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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Never, Ever, Ever Say Never :)

A little over 16 months ago, I wrote a blog post about the journey that led my husband and I to adopt our two older girls- now ages 11 and 12, home from Ethiopia for 5 months!  Prior to that, my husband and I never thought we would adopt older girls- and we did.  Never say never :)

Today, we're happy to say that we can never, ever, ever say never :)  We have started the wild and crazy adventure that is adoption to expand our family once more.  We have happily accepted the referral of a 12-year old boy who we have known for the past 2 year and are waiting on a referral of a baby girl, 0-2 years of age.  I still sometimes can't believe it- we will be a family of 7 with 5 kiddos in tow- but we truly are oh so excited to have our family together and build so many memories of love and adventure together!!!!

What?!?!  FIVE Kids?  Are you kind of crazy?
Crazy- I think we all are just a bit crazy, so yes :).  And yes, we'll have 5 kids- something I never thought I would say!  With every decision my husband and I make, no decision is made without much thought, research and talk.  This decision has been in the works for TWO years.  Before finally saying "Yes" to adopt 2 more kids, we looked at our finances, life schedule, dreams/goals, family stability, and daily life.  After ensuring that 2 more kids would fit into each and every one of those categories, we knew it was ok to let our brains follow our hearts and say "YES!" once more!

Who are your future kids?
We can't share pictures or too much information yet, but I know they're both amazing :)

S:  Our son is about 12 (so we think).  We met him on the first day we visited Aidan's original orphanage in 2012 and thought he was incredibly sweet (and a killer dancer)!  He knows some English, is bold, hilarious and kind.  Over the past 6 times we've visited the orphanage, he was always there- caring for the younger kids, being as sweet as could be, and pulling at our heart strings.  It was hard to have our girls walk away from their orphanage forever with him behind watching.  You want a scene that can rival any Hollywood drama- that would be it!  We advocated for him for a good year, thinking "there is a family for him out there!"  Of course, at the time, we didn't really consider it was us.  This spring, I started to realize maybe we were his family.  Maybe that's why all other doors were closing highlighting the fact that ours was WIDE open.  Six months of talking- including asking the girls and his friends if he would be a good fit in our family- we finally said "YES!"  Our kids are so excited "S" will be their older brother.  He's drawn on family trees, in family portraits and is part of our daily life already.  The girls lived with "S" for 2 years so they're already essentially siblings.

On a sunny day in February in 2012, the kids' orphanage director asked me take a 2nd picture of the ONLY older kids left waiting at this orphanage- or course it was Meskerem, Mebrate and "S."  It's really amazing to see family pictures of us all going back 2 years.  I have those 3 pictures etched in my mind, knowing now that all 3 are my kids!!!! :)

M: Little Miss. Makeda (Mak for short) will be 0-2 years of age.  We don't know who she is- we haven't seen her picture or know if she's even been born.  If she's anything like the women we've met in Ethiopia though, she'll be beautiful, graceful, witty, intelligent and fierce.  And I'm sure ridiculously cute with a personality that will have my husband wrapped around her finger within seconds!  I don't think he knows what he's in for!

How much longer until you have them home?
We don't know!   With our daughters, it took about a year to bring them home due to changes in the adoption procedures in Ethiopia.  We're thinking the same thing for this adoption.  However- first we have to wait for a referral of a baby girl.  We don't really know how long this will take, but we know our time will come and the perfect little girl is out there for us- so we will wait.  We're thinking we'll have both kids home in about a year and a half.  We won't be able to adopt "S" until Makeda's paperwork is ready to go as well.

As much as we want them home now, we respect the adoption process in Ethiopia and the changes that have been made to help ensure ethical adoptions.  We respect other families waiting before us, too!  As hard as the wait will be, it will give us more time with the girls and Aidan, making our family unit stronger by the day!

Are you still using the same agency?
Yep!  We're using Adoption Avenues again- for the third time.  At this point, there's no other agency we would use!

An older boy?  Really?
This is a topic at first I felt I shouldn't discuss, but then realized I needed to.  There are so many questions, concerns and hesitations about adopting older children- especially boys.  Families worry about the safety of their kids, the impact of the adoptee's history, education, medical history and socioeconomic background and influence.  There are countless questions and concerns- causing many families to say "No" and look to adopt younger children instead.  To be honest, I can't blame them- adopting isn't for everyone.  Adopting older children isn't for everyone.  And I'm a firm believer unless you're 1,000% in it, you shouldn't do it- for you, but especially for that child.  Adoption can be hard and you need to get through the multiple storms!

That said, we had all of the same questions.  With older boys- there are more questions of their backgrounds- how are they in family relationships?  Are they violent?  What about drugs and alcohol?  What about sex?  The list goes on.  We had those questions, but many were quickly silenced because we had met our son multiple times before.  We also deferred to our daughters and his best friend for information.  Going into this, we knew our family of 5 was our priority- Aidan and our girls.  If we brought other children into our family, we wanted to ensure (as much as possible) that it wouldn't be disruptive or harmful to our family.  We promised the government of Ethiopia we would love and provide the best care possible for our kids- and we always want to ensure we do!

After our research, we knew adopting "S" was very feasible and could be very beneficial for our family.  The girls would have a brother their age and he speaks great English.  Plus, his personality and heart would be an amazing addition to any family.  But we needed to research first.

