Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Proud mama!

That's what I am right now, because just minutes ago, Biniam stood up on his own, without holding onto something, for the very first time!!!

I am seriously beside myself! This poor little guy has had such a tough go of it, is developmentally behind, and this is a huge accomplishment and milestone! Hopefully he'll be taking his first steps soon!

It was just the cutest thing. He has been attempting this maneuver for some time, but hadn't done it yet. Then all of a sudden, we're standing there in the kitchen, I look over and he does it! He got this gigantic grin on his face, I got all excited praising him and clapping, he started laughing really hard and sat down. He kept doing it, laughing too hard to stay standing, and sitting down. He was fully putting on a show and was loving every minute of it. I could tell that he loved making me so happy.

Life is good.

One of my favorite liberals

No, this is not a political post per se. I just happened to stumble across this sweet speech made by Barack Obama regarding television and kids. Barack is a Democratic Senator from Illinois and ever since I saw him on Oprah once (yes I admit I'm a big fan of Oprah) I can't help but like the guy! Anyway good food for thought, and I commend Senator Obama for taking a stand on this important issue!

As for us Heldts, we don't turn the TV on much; in fact our antennae (that only pulls in 3 channels anyway) has been broken for months and we haven't fixed it yet! So much of TV is yucky, and it's a great way to waste a lot of time. Lately we've been doing a lot of reading after the kids go to bed. I'm reading Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" for the very first time (it's awesome!) and Kevin's reading C.S. Lewis' "Weight of Glory" (for probably the tenth time!)

Any good books anyone's read lately???

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Doctor's visit

I took the boys for their follow-up doctor's visit yesterday. The good news? In just a month, Yosef has gained two pounds, and Bin has gained one and a half pounds! Yay!

The bad news? Everything else! For starters, I think due to the two seperate (unsuccessful) blood-drawing attempts at the lab, Yosef is TERRIFIED of the doctor, nurses, etc. He REFUSED to be weighed, so they fully took us out into the hall, weighed ME holding him (yeah that's right, I got weighed at the pediatrician's office!), then weighed me not holding him, and did the math. Between when the medical assistant left and when the doctor came in I was somehow able to get him calmed down, but once the doctor entered the room he started screaming again at the top of his lungs, clinging to and climbing up my shirt, etc.

I could barely hear myself think but somehow managed to request an order for more stool samples (to verify whether they still have giardia or not, which I am inclined to think they do, even after one round on the flagyl), point out the fungus on Bin's cheek (got a prescription for some sort of cream), and ask what on earth to do about Yos' bloodwork (wait two months until he's older, presumably when his veins are easier to get. I'm not comfortable waiting that long so I think I'll call back about that.)

Due to Yosef's screaming, I completely forgot to ask about what the doctor thinks about circumcision (they don't typically circumcise boys in Ethiopia, I've heard horror stories on both sides of that debate, so I wanted the doc's opinion), and to question him further on the bloodwork, and on Yosef's scalp fungus (doc says he'll have to go on orals for that, but there's a risk of liver damage or something. Basically I wanted more information.)

I feel like this is just not working. I feel like the doctor is not attentive enough or proactive enough with the boys, and I feel totally clueless not being a doctor/nurse myself. I think I either need to do a lot of online research and go in there prepared to run the show, or find a different doctor on our plan (the joys of an HMO...)

So that was the doctor's. Anna stayed with Grandma and napped and watched a Baby Einstein video. Lucky kid!

And even though it doesn't go with this post, I thought I'd share a picture of the kids on a lazy Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, nice and cozy in Mom and Dad's bed!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Good friends, good times

Just wanted to post about the shower my dear friends Lara and Becky threw for us and the boys a couple of weeks ago. It was so much fun, the boys (and Anna!) scored some great things, and it was a neat way for people to meet the boys who hadn't yet.

We are always reminded at these sorts of events how blessed we are by the friends we have made. The love and support we feel from these people is pretty great. One of the highlights was the gift we received from our friends Andy and Jeannett. I was shocked to unwrap the gift and find that she had scrapbooked our entire adoption trip!!! Unbeknownst to me, she had gotten the CD with the digital pics from Kevin, had prints made and did the book. It is so amazing, I am not a scrapbooker and I feel so blessed to have such a special, special time in our lives preserved in such a special way.

Another cool thing was that Darin and Lara made up a quiz for people to take all based on things in our blog! Stuff like what was the first thing we bought for the boys, their birthday, and even a bonus question for Kevin and Troy asking them for the square root of the population of Ethiopia (they're engineers, what can I say?) Pretty awesome! We had fun hearing peoples' answers. Becky baked a great cake and decorated it in jungle theme, with the Nile running through it and little lions on it. Too cute!

