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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dear Aidan: Day 11

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dear Aidan,

Happy New Year, sweet boy!  It's the very beginning of an entirely new year with many great things ahead!  This year, you will legally become ours and forever be a son in a loving family.  You'll forever be in our arms.  You'll visit the US and meet your extended family.  You'll move to Thailand and entertain your 3 big puppies!  You'll learn to walk, to talk, and to play.  You'll go swimming in a pool, travel though a jungle and see amazing things.  It will be quite an amazing year, and to think, today is just day 1!

Today was another great day for your Dad and I as we enjoyed entering into the next leg of our journey!  This morning, we woke up early in Gonder, grabbed a very fast breakfast, and then took a shuttle to the airport.  We ate a delicious, large breakfast at the airport of eggs, french toast and tea.  We then boarded a plane and flew an hour north to the city of Axum.

Axum is in northern Ethiopia, very close to Eritrea.  The two countries used to be one until the Civil War.  Then, Eritrea became its own country, taking with it Ethiopia's coastline.  So today, Ethiopia is landlocked.  There's still some fighting on the border and tensions are high.  The border crossings are closed so even though we're so close to another country, we can't get there over land.  

Axum was the capital of the Axumite Kingdom, which existed from about 0-1,000 AD.  The Axumite Kingdom was the second oldest kingdom in Africa- second to only the Egyptians.  It quickly converted to Christianity in the 3rd-4th Centuries and was one of the first Christian Empires in the world.

When we landed in Axum, we were surrounded by an entirely new environment.  The land was dry and almost barren.  It was hot.  And mostly flat.  The local houses are made of mud and stone, which is a change from the mud and wood houses we saw earlier in Gonder and Bahir Dar.  Arriving here, I realized why Ethiopia struggled so much during the drought in the 1980s.  This region was hit hard.  Life here already seems hard enough with little water and tough land.  But I can imagine how it was without any rain.

The city of Axum is very small, but nice.  It consists mainly of a 4-lane road with a very nice median in the middle.  There are many hotels, restaurants and shops along the way.  A van from our hotel met us at the airport.  As expected, there was a guide in the van who was willing and able to assist us in our plans.  We stayed at the Africa Hotel, where our room was $10.00 a night.  It was either that or pay $80.00 a night for a nicer hotel.  We decided to be adventerous!

Once at the hotel, we checked in.  The hotel had a large open area/plaza in the middle.  Our room was simple- a queen bed and table, and bathroom.  There was a shower and running water (although our hot water didn't work).  The area was secure, so we took it!  We then met with our guide and arranged a 2-day trek to the churches of Tigray.  We leave tomorrow and will have our driver and car for 2 days.  It should be quite the adventure!  Once everything was finalized, we set out to explore Axum for the day on our own.

Axum is a very interesting town.  It is based somewhere between truth and legend.  Ethiopians claim Axum is the home to Queen Sheba- one of the world's most mystical and beautiful women that ever lived.  No one knows for sure if Queen Sheba existed, and if she did, where she was from.  Yemen and Ethiopia both claim her as their own.  But in Ethiopia, there's no doubt she lived, and was from Ethiopia.  By the end of our day, Dad and I had a joke...

Me: "Did Queen Sheba really exist?"
Dad: "I don't know.  Axum!"  (pronounced Ask 'em)
Me: "Is the Arc of the Covenant really in the St. Mary of Zion's church?"
Dad:  "I don't know.  Axum!"

This could go on and on about all of the legends that we learned today as fact.

We hired a tuk-tuk driver who knew English and he drove us to the Queen of Sheba's Palace.  This was an area of collapsed stones that once was a large house/estate.  They are currently working on restoring the site.  It is rumored that Queen Sheba actually lived in this house.  However, many historians believe it was the house of a nobleman.  But it's still Queen Sheba's Palace...

Across the dirt road was a field of small stellae.  I cannot say that word in front of your Dad as he prefers the word OBELISK.  Just to bug him, I say stellae :).  Stellae are carved stones that the people in the Axumite Kingdom used for headstones.  The field was covered with the stellae- most had collapsed or fallen down, some were still standing.  Who was buried there?  Axum (our saying for WHO KNOWS)!  Why were they there?  Axum!

Our guide book, Lonely Planet, described a place near by with an impression of a female lion on a rock.  There is a legend (or true story...) that says St. George was in Axum and was got in a fight with a female lion, who represented the devil.  She was a large beast and after much fighting, St. George finally was able to throw her body against the rock, winning the battle.  To this day, there is an impression of a female lion in the mountain.

