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!

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