Friday, March 27, 2009

And Then I Kissed the President: Part II

Read Part I:

Well...I left Gedaye's house the same way they I walked in, I'd taken off the traditional dress but kept the head wrap to cover the rollers. Yes, I walked through the streets of Ethiopia with rollers in my hair. I walked through the courtyard hugged and kissed the kids as I made my way my way to the blue gate. This had already been a long day and it wasn't even 4:00 yet.

I made my way back to the hotel, I walked up those three flights of pretty white marble stairs, I took two hits on the rescue inhaler to catch my breath. I hope you can understand how much rushing around that I had to do. I tried on a couple of things and they were shorter than I remembered and even those that weren't did not go with those ugly brown sensible shoes with the wedge heel. I pulled out my long flowered skirt with the bright orange trim and then remembered that I'd brought a knit two piece set. You know a sweater set but it was knit material. That would have to do. I felt like I was going to a church meeting, you know how you feel when you are dressed but not feeling it? I decided right then and there if I was going to the PALACE I was not going to let a silly pair of shoes get me down. I knew what I had to do. I had to work it out, put a smile on my face, and walk proudly out the door.

Always, always accentuate the positives, so I concentrated on the upper half, I whipped my hair and applied a flawless painted face with extra lip gloss for shine. My goal was to draw attention to my face so that no one would feel that they needed to look down. From the neck up I looked good and took a picture of my self to prove it! You all have seen it a couple of post back. I got down to the lobby right at 3:30 and saw that my host was still dressed in her same outfit from earlier in the day. It was cute but I instantly realized that she obviously had not gone through the same pull-everything-out-of-your-suitcase-and-try-it-on event that I had. She looked great. Like me she focused on prettying up the face.

We headed out of the lobby and all I had in my hand was my small wallet that was large enough to hold my passport. This was shocking since I'd become known for carrying a big bag around with every pill, disinfectant, food, and what not in it. I hadn't asked many questions, well I hadn't asked any questions and jumped in the white CARGO van for the ride. As we pulled away, I was fascinated watching my host drive that stick shift wearing that long gown. We started driving and this was the first time I was passing the same sights that I'd only seen in the darkness of my arrival two night before. On the corner was a makeshift market selling clothes and shoes. My hostess with the mostest decided that we should sing as we drove to make the time go faster. She decided to sing The First Noel and Silent Night. We sung these songs a couple of times until we had two part harmony going. We sang and laughed in between. I just starred out the window trying to take in every site. It was obvious that we were traveling through several residential areas and there was so much to see.

I still really didn't know where I was going and to be truthful I didn't see anything that made me feel like we were getting closer to the palace. Maybe Gedaye was right afterall. Well we finally made it to a main road, rounded a corner and without warning pulled up to a cast iron gate. The gate was closed and as we pulled the car up a man dressed in a gray suit approached the van. He had a clip board and instantly checked off my host' name. Then it would became like something out of a movie. Amharic, Amharic, laugh, laugh as the man continued to pour of the list of names obviously not finding my name there. He turned the pages over, he looked at the list that I could tell were late additions because they were written in ink and not typed. I was NOT on the list and we just sat at the pretty gate. My hostess was relaxed and leaning out the window. Amharic, Amharic, laugh, laugh and they opened the gate and we pulled forward. We pulled inside the gate but not too far. She pulled the car over to the side and another person approached with a clipboard. It was obvious that I wasn't on the list but not obvious whether or not I'd be able to attend. We sat there for about 10 minutes while we saw several people, some armed, some not go back and forth trying to decide what should be done.

