Wednesday, August 1, 2007

At home at last . . .

We are finally home and we are all doing well.
After a brief Q&A under oath at the U.S. Embassy last Wednesday, we were granted Abraham's visa to come to the U.S. We spent Thursday focused on packing, burning off Connor energy and getting ready for the loooooonnnnnnggggg flight home. As a last hurrah, we went to visit the Ethiopian Orthodox church where Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife have their tombs. The Emperor was buried in an unceremonious grave in the palace after the coup by the Derg. With the overthrow of the Derg regime, his remains were exhumed and he is now enshrined in the church where he and his wife worshipped. It was very interesting to see the church as well as understand the practices of their worship -- they all cover (both men and women) in long sheetlike wraps so that all are equal in worship. The services are roughly three hours long and the men and women enter through separate doors and worship together -- the men on the left of the sanctuary and the women on the right -- no pews either, just standing or kneeling. Very interesting and a really beautiful church.

So our long journey home began as we headed to the airport at 7 p.m. to check in for our 10:15 p.m. flight. We left late but arrived early, about 18 hours later via a refueling stop in Rome. Connor was trooper and we gots lots of help with Abraham -- as he got passed around among the lovely 'ready to be Ethiopian grandparents' sitting next to me and numerous other passengers who just HAD to hold the beautiful baby. Did we mention that they just looovvveeee children?

Also, I have to give a plug to Ethiopian Airlines -- they get the highest marks for service and especially for patience, care and attention to families! They have this great thing where they bolt a baby bassinet into the bulkhead after takeoff so I sat in the bulkhead seat reserved for Abraham with Abraham asleep in the bassinet (when he wasn't busy making friends) -- and Connor stretched out four rows back on the row of seats that were reserved for Connor, Chris and me.
We landed, breezed through customs and immigration and Uncle Jaime greeted us at Dulles to take us home. We managed to stay up all day Friday and Friday night went reasonably well with highs and lows since. Last night was our best night yet with Connor asleep in his own bed at 8 pm (and through the night -- hallelujah!!) and Abraham asleep by 6 pm and up for feedings at 8:30, midnight and 5 a.m. . . . and everyone slept until 7:30 this morning.

We have also had lots of great family time since our return home. While we were gone, Chris' sister Sara (and her husband Jaime) gave birth to the beautiful Marcos. Sara and Marcos are doing well and big brother Antonio (2) is adjusting nicely. So Sara and Chris' folks -- Jim and Kathie Mailander -- doubled their grandson count in a period of 24 hours -- and they are here helping out the parents, getting to know Abraham and Marcos, and enjoying the attentions of Connor and his cousin Antonio. (We are grateful for the company and the help!!)
As for news of Abraham, he is doing well. He has his first trip to his pediatrician on Monday and was pronounced beautiful, engaged, and healthy. He is gaining weight daily and also building strength. In the nearly two weeks since he joined our family, his back and neck are noticeably stronger, he is more active and demanding (in a good way!), he is getting fatter and he is happy and babbling and seems to know he is home. His big brother is sharing family affections well -- with only the occasional 'you're my mama' meltdowns . . . Connor is just amazing and we always pinch ourselves to remember just how lucky we really are!
So here we pause . . .with two very healthy boys and a great family and wonderful friends to support us. . . . we'll update on occasion as we go forward but for the moment, we just want you to all know that we are well and grateful for all of your support.

Chris, Elizabeth, Connor and Abraham

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ready to come home

Well, it's official. We are ready to come home. Today, we visited Gladney Foster Care -- where the babies come from the government orphanages before they are placed with families. Abraham lived there for all but two weeks of his life until this past week! It is a lovely, clean, bright, sunny facility and Gladney has employed 15 orphaned girls from the government orphanage to be caretakers. These young women are wonderful and this represents a new lease on life for them -- because otherwise, they get $500 from the government when they turn 18, are turned out to the world, and have no real direction in terms of how to begin an adult life.

