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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

NEVER say NEVER :)

Since we first started dating, Ron and I knew we wanted adoption to be our Plan A to build a family- and by a family, we mean multiple children.  As much as we love and adore Aidan, and as fulfilled we are by being his parents, parts of our hearts are still missing.

Before bringing Aidan home, we knew we would adopt again.  As much as we wanted to adopt from Thailand, the adoption system here in combination with our timeline in Thailand won't allow us to do so.  This was very heartbreaking for us to endure, and we went through a sense of loss through the process, especially knowing and loving many of the kids at the local orphanages in town.  However, after traveling to Ethiopia twice this past year, we realized maybe there are other plans in store.

We truly and utterly fell in love with Ethiopia, its culture, its landscapes and its people.  We couldn't be any more proud that Aidan is from such a wonderful country.   When we left Ethiopia, we had a strong feeling that we would be back...we just didn't know how soon!  In fact, I remember telling Ron and even the Director of Adoption Avenues' Foster Home (Sister) in Ethiopia that we would be back in a year...to adopt TWO girls!  Looking back, this was some insight (this blog post has all sorts of foreshadowing) :)

At first, Ron and I agreed on a year...in 1 year, we would start the adoption process again in Ethiopia.  And then we agreed on 6-months after having Aidan home...

And then we agreed on 3-months after having Aidan home.  For our adoption of Aidan, we have to do post-placement reports at 3, 6 and 12-months of having Aidan home with a social worker.  As we figured we were paying for an American social worker who lives in Bangkok to fly up to Chiang Mai already for the post-placement report, we would go ahead and begin our next HomeStudy for the next adoption- just in case!

During this time, Ron and I talked a lot about what our family would look like. After much discussion, we had decided on adopting 2 more children- a little boy and girl.  We had decided on ages we would request and even names!  Our families were thrilled, and so were we!  We were planning on finishing our HomeStudy in August, sending off our Dossier in September, and hopefully receiving referrals for our two new little ones in December/January, and then finally bringing them home next summer!

Well...

Some things change :)

Back up to January and February when we were in Ethiopia.  During our two trips, we visited Aidan's original orphanage, Biftu Orphanage, 3 times.  During that time,  we played with all the small children.  In fact, we even considered trying to adopt a second baby in Ethiopia during our first trip.  Before going to visit the orphanage the first time, I remember a conversation Ron and I had.  I was crying on the bed at the Adoption Avenues guest house, BEGGING Ron to consider adopting more.  I kept telling him, "What if we fall in love with another child?"  "What if we find our next child today?"  He was trying to be nice, but it was evident that at the time, adopting another child wasn't in our cards...at that time.

While at the orphanage, we met over 60 children that were there- many in need of forever, loving families and homes.  At the time, we were most interested in seeing the babies and the younger kids- and hearing Aidan's story.  However, the older children stole the show!  We brought them lots of fresh fruit to enjoy, and they gave us a personal tour of the orphanage.  They sang and danced for us, and truly touched our hearts.  I remember crying the entire 2 hours we were there I was so moved.

Now, normally I don't make promises out of the blue, and those of you that know me know that I don't make promises I don't keep (I even promised Ron in our wedding vows that we won't have more than 3 dogs AND that I won't be bringing home any farm animals until we actually live on a farm- and I've kept those thus far- and that's saying something : )  ).  That day, the orphanage director asked me to take pictures of the older children and to help her find them homes.  I PROMISED her I would do everything that I could to find homes for those children.  Although that promise was made to the orphanage director, it was a promise to myself- and something began to stir..

When we went back to Biftu Orphanage in February, my promise was beginning to come true!  One of the boys who we had met in January happened to be matched with a family who found his picture on my facebook page!  We met up with him again and saw the utter joy and excitement he had because he knew he had a family waiting.  I don't think I have ever experienced something so touching and meaningful in my life as his expression through his eyes!

During this visit, we had Aidan with us, and one of the older girls wanted to hold Aidan the entire time we were there.  She was absolutely precious in how sweet she was with Aidan, and what a beautiful person she was.  We were so touched that we asked a nanny about her- we were told, "We think she has a family."  We didn't press more at the time.  But we were at least moved to ask.

Again, the orphanage director asked me to take pictures of 3 children still in need of homes.  There was a 2nd girl there (who was also there in January) who had a smile that lit up the room and was as cute as could be.  I'll always remember her smile and joyous grin when I took her picture.  I still remember that smile - things like that make permanent markings on your heart that don't fade much with time.

