Saturday, December 24, 2011

Emotionally surviving a canceled court date

Today is one month since we were supposed to appear in court in Ethiopia. To mark the occasion I am listing the things that have helped me deal with our canceled court date.
  • Remember the adoption bell curve. As much as this stinks, it helps to remember that most international adoptions involve some sort of setback.
  • Assume the very best of intentions by the person who is causing the delay. I feel better thinking that the official delaying all the Burji adoptions has the children's best interests at heart.
  • Find a way to connect with Ethiopia that doesn't directly involve the adoption delay. Writing about our trip has been therapeutic for me. Last weekend we cooked up a lot of Ethiopian food and had friends over to share it. And we are learning to read Fidel. All this helps me feel connected to the boys without dwelling on what we're missing.
  • Accept any negative emotions that come up for what they are. I feel jealous when I read about other people in our agency passing court. It's a normal reaction. I can name it, accept it and move on.
  • Be mindful of things that can affect mood. Get more exercise and limit alcohol.
  • From another Burji PAP: Don't hope for good news every time the phone rings. Pick a date in the future and don't expect any news before then.
  • From another Burji PAP: Make a list of positive activities to keep you busy during the wait. Every time you feel bad about not meeting the kids, work on doing something off the list.
  • If all else fails: Fake it. Go through the motions. Put one foot in front of the other. Focus on what you have to do in the next five minutes and eventually you will find yourself busy with your regular life.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ethiopia trip (part 5: Debre Libanos)

Since our flight back to the U.S. wasn't until Tuesday we decided to take one more day trip. We went to Debre Libanos, about two hours north of Addis. Debre Libanos is the site of a famous monastery and a beautiful gorge.
Church at Debre Libanos

North of Addis is much drier than the south.
Looking down on fields of teff
Terraced farmland
We had lunch at the turn off of the main road to the monastery. Outside the restaurant was a troop (flange, congress) of about forty gelada baboons.
Geladas are known as "bleeding heart"baboons.
Zinjero cuteness
Say, "Cheese!"

Near the turn to Debre Libanos is a small, old bridge called the "Portuguese Bridge," which may or may not have been built by the Portuguese.
We reunited with H for the trip.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ethiopia trip (part 4: getting back to Addis)

We got stuck in the river around noon on Sunday and arrived in Karati about 9PM, leaving the car behind. Early the next morning, Chuchu, the man who had rescued us, our driver H, and the driver of a large flatbed truck we hired went back to the river to pull the car out. T and I waited in Karati. In the early afternoon they came back; they had been unsuccessful. At that point T and I were anxious to start back toward Addis because we'd been told we could have a court date on Wednesday. We gave the remainder of our money to H and he went off on the back of a motorcycle to meet a truck that would approach the river from the Burji side. Then Chuchu, T and I got in a mini-bus and went north to Arba Minch. In Arba Minch we had a late lunch, then went to the bank and got out the money for the flatbed truck driver. By the time we were done it was evening, so other than a walk around town, we didn't see much of the area. Chuchu arranged a ride for us to return to Addis early the next day. Alas, no giant crocodiles on this trip.

We said goodbye to Chuchu in Arba Minch, as he was heading back to settle things with the truck driver. If anyone reading this is ever looking for a tour guide for the Omo Valley, I would love to send you Chuchu's contact information. This man really went above and beyond for us. You could not find a better guide.

I don't remember the name of the driver who took us to Addis, but he looked like Lenny Kravitz. Lenny was driving two contractors who had been working on a new road in the west, and they had space in the car for two more. It was a really interesting ride. The contractors were very nice and their English was good. They picked good stops along the way and we had our first tastes of qocho (enset root) and chechebsa (a thin, sweet bread). Lenny gave me my first taste of chat. As the day went on Lenny got more and more hyped up on chat. We were kind of relieved to get to Addis in one piece.

