Saturday, September 13, 2008

A hut under the stars

(A guide leading us back to our hut the next morning.)

After meeting with the birth family, we had to leave quickly because it was getting dark and we had not yet reserved a "hut" for us to sleep in for the night! Both Yalfal and Kinetibeb seemed to be in good spirits when we left. They were waving goodbye and shouting, "Ciao! Ciao!" and were full of smiles while we were taking our last pictures with their family. The social worker told us that they would probably demonstrate a sense of relief when leaving since they can sense the tension but are still too young to fully understand what has happened.

We had about a 15 minute drive down a muddy and bumpy road where we all were bounced and jostled around the van like popcorn in a popcorn popper! We all have bruises to show for it! We were driving on an incredibly narrow dirt road navigating through the lush and dense African forest.
We saw so many amazing things on just the drive alone, one of which was a black panther that crossed our path and of course, monkeys galore!

By the time we arrived to the main hut to sign in, it was completely dark but we saw one hut situated in the middle of all the vegetation. All we had been told up until that point was that we would be staying at a lodge/hut where hyenas roam, so I was a little unsettled to say the least. As Brad went into the hut to sign in, I was wondering how we were all going to sleep inside the hut! I decided to take the kids inside the hut to check it out and come to find out, the hut was HUGE inside and absolutely gorgeous (and just the hut where you check in)! Soon, we found ourselves following a guide on a beautifully groomed pathway filled with gorgeous flowers and steppping stones that led us straight to our own thatched roof hut! It was so authentic and stunning from the outside, we all couldn't wait to see inside!
Once inside, it was truly a "one room hut" that had a couple of partitions that separated the main living area from the two bedrooms.
(These pictures are pretty bright because of the camera's flash compared to how dimly lit the hut was at nighttime.)
(Above and below are pictures of the two bedrooms...notice the laterns!)
There was a large wooden pole in the center of the hut and everything was supported from the pole. The roof was a woven thatched roof and the perimeter of the hut was woven cane with stone at the bottom base. There were three windows with wooden shutters and the only light came from laterns situated around the inside ledge of the hut. There was a small bathroom with white concrete walls, tile flooring, a small corner shower, water heater, porcelain sink and toilet, and of course, a window. It was an amazing experience and such an authentic, gorgeous place to stay!

After we checked everything out and got settled, we all walked down to a larger hut where they were serving dinner buffet style. They had many traditional Ethiopian dishes that Yalfal and Kinetibeb just gobbled up! At dinner, Kinetibeb had a major breakdown, but we were able to eventually comfort and soothe him; however, we were all sad seeing him so upset and wondering what all he was internalizing from the long and exhausting day. After dinner, we bathed the kids, took showers ourselves and were all thrilled to finally get some sleep! (Here is the "dining hut" to the right and the adjoining "kitchen hut". These pictures were taken the next morning so we could see them in the daylight.)

Very early the next morning, we discovered that the kids had accidents in their beds, so we bathed them again, and Brad, Aunt Brittany, the kids, Solomon (our driver), and a guide went on a hike to find hyenas!
(Solomon using a stick to "poke" into the hyena dens!)
(The dark mud pit in the center of the bushes is one of the many hyena dens they saw on their hike!)

They saw coffee trees and hundreds of raw green coffee beans, several hyena dens (but thankfully, no hyenas!), a scarecrow in the forest, and pineapple groves with real pineapples growing!
I stayed behind at the hut to have some downtime as I was extrmemely emotionally spent and needing some quiet time. It was exactly what I the time everyone came back, I felt refreshed, recharged and ready to meet the new day with more patience and resolve that I deeply needed!

(I had no idea what this new day would hold for us emotionally...more to come on that later!!)

Meeting the Birth Family

(continued from Travel to Yirgalem - Part 2)

We finally pulled off the main dirt road onto a little tiny dirt "path" and we began to hear cheers of little children as they ran beside our van. They were yelling, "YALFAL! KINETIBEB!" and both of the kids perked up with curiosity while pressing their little faces against the windows to see who was calling them. They instantly began squealing with joy and calling out to the other children! It was just a wonderful moment to witness Yalfal and Kinetibeb recognize a small part of their past with such glee! Solomon pulled our van up in front of the orphanage that their grandmother had originally brought them to for care. As we got out of the van, sweet little hands were grabbing for Yalfal and Kinetibeb, but you could tell through both of their sweet smiles, they were beginning to feel insecure. (The little red gate of the orphanage in Yirgalem.)