These two girls made an impact on us.  We knew their faces, we knew their smiles, and we knew their need to be in a forever family.  Looking back, I realized why I couldn't stop crying.  I couldn't understand how children, who are so innocent and beautiful, have experienced so much.  They have lost parents or family members.  They have been abandoned by loved ones, or relinquished by those who can't care for them.  Despite all of this, they still manage to shine with their amazing smiles!  Talk about true diamonds in the rough- glittering and gleaming despite life's most difficult circumstances!

At the time, Ron and I never truly considered adopting older children.  Although we had asked about the girls, I'm not sure we would have/been able to do anything then.  The reason- the timing was off.  At the time, we wanted to experience being parents to a baby.  We wanted to watch Aidan learn and grow.  We wanted to watch him take his first steps, say his first words, experience his first real bath, etc.  These are things that are typical with young, first-time parents.  You want the experience with a baby.  You want young children- so did we.

Since having Aidan at home, we have been touched by the joy of raising a baby.  Aidan can now walk, talk, run, blow bubbles, make crazy funny faces, and do hundreds of other things that light up our days and truly enrich our lives.  Looking at our next adoption, we couldn't wait to have more little ones to triple the amount of happiness in our already happy home!

But then...

About 3 weeks ago, I got distracted at work and for some reason, I started looking at adoption websites with waiting children (children with special needs or older children).  I do this somewhat often, and my search is usually limited to young children.  However, on this particular day, I didn't "filter" my search when looking at www.precious.org.  In looking at the children, my eyes and heart STOPPED....there was a face I knew...a face I had met and loved.  There was one of the girls on this website in need of a family who we had met at Aidan's orphanage!

I instantly called Ron and told him about her.  After explaining the website and the girl, Ron was quiet.  He was QUIET!  There was no, "KELLY, THERE IS NO WAY!"  or, "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" like I'm used to getting from Ron.  He was quiet- thinking- in silence.  He then said, "We'll talk when I get home."  WHAT!?!?!?!  Talk about this?  This was for real- a real possibility!

When we got home and latter put Aidan to bed, I pulled up her picture and showed Ron.  He just looked at her and smiled.  He SMILED!  After a long pause, he said, "Get more information."  I was shocked.  I began an intense inquiry on adopting older children, adopting out of birth order, and adopting girls from Ethiopia.

I e-mailed fellow adoptive parents, I posted on discussion boards, I read blogs, I read journal articles, and I researched what social workers had to say.  Almost every response I found was positive- and a huge relief that this could become a reality.

I then e-mailed our adoption director about her with her picture.  The next morning, I woke up to an e-mail with her information and a statement- "Let us know if you would like to adopt this child."

WOW!  Adopt an 11-year old...at the age of 28....this was getting real...and serious.  I called my Mom and asked, "Am I CRAZY!?!?"  My Mom, being as amazing as she is, replied, "NO!  You're not crazy at all- you're doing something to help others, and there's nothing crazy about that!"  Wow- the reassurance I needed.

Ron and I talked a lot over the next 24 hours.  Where would she go to school?  How would she learn English?  How would our lives be?  What would we need to change?  Can we picture ourselves doing this?  What will our finances be?  How will we pay for college in 7 years?  The list went on and on....but all of our questions had answers and all of our answers made sense.

The next day, I wrote our adoption director an e-mail I never thought I would write at the age of 28...."Ron and I couldn't be more excited to say YES!  We would love nothing more than to be able to adopt XYZ!!!!"  And that was it!  We were doing it!  We ARE doing it!  We hugged and celebrated, laughed and cried (well, I cried).  Four weeks ago, I never imagined adopting an older child at my age- three weeks ago, we decided to do it!

But then something hit...the other girl we met and fell in love with.  I thought, "How can we adopt one and not the other?"  This was something that tore me up inside and I cried myself to sleep for 3 nights with this thought.  "How could we leave another behind?"  I knew (and know) that I can't save the world, and that there will always be children in need of families in my lifetime.  However, I can do something, and I will die trying to do what I can.

I e-mailed our adoption director her picture and the next morning, we had her information.  Ron and I were still on the fence about adopting TWO older children, but we were considering it.  We had more questions, and our adoption agency, Adoption Avenues, was able to provide the missing information.  I remember receiving this e-mail and crying harder than I have ever cried before.  I was so torn and hurt and confused at what society and our world expects children to endure.

That day, I went on a boat cruise with some friends and Aidan while Ron took a test for his admissions into the local university for his scholarship.  While sitting on the boat holding Aidan, I just pictured doing the same thing, but with two older girls next to me.  And then I knew.  In that moment I had, I realized that we could do this.  I realized that our lives would change, but they would change for the better.  I realized that was the reality I had wanted.  I made a decision.  It was solid, concrete and made.  It was not emotional or irrational.  It was an overwhelming feeling I had that this is what we needed to do.

