Saturday, May 19, 2012

Finishing up, 6 weeks later!

This is the last email Tom wrote from ET.  We were very sad to leave the birth country of our son, but also so anxious to get home to our sweet girl and our family.  I got all emotional reading through this email tonight.  It has been six weeks since we arrived home from Ethiopia....and really, life can't get much better!  We are a happy little family of blessed by this journey, so blessed by our two kids!

Edilu's first trip to the zoo!

Wednesday April, 4th, 2012

Well, I cant believe it but this will probably be the final email I send out before our journey home...we've been longing for the day to come when we would finally leave and get back, but now that its here it is a little difficult to leave. But the little boy who is coming with us makes it shift away from the 'bitter' and heavily towards the 'sweet'. This morning we woke up at about 6:20 or so to see Edilu standing in his crib, staring with bright eyes at us as we slept, but for some reason there was no crying involved for the first time-he just had this little smile on his face that said, "I'm awake!" But let me back up...

The night before, he did fantastic-he stirred a little, then went right back to sleep. Once again we all got a really restful night of sleep and felt great (this trip is so strange-last time we came here with pretty bad colds, ran out of medicine after a few days, and then got a nasty stomach sickness just in time for the trip home-ugh, it makes me feel sick just thinking about it). This time, however, aside from some minor stomach upset-ness (is that a word?), we are sleeping well, eating well, and healthy. But I digress...we came downstairs, ate breakfast (I am really going to miss fresh pineapple juice, omelette, Ethiopian pancakes and really good yogurt), and found out we would be going to lunch later with the whole group so we had the morning to ourselves.

We decided to walk down the street to a place we went to last time, the Paris Cafe. It is related to Paris only in that there is a half-Eiffel tower out front, and pictures of the city inside. The rest is all Ethiopia-the broken tiles, loud conversation, smells of berbery (Ethiopian spice), flies buzzing around, etc. But they have amazing macchiatos that we love, and two macchiatos will run you 16 birr, which is less than 1 american dollar. We were nervous about walking in public with Edilu for the first time, but were surprised to see that we got no more strange looks than when it is just us. And a gentleman in the Paris cafe struck up a conversation with us, and was very positive about us adopting a child of Ethiopia. He was even from the same southern region as Edilu. We had a great conversation, and were then informed that our new friend had graciously picked up the tab for us. He gave us his email on the way out and asked us to keep in contact. It was such a positive experience in the midst of our worry about how we, white americans, are perceived with a little Ethiopian boy. It was a great start to a great day.

We came back to the guest house and laid Edilu down at 11:00, and he slept well for an hour. We were then picked up and dropped off at the Amsterdam Cafe (notice a pattern?) with the group. Angela ordered lasagna that could have fed our whole table, and I ordered "3 Grill Sausage"...which turned out to be, much to my chagrin, 5 hot dogs rolled around on a grill on rice. Not sure where the 3 came into play. Oh well, some you win, some you lose.

We were then taken to go shopping-a row of shops all crammed together lining a busy street. We picked up some souvenirs (Including an Ethiopian flag for E's room), and had a great time bartering and talking. Ethiopian people are all business, and want your money, but if you break out of that mold and joke about the weather, about getting something free, ask them their name, etc. they smile, laugh, and respond in kind. Believe it or not, we actually saw quite a few people that we had seen on our first trip, and many remembered us. One of the most memorable was a "guard" whose job it is to whack street kids with a stick when they bother tourists, begging or agressively trying to sell you something. We spoke with her at length, and she told us about her son and daughter at home. She remembered us, and it was apparent she liked us because she adopted us as her personal clients, following us around to swat at anything that got too close. I spoke with Job (one of our guides) about her job, and he informed me she makes 500 birr a month, which is roughly 30 US dollars. Unbelievable. I asked if it was ok to tip, and he said, "Oh yes, we often tip them". We tipped her a mere 100 birr ($6.00), and she graciously shook our hands as she bowed repeatedly. Its things like that that make us love Ethiopia while our hearts break.

We handed out granola bars to some teenagers who were listening to Justin Bieber, a favorite here. They played with Edilu, and one boy gave Edilu his pink sunglasses with no lenses. We saw teenage schoolgirls walking home from school in their uniforms who all giggled while they kissed Edilu on the cheek and invited us to come to their houses. We met a true rasta (rastafarianism comes from Ethiopia) who explained the "one world, one people" concept to us and laughed when Angela told him I tried to grow dreads in college. In short, it was raining and we got all muddy, and had the time of our lives with the poeple of Addis. With people here, sometimes all it takes is for you to reach out a hand in friendship and bridge that gap.

