Life with 4 kids 6 and under. Our trip to pick up Tonito in China is: mid-March 2008 through April 12. Our trips to pick up Ricky in Ethiopia are in June and August of 2010.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 7: WE MEET OUR SON!!!!

This was one of the busiest days we had in Ethiopia, and as I am uploading the pictures and writing this entry, I cannot believe everything we did today! In addition to learning a lot about Awassa, we also met our beautiful son, and some of the important people in his life-- We met Engida without even planning to do so!!!!! More about that later... We visited the orphanage, the fish market, a tiny town near Awassa, and some natural hot springs. Let me start from the beginning and try to remember all of the details. We woke up early and had breakfast with the other WACAP families, who were getting ready to leave back to Addis. The menu was varied: oatmeal, oats with butter (like a drier oatmeal), french toast, regular toast, eggs in many different way, etc. Once we finished, we met up with Yoseph for our last little tour- this time, of the Awassa fish market.

Check out these marabous! Look at the one's neck- selfishly eating all of the fish guts.

When you arrive at the fish market, lots of kids come up and ask you if you'd like them to feed the marabous. They gather the fish guts from the cleaning tables, and toss them to the birds for people who are interested in taking pictures of the huge beasts. These birds were bigger than Maya, and reminded me of the storks that bring babies in cartoons- they surely could carry a toddler!

We bought some local crafts- some hippo teeth (I'm not sure if they really are, but I can tell you that hippos are not endangered) and some cow-horn spoons that I decided wouldn't be used as spoons but maybe as a decoration.

Women were selling freshly baked bread, raw fish with chiles, and some fish broth.
We also saw some monkeys! Click on pics to see the cute primates en grande.

The fishermen leave around 5am to collect their nets, which they had placed in the previous evening in the best spots on the lake. When they come back, they dump, clean, and sell their fish, and then set to repairing their nets and washing out their boats.

After the fish market, we said good-bye to our beloved Yoseph- we will miss him SO much! We made plans to meet up in Addis for dinner when we get back. We had met the orphanage director, Girma, at the hotel in the morning, and told him that we were the new parents of a little boy in his orphanage named Engida. "Oh, Engida is so special!" he said many times throughout the day. "He is happy, funny, playful.. We all love him so much... Do you want to meet him?" YES we said, of course we do!!! He told us to come knock on his door when we were ready to meet Engida. After the fishmarket, we were giddy at the thought of this unplanned, early visit to meet our son. My muscles were twitching as we excitedly knocked on his corrugated metal door across the street from our hotel, and waited for him to come and answer while peering into his front vegetable and fruit garden. Girma did not know that there were WACAP families coming, and he was absolutely shocked that we found him. It was hard to make him understand that this was a planned trip, except that we had arrived one day earlier than the other families. Because he hadn't been told yet that other families were coming, he kept saying over and over "this is not our plan, this is God's plan." We tried to tell him that it really was the plan, but he insisted that it was a miracle that we arrived randomly in Awassa, exactly where our son was living, and randomly found the orphanage director, etc. We finally just went with the "this is destiny" idea and everyone was happier:).