Of course there was no court date on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening, while we were having dinner with our Amharic tutor's sister R, we heard from H, our original driver. He had finally gotten the car out of the river. The truck from the Burji side had failed. A bulldozer from the bridge construction had finally succeeded. Unfortunately H had used the last of his money for the bulldozer and was now stuck in Arba Minch unable to get home. We made arrangements to wire him some money the next day. A shout-out here to M, R's twelve-year-old son, who interpreted between us and H and R to make all the arrangements.

The next couple of days were hard, as we heard about lots of possible progress on the Burji cases that did not come through. On Saturday we got some more details about the cause of the problem and for the first time we were told not to expect a court date any time soon. It was time to go home.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ethiopia trip (part 3: river)

At the border of Burji and Konso there is a small river called the Segen River. It's a seasonal river, and the satellite images of that area on Google maps must have been taken during the dry season, because we didn't know the river was there. It's about two feet deep and seventy feet wide. There is no bridge, but one is being built.

If our driver had known a little more English or if we knew a little more Amharic, we could have had a conversation about what to do when we came to the river. But we didn't, and when H stomped on the gas and drove into the water, we just yelled "fe'tan!" - fast! - and hung on. We actually made it through the deepest part of the water and were approaching the far bank when we got stuck in the mud. The mud was strange - you could stand in one spot and not sink at all, then take a step and sink up to your thigh. Our Land Cruiser got stuck to about halfway up the wheels.

Of course two ferenjis stuck in the mud does not go unnoticed. (Any car on the Burji-Konso road would be noticed. We hadn't seen another car since leaving Soyema.) Very soon there was a crowd of people around the car. They were absolutely wonderful. They worked for about five hours trying to get the car out. There were enough people who spoke Amharic that H could talk to them, and they tried all sorts of different ways of moving the car. They pushed branches and rocks under the wheels, they pushed it forward, they pushed it back, they rocked it, they tried to lift it... unfortunately the only thing that happened was the car sunk deeper. T and I tried to be useful but even the frailest-looking old man was stronger than us. We eventually were sent to sit under a tree and wait. We took turns wandering back to the river and trying to offer helpful suggestions - Ahya alle? - Is there a donkey? - but were met with blank stares and laughter and sent to sit under the tree again. After a couple of hours I climbed back in the car and while it was being wildly rocked side to side I grabbed our prescription medications, water, filter, cameras, guidebook, and shoes, shoved them in a backpack and took them over to the bank, thinking that we could walk to Karati, the nearest town. But when we asked one of the people who spoke Amharic he told us that the town was thirty-five kilometers away. So we decided to wait some more.

As we were waiting we were concerned and worried, but we also felt incredibly lucky and privileged. We've both had enough similar experiences in other parts of Africa that we knew without any doubt that we would be OK. We're white Americans with money. The absolute worst thing that could happen was that we would spend an uncomfortable night by the side of the river and the next morning walk the thirty-five kilometers to town where we could arrange for help. In contrast, literally on the other side of the mountain, a group of six families was so desperate that they took their children to an orphanage. Once we thought about that it was pretty hard to feel sorry for ourselves.

T had been trying to see if he could get cell phone reception and eventually he got it by standing on a specific tree stump. First he called the person who'd connected us with our driver, but he just said, "These things happen." Then he tried to contact the operator of the bulldozer from the nearby bridge construction, but couldn't reach anyone. Then he called our friend S in Addis, who immediately started trying to think of anyone he knew in the area who could help. He ended up calling his cousin in Arba Minch who tried calling a friend in Konso, but the friend's phone was off. Then I had the brilliant idea to call a hotel in Konso. We picked the most expensive, tourist-oriented hotel out of the guidebook, and called the number. We learned later that we actually called the cell phone of someone in Addis, but regardless, that person called his friend who was a tour guide in Konso, and that tour guide started working on getting a car to drive out to pick us up. The whole experience, with so many people willing to help us, from the people at the river to the people calling each other all over the country really strengthened my faith in humanity and reminded me again how privileged we are.

