Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thoughts from Ethiopia

You know I had a thought recently. It’s true I know I don’t get many but here goes. History has a way of writing itself. These are the most memorable times of our lives right now we are in a far off country picking up our daughter and blogging it. This is our account, well my account, my wife may have a different view which is my point exactly. History is told by one person’s account and retold using that account. Years from now that becomes the point of fact. Recently Barack Obama flubbed his swearing in the oath of office. He re-did it and recorded it as history. Are there re-dos in history? Of course there are! Remember Douglas MacArthur landing on Leyte Beach in WWII. That was a re-do at least on film it was. I think in today’s world, CNN and Wikipedia will hold us all accountable, at least for the major events of the world.

So here is my bit of history. Today we went to get Kalllie’s last vaccination. It was an adventure as Jenny has written and maybe the whole vaccination thing played apart in Kallie’s behavior the rest of the day. As far as attachment issues I’ve become or am becoming more aware of what could be there. I think under different circumstances I would have blown it off. For example, the moment she got her shot she was in the lap of Hana, (her nurse and someone she has known and trusted her whole life) but the realization of pain made her reach out for us. Okay that was cool. I took her from Hana as Kallie reached out. I was able to console her for a brief moment before someone else stepped in. (Read into this folks, it is being edited). So Jen took her back to the car and off we went with vaccination records in hand. We stopped at a little open air shack which is Ethiopia’s equivalent to Kinko’s the copy place and took copies of the records and we were home soon enough.

As far as consoling and cuddling goes it was an up and down day. There have been times today where Kallie didn’t want to be held and she just kind of sucked her thumb and rubbed her blanket. Then there were certainly times where we could not let go of her. Today we were finally able to let her play on the bed by herself without her crying. She even squirmed over to other parts of the bed where a different toy was and she grabbed it. But those moments are fleeting and we have to build on those when they come again.

We had our first ‘child in restaurant’ episode this evening. We decided to venture out to Makush a kind of Art Gallery and restaurant all tied in to one. On the walls were these amazing paintings by local artists. I wish I knew more about art styles but some were very real looking pieces, some more abstract, and some were just lines on a canvas that if you stared at long enough really came to life. We were seated in a quaint little table for two, with one on lap. Did I ever tell you Kallie may very well be a drummer.

“Wham, wham, wham!”

The big spoon at Jenny’s place setting makes a thunderous sound on our table. How delightful. Jen soon moves the other items in front of her to a very attractive yet functional radius about the size of a short arm. The circle of fun!

In the background I hear “ Table for six?” There were some very well dressed, older people walking in and were being seated down a couple of tables over. They were quite well dressed or perhaps I was under dressed, no matter. I can over hear their conversation about the artwork in the room and how good the food is hear blah, blah, blah . . .

“Wham, wham, wham”

There goes the big spoon on the table. It somehow got louder or the place got quieter I’m not sure. So Jen takes the spoon away from Kallie. Did you know Kallie isn’t big on words. She’s doesn’t say much but when she’s mad and in a mood she’ll let you know. She scrunches up her face and makes this sound like “EEEE!” It’s not really loud but its kind of fun to watch as she waves her hand. I swear she is shaking her fist. So what does an 11 month old do when something is taken away? She lunges for it of course but Jen was quick to put it outside the circle of fun. What was inside the circle of fun was the table cloth.

So after we changed our meal plan from dining in to take-out. I noticed that the table for six had moved to the far side of the restaurant. But through it all the people in charge were extremely nice. They even held Kallie and played peek a boo with her. Ethiopians are incredible with children, maybe that is too broad a statement but I have yet to find one who doesn’t crack a smile and wave to Kallie as we walked around today.

Our take-out didn’t quite meet our needs. I think the whole selling point for Makush is the atmosphere and not the food. Jenny couldn’t eat hers and me I’m lactose intolerant so getting an order of CHEESE ravioli in a cheesy tomato sauce wasn’t a great idea. The menu said Ravioli in Brown sauce. Usually I have a 50/50 shot of getting meat ravioli. I played the odds and lost. Our doorman was very appreciative of the meal

Keep moving folks I’ll see you tomorrow. Today’s history is written.

Ethiopia Notes

I don’t care what you say there is nobody could ever capture the essence of this city on film, in blogs, or in photographs. The guidebook we were given quotes an ancient traveler calling Addis Ababa ‘noisy, dusty, sprawling and shambolic’. A hundred years later, he may still be right today but for the 2.8 million people who call it home it does have a certain appeal that I cannot quite nail down.