I also got to meet Stacey, a frequent "commenter" on here who lives in this area and who is adopting a baby boy from our agency! I was so happy she was able to make it.

Here are some pictures from the event. We Heldts all wore our traditional Ethiopian clothing in honor of the occasion. Have I mentioned that we are quite proud our sons are from Ethiopia?!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A day at the grocery store

So today I did something for the very first time: I braved the grocery store with the three kids, all by myself. I think it is safe to say this was not only the first time, but also the last time.

At 11:30 I loaded up all three kids and set off for Albertsons. I normally go to FoodMaxx because I'm a cheapskate, but I figured I better go somewhere that doesn't make me bag my own groceries.

We arrived and I left the kids in the car while I ran up to the store to grab a shopping cart (Albertsons does a far too efficient job moving the carts back inside; there weren't any already in the lot!) Got the cart and headed back to the car. Unloaded Ezra, stuck him in the back of the cart, stuck Anna in the front of the cart, and strapped Isaiah into the trusty Baby Bjorn, which I would be lost without.

To be honest I was kind of excited about shopping today. I'm getting back into the swing of cooking and had planned out some different meals to make, so I was looking forward to buying all the ingredients. I had a big long list.

First stop was the deli and the bread section. Easy enough. Then produce. About three minutes went by before Ezra ripped open the bag of Romaine lettuce hearts. Okay, easy enough to fix, I just put it in one of the plastic bags they have there. Then I discovered he was squishing the hotdog buns. Moved them to the "underneath" part of the cart (I swear a mother must have invented that!) Not much longer and Anna wanted to sit in the back. Okay, whatever keeps them happy, so I moved her to the back and Ezra to the front.

Not too much later I looked down to discover her happily chomping away on the celery I was buying to make macaroni salad. Okay, better put that underneath the cart too...

And so went the rest of the trip. Before we'd left, Anna stuck her mouth all over the tomatoes I bought, the hotdogs, took a bite out of an avocado's skin, and tried to take a bite of garlic. Fortunately only one item got thrown out of the cart the entire time, and that was the garlic, by Ezra.

I FINALLY have everything I need and get in the ONE line that was open--the line was huge; why do they only have one line open??? Well someone finally opens another line, and the girl in front of me goes in it, and I follow her because we were in the back of the other line. As the girl starts loading her groceries onto the belt, the checker lady VERY loudly and rudely says to me, "She's on WIC; it'll take a long time." Now for the record, I don't think there's anything to be ashamed about to be using WIC; in fact, I think it's a good program. But was it this lady's business to announce to the whole store or even just to me that this woman was on public assistance? I would have been ticked!

Anyway, I just said that was fine, because since I'd gotten in this new line, the other line had gotten even longer and I'd lost my place in it. Plus, I really don't mind the wait. So I'm waiting and then the checker again looks at me and says in an even ruder voice than before, "You know, this is really going to be awhile." Sheesh! So I proceed to ask, "Even longer than waiting in that huge line?" and she rudely answers, "Yeah!" Um okay, so I switch BACK to the long line.

Another employee comes up to me (I think she must have seen me get worked by the checker) and says really sweetly, "I'll go see if someone can open another line." Which they did! Thank goodness!

As I was unloading my things onto the belt the college-aged bag boy fully started helping me unload the plethora of groceries residing on the "underneath" part, basically everything I had had to keep away from the kids. Then the lady checking my groceries offered to just have them bagged and put in a seperate cart, and the bag boy would help me out to my car. How embarrassing is that? Don't just little old ladies do that sort of thing? But how can I refuse, I mean it would have been a pain otherwise. I just hadn't realized how many groceries I was buying.

Now I have to tell you that I was extra embarrassed because this would mean that he would have to see the car I drive. Let it be known that I did not bring this car into the marriage, my husband did. My contribution was a 1988 Toyota Corolla. His? A 1988 Lincoln Towncar.

That's right. I drive a HUGE, OLD car. (So huge in fact that I am not always so good at driving it and sideswiped a car in Pismo Beach once.) It is just a fact of life that the Heldts drive old, ghetto cars, and you would think I'd be used to it by now. Sadly, I am not. Every time I have to take that beast out in public my pride takes a hit.

So we walk to the car and I say "Thanks so much," hoping he'll just leave the cart of groceries and think that the white suburban parked next to me is mine. No such luck. "Oh, I'll load it for you." Shoot!!! So I unlocked the doors, tried to keep my head high, and loaded up the kids, while he was somehow able to fit all the groceries into the trunk, even with the stroller and other assorted junk back there. I thanked him, climbed into the car, and hastily headed home.