He came out of his house, and we all took a little taxi together. When I say little, I mean a 3 wheel, cute taxi with small curtains for doors. If you go to Awassa, you have to use their tiny taxis- cheap and tipici. If you are more adventurous, you can use the donkey-cart-turned taxi, which I really wanted to do but didn't have the opportunity. We saw a lot of construction, people selling things on the street, the St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Cathedral (the largest in SNNPR), and a billboard campaigning for the prime minister Meles Zenawi (whose symbol is the honeybee= hard-working). We saw a lot of bikes, and bike "repair shops," which were mostly teenagers working on the side of the road fixing or rebuilding bikes while you waited, many times sitting on crates drinking coffee. The houses were very mixed income- we saw huge mansions with walls of windows facing the lake, and smaller mud huts with corrugated metal roofs. Most, if not all, of the houses were enclosed by fences that were frequently topped by chards of glass or metal to deter intruders (reminiscent of Latin American neighborhoods). I must say that this threat is almost nonexistant, as Awassa is a very safe town and we never felt threatened even by pickpocketers.
So we finally made our way to Ajuuja orphanage, which is on a grassy, quiet street. Turning onto the street, my heart began to pound and I wondered if anyone else in the car could hear it. The walled compound is cheerfully painted, and seems newer than the surrounding areas. When Ato Girma rang the doorbell, the door was opened and answered by Askala, who we later found out was the home manager. After a quick exchange in Amharic, with glances and gestures toward us, a little praising of God about the whole miracle that we were here, Askala gasped and held her cheeks, saying something to Girma. He translated "It is a miracle that you found us. We are so happy to meet you- we love Engida- he is so special!" I couldn't have asked for a nicer welcome:). We were invited inside, and made our way through the courtyard, down an outdoor corridor and into the office.
We were told that Engida is a "powerful" and "energetic" boy, who stays with the older children instead of those his age... hmmmm:). I can read into that as well as you can!:) We were told that he enjoys playing soccer with a group of boys who are 4-6 (who he also shares a bedroom with). When he first came into the office he was quite shy, and we used the old "candy bribe" to have him come over to us.
He was very, very scared of us and didn't want to be pushed to hug or kiss us and I completely agree with him- we are strangers that look weird and talk funny! It was not a happy time for him and he was not comfortable at all. Poor little guy:(. We didn't push it the first day, but were so excited to meet him and see him in person. His picture has been hanging on our fridge for months, and it was amazing to gaze into those big brown eyes. We saw his bedroom and the impeccable (if sparse) "playroom."
The orphanage staff lined up and motioned for us to get int he line, and had him shake hands and kiss all of their cheeks. He obediently greeted everyone, including us and our driver Yoseph-

I think he was less scared of Yoseph. I don't think dying my hair or getting a tan would help, although I was contemplating it at this point. It's the parental instinct do do anything to alleviate the pain in our children... Girma has been going to many local churches to try to encourage domestic adoptions. However, after 6 years of advocating locally, he has not seen even one child adopted by a local family. He hopes that attitudes are starting to change, and I do too. Ato Girma told us that he is amazed at American's willingness to adopt from a country so far away.. and he is in awe that Americans cry when meeting their kids for the first time. He says the children are so blessed to be welcomed into families who feel such love for them... I think it is really the families who are so blessed to be chosen as parents of these wonderful children.

Poor little guy! At a mere 3 years old, kids do not have the communicative ability to vocalize how they are feeling, nor even the cognitive ability to process such a dramatic transition. I imagine that he will experience feelings of being kidnapped, although he obviously doesn't know what kidnapped means. It's just the feeling of losing everything you know in your world that makes you comfortable: language, food, smells, where you sleep, your caregiver's love, your friends, what you play with, where you sit, your schedule, your clothes, your "normal," your reality. As adoptive parents, we can try our best to emulate certain aspects- but honestly when you look at the list of losses, even our bests efforts will only minimally imitate his world. I wish we could take away the suffering, but there will be a grieving process, and as his mom I will be grieving his losses with him.
The children were all sitting perfectly quietly in the corridor, while the nannies were cleaning the compound- we had dropped in unexpectedly and today was cleaning day. I was absolutely amazed at how well-behaved the kids were.. but then this is what they must do every week. At one point, Engida had lollypop all over his face, and his huge eyelashes were sticking to his eyelids. The nannies took him to the bathroom to wash his face, and a little boy sat in his chair. He came back, looked at the boy, and grunted something. Immediately the boy moved over: hehe, apparently he was telling him to move out of his chair! We (including all of the nannies) were laughing. It was a telling moment and possibly a window into his personality? At least he is assertive- a necessary survival skill when living in an orphanage with many other children. I asked if he was bossy, and the nannies said "No, that is his good friend!" I actually met (on-line) the family who is adopting his little friend, and I hope to keep in touch with them:).

