Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Birth Family Visit

Warning : Someone is obviously a little wordy!!! Read at your own risk.

It was surprisingly easy to get up and ready for our birth family visit. Compared to sleeping in the chair in the airport in Amsterdam or trying to sleep on a flight with greasy feet in front of me, I think that 3 hours in the bed probably felt like 8!
We got all of our stuff together, we were leaving to drive south and would not be back until the next day. When we went down to the lobby our driver Fitsum was waiting for us. He loaded us in and drove to the guest house, where we picked up the second couple, and I have to say, had some of the most heavenly bread ever. It is made fresh every morning by the cook at the guest house and it is absolutely to die for. So good. After Cory and the other couple were done eating, we loaded up in the Land Cruiser and took off.

Driving in Ethiopia is an adventure it itself. At almost no time is there not someone or something on the road with the cars. And it is fully expected and understood that the cars are sharing their space. Sharing it with people, donkeys, donkey cars, horses, horse carts, dogs – lots of dogs, goat herds, cows, camels, etc.. And as you’re traveling on this highway in and out of little towns, all along the way are these little make shift houses and huts on the side of the road. Imagine driving along I-80 and people have just started putting up tents, or cabins, or some other type of small housing along the side of the road. The interstate! And everywhere are little kids. Some dressed, some not. Older kids walking to school, older kids who obviously are not in school, probably because their parents cannot afford it. Younger children, playing and standing along the side of the road. Right up on the shoulder, where a donkey cart could come by or a car could veer to avoid a horse cart. And I mean barely just walking tiny. Just standing there, watching. And its constant. There are children EVERYWHERE in this country. And rarely with adult supervision, at least once they could walk.

We drove through the Rift Valley – you know the cradle of civilization, where they found Lucy. Its dry and I won’t say barren, but dry, definitely dry, and very large. There are a few large lakes that you drive by, and as I mentioned lots of little towns. Each one seemed to be in a war too. Coke vs. Pepsi. A town had signs for one or the other, not both. Way to go guys. Can’t imagine why I saw so many kids with their teeth rotting out!

We also saw a lot of green houses. Extremely large green houses. Way bigger than a football field. I had read before going that Ethiopia was getting into the floral business, exporting to other countries, and this was obviously the production area so to speak.

When we got to the WHFC office in Awassa, we picked up a couple of guys who were going to help with the birth family visits, then went and picked up another man who was more familiar with the area we were going to. I can’t remember the names of the two men from WHFC and feel so bad. They were not the regular social worker whose name I had memorized so I think that it through me off. We all loaded back up in the car and started to Arbegona.

In Arbegona, where by the way you cease to be on pavement, it is now all dirt roads, we met with the birth families of the children that the other couple was adopting. It was very interesting to see both of their houses and this was where we first started being stalked by children. Cameras are like catnip for these kids. They see one and they are all over you to get their picture taken and have you show it to them. They were following us up and down streets like we were the Piper and they were, well you know the rest.

I probably shouldn’t share too much about the other family visits, for privacy, but it was interesting to see the two different types of houses that the women lived in. One was a small house, wood framed, with no real floor covering and odd papers posted to the walls for decoration. The second house was a hut, dirt floor, dark on the inside. In a very small place was the seating area, an eating area, a small bed and then a partition where the fire was for cooking. A hole in the top of the hut. It took us a while to focus in the dark and never noticed until we went back out into the sun that Cory had black soot all over him from the “walls” of the hut. Actually the grass fringes that hung out and had collected, I would imagine, years of soot from the cooking.

From here, we walked back to the car and we were standing around, wondering what was next. Where we were going to meet B’s dad. Finally the WHFC employees from Awassa ( I feel SO bad that I cannot remember their names) said that he did not show up. The plan had been for him to walk from his village to Arbegona and meet us at the community center. Well, for some reason, he did not show. They had no idea why and gave us the option of driving to his house to meet with him. It crossed our minds that he may not WANT to meet us, but we really wanted to be able to give him the letter we had written and the pictures of B, plus, be able to tell B that we had, so we said sure. We asked how far it was, and they said that for the dad it would have been a 5 hour walk – and it was about 20km.

Finally I got to be in the front seat, so for once I wasn’t feeling like throwing up. The countryside was very pretty. Green, creeks, mountains and clean air – which I would really appreciate later in the week in Addis. And people EVERYWHERE. You know how when you are driving in the mountains, going camping or fishing and you really have to pee, so you just pull over and hop out behind a tree. Good luck doing that here. Every time I thought, here’s a spot where I could go, I would see one pair of eyes peak out through the bush, and then another, and possibly another. There were kids mostly. Just like on the road coming down, but this was a dirt road where cars rarely come.

I honestly can’t remember how long we drove for, maybe an hour. It probably wouldn’t have taken as long if the Land Cruiser had a transmission that wasn’t about to fall out and the driver knew how to use the four wheel drive. The road really was not as bad as he thought it was and would not have been a problem for my Jeep. Finally he was not willing to go any further, the road was getting more rutted, so they paid a kid to run down the road to his dad’s house and find him. We waited in that spot for about an hour and a half. Taking pictures of the massive group of kids who had accumulated and finding a tree to pee behind where I was finally not bothered by anyone but a nosey cow.

Finally there he was, B’s dad. It all happened really fast, and we walked back up the road a bit from where we had been hanging out to a building that I had not paid much attention to. It was behind a high fence and pretty nondescript. Come to find out though, it was a church. We went in and sat down on the lawn to talk to him. The interpreters closed the gates behind us to keep all of the other locals out of the meeting. Honestly, I am not sure at one point they all just came in but I do remember looking up at one point during the visit and realizing that we had a massive audience.

