Monday, July 30, 2007

Reality has officially slapped me in the face (at 3am)

My my my, is jet lag ever fun. And if you think it's fun when traveling all by yourself, imagine how much more fun it can be with an infant who has no concept of it, sleeps when she darn well wants to sleep, and wakes up guided by the same principle. I've been up today since about 3:15am.

As if that isn't enough fun for one person to have all by herself, Eliana came down with a fever yesterday, our first full day back. By noon yesterday, her temperature was 102.5, which means that she can't go to daycare today, which means that I am home today with both children, running on about 5 total hours of sleep. I guess I'll have to recover from jet lag on my own time.

I feel like I shouldn't be complaining, as Meron is an absolute doll when she's awake, albeit a tad fussier than before the trip home (and I will discuss the trip home in a minute), but considering all she's been through in the last few days, I think she's doing an amazing job adjusting to her new life. Aside from the sleep issue, I couldn't really ask for more. I just hate being sleep deprived. It really does a number on my emotional and mental functioning.

So, the trip home. What an adventure that was. But not because of Meron - she was the world's best baby, sleeping for about 14 of the 30 hours of our journey, and a miracle baby during the hours she was awake. I, however, was a mess, starting with the Frankfurt-Chicago leg of the trip, when I experienced the worse vomiting attack I've maybe ever had in my life. Attention: Skip the rest of this paragraph if you're squeamish. I threw up so hard, it was pouring out my mouth and nose. I don't know if I've ever barfed through my nose before. The worst part of it is that everything smelled like vomit for the rest of the day. I couldn't get the stench out of my nose (literally). I threw up one more time on that flight, narrowly missing some woman's hand. I had rushed to the bathroom, knowing that I was about to be sick, and all of the stalls were occupied. I turned to the woman next to me, announced to her that I was about to throw up, and she promptly handed me a sick sack, and before her hand was an inch from the bag, I threw up in it. And then threw up again, in front of a crowd of people gathering to watch the barfing lady. It wasn't at all embarrassing, humiliating, disgusting, or frightening. No, not at all. I have no idea where the sickness came from. I guess when you're in Africa, living with a bunch of kids who just came from an orphanage, all seemingly infected with some sort of virus or bacterial infection, pinpointing the origin of a stomach bug...well, let's just say I haven't bothered to give it much thought. Paul had thrown up once on the Addis-Frankfurt flight, so maybe it was something we both ate. I was a little concerned that it might be e coli or something I picked up from changing Meron's diapers, but since I had no other major symptoms, I decided to put my hypochondriacal tendencies on hold for a couple of days. I'm feeling better today, so it probably isn't anything fatal. Whew.

The trip was rough for me from the beginning. As we were waiting in the living room of the Guest House, Paul returned with Meron's Life Book, containing the missing pieces of Meron's story, and quotes from Desalech. I was unprepared for this, particularly the details regarding Meron's story. I was suddenly emotionally overwhelmed, sobbing without the ability to control myself, grieving for Desalech, grieving for Meron, and just so, so, so sad for both of them. I wish I didn't know as I much as I do, and I wish I didn't have to pass along the information to Meron some day. I will likely seek advice when the time comes, as I really have no idea how to prepare Meron for such a story.

And then we were off to the airport. I looked like hell, as I still had pink eye, although that was hard to discern from the red puffy eyes I earned from sobbing. And we still had 30 hours of travel left to go.

By the time we pulled into Chicago, I had pink eye, 4 hours of sleep, dried vomit in my nostrils, cramps in my legs and back side, and very sore back muscles from carrying Meron in the Baby Bjorn while also toting a stuffed diaper bag packpack. I tried to catch a few minutes of sleep on a bench at the airport, while Meron dozed on the floor under Paul's supervision. It helped enough to get me through the rest of the trip, but by the time we reached Minneapolis, I was completely useless, nauseous, and exhausted. And you can imagine how damn sexy I looked. Meow. It was the longest wedding anniversary Paul and I have ever had, lasting 32 hours, and boy was it ever romantic.

I guess that's enough for today. I do want to add, since the tone of this post has been somewhat negative, that Meron is still delightful. She's more demanding than she was before, but that is a good sign. She's learning to expect more from me, and is learning how to ask for it. She's eats like a horse, and doesn't know when to stop, and today she has barfed up half her bottle, twice (is it just me, or is today's post developing a theme?). I think she finds the bottle comforting, which is why she demands it more than her tummy allows. The little stinker won't take a pacifier, though, and so I'm wondering what options we have to allow her the comfort factor of the bottle without the overfeeding problem. I guess that's a post for another day.

Tomorrow I plan to post all of our pictures from the trip. So tune in!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Last days in Ethiopia

This will be my last post before returning to the States. And quite frankly, I’ll be lucky if I’m able to make it over to the office to post before we leave. Of course, now we have Meron in our care full-time, which gives me less time to write. So forgive me if I leave out some details.