Needless to say I will not be venturing out on grocery shopping trips alone with the kids anymore...but at least I can say life isn't boring!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My Master Plan

  1. Post only 3 times.
  2. Lie in wait while my wife, with her warmth, candor, wisdom and delightful prose, attracts a devoted cyberspace following by sharing what God is doing in our lives.
  3. Suddenly resurface to exploit the faithful readers who are now a captive audience and will no doubt give me at least one hearing before forever ignoring anything that has my name attached to it.

Yes, my master plan is now complete. (You can almost hear the maniacal cackling, can't you?) Now if I can just think of something worthwhile to say...

Hello all. I just wanted to "break the silence" and earn a little bit of my place on that contributors list off to the right. And in all seriousness, thanks to all of you who have been following along with us and who have offered such kind words of support. This blog has been a neat thing for us. It has been a neat thing for me. As Brianna has written about our adoption process, as she has shared her thoughts and her heart, I've learned more about the woman I love. (Back in my post on 7/28/05, you know, one of the three, I said that "I'll probably have some blubbery, sensitive moments where you'll all pity me and stuff" so you can't say I didn't warn you!) Not that we haven't already talked about all these things she has written, but there is something about seeing it all written down, seeing her voice and heart come through, and seeing how people have responded. In short, I'm married to one awesome woman! This has been such a great year for us, and it's so awesome to know that all these heretofore strangers have checked in along with our family and friends to share in our blessings as God just continues to heap them upon us.

I feel so honored that God has brought to me these four amazing people (their names are written at the top of the blog if you've lost track of who I'm talking about -- I don't want anyone lost and confused -- not on my watch!) and given me the privilege of calling them my family. My family rocks! I think it's pretty awesome that I have the rest of my life to get to know them better and to see where God takes us. The last couple months have been quite the rollercoaster, but it has been such a good one (like Goliath or Riddler's Revenge, not like Psyclone -- sorry to you non-CA folks for the discriminative analogy -- yes, I did just find the word discriminative on God keeps teaching and challenging us. I feel like I personally maybe "tune in" once every couple of days but even with such a paltry focusedness to work with, He still has gotten through and taught me some things. I have two mini-reminders/lessons in mind that I think I will share in a blog soon. My kids are so great (does this paragraph have a theme by the way? a consistent train of thought? no? okay) -- I don't get to see them nearly enough during the week (I commute so I'm gone from 5:30 'til 6) but boy, do I enjoy the time I do see them. Their simple happiness is so infectious -- I love it! And the "dancing with Bob" is seriously priceless.

Well, I think that will just about do it for now. Let's review what you've learned: I do, indeed, still exist; I love my wife and my children; the parentheses and hyphen keys on my keyboard seem to be stuck in such a way that they show up inordinately more often than they ought in my writing. Okay, great, you all pass. Come again real soon. Bye.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Afternoon at AHOPE--travel story continued

AHOPE stands for "African HIV Orphans: Project Embrace" and is an orphanage caring for orphans with HIV/AIDS, located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was founded in part by our adoption agency, AAI. They were receiving so many children to care for with HIV that they needed a place for them. While AHOPE used to essentially be a hospice, now that antiretroviral drugs are allowed into Ethiopia, these kids are being treated and they will now be able to live much longer lives! And some children are being adopted!

We sponsor two sisters at AHOPE, Eden and Addisalem, aged 4 and 9 respectively. Their mother passed away last April and they were living on their own in a shanty until a neighbor took them to a government office to get help for them. They were eventually referred to AHOPE. Both girls are HIV positive, and poor little Eden is already on the ARV drugs (you only go on them once your disease has progressed to a certain point.)

We've been receiving updates on these precious girls for months, praying for them and looking forward to meeting them when we traveled to Ethiopia. So we arranged ahead of time to spend some time at AHOPE and to throw all the kids an ice cream party!

Two AHOPE workers picked us up at the guesthouse Friday afternoon, and off we went. There are two AHOPE facilities; one houses older children and one houses the younger children. We stopped at the first facility and the van was mobbed with loud, excited children! They all piled in with us chattering and looking at the boys. My first impression was that kids are kids, no matter where you go, what their circumstances are, etc.!

My second impression was, oh my goodness, these poor kids have HIV and many of them are very, very ill. I don't know how much you know about HIV, but when an HIV positive person's immunity drops, they get lesions on their face that look like warts. One precious boy's entire face was covered with heart went out to him and all these other kids, who are not only fighting for their lives, but they are without parents or family.

As I recall, I was thinking a LOT about this as we drove to the other facility. We met Sidisse, a wonderful woman who runs the orphanage. She gave us a great tour of all the rooms, explained the childrens' medicine, etc. The current AHOPE facility is actually our adoption agency's former facility.

