Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Daytrip from Addis

The Saturday before we left Ethiopia we visited a pretty little church called Debra Lebanos (the Lebanese Church). It's about a 2-hour drive along nice roads that cross all sorts of hillsides and villages and eventually end either at a good Ethiopian-German restaurant on a stunning arroyo with cliffside dining (an eagle actually swooped down and grabbed another patron's chicken thigh from his hand, it was incredible thing to see) or the church. There's also a Portugese-built bridge you can get to by following a trail from the German-Ethiopian restaurant. From the church you can hike to a hermit's cave in the nearby mountains.

Here we are waiting for our driver to pick us up for the day! Coffee.com, we love you. A 2-minute walk from our guesthouse to pretty much the best macchiatos we've ever tasted. All for 14 birr (90 cents.) Are you going to Ethiopia soon? If so, bring a to-go cup!

The church itself was not a highlight for us. It's 100 birr to enter, not a deal-breaker per se, but then they also had a sign that menstruating women were not allowed. I can't stand that kind of stuff. I told Eric in English that I didn't want to pay because I didn't want to support such misogynism, and then the priest immediately told me in English that if we didn't pay we couldn't hike in the surrounding grounds, either. So ha! And Ha!

Here is the church; you may notice we found a way to climb a mountain, anyway :)

We walked down the road a little and followed a little cobblestone trail we found, and we took that off into the hills. (If you're approaching the church, it's about 300 yards before the church entrance on the right.)

Beautiful views ...

And an hour later we hiked back down. The trail was definitely too tricky for Dessi.

But she could walk on the main road alright, there was no traffic almost at all, and the weather was absolutely perfect.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I thought this was hilarious.


She has some other ones about the things we mamas say to each other, which I thought was funny but then I started thinking it was kinda sad. Are we moms hard on each other? I guess we are. I know we're hard on ourselves. I'm lucky, for the past 15 years I have had ahMAZing friends (and now mamas) to share the world with; I've not experienced the cattiness that people so often associate with female friendships. I think it might depend on each person's tolerance for drama. Me, I can pick a drama mama out from 200 feet. I make wide circles around such people.

One of the finest books -- a total gift in the world -- I've ever read on motherhood is Karen Maezen Miller's book Mama Zen. It returns motherhood to service, meditation and open heartedness in a completely non-judgemental way. It stays on my bedstand, and I pick it back up any time I need a reminder that other people know, exactly, what I'm talkin about.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Best Guesthouse in Addis (IMHO)

On this past trip to Ethiopia, Dessi and I moved three times before we finally found the best guesthouse in all of Addis. (In fact, we didn't keep moving because we were searching for the best. We were simply looking for acceptable. But we found the best one, I am pretty sure.)

The guesthouse is called BJoe's, it is located downtown across from Makoush (the italian restaurant with the fun art gallery in front), down the street from the Edna Mall and a 2-minute walk from coffee.com (all these places are on Bole Road). So, the location is great but they're 500 feet down a dirt road so it's very quiet.

Nannies are available, and there are at any given time 2-4 exceptionally cool women in the house. It is run by Genet, who returned to Ethiopia last year after working in the US as an accountant for the past 20 years. She is awesome. A great resource, a kind spirit, and just the type of person who after one week you feel like you want to know her for the rest of your life.

Residents each receive a cellphone to use, and there is reliable internet.

The guesthouse has room for three families. I think there might be room for two more (they were building two new rooms while I was there) by early December, though. All the rooms are $85 per family. There are two one-bedroom rooms, and there are two two-bedroom adjoining rooms. Whether you want the single room or the two adjoining rooms, the price is the same -- $85 (total). You pay in USD when you check out.

The house is spread out on just one level and a downstairs, we were downstairs, it was a little bit cold but fine. It has wood / parquet floors and that makes it quiet, unlike the guesthouses that are highrises with tiled floors.

Laundry is free and breakfast is free. A tip for the whole staff of $50 to $100 per week is appropriate (according to the gladney literature -- this is traditionally a gladney house, but people from other agencies are welcome). You would want to tip anyway because those women rock -- anything I ever asked them about, they basically started climbing over each other to see how they could help me. They loved Dessi, but they really loved ALL the kids that were there.

Her email is gtafesse@gmail.com. Their phone in Ethiopia is 011 251 11 55 19 250.

I don't get kickbacks, btw! I just thought I would share.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Passing Court

Peace has come. The paper from MOWA has arrived. The judge has signed. The child is ours.

Here is Baby Adai, the newest little light of our lives.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Return from Ethiopia

We have met our baby and she is so beautiful, so amazingly perfect in every way, good natured (she was even smiling a bit) and seemed to be in good spirits and health and an absolute bright light. She can hold her head up well, roll over, she eats well and is just a calm little bug, always watching us, looking around, and then laughing a few times when we were really over the top ridiculous. She cried once for a few seconds when she was hungry, but seriously, mostly she was just checking it all out.

