Tuesday, May 29, 2012

So What's Next?

We've had a lot of questions lately about what the next steps are in our adoption, so I thought I'd give a brief update. After all, S has been legally declared our child by Ethiopia, right? Well, yes...but now the US Embassy gets involved to ensure "orphan status" of our little guy before they will issue a visa for him to enter the US. It's a good idea...it's just a little backwards in actual practice right now. Rumors say that the Embassy is hoping to change procedure in the near future and begin proving orphan status before a case ever makes it through court in Ethiopia, and that would be a very welcome change. With the way the system currently works, if the Embassy denies a Visa, the child in question is stuck forever in an orphanage, unless the adoptive parents decide to move to Ethiopia to raise the child.

We learned 2 weeks ago that our case had been submitted to the US Embassy, and then last week, we learned that they were requesting an interview with S's birth mom. This is standard procedure for all cases where there is living birth family. S's mama has a scheduled interview on Monday, June 4th. As long as she shows up and tells them the same information that is already in the file, they will likely clear his case that day, and then Almaz will schedule an Embassy appointment for us....probably within the next week or so. In two weeks from right now, if things go smoothly, we should have custody of our second son! We can't wait to see him again. In the meantime, we are requesting your prayers....for the process, for S and his beloved birth mom as they say good-bye once again, and for Yikealo as we prepare to leave him behind for a week or so when we travel.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye

One month ago today was the last day that we had with our little S. We arrived at HH around 9:30, and he was so excited to have Yikealo's i-pod shuffle back for awhile!

He was wearing the shirt that Yikealo had been wearing on the day that we met him in 2009, so that was kind of fun to see. I was trying to explain it to the special mothers, and was having absolutely no luck with the language barrier, so I finally opened up my laptop and showed them our photos from that trip. In no time at all, I was surrounded by quite a crowd, and we spent about 30 minutes looking through old pictures. It was so neat to see the special mothers beaming and crying and calling out the names of children that they haven't seen in three years. There is absolutely no doubt how much they love these little ones.
Here is a photo of Yikealo with his former special mother, Alem. He dearly loved her, and when we arrived home with him, he talked about her for months, kissing her pictures, and naming one of his stuffed animals after her. It was so fun to see her again!

After the slide show, one of the older kids grabbed one of S's earbuds to listen in on his music. He threw a FIT, slinging the earbuds around at the other child. This was the result of them making contact with the concrete:
Needless to say, with broken earbuds, he lost his chance at hearing any more songs! He was having a MAJOR temper tantrum when we took them away, just howling over and over and kicking at his special mother. I picked him up and walked away from the group, telling him that he was okay and just generally crooning in his ear. After a bit, he had calmed down, but was still wailing in a very fake way, so I started imitating him. He thought that was hysterically funny, and for the rest of the day he would pretend to cry when I was holding him so that I would do the same back to him. He laughed and laughed, throwing back his head and just giggling for all he was worth.

It was a Saturday, and Almaz and the other office workers were off for the day. The atmosphere around HH was significantly more relaxed than usual, and we spent a lot of time goofing off with the older kids and interacting with some of the babies. There were several tubs full of soapy water, and everything was getting washed: toys, rugs, furniture, shoes, you name it. Yikealo pitched in to "help" and soon, he was instigating water fights and other forms of pure orneriness. Thankfully, the special mothers took it all in stride and just laughed at his antics.
After the water fight, Yikealo ate lunch with his little brother. That brought lots of giggles to the HH residents too, as it became obvious that Y's palate has changed a bit in the years that he's been in America. The shiro was too spicy for him, and he kept reaching frantically for my water bottle and guzzling down water to cool his tongue. The HH kids get one small drink when they are finished eating, and they were highly amuzed by Y fanning his mouth again and again!
Following lunch, we played with the kids for awhile, putting together puzzles, playing Memory, coloring pictures, and building towers of blocks. Two of the little girls were completely fascinated by David's whiskers, and they kept climbing onto his lap, touching his face and then giggling hysterically. Yikealo had quite a building project going with two of the other kids, until S crashed his laundry basket "car" into it and knocked the entire thing down. Then S proceeded to lay down in the middle of the whole mess, giggling and flailing about like he was making a snow angel. It was funny to everyone but Mr. Y, who is NOT fond of having "his" things destroyed. He walked dejectedly outside and sat on the steps. I followed him out and asked what was wrong. He responded, "Mom, can you please just take S somewhere else and play with him so he doesn't get in my way?" Yeah....we're definitely going to have some unpleasant moments when there are two boys in the house!