Speaking of having Meron with us full-time, our little trooper surprised us last night by sleeping 10 hours straight! I have no expectations that this will last, and the days after our return when she is recovering from jet lag are likely to be a real treat. But for now, she is sleeping well at night, and taking a couple of decent (albeit a bit short) naps. It can’t help that our house here is constantly chaotic. There are a total of 12 kids under the age of 19, and over half of them are under the age of 6. So things get pretty crazy and loud, and I’m surprised Meron is able to sleep at all. Right now I am sitting on my bed typing on my computer, and Meron is in her crib, having just woken up from her nap, and she’s playing with her sock, sucking her thumb, and staring at me, without making so much as a peep. The weirdest part of her napping behavior is her tendency to sleep with her eyes partly open. That’s totally creepy. My theory is that it’s just too much work for her eyelids to cover that much surface area.

Oh, there she goes again – she’s pretty much nodded off to sleep again, but her eyes are half-way open. So bizarre.

Anyway, we went back to the market today to get a few more gifts, memorabilia, and the like. So to all family members reading this: don’t be surprised if your Christmas gift looks like it may have come from Ethiopia. Things aren’t as cheap here as I had hoped, so we didn’t go overboard with the souvenirs, but I bought another shawl, and some nice jewelry, plus a traditional Ethiopian dress for Eliana.

Yesterday afternoon we went to the farewell ceremony. It was pretty emotional, and I cried through most of it. They asked if we had anything we wanted to say, and while I most certainly did, I couldn’t talk because I was crying and knew that talking about my appreciation for everything the nannies have done for our baby would tip me right over the edge. So I communicated to Paul in sobbing whispers what I wanted him to say, and he told the staff how much we value the care they have given our daughter, and that we promise to raise her as a proud Ethiopian-American and to teach her all about her heritage and her home country. We mean it, too. There is so much about this culture that we have come to love, and we want our daughter to be proud to say that she was born in Ethiopia. I also have to interject that only the men spoke at the ceremony, which bothered me a little. We have some fairly conservative, traditional families in our group, and there seems to be a man-in-charge atmosphere around here. Had I had the wherewithal to speak, I would have done so at the ceremony to not only express my heartfelt appreciation for the staff, but also to make a little tiny bit of a point. Oh, and they also asked if anyone wanted to pray during the final prayer circle part of the ceremony, and again, it was only the men who spoke up. I’m not a big public prayer, so I was less tempted to interject my voice during that part.

After the ceremony, everyone ate cake, including all of the toddlers at the Care Center who attend the ceremony every Thursday. I’m guessing for these kids, the weekly farewell parties are a highlight, since they get to eat cake and sing songs, knowing that one day it will be their turn to put their hand print on the wall and go back to the guest house with their new parents.

Meron is asleep again, and her eyes are completely closed.

I think it’s fair to say that both Paul and I are ready to return home now. We miss Eliana a bunch, and I’ll be ready to go back to cooking my own meals, sleeping in my own bed, and driving along paved roads. Boy, that’s something I will appreciate way more than before: paved roads. The roads here are just awful. It’s appalling that the government can’t prioritize the public enough to pave the freakin’ roads. The downtown streets are paved, but as you head to the outskirts of town, the roads are more what you would expect driving through the uninhabited mountains of Montana than a large, densely populated city. This is a city in which owning a Humvee would make sense. Other things I am looking forward to: sleeping in a city where wild dogs do not own the night. I am so tired of stray dogs barking and fighting from 10pm until dawn. It’s a nightmare. I’m not a violent woman, but if I had a gun on my person, I cannot say for certain that I would not use it at 3am, when I simply cannot take any more barking. I also won’t miss being stared at, being asked for money, or getting mud all over my shoes and pants. I won’t miss having to use bottled water for everything. I feel very guilty when I look at the hundreds of water bottles piling up outside the guest house, waiting to be taken to the nearby landfill (I’m assuming this, anyway; I don’t actually know where they take the bottles, but I’d be stunned if they recycled them). I won’t miss the pollution, the questionable toilet situation, or the daily stroll past the decapitated goats lying on the side of the road next to their heads and viscera. I won’t miss having my bathroom floor constantly covered in dirty water. I guess in the end I am truly a spoiled American, used to the comforts that come with privilege, and eager to get back to them.

But I will miss the beautiful women walking down the street on their way to church, cloaked in their traditional white shawls they wear on Sundays and holidays, carrying their parasols that are also part of the Orthodox tradition. I will actually miss the Muslim call to prayer every couple of hours, as I found it very peaceful and meditative. I will miss the sense of accomplishment that I had at the end of every day for navigating my way through my little corner of the city. I wish I could return to the Ethiopian countryside, as I already miss that, even though things did not turn out as I had hoped. But my goodness, was it beautiful.

Well, it looks like Meron is waking up for good, and she has perfect timing, for it is time for dinner.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It’s Friday morning, and this is definitely the last entry I’ll be able to make before we leave. We’ll be heading to the office to hopefully access the Internet and send this last update to my friend Jessica, who’s been kind enough to post my entries onto my blog, as I can’t access blogspot from Ethiopia.