We were then introduced to Eden and Addisalem. And I proceeded to feel like someone had punched me in the stomach. There stood the two most somber, sad, depressed children I'd ever met. They just stood there holding hands and I just stood there wanting to cry. I felt ashamed. I had been so looking forward to meeting them, I'd spent months praying for them and thinking of them and not once did I ever realize the cold reality or depth of sadness of their situation. Do we ever really stop to think, what must their life really be like? What is beyond the smile in the little picture they send? What is it like to lose your mother to AIDS, to feel sick half the time, to live in an orphanage with very little hope of being adopted and of ever having a family? The hopelessness and loneliness must be overwhelming. At least, it seemed to be for these two girls.

(On a side note, we can get to feeling pretty good about the things we do to help others. We send in our little checks to World Vision or Compassion or the Red Cross or to AHOPE and think, okay, we're making a difference, we're doing something good, and it makes us feel good...but then when reality smacks you in the face you realize, This is a child's life. This doesn't make me feel good anymore.)

Neither of the girls spoke English, and they seemed so shy, so we really didn't spend much time with them, one-on-one. Sidisse and the other workers herded all the kids into a large room and got them to sit down, and then had us go in. All the kids stood up (to show respect I guess) as we entered the room. When Sidisse told us they were standing for us we told them to sit down! I felt so unworthy to have these precious children doing that for us.

They decided to sing some songs for us. They sang "Father Abraham" (first in English, then Amharic), and I began to tear up when they started singing "This is the Day that the Lord Has Made." The line that says, "I will rejoice and be glad in it" really got me. Here these kids just have the most tragic of circumstances, and here they sit clapping their hands loudly and singing of how they were put my own little life into perspective I guess.

After awhile the staff handed out the ice cream. Sidisse thanked us and said that we had made the kids happy and given them something to be excited about. Again I felt horrible being thanked for the paltry gift we'd given them. At the end, Kevin asked if he could pray for the children. Sidisse translated his prayer, and the children would say "amen" after each phrase. Precious.

We all headed back outside, where we pulled Eden and Addisalem aside to give them the gifts we'd brought for them. Nothing exciting, just some girly necklaces and bracelets we'd bought for them. But it was the only time I saw the girls smile the entire afternoon. Little Eden's face lit up as she put on her bracelet and necklace. Initially I'd thought, okay, we'll get them these things to remember us by. But now I just hoped it made them feel beautiful. They are such precious girls. I wonder if they know how special and beautiful they are--I doubt they do.

While we were there Sidisse told me the children at AHOPE oftentimes feel very hopeless and like they have very little self-worth. She said they look in the mirror and only see the bumps on their faces and how sick they are. She said it's hard for them when someone does get adopted--they feel so sad that no one has adopted them.

It was interesting observing the different children. Some seemed pretty well adjusted and happy, some seemed starved for love (they are so well-cared for at AHOPE, yet that is not a replacement for a family), and some just seemed depressed. We got to see the babies as well...a whole nursery full of young toddlers/babies with HIV. They were precious.

When we finally left and got back to the guesthouse neither of us knew what to say about the day we'd had. How do you put those things into words? Even now writing about it I think I'm all over the place and probably not explaining things the way I'd like to--I think I'm still trying to figure out what my thoughts even are.

I just have all these where does God fit into all of this? Jesus loves these children...He is there with them looking out for them and for some reason has allowed them to live a life harder than you or I will most likely ever live. How do I translate my feelings of sadness over these kids to feelings of hope? Where do we see the hope in this situation? And what is the answer?????

For starters I need to pray a whole lot more! I need to pray that God will comfort these children and prepare families to adopt them. It can be done; HIV is not the death sentence it once was, and HIV-positive or not, these kids are "precious in His sight," just like the song says.

Lord willing, we plan to continue adopting children throughout our lives. There will always be kids that need families and we are committed to doing what we can to meet that need. I've spent twenty-something years looking only to my own needs (or the needs of people I like), and I am already seeing the change God is bringing in my life through doing something that forces me out of my comfort zone and that leaves me little time to worry about "me."

We'd also like to somehow advocate more for these children and for adoption as well. We are praying about how to do that (as I have no real clue.) I think that orphans, whether they are ill or not, will always struggle with immense hopelessness and loneliness. Children need families. That family could be you! If you are not at that place, please consider donating time/money/whatever to help an orphanage, relief organization, homeless shelter, etc.

AHOPE would like to be able to take in more children, but are hindered only by finances. PLEASE consider sponsoring a child or two, or giving a gift, or something. I have more information if you'd like, or you can go to the AHOPE website to find out more.

