Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ethiopia Day 4 and Coming Home

I haven't written an "Ethiopia Day 4" hurts too much. I couldn't face the pain.....couldn't handle forming the hurt into words. 
I spent my last day in Ethiopia with Natalie at the Transition Home. She was moody and I was trying not to be, but it was hard. We both knew the inevitable was going to happen.....I was going to get in a car and drive off without her. And leave the country. And not see her again for who knows how long. 
For at least two hours, Natalie sat in my lap. We didn't talk. She just walked over to me and crawled into my lap and I just held her. Other kids came over and played and chattered around us but we were on a tiny island, surrounded by the ocean of our pain. 
I don't really feel like elaborating on the rest of the day......we spent more time with the little boy who sings (Natalie made sure I said good bye to him :)) and then we watched all the videos in my phone again, and I taught her how to make rainbow loom bracelets (Z is SO proud of her). 
Funny side note about the rainbow loom: Natalie is JUST like me. So independent. So Type A. She wanted to figure out the rainbow loom by HERSELF and when it didn't work out/look right, she was not happy. But she still didn't want help. I waited till she was ready, and then I showed her one more time. She tried again, and kept taking it apart until it looked perfect. SO. MY. CHILD. 
When driver arrived, we walked out to the car. After what happened Wednesday, I expected her to break down but she is TOUGH. She held out her hand to do Levi's secret (which isn't really a secret anymore, I guess! ;)) handshake. Then she stood silently, shoulders straight, staring at me. I started crying. She was trying to be SO strong.......correction, she IS so strong.......and she just watched. No emotion. No tears. 
And that hurt worse than anything. Because my baby's heart was breaking and she had no one to comfort she was being strong for herself and locking her hurt away. 
I was sobbing at that point. I signed, "I PROMISE I will come back for you. I PROMISE!!!!!" She nodded, once. I climbed into the car and she turned away. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest, slowly killing me.  
She turned around......and I saw a river of tears streaming down her beautiful, stoic face. 
I reached for her and she ran over to the window. I handed her my headband, one she loved, and she gave me one short nod, and then turned and walked quickly away. She didn't turn around again. And I left my heart there, in the 
The shell of what was left of me went through the motions of the rest of the day. Pick up some Amharic worship music for Z. Pack. Go to the airport. Get through customs. Get on my plane. Travel for 30 hours. Just like when we left Levi and Z, I didn't do anything on the 18 hour flight from Addis to Dulles. I just sat there. I couldn't eat, couldn't stand. I didn't get up from my seat once. I felt like the life had been drained out of me and I was just trying not to drown in the pain. 18 hours of just trying to BREATHE and not lose myself to hysteria. 
After 30 hours, I finally got back to our home airport. I was dying to hug Abe and the kids.....and when I came around corner, I saw them (and Aaron!) waiting for me, with HUGE signs saying, "Welcome Home, Mom," and 'WE LOVE YOU!!!!".....just as if I was coming home with Natalie and they were the welcome home groupies. It was AMAZING. I felt SO loved, so special. They made it seem like I was a hero....and I ran the terminal to them. Z jumped into my arms.........and started crying her eyes out. Abe and Levi engulfed me in HUGE hugs. It was the best homecoming ever. 
When we all got back to the house, I got another surprise. They had cleaned the house till it was sparkling, and decorated it with streamers, tons of Valentine's paper hearts, and Happy Birthday balloons. It was beautiful. And it eased some of the pain in my aching heart. I am so grateful to have two children here to love on and hug when I am hurting for Natalie. That makes it a little easier than last time. And they UNDERSTAND me. We have all been on the other side. We have all waited on forever, experienced the intense pain of separation, and they GET me. They don't mind that I cry, that I squeeze them one hundred times a day, that sometimes my hurt can't be comforted. And I love them all the more for it. I am so blessed by my precious family. 
Update as of yesterday: my agency called me three times yesterday. We were submitted to court on Monday, but because we haven't started our PAIR process, we WILL fail. I was given the go-ahead to fill out our PAIR paperwork. I spent five hours yesterday, organizing 62 pieces of paperwork. I'm waiting on one more, which was promised to me for today, and then I will be mailing all of it to USCIS. 
I was quoted an 8 month minimum until we travel for court. At which point, I broke down in tears again yesterday. But now I am refusing to believe that. I am refusing to believe that God will allow Natalie to sit there, all alone and isolated, by herself, for 8 more months. 
I'm believing in miracles. And I've seen them so many times before. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ethiopia Day 3

