Sunday, August 29, 2010


Due to crazy, soccer schedules, we celebrated Kenen's birthday a day later, instead of on his actual birthday.  We had his favorite food .. Ethiopian, of course.  I actually made two dishes, and drove to NE Portland to buy injera, the "bread" that is a necessity for any Ethiopian meal.  He was so happy to be eating injera for the first time in over a month.  We also had a man at the store where I bought the Ethiopian food speaking Amharic to him and asking him questions.  While he seemed quite shy and hung onto me pretty tightly, it made me happy for him to have a chance to hear something that he could understand.  It is a weird thing to long for him to be able to speak English so that we can communicate and connect, but also feel a deep sadness at him losing the language that connects him to his birth country.  He sings songs in the car all the time in Amharic. 

At age 4, Kenenisa is funny.  He loves to laugh and even with his limited language skills ... he can still make a joke.  Like when we're reading "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" for the 87th time ... he'll point to the different animals and say the dog is a sheep and then he laughs so hard.  He also thinks that putting on other people's clothes that are too big is hilarious.

He is very athletic.  He has mastered the razor scooter .. has incredible balance and goes very fast.  I'm getting some good exercise keeping up with him.  Also loves all types of balls or "kwas", as he still calls them.

Our days typically start with him waking up (on the mattress in our room), and calling out for me. Then, if he's in a good mood, he will climb into bed with me and snuggle up and often fall back asleep for about an hour.  The falling back asleep part will end when school starts, but hopefully the snuggling won't.

I won't lie ... these past 5 weeks have been incredibly difficult ... and there have been moments where running away sounds like a pretty good idea.  However, I do believe that I went into this with eyes wide open, and knew that these first weeks would not be easy.  I'm so grateful for the glimpses of "normal" that God gives me ... He is a delightfully, enthusiastic child.  He is my son, and I'm thankful that God is using him to continue to humble me, and make me more dependent on Him ... and you can remind me I said that if I ever call threatening to run away. :-)

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Four Years Ago Today

.... there was a young woman named Bizunesh who gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.  While we do not know all of her story, we know that she wanted to have this baby and she wanted this child to have a good and happy life.  When the baby was born and she heard, "it's a boy", she and her husband, Negatu, named him Kenenisa.  It is a big name that means "so much more".  It is the name of one of the most famous Ethiopan runners of our time, and everyone in that country knows the name.  She wanted so much more for this child than she could give him.  For two and half years, she gave all she had to him, until an illness finally took her life.  I wish that I had a picture of her ... so that I could see the eyes that looked into my son's each day.  So that I could help him remember her.    Four years ago today, she gave birth to him .... and I am grateful to have the opportunity to give him all of the love that our family has, so that he can experience and achieve so much more than she could have imagined .....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 4 - Embassy Appointment

Our first full day with Kenenisa started with him waking up, putting his shoes on, and making his bed. (This is a nice habit that I had hoped to keep, but since coming home, he has decided that he is too little to make his bed, so I've chosen not to "fight" that battle at this point.)   We had to get ready fairly early to head to the Embassy.  Our 3 big kids stayed with Jennifer at the Guest House and relaxed, while Dave, Kenenisa and I loaded into the van to head to the U.S. Embassy.  The Embassy appt. is important because that is where you get your child's visa so that they can enter the U.S.  It is typically a fairly, routine event and most families "pass" and are given the visa without any problems.  There were 3 other families besides us who were there for visas.  I was a little concerned about how we would entertain Kenen while we waited since no electronic devices were allowed, and we had been told that the wait could be quite long, but it turned out I didn't need to worry because there was a large play area with play structure with a slide.  Wish I could have taken some video of him and his buddy Ashenafi playing.  They were hilarious and wild.  I'm not sure that the Ethiopians who were also waiting for appointments appreciated how seemingly out of control they were, but Ashenafi's mom and I were just pleased that they were laughing and having fun.  They even stood on the top of the slide and sang a little rhyming song in Amharic that made the whole room laugh.  Kenen still sings it occassionally at home.  It does make me sad to think that by the time he can tell us what the song means, he will most likely not remember his Amharic.  When they called our names, we walked upstairs and stood before a window where a very nice lady asked us a few questions, mostly about what we knew of Kenenisa's background and why he was an orphan. She tried, unsuccessfully, to ask Kenen a couple of questions, as well.  Then she wished us good luck on our journey and gave us our visa stamp.

