Monday, December 10, 2007

Daughter on the move is bittersweet for Mom

I can sum up the latest big news at our house in four words: Mihret's mobile. Mom's misty-eyed.

Our 10-month-old daughter recently started to crawl. Our safety gates by the stairs, which we purchased and installed last summer, now are a welcome sight instead of an unsightly obstacle.

During family time in the evenings after work, we've started letting Mihret loose to explore the nooks and crannies of her nursery, while we watch eagerly to see toward which toy she'll gravitate.

But at the same time, I've been experiencing an urge to draw her close, to hold and hug more tightly when she wants more than anything in that moment to move.

This milestone makes me realize how quickly children grow and change, and how fearful I am of the dangers lurking in unfamiliar territory.

We've gotten past the first scary moment, when we realized Mihret's stationary days were drawing to a close.

I'd placed her in the middle of our bed, an early morning hangout, and briefly turned my back after ending a phone call to put the phone in its cradle.

In the time it took me to do that, Mihret had flipped from back to stomach — which she'd done before — and scooted off the opposite side of our bed, which she hadn't. I rushed over, only to find her on all fours and grinning up at me. She'd landed in our bedside laundry basket, on top of a pile of dirty laundry.

Before she takes her first steps, I'm just going to have to loosen up and learn how to let go a little.

Kara Patterson: Post-Crescent staff writer

Monday, October 29, 2007

As time marches on, a marriage can last forever

My favorite photograph from my wedding day eight years ago is an easy choice, although maybe not the most obvious to the outside observer.

In it, my husband Josh and I are silhouetted on a country club's dance floor, where we celebrated after our Aug. 14, 1999, church ceremony.

We're leaning in close, our foreheads touching slightly. It's the way we looked in our very early 20s. It's the way we will look, God willing, when we're our grandparents' age.

It's good to have that bedside reminder of how a relationship at its core can be timeless.

Another reminder came recently for us during our church's annual marriage retreat in Green Lake, when our church's pastor, who helped marry us, allowed us and other couples the opportunity to renew our wedding vows after a special dinner.

Eight years ago, we didn't write our own vows. In those days, we were too busy studying abroad and finishing college (me), and settling into a first "real" post-college job (Josh).
During the weekend getaway, which encouraged leaving wrist watches at home, we had the time to write out individual vows.

At dinner, we were the first couple to step forward. Our pastor and his wife, and the other couples present, circled around us as we stood under a canopy that symbolized God's hand over our lives.

I told Josh that he completes me as my other half, that I would continue to ask God's guidance so I could be the person He, and he, needed me to be.

Josh then shared his vow, that we would grow old together, "in all the good and bad ways people get older."

It's good to know some things don't have to change.

Kara Patterson: Post-Crescent staff writer

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The nearer grandparents are, the better

They say you can't go home again. It's even harder to take your children with you.

My 7-month-old daughter, Mihret, is blessed because her paternal grandparents also are Fox Valley residents. We love our standing Sunday lunches.

But her maternal grandparents live nine hours away in Indiana, as does her 89-year-old great-grandma, my Grandma F.

Something Grandma F. said recently got me thinking about how sad but inevitable it is that many young children now live out of arms' reach of at least one set of grandparents.

"If I were five years younger," Grandma F. said to my mom, who relayed the words via phone, "and I lived where you live, I would baby-sit Mihret."

Aging has taken its toll, and with it this opportunity in a practical sense. But the sincerity of Grandma F.'s wish triggered my memories of a three-year childhood stretch when I lived within 45 minutes of all of my grandparents.

My Grandma F. eagerly "gave in" when I begged to walk to the bookmobile. She said prayers, played cards and sang songs with me.

She also once tested me on "stranger danger" by asking a trusted friend of hers to stop by while I played outside to see if I would go for ice cream. (I got a lecture instead when I said yes.)

My Grandpa V. told me stories about how he landed in Africa and ended up in Europe during his World War II military service.

Grandma V. and Grandpa V. let me help them fetch spring water, pick out sweet corn and solve the newspaper's daily crossword puzzle.

Learning and growing within arms' reach of both sets of her grandparents is what I wish for Mihret, whose weekly link to my parents is a Web camera.

Unfortunately, the technology doesn't do justice to her giggles, and their hugs will just have to wait.

Kara Patterson: Post-Crescent staff writer

Monday, September 10, 2007

Happy New Year!

