Day by Day in Addis


We arrived in Addis around 8:30 pm and we literally zipped through customs.  As soon as we were off the plane we got in line for our “in-counrty” visas.  They were about $20/person regardless of the visa type. Next we walked up to customs and the man barely looked at us as he stamped our papers.  We were through. Our bags were waiting for us and everything made it through without question.  Another family was charged a tax on shoes they were bringing for donation and another was missing a whole suitcase.

Our driver, who works for AAI, was there to meet us and another couple that was on our flight.  Unfortunately, they were stuck in lines.  We finally arrived at the Ritmo guest house around 11:30. My head hit the pillow and I was out until I heard the call to prayer coming from a nearby mosque at around 5 am.  It wasn’t as loud as I expected and I went right back to sleep.

The Ritmo Guesthouse

The Ritmo’s main house has 5 guest bedrooms.  The outbuilding has 2 other rooms.  It is a two-story, gated guest house with friendly guards and employees.  I really liked that it was just a short walk away from the orphanage. There are signs upon the walls warning about and explaining what to do when water and power outages happen.  Because outages will happen.  The downstairs bathroom lock didn’t work.  I was beginning to feel like I was back at home in China.


Day 1 with our Kids

I woke up and wrote this in my journal. “In less than two hours we will meet K and J and life will never be the same again.  I can’t wait!”

When we first saw K, she ran up to us so fast we couldn’t get a good picture.  I’m ok with that because the memory is forever etched in my mind.  She may be a little on the quiet side, but she is full of personality.

We spent the morning hanging out with K while we watched J cry if we looked at him too long.  K loved being in my arms.  Sitting or standing, it didn’t matter to her.  I received dozens of kisses and beautiful smiles all throughout the morning.  It wasn’t just me either.  K showered David with affection, too.  If she was on his lap, she wanted his arms tight around her.

When K’s class came outside, she suddenly became very possessive of us.  She told several of her classmates they couldn’t sit on my lap because I was her mommy.  She would wrap her legs around behind mine and lock them in place just to make sure no one else could share my lap.

Every child in J’s class (18 mo-3 yrs) ran up to us immediately calling, “Mommy, mommy.”  Every child in J’s class was fighting to sit in our lap or be held in our arms.  Every child except J, that is.  He screamed if we tried to go near him.

His nannies were urging him and we finally bribed him with cookies.  Whatever it takes, right? Later on, he fell asleep in my arms.  (Something the nannies were not too happy about.  Those kids all sleep, eat, play, and poop together.) I wouldn’t say he was content, just exhausted from trying to run away from us.

We gave K a pair of sunglasses, which were a huge hit.  She wanted her picture taken with her in her glasses and me wearing mine.

We realized pretty quick that K’s class of 4 and 5 year olds knew how to work the system.   Everyone wanted K’s glasses and they all had a plan to get them.  One boy helped K with her counting and as payment he got the glasses for about 3 minutes.  When K finally had possession of the glasses again, she traded them to a friend for a pretty bracelet.  The kids had even worked out a system of sign language that they used to communicate across the table.  The glasses were precious bartering material.  We watched them leave K’s hand and return again all through out the week.  Even the older kids found ways to wear them.

One word was repeated continually at the orphanage, “Mommy.”  The have seen so many APs (adoptive parents) come and go.  If they wanted to get my attention or David’s they would yell, “hey, Mommy!”  One little boy in K’s class walked up to David and asked, “My mommy?”  David shook his head and said, “No, K’s mommy.”  So sad.

We were bombarded by kids that wanted to be held, played with, and just loved. In the baby room, two babies lay content on the floor as long as I sat with one hand gently touching each one.  The moment I moved, they cried.  I’ve always believed adoption is a wonderful thing.  Just one day with all these kids has made me aware of how much it is needed.