All of the children seem to have something wrong with them. Meron has an ear infection, congestion in her lungs, and is most definitely teething. Another child has a blister on his thumb, origin unknown. One of the girls has some yellow puss-y thing on her lip, the other baby has an infected scratch on her back, and both the two year old and I have pink eye. It’s time to go back to the land of modern medicine and relatively sterile environments, so that we can all get healthy.

We heard some sad, or at least strange, news about Meron’s first mother. Because it is unusual and could be interpreted a number of ways, I think Meron should be the first to hear it, so I won’t go into details here. The bottom line is that we have no idea if she will ever receive the picture we brought of Meron and of us, or if she will ever know for certain that her daughter is in good hands, will receive a good education, and will be loved beyond all reason. I am thankful that I have a few years to figure out how to tell Meron all of what we have learned, and to help her make sense of something that cannot truly make sense to someone living in America.

Lastly, as I held a sleeping Meron in my arms this morning, I knew for certain that I will be able to develop as strong an attachment to her as I do to Eliana. I do not look at her and think, “Well, this is not my real child and I cannot imagine loving her as much as Eliana.” It seems ridiculous to even type the words. She is my real child, I already love her (which surprises me somewhat), and I know that it won’t be long before I have that throw-myself-in-front-of-a-train-for-her love that I have for Eliana. I can feel it coming on every time I look at my little peanut.

I imagine my next post will be from the U.S., and unless things go much better than expected, it may be a while before I’ve had enough sleep to post anything coherent. Thank you for following along with our journey to Ethiopia. I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings and musing, and I’m sure there are more to follow. Wish us luck on our journey home and for the days the follow as we all adjust to being a family of four.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Days 4 and 5

I am sitting on my bed in the guest house, wrapped in my Ethiopian shawl that I purchased from the market today. I imagine I might wear this a great deal back home, once the chilly weather sets in. It's cold here in Addis, and women everywhere are wrapped in these white cotton embroidered blankets. I can see why they are so fond of them. I wish I had purchased more.

We're a little over half-way through our trip to Ethiopia, and I feel like we've settled into a groove. Of course, we don't have Meron 24/7 yet (that happens later today), but things are going very smoothly for us. I think Paul and I have benefited from traveling internationally before. I think you get better at adjusting to newness with each trip beyond U.S. borders. Having said that, last night we ate at the local pizza shop, a nicely decorated restaurant with a brick oven, delicious food, and lovely red wine, and it was really nice to escape Ethiopia, if only for an hour. For that one peaceful hour, I didn't have to put forth that little extra effort that comes with being in a completely foreign environment. We walk over muddy, rugged roads every day to the Care Center, occasionally having to head up to the grass to avoid the goats being slaughtered right there on the street. People are staring at us wherever we go, and very few people in our neighborhood speak English.

Another difficult aspect of being in Ethiopia is there is no fumbling one's way through Amharic, because they use characters, not letters. In, say, Mexico I can put my pathetic Spanish to use, and can at least read the letters on signs, menus, and in stores, and sound them out loud with some accuracy. I've also heard enough Spanish to understand what someone is saying to me (as long as they speak slowly and simply). But here, there is none of that. If they can't speak English, I'm screwed. Our driver for the Guest House doesn't speak English well at all, and the lack of communication between the clueless Americans and our Amharic driver has caused some mild frustration.

So as I said before, it is chilly here. Yesterday was downright cold. It's been raining quite a lot, which we expected, but I did not expect the cold temperatures. I did not bring enough warm clothing for Meron, so my hope is that she doesn't spit up too much or blow out her 3 warmish outfits.

Speaking of Meron, we got to spend a lot of time with her yesterday, since our U.S. Embassy visit took longer that we expected. We have great news: she took a bottle. The other baby here did not, so we're feeling pretty lucky. They cup feed the infants here – which is quite a spectacle – and so none have ever taken a bottle before. But our spunky little Meron took one right away. Granted, it took her about a half hour to drink an 8 oz bottle, but I imagine that will get better with practice. She seemed to enjoy the experience, and was in a fantastic mood the rest of the afternoon. And then she fell asleep in my arms. Oh, and that reminds me of our other great piece of news: she reached for me! Paul was holding her and she was having a great time playing with his face and looking out the window of our van, and then she started to fuss and reached over for me. Soon after that, she fell asleep. I'm going to take this as a sign that Meron is attaching to her new mother. When she woke up about 90 minutes later, she seemed pretty happy to see us. She is such a chatty baby, and so intense!! She smiles more every time we see her, and reveals more of her personality every day. I think she's a good match for Eliana. So far, she doesn't strike me as the kind of kid who will let her older sister push her around. She also seems pretty extroverted, from what we can tell at this young age. She is intensely curious about everybody in our travel group, and loves playing with the other baby. She is outward-focused, as was Eliana. She reminds me a great deal of Eliana when she was a baby, with the notable exception of her ability and willingness to sleep in a car. I sure hope that doesn't change. She's also pretty easy to entertain. She thought Paul's buttons were pretty fascinating, and couldn't get enough of the square cement pillar in the middle of the Embassy waiting room. She felt each side with her hands, then pulled Paul around to explore what was around the corner, and each time she discovered a new side of the pillar, she would look up at Paul in surprise, as if to say, "Would ya' look at that – there's another side!!" A curious child indeed.

