we went to the criminal underworld, which happened to be the backroom of a rug store. Go figure. The “criminal” was very polite, showed me his math, offered me his calculator and sat back patiently while I counted my birr. All in all, it was a very pleasant transaction.
Next stop: Kingdom Vision International’s orphanage in Addis. We had lugged three suitcases full of donations from the US and were anxious to hand them over, to see the children and to meet Eyob, KVI’s Executive Director.
We pulled into the gated courtyard of a very neat and tidy, somewhat cramped establishment. No sooner did we step from the car than we were surrounded by eager orphans with expectant eyes and hesitant hands. As soon as we engaged them, they wanted to hold our hands and climb up our legs and be held. We staff gently ushered them aside and offered us the grand tour. Unfortunately one little boy was convinced Rachelle was his mother and had a vice grip on her hand. It was small comfort when we were assured that this particular child did actually have an adoptive family coming for him soon.
We met Eyob briefly at the outset of our tour but were told he had to leave and that we would see him later at their new office. The tour was short but very sweet. They showed us where to unload the donations, and then we all crammed into about a 6’ x 8’ room, which served as their office. The proudly showed us hand drawn charts on the walls illustrating the individual children’s progress in the multiple areas of training, from school work to interpersonal skills to hygiene. They had charts showing how many staff people they had and how many children of each age group were there, etc. They were obviously doing their very best to be organized, professional and responsible. It was truly touching. They were also extremely grateful for the donated items. We were asked not to take photos of the children and so did not get many pictures while there.
Following our tour, we headed to their main office in a nearby office building to meet Eyob. They brought in extra chairs and we sat semi-circle around Eyob’s desk. He proceeded to share with us what KVI was up to, what his vision was and what their needs were. He told us of the 90+ children they currently housed in their two orphanages, as well as the few hundred additional children that they had found sponsors for and the programs they had for teaching woman skills to achieve financial independence. He related that they had placed over 30 children in adoptive homes and that they hoped to start two additional orphanages by the end of the year. He also has a goal of increasing child sponsorship to 1,000 children by 2010. He went on to describe how blessed he was by our presence, how encouraging it was that people like us visited to show our support and how truly humbled he was by families like ours who opened their hearts and homes to orphans.
Eyob struck us as a very humble, purpose-driven individual. It is truly hard to believe that KVI has only been in existence for about a year and a half. They have accomplished incredible things, in Eyob’s words “miraculous” things. He gave full credit to God and repeatedly said, “I am nothing, but God has chosen to use me.”
It is frankly difficult to encapsulate our encounter. We were moved, humbled and stirred all at once and felt an immediate connection to this determined and passionate man. We told him that, though we did not know how, we wanted to help KVI in any way we could. He shared with us that he would be coming to the US in July of this year and would be visiting Washington state. We are thinking and praying and mulling how God would have us come alongside Eyob and KVI. We shared contact info and parted ways.
Next came shoe shopping, which is almost as much fun in ET as it is in the US, with the added twist that, if they see you coming, they raise the prices! We got smart by the third store and sent Sarsina in by herself. Once she found shoes, we swooped in with the cash, and the store owner proclaimed that he would have charged us more had he known we were together! Four stores and two pairs of shoes later, we handed out a couple of granola bars and climbed back into the car.
We then went in search of a hair salon! Rachelle had inquired of Jitu regarding where to get Sarsina’s hair done. As it turned out, Jitu’s sister had a salon and would be willing to see us. Our driver called Jitu in transit and got directions to their shop.When we arrived it became apparent that they had opened up just for us. They proceeded to spend almost two hours washing and braiding Sarsina’s hair and straightening Rachelle’s, all the while graciously and enthusiastically sharing their food and drink, performing a three-course buna ceremony and playing music videos so that we might experience more of their culture. Imagine our surprise when they popped in a DVD and a music video came on that we had watched on YouTube at home! What are the odds?