Afterwards, we had a great lunch at Top View Restaurant where we looked over the whole of Addis and watched the afternoon rains move in. The air there -- high up on mountain over the city is cleaner and it felt good to breath fresh air.

We then headed to the U.S. Embassy, where we received our final approval . . . and tomorrow we will have Abraham's Visa to enter the United States. Such a simple thing and yet so precious . . .

Finally, we returned to the cocoon of our room, collapsed onto the bed and proceeded to watch movies and order room service. We just didn't have the energy to go out for the evening . . .and last night was a doozy -- and truly remarkable so we'll cover it in blog form when we arrive home.

Tomorrow is lots of pool time, playground time and packing .. . . and we board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 500 at 10:15 p.m. for the journey home. We land Friday a.m. at 8 and we can't wait . . . especially our poor, darling, fabulous boy Connor . . . who is done with taxis, restaurants, the adulation of strangers and so on . . . Cheow (bye) for now.

Chris, Elizabeth, Connor and Abraham :-)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another Great Day in Addis . . .

Today we had breakfast in the hotel while we watched sheets of rain come down . . . it is the beginning of the rainy season here but so far we have only had periodic downpours and periods of beautiful sunshine. Addis is a pretty amazing city but the air is terrifically dirty . . . there are simply no emissions controls anywhere and you pretty well feel like you need a shower morning and night! The sun came out a bit later and the rest of the day was beautiful.

After breakfast we headed to the National Museum and had a truly great tour. It started with Lucy and the excavations of the Rift Valley -- which begins in Ethiopia and then goes south through Tanzania and Mozambique, among other countries. Lucy -- the first in the line of present day human beings was found there. She is about 3.5 feet tall and we were able to see her actual excavated bones (about 40% of her body), as well as a recreation of her that showed where the found bones belong (in brown bone) as well as filling out the rest of the skeleton in white 'bone' -- so it was very cool. Apparently, while upright, she could still drag her knuckles if she needed to -- for stability or to pick things up. She was estimated to be about 23 and her brain was still chimp size . . . the quality of the exhibit was excellent in all.

The rest of the museum tracks the religious history of Ethiopia as well as the modern (starting the 18th c.) evolution of the political history of the country. Haile Selasie (meaning "Power of the Trinity") -- the last Emperor in a long reign of emperors that tracks from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba -- was overthrown in 1974. He was replaced by a communist regime that took Haile Selasie's overall neglect of the population and turned it to something truly retributive and evil. The communist regime (the Derg) is now gone but the legacy of negligent and then oppressive regimes still lives on and the country's poverty and lack of social systems is continuing evidence of this -- added to this is a current regime that is mostly benign but certainly not good for Ethiopia.

We had lunch at Rodeo -- a restaurant that looks from the outside like it could fit in in Texas -- and there is where the Texas in Rodeo Addis Restaurant ends . . . :-). That said, it had a great patio and we met up with one of the other couples -- Olga and Yuri (who have a three year old daughter and have just adopted a beautiful 19 month old son) and very much enjoyed lunch.

We then went on to the Alert Hospital, which serves Ethiopia's lepers. It was another pretty amazing experience. In truth we did not really see anything that disturbing – although trying to explain leprosy to Connor – and what weaving and a loom are and why the man weaving doesn’t have fingers but has a thumb and how he succeeds in weaving when he doesn't have any fingers and so on . . . all added up to a pretty interesting experience. At some point -- in the midst of the many direct and innocent questions of a four year old and despite the tragedy all around -- you have to laugh and just let go of the pain of it all. The upside is that the leprosy hospital is treating the lepers, training them so that they have valuable work skills, and treating and educating their children as well so that where there are families they have some chance of recovering.

Tonight we are headed out to Castelli's for dinner. According to our friends Anne and Mike Delp in DC who brought home their daughter Lilly in the spring -- and corroborated by a number of folks we have met here -- it is the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy . . .so we are ready for some good western food.