The cooks (different women- not nannies) were sitting on the ground in the courtyard drying chiles and making berbere. We found out that Engida likes spicy food! He will get along well with my boys:). We learned a little about the orphanage, and were impressed with the care the children receive, even with limited resources. There is a full-time nurse, and a part-time doctor who manage the health of the children. There are many nannies, and each bedroom has a particular nanny who is in charge of those children. They sleep on the floor (literally, they showed us the straw mats they use) in their assigned rooms. My face must have shown my shock about the sleeping on the floor bit, and Ato Girma explained "It's so when they have to go to the bathroom, or if they need a glass of water, the nanny is right there to help them." So sweet! My fears of Engida crying out at night and his cries being unaswered were immediately alleviated. Recently, the orphanage directors from Awassa were all summoned to a meeting to assess the care and address issues related to regularions and standards. Ajuuja was rewarded for its high standard in caring for the children, something that Girma was quite proud of (as he should be) and mentioned more than once (even showing us pictures of himself at the meeting). Ajuuja has to turn away children due to lack of resources, and hopes to work with WACAP to be able to expand their services and take in more children in need. Girma was very proud that they have saved so many lives, and told us stories of several children who arrived severely malnourished that were then rehabilitated and currently healthy. He showed us the infant's "wing" (2 bedrooms with 4-5 cribs each) that is constantly disinfected- people should not enter with shoes on, and no older children are allowed inside. Each room has a rocking chair and the nanny also sleeps in the floor in her assigned room. She wakes several times a night to change a diaper or feed someone a bottle. There is a lot of love in this orphanage, and the nannies are really attached to the children!!! (and vice versa) There is a tiny twin (21 days old) whose sister (I think it is a girl) is in the hospital, but getting healthy. Another little 6 month old baby with the biggest smile in the world was sitting up in her crib playing with the one set of baby toys that is shared among the babes. There are lots of blankets to keep everyone warm when it is "cold" at night (60s). Askala was a gracious host, and kept looking at us and smiling. She is the home manager, responsible for food, controlling sanitation, and managing the nannies. She is so nice and her warm smile made us feel so welcome. She told us that Engida likes to come into her office while she is doing paperwork, and snuggle with her- I believe she really loves him and will miss him tremendously. We get the feeling that he is a favorite of hers.

When we got back to the hotel, we got to see some monkeys. Girma lives right next door (to the right) of this house. The black and white monkey is a Colobus monkey, and the other brown/grey monkey we were told "is a normal monkey-" because I guess some monkeys are so prevalent they are like squirrels:).

We stayed with Ato Girma the whole day, and got a very extensive tour of Awassa and the surrounding area. Here is a van, whose cargo is chat (the local, legal hallucinogenic drug that people chew, sometimes to avoid feeling hunger pangs).

Beautiful Awassa: corn fields, false bananas, coffee plants... People use the false banana plants to make quoitcho (see the post on the Dorze village for pictures and quoitcho explanation). People in this area sometimes make corn injera, which is sweeter, drier, and does not last as long as teff injera. The Sidama families are not as used to injera, and do not have access to teff. According to Girma, 90% only use corn/false banana to make different breads.

This is 5 minutes from our hotel, really just on the outskirts of town. There are 2 main cross streets in town, and beyond this concentrated business area you are immediately in the countryside. You can see the typical house made of false banana-

More of the same area. Awassa had a lot of construction (like most places we have visited). There were huge government offices outside of the city that had recently been constructed. People outside of Awassa farm false banana and use the enset for their houses. Most children in orphanages are Sidama or are from Awassa town.

Many people use natural plants (often times cacti or eucalyptus) as fences to create a boundary around their land, or even to create corrals for their cattle. Very effective!
The smaller neighborhoods have common grazing areas. (this is the word he used to describe these tiny villages that were in the surrounding land near Awassa. I wouldn't personally call them neighborhoods because they seem like tiny villages....). So we were told that anyone could bring their animals here to graze during the day, and kids also used the green pastures to play soccer:). This field also serves as a resevoir as it floods in the rainy season.

Here are some local kids, very curious about our cameras. They had fun taking pictures of each other and looking at themselves in the images on the screen. Check out the little dude's hair style in the front row. Stylin'!

There are over 85 languages in SNNPR, which Girma calls "Southern Nations and Nationalities."The population of the Sidama people is 5 million, and the SNNPR is 16 million. Apparently the Sidama want their own region- they reason that Tigray only has 4 million people, and they got their own region, so it is only fair that Sidama separate from SNNPR and get their own region as well. Sidama is the most dese region of SNNPR and according to Girma there is no land left for people- all the land is taken by families. The problem is that when you have children, you divide up your land, and then when they have children, they divide up their land, and now each parcel is so small it cannot support the number of people living on it.
Here in Awassa they speak a mixture of languages, but mainly Amharic and Sidaminya. We drove around a lot of different "neighborhoods" of the Sidama people. From what I understand, Sidama refers to the region and the people, and Sidaminya refers to the language spoken. I may be wrong though because I was given different answers by different people! If you drink as much coffee as my parents and siblings you probably know that Ethiopian coffee is quite famous. Although the legend of coffee says that it originated in Kaffa, coffee from Sidama region is known in Ethiopia to be the most delicious (told to us by people living in said region:). The coffee from this area is directly sent to Addis to be exchanged in the commodity exchange, exported to many countries, and sold at most multinational companies' chain stores (ie Starbucks, etc).