September 11th, 2007, marks the start of a new millennium in Ethiopia. Ethiopia uses the Coptic, or Julian, calendar, which is seven years behind the Gregorian calendar used here in the US of A. The new year begins on Meskerem 1 - September 11 on our calendar. Further craziness caused by this: Kara and I got married and had a child in 1999, despite the fact that the events happened almost exactly 8 years apart (our anniversary is August 14th, 1999.) Kara's note: Our daughter's birth certificate, prepared in Amharic and English, lists her birth year as 1999.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Probably the most frequent question I've gotten since getting home is: How was the food? This is easy enough to answer. At the guest house, two cooks prepared all our meals. The "American" food was fine - roughly what you'd get at a decent American family-style restaurant. But the Ethiopian food was AMAZING. If you ever have a chance to eat real Ethiopian food, take it. The second most popular question is "how was travelling with the kid?" Well, let me tell you - I can't say I'm a huge fan of taking 30 hour trips with an infant, but it went pretty well. First, let me back up and tell you about the trip there, which in many ways was more of an adventure than the trip back. As we said in an earlier entry, we had some... difficulties. We started off by flying out of Appleton, which was probably the smartest thing we did. Both travel agencies we talked to attempted to get us to fly out of Milwaukee, which would have meant taking our own vehicle and trying to drive home after 30 hours on planes with almost no sleep. Landing in Appleton meant our families could get us home in 15 minutes. When we got to the airport, the requisite two hours early, we discovered that all the flights to Chicago had been delayed. Apparently, bad storms in Chicago had stranded several people in Appleton for hours, and flights that were supposed to have left at 11:30 that morning (the time we stepped into the airport) were delayed until 1:30. And so on, meaning our 1:30 flight was going to be delayed for many, many hours. This was, of course, bad, because we needed to be in Chicago at a certain time, so we could be in Germany by a certain time, so we could be in Addis Ababa by a certain time. And this is when we had our ONE stroke of good luck. The very nice lady at the counter moved us from the 1:30 flight to the 11:30 flight, which meant we would be flying to Chicago at... 1:30, thanks to all the delays. And so we flew out of Appleton on time. Then we sat in Chicago for a few hours, and ate some lunch, and talked to a nice lady who was going to visit her boyfriend in England. She noted (without irony) that she didn't know what language they spoke there, and hoped she wouldn't be the only person who spoke English... (No, I'm not kidding.) Also there were probably fifty Boy Scouts, who were all headed to the world jamboree in England. We boarded our plane in Chicago on time, and here is where things started to go wrong. It was very warm in the cabin of the plane, and after a few minutes, I noticed that while the plane was full, we hadn't actually, you know, gone anywhere yet. And then I started to worry, because in Germany, we had an hour layover before we had to get on our next flight. Then came the announcement - the plane had a problem, but it would be fixed "soon." The problem, we were later told, was a bad battery - the one that helped to run the air conditioner. It took eight people an hour to change that battery, and the last guy I saw working on it walked by me carrying what appeared to be a large roll of white duct tape. Now, while all this was going on, Kara and I started to panic. We flagged down a stewardess, who said we "might" be able to make our flight. When we begged her to call ahead and ask them to hold the flight for ten minutes, she said she "couldn't do it" and that "maybe things would work out." Let me state, for the record, that I really, really, really wasn't impressed with this answer. Even now, I feel a pretty hefty amount of animosity towards pretty much every air host and hostess on that flight, all of whom managed to find a way to be really unhelpful. (And keep in mind, this entire time, we're on a full international flight, with no air conditioning. Brilliant.) So we called our travel agent, who managed to book a flight out of Germany... for the next day, because that was the best she could do with the airline we were using. She also booked us a hotel. At that same moment, we discovered that another set of folks on the plane, about three rows back, was also headed to Ethiopia on the same flight we were, and they too, got their bookings changed. (Nice folks, by the way, who we later encountered at the Embassy, and again on the flight home.) Once we were in the air, of course, there wasn't a whole lot we could do. Chicago to Germany is a nine-hour flight, and up in the sky all we could do was hope that our flight out of Germany would be delayed by ten minutes. So we sat, and I read a little bit, and watched Wild Hogs (not a great movie, but not an awful one either) and Shooter (a pretty decent action flick, that I'll probably watch again another time when I can pay closer attention). I also ate a lot, because they feed you all the time on international flights. And I might have slept for a few minutes here and there, as well. When we landed in Germany, we discovered that, yes, our flight had already boarded and was "closed" (but not off the ground! argh!). So we were sent to another counter, where a nice German fellow said, basically, that we'd have to fly out the next day. And this, right here, was my favorite part of the trip. Kara, who is just so cool in so many ways, is fluent in German, and she busted it out, right then and there. I might have said it here before, but it was like being married to an international superspy, just for a moment. Using this awesome skill of hers, we were redirected to another ticket counter, where they put us on Egypt Air and said we'd fly out in about three hours. I spent the next 20 minutes making frantic phone calls to our travel agency (closed) and our social worker (who I reached through her cell phone) in an attempt to let someone, anyone, know that we were going to be landing in Ethiopia at 3 in the morning, NOT at 8 in the evening, and that we would need someone to pick us up there. So we sat, and drank some water, and bought a few trinkets, and then got in a small argument with the lady who was supposed to give us our boarding passes, because I couldn't find our luggage stickers for a few minutes. Once I gave her the stickers, she spent, oh, five or ten minutes attempting to reroute our bags, and it's here that I suspect that things went wrong. As she babbled in German to a coworker, who then attempted to help her with something, I could sense, from years of working with people working with computers, and she had NO idea what she was doing. I suspect she managed to remove our luggage from the computer system totally, making it impossible to track the bags later. But I'll come back to that. We got on our flight, where we met a nice man who had lived in something like four countries, and talked about the fact that the rest of the world really, really dislikes George W. Bush, and think he makes America look bad. We