Now, we don't have any concerns.  We know adopting older kids is hard.  We know language will be an issue, as will academics.  We know we will hit walls and deal with things most biological parents don't face.  But that's ok.  We've always thought that just because it is hard for us doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.  What's hard for us can be impossible and unfair to a child- so we're willing to do the hard so that a child has a life full of family, love, laughter, friendship, belonging, confidence and hope.  After having our girls home 5 months, I couldn't agree with this more as the beauty is so much stronger than the hard!

Why a baby girl?
I know many will probably think, "If you're such a proponent of older child adoption, why are you adopting a baby girl?"  The answer is Aidan.  Right now, Aidan is 8, 9 and 10 years younger than his siblings.  He'll be 10 when Meskerem graduates high school.  He'll have 8 years at home essentially as an only child- there's a huge gap in age.  Ron and I both value and appreciate siblings.  We think they teach important life lessons about compromise, getting along with those different than you, relationships and family.  We want Aidan to have a little buddy and a sibling close to his age.  We've known for about a year now we would be adopting another little one, and we're so excited for the opportunity to parent a little girl.

There are beautiful things about adopting younger children that you don't get with older children.  And there are beautiful things about adopting older children that you don't get with younger children.  The experiences are very similar, yet so different.  Both are so special in our lives and I cherish both of the triumphs and struggles.  We've been very blessed to have had the opportunity to experience both, and are even more blessed we will be able to experience both again!

I'll always be a proponent of adoption.  I can never, every fault or criticize a family for adopting a baby and not an older child- both need families, love and support.  I love when families choose the path that is best for them!  I'll always be a strong advocate for older child adoption.  I have learned so much, have been challenged and pushed beyond belief, and have been amazed at the process.

Do you think you'll adopt again after this?
Honestly, I don't want to say "No" but I do know we won't be expanding our family any more in the near future.  IF we ever adopted agin, it would be when Aidan and Mak are in middle school/high school- at least- and it would be an older child domestic adoption.  Right now, we're going to be very happy with 5 kids and have no plans for more children in the future.  I think 5 kids in the house will be the limit :)

How is it all going to work?
We don't really know, expcet we know it will!  Ron and I will both work.  We'll use daycare and maybe a nanny in the summer.  We'll be busy, active, loud and moving at all times- I'm sure!  But I know it does!  We've talked to so many large families through adoption groups and I know it works!

I'll be 31 years old with 5 kids- ages 2, 4, 12, 12 and 13.  My family and I don't fit into any cookie cutter or mold.  We created our own shape in our own way, and it's beautiful and perfect!

As hard as it is to write sometimes, I hope to continue this blog for the next adoption.  We by no means adopt to inspire- we do it because it's what we were called to do.  It's what we want and need to do.  However, if our journey encourages or inspires anyone along the way- then I guess it's an added bonus.  If our journey helps at least one more child find their forever home either through domestic or international adoption- then that's an added bonus.  And if our journey helps to educate others on issues of adoption, the process and adoptive families, then that's an even better bonus!

A Christmas Prayer

On Christmas Eve, my family and I were headed to church in Chiang Mai, Thailand- where we live.  On the way to church, we drove down the main road in town that has "karaoke bars" where women, wearing tight, skimpy clothing, sit outside on bar stools as a means to recruit "business."  Driving by, our daughters (from conservative Ethiopian culture) saw a girl wearing an itty bitty red dress walk outside, and the following conversation occurred:

Daughter: "Mom, why she?  Why she wear?"
Me:  "You saw her?  What was she wearing?"
Daughter:  "Small clothes.  Mom, why?"

Me (thinking, "Ok, how mature are my girls and can they handle this?"  Then thinking, "yes, as females they need to - for the sake of the girl in the red dress, my girls need to hear this"):  "Well, there are many girls who wear small dresses in Thailand and around the world.  They wear those dresses because men pay them to.  Many of those women are very poor, and many have not been to school.  Many have had very hard lives and are actually very good people, just without many options or choices."

My daughters began to nod- they understood.  So I continued.

Me: "The men who pay these girls aren't good.  They don't treat girls as they should.  Many are not nice.  From now on, when you see girls like that, know they are good people with hard lives.  It's the men who look nice and normal and pay for the girls who are actually the bad ones."

My daughters nodded again- they got it.  No more questions...but this wasn't the conversation I wanted to have with my daughters on Christmas Eve.  In fact, this isn't a conversation I ever want to have to have with my daughters- it's a situation as a woman I wish we as humans could change.

I want nothing more than my daughters to grow up to be fierce: intelligent and brave.  I want them to be graceful, kind and loving.  I want them to feel beautiful but NEVER value that in themselves or in others.  I want them to be strong, confident and independent.  I want them to demand others see them for who they really are- not for their race, gender, or looks.  I think deep down this is every mother's wish.

To the girls sitting outside on Christmas Eve (keep in mind Thailand is a Buddhist country), my heart ached.  I'm sure once somewhere, their mothers wanted the same thing for their daughters.  But society failed these girls- we failed.  We didn't provide enough education, equality or opportunity.  We created dark holes that take advantage of such girls and fostered men who are willing to fuel this.

