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.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Getting Ready for Ethiopia!

Summer=swimming in the pool!!! We have had lots of playdates and playgroups in the pool, but even if it's just our family the kids love playing in the water until they are tan little raisins. I am amazed at the difference a couple of months can make! At the beginning of the summer, I would have to push Tonito down so he could "dive" and pick up toys at the bottom- now he looks like one of those Chinese pearl divers! He dives down and holds his breath so long as he sweeps the pool floor picking up rockets and toys. Vivi too can now dive to the bottom with her little goggles on. Such a difference from the little girl who was scared to get her face wet!

We visited the Blue Bell Creamery and saw how ice cream was made. Vivi decided to endure the stomachache and eat the ice cream she is allergic to (cow's milk). They loved seeing the big machines squirt the ice cream into the tubs... and the ice cream bars on the conveyor belts. "Do the workers get to eat any?" Yes! They are encouraged to eat as much as they want!

After the ice cream we ran around in the park for a while before heading home. The lazy days of summer!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My shower!

My Mom's Club had an enormous surprise for me- we were supposed to be meeting with kids at Whole Foods for breakfast. After I order some munchies for the kids, I walked over and saw all of my friends there! Normally we do not have such a large turnout, and I was so impressed that so many families had woken up so early. And then I saw the table filled with presents- it was a "baby" shower for Ricky!!! I couldn't have asked for a more perfect shower. Ricky now has lots of sets of adorable clothes, new pairs of shoes, a new soccer ball, and a fantastic globe (with a little "Welcome Home" over Texas) among other gifts. Someone gave us a gift certificate to get our family portrait done, a Target gift certificate, and a certificate for meals. I was so surprised I couldn't even formulate a proper thank you! I am so lucky to be a part of this group and to have such wonderful, generous friends. Thank you Moms!!!!

July: between Ethiopia trips!

July was a hot and sticky month, and we spent most of it in one pool or another. The big kids had swim team practice every morning, and then a swim meet or two every week. They turned out to be little fish! At the end of the year party, they each got a trophy and Vivi got the "most improved" award for her age group! Her and Tonito both had cut about a minute from their first time until the last meet. On the first meet, Tonito stopped to fix his goggles, swam back to his coach, and then across the pool. Then Vivi was a little nervous and stopped to wave and talk to me from the middle of the pool. Either way, by the end of the season they were swimming straight across the pool- a feat I didn't think I would see their first year in swim team!

We had playdates, went on bike rides (only in the early morning or evening!), had kung fu, and did some cooking. We tried to enjoy every minute possible before Ricky would come home.... I have been trying to prepare them for mommy needing to spend extra time with Ricky, for psosible tantrums, lashing out, fighting over toys.. They all say they understand, but we know that living it will be more challenging!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Missing Mommy and Papi

Thank you Christy for making this video with the kids!!!! They had so much fun!!!:)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Our last day: Merkato!