We knew that our time was coming to an end, so while Wass kept Yikealo and the others occupied with a few games of Uno...
...David and I tried to find some way to say goodbye to our second son. We walked to the other side of the property with him and looked through the little photo album that we had brought for him. He had looked through it a little bit every day, but on this last day, he really seemed to claim it as his. He looked at it over and over, laughing at the pictures of himself, pointing out our faces as I said, "Amama, Ababa, Yikealo" over and over, and pretending to "get me" with the pictures of our cats.
As he paged contentedly through his book, I held him and just prayed over him, repeating the words of Jesus to his disciples: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also." I know that he couldn't understand my words, and I really don't think that he had any inkling that he wouldn't be seeing us again for awhile either, but my God knows, and I trust Him to bring S the comfort and reassurance that his confused little heart needs.

I got a little bit teary when we finally put him down, but then his special mothers hugged me goodbye, and I completely lost it. I had grown to really love these sweet women in just 4 short days, and I knew that they would adore my son for me over the next several weeks. We walked out of the gates feeling a painful heaviness at the thought of leaving him, but also feeling a great thankfulness for the knowledge that he would be loved and cared for. I also had to think of S's birth mom. Sure, it was hard for us to leave him, but we would hopefully be returning soon to bring him home. She is losing her little boy forever. My sorrow is nothing compared to hers.

My Jesus also comforted me with the thought that this loneliness is what He feels for me, His bride. He did the same for us...came to our world for a time, and then left us momentarily behind while He went to prepare our future home. He longs for us as I long for my little boy....although His love is much deeper and purer than mine will ever be. I'm so thankful that I serve a God who "gets" my hard places...the moments when life is painful and dark for a time. He's experienced it all, He understands how I'm feeling, and I can completely trust Him with the details of planning my life.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

All Tangled Up Inside

I don't like Mother's Day. There...I said it. I'm sure that there are gasps of horror from some of you....isn't that sacreligious somehow? Isn't motherhood worth celebrating? Don't I love being a mama? Don't I want to honor my wonderful mother and my dear mother-in-law? Yes...to all of the above. It's just that the American traditional celebration of Mother's Day leaves me feeling sad and guilty and empty and grieving somehow. It reminds me of the way Yikealo describes his feelings when his emotions are too deep and too confusing to give words to..."Mom, I just feel all tangled up inside."

I didn't always feel this way. In fact, these feelings are really only about 3 years old. Mother's Day used to be just another day to get together with family, to take the time to buy something pretty for our moms and maybe write a few lines about how special they were to us. It was a day for Mom to put her feet up while the rest of us did the cooking for once and the dishes too. I had never had a desire to be a mother, so it wasn't a sad, bitter day filled with silent pain and unfulfilled longings either, as I know that it can be for many women.

Then God changed our hearts and called us to adoption. I met my son. He was amazing, and I fell in love with him so quickly. I adored being his mama, and the unexpected nature of the joy in that relationship has taken my breath away on so many days since then. I love rejoicing in the everyday blessing that he is in my life. I love it when he wraps his arms around my neck and whispers, "Mama, you're just the bestest mama that I could even imagine!" I went into my first Mother's Day in May 2010 expecting to feel honored and special and happy. I was completely unprepared for the emotional minefield that I was walking into that Sunday in church. As people came up to wish me a "Happy First Mother's Day!" all I could think of was HER. All I could picture was HER face and HER empty arms. I remember crying during the morning service and just wanting to walk away to a quiet place where I could pour myself out before the Lord...weeping and mourning for HER loss on this day that celebrates mothers.