Reading this story, Dad and I thought that the face of the female lion must be in the mountain nearby.  Parts of the mountain must look like a female lion.  We started looking and both picked out what we thought was our female lion in the rock.  

I thought the cliff face was the lion's head, looking left.  Dad thought it was the cluster up top looking straight ahead...

Our tuk-tuk driver kept telling us, "No!  You can't see it from here!"  So we asked for him to show us.  We ended up hiking for about an hour up a very large hill.  We were wearing Crocs, and with the heat and dirt, quickly regretted our choice.  It was very hot and dry, and we were not wearing the best clothes!  After scramgling up rocks, climbing past trees, and making our way up hill, our guide stopped.  There was a large boulder with the shape of a female lion carved on it.  That was it!

Meanwhile, Dad and I kept waiting and waiting to see a massive shape of a female lion in the mountain.  But no, it was just the carving.  We honestly couldn't believe that lion made it into the guide book, or that we walked for an hour to see it.  But we did and took a few pictures to remind of us this hillarious story!

On the way down from our hike, we stopped to see where many of the large stellae were carved.  Some of the stellae in Axum are at least 20 meters high and are carved out of one solid piece of stone.  We saw the ancient quarry where the stellae were carved from granite.  Many stellae were only part carved.  No one knows why they were never completed.  After all, Axum!

When we were almost to our tuk-tuk, we walked through a field.  There were 3 farmers using 3 cattle to stomp their tef.  The farmers tied their cows together and walked them in a circle to help crush the tef so it could be used to make injera.  We stopped to say hello.  I, of course, told the farmer that they animals looked great, which they did.  This made them very happy and they wanted to show us everything.  They demonstrated how they harvest, stomp and collect tef.  We said it looked wonderful and then one farmer disappeared.  He soon returned with a large basket full of fresh injera made from his tef and a heaping mound of freshly made spicy topping.  We wanted us to eat and eat and eat.  He was very excited to have us there and loved that we were interested in his job.  I had our driver translate for us.  I said that his job was incredibly important and that his work is very admirable.  Because of him, many more are able to have food.  He smiled and gave me a very big toothless grin when he heard this!  

We thanked them very much for their generosity and left them some money as a thank you (we felt bad eating their food when they don't have much).  Once back in the tuk-tuk, we sank back in our seats.  It felt so nice to sit down!  Our driver drove us back to town and dropped us off at an Ethiopian restaurant.  We gave him a large tip for his guiding services before ordering a delicious meal!  Once we sat down, we started laughing!  We couldn't believe we walked all that way for a carved lion in the rock!  Oh well ;)

After lunch, we walked to the main stellae field in Ethiopia.  Egypt has the Giza pyramids that served as final burying places for their pharohs.  Ethiopia has the stellae field.  Each stellae is unique and had its own tomb built under it.  It is still unknown who was actually buried there (AXUM)! as the tombs were all raided by tomb raiders hundreds of years ago.  It is rumored that the tombs had beautiful treasures and ellaborate coffins.  They have found a few artifacts and are piecing together the mysteries.

Dad and I enjoyed our time exploring the tombs.  A few had very long passageways and hidden rooms.  They are still excavating the tombs and are finding more hidden areas.  Again, it was something we didn't quite except finding in Ethiopia!

After the tombs, Dad and I walked up a hill to see the Queen of Sheba's bath.  We were anticipating an ellaborate place like we saw in Gonder.  But these baths were a bit was essentially a large reservoir.  Most historians don't think this was ever used for the Queen's bath, but for a water supply for the town!  Of course, when we arrived, there was an entire family bathing!  So I guess it is a bath!

On the way back to town, we walked past St. Mary's of Zion Church.  This is the most famous Orthodox Christian church in Ethiopia.  It is very large and was built in the 1970s.  It is not the most beautiful church, but is interesting to say the least.  Inside the church grounds is a small chapel.  In this chapel, it is said that the Arc of the Covenant (the stone tablets carved by Moses with the 10 Commandments from God) are kept.  Legend has it that the Arc of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia by Queen Sheba's son and have been kept here ever since.  Priests guard the chapel and foreigners are not anywhere near the chapel.  No one is allowed to see the Covenant, except for the local Axum priest.  Is the Arc of the Covenant in Axum?  AXUM!

