Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ethiopia Trip Journal

While we were in Ethiopia last week, I kept a brief journal of my thoughts and impressions while there. Now, it gives a glimpse into our trip, and will provide memories for us later. I inserted a few pictures, but we did not take many. We were asked not to photograph the other orphans at the orphanage, and were told that photographing people on the street is offensive, although I had one lady offer to pose for a picture if I paid her.

Please pardon any typos, as I typed this whole thing on my iPod Touch, which has a very fussy Autocorrect, ans much of it was done in the middle of the night!

Oct 14 3:05pm
On flight from Seattle to Amsterdam. Surprised how much I'm enjoying myself. Flying is much, much easier without small children, which is how I flew the last three times.

Matt and I listened to a short audio book about the history of the English language. In Spokane, we ran into a group headed to Ethiopia for a mission trip. At first we were excited, but initial conversation proved to be a bit disappointing. The guy we talked to had so much BTDT attitude, he was kind of a bore.

Now, we're two hours into first long flight. I'm really doing better than I expected. Matt seems quiet though. Not sure what he is thinking.

Oct 14 6:46pm/3:46am Amsterdam
Plane dark. Sky dark. They just served a mini sandwich as a snack, which is nice since I was hungry. Trying to read a book but instead feeling bored, miserable and restless.

Oct 15 7:00 pm/Oct 16 5:00am
KVI Guesthouse
The second plane ride from Amsterdam to Addis was much better and I slept for most of it. We had a little trouble finding our shuttle driver at the airport, but at last we connected with him, an older man named Solomon. We were helped out quite a bit by other couples traveling to court, and by the ministry team. Without their guidance, we would have felt very lost in the airport here, but as it was we had no trouble.

Our guesthouse room reminds me of the Wallace complex dorms in college. It is bare, but clean, and to lie flat on a bed felt heavenly. When the night receptionist asked if it was okay, I made a bit of a fuss over how great it was, because I'm guessing that by Ethiopian standards it's really fancy. It also has a western-style toilet, which makes me very glad, since the one at the airport was quite different and had no seat.

So far, my biggest trouble with the time change is not sleeping, but feeling hungry at the wrong times. Thank goodness for the trail mix and granola bars we brought.

Oct 16 9:00 am Addis time
Sun is shining, breakfast was delicious. The cook here does American food, with a bit of an Ethiopian twist, so the scrambled eggs had bits of red and green peppers in them. I' m feeling quite optimistic and eager for what the day holds.

Oct 16 6:08 pm
Meeting Abi for the first time felt all at once emotional and anti-climactic. She is beautiful, of course, and so smart! They had her count and sing a little Bible song. She loves to play imaginative games. With some plastic blocks, she served us boona (coffee) and kolo (roasted barley snacks). We played with her and the other kids in the toddler room for an hour and a half or so until we got hungry.

Abi's bed.  Still not allowed to post pictures of her online yet.  Trust me, she is beautiful :)

For lunch, I had doro wat and injera for the first time. It was okay, but not as tasty as Matt's curry. For the afternoon, we wimped out and took a nap. I'm feeling overwhelmed and homesick and frustrated that in order to keep my blood sugar happy, I have to eat double the calories that I should and I'll likely gain ten pounds this week. Then, I'm annoyed at myself for finding something to be unhappy about. Wish I could just relax, but everything seems so unfamiliar.

As far as the city goes, it looks just like the pictures. Shacks of bits of corrugated tin everywhere, and street vendors line the roads. Cars drive as haphazardly as we'd been told they did, and goats wander around in the streets. Somehow, I feel unsurprised by it all. There is a sense of peace here, of belonging, that I don't feel in the bustle of an American city. I like Addis very much.

Oct 17 4:49 am
Once again, awake at 4:30 and there is no going back to sleep. I feel like I sleep with one foot in each time zone. Five hours at night, and five hours in the afternoon. Peculiar, but it's working.

Laying here in the dark thinking about Ethiopia and Abi, I noticed a few striking things. Compared to American culture, Ethiopian culture uses very little eye contact. It's not just with us, either. They don't make eye contact with one another. I love it, since I have always felt the American way to be much too aggressive.

All this time, I have been pronouncing Abi like Ah-bee. While that's a closer guess than Abby, the way they actually say it is Ah-bay. Her whole name is most like Ah-bay-bitch, oddly enough. Not sure how that is going to go when she meets the other kids, who are pretty set in calling her Ah-bee.

There are so many things I could say about her from our first meeting, I hardly know where to start. Someone had taught her to say thank you and you're welcome in English, and she was insistent that we say it that way, rather than using our stumbling Amharic. She bossed the social worker similarly, which made me laugh. She is going to have no trouble holding her own among my little crew.