The feelings haven't changed over the last few years, except that today one of my sons is living in a transition home on the other side of the world from me, and now there are 2 mothers on my heart. Women that I will feel a deep connection to until the day I die. Women who gave birth to my sons and then made the ultimate sacrifice for their child. I get to experience the huge blessing of their impossible choices every single day....how then can it possibly feel right to me to have a pampered day as "Queen Bee" while they are begging on the streets just to survive? 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Court Day! April 20th, 2012

This was our busiest day in Ethiopia by far. We packed in lots of activities, and the day felt like a whirlwind. It didn't help that things began MUCH earlier than we had bargained for. After the emotional drain of the night before, David and I both used sleep aids when we headed to bed, so we were out sound in a matter of minutes. A few hours later, the sound of frantic pounding at our door finally made its way through my drug-induced state of unconsciousness, and I stumbled to the door. A hotel employee was standing there who said that he had a message for us. He handed over an umbrella and a bottle of water. I'm sure that I looked extremely confused, staring out at him with my blood-shot eyes and disastrous hair, because he apologized profusely before hurrying away. I closed the door and took a look at the paper wrapped around the umbrella. It was a sweet note from the F family. They had left the items for us when they had left the hotel around 6 that evening. We had forgotten to bring an umbrella, and it had rained a little bit every day, so it was a lovely gesture on their part. I'm sure that they didn't intend for the staff to deliver them to our room at 12:35 AM, however! Typical Ethiopia! Thankfully, David and Yikealo didn't wake up, and I didn't have any trouble getting back to sleep...

After our day had begun in earnest (much later, thankfully!) we were picked up by Danny at 8:30 to head to our court appointment. Danny is one of the drivers at HH, and he was one of the people that Yikealo remembered from his past.
We headed off into the crazy morning traffic of Addis Ababa. Our drive to court was a long one, and we stopped to pick up Haile, our case-processor, on the way. We told both men that we were convinced that you have to be VERY brave to drive in Ethiopia, and they just laughed. Seriously, though, the traffic is unbelievable!  Addis has an estimated 5 million people. There are no lanes on the roads, there are no traffic signs anywhere, and we saw a total of 3 working traffic lights in all of our travels about the city. The streets are filled with herds of animals and hordes of people, as well as hundreds of cars and vans...most of which desperately need an oil change and many of which do not have working signals. The Ethiopian culture really doesn't understand the concept of "taking turns" or "forming a queue", which creates its own set of issues. The chief means of communication between drivers is the continual honking of horns and simply pulling out fearlessly into oncoming traffic. Obviously, things like seat-belt or car-seat laws are completely unheard of, so Yikealo quite enjoyed his freedom in the van!
 Crazy morning traffic
Herd of cows being driven down the center of at least 6 lanes of traffic.
 This public taxi (the white-topped van just two vehicles in front of us) blew a tire as we all waited at an intersection. It was startling how many people came piling out as the driver prepared to fix it! It was also quite interesting trying to inch our way around it, considering that we were quite literally in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with more cars packed around us on both sides!
I know that this picture is a little hard to see, but this is what happens at a 4-way intersection when there are no lights and no rules! The cars were wedged in together like puzzle pieces, and it took us awhile to get out of this little snarl!

Thanks to Danny's stellar driving, we finally made it to court, where we sat in a crowded waiting room for about an hour and a half. We saw lots of adoptive parents and quite a few birth families as well. There were signs on the walls commanding "Silence!" which everyone was completely ignoring. Yikealo kept busy playing David's i-phone or coloring in his Spiderman travel book. When it was finally our turn, we followed Haile into the judge's office. It was a crowded little room with at least 3 desks jammed into the tiny space, and the chairs where we were to sit were positioned perpendicular to the Judge's desk, making our conversation feel a bit awkward. She asked us some simple yes/no questions: Had we met the child we were intending to adopt? Wasn't our other son also adopted from Ethiopia? Did we have any other children? Had we told our son that he was adopted? Had we done research and taken classes on issues that can arise from adoption? Were we in contact with other adoptive families? Did we understand that this adoption was going to be full and final, and could not be reversed for any reason? When we had answered "Yes" to everything, she stamped a page in our file and said, "Okay, he is yours!" Oh....if only it were that simple!

