Saturday, December 23, 2006
The official name is the Ritmo Guest House, but since I don't know what Ritmo has to do with it, it is just the AAI guest house to me. I love it there, and I think that the guest house is part of the reason we had such a great time in Addis.
We have been on 3 adoption trips - 2 to China and the latest to Ethiopia - and I will take the guest house over 5 Star Chinese hotels any day. It is more like an older vacation rental house, but with the purpose of the trip and the location of the house relative to Layla House, it couldn't be more perfect.
The house consists of about 6 bedrooms of various sizes, which share community bathrooms except the big room that has its own.
Marta and I stayed in the "Blue Room", which you can probably guess about the name.
There is a community family room with TV, VCR, couch, table & chairs, laptop and board games. Great place to hang out, play games and relax.
There is also a small kitchen that is perfect for staying a week or more there. The fridge is stocked with bottled water, soda, eggs and whatever people before you have left behind. There is fresh bread, fruit and all the spices you can imagine.
We all ate breakfast at the guest house each day, and had machiattos delivered from the Merry Fam. They are ~ $0.12 each, and to die for, so you can't go wrong.
There are 3 or 4 restaurants within 2 blocks or so of the guest house, so food is easy and very cheap to get, and there are enough options for the kids to keep them happy. One new one is about a 10 minute walk up hill from the guest house at the Adams Pavilion. It is on about the 3rd floor, and the balcony looks back towards the guest house. Great food for ~$4 or less served on the patio/balcony, with fancier fare and higher prices inside. The doro tibs are worth the walk. On the first floor of Adams is a coffee shop like Starbucks, and on the 3rd is an office supply store with decent internet access.
Layla house is just a 5 minute walk away, so very easy to get back to visit friends, hang out with the kids, go for parties and field trips, and other events too.
The best reason to stay at the guest house? The people. No doubt about it. While we were there there were 4 other families, some for the entire week, others for a day or two. The sense of community was so much fun, and the support and break from us parents was surely welcomed by the kids.
We made up a pretty strange guest house I would think, with boys 17, 15, 13 & 5, and girls 13, 4 & ~8 months.
The kids had a great time with each other, were very helpful with the younger ones, and we were all able to hang out together, in small groups, or go our separate ways as we pleased. There were always others wanting to go to Layla with you, or to eat, so you felt like you were all in it together, which I really enjoyed.
I couldn't imagine being there and staying somewhere else. The convenience coupled with the closeness to other families and their kids is so much better than crisp sheets and room service. With a baby you have others to help, and a stove and kitchen which have to make the whole bottle thing much easier. With younger kids who may be difficult to communicate with there is the chance of older kids being there to help in EVERY way - these older kids are amazing with the younger ones. And with older kids they are close to get back to Layla and visit, and are such a delight for everyone to be around.
I am so thankful for the families who were with us at the guest house. So thank you Andrew, Alicia, Sarah, Rebekah & brother, Sandra, Rick and all of your amazing children.
Now that I have said all of that, I may not stay at the guest house next time. I have been invited to stay at the girls aunt's house when I return to bring Meklit home in a month or two, and will have to consider that.
Friday, December 22, 2006
After months of reading her words, and occasional emails back and forth with her about Marta, Layla, supplies, etc., she was my first hug (of hundreds) while in Ethiopia. It seemed like we were old friends being reunited when I saw her right away when I walked into Layla for the first time, and a hug seemed appropriate. Marta was the 2nd by the way.
As one of the more difficult weeks of Denise' stay in Layla comes to a close, she is the perfect subject for a post. If you read her posts, you know "the Comic", and he and his 4 siblings are headed home today to their forever home in Ohio. I know she is overjoyed that they have a family, but it is hard to be apart from these kids.
Also, if you have read Denise's words, you know that she loves the children of Layla House, and they love her dearly in return. My thanks to her, which have been many but certainly not enough have been mostly for loving our kids. She has been there with them since June, and leaves late in January. There are many other volunteers who deserve the same thanks and praise, and God willing there will be many more to come.