While we were there talking to the kids, Job brought us Edilu's visa, and an amazing thing happened. Every teenager and child there crowded around to see it-we were later told that every child dreams of attaining a visa to travel to the US. they had never even seen one! We were asked by numerous boys if we would adopt them also (in a light-hearted, joking way, but I think they would have come with us). One boy said he would become Edilu and change the picture in the visa. We asked him what we sould do with Edilu, and he said, "No problem-you come back for him later!"

We left with hearts both broken and full, but with our boy in mom's arms and his visa in my pocket. We attempted a nap, but he just wasn't quite tired enough. at 6:30 we came down for dinner and ate with all the other families. One thing I forgot to mention-two different families here are adopting older girls, and we remember all three from our last trip. It is such a blessing to meet kids in the transition home on our first trip, beautiful girls waiting for a family, and now all three are placed and going home with their forever families. And the other day we went by an orphanage so one family could drop off a care package to a 14-year-old girl who was placed with a family. We watched with watery eyes as she saw a picture of her family for the first time, and broke down in happiness. She had never seen her family, and could not wait for them to come pick her up. In Ethiopia, at age 15 kids are no longer eligible for adoption, so she just barely made the cut. I cannot imagine the feelings on her end, but for us it was just beautiful to be able to witness.

During dinner last night, Edilu ate almost everything in sight, and woke up with purpose! He was smiling, laughing, swinging his arms, and acting like a little boy full of life. We took him upstairs and gave him a bath, and aside from some whimpering he barely made a sound. We cleaned his beautiful skin (I'm becoming a little jealous that mine is so white, with the exception of my ample forehead which is slightly sunburnt). He was asleep within 5 minutes of Angela laying him down, and we began to pack for today's trip. He woke a few times during the night but slept well...which brings us to this morning and our bright-eyed boy. He is sitting on mommy's lap eating right now, reaching for me occasionally and whining a little-in short, showing all the signs of a boy adjusting well to his new mommy and daddy. I better get over there and help out...we leave at 4:00 today and are nervous but excited! Thank you all for reading our updates and being a part of our journey!

One last thing-for those of you meeting us at the airport (and all are welcome), be prepared that when you say hi to him, he will most likely cry and turn away. He even does that with Ethiopian people here who say hi (again, a good sign that he is bonding with us). Don't take it personally, and dont be afraid to say hi anyway! See you soon...

Tom, Ang and Son

Hanging out at our Guest House 
The Paris Cafe
Hanging out with Daddy:)
 Saying goodbye is hard!
 Bole Int. Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
On to Dubai!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A lot of good!

Day 5 Tom wrote two emails, one in the morning and one in the eve...super long post, but if want to take a you go:)
Tuesday April 3rd, 2012
It's 6:29 here, and though I really tried, I am done sleeping. Those of you who know us well know that "morning person" does not really describe us. "Brunch people" might be adequate, or "We got up at 8:30 but don't talk to us until we've had an hour to drink 6 cups of coffee people" would work too. But I woke early today, and to be fair, I think it's actually 8:29pm at home, so we're all messed up anyway. I would like to blame my early rise on the 16 diseased dogs barking intermittently at maximum volume right outside our window, or the two roosters that seem to be battling for alarm supremacy, or the diesel trucks backfiring, or any number of ridiculous noises at this ungodly hour. But truth be told, I just haven't fully adjusted to the time change.

It's ok today though, because I have time to just sit, contemplate, drink some kind of strange tea, and shotgun my thoughts onto a computer screen (which is quite therapeutic for me). Again I knock on the wooden desk in front of me rapidly as I report that aside from some minor stirring and crying, Edilu slept through the entire night last night. He sat with me on the bed for a little while, sucking his thumb and straning to keep his eyelids open, and then Angela put him to bed, sending me downstairs to jump on the ol' word processor. When I came back up, she informed me with that classic Mom smile that says, "I rock!" that Edilu fought her for about 5 minutes, then obsequiently rode the river of exaustion into the sea of unconsciousness.

Yesterday we ate dinner at the guest house-on our first trip, we ate out when we could just so we weren't cooped up here too much. On this trip, however, we are leery of eating out, and it's much more work to bring Edilu with us as we walk to busy streets of Addis in search of a safe, edible meal. So we ate here, which turned out to be a blessing, because there were four other families (one from N. Carolina, one from Oregon, one from Ohio, and one from Arizona) who ate with us, and it was so great to just converse with people from our own country. The meal was excellent-chicken and a rice pilaf sort of dish-and as we have been kind of alone here now, just being around other people who were going through the same things we are was so encouraging.