Again, it is difficult to describe how touching and humbling this encounter was. They were so eager to share, so proud of their culture, so generous and gracious. They spent almost two hours doing the ladies’ hair, shared sodas, coffee and snacks and, when we asked how much we owed them, they replied 35 birr (just over $3). I gave them five times that much and still felt sheepish. They were all hugs and smiles as we left, and we felt very blessed in more ways than I can describe.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Yeka and then headed to Castille, a highly recommended, upscale Italian restaurant across town. They stopped us at the front door and I was not sure they were going to let us in, despite having reservations! Anytime you have to fight to even get into a restaurant, walk away! But no, we were there and we ventured on…unfortunately. From the moment we walked through the door, they were unhappy with our presence, although I know not why. Our waiter immediately began to stare down his nose at us, suggesting we rearrange how we were sitting at the table and then sneering at us while we ordered beverages. I was aghast when I read the menu and tried valiantly not to do the “how much would this meal equate to in ET laborer wages!” Lets just say it was expensive. Had we not been with Kathy and Jeri and both our drivers, I would have walked out. But that was not feasible, so we scoured the menu for cheaper items and determined to split three meals between the four of us. Sarsina spied the menu and prices and looked horrified. This did not make the waiter happy which made me happy. During our meal, a fellow at another table appeared to be rather enjoying staring at Rachelle and Kathy. I confess my mood was already slightly soured, so I got his attention and glared at him ferociously, seriously debating visiting his table. He decided to mind his own business and we finished our meal without further incident. I paid our bill, leaving a trifling tip and we walked out. The maître d glared at us, the doorman glared at us and we were mighty glad to exit the building.
ET Day 7 (Friday): Thursday night we went to bed with great expectations of spending the day on Friday waiting for Rahel, who is apparently notorious for being late. Our anticipation was heightened by the fact that Rahel never actually told us she was coming by to drop off Sarsina’s passport/visa/paperwork. We had just overhead other families saying that they had been told to wait at their hotel/guest house. So we waited.
We happened to be passing the front desk and murmuring to another family about when on earth Rahel might show up, when one of the hotel staff overhead, rolled her eyes and said, “Rahel? You’d better call her!” Apparently her reputation preceded her.
I am not fond of waiting, so at noon I called her. I was standing mid-step between the Yeka courtyard and the parking lot when Rahel answered. I had the strangest stereophonic experience briefly and turned to see Rahel standing in front of me. Guess I should have called sooner.
Rahel handed over the visa/passport/paperwork without incident, and we breathed a sigh of relief at our newfound independence from Rahel, Hope & Shimeliss.
Paperwork safely tucked away, we piled in the car yet again and headed to Sarsina’s home for our last visit. I had butterflies and was not looking forward to the afternoon. We spent a few hours there, with Mare, Tomas and Baraket, as well as a few neighbors who popped in to say their goodbyes. They were excited to perform a coffee ceremony and to feed us lunch. Unfortunately, they had no coffee, no sugar and I do not think any meat or injera. They stealthily whispered among themselves and Sarsina gave them some of the money I had stuck in her purse to go next door and purchase coffee beans and sugar, etc, following which we had the immense pleasure of watching our daughter sit in the corner of her meager shack and prepare a gourmet meal by ET standards: delicious, fresh roasted, hand-ground coffee x 3 and some sort of spicy beef concoction over injera. She may never have used a fork, but she is a whiz with a kitchen knife and sliced through onions like a pro! She was and is amazing. The food was delicious if for no other reason than she made it for us. We soaked it all in.
At one point, I got up to take a photo and then returned to my seat on the edge of one of the beds. When I sat down again, I managed to sit on the curtain that was used for a room divider, bringing the curtain rod and all down on my head! Much laughter ensued, especially after I stood and took a bow! Truthfully we had a very nice time and the fateful moment was soon upon us. We rose to leave, snapped a couple of family photos and convened by the car. The next moments were very difficult. The women cried, the men stared at the ground sniffling and Sarsina said her goodbyes to everyone except her brothers, whom we would see again the following day. As I stood struggling to maintain my composure, Mare said, “You have the style of an actor,” which I thought an interesting comment with interesting timing.
Not wanting to return to the Yeka to sit and stare at one another, we went to Robero’s coffee to purchase some ET beans. We bought four ½ kilos. They didn’t seem to care for us much at Robero’s. They packaged our beans and then sealed the bags and one did not seal. They tested the bags, noted that the one was unsealed, glanced at me and put them all in the bag. I took the unsealed bag out and dropped it on the counter somewhat harshly. I wasn’t in the mood. They sneered at me and resealed it and we left to find some spices. We stopped at a roadside shop and bought a few kilos of beri beri, as well as some spiced shiro. Then came our last souvenir expedition, in search of a couple more items to commemorate our trip.
Hunger struck and we decided to head to familiar territory: Top View, where I did what every good American father does when his daughter is sad. I bought her ice cream. We had an enjoyable meal and called it a night.
