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The first adoption trip to Ethiopia--diary with pix

First off, I need to note that my wife did virtually all of the planning and packing and purchasing for this trip, just like Jennifer handles all of my affairs on speaking trips.  I should also note that Jennifer came to stay at our house in Indy for the entire trip (8 days), holding down the fort with the older three kids (Em, Kev, Jerry), while our then-youngest (no longer!) Vonne Mei spent the duration in the sun at Nona Vonne's backyard pool in Terre Haute.

The purpose of this trip was four-fold:

  1. Meet the girls prior to the court hearing, so as to qualify for a specific sort of immigrant visa (meaning both Vonne and I had to meet the girls and not just one of us);
  2. Attend the court proceedings, now mandated by the new Ethiopian rules (in the past, parents could skip the court proceedings and then arrive weeks later only for the US visa process; we were among the first to be subject to the"two trip" rule, but it was a non-hassle to us since we planned to come twice and do the trip in that manner anyway, being aghast at the notion of adopting children without meeting them first);
  3. Meet whomever fate would present us with in terms of relatives of the girls (could be mother or uncle or grandfather--no way to tell in advance); and 
  4. Take advantage of the free time on the first trip to do some relevant sightseeing and purchase some "connecting" items (clothes, cultural items) that would thereupon serve us in our larger efforts to become--to whatever extent humanly possible--an Ethiopian-American family (in addition to already being a Scot-Irish-German-Chinese-American family).

Before leaving, I got the blog all pre-stocked and set up to run on automatic (all posts scheduled through 5 July), with my eldest Emily doing the comment approvals.  I also wrote "ahead" two WPR columns and a WPR feature (yet to be posted).  I also acquainted myself with our new Canon AVCHD combo camcorder/camera and the associated DVD burner.  Finally, I packed the four large suitcases of donations, plus the two small roller bags of our clothes, etc., plus the two backpacks we carried.  Then it was just a matter of a final mowing of the yard and cleaning the house.  Nona Vonne and Grandad Carl showed up Thursday night, 24 June, just after Jennifer arrived by plane. Carl then drove Vonne and I to the airport Friday morning at 0400 for our 0600 flight to Dulles on United, which accepted our four big bags with no charge because we were connecting to a sister-airine's international flight (Ethiopian Airlines).   We carried on our two rollers (which we had to gate check because the commuter plane was so small) and our backpacks, after a quick breakfast (McD's was the only thing open that early) at the Indy terminal.

Flight to Dulles was a breeze and we got there 2.5 hours early. Ethiopian Airlines' computer was down, so everybody had to get in line to have seat assignments hand-written.  We had just barely squeezed onto this flight days earlier, so we had to suffer middle seats (aisle and middle of a three-seat middle column). Fortunately, our cellmate was a nice Zimbabwean woman who was opening her own orphanage there.  We had met her in line and chatted her up prior.  We filled up our "Platypus" collapsible water bottles before the flight, which was roughly 9-10 hours to Rome, then one-hour there to refuel without getting off, and then 6 more to Addis Ababa.  The flight departed two hours late at noon because of the computer problems.

Nice meals on the way over.  Kinda weird, but there seemed to be a wide variety of meals (two over to Rome and one to Addis). Plane was full of church people on various missions, plus Africans from all over, plus a small smattering of tourists.  I read a ton of papers and mags I had accumulated, and then switched over to our Sony DVD portable to watch several opening "Upstairs, Downstairs" episodes with Vonne, switching to the first season of "Deadwood" after she moved onto to mystery books and sleeping (I don't sleep much at all on planes).  We landed in Rome sometime early in the ayem, and then laded in Addis about 10am local time (+7 from EST).  

Oh, we had to gate check our carry-on roller bags in Dulles because they were overweight (15# limit). Ethiopian Airline official waved the usual fee because of the computer glitch.

When we landed at Addis, we went through the visa drill ($20 a head) and then waited on our luggage, and waited, and waited.  But all six came through just fine.  Then we get some carts and get in line for X-raying by Customs.  Then out the door to our driver from WACAP.  Nice young fellow, he puts us into a special van and makes the short drive to the TDS Hotel.  We check in to a very nice room and then head downstairs for a meal in the restaurant.  We thereupon head out by foot to buy some bottled water and snacks from a nearby supermarket (very small) and check out a kids clothing store.  Not the best neighborhood, but okay.  We note the three-to-four unarmed guards at the hotel door who double as doormen and porters.  I only have 100 birr notes on me, so everyone involved gets the equivalent of a $7-8 tip.