also learned that all Egypt Air flights begin with a prayer read aloud on the intercom, before they do the whole "here's how you stow your luggage" thing. We ate, and watched roughly half of Music and Lyrics (funny, great songs), and then we landed in Cairo, which was neat, but we approached from the wrong direction and didn't get to see the pyramids. It was 41 degrees Celsius there (about 106 degrees, folks!). Inside the airport, we were all cordoned off into different areas, depending on where we were headed. Those of us headed to Ethiopia eventually ended up taking a short bus trip, where we were herded through a security checkpoint. Then we had to hand a nice man our ticket and try to get boarding passes. Problem: The tickets didn't print in Germany, and so we were issued a carbon paper ticket, written by hand. So the nice man in Cairo took our ticket, and our passports, and told us to sit in another room with everyone else. In movies, people who hand over their tickets and passports and go sit in another room are later dragged off to prison, unable to contact friends or family, and with no recourse, because they can't prove who they are... But in real life, we got our boarding passes after an hour or so. We landed in Ethiopia at 3 AM. We got our VISAs. I exchanged all our American money for Ethiopian money. We discovered that all of our luggage was missing, and that it wasn't anywhere in the computer system... we also discovered that most of our new friends' luggage was also missing. (Ours eventually arrived on Monday night, though only one bag ended up in the computer system. Our friends never recovered two of their three lost bags, and were wearing mostly the same clothing at the end of the week that they were wearing at the beginning.) A very nice man helped us fill out paperwork to recover our luggage, and we found out that, yes, our driver had arrived at 3 AM to pick us up. Which I was very grateful for. And so we arrived at the guest house at 5 AM, with breakfast scheduled for 7 AM. That was the trip there. The trip back was, in some ways, much easier. We got to the airport, along with everyone else, at around 7 PM. The baby was in a Baby Bjorn, and she slept through most of the lines and security and ticketing. And then things got bad. She got fussy. REALLY fussy. A fresh bottle, and a fresh diaper, made no difference. It was 10 PM, she was up MUCH later than she needed to be, and she wasn't able to sleep, and she just screamed and screamed. Finally, once we got through the last security checkpoint, I was able to walk around with her, and she finally went to sleep. Which was great, because she slept through 8 hours of the 9 hour flight. I never took her out of the Bjorn, instead opting to sacrifice my back to keep her sleeping. The hardest part of the trip was landing, which she didn't enjoy at all, because of the whole ear pressure thing. Luckily, a nice stewardess filled a bottle with water for us, and the sucking motion helped to calm her down. Things took an iffy turn in Germany. At that point, our little one was up and awake, and there wasn't much we could do with her. The airport was crowded, and while she needed to be set down, there wasn't a place we could do it. On top of that, smoking is allowed in German airports, which is something she didn't enjoy a whole lot either. And then the flight. Ugh. Now, at this point, you have to realize that we had woken up at 7 AM on Friday, and then gotten on a 10:30 PM flight, which went for nine hours. Neither of us really slept, and we had a baby with us who wanted to, you know, play. Only you can't really do that on a plane. And she had just slept, so she couldn't really settle down. And, she filled her diaper three different times on the flight. If you've never changed a baby on an airplane, here's how it works. First, you go to the bathroom section of the plane. Then, you wait around for one of the bathrooms with a changing table to open up. You look really stupid doing this, because if three bathrooms are open, and you're just standing there, people generally don't know what you're doing, and you can't always explain on an international flight, because they don't speak English. Once the bathroom opens up, you open the door, step in, and drop the changing table. Then you try to find a place to set the fresh diaper, wipes, rash cream, etc. Maybe the plane lurches a few times, just for good measure. If you're very unlucky, in the middle of moving from the old diaper to the new, your daughter's bladder lets go, and she manages to cover her outfit in fresh urine. So you have to take her out into the plane, covered in paper towels, to and have your wife change her clothes. Yes, this really did happen. Yes, it really was NOT enjoyable. As the flight wore on, I could tell that the kiddo was getting tired of us. She wanted to play on the floor, and move around a bit, and there was no floor to move her to. We tried putting her in the bassinet, but she hated that as well, because there was nothing to look at in there. Plus, the bassinet is about as comfortable as, say, trying to take a nap on a slab of granite. (For those of you who are thinking, hey, I've never seen a bassinet on a plane... here's how they work. You know the bulkhead in coach? Where there's no seat in front of you, but they have those strange metal plate that stick out from the wall? Those plates fold out. And then they stick a little bassinet on top of them. They work okay, but they suck up a LOT of the space in front of you, and make it hard to get up to go to the bathroom.) Eventually, I think out of pure frustration, she fell asleep for about four hours. In that time, I watched bits of Shrek the Third (okay, but not great) and all of Blades of Glory (funny, but not worth owning). As far as I can recall, I slept not the tiniest bit on that flight. The little one was in a much better mood after her nap, and we landed with the aid of a bottle to lower the pressure on her ears. In Chicago, we called both sets of new grandparents, to let them know we were safe and mostly sound. We finally put our little girl on the floor and she literally flailed her limbs and laughed and smiled she was so happy to NOT be cramped up next to mom and/or dad. And then, yep, we were on a plane again, though only for forty-five minutes. To give you and idea of how tired I was - while sitting on the runway, I decided to close my eyes for a few minutes. When I woke up, we had taken off and had been in the air for about twenty minutes. After our final landing, I pulled out my camera and took one of those "at-arm's-length" photos, so we could document the moment, and a nice person saw what we were doing. We explained we were taking pictures of our new family member as she landed in her new hometown for the first time, and they asked if we wanted to have them take a picture of us. We said yes. Then we got off our plane and said hello to all the new grandparents. And that was the trip. The little one did great, I think. I should note, however, that she had never been in a car seat, and so she screamed all the way home. Which was another good reason not to fly out of Milwaukee. But then we gave her a bottle, and put her into her crib for the very first time, and she slept it off and felt much better in the morning. Not much of an ending, I know, but whatta ride.