It's pouring rain here in Addis. The sky was heavy with stormy clouds all day and then around 5:30pm, the heavens opened. I've never seen anything quite like it, even when we were here in August at the start of the rainy season in 2012. In ten minutes, 1/3 of the roads were impassable because they were flooded with water up to the van's hubcaps. And not just pools of water. Rushing FLOODS. I was out with a driver and I tried to take pictures but my phone was dead. 

Today was good, but super emotional. Natalie was good; as silly as ever and we took a thousand more photos. I wish I could post them. She copies everything she sees Levi and Z doing in pictures and videos. It's beyond adorable. 

Side note. This girl is SASSY. She is her mama's daughter. #scaryandcool

Today, Natalie experienced music, for what I think was the first time. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. She's been begging me to bring headphones, because I have SO many videos of Levi with headphones and the iPad. I had little tiny earbuds that I brought today and she almost lost her mind with excitement. 

Her very first song was "50 Ways to Say Goodbye." Her second was, "Loca," by Shakira. Both have excellent bass. ;)

The look on her face the moment she first felt the music is indescribable. She closed her eyes and pressed the headphones right to her ears and pure joy and happiness and REALIZATION was all over her face. Then she picked up her hands and started signing her own song to the music. Just like Levi. 

She was on beat, had rhythm, and was signing her song. Then she started dancing in her seat. 

The girl has moves like Levi. And she loves music just like him. 

I ALMOST cried. It was the coolest thing this week. 

When the music stopped she turned to me and said, "Mom, MOM! Again!!!!!!!!! Why did it stop?!?!?!??" 

We ran my battery into the ground. 

Some parts of today hurt. 

This afternoon, I saw a child that I will never forget. I remember him from our last two trips. I love him. 

He's a little younger than Z. He has the most beautiful dark brown eyes, wide, and rimmed with thick, curled lashes.....but they are vacant in his precious face. I know he sees, because he navigates everywhere without bumping into things, even moving objects/people, but his eyes show no recognition of anyone or anything. He's not deaf, but he doesn't physically respond to sound. He CAN follow simple directions. He spends his days wandering around singing. The same song, over and over and over. Two lines.

He is so beautiful. 

I asked for him and they brought him to me. I knelt and touched him gently, so he would know I was there. Even though I knew he COULD see me, he doesn't appear to, and I didn't want to startle him. He grabbed me, and felt my face all over, with his tiny, grubby hands. Then he kissed me. Once, twice, three times. I hugged him tightly and he put his arms around my neck and his head on my shoulder. And stayed there. I rocked him. I told him I loved him. I told him he was beautiful. 

After awhile, I wanted to sit instead of kneeling in the gravel. But the moment I moved the slightest, he would grab my arm and pull it snug around him. I tried a couple times and then gave up and just hugged him in the red dirt. Sometimes he would touch my face, singing softly, and then he would kiss me again. 

I held him until they took him away for lunch. He reached for me when they led him away and I cried for the ten thousandth time on this trip. 

The rest of the day I spent in various places. Always hugging kids. It's all I want to do here. I ended up crying so hard near the end that my driver tried to comfort me by taking me to get buna (BOO-nah.... coffee). We drank caramel macchiatos in the van and listened to the rain beat on the roof of the car (and some Fiddler's Wage!), and I finally stopped crying. 

These hard moments are gifts too. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ethiopia Day 2

This post isn't very fun. And I'm tired so it's not well written. But it's truth. 

So let's be candid. I LOVE Ethiopia. I love being here. I love the gift that is this trip. I'm getting time to myself, the ability to sleep in (anything after 3am is 'sleeping in' to me!), and the freedom of being responsible for only myself. But now, I'd also like to review some other facts. Not to complain, but just to give you a fuller picture of what it's like here right now. 

I'm sick. In a foreign country. Alone. Luckily today is MUCH better. Because of my allergies, I've changed my diet to 6 Luna bars a day and 3 bottles of water. I wasn't violently ill today. Thank you God, for the inventors of Lemon Zest Luna bars. You are blessed among food inventors. 