Dessi immediately took to the role of amazing big sister, when we all huddled together and tearily told her that this was her little sister, she very sweetly and softly kissed the baby's head and then just stared and stared at her. Then she started the examinations. She removed socks to compare feet and toes, checked out her mouth and hair, stroked her tiny head . . . she seemed to just get it. The orphanage, the adoption, the sister thing.

Everything went very well in Ethiopian court. We broght dessi along so we all met the judge, and we were approved as the parents for the baby. Technically, however, we did not pass court. The letter from MOWA was not there. It should be sorted out next week.

The thing was, I had not planned to return home after Ethiopian court. I had planned on doing One Long Stay and keeping the baby with me at the guesthouse until our US Embassy appointment six or seven weeks from now. But, because we didn't pass court and because would have extended my stay to an unknown degree (I mean, they say next week, but it could be the week after, let's be honest), I decided to return home with Eric and Dessi.

So, here I am. All along, returning home for a few weeks has seemed the right thing to do. So obvious and reasonable. But now I"m home, head reeling, heart busted open, empty crib waiting . . . let's just say, it's hard. Today is hard. If we pass our next court date (tomorrow), I'll return to Addis on Nov. 28 for One Long Stay -- Take TWO.

I have a lot more to say, about Dessi's and my adventures around Addis and the amazing guesthouse we stayed at, about Ethiopia Reads and friends we've made, hikes and massages and some places we ate. But for now I'm going to unpack and do some yoga and not think about Ethiopia for a little while.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Funny Face(s)

I thought I should make a record of the sweet nuttiness that is our life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rainy days

School is closed this week, so it's just been me and Dessi and I have to tell you, it is a lot of work but I have missed these times of just hanging out with endless hours stretched before us.

This is her taking a picture of her favorite puzzle with her favorite camera. I personally do not like this puzzle, it is not very cleverly designed, I don't think, but she is really into it at the moment.

And this is rain. When it's not raining, it's about to. When it's neither raining nor about to rain, it's 100 degrees. So, take your pick. I think it's pretty obvious what Dessi would choose.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween in africa

We spent the morning making peanut butter cookies that I cleverly sprinkled with some allegedly all natural food sprinklings (orange) that I bought in Dakar. Very Martha Stewart of me, except that it turned out to have been salt colored with tumeric, so those cookies went right in the garbage, and then I had orange stain all over my clothes and hands for the rest of the day. Oh and my lips, too. Very gouhlish.

Then we visited with a bunch of europeans who, I will tell you, they had it going on. Somehow one woman had found TWO pumpkins (yes, they were brownish with yellow streaks, but c'mon), we carved those, had candy, did fingerpainting, and drank orange juice-laced vodka (all things orange were okay, at least for the adults).

But before all that, Dessi was a butterfly. At 3pm, she had wings, antennea and gossamer pink fabric floating from her arms. By 4pm, she looked like this. By 5pm, she just had two unraveling antennea, and by 630 she was pretty much naked. I don't argue with these things. I'm just the camera man.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

paint it up

Here's what we did today. Why not? The idea of painting on a bathroom wall seemed to break her imagination wide open although, I admit, I might very well live to regret this moment if the concept is extrapolated very much. But for today, it was so fun!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I think this is the sign both of a well-lived life and bad parenting. Big day of school, no nap, lots of swimming and and playing with the visiting Henrik equals face down in the salad by 7.

The next day, we focused more on resting:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Court Date!

I couldn't have hit the refresh key on my email account for a single day more!!! This news comes just in time to save my sanity.

Referral: July 24
First Court date: Nov. 11
Second Court date: Dec. 13

We will almost undoubtedly choose to travel for the first court date.

So happy, relieved and hopeful! It is suddenly so soon now.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Court Date Speculations & Crocodile Legs

We received more pictures last night!!! Of course we can't post them yet, but I can say that she's too young to discern much about her personality, except that she is perfect in every way. She looks kinda despondent -- in two pictures she's looking down and away in a manner so similar to some of Dessi's old pictures so that it breaks your heart a little. To us, who have admittedly spent what might almost be an unhealthy amount of time staring at the previous pics, we see positive change, though!! She looks fuller and more alert and I think it's very clear now from her eyes that she is destined for great things in this world.


I honestly cannot believe how beautiful she is. I think she looks so similar to Dessi when Dessi was that age (although Eric completely disagrees with me), and ... but ... she's her own little being. I'm not doing any compare and contrast, and I hope I never, ever will. But I see glimpses of Dessi in her, and that makes me feel closer to her. For now, it's all I have. If I think about it too much, I physically ache.

Still no word on a court / travel date for Ethiopia, but we're hoping to hear ANY day now (seriously!) (even Patty says so. Any day now.) Strangely, I also dread it --i'm afraid it will be too sad and far away. In a nutshell, we're hoping for end of November, we're happy with end of December, and we are pretty darned bummed if it's in 2011. (but trust me, I also have 400 nuances of happy/un built into that, and a flow chart of possible mitigating/complicating factors. I have been VERY busy with all of this. Very.) But honestly, despite my grumblings, worry and flow charts, I know this is going to be all okay. Soon it will come, and until then she is in a very good place, and we know that.

