Archive for July, 2006

Picking up Rose: Gotcha Day!


We eat breakfast at the guest house, then get a six-block ride over to the Care Center (if you haven't noticed, I'm using Care Center and orphanage interchangeably here).  We are warned that some families do not like to see all of the orphans calling you "mommy" and "daddy" and are told that we can have our children brought to the guest house if we like.  All of the people in our group chose to go to the Care Center.

Of course, I didn't think for a moment that we would not go, but going affected me in a way that I was not entirely prepared for.  We sort of expected Rose might be at the School. (A quick note here: The entire operation used to be in the building now known as the guest house.  The program has expanded very quickly in the two years it has been operating in Ethiopia, and now there is the guest house, where the program offices are and adopting families stay, a separate compound where all the children sleep and the babies and youngest children spend their day, and another separate school compound where the older children go from 9am-5pm.  Basically many of the buildings in Ethiopia are gated, with huge walls with either barbed wire, razor wire, or if your budget got low, you might have just cemented broken glass bottles on the top of your wall to discourage people from climbing over.  The program employs around 100 people in Ethiopia, and there are guards on duty there 24/7.  Among other things, they open the gates for visitors.)

So, we expected Rose might be at the school with the older children, but we went to the Care Center first because all of the other families in our group were picking up babies.  But when we pulled in to the compound there were a bunch of toddlers on the stairs sort of chanting "mommy! daddy! mommy! daddy!" and I saw Rose right away.  We got out of the car, and I really think she recognized us right away as well.  (I had sent a photo album a month or so ago with another traveling family and when they gave it back to me later, she knew what it was and that it was hers.)

A bunch of children ran around me in the universal toddler "pick me up" position, but I reached over the ones on the ground and picked Rose up off the stairs.  She immediately was laughing and playing with us- I never expected she would warm up so quickly.  Within a couple of minutes it was the toddler group's snack time, so we let the nannies take her and went with the other folks looking for the infants.  It was very emotional for everyone.  The babies are so beautiful!

Chuck and I sat in a large hallway connecting all of the baby rooms and watched as the nannies brought the babies out and fed them.  It was obvious all of these children are sincerely loved.  And amazing what this love and a couple of square meals a day will do for the children.  Some of the babies had pictures above their cribs of what they looked like when they entered the center, and some of them were terribly skinny or even emaciated, and in the last few months have become fat and happy little babies, looking healthy and happy.

We had received a copy of the toddlers' schedule, which is a very important item as they go by it religiously, and at 10:30 am we went downstairs to hang out with Rose again.  All of the toddlers are doing a group potty on like, 20 little potty chairs lined up in rows in the courtyard.   it is super-cute but Chuck won't let me take a picture.  (We later receive instructions that we should try not to take pictures with other children in them for confidentiality purposes.)  Rose waves to me from her potty chair.  I wave back, and soon all of the children in her vicinity are waving at me.  I try to kind of hang back and not distract the children from their "business" but want to try to stay within Rose's line of sight.

As soon as she is done, she comes over to Chuck and me to hang out with us for a while during the designated toddler playtime.  The other kids head inside and we have some family bonding time.  There's one moment when things get a little serious, she starts to look a little worried, and I ask Chuck if he thinks we should give her one of the toys we brought with us.  He says "sure", but tells me to give her one we don't mind losing (in case it disappears at the orphanage).  So I gave her this [what is Barbie's little sister's name? Kelly?  Anyway, the brown version.] doll, it's nowhere near my favorite and of all of the toys I brought with us I truly wouldn't mind never seeing it again.  Rose warms up again right away and she starts putting the doll in Chuck's shirt pocket and totally cracking up, and does the same thing to me, only I don't have a shirt pocket so she sort of rests it on my sternum.  A little boy comes out from another building and sits near us on the stairs, he has a butterfly needle IV hookup thing sticking out of his hand all bandaged up.  He looks very sick.  The doctor later tells us he has malaria.

We meet with the onsite doctor and consulting pediatrician about Rose, where we ask a few questions but they don't have much information about her since she was only there a short while.  They say she's been completely healthy-she was healthy when they received her and hasn't been sick since.  I ask about a few little bumpy things on her face and neck which weren't in the initial pictures, apparently some sort of virus had gone around, they say the bumps might go away or our US doctor can treat them.  The main thing I'd hoped to find out here is what ethnic group Rose is from and what language she speaks (Ethiopia is a very diverse place with around 85 spoken languages and even more dialects).  Apparently no one at the orphanage has been able to figure that out, and during her time with them they guess she's understanding a bit of Amharic (the main language there) but don't know for certain how much, and she doesn't really speak it back at all.

