Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trip 1, Part 2

To be honest, I've been dreading this post.  I have certainly enjoyed the process of reliving this experience, but it's overwhelming at the same time.  To start the story of our time in Ethiopia begins some of the heavy stuff.  Sometimes it's difficult to get into that "serious" place when I've had a crazy busy day and all I want to do is veg out and watch TV before going to bed (David calls it his time to decompress and he REALLY needs that time these days).  And trip 1 is the easy one!! Trip 2...THAT's where the heavy stuff really starts. Having said that, writing this blog has been very cathartic for us.  It's provided us with an opportunity to process our journey and put it into perspective.  Soooo, here we go...

Addis Ababa - the capital of Ethiopia
I know we ended "part 1" with arriving at the Sheraton, but I'd like to back up just a bit and talk about the drive from the airport to the hotel.  The images you see of Ethiopia are not typically of the capital city of Addis Ababa.  They are typically of rural areas.   I didn't know what to expect.  In fact, just a week or so before we were to leave for Africa, we received some pictures of Obsa's biological father from his trip to court (he had a court date to officially relinquish his parental rights).  The pictures were of a man in a suit sitting at a bistro style table at a restaurant patio.  He was drinking coffee and having lunch.  There were tall buildings and cars all around.  Dave and I laughed at ourselves as we looked at these pictures because the clothes we packed for the trip looked like we were going on safari, not to an industrialized city.  We were clearly clueless.  During our drive to the hotel, we saw much of the same from the pictures.  There were billboard advertisements, tall office buildings, banks, a mall, and little shops on every corner.  There were nicely dressed business people all around.  It felt very much like a big city you would see in the states...except for it isn't at all.  Scattered all around this "big city" environment, is unbelievable poverty.  Yes, in American big cities, you see homelessness.  Trust me when I say it's not the same.   There is no doubt that the people begging are in real need.  When you see a mom nursing a baby and begging for anything to sustain her, it's heart wrenching.  I thought of myself and what I wouldn't give to protect my children from such pain.  We are not any different - but our set of circumstance certainly are.

The orphanage in Adama is on this street.
After a night of relaxing in our hotel, we woke up to go meet our son.  We were told we would just be driving out to his remote orphanage in Adama, but would be leaving him there.  It was simply an opportunity to meet him.  The plans changed, however, and it was decided we would take him from that orphanage and move him to the orphanage in Addis.  This was a necessary move because he would need to have several things done in the capital before we could come bring him home.  We just didn't think we would be the ones bringing him there.  There were two reasons for the decision to leave him in Adama - 1. there wasn't much room at the orphanage in Addis Ababa and 2. he had grown fond of the people in Adama and we didn't want to be the ones to take him away from them.  Even in those little minds, they can hold on to stuff like that.  He already had a dislike for strangers and white people in general - we didn't need anything else working against us.  But, it was what it was and we went into it very excited to spend the day with our boy.

The drive there was so interesting.  To get outside of the capital and see the rural areas was an experience we'll never forget.  We both wanted to be taking pictures and video all along the way, but we were very cautious not to offend anyone.  The last thing we wanted was for anyone to feel like they were being treated like animals at the zoo - like they were there for our viewing or entertainment.  Can you imagine living in the poorest of conditions and just doing your best to get by and then having "tourists" drive by constantly taking pictures of you?  The grace with which they approach their challenges shouldn't be hampered by a lack of dignity.  After a little while, however, our driver asked "aren't you going to take any pictures?"  He was concerned that we weren't interested enough in the land that our son was from.  It was important to him that we document these things so that we can properly educate Obsa on his homeland.  We agreed wholeheartedly and began to get it all on film.  The one thing we both noticed was that we didn't see much self pity.  Even in their dire circumstances, you find kindness and pride.  Whatever they do have, they want to share with you.
Very tentative at first

When we arrived at the newly constructed orphanage (construction not completed due to a need for funding) we were taken into a quiet room with two simple chairs.  Then . . . they brought Obsa to meet us.  He wasn't as horrified as we expected.  He let me hold him, but not Dave.  He didn't cry...just kinda tried to pretend we weren't there.  I followed him around while he wandered the grounds.  We tried giving him cookies (yes, we were trying to bribe our son with treats), but he wouldn't eat them.  He would hold one in his hands until it became mush.  At one point, we literally had him backed into a corner as we knelt down, trying to interact with him.  He wasn't mad about it, but didn't seem to love it either.  He was just indifferent.  Then it was time to go.  He wasn't thrilled about getting in the car with us, but he did without too much commotion.  He quickly fell asleep and stayed that way for most of the drive.  It is our understanding that kids will often fall asleep as a defense mechanism - so in short, he was trying to sleep us away.  When he was awake, he was quiet and reserved.
The orphanage in Adama - under construction

Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, we walked him up to the room where he would be staying and handed him over.  He couldn't have been more happy to get into the arms of another African person.  Now, he has never set eyes on these nannies before and didn't even understand the dialect they spoke, but he didn't care.  They looked familiar and that was enough for him!  He basically said "see ya suckas" to us.  Once they had him, he wanted little to do with us.  He would accommodate my advances in a shy manner, but David was to keep his distance!  We totally understood and didn't have any hard feelings about it.  We were glad he was so comfortable there already, this would be his home until we could return to bring him back to the States. 

The Thomas Center - orphanage in Addis Ababa

When we arrived back at the hotel, we took a chance to relax in the lounge with some snacks and an internet connection.  I was sitting on a couch talking to David when I looked down and saw something shiny on the bottom of my foot.  I looked closer and it was a "Footprints In the Sand" pin - a little golden pair of feet stuck in the sole of my shoe.  I pointed it out to David and he said "yeah, I saw that when we were at the orphanage and forgot to say something to you."  I was so happy - feeling touched, yet again, by God. He was with us during this journey and was making it clear.  "It was then that I carried you"...soooooo well suited for what was to come.  I'm presently looking for a place on my body to put those very words in the form of a tattoo (every time I think I have the perfect spot, I think of how saggy my skin will be when I'm old and how the letters will start to look smeared - that's hot, right?).

The next day was our court appointment.  We arrived at court with one other couple and filed into a small room on the third floor.  There were armed guards and we were told to remain silent.  The room was packed with parents there to adopt and parents there to relinqush.  Shoulder to shoulder - quiet - door closed, waiting with the other couple and our attorney.  It got hot rather quickly and the anxiety of the day didn't help!  Finally, we were called into the room were the judge sat looking at our case file.  She asked a couple very quick questions and then declared "the child is yours".  Crazy.

It was official.  Obsa was legally our child.  After court we were allowed to go back to the orphanage for a short visit.  Once again, Obsa just went about his business like we weren't there. Very little interaction with us.  When he was forced to acknowledge our presence, he would scream and cry.  I told him "sorry, buddy, but it's official!  You're ours - like it or not".  He was going with "or not".  I could see the empathy in the other parents' eyes as well as the eyes of the nannies.  I reassured them that we were up for the challenge and we expected nothing less.  That's what you get when you pick "the screamer"!  They then said "I'm glad it's you then and not a first time parent picking him up". We had to agree.  Can you imagine waiting so long to be a parent and then going to meet your child just for him/her to hate you??  I too was thankful that it was us.  I wasn't scared.  I wasn't feeling like our son would always hate us.  I knew it would take time and that was ok.  We are patient and understanding parents (stay tuned for the story of us realizing that's not actually true ;).

It didn't take much time with Zeke to realize that his personality is much like his sister, Cate's. Hard headed and determined.  Not a super great combination (well, at least not a fun combination when dealing with a toddler).  Now we're going to have two of them??! They are exactly one year apart in age, so we knew we were in for some "fun" times - and boy were we.  Our little "Ethiopian Twins!"

The hotel at night
Back at the hotel, we had one more day to enjoy our stay in Ethiopia and we did just that.  We hung out on the patio near the pool and reflected on our time there.  I was in love.  I really loved being there and couldn't wait to come back.  Because Obsa was legally ours, we could take him out of the orphanage if we were to stay there.  The only reason he couldn't come with us now was because of the American Embassy and their process.  If we weren't going to America, we could be with him.  I tried and tried to convince David that we should go home, pick up the other kids and then head back to stay in Ethiopia for the 6-8 weeks before the Embassy approved our case.  "You can Skype with your clients. The kids can enjoy their summer break abroad.  They can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the whole time if they are too wimpy to try the food", I would explain to him.  It could be business as usual, right?  Ok, so maybe I had indulged in a little too much Chardonnay at that point, but it was making perfect sense to me.  Dave, who we all know is more practical, made me realize that it really would be a difficult thing to pull off.  That night we hung out at the hotel bar and listened to a live band.  It was so much fun.  So beautiful.  I was loving me some Ethiopia!

The next day...back on a plane to America.
Bole International Airport in Ethiopia

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