Ethiopia Trip #1

Warning: Super Long post…but want to make sure that we have a journal of what an amazing adventure we had bringing our son Eli home!

We left our house in Atlanta at 2am on Sunday, March 30, 2014 headed for the airport. We had a short flight to Charlotte followed by another short flight to Washington, DC that connected us with our 14 hour flight to Ethiopia. The landing in Addis Ababa was really pretty as we were able to see the mountains and learn a little about the terrain. We landed a little after 7am on Monday, March 31. Our first stop was the line to pick up our visas.

In DC, Clint ran into a buddy of his from his rowing days at Georgia Tech. Jonathan and his wife were on our flight to Ethiopia as she works over here with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. We ended up standing in the visa line with them for almost an hour and we learned a ton about how things work in Ethiopia. It was really great to have that chance to learn from their experiences.

After we picked up our visas, we exchanged some of our money for Ethiopian birr to make sure we could easily pay for things. Then we went through the immigration line and then we picked up our suitcase. We were very excited that our suitcase made it. After really tight connections in Charlotte and DC, we were expecting to not get the bag for a few days. Once we retrieved our bag, we had to wait in another line to get out through security. We waited several minutes in the X-ray line and just when we got to the front…a security guard waved us through without checking our bag. I guess those honest…extremely tired looking…faces did the trick!

Firew from Bethany Christian Services was waiting for us past security. He welcomed us and helped us get loaded up to head to our guesthouse. The ride to the guesthouse took about an hour or so on some very bumpy roads. When we arrived at The Morning Coffee Guesthouse, we were warmly greeted by Birtukan and her daughter and we immediately felt right at home. She showed us to our room and we decided to catch a nap before lunch at 12:30.

After a 2 hour nap, we were feeling a little better and were pleasantly surprised by the spaghetti lunch that was prepared for us. Spaghetti, fresh veggies, and bread really hit the spot! During lunch we talked with Birtukan and learned more about her family and their guesthouse. Her family recently adopted a little girl from the government orphanage…and she is just as cute as can be! Her daughter seemed to be happy to have some Americans to play with.

The first two hour nap helped so much that we decided to have another two hour nap after lunch. We woke up around 4:00 and showered and organized our stuff. We headed downstairs in time to log on the internet a few minutes to send a message back home and were even able to call Emma for a quick minute. She was pretty excited to be heading to the zoo with Aunt Katie for the day!

Fires picked us up at 6:30 and took us to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. It was obviously a nice restaurant that people would go to for special celebrations. We learned about the traditional way of eating in Ethiopia using a special bread called injera to pick up our food. When we first sat down at the table and ordered, the waiter brought over a basin to wash our hands. Firew ordered a large plate that contained a variety of different foods. This was a great way for us to learn! There were some familiar things on the plate such as beef, chicken, cabbage, and even lamb. Then there were a few things that weren’t so familiar, but were still fun to try.

The whole time we were eating, there was a band playing on the stage and a variety of different singers and dancers entertained us with special traditional songs and dances from many of the tribes of Ethiopia. Firew is a great host and he was very helpful in explaining what was going on and what it meant. Fortunately they didn’t ask Clint or me to dance, so things went pretty smoothly!

We headed back to the guesthouse and called it a night around 9pm so that we could rest up for Tuesday. Tuesday was the day we would finally meet our son after 3 years in the adoption process! Fortunately we slept well and were downstairs Tuesday morning at 6:40 to enjoy a great breakfast of pancakes and bananas before we headed towards Adama to meet our son.

At 7am on Tuesday, the nurse from Bethany Christian services, Markito, picked us up. She introduced herself and let us know that she would be traveling with us to Adama. We drove about an hour through Addis and picked up Solanna, our social worker from Bethany and then we headed towards Adama. The traffic here is unlike anything we have ever seen, and it was even busier on the way to Adama. Solanna explained to us that Ethiopia doesn’t have a seaport, so they have to use the seaport in neighboring Djibouti for all of their imports and exports. The road to Adama is also the road to Djibouti, so she warned us that the 1 1/2 hour trip we had heard about would most likely take 3 hours.