Seeing things that are difficult to see has caused me to cling to Christ and His promises all the more. There are things in this world that are hard to look at and discouraging to see. Praise the Lord that He is the God of the oppressed, and of the poor, and of the orphan. I am so glad we can cry out to Him and ask tough questions and that He listens and cares. I'm glad that the beggars and orphans are not alone. I am glad that my joy comes from Christ and from nothing else...because if it did, I'd be pretty bummed! We have the amazing ability to be able to mourn and grieve over such tragedy, and yet still have a joyful spirit.

If you are still reading this, I am sorry for the long-windedness. My heart broke for these children and their situation, and they need our help. I could not have blogged about this day without sharing the feelings we were having.

I'm sorry if this post seemed depressing. Even though I grieve over the childrens' situation, I know there is hope and joy in the fact that God watches over them, and there is great hope in the fact that you and I are a major part of God's plan to help these people.

I'm sorry if it seems like I'm on a "soapbox." Meeting Eden and Addisalem, visiting their orphanage, opened my eyes to what is a daily reality for many, many people. It was a glimpse into something that we rarely get a glimpse of in middle-class America. It brought some things into perspective and I feel that if I don't share those things, then who will? You go to the Christian bookstore, and there are thousands of what are essentially "self-help" books on how to live the Christian life. I think we (in our happy, comfortable Christian culture) look for the answers there all too often...And then very rarely we get some sort of glimpse into the things God sees every day, and realize, it is a lot simpler than we thought in terms of what's important, what God wants from us, what matters to Him. While it was uncomfortable feeling so helpless and having to see some things I saw, I'm glad for it. And so now I try to put the pieces together and figure out what I walked away with and what that means for the future. (If it means I'm on a soapbox or something, well, I suppose there are probably worse soapboxes to be on!)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

God bless meatloaf

So last night, we had meatloaf for dinner (incidentally one of Anna's favorite foods.) At the end of the meal, as I was dishing up the last of the meatloaf for her, Anna suddenly burst into song: "Meatloaf, meatloaf, little star..."

(I don't know the last time we laughed so hard! Anna learned "Twinkle Twinkle" not too long ago, and apparently decided to come up with her own version.)

Later that evening, we were tucking Anna into bed. It is such a precious part of the day. Lately her favorite thing is to bless people she knows. She will lay there each night, saying, "God bless Grandma, God bless Daddy," etc. It is so cute! So last night she said, "God bless Jeannette, God bless Andy...", and then paused...until finally, "God bless meatloaf."

What can I say? The kid likes meatloaf.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lively up yourself

Bob Marley CD: $13.99

Watching your kids dance around like maniacs: priceless.

So some families read stories to their kids before bedtime. Not us, though. The Heldts dance to Bob Marley.

I know, we are so weird! But I was at Target one day hoping to pick up some African music for our family. Naturally Target does not have a huge selection of this sort of thing, but they DID have Bob Marley's Greatest Hits, so I bought it. Jemal, our friend we made in Ethiopia (he is a driver for our agency), was listening to it while we were there, so I figured if nothing else, it'd remind us of our trip.

So at one point we put it on for the kids. And the funniest thing happened: instantaneously, they all started dancing! It was like they couldn't help it! Ezra's whole face will light up, grinning, as he claps ferociously and sways back and forth. Isaiah (in his "I'm too cool to look too interested" way) will sit there moving his head back and forth. Anna even gets in on it and her personal favorite "move" is spinning, in addition to jumping up and down. She also likes to sing, so she will go around the house singing, "Jamming! Jamming!" and occasionally "No woman, no cry."

And that is how this has become a Heldt Family Tradition. Every single night after dinner, when we've cleaned up and lotion and pj's are on, we all congregate in the family room and turn on the Bob...and watch the kids dance around like crazy. Kevin and I do our fair share of jammin' too, but not for long...we're too busy laughing at the kids!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The week in review

(This was us trying to take a family picture before church this past Sunday. Didn't turn out perfectly but oh well!)

We got the results of the labwork back today and found out that both boys have giardia. (We suspected that they had it so it is actually a relief to know they have it for sure, and now we can treat them. It could explain a lot of things, including Isaiah's low weight and also the large soft spot on his head.) Today I have to go up to Arroyo Grande (I guess they have the closest pharmacy that distributes the medication they need) and pick up their medicine.