So again Denise, thank you and God bless you for your sacrificially giving heart.
Sometimes Blogger only lets you get a few loaded, so these are the rest of the Group 5 kids that I couldn't load back then.
These kids are also sweet, wonderful, etc.
Nobody could spend a week with these kids and not want to adopt an older child.
There are of course huge challenges when you mix the typical adoption trauma with the typical teen stuff.
But, beyond that stuff what emerges is these amazingly wonderful young people, who are such delight.
So my challenge to you is this - if you haven't already been, go to Addis and help out/hang out for a week, and spend some real time with Group 5 kids to see for yourself.
Just be ready to head back to bring home your new family member ~6 months later.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I have always loved Chinese culture, but after bringing our 2 kids home from China, I can't really say that I miss it, or want to go back to any of the places. It isn't that I didn't enjoy my visits there, but they were just trips to places, and extended stays in very plush hotels. We will go back some day to take Joy and Song to visit, but that is different.
But, big but, my feelings towards Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and Layla House in particular are very different. My feelings aren't really for the place, but for the people there, mostly the children. I absolutely fell head over heels in love with them all, and if I could go today I would.
So it isn't these buildings, or these staff people and volunteers who make me choke up, but it is the children they represent, the ones that live here and are cared for and loved by these people that make me respond to these pictures with such emotion. Everyone I saw and met - from the guards at the gate, to the gardener, to the cooks to the house mothers - were loving and wonderful to the kids.
This is one of the house mothers braiding Marta's hair in the midst of endless drying laundry on our last day in Addis.
Behind them is the cafeteria area where all the parties, dramas, singing, etc. take place.
Jamaal and Sarah at the guest house during our nightly hang out-share stories of the day. Sarah was with Alicia and her baby, and Jamaal picked us up at the airport, drove us to appointments, to the pool, and back to the airport to go home. He drives the kids everywhere, but does so much more for Layla, and the kids adore him.
And the bottom picture is of Nate, the infamous Denise and I at AHOPE. They did all the work so we could throw a pizza party for the AHOPE kids. After hours work for these guys is constant, but in the midst of the kids they make it all fun.
No discussion of Layla can happen without talking about them, and all of the other volunteers who go to love the kids. Fekerte was there while we were, but I didn't get a picture of her.
They all deserve such great praise and reward, but what could compare to the love of so many precious children.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
After we swam we went to the poolside cafe, and had 5 tables full of kids, pizza, french fries, Coca and Fanta. The boys were out of food in minutes, and the girls mainly talked, giggled, and then ate a little, so the boys got their left-overs too.
I took my camera around each table and got a picture of each kids while the rest made them smile and giggle, and then all wanted to see each picture after it was taken. They love to see each other on the camera.
They are all sweet,
fun to be around,
kind and loving,
and always wonderful kids.
I miss them so much, and can't wait to go back.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Tuesday was a big day. We hung out and played at the guest house, and Marta wasn't feeling well so she slept through lunch at the pizza place right around the corner. Meklit and I shared a fasting meat pizza, which means it was without cheese. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast meat products for about 2/3 of the year, so pizza menus there have one page of regular pizzas, and another of "fasting" pizza, that is cheese and meat free. Meklit and I got a fasting pizza, but added meat to it. The girls are Protestant, she just didn't want cheese. It was fine with me. The right company makes up for a lot of cheese.
After lunch all the families loaded up and headed for the US Embassy where we waited for a while, but left with US Visas for our kids. Meklit's will take longer to get, which is why I have to go back to get her later.
Marta still wasn't feeling well, hadn't eaten all day, and wanted to go back to the guest house and rest, but the van stopped at Layla, and everyone piled out. Her friends swarmed her, and the guest house was soon forgotten. Meklit was whisked away by Marta's friends, so I was on my own.