But the greatest thing about last evening was we connected with Edilu so much more than we had before. We took him to the roof, and he actually walked up three whole flights of stairs. His stick legs are like jelly-it is apparent he is used to either sitting, or being carried. We took a ball to the roof, where he sort of watched us throw it back and forth. He must have been thinking, "They must really be bored, playing catch with a small, soft toy ball while I sit here and watch them." But he started to respond, and as we went downstairs to the lobby to wait for dinner, he sat with his mommy and was more alert and curious than I've ever seen him. A few different people commented to us about how different he already looked, how he was really coming alive in just one day. I tend to agree...the change in such a short time is dramatic. And THEN...the biggest success yet! He sat with Angela and she tried to feed him rice, even though we are aware of his affinity for ONLY warm formula from a bottle. He took a big bite with a smile on his face, and commenced to eat probably 15 bites of rice and chicken. Its so funny the things parents get excited about, but we truly felt like we'd won the lottery, and that we might continue to win more lotteries in the days to come.

The evening went well, and I think we will start to see shy, withdrawn, expressionless Edilu come alive very soon. I'm so proud of my little boy, so proud of my wife, and so thankful for every one of you who has elected to share in this experience with us. As I read emails from home this morning, I tried my best to fight back emotion since I'm sitting in the middle of the lobby, and I'm supposed to be the "strong, silent type"...I have a reputation to uphold. Its hard to do that when emotions are like a knotted rope inside you, however, and it really feels good to "feel". Thank you again for being interested in our journey, and continue to pray that God opens Edilu's heart to us as ours are forever opened to him.
Evening of April 3rd, 2012- Probably one of my favorite days in Ethiopia!

I'm not sure how your morning conversation went over breakfast this morning, or if you even had one, but ours went something like this (all you parents can relate, I'm sure):
Angela, coming downstairs with Edilu in hand: "He had the biggest poop ever!"
Edilu, smiling, says nothing.
Me: "Really? I missed the first did it look?"
Angela: "It was pretty soft, not too hard..."
Me: "What color was it?"
Angela: "It was kind of a light brown."
Me: "Like, really light? Was it yellow?"
Angela: "No it was kind of tan."
Edilu, pretending indifference but knowing what the conversation is about.
Me: "Oh wow-nice job, buddy!"
Angela: "Yeah, it was probably about the color of hay, but less a light brown..."
I'm sure that conversation could have continued indefinitely, but as we scanned the room we realized we were surrounded by other people trying to enjoy their breakfast, most of which was about the color of hay, and fairly soft, not too hard. We started laughing, of course, because that's mostly what we as people do: laugh. I can't say I'm horribly disappointed I missed the first poop, because there will be many, many more for me to experience. But I don't care what stage of development you start out at with a child-the first poop is, in the words of Ron Burgundy, "...kind of a big deal."

We ate breakfast, and Edilu ate right along with us, which was fantastic. Angela and Edilu sat on a couch together while Edilu played fetch with me, and like the bone-headed animals we dads are, I chased after the ball and brought it back every time (dare I say I am a superior fetching dog to our thick-boned, small-minded canine companion, Brutus, who, after about 4 tosses, plops his oversize frame down on the grass as if he's just completed a triathlon). We were able to squeeze a few laughs out of that expressionless boy, and they were music to our ears! Well, to be fair, they were more like chuckles or short seal-like barks, but I'll take what I can get, and I'll chase that toy ball anywhere to get one. Brutus gets a Milk Bone, I get a tiny laugh from my son; I'd say I'm the winner on that one.

We headed out with some other families to the transitional home, nervous that Edilu would forget us and go straight to the nannies. To our delight, he actually preferred to stay in his mommy's arms! Of course, Angela being the selfless, loving individual she is, quickly shared her little boy with every nanny in the building, and even brought pictures of each nanny holding Edilu that she had taken on our previous trip. Each nanny was overjoyed and thankful, and I just sat back and beamed with pride. I wanted to tell each of the children there, "That's my wife," but they don't speak english, and they are all under 2 years old. So instead I spun a makeshift top on the floor, much to their delight. You must understand, Edilu is 19 months old (or so), and he has been at that transitional home since he was 2 months old (that is very uncommon). Every nanny there just loves Edilu as if he were the special boy of each of them, so for them to have Angela bring him back in and quickly hand him off to each of them and present them with a picture of each of them with the boy they love and cherish but will most likely never see again in their lifetimes, truly meant the world to them. She didn't have to go to all that extra work, but she did, because not only does she love her boy, she loves each of those nannies as well. That is Christ's love in action.

