Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ethiopia Trip - Day 6 (July 2)

Our last day in Ethiopia was so bittersweet for me. I was looking forward to being home again, and I was absolutely LONGING for a long, hot shower during which I didn't have to worry about keeping my mouth closed tightly for fear of ingesting some horrible contaminant. I was ready to be a family of just the three of us - our travel group was full of really wonderful people, but it's not the easiest thing in the world learning to parent for the first time while continually surrounded by lots of other parents!

On the other hand, I was just not feeling ready to leave Ethiopia, which really surprised me. I just didn't feel like I'd had enough time to soak in my son's heritage, his people, his language, his country. I wanted to stay longer, to talk more with the people at Hannah's Hope, to spend some time there on a "normal" day, when there weren't lots of American families coming and going. David and I agreed that we wanted to spend a few hours just "taking it in" and letting Yikealo be with his friends one last time.
First, though, we had breakfast down in the lobby with several of the other families, and David kept Yikealo entertained for quite some time by helping him ride the exercise equipment.
Afterwards, we walked over to Hannah's Hope. I took a lot of pictures and video that day, very conscious of the fact that it was Yikealo's last day in his home of 4 months, but I can't post a lot of the pictures, as they show children who haven't yet come home to their forever families. This first photo is of Tomea opening the gate for Yikealo to enter one last time.

After kissing Tomea good morning, Yikealo took off running down the path toward "his" house, arms thrown open as various little boys "doing their time" on the potty chairs began shouting "Yikealo!!!" in their high-pitched voices. He only wanted one person, though, and when nobody could tell him where Alem was, he went searching for her himself, squeezing past a potty to get into the house.

She wasn't inside either, but someone else had alerted her to Yikealo's presence, and when he came back outside, she was running toward him. Here is a video of their last greeting - I think that it really shows the affection between the children and their special mothers - followed by footage of Yikealo attempting to take over a school session for some of the older children!

After hugging Alem, Yikealo ran all over the place, showing EVERYONE his new "tiger" backpack and his photo album of his new house. He handed out granola bars that we had brought to all of the children and special mothers, and gave out lots of kisses to the potty chair brigade.

He barged repeatedly into Almaz's office, interrupting her final meetings with other families, and trying to get her attention. She just laughed it off and told us, "He thinks this is his office - he is in here every single day trying to be my boss, but he's really a good boy. You know, he acts all rough, but he has so much love in his heart!" That is SO true, and we've been blessed to be the recipients of that love every day since. Then she looked at us with a sly smile and added, "I think that he needs a brother or sister, but just make sure if you do this again, that he is still the oldest so that he can still be the boss!" We just laughed exhaustedly and told her that we needed to get used to having one kid first!

At some point, while running frantically around, Yikealo managed to confiscate a harmonica from one of the other children, and spent over an hour blowing in and out, in and out, in and out until I thought I was going mad. He eventually threw up from the constant deep breathing, at which point we finally managed to "lose" the toy. Almaz laughed about that too, and said, "That is a good example of why we want people to think before they send donations. Some well-meaning soul sent us a box of about 40 harmonicas, and I spent WEEKS surreptitiously stealing them back from all of the children."

While David kept his eye on the boy, I walked around taking pictures of Hannah's Hope, specifically the house where Yikealo had lived: the room with rows of cribs and two alphabets painted around the walls,

looking out into the courtyard where one of the special mothers was busy spoon-feeding several toddlers at once,

the bookshelf full of lined up pairs of little shoes,

the many bunk-beds in Yikealo's room (his was the bottom bunk at the far end of the room just to the right of the center of the photo),

and the staff eating area/all-purpose room.

I finally found the place where most of Yikealo's referral photos had been taken, so of course, we had to take a picture of him in that spot. Here they are - a photo from March, followed by one from July.

I could not keep the tears from falling as I walked around that amazing place: tears of joy and thankfulness for the incredible love and care that my son had received at the hands of those people, and tears of deep sadness and grief for the loss that Yikealo was about to face yet again in his young life. I had watched Almaz tell him several times that he was going on an "ah-row-puh-lan" (airplane) to America with his new Amama and Ababa, and he always nodded and said, "Eh-shi" (okay), but how could he possibly understand? Did he have any idea whatsoever that he would probably never see these people again? As we stood in the courtyard, we saw a new little girl arrive at Hannah's Hope. She looked so sad, so haunted somehow, and she reminded me so much of some of those first pictures of Yikealo - taken on the day that he had arrived.