I hung out and talked to the kids, and then tried to find Marta to see how she felt, but couldn't find her. Tigist (one of Marta's friends) took me to the kitchen to find her, and she was back in the corner by the injera stoves with a plate of left over lunch the cooks had prepared for her. She told me to sit, so I joined her. We had a couple buckets to sit on, and shared a big plate of outstanding injera, green beans and meat wat that was very spicy. We had the place to ourselves, and I enjoyed one of my highlight meals while in Addis. A quiet, private meal shared with my daughter, with little said between us - I was in heaven.
We took Meklit back to her orphanage later that night after dinner. This was such a hard time. Poor little Meklit was tired and emotional and maybe a little confused, and she just broke down and sobbed. Leaving her that day was the worst, but after promises to see her tomorrow right after school, she calmed down, and then Marta and I went back to Layla for Tuesday night. Told you I'd get to it.
Tuesday night is Group 5 choir night, and if you are in Addis, it is well worth the time. With no adult interaction, the older kids lead singing the songs, and the prayers, and it was awesome. Marta played the top of the big chest of drawers like a drum set, the Group 5 kids led the songs, and all the other kids sat and sang their hearts out. What a beautiful sound to hear these kids singing bible songs as loud as they can.
After prayers, singing and closing prayers, we hung out for a while and I got to know some of the other kids better. You can't spend any time at Layla and not fall in love with bunches of kids. They are incredible.
One thing I noticed while we hung out was how well the new kids from the day before were integrated into the group. Two of these new kids who I got to know were a pair of sisters who are 11 & 8 and are just the biggest sweet hearts imaginable. So many wonderful older kids at Layla. I would love to bring them all home.
After another round of goodbyes, kisses, hugs and promises to be back tomorrow, Marta and I walked back to the guest house. She got ready for bed, and I offered to read a story to her. I let her pick, either a book from the shelf in the TV room or the bible, and she chose the book of Mark. So we closed a long, wonderful, emotional day with a discussion of new wine in new wineskins, which we have to become if we are to grow our families via adoption, particularly of older children.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
We met Sidisse, thanked her for allowing us to have Meklit with us for the night, and left for the guest house. Because of the embassy appointment the next day, Meklit had to miss school anyway, so Sidisse let her stay with us that night. A good start to breaking the ice with her.
We played for a while, and then went to dinner with Denise and some of the others staying at the guest house, just around the corner at Absynnia . Sitting down at our end of the table, sharing a platter of injera, shiro, tibs and Mirinda with my 2 girls was the best end of a first day together I could have imagined.
Well, not quite the end. We then walked to Layla for one last visit that day, and another top off on the love tank. Those kids know how to kiss cheeks. Meklit had her high heeled sandals so I carried her back to the guest house piggy bag, and about half way there felt her head resting firmly on my back. She was out like a light, and slept the rest of the night without moving I think. Pretty emotional day for all of us.
Marta and I played a game or two of Uno with the Dillon boys, and then called it a night ourselves. I remember my prayer as I lay there on the mattress on the floor that night, simple but sincere - thanks God.
The gate opened, and in we drove. I walked down the little ramp to the soccer area, where I found Denise and Fekerte sitting on the little wall that would become one of my 2 favorite perches - perfect for watching kids, and becoming part of their ebb and flow around you.
I went straight to Denise for a hug, as it seems like we have known one another for ages, though this was our first time to meet in person. Her account of meeting Marta is here. Then we went on past to the classroom behind the West soccer goal, where Group 5 was in science class.
Gail called for Marta through the door, and she went around the room to each kid to give them a hug goodbye. Her last moments in class at Layla.
Then she was out the door and into my arms. She is so very quiet and shy, but I wasn't going to miss a first hug opportunity. Then we went to the older girls bedroom (really a bunkroom with 6 bunkbeds, a shelf for clothes and little else - where we would spend many hours in the coming days visiting her friends) to retrieve a few of her more precious things.
After more kisses goodbye, Gail took us back to the guest house where we looked at her things, looked through her photo album from us and I explained everyone to her, and had our first talk. She told me how her Habesha Mom loves kids too, just like Mom does. We wasted no time.