Studies have shown that at least 70% of girls in the sex industry do not "actively" choose that life.  Their lives have led them to it...they are often impoverished, orphaned/abandoned/trafficked, have little education, and come from cultures that do not completely value women or from broken families where love and belonging never fully existed.  Society preys upon these women (and men)- the most vulnerable, and provides an "opportunity" to feel love, belonging or self-worth, even if in the most derogatory way.  Can we blame these men and women?  I know I can't!

As an adoptive mother, this bothers me even more because I know this could have been the path my daughters would have been drawn into if they hadn't been adopted.  I know it potentially is the path their mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins or friends might have been drawn to as well.  As a female, this infuriates me that we, as a society, who theoretically believe men and women are equal, still objectify women.  As a human, this breaks my heart because I know society is failing so many.

On Christmas Eve, I had a realization.  I looked at my husband and I looked at my son.  As a mother, things for me changed.  Yes, I want my girls to be fierce, intelligent, bold, kind, strong, compassionate and brave.  I want the same things for my son.  But something clicked even more- I want my son to respect women- respect them in a way he doesn't view them as objects, bodies, or things to be lusted for.  I want him to respect who they are.

This want for my son goes beyond how he will treat women in relationships.  It will spread to my discussions regarding porn, strip clubs and magazines.  It will be recognizing that each time those are looked at or valued, women are undermined.  I hope to raise a son that can do better than that!

I know some critics will say that so many of these things are "natural."  Porn, strip clubs, prostitution.  I'm by no means prude, and I'm very realistic in this world.  But I also know we as humans are the most intelligent creatures on the planet and have a conscience, the ability to critically think and control our actions.  With those three things combined, I don't think recognizing the need to fully respect women is too difficult to do.

I've always thought girls are pretty special.  We have an extra bit of chromosome that men don't (we have 2 X-chromosomes whereas men have an X and a Y).  I know that little bit of extra chromosome makes us as women all a bit special- which should be recognized and respected- not objectified and preyed upon.

I hope you all join me in raising daughters to recognize their self-worth, and raising sons to value women as people, not objects.

And to the sweet girls sitting outside on Christmas Eve- Merry Christmas!  I said an extra prayer for you that night for strength, courage and understanding of self-worth.  And for the men who may have visited you that night- I prayed for conscience, knowledge and change.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Adoption Avenues- A Review

Over the past 18 months, I've been monitoring the traffic of this blog, and one of the main things people search for that lead them to the blog is "Adoption Avenues Review" or "Love Beyond Border Reviews."  I've received a lot of inquiries via e-mail regarding these topics as well and I finally decided to blog about it...

To get the punch line I'm sure you're all most interested in- yes, we have used Adoption Avenues for both a previous adoption and our current adoption in Ethiopia.  And yes, we recommend them for Ethiopian adoptions.

Now as for why...

Before we begin, I think it's important to cover a few things when reading ANY review about ANY adoption agency...

1.  No one is perfect, but we can strive for perfection
2.  What worked and works for my family may not work for you.  That's the beauty of choice in the adoption world- we have choices of agencies.  My recommendation is to ALWAYS chose the one that will work best for you and your family.  In the end, it's YOUR adoption, YOUR time, YOUR family, YOUR money, etc.  Find the agency you trust with your gut- that's the right one for you.
3.  International adoption is HARD. 
4.  International adoption is WORTH the WAIT...EVERY SECOND OF IT!  And worth the paperwork, the tears, the's worth it...over and over and over again!

I want to include that this blog posting should only be viewed as "current" for the next 6-12 months (if that)....adoptions change rapidly, as do country requirements and the process.  Therefore, I consider this to be a current review, but I realize that it won't always be current, and shouldn't always be viewed that way.  When researching adoption agencies, PLEASE try to find current reviews!  :)

Other recommendations I have when looking for adoption agencies- research, research, RESEARCH!  If you haven't found 1 bad thing about an agency, you're not looking hard enough :)  Let's face it- no one pleases everyone.  Also, remember there are 2 sides of every story- even for the bad reviews, you're getting 1 side.  Take them in stride.  And try to find out both sides...

Another recommendation- be wary (ok, VERY wary), of the "I heard that...." or "someone said that..." reviews.  In my opinion, unless someone has experienced something directly, their postings and views should be treated as distant opinion.  ALWAYS try to find the facts and the truth.  Find primary sources and people to talk to.  I think it's about time we stomp out the rumors around adoption and stick to the source!  :)

Ok, now for any review, you should know my biases...after all, this is my review....
1.  I'm a veterinarian.  I've devoted my entire life to learning science, questioning things and learning facts.  I don't buy rumors or myths easily (ok, let's be honest- at all).  I need proof.  This has made me very skeptical at times....
2.  As skeptical as I can be, I'm generally very trusting...I believe in people and the good.
3.  I grew up overseas and currently live overseas.  I have spent 1/4 of my life living in developing countries and have traveled to over 50 nations.  Why is this important?  I've seen, lived and sometimes understood the way things work abroad, especially in developing countries.  Ethics, rules, laws and morals are NOT black and white around the world.  They're also not the same.  What we do, think, believe and feel in the U.S. is NOT how the rest of the world acts, thinks, believes or feels- nor should they.  It's impossible and extremely unfair to expect what we WOULD do in the U.S. to happen overseas in all cases.  If you're going to adopt internationally, PLEASE prepare your expectations for my rough and tough Army husband would say- "expectation management" :)
4.  I have my set ethics and morals that apply to adoptions.  These most likely are at least slightly different than yours, which is wonderful.  Know your own morals and ethics when going into international adoption.  Mine will be evident in this blog.  It's ok if we disagree- that's the beauty of freedom of thought!

