I will interrupt the stories about our trip to Ethiopia to tell you a story about a cake...
Specifically, this Barbie Princess Birthday Cake that I made all by myself!
Lily's birthday was the day before our 2AM wake up for our flight to Ethiopia. So, of course, it was the perfect time to throw a pizza party for our family and close friends, and bake an elaborate Barbie Princess Birthday Cake.
I may have been a little bit crazy busy in April.
Back to the cake:
First, following some nice lady on YouTube's instructions, I baked a simple yellow cake in a bowl. Only my cake did not so much cook in the middle as turn to mush. Mush which I scooped out once the rest of the cake was near burnt done. And I have no idea what happened to the scoop of half baked yellow cake, except that I imagine it tasted pretty good eaten out of bowl with a hot cup of coffee. Just guessing...
I cut the round shaped bowl baked cake into a more round shape and place it on top of two more layers of cake, then started icing it.
And iced, and iced, and iced it. I think I used three batches of icing. I kind of lost track. There may have been some sweating, stressful, why the *&$% didn't I just order from a bakery, late night moments. Maybe.
But then it (she) started coming together, and I felt hopeful. It was starting to look a little bit Pinterest-y
There really are few problems that cannot be (temporarily) solved with gobs and gobs of pink icing.
I had a moment, when this beautiful hours of work and sweat and tears cake was on the table when I thought, nope, no! We are not cutting and eating this perfect piece of art. Let's just have ice cream instead.
But, obviously, I was brave and we ate it. And it was DELICIOUS! All 3 million calories.
In a moment of guilt over the fancy pants cake I was making for Lily, I came up with a (much, much simplier) fun idea for Daniel's birthday cupcakes.
We have a new background photo on our home computer, and it makes me smile and laugh a little bit whenever I see it. It's a group photo... two tall, very pale white people on one side, a brown couple on the other side and in the front a bunch of brown kids of various ages. All of us are wearing big goofy grins, like we just won the lottery or something.
And we did. Because that is a photo of our Ethiopia family, whom we saw on the second day of our trip to Ethiopia.
It is very difficult to write about our visit with our birth family for two reasons.
One, I hesitate to share too much about them or the story that led to the adoption of our children. They don't have the Internet, and while I'm sure our family photo has been shared all over their village, sharing it here seems like a huge leap of privacy invasion. The story that led to Daniel and Lily being relinquished for adoption is a sad one, and fairly typical of Ethiopian adoption stories. The only thing I will say is that our family has recovered from those tragedies, and they seem to be doing okay. Hopefully, our family is Ethiopia will remain intact, safe and healthy. Daniel and Lily are doing great, and there is no reason for us not to have contact with their first family. We have not discovered any of the frauds or abuses that have led to American adoptions closing down in Ethiopia.*
Two, I know that it is hard for non-adoptive families, or families with challenging adoption histories or difficult relationships with birth families to believe that we flew all the way to Ethiopia to see our children's first family for a few hours, and that everyone had the most wonderful, joyful time and it was great. That seems like too good to be true.
But it is true.
Here is a photo of Daniel with two of his brothers. Three boys, two languages, heading to lunch. Laughing, playing games, making silly noises and smiling, smiling, smiling...
We flew all the way to Ethiopia. (Part 1. Part 2.) We enjoyed a day at the pool and a early room service dinner. The next morning we woke up early, met our guide/translator and drove into the countryside.
It was a beautiful four hour drive. We stopped at a nice little hotel on the way for a coffee break. Conveniently, this hotel has the only Western style toilets in the area. I'm big fan, especially after using some non-western style bathrooms later that day. (French style, you might say. Hole in the ground campground style.)
Along the road we saw gorgeous mountains, small farms, lots of chickens and goats, small mosques, Churches, marketplaces, little villages and small towns, and a few very crowded taxis**.