What an enormous difference those few months had made in his life!

He loved these people so very much - was he going to resent us for taking him away from them?

We finally said our last goodbyes and thank-yous to everyone, and watched Almaz wipe away tears as she gave our son one more hug, and then we walked out of the gate, and back down the hill. It felt like the end of so much and yet the beginning of even more.

We had a few hours to clean up our room, re-pack everything and nap for a bit before having an early supper and leaving for the airport at 6:00 that evening. David picks up the story from there in his lovely post "The Longest Day!"

Our time in Ethiopia was an experience that I will never forget - heartbreaking, beautiful, amazing, sickening, eye-opening and earth-shattering all at once. It got my attention and has brought me to my knees numerous times when I remember the things that we saw there and the stories that we heard. The people of Ethiopia will forever be a part of my life, my dreams, my heart, and I have been blessed beyond measure by my short sojourn in their world.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One year ago...

What a difference a year can make in your life! It was one year ago today that God first got my attention regarding adoption. I know that many of you have heard our story, but for those who haven’t, this is how it all began.

During the months of July and August 2008, God began to show both David and I that He had SOMETHING that He wanted us to do, and we began to pray that He would lead us specifically to His plans for us. I was thinking that it might be getting involved in a local pregnancy center or homeless shelter for a few hours each week. Our lives had been greatly impacted by a Crown Financial small group Bible study that we had just finished, and we definitely wanted to spend more of our time “volunteering” for the good of someone else. I began praying very specifically each morning during my devotions that God would show me what He wanted me to do. “What kind of volunteer work am I suited for, Lord?”

On the morning of Friday, August 22nd, I prayed that God would bring something to my attention that very day. “Maybe, Lord, You could have me meet someone at work today who is involved with a volunteer organization, or maybe You could have me hear a prompt of some kind on the radio today?“ The selfish, human part of me immediately began to put parameters on my request: “But what if I hear one of those heart-wrenching ads about foster care or adoption? Obviously, I wouldn’t think about anything THAT drastic. You wouldn’t let me hear something like that, would You, Lord?” As I tried to give God directions, I felt Him gently asking, “Are you REALLY willing to go where I ask, or are you just giving it lip-service?” I felt chastised, and answered, “Okay, I’ll just listen today, and I won’t put any requirements on this.”

That day was the second day of a new schedule at my job. I had started working evenings the night before, and therefore, I was to start leaving work at 4:00 instead of at 6:00 on Friday. As I left the parking lot that afternoon, the CD that I had been listening to in my car ended, and I decided to turn on the radio instead of re-starting it. The last time that I had been able to listen to WCRF (Cleveland’s Christian station) in the afternoon, they had been playing music at that time, but obviously the programming had been changed, because as I turned on the radio, Focus on the Family had just begun. Dr. Dobson started out by saying that the program that had been planned for that day was supposed to be someone talking about organizing your home. I thought it sounded extremely boring and was just getting ready to go back to my CD, when he continued: “However, we have decided to postpone that program. Instead, we are planning to replay a program that was recorded about three years ago when Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman came to talk to us about how the Lord led him and his wife to adopt a little girl from China.”

Those of you who are Christians will know what I mean when I say that it can become pretty obvious when the Spirit is speaking to you. I listened with a sort of fascinated dread as the program started, and I couldn’t stop the chills running down my spine as Steven began to talk about how there are 150 million orphans in the world, that 60% of Christian families have considered adoption but that only 2% of them ever get around to doing anything about it. I was absolutely horrified by those numbers, and I was extremely convicted by them. God had given us so much – how could I be unwilling to offer that to someone who had REAL need? I sat there with tears running down my cheeks, alternating between “How can I ignore this?” and “God, You’re joking, right? I realize that I’m feeling pricked by this, but You can’t mean me! I cannot believe that You would let me hear THIS after our talk this morning. YOU HAD THEM CHANGE THEIR PROGRAM ON THE FIRST POSSIBLE DAY THAT I COULD HAVE HEARD IT??! You ARE kidding, right?”