Monday, September 3, 2007

A tiny handprint says goodbye and hello...

On the wall of the CHSFS Ethiopia care center's playroom for older children is our daughter's 6-month-old handprint. It's in red paint, a tiny blob of a signature because Mihret didn't want to open her hand and spread her fingers when one of the social workers pressed her hand against the wall. But I admit, it's the most beautiful blob I've ever seen. Two days before our travel group departed Ethiopia to take our children home, CHSFS Ethiopia held what we've been calling a "handprint ceremony" to preserve the memory of our children's time at the care center and to allow the caregivers and CHSFS Ethiopia staff to say goodbye. For us, the families bringing these precious Ethiopian children into our lives, the ceremony was about saying goodbye "for now" to the country and people that had so graciously and warmly welcomed us. And it also was about saying hello to our newfound family - for, as the CHSFS Ethiopia social worker who led the ceremony told us, we are now part of Ethiopian society forever, for we are welcoming Ethiopia's children into our homes and our hearts forever. The social worker told us that even though the roughly 140 nannies - the primary caregivers at the care center for more than 200 children daily - and other CHSFS staff took care of our children for a short time, they love these children. And, she continued, even though it is hard to let them go, the staff knows the good hearts and homes that await our children. They love us, too, she said, because we, too, love the children. Each child received a construction-paper heart with their names lettered in Amharic script - which looks a bit like hieroglyphics - and English. Inside the heart-shaped card, staff had written thoughts and memories about each child. They told Mihret how wonderful it had been to care for such a beautiful and sweet baby. They told her they would miss her very much, and that they wish the best for her over her entire life. As everyone clapped in a steady beat, we walked Mihret up to the handprint wall for her turn to leave her mark. She looked tiny and a bit scared in her traditional white, cotton dress with green accents, and a matching head scarf with a loose bow that flopped into her curls. One of the two pediatricians on staff at CHSFS Ethiopia - the woman who had met personally with us to give us Mihret's health summary and records - prayed in Amharic over all assembled. Then, several of us said prayers in English.
Growing up in my half-Italian family, to share food was to share love. That day in Ethiopia, we ate cake and drank bottled soda to conclude our celebration.
In a few months, Mihret's name also will go up on the wall alongside the few hundred other children who've found forever families through CHSFS Ethiopia. When we were there, we were able to locate and snap a picture of another child's name for our dear friends in Appleton who also brought their daughter home from the care center, several months prior to our trip. We hope someday to return to that room, God willing, in several years, to place another child's handprint upon that wall. My heart remains full of Ethiopia. If you see me, or want to e-mail me, ask me about it. I'll gladly tell you more about our experience, and about our overseas family.