We returned to the Guest House to reconnect with the rest of our family and group.  We had lunch at the guest house again, and then went shopping again.  Each time we got in the van, Ethan, our 8 year old, would groan. He started feeling motion sick almost immediately.  He does not typically have this problem, but there really are not words to describe the driving and roads in Ethiopia.  Fortunately, we had grabbed a number of air sick bags from the airplane, just in case.  And so the majority of the time that we were in the van, Ethan had his head in a bag.  In retrospect, this may have been a blessing.  Ethan has an incredibly soft and compassionate heart towards the needy, and one of my concerns was how the poverty and all of the sights of Ethiopia would affect him.  In fact, I told him before we left that Ethiopia was going to break his heart.  Well, it turns out, I'm not sure he saw very much, and he was quite miserable, as well.  In addition to Ethan's motion sickness problems, our traveling buddy Jen, has sympathetic sickness ... whenever anyone actually gets sick around her ... she will also get sick.  As I was trying to relive this day, I couldn't remember why I was having such a hard time remembering what we did.

Evidently, I had blocked it out ... (if you have a weak stomach like Jen, you might want to skip this part ....)  because at one point, Ethan sitting on one side of me actually started throwing up into his bag ... and simultaneously, Kenenisa, who was sitting on my other side (with no warning) started throwing up on the floor of the van.  Then, Jennifer, who was sitting on the other side of Ethan, had to jump up and lean out of the window to try and keep herself from losing it as well.  It was all so comical that I started laughing as my two boys were both throwing up around me.  I felt badly because I think that Kenen thought that his crazy new mom was laughing at him while he was getting sick ... and he started to cry.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.  Here's a little video of some of Jennifer with some of the street kids, who Robel helps take care of, outside of the stores where we were shopping.

Hard to believe at this point, we only have two more days in this beautiful country.

A Lesson in Amharic

I thought I'd interrupt my trip posts to give you a little glimpse into living with a child who doesn't speak English.  The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic.  However, this was not Kenen's first language. He was from the southern region of the country and spoke one of the indigenous languages there.  So when he was transferred to Addis Ababa from the orphanage where he was relinquished, he had to begin learning Amharic.  As a result, he is actually quite good at figuring out how to make it clear what he wants, either through hand motions or facial expressions. 

We have been with him (counting our time in Ethiopia) a little over 4 weeks now.  He has really only said a handful of words in English in that time.  Instead, he seems to be getting quite good at teaching us his language (which truthfully, we assume is Amharic, but could be his original language).  Here are some of the words that we have learned ... (spelled phonetically)

ma-kee'-nah             car (or in Kenen's case, any sort of vehicle).  He says this word more than any other.

oo-ka-lah'-luh          egg ... we may keep this one.  Way too much fun to say.

shint                         going to the bathroom. An unfortunate word choice -we'll be trying phasing that one out

koh'-fee-uh               hat  (also fun to say)
wuh- huh                  water
wuh-teht                   milk
kwas                        ball
kahls                        socks   (very amusing to him when we mix these two up and tell him to kick the kahls)

chah-ma                   shoes

He also counts and describes the colors of things in Amharic.  The two words that he says most frequently in English are monkey and bananas.   Curious George is his favorite thing to watch, and this past week he's added "Jolly Holiday" (from Mary Poppins).  We're just waiting for him to start saying Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious .....

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Day 3, July 20th

Since we only met Kenenisa on Monday, and had to say good-bye to him that day, we view the 20th as the day that we welcomed him into our family forever - "Gotcha Day" is a day that most adoptive families celebrate as much as their birthdays. 

The day started off with some amazing pampering for the "mom's to be".  We were taken to a spa that was every bit as nice and elegant as any I've been to here ... not that I've been to that many.  It was extremely nice, and the one hour massage cost the equivalent of $15 US. A great example of Western amenities in a country with so much poverty.  While Jen and I were at the spa, Dave and the kids got ready for the day which would include our first shopping trip before we went to pick up Kenen.  There's a saying in Africa, "Europeans (Americans) have watches, but Africans have time."  This is so amazingly true. When they say what time to get ready, you have to always be ready to just hang out a wait for a while.  So on this day, I thought we would go to the spa and then return to the Guest House, and all leave for shopping together.  However, because of this whole "time issue" ... we were picked up at the spa, and then met the shoppers at the shopping area.  This is important because I did not grab the backpack that had goodies and things for Kenen beforeI left. 

We went shopping at 3 little shops.  A little overwhelming, but was re-reminded that my husband loves this kind of shopping ... the kind where everything seems really cheap and it's your once in a lifetime chance to buy any of these things.  For me, there were too many choices, and it was too difficult to decide what to spend money on.  We also had our first encounters with some of the many street children in Addis who "make a living" selling gum, tissues and shining shoes. A number of the boys that we met that day are helped a great deal by one of the America World employees who helps these kids get into school, and makes sure they receive at least one good meal a day. One of his requirements for his help, is that they don't flat out beg ... that they have a business.  So we bought a lot of gum and tissues. :-)  My friend, Jen, who traveled with us, was deeply touched by the stories of these boys and was even able to meet them and learn more about them.  I've no doubt that more will come of this part of our story

After shopping we went to lunch at an Italian restaurant that is frequented by adoptive families called Makush.  The owner makes a point to come over to each group and lets us know how appreciative he is that we are willing to help the children of his country ... which is quite impactful.  It is an art gallery and restaurant, and there were some amazing pieces.  I would have loved to buy a piece of art, and some day if we ever go back, that would be at the top of my list of things to purchase..

