Wednesday, January 02, 2013

My Sick Day in Ethiopia

All the Americans at the guest house have been going to bed at 6 or 7pm, as soon as we finish dinner, look at our photos from the day, and send our emails. Then we wake up at 2am, which is mid afternoon in Colorado and Oregon. We drift like wraiths through the silent nighttime guest house, (when in Gulele the muezzins have stopped calling, the dogs have stopped barking, even the roosters are taking a little rest,) down the stairs to check email, then back up again. We eat granola bars and trail mix, take Benadryl, turn on a white noise app, don an eye mask, and pretend to sleep. I huddle under what feels like 20 pounds of necessary blankets, sliding my nose and ears under from time to time to warm them up. I watch for the street lamp outside my north window to flicker off, and check my east window for for the first dusky beams of morning light. I am glad when I hear the call to prayer start, for soon it will be morning.

When the light comes, I turn on the space heater and crouch on the floor next to it with my diaper bag and clothes for the day. My shower has only ever shown the faintest hint of warmth, so I bathe with baby wipes warmed on the heater. One warm afternoon I go so far as to wash my hair in the sink. I'm not naturally a smelly person, and the threshold for body odor in general is much higher in Africa, so I get away with it.

Today is my court date. When I wake at 2:30 I feel too tired and cold to sneak downstairs, so I get out my iPod and listen to classic jazz, drifting in and out of sleep. Dianna Reeves crooning "In a Sentimental Mood" punctuated by a dream that I'm stuck inside a children's play tunnel. When the light comes, I decide to put on yesterday's clothes and wait to wash and change until before court in case the baby has another poopy blowout. About halfway to the bathroom I realize that I'm sick. I've caught the baby's cold.  No big deal. I'll feel better once I get moving. I make a cup of hot water in the microwave and log on to gmail. I email jc that I feel "lousy".

When I get back upstairs, exhausted and gasping for air, I desperately dive under the covers fully clothed. I count my panicky respirations: 40. Pulse is only about 100, not so bad.  Nail beds are a shade of lavender. Capillary refill slow. I don't have enough red blood cells to walk up a little hill in Addis, forget dealing with mucus in my airways. I pile my pillows in a stack and prop myself up as best I can to promote airflow. It's 6:30am. I contemplate going downstairs and leaving a note for someone to check on me, but realize that would feel like riding up Pete's Mountain Road. I abandon the idea. Hopefully someone will come when I don't show up for breakfast.

I'm dozing again when I hear a knock on the door. I want to shout "come in" but it comes out more like a whimper. It's my housemate. She offers Advil cold medicine, which I take. Reaching for my water bottle on the bedside leaves me breathless again. Soon there is a very timid knock; it takes three invitations before the cook shyly opens the door and asks if I would like chai. Yes, please. She returns with the receptionist with tea and homemade doughnuts. It takes a long time, but I sit up and drink and eat.

By the time the driver arrives to say hello and check on me, since I'm skipping the morning foster home visit, I can laugh at his jokes without gasping. The Sudafed is working. My nailbeds start pinking up and I can sit up in bed. I ask to have my bedroom and balcony doors left open so I don't feel so bored and isolated. I can see Tunisia street with the blue and white taxis and minibuses waiting on the corner, laden donkeys plodding by, the breeze stirring the trees. I even see my first road biker in Addis, which causes me to exclaim out loud. He's dressed in red Lycra from head to toe, out of the saddle, straining up the grade. Time passes as I watched, and soon I found that when the wind blew the door shut I felt well enough to get up and reopen it.

I decided the momentous occasion warranted a bath after all, especially since I had spent the entire morning lying about. There was no stopper for the tub, but I managed to coax some lukewarm water out of the handheld faucet and enjoyed a suds and a good rinse. Then I donned the cotton salwar kameez, beige with turqouise accents, and matching head scarf. I went downstairs and read quietly on the sofa until it was time to go.

Though the nights get chilly in Addis at over 8,000 feet, the mid afternoon sun still feels pretty warm, downright hot through the car windshield. I chatted with the driver about the sights during the 30 minute drive to the courthouse. There is no shortage of things to look at. There are shops, street sellers, a complete range of hotels and dwellings and pedestrians, not to mention the traffic itself. We parked directly in front of the unassuming low-rise court building. We had to wait a bit, so I settled comfortably on a low curb and watched. Then the door was unlocked and the driver went in with me, laughing at my expense as my breathing quickened more with each of the 4 flights of steps; maybe 5, I was too out of breath to count. We sat in the nondescript waiting room for 20-30 minutes as people trickled in, and I discussed with the driver the similarities and differences between Ethiopia and Kenya, Addis and Nairobi.