We followed Haile back to the street level, and while we waited for Danny to come around to pick us up, a tiny girl dressed in rags walked up hesitantly and held her hand out. We gave her some money and a few granola bars. She lit up like a Christmas tree, kissed my hand, and then took off across six lanes of traffic to return to her family on the opposite side of the street. When she reached her little brother and her mother, who had a baby strapped to her back, she danced up and down in delight, and handed out her treasures. The little boy began to walk up and down, looking for a way across the street to us, but by the then the traffic had picked up, and Danny had pulled up to get us. This is the back of the mother, as they moved on to try their luck somewhere else.
We dropped Haile off, and Danny took us to a shopping area. We had a list of items that we wished to buy, and discovered rather quickly that Yikealo was NOT an asset to the venture! Needless to say, we cut our time rather short, as he was constantly grabbing things from shelves and baskets the hooks on the walls. We were able to find pretty much everything that we wanted in our first shop anyway, so while I'm sure that we could've found a better deal had we shopped around, we decided to be as efficient as possible and get out of there. Toward the end, while I was haggling with the shop-owner, Danny was keeping Yikealo occupied by playing games with him on the floor of the tiny, cramped shop. The owner, in typical Ethiopian fashion, kissed Yikealo repeatedly on both cheeks, gave him a huge hug, and threw in an extra bracelet for him. Since we already own a number of Ethiopian items from our former trip, we were just "filling in" a bit this time: traditional clothing for all 4 of us, some books on the history of Ethiopia and the Orthodox church, a silver cross from Yikealo's region, some banana leaf pictures, some wooden children's puzzles, lots of colorful scarves and an Ethiopian nativity carved from ebony. Oh yes, and the sketchy "zebra" drum that Y insisted upon having....made from wood, cardboard and some kind of hair. Here are some of the items that we purchased:
Following our shopping, we went to lunch. We asked Danny to take us to Makush, an Italian restaurant and fine art gallery that we had visited during Yikealo's adoption. The food was great, and as I walked around looking at the various paintings that were displayed, the owner came up to me and introduced himself. He said, "I want you to know that we greatly appreciate people like you who come from another culture to adopt an Ethiopian child. That might be very different from what you hear on the street. Some people say, 'But why are they taking our children?', but we know that those people will not take care of all of the Ethiopian children who need help. Any family who adopts a child and also buys a painting from us will receive a discount, because we know that adoption is very expensive and that is our way of helping just a little." I thanked him and told him that we loved the painting that we had purchased 3 years ago for our first son, and now we wanted to buy one for our second son. He was so courteous and kind, and he did indeed give us a very nice discount once we had decided on the painting that we liked best.
After lunch, we picked up some Ethiopian food at the grocery store next door to Makush, and then headed back to HH to spend a little time with our son. Danny took us on the scenic route, and we saw some really beautiful views of the city.

It was after 2:00 PM when we got to HH, and S was a little out of sorts. He seemed really tired, and we definitely saw a few temper tantrums during our short time there! The other kids were very comfortable around us by this time, so they were constantly chattering away and giving us huge hugs, and grabbing my camera out of my hands so they could fight over whose turn it was to take photos. It's always fun to see the world through childrens' eyes, and I ended up with lots of pictures that look like this:
but someone also managed to catch a picture of us holding S right as he began yet another melt-down.
When we arrived at HH that afternoon, he had been holding a toy cell phone up to his ear and listening repeatedly to the tinny music coming from the speakers. I had decided to let him listen to Yikealo's i-pod shuffle for awhile, which he loved, but unfortunately the battery was not charged, and it didn't last long enough to suit him. When we took it away and attempted to explain that we would bring it back tomorrow, he started wailing broken-heartedly.

