We arrived at the airport on time, early even. As we made our way to the ticket counter, Heather had some sort of baggage malfunction – I looked back and saw Wendy helping her and I made the split-second decision to continue on to the ticket counter so that I could secure us a good position in line. As I approached the counter, I noticed a long winding line for Swiss Air, and I pitied the unhappy souls who were standing in it. The line was so long that it was blocking my entrance to the Lufthansa counter – which I was delighted to find had only two parties waiting. I parted the sea of people who were blocking my entrance and gleefully pulled my luggage into the Lufthansa line. I was happily perched in line, looking back for Wendy and Heather. I spotted them and began joyfully waving them to me…until…
…the announcement. “Ma’am, your flight has been cancelled, you’ll need to get in that line to get re-ticketed.” Yes, that line. The line that I had gleefully mocked.
Apparently the Lufthansa Frankfurt employees decided to strike for one day. Today. The only thing I could think about is my anxious little boy waiting for me at the airport. How could I tell him that there would be yet another set back? I would wait to call him until we found another flight. We had to find another flight.
After four hours of standing in line, it was our turn. As I took a triumphant step forward to approach the mystical ticket man, he waved and said no. I looked at Heather and Wendy in disbelief. “um…did he just say no?” before they could answer, we watched as the ticket man left the counter. He would return ten minutes later and help us book our new flight – to Paris – where we would have a 10 hour layover, then fly Ethiopian Air (which I personally swore off on October 2010) then arrive in Addis on Wednesday morning (instead of Tuesday night). …oh..and by the way, we had 1 minute to get to the ticket counter, because the flight was closing and would soon begin boarding.
We went from four hours of painful boredom to having to run to catch our flight. And just like that we found ourselves disbursed amongst French- speaking people on Air France flight 333.
The flight was not fun. We were all very uncomfortable and none of us sleep well. We arrived in Paris in 6 1/2 hours without a plan or a clue. We knew we needed to leave the airport – we could not stay there for 10 hours. However, we were exhausted and didn’t know the first thing about venturing out into Paris.
After a quick stop at an information desk we had our plan. We would take the train to the Eiffel Tower.
We fumbled our way thought the subway system (with help from a few sympathetic Parisians). We exited the subway at the Eiffel Tower station and surfaced onto the sidewalk into the most glorious weather known to man. We looked up, assuming we would see the tower…but no. Three Americans looking into the sky…no tower. However, we did see another interesting “attraction” – a strikingly handsome male who looked like he had been strategically placed on the sidewalk to advertise how beautiful French people are.
Wendy and I urged (dared) our ambassador (Heather) to go ask him where the tower was. For those of you who don’t know Heather, she is happy to approach and talk to anyone. Anytime. She’s a people person. We love her for that. I digress…where was I? …oh…the Parisian Prince…yes…Wendy and I watched the conversation from a distance. He instantly began laughing. He looked up and as we followed his eyes…we too began laughing…the Eiffel tower was right behind us.
We giggled and took a few pictures, stopped for lunch at a sidewalk cafe (where I’m 100% sure we annoyed every other person in the cafe), and then planted ourselves down on the grass 100 feet from the base of the tower. We would spend the entire day laying in the grass, sleeping, talking, and people watching. It really is true; Paris is for lovers. Throughout the park, couples languished in deep embraces, some hitting first, second and possibly third base. We watched as many rolled their own cigarettes and made smoking look über-chic.
We headed back to the airport in the evening and boarded our flight. I couldn’t sleep at all, I was too excited to see Biruk. The flight went wonderfully smooth until Heather woke from a sound sleep, looked at me and said, “we’re gonna crash tonight”. Um. What the heck? We weren’t having any turbulence. I responded with a horrified expression, “What? Why would you say that? “Because we are all so tired!” – okay, clearly a miscommunication. She meant crash as in fall asleep. Got it. I closed my eyes and resumed contemplating whether I was going to hug Biruk over his shoulders or under his shoulders. Was he going to be taller than me? I couldn’t wait to find out!