After a tour of the guest house (home for the next 5 days) we were off for a walk up the hill to Adam's Pavilion, a nice shopping center for a quick email home and lunch with Alicia, her baby and Sara, her childhood friend.
This picture is of us at lunch at the Paradise Garden (?) where we enjoyed doro tibs and Coca, and I enjoyed being in her presence.
We went back to Layla on the way down the hill, and made our first short visit to all of her friends and to get another round of cheek kissing. Worth the 24 hours of travel all by itself. Lisa likes to say that we all need our love tank filled up every so often, and this has to be the best place to get it done.
I got to watch my first Layla House soccer match while there, met Julie's boys who are sweet beyond measure, met Freweyni, and watched 8 new kids being checked in. We took a big bag of Marta's things back with us to the guest house, and we showed Denise all of the things I had brought for her, others and Layla in general. Her delight in the Santa hats, top hats and soft was worth the packing and unpacking, and a little extra baggage fee.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Will write more later, but for now, it is good to have her tucked in to bed under our roof.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Paperwork done, bags packed, roads open to the airport (after last night's freezing rain closed them) kids showering me with love and kisses and promises of missing me and taking good care of Mom, I am off to Portland tomorrow to catch an early Saturday morning flight for DC, and then on to Addis.
I am staying at the AAI guesthouse close to Layla, so I don't know if internet will happen or not. I am so ready to meet our girls. No butterflies yet, but they will surely come. God's peace to us all.
He also told us the best news of all. Out of the very few kids home so far from their orphanage (single digits I think), Meklit's friend lives only about 2 hours from us in Portland, so they will grow up knowing each other. What an amazing experience in so many ways this process has been.
Both of our girls have friends near by, people to make them feel like they are not alone in this world full of ferenges. And again I say...Thanks God.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
She is so shy she will hardly let Julie take her picture, even though they are close.
When Julie told her that I would be coming for her soon, this was her response.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Last weekend we went away. We drove a couple hours east of us to Tri-Cities, WA to shop, play in a hotel pool with the kids, and mostly to see dear friends who we love.
We did shop, and we can happily say that we are 100% complete in our Christmas shopping. Very nice.
We did play in the pool, and everyone had a ball. It is amazing to me that as tired as kids get from playing in water, and as soundly as they sleep, that more of us don't have pools at home. It must be worth the cost, effort and space. Hmm...
And we did see our dear friends who love us Sunday morning at The Bridge. A few years ago we spent a year (in the midst of our nomadic period) in Hermiston, OR, and drove the 1/2 hour north to attend church at the Tri-Cities Vineyard. They have since parted ways with the Vineyard (a good parting) and are associated with Streams Ministries. None of that matters to us, because we love them and they love us. And that is really all that matters.
We love going to visit them, and wish we were closer, but we are not. So we go when we can, and enjoy the feeling of home while we are there.
When I think of Pastor Tom and his church family, what is most striking and noticeable to me in the midst of worship, prayer, fellowship, prophetic stuff, etc...is the intentional focus on, desire for, and pursuit of freedom. I won't go into their details, which would be so much better coming from Tom's mouth or blog, but I will say this - walking into a place where freedom is given such value, and where safety exists to trust that you can be free and not thrown out the front door is SO refreshing. That kind of freedom, compared to stoic, safe, follow the rules of this church kind of living is like eating fresh baked bread just out of the oven, rather than last week's crusts that are ready to be fed to the pigs.
As I drove the van to the Tri-Cities, I thought about this post, and about freedom. I thought that in the world and in our selfish nature, we think that freedom is doing things our way. Living life for me, on my terms, for my gratification and enjoyment. But in the real world, in the Kingdom of our Liberator and Master, it is just the opposite. Those are the steps that lead to bondage, and slavery, and away from freedom.