As I said earlier, we went to the market today. They basically take us to the tourist market, where I'm pretty sure we got ripped off. But they apparently don't think we'd be safe at the regular, open air market that Ethiopians go to. That bums me out, because we drove through it and there are so many things I'd like to look at. And I know we'd get better prices than what we got at the markets they took us to. Nevertheless, we bought some interesting gifts and souvenirs, and we're hoping to go back tomorrow. I think our shopping trip was somewhat shorter than usual because the other families brought their newly adopted older children, and their attention spans are pretty short. Granted, they are very well-behaved children, but children are children, after all, and they only want to spend so much time in teeny-tiny little shops full of breakable goods and other items they're not allowed to touch. On the way home, we saw many beggars and people sleeping on the sidewalks. I notice myself hardening my heart here, separating myself from the reality of this place, in order to cope with the poverty, the likes of which I have never seen. I turn away from the blind man whose irises are covered with cataracts. I avoid looking at the three crippled women begging on the sidewalks, or the man who approached us outside the shops, whose feet were completely disfigured and useless, painfully dragging his way along the sidewalk on an old pair of crutches, hoping to get a few birr from the Americans.

This afternoon we will go to the good-bye ceremony, where the nannies and Care Center staff officially say farewell to the children they have cared for and loved, and entrust them to their new parents. I imagine it's very sad for Ethiopians to see their children leave the country with American parents. They are such proud people, and they value their children above all else. It must be very difficult to be confronted with the reality that they cannot care for them all.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 2

Another day, another lack of clue where to begin. How can I capture our time in Ethiopia with words? I could spend hours carefully choosing each word I write and still, I know that it will at best be a Polaroid picture of what we have experienced so far. But I will try. Just know, dear reader, it is merely a sketch that I am drawing for you, and nothing more.

Actually, before I begin, I want to say this to anyone who has done little, if any, international travel: Do it. It will change your life. And to anyone who is considering adopting from Ethiopia but is hesitant to make the trip: Please don't be. This trip will be one of the most important and life-altering ones you ever make. The staff at Children's Home Ethiopia goes well out of their way to help those with little international experience transition gently to life in a third-world country.

OK, now to our day. We were up at 4:30am after a difficult night's sleep (due, in large part I imagine, to jet lag). Breakfast was at 4:45, and by 5am we were off. It was dark and rainy as we bounced along in our Land Rover, driven by Sagae (pretty sure that's not how it's spelled), our driver and guide for the day. But by sunrise, the clouds were rolling away and we witnessed the sun coming up over the low mountains of southern Ethiopia.

I wish I could describe the landscape of Ethiopia. Alas, I'm not much of a nature writer, so my hope is to upload some pictures soon to spare you my inadequate descriptions. Let me say, though, that it was as peaceful as driving through France, or Vermont. Sloping hills dotted with thatched roof huts and small plots of farmland, low mountains green with the recent rains, even dormant volcanoes hiding ancient monasteries at their peak. We were so fortunate to be traveling down to the southern region during rainy season, as everything was bright green and lush, with rushing rivers and blooming tropical plants everywhere. It was relentlessly beautiful.

Ethiopians walked along the road, with their donkeys, bundles of wood, children, goats, cows, water, or their daily goods from the market. Each village was easily identifiable as primarily Muslim or Christian. In Ethiopia, Sagae informed us, Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully together – until recently, that is, as extremist Islamist ideology has slowly drifted into the country. Every once in a while, we'd reach a village made up primarily of mud homes slammed together side by side along the road, almost like townhomes, only made of mud and not anything like townhomes. There is no question that poverty is everywhere, although it's easy to pretend it isn't so bad, given how peaceful it looks from the inside of a Land Rover, and the smiles on so many of the beautiful faces we pass by. Truly, we Americans have forgotten how little it takes to be happy.

Sagae let us stop and take pictures whenever we asked, and also answered all of my questions about Ethiopian culture, history, politics, and impressions of Americans. He was a willing teacher, and he and I chatted for much of the drive down to Hosanna. Paul was pretty tired, and has had a stomach ache for the last day or so, so he was pretty silent, asking only a few questions. Segae informed us that sometimes when a girl is born, and the father in particular wanted a boy, they will say "let her be," which is the meaning of Tihun. It does make you pause and wonder if we should even keep Tihun as her middle name, if that is how the name is often used.