On the subject of food, we have had great food. The Ethiopian food -- collectively called Injera -- is varied, often spicy and really excellent. It is especially good with beer :-). We have also had a few good western meals -- and the food in the hotel restaurants has been universally quite good. We also have had great coffee --- as one would expect.

Anyway, off to get dressed for dinner but we are all well. The photos of Chris and Elizabeth above were both taken at the leprosy hospital. The bones are, yes, Lucy!

Connor and Abraham are doing well, as are we in our luxurious home away from home here at the Sheraton Addis. More to come. . .

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Update from Ethiopia

So today is Day 7 in Ethiopia -- and night 8!! We haven't posted because we are unable to read our own posts . . . BUT we hear from a reliable source that our posts are visible to you so we'll give it a shot.

We arrived in Addis last Sunday evening and checked in at the Sheraton -- reputedly the best hotel in Africa and it fully lives up to that billing -- and spent a short night before ditching most of our bags at the hotel and heading north to Lalibela and Axum.

Arriving Lalibela was truly a step back to another place in time. The mountains there are lush and green and the earth is as black as Iowa dirt -- Chris thinks it might even be blacker. But the farming is still done manually with oxen and primitive wooden plows with a bit of tin tacked onto the end to tear at the soil. The life for those folks is tough. Yet they all manage a wave and a smile and seem genuinely happy and curious to see the strange foreigners arrive. And the children are just beautiful and very safe and very free as they seem to run around the mountains.

Lalibela is home to a dozen churches (plus many more in the surrounding area) hewn entirely out of stone and the churches were fantastic to visit. The churches are still active today and this is really the spiritual seat of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Perhaps our favorite site came at the end of the day when we headed 7 km out of town to a monastery that is in the cave of a cliff face. It was easily one of the most spiritual places we have ever seen and we could have happily just sat for a spell but that wasn't really on the agenda.

The next day we headed to Axum and had a great time visiting the stella -- massive many ton single pieces of stone that stand in fields as monuments to deceased of many eons ago. There are numerous sites around Axum that are pre B.C. as well as it being the birthplace of the Queen of Sheba (as in King Solomon's Sheba in the Bible). So that was another great day.

Our guides were terrific and everyone in the north of Ethiopia now is in love with a little blond boy named Connor . . . . let's just say he was a hit everywhere went -- and the Ethiopians love children like nothing we have ever seen. We finally made it back to Addis (from Axum via Lalibela and then Gonder and then Bahir Dar!!!!) and arrived almost 3 hours later than planned on Wednesday.

So Thursday was Baby Abraham Day. One of the caregivers from Gladney Foster Home came with Belay -- who runs the entire Gladney program here and is quite simply a local saint -- and brought Abraham to the hotel room. We fell in love the instant we laid eyes on him -- and he really is a dream.

Abraham had a stomach bug for the first 24 hours after we got him and we asked to go to a doctor so we ended up visiting a clinic on Friday afternoon -- so we have also now had a brief foray into the Ethiopian healthcare system!! It was a private clinic and our experience was first rate . . . Abraham is on antibiotic now and on the mend. Today he ate like the bottle was bottomless so we think he must be making up for the previous 48 hours. He is doing well :-).

Connor has been brilliant in the role of big brother -- and only today finally started seeming to really need Mama and Daddy attention in a serious way. That said, he loves to hold and tickle and feed and talk to and read to and kiss and touch Abraham. For Abraham's part, he is sweet and extremely alert, attentive and engaged. He smiles easily and seems to like his new family. As I write, Chris is sitting here giving him his bottle - -which we hope will sustain him until about 3 a.m.!!!!

So back to the 'tour' . . . on Friday, we went to the first two of three orphanages that we have visited. Let's just say it has been a tough education. The first one was a government orphanage from which Gladney places many children. By Ethiopian law, a child must first go to a government orphanage before the child can be moved to a private orphanage -- like Gladney House. The first orphanage housed probably 70 children from 0 to 10, and it was impossible not to be heartbroken in the face of such beautiful children. They are such innocents in the midst of it all . . . and invariably one or two will simply walk up and attach themselves to the visiting adults. They just hold your hand or reach up to be picked up and hugged or - in Chris' case -- they want to kick or throw a ball with the men . . . so we obliged but it breaks your heart in so many ways.

