Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blue Nile Falls









When we hiked to see the falls it was the market day in the area and local residents were returning home with their purchases. It was humbling to be passed by old women carrying sheet metal, goats, and enormous loads of goods. Even barefoot and weighted down, everyone was able to speed past us nimbly. I guess living in the mountains helps you to keep in great shape!

The hanging bridge in the pictures is new. Prior to its installation a few months ago, residents and brave tourists crossed on a long log that somehow spans the two sides of the canyon. It's about the length of a city block. Wow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Awash National Park Pictures





The second picture features two crocodiles. I attempted to walk closer to the edge of the river to get a better shot, but was stopped by our guide (the guy with the rifle in the waterfall photo) because it turns out that the crocodiles like to sleep on the banks where I was walking. Death by crocodile averted.

Travel to Dessie, Ethiopia




Someone from our adoption agency once told us that the drive to Dessie from Addis Ababa is long, flat, and not terribly interesting. I can only assume that that person was not remembering the correct trip. Ethiopia is rife with gorgeous landscapes, but I think the ones on this drive were particularly spectacular. Truly, my pictures don't do it justice. Much of the drive consists of winding roads along the cliffs of mountains. Once again, I was extremely thankful to have a capable driver at the wheel and would never want to drive the road myself!

If you're planning a trip to Dessie, you should be advised that it's much colder there than in other places in Ethiopia. I may sound like Captain Obvious, but nobody had mentioned that to us and we were shocked to find the temperatures in the high 50's rather than in the 80's as they'd been for the rest of our trip. Brrr!!!!

Norah was born in Dessie and we made this journey to get some more information for her about her background. That information is private for her, but I will say that we're delighted to be able to tell her someday about the beautiful area of the country she came from and the wonderfully kind people who played roles in her early life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Chero and Awash National Park



We drove to Chero (also known as Asebe Teferi)yesterday and spent the morning there today. The scenery was incredible and I have a ton of pictures to post of the beautiful mountains and the animals we encountered on the road during the drive.

On the way out, we were stopped briefly because there had been a conflict between the Afar, Oromo, and Somali people in a town, Bodede, that we were passing through. Apparently, traffic had been stopped for several hours and there was gunfight. Luckily we missed most of that because just the ten minutes that we were stopped was incredibly terrifying.

We wrapped up the day with a visit to Awash National Park. Wow! We didn't get to see any of the lions, jaguars, cheetahs, warthogs, or hippos that are supposed to roam the area, but we did see lots of monkeys, baboons, crocodiles, dik-diks, and oryx. A monkey tried to break into our driver's car by trying all the door latches while we were outside of it hiking to the Awash Falls. It was truly a memorable afternoon!

Awash National Park Photos
This photo of Awash National Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Bahir Dar












I don't have time to write at length or post many pictures tonight, but I do want to copy down the highlights of our trip to Bahir Dar so that I can remember to come back and fill in the details.

We spent Saturday boating on Lake Tana and watching fishermen in traditional papyrus boats bring in their tilapia. We then crossed the lake to visit two 14th century monasteries and tour a fair-trade coffee farm (orchard?). After that, we traveled by car to the Blue Nile Falls and hiked for a couple of hours to see the falls. It was an amazing visit and the sights we saw were fascinating. I can (and will) write a lot more about it!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day Three

The bad news is that we didn't pass court today. However, it appears that the only documentation we're missing is an updated police report for our daughter's file, so we're optimistic that we may get a court decree soon.

Today we had our third visit with the newbies and it was a rewarding one. Our little guy let out a squall at the very beginning when the nannies left him with us, but after that he was quite happy to play ball with us. Paul managed to cajole some great smiles from our little man by lifting him up in the air. At one point, I walked away to put my camera out of Little Girl's inquiring reach and Little Guy actually walked over to see where I'd gone. He then sat happily in my lap playing with a toy bus for quite a while. It was definite, definite progress!

Little Girl has personality to spare and is very vocal. She was babbling up a storm and let her feelings be known whenever a toy was taken away. She's a total doll.

We leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning for Bahir Dar and will be going to Chero directly afterward. I doubt we'll have internet access in either location, but we'll be sure to take plenty of pictures and report back on Tuesday when we return to Addis.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Visit #2

We drove out to see our kiddos again. One of these days, I need to devote an entire post just to the traffic and sites along the road here. They never fail to fascinate me.

Our little guy was upset to be left with us again, but there were more moments when he wasn't crying and then both children fell asleep and slept on us for quite a while. He really does like to be held when he's scared, so we've got that going in our favor. Toward the end of our visit, he started playing a game of putting his hand in Paul's palm and we even got a little glimpse of a smile. Slowly but surely we'll make progress.

In the meantime, we both have terrible jet-lag. I don't remember it being nearly this bad the last time we came to Ethiopia. It may be due to our terrible sleep in the weeks leading up to this trip, but we're completely zonked. We decided to take a short nap at 1:00 p.m. and woke up seven hours later! The plan right now is to take some Unisom and try to sleep through to the morning. I hope that sets us on the right track!

