Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I read "The Blind Side" not long ago. I was disturbed by the portrait of life for kids growing up in inner city Memphis. I was worried about whether these kids truly had a chance with such poor schools and such poor living conditions. By chance the movie version was one of the in-flight movies on the way over. I felt the same things watching the movie.
It may sound cliche, but seeing the pure poverty in Ethiopia brought home the difference. It's not to say that there aren't people in need of help here in the United States, but it is of a different degree.
We've been home a week. Details are already beginning to fade. Work has begun again. Jess is busier than ever keeping an already happy and perfect home even happier. Will is settling in faster than either of us could have imagined.
I've been quick to jump back in and leave behind the things we saw and felt while we were in Ethiopia.
Some things however, will never fade.
The look on the faces of the 4-6 year old boys at the care center as they asked / begged / cajoled to be lifted in the air. They are fighting and pushing to be lifted up in the air for a split second, to be seen, to be held.
The children near the CHS school in Hosanna. Over 200 k4-4th grade children go to school there. They come from up to 3 miles away. Some were shy, some were bold. When I took their pictures, they were all so excited to see their own faces in the screen on the camera. Was it the first time they'd seen a picture of themselves?
The people on the street in Addis. The Markado, the largest outdoor marketplace in Africa.
I asked a lot of questions while we were there. Ethiopia is a country of 80,000,000 people. Much of it is rural, but Addis Ababa is a city of 4,500,000. The per capita income is $90/year. Using the World Bank's PPP formula (Purchasing Power Parity - Showing how far the money goes) it is $710 per year. For comparison purposes, Haiti's is $1,630/year and Guatamala is $4,060/year.
According to our host in country, an educated person (his example was a doctor or lawyer) might make 2,000-3,000 Birr/month. The current exchange rate is 13/1, which means that they would earn $200-$300 per month. According to Merlin there are only 1,963 doctors in Ethiopia, and the ratio of doctors to patients is 1:37,500. The ratio in the UK is 1:434.
In Ethiopia in the year 2010, the basic building blocks either aren't there or aren't available to a great portion of the population; Healthcare, clean water, education, electricity. . . . . .
I left with a sense of the enormity of the problem. We both kept talking about how easily we could make a significant difference in one person's life. A few hundred dollars would literally change the future for a family. However that's not sustainable change. The bigger question is: In the 21st century, in a country with 25% of the population of the US and with very little true infrastructure, how can you make systemic change?
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
We're still working on the whole sleeping during the night rather than the day thing, but other than that, things are going much better than I ever imagined they would. Will is such a happy sweet little boy...it feels like he's always been a part of our family.
It's now 8:30 pm and it feels like 3am I feel like I haven't slept in a year, so I'm afraid my words make absolutely no sense. I'll try to write a real update soon but for now you'll have to settle for a few more pictures:)
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
We all headed to the care center at 9am for a meeting with our children's nannies.
The meetings were very insightful...
Upon comparing notes with the other families we found that we all have perfect children, who never cry or get upset, sleep through the night, and have never been sick, except of course for the "common cold".
I'm just being sarcastic of course:) The nannies were very sweet and it was obvious that they deeply cared for the children...and the children were clearly well cared for.
After the meetings were took the kids on the bus over to the guest house to have lunch with us! For the older kids in the group it was a very exciting trip!
Will just snuggled right into my chest and watched out the window.
After lunch we had to bring the kids back to the care center for naptime. It's getting more and more difficult each day to leave Will.
Once we dropped the kids at the care center, we had a few tours to take.
I was starting to feel really nauseous, partially I think I was getting dehydrated but also all of the diesel fumes from driving around the city really take a toll on you, combined with the bumpy, hot, bus ride going through very depressing and sobering scenery.
In short, I wasn't really feeling like taking any tours.
We saw the CHSFS Mother and Child Medical Center ------which I found totally inappropriate. Not the Center, I have no doubt that they do wonderful amazing work, and help many women and children who otherwise have no where else to go, but having our group of twenty white Americans trouncing through the waiting room while actual patients were waiting to be seen, touring the different departments including the pharmacy, while women waiting to have their prescriptions filled waited outside because they couldn't fit inside due to the size of our group!