Isaiah Biniam's bloodwork also came back, and everything was normal! He tested negative for HIV which was great (though initially they tested positive at birth, they've been testing negative for some time, but it is reassuring nonetheless to have them tested here and be negative. It is always a possibility I think, no matter how remote, and just an unknown that you face with adopting children so young from another country, especially whose birth mother has HIV. While it was pretty much guaranteed that they didn't have it, I think you just have to be prepared for some unknown health problems.) However the lab apparently did not draw enough blood for some of the bloodwork so he'll need to have more taken (I am seriously NOT a fan of the lab we go to. Nothing but trouble!) And of course Ezra Yosef still needs his blood taken as they could not get his vein, so we will talk to our doctor in a couple of weeks about all of that at our next appointment.

We are now busy preparing our one month post-placement work to be ready for our post-placement visit with the social worker. I think we maybe should have gotten on this sooner, but our post-placement agency just now mailed us the papers so I guess it was out of our hands. There are some forms for the pediatrician to fill out, stuff for us to fill out AND we have to include 2 sets of 8 pictures each! Sheesh! I'll be dropping off the forms for the doctor today as well. Taking three kids out in the times. :)

As for the kids, they are doing great. This week has been WONDERFUL; we are so getting into a routine and Isaiah seems to be doing better emotionally. This morning he was all smiles and laughs and was even pretty active, crawling under the kitchen table, throwing toys...the usual boy stuff. :)

Wednesday I took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese (to meet some other moms from church.) It was the first time the kids (and myself for that matter) have been. It was actually really neat! Anna enjoyed the "rides" and pizza but was terrified of Chuck E. Cheese himself, when he came out to greet the kids. It was really funny. (Every time I venture out with the kids I am reminded of how great they are--happy for the most part and fun to be around. One parent with three toddlers can make for a tough outing, but the kids are just so easygoing that they make it pretty easy!)

Yesterday my friend Rebekah came to spend the day along with her two little girls (one is almost 3 and one is 4 months.) We took all the kids to the new park down the street--and they loved it! It was probably the first time that Anna took off running the minute we got there, climbed up to the top of the play equipment and went down the slide, etc. all by herself, without any prodding from me. I felt proud. :) Ezra and Isaiah have most likely never seen a park in their lives, but they did fine. Ezra also seemed to cry every time I was out of his sight, even if Rebekah was there, which was a really good sign, that he is attaching to me.

So that is the latest. Tomorrow some friends of ours are throwing us a little party for the boys. We're looking forward to it--I think we're even going to wear our traditional Ethiopian clothes in honor of the occasion. Sunday is church and at some point we need to hit up Target for (surprise, surprise) more diapers!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lost in Addis

Friday in Ethiopia was a busy day for us. We needed to reconfirm our flight back (apparently if you don't, Ethiopian Airlines sometimes sells your seat to someone else or something?), and our big plan was to visit the girls we sponsor at AHOPE later that afternoon. SO, I will cover it in two different posts.

There is an Ethiopian Airlines office at the Hilton, so we hailed a cab to take us there (to the sound of a Tina Turner tape--hee, hee.) It's a pretty long ride from the guesthouse to the Hilton, and right through town, so we saw many things on that cabride that quite frankly we had never seen before. There were so many beggars in the streets--men, women, and children. Many of them were disfigured/handicapped. Any time the cab would come to a stop or slow down enough, they would approach the car.

I have come away from Ethiopia SO GRATEFUL that our government is committed to caring for its citizens. We may disagree on how to best do that, but thank goodness we offer assistance programs for the down and out (and also different government-funded programs for people in general.) In Ethiopia, when you lose your job (which is very common apparently as the unemployment rate is 35-40%!), you are relegated to a life of poverty and begging. I for one will never complain again about my tax dollars going to public assistance programs. (On a side note, the potential to abuse these programs is well worth it to keep people fed.)

On that one cab ride alone two different Ethiopian women offered me their babies. They approached the window, covered in dirt head-to-toe, each holding a baby also covered in dirt, motioning to me and offering their babies towards me. I literally felt sick to my stomach. Here we sat, not a care in the world, and these poor mothers were so desperate and hungry that they wanted to give their babies up to foreign strangers...

I think that image will always haunt me. I am a mommy and I cannot IMAGINE the desperation I would feel, not having enough to feed myself or my baby, and knowing that there's no way out. I forgot to mention it but when we had gone to the grocery store the day before, we came outside and a dirty, haggard woman came up to us with a little boy maybe around age 4 or 5. She pushed the child towards me and he grabbed my hand. Our cab had arrived at that point and she was ushering the child forward to get in with us.

Ethiopian law does not allow for women to just give their children up for adoption (in fact it's illegal) UNLESS the woman or man has HIV. This may seem like a strange law but otherwise the orphan crisis would be even worse (if that is even possible) and the country doesn't want to lose an entire generation of people. At any rate this is just daily life for people in Ethiopia. You don't have to go to the "bad" part of town or the slums to find these people...they are everywhere.

