I think we may have cracked the jetlag today. Yesterday we came back from the orphanage around 3pm and fell asleep watching a movie. We woke up at 8pm. OOPS! So we got up, ate dinner, took sleeping pills, and went back to bed at midnight local time. We woke up just before the sun came up, and so far we’ve made it to 6pm and are feeling good.
The internet café rocks. I mean, actually it’s hot and small and the connection is slow, but this morning it cost us the equivalent of $1.50 for an hour of use. Charles has been shooting video at the orphanage and we realized we didn’t have the right connector to unload it. He found an electronics store in the “mall” (not at all like a mall) where the internet café is and they had the right cable (looked very recycled) which they sold him for about $4.00. And it works. Excellent!
We walked to Layla house this morning through the chaos of Addis Ababa. It doesn’t smell good. In fact, it smells distinctly like poop. Frequently. As in, you are walking along, picking your way through the rubble on the edges of the sidewalks, and all of a sudden you just smell poo for a block or so. That’s in between the smells of diesel exhaust or garbage or food cooking. We have not been mauled by the homeless thus far, but it is difficult because they include cripples, blind people, and women with babies who are crawling around on the sidewalk where they spend their day. We have avoided giving money because apparently that is a certain ticket to gaining an entourage, and we feringes really stand out for our white-ness. They would remember us for certain.
One is overwhelmed by concrete and corrugated metal looking around the area. Even the tiniest dwellings and shops are usually surrounded by a corrugated metal fence, and the effect is an endless wall of the stuff for blocks, periodically punctuated by a tiny storefront. One store has a raw side of beef hanging in it, many have bundles of bananas or oranges, and bottles of fanta and water. We passed tarps in the dirt by the sidewalk, loaded with red hot peppers drying in the sun, and big round injera baking machines, and beauty ‘salons.’ It costs about $1.50 for the girls to get their hair braided here, so it is a ritual for little girls on their departure day to get their hair done for the occasion.
When we arrived this morning we checked in at the AAI office and got to work on our agenda. Since it’s Friday, we wanted to make sure we talked to Temesgen, the lawyer, about getting an appearance with the judge next week. Also, we needed to connect with the social workers to arrange a visit to Bethezata orphanage, where our boys spent eight months before being transferred to Layla. And finally, we hadn’t gotten an official tour the day before, so we really wanted to get the full lowdown with Elaney (sp?).
We found the boys who greeted us warmly. They decided to join us on our tour. Alex is completely smitten with Charles, it is so wonderful to see. Frequently other children will come up and ask him if this is his Dad and he is proud to say yes, then points out Mommy. He stuck to Charles like glue today. Melkam is a little elf who was very happy to see us…he is the mama’s boy for sure, much to my delight, but he is very easily distracted and goes where his attention takes him. Alex does his best to keep him in line!
The tour gave us a much better understanding of the operation of the compound. In the kitchen, we saw four or five women making injera, Ethiopia’s spongy, sourdough bread which is eaten with almost every meal. The starter is a living organism, like any sourdough starter, and the giant, flat rounds are made by pouring batter onto the surface of a baker that looks similar to a crepe maker. The batter spreads out over the slightly cone-shaped surface, then is shortly peeled off and tossed onto an enormous pile. The children eat huge amounts of injera every day. They tear the soft, spongy bread into pieces and use it to pinch bites of stew from their plate, rather than use a fork or spoon. In fact, I wonder if they get any experience using a fork or knife before coming to a western country!
We also toured the bedrooms, each assigned to a different group, and having 8-10 bunkbeds per room, the classrooms, the laundry area, the social workers offices, the administrative offices, the clinic, and the various rooms of Wanna, the baby house. In the clinic we met the doctor who is on staff at the compound. He can administer shots, antibiotics, and general medical care, which is really important because many children arrive with medical issues of all sorts. Along the way we found Alex’s class and he re-joined them, and Melkam’s class, which was outside singing songs and clapping together. Could not be more adorable. We left him in the circle singing, and went to talk with Temesgen, the lawyer.
We will have an appearance with the judge on Wednesday sometime, and Temesgen made us think that if all goes well, we CAN expect to bring the kids home in February. This meeting on Wednesday is not our court date, although he said we may know by Monday what our court date is. This will just be our opportunity to speak to the judge in person and let her know of our desire to adopt all three kids. We were worried that this would be difficult, and we now are encouraged that we might be able to accomplish what we need to fulfill our court requirements without having to return for court in person. The court date will likely be sometime in January.