That night, I talked to Ron.  Well, I bawled to Ron.  I explained to him my reasons and what I felt that day.  I essentially said this...

"I would love a baby girl.  I would love to be able to raise a little girl, put bows in her hair, have her wear pretty pink dresses, and play dress up and have tea parties.  I would love all of that.  But I also know that when I'm 90 on my death bed, it's not going to be the dresses and the bows and the tea parties that make me smile- it's going to be the love I have for my daughter and the memories we have made.  It's going to be the person she is and the person I helped her to be.  It won't be the superficial things."

"Looking at these girls, we'll be missing a lot.  IF we adopt them both, we may never have a little girl to play dress-up with or have tea parties.  But that's ok.  When we first talked about adoption, people told us that by adopting children, we would be missing out on the experience of having biological children.  And I agree.  We're missing that experience.  BUT what people fail to realize is the experience we gained instead- we gained the experience of going through an adoption and raising a truly unbelievable boy.  This would be the same.  We would loose so many experiences, but we would gain so many more.  And these experiences would be meaningful."  I cried and cried and cried.  I was overtaken with emotion and resolve to adopt these two girls and to give them a life that they deserved.

After hearing me out, Ron said, "Ok."  He said, "OK!"  I couldn't believe it!  Here was my husband agreeing to adopt 2 older girls- ages 8 and 11 from Ethiopia.  This is the same man who argues with me for AT LEAST 30 minutes on the phone whenever I say I'm bringing an animal home to foster/care for/euthanize/or adopt out.  But this same man just said, "OK" to adopting 2 older girls.  My heart swelled (ok, it's still probably 4-5 times larger than it should be with sheer joy)!

The next day, we wrote a 2nd e-mail to our adoption agency: "We would LOVE nothing more than to adopt BOTH ABC AND XYZ!"  That was it!

Our adoption director wrote us back and said, "Ok, this is fine."  WOW!  THIS IS HAPPENING!

So what's next?!?!?

Well, we have to finish our HomeStudy for this adoption.  Our social worker is flying in from Bangkok in 3 weeks and our HomeStudy will be written a few weeks after that.  We're scrambling to get all of our paperwork together for our Dossier to send to Ethiopia when our Homestudy is done.  And then we wait...we wait for an official referral, orphan status investigation, and then birth family/finder court dates...and then we can travel.  At this point, it' looking like we'll be able to travel for court sometime next spring, and hopefully have our girls home before next summer...HOPEFULLY!

Due to the nature of this adoption, there are some things that can change, and we realize that.  We're keeping the details private and are hoping that things do work out.  Ron and I talked about blogging about this journey, and we decided to still blog as much as we comfortably can.  I always want to be open and honest about adoption in the hopes of inspiring others to open their hearts, homes and families to this amazing process.  Adopting older children is a unique aspect of this journey, and is one we can't wait to experience.  I hope that this blog sheds light on a very special set of children in need of families, and provides experience, knowledge, emotion and humor to the process!

While we wait for OUR GIRLS, we'll be busy!  We have schools to look at, a room to organize, languages to figure out, etc.  But we have some time, which is great.  During this time, we ask for your positive thoughts and prayers.  This will be quite the adjustment for Ron and I, but it is one we truly believe we can handle (and are meant to conquer).  It will be an adjustment and journey for our girls, as well.  For them and for us, your support is truly appreciated!

And yes, I keep pinching myself....this isn't a dream...this is reality...this is OUR life...we're adopting TWO OLDER GIRLS FROM ETHIOPIA!!!!!!  Looks like my promise to get those children homes meant more to me than I initially thought :)

Dear Aidan, Day 13


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear Aidan,

What another fantastic day we had!  Dad and I woke up early in Wukro in the Tigray region.  We had slept well in the hotel (despite the bed and lack of sheets) but in the morning, we found we were without water.  As this region is very dry, we assumed that this was very normal.  We were told that the water was, "Out" and that it would be arriving soon.  We assumed this meant that the water was brought in via water trucks- but we're not quite sure!   Regardless, no showers for us this morning!  I knew these posts would make you cringe at my lack of showering :)  We got up and got ready for our day exploring.  We decided to just eat the snacks and bread we had for breakfast rather than try to find something to eat in town.  We were fast to get ready, and at 7AM, our driver was already to go!  We piled into our van and were off!