I pack tissues in my purse because toilets (and bathrooms for that matter) are not always available. 

Yesterday I didn't go to the bathroom from 7am-5pm.....because there WAS no bathroom. 

My room smells like a sewer because in ET, you don't flush your toilet paper. It goes in a little basket. But it's summer now. My room is HOT.  And my bathroom already smelled like something died in it. Now it's worse, because of used toilet paper. And I can't open the window because there are no screens. And I don't need a malaria-filled mosquitos visiting me either. 

There IS warm water here but I've yet to experience it. Cold showers it is. I'm so thankful to HAVE a shower though, that I almost don't notice this. 

All night you hear three things. Chanting (from prayers), till roughly 3am, club music (yes, that's right) and dogs barking. Luckily I love music. The chanting doesn't bother me. The dogs do, but I'm a person who could sleep standing up half the time, so I can ignore the barking for the most part. I do wonder what makes them all howl all night.....?

All day I am in close contact with people who are sick or have other hygiene challenges. Lice. Other unknown bugs. Tuberculosis. Malaria. I'm hugging, kissing, holding these people. (Not all if this is at the TH.) Sharing their food. I wish I could say I was selfless and didn't think twice before eating something questionable or hugging a child crawling in lice. I wish I could say I picked that little child up and snuggled her to my chest, resting my head on hers without another thought. But I didn't. She reached for me, pleading with big, lonely eyes, and I picked her up without hesitation but when she went to snuggle me, I thought, "No, God please, not lice......" and then I thought, ashamed, "Marissa, shut up and GET OVER IT! This kid needs a hug and you can get a lice treatment at home. All she'll ever get is her head shaved." And so I held her as close as I could. We snuggled and I rocked her. Precious, precious child. 

Yesterday was rough because I spent a couple of hours in the baby room playing with some 1-2 year olds. When I finally went to leave, two of the babies toddled after me, crying. I knelt down and hugged them, but they knew I was still leaving and clung to me, sobbing. I kissed their little tear-stained faces and hugged them close. When I tried to put them down, they screamed. The nannies had to come pry them off and yet another part of my heart was broken off and left in that little baby room. Today, when those babies saw me, one ran to the window and slammed on it till I looked at her. She grinned at me and blew me a kiss. The other baby stared at me and then hid her face. She didn't look at me the rest of the day. 

I think one of my favorite parts about each day here is when all the kids are called for lunch (parents aren't typically allowed, although I was invited today but turned it down because I don't feel like getting sick from my allergies) and I'm left alone on the TH porch. There is an old, rickety couch and the last two days I just lie down on it and stare up at the sky and the leaves waving in the breeze. I don't think. I don't do anything. I just lie there and enjoy the quiet. The peace. The guards are humming and shaving their faces with straight razors. The nannies are or two under a free with an old radio and music playing. The babies are sleeping. The older kids are quiet, because talking during meals isn't allowed. It's so warm. So peaceful. 

Today when Natalie came back, she wanted to play. Meaning, she wanted to act out scenarios. So today, I was pulled over, given a ticket, and thrown in jail. Then later, I was the policeman, and she stole my bag and I chased her down. Then she wanted to arrest me again. 

Later, when we were playing UNO and a dot game, she asked me when we were leaving. I reminded her that I was leaving Friday, and then all four of us would come back and then have to leave again and then Z and I would come back and get her. She went stone-faced. "Mom leave Friday?" she signed. "Yes....." I told her, and she flipped away from me and started taking off. I grabbed her and turned her see tears pouring down her cheeks. I held out my arms and she ran into them. We sat on the couch and I pulled her into my lap like a little baby. And we cried. It was so painful. Her little hurt voice was almost more than I could stand. I held her like that for an hour and then she wrapped her arms around me, kissed me, and snuggled down next to me. I held her for another hour. No talking. No playing. No sleeping. Just sitting together. 