Saturday, August 18, 2007


One of the things I've noticed that a lot of people in the United States accept as true is that a homeless person - a truly poor person, living in the street, that is - can make some huge amount of money begging in a major city. I've heard numbers as high as $50,000 quoted at me. I can't say that I think that's an actual fact - it's a little too outrageous. But I do suspect that a person begging in the street in, say, New York City, will probably make at least enough money each day to feed themselves. Not well, maybe, but they can probably get at least one or two food-like meals from Burger King for ten bucks or so. I've been wanting to talk about poverty in Ethiopia for a while, but trying to describe what I see, and what I think it means, will almost certainly make me look foolish. I can honestly say I don't really understand world politics, or world monetary systems, and so I'm forced to talk about the people I met in Ethiopia who so very clearly had little or nothing to their name, and how they made my heart hurt sometimes, and how I still couldn't do anything. On a basic level, Ethiopian currency is the Birr. A one-birr note is worth about ten cents in United States currency. One dime. Two birr will buy you a small cup of VERY strong coffee in Ethiopia. Can you imagine going into Starbucks, handing the person behind the country twenty cents and getting anything? I suspect that if you tipped twenty cents you might get a dirty look. Another thing to consider is this: In the southern region of Ethiopia, most of the families could really use a goat (to what ends, I don't know - I do know that food is one of them, but they have other value as well). A goat costs - well, take a second and guess. Okay: 600 birr. About sixty bucks. Now, here in the States, if I take my wife, my friend, and his girlfriend out to dinner for someone's birthday, I'll probably drop sixty dollars, easily. But in the southern region, people tend to live on - again, take a guess. Okay: $120 a year. The person who told me this fact noted summed this idea up by saying: Think about what you're wearing. Now, add it up. It probably comes (easily) to more than $120. Now, as numbers, these seem oddly outlandish. In fact, I don't know that the average American can picture someone living on $120 a year. It seems so odd that your brain kind of rejects it. But the poverty leads to an odd climate in the streets of Ethiopia. Driving along the roads to the southern region, we'd often see kids standing by the side of the road, holding a finger in a the air. I didn't know the meaning of this until someone pointed it out to me - they were asking for one birr. In the city, we met and took a picture of a woman and her baby. She asked for money before we did it, in much the same way. Several of the folks who were with us did the same, and we all gave her (and the guy who was standing behind her, apparently hoping for some money himself) a few birr each. Later, at the airport, we were told not to give anyone money, because there are literally dozens of people trying to make (or beg for) money there - some ask for it, some offer to help with your bags, and yeah, there are probably a few pickpockets there as well. By the time we went back to the airport on our last day, we were out of money - we had spent it all. And here came a woman, with a baby on her back, who spoke some English. This is what she said: "Help me. Help me. My baby has no father. We sleep in the streets." Now, like I said, I had no money. It was spent, gone, and the twenty dollar bill in my wallet was there to pay a fee to get me out of the country. And even if I gave it to her, I don't know that she could have taken it to a bank and changed it for something useful. So what do you say? To something like that? To someone like that? And what would I have done if I had money at the time? Do I give it to her, and risk being mobbed? Potentially create an unsafe place for everyone else who was there? I don't know. And as sad as all that is, I think Ethiopia has bigger problems. Much (well, really all) of the country has unclean drinking water. In some of the more remote areas, people walk long distances just to bring back dirty water to drink and wash their clothing in. In the area of numbers that may or may not be true, I once read that all of Africa could have clean water for about 6 billion dollars. Now, that might sound like a lot, but consider: The cost of the current Iraq war is, roughly, 2 billion dollars per week. Of course, like I said, I don't really understand politics. Of the many pictures that I took in Ethiopia, there's one that always stands out to me. I took it on a corner two "blocks" from the guest house where we were all staying. In the foreground, people are selling live goats. And also, a pile of goat heads. In the background, a ten-story building is being assembled by workers who are probably making roughly ten birr a day. (That's a dollar.) People have told me that my daughter won life's lottery when I brought her to the States, but really, I'm just an American dad like any other - capable of being right and wrong and trying to take care of our little one the very best I can. But on some level, our child will always be Ethiopian, and when I get older, I feel I'm going to have to answer somewhat as to why my country, who can afford to spend 2 billion dollars a week in Iraq, can't scrape together 6 billion dollars and save thousands, and perhaps millions, of lives on her home continent.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Embassy