After the meal (Ethiopian tibs for me, with plenty of injura, the spongy bread), we feel braindead enough to crash.  I sleep to about midnight (maybe 9 hours) and then manage another four. Up at four a.m., I organize the luggage because we're leaving some behind in the hotel and taking just what we need to head south to see the girls at 0900.  I then do yoga to loosen up my back after the 13 hours on the thin, mattress-like substance that covered the wooden bed frame.  After shower, I watch some more "Deadwood" and then wake Vonne up  in time for her to do the same.  We head down and catch the free breakfast and meet the other couple that will accompany us down (US software exec Matthew and French veterinarian wife Emmanuel--guessing around 40 each).  We pile into a pretty old VW-like minibus driven by an older Ethiopian (white haired, so I'm guessing in his sixties) after the driver and doormen strap down our luggage on the roof. Prior to departing we meet Megan, our WACAP contact who just got in the night before (she is very experienced across Africa and has an African spouse), and she tells us that the 250km trip may take up to 8 hours.

Megan is a bit pessimistic. I simply remind myself that Ethiopia has the highest auto-related fatality rates in the world.

It is a strange Sunday morning traffic crush to get out of Addis, but once on the highway south to Awassa (Sidamo province--yes, that of coffee fame), our guy averages about 60kph.  Road is very straight and in great working order (nary a crack in the asphalt). Problem is all the varied traffic:  people walking, small three-wheel taxis, wooden flatbed carts pulled by donkeys and containing either crops or people crammed on top, other cars, some trucks.  Our driver is textbook for developing-country transport:  he drives about 20 kph faster than it can be safely done.  He has a strange knack for speeding up at exactly the moment when I would have otherwise pulled my foot off the accelerator.  There are too many close calls to mention, especially with all the wandering cattle and goats, who are often tended to by shepherds ranging from 5 to 10 years old. But we escape unharmed. 

Some shots on the way down:

View from inside van.  I purposely show only a non-crowded scene because whenever they occured, I was too nervous to shoot or film anything.

View of countryside.  Lots of corn growing, plenty of large termite mounds, and trees mostly spread out like this (no forests).  Pretty mountains and lakes in the distance.

Typical shot of traditional farming/rural hut, made of wood skeleton covered over by mud, and then topped by thatched roof. We saw hundreds upon hundreds along the way.

We stopped about halfway in what turned out to be a six-hour trip to gas up and have some local coffee at a rest stop.  The coffee was strong and served in small cups.

We arrive in Awassa around 2-3 and were checked into the Oasis International hotel by 3.  We met up with Becky and Antonio (he Mexico City born and now in gas and oil in Houston, she a teacher, maybe early 30s) who had spent the previous week camping around the area. Soon after, Ato (as in, Mr.) Girma, the orphanage director of the Ajuuja facility, showed up and we had lunch together, the seven of us.  Ato Girma tells us how excited he is about international adoptions picking up finally, because he says his orphanage needs to move kids out to make room for the new ones that keep coming in.  He's pushing for more domestic adoptions, naturally, but is most welcoming of the international demand in the meantime--especially for the girls, whom he says are far harder to place locally ("What you are doing is great.  I do not have the words to explain.  To save the life of one child--this is blessed." And then looking at Vonne and I, he adds, "Two is even better!").

Girma says he presently has about 25-30 kids, and that his orphanage recently ranked #2 in quality among Awassa's 15 facilities in an official government evaluation.  His kids live 4-5 to a room, and each room has its own permanent "mother"/nanny that sleeps with them every night.

Girma explains that we cannot take pix of any kids for privacy reasons, and cannot even photograph our own kids prior to the court proceedings.  We can only shoot their individual rooms [with no kids in the shot] and their nannies.

We are disappointed, because this is our only chance to photograph the kids for many weeks, as we won't see them after returning to Addis, because they'll come up to the WACAP house days later for the duration.