Upon our arrival to Hosanna, where we hoped to meet Tihun's first mother, we stopped at the nicest hotel in town to use the facilities, and have some coffee. Believe it or not, I have been drinking the coffee here straight, with only some sugar and a little milk powder if available. Considering that less than a year ago I didn't like coffee at all, and until we came here could not drink coffee unless it was combined with a bunch o' milk and some chocolate, I've come a long way. The hotel was beautiful, with marble floors and intricate woodwork everywhere, including on the ceilings. The rooms were less luxurious, and the toilet had some of its plumbing missing.

Although the hotel was lovely and relaxing, everyone was anxious to get to the CHSFS office to meet the birth families. As we arrived, swarms of children from the town gathered to see the Americans, hoping that we had brought trinkets, candy, or some other treat for them. Fortunately for them, the 4 teens from South Dakota brought trinkets, and passed them out while their parents met with the birth mother and father of their 3 newly adopted siblings. Tsion, our social worker, walked up to us as we came through the gate to inform us that Desalech, Tihun's first mother, had not yet arrived. Tsion said they had contacted her, and that Desalech said that she would come, but she was not there. Then they informed us that Desalech would have to walk for 3-4 hours before she would have access to transportation that would take her to Hosanna. In an attempt to reassure us, they said that if she showed up after we had gone, they would drive her up to Addis to meet with us there. I'm not hopeful. Tihun, she named her, and perhaps Tihun is what she meant.

The news hit me pretty hard. I don't know if it was the lack of sleep, or the pent up emotions about the whole situation, but I sat down and started to cry. Everyone else's birth families had shown up, why not ours? It wasn't fair. Why couldn't they go to her and bring her to the center themselves? Why did she have to find her own transportation? They made it clear that they made every effort to help the birth families get to the care center, but from what I could tell, they hadn't done anything to directly assist Desalech with the trip. I wanted to meet her so badly. I didn't know why the need was so strong; maybe it was for my own sense of closure, my own need to let Tihun's mother know that she would be loved and well taken care of. Maybe it was sadness for Tihun that I could not tell her that I had met her mother and that she had said this or that to me about Tihun. That I could not tell Tihun that her mother told me of her love for her daughter, that I could not tell Desalech of my love for her daughter. I had such big plans for this moment, and now they were dashed, and I could do nothing.

The children from town stared at me while I wept. Maybe they had never seen a white woman weep before. For all I know, maybe weeping isn't done very often at all. After all, you probably have to be pretty tough to make it in the kinds of impoverished conditions in which they all lived. I tried distracting myself by showing the children my rain boots, black with checkered laces. They laughed, although I'm not sure if it was at my boots, or at the very white legs poking out over them.

Skip ahead to the trip back. I was tired from crying, and devastated that we left without meeting Desalech. I wondered why she hadn't come, and if we'd ever get to meet her, or even have a picture of her. I chatted with Segae, again in an effort to distract myself from the sadness, while Paul sat silently again, occasionally nodding off. He was so tired, poor guy, and his stomach still hurt. Quite the birthday for my husband.

We were exhausted beyond reason when we got back to the guest house, physically and – for me at least – emotionally drained from our long day. The drive to Hosanna is 4 hours one way, much of along bumpy roads. We collapsed in our bed and slept for an hour. After dinner, we walked the 15 minutes to the care center and visited our beautiful baby. With every visit, I fall more and more deeply in love with this precious little person. And I think the feeling is mutual. We see more of her personality each time. Today she was pretty interested in her papa. She took turns playing with each of us, testing us to see what we would do when she, say, put her hand out our mouths, or tapped our foreheads with Paul's name tag. She would laugh when we'd blow gently on her face, and it was during one of these moments that we discovered the dimple on her left cheek. I'm telling you, she is astonishingly beautiful.

I need to end this long, long entry. I apologize for using so many words, but again, there is so much to capture, and I don't want to forget a moment.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day 1

I’m sitting in the living room of our guest house, and I don’t even know where to begin. The last 24 hours have been incredible, amazing, life-changing – and the trip has barely begun. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

The flights were uneventful. I guess that’s not the life-changing part I was referring to. We arrived at our guest house last night around 10pm. Although our house would not qualify as luxury accommodations, considering we’re in Ethiopia, I have no complaints. The living area has lovely leather furniture and a large screen television. There are two terraces outside, with swings and lounge chairs, and beautiful landscaping. The bedrooms are fairly separated from each other, which affords us quite a bit of privacy. Our room has its own spacious bathroom, a queen bed, and a small toddler bed, lots of closet space, and plenty of room to store our luggage and other belongings. Something in the bathroom consistently leaks a bit of water, so the floor is always wet. But we were warned about this and brought flip-flops.

Paul and I fell asleep soon after hitting the sheets. The sounds of the mosque calling everyone to prayer woke us up at 7am, which was great because we needed to be ready for breakfast at 8. The prayer call reminded me that I was in a country quite unlike my own, a culture new and exciting and definitely worth exploring. Ethiopia has robust Muslim and Christian populations, and from what I can tell, they manage to co-exist quite peacefully.