Maybe it is the fact that this place is so rich in history that around every corner there is a story to tell. On the other hand, maybe the people are so beautiful and culturally proud. We went to church today, yeah I know church with an 11-month-old but after she fell asleep, all was good. The sermon was okay. All in English served by a pastor from the US. Religion is big in Ethiopia you are pretty much Orthodox Christian or Muslim with no in between. It wasn’t so much the sermon that got me thinking it is the people and there undying faith. To look at the big picture you would almost say God dealt them a bad hand. Think about it: drought, famine, poverty, AIDS, war, this place has it all. Yet through it, all these people are incredibly proud.

This afternoon while Kallie was napping I thought about what I would blog today. The thoughts came in chunks so I thought I would kind of blog babble.

The streets of Addis are a shambles the main streets are well paved but all the side streets are patchwork cobblestones. Navigating the streets is an art form; there are very few street signs. Surviving the streets is a challenge with drivers weaving in and out doing, U turns are commonplace. The smog is incredible! Considering Addis has almost no heavy industry it makes it easy to place the blame on the poorly tuned automobiles described previously. Probably 70% of the vehicles are blue and white taxi vans or cars. Its funny to see these vans zipping up and down Bole Road, some guy half out the window calling out the next destination.

“National Stadium!” he yells. An arm waves and the van pulls over. An old man squeezes into an available bench seat after giving the person in the window a couple of Birr (the local currency). Off they go in a cloud of blue smoke.

A couple of kids, probably about 10 or 12 years old, are kicking a little ball down Bole Road. They are oblivious to the cars zipping by. Pass, kick, pass kick and a miss the ball goes into the street. Undeterred the one kid does a quick check and is in the street after it. The cars aren’t slowing down. Near miss a honk and the game goes on down the street as if nothing happened.

The other day, when we were on the way back from getting Kallie we were on one of the major feeder roads of Addis Ababa. It is quite common to see animals at the side of the road or even on the road. Donkeys are still used to tote around heavier items like bricks to construction sites. We were driving along zipping in and out of traffic when up ahead we saw a bull. Actually there were a couple of them just walking down the street. Abraham, our driver, honks his horn thinking they’ll get out of the way as he quickly approaches. He is still full throttle and the bull is still . . . well . . .still there. Rapid deceleration. HONK! We are a mere few inches from this bull. If the bull was breathing hard he’d probably fog up our windshield. But he wasn’t breathing hard because he wasn’t moving. Abraham calls to the farmer or whomever owns these beasts and moves them out of the way. Where is my seatbelt? Oh wait this van doesn’t have any!

Yesterday, we went up to Entoto the former capital of Ethiopia. Entoto is a mountain that was once heavily populated with eucalyptus trees. Of course eucalyptus is not indigenous to Ethiopia and was brought here by Emperor Menelik around the turn of the last century. Eucalyptus did well in the environment. I say it was ‘once heavily populated’ because it is being deforested by these women, known as the ‘fuel wood women’ who cut down the trees and haul them down the mountain to sell the wood for fuel. I’m not kidding. Going up the mountain we saw dozens of women with bundles of tree stalks carrying them down the mountain on their backs. These bundles were about 8 feet long and two or three feet in diameter. The stalks ranged from 1” to 3” in diameter. The bundles must have weighed about 60 lbs. These women were tiny probably not more than 100 lbs. So how much to you think you get for carrying a cumbersome 60 lb bundle of sticks down a mountain several miles to town? Incredibly the going rate for a bundle of fuel wood is only a few dollars!

We went shopping yesterday as Jenny mentioned. Every time we stopped the van we were mobbed by children trying to sell us something or just begging. But begging wasn’t restricted to children, adults half blind or crippled or both would constantly come up to you. “Please I’m starving” was usually what came out of there mouth. I don’t doubt that they were but we were warned not to offer anything. Any amount of generosity on our part does nothing to solve the problem. It was indescribable the gamut of thoughts and feelings running through your head as you are told to look the other way. The marketplaces were the worst for this but even the street outside of our hotel has it’s fair share of street people.

This trip has been an emotional rollercoaster. In my mind I’ve got tons of questions. In my heart I wish I had the answers.

Just keep moving folks. Just keep moving.

Day Two :Our Trip

Day 2: The Best Day of My Life (tied for 5th)

The title says it all. The birth of my children was something to behold. Each birth has a different story and each was remarkable in its own way. I was never present for Kallie’s birth so this will have to serve as that day, the first time I laid eyes on her.