We then had an appointment with the doctor, who-you guessed it-loves Edilu like her own special son! And again to our delight, he cried when she grabbed him, and lunged back at his mommy! I wish I could express to you all that feeling of realizing, "He finds comfort with us and not them", but suffice to say that's a HUGE deal. The doctor told us he is healthy, assured us there's nothing wrong with his nice, round belly other than he has no abs yet and likes to eat, and expressed to us how wonderful our boy is. We all grew emotional as she explainef to us that Edilu is a child of Ethiopia and a child of ours, but ultimately, he is a child of God's. Angela presented the doctor with a picture of her and Edilu, and expressed to her how thankful and grateful we are that she is doing the work she is doing to ensure the health of these children who make the transition from Africa to their forever families. Another beautiful, overworked Ethiopian woman was made to feel special and appreciated, and another chance for me to sit back and beam with pride.

We played soccer with the older kids there, then were taken to a wonderful restaurant for lunch, where I ordered lamb. I ate around the bones and residual lamb hair still stuck to my dish (it was actually quite tasty), then we walked out to see two large tortoises lumbering around a grassy area! Edilu wanted none of them, but we took pictures for Mae who LOVES turtles (what kid doesn't? Oh yeah, our other one, apparently). We then drove to a nearby orphanage where a lot of kids at the transitional home come from, and were impressed by the cleanliness and order, and the beautiful children there. We began to wonder, is there any way to take just one more home with us this trip?

We drove back to the guest house after a busy, enjoyable day (inflated balloons), and it was nap time for poor Edilu who was exhausted. We decided that, since he was so bonded to his mommy, I would put him down, a challenge I felt prepared for. Oh foolish me! I was confident but naive as I lay Edilu down in his bed and Angela went downstairs. Edilu cried, screamed, fought, kicked, hit, and pulled out every trick in the book, and I calmly made him lay down again and again, shushing him the whole time. He had moments when he would almost fall asleep as he sucked his thumb, then would awaken with the fury of a volcano, and it was back to square one. Not funny at the time, but humorous after the fact, is that Ethiopian kids do this thing where they look at you and act like they are spitting on you as they yell, "Boo!" Its a pretty snotty thing that needs to be corrected, and we are working on that, but later it really struck me as funny!

After almost a half-hour, Angela hiding right outside the door, unsure what to do (as was I), she came in like superman, encouraged me, and comforted Edilu. He was asleep in minutes. I know I have to be firm with him, but it's hard to have your son hate you. My helium escaped, and my shriveled balloon carcass fell to the floor. Angela reassured me that I was doing the right thing and he would love me again later, but I had none of that confidence.

We spent time together and I relaxed a little to take my mind off my failure, and I realized, he's NEVER had a man put him down before, so my ugly mug staring down at him probably looked like a giant ogre with a club. So at 6:30 Angela hid in the bathroom and I woke him from deep, deep slumber. He looked at me as I picked him up, put his thumb back in his mouth, laid his fuzzy head on my chest, and promptly went back to sleep. Ahhhh, my emotions sighed internally. I gently woke him, and just held him for a good 20 minutes as we made our way downstairs. He didn't even lunge for his mommy until later! I held him on my lap and fed him, and he ate every bite. I tickled his armpit and he laughed. I felt like we bonded more in that half-hour than any other time so far. Isn't God great?

Of course, he finally realized how much he missed his mommy, and I was happy to hand him over. After sleeping and eating, he actually came alive for a short time, laughing as I ran around the room with him, making funny facial expressions at another little boy here, walking up the stairs holding our hands (his little under-utilized noodle legs wobbling under that round belly full of spaghetti). I again held him upstairs as he drank more formula, then angela lay with him for 5 minutes or so. He "Oooo'd" a little (his form of crying that is oh, so fake) as we laid him down, and we both kept our hands on him while he settled in. He cried a little, then just lifted his head occasionally to make sure we were still there. Angela withdrew her hand from his head, and I left mine on his back. Within 10 minutes he was asleep, and I'm happy to say my daddy balloon is completely re-inflated and then some. I know it's bound to swing back the other way again, but for now it's all good. Top that evening off with a Reese's from home and more unidentified tea, and I'm feeling recharged.

There's not a question that Edilu is connected with his mommy, and who can blame him? But to have time to connect tonight with my son was priceless and invaluable. We watched him sleep and just kind of went, "This is starting to feel right." How great is our God (to shamelessly borrow an over-used christianese phrase)? Oh, side note: my mom emailed us (she is watching Mae currently) to report that last night at about 4am, she woke to a crying Mae in the monitor, so she ran into Mae's bedroom to find Mae inside her laundry basket with all the dirty clothes. When she asked what happened, Mae replied, "I fell off my bed into my laundry basket!" Some of you don't know Mae, but for those of you who do, that is classic Mae, and of course she would fall right into a laundry basket. My great night being topped off by a funny story of my daughter is just about all I can take as a dad:)

Thank you again for the emails (we look forward to them like you wouldn't believe-keep 'em coming if you have a chance!) and for Praying-God is doing amazing things here in the great land of Ethiopia.