When the other kids came back, we painted all the girls' nails. They especially loved my sparkly silver one. Nat put four coats of three different colors on me, turning me into a goopy mess. There's fingernail polish on my nails, my hands, my shirt. The nannies joined in the fun and pretty soon everyone was sporting silver or midnight blue polish. I had brought a bunch of crafting twisty fuzzy sticks (honestly, there is a simple that name I just can't think of and it's driving me nuts.....then again it's midnight so maybe by tomorrow I will have remembered it) and I passed them all out and everyone made fun designs. Glasses, rings, earrings. OMG, PIPE CLEANERS!!! Hahah that's what they are called. :) Anyway, we made some awesome creations with them. 

I did all my photos and videos for other families today. It was so fun....I love seeing the kids as their watch THEIR videos and kiss my phone repeatedly, trying to make contact through the little screen. Huge smiles, excited giggles. All day they followed me around pointing to my phone and saying, "My family???", wanting to watch their videos again and again. 

I found out today that Natalie hates limes. The nannies made her eat one (each child must have fruit) and the faces she made were epic. I got part of it on video but can't show it yet. It will be worth the wait though!!!!

Nat is SO smart. She picks up whatever I teach her really quickly. Signs, games, words. She's also a good helper. 

She was really affectionate today, snuggling me and holding my hand. She loves Eskimo kisses. And photos. She may have to go I to modeling because all she wants 24/7 is her picture taken. She made multiple videos for Abe and the kids too. Including a dancing one for Levi. 

I love her so much........she is an incredible child. It's a little scary to see how much our personalities are alike.....she is so stubborn, she knows what she wants, and she's a ham. So proud to call her my daughter, and I'm dying to bring her home!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ethiopia Day 1, Part 2

Ethiopia Day 1, Part 2

I'm sick. Sooooo sick. Possibly the lack of caffeine plus no real sleep, the intense altitude change and the adrenaline rushes. The fact that I have had to eat foods I'm allergic to and gluten (which I haven't had in 2 months). Possibly have traveler's too, right now. Feeling miserable. 

I got to the Bole airport and went through immigration for my visa with no problem. I got some money exchanged. I got my (very obviously mine) bags (zebra stripes for easy identification!). Then I went outside and waited for my driver. And waited. And waited. I waited until they said I had to leave. And then, being the adventurous and unafraid soul that I am, I walked around looking to hire a taxi. Unfortunately, no one knew where my guesthouse was and none of them spoke English. So of course I hired one of them anyway and off we went. We ended up getting super close but because of construction and the fact that I haven't been there in 16 months, I couldn't recognize the exact street. So we called the guesthouse on the driver's cell phone (he was so nice) and had a guard come to where we were and he showed us the way. We were seriously about an 1/8th of a mile away. 

I then had to call my original driver but he doesn't speak English so I just kept saying my name, the guesthouse, and the time. I ended up hanging up on the poor man because we just couldn't communicate. He showed up soon after and yelled at me (kindly) for not waiting for him (apparently my plane got in early and it was also thought that immigration would take longer). I got the typical, "You don't get in the car with strangers," tirade, as close as I can tell. But I could also tell he was secretly proud of me. ;)

We waited around two hours for the transition home to open. Then we drove (the bumpy roads and fumes did nothing to help how I was feeling) over to the TH (transition home). I saw someone bringing Natalie to doorway and shoved my phone into a kind fellow mommy's hand (thank you Stephanie!!!) and then stood in the doorway. A precious face came around the corner. She started running to me and I held out my arms (too sick to run haha). She wrapped her arms around my neck and didn't let go. One minute. Two? We stood there indefinitely. I loosened my arms and she squeezed tighter so I just held her and smoothed her hair. My precious girl. 

It's bedtime right now and I can't possibly describe everything that happened but here are the highlights:

-She kept writing on a piece of paper, "Mama, you are beautiful. I love you."

-She has a LOT of signs, ASL, Amharic, and home sign. She communicates excellently. Great at gesturing. Hysterical storyteller. She imitated Mia and I almost died. 

-She doesn't like when she asks about a sign and it's different than what she uses. And she doesn't like that I don't know the Amharic alphabet. I think she assumed I knew Amharic sign and she keeps spelling words with the Amharic ABC's and I'm clueless. I need Levi!!!!!

-She wants to be loved. She played with my hair, she held my hand, she laid in my lap. She kissed me goodbye. She told me she loves me. 

