Friday, November 27, 2009

A Little Humor

Just thought I would post something on the lighter side. Question: How is it that we can travel half way around the world to a third world country - 5 there and 7 back - and none of us get sick? But, our dog who only travelled 1 1/2 miles north comes back with horrible diarrhea? The only one we didn't ask for prayer for, I guess. Not to worry too much. Jake is still recovering, but doing well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Details Details Details

Wow, what a week. While there was a very difficult part to endure, much of our week was full of wonderful moments and fabulous memories.

Saturday, November 14 we left our home in Hoffman Estates, Illinois at about 9:30 am. Our good friend, Jeff Rylander drove us (John, Val, Caitlin, Caleb and Cameron) and our 10 suitcases/5 carryons to the airport. After checking in and getting through security we played some Dutch Blitz and had some lunch. Soon we were on the plane for D.C.

After a fairly lengthy layover in D.C. we boarded our Ethiopian Air Flight bound for Addis Ababa. In the D.C. airport we met another couple, Carl and Angel from our agency who were also going to pick up their children. Little did we know at that time how deeply grateful to God we would be for having arranged their trip to coincide with ours. The bad news for the flight is that not much sleep was had. The good news is that air sickness was not an issue, even for Val who has had problems before and decided not to take dramamine this time. Wow.

When we landed in Ethiopia it was surreal. After all that we had been through up to this point, were we really here?

Getting through immigration took a little time, but was pretty simple. By the time we did that and changed some dollars into birr our luggage was ready for us. We loaded up our cart and exited the airport. When we got through the luggage check, we found out our new friends were not able to get their video equipment through. They were quite upset and extremely worried that they might not ever see it again. (They did get it back when they left at the end of the week).

In the lobby of the airport we were met by Sami, who was to be our translator for the week. What an awesome guy and fellow brother in Christ. He helped us with our luggage and we went to our van and met our driver for the week, Gecho, also a fellow brother in Christ. These 2 men were such a blessing to us throughout the week. Isn't it amazing how God put his plan together half way around the world? He knew we would need these guys by our sides for many reasons.

When we exited the airport the smell was the first thing that hit me. The closest thing I could compare it to is a good farm smell.

We were taken to our guest house, which also proved to be an immense blessing. Hot showers and electricity - amazing. They even had pizza waiting for us when we got there. That night we tried to crash. Everyone was exhausted. Unfortunately, many, many dogs were communicating some dreadful news to each other. That lasted until about 3 in the morning and then the roosters took over - they don't just crow at dawn and not just once. And if that wasn't enough sound variety the mosque's prayers were being broadcast throughout the night. Life in the big city of Addis.

Monday morning arrived. We were treated to a great breakfast of French toast. Then we were on our way to meet Ayana and Siqare - or so we thought. We handed our driver the "address" of the care center and soon learned that addresses don't mean much. After several phone calls it was decided that we would pick up an agency worker and they would direct us there. We also soon learned that no trip is short in Addis and that traffic was a sight never before seen by our family. First, very few rules, second, one must be aggressive if you are to make forward progress, third, automobiles are not the only users of the roads - people can show up anywhere and herds of animals need it as well. (Monday morning when we looked out the front door of our guest house, we saw goats in the yard across the street)

Finally, we made it to the center where our children were at. We drove in and there they were. Holding them for the first time after only seeing pictures for months. Wow! It was like time stood still for a while.

We all sat in a living room of sorts and just looked at each other. After some moments alone we got busy. We had brought donations and gave them to the nannies and then we started taking pictures of the other children at the center. During this time the other couple we had met in D.C. arrived.

We decided at this point that we were going to take Ayana and Siqare with us that day. Originally, we didn't know if that would be the best thing, but now we knew it was right. So, after some tearful goodbyes (the nannies and some of the other kids - not Ayana and Siqare) we loaded up our van with all 7 of us and left the center.

The rest of that day we spent at our guest house. A & S napped. The bio kids watched a video and we just soaked up the events that took place.

On Tuesday, we had some paperwork to finish at the agency's office. This was one place where our driver and translator helped a lot. Communication was very difficult and their translating efforts helped tremendously.

After that we returned to the guest house and had lunch. In the afternoon we went to the market. A & S stayed at the guest house. We purchased several things, gifts for A & S, decorative things for our home, souvenirs for our bio kids, gifts for people back home. We did pretty well with the haggling. By our last stop Sami had become a little impatient at how slow I was and took care of it for me.

When we had gotten most of the things we wanted, we went back and picked up A & S and went out for pizza at Island Breeze - recommended by a missionary family who we had communicated with prior to going. It was tasty. We had Gecho tell Ayana that we have pizza almost once a week at home and he just smiled.