Oh, and for the record, EVERYTHING posted here is based upon my thoughts and experiences- I am not endorsed by Adoption Avenues in any way!

I think I laid out enough of an let me begin...

Adoption Avenues is a Hague-accredited, fully licensed adoption agency based out of Portland, Oregon.  It is run by a husband and wife pair who immigrated to the U.S. from Romania decades ago.  We used Adoption Avenues to adopt our 2-year old son from Ethiopia in 2012-2013 and are currently using this agency again to adopt our 2 older daughters from Ethiopia (2013-2014).

Why did we choose Adoption Avenues?
Before signing on with Adoption Avenues, my husband and I (ok, to be honest, me) contacted every adoption agency licensed to conduct adoptions in Ethiopia in the spring, 2012.  As we were moving to Thailand, we needed an adoption agency that was willing to work with Americans overseas.  As my husband is in the military, we needed an agency willing to work with a military family.  These criteria greatly narrowed down our list.  From there, we looked at timeline and cost.  We wanted an agency that generally adopted in less than 3 years AND wouldn't break the bank.  My husband and I have budged to be able to fund our adoptions ourselves, so cost was a very large concern.

Adoption Avenues was more than willing to work with us living overseas and being with the military.  At the time (May, 2012), the referrals for Ethiopia were under 6 months and their prices were extremely reasonable.  They matched our requirements.

I called Radu, the agency director, and he took a good hour out of his day to talk me through the process.  Radu was blunt, to the point, but kind.  Remember how I'm a vet?  I like facts...I like straight talkers...Radu was/is that and that was what we wanted.  In something as crazy as international adoptions, we didn't want fluff- we wanted the truth and knew Radu will provide that.

Eventually, our list was narrowed down to Adoption Avenues and I knew it was the right agency for us.  Remember, every family is different and they may not be the right agency for you- that's ok- choose the agency you feel is the right fit!

Would we adopt with Adoption Avenues again?
Yes :)  And we are.  We brought our beyond precious son home in February, 2012.  In May, 2012 we did the "CRAZY" and applied to adopt 2 children again with Adoption Avenues.  Before signing on with them again, we researched all agencies again- just to make sure nothing had changed.  And it hadn't.  Between the amazing experience we had adopting our son AND our criteria, we chose to adopt with Adoption Avenues again.  And if we were to adopt AGAIN...I KNOW...THE "CRAZY CRAZY" thing to do...yep, we would use them for a third time- no question.

What has the communication been like?
Radu (the agency director) is from Romania- an eastern European country.  English is his second language.  I'll preface this by saying before I read or conduct any correspondence with Radu, I remember this- it makes everything easier.

In my opinion and experience, the communication with Adoption Avenues hasn't been bad, but it hasn't been great.  However, it's been sufficient and effective, and it works.  Radu is a very busy man with many adoption cases.  With him, we have learned "no news is good news" and everything will and does get done.  I generally e-mail Radu instead of call because of the time difference between our two locations and generally get a full response within 24 hours.  There are times where responses come 2-3 days later if Radu needed to contact his staff in Ethiopia to answer my question(s)- there's usually a list.  They have always been answered though.  Radu is more thorough on the phone, but due to the time change, we generally only call when needed- which has been twice this adoption.  From my experience, Radu has been open, honest and kind on the phone.  Sometimes it almost felt too honest (especially on emotional days- but that's what I wanted going into this, and at the end of the day, that's what I'm grateful for).

What is the timeline like?
Over the past 12 months, adoptions in Ethiopia and the process have changed drastically and have slowed everything down.  With our older girls, our adoption will take about a year from Home Study to home (they were waiting and we knew them already, so no wait for referral).  For younger children, I have heard the wait time for referrals are now 12-15 months.  Yes, this seems long, but I still feel that it is reasonable, especially considering the increase in ethical practices that have caused this change and comparison to the wait times of other agencies.

Is Adoption Avenues ethical?
If you're new to the international adoption world, you'll quickly find that ethics is a hot topic on blogs, in forums and in the news- as it should be.  I have learned more and more about adoption ethics over the past 2 years, and continue to learn and refine my beliefs, as I'm sure you will.  It's important to note that just because ethics are discussed does not mean all adoptions are unethical- in fact, the opposite is true.  However, when working with developing countries, underprivileged populations and a lot of money, corruption and ethics can become an issue.  Questioning ethics and being aware of potential concerns will help ensure ethical adoptions, which let's be honest- we all want!  I hope this discussion doesn't scare anyone off- it's just something to be aware of.

In my opinion, YES, Adoption Avenues is ethical.  Remember my view of ethics may be different than yours, but in my view, they are ethical (and I'm pretty hard on ethics).  Both of our adoptions have been transparent and smooth.  With our son, I am 1,000% confident he truly needed a loving family (I can discuss these details with anyone interested in private).  With our daughters, my husband and I visited them for 5 days in January and with 1,000% certainty I can say they need a forever family as well. 