On the way to the office, I noticed that we were surrounded by low mountains. The elevation here is very high (not sure how high, but given how hard it is to breathe when going up stairs, I’m going to say it’s probably like Denver). The countryside is beautiful. It was also impossible to miss the street scenes around us. Bumpy dirt roads are full of cars, people, goats, and donkeys. I don’t understand how they are all able to use the same roads without constant casualties, but from what I can tell, they make it work. The houses in our area are quite nice, and it’s clear that we are separated from the poverty that I know is not too far away.

First, we stopped at the office to sign some papers, and then it was off to meet our daughter. We waited on a balcony while the cameraman made sure everything was ready to film our encounter. I was nervous. I don’t know why I was nervous, but I was very aware of my heart beating quickly, my hands shaking, and my eyes filling up with tears before I’d even headed into the building where she lives.

I walked into the nursery, and immediately knew which baby was mine. She was laying in her crib, looking up at the ceiling, and I turned to the nannies and asked if I could pick her up. I suspect that was a dumb question, since she is my baby and all, but it seemed like the polite thing to do. When I picked her up, the first thing I noticed was that she was so tiny. I was crying by this time, so I don’t remember in great detail what happened next. I know that I introduced myself to her while she stared into my face, neither crying nor smiling. She just stared. Paul then held her for a while, and within minutes she was laying her head on his chest. He was a pretty proud papa, I’ll tell you that. Then we took her over to the part of the floor where the babies play, and we sat her down and played with her for a little while, and watched her interact with the other babies and the nannies. I loved watching her face light up with a smile when her nanny would walk through the door. I can’t wait until she smiles like that when she sees me. After about 10 minutes of playing, she lunged forward a little and nudged my arm with her head. She repeated this a couple of times, and I finally figured out that she wanted me to hold her again. So I picked her up and held her so that she was laying in my arms, facing up at me.

This next part is the part I will never forget. Meron Tihun stared up at me, with an intensity I can’t really describe. She was studying me, though, that’s for certain. This baby has the most intense gaze I’ve ever seen. To be on the receiving end of it is quite an experience. She put her tiny hand toward my mouth, and put her thumb on my lips. I started kissing it. She seemed to enjoy this, and kept putting her thumb back on my lips. Then she took another finger and did the same thing. This game went on for some time, after which she took her hand and held onto my nose for a while (she’s probably never seen a nose this, um, prominent before), and then moved on to feel my face, and then pulled some of my hair from out behind my ear. That seemed to surprise her, and I realized that she has probably never seen hair down before as all of the nannies keep their hair tightly pulled back. Well, that and she’s probably never seen hair that isn’t black before. Anyway, she continued exploring my hair and face for a few more minutes, all the while staring intently into my face, and then she closed her eyes and fell asleep. Paul and I both teared up as our new baby lay asleep and content in my arms. I passed the mommy test, and we’re well on our way to forming a bond.

The rest of the day so far hasn’t been quite as emotional, but is going well. We had a great lunch – the food so far has been fantastic – and spent quite a while at the office for our “orientation.” Tomorrow we go to Hosanna to meet Tihun’s first mom. If I thought today was life-changing…

I will have much, much more to write, but Paul unfortunately needs the computer to do some work, so I will end today’s post. By tomorrow I hope to post some pictures as well!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Eliana's last day as an only child

That is how I think of today. It is Eliana's last day of being the only kid in her parents' spotlight. It is the last week in which she gets to think of herself as the lone being in the center of someone's universe. For 4 years, it's been Eliana and Mama, a little team. Sure, there's Papa, too, but she and I have spent a lot of time just the two of us, and even though there have been difficult moments in there, it's fused us together in a way that makes it hard to imagine another little person finding a place to squeeze in. In short, I don't want it to be over. I say all of these things knowing that Meron will find her way in, and once we've all adjusted, we'll be a tight little group once again, and I will look back on this day and wonder why I was so nervous about the change. Anyway, I decided to keep Eliana with me all day. We've done a few craft projects, hung out at Tillie's Bean, and after her rest time, we'll probably go swimming. I thought that would be a nice way to spend our last day as just the two of us.

We're pretty much packed, although I had hoped to get more done on the house before we left. I suppose you could say that we had too much on our plate to realistically accomplish everything. I suppose you could say that.

My writing instructor asked me last night if I was thrilled to be leaving Thursday. I replied that "thrilled" probably wasn't the best word. Terrified, apprehensive, nervous, excited in a nail-chewing kind of way. Yes, I'm excited, but I'm also completed terrified. And I can't really articulate my reasons. So I won't. I've been in a funk all week, without really knowing on a conscious level what is going on inside of me. Maybe I don't want to know. Maybe I'd rather just let my unconscious conflicts duke it on below my level of awareness and hope for the best.

I'm planning to post while in Ethiopia, so please tune in over the next 10 days to learn about our adventure as it happens. Hopefully we'll be able to post pictures as well.

