Monday, May 30, 2011
It's Day One for us in Ethiopia, 3:45 a.m., and I've been awakened by the call to prayer coming through our cracked windows. Something that once sounded so foreign less than a year and a half ago now sounds familiar, even comforting. It feels surreal to be back here, like it's too good to be true. Well, to be quite honest, it is too good to be true! But here we are once again, welcomed by our now dear friend Melke at the airport last night outside the baggage claim after over 24 hours of travel, standing amidst a crowd of beautiful Ethiopians with a smile, a big hug, and an infectious laugh. It made me happy to see the onlookers smile and watch with interest as they witnessed our obviously joyful reunion with Melke. We entered into the dark night and were instantly enveloped by the unforgettable smell of Addis to which Roger and I immediately locked eyes and exchanged a knowing smile, remembering back to the bewilderment and nervous excitement we felt when we exited that airport the last time feeling like we had truly entered into another world. We loaded our four 50-pound suitcases into yet another mid-'80s compact-sized Toyota and were driven through the never-ending rut-filled back roads of the city to our gated guest house. Needless to say, it feels exhilarating to be back.
We left Springfield Saturday morning and flew to Chicago, enjoyed one last "American" meal at Chili's, boarded a 747 three hours later, and took off for Frankfurt. Different route of travel for us this time. Lufthansa through Frankfurt rather than Ethiopian Air direct from D.C. to Addis. The plane was great, service great, overnight (Springfield time) layover in Frankfurt not so great. Landing in Frankfurt at 11 p.m. "our" time with a five-hour layover was just a bit brutal. We made camp and tried to sleep the best we could on some hard, semi-reclined chairs in the lounge area of the airport to catch a few Z's, but we had already entered into that twilight zone of international travel where you have NO IDEA what time it is, if the sun has just risen or is setting, and when you fall asleep you wake up with a jolt not knowing whether you slept for three hours or 30 minutes. Knowing once we got to Addis it would be 9:00 p.m. and we would be able to "reset" with a normal night's sleep (ha ha ha! It's 3:45 a.m and I'm wide awake!) at the guest house helped us tolerate it all. We boarded an airbus, this plane filled with beautiful Ethiopian people, me smiling every time I saw an Ethiopian child that instantly made my heart long for Ari, and took off for the six-hour flight to Addis. The couple sitting directly behind us tapped us on the shoulder about four hours into the flight and inquired if we were adopting. They too are adopting a baby girl and are traveling for court just like us. They will even be at court the same day as us. This is their first adoption, so we compared notes on agencies, talked about how difficult the return trip home will be for us emotionally, not knowing for sure when we will see our little girls again and be able to bring them home. All I can say is I'm SO THANKFUL I have Ari to come home to!
After we arrived at the Jemimah Guest House (pronounced Jamie-ma, not Aunt Jemimah -- it only took Melke three times to say that before I figured out what in the world he was saying), we checked in and the guys hauled our luggage up three flights to our room, Melke laughing the entire time at Roger's physical exertion. Melke has a great appreciation for Roger's humor and also his misfortunes. He also informed us that I looked exactly the same as he remembered me but a little taller, interestingly enough, and Roger looked shorter. lol. Melke, by the way, is maybe 5'6". I then proceeded to hand over to Melke his stack of mail from his American fan club -- some of the families who have had the privilege of meeting him. He handed over the cell phone he will be lending to us this week so we can make contact with him and our family back home, had a confusing, language-barrier filled conversation with Roger on how we will pay for the minutes to call back home, filled us in on how the agency we previously worked with for Ari's adoption continues to decline -- my word, not his -- and marveled over the photos and video we show him of Ari Madegiya, to which he only refers to as Madegiya, commenting on how big he is, how handsome he is, how he runs and jumps and talks now, how his hair is in a "freeze," aka frizz. That is actually a compliment and is just the name of the hairstyle Ari is sporting these days. Oh, man, it's just amazing to be back! We couldn't be any happier or feel more blessed.
After finally falling back to sleep around 7:00 a.m this morning., Roger and I shamelessly slept in until 11:00 attempting to catch up on sleep. After getting ready we headed downstairs to the "hang out" room in our guest house and visited with the other adoptive families, most here for court like us, one for embassy. Melke came and picked us up and we headed out in the rain to Top View for lunch. We enjoyed their Sunday buffet which was delicious. After taking some group pictures with Addis in the background, we headed back into the city with Melke and made a stop at Kaldi's for some macchiatos and to purchase a sim card for our cell phone to call back home so we could check in on little man. 100 birr for eight minutes on international talk time!! What a deal! We then headed out of town for an afternoon trip to Lake Bobigaya. After seeing our lives flash before our eyes multiple times due to some risky traffic maneuvers on Melke's part, we arrived at the beautiful lake resort and enjoyed some drinks with a great view. There happened to be a wedding party going on, so we gawked and attempted to take pictures of the ridiculously good-looking wedding party until we were told not to take any more pictures by one of the groomsmen. We even asked Melke before we took a picture if they would mind and he said "no, of course, not." Well, after the first picture, we were scowled at and asked "Why?" in Amharic by one particular groomsmen, so that was the end of that. Melke didn't understand and was surprised that the groomsman didn't want us to do that, so we explained to Melke that it was okay he didn't want some foreign white people taking his picture. Melke and I laughed so hard we cried on the way to the resort and back as we watched Roger react to a particularly smelly bad stretch of road, almost vomiting he was so grossed out. Well, okay, it was pretty gross, but Roger was taking it to a whole new level. I asked Melke what could that horrendous smell possibly be, seriously thinking there could be something dead and decaying nearby, and he replied "cow poop and rain." I beg to differ! There is no way cow poop and rain could smell THAT foul! We eventually made it back to the guest house, visited some more with the other Holt families, enjoyed our second delicious meal of the day, this time prepared by the guest house staff, and have now come back to our room. Tomorrow will start bright and early as we have been instructed to be down for breakfast at 5:30 a.m. so we can head south at 6:00 a.m. TO MEET EZRA! Wow. Still trying to wrap my head around that one. I can't decide if it hasn't sunk in completely yet because it's my defense mechanism of knowing we will only get to spend a very few hours with her and then leave her indefinitely OR because one's heart and mind cannot fully process the magnitude of meeting one's child for the first time. I think it's a little of both.
