Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rewind- February 14th-February 20th, 2008

Well, my grand plans for daily blogging about last year's trip were smashed to pieces by the combination of a lovely cold and having to work every night last week. So, here is an abridged version of our final days in Ethiopia (although it still makes for a very long post).

The 14th was Embassy day. We picked up the kids in the morning and brought them back to the guesthouse. The other family with us was checking out the twins for good that day, so we met with the Toukoul doctor before leaving. Here is what she said about Isa's health- "Hayat likes to sleep." That was it..... and we'd already discovered that. Almost anytime she was held for very long, she's pass out.
Mom had made a special Valentine's Day/Embassy day dress for Isa to wear. She looked adorable but she wasn't very thrilled about having to change.

The Embassy appointment went well. The upper waiting room was about 100 degrees! Isa did fine at first and then started to wail. We went downstairs to the MUCH cooler and completely empty 2nd waiting room and she calmed down.

When I dropped her off that evening, I could hear her wailing as we pulled away and it made me both thrilled (yeah- maybe she misses me!) and upset to hear her so sad.

Friday morning we left for Dire Dawa. It was a very long 9 hour drive there. Our driver spoke minimal English, which made for interesting "conversations." I think he was just as amused by our even more minimal Amharic. We also had a friend of the Ferez family (founders of Toukoul) with us. He was visiting Ethiopia on holiday and wanted to see as much as possible; we were happy to have him along.

Once we got out of Addis Ababa, the scenery quickly changed and I felt like we were getting a glimpse into what Ethiopia truly looked like. We saw herds of camel along the sides of the road. We passed actual Toukouls and drove through towns where the people were dressed in colorful traditional garb. Unfortunately, we were in a van for all of this so very few pics were possible....

There was a mix up with the hotel in Dire Dawa. The Ras 1 hotel was being renovated and we had been booked in the Ras 2. It was less than ideal. Our room smelled strongly of body odor and there was a large bucket of water in the bathroom you had to use to flush the toilet. But, the whole reason we were there was to see where Isa was from. I'd have slept in a tent if that was the only option.

I spent the vast majority of our time in Dire Dawa fighting back tears. Every time we went out I looked intently at the faces around me, knowing that Isa was related to someone here and thinking maybe I'd see her features in someone we passed. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was so blessed and there was a woman here that was grieving the loss that blessing.

We got to visit the local SOS EE orphanage where Isa spent her first 6 months. The women there were so wonderful although I know they all wondered why the ferenge was bawling. I got to see the picture they took of Isa when she first arrived in their care and they had a coffee ceremony for us.

After visiting with the SOS EE center, we spent the afternoon in Harar, an ancient walled Muslim city about 45 minutes away from Dire Dawa. We were lucky enough to secure a great guide, which made all the difference. I think we saw nearly every inch of the city and the maze of streets would have been incredibly confusing without a local to help us. Almost everywhere we went, little children would run along side us yelling "ferenge." We visited a coffee plant and bought several pounds to take home. Our driver in Addis said that Harari coffee is considered the best coffee in Ethiopia, so I definitely needed to try it!

On Sunday, we drove back to Addis. That evening we went to dinner with our drivers at a hotel which had a traditional buffet as well as dancing from various regions in Ethiopia. It seems quite staged for tourists, but was fun nonetheless.

On Monday morning, we checked Isa B out of Toukoul for good. I signed the necessary paperwork and they handed me her little medical file and her card hanging on the wall. She was 100% officially mine now! Before taking her out for good, I got to see Elsa to take additional pics and video for Porter who would be traveling in about a month. Elsa was a doll- oh, those dimples! I was holding her when the nurses brought Isa in. Isa fussed at me as if to say "Hey- you're MY mom!" and promptly threw up on the nurse to make her displeasure known. But, we got video of the girls together for the first time, which is priceless.

I found out that Isa had been sick with a fever and vomiting on Friday, which explained why she was so cranky and lethargic the first days we met her. She was so much more alert on Monday and I finally got to witness her now-legendary vocal abilities for the first time.

Tuesday morning we stopped by Toukoul II to take pics and video of Ezra and Olivia. They were so tiny! Ezra just hung out in the nurse's arms but Olivia WAILED. It was actually kind of funny.