I have heard of a few other families who have court dates assigned for Nov. 12 and Dec. 3, and I"m betting (but just guessing) that the nov. 12 date is for a first court appointment and the dec. 3 date is for a second (not every agency allows parents to choose to travel for the first court date). So, with all this additional speculation entered into the flow chart, my best guess is for November 24. That's my guess. Maybe sooner?! But not to get our hopes up either way. (Yeah, right.)

In the meantime, our little bug has eaten .3 kilos worth of food in the past week. What a relief! It had been our biggest worry. (For Eric, it had been his only one. How does he do it?!) She hadn't gained but .2 kilos in the last month total. Her weight, 5 kilograms, works out to a little more than 10 pounds. For a 3-month baby that's pretty scrawny, but as long as she's gaining, we're cool with it. She's still below the 5th percentile for height, weight and head circumference, but it's not scary anymore like it was (for us, anyway. The THomas Center made no mention of it). The kid just needs a dada and a mama and, of course, a big sister.

Dessi simply rocks. She adores school. Every morning, she's so excited to go. Eric and I think the teacher is pretty weird, actually, but dessi likes her so I guess really who cares what we think. She is really really into her letters now, she learned the A and B and now has started seeing them all over town and it's added a new level of utility to the whole thing that she finds thrilling. She can write her A, B, D and P (They started as bad B's, so we made it into a teachable moment ;) She is so SO excited for her sister now, sometimes she whines and complains about it -- she will throw up her arms in exasperation and say, Where is my LITTLE SISTER?! I fear we've talked it up too much or something -- I mean, it's going to translate into considerably less attention for her, at least sometimes, and it's not like her sister's going to play legos with her. But whenever she looks at the pictures her eyes get wide and dramatic and she says, 'mama, isn't she sooo cute?!"

It continues to rain here, a LOT, and we've all started on meflofquine. Whatever. I couldn't think about it anymore -- should we, shouldn't we -- so we did. Voila. We plan on taking it just until the dry season begins. Whenever that is.


OK, I"m off to bed. Eric's out now with our dear friend Henrik, who is visiting from Senegal this week. Henrik wanted to go see a reggae band and somehow Eric rallied and they left the house in a 10 pm blaze! (Not really. They were both so tired, I could tell, despite the cappucinos. But they went and did it, and that's what counts.)

I feel like I just mindlessly babbled my way through this post. Maybe I will write a more organized one soon, with some stories about the fun people we've met here so far, and the sawed-off crocodile leg someone tried to sell me by the side of the road (I had pulled over to buy pineapples) and the awesome house right on the beach that we rent ...

Or maybe to report on a COURT DATE!!!!

So okay, more later.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Birthday #1

Dessi is going to turn 3 on October 13, but we decided to celebrate her birthday in August.

We have a pretty darned joyous kid to start with, but I have to say, I have never seen her so happy as she was at that party. It was one of the best days of my life as well; any happy day of Dessi's is a happy day of mine. The best part was that wasn't about the gifts (no gifts, please) or really even about her so much -- it was about celebrating! Friends! And playing tag and hide-and-seek and, for the adults, eating and drinking wine and laughing our tails off at all the amazing, sweet children in our lives.

And of course, what party would be complete without turning over the mesob and then popping out of it like a lady from a cake? (We adults looked up from our wine glasses and the kids were all doing this. Hilarious!)

There was also soooo much food and some cheesecakes

The last little boy in the picture is her best friend, Aidan. Everyone at the party was like, WHO is that sweet little boy?!?! He and Dessi completely adore each other. They dance together at our weekly farmers' market, they are playmates at school (many a time I would arrive to pick Dessi up from Montessori and she and Aidan would have their heads together in a corner somewhere or, my favorite, once they were in a distant field, he pulling her in a red wagon). Aidan brought Dessi a butterfly balloon for her birthday and he was just bursting at the seams to give it to her (she was napping for the first half hour). He is an amazingly open-hearted little boy. At one point during the party I was sitting with his parents and he was running with the other kids around the yard ... as he ran by us he shouted, "I"M HAVING FUN, MOM!!" Kids just slay me. His brother, Sam, is just as darling.

We are surrounded by aunties and good parents and sweet friends. It is a joy beyond words to have people like this with whom to celebrate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Update from Addis

More pictures arrived last week -- the newest littlest one seems to be doing alright. She is absolutely precious. I have been trying not to look at photos or think too much about it -- just play it cool and bide my time until court opens (8 days!) and we can at least be moving toward a court date. Right now, we're not moving toward anything -- just floating, floating, waiting, waiting. Patience, patience.