-She told me, "Mama NO fly away! We fly together! NO GO AWAY!!!" When I explained I would have to leave solo this time she got upset and demanded the rest of the day to know "How many????" days till she goes with me. She's still upset with me because all I could say was, "I don't know." Then she kept signing, "Later, laaaaaaaater, we fly together?" I tried to explain that next time all of us would come but we couldn't take her and then the last time, Z and I would come and then she would leave with us. She's not happy about it. She keeps demanding to leave on Friday with me and it's breaking my heart. 

-She knows what she wants and she's vocal (with signs) about it. She told me she wants me to bring a doll tomorrow. Thank goodness I brought one hahaha!

-Her laugh is the cutest thing ever. And it's pretty rare. She laughed twice yesterday: once when she saw Levi telling a funny story, once when she was playing with the babies and I tickled her. 

-She loves me, but she's definitely hesitant to trust me. 

-She is a HAM. A riot. A crazy girl, totally mine. She loves lipgloss and hair and shoes and kiss-faces. She'd be happy if we took pictures all day. She took a million yesterday and I spent an hour or so deleting all the bad ones. 

-I wasn't there 30 minutes before she handed me a comb and sat down to have her hair done. I totally impressed everyone by braiding her head in an hour. All the Ethiopian women and girls COULDN'T believe that I could braid, much less braid WELL. I got super popular from that. Then she showed them pictures of Z's hair (the kids were FLIPPING out with excitement about the different styles) and said, "Mom's gonna do cool designs like that on my head too when I go to America!" and all the kids were like, "You're SOOOO lucky!"

-She loves to help. And she's great with the little kids. 

-She doesn't like my nose ring. She and Levi can commiserate about that together. 

-She can spell a lot of English words! She is SO smart. 

-She tasted all my gronola and Luna bars, and crystal light and didn't like any of them. 

-She are about 20 pieces of gum? Hahahahah! ;) 

-She is addicted to Fruit Ninja. "Game" is the first new sign she learned because she kept asking where it was on my phone. She is SO adorable when she plays. My phone was COVERED in sticky fingerprints from 50 kids handling my phone and my battery went dead in about an hour or so from everyone playing Fruit Ninja and Talking Tom. 

-I got told by my driver and by multiple nannies that I was a wonderful mom. All the staff kept asking about "Tamiru and Hanna!!!!" and I showed so many videos and pictures and they were very satisfied. They kept saying, "You are so wonderful for *Natalie*!!! We are so happy that YOU are her family!"

I wish I could write more but my head is pounding. I love you all.

2/5/14, 7:11am my time, 11:11pm your time. I work up 30 minutes ago and I'm enjoying my GIFT. I'm lying in bed. Undisturbed. For as long as I want (or until 8:30am haha). My bed is sooooo comfortable. I woke up when I was ready (no alarm) and I have a good book and come iced tea (thank you, crystal light!) here with me. I'm reading a little notebook from Abe, which had a note to me for every step of the journey, and is locked with little stickers so I'm sure to only open them at each step. So romantic. <3

I get to take my time getting dressed and doing my makeup. And then I get to spend the day holding big kids and little kids, playing with them and just LOVING LIFE. 

P.S. I LOVE Ethiopia. I'm IN love with Ethiopia. 

Especially all the kids. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ethiopia Day 1, Part 1

In December 2012, I saw her face in a photo for the first time. 

On August 18th, 2013, I saw a video of her, and knew at that moment, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was my daughter. 

Today, February 3rd, 2014, I will meet her. It's 5:42am here in the middle of the African sky. I'm still on my plane, and we are preparing to land within an hour. It's been a 12 hour flight so far. I've been sleeping (uncomfortably) off and on the entire time, listening to my kids' favorite movies so that I feel closer to them. Despicable Me 2. Turbo. I feel a little silly, having them running, but I don't really care. 

I was lucky. I had an entire row to MYSELF. (What?!?!?!?!?) No sharing, no climbing over people to get to the bathroom. I had extra pillows. Extra leg room. Another gift. :)

I've just been spacing. Napping, playing with photography apps on my iPhone. Thinking. But not about her. I can't bear it. I've been focused on arriving in Addis. What I need to do. How to do it. Find the visa entry area. Get a visa. Go through customs. Get to the bank and exchange money. Pick up my bags. Find Abraham (my driver). Get to the guesthouse. Pack a bag for the Transition Home. Get Natalie's stuff. 

