After a long wait, several delays and even some lost files in Ethiopia we were finally on our way to meet our son. When we started this process we were only required to go to Ethiopia once, but shortly after we signed paperwork the Ethiopian government changed the requirements to include two visits. The first is an opportunity to meet your child and go to court. Once you "pass court" the child actually becomes "yours." The second trip is squarely focused on going to pickup your new child. It creates a little longer lag in the system, and as an adoptive parent it was frustrating - with that said, it is done with the intent of creating a more stable and ethical program; both of which are imperative to the long term sustainability in the development of international adoptions. Believe it or not, this change to the system was partially as a result of adoptive parents passing court (a power of attorney was sent to court on their behalf so they didn't have to make the trip, but this means they legally adopted a child they never met), meeting their child when it was time to pick him/her up and deciding they didn't want to proceed. At that point the child was "theirs" and it created quite a mess to undo.
When we first signed paperwork there was a possibility that our new little guy would be home by Christmas 2010 . . . what a way to celebrate and close out a big year in our house. Fulfilling a lifelong dream for Jillian and accepting a calling for me. Building our family in this way created an anticipation that was palpable. We fought frustration as it would only prove unproductive and did our best to wait in joyful anticipation. Trust me- we had our moments - it felt like it was just this idea that would never really come to fruition. But one Sunday in early December, our Pastor offered a traditional seasonal reminder of the true meaning of Advent (the Christian period of waiting before Christmas). But this time the words he used just struck home so poignantly - a reminder to wait joyfully. Yes, that was where we needed to be! Anything else only detracted from this life changing experience.
First Trip - Getting There
10pm the night before we were to leave on a 6am flight to Washington Dulles (our connection to Ethiopia), we received an email that our flight had been cancelled. Shocking to hear, but Jillian freaked out. Jillian HATES leaving the kids and was nervous enough about the trip already. - As an aside, we spent the previous evening having a "movie night" with the kids in the basement. It was just some good 'ol snuggly time to offer some peace before the big changes that were to come into our family. Much to our surprise - some good friends came over to our house that night to offer some love and encouragement. They prayed over us and offered our family an unbelievable emotional lift. That lift lasted right until the moment Jillian looked at her phone and saw that our flight was cancelled! To Jillian, this was a sign that we should not be going! I spent the next half hour reminding her that we would find a solution. All we had to do was find another flight to Washington. There was even enough time for us to drive there. I assured her we would be on that plane to Ethiopia! We were able to find a flight out of Pittsburgh the next morning. Being who we are - people who do our best work under pressure (that's a nice way of saying we procrastinate) - we weren't even completely packed and now we were faced with a long drive before a different 6am flight. We quickly packed up, woke Jillian's mom (who was staying with the kids), filled her in, kissed the kids and were on our way. Jillian was a wreck - she had worked so hard to make sure that everything back in Ohio would go smoothly and she didn't like leaving amidst such chaos. Surely this was an indication that this was a bad idea! UNTIL... she remembered that our pastor had asked us to drive a missions team from our church to the Pittsburgh airport that same morning! We couldn't do it because we were going to be on our own flight to Ethiopia.
This whole trip already felt a little surreal. Were we really getting on a plane to fly to the other side of the world to go meet our new son? Until this point, it was all just conversation - it had become a little bit like talking about the weather. Our friends and family would ask about the status and we would have some new and silly excuse for why it was delayed . . . too much rain, no power, lost files, judge on vacation . . . but now this was actually happening?!?! But the surreal nature of the trip was only exacerbated by a drive in the middle of the night. I literally took a 15 minute nap before leaving - otherwise I had been up for about 30 hours before getting in the car to drive to PA - this was going to be an adventure whether Jillian liked it or not. I figured this felt about right . . . this was just kind of how things go in our house . . . you must be able to adapt! By this point, Jillian was beginning to feel like this was actually a blessing instead of being a bad omen. She's terrified of flying and the thought of a flight as long as this was more than she could handle at times. There was comfort in knowing that some Church folks were going to be there. But, even with them leaving from the same airport, what are the chances we would see them? It is a very busy airport at that time of day. They were going to the Dominican Republic, so maybe our paths wouldn't cross. Well, just a few minutes after we got into the security line, there they were - in the security line right next to us. We were overcome with joy! Lots of hugs and what certainly sounded like crazy talk to those around us we said our goodbyes - we all had flights to catch! After they walked away, Jillian heard a clink on the ground. We looked down and saw an angel pin at her feet. We asked and asked but nobody claimed it. Wow. This was just the intervention Jillian needed. She knew she was exactly were she was supposed to be. All of her anxiety about the trip was gone.
Security was dragging and time was something we couldn't spare. Ted, our friend and pastor, who was still close by in the security line, decided it was time to do something. He explained to the people around us our situation and people began to let us go ahead of them so that we wouldn't miss our flight. It was really a very touching moment. All of these people were so willing to step aside and let us go without even a hesitation. Off to Dulles.
After a layover of about 5 hours (dozing and watching TV in the lounge) in Dulles, we boarded Ethiopian Airlines. This was a direct flight to Ethiopia and would last approximately 14 hours. Everyone always cringes when we tell them the length of the flight. Honestly, we kinda enjoyed it. We NEVER get 14 hours to ourselves. As a mom of 3 little ones, Jillian was relishing the fact that she didn't have anyone telling her they had to go potty or that they were hungry or that so and so hit them every 15 minutes. It was rather peaceful. At the risk of ruining a bit of a "foodie" reputation, I must acknowledge that Jillian loves airline food. Really, any food. We put some movies on, Jillian ate her comfort food, took naps, drank crappy wine (perhaps a bit of self medication for Jillian - she loved those little bottles!). It was pretty awesome.
When we landed in Ethiopia, our nerves started to reimerge. We've never been to a place like this before. Jillian was convinced she was going to mess something up and they would put her in some crazy, "third world" underdeveloped prison. We made it through without much fuss, and we were off to find our hotel transport. We proceeded to the check-in desk (still at the airport) and were greeted with a friendly face and a bottle of coke (they really love their bottles of pop over there). Off to a good start. The Sheraton there is very nice - a very traditional upscale western style hotel. Yes, there are things that were distinctly Ethiopian about it (the food, the tv, the power outages, etc), but overall, it kept our culture shock to a minimum. Don't get me wrong, it took us a day or so to feel comfortable there. The moment we stepped off the plane there were new sounds, smells, sights, and customs. From a US perspective, the Ethiopian way of life is a very difficult one. It is strongly agrarian and the poverty is widespread. Seeing it first hand was like nothing we'd ever experienced, so we'll detail our time there more in the next post.