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.