I don't feel particularly nervous about the court visit, although from the way everyone keeps reassuring me, I guess most people are. I'm a little nervous about visiting the orphanage again. Of course I want to see Abi, but being in that toddler room with ten little kids mobbing me and nowhere to sit but the floor was exhausting. Too many years of doing nursery and daycares, but I really don't care for packs of three-year-olds. I guess I'll live; it's just not my favorite thing. I hope we can tour the facility on one of these visits and not just stay in the toddler room.

Oct 17 9:50 am
Been in the waiting room for an hour now. Hard to describe what a strange atmosphere this fourth-floor room contains with broken chairs and standing people. American couples perch awkwardly while Ethiopians smile, bump shoulders. Everyone chats beneath the frowning sign that says "Silent." Oops, it's our turn to go into the judge's chambers.

Oct 17 12:35pm
Sweetest words: If you want her, you may have her. She is yours.

Oct 17 3:57pm
In the guesthouse living room, we attended a coffee ceremony to bid farewell to another family who had been staying here. The woman roasting the coffee, a tattoo marking her jawline, stirred the browning beans in the ancient traditional method, beside a television which showed a scripted wrestling program featuring a body builder named Seamus. Sitting in the little green Bumbo chair, 10-month old Yabsira watched the incense curl toward the ceiling, unaware that she was soon to become a Canadian citizen named Sabrina. Her excited parents bundled her into a front pack, and fussed their way out the door toward the airport and a 20 hour plane ride back to Toronto.

Our second visit with Abi this morning went even better than yesterday. She warmed up right away, giving us kisses and whispering into our ears a request in Amharic for Daddy to stand up and play games with her. We toured the orphanage, taking in the two baby rooms with a total of sixteen infants, twelve toddlers, eight preschoolers, and ten school-aged children. The toddlers ate lunch after carefully washing each pair of small hands, a bowl full of thick stew that every child hungrily ate, molding it between their fingers.

We found out last night that we have recently received our MOWA comment, and with the judge's favorable statement at court, I have hopes that the rest of the process will be smooth sailing until we can get her home.

I hope we can make her transition easier, cooking some Ethiopian dishes, and remembering Amharic words like "qonjo" (beautiful) and "gobez" (clever) that the nurses say to the children all of the time. For the limited resources they have to work with, I can't believe how much They have taught the children, and how well-behaved they are.

Oct 18 4:06am
Once again, can't sleep in the middle of the night. I took something, and also killed a giant mosquito that has bitten my pinky finger twice. So things are looking up.

Feeling much more blue last night and today. Being a tourist doesn't suit me much. Matt is disappointed, I think, that I am not more eager to go see the sights. He has plans to go visit an Orthodox church early this morning, but I plan to sleep instead.

Oct 18 7:33am
We have three more days to visit Abi. I have been dreading that last day and saying goodbye all year long. Leaving her here goes against every parental instinct inside me. Still, eight weeks suddenly does not seem so long in the grand scheme of things, especially as I watched another family together here. It reassures me that it will happen. Also, meeting Abi reassures me too. She is such an amazing person, and doing so well, despite all of the odds. She is tough, that one. She is going to be just fine.

Oct 18 10:24am
It's odd, packing my day-bag to go out, I pack a water bottle, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, trail mix, and then the usual stuff like money, Chapstick, and chewing gum.

On the news, the story of Kenyan military going into Somalia suddenly means much more, taking place only a few short hundred miles away, rather than a distant, disconnected continent.

The first thing I notice when waking up is the distinct smell of the city, the smell of four million people, open sewers, and exotic spices. It's not a strong or unpleasant smell, as I would have expected, just different, and a constant reminder that I am far from home.

Oct 18 4:31 pm
Visit with Abi did not go well today. She was moody and tired, and refused to hug us or play with us at all.

After visiting her, we stopped by another orphanage to see it, then ate lunch at a cafe with wifi. I was in heaven. I've really missed the easy access to Internet that I enjoy at home. We made a quick stop at the Illien office to make some photocopies, and Tseday discussed the possibility of an escort for Abi so we don't have to miss work and the kids for such a long time again.

Then, we went to the National Museum. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but to say I was blown away would be an understatement. There were archaeological finds, including the most intact prehistoric human, "Lucy" as well as ancient art, tools, and the costumes of the emperors. All of it showed such a wonderful culture, and unfathomably old to this young American.

We saw a few blind people walking along the street, but Yosef (our driver and unofficial guide) did not have much useful information to tell me about them, other than the fact that they studied Amharic Braille in school.