We drove through the Ethiopian countryside and could tell that the elevation was changing a lot. Addis is almost 7500 feet above sea level and had nice cool weather. Adama is at a much lower elevation and it is very hot there…think Atlanta in August. When we finally arrived in Adama, our first stop was at the Noble Action offices. There we met Aiden and Zaccharrius who run the children’s home and they gave us a lot of information about Noble Action and were proud to give us a tour of their new offices. Markito and Solanna also reviewed Tariku’s history with us and we all had a chance to talk over what steps would take place from that point. From there we were finally headed to meet our son!

When we walked into Noble Action Children’s Home, everything looked exactly as it had in the pictures and we spotted Tariku right away. You could tell what a big deal this was because the nannies were finishing putting a nice dress shirt on Tariku for him to meet his new parents. He had the best smile and Clint and I both fell in love with him right away. The nanny got him out of his crib and set him on the floor so we could play with him. The other kids in the room were Hally to have guests also, so we spent the next thirty minutes playing with stuffed animals and following Tariku around as he did laps around the room.

We took a ton of pictures with Tariku and really were happy to see how quickly he warmed up to us. I’m pretty sure he has never seen anyone as tall as Clint and he was so happy for Clint to hold him up high in the air. He was also quick to climb in my lap. Tariku also discovered that he really likes to have his picture taken! We had a chance to dress him in an outfit we had brought to see what size he wears. The outfit fit great and he is doing a great job of modeling Target’s Circo spring line for toddler boys here in Ethiopia!

After a while, it was time for the kids to eat lunch. The nanny came into the room with a little pot, a spoon, and a plate. She opened the pot and used the spoon to scoop out a plateful of rice, All the kids were seated on the floor in front of her and she fed each child a handful of the rice. This was repeated for several minutes and then she brought back a jug of water and a cup. The kids all shared the cup and then went back to eating the rice together. Our son will fit into our family well as he definitely made sure to get enough to eat!

After lunch, they gave Tariku a bottle and then laid him down for his nap. It was really hard to say goodbye to him, but we know that God has a plan and that we will be back soon to bring our little boy home.

We stopped for lunch at the Executive Hotel. I ordered a chicken and mushroom casserole and Clint had fried chicken. We ate with Solanna and Markito and our shuttle driver before hitting the road back to Addis. Traffic was bad on our way out of Adama and the shuttle driver drove on the shoulder to try and get around. He got pulled over and was given a ticket by the police. We went a few more miles and then he was pulled over again. He didn’t have his license with him because the first police officer kept it when he gave him the ticket. The second policeman let him go, but reminded him that he has to pay his ticket to get his license back. We decided it made the most sense just to turn back to Adama so he could pay his ticket then rather than making another trip out. It took about an hour and a half by the time we were back on the road again.

Traffic was terrible coming back and we ended up in multiple traffic jams that were so bad, the driver just shut off the van while we waited. It took us five hours to get back to Addis. We have a really good driver and he was doing everything he could to get us back safely. By the time we rolled into the guest house around 8:30pm, we decided to skip dinner and just grab a shower and go to bed.

Wednesday morning started out a little later as our first appointment of the day was at 10am. We enjoyed a nice breakfast of eggs with onions, toast, bananas, and papaya juice. Johanna (Birtukan’s daughter) came to visit us and showed us how much she enjoyed the Hello Kitty coloring book we gave her yesterday. She is a little charmer! After breakfast, we kicked the soccer ball with Johanna for a while until Firew and our shuttle driver arrived a few minutes before 10:00.

Our first stop of the day was the Bethany Christian Services office here in Addis. We had a chance to meet the staff and to tour their offices. Everyone was really nice and it was great to see Markito and Solanna again after our adventures together yesterday. Firew took us into the Bethany conference room and gave us an orientation of what to expect for court tomorrow. He pretended to be the judge and asked us a lot of questions. He also did a great job of explaining what we should expect from this point on in the process. That was a very helpful conversation!

After we left the Bethany office, we made a quick stop at the mall. Clint had seen an article in a magazine on our flight over about a company that makes handmade shoes using old tires as the soles for the shoes. The article was really interesting and Clint had mentioned it to Firew. Firew was kind enough to remember and he took us to the shoe store so that Clint could see the shoes that he had been reading about. Clint was lucky enough to find a pair of shoes in his size and gladly purchased them. He is going to be one trendy American rockin those shoes!