We did some shopping on Tuesday. I bought Isa a beautiful Ethiopian gold cross, which I'm planning to give her at her Confirmation. We bought several dresses, which was a fun experience. We went to several shops. I would pick out a couple dresses I liked and Aster would haggle with the owner. If she didn't like the final price, we got back in the car and went to another shop to start the process over again.

We flew home Tuesday night. Again, I was overcome with the urge to cry as we left. I know that we'll be back but that first flight away from Ethiopia was tough. There were 11 other children on our flight home and I felt fairly guilty that so many children were leaving their birth country even as I was overjoyed to know that we were headed "home."

We had a short layover in DC where I guzzled Starbucks- not nearly as good as Ethiopian coffee, of course, but welcomed after a 17 hour flight. Isa slept almost the entire time from Addis to DC as well as the next flight from DC to Seattle. A model traveler. Dad and Mollie met us at baggage claim. Isa was smart enough to wait until after Mollie had passed her to Dad before puking.

I wish I'd done a better job of journaling while we were there. I know that there are pieces of the journey that I've already forgotten. I did take lots of photos, so that helps. It was such a whirlwind. And, honestly, if I had the money we'd have gone back to visit this year!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rewind- February 12 & 13, 2008

Well, Blogger was having issues last night when I finished work and since it was nearly midnight, I just didn't feel like slogging through.... So, here are two days worth.

On the morning of the 12th, we met with the lawyer to sign all the Embassy paperwork. After that, we drove over to Toukoul and checked the kiddos out for the day. Isa arrived looking dainty and adorable in head to toe pink with her hair done in different ponytails from the day before. It was wonderful to see that the nannies obviously took such good care of her.

Back at the guesthouse, we just snuggled on the babies and got our first real taste of parenting. Toukoul had sent bottles with us, so the babies all had lunch. Well, actually, Isa decided that she'd just rather sleep than eat. So, we took a nap together.

On the morning of the 13th, we did a little touring around Addis, including visiting a beautiful, fairly new Orthodox church.

Then we went to the Ethiopian History Museum. We were lucky to get a wonderful guide- other tourists even ended up tagging along with us because he was so funny and knowledgable. Unfortunately, Lucy- the most famous exhibit in the museum- was actually in the States while we were in Ethiopia. I especially enjoyed the top floor of the museum showing Ethiopian art.

Of course, we ended the afternoon by visiting the babies again in the afternoon at Toukoul for some love and a bottle.

During all this time, the guest house proved to be a great refuge. As I had noticed the first day, it was noticably cooler and quieter as soon as you got inside the gates- a nice change from the hot, dusty, noisy streets of Addis. The veranda outside our room looked out over the garden and was a great spot to sit and read. Or, you could just watch the giant tortoises lumber around. The staff was wonderful and the cook made very tasty Western-style meals (although I did wish we'd gotten at least 1 traditional Ethiopian meal at the guest house). Yes, the rooms were a bit primative but quite comfortable. Most of the linens were the same ones that were sold at Toukoul, beautifully embroidered with traditional Ethiopian designs. Every morning we woke to the sounds of calls to prayer at the nearby mosque. There was fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast and, of course, the world's best coffee. We could take as much bottled water each day as we needed. Our drivers were wonderful- especially Solomon. Honestly, when we go back, I'll look into staying there again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rewind- February 11, 2008

Nearing the end of the long plane ride, the sun came back up. Looking out the window, we were over the Sahara. Vast expanses of desert. Later we flew over the Nile. It was just amazing. All I could think was "I'm in Africa.... I'm in Africa."

We landed and waited in the line for our visas. Everything went smoothly. We changed some money and grabbed our luggage. Thankfully, no lost luggage for any of us. At the luggage carousel we met our lawyer and he explained how the day would go. Tired as I was, I was secretly hoping we'd go straight to Toukoul. But, instead the plan was to head back to the guest house, unpack, and rest a bit. After lunch, we'd FINALLY get to head over to Toukoul to meet our children.