Brad carried Kinetibeb tightly, while I carried Yalfal close to me and Brittany followed with the video camera. We were lead across some meager tree limbs that were placed across a dirt ditch leading to the gate of the orphanage. It was truly like walking across a tightrope and I was sure I was going to lose my balance and fall flat on my face in the dirt with Yalfal, but thankfully, I was helped across. There was a small little yard in front of the orphanage where I stopped briefly to make sure Yalfal's face was clean (and really to catch my breath as I was incredibly anxious about this meeting)! I am assuming Brad was just as nervous, since he had continued on to the entry of the orphanage unaware I had taken a "breather"!
I quickly caught up with him and together, we entered into the orphanage where our babies had been relinquished. It was a very sobering moment that I hadn't prepared for at all. I didn't expect the actual orphanage to hold such emotion for me. I didn't immediately see their grandmother since the room was so dimly lit and there were so many people standing around staring at us as we walked in (to which I still have no idea who all the people were)!
(Our driver, Solomon, with Yalfal. They both LOVED Solomon! He was wonderful with them!)
(The orphanage director in Yirgalem, Yalfal, and Solomon.)

Then, I saw this tiny little elderly lady covered in a dingy white wrap who was reaching out for Kinetibeb, so I immediately put Yalfal down to go to her grandmother. They were both a little reluctant to go to her as we had be prepared for, so I bent down and gently led Yalfal to their grandmother and Kinetibeb shyly followed. Their grandmother reached for them both and smothered them with love, hugs and kisses. She finally took a seat and situated the kids beside her with her arms tightly wrapped around them. You could see the bittersweet emotions she was experiencing as were we all. I really did not have any expectations of what she would physically look like, but was taken by her beauty and her gentle countenance. You could truly feel the deep love she has for Yalfal and Kinetibeb.
(This is the only picture I have decided to share since you cannot see their grandmother's face.)

Of course, the aroma of coffee was filling up the room as they were preparing a coffee ceremony for us at the back of the room. There was a translator available who was able to moderate our questions and comments between one another and we have the entire visit on video for Yalfal and Kinetibeb to watch at a later time. We were thankful we were able to give their grandmother a Bible in her native language, Amharic, as well as a photo album with all of the pictures we had received of Yalfal and Kinetibeb and pictures of our home, family members, the kids' rooms in our home, etc. We were able to see the beds where they both slept before they were taken to Gladney's Foster Care Center in Addis Ababa.
(Yalfal's bed at the orphanage)(Kinetibeb's bed at the orphanage)
Of course, there are so many more amazing details of our meeting but we have decided to keep those private for Yalfal and Kinetibeb. We think it is important for them to be the first people to hear these sweet personal stories of us meeting their birth family and their history when they begin asking questions in the near future.

It was truly a blessed time filled with precious details of their life before reliquishment, lots of love and affection and exchanging sweet blessings and prayers for one another. Even though we experienced many bittersweet moments, we know this opportunity was such a gift to us and our precious children!

Travel to Yirgalem - Part 2

(continued from Travel to Yirgalem - Part 1) Well, I left off with us driving the long 6 hour drive to Yirgalem to meet the kids' birth family and they had finally fallen asleep in the van. Shortly thereafter, we stopped for lunch in Awassa which is about 45 minutes away from Yirgalem. The minute we drove up to the outdoor restaurant (which was situated on Lake Awassa), we were surrounded by all kinds of monkeys! Solomon had some wheat kernals we were all snacking on during the drive, so we offered some to the monkeys and they grabbed what they could right out of our hands! We walked down the drive toward the lake and there were these HUGE black and white monkeys that had these long gorgeous featherly-like tails! They were just as anxious to take part in our feeding frenzy!

We were all so giddy with excitement and amazed at how "African" our surroundings actually were while Yalfal and Kinetibeb seemed comfortably at home amongst the monkeys. (This is one of my favorite pictures! Kinetibeb was so brave until the "daddy" monkey jumped at him as the "mommy and baby"monkey look on from the background! Look at his face of terror! )(Safe in the arms of Daddy and it was all smiles and giggles for Kinetibeb!)