We have court tomorrow morning and are desperately hoping to find that our MOWA letter granting us custody of the children is there. Please keep us in your thoughts!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Meet for the First Time

Our internet access is limited, so this will have to be short. We met our sweet little ones for the first time today!

Baby Boy cried for the first 50 minutes of our visit and then fell sound asleep for the last ten minutes. Poor little guy! He was so scared being left with us! Fortunately, he did cling to us in his distress and didn't want us to put him down. Those are good signs.

 Little Girl was unfazed by her brother's crying for the first 20 minutes or so, but then she started to look at Paul and I as if to say, "What in the heck are you doing to that kid to make him cry so much?" She is just starting to walk independently and will take about ten steps before flopping on her bottom and starting to crawl since it's still faster. She liked blowing raspberries and loved the iPad which we'd gotten out to try to distract her brother. I think Paul got a video of her trying to kiss her own image. Super cute! We didn't take any pictures of our little guy's face until he was asleep because he was so upset the entire time. He is walking nicely and  liked looking out the window at the children playing on the playground.

We're not allowed to post pictures of the new kiddos until we have physical custody of them, so the ones I'm attaching will have to do. They are mainly for Atticus who will love seeing the plane that took us from Frankfurt to Ethiopia, as well as the Addis Ababa airport.

We Are Here

Our flights yesterday went without incident. On our flight from Chicago to Frankfurt Paul and I were seated separately and the woman sitting beside me watched The Lion King four times. That was the only thing of note though.
 
Our internet connection here is limited, so this will be short. We're waiting in the lobby of our hotel for our driver to pick us up to go meet the bambinos for the first time. I hardly slept a wink last night in anticipation! Aack!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We're off!

We're boarding for Frankfurt. Goodbye, U.S.A.!
Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Friday, December 16, 2011

Testing

This is a test. This is only a test. Had this been an actual blog post, you would be reading that we leave for Ethiopia in less than 48 hours.

Will photos post through my email? Am I going to be able to blog from Ethiopia?

Testing.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Norah Learns to Navigate the Medical Establishment

A few days ago Atticus and Norah were playing doctor with their baby dolls. When it was Atticus's turn to be the doctor, the following exchange occurred:

Atticus: (listening to the baby's heartbeat) I'm sorry, Norah, but your baby is dead.

Norah: (whips out her toy cellphone and begins "texting"): She is not, Atticus! I'm emailing another doctor!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

She's Come Undone

We leave for Ethiopia in ten days and life is a whirlwind.

Our trip will last twelve days and we're planning on doing some pretty intense traveling while we're there. We are only allowed to meet with our babies three times, for an hour each session; nobody wants them to get too attached to us only to have us leave to go home. Therefore, the first four days in-country will be spent meeting our babes and going to our Ethiopian court date and the last six days will be occupied with visiting some towns outside Addis Ababa. My parents and Paul's mom will very generously be taking care of Atticus and Norah at our house.

I could go on and on about how excited we are to meet these two little ones. We can't wait to cuddle them up and start making a connection with them. Meeting two toddlers is going to be a very different experience than meeting Atticus and Norah as infants. We're trying to prepare ourselves for a chilly reception, especially since we've been told that our new son is wary of strangers and cameras. I could also expound about how much I'm dreading having to say goodbye to our little ones with no idea of when we'll get U.S. Embassy clearance to bring them home. I'm trying not to dwell on that too much, but I have to admit that it's occupying a lot of brain space.

Meanwhile, life is nuts. Paul is taking three classes on top of his full-time job and his final papers and exams are all approaching at top speed. The kiddos are psyched out of their minds about Christmas and come up with all sorts of creative ideas about how we can decorate. My students have already mentally checked out for the winter holiday and seem to be consuming only holiday chocolate for breakfast. My grades were due on Monday and I had 147 essays to score and comment on before they could be entered. We aren't at all packed for Ethiopia. We don't know where we're staying once we leave Addis Ababa or how we're getting there - though we have contracted a good guide. Anti-malarial medicine needs to be prescribed and picked up. Library books have to be returned. The flex-spending account has to be spent and filed before we leave since we're not returning to work until after the new year. I don't think there's any possible way that Paul is going to be able to squeeze in dentist and optometrist appointments, but he does need to get his flu shot. We have to get a bunch of paperwork notarized. I'm pretty sure our parents would appreciate some written instructions about the kids' routine before we leave. And we should sign something giving them the right to seek medical treatment for our children...And...

We've been trucking along, assuming it will all work out and we'll be able to keep all these plates spinning without anything crashing too disastrously. Last night, however, we received notice that the fingerprints for our new kids' I-600A immigration form expire at the very beginning of January. We'd known that the I-600A will expire in April and had planned to file for a renewal in February, but we had no idea that the fingerprints would expire beforehand. How do fingerprints expire? They don't change! Aargh.