Our last day was a whirlwind: we decided to take a taxi to the Merkato. It is for sure the alrgest open air market in Ethiopia, and claims to be the largest in Africa (while our taxi driver insists it is the largest in the world). No matter who you believe, it is enormous and consists of thousands (literally) of open stalls and small shops that cover several square miles and sell everything. It isn't really open air, there are everything from people selling things on the streets, to stalls within shells of buildings, to large almost malls (or a very rough version of a mall) with vendors renting rooms/shops. It was so crowded when we went that cars couldn't really get through the streets due to throngs of people carrying their merchandise on their heads, in wheelbarrows, over poles on their shoulders, etc. The most outrageous thing I saw was a man with more than 35 thin mattresses balanced on his head (I was counting as fast as I could as he rushed by and got to 35 before he turned the corner. His floppy cushions seemed to be taller than the buildings hwe was passing. There was a lot of coffee, a block of spice vendors, a block of fabric vendors, furniture, clothing, cooking wares. When we parked, our taxi driver got us a local guide who would lead us to what we wanted to buy. The thing about the merkato is that it is so big, it's better to know more or less what you are looking for and then head for that huge section of the market. We had decided that we wanted a carved chair.
He first took us to some newer looking furniture: "No... older." o he brought us to a high end antique booth, where chairs were about $1000. "No.... cheaper." He finally found this little store that resembled a skinny hallway (I could stand sideways and touch the wooden antiques on both sides with my arms stretched out). "Perfect!" We loved everything in the store, and the owner wanted to know if we were interested in seeing more variety in the "warehouse." We agreed, of course, and followed some kids he grabbed. The 4-5 teenagers led us through winding streets, with our taxi driver and local guide following us- until we reached a neighborhood of mud houses and corrugated metal roofs, with woven grasses as fences. Kids played soccer and waved to us as we walked down a rocky hill past donkeys and clotheslines. Someone opened a metal gate and let us through a small yard where girls were braiding their hair. We went through another door farther into the compound and came to a small house. "Here's the warehouse!" As chickens cackled in the background, he creaked open a door and we saw at least 100 chairs stacked into a 10x10 room. The teens started bringing out chairs, all wooden, all carved from one piece, and Tonio and I would sit on them and try to see if a small child wouldn't tip them over (our only caveat). The whole situation was unreal. We finally found 2 that we liked, and the teenagers carried them over their heads as we weaved back to the original store in our unlikely parade. Getting back at the store, Tonio and the owner closed themselves in the closet in the back, and the negotiating went on and on and on, while I admired the wooden goods piled on the floor and hanging on the walls up to the ceiling. I was in a dark cave of treasures and the stalagmites were carved wooden crosses, stools, yard posts, chairs, and figures of Solomon and St. George. The incense of past coffee ceremonies had permeated the wood- this was the smell I would always associate with Ethiopia, and wold greet me when I opened my suitcase at home. Tonio finally emerged from the back room, almost sweaty with the excitement: we got a chair and a "house post" (a carved piece of wood waist high that would stand outside a house to tell who lived there). The teens conveniently were waiting outside with cardboard and tape to wrap up the chair, and then lead the parade to carry it to our taxi. I sat in the back seat with the chair on its side, squished against the door. As we drove back to TDS, Tonio and I wondered how we would be able to get the chair on the plane... The taxi driver overheard us and asked us if he could take us to the airport to make sure it would be OK to check the chair as checked baggage. YES! We drove to the airport, and he and Tonio lugged the awkward package inside. We finally found a woman who worked for Lufthansa, who told us it would be fine as 1 piece of checked bags. Since we had brought over 2 boxes of donations, we only had the 3 suitcases left to check- so the chair was given the OK! We wrapped it in saran wrap at the airport, and lugged it back to the taxi. For dinner, Yoseph met us at the hotel to watch the World Cup game and say our good-bye. It was so sad to leave Ethiopia, but we are SO excited to see the kids again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We miss you guys!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Exploring Addis Ababa part 2

We started off the day taking a taxi to the Hilton. Across the street from the Hilton, a little to the right, is the Ethiopian Mapping Authority ( This office has detailed maps of the entire country, including some smaller towns that cannot be found on other regional maps. We bought one that shows the area RickyEngida was born, and a great Ethiopian country map. After our map spree, we decided to walk around the city. Almost everywhere we go in Ethiopia we inevitably meet a self-appointed local guide who chats us up and decides to show us around with the unspoken (but well-earned) expectation for a tip. This picture below is actually near our hotel, a timber store that we dubbed Home Depot.

We walked with our guide towards the Menelik Mausoleum. Whenever I am in a new city, I like to go on long walks (or runs if possible) because you see so much more of the daily lives of its inhabitants- you get to hear the conversations, smell what's for lunch, and feel the energy of the pedestrians. Today we went through neighborhoods I never would have experienced without a local guide. Addis Ababa on foot looks so different than through the windows of a taxi.

Off the main paved roads, you will often see dirt roads leading to neighborhoods that are mainly residential. The picture on the right is a little shop that sells toilet paper. Then below are some street scenes, lots of fruit vendors...

If you look to the left, the building with the reddish roof is the Sheraton, owned by Sheik M. Hussein Al-Amoudi (a Saudi oil billionaire with an Ethiopian mother and Yemeni father). He owns a tall skyscraper that you can't see in this picture, but is to the left of the Sheraton- actually he owns a lot of businesses in Ethiopia.
Ironic juxtaposition of the corrugated metal neighborhoods (ie favelas) who overlook the luxurious Sheraton; the construction price of the former being less than the price per night of the latter.
This picture shows the skyscraper and Sheraton (owned by the Sheik) and their neighbors:
Walking to the Mausoleum. Visiting a church, the Ethiopian Orthodox women wear white shammas/netellas (and enter in a different door than the men).
Menelik Mausoleum is located on the grounds of Menelik's old palace, underneath Ba'etta Church (1911). Entering the octogonal church, you must take off your shoes. The incense and smoke fill the air, and there were groups of priests who looked as if they were preparing for a service. The stone ceilings were tall, and the walls were covered in beautiful paintings of both religious scenes and political leaders. Below is Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa in 1880.
There are carpet-lined hallways that surround the inner altar area (which is quite small). Every morning, the priests sit here facing each other in their special costumes to pray.
Notice the typical Ethiopian style faces with the rounds heads, almond eyes... beautiful.
Some scenes from inside the Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery Church. Tonio is sitting in Menelik's throne where he would pray. The ceiling murals show the Queen of Sheba meeting Solomon.