We met our family at a local school. We arrived first and sat down on one side of a big table. Then our family walked in and saw us. Oh, the joy. We all could not stop smiling and laughing. They could not keep their eyes off Daniel and Lily. We gave them the small presents we'd brought: some t-shirts, some dresses, and a couple of toys. The children put the clothing on right away and clapped their happiness and thanks. Lily went to the other side of the table and sat with her big sister. Daniel went and sat in between his brothers. They remained inseparable for the rest of the day.
We talked briefly. Talking was very difficult, as everything had to be translated twice. First into Amharic by our guide, and then into the local dialect our family speaks by their translator/guide. We spent about 10 hilarious minutes trying to explain snow. Then we decided to go outside and play. And that was much better.
Here is Daniel playing soccer with his family. (The children in red are students at the school.) This is one of our favorite pictures.
The girls, sitting tightly together. I wish I could show you this sister's smile, she is so beautiful.
We ate a big lunch together at a local hotel. The kids devoured their Fanta and beef stew (beef tibs, a regional speciality). Lily did her best imitation of an ill behaved American child at a restaurant. Prayers and thanks and happiness and photos were shared.
And then it was time to go.
Daniel climbed into the van and said, "I already know what was the best part of the trip. Seeing my family."
The kids sat and watched out the back window for while, and then slept most of the long, long drive back to the hotel.
Imagine that through challenging and sad circumstances you were separated from people you love. Imagine you thought you would never see them again. Imagine that you did, by great good luck, see your loved ones again, after all the dust had cleared and the circumstances had changed. Four hours with them would seem a miracle - a gift of grace. That is what our visit felt like. There was no crying, because we were too joyful for tears. There was no confusion, because everyone knew that they were loved immensely. There was no recrimination, because we were all too filled with gratitude. And there was not much sorrow in parting, because our hearts were filled to the brim.
We are very lucky. I only hope we can visit again soon.
* We did see several European adoptive families will newly adopted infants. And we did visit our children's former care center/orphanage. That story is a whole other post.
** We got a lot of stares as we drove down the road, not only because we were two white people traveling with two brown children but because there were only 5 of us in the whole big van. Vans in Ethiopia typically hold about 25 people!
The thing I love best about Africa is the way it smells. Ohmygoodness, it is so delicious and wonderful. Not delicious the way a bakery smells, or the top of a baby's head. But wonderful and exciting and decidedly African. I remember walking out of the airport in Addis Ababa for the first time one morning three years ago and just being overwhelmed with happiness. Here I was, about to meet my children for the first time, and the air was fragrant with joy.
When you walk out of the airport in New York you get walloped by the stench of jet fuel, stale coffee and cigarettes. In my favorite corners of the city the smell is lovely- a mixture of grass and spring flowers, hot dogs, warm pretzels and brick. It smells old and full of history. But it will quickly become overpowered by a passing garbage truck or a dog being walked.
When you walk out of the airport in Addis the mountains are there before you in sunshine and it smells perfectly intensly African: dust and smoke and flowers.
We arrived this time early in the morning. It had just rained, so the air was clear and the flowers bright. Everything was blooming. The capital of Ethiopia- Addis Ababa - means, "New Flower." I imagine the name was chosen in April, when all the flowers are in bloom and the mountains are green with possibility.
The perfect smell of Ethiopia is created by two things: the smoke of burning trash, and an abundance of flowering trees caused by the almost year round sunshine. Ethiopia is a study in contrasts. I find it beautiful and challenging. I can understand that some people find it challenging and distressing.
Here are the shacks made of corrugated tin, discarded building materials and mud. Here are the satellite dishes on the roofs.
Here is the path, rutted and filled with waste. Here is the carefully and brightly painted gate to someone's home.
Here is the sky scraper, glinting in the sun. Here are the donkeys, loaded with wares for the market.
Here is the sunshine, the mountains, the running clouds. Here is the sky clogged with dust from construction projects, burning trash and car exhaust.