After about 30 minutes of driving, we arrived at the first church, Abraha Atsbeha.  It was in a very small village and many elders were returning from church.  The morning was brisk but the sky was clear.  Dad and I walked up to the church, which had a stone front and the back of the church was carved into the mountain that lay behind the church.  Just as we were entering the church’s grounds, we saw the priest leave.  We knew that we wouldn’t be able to enter the church as he had the keys, and we didn't feel it was appropriate to chase down a priest!  Oh, the Trouble with Tigray :)  Nonetheless, we enjoyed our time walking around the church and taking in the beautiful valley!  There were many devote Christians around the church praying.  It was so peaceful!  On the way back to the van, we were approached by smiling children.  They loved the chocolate candies we passed out.  Three children disappeared into their houses, only to suddenly reappear holding what looked like rocks in their hands.  Upon closer inspection, we realized they were holding small fossils from the area that they had found.  They were selling them.  Dad and I were expecting the price to be around 100 Birr/fossil.  When we asked, we were told 1 Birr!  We bought 2 fossils from each child for 10 Birr each.  They were thrilled at their sale and Dad was thrilled with his purchases!  We'll put these in your room to show you when you're older- fossils from Ethiopia!  With the history of that land, who knows how old they really are- and what they're fossils of!




We drove for about 30 more minutes to the next church, Abuna Yemata Guh.  We were in a valley and it was very dry- thus, very dusty.  As we approached the next stop, we couldn't actually see the church from the ground.  We knew this would be yet ANOTHER adventure!  This church was built in the 3rd Century by the first Ethiopian Christians, who became Ethiopian Orthodox saints.  The story behind the church is that, “When Abuna Yemata first turned up here, the local villagers were suspicious of him and tried to chase him away with clubs and spears.  In retaliation, Abuna Yemata turned their weapons into lions and leopards, which promptly ate the attackers.  After that, to show he wasn’t really a bad neighbor, Abuna Yemata brought his attackers back to life and baptized them.  Ten of the resurrected decided to stay with Yemata on the mountain and devote their life to God.  Yemata told them that in order to be successful at this they must never again see the face or hear the voice of a woman.  Instead, they must grow vegetables.  But how did Yemata and his followers actually build the church way up on the mountain?  Well, they didn’t.  Instead, Jesus descended and told them that four giant rocks were currently battling it out to the north for the honor of being Yemata’s church.  The winner then magically appeared in this spot as the completely formed church.”  And that, dear Aidan, is how Abuna Yemata's Church came to be!  Do you believe this story?  How do you think a church could have gotten way up here in the mountains?



Our guidebook stated that there was a 45-minute leisure stroll up to a cliff, and then 2-minutes of sheer-nerves climbing.  I was bracing myself for this adventure- especially for the climbing!  Once we were out of the van, we hired a guide and a scout to help us find the church and climb the cliff.  After our experience yesterday, we realized we couldn't really say "No" to the guide, and realized having a scout for our climb was probably a good idea!  The “stroll” was much more of a hike up a rocky cliff.  It was beautiful in the mountains and the air was cool.  After about 45-minutes of huffing and puffing on a trail, climbing over boulders, and past age-old trees, we neared the top.  Rather than a trail, our route became a sloped cliff.  "OH MAAAAAN!" I thought- "HERE WE GO!"


Our scout was wonderful in holding my hand and I tried being so brave, although I was scared to death of falling.  I kept trying not to look down, but it was hard not too!  We were getting so high and the cliff just kept getting steeper and steeper- and the ledges to stand on kept getting smaller and smaller!  I looked back at your Dad a few times with a look on my face that explained it all.  I couldn't believe we were literally climbing a mountain, in Ethiopia, to see a 3rd Century church!  After about 5-minutes of climbing, we arrived at a ledge.  I thought, “WE MADE IT!”  Only soon to find out that, "Oh NO!" - We had just arrived to the actual cliff to climb.  That meant everything we had just done was the leisurely stroll- not quite what I would have described it as!  




I knew instantly that I couldn’t do it- it was about 60-feet tall and a sheer vertical cliff without ropes.  There were small footholds in the rock, and that's about it.  The guide and scout kept telling me I could do it, and they could help me (or essentially push/pull me up), but I just kept thinking of you and how badly I needed to get back to you...ALIVE! Dad, the scout and guide quickly scaled the cliff barefoot (they were required to remove their shoes).  Watching Dad today made yesterday's cliff at Debre Damo with the ropes look easy, and I was praying like crazy for his and the scout's/guide's safety.  I waited on the ledge with 2 scouts.  During that time, a scout had asked me about some of the clips on Dad's backpack.  His English was poor, but I soon realized that he would like one.  As they only cost about $0.50 in the US, and I'm sure they are at least 10 times more expensive in Ethiopia, I gave him them, and he was thrilled.  This was a reminder that sometimes, the littlest acts of kindness can truly make someone's day, and never to underestimate the power of a small gesture!