We met up with the social worker, Fasika, who would be translating for us when meeting the kids' birth family and finally were able to sit down to lunch outside on the porch of the restaurant overlooking Lake Awassa! It was breathtakingly beautiful! All of a sudden, monkeys descended upon us wanting more food! I got a little anxious and began to lean away from the monkeys while Yalfal turned around, scrunched up her little face and yelled, "CHIT! CHIT!" as she "shooed" them away with her hands! It was amazing! This continued to happen throughout the meal until the wait staff brought us a huge stick to swing at the monkeys when they got too close! We would swing our stick and they would leap into the trees literally swinging from the tree vines! After our late lunch, we let the kids run around for a little bit and then we packed up to head on to Yirgalem. The scenery from Addis Ababa to Awassa was very green, hilly, lots of African trees, somewhat paved roads filled with packed donkeys with a beautiful view of mountains in the background. However, the 45 minute-drive from Awassa to Yirgalem was totally different. The vegetation changed into tall, lush overgrown trees and bushes that definitely had a "rainforest" feel to it while riding on VERY bumpy red-dirt roads. Once entering Yirgalem, the dirt roads were filled with naked babies playing in the mud, barefoot children running alongside our van, mud huts with thatched roofs, donkeys packed with supplies, women carrying babies in slings on their backs and water pots on their heads, and men carrying tree limbs or bundles of banana leaves strapped to their backs or atop their heads. I have never witnessed such intense poverty so up close and that has affected me in such a personal way.A father & his children carrying a huge load of bananas dangling from a stick with his eldest son.Meeting the Birth Family to follow in next post...

Travel to Yirgalem-Part 1

This morning, we ate breakfast early in the morning at our hotel and then waited outside for our driver, Solomon, to pick us up. He drove us to the Gladney foster care center to pick up the kids and when we arrived, all of the children were outside getting their hair washed and combed (and the girls were getting braids)! We heard the cutest little squeal and when we looked over, Yalfal was sitting on the porch stairs waving at us while getting her hair done by one of the caregivers. There were children everywhere on the front lawn, freshly bathed and clean ready for the day! It was great to see the older girls helping with the younger children and we even saw several 5 & 6 year olds braiding the younger little girls' hair. We have never seen little fingers move so quickly with the outcome being a head of beautiful braided hair!
Once they were all ready to go, we all hopped into our van and off we went to travel 6 hours south of Addis Ababa to Yirgalem where the children were born and lived with their family until May 2008. We were so excited to be able to travel with the children and spend lots of time with them, the drive was actually really fun! They were so entertaining and we were able to get to know them much better during our travel. We had stopped at the store to buy some crackers for them to snack on since they wouldn't eat the fruit snacks we brought with us and the Teddy Grahams we brought from home were running low...they LOVE Teddy Grahams! They kept saying, "Bis-coot! Bis-coot!" (which means "cracker" or "biscuit") and it was so precious to see them eating and so happy!The crackers (or "Crickers") were a hit!After we played for a long while and had some snacks, they both fell sound asleep in our arms and we were finally able to stare at them and study every little detail of their little sweet faces. They both have the longest eyelashes EVER!! She has the most beautiful heart-shaped lips and he has the greatest plump pucker! They are just stunningly beautiful and we are so incredibly proud of them (if you couldn't already tell)!

Travel to Yirgalem - Part 2 to follow...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Visit to the Orphanages

Today was Ethiopia's New Year of 2001 (they are on the coptic calendar and 7 years behind us) and the streets were only half as crowded today as they have been since all the goats/sheep had been bought and slaughtered for the new year! Yesterday, we saw everyone on the streets purchasing their goat or sheep, binding its legs and throwing it on the roofs of their vehicles similar to how we strap down our Christmas trees to our cars! We witnessed one woman bind up the legs of her goat and then throw the goat upside down over one shoulder like a purse! It was pretty shocking to see that the goat was still alive and occasionally thrashing about over her shoulder but she didn't seem to mind that she was carrying her dinner home on her shoulder. Although these things seem strange to us, for them, it is their way of life. Once we arrived at Gladney's foster care center to pick up Yalfal and Kinetibeb for the day, the other children in the house came running and we are getting more attached and familiar to many of their friends! Inside the house resembled a bubble factory filled with giggles and squeals from all the bubbles the children were making and Brad warned us to stop at the entry and he would get Yalfal and Kinetibeb so we wouldn't slip on the bubble-slick floor! We were so pleased that they both acted thrilled to see us and welcomed us with big smiles and hugs! Yalfal was so excited to go wth us, she ran straight towards the gate to leave!