Wednesday we had the goal of purchasing coffee, going to the Sheraton for internet access, and visiting a Leper Community. The Leper community was probably the highlight of the week - after picking up Ayana and Siqare of course. We watched them spin yarn/thread, weave cloth, stitch designs, and weave mats. Many other things were going on as well. The people were so warm and gracious. Caitlin and Val tried to spin the wool into yarn and Val did a photo shoot pretending to help with the bedspread needle work. Sami translated that Val wouldn't do any stitching because she didn't want to mess things up and the ladies just laughed. What a wonderful experience.

Unfortunately, their store was closed so we weren't able to purchase anything that day.

That afternoon, after lunch at the guest house (the food was really good all week - some of the new things like injera took a little getting use to) we went to the drop-in center that the profits from our guest house help support. We met the director, who gave us his story of how God had directed him very specifically to what he was doing.

The drop-in center supports 50 children. 25 of them attend school there. All 50 receive meals, clothing, and medical support. I didn't understand exactly how all of it worked, but it was neat to see the passion and care. We were able to play with the children a little bit as they were released from class. When we left, we ended up walking with many of the kids on their way home. All available hands were taken and we walked the two blocks back to our guest house hand in hand. This was also a highlight.

Thursday morning we made a quick trip back to the Leper Community. Thankfully, their store was open, their prices were much lower than the market, and the quality of their things were beautiful. One of the coolest things that they made there was bags woven out of cut up strips of milk bags. Recycling at its best.

We had lunch and then we were on our way to the Embassy - of course, thinking that this would be a breeze and we could celebrate that evening with the other families from our agency.

After a long night and morning we had obtained our visas. Now we were now pressed for time to get everything done in time to check out and be at the airport. We went back to our guest house, inhaled some lunch and then took our family to have a coffee ceremony with the other families from our agency. It was such a relief to be able to give them back their cell phone and to know that we would be travelling with them back to the states that night. The coffee ceremony consists of incense, espresso like coffee, and popcorn. We didn't think to ask what the significance was - we were still a little dazed from our previous ordeal.

After a quick visit there we returned to our guest house and began packing like crazy. We opened all of the suitcases and just started throwing things in. Within an hour we were packed and ready to go. We had dinner at our guest house one last time and then were treated to another coffee ceremony. The bonus this time is that the popcorn had sugar on it.

Soon our driver arrived, our bags were loaded and we were headed - all 7 of us - to the airport. Getting 7 people through immigration, check-in, and security 2 times was almost humorous - especially when you are trying to communicate with 2 children that can't understand you. But, we made it. While we were waiting we had some musi(bananas - which are very important to Siqare) and some Kitkats - the bio kids and I were ready for some chocolate/sugar.
Then we boarded for our 18 hours of flying/refueling/flying to D.C. Much more sleep was had on this flight. A & S slept a lot and had total control of shinte (going to the bathroom).

Arrival in D.C. was easy. Short wait for immigration. Just one glitch. We got to customs and our customs sheet only showed that 6 people had been processed. So, we had to walk all the way back. But, then they quickly crossed out the 6 and wrote 7 and sent us on our way. And the woman at customs told us that we could cut when we got back and she let us go straight through - no baggage checks. We rechecked our luggage and waited through 2 delays and finally boarded our last flight for home.

While in the D.C. airport, we met a high school classmate of Val's on his way back from a business trip. What are the chances. Brian even waited for us after we got off the plane and helped get us to baggage pick up. What a blessing.

My parents and my brother and his wife were there to greet us. Another blessing. We had originally planned to just call and have them pick us up outside. I'm not sure physically we could have gotten all of our luggage that far. We were all so ready to drop. (All ten pieces of our luggage were neatly lined up and waiting for us - done by airport employee)

About 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 21 we were all home.

What a journey. God's placement of his people throughout our journey was so evident and such a blessing. Thanks be to God. We praise you, Lord for all that you have done.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ethiopia Guest Home recommendation

For those travelling to Addis to bring home your beautiful Ethiopian children we want to highly recommend Ethiopia Guest Home. Our agency guest home which we did see and heard about from other families travelling with us, was quite unacceptable. Our stay at Ethiopia guest home was so much better and cheaper. All seven of us were able to stay in one room with a private bath for $135 a night (This included breakfast and lunch, phone/internet access, cell phone, water, nanny service, and a massage for all adults - we didn't use this).

The better part of our stay there was the people who worked with us there. The care and hospitality they showed was amazing. Siqare's hair was done twice while were there including de-licing. The food was excellent. They talked to the children and showed love to all of our children - both bio and adopted. Our driver, Gecho and translator, Sami were lifesavers. Were it not for them we would not have ever been able to clearly communicate with our own Agency staff. They also helped us in the market, showed us Addis, took us to a leprosy community. They also got tough with our agency, when we needed them to translate the urgency of our situation to them.

