About Jesse

This blog is about our adoption story ... as it happens.

Love makes me grow

This month, Abby turned one year old. During that time, our posts have been few and far between. Have you noticed?

We went through droughts with nothing to say during our adoption process, usually when there wasn’t much happening. But this time is different.

Several weeks ago, Kristi and I started talking about the blog. How great of an experience it was and how amazed we were by the comments and clicks we received. This story was really told for the child we had not met yet, as well as our children who were living the experience. We aren’t good scrapbookers or videographers. And we quickly forget many of the good tales of parenthood as the years crash by. This was our way of capturing the experience.

But the more we talked about what to post next, the more we realized that Adding to the Family was finished. We are there now. We are a family. She is part of us and we are part of her, and now our stories are all wrapped up together.

Sure, we will have (and already are having) experiences unique to adoptive families. Everything from hair products to birth order issues to cultural celebrations to new support networks. But we feel that those are different stories, ones that we will leave to others to share.

So this will be our last significant blog post. The last chapter. The swan song.

Let us use this opportunity to update you on Abby. It’s no longer a baby announcement, but the introduction of our daughter.

She is growing.

In the first few months with us, she quickly moved from the 10th percentile in height and weight to the 40th in height and 80th in weight. Now she is up to the between 75th and 85th in these categories – on track to match her big American siblings. She loves her bottles, is experimenting with “big people” food, and has eaten lots and lots of the little “puffs” that she picks up and rolls around with her little pincer fingers. Speaking of puffy, her hair has gotten bigger and rounder, but still so soft that it’s hard not to touch. It takes a lot of care, but even she likes to bury a couple of fingers into it as she falls asleep. It’s heavenly.

She loves to be held (especially by Mom).

The Special Mothers at Hannah’s Hope in Ethiopia wrote this descriptor down in her paperwork. Part of our cocooning process has been to indulge her all the time – always be there for her so she knows she can rely on us. Well, it worked. She looks for us and smiles at us and we squeeze her even tighter. Don’t get me wrong – she has her time on the floor or in a seat, jumping and moving and rolling. But when her bursts of energy are spent, she wants to be in our arms.


She is loved.

Our kids can’t stay away, and even though it can be a problem, it’s a good problem. Neither can we. We try to catch her gaze in the room. We talk to her and sing to her. She stops strangers in their tracks, who want to see her up close and hear our story, which we love to tell. Her sleep/eat/play cycles blend with us, and we are starting to get out and do things as a family.

It’s easy to say that fresh air and American food make babies grow. But we suspect that love and stability have more to do with it. She is happy and thriving and so are we. The pictures below help tell the story.

Thanks to all of you who made this journey with us. Your comments and emails and prayers and advice lifted us up and kept us excited, even when it seemed like our girl was a long way off. You are now part of our family too.


Jesse, Kristi, Hannah, Elliot, Logan … and Abby

December 23, 2010



An update on efforts for children in Ethiopia

This text was copied from an email from the Joint Council of International Children’s Services. It gives a good overview on efforts for children, including domestic and international adoptions of Ethiopian children. I couldn’t find this info on their web page, but wanted to share.
During the month of August, Joint Council on International Children’s Services will be hosting a delegation of Ethiopian officials in the United States. They will have the opportunity to receive training in multiple cities and witness the positive impacts that intercountry adoption has made on children from Ethiopia. The delegation will also address permanency planning including the challenges to the intercountry adoption process and solutions to those challenges to ensure the children’s best interests are served.
Status of Children
The CIA World Factbook records that there are 5 million children having lost one or both parents in Ethiopia. Some of these children lost their parents to the effects of a severe drought followed by constant, heavy rainfall, which happened earlier this decade.[1]  In addition, 650,000 children are reported to be parentless due to AIDS.
In a June 2010 study, Family Health International, under the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs with United Nations Children’s Fund and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, conducted a study on institutionalized child care in Ethiopia. The study recognized that HIV and AIDS were among the primary factors contributing to the large number of children lacking parental care. Other major factors include HIV related diseases and poverty. The study found that the majority of the country, from community members to even some officials, holds a “positive perception of institutional care” for children in need and that these individuals “are not aware of the negative effects caused by institutionalization.”[2] As a result, alternative care options, which include kinship care and foster care, have not developed at the same pace that child care institutions have.
Governmental Initiatives
With these challenges in mind, Ethiopia has made significant strides to address them accordingly. By addressing the causes of parentless children, the Ethiopian Government works to prevent institutionalization through family preservation programs that target “parent education and family income strengthening.”[3] Moreover, foster care has proven to be a culturally acceptable form of alternative care. Additionally, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is emphasizing the need for family based care and working to promote an understanding for domestic adoptions. By promoting awareness, the government hopes to develop a more robust system for family permanency by developing a stronger prevalence of domestic adoptions.
A positive aspect in the plight of parentless children in Ethiopia is that this country is open to intercountry adoption. Despite the recent declines in intercountry adoption globally, the number of placements from Ethiopia to the United States has increased over the last five years. In 2005, there were 442 placements in US homes, but by 2009 there were over 2,000 children placed in the United States. While this number only puts a small dent in the parentless population of Ethiopia, it makes an impact in the lives of those children that were placed. Intercountry adoption is one valuable avenue that ensures children in need live in permanent, safe, and loving families. While there is still much work to be done to provide children in Ethiopia with care, the government has demonstrated an effective commitment to mitigating the problem. 