Then the court aide came in and called our orphanage. I followed her into a small inner room and handed her my passport, which she gave to the judge. The judge proceeded to ask me the 10 or so standard questions, culminated by,

" Do you understand that this is irrevocable?"


She shuffled papers a brief moment longer, looked up at me with a smile, and said,

"Mamush is yours."

My passport was handed back to me and I walked out, beaming, by the waiting room full of people. Tears came to my eyes in the hall, and my shoulders shook with small sobs as we descended the stair.

Then I went to the foster home and held my son for the first time.


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

I am an Independent Woman

I had grandiose plans for how I would spend my free afternoons in Addis. I would have injera and wot at a local restaurant for 20 birr before setting out down Churchill Avenue taking in the Piazza, San Giyorgis Church and Menelik Square: walking all the way down to Le Gare at the south end.  If I was tired or time was running short, I would take a blue taxi back to the guest house, and save the walk on Ras Mekonnen, Sidist Kilo and Arat Kilo for another day.  I would be very frugal, and avoid spending money needlessly on the driver.

My frustration mounted during the first Sunday in Addis as my expectations were dashed one by one, and with them it seemed my autonomy was being brutally snatched from me. When I asked where I could get injera and wot for my first lunch the driver informed me that he would take me to the buffet at the Semien Hotel and wait while I ate.  I already knew that this one meal would use up most of what I had budgeted for food, but there seemed to be no choice.  At least it was less than I would have been charged for the cheeseburger at the guest house, and the wot was delicious.

That afternoon it also became clear that we were not expected to leave the property unescorted at any time.  The life that I had carefully built was falling like a card house. My childhood, teenage, and young adult life was so full of choices made for me by parents, teachers, and pastors representing god. I so deliberately demolished the paradigm, learned to make my own choices and stand by them. I can’t even stay at someone else’s house on vacation without starting to feel smothered.  My own dear jc would rarely dream of even suggesting what I should do.  But it comes down to this. Everything has been decided for me.

snap out of it
I took my cryptic crossword and sat on the tile stoop next to  our 25 square feet of green grass and decided to be happy.  I spotted pigeons very like the elusive band-tailed pigeons of the Florida keys sitting on the light post, a larger version of what reminded me of a magpie  with white bib and wing patches squawking and chasing each other, small grey sparrows with a striking white eyebrow eating crumbs out of the flowerbed, and fork-tailed eagles in soaring play overhead. I refused the gatekeeper's offer of a chair, truthfully asserting that I was comfortable on the stoop, and taking comfort in my decision making.  I watched the daily flow of traffic back and forth down the cobble alley behing the guest house: women in high heels and business attire next to school children in uniform, women in headscarves and traditional dresses, but more in pants.  I took comfort in the normalcy of the scene, and I reminded myself: the purpose of this trip is not my pleasure, but to make the precious boy who cuddles so sweetly into my arms my son. 

And that is what I will do.


first glance

As enthralled as I was upon arrival in Addis, I was well aware that in a few short hours I would see my son for the first time.  I was introduced to the nice couple who had arrived at the guest house the previous evening and would also be meeting their son for the first time.  We ate breakfast, I took a cold shower, and soon the driver arrived and we rode the short half kilometer to the foster home. A toot of the horn and the gatekeeper let us in.  The driver called upstairs to the nannies, shouting the names of our sons. 

We waited with bated breath for moments that seemed ever so long before a woman emerged from the staircase into the courtyard with a boy that I recognized from dozens of photo updates perched on her hip. I approached him cautiously, reached for his hand. “Selam. Andemnedeuch?” I said to this beautiful child.  He is a naturally curious baby, looking around at all the people gathered around, not wanting to miss anything.  This quiet white woman is not very interesting.  After a few moments though, he came to me easily enough, and I took him inside the visiting area to show him the toys I’d brought.  He has two bottom teeth all the way in, and two top teeth breaking through. He’s looking for anything to put in his sore mouth.  I gave him the wooden giraffe and he sucked on its leg.

I stood him at the table where he held on, but wobbled.  He can sit by himself most of the time, but plays contentedly through our visits propped on the floor between my legs.  He army crawls after things that look tantalizing, most notably the Christmas tree balls and the brightly colored Croc shoes in a row on a shelf; and he once cries briefly at being denied a Christmas ball to eat.  He laughs and smiles easily at any silliness, or at anyone he knows.  He giggles when swung upside down. He took his bottle from me that first morning, falling asleep while still sucking, nestling into me, his small hand wrapped around my finger, and I feel as content as he looks, cradling his warm body against me.

