Every day in Ethiopia was condensed with activity and meaning, even in the small things. Wednesday was no exception.
We had a late start, which meant another leisurely breakfast and coffee with the other families. The coffee in Ethiopia is fantastic. And though I still add milk and sugar to mine, those who drink it straight affirmed that it is phenomenal to drink in-country. We loaded up our suitcases with coffee, and would later find the smell baked into our clothes.
We continued to get updates on the baby of one of the couples who was in the hospital. She was getting good care, but not showing enough improvement to be taken home on Thursday night as planned. However, our new friends were having a hard time securing alternative flights home. We really felt for them, and were so glad Abby was back in good health when we arrived.
There was one couple that we seemed to sync up with on our schedules every day, and were getting to know well. They live in Seattle, and work for a couple big, multinational companies. The mother plans to take a long break to spend time with her new daughter. They have one other boy, and when they found they could not have more children, they soon turned to adoption, and chose the agency and country the same way we did. Their new girl had lighter skin and eyes with a slightly Persian or Asian look that that gave her the nickname, “China” from our drivers. She is just a few months older than ours, and at times would reach out to grab hands with Abby, like they were friends.
At noon, the buses brought us to Hannah’s Hope to meet with Almaz about our final paperwork. We took a group photo, and then entered a play room and sat in a big circle surrounded by children’s books in one corner, a seat from a car used as a bench in another corner, and Amharic letters on the wall for teaching. Almaz sat with a stack of Ethiopian passports and brown envelopes.
She began by welcoming us and telling us what would happen through the rest of the paperwork and travel process. Our children would have Ethiopian passports and visas, but would become US citizens upon arrival back in our country. At that time, we would have to go through re-adoption process through our state to finalize the citizenship process. She gave us each our “golden” folder of documents that was to be opened only by immigration officers in the US. Then she took time to drill into us that it would be time, money and difficulty if we dared open the folder, intentionally or not.
She then talked a bit about the status reports we would need to provide back to the Ethiopian government, and the option of sending communications to the birth family. This got into the topic of the birth families, which reminded us that each of these children had to be given up by someone.
Almaz would say that it may be from the death of birth parents, disease, social stigma or health problems – but it nearly always boiled down to issues of poverty. She got a little emotional talking about her job and how important the kids were to her. She wished there was no need for her position, and grieved for the children. She made it clear that she was there not to help parents find children, but to help children find families, and she would always be on their side first, always looking out for their best interest.
Kristi and I would later talk to Almaz about the state of many children who came to Hannah’s Hope. Many were in defense mode, with little joy and little trust, and often in dangerous states of health. Most began to warm up, and open up, soon after they arrived. She remembered when Abby came in, and called her their “miracle baby,” which gave us a start because we didn’t realize how desperate her history was.
Almaz hinted at some of the other things Hannah’s Hope does in Ethiopia, which we would later learn from the drivers and the director of a local orphanage. Hannah’s Hope provides resources to other orphanages, supplies to local schools, advocacy for children, and child care assistance for desperately poor working mothers. They reach beyond just the children they serve.
Almaz told us about the need for a bus that could be used to transport adoptive families, and asked us to send information and quotes to AGCI in Portland. We had to take several different buses, only one of which was owned by Hannah’s Hope, and which broke down briefly on the way to the Embassy. She was a little ashamed about the $35,000 price tag, until we told her that regular family cars cost that much in the US. Several of us families are already talking about how to help raise the funds.
If this post sounds like an advertisement for All God’s Children and Hannah’s Hope, well, that’s okay. We walked away feeling like the positive state that Abby was in when she was given to us, was in large part due to the care and support of this organization.
So it was back to the hotel for a late lunch. We had to order French fries and Coca-Colas because we wanted some good starchy comfort food. The fries were great, reminiscent of In-And-Out Burger on the west coast. Perfect.
That night, we would shift to purely Ethiopian food. Before we left, we pulled the couple from Colorado aside to pray for them, both for the healthy recovery of their daughter, and the strength they needed to get through this time. We also prayed that tonight would be a real celebration of new families and new hope. We had stopped by the hospital that afternoon, and sat watching the local men chewing on Chat leaves while there was another checkup on the girl, another report of improving health, but still on oxygen. Things had to improve soon.
Our drivers took us to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The locals might consider it over the top, but for us it was a great immersion into some of the things the country is known for.
The restaurant had three different levels, all facing a long, wide stage. We sat at low stools, with small round tables for four to six people to share. We washed our hands at the table, with large tin kettles that waiters poured over wide, shallow bowls.
Our hosts ordered for us, and we chose our drinks. After inquiring of our drivers earlier that day, several of us decided to try “Teff,” a local honey-wine drink. We had already sampled a fine St. George’s beer in the hotel restaurant.
A large plate was set out in front of the group, with a piece of injera bread covering the bottom, and rolled up pieces of injera scattered around the edges. Injera is made from teff, a grain unique to Ethiopia. It has a spongy, pancake-like texture that tastes a bit like sourdough bread.
Then different foods were placed in piles around the injera, with spices in the middle. I’m not sure what everything was. Some were bean-based, some were meats, some were greens – most were spicy. Everything was delicious, and so much better than I had had at any other Ethiopian restaurant, including the hotel’s local dishes. The others would agree, including those who had been to many different ones around the US.
While we ate, musicians played songs from different regions of the country, and different dancers came in for each song, dressed costumes and bringing story to the songs in large, graceful movements and colorful fabrics.
At times, the dancers pulled diners into the performances, either on stage or at the tables. Our friend form Colorado did a commendable performance in a “competitive” dance with one of the professionals on stage, sweating to keep up with the changing movements and shaking shoulders that kept pace with the deep rhythms.
We kept eating and drinking, not because we were hungry any more but because the food was so good. With the music, dancing, food and children around, it had the feel of a wedding reception. In this case, the celebration represented our new or growing families. We went home tired and full. Abby slept well that night, and so did we.