My hostess grabbed her cell phone and called inside the palace. She handed the phone to one of the people standing there, there were probably 10 near the gate acting in some official capacity. We were asked to step out of the van. I took a deep breath. "Is everything okay?" I asked her not really sure what was going on. The next thing I know a man came with a mirror attached to a large poll and started searching under the vehicle. I took a deep breath, but my hostess was so relaxed and interacting knowingly with the people near the gate. There was a guard shed and I saw one of the men pick up and talk on the phone. We stood outside the van and I tried to act very unconcerned. It wasn't scary, just uncertain. Finally we were approached by two women in military uniforms with guns. They directed us to follow them and we walked across a little courtyard to a small bricked structure. I took a deep breath and followed along like I do this everyday. They searched us like that do with the wand at the airport. They went through my wallet and examined my passport. We were cleared? Yea, WE were cleared. We went back across the courtyard and down about three steps to where the van was parked. We got back in and drove down a little farther to the parking spaces.

This was the first time that I actually looked around. I was on the grounds of the palace. I was at the home of the sitting President. This was not Menelik's Palace. I couldn't wait to tell Gedaye. We got out and I looked back up the hill to see the others stopped at the gate, pulled to the side, ushered to the guard house, and walking the path I was walking. The grounds were beautiful, It was so green, with a lot of trees. I could see two building in the distance and we kept walking leisurely towards them. As we walked, my hostess told me about the grounds and that their were lions there. It was pretty casual conversation for such a once in a lifetime event.

It was a beautiful serene place. I'm not sure that even I can find the words to describe how it seemed we went into a tropical paradise. We walked down the drive and rounded the corner passing one building on our way to the second. Ahead of me a get see a small line of people forming on the steps to the entrance. As I got closer I realized that I was standing on the red carpet that I assumed had been rolled out for the occaision although I still didn't know what we were celebrating. I walked up the red carpeted stairs to an attendant that asked for my wallet and searched it an then she grabbed a clipboard looking for my name. Amharic, Amharic, I was not on the list. My hostess was obviously known to the people they exchanged smiles and laughs and unbelievably I was motioned to move through the metal detector that was the last stage before entering these tall magnificent golden doors. The doors were huge and the carvings were magnificent. That provided us entry to these huge and regal room that was like something from a movie. It was about the size of a footbal field or two basketball courts.

Once we stepped into this palatial place there were seating groups at both far ends of the room and interspersed at places in between. To my immediate left there were several different types of chairs formed in a U shape facing a settee. There were glass towers that ad encased the largest vases that I'd ever seen. To my right far down were a group of priest, maybe eight or nine dressed in the traditional garb that you see in the pictures. There was a bar section next to them that had wrapped gifts on it. We were ushered across the room and seated on a long settee. When I sat down I saw four or five more of these grouped sitting areas and there were two stuffed lions on the floor facing the huge open doorway. After I sat down facing the door I looked to my right and there was another group. There was a man that was all dressed in white traditional clothes leaned back in a very high back chair. I looked down and saw that he was wearing white gym shoes. I didn't know who he was but I was instantly more comfortable in my wedges.

As I sat in my spot, curling my legs behind me, I just observed all around me. People walked in and they were directed to certain areas of the room to sit. Some where dressed in sequens and some who were much younger were wearing jeans, I could tell that they must have been family members. Men were dressed in suits and some ladies had on traditional garb. Some looked regal and royal and others looked like they were going to church. It became clear that you were seated by your importance and then I realized that they group to my right was the most important when a gentleman came and asked that we follow him and we walked right towards that group of Quenn Anne styled chairs. I was asked to walk down one side of the U and introduced as some stood, some shook, my hands, and others kissed my cheek. I don't know it was maybe six people and then at the bottom of the U was the man in white, wearing tennis shoes. Next to him was a man sitting in another high back chair. I was told that he was the son of the President and who do you think was to his right in the tennis shoes, it was the President of Ethiopia. He looked up at me and called out my last name with a big smile and a hearty laugh. He looked like a black Santa Clause with the beard or funny red suit. I was so surprised that he called me by name and he said, "Of course I know who you are, I asked for you to come." He extended his hand and as I reached out to shake it, he drew me in closer and that's when I kissed the President or more accurately that when he kissed as only Ethiopians do on the cheek. The right side, then the left, and then the right. I got carried away and kissed him again on the left and they laughed at me. He looked up at my hostess and said, "She is not Ethiopian?" And, then he asked me if I was sure and where my father was born. We were kind of moved along by the group following us. I met the other dignitaries as we completed the U, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