Oct 19 4:17 am
Last night, Matt had an adventure of sorts. He had gone out with Yosef to get "tekaway" dinner and bring it back. He left at 7:00 and did not return until 9:30. Luckily, I had fallen asleep, or I would have been worried. He said Yosef's rental car had died. It had been threatening to do so all day, and now had finally done it. They'd had some men from the street help them push it to a location with better light, so Yosef could take a look under the hood. When this turned out to be unsuccessful, he called the rental company, but they were not going to be able to deliver a new car right away. So, he called an Illien staff member, who picked Matt up in her own personal car and brought him back to the guesthouse. Since the rental car company provides 1980's Toyotas, this is the third time one of them would not start. Perhaps for this reason, Yosef has aspirations toward becoming a mechanic, although for now, his classes at the trade school are on hold because he has so much driving work.

Oct 20 7:00 am
Finally, on our last night, I slept all night. Now it's time to go back to Pacific Time.

Wow, yesterday was so long and packed full of stuff, I don't know how to write about all of it, but I'll give it a shot.

First, we went to Kaldi's Coffee, a Starbuck's knockoff. The coffee is amazing here, so cheap and good. Yosef explained the separate fasting menu for Orthodox customers, and Matt looked at the roast on their beans. They tried to sell us bags of beans, and did manage to talk us into buying a T-shirt for charity. Yosef also took us to a little drug store where I could buy anti-itch cream for the 30+ mosquito bites I have acquired this week. Apparently Ethiopian mosquitos like me as much as American ones do, and I am just as allergic to them. Good thing I'm taking malaria pills, just in case.

Next, we headed to KVI Orphanage to visit Abi. She had a cold, and would have absolutely nothing to do with us. They tried to coax her and give her candy, but she just whimpered. It was heartbreaking, and made even harder by the fact that the nannies spoke almost no English, and seemed to think we thought that she was being "bad." They kept scolding and coaxing her little limp self to come talk to us, which of course made things worse. We finally left, and I was quite upset.

At lunch at the Lime Tree (the place that had wifi, only it was overloaded and didn't work), Matt had the idea to call Huet, the social worker we met on Day 1 who spoke better English. Yosef put in a call for us, and she agreed to meet us at 3:00 at the orphanage to find out what was wrong.

We had an hour, so we stopped at a corner Supermarket to buy peanuts, then toured an Orthodox church. It was absolutely gorgeous, and the biggest cathedral I had ever been in. I didn't take pictures, partly because it cost extra to do so, and partly because I am sure pictures exist on the Internet somewhere.

We picked up Huet, and on the way to the orphanage, I asked her as many questions as I could think of regarding Abi's behavior, child grief and bonding. Every answer she gave was well-informed and lined up with my own instincts, so I felt hugely reassured. We saw Abi, who again whimpered in a corner, but this time we did not really try to interact with her. Huet talked to her, and to the nannies, and reassured them that we were really happy with Abi just the way she was. With Huet to translate, the nannies were able to brag on Abi a bit, and said she counted to 100. I think when I get home, I'll teach the other kids to count in Amharic too.

We had an hour and a half to rest at the guesthouse, and then we headed off again to "You Go City Church," the first location that was really my request. It was a very typical Charismatic church service, and even though it was entirely in Amharic, it felt really good to be there among the worshipers. We were about the only white people in a crowd of several thousand, which ended up not to bother us at all. I felt quite comfortable, and if it hadn't been for the language, I would have thought I was in a church back home.

Lastly, we went to dinner and Matt and I split a beef and rice dish that was quite tasty. Meals are always an opportunity to ask Yosef a thousand questions about life in Addis. We found out that his job driving, although we pay him $40 a day, he only gets to take home about $2.75 a day. The car rental place gets the rest.

On the way home, we talked about how many Amharic words we've learned in just a week. Matt and I laughed that it was pure survival, since so few people spoke English, or at least more English than "shoe shine?" We flopped into bed about 10:00, absolutely worn out.

Oct 20 7:41am
A couple of interesting observations.

The men I had originally thought were loitering outside many of the buildings and shops turned out to be guards. They watch the building, and keep thieves away from cars and guests.

Everything is really clean here. People take pride in clean clothes, clean floors etc. Most things are shabby and broken, but not dirty. Our guest room in particular, was spotless.

Kids are dressed warmly. School uniforms usually include a sweater, green or navy or gray. The orphans are dressed in several layers. Since the weather is warm, and rooms can get very warm, I am not sure why this is. I'll bear it in mind if Abi gets chilly though.

The elevation hasn't bothered us much. Although we're at 8,500 feet, we haven't noticed any problems, except maybe getting a bit winded when climbing stairs.

Oct 20 4:51am ET/Oct 19 6:51pm ID
On the plane flying somewhere above Greece, according to the map. I slept for about 5 hours, which felt lovely, but Matt did not, and he looked pretty rugged, so I gave him my window seat and pillow for a while.

