I wrote this earlier today:
It’s 11:00 p.m. on Friday night back in Clermont, FL. Here in Addis Ababa it’s 6:00 a.m. as I sit in the guest house listening to the call to prayer at a nearby church or mosque. I’ve been awake since 5:00 a.m. which isn’t that bad since I went to bed around 8:00 p.m. This was the first good night’s sleep we’ve all had in three nights.
Tuesday night Carrie and I were packing until sometime between 1:00-2:00 a.m, then we were up and on the way to the airport at a little after 9:00 a.m. Our flight to Detroit left at noon, and there we met up with Uncle David (Carrie’s brother) and flew to Amsterdam. We flew KLM for the flight to and from Amsterdam, which was wonderful because they had great service which included meals and snacks, but most importantly, a personal entertainment system at each seat. This was wonderful, especially for Ben. He watched Alvin and the Chipmunks (The Squeakuel(sp?)), Toy Story 2, and an episode of Ben 10.
We arrived at the Addis airport around 11:30 p.m. local time. We met up with David, but not David’s luggage, went through customs, getting a visa, exchanging money and meeting our host, Ato Girma.
We drove through Addis and finally made it to the guest house around 2:00 a.m. By the time we got settled, unpacked and in bed it was 3:00 and we needed to be awake around 7:00. We had all managed to sleep a couple hours at a time on the plane, but we were all in pretty sore shape the next morning when we woke up. We felt really bad for Ben, we had willingly and knowingly undertaken this while he was along for the ride, but he has done incredibly well! He is such a good kid! He traveled so well, and dealt with lack of sleep like a trooper.
So we woke up around 7:00 a.m. on Friday, May 21. We had very good pancakes from breakfast and then walked across the valley from the guest house to the care center where the children live. We all gathered in a very nice and spacious living room area as they called families one by one to meet our children. You can imagine the state we were in; very little sleep in several days, jet lagged, adjusting to a foreign country and now at the moment that we had anticipated and dreamed about for years. We were meeting Birtukan who we “met” on paper in January and had been the focus of our thoughts and love ever since.
We were one of the first (the first?) families to be called. We were walked to her classroom and could see her sitting in the front row as soon as we walked in. She was called forward and came to meet us as her social worker introduced us to her as her Mommy and Daddy. I’m getting teary now writing about it, but at the time all our focus was on her and trying to help her with this strange and awkward moment, so I didn’t have any tears of joy at that point and I don’t think Carrie did (but I could be wrong).
Birtukan’s native language is Wolyaita (sp?), but the main language of Ethiopia is Amharic. The social worker stayed with us for 5-10 minutes as we tried to get basic identities down. It was a mix of Amharic, Wolyaita and English. Mamma, Mommy, Daddy, A-bot-ya (Amharic/Wolyaita combination of Daddy), Uncle Dave, Go-day (Amharica/Wolaita combination of Uncle), Wen-di-may (my brother), Ben. It’s hard to understand what she was just repeating and what she was actually associating with each one of us. Throughout the morning she did use wendimay to call Ben, and she seemed to be using Mommy and Daddy to call to us, usually when she was upset because one of the other kids wanted to play with the bubbles we had given her.
We spent an hour or so playing with her on a large patio the kids use for a play area. We did bubbles, looked at a book of photos we had put together. This book was one Carrie put together online and it is great. It has photos of our family, of Birtukan, of our house, our rooms, our church, her Sunday School teachers. During this time Ben and Birtukan spent a fair amount of time racing back and forth across the patio on toddler cars that they were both a little too big for.
One of the main concerns had been how we would overcome the language barrier. There were people from the care center around who could help us with Amharic words and phrases, but it’s unclear how much Amharic Birtukan has learned in her time at the care center. When playing with her, not much language is needed; fun translates very easily. But it will be a challenge as we begin to care for her and help her make this huge shift to her new life, and I think we could be in for a very long plane ride on the way home.
Later in the morning we joined the rest of the kids from the care center for a snack and play time. Play time was an experience. 20-30 Ethiopian kids mobbed the 7 American adults and children. Many of them grabbed us by the hand, climbed in our laps and called us Mommy or Daddy; it was highly amusing to watch Uncle Dave’s (young bachelor) reaction to this. The few toys they had or we had brought were highly sought after and mildly fought for. After 20-30 minutes of fun and chaos the children went back to class and we were left with Birtukan again. We played for a while longer and then said goodbye to her and asked the social worker to tell her in no uncertain terms that we would be back.