After that we spent some time in the social workers office to see about getting a visit to Bethezata orphanage set up. Our boys spent eight months there prior to coming to Layla, and we want to go see it and speak to a social worker there to understand their experience a little better. We asked why they would have been transferred, and were reminded that AAI is a little unique among agencies operating in Ethiopia, in that they make a great effort to place older children. After age five, children become much more difficult to place, only because people don’t think of adopting older children…we think of adopting babies. Many agencies will only process paperwork for babies and the older kids are moved to Layla because here they have a chance of finding families. This is the case with Alex and Melkam. Approximately 25% of AAI’s placements are for older children, and the community of adoptive families give waiting children a lot of publicity. So new adoptive families can often learn a LOT about potential adoptive children because many people have spent time with them and can describe their personalities, etc. Honestly, once you are here you have a great desire to bring home many children! Especially when you think that some of the older kids sit and wait and watch families come and take away babies and toddlers. For months and sometimes years.
Being chosen is a big status change in an orphanage.
After seeing the boys this morning and attending to this various business, we headed to the baby house and spent a couple of hours with Tarike. She was happy and interactive today and we held and played with her the whole time.We played a little music on the iPad and danced with several of the babies. They love the contact and interaction as all babies do, and they have rhythm already! I think Tarike is going to be a dancer. She spent a lot of time on Charles’s lap today, staring into his face, touching his beard, and just hanging out with him. I got to feed her and play with her, and she even fell asleep in my arms a little while after her bottle. I put her down in her crib and she made one little peep and then went back to sleep. Ah, is there anything better than having a baby fall asleep in your arms?
Today we also got to meet Susan, the development director for AAI who is here from upstate NY, Chris, an adoptive mom of a number of kids (not sure how many are adoptive, but I think she has 14 kids in all) who is kind of famous for me because she is in Melissa Faye Greene’s book, There is No Me Without You. She was a very early adoptive mom in AAI’s Ethiopia program; a real pioneer. On this trip she had her beautiful 18-year-old Ethiopian daughter with her. They live in Port Townsend and Chris has been to Ethiopia nine times since she started this journey. She helps AAI and new adoptive parents in countless ways. Susan and Chris gave us lots of insight into the ups and downs of adopting children at all ages, and into some of the cultural details of Ethiopia. They are picking us up tomorrow morning to go to the market and a special bazaar on Bolo road where we can shop with the experts for Ethiopian baskets, silk, coffee, etc. I’m so glad, because visiting the market is a daunting proposition and yet something we did not want to miss. Susan and Chris buy Ethiopian goods for the Benefit Orphans online store, so they really know their stuff. I can’t wait!
Finally, today we got to attend a Goodbye Party for four of the children who are going home with families tonight or tomorrow. All the orphanage children get to attend these parties, where they sing enthusiastically and beat drums to honor their departing friends. Cake and soda are served (oh, and candy, because why not!), and the children being honored get to come up first and choose their plates. Then all the children get to enjoy these treats. Goodbye parties are almost always held on Fridays, and I had hoped we would get to attend one while we were here. There were plenty of teary-eyed new parents, and many of the children had clearly bonded to their new moms and dads and were stuck to them like glue.
Toward the end of the party, Alex found Charles and just wanted to sit on his lap. Charles showed him the playback on the video camera from today. He, like all children, delights in seeing himself on film and enjoyed pointing out every time he or Melkam came on screen. But really, he was so content to just sit with his new Dad. It’s amazing. Charles and I were worried that he’d be the tough nut to crack, but if this is any indication, he might be the easy one. This boy has really missed out on having a father and he seems quite content with Charles. He’s ready to go! In fact, he seems a little over the chaos of the orphanage. While Melkam is pretty happy to join in the fray, often wrestling with his friends or meandering from one ativity to the next looking for adventure, Alex seems to be often on the edge of his group, looking for us. He likes to corral Melkam when we are walking around so that all of us are in a tight group; maybe his way of getting used to the idea of this family. They are still quite disconnected from Tarike and don’t have much contact with the baby house. We went through their on our tour and reminded them who their little sister was, but we’re not sure it’s computing.
It’s been great for us to have this rare break from work to really focus on the children, process our feelings about this enormous change in our lives, and discuss how life might be structured differently when we are finally able to bring them home. We continue to be ridiculously emotional, which is probably a combination of things, but we are just going with it and enjoying this amazing experience!