Saturday, December 23, 2006

Life at the Guest House

I wanted to share our experience of staying at the guest house while in Addis, maybe with a little bit of opinion and recommendation along the way.

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


Denise Baker, as many AAI families know is the author of the blog called Destination Ethiopia. For many families like ours, her writing has been a nearly daily dose of comfort and hope as we waited, was my Addis and Layla House travel book as I prepared to go, and now that I am home her words are like a soothing balm to my achy breaky heart. (She might just cringe at a country song reference in a story about her.)

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.

Sheraton Part 2

Before I get too far removed from my post about taking Group 5 to the Sheraton for swimming and lunch I wanted to post the rest of the pictures of the kids from our day.

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

Layla, Staff and Volunteers

As I sit down to write this, and load these pictures, I realize the ache in my gut is because I miss it so much. I never dreamed this could happen.

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

Group 5 at the Sheraton

On Wednesday Rick, Sandra, Denise and I took Group 5 to the Sheraton for a day of swimming and lunch at the pool-side restaurant. We taught them some basic strokes, took them to the deep end one at a time and threw them in the air, taught them the correct way to splash each other, and played and played and played with an amazing bunch of kids - I don't know who had more fun, the kids or us adults. The kids were just like all kids, and begged to stay in the pool, or atleast to swim more after lunch, but there was a schedule to stick to.

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,

sometimes goofy,

and always wonderful kids.

I miss them so much, and can't wait to go back.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New Wineskin

Anyone who is adopting from Layla should not miss Tuesday night at Layla House. Why? I'll get to that.

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

First Day Part 2...

Our next stop was at Meklit's orphanage. She goes to public school, and gets back at ~4 p.m. so we were there to meet her. She is shy too, so I played it safe and squatted down a few feet from her and said hello. I don't think she knew I was coming, and she was very quiet and shy.

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.

First Day Part One...

After a long flight to Addis, and a restless night wondering what she would be like, I finally got to go to Layla House. Gail picked me up at 9:30 in the morning (I had only been up for about 6 hours at that point - plenty of time to unpack and lay out Marta's things) and we drove the 2 minutes up the street and around the corner, and we were there.

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

Home At Last

Just a very short note to say that Marta and I are home. The time and trouble of attempting to post anything from Addis wasn't worth it, so all my time was spent with my girls and the kids at Layla.

Will write more later, but for now, it is good to have her tucked in to bed under our roof.