That evening, without really wanting to, I found myself asking David, “So…how do you know when God is telling you something or when it’s just coincidence?” I shared the details of the afternoon with him, expecting him to say something like, “Oh honey, I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think that was really meant for us in particular.” Instead, David looked very thoughtful, and said, “I just think that we need to pray about it. God will show us exactly what He wants us to do, and we need to be ready to listen.” His answer made me nervous, and I replied, “Well, I’m not going to think about it. There is NO WAY that we can have a kid. I love my life just the way it is.”

Yeah, well, once God gets your attention about something, He has ways of keeping it! It's a very long and amazing story, but for about the next month and a half, I argued furiously with Him - laying out all sorts of tests for Him to prove that He really had adoption in mind for us. He patiently answered each and every one, until it became completely clear to both of us that we were definitely supposed to adopt a child - specifically a child from Ethiopia, and we signed our contract with AGCI at the beginning of December. Eventually, we got to March, when we received the referral for a little boy named Yikealo - ONE DAY after the approval of our home-study. We hadn’t even heard the news yet that our home-study had been approved when Julie called us with Yikealo’s information! Looking back from this vantage-point, it is so obvious that God led us each step of the way, at exactly the right time to have Yikealo as part of our family. It isn’t what I thought I wanted, but I’m so incredibly thankful that God doesn’t always give us what we want.

May each one of us be open to God’s promptings and willing to go wherever He leads.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bits and Pieces

I haven't been doing so well with posting lately, but that's mainly because life is starting to feel so NORMAL! We've been doing great, and really, just trying to enjoy every single moment with Yikealo. These last few weeks have felt idyllic in a way - days of discovery and snuggles and joy, and I just don't want to miss a single moment, because I know that they'll be gone much too soon.

I feel like he's making so much progress with trusting us, and that is such a gift from God. Yesterday, for example, David left for work before Yikealo woke up for the morning. Typically, David and the boy spend 40 minutes or so together every morning eating breakfast, exercising, or just spending some boy time, and yesterday they missed that. A few weeks ago, Yikealo would've had a total meltdown, and this time, he was okay with the fact that Ababa would be back later.

In the evening, I met Candi and Gwen for our annual birthday-celebration-girl's-night-out. It was the first time that I had left Yikealo for any length of time, and he did okay. A month ago or so, I left him with David for about a half-hour, and he sobbed his heart out until I got back. This time, David said that he asked about me every half-hour or so, and he wasn't too sure about going to bed without seeing me, but when David reassured him that I was coming back in a little while, he did fine.

He now LOVES to take baths. I'll fill up the tub, give him an empty cup and his rubber ducky, and he'll spend up to an hour splashing water everywhere and singing.

This morning, when we were out for our morning tricycle ride, instead of being scared to death of all of the little dogs barking at him from inside neighbors' houses, he was happily barking back at them.

I DID find the album of Mihiret, by the way. It was buried at the bottom of his plastic tub of Mega-Blocks. A few days ago, I brought the tub out to the family room for him, dumped it out on the floor, and there was the album. He saw it, and shouted, "Look Mom! Photo!" - as if he'd completely forgotten that's where he had put it. This is a child who is so obsessive-compulsive about putting his toys away, that every block has to be seperated from every other piece before he'll put it back in the tub, so I know that he would have chosen to put the album there. I pulled it out and asked if we should put it back with his books. He shook his head and said, "No Mom - in here," and pointed back to the tub of blocks. Okay, sweetie, if that's where you want it! I was so glad to know that he hadn't thrown it away - that would've felt like a lot of buried anger to me - but if he wants to keep it somewhere out of sight, that's totally fine.

As a total aside, he witnessed his first baptism last week at church, which he obviously found to be very strange! Our baptismal area is on a platform behind the pulpit, so from the pews you can't actually see the water itself, although you can see the people walking in and out of it. When the first girl stepped out dripping wet, he turned around and looked at me with a VERY confused look on his face and asked, "Menden no?" (what is it?) I told him it was a baptism, which he repeated, and then asked in a completely bewildered tone, "Woha??" (water?) Yeah, bud, it's water, and we'll have to wait until you have a bit more of a handle on the language until we explain more!