She is 11 weeks and not quite 10 pounds. Teeny tiny! And yet the child has the head of a melon! She could grow to be six feet tall and her head would be fine just as it is. But as of now she is ... ten pounds. Can you imagine? I can't. I pick up things around the house that are ten pounds and I try to see what it is like to hold such a weight, such a small thing. It is like air. With such a fragile, tiny thing in tow I will no doubt return to creating worst-case scenarios for every room, vehicle or situation we encounter for the next several years. This will simply be my job, and I will not judge it this time around. (Oh, how things will be different this time! I will be calmer and more prepared! Less overwhelmed and worried! More present! Yes! Yes! Yes!)

As excited and impatient as we are to bring her home, I am also strangely calm and ... content. Our lives are gorgeous, and I'm finally getting enough sleep so that I can see it. We're balanced and easy and hitting our stride. Beyond any reasons I could list, our little family seems to be completely ... I don't know. Happy. Quietly happy, ebulliently happy. Happy sleepers, eaters, play dough designers, gardeners, bicycle riders, vehicle passengers. We even come out of time outs pretty happy.

We are very, very far from Square One. The poop, the laundry, the messes, the tied-down-to-a-schedule, I don't mind those things so much. The loss of sleep is what I fear. I really do. I'm a much better person with a solid niner each night, and I am no fool; I know I am not going to have one again for a really, really long time.

Nonetheless. I cannot wait for all ten pounds to be hoisted on my back forever. I can't wait to feel her weight on my chest as I sing her to sleep, I can't wait for the passing of hours and days and days again, and my being intertwined with another being too perfect and tiny for so many words. Of just gazing -- because for so long there will be no words -- and of knowing and conveying, This is how we are now. Forever. We are ready for her!!

Last night I tried to rock Dessi to sleep and have her rest her head on my chest the way she used to. She wanted nothing to do with it. Just Bounce me, mama and Sing me songs and Let's clap and wiggle! And then a swift hug and a kiss and off to bed. I see her moving away from us in this heartbreakingly beautiful way -- our bright, sweet, delicate light. She is strong and perfect and confident and I love it, but I miss her, too. I miss her needing me the way she used to.

Which is all a surprise to me. All that needing was sometimes a bit overwhelming, to tell the truth, and I kinda thought we were adopting again not to fill our needs but to give the universe back some of this love overflow -- because we are fat and happy and blessed. I can see now, though, that a second child won't soak up the leftover love; she will create more. Just seeing her pictures and thinking about her, I realize she already has. I think it will break my heart wide open forever.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Court dates far into the future

I read today that someone whose referral was submitted to the courts the first week of August has just been assigned a court date ... for Nov. 28. Courts are closed in Ethiopia, but I guess maybe they are still doing administrative work?

I am heartbroken that we're that far far far away. I had my heart set on end of October. Don't ask me where I got that from. I made it up. Still, it sounded good to me -- reasonable, and yet not ridiculously painful. But Nov. 28 (and it's not lost on me that that's not even OUR court date; it's someone else's) is ... it's ... well. It's three months away from TODAY -- not a long time away if you're waiting for a new car, or a vacation to Disneyland, or to get a cast off your leg. But for a baby that's already yours in everything but the technicalities, it seems just completely undoable. As in, I'll never make it. As in, I feel it in my stomach that I have to find a way to make this something other than the way it is.

Indulging, I know I am, in the bummerness. (Count your blessings! Chin up! Grow up!) Don't wanna. Not tonight.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mountain harvests

An heirloom zucchini from our garden. I swear I looked just two days ago and there were nothing but wilted yellow flowers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The baby the baby the baby the baby

I wrote in my last post how ... oh, something about how I "can't let myself go there" (to the love love LOVE phase) with this newest little one quite yet, how the next few months would be just unbearable if I did. How I'm really not that type of person, anyway. Etc.

Nonetheless. Somewhere around last week, I fell off the end of the earth for that little being, and I am still in freefall. What happened, mostly, is that we received three new pictures, and something about those pictures, her eyes, the sad bags under her eyes, reminded me of Dessi's first pictures, her scared little 2-month-old face, and somehow that little girl became so real to me, and so OURS to me. And so now I'm in this impossible position of scheming of ways to get this child home sooner (there are none) or speculating on court dates (we have none) or how our family can relocate to Addis between Ethiopian court and Embassy appointments (which is a loooonng shot, but at least it's not based on total and complete fantasy, so I spend a lot of time with it).

So, so strange. How can a heart just open like this? How can I be so in LOVE with just a few pixels' worth of a baby?

Dessi, at any rate, remains mostly unmoved by the concept. We thought she'd be THRILLED! A baby sister! (She'll be so great at this!) Yet the first time I brought it up, so excited to finally be speaking about it with her, I asked, "Would you like to have a baby sister?" I didn't really think she'd understand the concept or know what it would mean, but in fact her response was: No. I just want it to be you and me and daddy.