We split up into two cars. I, selfishly, made sure that Mom and I got into the car with our lawyer since the second car seemed hastily arranged and I wasn't sure the driver knew where the guest house was. (My suspicions were confirmed when the car with Joe and both their moms got lost, arriving to the guest house well over an hour after we did with several interesting stops along the way!) On the way to the guest house we got our first glimpse of Addis Ababa. First impression- a really large city with lots of people and crazy drivers. I was exhausted and the combination of heat and smog made me nauseated. But soon we were pulling off onto a side road and honking at the gate of the guest house. Inside the walls it was much quieter and cooler. I felt comfortable immediately.

The side garden at the guest house.

The doors to the annex rooms (where we stayed), directly across from the main house.

The 2 tortoises that live on the grounds and the back ends of a couple of the pet dogs.

We met the guest house staff, unpacked, and had a very nice lunch. Then our drivers showed up and it was time to head to Toukoul!!!!

They were expecting us and within a few minutes of sitting in the visiting room, the twins were brought out. I waited, not so patiently, for another minute or so and there she was..... Dressed in an adorable dress and little red sweater, hair up in a bunch of teeny-tiny ponytails. I went up to the nanny holding her and "hi". Isa thought that was funny, apparently, because she responded with a little grunting laugh. We did that a few more times and I finally took her from the nanny. I was thrilled to see her smile because she was so serious in all of her update photos. We spent a couple hours just holding our babies and cooing at them. The nannies brought in bottles for us to give them and after that all three kiddos fell asleep on their deliriously happy new parents.

Hi Mama!

I'm even cuter than my photos!
Oooh... Grandma has glasses....
I'm bummed this photo didn't turn out because I think it would have really captured the emotions of that first meeting (sleeping with her head on my chest was her favorite thing- I think we spent 75% of our time in Ethiopia in that position!)

The rest of the evening is a blur. I know we had dinner back at the guest house and I'm sure turned in very early. Really, who the heck cares what happened at that point because I had finally held my Isa B!!!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rewind- February 10, 2008

We arrived in DC in the wee hours of the morning on the 10th. Luckily, there was a coffee shop right near our gate so we could refuel. We met the other family who would be staying at the guest house with us- Stacy, Joe, and both their mothers. They had 9 month old twins- a boy and girl- waiting for them. It was comforting to have another family sharing all our same emotions and apprehensions.

Finally we boarded the plane. Already it started to feel like we so much closer to Africa, as most of our fellow passengers were habesha.

There was a mother and grandmother seated diagonally from us with two gorgeous little girls. Later in the flight, I watched as the mother put the baby into the bassinett knowing that in not so many days, I'd be doing the same thing on our return flight. The flight attendants cooed over both the girls. When the older girl (maybe 3?) fell asleep, they put a larger bassinett up and settled her inside so that her mom could have a break. I thought this boded very well for the return trip as well- should Mom and I need the help, I knew where to turn!

Granted, 17 hours is a very long flight, but it went by so quickly. I think I was able to sleep a bit but certainly not much. Too much excitement, anticipation, cramped airplane seats..... I swear they fed us full meals every 3 hours. The little bag of flight "goodies" they handed out (eye shade, toothbrush- even socks!) was adorable. I think I probably read and re-read the info the agency gave us about the Bole airport a dozen times so that I'd know where to go once we arrived. Doesn't seem like much to fill so many hours, but somehow it did.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rewind- February 9th, 2008

I realized that I did a fairly poor job of documenting the trip and so for the next 11 days I'm going to rewind the blog and detail the trip to Ethiopia, day by day. Here goes:

One year ago today, I got on the red-eye flight to DC that would start my journey to finally meeting Isa B and bringing her home. I was surprisingly calm in the last weeks leading up to the big trip. Not so much by Saturday night. I was excited, terrified, ready to burst into tears at any moment. The bags were packed and ready to go. Important documents checked and double-checked. And then it was time to leave for the airport.....

At the time it felt so surreal and honestly, a year later, it still does.

I didn't take any pictures during the flights to Africa, so here's a recent pic:

Isa-bina Ballerina

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A little smackerel

Just a little tidbit for today.

In addition to Isa's usual "num-num" you'll also hear her say "I like it" in response to this wonderful breakfast treat. You'll also hear myself and both my parents in the background. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all got such a great cheering section for doing nothing more than eating?

This one is especially for Porter: