We started the morning with overtired kids. They were excited about seeing Wogene but still adjusting to the time change. We had breakfast at the hotel (decent buffet–the best thing about the breakfast is a double macchiato and the mango/pineapple juice–outstanding on both counts!) and then were at the orphanage by 9:00. Jones was all smiles again and it was nice to be coming this second time, already a miniscule amount of familiarity between all of us.
Thankfully we started the day outdoors. It was a beautiful morning and the kids went straight for the bubbles to share with him. He loved them! He was very methodical and deliberate about blowing his bubbles. He would follow the kid’s lead and try to catch them on his wand and was completely content for quite awhile.
As they were playing, I asked Solomon, the WACAP social worker from Addis, about his uncle and when we would meet with him that day. He told us he was already on the grounds and L realized he had been sitting nearby, watching the children play the entire time. He was sitting by the door, which is where one of the staff usually sits to guard the entrance, and L had just assumed that’s who he was. They brought him over to us and we were taken to an office nearby while the kids played outside. Teshome, the Awassa WACAP social worker, was our translator (his uncle speaks Sidama), and we had about a 20-minute visit with him. I won’t go into the details here about all of our conversation with him because I feel it should be kept private, but I will say that L and I both left with a deep appreciation for Jones’ family and who they are. Jones is loved tremendously by his remaining family and it was an extremely difficult decision to make an adoption plan for him. His uncle lit up when we told him we wanted to actively remain in contact with the family and he enthusiastically asked us to come and visit his village with Jones one day. There is no doubt that we will. No doubt at all. His uncle was so thankful that Jones had finally been matched with a family and would be given so many opportunities with us and of course, know the direct love of a family again. I was expecting it to be an awkward experience and it ended up feeling very natural sitting in the room with a complete stranger, about to take his nephew into my care for the rest of his life. Like I had our translator tell him, he (the uncle) is now our family too. We shared a tearful hug and embrace and had some photos made with him that we’ll send to him soon. I am honored to have met him and look forward to the day when we return to his village.
Buddy and Lou eventually started getting tired of the bubbles and wanted to show him something else, so Larry pumped up the soccer ball we brought and it was an instant hit for the rest of the day. He has a very strong kick for his age and isn’t afraid of the ball in the least! We said that if things are going well this fall with his transition, we’ll think about enrolling him in an AYSO team with L as his coach. I have a feeling that feeling included in extracurricular activities will be a good thing for him, as long as it’s kept to a minimum and is in an environment where he’s still with us constantly. We’ll see.
Buddy, Lou, L, and Jones all got in a circle and would kick the ball around. Buddy wanted to try out his “power kicks” so of course, Jones had to follow his big brother’s lead and do the same. Lou was about as clueless as they come with the soccer ball–she wanted to pick it up, place it down in front of her again, and then kick it, giggling the entire time. Funny how the ball stopped coming her way as frequently! She started getting a little upset when she figured out what was happening and stomped off complaining that no one would play with her. I had to chuckle at the first sibling tiff between the three of them!
Too soon, it was the children’s lunch hour and we were asked to leave and return in the afternoon. Luckily, Askale, the manager of the orphanage, invited us to come and watch the children say their prayer and see where they ate before we left. We were very excited to have this opportunity and when we walked into the room, they were all respectfully and quietly sitting, waiting to be served their lunch which was injera with some kind of wat and a cabbage stew–both looked awesome! They only have this extravagant of a meal one day a week–most days it’s either white rice or pasta with a bite or two of vegetables and powdered milk. They sweetly recited their prayer and started eating. Askale said something to them in Amharic and Jones and one of the other children whose parents were there to meet him stood up with bits of food. Jones walked to Buddy and fed him his and the other boy walked up to me. I wasn’t sure if he had meant to walk up to his adoptive mom so I sweetly declined his food, hoping he would go to her with it, but he just sat there looking confused. I felt so badly afterwards that I didn’t just eat it as this is a very traditional Ethiopian gestures–to serve someone a bite of food from your home straight into their mouth. Buddy said it was good but spicey which made the staff laugh out loud! I am thrilled that Jones is exposed a little to traditional Ethiopian food. He obviously likes the heat because it was clear that he was loving what he was eating! I can’t wait to start learning more of these recipes and trying to master injera for him (and Buddy, who has fallen in love with it as well as shiro on this trip!)
We came back to the hotel, had a quick bite to eat, and then met Askale and Teshome at the supermarket to go shopping with some of the donation money we received for food for the orphanage. All three families had full carts and we were so happy to be providing this to the orphanage. I think we were all hoping that we would be buying more fresh, healthy food than the standard fare that they always eat, but in the end, I was just thankful it was one less burden the orphanage’s staff has to worry about–having these future meals bought. THANK YOU again to our donors. The orphanage director wrote a very kind, handwritten letter that he gave to us when we left, thanking us immensely for the gift.
We returned and played soccer some more, blew bubbles, and Jones and I had our own private moment of playing with my camera which I loved. I showed him all the photos I took that day on the camera’s screen, and he would tell me his friend’s names when I came across the pictures I took of them. Oddly, he wouldn’t say his own name and I finally figured out why. He didn’t recognize himself. Finally, when we came across one full frontal shot of him, he looked at it closely and then pulled out his t-shirt, looked at it, and made the connection! It was kind of cute but really, it made me sad more than anything that he doesn’t even know what he looks like and how absolutely beautiful he is. I taught him how to point the camera at something and take a picture and so he took a photo of Larry video taping us.
The orphanage director, Ato Eyasu was introduced to us and he is a kind, humble, and deeply spiritual man. It’s hard not to like him as he clearly loves these children and only wants the best for them. He told us that he only works with US adoption agencies because he thinks as a whole, we are a very compassionate and caring country….and because we elected Obama! He offered a tour of the entire orphanage and we gladly took him up on his offer. I thought I was prepared emotionally for what I would see but I don’t think anything can truly prepare one for children being raised in a setting such as this. There were two rooms that had multiple cribs (eight total) with babies, age 0-12 months, in them. These babies were cared for by TWO women–yes, that’s at four infants to one nanny. These women deserve a very special place in Heaven. Two of the babies were brought to the orphanage when they were two days old and each weighed 1.5 kg. They are now 7 months old and look like newborns. Clearly it is a miracle they are even alive and it is a testament to the care they have received at Ajuuja. Some of the babies were sleeping and one even smiled at us. Precious little bundles, every single one of them. We toured the toddler area next which wasn’t quite as full and some of the nannies had a couple of them outside on a blanket playing. Next was Jones’ bedroom–6 beds (bunk beds). We took a photo of him sitting on his bed and with his nanny.
We toured the girl’s room next. I learned that it belonged to two older girls in the orphanage (one is 12 and I’m thinking the other looks around 8 or 9). For some reason, this particular room broke me. Dingy walls without a single decoration with the exception of some old stickers randomly placed next to one of the beds. No girly, fluffy comforters, no dolls or stuffed animals, no cute window treatments….basically the complete opposite of Lou’s room. The boy’s room didn’t bother me so much because I could imagine the six of them in their farting and giggling at night together, never caring that their room was so stark and plain, but for the girls, I hurt deeply. When I learned that one of these girls has been placed with a family, my excitement was quickly replaced with grief for the one left behind. I cry as I type thinking of her, as I saw the two of them, always together, all day long. I am asking tomorrow which one was adopted and which one wasn’t. I have to know–I don’t exactly know why I have to know and I know my thinking is so clouded with emotion this entire trip, but regardless, I need to know to become an advocate for her, in whatever form that takes. Anyone out there who has ever contemplated adoption, especially an older child, should consider whichever girl hasn’t been matched with a family. They are both exceptional.
We weren’t given a tour of the bathroom but I had to take Lou to use it after the tour. It broke my heart as much as the girl’s room. I had expected it to at least be semi clean but I guess with that many young children using it, it’s probably next to impossible to keep it that way.