Not only did we have a great stay and great service there, but the profits the guest house makes supports a drop-in center that serves 50 orphan/very low income children with education, meals, and medical care. We saw the center and met the director. What a great heart he has - he listened for God's call and answered by following him.

BFAS parents, we had no problem taking Ayana and Siqare with us to stay there. We took them from the care center the first day.

The power of prayer.

Thank you for praying for our situation. When we requested prayer, we weren’t able to fully express the gravity of the situation. Last week on Thursday afternoon we had a visa interview at the US embassy in Ethiopia. From pretty much everything we had heard, this was a formality and the majority of families got their children’s visas without any problem.

When we went to the window for our interview, everything seemed fine. Then we were asked how are children came to be relinquished. We answered what we knew – that their parents relinquished them because of severe poverty. At this point the woman at the window went to her supervisor. After a few minutes they came back and told us that because our children did not meet the US’ definition of orphan, they could not issue the visas.

When we passed court in October the Ethiopian government legally established us as their parents. So Ayana and Siqare are our children. But, we are being told that with the current information that had been given to us and the Embassy, they would not be given visas to return to the US. So, not only we were facing a potential delay in returning (we were suppose to be flying out the next night at 10:15), we were facing the potential of never being able to bring them home.

We left the Embassy appointment in tears and distraught. Thankfully, in God’s sovereignty, he had placed 2 other families from our agency their with us. Both families embraced us and held us up during this awful time. One family had an international cell phone with them. When we returned with them to where they were staying, they allowed us to use their phone to make whatever calls we needed to. Our first 2 calls were for prayer. John called his parents, who immediately put the word out through their church, facebook, email, phone calls. Then I called our friends, the Rylanders, who emailed several groups and called the our church. Val and our new friend, Angel prayed together.

Almost immediately we could feel God’s strength returning to us. John's mind cleared and with the help of the other families we decided on who we should contact. Thankfully, by this time the US was beginning their workday and people were easy to contact. After many phone calls we had a clearer picture of what needed to be done and we had some action from stateside that might help move things in Ethiopia. The clearer picture, though, was that we had to legally prove that these children truly were orphans. Nobody could just say “put it through.” We had to find evidence – which at this point we didn’t even know what that evidence could be.

After about 3 hours of sleep we were up and ready for action. Unfortunately, it was another 5 hours before the Embassy opened. At about 7:00 am I checked email. Surprisingly, there was an email from our International Agency director in our box. Even more of a surprise was what it said. It was the story of Ayana and Siqare’s parents. The father was in jail for trying to murder their mother. The mother was left to support 5 children selling injera. While the story sounded like evidence to support that they were orphans under US law, the problem though was that this was an email from our agency director to the Embassy. There was no documented support for it in the children’s file.

Shortly after this we received a phone call from the Consulate’s office. They said they had seen the story and if somehow substantiated, this would prove that they truly were orphan’s under US law. They had requested the children’s complete file from our agency. Unfortunately, the agency was not complying. So, we went to our agency’s office in Addis; got the file and proceeded to take it to the Embassy. By the time we arrived it was 10:30 am. The consulate’s office closed at noon. In talking with the consulate officer we were told that they would look through the file and that for the next 30 minutes they would be trying to make phone calls to the rural area that our children were from to try to get confirmation of some part of this new story. She told us if they didn’t get anything by then they would have to just try over the weekend and maybe by Monday they would be able to get some sort of confirmation. Val and I prayed together. Our hope was that we would all be able to return that night to the states, but by now we were not very confident.

At 11:10 the officer came back to the window and told us that they had reviewed the file and nothing in it supported this new story – no contradictions, but no support either. But, that they were going to continue to try and make contact until 11:30. If they didn’t by then, they would not have time to complete the visas before the office closed. At 11:30 our agency’s assistant director leans over (after he had been sitting by us for about 5-10 minutes) and show’s a phone number written on his hand and asks if they might want this cell phone # of a MOWA government official from the area our children were from. We said yes and took him up to the window and got the number to them. He was worried that the consulate might not cooperate with him (hmmmmm, I wonder why).

Another 10 minutes went by (the times are clear in my head, because that was all we could do was watch the clock). At 11:40 the consulate officer comes to the window. She has a pretty serious look on her face – so we thought we were done. We would have to figure out what our plan B would be. We get to the window and she tells us she has good news. They were able to make not just one, but two contacts to officials that were able to confirm that Ayana and Siqare’s father was indeed in jail. She told us she would keep her staff there long enough to finish the visas and we would be able to go home with our children. At 11:59 the visas were slid under the window and we had them in our hands.

We were crying great tears of joy. So much so that the Ethiopian guard in the room asked if something was wrong.

God’s hand has been on our adoption process the whole way through. When Satan made this last minute attack, God said no way, this is my plan in my time and you lose.

All 7 of us (our complete family) were on the 10:15 flight that night. After 34 hours of travel we arrived back at our home, exhausted but joyful at the work God did.