From the shoe store, we headed to lunch at the Lucy Restaurant. The restaurant is a part of the National Ethiopian Museum. The museum was closed, but we were told that we would go back on Thursday. The restaurant was really nice and we ate outside thanks to the cool weather here in Addis. Clint and I shared a pizza and Firew ordered lasagna. All of the food was great and we enjoyed hearing more about Firew and his background. After lunch, we took a short walk down to see an Orthodox church and then our driver picked us up for the trip to Mt. Entoto.

We drove up to the top of Mt. Entoto where we were treated to a beautiful view of Addis. We passed the US Embassy on our way to the mountain. Everyone in Addis knows that it is strictly forbidden to take photographs of the Embassy and we were glad to be reminded a few times. The Embassy looks very American as it is a huge building with some of the greenest grass we have seen so far.

On our way up the mountain. we passed several donkeys carrying loads and other groups that were walking up or down the mountain. We also passed several elderly ladies that were carrying huge loads of Eucalyptus trees down the mountain on their back. It is free for them to go up into the forest to cut down as many trees as they’d like. They walk their loads about two miles down the mountain and sell the wood to make money for food and their other daily needs. It was really amazing to see how strong these ladies were, but it also made me sad to think that they didn’t have family that was able to take care of them to spare them that hardship.

It was a pretty steep incline on the ride up and you could tell that the altitude was much higher…right at 10,000 feet above sea level at the top. At the top, we visited the church of St. Mary. we also had a chance to visit a museum to learn more about Ethiopian history. The tour guide also walked us through the grounds and had very interesting stories to tell us about all of the buildings. We took some great pictures while touring.

We stopped on the way down the mountain and took a few more pictures as we drove back into the city. Just like in America, there were all kinds of shops that sold little trinkets and snacks everywhere. We didn’t stop at any as we decoded to wait for our trip to the market on Friday. We stopped and toured Trinity Church to round out the afternoon. The priest let us into the church and Firew gave us a great tour. Trinity Church has beautiful stained glass windows that give a pictorial view of the Old and New Testament. Because it was an Orthodox church, they actually had a place that was designated as “The Holy of Holies” where only the priest can go in on behalf of the people. The ceiling was painted with a variety of Biblical history and Ethiopian history. The building was beautiful and it was cool that they had us take our shoes off before we entered. You could tell they really revered the worship space.

Trinity Church was our last stop of the day on our way back to the guesthouse. Traffic today was much better as we left the house later and returned earlier. The Ethiopian rush hour times are similar to the Atlanta rush hour times. The major difference here is that they are doing road construction on almost all of the roads at the same time. They are also installing a rail system that has taken away several normal driving lanes or turning areas. That is what causes the cars to get do jammed up in spots.

When we returned to the guesthouse, we spent some time looking at our pictures of the past few days and then we came down for dinner. Dinner tonight was rice with carrots and beef, fried spinach (think onion rings meet fried pickles), and freshly baked bread with rosemary. While we were eating, we got to hear more of Birtukan’s story. She told us that she grew up very poor with her mother and she was actually a child sponsored through a World Vision’s child sponsorship program. When she grew up, she got a job working for World Vision and helped translate letters from sponsors. One letter she received changed her life. It was from an elderly man who was disabled and didn’t have any extended family. He was sponsoring a child because he wanted someone to love and to take care of. Birtuken decided that if that man who didn’t have much could sponsor a child, she wanted to help orphans too.

She lined out for us how God had given her a vision and how that vision came true over the next several years. She and her husband started out by hosting orphans in their home which ultimately led to them starting a children’s home in their family compound. From there, the vision has only grown and it has officially become Yezelalem Minch ministries. Birtukan and her husband’s ministry now sponsors over 1,050 kids in three African countries through partnership with American families that feel called to help orphans. How incredible is that story? We have a friend that works for World Vision and I am definitely going to pass along this awesome testimony of what it can really look like to sponsor a child.

At the beginning of dinner, we were talking about the frequent power outages here in Ethiopia and how interesting it was that we hadn’t experienced that yet. just like clockwork, the power went out right after dinner. We said goodnight to our gracious host and headed up to our room to check out a movie on my iPad.