After a very eventful day, it was finally time for the MAIN EVENT.  We returned to the transition house to pick up Kenenisa ... and this is where the no backpack was a bit of a problem.  We ended up having quite a bit of time to play with him before we left, and once again, the other families had all sorts of fun things and snacks to eat, and poor Kenenisa had very little to play with.  It didn't help that it was raining so we couldn't play outside as much. This was also our chance to talk with the doctor, social worker and psychologist that work for our agency. I was so impressed that they had people who knew our son to talk with us in detail about the things that we needed to know.  While we had many questions about Kenenisa and how he was coping with all of the changes in his life, the psychologist left us with one important thought.  He told us that who Kenenisa will be will be determined most by what will happen in the future not what happened in the past.  This was encouraging at the moment.  We then went  and loaded into the vans ... with Kenenisa this time, and went to see the older children's home where he had been living, so that we could see the room and bed where he slept.  When we got to the transition home, he definitely did not want to get out of the van and was quite upset that we were back there. He obviously understood that he was supposed to be going with us, and was concerned that we were going to leave him. So we held onto him pretty tightly as we walked around.

Robel and Jennifer at Makush

No toys or food - so we just played with the camera

Kenenisa's bed at the transition house

His first night with us

When we arrived back at the guest house, we went straight up to our room, and played with him until dinner.  He did not eat much at dinner.  I'm sure it was all pretty overwhelming for him.  We were thankful that there was at least one other boy that he knew during our stay.  His friend, Ashenafi McKinney was quite sad that first night.  Kenen seemed to be quite excited to be with us, and was very agreeable and got ready for bed happily.  I went to sleep in the bed right next to him ... close enough to reach out and touch him ... and he slept all night.  All in all, a pretty great day. 

Welcome to the family, Kenen Elder

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ethiopian Cultural Dinner

After leaving Kenen at the Transition House, we returned to the Yebsabi Guest House where we were staying to get ready for our big night out at an Ethiopian restaurant. By the way, the guest house was quite nice ... especially after our very not so nice 2 star digs in Rome.
Kitchen (Can't figure out how to rotate the pic)
Sideways bedroom
Living Room

Anyway, we cleaned up a bit ... probably tried to get on the internet, which was a continual trial, due to spotty internet connections and our very, slow laptop.  Facebook was the only thing that I could ever get on ... and not very often.  And then left for our traditional Ethiopian dinner with all of the other families who were at the guest house, including the many who were there for their court dates.  These families would not be leaving with their children on this trip, but would have to return 4-8 weeks later. There were probably at least 20 of us.  We had already introduced our kids to Ethiopian food in Portland, which I was thankful for.  They all are ok with it, and so we enjoyed the meal itself.  The highlight of the evening was the traditional Ethiopian dances.  The music and dancing, I'm sure, was quite good, however, it lasted way too long, and after 3 hours, we were more than ready to go home. Here are few pictures of the dancers and musicians.  The highlight by far was when one of the dancers came up to our table trying to get some of us to dance.  He snagged both Ryan and Kristen.  We have video of them  ... but seems like having that video is good leverage for the future ... so I'll be saving that for now. I was laughing hysterically, but really was so proud of my kids that they would go along with it.

Next post - Day 3 .... GOTCHA DAY!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 2 - Meeting Kenen

Confessions .... I was terrified to fly across the ocean ... I was scared to be in Africa ... I was scared of what the poverty and need would look like and how it would affect me and my kids.  The reality of being in Addis (short for Addis Ababa, which is much more fun to say) was in some ways easier than I expected. Perhaps because I was understandably focused on just one child, it was easier for me to not to emotionally engage with all of the need around me .. or perhaps just because there is such a surreal coexistence of the haves and the have nots.  Western conveniences side by side with street children shining shoes or selling gum or mothers with babies begging for food.  I do realize that we were kept from some of the worst areas, but all in all, my fears were not realized. Addis is a relatively safe city, and we were well taken care of by our agency which allowed us to focus on meeting and bringing Kenen home.  That is not to say, of course, that the sights and smells of Ethiopia did not have an impact ... but more on that later.