We walked back to our hotel and came across a few teenage boys trying to sell local Ethiopian clothing.  I really wanted a shirt for Dad and an outfit for you.  Dad tried on some shirts, but they were way too small!  The boys were very disappointed as they wanted to make a sale.  Dad said that if they found a shirt that would fit him, he would buy it!  The boys ran all around town looking for a shirt to fit Dad!  They also were looking for a small outfit to fit you!  About an hour later, when we were just ordering dinner at our hotel, they arrived!  

The boys had found an XXL shirt that fit Dad (almost).  It was still a little tight, but it was the best we figured we would find.  They also found a small outfit for you, size S.  It was perfect!  We bought the clothing and the boys were so happy!  They couldn't hide their excitement.  And doing business with them really made Dad and I happy.  They were so cute and nice and were wonderful businessmen!  

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of local Ethiopian food and steak, which was very, very, very well cooked!  We were laughing at how dirty our feet had become during the day!  After dinner, we went across the street to check our e-mail and get in touch with family back home.  We then retreated to our very simple room.  Dad studied and I started your daily letter.

Sweet dreams Mr. Bedassa!  I cannot wait to be able to spend 2013 with you and watch you learn and grow!  I know every year after this will keep getting better and better!  But for now, this will be the best year yet- for you, Dad and I!


All my love!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dear Aidan: Day 10

Monday, December 31, 2012

Dear Aidan,

Good evening sweet boy!  How was your day?  What did you do and learn?  Have any new families come through to visit?  I know there is at least 1 family with their court date tomorrow.  It makes me so happy to know that another sweet baby will be getting a forever family! 

Today was amazing!  Dad ranks it as the best part of the trip so far- minus all of the time spent with you!  We went to the Simien Mountains and experienced life with the Gelada Baboons!

We woke up very early- around 6AM.  We enjoyed the best shower of the trip so far- warm water, high water pressure and a normally placed shower head.  It was chilly, and we were told that the Simien Mountains were even colder.  I dressed in many layers as living in Thailand has turned me into an even bigger baby when it comes to cold weather!  The average year-round temperature in Chiang Mai is 85 degrees.  It’s the “cool season” now, but we still go to the pool all the time because the daily highs are around 85-90!  You’ll be in for a treat!

Once we were ready, we ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, French toast and hot tea.  At 7AM, we walked outside and met our driver.  We piled into our Land Rover and started off.  It was about a 2-3 hour drive to the Simien Mountains, so we enjoyed the views.  We passed by many local villages, a few small towns, hundreds of farms, multiple shepherds and school children running to school.  I love watching Ethiopia as it’s truly fascinating! 

The road to the Simien Mountains was recently paved, which made for a very nice drive.  The road was built by the Chinese as a way to improve trade and transportation in Ethiopia.  Dad thinks they’re doing it to help transport resources from Africa.  It seems as if every Ethiopian knows the Chinese build the roads.  Dad and I became bound and determined to find things people knew the Americans did!

Along the way, we stopped several times to take pictures of the view.  The landscape was beautiful!  We were on a plateau with jagged edges.  Down below lay steep rolling hills in various colors- reds, browns, and greens.  It reminded us of the Grand Canyon and Badlands National Park in the US.  Soon, we arrived at the town of Debark.  Here, the paved road ended and the dirt road began.

We stopped at the National Park station to pay our daily fee.  We were also assigned a local guide and an armed scout- both of which were required!  We walked across the street to a small restaurant and ordered food to take for lunch.  We ordered a few egg and steak sandwiches.  We tried ordering some for our scout and guide, but both were fasting for the upcoming Genna.  We also bought several Snickers bars for dessert- one for everyone.  The scout and guide held onto theirs for later when they could eat.

Once everything was arranged, we climbed back in our car and headed off.  We drove for about another hour through the National Park.  It was stunning!  I had no idea Ethiopia had such lush landscape.  We told our guide our goal was to hike and see the baboons.  We parked the car to get out.  We were officially on a trek for the baboons!

We walked across a wide, grassy outcrop and then began our hike along the side of the cliff.  The baboons are endemic to Ethiopia- that means they aren’t found anywhere else.  At night, they live in the cliffs for safety.  But around 6AM, they climb the cliffs to come up onto the grassy plateau.  They live solely on grass and grassroots and spend their entire day grazing.  They sit on their bums and use their very nimble fingers to pluck and pull at the grass.  Once they have cleared one spot, they move to the next.  We were told that 16,000 baboons live in the national park!  They live in large groups ranging from 50 to several thousand baboons.  Our guide seemed confident that we would find some!