David and I had lunch with K’s class.  They were eating their traditional food, injera with wat.  Spongy, sourdough bread (injera) is spread on the plate and then spicy stews (wat) are placed on top.  They eat this with their hands.  The kids had wat all over their fingers and faces, some even had it on their arms.  I really like the taste and texture of the food, but it is messy.  I was glad K sat beside me instead of in my lap like she wanted.  We ate the same food in a traditional restaurant that very same night.  At the end of the meal, the waiters came by with water pitchers, soap, and towels so each person could clean up from their messy meal.


Day 2 with our Kids

When we arrived at Layla, the orphanage, K’s class was having a pretend tea-party on the grass.  They were cutting up flowers and making “injera.”  The kids all thought is was funny when the teacher poured the “tea” and “ate” the injera.  From all that I’ve read and heard, pretending is something that has to be taught to kids from developing countries.


J’s class was outside as well.  David went over to help blow up some balloons.  J walked right up to him.  He wanted a balloon even if it meant getting close to “Baba” (Ethiopian name for daddy).  He started playing peek-a-boo with me, too.  Too bad my camera was with David who had gone with K to her class.


It was a little difficult to visit both J and K as much as we wanted. J wasn’t real comfortable with us and K didn’t have anything to do when we were hanging out in the toddler area.  K really seemed to need us more at the time.

Our four girls at home drew pictures and wrote letters to K.  K loved sitting on my lap and looking at her treasures.  We read them over and over and over again.  We named and pointed at the people in the pictures we had given K over and over and (well you get the idea).  K was beginning to recognize her sisters by name and face.

I sat in on K’s English class and I didn’t understand anything the teacher was instructing them to do. I mean it, I was totally lost. I have no idea what the teacher was trying to teach them.  I’m not too worried about it though, my kids seem to understand me just fine. 🙂 She has school until noon each day and the classes are broken up nicely.  20 minutes of reading, 30 minutes Amharic language, 25 minutes of music, PE, English, and Math are some of the other subjects that get rotated in the schedule.


Institutional living has many hazards.  The constant drip of noses, diarrhea, lice, ringworm, and more is common.  The nannies keep rolls of toilet paper handy and are constantly wiping noses.  I always carry tissues with me and I gave two to K, one for each pocket.  It was like a treasure to her.  All day long, she kept taking out the tissue and tearing off a small piece to use and carefully folding what remained and placing it back in her pocket.  She was very proud of her tissues.

I took her sunglasses with me when I left yesterday, by K’s request.  Of course, they were the first thing she asked for when we arrived.  She wanted to wear the glasses, but sometimes they just got in the way. We showed her how to wear them up on top of her head and she loved it!  Her cute little hair puffs kept the glasses “locked” in place.

The best time for us to communicate with J was during their potty time.  He felt pretty safe that we weren’t going to pick him up and carry him off during that time.  He was right.  🙂  But I did get lots of smiles and even got to sing some funny kid songs while they all sat there captivated.

K and her friends sang for me today.  They sang, “If you’re happy and  you know it” in both English and Amharic.  The ABC song, which was super cute. “A, B, C, D, E, F-uh, G…” They also sang some songs that I didn’t know.

When it was time to say good-bye, K burst into tears.  It is so hard to leave her when she is so sad.  We made sure that she knew our schedule, but still the tears came.  I am so ready to take her home with me.

Day 3

I woke up sick.  I mean I was really sick.  I was either in the bathroom or in bed all day.  David went to see K and J and then he had dinner with our friends who live in Addis.  The other families were so sweet.  They gave me medicine and prayed for me.  I am so thankful that the other families traveling thought to bring strong medicine/antibiotics.

There were 6 families staying at the Ritmo with us and I think 5 other families scattered nearby.  It was a busy week in Ethiopia for our agency.  Several families heard the judge say, “This is now your child.” Others were missing papers.  Some families were picking up their kids.  One of K’s classmates and his brother are with their parents in the room next to mine.

Day 4

I woke up feeling pretty tired, but at least water was staying put when I drank it.  That was quite an achievement.

