We got up early to make sure that we could get breakfast in before our 9:00 meeting with Almaz (the director of Hannah‘s Hope.) The Union served a breakfast buffet every morning that included an interesting variety of foods, such as pasta with marinara sauce, meatballs, and crepes with marmalade. The best part was the dark, syrupy coffee served with plenty of milk and sugar.
Around 9, Almaz walked into the hotel with her younger brother Johannes, and Julie, our case manager from the Oregon office. She had been spending the month of June in Ethiopia, and it was so great to be able to meet her. It was wonderful to be able to meet Almaz as well - we had heard so much about this incredible, Godly woman, and she had been the intercessor for each family’s case at our court appointments some weeks before. The court appointment was when Yikealo had legally become our child. Almaz walked us through the last few documents that we needed to fill out for our US Embassy appointment that afternoon, and then we all decided how much money we wanted to exchange in for Ethiopian birr and how many kilos of coffee we wanted to purchase to take home. Johannes was going to handle all of that for us while we had our appointments with the Embassy. David and I exchanged $400 which gave us a little over 4500 birr and ordered 10 kilos of coffee. The price for the coffee ended up being something like $3 per lb!
We had been given an itinerary the evening before, and David and I had noticed that we were not included on the list of families that had a birth family meeting scheduled for Wednesday. While the paperwork was being finished, Julie told us that when Yikealo’s mother Mihret had come to Addis Ababa for the court date, she had stopped in at Hannah’s Hope for one last farewell to her son. Julie had been there for that meeting, and she told us that she had taken lots of pictures of the two of them together. Furthermore, Julie had taken a trip up north to meet some of the families that AGCI has begun to sponsor. While there, she had visited Mihret’s home (where Yikealo had lived prior to his relinquishment in March), met Yikealo’s 10 year old brother Edil, and had signed Mihret and Edil up for the sponsorship program. She also had taken many pictures of that visit, and she promised to get them to me once she got home and had the chance to get re-organized.
Once the paperwork was completed, Almaz talked at length about many things: our children, Hannah’s Hope, Ethiopian poverty, and adoption. She warned us about the many things that we would see over the next few days - including the many children that would be begging us for help or asking that we take them to America too. She gave us the example of Danny, the young boy who claims to be the “guide” for Union guests. His biggest dream in the world is to go to America, and yet this has caused him to “check out” from his loving Ethiopian family in order to try to form relationships with the Americans that stay at the hotel. She reaffirmed that adoption is NOT always the answer and said that her prayer for children like Danny would be that they could be part of their own families and help Ethiopia to become a better place. So sad.
She explained our day in detail, and then we walked out of the hotel and followed her around the corner and up the hill to Hannah’s Hope. It was our first up-close view of our surroundings, and it was almost overwhelming to be faced with that type of poverty. The Ethiopian people are so beautiful though, and they are nearly always smiling - an incredible lesson to me. Why is it that those of us who have the most in the area of material possessions are also the most likely to complain?
My heart was pounding as we rounded the corner and saw that red gate. David and I kept exchanging wide-eyed, excited but terrified looks as we tried to get our heads around the fact that we were moments away from seeing in person the face that we had been staring at on our computer screen for 3 ½ months.
We stepped inside the courtyard of Hannah’s Hope, and found a little spot to stand and wait for Yikealo to be brought to us.
I snapped one last self-portrait of the two of us as we waited. Do we look as frightened and giddy as we felt?
It seemed like just seconds before we spotted a woman in white scrubs being dragged up the walk by a very familiar little figure wearing the same red and white striped shirt that he had been wearing in about half of the referral photos that we had received.
It is absolutely impossible to describe the emotions of that moment - surreal is really the best word that I can think of. I think that the human brain is sometimes incapable of dealing with so many conflicting, intense feelings at once, and I found myself concentrating on little details: “Oh my goodness, look at that curly hair! It’s so different from the photos! Check out that swagger in his walk! Why is he the only kid wearing shorts and short sleeves, and since when do red stripes go with blue and orange fish?” (Leave it to a designer to be concerned about non-matching clothes at a time like that.)
Almaz was trying to direct him toward us, and I was trying to take pictures, but he was having none of it. He had made it outside, and he was ready to run! This photo is the second one that I shot - the back of his leg as he ducked around his "special mother" while trying to avoid Almaz!
She finally got him corralled and told him in Amharic to hug his Daddy. He hugged and kissed David and then me, and then sat still on David’s lap for about 15 seconds, while I took some pictures. This is thefirst look that I got...
followed by this one...
followed by this one...
Once he grabbed the soccer ball, he was done with us for awhile. I’m not above bribery, and fortunately I had remembered to pack some fruit snacks in my purse. He loved those, as well as the matchbox car that we handed over, and we spent the next 30 minutes or so chasing him around the courtyard, kicking the ball to him, feeding him fruit snacks and trying to keep him out of the way of all of the other families who were in the middle of their first meetings with their children - not an easy task! Bereket, a nine year old adoptee who had met his family the day before passed out some small boxes of raisins that Yikealo DID NOT like. He kept trying them, but as soon as they were thoroughly chewed, he would spit them emphatically on the ground. At some point, Julie attempted to take a family photo of the three of us, but Yikealo was not interested in being held, and this was the result. Charming, isn’t it?