Meet Natalie. 

I've been avoiding thinking about her (because then the flight would be torturous with anticipation), but the minute the lights came on and the announcement that we would be landing soon was made, I started getting EXCITED. Crazy EXCITED. I remember how it felt to meet Levi and Z for the first time; how it felt to grab them in a huge hug and never let them go. And I'm dying go experience that with Natalie. That first moment, when everything is worth it and nothing else matters. 

Just a few more hours. 

12:36am U.S. time, 8:36am ET time. I just got to the guesthouse. My plane got in early and immigration was quick so my driver wasn't there for me. I waited a while and then, being the adventurer that I am, I hired my own taxi (who didn't know where the guesthouse was) and we found it together. 

Nat, I'm coming!!!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Gift

I've been given a gift. A huge one. I am going, unhindered and unencumbered, to Ethiopia, to see my daughter.

This whole week I've been a bit on edge, and nervous. Not about actually going, just about the fact that I AM going, and all the implications.....$$$, Abe's vacation time being used, being away from Levi and Z, and making it alive through the airports alone (if you know me, you know that I am beyond directionally challenged). People have had two reactions to the news of this trip: excitement, or worry. It's been a 50/50 breakdown. The whole traveling alone, navigating a foreign country with no interpreter or internet/cell phone service, and running some errands with random drivers seems to make people nervous. I don't know why....... ;) For the record, I am ALL about the challenge. :) My mom actually called me again this morning to tell me how nervous and worried she is, and then she said something that made me laugh. She said: "Remember when you and Leigh were biking home when you were little and those bullies (4 of them) knocked over your friend's lemonade stand and then stood in a line, blocking the road? And you plowed right through them and Leigh pedaled behind you? Remembering that makes me feel a lot better about you going alone."

I'd forgotten about that, but it made me grin. And I do remember it. I remember being so scared of those big, mean boys, but thinking, "I have to bluff and scare them by being BRAVE!" and I remember riding as hard as I could straight at them and smashing through their bike blockage. And they NEVER bothered us for the rest of our time living on that road.

Anyway, back to the trip. No, I'm not bluffing this time. I'm really NOT scared of this trip. :)

I've been so busy preparing to leave and trying to get everything in order though, that I haven't had a chance to think about the positives of this trip. I've been blinded by the cost, the daunting travel, and the need to take care of everything here. I have tunnel vision regarding the fact that we aren't going for court and embassy....this is a visit. Precious and cherished, but it won't help us get her home faster. And that saddens me. Beyond words. So for me, this trip has been viewed as amazing, and yet heartbreaking. I will be leaving my daughter TWICE now, before she gets home. It's horrible. And I've almost been dreading going, even though I am thrilled to go meet Natalie and show her how much we love her.

But today I realized that this trip is a gift. I am going to a place that I love. To a child that has my heart, and who I know is excited and eager to meet me. My little girl wants her mommy, and I get to fly in like Superwoman and be there for her. I get to go alone. I don't have to care for anyone but myself. I will be able to sleep. I will be able to do whatever I want. I am bringing BOOKS to read, for crying out loud! I haven't read a book for enjoyment since before college. And reading used to be a favorite activity.

I get to be the one going. Abe won't be there for those first precious moments as we are united as a family. For the tears of happiness. For the smiles that make the sun seem dim in comparison. For the trust that will be built and solidified. Abe has to stay here while I get the privilege of meeting our DAUGHTER. I feel so rotten going, when he can't be there with me to share those moments. And I feel torn between my family....half here, and half in Ethiopia.

I won't be tied down by a schedule or obligations from our agency. This is a trip arranged and paid for by time is mine. And I am thrilled to spend it as I choose.

I get to deliver pictures, videos, and letters for THREE children who are there with Natalie, waiting for their families, and I get to deliver pictures and letters FROM three children who were adopted and live in the U.S. TO their contacts in Ethiopia.

I will be on a flight, in the air, in 12 hours.

I can't wait. :)

P.S. If you haven't caught up on why I am going in the first place, read this: "Natalie Jasmine, I love you."

Thank you for your prayers. <3