Being slow learners we asked and were turned down a few more times until Eric suggested that I stop asking. That was last month (before the referral, actually). We instead started talking about it obliquely -- reading books on big sisters and baby sisters and how cool it is to have a sister without mentioning (or asking) any specifics. She started warming up to it, and we started talking about it as a fact, like, "You are going to be such a great big sister!" and "Your baby sister is going to poo in her pants, but you can show her how to use the potty!" Etc.

This morning, she referenced "when I'm a big sister," and so I told her. The whole story. (!) A baby sister! I showed her the referral pictures and I said, "We are going to go to Ethiopia and adopt this baby." And my sweetest most amazing child said, very quietly so as to not dash my big plans, "But I think she might need to stay with her mama."

We printed a picture for her to keep. She was so happy. She talked all morning about it. She went to school this morning and told all the kids and the teachers that SHE was going to have a baby sister!!

Then she peed her pants twice in three hours.

These are, admittedly, confusing times for all of us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

At long last

CHI called Monday afternoon and told us to expect an email. THE email. Which led, of course, to my pressing the refresh key about once a minute for the next seven hours (!!) until finally, at 10:30 pm, voila.

Our sweet little pumpkin arrived. We looked at those pictures and were completely stunned. She is perfect and beautiful and ... wrinkled ... and seven pounds ... because ... she's three weeks old. I have never heard of such a thing before, such a young baby. Three weeks! I want to be so happy, and I AM so happy, but at the same time my heart can't help but break for this poor child, three weeks old and no mama. At three weeks, all you KNOW is your mama. But, we are so happy, and Eric in particular is fully head over heels in love already (I just can't let myself go there so early in the game or I'll be out of my mind within a month).

She is already at the Thomas Center, getting the same amazing care and love that Dessi received so many moons ago. So we do feel peaceful, knowing she's there, picturing the crib she sleeps in and the women who feed and snuggle her, the dimly lit quiet of the nursery and the caring administration of Abdissa. So, that's nice. But also, to hell with that! We just want to leap up from our chairs and go get her NOW!

Courts are, however, about to close (aug. 6 is what they're predicting) and I don't know what that means for us in terms of court appointments and travel dates. I've always felt so sorry for parents who get referrals before the court dates. Like, how could they possibly live through that long of a wait with absolutely nothing happening?!?! Sigh. :)

So, it's 11:54 pm over here and I'm going to try to sleep (I didn't go down 'till 3 am last night).

Namaste, peace and love from Whitefish. I'll post as soon as I hear more news!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Next on the list!!!

Holy crap!

So, once a month (on the 7th), I ask where we are on wait. We've moved one a month for the past nine months. Inquiring has mostly been for kicks.

Suddenly today, Jessica said we're first. As in next. As in, the next child will come to us.

This is such a confused and beautiful time, of gratitude and tenderness and of hooking into the sacredness of this process. My heart is just bursting open trying to send love and support to our little one and her caregiver as our roads wind their ways to each other.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Crunchy or creamy?

Recently I came across the PB&J Campaign. It's rooted in the idea that we don't need to be vegetarians to save the world. What we "pay" for our meat is unfathomable. In fact, every time I read the statistics (half the water used in the US goes to raising animals for food; it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, while growing one pound of wheat takes 25 gallons; animals in factory farms in America produce 20 tons of fecal matter each year for every US household), I think, What? Those numbers can't be right.

So the PB&J campaign is just saying, can we all just cut back a little? Here are some factoids from their website (I love the part about the low-water showerhead. I truly do hate those things):

Each time you have a plant-based lunch like a PB&J, you'll reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions versus an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets. For dinner you save 2.8 pounds and for breakfast 2.0 pounds of emissions.

Those 2.5 pounds of emissions at lunch are about forty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions you'd save driving around for the day in a hybrid instead of a standard sedan.

If you have a PB&J instead of a red-meat lunch like a ham sandwich or a hamburger, you shrink your carbon footprint by almost 3.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

You'll conserve water at lunch too! How about 133 gallons of water conserved at lunch versus the average American lunch? To put this in perspective, five PB&Js or other plant-based lunches per month would save more water than switching to a low-flow showerhead. If you're replacing hamburgers, it should take you just three lunches to conserve more water than the low-flow showerhead.

Don't forget the land you save from deforestation, over-grazing, and pesticide and fertilizer pollution: about 24 square feet at lunch.

Here's the link to their website:


Monday, April 26, 2010

The Waiting List

We are seventh on the list. We were eighth last week. Which sounds good. Like movement. But we were also eighth in January. We have been waiting since October 5.

It's slow. We'd love to think it's because all the orphans in the world are otherwise occupied. We are pretty sure that more people are adopting from Ethiopia, and yet the courts can only process a certain number of children each day.

Although we are patient (there's so many other chores), we are never far from this particular distraction. Of wondering everything there is to wonder about The Little One, as we have taken to calling her.