What is the staff in Ethiopia like?
NOTHING short of AMAZING!!!!!!  The nannies and staff at the foster home truly love the kids there.  All of the children have nicknames, get hugged and kissed constantly and showered with love.  The conditions there are by no means like the conditions in the U.S. (they're not bad though), but it's Ethiopia, remember- reasonable expectations- the key to a happy adoption :)  We brought our son back with us in January to visit (home for 10 months then) and ALL of the nannies remembered him from a year ago- they remembered his story, his nickname- some even cried seeing how healthy and big he was.  The staff in Ethiopia is worth using Adoption Avenues alone in my opinion!

The lawyer and country director are also amazing.  They get things done and know what they're doing.  They are gentle souls who accomplish much!  The drivers are superb!  The chef is amazing!  The guest house staff are true friends.  Each and every staff member in Ethiopia truly made our adoption experience that much more special and they are people I can't wait to see in only a few weeks.

What about International Family Services (IFS) or Love Beyond Borders (LBB)?
I'm not an agency with direct questions regarding IFS or LBB, I suggest contacting those agencies or families who have worked with them.  I do know that both IFS and LBB partner with Adoption Avenues in their Ethiopia program, so much of what I'm saying here applies to those agencies as they ultimately work through Radu.  The other specifics I don't know well enough to say (or I don't want to say what others have said because that's turning this blog into something I don't like about other blogs and review)...IF you would like to contact families who have worked with these agencies, please e-mail me...I'll be happy to get you in touch to hear directly about their personal experiences :)

Were there any hidden fees?
No!  Adoption Avenues was and has been very transparent with all the fees.  The fee sheet presented at the beginning has been consistent with what we have paid.  The only additional fees were the guest house fee in Ethiopia and driver fees (not hidden fees, just additional).

What other benefits are there?
Adoption Avenues is the only agency I know of that provides weekly updates of the children once they are referred.  After accepting a referral, you will receive 2 pictures and height/weight measurements of your children- usually on Thursday or Friday.  Additionally, you'll receive medical information and any other updates.  I can't tell you how amazing those weekly updates were while we were waiting to travel to adopt our son.  It was a true blessing to be able to watch him grow and develop through pictures while we couldn't be there. 

Another benefit is the amazing network of families that have adopted with Adoption Avenues all over the U.S.  Families meet for reunions, lunch, or even just skype to chat.  The support and friendships through other families is truly wonderful.

Are there waiting children?
To my knowledge, yes.  Adoption Avenues usually does not post their waiting children on websites (rainbowkids or  However, they usually do have waiting children- usually older children, sibling sets, HIV+ children, or children with special developmental or physical needs.  If interested in adopting waiting children, I think it would be best to contact Radu directly for more information.

Have you encountered any unexpected delays in your adoption with Adoption Avenues?
Yes...but I would argue these haven't been the agency's fault.  When doing an international adoption, be ready for delays- random, sudden delays even.  Adoption processes can sometimes change during  an adoption so there are many external factors (U.S. government, Ethiopian government, etc.).  In our current adoption especially, we have experienced delays- mostly with one U.S. government department due to poor work performance and organization.  Through the whole thing, Adoption Avenues has provided the required resources to get us out of the delays and we are moving forward.  Adoption is NOT easy, but OH SO WORTH IT!!!!

I'm sure there's so much more to write, but these are the questions I'm most commonly asked.  Remember that these are my opinions based upon my experiences and bias.  I'm more than happy to answer more questions via e-mail or phone...if there's anything I'm passionate about, it's helping parents grow their families and children finding their families through adoption!

If I can say anything to people beginning the adoption would be this...
It's hard...REALLY HARD.  At times, it makes you want to cry kind of hard.  But then, when it's all over, the love you have for your child(ren) and the joy of the process will still be enough to make you cry everyday- happy tears :) .  Adoption without a doubt has been the most rewarding and fantastic thing I have ever done, and the adoption community has been the most wonderful support system and group of friends I have ever known.  Not everyone is called to adopt, but if you're in for one heck of an amazing ride!

If you have any questions about adopting with Adoption Avenues, please let me know and I'll be happy to answer them!

I wish you the best of luck beginning your adoption journey and if there's anything I can do to help, please let me know!

Saturday, January 25, 2014


It's been awhile since my last update, despite so, soo, soooooo much going on with our adoption.  I wish I could provide updates as things happen and explain the process and all emotions involved as they happen, but I can't.  Especially over the past 6 weeks.  I feel like my heart and mind are finally at a point where I can write and share- I needed time to digest, think and reflect.

As many of you know, Ron, Aidan and I returned to Ethiopia in January to see our girls.  This wasn't a required trip for our adoption, but as we were flying back to the U.S. for Christmas, we decided to make a long layover on the way home to Thailand in Addis Ababa to spend Genna (the Ethiopian Christmas) with our girls and to do our best to trust everything about the adoption.  It will take several posts to get everything out, but keep in mind there are some things right now I can't share- for example, pictures of the girls and us as a family- not until we pass court.  However, there are some things we won't share, such as the girls' histories.  Those are incredibly personal, tough and raw- and things we don't have the right to share- our girls do.  As such, we'll be letting them share their whole story when the time comes, if it ever does.  Until then, we appreciate everyone's understanding of that aspect of adoption and the privacy needed for the sake of our girls.