He had to get a couple of vaccinations last week, and he screamed his head off when the nurse poked him. He was very excited to tell David all about it that evening, "Ababa, Yikealo doctor. Ouchie. Big cryin," followed by an imitation of his screaming fit. The next day, he discovered the story of "Curious George Goes to the Hospital" in which there is a picture of Curious George getting a shot, and now, that is his very favorite story. Every day he wants to see "George shot." I guess that misery really does love company!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some assembly required...

So, we bought Yikealo a Radio Flyer tricycle. The ordeal of putting the miserable contraption together has already been perfectly and far more elegantly described than I could ever hope to do:

Nothing makes me lose my cool like: toy packaging
Ask the kids to leave the room for: toy packaging
I have no choice, the money's spent
I've worked for hours to make a dent
I guess it's anger management: toy packaging

Nothing makes me lose my cool like: toy packaging
Ask the kids "Please leave the room it's time for: toy packaging!"
I'm drawing up a battle plan
to extricate this robot man
My self-esteem is in the can: toy packaging

In the old days you could hold a box and shake it
And hear the pieces rattling around
My eyes tear up with these grommets, tape and twisty ties
Remembering their beautiful sound...

Nothing makes me lose my cool like: toy packaging
Kids, you really need to leave the room - mom's opening: toy packaging
I'm sorry you have to see this sight
You must be brave, no please don't cry
I promise it will be alright
I hope to have it by tonight
Never mind this dynamite
Toy packaging!
-- Sara Groves

After making it through step six of twelve -- with steps one through four being the simple identification of all parts -- in a mere hour, I had Larisa get Yikealo ready for bed without being able to ride his new tricycle. He put on a good face, but I could tell how disappointed he was.

Amazingly, while teeth were being brushed (no snickering from the crowd who remembers Yikealo's translation of brush teeth) and PJs were being donned, Ababa sailed through steps seven through twelve in just under five minutes.

I called Yikealo out to see my handiwork, and the joy that radiated from his face as he gazed upon his pile-of-rubbish-turned-tricycle transcends description.

It was at this point that he started teaching Larisa and me about God. Every couple minutes we would have this conversation:

Yikealo: Tricycle yenna no? (tricycle mine?)
Parent: yes, yours
Yikealo (beaming and hugging for all he was worth): Thank You!

So this morning he had us up early and the first thing out of his mouth was "Tricycle yenna no?". The same thing, over and over... and over. Larisa and I followed him up and down our street for nearly two hours straight and he was just beaming the entire time.

What is it about this child's past that makes a tricycle so monumental? His fascination with all things wheeled is no doubt a factor in his fixation with this toy. Also, I can only believe that this is the first mobile toy that he's ever owned. It breaks my heart, and I would pay ten times the price of our Radio Flyer to allow his birth mother to have the opportunity we had to soak in his adoration.

Then I started thinking: God chose the role of Father. He could have chosen any role he wanted, but father is a persistent theme. Is God standing beside me waiting to see what I'll do with the gifts He gives? Does He feel the same joy when I look up at him beaming and say "Thank You!" when I find out that a precious gift is mine? Would He open his infinite wallet of blessings if I were only to appreciate the gifts He has given?

Dear Father, teach me to give You thanks as my son gives thanks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ethiopia Trip - Day 5 (July 1)

Wednesday of our week in Ethiopia was fairly relaxing for us, although it was an incredibly emotional day for most of the families in our travel group as they met the birth families of their new children. It was hard to know how to feel about the fact that we didn’t have a meeting. On one hand, I would’ve loved to meet Mihiret, to ask her questions and to reassure her face to face that we would take very good care of her son. On the other hand, I was so concerned for Yikealo. AGCI believes that it provides a sense of peace and closure for an adopted child if they can be there with their new parents for a final farewell to their family, and it gives the birth family a chance to tell the child that it’s okay to love the new family. I understand that concept in my head, but my heart says that there’s just no good way for a 3-year old to grasp what’s happening to him if he sees his mother (whom he hasn’t seen in weeks) for 15 minutes before leaving with the two strangers that he just met two days before. From the time that David and I had made the decision to adopt from Ethiopia I had always pictured a birth-family meeting without the adopted child being present, and when I found out a few weeks before we traveled that Yikealo would be with us if we met Mihiret, it made me VERY uncomfortable. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about it and worrying over it, and finally realized that it would happen however God wanted it to happen, and I was okay with that! From that moment, I gave it up to the Lord to take care of however He saw fit and finally found a sense of peace about it.