Gelada Baboon’s have the nickname of “Bleeding Heart” baboons.  Most baboons have unique colorations on their bums because they walk on their hands and feet.  Their butts are in the air and easy to see.  However, the Gelada baboons sit most of the day.  Having bright colorations on their bums wouldn’t be so helpful in attracting a mate.  As such, the males have bright red marks on their chests.  This way, their coloration can still be seen when they’re grazing.  This marking looks like blood over the heart, hence their nickname.

We walked for about 1 hour looking for the baboons.  We heard them several miles away, but had no luck finding them.  We also saw areas where they have grazed and recent droppings.  We decided to try another area and walked to the car.  We drove for about 5 minutes before we saw a HUGE group.  There were hundreds of baboons grazing.  We climbed out and went to meet our new friends!

In Africa, baboons are considered some of the most dangerous animals.  They are territorial and aggressive.  Normally, you cannot get within several hundred meters of a baboon, and doing so is not recommended.  However, the Gelada baboons are the only non-aggressive species of baboon.  They do not mind humans, just as long as we gave them 1-meter space.  They were not tame by any means, but tolerant and non-fearful.  

We began to walk around the baboons.  They were everywhere!  It was incredible and felt like a dream!  The females are much smaller than the males.  Many females had a baby with them.  They carry their babies around piggyback.  When the moms stop to graze, the babies jump off and meet up with another baby to play.  There were several play groups of babies, all causing trouble- running up trees, tackling each other, screaming loudly!  It is amazing to see how much like humans they are!

The males were gorgeous.  They had longer fur and were much larger than the females.  They had long, flowing manes and beautiful markings on their chest.  I was much more cautious around them because they had GINORMOUS teeth!  YIKES!  If we got too close, they would flash their teeth and us and we would quickly back away!  The guides kept laughing and telling us we were ok as we always had more than 1 meter between us.  Although I trusted them, I trusted my instincts around animals and veterinary training a bit more!  We have you to get back to and I wanted to be in 1 piece for when we do!

We spent about 2 hours walking with the baboons.  We took hundreds of pictures and at least an hour of video.  I loved being with them, but Dad loved it more.  He kept saying that he truly felt like he was on an African safari being with the baboons.  He had never seen anything like it!  I loved that he was getting that experience in Ethiopia!

We decided to eat lunch with the baboons.  We pulled together a few rocks to sit on.  We took out our sandwiches and enjoyed a much-needed meal.  The baboons continuing grazing around us and didn’t mind at all that we were there.  It was so relaxing and peaceful- just the baboons and us!

Around 2PM, it was time to leave.  We said good-bye to the baboons and walked back to our car.  We drove back to Debark and said good-bye to our guide and scout!  They were incredibly nice and gentle.  Dad wasn’t sure why we needed an armed scout upon reflection of the day, but we realized it was another job.  The scout and guide each cost about 100 Birr (about $5.00) for the day.  Dad and I each gave them a 100 Birr tip and they were thrilled.  By no means do we want to cause inflation in Ethiopia, but they did their job- they found us the baboons!  Plus, both of them had children and I wanted their children to have good, healthy food and warm beds!

The way back to Gonder was just as amazing as the drive this morning.  We took more pictures and reminisced about our lunch with the baboons.  When we arrived in Gonder, we tipped our driver and gathered our things.  It was about 5PM and we needed dinner.  We found a wonderful place on top of a hill that served Ethiopian and Western food.  We ordered injera with steak tips and a pizza.

Although Ethiopia was never colonized by the Italians, it was occupied by them.  Italy has had a large role in Ethiopia’s history.  As such, many Ethiopians enjoy Italian pasta- including pasta and pizza.  As much as we enjoy Ethiopian food, we sure do enjoy our pasta and pizza!  The chef was amazing and took pride in his food.  He was very concerned with how we liked the food and was very appreciative when we ate it all.

After dinner, we wandered the streets of Gonder for a little while before returning to our room.  It was New Years Eve and we wanted to call our families back home.  It was New Years Eve morning in the US when we called, but it was nice to talk to everyone for a longer time on Skype.  We told them all about you and how much we love you.  We also shared our adventures in Ethiopia thus far.

Dad and I didn’t quite make it to midnight, even though it was New Years Eve.  We were rather tired and had an early morning flight to catch!  I know we’re a bit lame, but we’ll have plenty other New Years to celebrate with you in the future!

Happy New Year’s Eve sweet boy!  I am so excited for 2013 to be here.  It will be, without a doubt, the best year Dad and I have ever had.  You will officially become ours, we’ll be able to bring you home forever, and we’ll be able to learn and grow as a family! 

Sweet dreams little one!  I love you!

All my love,