Girma's compromise:  he--and only he--shoots photos of our initial meetings and then promises to let us have them after the court date makes us the children's legal parents.  That way the letter and spirit of the regs are upheld--and rightfully so.  Like everything we see at the orphanage, this decision reflects some serious thinking of the consequences. Frankly, Girma's strictness on the subject impresses me all the more: imagine all the other small things he decides in this manner, carefully balancing the needs of all players?

Vonne finds out later that Girma, who does all the photography of the kids for documentation, is using a borrowed camera with limited memory.  She pulls out our safety Sony digital camera and gives it to him.  I later come up with a large 32G extra card from our supplies.  Girma is most thankful, saying he otherwise sometimes ends up deleting pix that he would have liked to pass onto to adopting parents (like early shots to show the child's history of development).

After the meal, we pile into the van and make the short trip to the orphanage.  The street outside is a bit rough, to include the occasional large-sized monkey hanging around on a wall, but once inside the compound, the vibe changes to one of great calm. A courtyard filled with trees greets us, along with clothes lines of drying diapers.  The facility is spartan but incredibly clean.  Bug freak that I am, I cannot spot a single ant in the place over two hours of traipsing around.  The stone floors and walls are all swept or scrubbed to within an inch of their lives.  No toys in sight, and only an aging TV to give the kids any entertainment, but all the children seem very happy in that way that's easy for an experienced parent to spot.  This is a very safe and calm and loving environment, but spartan.

We are led into a receiving room that has a few chairs.  Girma gives a small speech and then introduces the impressive female manager of the facility, who, like him is trilingual (speaks English, Amharic--the dominant Ethiopian tongue, and the local Sidamo language--used by only about 2-3m people in all).  She is a very warm person who insists on hugging us all individually.  

She then goes out and gets the kids (our two girls, estimated at just over four and three, a three-year-old boy for the second couple (already with two bios and an adopted child) and a four-month baby for the last couple--their first).  We are waiting anxiously when I spot Metsewat ambling around the corner in the courtyard, big dazzling smile leading the way.  The manager introduces us and she kisses and hugs us both.  Then the same follows with smaller Abebu, whose previously shaved head now spouts a thin sheen of hair.  Both are neatly dressed and smell of perfumed soap.  Metsewat's hair is done up spectacularly in a bob.  Both have simple plastic shoes that look like they come out of the communal pile.  After some hugs and fun with Metsewat, the toys come out (Vonne, naturally planned ahead and brought some, which was crucial, because they were the only ones in the place) and I blow up a ball and play for a long time with Abebu, who matches my actions exactly: roll the ball, bounce the ball, roll it down my arms, etc.  

Some pix as provided later by Girma, after the children became legally our own:

The first hugs.

Metsewat, all smiles.

Abebu, happy with Vonne's ball.

Metsewat, similarly excited.

After an hour, play time is over and the tour begins.  We are allowed to see their room and photograph their beds.  There are three bunk sets in the room, along with a single crib.

The woman in the foreground is the room "mother."

After the tour our time is done and Girma leads us on a short tour of the city that ends with some walking time around the city's biggest park.

A few shots of the lakeside park:

No shortage of monkeys in Awassa.

Local kids along water's edge.  Arguably my best shot of the trip.

Hard to screw that one up.

That night the three couples have a nice meal at the hotel, aiming no higher because we were all a bit drained from the travel and meeting the kids.  One amazing day.

Try to sleep in that night but make it only to 2am.  So yoga, then shoot that pigeon with my phone, tweeting it successfully from the deep interior of Africa.  Then finish season one of "Deadwood."

We're up to meet Girma again after breakfast, then we go shopping for stuff we want to spontaneously donate to the orphanage, based on our observations of the previous day. Vonne, as always, leads the way when it comes to donations, and organizes our approach.  She also picks up matching outfits for the girls at a local shop.

After the shopping, we then head back for our second meeting. It's far more relaxed and fun than the previous day, especially thanks to the new toys Vonne picks up locally (some noisy pretend cellphones and some other stuff). Some pix:

The cellphones fascinate to no end with their buttons that each produce some amazing sound.  The toys are Chinese, as are the recorded voices and language.

The matching outfits donned.  The decision to buy them was impactful.

The story: we later found out that Metsewat and Abebu's mom came back the next day (her second time back to the orphanage) and was told by Metsewat that her "white mother" gave her and her sister new clothes. This made a big impression on the birth mom, who took it as a very positive and bonding sign.