Maybe it was just the foul mood I was in but I felt like it was an invasion of these women's privacy. It made me very uncomfortable.
Next we saw the National Museum of Ethiopia.
After that we were supposed to visit the CHSFS school but we were running behind schedule and they were already done for the day. Some of the people in our group wanted a little extra shopping time so the bus driver took us back to a strip of vendors....we were able to find a few more little things for the gang at home, but the beggars just about put me over the edge. Being out in this city, having children, children, take you by the hand and say "please mommy, new shoes." It breaks my heart into a million pieces.
Once we just couldn't take anymore, we headed back onto the bus where we sunk down into the seat and tried not to notice the faces staring at us from the other side of the glass window.
Jud and I were both feeling gross and exhausted...but this was the night that the whole group went to a local Ethiopian restaurant for dinner and to watch some Ethiopian dancing. On any other night this would have been something that we would have loved to do....but this night, it kinda sucked!
Today was one of the biggest, most important, most nerve wracking, most emotional and most rewarding days of not only this trip to Ethiopia, but of our entire lives.
Following a light, nervous breakfast, we left on the bus at 6:00 am and headed south on the road to Hossanna for the birth family meetings. Everyone was very quiet on the three and a half hour ride there...looking out the windows. snapping a few pictures.
We had knots in our stomach the entire way. Leaving Addis was intense. So far we've seen such a small slice of Ethiopia; the market yesterday, AHOPE, the care center . . We've only seen a few places that we've specifically needed to go. As we drove through the city and out through the outer ring we saw another side of poverty.
Everything seems to be made of corrugated tin, wood and dirt; roofs, walls, fences. The roads are all dirt, gravel, stray dogs and people. We see women and children walking with 5 gallon plastic containers, bringing water from miles away.
The landscape as we got into the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. Everything was so much more green and lush than I had imagined it to be.
The sunlight was coming up over the mountains, there was a light fog, it was very picturesque. Very peaceful. . . . . This was the beauty of Ethiopia that I had heard about.
Every forty-five minutes or so we would drive through a small little village...which meant a few shacks-make shift street markets, animals and people. We drive by one that abruptly ends with a 50-60 foot gorge and waterfall.
Children here live differently than anything we could have imagined. We see 4 year old boys, alone, walking behind goats and donkeys using small switches to drive them along the side of the road. Our bus honks as it comes near them, demanding space on a shared highway. 5 year old girls wave to our bus from the fields and hills as we drive by, their baby brother strapped to their backs.
We continue to drive further south, the elevation here is over 7,000 feet. I'm not sure whether it's the thin air or the prospect of meeting the family of our children that takes the air out of me. We stop a little over halfway in a small crossroads of a town to use the restroom. It is in a hotel, which has toilets as opposed to simple holes in the floor. There is a metal fence around the hotel and as we stretch our legs, children poke there faces through and over the fence. Asking to have their photo taken, asking for a few Birr, asking . . .
The scenary continues to change. It becomes more and more rural. Life here seems simple, and we begin to imagine a different, less complex life. Mud huts, well tilled fields, livestock. . .But it's all lived on such a razor's edge. The nearest 'health center' is miles away. The nearest hospital would be in Addis. It might take days to get there.
As we pull into Hosanna, the bus quiets. All of us are alone with our thoughts, wondering who we will see, what we should expect. We empty off the bus and into a room with 20 chairs set around a small table. An interpretor comes in and tells us that they will call us by name when they are ready.
Other than to say that that they were intensely personal and emotional meetings, we are keeping the details of each of our children's families as a private birthright that we will give to them as they get older. It is their gift to share when and with whom they choose.
We met with Will's family first. We were able to give them a map of the world and point out where Ethiopia is and where Wisconsin is to them. We also gave them two photos; one of our family and one of Will. The meeting was short, intense and emotional. It left both of us drained.