We met some people important to Engida and found out that he was first named "Wosincho," which is Sidaminya for "guest." When he came to the orphanage, they translated his name to Amharic (Engida). We decided to use his original name as his middle name, and will name him Ricardo Wosincho.

We passed through different "woredas," which are kind-of like districts or mini-regions. We passed through Shebedino and Wondoganas among others. Kids were carrying bundles of chat on their heads, chewing on sugar cane, women wearing scarves were carrying goods to and from the market, donkey taxis filled with people and driven by little kids were bustling by. In corn fields we would pass little look-out towers where kids were on patrol looking for animals stealing their crops. People used false banana leaves to wrap up food, chat, firewood, etc.

Lots of ping-pong tables set up outside for teenagers (mostly boys?) and foos ball tables.

Look through the window at the mount of table tennis games going on!

We drove for about an hour outside of Awassa..

and finally arrived at the natural hot springs. There are pools built around the hot springs, and also a cold river. They have showers fed by the hot waters- when I say showers, I mean a pipe of boiling hot water with various holes creating a row of spouts for people to stand under. There was a section for men (full of men in bathing suits and underwear) and a section for women (empty). I decided to go with the flow, and NOT swim, since I would have been the only female. Girma and Tonio took hot showers (Tonio in his jean shorts) and Tonio said that the water was literally almost boiling.
On the way back to Awassa, we took a different route and crossed into the Oromia region- land of the Oromo people (the Oromo comprise 1/3 of Ethiopia population). We were on a slick paved road, driving very fast, in the rain, with non-functioning seatbelts, with people crossing the highway in front of us, cattle, goats, and donkeys. Tonio's knuckles were quite white grabbing the seat in front of us and flinching every no and then. I decided not to look out the front window and had an enjoyable ride looking out my window and ignoring the dangers ahead of us. Ignorance is bliss:). The radio was blasting as the Amharic announcer detailed the Uruguay v. Korea game, and at every commercial break we jammed to Shakira's ubiquitous Waka Waka song. It was a great day!! Engida, sweetheart, we are learning as much as we can about your beautiful region and country!!


Anonymous said...

We love the pictures and tales from your Ethiopian adventure! We can't wait to meet the newest member of our family! Ricky will surely be loved by all! Love, Mom

Zoe said...

What a sweet boy! And so great to read and see pictures of Awassa.

MRK said...

I continue to be so impressed and so happy that you are blogging all of the details of your amazing journey. We heard the same thing you did, by the way - that Sidamigna refers to the language (I believe "migna" refers to language). We have also been reading that we should only use the term Sidama, not Sidamo. Here is more info:

Can't wait to hear more about your trip and about your return trip!


Jennifer said...

Thank you for this amazing account of your travels and meeting your son. My son was also in Ajuja over a year ago, and I am pleased to have some pictures to share with him. We visited Awassa also, but didn't visit Ajuja, so your account has been so helpful for me!
Jennifer in Asheville

Anonymous said...

> On the way back to Awassa, we took a different route and crossed into the Oromia region- land of the Oromo people (which is 3/4 of Ethiopia)

Nice blog but Oromos comprise about 35% of Ethiopia's population (not 75%). You can get the 1994 census (32%) at the CIA's World Factbook:

Vive...rie...ama said...

Thank you so much anonymous!!! I went back and read my notes and you are totally right- I had "1/3 people" written down, but I thought the p was a 4 and the 1 was a scratch hehe, bumpy road and I was blogging at 2am. Thank you so much for catching it and I am changing the entry:).

Theresa said...

Your account of visiting Awassa is wonderful! I adopted a Sidama boy named Engida last year! We met him in Ethiopia, though, and didn't get to travel to the south. Your descriptions and photos have been priceless. Thank you!

hollysue said...

It is so good to read your blog! I know this was written a year ago, but our little 2 month old baby is at Ajuuja right now and we are awaiting a court date that we probably won't get until after court closure. My biggest prayer is that our little baby's nanny is just loving him to pieces. I feel so encouraged after reading about your experience at Ajuuja!