It's hard because I feel so helpless. Before we left we felt like we were making a positive difference by adopting two children--I don't think we fully realized the gravity of the situation there (and really how can you if you've never truly seen it firsthand.) But now after having gone, the whole thing just feels sad and hopeless. One thing that I had felt before but was confirmed when we went is that international adoption is PART of the solution of helping these people (at least for now), not THE solution. It is a tragedy that many of Ethiopia's people have to live the way they do, and it is also a tragedy for them that they are losing so many of their beautiful children to international adoption. My hope for Ethiopia is that their government will get it together (and the governments of other more prosperous nations will get it together, especially ours!) and (with local churches) start helping their people, and that some day there won't be any need for them to send these wonderful children away. Will that ever happen? Sadly I doubt it. But I pray that it will.

We made it to the Hilton and headed to the Ethiopian Airlines office. The Hilton was pretty nice with lots of important-looking African businessmen and women inside. In the office I met a woman who with her husband is the first couple to be receiving their Ethiopian baby through the agency CWA (Christian World Adoption), which is not a new agency but is new to Ethiopian adoption. The poor lady was really upset because apparently CWA doesn't allow your child to stay with you until it's time to leave or something, you just get to visit them for a couple of hours a day at the facility where they are. None of the other American agencies in Ethiopia work that way, so I'm not sure why they do. Anyway I felt bad for her. They had a daughter with them there that they had adopted from China.

After reconfirming our flight we had lunch at one of the Hilton restaurants. We ordered standard Ethiopian food: injera with doro wat and beef wat. It was pretty yummy and very spicy! Surprisingly Kevin loved it! I will later explain what those foods are and show some pictures.

So have I mentioned that the Ethiopian people adore children? They just love them! The main hostess at this restaurant doted on the boys the entire time. She brought them free food, spoon fed it to them, and carried Ezra Yosef around just about the entire time we were in there. While there we met another American family adopting a baby boy through a different agency (CHSFS), and an American family adopting a girl through our agency! They weren't staying at the guesthouse (they were at the Hilton) and came over to us and asked if our boys were from Layla House. We said yes, and they said that their daughter was very excited because she said she knew them. They were super nice and their little girl was just so precious. We took a picture of her and the boys.

As we were leaving the Hilton Kevin approached the hostess and said how he thinks it's so wonderful how people in Ethiopia love and value children. She looked a bit dumbfounded and said, "Well we all have children," as if that would explain why she was so wonderful with the boys. Kevin explained that in our country, it's just not usually that way and just because people have children does not mean that they like them around, don't mind their whining, etc.

Now this is where the story gets a bit dicey. We got a cab and told the driver to take us to Kaldi's. We figured that was the best way to tell him the area we needed to get to, since we could give him directions to the guesthouse from there. So off we went to Kaldi's. We drove along for a long time, pull up to an unfamiliar building, and the cabdriver proudly points and says, "Kaldi's." WHAT?! Sure enough, there was "Kaldi's." No one told us it was a chain! This was NOT the same Kaldi's that we needed to get to and this poor man (who spoke VERY little English) had no clue where the other one was. So there we sat, sweating like crazy in the back of an old taxi cab (it is so hot there!), completely lost in a foreign country with someone who doesn't really speak our language. The whole city looks the same (or so it seems), we were all turned around...and we had to be ready to go to AHOPE in less than an hour.

We sat and tried to communicate with the driver, but we were all just clueless. Finally I remembered that the guesthouse is right near the Mozambique embassy, the guy seemed to know where that was, and off we went. Thankfully we arrived back at the guesthouse (several Birr poorer...he did a lot of driving!) unscathed, with just enough time to change some diapers before we had to leave for AHOPE!

(Here are some more pics from the Hilton)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Lookout Starbucks!

Our third day in Ethiopia (first morning with the boys) was pretty low-key (and began with the same chanting as the day before.) Kevin, Scott (family friend of one of the families there) and I walked over to the internet cafe late morning, about a ten minute walk, where we spent wayyyyyyyy too long trying to send an email to my parents letting them know we were still alive. The internet connection was just terrible.

(Sorry for the bad picture, but this three story building was the cafe. While inside Kevin made a friend, Zecharias, that he now emails back and forth with. Zecharias is a Christian and is studying at the theological university there in Addis. He took a liking to the boys and an interest in us. He, like all of the other Ethiopians we met, was so genuinely friendly, kind, and open.)

There are no sidewalks in Ethiopia, just gravel and dirt. People are walking everywhere. It smells like exhaust all of the time and it is a little unnerving what with the way people drive.