To completely understand, you must realize that A.) Expired paperwork could lead to delays in the U.S. Embassy process (i.e. coming home!) for our children. B.) Fingerprinting appointments are issued by the government and require a long drive. C.) There is no possible way that we can bypass mailing in our paperwork and waiting to be assigned a fingerprinting appointment. D.)We were told that the process can take 75 days BUT NOBODY TOLD US THEY WERE GOING TO EXPIRE IN THREE WEEKS (except for the tiny little box at the bottom of the I-600A form and when we received that 14 months ago it seemed inconceivable that we wouldn't be done with this whole process before anything expired). In the process of researching this last night, I came across something that indicated our homestudy, state police reports, medical files, and state fingerprints might need to be updated. Before we leave. Oh my freaking goodness.

To top it off, there's been a ridiculous amount of tail-chasing and drama surrounding my request to miss two.freaking.days of school before Christmas vacation. Sick leave v. personal leave, different HR people telling me different things at different times, blah, blah, blah.

It was not a good morning. Finally, someone official from our adoption agency contacted me to let me know that It Will Be Okay. As long as we file for a re-fingerprinting appointment before we leave, this shouldn't be a roadblock to achieving embassy clearance. Updating the homestudy and all that's involved with that can wait until January and we can't file it for the I-600A update until February at the earliest anyway. Sweet, sweet relief. My head is intact and saved for exploding some other day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

When we decided to adopt from Ethiopia, Melissa Fay Greene's book There Is No Me Without You was one of the first books we read. In it, she chronicled the AIDS orphan crisis through the story of one Ethiopian woman who inadvertently opened her home and eventually an orphanage to shelter children whose parents were sick with or had died of AIDS.

I don't think it's possible to be involved in the world of Ethiopian adoption without developing a passion to see AIDS research continued. Today, when infected individuals are receiving ARVs and proper medical care, they are expected to live long and full lives in which HIV is just a chronic but manageable disease. In fact, as this New York Times article illustrates, the promises of a vaccine and a cure seem to be very real possibilities. Unfortunately, twenty-five percent of infected Americans don't even know they are HIV+ and countless individuals in developing nations don't have access to the drugs that keep this disease from being a death sentence. We all have to do our part not to become complacent about advocating for the funding of research and the distribution of aid.

Finally, having read about the stigma that many HIV+ individuals face - including the fact that it's often the most challenging part of their disease - I have to close with the traditional public service announcement that HIV is only transmitted through sexual contact, birth, breastfeeding, infected blood transfusions, and sharing intravenous drug equipment. It's a fragile virus and can't be caught through saliva, puke, pee, poop, biting, mosquitoes, drinking fountains, toilets, shared eating utensils, swimming pools, sweat, tears, or mucous.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Personal Day




We made use of our Shedd Aquarium membership and headed there today after the kiddos got out of school. There was much enthusiasm at being reunited with their beloved yellow submarine, we watched a Dora and Diego movie in 4-D (the kids' first movie in a theater), and there was a very special holiday edition of the dolphin show that was top secret. I can't reveal what we saw for fear of being eaten by beluga whales. Trust me though - it was epic.

Good Book

I spent yesterday devouring Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption by Scott Simon from NPR. I didn't expect to like it and assumed it would whitewash the complicated moral and ethical dilemmas of adoption. In particular, I'm not crazy about the title. Once I started to read, however, I couldn't put it down. It's beautifully written and takes a look at adoption through the many lenses of many different families including Steven Levitt of Freakonomics and Nancy Verrier who wrote The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. If you're looking for your next book, I'd highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

COURT DATE!!!!!

It came! We're going to Ethiopia the week of Christmas to meet our babies! Insert disclaimers here about the fact that we could still have to wait a long time between court and embassy to bring them home, but at least we are moving forward and finally, finally, finally going to hold these sweet bambinos and see who it is we're fighting and waiting for!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Just in Case You Were Wondering...

Yes, it has now been three weeks since our case was submitted to court. I've heard from other families who were submitted at the same time by other agencies that they've received court dates for the week of Christmas. We haven't been given a court date yet. Yes, it is indeed driving me more than a little bit crazy. Mark my words: I'm going to have to be medicated at some point before this adoption is finalized.

Bump Beds



Last weekend, Atticus and Norah begged us to assemble their "bump beds". The two beds had been residing separately in two different bedrooms, but suddenly the kiddos decided they wanted to share a room immediately. Our house has four bedrooms, so we'd planned all along for at least two of our children to share a room once the newbies come home. We felt some trepidation about disrupting their bedtime routine because we've dealt with more than our fair share of sleep challenges, but we let them take the lead and it's worked beautifully.

Blankets hung from the top bunk to create a curtain over the bottom have created endless entertainment - I can't tell you how many times Paul and I have acted as audience to their magic show which consists of the magician telling us to close our eyes and the other child disappearing or reappearing from behind the curtain. That's the only trick in the show so far. It's a good thing it's a free show.