About 30 minutes since arriving at the ledge, your Dad came safely back down!  He showed me the pictures and I couldn't believe what I saw!  First of all, the view was STUNNING!  It looked like Dad was on top of the world, with all of the valley of Tigray below him.  What a truly beautiful country this is!  He said the church was literally carved into the mountain at the very of the cliff...there was an extremely small ledge to walk on before walking through an old wooden door and into the church (cave).  Inside, the church was covered in old, traditional Orthodox paintings.  There was a monk inside chanting.  But Dad also said I would have freaked out if I had gone as he had to walk along a narrow ledge around the mountain with a straight drop below!  He was right- I was very glad I stayed safely on my ledge!  It is truly amazing at the great lengths historic Christians went through in order to create these churches.  Again, the guides didn’t use any ropes or wear shoes as a way to trust in their faith.









The way down the mountain went well, and we were able to watch a local family collect water from a well.  As dry as this area was, we were grateful that many development agencies paid money for the people to have access to water.  In this case, the well was provided by USAID and there was plenty of water!  It made Dad and I happy (again) that the United States is doing what it can to help those in dire need in other countries.  



As we walked back to our van, I noticed that he children in this area, as always, were beautiful.   Except in this town, they had funny haircuts!  Almost all of the little girls had mow hawks and the boys had either tuffs of random hair or braided pony tails.  I’m sure you would love it if your Dad and I ever let you style your hair like that!  We tried finding out why their hair was styled in the way it was, but we never truly got an answer.  Regardless- it was quite something to see!

It was around noon and we had just finished seeing our last church.  We were tired from our "leisurely stroll", dirty, dusty and in need of a rest.  We got back in the van once again and began the 3-hour drive back to Axum.  Our driver asked us if we wanted to to take the paved road that we arrived on, or a local dirt road.  Dad elected to take the dirt road so that we didn’t have to backtrack to get to the paved road.  The drive was gorgeous, but the ride was a bit bumpy!  Ok, it was very bumpy!  And dusty!  Well, EXTREMELY dusty!  We had to close the windows whenever a car was approaching because of the dust storm.  During the drive, we crossed many bridges with dried up rivers.  It’s the dry season, but during the wet season, those rivers run wild!  We would have loved to see Tigray in its full glory with the water and greenery!  




When we were about 30km away from Axum, our van began to overheat.  We stopped in front of a village house and the driver called for water for the radiator.  A boy about 10-years of age brought out a yellow container of water (about 3 gallons).  We waited for about 30 minutes for the radiator to cool down before replacing the fluid with water.  During that time, Dad hiked up some of the mountains amongst herds of goats and flocks of sheep, and I played with the young boy and his 2 brothers.  They loved the chocolates and cookies I gave them, and they learned a few English words.  I don’t think they had ever been inside a car before because they were fascinated with it!  When the car was fixed, we thanked them and gave them a tip for their water.  In an area where water was so scarse, it was amazing to see how giving the local people were without question.  Although they didn't have much to give, they gave what they could.  Again, yet another lesson we were reminded of on our journey!  






After having our car fixed, we were off again toward Axum!

Once back in Axum, Dad and I unloaded our dusty suitcases.  I think we had an inch layer of dust on us from the drive as well!  We checked back into our hotel and dropped off our luggage.  Then, we went downstairs for a delicious dinner of spaghetti and steak!  The food here sure is tasty!  After dinner, we went across the street to an Internet cafĂ© to check our e-mail.  After catching up with everyone back at home, we retired to our room.  Dad studied Thai and I researched our next stop- Lalibela!  We’ll be there for the next 3 days to see the city’s churches and celebrate Genna (Ethiopia’s Christmas).


I hope you’re sleeping well in your little bed as I write this.  I hope you’re warm and comfortable, and maybe even dreaming of your Dad and I!

All my love,
Mom

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dear Aidan: Day 12

I know it's been FOREVER since I posted these, but as we were in Ethiopia for about 20 days in December/January, I have a few more to catch up with!  Hope you enjoy reading about our journey as much as we enjoyed living it!

January 2, 2013

Dear Aidan,

I hope you had a great day, little one!  I wish I could record you somehow to see what you do all day- what you play with, who your friends are, how you fall asleep, etc.  There is so much about you that we don't know, but we're dying to find out.  Luckily, we'll have the rest of our lives to do that!!!

Today was a truly unbelievable day.  I'm going to have a hard time documenting this in writing, but luckily we have lots of pictures and videos to share with you in the future.