Tom, Angela, and Edilu

 Saying HI to his buddies in his old room
 Love to see his smiles!

Proverbs 25:25 is once again my favorite verse...

This email is from the day AFTER we picked up Edilu.  I read through this today, and a flood of emotions came back.  It was the hardest time of the trip for sure.  If you are interested I think this is day 4 of the trip...I have a few more I will post:)

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Honestly don't think last night could have gone much better than it did...and as I type with one hand I am knocking on wood with the other. Angela had microwaved Campbell's soup for dinner and I had a Zone bar, and Edilu refuses to eat anything but formula from a bottle. So for right now, that's primarily what we give him. He fell asleep on Angela, and she laid him down in his bed right next to ours at about 8:15 or so. Note: this is an entirely new experience for us; for those of you who know how Mae was at the baby stage, she did not ONCE fall asleep on us. She fell asleep in her crib, with the fan on, windows covered, swaddled, after being held and shushed, and once the planets had all aligned...and even then she only fell asleep when she really wanted to. So to have a baby, or even a toddler, fall asleep while being held by us is a completely foreign concept.

At any rate, he slept soundly, and we fell asleep soon thereafter (being completely exhausted in all ways). He woke up at about 2:30 or so, and didn't want to have much to do with me (which we expected-he's used to being surrounded by nannies). Angela held him and consoled him, and we even laid down with him for a while, but eventually she put him back in his crib-and he was having none of that! So she worked for about an hour, maybe a little longer, at laying him down gently but firmly, and rubbing his back as he cried, and he would get up and lunge at her to pick him up, over and over and over...but in true Angela fashion, she was confident and firm with him while also being nurturing and loving, and her hard work paid off as he slipped back into sleep. Needless to say, as I watched helplessly, I could not be more proud of her. She is a fantastic mom, and I don't have to embellish that to say it truthfully.

He slept until 7:00 or so, and woke fairly happy. I was quite amazed that we all were able to get some really good sleep last night-I was expecting to feel exhausted and frustrated by morning. And he even reached for me and cried, so I guess I'm winning him over:) We ate breakfast for the first time ever together, and he wanted nothing but formula. For now, that's a battle we are willing to let him win, because it's most important that he gets calories in him. Plus, he's strong and can push a spoon away from his face with authority! We'll deal with that issue in time. We were taken to the US Embassy, where we waited for about 10 minutes or so before being called to one of the many booths. A very friendly girl from the good ol' US of A greeted us, and in less than 5 minutes we were cleared! We now have a visa for our son, so we won't have to sneak him home in our luggage now.

We did a little shopping, then met two other families who had just arrived. One family is picking up their son as well (from Ohio) and the other family was meeting their baby for the first time. We went to lunch as a group, but this time we took a child with us...and wouldn't you know it, we got him to eat a few french fries! Success! Even if it's deep-fried starchy potato, it wasn't formula:) While at the restaurant, my ears were treated to a little taste of home: ZZ Top, Stone Temple Pilots and Beyonce. I must really miss home, because I even enjoyed a little Destiny's Child...

Edilu fell asleep in the carrier Angela was wearing, another good sign that he is increasingly more comfortable with us. We rode with the other two families to the transitional home, and I video'ed the family from N. Carolina as they met their 6-month-old son for the first time. Our driver then took Ang, Edilu and I back to the guest house, where we tackled the issue of a nap head-on. Man, does that boy know what he wants! He really fought us on the nap, and once again, it took about an hour to force him to lay down, and eventually he dozed off. While he was fighting Angela on sleeping, I came down and read a few emails from a few of you, and my soul just swelled. I didn't realize how emotional this trip is until reading a few emails from home-I was really overcome with emotion, and as I shared with Angela what I read, she was as well. I really appreciated Proverbs 25:25, "Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a faraway land." I paraphrased that, but being so far away and so out of our element, with a new child who does not know us, receiving emails from home truly means the world to us. 

We are going to eat dinner here at the guest house tonight, and I hope tonight goes well (as far as sleeping is concerned). But if it doesn't, we will persevere, and just keep our eyes on God as he guides us through this crazy experience.

 On our way to the US Embassy
Bonding with Daddy:)