After our second play time, I came away with several impressions. First, the girls are both younger than their stated ages.  I think Metsewat is 3.5 or so versus 4, and agree with the international adoption specialist that Abebu is more like 2.5 than 3, especially after I saw her zero in and play in that isolated way of two-year-olds with a doll we brought along.  She just acts like a two-year-old. 

Both girls exhibit plenty of intelligence and warmth.  They are--and were--clearly cared for very well and loved very much.  Both have enough teeth to suggest future braces (crowded but neat teeth), and I didn't spot anything that suggested any developmental delay whatsoever.  Some parasites are to be expected (intestinal), but the girls are clearly thriving, so I'm doubting that will be a big deal.  Indeed, we heard from Girma later that the birth mom came to the orphanage about two weeks ago and was amazed at how Abebu was thriving. When dropped off, Abebu was exhibiting some signs of backsliding, probably for lack of nutrition.  Girma said he spoke to the birth mom about her choice, and she was very firm in her decision ("I brought [Abebu] to a good place.  I am happy.").

When we are in the office with Girma, he shows us a picture of the mother from their files.  She is stunningly beautiful, like her children.  We are also told that she is a practicing Protestant Christian, which surprised me, because my pre-trip investigation online indicated that the rural farming population of the south were about 4-1 Muslim over Christian.  But when you read about the Sidamo people themselves (Wikipedia), they're about 65-70% Protestant, so the fix was in--apparently.  We feel good about this, Vonne and I, not because we would have had any problem accepting the children of Muslims, but because we feel better now about not changing the spiritual path of the kids from Islam to Christianity.  Of course, we will switch the kids within Christianity, which is a big deal to some but less so to us.

After the second time at the orphanage, we bid the kids good bye. We won't see them again until we come back in August for the visa procedure at the US embassy.  The kids will be transported to WACAP House in Addis a few days after the court proceedings.

We thereupon head out to the best meal of the trip, in my opinion, in a local downtown restaurant.  I get the spinach-filled ravioli.  

We spend the rest of the day doing some shopping for traditional Sidamo clothes and cultural items. We also pick up a Sidamo-Amharic-English dictionary.  We luck out and find a shop that has a lot of great clothes.  A shot of the owners, who make the clothes themselves on an old Singer machine with footpump, just like the antique we have in our bedroom (my night table):

Wonderful guys.  We end up chatting with them for about two hours.

I will say this with absolutely no bias:  people in southern Ethiopia are better looking than those up north. Also, driving around the country some makes you realize how many African-Americans are of Ethiopian descent. I would bet money that Sean Combs is, because I met his stunt double more than once in Sidamo.

We end up walking all over the city, eventually making it back to the hotel just before a cloud burst.  We eat at the hotel, comparing the local beers and then crash for the night because my lack of sleep catches up with me.

The drive back to Addis is far more scary than the way down on Sunday.  One, the traffic is much heavier--of all sorts.  Second, the driver is hot to get back, and passes like a madman throughout.  His engine is way underpowered for the stunts he pulls, and I find myself moaning "No, no, no!" throughout.  We do stop for a great lunch along the way, though.

A shot from our table:

Back in the TDS Hotel in Addis, we meet up with our WACAP person, Megan, who lets us get our big bags out of her room, where they stayed during our absence.  After a long period of catching up with her and meeting even more adopting couples, we spend two hours going through all the toys and clothes and other stuff, dividing it up between what we want to go to the Ajuuja orphanage and what we want to go to the WACAP House in Addis.  We lean toward the former, generating two giant ziplock bags (and I do mean giant--like big rollerbag luggage-sized!) of gear for Ajuuja and one for WACAP.  I bind up the Ajuuja bags with duct tape and make a taped handle, assuming they may head down there on the roof of a vehicle and--after all--this is the rainy season.  After that's all done we crash after some room service, as it's 10pm and we're braindead.  

We get up early on Wednesday and think through our answers to the expected questions, writing them down concisely on stick-em notes. 

After breakfast and all-suited up, we get into a van and head to the Addis district family court building.  It's fairly non-descript, save for the official government sign outside that's official enough that we're told by a cop not to photograph it.  We walk upstairs through stairwells crowded with people sitting on steps, waiting for their own proceedings.  Once in the court antechamber, we find ourselves in a large room on the third deck. The windows are open on this cool, cloudy day. We meet up with our official WACAP official, Ato Teklu, a former supreme court justice who's been doing this for several years now and is a legend at WACAP.  He's a very serious but kind man.  Vonne actually gets him to smile once--but only once.