While we were making our phone calls the people at river were still working on the car. They worked until the cows came home (literally). What amazing, generous people. Finally it started getting dark and everyone gathered their things. I got out some money and approached the group to pay them. There was an argument about how to distribute it, until H in a stroke of genius called out, "shimaglioch!" - the elders! - and everyone immediately went and sat in orderly groups behind their particular representative. H gave out the money and everyone left except for about five guys. Then one of them explained that there was "and kilometer 'chiqa" - one kilometer of mud - so we needed to walk to drier land for a car to come pick us up.

So we left the car in the river and started walking. Pretty soon it was completely dark. There was a lot of mud in the road and one of the men was steadying me as we walked. All I could think was, I am walking through the mud at night in the middle of Ethiopia holding hands with a guy with a Kalashnikov. (We never did figure out the reason everyone had a Kalashnikov. I asked if it was for jib - hyenas - but got a blank stare.) Finally we got to a camp. The people who'd gone ahead were sitting around a fire. We figured out they were part the construction crew and were staying in a temporary building while working on the bridge. I really did not want to sleep there that night, especially because some people were drinking, which made me nervous. We sat off to the side and tried not to draw too much attention. I heard H tell the group that we hadn't eaten and that we don't eat meat, and someone brought us a papaya. We waited there for about an hour. Then, off in the distance - could it be a moving light? More time passed, and then the light became two lights and they were headlights, and miracle of miracles, there was a van, and Chuchu, the English-speaking tour guide was inside! T and I have decided that our best memory from Ethiopia is the hour we spent with the boys, but a very, very close second is the moment when the van rolled to a stop in front of us.

We got in the van along with H and a few other people and started down the bumpy road to town. About an hour later we were safe in Karati.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ethiopia trip (part 2: Burji)

We took two trips south of Addis. The first was set up by our agency. When we get more news about our case, maybe I'll write about that trip. The second trip was to Burji, where the boys are from. For this trip it was important that we were not going as adoptive parents or connected to our agency in any way, we were just going to see the area.

Our driver H was a nice guy who didn't speak much English. With his few words of English and our few words of Amharic, we communicated OK. We had a beat-up old 4x4 Land Cruiser and a ton of waypoints loaded into our GPS. The first part of our trip was a big success.

We headed south from Addis on Highway 6 through gently rolling farmland (corn and teff), gradually descending into the Rift Valley.
Camels near Lake Ziway
Trucks and donkey pulling cart full of teff near Lake Ziway
We had lunch in Awassa, then continued through Dilla to Yirga Chefe. A group of very excited children followed us around Yirga Chefe.
Main market street in Yirga Chefe
Looking up the market street
The next morning we went about 10 more kilometers past Yirga Chefe and turned off the highway. Everything was very green and tropical-looking.
Outside Yirga Chefe

We left Highway 6 and took the gravel road toward Derba, in Amaro, at the foot of the Nechisar Mountains.
Road to Derba
Road to Derba
We were excited to arrive in Derba and have our morning coffee at the base of the mountains.
Helpful hint: If you are traveling through towns with no signposts, look for the local branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. Even small towns have one. The bank's sign will tell you what town you are in.
At Derba the road makes a U-turn, going away from the mountains before turning south toward Burji.
Road to Burji
Mountains in Amaro
Car wash

By mid-morning we estimated that we had arrived in Burji.
Looking into Burji. Isn't it beautiful?
Our driver, H.
Burji road
Filming Burji panorama
Burji was beautiful and green and full of farmland.
Qai teff (red teff)
Nech teff (white teff)
Any time we stopped, it didn't take long for kids to turn up.
Kids with their animals in Burji
We passed through the largest town in Burji. The Commercial Bank sign confirmed that it was Soyema. We made a quick stop at the local clinic.
Soyema Clinic
 Around Soyema we saw quite a lot of soil erosion. I wonder if there are any reforestation projects in Burji.
Looking back over Soyema
Area around Soyema
 Soyema was the last town we saw in Burji. After that the road got rougher and we barely saw any people. We climbed for a long time. Finally we crested and looked down toward Konso.
Looking toward Konso
 Burji was behind us and we congratulated ourselves on a well-planned trip. Then there was an unexpected turn of events.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ethiopia trip (part 1: Addis Ababa)