I had brought over a children's book about Ethiopia, and everyone at HH (kids and staff alike) LOVED looking through it. I'm definitely going to buy a copy to leave there when we return.

 The little girl dressed in pink just arrived home with her new family last weekend!

After about an hour and a half, Wass took us back to the hotel to rest up for our cultural dinner that evening. He picked us up again at 6:30, and we headed off to dinner at Yod Abyssinia. The food was excellent, and Wass is a wealth of knowledge about the various cultures and people groups in Ethiopia.
He even kept Yikealo entertained by playing tic-tac-toe over and over with him, and he tried his best to teach Y to dance, but our little guy couldn't quite get it.  Here is a video of Wass showing off his moves with one of the restaurant's dancers. You can see Yikealo trying to join in just a bit.  (Warning: you might want to have your sound turned WAY down for this. Unbeknowst to me, the HH kids had turned the sound settings on my camera  up all the way, and it's very distorted and static-y.)

It had been a long day, and it was late by the time we got back to the hotel. Yikealo was very tired, so we put him to bed right away. As he said his prayers, he asked Jesus to "please change the laws tonight so that we can take my little brother home with us tomorrow." Awwwww!!!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sightseeing in Addis

After we left Hannah's Hope on the second day, we had a mid-afternoon lunch with the F family and told them goodbye. We then made the decision to hire a taxi driver to show us some of the sights about town. Out of 4 days at the Riviera, we managed to choose the only time all week that several taxis were not parked out front just waiting, so we had to wait for about 40 minutes while the front desk called one for us. Our driver was a very nice man named Tele, and we asked to go to the Imperial Palace. Yikealo was absolutely glued to the window on our 1/2 hour drive there. Driving through Addis Ababa is NOT for the faint of heart, and there are numerous sights to see everywhere that you look. Tele asked us questions about life in America and told us that his brother lives in Atlanta. He hopes to visit someday, but so far has not been able to obtain a visa.

We saw many interesting things along the way, including the African Union:
and people carrying huge burdens on their heads:
We saw a number of places along the way that cannot be photographed, including the US Embassy. Cameras are not allowed inside, nor can you take any photos in front of it for quite some distance on either side.

When we arrived at the Imperial Palace, it was only a half hour before closing time. The Palace was the former home of Emperor Haile Selassie, and is now an ethnological museum on the campus of Addis Ababa University. A wonderful young student by the name of Markos gave us a great (if hurried) tour through as much of the museum as we could possibly have seen in 40 minutes or so. He was originally from Tigray, as was Yikealo, so the two of them hit it off right away. Markos made a big deal over Yikealo, tried to include him in the conversation whenever possible and jogged from room to room while holding our little guy's hand. Basically, he made a museum full of dusty artifacts as interesting as he could have for a 5 year old boy!
 Markos and Yikealo
A model of a typical Ethiopian home, made of mud, grass and straw

 grave markers for a family burial plot

 A display on bee-hives, representing Ethiopia's abundant honey supply

 A small model of an Ethiopian Orthodox church

 A portrait and clothing of Haile Selassie's wife, Empress Menan Asfaw
wedding finery from the Gambella region
Emperor Haile Selassie's desk and chair

