Ethiopia - Our First Visit
"On Friday, October 28, 2011, after two and a half years of preparation and waiting, Charis and I boarded a plane in Boston Logan Airport to travel the six thousand miles to meet our little Ati in Ethiopia..."
From our guest house we could clearly hear the call to prayer from the various Orthodox churches.
Addis Ababa, the name of Ethiopia's capital city, means "New Flower."
The flowers there are stunning!
This is the lovely guesthouse where we stayed. (Our room is the one with the open window.)
The view from our window.
Muslims live side by side with Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Addis.
It's interesting to see just how varied the styles of clothing are in Addis. This picture captures three very different styles: the traditional head scarves, the full veil, and the western-style pants with high-heels.
Meeting Ati for the first time...
"We pulled up to the gate, stepped inside the compound, and all at once she was there! Ati was sitting on a mattress outside on the lawn with her caregivers and about 10 other toddlers! It was surreal. We sat down and talked to her for the very first time. As could be expected, she was not interested in letting us hold her, and she kept her distance. After a few minutes, though, one of the caregivers gave her to Charis. Ati cried a little but soon calmed down. Then we gave her the little bear we had brought with our family’s picture on its shirt. She LOVED it!"
"We relaxed for a while after lunch, in another room. For a time it was just Charis, me, Ati, and one or two other children. I started to connect a little with Ati. We played with a set of three little plastic chairs – her favorite being the red one. Then it was about time to go. Sadly, I can’t remember all the details of how it happened, but at some point Ati let me take her up in my arms for the very first time. She let me hug her. By the time our driver arrived, Charis and I had given and received kisses and hugs from Ati! What an incredible feeling that was and still is! It’s hard to explain in words. Here is this precious, precious little girl that we’ve waited and fought for, for such a long time – of course you want to sweep her up in your arms the minute you see her, but you know it’s going to take some time; and then, almost from out of nowhere, this tiny angel lets you embrace her, lets you hold her… That first hug was two years, 7 months, and 3,500 miles in the making! And it was worth every second waited, every paper written and re-written, and every inch travelled! What a gift Ati is! Our little Atatti!"
Food in Ethiopia is very inexpensive compared to the States, and we enjoyed eating out at various restaurants (without kids!).
This particular restaurant served only traditional Ethiopian food. We decided to try the vegetarian (fasting) dish. Many Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast multiple times a year, including every Wednesday and Friday at which times they abstain from meat. Even without the meat, this meal was DELICIOUS! The food is just full of incredible flavor. Unfortunately, our stomachs still haven't caught up with our taste buds! I wish we could stomach this kind of food every day.
Coffee and a new dress...
On Monday, we were treated by the staff at the transition home to a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Addis is pictured here making the coffee. Ati adores Addis!
Some father-daughter bonding time!
A view of the yard. There is A LOT of laundry to be done at the home!
Speaking of clothes... Charis had picked out an outfit from home to give to Ati. Boy, was she excited!! The minute she saw her new shoes, she kicked her old ones off!
Arms around Mommy...
I think that previous to our coming, our emotions had pretty much shut down. The process had been so long, and I guess our feelings of anticipation had about died (probably as a coping mechanism). Now that we’re here, our hearts have been ripped wide open. We see this little girl before us. We are able to hug her close, to kiss her cheek. We’re able to open up a tube of moisturizing cream and watch with amusement as she smothers it onto her cheek and then tries to stick in in her mouth. Ati is very much real. We’ve made a connection with her. The ties are forming. The emotions are building. To have to leave with the thought of waiting indefinitely before we are able to return and bring her home: it’s almost more than we can bear!
That thought is even more poignant, I suppose, when you think about us having to leave Ati indefinitely. We know that we will be coming back for her. Our love for her won’t change – if anything it will grow stronger – yet for all she knows, we might have walked out on her forever! That thought helps me understand a little better the truth of us needing to trust God’s love for us even when everything we see and feel screams abandonment! “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” he said. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you by name and you are mine.” “I will not leave you as orphans.” “I will come and bring you back that where I am you may also be.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would not have told you.”
Yet the pain is palpable, the discouragement profound.
A drive to the Entoto Hills...
Introducing the family...
We gave Ati a little photo album with pictures of family and friends. She enjoyed looking through it and trying to say some of the names.
On Thursday, November 3, we appeared at court. What a nerve-racking morning!
After a while Charis and I noticed two other couples who it appeared were speaking Spanish (very fast). I decided to go and try out my Spanish. "Sois de España?” I asked. They all laughed, surprised that I was speaking Spanish. I found out that they were from Seville. We chatted for just a few minutes, before being called in to meet with “la juez” – the judge. The group wished us “buen suerte!” and we walked those long steps across the floor and into the courtroom!
The room was fairly small. Tsigie sat in the back with another man who we think may have been a representative from Ati’s original orphanage. Charis and I sat down on some chairs along one of the side walls. The judge (a very elegant Ethiopian woman) sat behind a big desk. She proceeded to ask us a number of questions:
“[Ati] is the child you wish to adopt?”
“Have you had training regarding adoption? Are you aware of some of the issues you will have to deal with?”
Yes we had training. They talked a lot about some of those issues like attachment.
“Do you have any other children?”
Yes. Two boys.
“Do they know about your plans to adopt a child?”
Yes. We’ve told them. They are really excited! (At this point Charis noticed an ever-so-slight smile across the solemn face of the judge.)
“Are you aware that once you adopt Atalelech you will take full responsibility for her; she is yours forever?”
“Then the adoption is finalized. She is yours.”
We could hardly believe what had just taken place! We thanked the judge and walked out of the room in a daze, Charis almost crying with emotion. With those three simple words – “she is yours” – a weight was lifted off our shoulders and replaced with a mantle of joy like the brightly colored scarves worn by many Ethiopian women. Praise God for his wonderful work and provision!!
As we were about to exit the waiting area, the group of Spaniards asked how it went. “Está bien!” I said, “It’s good!” We bid “hasta luego” and walked away.
A neat part of our trip was getting to meet really neat people from all over the world: Africa, England, Australia, Canada, the US...
Anthony introduced us to his friend, Feru. We heard Feru's incredible story of how he found Jesus. Now he is a leader in the church and has helped initiate many community projects such as an orphanage of 300 children ages 3 to 11!
By the way, it DOES rain in Ethiopia!
Ati gave us kisses goodbye again. Tomorrow will be our last time to see her before we head back to the States. But she is and has always been in God’s hands: the best place she could possibly be!
I tell you, just one of her giggles or one of her dimpled smiles with her bright shining eyes is enough to warm your heart for the rest of the day!