I'm sitting there studying my notes as we wait about 30 minutes for the proceedings to begin. I look up at Vonne and I'm about to tell her to check her notes once more when I see that she's sitting erect with tears welling up in her eyes.  She's anticipating the solemnity of the situation, I think, but then I realize that something more is going on.  It dawns on me: the birth mother must be in the room.  I turn my head slightly to the right and realize that in the corner of the room, maybe 36 inches from me, is a striking 30-year-old woman dressed simply in a dark woman's suit.

I scan the rest of the room.  She must be the mother, I'm figuring. I steal a glance at her face and I know it's her.  

She seems tense and expectant, as one would expect.  She's flanked by a man similarly aged--her brother? Or the widowed father of the four-month-old baby?  It turned out to be the latter. When I saw Ato Girma, the orphanage director, come over to talk to them both, I knew for certain it was her.  And I have to admit I was shocked she was there, figuring it would be a related older male who'd make the long journey to the north.

I try to be respectful of her space in this hugely emotional moment and don't make any more attempts to look her over even as I want to record the image for eternity.  Who knows if we ever to get to meet her again? Who knows if she'll talk to us or disappear immediately afterwards? I could be spending years down the road answering questions from daughters who want to know every single detail I can summon of the event.  So I just start writing down everything I can think of--every image, every sound, every feeling, every everything. I pull out blank envelopes and start tearing them apart so I can write on them inside and out.  I spend maybe 20 minutes doing this until a woman emerges from the judge's chambers and announces, "Ajuuja."

Our birth mom jumps up and strides in, clearly aching to get this over.  She's quickly escorted out, as the first case is our fellow couple who's adopting a boy abandoned two years ago, so there's no known relatives.

As she walks back to her chair, we lock eyes, and there's zero doubt now in my mind, even as there's plenty in hers.  After the first couple walks into the chambers and the door is shut, I can feel the birth mom checking us out along with the other remaining couple.  

Five minutes later the first couple is out and the second is called in.  Now the birth mom realizes that Vonne and I will be adopting her daughters.  She stares at us, taking us in.  We defer from matching her natural inquisitiveness, believing the moment to be hers to own.

Then we're called in.  

The judge is out of central casting:  tall, intimidating, and stunningly beautiful, she's in very elegant Muslim garb with only her face and hands showing.  She commands respect in that way only judges can manage, so you instinctively feel like you're in good hands.

The birth mom sits opposite the judge with Mr. Girma translating. We sit to the judge's right with Megan.  

The questions start with the mother.  Short at first, they elicit monosyllabic answers.  I can just tell they're the usual legal boilerplate.  Then the questions get longer and the answers get more complex.  After a total of maybe ten, it's done.

The judge turns to us in English and gives us  the following questions:

  • Can we supply our passports for purposes of identification? We do.
  • What are the ages of our current children?  Vonne answers.
  • Why have we chosen to adopt from Ethiopia?  I answer.
  • How have we prepared for this transracial adoption? Vonne answers.
  • What have we told our children and how have they responded?  I answer.
  • What have we told our larger family and how have they responded?  Vonne answers.

We can sense we're at the end, and tears start to flow from Vonne, who remains nonetheless completely quiet. The judge is intrigued and asks, "Why are you crying?"

Vonne says, "Because I'm so happy and so sad," turning to look the birth mother in the eyes with the last words.

The birth mother stands up and walks toward Vonne, who also arises and moves toward her.  They lock in an intense embrace that extends over the next couple of minutes, kissing each other repeatedly on the neck.  

The place is completely silent. Nobody says a word.

As they begin to unlock, I step up and do the same with the birth mother. This goes on in respectful silence for another minute.

While I'm hugging the birth mom, I feel such emotion coming from her that I almost fall over into her, losing my balance a bit. I can't tell if it was just the strength of her arms pulling me in or that I was overcome with my own emotion. It was easily one of the most memorable moments of my life, dividing it easily into a "before" and "after."

The judge later asked Megan about it all, saying she was touched by the display of emotion on all sides. Ethiopians, she stated, almost never display emotion in public, preferring a certain stoicism.