When we left the museum, we asked Tele to take us to any place that he suggested that we see. He chose the St. George Cathedral and Museum. We arrived about a half hour after the buildings closed, but Tele arranged a private tour for us with the Archdeacon...a very kind man named Mebratu. He spent an hour and a half with us, taking us inside the silent, shadowy church (we had to leave our shoes at the door), and performing parts of an Orthodox service for us. Unfortunately, my camera battery was nearly dead, so I was unable to video him chanting, dancing or playing instruments for us. The octagonal Cathedral was commissioned in 1896 by Emperor Menelik II, as a monument to the Ethiopian victory over the Italians at the Battle of Adwa. It was beautiful, and we learned quite a bit about some of the beliefs of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which seems to be an odd mix of Catholicism and Judaism. The church traces its roots back to the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip. According to their tradition, this man brought Chrisianity to Ethiopia in 34 AD, and it became the state religion in 330 AD. Their churches have a Holy of Holies with a replica of the ark of the covenant, and they believe that the actual, original ark of the covenant is in a church in Aksum. Their services are conducted in the ancient language of Ge'ez, which is no longer spoken by anyone other than the priests, leading to a very ritualistic religion that the people follow without understanding.
St. George Cathedral
People praying ouside the cathedral. The bell tower of the St. George Museum is in the background.
The cross atop the cathedral.
Sacred paintings, surrounding the holy of holies.
Paintings depicting events in Ethiopia's history
Archdeacon Mebratu was a wonderful story-teller, and he was also of Tigray heritage. He could not say enough about Yikealo: what an amazing, beautiful, intelligent, unique, ususual, blessed boy he is. After so many compliments, it became a little hard to know how to respond! The Ethiopian culture is a very affectionate one, and they are particularly demonstrative of this with small children.

Following our tour of the church, he took us to the St. George bell-tower, where we climbed a narrow, winding staircase to the huge bell at the top.

The view from the windows at the top looked out over the corrugated tin shacks of the city.
The trip up those steps caused my mama instinct to completely freak out. The stairway had railings on only one side, leaving the center section totally open. From the top of the 8 or 10 flights, I was absolutely panicking about my son walking back down....but thankfully we made it back to the ground level with no accidents!
  After the bell tower, we took a quick walk around the grounds, where we gave money to a few destitute people and saw a random cow grazing in the middle of the gardens!
By the time that Mebratu finally took us through the museum, my camera was dead, so I have no pictures of that part of our tour. When we exited, he wanted to take us to a little shop next door and introduce Yikealo to a woman that he knew from Tigray. We bought a few small souvenirs, and as we walked back toward the gates to the cathedral grounds, Mebratu told us farewell. With tears in his eyes, he thanked us for coming. He said that there were no words to express what was in his heart, but that he was going to pray for Yikealo...that Y would grow up to be a great man of God. He hugged us, and then we were walking through the gate.
I had taken this photo from the inside earlier in the evening, but as we approached now from the outside, it was already dark. Beggars were congregated just outside the gate - the blind, crippled, and desperately poor. We'd been warned in the past never to give hand-outs in a crowd of people, because tourists doing so can be completely surrounded and even trampled in just seconds. It was so hard to walk the gauntlet of those people though...beautiful souls created by God in His image...shaking their tin cups in the hopes of a few coins. As we walked into the churchyard, a tiny, adorable boy with huge, pleading eyes followed us in and held his hand out to Yikealo as he rubbed his tummy with the other hand. Yikealo gave him some coins, and then we were back in our taxi, heading for the hotel. That's when I completely fell apart. That precious child, begging on the street, could so easily have been one of my sons. Why hadn't I stopped and taken the time to pray over him, to give him more money? Yikealo laid his head in my lap and fell sound asleep as my tears dripped onto his forehead. I don't think that I will ever forget the look in that little boy's eyes.

Back at the hotel, we ate a quick supper and put our exhausted child to bed. He had been SO good that day, but he was completely worn out. Then, because we apparently had not had enough of an emotional overload, David and I decided to look through the CD of photos of S with his mama that we had been given earlier that day.
 Oh my heart...I cannot imagine the pain that this beautiful woman must have felt as she held her sweet son again for the first time in a couple of months and told him goodbye. I pray with all of my being that my heavenly Father will somehow whisper peace to her heart. I cannot wait until the day that my Savior redeems this broken world and returns it to the paradise that it was meant to be. It doesn't happen often enough in my sheltered, middle-class life, but sometimes the great sorrow of the world grabs me, and for a few moments God allows my heart to really break for the things that break His.