Bottom line is this - if you are not free, you are in bondage! I think of the Far Side cartoon of the slave galley. There is this one emaciated slave shackled to the bench rowing away, and whistling a happy tune. The brig master is saying to his mate something like 'we just aren't getting through to this guy'. The point is that bondage can be very obvious, or it can be much more subtle. But even when it is subtle, and hard to spot, walking into a place where freedom reigns just feels so, well, free.
In 9 days we drive to Portland to stay the night, so we can avoid trying to get out of the house at 3 a.m. Saturday morning with all the kids. It would be a bad start for Lisa with tired grumpy kids, so we might as well start out with an evening in the pool.
In 8 days I work my last day before taking a week and a half off for the trip. I am ready to be away. It has been a very long year for me at work, and it is a great time to go away and be rid of thoughts of work for a little while.
In 7 days the last of Meklit's waiver paperwork will be packed, ready for our embassy appointment.
In 6 days I will be impossible to live with, or maybe I already am...
In 5 days my sister gets Meklit's waiver form signed by our OHSU Doctor, and FedExes it to me.
In 4 days I attend church for the last time without Marta physically present in our life. What will these girls who were raised in the Ethiopian Orthodox church think of our version? I want to know what they think, and I look forward to trying to see things from an Orthodox perspective. I am certain there is richness to be discovered by looking.
In 3 days I pack my 2nd bag. The first was packed a few weeks ago, and holds all of Marta's and my things for the trip. This one is just for donations, gifts for the kids at Layla and AHOPE - lots of board games, balls - tether, soccer, volleyball, and wiffle, hackey sacks, jacks, pumps and needles for the balls, hand drums, clothes, luxury items like Luna bars, lavender soap and soft for Denise, and medical supplies for AHOPE. Lisa is very skeptical about the mountain in the corner of our bedroom fitting into one very large rolling duffel, but if you suck all the air out of everything, it is amazing how dense one bag can get. After this there is just my backpack remaining. And, that evening I will watch the USC-Notre Dame game.
In 2 days we lay around and eat left overs. What will it be this year? Turkey tacos? Asian turkey soup? Maybe turkey wat? We do have some injera in the freezer, so maybe that will be it!
In 1 day we celebrate Thanksgiving. Thankfully, it will be the last without Marta and Meklit being home. We have so much to be thankful for, and will have so much more to be thankful for next year. And the next? Who knows. Well, He does.
And finally, in 17 days, Gus will no longer have to toddle around saying "Ta Ta" to the pictures that are everywhere in the house. He will have the real thing right here at home with him to love on and be loved on by. And maybe he will learn to say Marta, but personally I am hoping "Ta Ta" sticks around for a little while longer at least.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
During the past 6 months or so, as we have tried to walk down the path that God has laid out before us, my world view has changed significantly. I don't know if there is an area that hasn't been affected, if there is a way of looking at life that I don't see through a different lens than I did a year ago.
It isn't just the adoption. Much of it is about my newfound passion for Africa and its people. It is about justice, mercy, loving your neighbor, the kingdom of God. And some of what it has stirred in me is distaste for the line of thought that seems to flourish in the American church; that God has somehow thrown out His Kingdom thoughts, His ideas of love for us all, and set aside the USA as the apple of His eye. It seems as though we think that within our borders there is some special grace, mercy and favor not available to others in the world.
If that last bit ruffled your feathers, just ask yourself this question. Do you think the heart of God aches more for American lives lost on 9/11 than for the lives of thousands of children who die each and every day due to lack of food and clean drinking water? Or the lives of Iraqis and American soldiers who are being killed continuously in Iraq today?
Last night I flipped past CNN and paused long enough to have to see what was going on. The program was titled "Combat Hospital", and what captured me was that they were carrying a young girl into the ER at a military hospital (like a MASH unit I guess) in Iraq. The US medical team (Army I assume) began working hard to save her, and part of that was trying to figure out what had happened to her.
She had been shot in the head, in one ear and out the other. The lead doctor stepped back at one point and told the team the results would not be good from this case, and for everyone to essentially settle down, take things slow and careful. As I watched this little girl bleeding from her ears, thinking she will certainly die, I had to change the channel.