Yesterday, we arranged a 2-day excursion to the Tigray region of Ethiopia with our guest house.  Dad and I knew we had to see this region in Ethiopia, and we were grateful that our hotel could coordinate this for us.  Tirgray is famous for its rock-hewn churches- churches/monasteries built out of rock, in rock, or on rock/cliffs.  We rented a van and a driver for 2 days, as well as a night's stay at a local hotel near Mekele.  We woke up this morning around 7AM and tried to get ready.  Our hotel room at first didn't have water (keep in mind how dry Northern Ethiopia is- so we weren't surprised).  When we did finally have water, it was freezing cold.  It was also quite chilly outside and in our room, so even getting myself to shower was a chore- let alone actually showering.  I know one day you're going to cringe at hearing stories about your mother showering (or not showering for that matter), but I'm sharing this because running water and hot water are two things we take for granted in the Western world, but they're luxuries in other parts of the world.  I'm writing about this so that Dad and I, and hopefully you, remind ourselves to not take simple things, like running water, for granted.



After what was one of quickest showers I have ever taken, Dad started laughing at me as he handed me the "towel" provided by the guest house.  It was about 1 foot by 2 feet - super small, and as rough as sandpaper.  Definitely not fun (or effective) to dry off with!  This made me miss a big, fluffy towel to dry off with- but again, that's a luxury we take for granted, and shouldn't.


Once we were ready to go on our adventure, we met our driver and our van outside.  We loaded our things in and took off.  We drove for about an hour our so to the first stop...a town called Yeha (yes, that is the town's real name and if Ethiopia had a ghost town- this would be it- very fitting)!  Yeha is only a few kilometers from the Eritrean-Ethiopian border.  Eritrea and Ethiopia used to be one country, but after a brutal civil war in the last 1980s/early 1990s, the two countries separated.  Eritrea gained the coastline that was once part of Ethiopia- making Ethiopia now a land-locked country.  This civil war, as well as being land-locked, are two of the things that greatly influence Ethiopia's economic status and tragic past.



In Yeha, we were able to visit the Temple of Yeha, the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia, from about the 3rd Century.  Our guidebook said that this temple was very similar to the temples at Petra (Jordan).  However, since we haven't been there (yet), we didn't have a reference.  The temple was a beautiful brick building that was being restored.  I could tell that it was something to be seen back in its fully glory with its pools and gardens!  After walking around the temple, and local priest called us upstairs to a newer temple.  Inside, he showed us all of the amazing artifacts from the temple, including old Ethiopian coins, Orthodox bibles written on goat hide, and crosses.  We learned how to date coins by looking to see if they were Christian or not.  The oldest coins in Ethiopia (before the 2nd or 3rd Century) don't have any signs of Christianity on them.  Coins since the 3rd/4th Century do have Christianity symbols and writing on it.  It was amazing to look at coins that were over 1,800 years old in a small, dimly lit temple in Yeha!





After touring the temple, we started walking back to our van.  On the way, we saw many children playing.  Almost all of the children here have flies in their eyes.  It's so common that the children don't seem bothered by them, and don't even swat them away.  Every child has at least 1 fly in each corner of their eyes.  As such, many of the children have awful eye infections with lots of discharge.  As many of these infections go untreated due to lack of hygiene and medical care, many adults have permanent vision damage or even blindness from eye infections/scarring when they were young.  I saw one child with an awful eye infection next to her mother.  The mother let me use some tissues I had with bottled water to wipe her daughter's eyes clean.  I know this was only a temporarily fix, but I wanted to do something.  Again, health care and hygiene are something many of us take for granted in the United States.  This was just another example how simple things like bug spray, soap, eye antibiotics and medical care are lacking in Ethiopia.  My heart ached for the children and their eyes, knowing these diseases are incredibly curable, and often preventable.  But because of where they live, they're not.  

I pray everyday that Dad and I raise you (and your future siblings) in a way to realize these truths about the world and not to take things for granted.  I hope that you always ask what you can do to help others and find a source of happiness from that.  And I pray that we as a human race can work to reduce some of these inequalities so that no child has to become blind from a curable eye infection, amongst many other differences we face.

Before we left Axum, I stopped at a local connivance store and purchased a few large bags of candy to pass out to children.  I wish I could have bought a lot of fruit, but there wasn't much fresh produce to be found in Axum.  Another example of how dry and arid this place is!  On the way out of the temple, I was able to give the children that were playing some candy, and they loved it.  Their smiles were so precious.  It is truly amazing at how beautiful the smile of a child is, the glisten of their eyes, and the innocence of their heart.  Your country, Ethiopia, has truly made an impact on my soul and I don't think I'll ever be the same (for the better).  