About two weeks before we traveled, we received a couple of e-mail updates about our case-manager Julie’s time in Ethiopia, and there were several stories in the update that made me pretty sure that we would NOT be meeting Mihiret. Some of the details that she gave about one of the families made me believe that Mihiret had already said her last goodbye to Yikealo on the day of our court date. I didn’t know for sure, but I just had a strong feeling about it. When we received our schedule on the night of our arrival in Ethiopia and our name was not on the list of families with birth-family meetings, I felt relieved and yet a deep sadness at the same time for the lost opportunity. I feel so blessed that Julie was actually able to be present at the final meeting between Mihiret and Yikealo and that she was able to share pictures and stories from that day with us. We had also put together a photo album for Mihiret and we had written her a letter, explaining as best we could in one page how much we loved her and Yikealo and that we would be praying for her every day. I traced each of Yikealo’s little hands onto the inside cover of the album before handing it over to Almaz, and I trust that the Hannah’s Hope staff has been able to give it to Mihiret on one of their visits to her village in the north, where a number of families are supported financially through AGCI.

The day before, when we had given Almaz the album, she had asked us to come to Hannah’s Hope on Wednesday afternoon to briefly meet some officials who would be visiting from the Tigray region where Yikealo had come from. I believe that these men work with AGCI’s sponsorship program, and it was to them that Mihiret had originally relinquished Yikealo in early March. They don’t actually have an orphan home up and running, so they had transferred him from Mekele to Addis Ababa, almost 500 miles to the south. Almaz thought that they would be thrilled to see Yikealo again and to know how well he was doing, so we had agreed to bring him to Hannah’s Hope in the afternoon. That gave us a really relaxing morning, just hanging out at the hotel and getting to know some of the other families a little better. Yikealo confiscated David's I-pod shuffle for most of the morning, and we discovered that he really liked jazz music. He definitely has a sense of rhythm!

It was a good day for me in my new role as Amama - I had actually finally caught up a bit on the sleep situation, and Yikealo was really being a lot of fun. I’m sure that David was very relieved to hear me saying a number of times, “Ya know, I am really starting to fall in love with this kid!”

Just one funny side note. We had been previously unable to call any of our family in the US. In spite of purchasing an International plan that included Ethiopia for our cell phones, we always got the message that the call systems were full and we should try again at another time, and we hadn’t had any luck calling from the phone in the room. On Wednesday morning, I finally used the phone at the front desk in the lobby to call the US, and eventually reached James’ cell phone, where I left a brief message with a few details about our trip, and asked him to please call everyone else. James’ phone converts voice to text, which resulted in the following amusement for the Maibach family. What I said (regarding Yikealo) was: “He makes Cole and Quinn look sedate.” (Cole and Quinn are James and Susan’s 5 and 3 year old wild men.) What James’ phone translated it into was : “Cool and Clean are on a date.” LOL!!! I also realized as soon as I hung up that it was just after 1:00 AM in the States - no wonder no one answered!

After lunch at the hotel, the three of us walked up to Hannah’s Hope. On the way there, we handed out a few granola bars to the street children. It was so hard to see them staring at us with those pleading eyes and looking between our faces and Yikealo’s, and it did make us think about how different Yikealo’s life was turning out. What plans does God have for this little boy, and why was he chosen for us - out of all the hurting children in Ethiopia? It makes me feel a great sense of responsibility as his parent.

At Hannah’s Hope, we ended up with several hours to walk around and talk to the children and the staff. The men from Tigray were supposed to be there around 2, but this was Ethiopia after all, and they didn’t actually arrive until around 4:00! In the meantime, we took in the sights, sounds and people of Hannah’s Hope. It is such a wonderful place -- full of so much joy in the midst of so much heartache. The older children who had been placed would come running up to proudly proclaim their name and the name of the State where their American family lived. They got SO excited if they learned that you were from the same State. The younger children were all fascinated with cameras and constantly wanted us to take their picture so that they could see it. They would also grab it from our hands at any opportunity, and my camera ended up a bit worse for the wear. It also meant that I ended up with lots of great photos like a close-up of David’s knee and several of the underside of my chin - not really my best feature, in my opinion! We played with quite a few of the kids, and they showed us their schoolroom with the big map of the US on the wall - their whole future.