We had been without phone and internet access, and we weren’t sure that our driver Dani and Biruk had even gotten our messages about the change in flights. We hoped they’d be awaiting our arrival at 6:20 am.
Before we exited the baggage claim area, we spotted our crazy friend Tam. This was our assurance that Dani and Biruk were there. As we walked out, Dani came into focus and I continued to search the crowd for my son. …and then he appeared…taller and older looking, he wore slim jeans (that hung loose around his body) a grey and black striped sweater from which a white color peaked out. He wasn’t taller than me. I hugged him around the neck and cherished that moment in my heart. Then I hugged him 100 more times.
Are we really here? I feel like I’m in the Verizon commercial and I’m picking up Biruk and there are thousands of people standing behind me…following… praying… loving… and supporting. What a journey this has been. There have been times that I’ve felt bad about being so public about our adoption because I’ve dragged so many people through the highs and lows of this thing. But we are here now, and it’s all good.
The last four days have been insane. There are many little pieces of the puzzle that I’ve been pulling together. Small pieces…some real small – but still important. I mean, it feels super lame to say that I went to Kittery Trading Post today to get a winter jacket for him (thanks Greenhouse Team). I got boxers with little hearts on them yesterday, I uploaded songs and pictures onto his ipod on Friday…details. Small but important details.
This evening we took the 3 kids out to dinner, it would be our last time as a “party of five”. Mid-way through dinner, I realized that we were all reminiscing. The kids were talking about our “old house” (the one we moved from 6 years ago). They were talking about their kindergarten teachers, family vacations, and running around in their underwear. It was an interesting conversation – and an interesting time to have it. It felt a like closure to the chapter of our family’s history book called, “three kids”.
I think it goes without saying that we are all excited about B coming home. The kids enjoy thinking about what they want to show him or teach him and how having a 4th child will impact the division of labor around the house. Dirt and I wonder what B is going to think of sisters. …the whining…the nail polish…the drama…oh so many new things he will experience. I mean, what is he going think the first time he hears them tattle, “mom…she’s looking at me!” …or my personal favorite, “she’s smiling at me!” (apparently smiling is a tattle-worthy crime in our house).
As much as it feels like our 3-year long adoption journey is finally drawing to an end, we know that it’s really just the beginning of an even bigger story. We can’t wait to flip the pages!
I’m heading to Ethiopia tomorrow with Wendy and Heather (Heather is also in the process of adopting a little girl we met on our first trip to Ethiopia in April 2009). I have been to Ethiopia with both of these ladies before and I can’t think of any better travel partners for this monumental trip. Know what’s super cool about this trip? This time we’re bringing one home!
Let me tell you a story. Four years ago, Erin was in the room with me while I delivered my second son, Beckett. Not only was she present, I am fairly certain she held the fan for me while I was in the deepest, darkest last stages of labor.
It’s only fitting that I am there for the “birth” of her fourth and oldest child, Biruk.
That said, I almost didn’t go on this trip. I thought I would have more time. I wasn’t ready emotionally, physically or financially. But when labor starts you have no choice. Game on sucker.
I had even told Erin on Thursday I wasn’t going. She yelled at me. “You told me to adopt him! You did this to me! I hate you.” There were some other choice words in there, but I’m a true lady so I won’t say them. (Of course she didn’t really say that. I’m bedazzling the story. I do that).
Her visceral words cut me to the point where I almost went out and bought cigars. I questioned if maybe I was the father (a paternity test is pending).
I knew I had to be there. So with that, I am packing up my hat and my bag for the hospital our trip. My poor friend has been “pregnant” for a year now. My vagina just went numb writing that (told you I’m a lady). It’s time; she’s at 10 centimeters. She can push.