I guess I will end today's post. It's shorter than I thought it would be, but quite honestly, I can't seem to make my thoughts coelesce well enough to put down on paper.

Wish us luck.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Five days and packing

We leave in five days. We spent much of today packing - you should see our list. Three pages, single spaced, complete with every rash cream, diarrhea medication, and baby item you can think of. It's like we're moving there. Four large suitcases packed with a few things for us, and a million things for our baby and a bunch of other babies waiting for their families.

I have to tell you, there's something very strange about packing for a baby you've never met before. We're packing toys, clothing, baby lotions, things we've packed before, but feeling totally clueless. With Eliana we knew what her needs were. We knew what to pack for long plane rides, because we knew what sort of baby she was, where she was at with eating solids, how many diapers she'd likely go through, and what kind of toys kept her entertained (answer: none). At the very least, we knew what size clothing she wore. With Meron, we know none of these things. Sure, we have her most recent measurements - 14 lbs and 24 inches, in case you're wondering - but we're just assuming she wears 3-6 month clothing, because that's what Eliana wore when those were her measurements. We don't actually know.

It's also very strange to get on a plane, fly around for 24 hours, and then meet your baby. We're going to meet this little tiny person who's been on the planet for 8 months, without us, and she's going to be our daughter. She'll be placed in our arms as a stranger, and yet we are expected to become instant parents to this child. I guess it's not entirely different than when Eliana was born. I had a big tummy, I was put under general anesthesia, and when I woke up my tummy was slightly smaller and they handed me a miniscule person who was the color of cheese popcorn. She was jaundiced, in case you're wondering about that last part. I was expected to know what to do with her, and failed at every turn. Maybe that's why I'm so nervous about going to fetch a child who's had 8 months to develop likes and dislikes, opinions, and preferences. Eliana seemed to have all of these things the minute she was forced to exit my womb, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what they were. How can I possibly do a better job with a baby who's been around enough to legitimately have these things?!

In any case, the suitcases are packed, the toys have been cleaned off, and she has at least 25 onesies to poop through. I think we're set.

I have to briefly tout my victorious adventure in frugality today. I purchased 5 pieces of furniture for Eliana's room off of Craigslist! It's great stuff, and I'm so proud of myself for getting it on the cheap. She has a dresser, two nightstands, a trunk, a mirror, and then a queen sized headboard for the future guest room, all for $300!! Repeat reuse recycle, I always, since this morning.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

All's well that ends well

First, I should point out that we leave for Ethiopia one week from tomorrow. Sheesh! I cannot wait to meet my baby. I also cannot believe how much I have to do before next Thursday.

Why do I have so much to do, you ask?

Because we are getting The House!!! After all of that up and down craziness: no it's not your house, yes it's your house, ummm sorry it's not your house...there has been a miracle. The aluminum wiring was housed in conduit. This is a rare and beautiful thing, and it means that rewiring the house is not going to be an impossible - or even a major - project. It will take 3 days, and the cost is pretty reasonable.

There is a theory in psychology asserting that you appreciate something more if you have to work for it. That's why fraternities and sororities go through all of that rush nonsense. Once you've been to hell and back to get something, you're going to value it all that much more once you have it. I guess that means that I will love this house with all of my heart for a very long time.

I have to include what in my opinion is the loveliest part of the whole debacle. This morning we met the owners of The House. They asked if they could be home during the electrician's visit, and we said yes. After the electrician and our realtor left, they asked us to stay and chat about the situation (against their realtor's strict orders), and it was one of the most enjoyable hours I have ever spent. They are the nicest, funniest, most lovable couple ever. I would like to adopt them as my grandparents (to my real grandma and grandpa: I love you both dearly and have no intention of replacing you. I see this more as an addition of grandparents, not a substitution). We got along famously, exchanged phone numbers, and came up with the game plan for taking care of everything that needed to be done so that we could buy the house. Just don't tell their realtor that we did all of that. They are insisting on paying for the rewiring. We said that we would do it, but to them it is a matter of pride and "ethics." They apparently had no idea that the aluminum wiring was an issue and that is why it wasn't written down anywhere. They wanted to make it clear to us that they hadn't been trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, and even got a little emotional as they told us that they were sorry that this whole thing had to be dealt with. Frankly, I'm thrilled, because had it not been an issue, the other buyers would now have the house.

In the end, it all worked out perfectly. Call it a miracle, call it a meant-to-be moment, whatever. We got the house.

Holy crap. That means I have a house to sell - a messy, cluttered house. Gotta run.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride until it has come to a complete stop

The house may not be ours after all. It all seems impossible, this little housing saga of ours, as though I'm intentionally creating drama to pass the time until we go to Ethiopia. And while the time is flying, it's not worth it. I have a stress-induced zit under my chin that is so large, it's like I grew a double chin over night. Which I guess would make it a triple-chin, since all of the stress eating has earned me a few extra pounds as well. Don't I sound pretty?