The day had began where the last post ends, We landed in Nairobi early at about 6 am. Nairobi Airport was a little different then I expected. We walked through the arrivals gate to find our connecting gate to Addis Ababa. The walk itself was different. We arrived at Gate 16 and had to make our way to Gate 4B. Picture the departures level at Vancouver Airport big wide open with many different gates and destinations to boot. Interspersed between the different gates are vendors selling magazines or coffee whatever your last minute needs. The decorum is impressive, local artist’s work is proudly displayed in the long gaps between gates and vendors. Now close your eyes and forget what you just saw because Nairobi is nothing like that. Walking to the next gate was more like walking to your next class in school, the hallway was just as wide and as the bell rings and a thousand kids want out in the opposite direction you are going. There are still vendors except they display their wares from their lockers one right after another. The entrance to the gates are merely doorways with someone standing out front and you waiting patiently while the masses move past like salmon spawning in a stream and you clinging to the nearest rock.

Our gate was slightly different we were fortunate enough to be at the end of the hallway at the bottom of the narrow staircase in the basement. New country means new security clearance, you know the routine: bags through the scanner . . . any gels or liquids? . . . remove your laptop? Wait a second they didn’t do the last two. Maybe the walk-through metal detector constantly going off constantly distracted them. A quick pat down at the shoulders and waist means you are okay. It must because the detector went off when nobody was going through. I feel secure now!

The flight to Addis Ababa was short enough depending on how you look at it. One hour and forty minutes or the tail end of a 29 hour odyssey which the case I was glad it was over. Hop a bus from the far end of the tarmac to the arrivals area. First though the Visa area an impromptu line ensues $40 dollars and a decal in my passport and Jen and I are officially visiting. On to the immigration line to hand in the card, we filled out and down to the carousel. I’m reserving comment on the Addis Ababa Bole Road Airport. A little more wide-open but still needs some work.

I’m being bogged down folks, with too much to say not enough time to write. Let’s jump to meeting Solomon. Super nice guy, he bought us flowers and he took us to the Weygoss where we could freshen up. The plan was to freshen up and meet back at two o’clock. We made a quick trip to head office sign some papers and we would be off to the transition house. See! Now we are getting there, I could always write separate posts about: the lost stroller, the Weygoss toilet , or the Streets of Addis Ababa. Lunch our first meal in Addis. Trust me folks I’ll get there.

Let me just say this quickly. If you had to get somewhere through the downtown core of your own city, could you navigate there without road signs or street signs? Welcome to Addis Ababa! We made it to the compound of Imagine Adoption and we met Martha, a very nice lady. I’m trying to visualize the trip so that maybe I could look it up later on Google Earth but that’s just a minor detail. Our meeting was brief we were just there to get Kallie’s passport and facilitation visa and other original documents. There is a certain irony to the whole event. The facilitation visa as part of the citizenship route looks very much like our visitor visa, a decal inside our passport. The whole process at the airport took about 5 or 6 minutes. The whole process to get the facilitation visa took 11 weeks, no pomp with this circumstance. I don’t know its just mind numbing and almost upsetting.

Another jaunt through the city and I’m seeing a whole bunch of stuff. Steady Rob . . .hold the course, talk about it later. I saw the Federation of Sport (cool I took a picture), heading south, a Roundabout and a right turn down a dusty boulevard to the bottling plant, turn right and right again up an alley they call a street and I see the familiar site of the Transition House, the red roof is a give away. It’s probably the nicest building on the “block” and perhaps of our whole trip, so far.

Timeout! You are probably wondering when this guy is going to get to talking about his daughter the suspense is killing me. Yeah well now you know how I felt. It’s about 36 hours since our plane took off in Vancouver. Total sleep hours to this point is still in the single digits not close to breaking the double digits. I am tired and cranky sleep deprived jet lagged but amazingly coherent. Okay I will get back to the story.

The foyer you see in a lot of peoples blog pictures is the front door. A sliding glass door and you are in a beautiful vaulted ceiling atrium. The only d├ęcor is two couches, a single matching chair and a glass coffee table. Then we are met by the social worker, whose name is also Kalkidan, we exchange handshakes and she seats us to get ready to meet out daughter. The smell of freshly roasted coffee beans permeates the air as one of the staff is preparing coffee for us.

The head nurse walks in with Kallie in her arms. My daughter is absolutely beautiful, of course I’m biased but she is stunning. Kallie is wearing a little yellow Ethiopian style sundress, her hair is done up in braids like corn rows. She glances over at us pauses, and cries, howls in fact! Quick transition and she is in Jenny’s arms, two of the most beautiful women on the face of the Earth are before my eyes. The next couple of hours we spent getting comfortable with her. Every time we switch off she cries. She soon has us trained to the fact that yes I will cry but if you get up and walk around with me so I see stuff I’ll stop crying. Time is standing still right now I’m trying to record everything in my foggy head, on camera, video camera, and digital voice recorder. I am geeked out.