ET Day 8: And all of a sudden, the last day was upon us. In a word, bittersweet. In some ways, we were so, so ready to come home. In other ways, we knew final goodbyes were before us and in some small way, we knew we would be leaving part of our hearts behind in ET. Oddly, we had made connections, connections with Negist and Jitu, connections with Tomas and Mare, connections with our daughter’s home.
We did breakfast as usual and then hung out with Mare in the courtyard. We asked as many questions as we could about their parents, about the cousins and about Sarsina. Ever the servant, Mare made us coffee and we sat and talked. Mare was a very soft-spoken young man, humble and unassuming. He was a hard worker, working two jobs, six days a week, 7am to 11pm. At 11pm, it was too late to get a taxi home, so the hotel where he worked gave him a bed to sleep in. If they had work for him on the seventh day, he worked that day as well. As near as we could tell, he owned two work shirts, one for each job. He wore the same shirts every day. He greeted us every morning with a cheerful smile, a “good morning” and a “how is today?” all just above a whisper. He served us fresh juice and toast and omelet, sometimes “pancake” and coffee, always coffee. And we grew to love him.
Around noon, Mare had to go to his second job. We all hugged, said our goodbyes and watched him walk down the long Yeka driveway. We told him, Lord willing, we would be back.
Then we packed, consolidating suitcases and trying to guess how heavy 50 lb feels so as not to get charged for overweight bags. Then we awaited Tomas’ arrival. He showed up early afternoon and once again we sat in the courtyard and talked and sat, often in silence. It was a beautiful, sunny day.
Tomas was a little more outgoing than Mare, but just a little. He spoke more openly about their hopes for Sarsina and about how happy they were that God had provided our family. He was and is convinced that a fellow-American had promised to help him with a scholarship to come to study in the US. He is studying physical education and hopes to be a coach. He loves soccer, Manchester United in particular. Although their culture is very different than ours, they obviously loved and cared for Sarsina and very much wanted the best for her.
Late afternoon, we ordered some food and had our last ET meal together. This time we carefully wrapped the left-overs and left them for the Yeka staff. We then retired to our room and sat. Sarsina let Tomas listen to her MP3 player. After a few seconds with the headphones on, he looked up surprised and said, “religious music!?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Good!” He then began to fight back tears and sat staring very intently at the floor. Sarsina tried to comfort him, but showing emotion like that is apparently not acceptable, so she went out. I sat with him on the couch and fought back tears of my own. I didn’t and don’t know whether it was the right thing to do, but I put my arm around him in silence. After a few moments, I moved to another chair and let slip a tear or two. Rachelle entered the room and joined right in. As soon as Tomas noticed that we were crying, he immediately stopped and begged us not to cry, repeating how happy he was for Sarsina and for our family. I told him I was not crying for Sarsina but that he was our daughter’s brother and somehow, in some way that made him feel like our son and that we cared about him and felt his sorrow. Sarsina came in again and sat next to me with her arm around me and we cried.
At about 6:30pm, our taxis showed up. We needed two as the cars were too small to seat all of us and our four suitcases. Tomas accompanied us to the airport. Fortunately, we had wept together and unburdened our hearts in the privacy of our room and not at the airport. Once at the airport, we somehow got separated from Tomas. We were not exactly sure how to enter the concourse and so we headed towards the building, when familiar looking gentlemen in maroon uniforms began directing us! As I am slowly getting wiser, I read the signs in their direction, which indicated to enter by their path if we wanted porter service. Unfortunately, this time they were accompanied by soldiers who were also telling us we needed to go their direction. I pretended not to understand them, smiled and waved and went the other way, much to Sarsina’s horrification! She thought I was confused and was going to get into trouble, but we successfully ignored them without incident and arrived at the entry point. Tomas was nowhere to be seen. Sarsina became visibly disturbed and her and I, arm in arm, went in search of, but we could not find him. I finally got the brilliant idea to call him on my cell phone, following which Sarsina gave him the most adorable, exasperated, Amharic scolding I’ve ever heard! We finally reunited at the entry and Tomas called Mare. We passed the cell phone around and said one last goodbye, hugged Tomas and passed into Bole Airport.