We then met with Emma's family. The difference between the two meetings was palpable. While Will's meeting felt a bit raw, Emma's family meeting provided a true sense of happiness, closure and peace to our trip to Ethiopia. It truly changed the entire tenor of our trip. We were allowed to give them a photo album that showed the last five years of her life with us, as well as a copy of the same map showing our respective countries. We saw true happiness as they looked over Emma's life with us and we felt at peace.
We left Hosanna and drove an hour to the school that CHSFS has established in this region. They educate 200 students, from K4-4th grade. The kids come from 3-4 miles away for school and are considered lucky to get an education. There are no buses. Behind the school there are numerous residential buildings under construction. These can take 10-12 years to complete. They are built by hand, with scaffolding made from tree branches and cement and rebar laid by hand.
The rest of the drive back passes quickly. The conversation is more animated, we are all more relaxed, learning about each other, sharing in the cathartic afterglow of meeting the families of our children. We stop for photos at one point on a mountainside above some huts and hillsides. While stopped we meet some women, young and old, walking with donkeys on the road. The women have children on their backs, the donkeys are carrying jugs of water. A monkey runs across the road and up a tree. We take pictures of the women and show them the pictures on the backs of the cameras. We look at each other and laugh. Neither knowing the life the other leads.
*It turns out that Jud's blackberry and email do not work in Ethiopia as we had planned! The guest house has a computer with an internet connection for us to use, but we are rarely here...and it has rarely been working! what I've been doing is writing about each day on my laptop when I wake up in the middle of the night, saving it, and then whenever we get a connection we can post it.
We haven't been able to get or send emails obviously, we haven't been able to keep up on what's happening at home, which is killing me...
I did hear from my sister Kristin that my dad's surgery went well and he's told her that he "didn't see any lights" so it seems his sick sense of humor is just fine:)
We've talked to the kids a few times....it's great to hear their voices but it really makes me miss them even more!
Ok now on to Saturday...
Right after breakfast we headed to the care center to see the kids.
We spent a few more hours with the sweetest little peanut ever!
We've been happily surprised by how much time we've been able to spend with him. He seemed to recognize us when we came into his room, he smiled right away and started climbing up the bars of his crib!
He was in such a good mood, we played on the floor for quite awhile, he loves to fly "like buzz light year" as Sam and Jack call it, and he showed us that he already knows how to crawl!
After we fed him lunch he again snuggled right in and fell asleep.
I've been really trying not to hog him too much and let Jud get some snuggle time with him but it's really hard to let him go!
Jud is quite a hit with the older little boys at the care center! It was really very touching. He'll have to write about it when we get home.
After lunch at the guest house, we went to AHOPE to drop off the donations.
It was an amazing experience.
It was supposed to be quiet/nap time, but they let us go in and say hello to the kids. The big boys were very funny and energetic! The older girls were a stitch too! They all took turns trying on my sunglasses and striking a pose! So much personality! They were just beaming!
Jud and I had a chance to talk to one of the nurses for a bit...What an incredible woman! Her love and devotion for every single child was just amazing. I feel honored to have met her.
I know I'll have more to write about her and AHOPE and the beautiful children once my mind is able to process everything and hopefully make a little more sense!
After AHOPE we went to the Hilton to confirm our flights for Thursday and exchange money....then it was off to do some shopping. Jud and I had fun picking out some little things for the kids, and some beautiful treasures for the house....
But it was not a fun experience, to say the least...
The poverty here just knocks the breath from your chest.
There is no way to hide your eyes.
There is no way to avoid or ignore it.
It is right in your face everywhere you look.
Mothers nursing their babies on street corners...children and animals roaming the dirty torn up streets...cars and busses honking and driving all over the roads! And the thousands of make shift homes all along the sidewalks and alley ways...
By Saturday night we were both feeling really overwhelmed by what we had seen. It's hard to process those images. What do we do with those?
So much happening. So much to take in.