While David played with Yikealo and some of his special buddies, I spent a little time walking through the main house where the babies live and holding a few of them - they were just so precious!

While we chased Yikealo around the courtyard, we witnessed several of the meetings between the birth and adoptive families. It was heartbreaking, and while we wanted to give them privacy, we also couldn’t help glancing over from time to time to watch as Almaz translated between the casually dressed Americans and the Ethiopians dressed in their very best. The children looked confused, and everyone else was trying to keep polite smiles on their faces while they attempted to internally process the jumble of emotions that they were all experiencing. We saw the birth-parents weeping openly as they said a final farewell to their children and walked toward the gate, several of them pausing to sink down on the steps to the main house and sob brokenly. It’s so hard for American parents to comprehend what that life is like - we get annoyed with things like finding ourselves in the longest line at the grocery store or having to wait a little too long at the doctor’s office, and we get irritated with a coach who doesn’t give our child as much game time as we think they should have -- truly the “problems” of the privileged. I’ve had so many people say to me something like, “Oh, how can they give up their children?! I could never do that?” I agree -- that’s an easy thing to say when you’re not faced with their circumstances. Well, what if you had the choice of giving up your children or watching them starve to death because you had no food and no job? What if you knew that you were dying from some horrible disease and that in a matter of months, your children were going to be left on the streets to fend for themselves in a country where disease and starvation run rampant and prostitution is common? What if you had no husband and no job, leprosy had destroyed your hands to the point that you were unable to care for yourself or your two-year old, and your 10-year old son was being forced to do everything around the house -- trying to forage for food and cook it, taking care of his energetic baby brother and you, attempting to provide enough income for the most basic necessities, and completely missing out on any opportunity to have any type of childhood or education?

The Tigray men finally arrived and it was a beautiful thing to watch them meet Yikealo. He couldn’t understand them at all any more, but they were so excited to see him. All of them picked him up and hugged him or kissed his cheek. One of them wiped away some joyful tears as he took in how much Yikealo had grown and how happy he seemed. They all shook our hands and beamed at us before meeting with Almaz for awhile. When they came out of their meeting, I attempted to get a photo of them with Yikealo - he was thrilled to be in the limelight for a bit and was frantically waving a balloon around, so unfortunately my picture is a bit blurry! The other two photos show the difference that these men saw - the first is a photo taken on March 5th, the day that he arrived at Hannah's Hope, confused, scared, and hungry. The second was taken by me on the Wednesday that I'm writing about. What a difference a few months can make!

Right as we were getting ready to walk back to the hotel, a ferocious rain-storm began, complete with hail and fierce wind, so we waited it out in the little shed where the staff eats. I don’t know that I have EVER seen rain quite like that - no wonder they call it the monsoon season! Yikealo had missed his afternoon nap, and he was SO tired by that time. Tomea, the guard, picked him up and just held him quietly and in no time at all, he was sound asleep.

Yikealo adored Tomea -- he was also Tigranian and therefore he was one of the people that Yikealo could communicate with when he frst arrived at Hannah’s Hope -- and I know that the feeling was mutual. I looked over at the two of them several times to see Tomea softly kissing Yikealo’s cheek and just gazing down at my son as if to memorize his face. The staff members at HH are so inspiring to me - they are some of the most loving, content people that I have ever met in my life. They live in conditions that most of us would never consider -- below is a photo of Tomea's sleeping quarters: this tiny building wedged against the gate to HH, just large enough for a twin size bed and a couple of changes of clothing -- and yet they are so joyful and giving, the lifeline and example for all of the hurting little souls that come in and out of that temporary home.

Once the rain stopped, we walked back to the hotel where our entire travel group had a short meeting with Almaz in the lobby. She handed out our documents from the U.S. embassy and the passports/visas for our children. The documents were in a sealed envelope that COULD NOT be opened except by the immigration official at the Dulles airport. Julie talked to the group for a bit and thanked everyone for the donations that had been brought to Hannah’s Hope. We were the largest travel group that AGCI had ever had, and she said they were all overwhelmed, amazed, and incredibly thankful for all of the material blessings that we had given. They were thrilled for the opportunity to help some of the less-fortunate orphanages around them, and that’s just one more thing that I absolutely love about the way that AGCI and Hannah’s Hope are run. They use what they NEED, and they give the rest away to people who need it more than they do.