Finally, Almaz told Yikealo to tell us goodbye and told him that we would be right back. We walked back to the hotel, dropped off our cameras and cell phones (no electronics are allowed near the Embassy) took a few minutes to breathe deeply, and headed back to Hannah’s Hope, where we collected Yikealo and boarded a crowded bus for the Embassy.
The bus-ride took about an hour, and Yikealo sat quietly on my lap the entire time, staring wide-eyed out of the window at all of the traffic. At the Embassy, we had to go through a security check, and while we waited in line, Yikealo began to sing the same little tune over and over, very LOUDLY. Almaz wasn’t sure what he was singing - she thought that maybe it was a snippet of a commercial, but it was certainly amusing to everyone around us, including the security officers. That should have been my first clue that we were going to need ear-plugs with this child!
Our “appointment” (and I use that term very loosely) was at 1:00, but we spent probably 2 ½ hours at the embassy complex. The building was very crowded and warm, and of course, it was the time of day when all of the children were normally taking naps back at Hannah’s Hope, so it was lots of fun trying to keep them quiet and occupied during the long wait. Yikealo is a little hot-box anyway - he is always sweating - and so the only place that he was interested in standing was outside, where it was cooler and raining. David and I took turns holding him outside on the covered sidewalk, while the other one waited inside to hear our name called. At one point when David was taking his turn outside, Yikealo began rattling away to an Ethiopian man who was walking into the building. The man answered Yikealo in Amharic, and then looked at David and said, “He’s telling me that you are his father.“ Awwwww!!!
Each couple had to meet separately with an official who asked a few basic questions. We were asked the following: “Is this the child that you were expecting?” (Yes), “Does he have birth family living?” (Yes, his mother and brother), “Where is his father?” (He’s not in the picture), “Why was he relinquished?” (His mother has leprosy and no income), “Are you meeting any of his family members?” (No.) If we had answered “Yes” to that last question, we would have been cautioned not to give anything to the family, so that it could not appear that we were “buying’ this child. That was about it, and we were handed a stack of papers including the decree of adoption and Yikealo’s new birth certificate, stating that his name was Yikealo David. In Ethiopia, a child’s last name is the father’s first name, so when our case had passed court on June 5th, he had gone from “Yikealo Haftu” to Yikealo David.
After another hour long bus ride back, we were dropped off at our hotel. We spent a few minutes with Yikealo in our room, showing him some of the things that we had brought for him. He was the most impressed with his new “chama” (Thomas the Tank Engine light-up tennis shoes from my Mom) and immediately had to trade in his red crocs for the new pair. He also found the photo album that we had brought along to give to Mihret, and he spent quite a while looking through it kissing all of the pictures of himself! After an hour or so, we went downstairs for supper, where Yikealo continued to spit food onto the floor if he didn’t like it or if he took a bite that was too big - not my favorite characteristic of my new son! Out of the twelve families in our travel group, we were the only first time parents, so I’m sure that a lot of the others were highly amused by our somewhat inept childcare abilities!
Following supper, we went back to our room and I gave Yikealo a bath. He was TERRIFIED, and absolutely HATED having his hair washed. He cried and cried, but as soon as he was out of the tub and dressed in his pajamas, he was fine again, and he spent some time playing with the soccer ball that we had brought for him. He was terribly tired and whiny by that point. He and I had been having a battle of wills over the spitting incidents at the table anyway, and following the bath, I was NOT his favorite person. He really wasn’t mine either - I was tired too, and I really wasn’t enjoying motherhood any more than I had imagined that I would. I remember trying to read a children’s book to him - “I Love You Through and Through” - and I remember the tears rolling down my face as I read it. It was the total opposite of how I was feeling. I looked up at David after finishing it, and whispered, “I hate this - I don’t even LIKE him right now.“ David replied, “Larisa, it’s okay. You’re doing great. Love isn’t an emotion - it's a choice - and those feelings will come soon anyway. Hang in there, honey. I’m praying for you.”
After watching him yawn for awhile, I asked, “Yikealo, alga?” (bed?) to which he nodded and headed for the door. He tried to get out of the room, no doubt to go back to Hannah’s Hope, and he looked very confused when I picked him up and carried him over to the bed. He started whimpering, and then started to sob when I took off his new shoes and put his ball on the floor. I’m sure that he was so scared - who were these new people anyway? Why had they given him these new things and then taken them away? Where was he, and where was Genet or Alem, who usually took care of him, and where was HIS bed? Why couldn’t these new people talk to him in a language that he could understand and when were they going to take him back to Hannah’s Hope where he belonged?
I picked him up and rocked him, using his sippy cup as a bottle and softly singing “Jesus Loves Me.” It probably was no more than 10 minutes until he was sound asleep. I laid him down in our bed - we had decided to just let him sleep with us while we were in Ethiopia, and David and I both spent an hour or so journaling our thoughts and feelings. I was probably more thankful that evening than ever before for all of the obvious signs that God had given us about adoption. In spite of all of the frustration and exhaustion, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was right where God wanted me. That didn’t make it easy, but it certainly brought feelings of peace and security.