After our first sleepless night in the guest house, we had a nice breakfast together with the whole group and then we all hopped back on the bus for the very short ride to the care center. (where the children stay) We can actually see the care center from the window in our room at the guest house...
It was pretty strange pulling up to the care center... It looks like a mansion, with big gates (although everything has gates here) an empty swimming pool, and a large patio in front....There were social workers and camera crews that met us at the doors. They told us that they were going to take two families at a time upstairs to meet their children and the rest could wait in a large room. Again, felt strange because we were sitting in a room with marble floors, huge pillars and chandeliers, but otherwise very empty.
They started calling families...of course we were called last.
But before long, we were headed up the stairs. We followed the social worker up four flights of marble stairs at the top there was a camera crew waiting and the social worker pointed to a room to the left and smiled.
We headed in to find babies babies and babies....babies in cribs, babies playing on the floor...I looked at the nanny, she smiled, I scanned the room trying to see his face...I couldn't focus on anything! The social worker looked at me and asked if I recognized him? I almost started to cry to because I really wasn't up for playing games---but then Jud spotted him!
He was sitting on the floor in a boppy looking down at a toy.
We both got down on the floor and started talking to him and he looked up at us with a big smile.
He is absolutely gorgeous!
We were able to spend a few hours holding him and playing with him. He is a very happy and smiley baby. He has an incredibly cute little giggle. He is very playful and seemed to really like all the attention he was getting from us. He was making great eye contact with us and loved grabbing our faces. He seemed quite fascinated with my long hair....loved pulling it!
He loves to suck his thumb....which gives me hope that we will be able to get him back onto the bottle.
I was bummed to find out that he has already been switched to cup feeding for formula....many of the children kept getting sick and apparently it is easier and more effective to sterilize the cups than bottles and nipples. Obviously, at his young age there are still many benefits of bottle feeding. The sucking motion is very important for speech development and obviously the bonding time, the closeness from gazing into each others eyes for several minutes many times a day...
We fed him his "mush" for lunch...he sure likes to eat! He quickly gobbled up the whole bowl, and then snuggled in to my arms and fell asleep.
It was so hard to put him down in his crib.
But it was time for us to go back to the guest house.
We had a brief meeting with some of the CHSFS staff about what our next week was going to be like. They sure keep us busy the whole time we're here!
After we all had lunch together we got back on the bus...they split us into groups. The first two groups went back to the care center for more time with the kids, and the the third group went to the CHSFS offices for a meeting with the social worker and saw the life video. A video that showed the birthfamily home and told some history of the family... An incredible gift!
I don't know what else to say about that right now, so moving right along... We met with the physician, then handed in some important documents to the office for the visa appointment and paid for the Hosanna trip.
Once we all had a turn at the office we headed back to the guest house for dinner and a few movies about Ethiopia. We were all completely exhausted! Emotionally drained. Off to bed by 8:00
Jud and I woke up around 2am and could not fall back asleep. At 4am we decided that since it was about 7pm at home, we'd call the kids!
We miss them sooooooo much!
Saturday, March 6, 2010
As we made our way through the visa line and then through customs, I began to wonder if I had any idea of what Ethiopia was like. This building was big, soaring ceilings, glass and beams, very modern-industrial architecture. The women were all dressed beautifully; makeup, high heels, jewelry, big fancy bags . . . There were many kids running around. It was hard to tell who their parents were because everyone was so friendly to one another. . . like they were all family.
Once we got through customs we headed to find our contact person from CHSFS. As we headed through a doorway packed with people, I got a little nervous. I asked Jud how in the world we were ever going to find our ride. . . . than a man looked up at us and held up a CHSFS sign. He found us out of the crowd with no problem. I guess we stuck out a little.
There was another family in our travel group that was on our flight, so we waited for them and then walked out to the van. Outside of this large airport there were many more people, talking and laughing. We made our way through a big gravel parking lot. . . cars were parked anywhere they fit, including up on the median and right in front of other parked cars.