We ended up spending 18 days in Ethiopia. Eleven of those days we were in Addis Ababa, sightseeing and visiting new friends while we waited for news of a court date, which for a while seemed imminent. Once we figured out the mini-buses, it was very easy to get around the city. Unless you have your newly adopted children with you or large packages to carry, I see no reason to use a taxi or a driver in Addis. The mini-buses are cheap and convenient, and unlike mini-buses in other African countries, they actually have a seating capacity. So you will never end up with someone sitting on your lap or have to sit on anyone's lap. Just listen for what the guy hanging out the window is yelling.

At the National Museum we saw Lucy, Ardi and Selam, as well as artifacts from ancient and modern Ethiopian history (take mini-bus to Arat Kilo). I loved this museum. The Ethnological Museum is in Haile Selassie's old palace and we saw his bedroom and bathroom, along with collections of musical instruments and religious paintings (mini-bus to Siddist Kilo, go into university campus). T really liked this museum. The Natural History Museum displays all the endemic animals of Ethiopia, with an impressive bird collection (mini-bus to Arat Kilo). Small, but we liked it. Finally the most recent museum is the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum. It's in Meskal Square (mini-bus to Stadium). It just opened in 2010 so it may not be in your guidebook. It was very disturbing but we thought very well done. I highly recommend it, but NOT for kids.

View of Addis from across from the Imperial Palace. Check with the soldiers before taking a photo.
Meskal Square
Sunset from the Astara Hotel
View from Bole Road rooftop
The air in Addis was pretty smoggy.
We also enjoyed visiting some churches in Addis. Our favorite was St. George's Cathedral (take mini-bus to Piazza). It was quiet and peaceful with lots of birds singing.
St. George's Cathedral
St. George's inner temple
King Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba
For souvenir shopping, we had good luck at Shiromeda (take mini-bus to Arat Kilo, then transfer to Shiromeda). This is a little group of shops at the base of the Entoto mountains. I would not recommend going to the shops on Churchill Avenue, which are very much geared toward tourists and were the one place in Addis where we got annoyingly hassled. Unfortunately we never made it to the Merkato.

For food, there are endless restaurants to choose from. The surest bet for a vegetarian is shiro (chickpea stew) with injera. We had shiro almost every day and we could get it just about everywhere. It quickly became addictive. For a nice meal on our last night we enjoyed Makush on Bole Road, where we had decent Italian food surrounded by not great, but cheerful and colorful art (take mini-bus toward Bole, get off at Mega House).

One thing I was very glad to have with me as we wandered around Addis was a GPS. The city is not laid out in the most logical way, plus I have a bad sense of direction. It was nice to always know where we were. Also if you are looking at your GPS, people think you are just texting, which draws no attention, but if you get out your guidebook you will immediately draw a swarm of sellers. We got a good street map of Addis for our Garmin eTrex from

Our new friend S (our tutor A's brother) lives on the southwest edge of Addis. It was interesting to drive out there because it is all new construction and the area is laid out in a much more organized and "western" way.

S and his family
R (our tutor W's sister) and our intrepid interpreter M
On our fifth day we took an easy day trip to Debre Zeit (also called Bishoftu). There are a couple of pretty lakes that we walked to and lots of birds. We had lunch at the Dreamland Hotel overlooking Lake Bishoftu. To get to Debre Zeit, catch a bus from the station right across from the stadium to the west of Meskal Square. Or stand on Ras Biru Street right across from Meskal Square. You will have to make a transfer at Qaliti. To find the right bus from Qaliti to Debre Zeit, just put on your stupid ferenji face i.e. your regular face, and fifteen people will show you where to go. Total bus cost was 14 birr each (82¢).

Lake Bishoftu