We met the judge today, unfortunately we were missing a paper from the MOWA office so we knew we wouldn’t “pass” this time.  She asked:

1)Do you have other children at home?  How do they feel about the adoption?

2)Will you teach your child about Ethiopian history and culture?

3)Have you taken any classes on international adoption?

4)Are you prepared to get help for you or your child if the need arises?

5)Do you realize that these children will be forever yours; it is irrevocable?

6)Have you met K and J and do you want to adopt these children?

Then she said, “Thank you for your time,” and we left.  The whole thing took about 5 minutes.

Later in the afternoon, we went to see K and J.  There was a going away party for some kids whose parents were picking them up.  The kids gathered and sang songs and had a special cake.


Afterwards, we sat in the courtyard and I was “attacked” by kids wanting to braid my hair.  Those kids can braid.  Even the boys joined in.  And some of those braids were so tiny, it was hard to get them out.  Of course the sticky fingers from candy and cake probably worked better than any hair gel on the market.


K is still crying when we say goodbye.  I dread leaving her on Monday.  Amharic is her second language and so I’m sure she doesn’t fully understand all that is happening around her.  And she is quite young.  Just turned 4.

Once, while I was holding her in my arms, she looked up at me with those great, big, brown eyes and said, “America?”  I smiled and asked, “Do you want to go to America?”  She nodded and squeezed me tighter.  Oh, how I love this precious girl.

Yesterday papers arrived for one of K’s friends, F, stating that her father was alive and he wanted F back.  This is not common at all. The waiting family for this little girl had been on the same long journey with us.  F had been like a sister to K since last March.  My heart aches for the waiting family that had already met this precious, little girl.  They had dreamed about her, prepared for her, and the end seemed so close.  I hope F’s father loves her and really desires to be reunited with her.

What ifs have started popping back up in my mind since F left.  Hence my prayer,  “Lord, I need your peace in my life right now.  You are in control.  You created K and J and You love them more than I do.”

Day 5

It was a great day with K and J.  As soon as we entered the compound, the kids starting calling out to K.  She came running up to me and wouldn’t let go.  I held her for almost an hour before we went to get J.

He wasn’t very happy to see us, but he didn’t scream as loud or as long.  David carried J away from the nannies, while K clung to me.  When we were out of sight, I took J, which only calmed him a little.

I am so thankful for the ladies who work at Layla and for the older kids who live there.  They all kept speaking reassuring words to J and telling him that I was his mommy.

One older girl, maybe 13 or 14, held J, quieted him down and then handed him back to me.  He immediately started crying, again.  The girl wrapped her arms around J and me as she whispered gently to him.  He calmed right down.  She moved away; he started crying, again. She returned as many times as needed but with less embrace each time.  Finally, she walked away and he was fine.

We found a rather flat basketball and played a rolling game with K and J.  For more than 30 minutes, we played and they giggled.  It was the first time we were able to just play with them.

We thought it would be a good thing to return J in a good mood.  We kissed him goodbye and told the nannies we would return tomorrow.  As soon as J was out of my arms, K jumped in them.  She held on tight for the next 15 minutes until we had to say goodbye. It breaks my heart to say goodbye to her.  She is still in tears every day.  I’m dreading Monday.

Day 6

Today I just felt worn out.  For whatever reason, K has become distant, and almost antagonistic, towards David. J still won’t go to David willingly. Actually, J only comes willingly to me when he is trying to escape David.

K is the one I worry about, though.  What is going on in her mind?

I tried to read a book to K’s class.  Within 30 seconds of me starting, 15 kids were gathered around pointing and shouting at the pictures.  It was useless.  There was no way we were actually going to read that book.  The kids had fun anyway, just had to change my plan.  🙂

Day 7, Saying Goodbye

We had a good morning with both J and K.  We watched K’s class (along with the other kids) do their morning pledge.  We hung out with K while we waited for J’s class to finish group potty time.  We took K to her class so we could spend some one-on-one time with J.

