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

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