We left the kids at Hannah’s soccer game on Saturday morning and rushed home to load up four suitcases, two roller bags and two hand bags into Wendy and Will’s truck for a ride to the Detroit airport. Two of our suitcases were completely filled with donations, thanks to friends and family who dropped off diapers, formula, clothes and hand-made bracelets. We left with plenty of time, which was good because we ended up going to the Detroit City Airport by mistake.
After reaching Washington D.C., we met up with six other couples (one brought their ten-year-old daughter too) and had some time to share a bit of our stories before the flight. They came from Oregon, Minnesota, Kentucky, Washington, and we would later meet another couple from Colorado who took a few days to visit Israel on their way. [Note to future Ethiopian Air travelers: they enforce 15-pound weight restrictions on carry-on bags, and actually use a scale to weigh them. If they go over, they will make you check the, so pack accordingly.]
The couple I talked to the most that day was from Portland, Oregon. They consider themselves too old to have their own children, so they decided to adopt. They were going to meet their two daughters, 5 and 6, who had corresponded with them over the past few months. They got their referral before even finishing the home study and other paperwork, so they had to wait seven months before finally getting to meet them in person.
This was extremely difficult, to know them and see pictures and videos, but to have to wait so long to bring them home. One interesting thing happened to them at an Ethiopian networking dinner in their area. They happened to sit by a couple who had adopted a girl from Ethiopia, and lived just a couple of blocks away. This girl would attend the same school as their daughters, and would be in the same grade as the older one. They felt this was a sign from God that they were on the right track, and made the wait a bit more bearable.
In between flights, Kristi did a phone interview with WZZM 13, a local television station. One of our friends whose husband worked at the station, read about our struggles following the volcano, and passed it along. We were able to pull up the print version of the news piece online just as we were boarding the plane. This was the cap to a frantic last couple of weeks, and we were a little relieved to get onboard and to unplug from the world for awhile.
The plane ride was long – nine hours to Rome, an hour or two fuel-up, and another six hours to Addis Ababa. The plane was full of beautiful Ethiopian people, and some other Africans making connections in Addis. We sat across from two little twin boys, around one or two years old, whose parents patiently held, fed, changed, bounced, comforted and entertained the whole way. The parents’ exhausted faces gave us a taste of what we might expect on the flight home. During stretches in between meals, people would stand next to their seats or walk the aisles, talking to each other or taking pictures, most speaking in Amharic. This was our first real taste of Ethiopian people, and of course we fell in love with them.
When we landed in Addis, everyone clapped and a few cheered. Some of the ladies made ululations in celebration. One woman behind us cried out, “Praise God. Thank you God for safe travels. God bless us and God bless Ethiopia.” It brought tears to our eyes. We were in Africa at last.
It took awhile to buy our visa, go through immigration and get our mounds of luggage. But we chatted with an Ethiopian from Los Angeles who was bringing his 6-year-old daughter to his home country for the first time. She was beaming and talked to all of us the whole way through the line.
It was a beautiful thing to see Was and Johanes with AGCI signs for us as we emerged from customs. They took us out into a warm, dark African night where the scent of flowers mixed with diesel fuel and the many languages of the airport changed to sounds of cars and buses. We loaded up in two big buses and made our way to the Riviera Hotel. Exhausted and elated, we checked into African-style rooms with big, ornate beds, huge carved wooden closets and dark hardwood floors. It lacked some of the comfort devices of US hotels, but made up for it in hospitality and charm.
By the time we settled in, got our stuff ready for the next day and checked in at home via email and Facebook (great internet that first day), it was after midnight. Because we had lost a day, we would start the next day early – breakfast at 6:00 a.m. It was a night of fitful sleep, with jet lag and thoughts of what would happen the next day keeping us tossing and turning.
Tomorrow would be a big day in our lives.