We are so ready. We're excited to talk to Dessi about it, but we won't until it's much closer. Like, passed-court closer. She has three wooden butterflies, all different colors, that we bought at a craft fair here last year. We hung them on her bedroom wall, and she immediately chose one as the daddy, one as the mama, and one as Dessi. Six months ago I started searching for the butterfly artist again, to buy a fourth. I think it's a graphic that a 28-month brain could wrap itself around. A fourth butterfly. The Littlest One. We have that now. It's yellow, just like Dessi's, but the markings are different.

So you see, we're ready.

Monday, April 19, 2010

You Lie! Maybe! I can't tell, actually!

A Senegalese man knocked on my friend's door this morning. He was crying a lot. He said that his son had just died of meningitis and he needed 75,000 cfa ($160) to bring him back to his village to be buried. Could she help him? She had never seen him before.

"He really did look upset," she said. "He really was just crying and crying. I gave him 10,000 cfa and hoped that he was lying."

On the one hand, the high-road hand, you give some money and hope, I guess, that you're being had. That there's no dead son, just a good actor, making his rounds through a rich neighborhood, to whom you gave the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you don't start thinking about how that sure seems like a lot of money to ship a body home. Or that, even if it is a reasonable amount, and even if it's a true story, it's not the best use of your money (you could feed 30 streetboys for three days with 10,000 cfa).

Dakar, Senegal, is a scammer zone. Now that my aura of newness has worn away, I don't see them anymore. But when I first arrived, despite what I thought was a foolproof, traveled-the-world-and-have-seen-it-all visage, I was swindled in 15 minutes by a man, Amadee, to whom I gave 30,000 cfa ($70), basically because he asked me to. And then within seconds he disappeared into a crowded street while I "waited" for him on said street. I spent about five minutes reviewing whether the French words I had learned thus far (My name is Linda. I live in Virage. I am fine, thank you) could in any way be combined ask anyone for help. And who would they be? And what would they possibly do for me? Then I went home.

What's so sad to me, even still, is that I had thought Amadee and I were going to be friends. He was a musician, he spoke English, and he seemed cool although, looking back, he definitely did a few odd things. I looked for Amadee on the street for months (he is graying and missing one front tooth) before finally forgiving him and more or less laughing it off. But it did not feel very Buddha-like. It did not feel like generosity. It was humiliating. The idea that one might consistently give people the benefit of the doubt here, well, it's not a reasoable approach. Which leaves you somewhat coldly assessing the story of a man bawling on your porch.

In the past few years I have taken to never lying for my own convenience. (I will sometimes, if pressed, still under-guess a person's age.) But if I have an appointment scheduled and I can't find a way to cancel it with integrity, I make myself go. I remember one hike I was reeeaaallly dreading, I went on about it for two days, I could say this, I could say that, but all my excuses were either misleading or just not true. (The truth was, I didn't like this person and didn't want to spend 90 minutes with her.) Then the morning of the hike, she sent me an email which said, "Not gonna make it for today. I'm sorry." Voila! No lie, no explanation. A lesson learned.

Lies are never harmless. If nothing else they erode the public trust. When you live in a place where scammers abound, that truth becomes very obvious very quickly. Although it does provide the unexpected comfort of leaving us to hope that some sad stories aren't true.

Update April 19th: General consensus seems to be, it was a highly unlikely scenario and almost definitely a scam.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Family Day

Two years ago today, Eric and I stood outside the Addis Hilton at 10 am and waited as the rattling old car pulled around the curve. Abdissa was driving, and his wife was in the backseat holding Dessi, with another child (Johannes) on the seat beside her.

She got out and handed Dessi to me. Eric took a picture. I mumbled something. We stared at our baby. OUR BABY. She was so beautiful and small and quietly unblinking. We were awkward and emotional and really, I think, kinda stunned. That this scheme actually worked. That they were going to give us this beautiful child.

Dessi then proceeded to not move (although once she kicked her foot) or smile or even cry (unless it was suppertime) for the next two days. She just watched us. (We have six hours of the most boring adoption footage ever.) Then on the third day, Dessi napped and we, as always, sat and watched. She awoke, looked up at these people who were still just looking down at her, and she smiled. Finally.

And from then on we have been on the superhighway of kicking each other and saying, Good gracious, is this amazing light really our friggin kid? Because she is just. too. much. Anything anyone could ever hope to be or aspire to, she already is.

She is 2 1/2 today. We have been a family for two years today. We can't really express how happy we are, and I know parents can be soooo boring when going on about how amazing their kids are, but it's family day, so please excuse the indulgence. Here are some random delights of the past few weeks (beach pics are scenes from last month's trip to Casamance):

Dessi says 'No poopoo here, No peepee here,' mostly after I insist that she just sit on the potty and TRY.

Her favored expressions lately are 'Pas รงa,' and, alternatively, 'Pour moi.' (Not that / For me.) She also likes to look at us all mooney-eyed and say, "Daddy, I love ... and you think she is going to say 'you' and instead she says .. POOPOO! I love PEEPEE!"

She calls me honey. Sometimes hon.