Here is the goat, tied to the roof of a taxi. He will be an Easter feast tonight. Here is the homeless man, wounded and desperate. Here is the young boy, selling small painted trays in the dirt. Here are the women in the marketplace carefully making small neat piles of onions and garlic to sell. Here is the tiny unlit shack selling bread and stew. Here is the sink propped up on cement blocks outside to wash your hands in. Here is the coffee, brewed over open coals, served in a tiny chipped cup. Here is the tea stall, set up under a broken tarp. The table is a plastic box. The chairs are stones. Here is the hot cup of tea and the fragrant roll, fresh.
Everything, everything all mixed up together. Beauty and tragedy and history and future.
As you fly into the Addis Ababa airport you will see the rusted remains of older airplanes sitting in the overgrown grass in the center of the runway. Ethiopian airways is one of the most highly regarded airlines in Africa. Addis is a hub for most of Northern and Eastern Africa. They just opened up direct routes to China. They have beautiful, shiny new jets. But why clear out the old rusted relics? They are there too.
Yes! We went to Ethiopia, and we returned, sun burnt and happy and exhausted, on Easter. And since then we have been battling jet lag and have returned to school/work/regular life and I've been struggling with matching my socks and keeping my eyes open past 7:30PM. Jet lag is no joke. It really does me in.
But, I think I'm okay now. It's 8:05 PM and I don't have an overwhelming desire to close my eyes, so here we go...
One reason I haven't written about our trip is that I don't know where to begin.
So I'll begin, at the beginning....
The night before our trip Daniel was too excited to sleep. We had dressed the kids in their traveling clothes and explained that we'd be waking them up in the middle of the night to go to the airport. We tucked them into to bed and anxiously re-checked and triple checked our luggage and our paperwork and the house. (I live in terror of arriving home after a long trip and realizing I'd forgotten to turn off the toaster or take the garbage out.) Lily fell right to sleep, but Daniel was tossing and turning and asking every few minutes if it was time to go yet.
I lay down next to him in his little bed. I said, "I'm too excited to sleep... are you okay?"
He said, "yeah, I'm just excited."
I can not imagine what must have been going through his mind... but he had neither the temperament nor the maturity to express it. He was about to get on a plane to return to the country he'd left 3 years before. In just a few days he would see the Ethiopian family he hadn't seen in 4 years. His life had changed so, so much in those 4 years...
Lots of folks have asked if I was nervous about taking the kids back, about them seeing their first family. I would say, I'd never been more sure of anything. I was as sure that our trip was going to be great for our kids and for our family as I was sure that adopting these two tiny people was a good idea. Really, really sure. *
But still, it took a long while for Daniel and I to fall asleep. And just like that, it was 2:30AM and we needed to get up and drive to the airport for our early morning flight.
I thought the kids would sleep in the car and have to be carried into the airport. But no, they were chipper as little birds, and gamely walked (pulling suitcases no less!) through the dark parking lot and into the terminal. The sun rose as we sat in those horrible uncomfortable chairs and waited for our little jumper flight to DC. We ate breakfast in a DC terminal and whiled away the hours before our Ethiopian flight by walking up and down the long terminal hallway and paying too much for stuff at the shops. Then we and another hundred people filed into our teeny tiny little airplane seats and settled down for the looooooonnnng flight to Addis Ababa.
Since it was Easter week the plane was filled with Ethiopian families heading home to celebrate the holiday. It felt like a party bus. Babies crying, packs of little kids running up and down the aisles, people talking and laughing and getting refills of snacks and drinks.
12 hour flight. Nobody slept.
Lily watched Frozen about 4 times. Daniel watched some robot movie and played Minecraft til his eyes were red and blinky. I sat and had a long, mild panic attack about how nobody was sleeping. I kept tucking them in and putting blankets over them but it was no use. We were heading to Ethiopia, and we are all too excited to sleep.
Lily is wearing those cute yellow socks Ethiopia airlines gives out.