So how can I describe our trip?  Amazing?  Fantastic?  UNBELIEVABLE?  Love?  Excitement?  Tough?  Frustrating?  Hard?  Scary?  How about all of the above?  All of those emotions were involved at almost any given moment, but I have to say- the most prevalent emotions- the ones we all felt the most were LOVE and HOPE!

This was our third trip to Ethiopia, and although we were there for the shortest amount of time, it was the most difficult trip.  The first trip- our court trip for Aidan last Christmas and when we traveled around Ethiopia for 2 weeks, was amazing.  That trip was sheer amazement at the country of Ethiopia, her people and her cultures.  I fell in love and saw beauty.  The second trip- the trip we traveled to pick-up Aidan, I felt excitement and overwhelming love- this was my son's country and I had my son.  But it also was bittersweet in that I saw the aspects of Ethiopia that led to orphans, as I was holding a child, whose life was dictated by these events and circumstances, in my arms, forever. 

This past trip was different.  I felt love, so much love.  But I also saw the parts of Ethiopia (or any developing country) that really tears at one's soul and makes you ask, "WHY!?!??!?"  It's not like I never noticed these things before- I did, it's just they really stood out for me this time.  Keep in mind, I have traveled extensively throughout the developing world, and live in Thailand- a developing country.  Poverty, disease, hunger, thirst, etc...those are not new to me.  In fact, seeing some of those things are part of my daily life.  I guess at times I may forget what they truly are...and maybe that's why parts of this trip were so tough- my eyes were FLUNG open again, as well as my heart. 

I don't want to lecture, or sound anti-American.  I love the U.S. of A. and am beyond proud and grateful I'm an American.  I'm grateful for my education, my freedoms, my health, my choices and my living situation- almost all of which I can attribute to being from America.  But man, things are night and day between the U.S. and other parts of this world.

When we arrived back in the States from Thailand, Costco and Kroger were culture shocks...It took awhile for the vast amount of EVERYTHING to sink in...we have access to EVERYTHING and ANYTHING, and take advantage of it all- and want it as cheap and perfect as possible.  We complain about our healthcare, our water quality, etc.  Heck, so many Americans don't even drink the potable water from the faucet by choice- they choose bottled water instead because it tastes better.  We have access to every kind of food imaginable.  So much so that we can choose to go on crazy diets by choice to loose weight or for perceived health benefits (I'm not talking about food allergies here) Adkins, gluten-free, etc.  It kills me that people in America can actually make the choice to do these things when well over 1/2 of the world's population is struggling to even consume enough energy a day to survive- never mind you what kind of nutrient value is involved, the source of the food, how "organic" it is, or how it was processed.  Most people in this world still want food- and water, no matter where it comes from, or how it tastes.  I'm still amazed that people in the West are dying of diseases from eating too much whereas people in the developing world are still dying from eating too little- ok, I know...rambling rant!

So imagine how we felt when we landed in Ethiopia- where Thialand looks like a developed country in comparison.  Imagine how we feel when the kids at our girls' orphanage wanted us to bring fruit for their Genna treat- not soda, not candy, not cookies- as they don't have the luxury of eating a lot of fruit due to the cost, variety available and variety?  Imagine how we felt when we saw every child eating EVERY. LAST. PIECE. OF. FOOD. on their plate because they don't know if, or when the next meal will be coming?  Culture shock galore.

And it hit me.  This is the life my girls know.  This is where they come from, and this is what they had to endure.  Hunger, thirst, abuse, abandonment, loss, death, neglect, disease, poverty, fear...the list goes one.  I'm pretty sure most of my fellow moms in the West reading this don't identify any one of those items with their children.  Sadly, for us, all of those terms fit our children in one way or another.  I'm not saying that for pity or sympathy.  I'm saying it because it's real.  It's the "real world" as I'm beginning to see, and it's closer to my heart than I ever thought I would know.

While in Ethiopia, we learned the whole story of our girls' paths.  I cried, they cried- heck, we all cried.  I tried being strong, but I was crumbling.  To be honest, I still am...and I'm still trying to put the pieces together.  I'm getting better, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be back to the way I was- not after hearing certain things about my daughters- I don't know how anyone can be.  I'm still building, and still processing.  And I can only imagine how our girls feel- and I can't even imagine how they cope.

Despite all I saw, heard and felt over the 6 days in Ethiopia- despite all of the pain, hunger, poverty, lack of opportunity, excessive need and pain- something prevailed...HOPE!  Hope was everywhere- in the smiles of the children, in the eyes of women carrying wood for fuel on their backs, and in our girls' giggles and squeals while playing soccer as a family.  And that gives me hope.  I have immense hope that despite everything our girls' have experienced, we can mold ourselves together as a family and live out our girls' Cinderella stories.  I have immense hope that despite all of the need, things are improving, and things can get better.  And I have hope in myself- hope that I can strive to find and focus on the important things in life- family, friends, those in need, and my health- not the petty things that consumes me daily.  And I have hope that I won't take as many things for granted...that's my New Year's Resolution- to be happier with what I have.  After all, I have more than one could ever want, let alone ever need.