We found out that he never got the message that we were coming and that he needed to go to Arbegona. So yay! We had not hunted this poor man down and forced him into a situation that he did not want to be in. When he got there he looked a little red eyed, almost as if he had cried recently, but maybe he had just hurried from his house. He started off the whole conversation by thanking us for taking his son. He immediately explained why he had to do this, and how happy he was that his son would be taken care of. It made the whole thing so easy for us. We asked the questions that we had, and as expected, it was difficult for it to be translated exactly and we did not necessarily get the detail we would have hoped for. You can’t really get a family medical history and we were a little disappointed not to meet B’s siblings, he said that they were in school. He also couldn’t really tell us a lot about his mom. No details on them meeting – he said they met when he asked her to marry him – or their life together. Also, no stories that we will be able to pass on to B about his growing up. You know, nothing to explain the scars, or stories about him as a baby. Kind of sad. But not his dad’s fault.

The meeting was fairly short, maybe a half an hour. One thing that we noticed is that his father was very good looking. I’ve noticed that many people look much older than their actual age. His dad was one of the first people living out in the rural areas that actually looked younger than his recorded age. You could see Boko in him, but not through any specific traits, unless you count their hair. It’s difficult to explain but it was there.

- Side note: I’ve been going through pictures from the trip with Boko, and he does not seem to recognize him. In the pictures of us sitting with his dad, he only points at Cory as daddy and me as mommy. Nice for the recognition but kind of sad that the memory is already gone.

We got back in the car immediately after the meeting and started back to Awassa. WHFC had made reservations at a hotel there for us. One fun part was when we pulled over on the way out, because everyone had to use the restroom, and it was completely dark, so we are all wandering out into the bushes looking for a place to use the facilities as they were, and I of course stepped in a big fresh steaming pile of shit. Nice!! I assume it was cow, but who knows. Given the fear that Boko has of snakes I’m glad that no one warned me of anything like that either.

We got to the hotel, around 8 pm I think, checked into our rooms – 400 birr, about $40 a night., and then went down to the restaurant. We sat with the WHFC employees for a bit and talked to them about the day. We ordered beers – St. George which according to them is the first beer in Ethiopia. After they left we met another one of the adoptive parents who had come to Ethiopia early. He is a film maker and was donating his time to do film on the humanitarian work done by WHFC. It was really interesting to hear about what he had seen and what WHFC does outside of adoption. They definitely do not promote that side well enough on their website. Which is obviously where he came in. While we were waiting for our dinner, the power went out – pretty typical for most of Ethiopia and we ended up eating by candlelight. So romantic if I didn’t have remnants of unidentified poo on my shoe. I did have some awesome doro wat here though.

When we went up to get ready for bed we realized that we only had one towel. No phone in the room so Cory ran down to get one. They had to deliver it, and while Cory was in the bathroom they showed up. I have a point to this, I really don’t just go into this much detail for no good reason. I answered the door for the towel, and had just taken my shoes off. The man who brought the towel was very concerned that I had not put on the slippers, and came in, pulled them out from the night stand – they were very flimsy slippers – and put them on my feet for me, my stinky feet with dirty socks still on. It was just kind of bizarre that he was so concerned about this.
The room was clean and comfortable, and although no phone, there was a tv with a lot of English channels. Kind of surprised, Ethiopia has things like CNN and CBS instead of Sky TV. Only two issues with the room. 1.) Fred Flinstone is pissed because his bed is in that room. Seriously, I had to look under the sheet to be sure that I was not laying on a rock slab. If I hadn’t been soooo incredibly tired I think that it would have been more of a problem. However, since this was my first full nights sleep in like 4 days, I slept like a baby. 2.) Individual water heaters in the bathroom which need to be plugged in and turned on. Want to do that early not after you’ve finally drug your ass out of bed after hitting snooze five times!!

The breakfast buffet was included in the price of the room and it was really good. Crazy! FYI – no pork in Ethiopia. I did not see one pig with all of that livestock roaming around and your choices were typically turkey ham, chicken sausage, beef bacon or veal sausage. All of which were really good. Wish we had all those options here. Beef bacon is much better than turkey bacon, just not as greasy as pork.
Well, I think that this is already an insanely long post so I will wrap it up and try to do another one soon on the next day. And don’t feel bad if you can’t make it through the whole post. I’m not sure that I could!!

Oh one thing that I did forget though is the blanket type covering s that all the men were wearing in Sidama. While we were in Arbegona we tried to find one in the same colors as the one his dad was wearing but we could not find any that were close. So we got a very purple one with blue details. It is called a Fasha and I did not see them anywhere in Addis, so if you are going to Sidama, and want something from your child’s area it is something to consider. With negotiating I think that it ended up being $15 US.

Pictures on the drive toward the village and house where B is from and pictures of some of the random kids who came up to hang out with us while we waited for him. One other thing I forgot to mention - I know the mind reels that their could be more. While we were waiting, Cory took out the photo album we had for his dad, which included lots of pictures of B, and he was showing it to the kids - they were pointing at the pictures and saying Boko. They remembered him. And Boko has pointed out some of the kids in these pictures and said their names. Too bad I can't always understand his pronunciation well. I would love to try and write their names down for him later.


Lori said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. Not only will you treasure it, I get to relive our own trip! Two years ago today is when we met our daughter for the first time and took that FUN drive to Awassa to meet her living family. Truly amazing stuff.
Also, I am going to forward you an email that WHFC sent about a year ago with a prayer and the bread recipe. :)
Last, when you guys are feeling up to it, I would love to meet you in person and have a play date with the kiddos. Hope all is going great with you!

Jenny and Troy said...

Great story Stace. I love the pics too. It is so different there than I assumed. Diana and I both think u should write a humor column. It would be more fun than your current job....miss u guys so me this Sunday if u can. Ken