Before bed we name the people we love. She says, "I love you grandma. I love you Tata Erin. I love you Daddy." Each person gets their own "I love you." It can take a while. It's worth it.

At night before we eat, Eric and I say something that we're grateful for. We're not allowed to say our family (too easy). We assumed she had not really understood the exercise. A few weeks ago we asked her what she was grateful for. She reached her hand to me and said, very sincerely, "I'm grateful for mama." Then Eric. Touching his hand. "I'm grateful for daddy."

She says thank you not only for a toy or an orange, but also after a great outing to the beach or the playground. And sometimes, just walking down the stairs together. Her tiny hand squeezing my hand. "Thank you, mama."

She loves drama. Mama, make a sad face. Daddy, make a happy face! And then there's the face of Grumpy Bird.

Last week I snapped at her. Half an hour later we sat down and I said, "Dessi, I'm sorry. I should not have yelled at you. I wanted to get your attention, I want you to come when I call you, not to run away. But I should not have yelled at you, and I'm sorry. Do you understand? Mama shouldn't have yelled at you. I am sorry. I am not going to yell at you anymore."

She looked at me for ten seconds, then hugged me and patted my back and said, "I love you mama."

About six months ago, I did the same thing (snapped, then apologized). She did the same thing, too. She wasn't even two years old then.

She hides. She goes behind the curtains in her room (which, for the record, are transparent) and says, "Where'd Dessi go?" A few weeks ago she did it at a hotel in Casamance. Here is a picture:

She sings herself to sleep at night. Sometimes for an hour. She wakes up singing in the morning. Sometimes, if I come in too immediately, she'll ask me to go back out. I think she likes to have some time for herself. (Although, God only knows why she doesn't want any during the day! Because boy howdy she does not.)

A few nights a week, we put on hip hop and dance in the living room. She has all the moves. Sometimes she will get on her back and spin around like the brakedances used to do. (You know. In the '80s.) She loves dinosaurs and looks for them everywhere around town. When we walk up to the lighthouse on the weekends she will point to each mashed-in cow patty and exclaim, "Dinosaur poopoo!"

I used to call her my plum blossom, which she couldn't say so she calls herself Plumplum. Mama, you hug your plumplum? Mama, Dessi is your plumplum.

She is a light beyond all lights to us, with an almost heartbreaking tenderness and vulnerability and compassionate joy for life. Her beauty shakes me awake every day. We are pretty lucky people. These days are good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Easter 2010

So, these eggs are ... where?

Easter was a mama fail, li'l bit. All the little children had these sweet little baskets that their mothers had decorated for them. Dessi had a red beach bucket that I found rolling around in the car as we pulled up, late, for the hunt. Which we ended up missing. (They started exactly on time! Who does that?!) We had to have our own private hunt with eggs I borrowed from another mom. Nice.

Luckily, she is incredibly adaptable.

We told her they were dinosaur eggs (she's so into dinosaurs right now. I don't know where that came from. We've been reading Where the Wild Things Are, and I think maybe she thinks the monsters are dinosaurs.She's always gasping excitedly and pointing in the air or in the grass and shouting, "Dinosaur!" Then she tells me all about it, the yellow eyes, if it's big or small or blue. So I bought some 3" dinosaurs and hid them around the house. We were sitting in her room reading and I looked up, gasped, pointed to the doorway and said, "Look! A dinosaur!" She was duly freaked out. It was not cool.)

Here she is, showing off her bounty.

After the hunt we went next door and swam with Erin and Terri, great friends who were married last week in Paris. Dessi LOVES this woman. Just can't get enough of her.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My finger's stuck

This is how the child entertains herself so that her parents can read the newspaper for a little while at night. Do you hear this crazy language she is speaking in the second video? She sounds like she belongs at the Star Wars bar. The book on her head, I have to say, she got from me. Because the women here carry stuff on their heads all day long and so they look absolutely gorgeous just walking down the street, all things in alignment, proud and muscle-y and beautiful. Which leads me to ... I have been trying to walk with a book on my head. I do it about as well as our Dessi girl.

I've been thinking about these videos, waiting for them to load. ANd I've been thinking about how these little 30-second snippets worthwhile enough (in my mind, anyway) to be videotaped are actually just common things -- random moments on a random Sunday evening. And the actual abundance of these moments that we read the paper through or cook dinner around or, just, whatever, it's almost heartbreaking when one considers how rapidly a week, and then a year, and then a lifetime, can just pass by. There are so many of them now, and before I know it she will be off to college.

Which is to say, we leave Senegal on April 30th after a 2 1/2 year post. We are off to DC for two weeks, then Montana for two months, then Cote d'Ivoire in the fall for the next chapter in this wacky little book of ours.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Baby Thieves

Really? I am stunned.

I occasionally tune into Ethiopian blogs that occasionally (or constantly) fret about the possibility that Ethiopia's adoption process is corrupt, that people are harvesting children (which is when adoption agency employees go to remote villages and say, "Who wants to give their baby a better life in America?! Line up here!" Etc. (It's wrong and illegal to do it.)