Once we were back in the van, we drove along the very dusty, dry road to the highway.  The Chinese have built a highway through Northern Ethiopia.  It seems like everyone knows that the Chinese built the road, but some weren't so sure about the quality.  Hearing this made your Dad and I laugh a bit!  The highway was very nice though- freshly paved, very smooth, 2-lanes with a partial shoulder in parts and not TOO curvy the whole way (just most of the way- you Dad LOVED this).  Our next stop was one of the craziest places I have EVER seen...


Debre Damo is a monastery built on top of a circular plateau.  It is in the middle of a valley and is only about 300-400 meters wide.  This monastery is for men only...women aren't allowed to make the CLIMB.  When we arrived, our driver parked and we walked up at least 500 steps to a ledge that was the "starting point."  From the ledge, there was a 75-foot high cliff.  At the top of the cliff was a small window and the monastery.  There was a large, woven leather rope dangling from the window to the rock ledge we were standing on.  At the top of the rope was a priest, who helped pull the rope (and people climbing it) up.





As we were trying to absorb all of this, a barefoot priest came up the stairs we had just climbed.  He shouted something to the top, signaling the other priest to be ready to help.  The priest at the bottom kissed the cliff, and then used the rope to help him scale the cliff barefoot.  We were shocked!  We later found out that the locals don't use a "harness" as climbing this cliff is a test of faith.  They believe that God will take care of them, and they kiss the cliff, and often pray before climbing.  They believe that God will prevent them from falling, and thus, be their harness.  


For foreigners, however, you must wear a "harness" to climb.  This harness was a piece of leather tied around your waist that was pulled on by the priest up top as you climbed.  Ron gave me the camera and back-back, and got ready.  He tied the "harness" around his waist and I wished him luck.  I then watched him scale the cliff to the small window above.  Luckily, he didn't slip, as that harness (and small priest up top) would not have done much to prevent him from falling.  And then he disappeared...and I waited.




While I waited, a few more priests came to climb to the top.  Just like the first one had done, they all kissed the cliff.  Two of the priests brought food (courtesy of USAID) :) and hay with them.  They used the ropes to haul these to the top to supply the priests at the monastery with food and to help with their farms. 



It was a good 1/2 hour before Dad returned.  I saw his bright shirt appear at the little window up top, and I was able to take pictures of him on the way down.  Just like before, he had the leather strap tied around his waist and then climbed/jumped down.  I have to be honest and say that I was grateful he made it ok!

I asked Dad what it was like up top.  He said there were a few priests and buildings.  The actual monastery building was small, and there was a priest reading from the Bible in Ge'ez.  There were farms and places for the priests to stay, but it was all very simple.



The story behind the monastery is quite something.  No one actually knows who built it, when it was built or why.  I asked our driver and he didn't know.  The guidebook said that most Ethiopians believe that a great serpent was sent by God to build a monastery.  The serpent found a priest and after wrapping himself around the plateau, he used his head to raise the priest to the top to build the monastery.  And that's how it came to be.  This is definitely more folklore than fact, but it was interesting to hear how the locals believe this to be true.  It really demonstrates their deep faith in God and their religion!

After the monastery, we drove to a local town for lunch.  We ate in the back area of a hotel, at their only table- near the bathrooms.  Let's just say I'm glad our food had lots of flavorful smells to block the other odors :).  We ordered traditional Ethiopian food, which was delicious, as always, and then got back on the road.

One of the things that impressed us most about this area was the landscape.  As dry and barren as it it, this area is able to produce enough food during the rainy season to support the people.  Despite the cliffs, rocks and hills, the local Ethiopians have completely changed the landscape over thousands of years.  There were unbelievable terraces and ancient fields.  These feats are evidence of the hard-working nature and the determination of the local Ethiopians to survive.  It was incredible to see!



Our afternoon stop consisted of visiting a group of 3 churches together.  We had about a 2-hour drive before we arrived.  When we reached our last stop, we parked and got out of the car.  We were immediately approached by a "guide" to give us a tour.  We did not really want a guide, nor did was want to pay for one.  However, we realized we were in the absolute middle of nowhere, in a very dry, barren place.  There is very little opportunity for work or to make money besides farming.  Plus, we were in an area not that many tourists visit (only 3-4 groups/day, if that).  Realizing this, we really couldn't say, "No!" as it was our way of giving money to the local economy.  As expected, our guide didn't speak much English and wasn't much of a guide at all- more of an escort.  Even so, I wasn't going to complain about $5.00.  Our guide walked us to the entrance of the first church....and then the adventure began.