I know in the U.S., we have plenty to complain about- our educational system, health care, taxes, etc (you know, "First World Problems" :)  ).  But there's BEYOND enough to be grateful for.  After reading this, I hope you take one minute and look around- look at all that there is that we can be truly grateful for- I can guarantee you it's more than most could ever imagine.  And then I ask that you have hope.  Hope that things can improve for the better, and that tomorrow will be better than today.  After all, if my girls can maintain hope, I'm pretty sure that most of us can! :) 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dear Aidan, Day 15 (Lalibela, Genna)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dear Aidan,

In less than 48 hours, you’ll be in my arms again!  I can’t even imagine having to wait 6-8 weeks for the US Embassy to clear our adoption in order to hold you!  10 days has been long enough!  How has your day been?  We’ve heard there are a few families staying at the guesthouse, so maybe you’ve seen some friends tour the foster home!  Hopefully you are well and getting lots of sleep in preparation for our return to Addis!

Today was another great day!  I am truly exhausted and lying in bed feels amazing!  Dad and I woke up early to get ready for the day- around 6AM!  Our hotel still didn’t have water as the city is having a water shortage, let alone with all of the pilgrims here.  After we were ready, we had a delicious breakfast of tea, toast, scrambled eggs and French toast.  The French toast is different than the toast I make.  It’s still bread soaked in eggs, but it’s deep friend instead of cooked on a griddle.  Early in the morning, it tastes wonderful!  After breakfast, Dad and I began walking into town where we were to meet Addis, our guide.

The pilgrims were already up early walking towards the churches.  This morning, there were an especially large number of animals being brought to the town as well.  They were all going to the Christmas market to be sold as fasting ends on Christmas Day (Genna, January 7).  There were even more people out and about today than there was yesterday!  After meeting Addis at the city center, which lies up a very large hill at around 2,600m, we sat down for coffee.  The coffee here still amazes me in that I actually like it if a lot of sugar is added!  I’m not sure you’ll ever see me drinking coffee outside of Ethiopia!  Addis explained that he needed to go the airport, and that his friend would be our guide for the day.  We met up with Yelmo, his friend, who would guide us on our hike.

This morning, Dad and I hiked to 10,165 feet!  There is a large mountain to the east of Lalibela that has 2 old monasteries and a church on top.  It is very popular for pilgrims to climb so we decided to try it!  Many “faranji” (foreigners) ride on mules to the top.  We walked/hiked/climbed!  As such, all of the locals were surprised, and happy, to see Dad and I walking/huffing-and-puffing our way to the top!  The hike was 14 km round trip and the first half was quite the climb!  There were a lot of switchbacks on rocky soil.  I definitely felt the elevation!  There were hundreds of pilgrims on the mountain, and many passed us!  Yes, we were slow compared to the locals!  They are amazing!  There were even goats, sheep and many large cows and bulls that were climbing the mountain or coming down for market!  We had to be fast to get out of the way! 

It’s funny because when Dad was in Nepal in November 2011, he went on a hike with his team in the Annapurna Mountains.  His goal in some of the highest mountains in the world was to climb above 10,000 feet.  However, they had to turn around just short of that.  Today, your Dad brought his GPS with him (no surprise there)!  At the top, it was clear we had climbed above 10,000 feet- in Ethiopia!  How amazing!

Dad and I practiced our Amharic!  Every time we said “Salam,” “Salam-no,” or some other words, the locals smiled.  Some even laughed.  Many thought Dad was fluent in Amharic and tried talking to him.  Our guide was impressed and said that the locals loved that we were trying!  We loved making them smile and feeling connected to them!

After our travels in Ethiopia, we were actually able to determine where certain people were from based upon their hair styles- well, the women at least!  Women from Axum/Tigray often had the front half of their hair braided back, and the rest left natural, but cut short.  Women from Addis were a bit more fashionable.  And women from the local area had complete shawls on and short hair.  Many local women from Lalibela wore green dresses with white buttons- the traditional dress of the area.  About ½ of the people had shoes, the others did the climb barefoot!  I was very impressed!

Along the way, we stopped to take hundreds of pictures.  The landscape and mountains were gorgeous!  It was wonderful to see the town of Lalibela below with her churches!  We also walked through many local villages and made friends with children!  The locals on the mountain live in round huts made of sticks with thatched roofs- tukuls.  This was a different design of house than what we’ve seen previously!

Once we reached the top, we saw the Ashetan Maryam monastery.  This was carved into the mountainside for a way for priests and Christians to be “closer to God and heaven.”  Heaven it was!  King Lalibela was believed to have commissioned the monastery.  Inside the monastery, we saw the monastery’s gold Cross of Lalibela, as well as Axum.  From the monastery, we climbed up even further into a small cave/alley to the top.  Up here, we observed the church on top of the mountain!  There were many priests and monks!  We were even able to have our picture taken with some!

The way down from the monastery was scary- it was loose dirt and rocks.  Dad and I went slow and many locals passed us!  Many came down singing and chanting with clapping rhythms!  Groups of 20 people or more would sing their songs!  I purchased some cloth dolls made by local girls.  These will be for you to play with!  I loved them!