We spend about another hour with her there sitting on the stairs outside in the courtyard and then a nanny tells me it is time for Rose to eat lunch.  She's supposed to go with the other kids while we wait, only she won't let them take her away from us.   We ask if it would be okay for us to go with.  The kids eat in a little lunchroom (teeny! smaller than my bedroom) and it is just packed with toddler-sized tables and chairs.  The nannies each feed four kids, they eat some sort of pasta dish that looks like it could be an Ethiopian version of spaghetti-o's with ground beef in it.  Towards the end of the meal, some of the kids fall asleep while eating, which is terribly cute and funny.

Then comes nap time, and we are supposed to give her back to the nannies at this point, but Rose will not let us leave her.  So even though we were advised (and our initial plans were sort of) to hang back the first day, leave her at the Care Center one more day and go back to the guest house to sleep off the jet lag, she panicked when she thought we were leaving here there and we wound up taking her back with us to the guest house, where she ate second lunch with us (about four bowls of vegetable soup).  I was a bit worried about the potty thing (remember, she can't really tell us when she has to go) but she's on such a regimented schedule that she pretty much goes like clockwork after each meal and doesn't need to go in between.  I am still concerned about the plane, though, because so far I've only seen her go on a potty chair (which they have at the guest house for us to use, thankfully!). 

Another family had left those giant Legos in the family area of the guest house so we played with them (she tried eating the small ones). We ate dinner.  Then we had a bit of a tough time sleeping.  I fell asleep right away, slept like a rock for two hours while Chuck got Rose to sleep, then I woke up.  Chuck fell asleep and I watched them both sleep for three hours until I took some tylenol pm.  Then everyone slept until the breakfast call on Tuesday.

Reflections on our Travel


I had big ideas of posting every day while we were in Ethiopia, but the connection was SO slow, I went low tech and just wrote a journal, which I will share anyway for those that are interested.  If I can't figure out how to timestamp it right, this was from the first day, 7/29/06.

Today has been a long day of rushing and waiting in airports.  we had a bit of a scare when two of our bags were over 50lbs, but then I mentioned we were bringing donations for orphans in them and also that we were flying business class, and the check-in guy was just like, "business class: why didn't you say so?"  and was very nice and we didn't have to pay anything for going over.  We actually didn't fly business class until the Dulles to Addis leg of the flights.  We only chose it because 1.  It was the only way we could get the flight dates we wanted and 2. Chuck is obscenely tall and really has a hard time fitting into plane seats.  I've flown coach international several times before and knew he would be miserable.  He was miserable on the way from Chicago to D.C. when the guy in front of him put his seat back.  I don't know how that guy wasn't really uncomfortable feeling legs smashed into the back of his seat, but Chuck resembled an unhappy sardine the whole way.  On another funny Chuck note, he was also able to hit his head on the ceiling of both of our short flights.

And then we got to Ethiopian Air.  My God, it was SO worth going deeper into debt to fly business class!  Chuck couldn't kick the seat in front of him if he tried to.  They gave us champagne as we boarded, we chose our dinner from a menu, watched an endearing Queen Latifah movie, and mostly just kicked back and chilled out.  

There are a few other white folks on the plane besides me, and two couples have already told us they were there to adopt, though with other agencies.  One of the couples brought a gaggle of kids with them – more power to them, but wow that's a lot of plane fares!

We also happen to be on the flight with the head of the Ethiopian Adoption program from our agency, Asnake.  He was in Minnesota for some annual meetings and a "reunion" picnic for the kids adopted from Ethiopia.  He comes over and introduces himself and is super-nice.

The whole thing – that we are flying to a country to bring home a child – is a fantastic and amazing thought.  I am having a bit of an out-of-body experience about it right now.  I am not sure why, but at certain times I am able to behave in a dispassionate, entirely reasonable way despite exciting and/or stressful circumstances.  I tend to be pretty level-headed under pressure.  Like doing a crossword puzzle in the dressing room while I was waiting to get married.  Despite everyone else being all panicky and nervous – we were starting late, the photographer wasn't there, the flowers were wrong, etc.- I was pretty cool.  I guess I just thought, "is my becoming bridezilla going to help the situation?" It's not.  So, then…

I had a similar thing going on when I was giving birth to Dillon (and no, I don't think it was the drugs).  I just sort of felt like I was watching this crazy situation happen to someone else.  Like it was a terrible episode of ER-the one where this girl comes in to have a baby and they have to perform every conceivable procedure on her to show the viewers what can happen.

So it's weird.  I am really looking forward to everything but at the same time it just feels so strange and surreal, like this can't possibly be happening so soon.  

Meanwhile, on the flight I've been reading the story of Dan Savage's adoption called The Kid (thanks Kate for the present!) and it's a fantastic book.  And I can emphasize with Dan's reluctance to jinx things with overly high expectations.