When Vonne approached the judge to shake her hand after I finished hugging the birth mom, she said, "Thank you, your honor."  The judge replied, "It is my honor."

We staggered back out into the waiting room, and our birth mom was like a person reborn.  She insisted on hugging all of the other four adopting parents--almost giddy she was. You could tell that this huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders and she was joyous at the personal connection.  As we exited the room, she and Vonne walked with their arms wrapped around each other, kissing back and forth.

The group then walked to a nearby coffee shop where we spoke with the birth mom for an hour, with Mr. Girma translating. I got her speaking on tape and shot many pix.  Vonne asked a bevy of very good questions and we got very complete answers.  I took word-for-word notes as best I could.  She told us about how their father had died, her life as a farmer, and why she decided to take the kids to the orphanage and what she told them when she did. She also described seeing them twice since and remaining confident and comfortable with her decision, and that her family was at peace with her choice.  It was an amazing exchange.  Like she and Girma proclaimed at various points in our interactions, I simply don't have the words to explain it, although I plan to find them soon in a more detailed write-up.

Where we spoke with the birth mom and took a lot of pics.  I sat to the right in the chair.  Vonne sat on the couch with the mother. Girma was opposite me.

The cafe.

We parted at around noon, as the birth mom and others needed to start their long trek back south.

We spent the rest of the day at a local market, getting some things for the girls, trying to pick out future family heirlooms.

The two we decided upon are pictured below:  a stone carving depicting St. George and commemorating the Battle of Adewa against the Italians in the late 19th century (a seminal event in Ethiopian history), and a processional cross from the Ethiopian Orthodox faith, which is very similar in practice to the Catholic Church, as we discovered the next day in a long, personalized tour conducted by the curator of the museum at the Haile Selassie Cathedral Church in Addis.

I will tell you that imagery of St. George is EVERYWHERE in Ethiopia. He is the country's patron Christian saint, anyone will tell you.

Topside is Christ, with the Virgin Mary and Child to the left and St. George to the right.  Angel Gabriel is in the middle. Like the St. George imagery, Ethiopian-style crosses are for sale all over the place in Addis--simple or elaborate, nickel or just plain wooden. I realize the US considers itself a highly Christian nation, but it's hard to imagine finding similar stuff for sale all over Washington DC. But in Addis the same store that will sell you a big Ethiopian flag (I got one) will also sell you a cross. The identities (national and religious) are truly inseparable here--at least in Addis.

That night Vonne and I just chilled in a nearby Italian restaurant, talking for hours about the day's events. The emotion of those moments were such that we needed the hours of time passing before we could actually sit down and start deconstructing them. I slept like a dead man that night from the exhaustion.

Thursday, our last day in Addis, was spent traveling around the city in the taxi of one Fekadu, a great guy we had met the previous day.   We rented out his cab for the day, seeing the Haile Selaisse Cathedral and associated museum, then the National Museum (where "missing link" Lucy is found), then a nice lunch downtown, then a tour of the national culture museum in Selaisse's old palace, where some of his personal rooms are preserved.  

One story to mention:  while at the Selassie Cathedral, walking out of the museum, I spot an intriguing memorial to the left, behind a fence. I also see an officer and enlisted soldier sitting on chairs nearby and figure they're part of the perimeter security for the Prime Minister's compound, which lies generally to that side. I walk up to the fence and shoot the marble marker that says the memorial is to the victims of the Derg.  

From Wikipedia:  

The Derg (Amharic) or Dergue was a communist military junta that came to power in Ethiopia following the ousting of Haile Selassie I. Derg, which means "committee" or "council" in Ge'ez, is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, a committee of military officers which ruled the country from 1974 until 1987.

Between 1975 and 1987, the Derg executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of its opponents without trial.

Eventually the Marxist regime of Mengistu emerged from the Derg's rule, and the rest can be found in my PhD diss.