Going Home

Abby did great on the flight, better than me in fact. The traveler’s flu finally caught up with me and I suffered through the first flight, and half way through the second before another couple offered a medicine that knocked me out, and began to knock out the sickness too.


There was one last bright spot to wrap up the trip. That morning, Almaz and our friends from Colorado decided they would pull their daughter from the hospital and take her home that night as originally scheduled. She was still on oxygen, but could bring a tank along on the plane in case she needed it.

We were all very relieved, as the alternative would’ve been very rough on our friends. One parent would have to leave the other one behind, and hope for a quick recovery. However, tickets out would’ve been nearly impossible to secure.

Almaz spent the day running all over the city to get the permissions to make this happen, and our friends were rushing around to get everything ready to make the flight. They were on a different airline than us, but Kristi saw them through a glass window as we went to our gate. They held up a bright-eyed girl, and pointed to a nurse who would be on the flight with them. They were all smiles. Their child was going home now.


We rolled into Grand Rapids after the long journey, tired and excited. A huge crowd waited for us, including our kids, who all seemed a little bit older. They had decorated shirts with the African continent outlined, and Abby’s name written on them.

There were balloons and flowers and hugs and kisses, just like we imagined. The first group of friends and family got to meet Abby before we went home to begin our “cocooning” process. Another group of neighbors met us outside our house with a handmade sign.

At long last, our journey to adoption was now complete. We were home. She was home. Now a new journey is beginning.

Travel Day 5: The Orphanage and Saying Goodbye

Thursday was our departure day, but we were all given the option of visiting an orphanage that many of our children came from before entering Hannah’s Hope.

Everyone ended up taking the opportunity to go, so we crammed 23 little people and big people into the van and puttered our way across town. It’s amazing how your safety standards change in a different country – babies on laps, no seatbelts, adults sitting on the floor and chaotic driving.

We finally pulled through the gate and unfolded ourselves from the vehicle. We ducked under rows of drying laundry and entered a playroom full of children waiting patiently at tables for their lunch. They covered a broad span of ages, from around two, up to eight or nine years old.

The kids were shy at first, until we started shaking hands, giving hugs and taking pictures. Many longed for hugs and eye contact, and would take your hand and not let go.

While the orphanage was smaller than Hannah’s Hope, it had its own feeling of care for children who needed help. However, you could tell that the children here were earlier on in their lives as orphans. Many had recently come to the orphanage, and some from very desperate circumstances.

They took small groups at a time up to the children’s rooms because there were so many of us. While we were waiting our turn, I stood in a patio area and tried to picture what this place would be like for Abby, coming from a village area – or for older children that had a better sense that their life had significantly changed.

A young man passed by, later I would find out he worked in the office there. He shook my hand and asked if I was an adoptive parent. He then thanked me, and thanked all of us, for our willingness to come here to help these children, who so desperately needed homes.

We then met the director of the orphanage. He seemed to be the male counterpart of Almaz. As the families came up to shake his hand, he remembered each child’s name and their circumstances. He hugged each of us, and asked God’s blessing on us.