Today was a day to visit many of the orphanages in and around Addis Ababa and it was a very sobering experience. For those of you traveling soon, prepare your hearts and minds for this day. I am not sure any of us were prepared to see the conditions in which these precious orphaned children live in and call "home". It will probably be the only "home" they will know before they "age-out" and will be forced into the streets unless they are adopted, which for many of them, will never happen because of their age. It saddens me that these children are not known about by most people and that there is not an awareness about these "left behind" children from most people.
First, we visited the Kolfe Boys orphanage and as everyone, who has previously traveled, has said, we had such an amazing time with these young boys! These boys/young men are mature beyond their years as their youth has been cut short by their life experiences. When we drove up, it was raining but we were greeted immediately by a host of boys who were eager to meet us and offer their affections to us. They were perfect gentleman as they proudly guided us through their "home" which included all the different "bunk buildings" where they sleep separated by age groups, their kitchen where we met their "house mom" who cooks for them, and finally their "common room" where they eat, study, watch movies, play ball, and many other things in this huge cemented room. Once we entered the "common room", they began to do gym stunts, playing basketball (as many of us joined in as well!), playing with and chasing Yalfal and Kinetibeb and mostly, just wanting to talk and spend time with us. They wanted to know about America and you just couldn't meet these boys without just falling in love with them all! It was definitely the highlight of the day and as we left, we exchanged emails with many of the boys and delivered the care packages we were given from other families to which the boys were elated! We were touched most deeply by these boys who are so positive amidst their living conditions and who are so focused on their studies to which they understand the importance of their education. It was truly a blessing that we were able to spend time with them and get to know them if even for a short while. Our lives have been changed by meeting these amazing Kolfe boys!
We were also taken to an older girls orphanage and thankfully, their housing was much more adequate than we had seen at Kolfe. They girls were typical girls, very playful, friendly and excited to prepare their coffee ceremony for us! Their rooms were very clean and had posters of American movie stars and pop singers on their walls! It was amusing to see Britney Spears plastered on the walls of an Ethiopia orphanage! It made me want to collect posters of more wholesome people and send them to the girls! I have a feeling that they may not be so into Britney Spears but using her posters mainly just to decorate their walls with something!

We then arrived at the third orphanage which was the "home" for younger boys and girls. Driving into the gate was incredibly overwhelming as children came running in every direction. The grounds looked similar to a campground with crude housing for the children. For us, this was definitely the most upsetting to experience. Upon arriving, all of the children gathered around all of us and Ryan began handing our Beanie Babies and lollipops to all the children. It was craziness and excitement all at once. Yalfal and Kinetibeb had stuck close to us while visiting the other orphanages, but they began to strongly push away from us while watching the "gifts" being passed out. We were holding their hands not allowing them to stand in line to receive the "gifts" because we knew, now, the "gifts" were for the other orphans. In our hearts and minds, they were no longer orphans, they were our children who we had been providing for knowing that they didn't need to just "survive" anymore. However, seeing them forcefully break from us and run towards the "gifts" being handed out, demonstrated to us that nothing really had changed in their minds. It was sobering to witness this reality, and so the remainder of our time their was eye-opening, sad and stressful to say the least.
The drive home was very quiet as we were all pensive and processing our experience. We had been "stretched" in a way that took us by surprise and left us uncomfortable, discouraged, saddened, and heartbroken for these precious children. Many tears have been shed with a desparate desire to meet the needs of these children, but feeling overwhelmed and incredibly inadequate in knowing how to help. The Lord is sovereign and He knows their needs better than we do. I pray that we all will be open and obedient to how the Lord might use us to further His kingdom and bring glory to His name!