Jones was with us for the entire tour and L and I alternated walking with him at various point. We both mentioned how sweaty his little hands were when you held them! I had noticed his sweaty feet when I took off his shoes to replace them with the new shoes we had brought him. Makes me laugh because my feet and hands are the same way!
When we finished the tour, we returned to the courtyard to play some more. Askale came out and gave Jones a granola bar, which was the only dinner he would receive. They had a big lunch so I imagine this is why this is all he was given, but it still made me hurt for all of these children so very much. He ate it in little bits–tearing off small pieces and eating it slowly. I didn’t even think to offer him some water after he ate it until about an hour later, and he chugged so much at one time. It made me feel like a bad mom for not thinking earlier that he was probably so thirsty after playing so hard and eating that dry bar. I will have to be more proactive in anticipating his needs–Buddy and Lou are so vocal about their needs, because they can be, obviously.
All of a sudden, it was early evening and I kept waiting for Solomon to tell us we had to leave but then I realized the other two sets of parents meeting their children were waiting on the birth family members to show up. They were both running behind but this ended up being beneficial to us because we got to spend about two extra hours with Jones! I kept noticing the orphanage’s other children across the courtyard, sitting and watching everything we were doing and asked Azalec if we could invite them over to play with us. I was thrilled when she said yes and called them over. It was like kids coming down the stairs at Christmas–they all came running over enthusiastically, incredibly excited about the sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and wind up toys we had brought for them to play with. L played soccer with a little boy we know is being adopted by another family in NC and he is absolutely adorable and so much fun to be with–you can just tell he’s a good kid. I have been in touch a lot with his adoptive mom and I feel like we are already friends, and I can’t wait to get our boys together here in the states! She and her husband will come for their court date later in July. I’m also thankful two of Jones’ friends will be at the WACAP house with him before L comes back to bring him home.
I started playing with the two girls in this group that I mentioned previously. Both are stunningly beautiful and so incredibly sweet. The younger girl was quite the artist, scrambling from spot to spot on the concrete to draw pictures and her name. She introduced herself in the best English I have heard spoken in our entire trip with a beaming smile. She was one of those kids that I’d say was “born on a sunny day.” Just a cheerful coutenance to her the entire day (I had been watching them earlier in the day as well, when they didn’t know I was looking on). She played soccer with some of the other kids and was so happy and energetic. The older girl was a little more reserved but just as willing to try and speak with me. She told me her name and smiled shyly and drew quietly with the chalk. Damn this language barrier! I am horrible at trying to communicate with people nonverbally but I tried to tell her that she was beautiful and I loved her drawings as best as I could. She seemed to understand and smiled so sweetly at me. She is tall and thin and has a humble, gentle strength about her. At one point in the evening, she and Lou were side by side, rubbing their chalk sticks into the ground to create a pile of dust that they would then pour bubble solution on to make a paste. They didn’t speak verbally but there was communication between them all the same. Lou told me today that she would love to have a sister one day too…..what is a family without sisters….huge sigh. I wish I could post the photos I have of them without risking our agency’s license so you could see just how much they light up a space. When the children were called to bed, I hugged them both tightly and had a vey difficult time fighting tears in their presence but they couldn’t be held back forever, just until later in the night when I was reflecting on the entire day.
We left the orphanage after dark around 8:30 and came back with two very tired children. They have been soooooo good this entire trip. We ordered room service and ate by candle light as the power went out for about 30 minutes. I was in a horrible funk when we got back to the hotel. As happy of an experience as this is, it still doesn’t take away how emotionally exhausting it all is on so many levels. More than anything, I end the day with excitement about Jones coming home, sensing even more that he’s exactly who is supposed to join our family and loving this time of getting to know each other, at least a little. But it doesn’t take away the sorrow I feel for the children we’re leaving behind and how much I want them to have their biggest dream come true as well. Everyone says their life is changed when they come to Ethiopia to meet their children and they see the country. I knew I wouldn’t understand what that meant until I came myself. I think if more people could experience first hand the lives these children lead versus the lives they deserve to lead, there would be a lot more adoptive families in this world. I am so thankful we’re joining the ranks.