We passed through security and headed to the KLM/NWA counter, where they were just opening up check in for our flight. We followed some familiar Spaniards who were also adopting and who had stayed at the Yeka. They were first in line but were told that they were in the wrong line. They protested and then discovered that the person behind the counter was just confused and ticketing had not yet started. So we waited. Then in true ET fashion, someone from the airport began to setup dividers to form an entirely different line for our counter and people started to pile up. Naturally, since this was the first time in our ET history that we were near the front of the line, they asked us to move to the other line! Becoming accustomed to ET ways, I nodded, smiled and cut in front of everyone else. The Spaniards were then instructed that the line needed to be reformed behind the divider! They were incredulous and protested loudly, as they were in the front of the line. Somewhat snottily they were told they must get behind the divider with an implied “or else!” So they moved and we purposed to let them go first. One Spaniard in particular, began to mumble loudly about how important it was to be behind the divider and how the lady was bound to take a picture of all of us behind the divider and how she might just pull a gun and shoot anyone who crossed the divider! About this time the aforementioned snotty airline worker crossed in front of us and tripped on the rug! The Spaniard could not contain his glee and let out a loud, “Ho ho!,” as if everything was now right in the universe and justice had been served! We laughed about it interminably.
When we finally reached the front of the line, the KLM attendant went out of their way to help us get seats together and to add our mileage accounts to our tickets, as that had apparently been forgotten. We then headed into the terminal to wonder and look at gift shops until our departure. We bought some bottled water, some jalapeno Pringles and some green coffee beans! The Pringles tasted delightful. Eventually we boarded our plane and sat for eight hours.
We hit Schipol in Amsterdam and tried to find something to eat, then we boarded another plane for a 10-hour jaunt to PDX! It sucked. I am never flying again. Jeremiah got airsick right at the last and threw up in the middle of the plane. I have never been so happy to land in all my days.
Then came immigration and, for a change, we got a very kind
gentleman who helped us with a smile and a sense of humor…unheard
of. Then we went home and lived happily ever after…
The following are updates we wrote while in ET:
Update #1: Dear Friends - We made it safely to Ethiopia. It was a long but uneventful flight for the most part. I confess I wondered what and how to prepare for the moment we met Sarsina. Would she even know we were coming? Would she be excited to see us? I tried to be cool and calculated and not get my hopes up. Sunday or perhaps even Monday would come soon enough. As we left the airport, after two hours of standing in line, we grew somewhat nervous as our driver was supposed to be waiting for us with a sign! We didn't see any signs! Imagine my surprise when I recognized someone in the crowd!? It was Tomas, Sarsina's brother. He ran up to us and we shook hands and embraced and he introduced us to our driver. He then reported that Sarsina was waiting for us in the parking lot! Gulp...we were stunned...thrilled...and fortunately didn't have enough time to get petrified! We walked out into the parking lot and as soon as she saw us coming, she ran to me and hugged me. I can't even begin to tell you what an amazing moment that was. We just all stood there hugging and crying and videotaping the asphalt...oops. Oh well. When we got to the hotel, we were uncertain as to whether or not Sarsina would actually want to stay with us that night or go home. She enthusiastically askd to stay! We spent most of the evening staring at one another smiling silly grins. We have had a mellow day today and are heading to Sarsina's home to visit Tomas this afternoon, followed by...I have no idea. Please pray for Rachelle as she is struggling with not feeling well. Thank you all for your prayers and support! We will attempt to continue to keep you up to date! ~Patteson
Update #2: Well we have had an interesting
few days experiencing Ethiopia. First and foremost, Sarsina is doing
She is amazing. You will absolutely love her! Yesterday's highlights
included a fellow American running around the guest house with a shower
cap on, a kitchen knife in hand, threatening to shave her daughter's
head "razor style!" because of lice! We tried to intervene.
The kitchen knife was as dull as a wooden spoon, so somewhat reluctantly
we gave her a sharp knife!
Update #3: Howdy. There is no way we can really tell you in words the impact the last few days have had on us. When we come home we are going to sit down and write a story about our trip. Giving you any details in a small update just won't do it justice. I will say THANK YOU with all our hearts to those of you who have been faithful to pray for us. God has been so faithful. Many of you gave us encouragement before we left that our trip would be wonderful. I think that word is an understatement. There are too many overwhelming feelings to describe. Today we will be making our last trip to Sarsina's home so she can say goodbye. I think it will be easier for her than we originally thought. If we have internet in the morning tomorrow, that will be our last update, as we fly home tomorrow night. What a week... what a week. ~Rachelle
Yesterday in a nutshell: The morning began with a visit to KVI, which
we will describe in detail another time. Eyob was amazing. One of the
kids grabbed Rachelle's hand and walked around with us telling everyone
she was his mom. I then did a little money laundering on the black market
(no that's not a racial slur), which was an adventure.
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