In a sense I will be the one cutting the cord with Erin. I won’t be holding a fan, but I will be helping her son as he transitions from the womb of Ethiopia into the arms of America.
It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since Erin & I embarked on our second trip to Ethiopia. This time we led a group of women (7 of us total). While you can read all about our experiences here, some of us figured we would also reflect back on that trip…one year later.
After we arrived home, I was so touched by my community’s interest. Dozens of friends were sincerely eager to hear details of our experience. I struggled then (and still do today) to find the appropriate choice of words. Nothing I could write or articulate could represent my staggering feeling. I felt tongue tied when all I could come up with was “amazing” and “life changing”.
Thinking back on the experience, here are some things that come to my mind:
* Hunger like I’ve never seen
* Sweet children’s faces, desperate for affection, grabbing my hand, leading me around, not letting go for one second
* Children touching my face and my hair, clinging, trying to stay close
Here’s one image, I’ll share. It’s the day we arrived at Dahley, the impoverished community in the countryside (where we helped build the library) The landscape is lush and green; rolling fields and hills. Tiny houses made of mud and straw are scattered about. One group in Dahley (Oromo, the single largest ethnic group in Ethiopia; 35% of the population) wears brilliant jewel tone layered clothing. They look so pretty against the green backdrop. Pieces of the bright fabric are also wound around as head wraps. The other group (Amhara) dresses in muted shades of grey, tattered and dirty. Each group speaks a different language. All of them, are stunningly attractive.
That day we prepared the community meal (potatoes, red root, carrots, sheep). We entered Habte’s house; four mud walls and a dirt floor. This is where the meal would be served. None of us imagined how this bare mud hut would be transformed in to something so beautiful a few hours later. When it was time for the feast, I entered the hut and was so pleasantly surprised. Blades of grass and flower petals were arranged on the dirt floor. Low tables were set up and covered with colorful tablecloths. It was time for them to eat. First the men, then the women. Finally the young children in the village gathered in a circle to eat. Not a word was spoken as they brought their hands to their mouths and frantically shoveled in the food. For many of them, it would be the only meat they’d have for the year. Seeing such hunger first-hand, was too much to bear. I had to step outside and get fresh air.
I’d like to return to Ethiopia and spend the entire time in Dahley. I admire the simplicity of their lives. While they do not have material objects, they do have a lifestyle many of us would envy. They can learn from us and we can learn from them.
I had to read through our blog posts from our last trip just to jostle my memories a bit. It’s amazing how you think you’ll never forget any details of such an incredible journey when you first get back, but one year later certain memories have faded. I feel sad at that truth. I don’t want to forget any of it … ever.
As I read through our memories, a smile would come across my face as I re-lived them. That’s how I remember that trip – with a smile.
Things that stood out for me:
- Getting the most amazing hugs from children (and even adults). Seriously, those kids need to teach our children how to hug!
- Feeling like a rock star riding around in our van. It’s not something that you want to happen, but there aren’t many white people in Ethiopia. People point and stare. I remember a little girl touching my arm at the market and giggling. She touched a white girl!
- Going to the countryside of Dahley. Absolutely ah-maze-ing!
- Cuddling the babies at the Elolam Orphanage. Be still my throbbing uterus!
- Giggling fits in our van. Things lost in translation. Learning new Amharic. Being invited to a delicious dinner at Daniel’s house (our interpreter and awesome friend)
- Preparing a community meal and then serving it for the people of Dahley
- Meeting my “little boy” Senewerk at Kolfe
I will also add this. I think when you tell someone you went to Ethiopia, their mind travels back to the famine in the 80’s. When “We are the World” ruled the airwaves (and MTV) and those iconic pictures were shown of the children with distended bellies, surrounded by flies and vultures. Where we traveled, we saw horrendous poverty and certain hunger. But we also met joy, hope and faith. Ethiopian people are strong. They definitely do not let their circumstances define their happiness.