His class went outside to play.  As usual, he wanted nothing to do with us, at first.  His nanny started throwing a ball with him and then gave the ball to me. He was up on a little platform which must have given him some security.  He looked right at me and threw me the ball.   As long as I threw the ball from where I was and didn’t get too close, he was fine playing with me.

David started playing ball with him next.  At first, J would look at David and deliberately throw the ball as far away from David as possible.  To the side, behind him, but not to David.  Trust me, J knew what he was doing.  That little stinker was determined not to play with David.  Eventually, David won out or maybe J just got tired of fighting the inevitable.

At last, all seemed to be going well.  J even ran up to David with arms outstretched wanting the ball.  That’s when David made his big mistake.  He touched J on the head.  Just a gentle, affectionate touch.  J immediately stopped smiling, put his hand on his head, looked up at David, and started crying ~ really loud crying.  That was the end of that game.

We had some great moments with K as well.  She wasn’t as clingy.  She actually got off of my lap to play with her friends and then ran back to me.

I had my hair braided, again.  I started carrying a scarf with me, so I could at least look somewhat presentable when we left Layla.

I played a copy-cat/follow the leader game with the girls in K’s class.  They were so cute.  I would run in place saying, “Run, run, run.”  They copied my words and my actions.  When I ran out of ideas, I said, “What next?”  And seven little girls echoed back, “What next?”

K sang “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” to me.  She kept getting the words mixed up and was sometimes switching to the ABC song, which has the same tune.   So cute.  She really loves music. She will fit right in with the rest of us.



After their naps, we visited for a short time and said our goodbyes.  It was sad for me.  We had one of the social workers explain to K that we were going to America, but we would return soon to take her and J home with us.  The social worker also translated the letters the girls had written K.  She just smiled and smiled as the social worker read them aloud.

Every day K had cried when it was time to say goodbye.  All week I had been dreading the last goodbye.  It was the first time K did not cry.  It made it easier for me.  J was probably relieved that we were going.  🙂

The trip home

All international flights leave Addis at night.  Our flight was scheduled for 11pm.  I think we finally got off the ground around midnight. The computers were down and they were having to check everyone in by hand.

Thankfully with our air miles we were flying business/first class, so we got to rest in the lounge.  Osama Bin Laden had just been killed and all the tvs in the lounge were warning Americans to not travel anywhere internationally.  There we sat surrounded by muslims in a lounge with tvs blaring about how the whole muslim world was upset with Americans.  Of course, that is the time David decided to start a discussion on the war on terror.  AAGGHH!

If this seems like the rantings of a sleep-deprived woman, rest assured, it is.

We arrived in Frankfurt late.  The plane to Munich was late getting in.  We took off from Frankfurt (heading to Munich) at the same time our flight from Munich (to Charlotte) was boarding.  It took us almost 2 hours to find another flight to get us home.  Air miles is a great way to travel, but there were several flights we couldn’t transfer to because we didn’t purchase our tickets.  Good thing Germany has really, strong coffee.

So. . . we left Munich and flew to Chicago where we spent the night.  We had to be up before 4 am to catch the shuttle back to the airport the next morning.  From Chicago to Memphis, from Memphis to Jackson (where we had to run to our gate as they were in the final boarding stages), and arriving in Jackson we discovered that our luggage was missing.

We still had a 2 hour drive back to my parents house, but at least we had slept some in Chicago. (David blames me for keeping him awake.  But really it wasn’t my fault that the lights over our bed mysteriously came on during the middle of the night and I  mistakingly thought it was a weird alarm system.)

If this had all taken place in the same time zone, say Central time, we left Addis at 4 pm on Monday (but we had been awake since 10 pm Sunday).  We got to my parent’s house Wednesday at noon.

By the way, we did receive our luggage the following day.  Delta does home delivery. 🙂

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