Kara asked me to cover this aspect of our visit to foreign lands. If I had to guess why, it's probably because it's not a terribly emotional or powerful aspect of the process, although it is important. A couple of notes about Ethiopia before I dive into this story. First - the concept of time is beyond loose there. We had a set schedule for everything that was supposed to happen as the week wore on, and exactly zero things happened according to the original schedule. I'm still waiting for my "class" on how to cross the street in Addis. Please understand that I'm not making fun of the program or the country - everything that needed to get done got done, and everything that needed to happen, happened. Just not when I thought they were or in the order I thought they were. So on Tuesday we were supposed to be at the embassy at a set time, with the kids, so that we could have our embassy appointments and get our kids' visas and offer up our final proof that we had enough money to afford to take care of them once we got them home. If this had happened here in the states, we would have had appointments set for, say, 2 PM. And most people, given the importance of the paperwork being dealt with, would have arrived at 1:45, paperwork in hand, ready to go. This didn't happen. While we were scheduled to go to the embassy as a group somewhere around 2 PM, we probably got there closer to 2:30. Then we had to get through security, which is so complete that they took a couple of batteries I had in my bag, despite the fact that I had nothing to use them in. All told, we probably got started more than an hour late - but no one at the embassy complained about this, as far as I know. Backing up, I want to talk about cars and vans and streets in Ethiopia. There are sections of Addis that have, for better or worse, real city streets. They are reasonably well paved, reasonably well maintained, and if you drove them in the States, you probably wouldn't think too much about them. However, on the outskirts of the city, they're made of dirt. And/or gravel. And/or rocks. And since it's the rainy season, bits of the road are often washed out to some extent. Now, in a huge 4 by 4 type SUV vehicle, this might be no big deal. but in a white late 1980s-style van, packed with people, there are complications. Add to this the fact that there are no seat belts, except for the front seat. Add to this the fact that we all had to take babies to the embassy. All things being equal, this process went much smoother than it might have. Our little one went to our appointment strapped into her Baby Bjorn, which she took to with no problems. Mihret just likes to look around, and she just kept on glancing this way and that during one of her few trips outside of the building she lived in. Once we got there, and got through security, things got... dull. Well, first there was the great baby strip-off, as all the parents had brought "special" outfits for their kids, so we dressed them in cute little clothes. Then there was the great baby feeding, as we all pulled out bottles. I should mention that this was probably the most time we had spent with our kids up to this point. On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, we had spent perhaps an hour or two a day playing with our kids in a pretty controlled setting - all the nannies were around, and they would change the kids and put them in new outfits when they got dirty. But on this day, we were on our own for five or six hours. Kara took the first shift, walking the kid around for a couple of hours, and giving her the first bottle we ever gave her. It should be noted that we weren't even sure she would take a bottle. For health reasons, all the kids at the care center are cup fed, though that's another story. Naturally, right in the middle of feeding the baby, we were called up for our meeting. So Kara handed her to me and I fed her and walked up the long flight of stairs. I think I always assumed this meeting would happen in a big office with us holding the baby and paperwork on one side, while a social worker looked on like a personal lawyer and made sure we didn't say anything dumb. In reality, it was a lot more like going to a bank. We stepped up to a window. We handed over some papers. We got asked a bunch of questions, which we expected. We were a little surprised to learn that the woman behind the glass had never done one of these before, but the only reason I picked up on the fact that something was a little odd was because everyone else in our group got asked, perhaps, three or four questions out of a possible twenty or so, and we got all twenty. The hardest part of the process was signing the forms - our baby fell asleep in my arms, and so I had to sort of lean forward and lift her a little bit, and sign the form in question. But pretty soon, it was all over, and we went back down the stairs and sat, and before long it was time to take her back to the care center. -Josh

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Gee, It's Good, To Be Back Home Again...

... Sometimes, this old farm... er, house... But really, John Denver jokes, folks. I'm here all week. Kara and I will go back and talk about some of the things we saw and did, but as we mentioned, the Internet was tough to come by. We were told that there would be a couple of computers with the Internet available at the guest house we were staying at, which turned out to not be the case. The paperwork we were given was talking about an older guest house. So we had to walk to the CHSFS office, which was about 15 minutes over the rocky terrain they like to call "roads" there. Of the four times we were in the office, at least once and maybe twice the power was out - so, no Internet then, either. But I digress. One of the scariest things about the trip, to my way of thinking, was coming back. World travel isn't a lot of fun most of the time - you're on a plane for hours and hours, you can't really move around, the seats don't really work for sleeping, and often the movies are terrible (Wild Hogs, I'm looking at you.). But as an adult human being, you can deal. You read your book, you listen to your MP3 player, you watch the terrible movies, and nine hours later they let you off the plane. (And then stick you on another nine hour flight.) Point being, you can rationalize the bad for the good - your spine may feel like shattered glass, yes, but there's a cute baby at the end of the line. The cute baby, however, may not be so inclined to work with you. When we got to the Addis airport at a little after 7 PM, Mihret had sacked out. We may have been riding on a bumpy "road" with no seat belts while she jounced around in her baby Bjorn, but she had decided to sleep, and I hoped she would make it through the night. She did make it through immigration and ticketing, which was nice, but then she woke up, and decided it was screamy time. Now, Kara and I both felt bad on one level, which was - poor baby, what can we do to help you. Then, on the next level were the people who were on our flight, who were giving us "oh, good, a screaming baby, thanks a LOT," looks, which was their right. But above all that was the cultural aspect - Ethiopians value kids above everything. They really do think that it takes a village, and they will get in your face about it. Not in an unkind American way, but in a loving, "must care for the cute baby!" kind of way. Eventually, I got her to calm down by NOT standing in a line with her. It seems the motion finally set on her sleep-time alarms, and she went back to sleep, and stayed that way through most of the first flight. When she wakes up, she likes to be fed and changed, so we took care of that. And things were great, until we started to land, and the air pressure just kicked her tiny booty. Luckily, a friendly flight attendant put some water in a mostly-empty bottle for us, and she made it through. For the second flight, we fed her on the way up, and then tried to play with her. But after three messy diapers and no real room to move, she started to freak about again. So she took a nap. And then she woke up, and freaked out for a bit, and took another long nap. We actually started to get worried, as her temp seemed to go up a bit each time she had a freakout. Once she was asleep, it seemed to go down... and then she woke up, and was a happy baby again. We suspect she just gave up on getting any help from Mommy and Daddy, you had nothing to offer but laps and cuddles, and take care of business herself - if bored, sleepytime. Things were okay after that. We got her some floor time in Chicago and she exercised her limbs like Richard Simmons after a cheeseburger, and then slept on the Appleton/Chicago flight. The car seat was another matter. She HATED it. Screamed the whole way home. We put her in it this morning to get it set a little better, and she screamed some more. We're headed to church in about 30 minutes, and it looks like it's gonna be a looooooooong car ride. But at least we've got seat belts again, and the streets don't resemble a gravel pit. -Josh