Arriving in Ethiopia Chuck pretty much has to physically restrain me so that I don't jump out of my seat to find the camera.  The arrival is breathtakingly beautiful.   The farmlands around Addis Ababa are all different shades of green and brown, sort of triangle-shaped, and arranged into this beautiful abstract pattern that reminds me of a Chagall painting or something.   I wanted to photograph it so badly (we're flying out at night so that's not an option).

The advantages of business class reared its head again  as we got to get off the plane first and there was almost no waiting to get through customs.   Asnake's wife, Tsewai (pretty sure I'm not spelling that right) asked me to carry their camera through customs so they don't have to pay duties on it or whatever.  The import taxes here are pretty weird and outrageous.   Taxes on a car are like, 150% or something.  So your $40K car costs like $100K and most people take taxis, which are either old Fiats or old BMW vans.

We waited forever for our baggage.  I grew more and more paranoid by the minute that all our stuff was lost.  Then at least the bag with our clothes came through, eventually followed by the others.  (I found out later that one of the families on another flight lost 3 out of 4 bags and didn't get them back until Wednesday, which had to be pretty tough!)

The agency's driver, Tesfaye, drove us to the guest house in a van with another family and an escort who was traveling from Minnesota to bring someone's child home to the US for them.  

When we arrived at the guest house for the orphanage, I was pleasantly surprised at the room, which even had two little toddler beds and an attached bathroom (some of the bathrooms are shared).  However, because Chuck and I are fantastic people, we gave up what was probably one of the best rooms in the house to the other family that arrived with us, because they were picking up twin infants.  So we wound up in a basement room without any power in the bedroom but a light in the bathroom.  I questioned the soundness of our decision as I unpacked some of our bags by flashlight (which I had been warned to bring) and tried in the dark to find out what had leaked all over some of the luggage (turned out to be cocoa butter in one of the donation bags, but nothing was ruined or anything).

Ethiopia is about 8 hours ahead, so when we tried to sleep at about 11pm their time, it was only 3pm in Milwaukee, which made it quite difficult to fall asleep, despite only having slept about 3 hours on the plane in anticipation of this moment.  Add to that "Christmas eve" feeling from childhood where something HUGE is happening the next day, and it was pretty much impossible to sleep through the night.  We awoke repeatedly, then got up when we thought the sun had risen, but it turned out to be a room in a building next door with an incredibly bright light coming in to our window.  It was about 4:45 am here.  Chuck managed to fall back asleep, (or at least, he is snoring) but I just can't.  So I get up and organize the donations we brought into about 25 grocery store shopping bags.  Most of the toys, clothes, shoes, toiletries are going to the Orphanage that Rose is coming from.  A few bags of the more critical medical stuff I set aside for a separate orphanage that works with HIV+ children.  I hope to visit them over the course of the week as well.

"Next Morning"


We're ready! 

 We'll try to update the blog while we are there, but I've heard the internet service is a bit sketchy, so I can't promise anything.

 Wish us luck!  In just a week we'll be home with our new daughter!

I Just Bought Ten Barbie Dolls.


Okay, I'm not losing my mind (not entirely, anyway).  I was waiting at a strip mall in Fox Point for the Best Buy to open, because I need an international electricity converter (must charge the iPod, camcorder, etc…) I had fifteen minutes to burn and it occurs to me – we need gum.  You can't get on an airplane without gum!   So I look around, confident my needs can be met without leaving the shared parking lot.  Aha.  CVS.  Not familiar with this, but it looks like a Walgreens or what-have-you, so I enter.  I browse the candy aisle, pick out some gum, look for Haribo gummy frogs, which are awesome but thankfully I never find anywhere (because I probably shouldn't eat them).

Then I browse on over to the huge red clearance signs (which have a magnetic pull that is nearly impossible to escape) because hey, I have fifteen minutes, so…  And I wind up in the toy aisle.  Where Barbies are on sale.  Only, there are only Black Barbies.  Now, in the store's defense, it may have been that Northshore Nancys saw that Barbies were on sale for $3 each and snagged all the white Barbies, which doesn't particularly make me feel better.  The other option is that the Black Barbies weren't selling so CVS cut the prices (these were $8-$15 dolls originally).  

Anyway, I got a very moralistic self-righteousness thing going on and I bought ALL the Black Barbies (which was, as far as I could tell, every Barbie in the store).  But I flashed to Toy Story and thought how much better these Barbie's existence would be with a little girl to love them. 

And now I'm home, electric converter and gum in hand, and I need to re-pack my frigging suitcases.  (Despite the fact that Chuck said I couldn't cram any other things in, I am almost certain that I can.)