I just have always thought that no system is always perfect (not that I would ever excuse such tactics or anything underhanded or sneaky, but that things go wrong because they always go wrong, and then you fix them as soon as possible and as completely as necessary and you continue on) and ... just, there are SO many orphans in the world. Nobody needs to trick birthparents into giving them away.

But, and yet, people have. Maybe not in Ethiopia, but in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Guatemala. And apparently, at least one organization (damn Christian World Adoption!) is, at the very least, doing some things that have twice (that I know of) led journalists to believe they're lying and stealing and behaving badly. In Ethiopia.


We are waiting to adopt our second Ethiopian child. We are, like, eighth on the waiting list.

So. We received a notice today from our agency detailing the US Embassy's newest policies regarding orphan declaration. It looks like it will slow things down for us, but I'm for that. Slow it down, do extra research on the child's history, and make sure it's all perfect. Eric and I are in this process to help, not to grab for a child that has a place with someone else -- our dream would be that there is no orphan for us. And until then, we and our baby will wait a little longer to be together, and it will be for the best. But the DOS letter's first line is: The Department of State shares families’ concerns about recent media reports alleging direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees. (This is the aforementioned child harvesting.)

I wanted to find out what recent media reports these were. I knew of one of them, about CWA, and whether the reporting (from a film crew in Australia) was rooted in fact or not I could not tell, but there were so many things that were factually wrong and it was sensationalized enough that I thought the whole piece was basically not credible. The DOS letter isn't clear if reports that led to the new State Department policy concern practices in Ethiopia -- my guess is that they're about Haiti. But anyway, a little bit of research brought me to other blogs where waiting parents are in a panic -- apparently this is how it started in Vietnam and in Cambodia months before those countries were shut down.

This is not how we want this to go -- and not for the sake of me being eighth on the waiting list, either. I worked for several months across three years in an orphanage in Cambodia in the years after the adoption ban was in place. There are children collecting in orphanages with no hope of forever families or of any kind of future in Cambodia. There are toddlers by themselves on the streets of Phnom Penh, begging for food. In Cambodia, I know the issue that pushed it over the edge involved agency employees who were giving money to birthmothers. Of course, that's just wrong wrong wrong, but being in Cambodia, I can see how it could happen innocently enough -- imagine a single mother with four kids, she has a baby and gives it up for adoption. She's struggling to feed the kids she has left. I think anyone might think, well, if I help her now, maybe she won't need to give up any more of her children.

Of course you can't. You can't help. But I think it's pretty possible that the Cambodian situation was borne of something like this (this is what I was told, anyway, by people who ran the orphanage where I volunteered, who knew the American who went to jail. Yes, went to jail.) In fact when we go back to Ethiopia Eric and I intend to find Dessi's birth mother and to connect with her and to let her meet Dessi if she would want to. We have toyed with and dismissed, though, the idea of sending her to school or trying to help her. Which is so right and just so wrong, too. How am I going to explain to my soon-to-be-12-year-old daughter (this being Dessi; I'm planning ahead) that we never did anything to help her birth mother? I don't know. It's hard to explain to myself, really.

I just can't believe the situation in Ethiopia is so corrupt or so far gone that it would come to a ban. But ... And ... I'm torn between knowing that the vast majority (like, 99 percent? I really believe it's something like that) of those children really do need homes and knowing that our agency (Children's House International) and their people in Ethiopia (the Thomas Center and the loving and amazing Abdissa, whom I just KNOW is a straight shooter) ... I'm torn between feeling safe in the path we are on and feeling ... just yucky. And just not sure what's going on. And wishing someone else but my mother-in-law read this blog anymore so that someone would leave a comment and say what they know or what they think about it all.



For the past five minutes I've been sitting quietly, thinking. The bottom line is that anything unethical immediately needs to be corrected, but the fact that something has gone wrong somewhere doesn't mean the whole system (or even a double-digit percent of the system) is rotten. Ethiopia absolutely needs a way to place children with adoptive families. It's easy to be reactive about this, but Eric and I have done our homework and we absolutely trust our agency and their representatives. As lame / not-enough-ish as it sounds, we have done what we can to ensure our involvement does not contribute to anything but the good. We absolutely know that there are abandoned children who need homes. I would never voluntarily get off of this path of international adoption.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A needle pulling thread

Here's our gal. I can get her to do this all day if I agree to show her the footage after each song. Sorry my voice is a little loud on this one.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Here we are during a December visit to Tampa' Museum of Science and Industry.


Running off without us ... she never used to be so bold!


Joely after his victory (he and his mom assembled this)


This was a really cool exhibit -- you stand in the dark, then the light flashes and it leaves your shadow printed on the wall behind you! Very fun.


With her cousins after a nice meal at Panetta's.


And this is Dessi on the merry-go-round after an afternoon of Christmas shopping. She's never liked these very much before, but this time she looovveed it. She was so full of joy, really. A beautiful two minutes.