All of a sudden, a priest came and rolled back the carpet, and unlocked a door through the floor. The clanging metal echoed through the silent church and I wished my kids could have been there to creep through the secret trap door!

I wish I would have understood more of our guide, but from the 25% or so I captured, these are the tombs of Emperor Menelik II and his family: his wife, Empress Taitu and his daughter, Empress Zewditu. Menelik II was the emperor 1889 until he died 12 December 1913. He is known for "modernizing" Ethiopia by expanding roads, developing telecommunications, founding the first bank (Bank of Abyssinia), first mail service, and he was reigning when the Ethiopians beat the Italians at the Battle of Adwa.

This church was right across the courtyard:

We walked along Churchill Rd, and weaved in and out of neighborhoods. Here you can see them making injera-makers:
Playing the ubiquitous foosball:
Repairing bikes, making furniture:

The main streets were paved, the side streets were either dirt or stone:

Fruit vendors are everywhere, as are shoe shiners, gum vendors, and toothbrush vendors (which actually are a certain stick you can chew on).

The whole city seems to be under construction, and we heard that the population has doubled in the past 15 years (not sure if this is true?).

We went to Tamoco, a 1920's Italian cafe in the Piazza neighborhood, known for its excellent macchiatos:
hehe- click on the picture on the right to read the quote (Christy, that one is for you!:)

I love the map of Ethiopia that shows Sidama coffee! Here are some pictures of the Piazza- it isn't an actually piazza/plaza in the original sense of the word, but rather a bustling district with a lot of traffic (foot and car traffic). There's a large mall (behind Tonio in the picture) and lots of restaurants and hostel-type hotels. Right as we were walking through the Piazaa, a huge mosque let out what seemed like thousands of people, and it got really crowded.

A random goat herder, whose goats look for any weeds growing through the cracks of cement.
The tall building on the right is an elementary school:

Here is Holy Trinity Cathedral, founded by Menelik II- but this newer building wasn't completed until the 1940s under Haile Selassie. Holy Trinity is important because it is the highest ranking Orthodox church in Ethiopia, the seat of the archdiocese, and also has the tomb of Haile Selassie (among others). It is such a beautiful, massive church, everywhere you look there are stained glass windows, intricate carvings and historical and religious paintings telling stories that enrich your experience.

The priests were getting ready for a service, and as we were leaving we found out it was a funeral of an Ethiopian-American doctor.
Just for the record, my guide guilted me into taking the picture with the priest. I thought he was praying and I was trying to inconspicuously duck past him, and my guide made me sit down to take a picture. When I objected, he said "Don't you want to take a picture of a priest to show your new son?" The stained glass windows include original sin, Noah, Abraham/Sarah, St. George (patron saint of Ethiopia) etc.
We saw King Solomon (of Israel) greeting Queen of Sheba (called Makeda; her kingdom included Ethiopia) in Jerusalem. They had a son, Menelik I, and he came back and ruled Ethiopia around 950BC. Now supposedly (this is where it gets sticky, if it hasn't already) he went to visit Jerusalem and saw the Ark of the Covenant floating during prayer and decided to bring it back to Ethiopia. He, and 3000 Jerusalem priests brought it back and it is currently held in Axum at Our Lady Mary of Zion Church.
I finally found out why St. George is so popular in Ethiopia- he appeared to soliders during the battle of Ardua against the Italians, and helped them beat the Europeans. Ethiopians take great pride of being the only African country to not be colonized by Western forces, and some credit this to St. George.

This mural below is of Haile Selassie addressing the League of Nations and being mocked by the listeners. He was asking for help against the Italians, but the pre-UN didn't listen to him, respect him, or help him because they assumed Italy would colonize Ethiopia. Having this mural in the dome above the altar just shows how important their history is and how linked their church and state issues are.

When we were leaving, the funeral procession came up to the church, and circled the church a number of times. We were asked several times if we had heard of the famous Ethiopian-American pediatrician who had died (unfortunately we hadn't, and they were quite disappointed as she was "very famous").

We walked a long time taking in the sights, old Italian buildings, more restaurants and schools, lots of traffic. Finally we took a taxi home and ate dinner in front of the Ghana-Uruguay game (which went to penalties!!!). The crowd watching the game was going wild!