I do hope to return one day. This time I would like to spend my time at just one place and channel my attention/focus there. I miss those hugs!
My teammates recently reminded me that it’s been a year. A year since the A-Team boarded planes in 4 different cities, spent a wonderful fall day in London, showered, boarded another plane, slept, and woke up to the adventure of a lifetime. The seven days that followed were amazing. Like really amazing. We laughed, we cried, we giggled, we wept. We checked out of our busy lives for a week and stepped onto the soil of a new world – a country with so little, yet so much.
We left Ethiopia haunted by the smiles of starving orphans, widows, lepers who have lost so much, yet remained joyful. We wondered how they could smile when we couldn’t manage more than a grimace on a rainy Monday morning. We were convicted of our abundance and we left with a resolve to do something more.
The trip anniversary almost passed me by because I’ve been in the throes of adoption paperwork. As soon as I returned from Ethiopia last October we began the process to adopt B. It was during that week that it became clear that he was supposed to be home with us. We are finally at the end of the process. As I type this I am waiting for our court date.
While time tends to fade the resolve and the conviction of what we felt that week, we all left with indelible handprints on our hearts.
At church on Sunday the rector gave a sermon about giving 100% of ourselves to God, and how completely impossible that is. It’s quite impossible to give our 100% to anything. He went on to say that many of us think, “Why should I give 100%? What has He done for me lately?” And in this time of economic uncertainty and relative hardship, I have occasionally found myself asking this question. I lost my job and my family’s health insurance. Times are tough. But what has He done for me lately? Everything.
Last year I traveled to Ethiopia. I have never seen such abject poverty before, and doubt that I ever will again. When I consider the relative hardship my family is experiencing, I think about what I witnessed there and I count my blessings. Each afternoon I fret about dinner. What should I make? Is the chicken defrosted? Rice or potatoes? This son won’t eat that, so I’ll make an option for him. Do you want water or milk with dinner? Sorry, we don’t have any ice cream left, so you’ll have to have Oreos again for dessert. Sound familiar? Sound mundane? For millions of people in Ethiopia, these ramblings aren’t even imaginable. For them dinner might not take place today. It might not take place this week. It’s just something they live with. I have dinner. Every night. With my family.
And speaking of family, I am surrounded by them. Not only my loving husband and three children, but an extended family both near and far that I know can and would help us in a time of crisis. The same family that I have known since forever. In Ethiopia, orphans can be counted in millions. Who can they turn to for comfort? Who cares what happens to them now and for the rest of their lives? They deserve love and kind words and comforting arms like we all do. It seems that there just aren’t enough of these things to go around. Yes, the same family I might describe as meddlesome, annoying, boisterous, and nutty is also loving, caring, and sincere. I am blessed.
And this family of mine costs money! I wince each time I have to go to a doctor appointment and shell out the full cost because we are currently uninsured. But I have access to health care. I have access to a drug store. I have the warm clothing, clean water, and vaccinations that I need to keep my family healthy. I have a home with heat. I have a home with a floor that is not made of dirt. I have beds and blankets and shoes! When I think about what God has done for me lately, I think about my time spent in Ethiopia, and the answer is always EVERYTHING. I am blessed. WE as a nation are blessed.
I feel like my trip last year was part humanitarian aid, part curiosity, and part reconnaissance. I had to see for myself what this place that I’d been hearing about since the 1980s was like. It’s at once beautiful and blighted, and there is as much promise as there is hopelessness. I might forget the names of many of the people I met in Ethiopia, but their faces are burned in my memory. Their living conditions are burned in my memory. I will return. In a bigger way, I hope. And I will count my experience in Ethiopia among my blessings.
I’m back from my 3rd trip to Ethiopia in three years. I travelled with my hubs, my 11yo old son, and 9 others from my church. You may have noticed that I didn’t blog this trip. It just wasn’t in me.
But if you’re looking for photos and information on what we did, you can find lots of good stuff here.