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Amesegenalu Means Thank You...

Ameseganalu. My friend, thank you. It has been the theme of our stay here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which began with a domestic flight to Chicago, a flight from Chicago to Germany and a flight from Germany to Egypt, and finally, our flight in to Bole International Airport in Ethiopia early Saturday morning. Despite the airline struggles and the luggage delays, we have had much to appreciate here. When we needed underwear, socks, clean shirts and pants during our three days without our checked bags, one of our two or three drivers assigned to our care center guesthouse took Josh and I to a three-tiered Ethiopian mall for the errand. The same man also ran us back and forth along the bumpy, flooded roads to the airport - about 20 minutes away from where we're staying - until we finally retrieved our luggage. One of the many things we value about our stay here in the country that has become our adopted homeland is our exposure to both city life and rural life here. On Sunday each of the seven families receiving children in our group climbed into a Land Rover and headed south to Hosanna, a community where our international agency takes children into care at a satellite care center. The trip was a four-hour drive beginning at 5 a.m., and around 6 a.m. we saw an Ethiopian sunrise. It was a Sunday, a day of rest here as well, with families, children, and lone men and women milling about. We passed little oncoming traffic but saw pedestrian traffic of all sorts, the two-legged and four-legged variety, with six-legged (man or boy driving a donkey) an occasional treat. We waved at people, who responded with a variety of stares and smiles. Little girls blew us kisses. Only a handful of times during the ride, teenaged boys or twenty-something men shook their raised arms at us in an unfriendly gesture, as if they were motioning us onward faster, and yelled at us. It's appropriate that Ethiopia's flag colors are so varied - so are the colors of the country's terrain. The mountains in the distance and the green hills reminded me of my father's family's village in Pennsylvania and the view from my grandparents' back porch, only more breathtaking. At Hosanna, several adoptive families, including ours, met and spent time with members of our children's birth families. Because this experience is Mihret's, and we are only the guardians of it until she is of the age to understand it, we won't speak about it in detail. We closed the meeting with all adoptive and birth families praying for and about each other in an entrustment ceremony, where Mihret's birth mother and birth grandfather gave us a white, lit candle signifying their trust in us and their entrustment of Mihret to us. It's an experience we will never forget. People here don't have much, but what they have, they are willing to share. On the way back to the city, we stopped to visit the traditional hut, or tukel, of a large farming family. The wife and mother of the family, who used to work at the care center where Mihret had stayed, wanted to make us tea but she had just given birth to her youngest baby and was breastfeeding when we arrived. She invited us inside her home, which smelled earthy and damp. It held little but bowls and plates for the family's meals, and mats for the floor. A firepit in the center of the tukel provides heat, light and warmth, and the smoke escapes through the straw-like material of the roof, so that from the road it looks like the huts are steaming. It had rained all day and the farmer's chicken was perched on an enclosure inside the hut, making its presence known. We took photographs and video of the children, who were amazed to see the images immediately afterwards. During our stay here, we've also visited a maternal-child hospital under construction, which is slated to open within days. We walked through its rudimentary operating room, delivery room, and patients' rooms and spoke with a physician who'll work there. He told us about the blood bank where mothers can donate blood to their children for procedures, and about the common illnesses from which children suffer, including tuberculosis, malnutrition, HIV, diarrhea and malaria. The government often dictates who gets what level of treatment, so it's not always a fair process, he said. But, he said, he doesn't expect many patients to be able to pay, so the hospital will be partly a non-profit operation. We also visited the second class of 38 health care workers in training assisted through our international agency here. Some of the health care workers will go on to become nannies, or caregivers, in the care center where Mihret has stayed, after a one-month apprenticeship. They learn human anatomy and physiology, nutrition, first aid and other courses on which they're tested. Of the first class, at least 25 young women and men already have found jobs in the health care sector. The instructor who introduced us to this current class told us that most of the students are women, and that's intentional, because women in Ethiopia still struggle in the workforce and to obtain fulfilling careers of their choice. We did find time to take in the National Museum, the residence of the fossil of Lucy, a female hominid from several million years ago who is thought to be one of humankind's closest ancestors. About 40 percent of Lucy's skeleton is housed there, with the rest replicated. The museum is also working on an exhibit of Selam, a three-year-old hominid child thought (to the best of my recollection) to be a bit older than Lucy. Selam is the Amharic word for peace and also used as a greeting. Josh is at the guesthouse playing with Mihret, who has had her first bath and sat up on her own today in my lap when she reached for her teething toys. I'll sign off here. Amasegenalu, thank you, for reading along and sharing this journey with us.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sorry There Have Been No Updates...