That evening our group went out to a local restaurant with Julie and Johannes for the Ethiopian cultural dinner. It was really an enjoyable evening. We were seated directly across from Julie and Johannes, so it was a great opportunity for us to ask lots of questions. The food was very good and the singing & dancing were fascinating.

There were cultural dances performed in traditional costume for many of the different ethnic groups of Ethiopia, including one from Tigray. Almaz and her brothers are Tigranian also, so Johannes kept trying to get Yikealo excited about that dance, but he was having none of it! Our dinner actually began around the time that he was normally going to bed, so he was pretty cranky for most of the time that we were there. By the time we got through the coffee ceremony at the end of the meal and got back to our hotel, it was after 10:00, and Yikealo was so excited to see his bed - the end of a really long but very good day!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The missing album

The album of Mihiret's photos is nowhere to be found.

I noticed a couple of days ago that it was missing from the end table where it had been for several weeks. I wanted to show it to Erica, and after doing a rather complete search for it throughout the house, I asked Yikealo about it. The "conversation" went like this:

Me: "Yikealo, Mihiret photo? Where is it?''

Yikealo: "Mihiret, no." (shakes his head and waves his arm around) "No. No. Mihiret, America."

Okay, what does that mean? He says "America" whenever we drive past a beautiful landscape. He says "America" whenever we talk about Gwen's house or Susan's house. (They both have huge lawns with great views of the countryside.) Is he saying that Mihiret doesn't belong in America, or is he saying that she's in America? Did he hide the album somewhere because he thinks of it as private, or did he throw it away? It's fine if he did - it's his - but I'd like to know. Does he think of that part of his life as something that is over, or is he just trying to keep her separated from us in some way? It's not like we can really ask him how he's feeling - we can't communicate that well yet. I just know that two weeks ago he looked at it every day and showed it to everyone who came by our house. In fact, the last time that I remember seeing it was when he showed it to Stacy, our social-worker, while she was here for our first post-adoption report last week.

I let it go for a couple of days, and then this afternoon I broached the subject again, "Yikealo, Mihiret photo?"

He said, "This one, Mama," and walked over to the little album of us and our house. He started to look through it, naming the various pictures: "Mama's house", "Yikealo's alga", "shower" etc. He looked at me and said, "Mihiret all gone. No. This one." Then he ran off to play again.

I would so love to get into that little head of his to find out what he's thinking.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Just sharing some cuteness

My sister Erica and her two girls visited us over the last two days, and Yikealo absolutely loved playing with Shana and Mimi. They spent lots of time splashing together in the wading pool, and yelling loudly. (Hopefully our backyard neighbors were not trying desperately to get their little boy down for his nap at that time!)

Shana kept the two little ones busy for quite some time just seeing who could fill up a plastic bucket more quickly using a little shovel to scoop the water. (Notice Yikealo's tongue sticking out with concentration - this was a serious contest!)

He loved Erica too, although he absolutely COULD NOT remember her name! He kept wanting to show her various things, but since he was just yelling "Hey!" to her, he wasn't succeeding very often in actually getting her attention. Being a mother to four has definitely increased her ability to completely ignore loud children! He'd usually give up, walk over to me, point at Erica and say, "Manno?" (name?) He could say it pretty well once I reminded him, but it just wouldn't stick!

Yikealo seems to be doing fine now that his special buddies are gone, but we'll see what tomorrow brings! I think that he really loved having some playmates closer to his own age.

Tonight we went over to David's Grandma Alma's house to wish her a happy 88th birthday. Yikealo was actually really sweet to her and sang a very nice rendition of "Happy Birthday" before taking off to explore her house. In typical Yikealo fashion, he was completely fascinated by the fact that almost all of her many dolls had shoes! Unfortunately for him, Gram's house is NOT child-proofed, so we quickly directed him to her nice big yard, where he found lots of things to keep him busy.

He was especially intrigued by her gazebo, and enjoyed "sneaking up" on Ababa to poke him through the cut-outs!