Monday, December 31, 2012


I slept badly Thursday night, waking often, and finally rose in the grey predawn to shower and do last minute luggage checks.  I was intensely nauseous, finally succumbing a few times and accepting jc's offer of half an anxiolytic. jc walked me to the streetcar with my suitcase.  I thought we'd missed it until he pointed out that it comes down a different street for the first run of the day.  It was cool but dry, and I was glad I'd worn my long Patagonia fleece and a hat.  I dozed through the Red Line train to the airport. I arrived 15 minutes early, set my alarm, and slept deeply on the airport floor, waking with the alarm to another bout of nausea, mercifully the last.

My Oromo friend soon arrived, looking dashing out of work uniform, with the suitcase of donations for the school in his hometown.  He walked me through check-in, where I found that my bags would have to be rechecked in Frankfurt, but at least there were no baggage fees. Then we had coffee together, and my latte and my stomach decided to make peace.

I boarded the commuter, had a row to myself, and slept all the way to Vancouver.  My layover was just long enough for a snack and a failed attempt to access the internet, and we were off.  10 hours to Germany, and lose half a day. My seatmate was a gentlemanly Somali Ethiopian. We chatted briefly, exchanged lunch items, and spent a pleasant enough flight. I spent an hour pacing and stretching midway through before putting an audiobook of Alice in Wonderland on the headphones and being soothed into a pleasant sleep.

We arrived in Frankfurt to find that we had to take a bus from our landing position on the apron to the terminal.  The overcrowded, SRO bus wove its way through the bowels of the airport for a nauseating lifetime before unceremoniously dumping us in what seemed like a random location.  After several attempts at finding the correct baggage claim, we finally found our bags.  I must have mistakenly exited security only to find that I couldn't recheck my bags until 3 hours before departure, so I had a very long 12 hour layover ahead with 50 pounds of baggage in tow.  After realizing how exhausting it was to lug it all around, I found the nearest bench next to the nearest bathroom to the Ethiopian ticket counter, parked my bags, spread out my fleece coat, covered myself with a scarf, and slept the day away.  Soon it was time to check in.

By the time I got on Ehtiopian airways I had worked out some tricks for sleeping on a plane, was a little less exhausted overall, and the 6 hours flew by pretty quickly. Before I knew it I was in Addis, going down the steps to stand in the long visa line, then the shorter money exchange line, no line for baggage, medium line for customs, with no problems and amid the sea of faces was the foster home driver, holding my name in big black letters on white paper.  He rang the Oromo contacts on his mobile, they took the bag and we were off.

I stepped out of the airport and saw Africa in all its glory in the morning light. Misty hills and a certain quality to the air. I drank in the sights as we drove through town: Africa, still so familiar to me, though I've been away all these years.  Africa has held a special place in my heart since my Kenya trip in 1995, and I'm so glad to be back; but the greatest joy of all is knowing that from Africa I will soon receive the best gift of my life: one of her sons, and mine.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Solstice Surprise

Our baby photo updates were a day late this week. I waited for them all day Thursday, but they didn't come until Friday. I decided to email our director and ask about any progress on a court date, and his reply was: "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I ALREADY SENT IT!"

Sure enough, waiting in my trash folder was our court date: January 2, 2013. I immediately flew into a tizzy, started shaking uncontrollably, jumped out of bed, and began searching Kayak for a flight. Managed pretty well for the last minute.

I started packing my bags today, and I have a bunch of forms to fill out and notarize on Monday, but I'm finally on my way to meet our baby!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Only Good News

It seems like too long since I've had any good news. I'm anxious and I cry too easily. I have no tolerance for the lady bringing her Australian shepherd on the streetcar, even after she explains that it's training to be a service dog. Or for the guy who sprints up and leaps through the door ahead of me. Even the guy I live with is sometimes too noisy, or messy, or just hard to tolerate in general.

None of them did anything to deserve my ire, not really; I'm just tired of waiting. This week it will be two months that our boy has been in the foster home- waiting for us, though he doesn't know it. I'm very glad to see his picture each week, getting taller and healthier, growing more hair. I'm just waiting for a court date, so at least I can go meet him.  Seem less like a crazy lady carrying around pictures of a beautiful boy she's never seen, pretending he's her son.

I feel like I did, years ago, hoping to become pregnant. Hoping in vain each month that my period would stay away. Sometimes it was late, but it never stayed away, and a perverse voice in my mind tries to convince me that this wait is the same.

I have to beat that voice.

This is not the same. Courts move slowly. Paperwork takes time. People miss appointments, and they have to be postponed. It takes time. But it doesn't take forever, and it will happen. This time next year I will have presents under a Christmas tree, strung with lights. Perhaps I'll take a photo of my son there, and send it to everyone I know.  It will happen.

And I probably won't be any saner then than I am now.  I'll probably find something to worry about, something to make me cry, something that isn't perfect.  I won't remember this though; or only with a vague chuckle. 

Because I have only good news to look forward to now.  It's just a matter of time.