This was an amazing man. He was a former marketing executive who felt called by God to serve orphaned children. And while he ached for them in their need, he had the joy of a person who was doing what he should be doing, not for money but because it is the right thing to do.

When he met Kristi, he took Abby in his arms and remarked at how well she looked. He said he hardly recognized her, from the state she was in when she arrived at the orphanage. This was hard for us to hear. We didn’t realize that she was in such bad shape, and to hear Almaz call her the “miracle baby,” then the orphanage director say he was amazed to see she was in such good health now, made us realize the extent our little girl suffered in her journey to us.

I went up to the rooms, but Kristi stayed behind. They were smaller than those at Hannah’s Hope, but had the same beautifully painted walls with flowers and inspirational quotes and verses. They told us that Julie from All God’s Children came and painted the rooms, and we found that Hannah’s Hope often provides resources to help improve service to the children there.

The director had just taken a trip with Almaz to the southern regions of Ethiopia, to visit the government-run orphanages that first receive the children. Hannah’s Hope works closely with this orphanage to transport the children to Addis Ababa for better care. The orphanage also works with other US-based adoption agencies, including Adoption Associates, based in our hometown.

It was a bittersweet visit, and we all felt a little heavy seeing so many orphaned children there. One of the other dads asked the director what the orphanage’s biggest need was, and he mentioned a washer and dryer set. Currently they were using the sinks in the kitchen to clean clothes, but an industrial washer and dryer would cost upwards of $5,000 US dollars.

Just before we got on the bus, we collected money from anyone willing to chip in. Many of us had extra Birr that we would have to convert, and just threw it all in for the cause. In about five minutes, we collected nearly $900, and while the bus idled, a couple of us ran back in to present it to the director. In his quiet office, we prayed for him and the children at the orphanage.


The remainder of the day was packing, saying goodbye, and getting our children ready for the long trip home. A few couples would leave in the next day or two, but several of us were on the same plane out of Addis. It would be the first flight heading to Europe since the volcano, and many on the flight had been stuck in Ethiopia for nearly a week.

We waited in long lines at the airport, and everyone was quiet, tired, ready to go home.

Travel Day 4: Almaz and Injera

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.

Travel Day 3: Addis Ababa and Hannah’s Hope

Tuesday morning we loaded up in the vans to bring our kids to Hannah’s Hope. After all the talk of bonding and attachment, it seemed a little strange to be dropping our children back off at the orphanage while we hit the town. But in the end it worked out well and ensured we would get a chance to see the place our sons and daughters came from, and buy things that they would keep as mementos of their birth country.

We had one of the best experiences on the van ride just before we arrived. We passed and waved to two young men, an accountant and a maintenance worker, who had just finished the night shift at Hannah’s Hope. Then, we saw a group of young women who came up to the windows as we slowed down and looked in at the children.

These were the “Special Mothers,” who care for the children at Hannah’s Hope. The titles were good descriptors of their roles. They helped children who arrived in many states. This included those who had lost their parents or had been given up as unwanted or unable to be cared for. Some were sad and flat and had already begun to shut down. These Special Mothers gave them love and energy and a new life and new hope.

We opened the doors of the van and the first woman reached out for Abby, calling, “Abeeeebech! Abeeeebech!” She embraced her and kissed her, as the two other Special Mothers reached out for other kids. They were a little tearful, knowing that this would be the last time they would see these babies. Abby has been at Hannah’s Hope since January 18. Since arriving, she has gained weight, improved her health, fought a bout of pneumonia – and likely formed strong bonds with several Special Mothers. It was very touching to us to see this love, and we gave them hugs and tearful thanks before Was ordered us back in the van.

We saw a small bit more of Hannah’s Hope as we dropped off our kids. It took a good half hour to separate from them. The babies were being laid in one of the courtyards for their daily sun bath. We got to meet a few other Special Mothers, and recognized one of the babies as one being adopted by Kristi’s friend from the Yahoo listserv.

Next it was off to the market. We had the best tour guide and host in Was, whose signature quote was, “No problem!” He could tell us about the history of Ethiopia: the fierce fighters, the oppression of the Derg, the pending elections or the culture of the Wolyatta region, where Abby is from. He talked about important people, like the owner of Pepsi-Cola in Addis, whose philanthropy supports many people and children in Ethiopia. He talked about how safe it is in Addis, where even 50 Cent recently walked the streets without being harassed, and women can walk alone at night, only fearing the occasional wild animal that finds its way into the city.