We got to the back of the parking lot, loaded our bags in one van and then climbed into the CHSFS bus. Our driver told us that the other flight with the rest of the travel group was going to be arriving in a few minutes so we could wait in the bus while he went in to get them.
We waited in the bus for about an hour and a half. . . a little small talk with the other family, but mostly waiting in silence. Just listening to the barking of the stray dogs who were roaming the parking lot.
Once the other families were on the bus, we headed to the CHSFS guest house.
The drive was haunting.
It was dark.
There were many little makeshift shacks on the side of the road. . . tarps, plastic bags, wood, metal sheets. .. peoples homes.
We saw many people just sitting on the side of the road. . .some huddled together. some alone. some very young. some very old.
Many, many dogs walking around through the streets.
As we approached the guest house, there were gates, cinder block walls. Barbed wire on top of the fences.
It was surreal.
The bus backed into the guest house, through the solid metal gate, and past the guard.
We unloaded our bags, found our rooms and collapsed.
Friday, March 5, 2010
|Well, we offically arrived in Ethiopia late last night. Email isn't working yet on Jud's phone and his text is intermittant. We'll try to post here occasionally. We met Will this morning. He is amazing. Seems healthy, happy and can't wait to meet the rest of his family!|
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
We just checked email and got some great news, we will in fact be able to meet someone from Emma's birthfamily while we are there! This has been up in the air for the past few months so Jud and I are both sooooo relieved and excited! Really just beyond excited, I just can't think of a better word right now!
We've also learned in the past few days that I sweat perfusely when I'm nervous and stressed! Really, how did I not know this before now?
Alright, that's all for now...we've only got three hours before take off and I have no idea where to find that drink!
Monday, March 1, 2010
I can't believe we leave in two days!
This past week has flown by. We had my dear friend Jodie's kids staying with us, and even though at times it was a bit chaotic having 7 kids in the house, for the most part it was great. I'm sure that sounds odd, but really it proves my theory that once you have three, it really doesn't matter how many you have!
The kids were really awesome all week. Having their buds here was really a blessing for the kids and for me! They kept each other busy and entertained, giving me lots of time to organize and prepare for the trip!
As far as the packing goes, we're pretty much set. I still have some juggling to do to get all of the donations for AHOPE to fit! So many people have given so much, it's incredible. Friends from Sam's class gave us everything from Tylenol, diapers and clothes to toys and books...My sisters gave me some money to make sure we had enough stuff to fill those bags up! My cousin Joey owns an awesome soccer store and donated a bunch of balls and a pump! And thanks to my friend
Rebekah, (you know, the marathon runner, who just signed up for another marathon, who broke her toe on the bags she had gotten out of her attic for us to use..screwing up her marathon training, yeah her) we have some great, very stylish bags to pack all our gear in! (can you tell I feel a little guilty about her damn toe?)
anyway, packing is pretty much done.
I've been feeling really nauseous for the past few days, I'm not sure if it's the Malaria meds I had to start taking for the trip or that the complexity of everything going on, everything I've been trying to avoid thinking too much about, is finding a way to get to me...
Obviously, I'm anxious and excited and maybe a tad bit nervous about meeting our son. I know that this trip will be life changing. In so many ways. This is something that I've been preparing myself for, throughout this whole wait. But there are a few other things that I did not prepare for that are really weighing on me too.
We just found out that Caroline has some health issues...she'll be ok but it came as a total shock. We can't get in with a specialist until the end of March, so we were left researching Dr. Google for information. They wanted to put her on medication right away and we were still trying to figure out just what was going on. Basically, very stressful.
We also found out last week that my dad will be having heart surgery while we're gone.
The girls and I went to Green Bay this Saturday to wish him a happy birthday, and give him one last big squeeze before the trip. It was hard to let go.
Caroline had a rough goodbye too...with her puppies! They're staying with my sister Kristin until we get back. It broke my heart to see her so sad...
phew. There's a lot going on. Luckily though, I haven't had time to stress out about the flight! I'm guessing that will come as soon as we board the plane...