We woke up bright and early Thursday morning excited about our court date and the official adoption of our son. What a day…three years and five months in the making! Thursday’s breakfast was cinnamon rolls and pineapple…very tasty!

We drove about an hour and a half to get to the courthouse. It was funny that they didn’t have security when we went through the courthouse. It’s a new building and it really isn’t even finished yet, so they will probably add that. Every restaurant we have gone to, they have checked our bags and we’ve been wanded a few times…but nothing at the courthouse. Oh well..we were just happy to be there in plenty of time.

Fortunately Firew knew several folks at the courthouse and we were the first case of the day. We waited in a waiting room for about 20 minutes and then we were taken next door to the judge’s chamber. She looked at our passports and asked us a few questions. After less than 5 minutes, she told us that the adoption is final and Tiraku is our son. Such an incredible feeling! Now we are counting down the days until we return to Ethiopia with Emma to bring her little brother home!

After we left the court, we went to the Bethany offices for a few minutes and then headed to lunch at The Top View Restaurant. The restaurant had a beautiful view of Addis Ababa. I ordered lasagna and Clint had fried chicken. As we were eating Firew shared a little bit about the vision he and his wife have for helping the street children in Addis. Wednesday at lunch Firew told me that he was hoping to continue his biblical training in the US and asked if I could make any recommendations. I was happy to have a Liberty University pen in my bag that I proudly gave him so that he would have the web address for the university. He said he would check it out.Go Flames!

We made a quick side trip to the zoo since we passed it on the way to our next stop. The zoo was interesting…several lions, sea turtles, and a few other random animals. The most interesting thing about the zoo was the price to get in. For locals, the cost is 2 birr which is roughly 10 cents. The sign said that the cost for foreigners was 20 birr…roughly one dollar. Not a big deal, but humorous to see lined out on the sign. there was a huge group of school kids enjoying a field trip to the zoo. When we arrived they were just starting on their bag lunches. Apparently field trips work pretty much the same no matter where you are in the world!

The next stop on our agenda was to visit the National Museum of Ethiopia. Think Smithsonian, but on a much smaller scale…because the country is much smaller. There were some very interesting displays about evolution based on the Ethiopian finding of the “Lucy” fossil that they say proves origin of life millions of years ago. We didn’t get into a debate, but even their exhibits leave a lot of room for a creationist point of view. You could tell they were quite proud of the Lucy exhibit though, Hopefully that exhibit will make people ask questions that cause them to dig into God’s Word where they will ultimately learn the truth about creation that has been verified by science over the years.

The rest of the museum contained a variety of other Ethiopian artifacts such as fossils, memorabilia from kings and other rulers, items from both the Orthodox Christian church as well as the Ethiopian Muslims. We saw several weapons used by the military, instruments that are handmade, tribal outfits, and even the first car that was ever brought to Ethiopia. All in all, a very interesting visit for sure!

We left the museum and stopped by the Hilton hotel to exchange some money for our last few days here. The Hilton is very nice here! After the money exchange, Firew had the driver take us over to see the Ethiopian soccer stadium. There were a ton of people at the stadium when we arrived as they were having a match in just a few hours. The guards were gracious enough to let us snap a few pictures. All around the stadium were several leather shops, a few restaurants, a sporting goods store, and two bookstores. We were so happy to find a copy of the Bible in Ahmaric to save for Eli. We also showed Firew a daily devotional written by Tim LaHaye and mentioned that Tim is a friend of ours, He bought the book and was so happy to be able to learn more about the book of Revelation. Super small world to see Dr. LaHaye’s book here!

After the stadium stop, our touring was over for the day. our awesome driver brought us back to the guesthouse for the evening. Normally he drops us right at the gate and the guard lets us in. However, it seems that they are getting ready to pave the road here because large piles of rock, gravel, and dirt were dumped in the street while we were gone today. No worries, we walked about 100 yards from the van and then arrived safe and sound at the guesthouse.

We hung out for a few hours before dinner. A nice cool rainstorm came through, so Clint and I put our chairs out on the balcony and watched the rain for a bit. We came downstairs to a wonderful dinner of french fries and pizza. After dinner we sat at the table for a while and talked through what all we would need to bring on our next trip to bring Eli home…we can’t wait!