Monday, December 03, 2012


It's been 33 days since we were submitted to Ethiopian adoption court, a process that is estimated to take 2 weeks, and we're still waiting. That means that I'm back to refreshing my email every 10 minutes and taking 3 hours to fall asleep at night.

However, I showed up for my wax this morning, and my wonderful aesthetician Katy had a baby gift waiting for me! Thank You Katy!! You made my day!

Perhaps I will be more patient today now.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Over the past few days I've breathed a big sigh of relief, but there is plenty more waiting to do. The next thing is to move Mamush to the agency's foster home, where he will receive better care, and to get a court date, so I can go meet him!

The name he was given is a generic boy orphan name, so we've been running ideas for a name as well.  Baby clothes have taken on a new face. It's now stripes and motorcycles and boats and trains and trucks.

And next for me: a plane!


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Little Boy - Mamush

I had invented this crazy idea that our referral would come on a Monday morning in September. So I woke up every Monday and refreshed my inbox every 2 minutes, not just of the morning, but all day. It never came. I got depressed. I drove jc crazy. I cried. I ate way too much ice cream and put cheese on everything. September ended.

Yesterday I took my Firefly and rode into Washington and along the Columbia river in the warm sun and the light breeze, delighting in its light speed and responsiveness. I looked out over the river at the gulls on the sandbar and the yellowing leaves on the autumn trees before turning around and heading for home.

At mile 17 I stopped for lunch. I carefully leaned the Firefly up against the table and prepared to anoint my favorite crunchy taco with fire sauce, idly swiping the password into my smart phone to check my messages as I did so. As my email blinked open the single word "Referral" flashed before my eyes in letters the size of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore. I wondered what I was possibly going to do with that taco. I nearly stopped breathing. I called, texted, and emailed jc. Then I inhaled and opened a screen full of 19 attachments that were nearly illegible on the tiny screen, sorting through until I came to a picture of our beautiful boy.


Thursday, September 27, 2012


I'm still quietly waiting away here. While I wait, I'm whittling away at preparations.  We took the train to IKEA and got a rocker this week.  I had forgotten how much I love to rock, but can't wait to have a baby in my lap.  After coming home from Goodwill Outlet with baby things this weekend, I inventoried my stock of unisex clothing, and it's starting to look pretty complete.  I've been including kid's books on my forays now and am building a decent shelf full.

The really exciting news for me, though, is that I met a waiting moms group for coffee yesterday.  I really enjoyed the time with others who understand precisely and even share the frustration of this time.  It was nice to see pictures of two new referrals - beautiful little boys - and share the joy of moms who have been waiting well over a year.  Planning to see them again in October.


Thursday, September 13, 2012


Dossier received by agency lawyer in Addis. Relief.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Since the last post, I tracked the package to Addis almost right away and have been waiting and waiting for it to be delivered.  It seems that between the month-long holiday and the New Year things are not working very well.  I can't be sure whether FedEx or the lawyer are holding up delivery, but the dossier has just been sitting there now for a week and a half.  I finally emailed our director about it yesterday, and he said it was very strange.  Yes indeed.

Perhaps the dossier will be filed in country in September...


Sunday, September 02, 2012


I am thrilled like a child to follow the FedEx tracking on the dossier.  While I was sleeping today after midnight shift it made it from Memphis to Dubai.

I tracked down a tutorial for a yoga skirt last night.  I used to have one of these that I wore constantly. I need some long skirts for Addis, so I am delighted to have a sewing project for myself.  I will hit the big fabric store tomorrow.

Yesterday we were passing our favorite uber-expensive baby boutique, Posh, when jc noticed a high chair at their sidewalk sale.  He was impressed with its safety, so we bought it, and for half price.  It makes me happy to have him pick something out for the baby.

I'm on my way to the pharmacy right now to pick up the pills for my typhoid immunization.  Lots of things are happening. I'm excited.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Tugging at the Bit

 Well, I seem to have difficulty slowing myself down.  The crib came. I had fun putting it together and fitting it in the nook under the loft bed.  I bought a few baby books and some other odds and ends.

 Today I made myself sew something non-baby.  I finished the dining room chair cushions that I started 7 years ago.  Most satisfying project I've completed in a while.

Now, I'm ready for the referral.  Holding my breath every time I open an email.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Begin Baby Shopping

With paperwork done for now, I've read a few parenting books and started to prepare. I ordered a crib with mattress and bedding online. I was only researching, but the sale price seemed too good to miss. I can't wait for it to come now, so I can put it together.

I went yard sale shopping today on the bike. I covered 18 miles and stopped at a lot of sales. I spent $10 and wound up with a pannier half full of baby clothes, mostly onesies. They're all laundered and put away now.

Next big purchase is a rocking chair, but plenty of time left for everything.