With a knot in my stomach I realized that if she had been shot in the US, by anyone, her story would have been all over the news, and we would hear about it for days. The fact that she was born in Iraq meant that we could care less, even if she was killed by an American bullet. I don't know who shot her, but it very well could have been one of our soldiers. Or it could have been an insurgent's bullet. Who shot her is irrelevant, it isn't the point. The point is that it broke my heart to think that she had to die. Her parents could care less where she was born, they just want their daughters to not be shot in the head.
In a chapter of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne talks about what led him to go, and of his experience when he went to Iraq before we began bombing and invaded. These are parts of that chapter, minus much of the detail.
I began to consider what it means to pledge allegiance to Jesus and his cross.I think that we need this prayer. I think we have been looking for too long through lenses such as conservative and charismatic, of God bless America rather than Your will be done, and we need to step back and rethink things. I think we need to speak words like those of the ER doc in Iraq - I don't think the outcome of this is going to be very good...we need to start to think of things in terms of His kingdom, without concern or regard for borders or flags. To be wholly His, our first pledge of allegiance must be to the cross of Christ, and then to other entities as this first commitment allows.
After counting the cost of going to Iraq and the cost of not going to Iraq, I went to Baghdad in March 2003 with the Iraq Peace Team...
Essentially, I went to Iraq because I believe in a God of scandalous grace. I have pledged allegiance to a King who loved evildoers so much he died for them, teaching us that there is something worth dying for but nothing worth killing for.
Looking back now I am embarrassed at how surprised I was to find friends and family in Baghdad. It was as if I thought Iraq was filled with Osama bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins, and not with families and children just like ours.
One of the most powerful worship services I've ever experienced was just a few days before I headed home. Hundreds and hundreds of Christians from all over the Middle East had gotten together - Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox.
Afterward, I was able to meet with one of the bishops who had organized the gathering, and I explained to him that I was shocked to find so many Christians in Iraq. He looked at me, puzzled, and then gently said, "Yes, my friend, this is where it all began. This is the land of your ancestors. That is the Tigris River, and the Euphrates. Have you read about them?" I was floored - by my ignorance and by the ancient roots of my faith. It is the land of my ancestors. Christianity was not invented in America - how about that?
The bishop went on to tell me that the church in the Middle East was deeply concerned about the church in the United States. He said, "Many Americans are for this war?"
And he asked, "But what are the Christians saying?"
My heart sank. I tried to explain to him that many of the Christians in the US are confused and hope that this is a way God could liberate the Iraqi people.
He shook his head and said, very humbly, "But we Christians do not believe that. We believe 'blessed are the peacemakers.' We believe if you pick up the sword, you die by the sword. We believe in the cross." Tears welled up in my eyes as he said, "We will be praying for you. We will be praying for the church in the US...to be the church."
Blessed are the peacemakers...
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Leslie is also the author of books, good books. I read her first book, "Garden of Dreams" last year, and I REALLY enjoyed it. It is very real, and touching and sad, and I think a great first book. Even if she wasn't my friend I would say that, just not here on my blog.
Her second book, "Beyond The Blue" is in the stack of books on my dresser that I am currently working through. Leslie and her husband adopted a daughter from Vietnam, and this story is about adoption, though not their personal story. I haven't gotten to the point in the story yet, but she tells me my daughter Joy has a cameo in the book. It was at the editing stage while we were in China bringing Joy home, so she wrote her in. That has to be worth buying the book all by itself!
So, check out Leslie's blog, and better yet, buy some of her books. Tell her Rich sent you and you won't save a dime, but you'll still get a great book!
Friday, November 03, 2006
Oh, Lisa says it is nice to share. What ever. So ours, ours, ours, ours and ours!!!!! Thank you God, the adoptions are final and our family now belongs to these 2 precious girls, and vice versa! Our embassy appointment is Dec. 6th, so I will travel on the 2nd, and return home about a week later! I leave 4 weeks from tomorrow!!! Yaaaaahooooo!!!!!