After dinner we went up to our room and got a few things organized with our bags and other stuff. We’ve been trying to stay up later each night in hopes of sleeping better. It has been interesting to get used to the sounds of a new place. Thursday morning at 3:15am, a dump truck dropped off a huge load of something just outside our window. Throughout the night and early morning hours we hear The Muslim call to prayer as well as the Orthodox Church call to prayer. We will be glad to leave those two alerts behind when we head home.

Due to a pretty significant rainstorm Thursday night, Friday morning was nice and cool as we started our day. Birtukan made a wonderful breakfast of French toast and fruit. The main thing on our agenda for Friday was to do a little shopping and then start packing for home.

We drove around for a bit and then had to swing by the Bethany offices. Once there, Clint mentioned that he wondered what it might cost to stay at the Hilton Friday night since we didn’t have anything planned for all day Saturday until our 10:15am flight. We quickly looked things up online and found that they had availability and the price wasn’t too bad. We decided to think about it for a bit. We headed out to do some souvenir shopping and picked up a few things for Emma and Eli. Souvenir shopping is pretty consistent in most countries as we entered 10-12 shops and they pretty much all carried the same items.

Lunch was quite a treat Friday as we headed to the Addis Ababa Golf Club to eat. This area used to be a part of the Air Force base, but now part of the property is used by the defense ministry and the golf course is now a public course. It was a beautiful day and several people were out playing. Firew mentioned the the golf club was a favorite choice for he and his wife when they go out to eat. Clint ordered pizza and I ordered grilled chicken pasta with spinach and sautéed mushrooms. Both of us really enjoyed our lunch!

At lunch we talked to Firew about moving to the Hilton for our last night. We had really enjoyed getting to know Birtukan’s and her family during our days at the guesthouse and paid her for our original commitment. The Hilton was much closer to the airport and also provided some fun activities for us Friday evening and all day Saturday while we waited for our flight. Firew was supportive and helped us work. out the details. After lunch we headed to the guesthouse and quickly packed up, said our goodbyes, took some pictures of our sweet hosts, and headed towards the Hilton.

We spent the rest of Friday afternoon reading by the pool and then enjoyed dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the pool area. Clint ordered fish and chips and I had fajitas. It was a beautiful cool evening and a really fun way to spend our last evening in Addis until we return with Emma to bring Eli home.

Saturday morning we woke up and enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the hotel. We both had omelets and toast with Nutella. Clint had a muffin and I had some fresh fruit. From there we headed out for a friendly round of miniature golf. The course was a mix of clay, dirt, and concrete. Definitely the most interesting course I’ve ever played for sure! After we finished, Clint played another round and I headed back to the pool for some more reading. We had lunch at the same place we had eaten the night before. We shared a cheeseburger and some nachos.

We had to check out of the hotel by 4pm, but we weren’t being picked up for the airport until 6pm. We stayed out at the pool until about 3pm and then we came to the room to get cleaned up and packed to check out. The last few hours at the hotel were spent walking around, surfing the internet, and face timing with Emma.

Our driver, Firew, and his wife picked us up at 6pm and dropped us off at the airport around 6:30. Checkin went great and we wandered some of the shops while waiting for our flight. We stopped at a little cafe to order dinner. That was a strange experience because the waitress didn’t know much about the menu. She had to keep calling the cook over to answer our questions. I the end we settled on a pizza to share and that seemed fine. As soon as we placed our order, she told us the pizza would be ready in an hour. Oh well, we had time to kill so that worked out fine.

After dinner we headed for security and waited for a bit before the plane started loading. The plane ended up taking off about an hour later than scheduled. We had to stop in Rome to refuel and some passengers got off the plane there. As I am writing this last part, we are about 45 minutes outside of DC. We will clear customs in DC and then have a flight to Charlotte before our final flight to Atlanta. JD graciously volunteered to drive Emma back to our house as he and Katie kept her all week for us. We are hoping to land right around 4:30 in time to meet JD and Emma for dinner.

This has been an incredible week! After 3 1/2 years we have finally met our son. We cannot wait to load back up in a few weeks to go and bring Eli home!

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One comment to “Ethiopia Trip #1”
  1. Just stumbled across your blog. Our two children are also from NA in Adama. Let me know if you are interested in connecting.

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