Again for yesterday, I didn't have any time to journal, but I figured that hours on the plane would fix that. First, though, a couple of comments on the present. I ate a pepperoni sandwich that had gotten cold, and I must have been hungry, because it tasted pretty good. Also, there are three families bringing home adopted kids. One is a dad from France with a 3yo boy. I haven't heard a peep from him. Then, there is a couple from PA who have a 2yo girl. They were the first white people I've talked to all week, and after the easy warmth of the Ethiopians, they seemed terribly cold and aloof. Lastly, there is a mother traveling by herself with a baby, somewhere slightly less than two who has cried almost continuously since the airport. She has tried everything she can think of to sooth her, and I feel sorry for her; she must be so frazzled.

But anyway, I need to go back to yesterday, our last day in Addis. We got up slowly, after finally sleeping a full night through. The irony of that still makes me smile. After the usual delicious breakfast at the guesthouse, including eggs with extremely dark yellow yolks, I checked my email, hoping Mom had given me a tidbit about the kids. I've only heard from her once this week, and it feels a bit like being in exile.

Yosef picked us up at 9:30, and we went to Kaldi's Coffee, where Matt talked the staff into letting him watch the espresso shot and the milk steaming. We also observed the delivery of milk in old-fashioned metal jugs, much to our surprise.

Next, we headed to KVI Orphanage, where I didn't hold out much hope that Abi would be responsive, since the last two days had gone so badly. But the prayers of all of our friends back home reminded us that this whole experience was guided by God. A Christian ministry team from NY happened to be visiting. They gathered the kids and sang songs, told a story, and said a prayer over the kids. The whole time, Abi was alternately grumpy and fascinated, but allowed me to sit next to her with cuddly little American on my lap. The whole thing was so unbelievably sweet, as we sang "Jesus' Love is a-bubblin' over" and other camp songs.

Next, we were invited to witness the going-away ceremony for another of the orphans, a little girl about 7yo. She got to dress in a fancy traditional dress, and they had a little coffee ceremony (using juice) and said many prayers and blessings over her. An aged aunt was present; both she and the little girl looked miserable at parting, maybe forever.

At this point, Abi was due for lunch and a nap, so we left. We had said goodbye to her, and told her we loved her and would see her again in two months. I cried, but did not feel as desolate as I expected, partly because of the amazing sense of blessing and peace imparted by the ministry team.

At this point, it was 12:30 and we were all hungry. Yosef took us to a new restaurant on the top floor of a building with a view of the city. We had a leisurely lunch, but Yosef paid for it with a parking ticket for staying too long.

We could not decide if we had enough time for another stop, this time to Masrich, a sheltered workshop for blind people. We decided we did, and briefly toured the building that acted as a school, a workshop, and also a giftshop and optical shop where the goods made by the blind workers were sold.

Then, back at the KVI guesthouse, we were treated to a real, full-blown coffee ceremony of our own to say goodbye. In true leisurely Ethiopian style, we hung around playing Mancala and chatting. We packed up, and headed to Amsterdam restaurant, where we tried Yosef's favorite dish of chicken curry. It tasted fabulous, of course. I also discovered the first comfortable chair in Ethiopia, and joked that I was going to take it with me.

We arrived at the airport about 7:15pm, the prescribed 3 hours early, and began the long process of waiting on lines and going through security.

I enjoyed having wifi in the airport, and soon we were beginning the long journey home.

Whenever people go to foreign countries, they come back gushing, and saying how life-changing the experience was. Then a few weeks later, they seem to settle into life as usual, and their petty problems and little complaints settle back over them like Eeyore's rain cloud. I'm not sure that I can say that Ethiopia changed me like that. True, I loved Addis like I never love cities. With Yosef spoiling us and bossing us, I felt totally safe the whole time. We did not get sick at all, and we loved all of the fascinating sights. Most of all, I enjoyed the laid-back, unhurried accepting attitude. I felt the whole time as though I was hanging out at a good friend's house where I was totally welcome and nobody had to try to impress anyone else. I'll certainly miss that part of it. I'll miss Yosef, who became a good friend.

I think what has changed is the realization that I can do something to help, that a little goes a long ways. I have come to love this country and these people in a way that has moved from being academic to personal.

We got home for Little Mister's birthday, and his gift from us was a traditional Ethiopian outfit. We were thrilled to see the kids, but so tired, we went to bed early, grateful for a friend who stayed to help with the kids for one more night.


  1. So happy to hear your meetings with Abi went so well, and I cant wait to "meet" her!! That was quite the'll be happy in the coming years that you documented the entire thing! I loved reading it.

  2. Wow, Erin! That was an amazing journal! I have been praying for your family, in particular on this trip. You have written so many honest sentiments and observations..

    Thank you so much for sharing it, and our prayers continue for your process to being parents..again!

    God Bless you!

  3. Thanks for this glimpse into your trip. It sounds very moving - and quite exhausting. Not long to go now...


  4. I loved reading about your trip to Abi. I literally lol'd when you wrote how her full name is pronounced. I can hardly wait until you go back to bring her home. (((hugs)))