At the market, we were left alone to wander and haggle among dozens of small stores, offering traditional white clothes with embroidered designs, carved wooden decorations, local coffee (coffee as a drink started in Ethiopia, and it is one of the country’s major exports), hand-made jewelry, local music. There were Rastafarian clothes and decorations (Rastafari is a religion based on following former Ethiopian King Selassie as a kind of messiah, and many of the followers are in Jamaica). Street kids selling gum would occasionally wander up, although they were soon chased away by women with large sticks employed by the city, and tipped by our drivers to keep beggars at bay.

Everyone wanted to show us their unique wares, but none were overly aggressive. One proprietor called me into his store, no bigger than an elevator, to show me something special. He pulled out a book with wooden covers and pages that looked old but had some kind of laminate on them. It was a Bible in Amharic, with ancient pictures from medieval times. I thought it was great, even if it probably was not the aged, priceless artifact from Lalibela or Axum that he claimed. Two hundred Birr (14 Birr to 1 Dollar) sounded like a great deal, until I realized he wanted two hundred US Dollars. After much pleading on his part and offering cheaper alternatives, I had to move on. We did a bit of haggling on our purchases, but easily gave in because it all seemed like good deals to us, and profits going to good people who need them.

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant as a group. The Italians ruled over Ethiopia for around four years, but were pushed out after an overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Adwa. As a result, Ethiopia is the only African country not to be colonized. Italy did not leave behind its language or major parts of its culture, but you can get a good cappuccino in Addis, and a great Italian meal.

There were beautiful paintings at the restaurant, all for sale. We couldn’t find just the right one for us, but took some pictures of a few of the most beautiful. A man working there asked Kristi about our adoption, and thanked us for caring enough about Ethiopia and the children to be willing to raise them as our own. He wouldn’t be the first person to thank our group.

I talked to a couple in our group from Minneapolis. They are adopting a little boy who is nearly two. The dad is an orthopedic resident at the Mayo Clinic, and they have a good personal and professional network of doctors and specialists who they call friends. Because of this, they felt they could take on their boy, who is a little undeveloped for his age, possibly from malnutrition, but shows good promise now that he will have the resources of a great family with lots of love. They have three other children, including one who was adopted domestically, and has the same skin color as their son. They had a very similar adoption journey in how they came to choose Ethiopia and All God’s Children. Being there, we all felt at peace about our decisions.

Back at Hannah’s Hope, we were reunited with Abby and explored the infant area. Hannah’s Hope recently moved into a new building. The two joined homes were owned by brothers who must’ve been very wealthy, because they are more like two mansions (even by US standards), converted into rooms for children.

They showed us Abby’s crib, which was next to a window on the second story, looking out over the city. The walls were pink, with flowers painted on. In fact, all rooms are bright and colorful, everything is clean and organized, and while the rooms are full of children, there are plenty of other areas to play and sit. It is a special, happy place where children find healing and hope for a new future.

They had bathed, lotioned and changed Abby into a new set of clothes for us. We finally returned to the hotel, where we ate and napped and spent the remainder of the day. Abby woke up looking a little perplexed at seeing us again. But she quickly relaxed. She is a very content and happy girl, who has her own cycles of eating, playing, sleeping and repeating.

The hotel phones are not easy to use, and expensive, but we were able to talk to the kids both Monday and Tuesday night. We’ve had some great support at home, with family, friends and neighbors shuttling kids around to school, preschool, soccer, music and play dates. They all seem to be doing well and having a good time in these special circumstances. But I suspect there are times when they miss us as much as we miss them, and we look forward to sharing these experiences with them.

It was another beautiful day in Ethiopia, and there was a light rain that evening. The kids still practiced soccer in the field across the street. The restaurant was still full of adoptive families and world travelers, and we were still finding a smooth transition to being an adoptive family.

Travel Day 2: US Embassy

We were still basking in the glow of our new children as we raced across town for our Embassy appointments. We piled out and went through two layers of security, giving up our cameras and cell phones.