When all the staff come back we ask a barrage of questions about habits and behaviors and all sorts of stuff. Jenny is diligently taking notes. We have coffee. It is incredible coffee. Another caregiver comes in with Kallie’s food it is banana and papaya mushed up. This is her “juice”. We start to feed her but she is kind of distracted. The level of trust hasn’t quite built up enough to where we can feed her. I’ll let you hold me but feeding me maybe another time.Hana the head nuse takes over to feed her and is done in a flash!

Our visit seemed all too brief but it was past her nap time and she seemed to be getting a little cranky. We asked to see her crib and roommates. No pictures, of course, but there were 5 cribs and only four occupied at the time. Kallie was one. Pictures we sent her were posted above her crib. In the crib next to her was another beautiful little girl about her age also with pictures of her family. I didn’t get to read the names on the card except Mommy Daddy and someone else. We did not impress this little girl. At least we got a reaction. In the crib next to her, a little girl was fast asleep but didn’t event stir with all of the chatter of adults and, one girl screaming . The little boy in the room was quite the gentleman. We was standing in his crib just staring back at me. He was not crying or anything just trying to figure out who I was. A brief visit and of course all other doors were closed. No photos and they would not even tell us the babies names. Kallie’s room was on the ground floor and there were many other rooms above us.

Alas it was time to go. We had a shopping list and food to buy. I’ll see you tomorrow Kallie! We made a quick trip to the store and back to the hotel. Okay now I was physically and emotionally drained. As the sun went down so did I. With luck on my side the Weygoss was in a brown out which meant no lights, no internet, no problem.
The last thing I remember is Jenny telling me that she had left a babbling, sobbing message to ours boys and Jen’s mom. It is three in the afternoon Vancouver time, 1 am local time. I am just finishing this off.

Oh and if you are wondering the fifth best day of my life was my wedding day, of course.

Day One: Our Trip

Nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to long flights on an airplane. Case in point, Day 1 of our journey to Ethiopia, probably from the outset of when we first thought of adopting from Ethiopia was how long the flight to get there would be. The number of layovers was kind of a given in that you had to have at least one, there are no direct flights. So in your mind you kind of develop a game plan of what is going to keep you occupied for the long flight.

Books
Several weeks prior to our trip we ventured out to Chapters and picked up some really good reading material, stuff that I’ve been getting into but yet holding back because I didn’t want to only to savor it for the long flight. As my stopwatch ticks away at 19:45.27 (I started it the moment the wheels left the ground in Vancouver) I have yet to crack open my book.

Magazines
I brought two running magazines. Actually I bought one and one is the gift subscription my mother-in-law gets me every year. I have had both in my possession for about a week, once again savoring for the moment. Once again, I have barely skimmed the contents of either.

Electronic Gear
I have brought my iPod, two in fact just in case the batteries run out in one I will have the other. The iPod has puzzle games and the video games and stuff. Usually I like to load the thinking games likes puzzles, Sudoku stuff like that it keeps my mind amused.

However, this trip has been different. I think I have turned my brain off and I just do not want to think. That being said I have channeled into my blogging persona and pulled out the laptop for the final couple of hours of this tour.

Random thoughts of the Day:
So far, we have been to two airports Vancouver and Amsterdam. Vancouver takes it easily minus a couple of points for the Starbucks in the International Area not having coffee. What kind of Starbucks runs out of coffee?

A Yotel is a incredible concept. I wouldn’t call it a hotel but more of a functional closet that you can wash, sleep, and connect to the internet. Although it seems fairly pricey it is well worth the bed time spent if even for a couple of hours.

Amsterdam is very expensive. It’s funny that some people benchmark the relative prices of things based on standard commodities: a cup of coffee or a beer. As parents of small children we alter our perception of things based on the price of a Quarter Pounder w/Cheese meal and Star Wars Action Figures. If the dollar was par with the Euro we would be good but since the Euro is worth nearly twice what our dollar is things are not so good.

We have been lucky so far tapping into our good karma. Two very long haul flights, Jenny and I have had a row of three seats to the two of us. Jenny is flaked out beside me now taking two of those seats.

Well it is getting late or early depending where you are. I’ve probably slept 6 hours in the last two days. We land in Nairobi in just over two hours we have a connecting flight to Addis Ababa in less than 45 minutes after we touch down. It’s a two hour fight to Addis and Jenny has requested to see Kallie right away.

OMG – last though of the day. Jenny woke up! There is a small child about Kallie’s age screaming her head off right now. I wonder how well Kallie is going to travel? Come on karma hold out for a little while longer. Just keep moving.