Anyway, as soon as I shoot the marble plaque and look up to the actual memorial (stunning, really) in the distance, the officer is yelling at me and I glance leftward to see the enlisted guy with a Kalashnikov suddenly in my face.  My first thought is, man, that gun's so old it's almost beautiful. I knew I had crossed a line; I just hadn't figured a photo would do it, but it was not my first crack at getting in trouble in Africa with a camera. The enlisted asks if I shot the memorial itself.  I say no, only the sign.  He wants me to show him.  I get the pic up and then I get scared--I was never in danger but my camera was, and it contained all the priceless stuff from the previous day (i.e., the pix and vid of the birth mom). I can tell I need to show this guy the pic is erased, but for the life of me, I can't remember how to do it!  After five or six tries, though, I finally get it done and show it to the guy, proving there's no such photos in the memory. He yells back to the officer, who grunts, and we're let go.  Enough excitement for the day.

Clearly, the period of Marxist rule remains a touchy political point. I had previously spotted a huge column in Addis with a red star on top.  It too was fenced off but was still there, probably not to be photographed either.

While at the national palace/cultural museum I found a drum with a painted lid that displayed the traditional depiction of the Holy Trinity in Ethiopian Orthodox faith--matching a giant painting above the altar in the Cathedral.  A pic of it:

We finished our day at the St. George Cathedral, getting a personal tour of the cathedral and museum from the arch deacon/curator.  Like the Selaisse tour, this was simply fascinating.

Pix from the day:

Selaisse Cathedral

Museum there.  Vonne and our driver for the day.

Home of Lucy's bones, which I videotaped.

Staircase monument outside of Selaisse's palace:  each step commemorates a year of Italian occupation, ended symbolically by the Ethiopian lion on the top step.

The octagonal St. George Cathedral.  Look up your Ark of the Covenant lore.

We finished our touring around 6pm, then grabbed another pizza at the same restaurant from the night before.  We caught the WACAP vans for the ride to the airport, being just about the only couple with no adoptive kids (we, again, were the first of the "two trippers").  

We got on our plane around 10pm, hitting Rome about 3am and Dulles about 0730 EST Friday.  Noon flight to Indy got us back home with the kids--the four oldest, that is--around 2pm.

I later went swimming with my boys, going off the high dive about 20 times before coming home and falling immediately asleep during the DVR-watching of the first new episodes of "Futurama" in seven years.

It was an amazing trip, solely because of the three females we spent time with.  I meant it when I tweeted: we now have three new relatives, and we do indeed feel like an Ethiopian-American family that's--for now--missing its two African daughters.

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Reader Comments (9)

AWESOME! Truly awesome! Your diary had me in stitches from laughter (your drive through Ethiopia was much like mine through Indonesia (I eventually just closed my eyes and prayed) and in tears (first hugs and courtroom with birthmom ~ OMG!!!). So it seems you'll be able to keep in touch with the birth mother ~ it's something I wish I could do for my Chinese-born daughters. Now in their teens, they have so many questions, but I have so few answers except that I am certain their birth mothers wanted them to live since abortion is strongly supported in China.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us ~ God bless you all! :)

July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinell

yes, the same. tears, laughter, but mostly happy happy tears. Vonne makes scarce visual appearances in your blog, but she is always there, in spirit. It's a wonderful spirit, too. (she reminds me of my sister....that's a compliment). Congratulations to you both for having the hearts to reach out this way.

July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichal Shapiro

I have ben reading this blog for several years now.
This entry by far, the most profound, thank you very much for sharing this experience.
All the best to you and your family.

July 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoron

God bless you and your growing family!
Thank you for being a good and faithful servant.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen

I loved this post. Kurt and I sat in silence reading it while I cried. I have always been so happy for each arrival of every Barnett - Emily onward - but there is something about this adoption that touches me deeply. Love to all from your niece and her husband.

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHanna

I am impressed Thomas... much impressed. All of the world changing work and insight you have done since your dissertation has been inspiring, but this is perhaps some of the best work yet.


July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBWJones

Amazing account. A few nips and tucks and it would be a facinating article for publication. Congrats on bringing me and all the women in the family to tears. Well done, Tom.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBette Meussling

I agree with Bette, you should submit this, maybe to Esquire!

July 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPetrer

WOW! I've been reading your blog since 2004 and that was your best post ever. Thank you so much for sharing. My tears and emotions were flowing freely as you described the courtroom scene in Ethiopia, as you took me back to my daughter's adoption court hearing in Krasnoyarsk, Russia in 1997. You, Vonne and your daughters are very lucky to have this experience to remember as you go through life. A beautiful moment in time, to be savored forever. God bless, and keep up the good work.

July 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

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