The second orphanage is a private one that housed 17 children. And then Saturday we visited the third -- also a government orphanage. It is technically the girls orphanage but has children of both genders from ages 0 to 18 -- when (not terribly different from the US system) they are given some cash and sent on their way. The director there tries to keep the boys who come to him for as long as he can because the government boys orphanage is such a tough place. Connor -- God Bless him -- thought it was all one great playdate after another. He kicked soccer balls and played games and made instant 'friends' . . . and asked lots of tough, probing, pointed questions.

As for Belay . . . we have learned such a great deal from him and he has a very special place in our hearts. He knows virtually every child we met in these orphanages by name. He knows their stories. He is working diligently to find them families. He is an extraordinary Ethiopian man and it has been a pleasure to get to know him and through him to learn more about the plight of many of the children here. . . . each story is so personal for each child and it makes it impossible to think of them as anything other than what they are . . . individual beautiful children who need and deserve the homes and parents that they do not have -- through no fault of their own.

So back to our activities. . . Yesterday morning, we met the mother of a family friend -- Netsanet -- who lives in Asheville. We had a brief visit and exchanged some great photo albums from Netsanet and her husband, Sam. Elizabeth needed a break so she stayed in with Abraham while Connor and Chris hit the shops. They did some truly excellent shopping and then upon their return we all headed out for lunch and a visit to an art gallery. We returned to the hotel late afternoon and called it a night. Ordered room service. Put the 'do not disturb' sign out and hit the sack!!

This morning -- in response to Connor's need for (1) some activity other than driving in a car, sightseeing or going to a restaurant and (2) some Connor-focused attention -- we decided to forgo church in favor of a morning in the pool. Chris and Abraham sat poolside and studied each other in rapt fascination (and thoroughly entertained each other) for two hours while Elizabeth and Connor played in the pool. The air temperature is a bit like October in DC -- cool and crisp with warm spells (Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world) -- but the pools are heated and just felt fantastic. We had a great time, had Sunday brunch at the hotel, returned to the shop to collect our art purchases, did a drive around town with our driver (Tafessa -- who we adore and will have to be the subject of another posting!!) and then headed south about 1.5 hours to a crater lake and a restaurant that sits over it for dinner with the other Gladney families who are here adopting. (Also the subject of another posting!!). And I have made one major omission here, which we will cover in another posting, we met Abraham's birth mother as well. She is young -- probably younger than the 18 years she claims. It was very tough and very emotional but we are grateful that she wanted to meet us. We were able to learn a bit more information about her for Abraham so that when the day comes that he wants to know more about where he comes from, we are able to tell him. Through Gladney, we will be able to send news of Abraham's development as he grows up.

So we are doing well, and now it is getting late. Connor fell asleep in the car on the way back from the restaurant at the crater lake, so it is peaceful and quiet here . . .and we should grab some shut eye while we can . . . so more soon.

Tomorrow we are off to see Lucy (of Rift Valley fame) at the National Museum, visit another art gallery and see a bit more of Addis. We also have it on good authority that the best Italian restaurant in the world (outside of Italy) is here in Addis . . . so we think we'll try it out tomorrow night. The days are flying by and we'll be flying home before we know it . . . so we are making the most of it!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Today is Ethiopia Day!

So we leave for Ethiopia to today . . . what an amazing process it has been and it's hard to believe we are actually on the eve of our departure to bring Abraham home! This morning Connor bounded out of bed and started yelling "Today is Ethiopia Day!" as he came downstairs. I think it is fair to say that we are overjoyed and overwhelmed and very excited about what it to come. We will keep you posted on our journey. And thank you all for your warm wishes and prayers.