We waited on benches with Ethiopians applying for working visas, student visas and other transactions with our government. Then we were called through to wait in another line, while they called our names, one at a time.

While we waited, we hung out with our kids in a shady courtyard with white flowers and a small lawn that was being cut by a maintenance worker with a pair of hedge trimmers.

We learned a bit more about the couple from Colorado, who were adopting a baby girl. This was a rough trip for them, as their daughter is in the hospital with pneumonia, so they are unsure when they can take her home. She was brought to the Embassy appointment with an i.v. still in her arm, and looking a little unhappy. They had not had a chance to really take over care of their daughter, and continue to be in a holding pattern.

He works as a commercial real estate developer, and she was a teacher, before having four kids. She taught for ten years in South Central Los Angeles, so has a patience and understanding beyond most parents. I found out that he went to the same college as me – Vanguard University of Southern California (called Southern California College in our time), and graduated several years before me. They have four other kids and really wanted to adopt to add on and care for another child who doesn’t have a family. Their patience, trust and faith have been inspirational to all of us, and we can’t help but feel for them while they travel with us to our different events and appointments, but without their girl in their arms.

The Embassy appointment was a lot of buildup for a two-minute interview across a plexiglass window. We were told that the adoption will be final, we raised our right hand and swore that the information in the documents was truthful. We vouched for the agency, that they had not given us a different child than was referred to us. We were asked what we know about the birth parents. The woman at the window was from Rochester, Michigan, and very friendly. She told us the Ethiopian passport would be ready in a couple of days (the agency would pick it up) and that we would need to do a re-adopt process in Michigan.

So we were off!

Abby slept as we drove back through Addis Ababa, taking in the palace, the university, the National Museum, home of Lucy. We saw donkeys and goats, Mercedes cars and Suzuki trucks. We saw Somali refugees and Muslims in burkas. We saw students in uniforms and colorful fruit stands.

Back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the day with our girl. We had a family nap together, we ate lunch and dinner in the hotel restaurant, with other families that would come and go. We tried some Doro Wat – very spicy Ethiopian food – with injera bread (made from teff, a grain endemic to Ethiopia). We watched kids in the field across the street in a three-hour soccer practice that only ended when it was pitch-black outside, and would resume the next day in the rain.

We inspected Abby’s hands and feet and belly and cheeks. We just hung out and enjoyed being new parents again.

Travel Day 2: Meeting Abby

Our daughter’s name is Abebech. We will call her Abby, but have not decided on first and middle names. This is the first we can legally share this with all of you online.

So, day 2.

We tossed and turned for what seemed like just a couple hours, then got up and got all of our stuff together. We felt completely unprepared. What to bring? What to expect? Will she like us? How will we feel about her?

We met up with the other families for breakfast, and then got to meet Almaz, the director of Hannah’s Hope. Almaz has been portrayed as a bit of a rock star in the AGCI world. She cares for the children, manages the staff and facilitates the adoption process with the government agencies. She was younger and had better English than we envisioned, and we had a great first impression all around, which would be reinforced throughout our time in Ethiopia.

However, we were a day behind because of the volcano, and the clock was ticking, so we didn’t have time to chat with Almaz. We met in a conference room and received a brief orientation for the day before beginning to fill out our final paperwork for the US Embassy appointments. At that time, we got to hear our children’s names pronounced. We also gave money to be changed to Birr and decided if we wanted to buy coffee to bring home (we did), which they later delivered for us.

We finally saw a little bit of Addis Ababa by daylight. It was a beautiful, sunny day with blue skies. We weren’t far from the Hannah’s Hope transition home. We went down a bumpy dirt road and passed several buildings under construction. We entered a big gate that opened for us by a young man, the security guard. In a small courtyard by the driveway were nine children, standing or being held by the “special mothers,” waiting to meet us. It was a bit overwhelming, as more than a year of planning, praying, hoping and learning came to a head in a very short time.

The van pulled forward into the driveway, and Almaz attempted to have one family come out at a time, starting with those with older kids. So before seeing Abby, we watched a few other families have their first moments with their kids. Amazingly, it was all smiles and hugs and tears all around (tears for the grown-ups). In fact, there were only a couple of kids who cried in their new parents’ arms, but even those soon warmed up.