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain and were back in Lalibela, we set off to meet up with Addis.  We thanked our guide and headed towards the Christmas market.  Lalibela was very crowded by now, so we walked slowly down the gravel and rocky streets.  The market was unbelievably crowded with people buying and selling everything!  Addis was our loyal guide and I followed your Dad by holding onto his shirt.  We saw people selling pots and pans, eating utensils, clothing including shirts that said “Obama”, fruits like oranges and lemons, and vegetables like tomatoes and onions.  At the bottom of the market was the animal section, where goats, sheep, cows and donkeys were for sale.  It was very chaotic but amazing to see! 

After the market, we headed back to our hotel for lunch.  We had a delicious lunch of pasta, French fries and beef fingers!  It was perfect after our long day of hiking!  Our hotel had water, so we took advantage of it by having hot showers.  Then, we got dressed again and ready for the afternoon!

We were met outside our hotel by our guide assistant.  For each church, we are required to take off our shoes.  We hired an assistant to watch our shoes to make sure that they weren’t stolen.  As a bonus, he brought our shoes to the door we exited out of- quite the touch!  We walked through another market to the southern group of churches.  There were 5 more churches to see and Addis was there waiting!

The first church was Bet Gabriel-Rufael, a set of twin churches that are connected.  The entrance to this church was through an alleyway carved into the rock earth that opened up into a very large area.  The church is extremely tall and has a silver-colored rock roof that’s called the “Way to Heaven.”  The entrance was via a bridge at the top story of the church, which was different from the other churches which have entrances on “ground” level.  It is possible that this church was made for Askumite royality in the 8th Century…maybe there was more than one king around Lalibela for some time!  Bet Rufael’s roof collapsed, and so services are not held there anymore.  Below the 2 churches are buried rooms…rooms below the churches already underground!

The next church was Bet Merkorios.  There is a long, very dark and narrow tunnel from Bet Garbriel to Bet Merkorios.  It is nicknamed, “Hell.”  Due to the crowds, we didn’t access the tunnel today…maybe tomorrow.  Much of the roof of Bet Merkorios collapsed about 100 years ago.  75 years ago, much of the church was restored.  However, there was barbed wire surrounding parts of the roof to prevent people from walking on it…just in case!  There is rumor that this church, at first, wasn’t a church at all!  It may have been a prison or a courthouse as chains and shackles were found.  But maybe people were devote followers as well…who knows!

Inside this church, we saw many old paintings.  One of the paintings was from the 15th Century and depicted the 3 wisemen, one of which was from Ethiopia!  There was also a painting showing the 12 apostoles, as well as the stations of the cross.  These paintings were painted on cotton fabric, and were attached to the walls with mud, straw and ox blood!

Next, we visited Bet Amanuel.  The entrance to this church was through many alley-ways, stair cases and tunnels carved into the stone earth.  Without Addis, we would have been lost!  This church may have been the private chapel for King Lalibela’s family.  King Lalibela wanted the church to resemble churches in Askum, which are made of rock and wood.  The rock of this church was carved so that the texture looks like rock and wood in alternating layers- amazing!  There is an upstairs section of the church that was closed off.  Under the church, there are 3 tunnels that lead to the other churches!  Along the wall outside of the church, there were many graves of pilgrims.  There were also very deep tunnels for monks and nuns (“hermits”) to live back when the church was first built.  Additionally, one of the walls has a beehive!  This is in honor of King Lalibela- the “honey eater.”  To this day, it is believed that honey produced in churches has special healing powers!

The last church of the day, and of Lalibela, was Bet Abba Libanos.  This church was very unique in that it is made of 2 parts!  The ceiling and floor are the same stone that were carved hollow.  The church itself is of a different stone, so the church is called a hypogeous church.  The church is made to look like it is a small neck supporting a large head with a crown of thorns like the one Jesus wore.  As such, the floor and ceiling are much larger than the church.  Another unique thing about this church is the story.  Although angels are rumored to have helped with the other churches, they really helped with this one!  King Lalibela’s wife, Meskel Kebra, built this church with the help of many other women.  No men were allowed!  But the amazing legend is that they built this church in 24 hours!  Men claim angels must have helped!  Women claim they did it on their own!  :)

After this last church, we climbed to a look-out point where we could see all 11 churches and the Christmas market.  After taking in these sites, we thanked Addis for all of his help and for being an amazing guide!  We headed back to the market for some shopping!  I bought a reusable bag made from a concrete bag that has Amharic on it.  We also bought scarves for our family.  For you, we bought a scarf that is green, white, yellow and red- the colors of the Ethiopian flag.  We also bought a beautiful blanket!

We then made our way back to our hotel where we sat down outside for some dinner.  We at popcorn (part of a coffee ceremony) and fasting food.  After dinner, we retired to our room.

As I sit here, there is a priest below giving a sermon over a microphone.  The house next door has the voices of happy families chatting and a sheep baying very loudly.  It was purchased today for the feast to come!  This city is still very lively!

Tomorrow will be a very crowded but fascinating day!  Then after tomorrow, we’ll be back in Addis with you!  Oh, how I can’t wait!

Sweet dreams Aidan Bedassa!