What happened to the house, you may be asking yourself at the moment? It was built in 1971, as I mentioned before. Charming, yes, but it also turns out that for a brief period in our nation's history, as we were stockpiling copper to use in our war against the Viet Cong, home builders started using aluminum wiring which, as it turns out, was a bad decision. For reasons with which I am now all too familiar and uninterested in boring you, gentle reader, aluminum wiring is a fire hazard. Unless, that is, you do a kind of repair called COPALUM. No one in Minnesota is certified to make the COPALUM repair. Not only that, but more importantly, we're having a devil of a time finding an insurance company that will underwrite a home with aluminum wiring, even if you have the government approved repair done. I suppose I may be able to fight this, as there is plenty of research to support the safety of the COPALUM repair, but how much do I want to fight for this home?! I'm adopting a baby, I'm traveling to Ethiopia, I am highly sensitive to stress. At some point, it may make more sense to just walk away. Anyone who knew me during the breastfeeding saga knows that I'm not very good at knowing when to walk away. THose same people, however, also know that I'm pretty good at figuring out how to get my way in the end. So we'll see.

Well, happy Monday, everyone. I'm going to see if I can do something about that goiter on my neck.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Your love is like a rollercoaster baby baby....

Now we have the house. The House, the one we pictured our children growing up in and all that business, is ours. Seriously. I got a call from our agent today, informing me that the deal with the other buyers fell through and now they wanted to know if we - the rejected ones - were still interested in buying the house. I have to tell you, I hesitated for a couple of hours. For the last week and a half, I have been coming up with all sorts of reasons why I was glad we didn't get the house. I love Minneapolis. I love not being in debt. I love our neighbors. I love being 30 feet away from endless miles of paved running and biking trails. I even found a nearby daycare for Meron that sounds perfect. I was all set to settle in.

And then Mike calls and drops the bomb.

What a freakin' rollercoaster this has been. I'll spare you the psychological gymnastics I went through before finally saying yes. I think Paul was ready to say yes right away, but I needed to process first. I know, you're very surprised, as you've heard that psychologists hate processing things. But I guess I'm unique that way.

Anyway, until the house is taken off the listings, any interested readers can check it out. I should warn you, though: this house is all about potential. It is a mint condition 1971 house. I'm pretty sure they've changed the carpet and the stovetop and that's it. So don't judge the decor. One of the major appeals of this house is that it was VERY reasonably priced, which allows us to slowly remodel whatever we want, however we want, and customize the house to fit our taste. Of course, we won't be able to afford that until the kids have gone off to college, so they will grow up looking at psychadelic wallpaper, groovy light fixtures, and a kitchen so old it actually has a built-in blender attachment in the countertop (anyone else but me have one of those in their homes growing up?), but it could be worse.

Edit: I decided it maybe wasn't such an internet-savvy thing to do to post all that info. If you're interested in knowing where the house is, email me. If you don't have my email address, then you're probably not someone to whom I want to give my new address.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy fourth from the neighborhood insomniac

I can't sleep anymore. Before this year, I could sleep through anything. Stress, sickness, you name it. About 9 months ago I lost this ability. I have no idea what changed, but I can tell you that I never drank coffee before this year and now I'm chugging a latte every other day. Anyway, it's after midnight, officially the 4th of July, and I can't sleep.

Tonight, my inability to sleep was aided by some ya-hoos down the street. So please, allow me to rant for a minute.

Eleven months out of the year, the vast majority of Americans obey certain codes of nighttime conduct, both written and un. Included in those rules of normal behavior: One should refrain from setting off small explosives in the middle of the night. Why we set aside those rules to celebrate our independence from England over 200 years ago is a point A to point B thing I don't really understand. It's fun to watch beautiful pyrotechnic displays one night every year; an American tradition, and a lovely one at that. But stupid little bottle rockets that go boom when you set fire to them are a far cry from intricately designed rainshowers of red, white, and blue. I don't consent to it. And I can't sleep through it. Apparently, neither can my toddler, who's been up 4 times since the amateur display of noise began. This also doesn't help me sleep.

So here I am, up in the middle of the night, knowing full well that I will pay dearly for this tomorrow. I hope coffee shops are open on the 4th.

I also wanted to further explain my pooh song post, in case you were wondering where that came from. I've been reading up on others' experiences of going to Ethiopia. It seems that pooh becomes something with which they all become intimately familiar, both their own and that of their new child(ren). This is why my packing list has pretty much every GI medication available in the States, both OTC and prescription. When parasites live freely in the water supply, they easily and often find their way into one's bowels. You get where I'm going with this. Basically, everything comes down to pooh, and I imagine that tune will be going through my head most of the week while I'm in Ethiopia, and probably for several stinky weeks after we return.

Good night, everyone. I hope you were able to get a better night's sleep than what it is store for me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

2007 NBC Scrubs Music Song about Poo

I'm guessing this will be our theme song once we get the baby home....