The emotions of our first moments with Abby are indescribable. She was immediately smiling as she rolled her head around and kicked her little feet. She looked right into Kristi’s eyes as she held her. I think we were both in shock that she was finally in our arms. It felt very right.

Now, I know that all adoption meetings don’t go this smoothly, and that doesn’t mean that others aren’t meant to be. But it feels good when things go well right off the bat.

We’re finding that Abby is a happy, calm and smiley little girl. And we were kind of proud to hear that when one of the other families visited Hannah’s Hope the day before and tried to hold Abby, she got upset and rejected them. I guess she knows who her parents are.

In Ethiopia, names tend to be either biblical, or have some meaning to them. We have heard different interpretations of what Abebech means. On her government documents, it says that the name means, “Happiness.” When we looked it up online, it said, “Blossoming Flower.” When we talked to Was, he described it with a lot of different words, not a strict translation. The sense of his interpretation was like a new hope that comes with the blooming of a beautiful flower. I guess you can call that happiness, or blossoming, or hopeful.

Abby lives up to her name. She is happy, and hopeful and beautiful. She is calm and likes to be held and will smile at anyone who smiles at her. As we sit in the hotel, Kristi got her laughing for the first time.

We can’t wait to bring her home.

Travel Day 1: Grand Rapids to Addis Abba

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.

Disrupted by a volcano

Thursday morning, the day before we leave for Ethiopia. I’m at the bus stop with the kids, and one of the moms asks me if I heard about airports closing down. Something about volcano dust.

Interesting, I think. Not a big deal. Airports close down all the time. A lot can happen and get cleared up in 30 hours. No worries.

I hear a quick mention on NPR on the drive in. Volcano dust from Iceland. Not safe for planes to fly through. Airports closed in Britain, Germany. Hmm. What a bizarre event.

Get to work, plough through my emails. Gotta get things in order before the departure and lots to do today. Can I get it all done? Oh yeah, better check out that volcano story. NYT.com. CNN.com. Uh-oh, this doesn’t look good.

What a crazy couple of days this has been for us. Who would’ve thought that after all that waiting, after all the things that could hold us up, sailing through Ethiopian court, a quick referral, avoiding new regulations that require two trips … we get sidelined by a volcano. Really?

Thousands of flights. Millions of passengers. We’re just a statistic in all this and can’t expect special treatment, but I keep thinking that this is not a vacation or a business trip. Our baby is waiting for us.

So Thursday afternoon and all evening we slogged through phone calls with our travel agent and the airlines. The airlines confirmed that our flight would be cancelled. No more optimistic thoughts now.

We had to keep playing different scenarios. What if the sky cleared up tomorrow; would our flight resume? If we postpone a week, can we get the same flights? How do we work with the US Embassy, which is very strict with their appointments? What’s the cost to change? How about a different airline? How about a different city? Dubai? Cairo? Rome? Johannesburg? Tokyo?

Our options seemed to narrow to next to nothing. Europe became out of the question. Finally, one of the other families found a flight on a different airline leaving out of DC, going through Rome. It would get us there a day late, but still on time for the Embassy appointment.

Our travel agent confirmed it, then gave us the news that it would cost twice as much as the original tickets. We would have to take one airline on the way there (and find a ride to Detroit) and we could keep our current flight for the way back, assuming Amsterdam would be cleared up in a week.

We really felt this was the only option, and jumped on it. There are four other families (out of the eight scheduled) who will take the same flight.

It’s been a day of guessing, second guessing, and ultimately giving over to God and saying We Trust. Seems to be a theme for this whole adoption experience.

So here is the upside to this whole mess. We get to bring our baby home, and only lose one day. We had an extra day to get our house in order, finish up a few work projects, and pack our stuff. We had coffee with a friend, who surprised us with our favorite lattes. Also got some much-needed extra time with the kids, who were feeding on our stress and acting out. I took a run, exhaling and pushing the stress out. Along the way I watched spring coming through the wetlands and sun making its way around gigantic clouds. Kristi connected with other families. We have one less day to have to find people to watch the kids. And we have to trust more than we would on our own.

All good things.

So off we go tomorrow to continue the journey and start a great big new chapter. Look forward to posting pictures soon – watch for Facebook next week.

Thanks for all your prayers, well-wishes and support!