Thank you so much for praying.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

God worked a miracle.

God worked an awesome miracle - providing the information needed to substantiate our children's orphan status 20 minutes before the Consulate Office was scheduled to close on Friday. At 11:59 (Office closed at noon) Ayana and Siqare's visas were in our hands and we were good to go. As of 7:00 Saturday night we were back home in Illinois with everyone.

I will flesh out the AMAZING story of how it happened soon. Jet lag has set in and I can barely keep my eyes open. While our ending for our forever family worked out, our ending with our agency has not been so good. It was the agencies fault that we were originally denied our visas and only because of 2 employees in the consulate were we able to finalize the adoption in time. Again, details will follow soon.

Just want to thank everyone for their prayers. God made his work so clear in our entire journey. The visa timing was his final stamp. Our trip home was extremely smooth - considering there were 7 of us traveling for 34 hours. All of our children are tired, but doing well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

From wonderful to horrible

For those that haven't heard yet, we were denied visas for Ayana and Siquare yesterday. 5 families went before us and all returned joyful and excited. We were the last adoptive family to have our interview and half way through were told that our children - who are legally ours according to Ethiopian law - cannot be given visas because they don't fit the U.S.'s definition of orphan - 1 or fewer parents living. When I asked what we were suppose to do, the supervisor simply said "I don't know. I'm sorry." Thankfully we had some other families from our agency there to help us and support us. Our BFAS agency rep didn't think it was any big deal. We accompanied our new friends to where they were staying. They helped us figure out who to start contacting and let us use their international cell phone. After contacting family and friends and asking for prayer we called our home agency, our House Representative, our BFAS director, who responded initially with "What are we going to do?" And finally I talked to the State Department. From all of the info I can tell, it looks like they should be considered orphaned. We are just hoping that the additional paperwork makes it to the embassy right when they open and that they will move it forward quickly - in time to make our 10:15 flight this evening.

Plan B . . .

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We're here and it's wonderful

Well, we made it. 26 hours of travel including one very long flight and we made it. Travel was very smooth - everything on time. The service on Ethiopian air was fabulous. Eating at all the wrong times and not sleeping much at all was hard on everyone - but overall we couldn't have asked for anything much better.

We are staying at an incredible guest house - Ethiopian Guest Home. We are the only family staying there - the food is very good - our driver and translator are wonderful. It is a Christian ministry that runs the guest home. The profits go to supporting a street orphan ministry.

Monday morning we met Ayana and Siquare. Both are beautiful and a great blessing. Siquare is the opposite of how she was described. Not shy at all. She was running the show when we got there. Very verbal and already picking up a lot of English - Thank you, mommy has already been heard. She calls me Baba.

Ayana is a little more reserved - his real personality is pretty boisterous. But, he isn't completely sure of the situation. He is incredibly bright. His language skills are great and is already speaking a little English - knows all the English alphabet and can write the letters really well. He laughs at us whenever we try to say their word for something.

This trip has been wonderful so far-challenging but wonderful. Sleep is a little hard to come by - many dogs barking throughout the night - the roosters take over when the dogs are done - there is a night club around the corner from our house - and their mosque chanting at all hours. But, when your exhausted you usually fall asleep eventually.

We had pizza last night. All enjoyed it including A & S. Ayana laughed when we had our driver tell him that we have pizza almost every week.

Health wise A & S are doing pretty well. Insides are not completely fixed yet, but otherwise they look good and have great energy.

Thanks so much for your prayers. They have been felt so strongly on this trip. Val didn't take any dramamine and was fine during the entire flight over. So far, everyone's health has been good. The transition with A & S has been very good - also, we were able to take them with us the first day with no problem from our agency - wasn't a tough decision when we saw the conditions they were living under. It was sad to see them say good bye to their friends and their nannies - lots of tears to go around.

We are looking forward to returning home soon. Wow! Can't believe we are now a family of seven. Looking at them at the table - it looks so normal - Ayana falls just a little behind Cameron in age and size - and then there's the baby.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our musical was a success and tomorrow we leave for Ethiopia

Just some pics of our musical. Caitlin, Caleb, and Cameron were all in it. Caitlin and Caleb had speaking parts. The musical came together really well. All the kids did a great job.

Our last post was 23 days ago. It has been a whirlwind of activity sense then. Just finished putting most of the final things in bags - 10 checked, 5 carry-on. We are hoping the clothes we are bringing for Ayana and Siquare fit.

Everyone is exhausted, but very excited. Can't wait to load up tomorrow and head to the airport. A little over 48 hours and we get to meet Ayana and Sikuare. Wow!

We will try to update our blog as we go. Don't know how easy it will be to get internet access.

Thanks soooo much for all of your support and prayers. It has certainly been felt and seen in so many ways.