But now the power is on in the care center office where families come to take care of official business and check e-mail, and we can stop to collect our thoughts and then pass them along to you. Ethiopia is billed in tourism as the land that has 13 months of sunshine. This is because Ethiopians follow the Julian calendar, with 12 typical months and then one month of only six or seven days. We've arrived to our 6-month-old daughter Mihret's homeland in the rainy season, which stretches from July to September and turns the roads to soup. But although our trip has had only sporadic bursts of sunshine through the clouds, our daughter -who we held in our arms for the first time Saturday on her six-month birthday - has become our sunshine. We love to talk to her in the little Amharic we know. The main language of Ethiopia, Amharic sounds like music. I've been trying to emulate the pitch and cadence of Mihret's nannies' voices as they coo to her in the nursery room she shares with about eight other babies. I learned that 'fandesha', the Amharic word for popcorn, also is an expression people use to describe children who often smile. Our Mihret has a smile that lights up her entire face, and she smiles at us a lot. So we have become fond of leaning in close, looking into her big, brown eyes and saying, 'Mihret fandesha.' Smiley girl. We've been able to feed Mihret her first 3-ounce bottle, change her first diaper (a wet one, thank goodness) and, many times, cup her head with its soft, loose curls in our hands and kiss her forehead. Her weight in my arms feels so right. I can't wait to share her with her grandparents, who will be waiting for us this coming Saturday at the airport.


What Kara didn't talk about is just how insane things have been here. Here's what happened. We got on the plane in Appleton. We got to Chicago. Our flight was delayed in Chicago, so we didn't make our flight in Frankfurt. We ended up flying through Cairo to get to Addis, and we got here at 3 in the morning. Our driver got the message (thanks to some expensive phone calls) but our luggage didn't get here until Monday. Must go - out of time.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day One: Leaving, but Still in Appleton

I literally have one minute to do this update. We haven’t left yet.We get on a plane a little after 1 p.m., which means that we have to be at the airport at about 11 a.m.. My father has taken a day off to drop us off, which is excellent, because we really, really, really don’t have room for all the stuff we have to bring.Right now, that’s:Two 30-inch duffel bags worth of stuff for the care center who is looking after our child.One 30-inch duffel bag worth of stuff for us.One 30-inch duffel bag worth of stuff for the baby – including, you know, formula and diapers and such.One backpack with mostly electronics.One backpack with a change of clothes in case of lost luggage, plus anything and everything that didn’t fit into the duffels.One diaper bag which will, of course, have stuff for Mihret as we’re coming back, but right now contains the last vestiges of our “adults-only” family – large paperback books (no room for hardbacks, up to and including the last Harry Potter sitting on the nightstand, which has two very eager Pattersons waiting to get their eyes on it).In the next three hours, we’ve gotta eat, mail the bills (so we don’t end up paying the credit card company interest for the cost of our flight today), put the final stuff into our bags (my comb, which I needed this morning) and take care of things like throwing out the trash.I have less than three hours.After that, it’s Appleton to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany, and then we’re in Addis Ababa. We get there Friday night, after 8 PM.Hopefully we’ll be able to update again after that.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adoption travel blog

My husband Josh and I have been holding our daughter in our hearts for so long, and in a few days we will get to hold her in our arms for the first time.We are en route this week to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the final leg of our two-year adoption journey, to meet and bring home our first child, Mihret. We’re scheduled to return home to Appleton on the afternoon of Aug. 4.Mihret will turn six months old this Saturday, our first full day at the foster care center. There, caregivers have been sunning her outside to relieve her diaper rash and feeding her the soy formula that helped her gain about half a pound in ten days this month.From the central highlands of the capital city, we’ll take a day trip into the country’s southern region, Mihret’s birthplace, to learn more about how Mihret’s birth family lives. We’re bringing along a map with a line we drew connecting Appleton and Addis Ababa - a token of thanks so we can show Mihret’s birth family we won’t forget their gift of love.Counting down the days until our daughter is with us has brought us immense joy that is priceless. And we invite you to share this journey with us.