Scott headed back to the guesthouse ahead of us (we were taking forever) and we hailed a cab outside, to take us to Fantu, a very nice grocery store. We needed to pick up some food for us and for the boys. It wasn't a huge store like the ones here, but for Ethiopia it was big and probably considered very fancy. I was amazed to find Ethiopian versions of all sorts of things, like candy (Skittles, for example, with the words written in Amharic on the package. I realized that those companies have got to be making a whole lot of money, having their products sold all over the world!) We bought some REALLY yummy yogurt, better than what we can get here. The groceries weren't super inexpensive, surprisingly. We got some baby food and formula for the boys (milk is extremely hard to come by in Ethiopia) as well.

(On a side note, when you push your little shopping cart up to the checkstand, they fully unload your groceries onto the conveyor belt for you! Talk about service. Sure beats me bagging my own groceries at Food Maxx! And then they even carry your bags outside for you and hail you a cab.)

We went back to the guesthouse and we all took a nap. We woke up feeling overwhelmed and just bummed out in general. The boys had diarrhea pretty badly, which we assumed had to be giardia (or some other parasite, we should be finding out soon), and for some reason we just felt so helpless and discouraged. It was hard being so far from home, with these two boys that were sick. The other families there were so encouraging and one of them invited us to dinner with them.

That is how we ended up at Kaldi's. Now Kaldi's is a pretty cool place. And here is why: it is a full-on Starbucks knock-off! Everything there, from the decor to the green aprons to the coffee they serve! I knew about Kaldi's before we even traveled, as I had read this New York Times article a few months ago. I have to say, I think Starbucks needs to get over originated in Ethiopia, not Seattle! At any rate, we ordered gourmet pizza which was REALLY good. They also serve hamburgers and sandwiches, etc. The boys stayed happy most of the time, and just going out and having fun with other people helped us to feel a lot better. This is us and the boys outside of Kaldi's--we got so much use out of our Baby Bjorns on the trip!!!

I'll share some more pictures from the day as well. First, there is a picture of Urusalem, the girl being adopted by the family we had dinner with that night (her brother was also adopted by them. She is holding Biniam in this picture.) She adored the boys and was always wanting to hold/play with/feed them. She and her brother Messele were just precious (they're in Wisconsin now. Talk about a climate change!) Then there are of course pics of the boys.

Life these days

I decided to take a short break from sharing our travel story to share how things are going now. As you can see from the picture, the kids are playing together and really enjoying one another's company these days.

It was a hard transition for Anna. She seemed to be feeling some intense emotions for maybe the first four days we were back, which was extra devastating for us as we'd missed her so much while we were gone. It was hard having missed her so much and wanting to be close with her, yet having her so upset and seemingly unreachable.

But all of a sudden, things went back to normal. She loves playing with the boys, especially Ezra Yosef, as he is walking and she loves when he chases her around. I took the above picture yesterday while I was emptying the dishwasher, which is far more difficult with three little "helpers."

And the boys adore Anna. Ezra is always seeking Anna out to play with her and they do a lot of laughing. (Biniam seems to be having a tough time right now; I think he is grieving the loss of everything familiar to him, so he mostly spends a lot of time being held by me. Yosef went through a similar time right when we got here, but he seems back to normal now. I feel so bad for them! It is our biggest challenge right now.)

We feel blessed beyond measure these days. I have never been so busy, but my life has also never felt so full. We took the boys to church for the first time on Sunday, which was exciting because so many people have been praying for us and for the boys. Here is a picture of the kids in the car on the way:

I find myself falling more and more in love with these kids every day. I feel completely overwhelmed most of the time, and God is teaching me how much I need to rely on Him to do even the simplest things (like emptying the dishwasher, for example.) It's been a pretty humbling experience overall, realizing my own limitations and also having to accept help from people (making meals, cleaning, etc.) But it is SO worth it! It is also so rewarding, watching these boys accomplish little things here and there. Thankfully their health is improving; Isaiah Biniam has about conquered his two ear infections (thank goodness for antibiotics!), which I am SO happy about. I think he'd had them for quite some time, poor thing. We also completed their samples to be tested for parasites, and should hear back soon. Unfortunately both boys had lice, so we treated them for that and then Daddy gave them super short haircuts, which they did not particularly enjoy, but at least the lice are long gone:

So that is the latest. This weekend is low-key; tomorrow my parents are coming over and bringing lunch, and then Sunday is church and a BBQ that afternoon at another couple's house. We'll see how the kids do!

And that is all for now. Someone's diaper needs to be changed and I've been on here way too long. :) I'll try to post more about our trip at some point this weekend!


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