Off to Wolayta we went this morning to meet Ezra with an early morning breakfast at the guest house and an hour and 15 minute late start at 7:15 a.m.. Such beautiful, beautiful scenery on the way down south. It is really spectacular and I am so glad we have now seen southern Ethiopia where both of our children were born. We traveled with two other couples who also have daughters at the same care center as Ezra. The five-hour drive passed by rather quickly with all of the laughter and jokes going on. Roger, Jay, and Aaron entertained each other and the women with their "expertise" photography skills, competing with each other to get the best National Geographic picture with their camera hanging out the window as we flew down the road at 60 miles an hour dodging cattle, donkeys, goats and people the entire way. At a restroom break I was talking to our guide about the different villages in Kembata and Wolayta and how they were related distance-wise. I mentioned the village Ari was born in, and as we came closer to our destination the van slowed and she pointed down into a gorgeous deep valley and told us that was the village where our son was born. It was such an awesome feeling to look down into that green valley with our own eyes and know that is where Ari started out on this earth. And to think there is a woman who is still there that our lives are so intimately intertwined with. Such an overwhelming feeling.
Before coming into Wolayta we stopped at an intersection to wait for another Holt guide to join us. We waited for about 20 minutes for him to arrive, and in the meantime our van was swarmed with children. After they finally realized we weren't going to hand out money, they started playing hand games on the windows with the guys and charming the pants off all of us. They are such stunning children and all I could think about was "what if Ari was still here?" Would he be begging too when a bus stopped? Would he be carried around on the back of a 6-year-old? Would his face and eyes be covered with flies like all of these children?" It's so difficult to imagine and yet that is the reality.
We continued down the road into Wolayta where we stopped for lunch -- within sight distance of the care center!! We were hoping we could skip lunch and go right to the care center, but that was not the predetermined schedule, so we ate a quick lunch of spaghetti where we all once again became so slap happy we laughed until we cried, probably from complete nervousness of being literally minutes away from meeting our children. We piled back into the van and drove up the dirt road to the care center. We pulled up to some gold gates in a very peaceful and quiet part Wolayta and piled back out, anxiously awaiting the gates to be opened. We entered into a courtyard with laundry drying on the line, not unlike the court yard at Ari's orphanage. We slipped off our shoes and replaced them with oversized yellow Croc-like shoes, were lead into a small building and into a small room on the left where we laid eyes on three beautiful little girls and their nannies. You have never seen such HUGE brown eyes as Ezra's when she saw six white people enter the room. Bless her little heart, she was scared to death. We immediately sat down next to our children and attempted to interact with each of them without frightening them even more. Ezra's nanny immediately started crying silent tears as we talked with Ezra and attempted to get her to warm up to us. Because of the huge language barrier, I'm not sure if it was tears of joy or sadness, but I have a feeling it was a whole lot of both. Our little girl is obviously loved very much and she loves them back. Thankfully I brought a few toys that immediately sparked her interest and she grabbed and chewed on all of them. She also loved her photo album we made for her -- not for the pictures it contains obviously, but for the teething value it had. The nannies had fun changing her clothes and dressing her up in the clothes and flower hair bow we brought for her, and we got some really cute pictures with her "Little Sister" shirt on. She is a roly-poly little thing with sweet chubby legs and belly and feels solid as a rock when you hold her. I'm guessing for sure 20+ pounds. She did, however, fit into the 6-month onesie I brought to help give some perspective to her size. She crawls on all fours, sits up unassisted, and is pulling up and cruising. I'm sure she will be a walker the next time we see her. She has four bottom teeth already. Her fear of us did dissipate some in the hour and 45 minutes we were there where we could make eye contact without her crying and touch her feet and legs, but never completely. I was able to hold her without her crying for a total of maybe three minutes when we walked over to the window and looked outside, but as soon as I turned around and she saw her nanny, game over. Roger did also get to hold her for a very short time and I was able to get some quick pictures, but she was even more wary of Roger. I truly am so thankful she has attached so completely to her caretakers in the nine months she's been at the care center as this is a fantastic indicator to her developmental well-being, but my heart breaks for her when I think of what she will go through when she is transferred to the care center in Addis and then once again to us. It's just such a tremendous amount of loss these children experience, and there's nothing easy or nice about it.
After our teary good-byes we headed out of town and traveled for approximately two hours before arriving at our hotel in Awassa. We ate some dinner outside with the other Holt families, shared our day's experiences with each other, and have now all retired to our rooms. Tomorrow morning we will head back to Addis, have some free time tomorrow afternoon, and then court Wednesday morning. Have I mentioned how fabulous it would be if we could pass court the first time??? Praying for a favorable outcome.