The monasteries around here are locked, and only the priests have the key.  Since there was no cell phone service, let alone land lines for phones, the only hope of getting inside is for the priest to be around.  This is where our guide came in handy- helping us find the priests with the key!  Our guidebook said this is the "Trouble with Tigray"- locating the priests and the keys.  It turned into quite the adventure.

Finally, the priest of the first monastery was found at home, and he arrived at the church entrance with the key.  Before we could go in, we had to make a "donation" first.  Our guide book from 2010 stated that the entrance to each church/monastery was $5.00.   However, the priest wanted $10.00/person.  Keep in mind the the value of the Birr had increased, and the economy of Ethiopia has been slowly improving.  Although we didn't want to pay this, we drove all this way (and paid all the money to drive this way) to see the churches, so we obliged.  The priest open the gate that led to the trail that led to the Church....


Upon arriving at the end of the trail, we reached the most rickety wooden ladder I had ever seen.  Under this ladder (that was hammered to trees in the cliff), there was an older, even more rickety ladder.  We were told that this ladder was newly built and was an upgrade from the older ladder- I could tell- and was grateful!  We had to climb up this ladder to the ledge of the cliff where the monastery was.  I went first- Ron followed.  We decided this for 2 reasons:

1.  I weigh less than Ron and would "test" the ladder.  If it was stressed under my weight, there would be no way it could handle Ron's weight.
2.  Ron could attempt to catch me if I fell (in case #1 proved that the ladder was too weak).





When we reached the top, I was extremely proud of myself for climbing up that thing.  But then I thought, "How the HECK am I going to get down?!?!?"  

The monastery was carved into the rock and was beautiful with its paintings.  There were old crosses and Bibles as well that we were able to see.  Most impressive was the view of the valley and the dry farmland below.  After exploring, we were led on a little trail on a ledge to an older monastery.  Along the way, there were skulls and human bones on our path.  Kind of interesting- SUPER creepy!

We asked about them and we were told that those were the remains of priests that chose to die at the monastery.  They were "buried" under a ledge, but with time, their bones and skulls had rolled down from the ledge, onto the trail.  After explaining this to us, one of the priests used his stick to shove/roll the skulls uphill, and off our path- until they rolled down again.





After seeing the older monastery, we began our climb down.  This time, Ron went first so he could help me down.  After what seemed like hundreds of rungs, I made it down!  We were asked if we wanted to see the "newer" church and said, "Sure!"

At the bottom of the cliff was a door in the rock that was locked.  The priest unlocked the door and we entered into a man-made cave.  There were tapestries on the wall and paintings.  In the corner, there was a puddle of water from condensation of the cave.  We were told that they use this Holy water for baptisms and to heal people that are sick.  While walking around, we found a small chisel and pick.  We asked what it was for, and we were told that was what the priests used to make the church- with that pick and chisel, by hand.  They said it took them 13 years to make- and after seeing the size of the cave, I'm surprised it didn't take them longer!






On the way back to the car, we were greeted by children.  I had to give them candy, which they loved.  And I quickly made fast friends by joining in a game of soccer!  I truly hope that you enjoy being active, playing sports, and spending time outside as you grow!  This is one part of Ethiopian culture that I love and I hope to maintain in you!



After visiting that church, we began the search for the other priests who had the keys to the other 2 churches.  After a somewhat extensive search, the priests were nowhere to be found.  Although we wanted to see the churches, we realized it wouldn't be possible- and we didn't want to spend an extra $40.00 for the 2 of us to see them both.  We decided to call it a day and drove to our hotel.



Walking back to our van, we were able to stop and briefly visit with a family who was using their cattle to grind tef (the grain used to make injera).  It was wonderful watching the process of using the cattle, as well as the whole family to prepare the crop!



Our hotel was in an incredibly small town, so we weren't expecting much from our room.  Luckily, we only had to pay $10.00 it.  Our bed was a box spring with 1 sheet and 1 comforter/quilt laid down.  We didn't have a towel and the water was turned off/out.  After having electricity when we arrived, that soon went out.  Luckily, we were able to grab some dinner from the small restaurant in front of the hotel first.  We settled into our room, tried our best to get comfortable, and laughed about the craziness of the day.  Luckily, I had your Dad to rest my head on as we only had 1 small, very flat pillow that he had to use.  Have I told you yet that I'm grateful for the things that are available to us in the United States?!?!?  Once again- the things we take for granted!

Well, Mr. Aidan Bedassa- I hope you sleep well and have wonderful dreams about growing, learning and being loved by your new family!  Only a few more days until you're in our arms again- we CAN'T wait!

All of my love,
Mom