July 19th - Had very little appetite, although breakfast was pretty nice at the guest house.  Eggs, pancakes (of a sort), yogurt, and very good coffee!  We were all picked up and taken to the Hilton in Addis for the "paperwork party" where we filled out the final forms we will need for the Embassy.  While we worked on the papers, Jennifer took the kids swimming at the hotel pool.  You can see by the picture that the outdoor temperature was a bit cool, but they said that the pool was like bathwater and they had a great time! After that we all had lunch at the hotel.

Lunch at the Hilton Addis

Again, very little appetite ... moments of inner panic over what the next few hours would hold ... and the only way I got through it was just to keep telling myself to do the next thing ... put one foot in front of the other, and let go of my expectations for how the next hours, days, weeks would unfold.  It is what I am still doing each morning ... though it is becoming habit now. :-)

After lunch, we loaded back into the van to head to the Transition House.  With our agency, once a child is deemed adoptable, they are transferred from an orphanage to the Transition House.  All in all, while certainly not extravagant in any way, the care at the transition house is very good.  They are fed and clothed well, and are taken care of by nannies who genuinely seem to care for them.  However, there is no replacement for a mom and dad and a true family.  There were 3 other families who were meeting their children for the first time. One meeting their infant daughter, and the other two were also meeting toddler boys. 

Entrance to the Transition House
The playground
Driving through the gates

Last family picture as 5 Elder's

They brought our children out alphabetically by last name, so we were the 2nd family.  Kenenisa walked up to each of us, put his hands on our face and kissed us.  It was far more than I could have imagined as far as a first meeting. He seemed to be taking each of us in. Looked at us. Held our hands ... I wish that I could have read his mind, and heard what his thoughts were at this moment. My own thoughts were really just that I couldn't believe we were here ... meeting him, and that he was ours!

We waited for all of the other families to meet their children, and then went out to the courtyard and play structures and played soccer with Kenenisa. He was very energetic and having our other kids with us was awesome at that point, since I'm not much of a soccer player. It was all rather surreal watching our son - who I didn't really know. After a bit he motioned with his hands to his mouth that he was hungry. Bummer thing was that I hadn't really brought any food ... and there were the other little boys eating M&M's and animal crackers from their families. Borrowed a few treats on the sly so that it looked like I had been thoughtful enough to bring something yummy for him, and he ended up pushing both of them away. Found a protein bar in my backpack, and that he loved. Phew! Made it through my first test of motherhood. Though really my little backpack of things for him was quite lame. This theme will recur later in the week. Oh, and he loved our camera and the little flip video camera that we borrowed for the trip. That kept him busy for quite some time.

Rejecting the M&M's
Discovering the joys of technology
After a few hours, it was time to say good-bye.  We all hugged him, told him we'd be back tomorrow, and he started to cry. While that was sad, it at least gave me a sense that he liked being with us, which was good.  Here's our picture as we were driving away, after saying good-bye for the last time before he is with us forever.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

We're Home ... and Day One in Ethiopia

We've been home for almost a full week, and it still is hard to believe that our year long journey to our son is over. It has been hard to find time to post, since he is fascinated with buttons and is smart enough to figure out which one is the off button on most things, including the computer.  However, I am determined to chronicle our journey as best I can so that we can remember it. 

Day One - Ethiopia, Sunday - July 18th

We arrived at the Bole Airport in Addis Ababa early Sunday morning after an overnight flight from Rome.  It was cool, drizzly and felt delightfully like home after the blistering heat of Rome.  I had given Ethan a Dramamine to help him sleep on the flight and to prevent motion sickness, and well, let's just say, it more than did it's job.  He felt terrible and was so sleepy once we arrived that basically every time we stopped walking, he curled up on the oh, so clean airport floor.  Our driver, David, from America World, was there when we arrived which was great because we were anxious to get "home".  All of our many bags arrived, as well, and were loaded on top of one of the vans that would be our source of very bumpy transportation while in Addis.  We drove straight to the Yebsabi Guest House, which was much nicer than expected, especially after our very low quality accommodations in Rome.  We climbed the 4 flights of stairs to our rooms (no elevator), where Ethan immediately collapsed on the bed and slept for the next 3 hours.   I stayed with him, while David, Ryan, Kristen and our friend Jennifer Bridges hired a driver to take them to Entoto Mountain outside of Addis.  They were able to see the historic place where Menelik II resided and built his palace when he founded Addis Ababa, the current capital of Ethiopia.  And they had a view of the entire city, as well.

They also went by a village with lots of children where they were able to give out some toys, candy and a soccer ball.

When they returned, it was time for dinner at the guest house, which consisted of pizza.  We all groaned, as we had eaten more than our share of pizza while in Rome, but we were tired and it was good to eat and climb into bed.  I'm not sure that I slept all that well ... just filled with disbelief that tomorrow we were going to meet our son.