We moved back to our seating area and were approached by two handsome butlers rolling a drink cart. They had on nice shiny black shoes, black pants, and bright white jackets with black bow ties. They wheeled this nice cart up to us and asked what we wanted to drink. I asked for red wine but in Amharic it must sound like Black Label because that's what he began to pour. After a couple of points and head nods, I had a glass of Merlot. We sat and I watched more people come in and whenever someone more important would come in, someone near the President would be asked to surrender their seat. I was there, it was surreal and maybe after 30 or 40 minutes when all the quest had arrived two men went and closed the big, heavy, golden doors. The President stood up and walked and a procession of people followed him through another open doorway. Just as we had been seated, someone official came and asked us to follow. Wow, there were six long tables with about 12 people each and a head table.

Within minutes I learned that I was one of some 70 or 80 people that had been invited to his 85th birthday party. If I wasn't there I wouldn't have believed it myself. Sitting across from me was a French businessman with a beautiful Paul Newman type face and strong accent. Next to him was his beautiful Ethiopian girlfriend who owns a fashion magazine. There were some introductions, a brief video presentation, and then the magazine owner who is also a known poet in Ethiopia stood to read a special poem that she had written for him. A priest stood and delivered a prayer. The table was lavishly set and there were like 8 glasses in front of each person. Butlers and servants were busy pouring wine and water for the guest and table by table was being ushered to go into another long room were the food was served buffet style. There was a mix of American food and Ethiopian food, there was a separate table for those that were fasting. There was injera and assorted American style rolls and curiously at the end of each table where large bowls of potato chips. I fixed my plate and returned to my table.

We had so much fun with the couple sitting across from us and in that moment between French and Amharic accents I felt like an international traveler. We talked and ate and then they rolled in a big birthday cake with the numbers 85 appearing from the top. We stood and someone made a champaigne toast and then my hostess began singing Happy Birthday in English and everyone chimed in. They thing sang it again in Amharic and I'm sure sang the part about "how old are you?" There was more laughter and exchange of jokes with the people across the table and then the President stood up and walked back towards the large open room and to his seat. We all followed out of the room one table at a time and then were directed to sign the commemorative picture in gold pen. We all stood around watching others take their turn signing the matted frame around the picture of the President.

After that we were escorted back to where the President was sitting. There were two chairs, one on each side of him. That's when my friend and I were escorted to the chairs to sit and take pictures with the President. The ending to my night at the palace was sitting next to him while he laughed only calling me by my last name. There was an official photographer but in between the pictures the President said, "(last name)... you have arrived from what city?"

I answered, "Chicago?" (picture) He said, "I was there many years ago, it is the home of Obama. I was there in 1950" He laughed when I told him I'd not be born yet and then pointed at the photographer and told me to smile. (picture) "Obama will be a great President and you are from his great city. (Last name) it was a pleasure having you here." We rose from our seats flanking the President and on our way out invited the three people that had been sitting across from us back to the hotel for drinks.

I was asked if I took pictures and the answer is no, because cameras are not even allowed onto the grounds. However, my friend has contacted me and let me know that she was sent my pictures and that she will keep them until I return. So, there are pictures of me and the President. In case you are wondering what I wrote in gold ink on his commemorative picture, I wrote,

"Happy Birthday and may God grant you many more days of greatness. These are the greetings I bring to you from the USA home of President Barak Obama. Valarie A. (last name)"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

And Then I Kissed the President: Part I

It was my second full day in Ethiopia and it was some kind of day. Gedaye had asked me to be up and ready to go to church with her at 7:00am. Tsion who worked at the front desk of the hotel told me that she thought it was awfully early for church and told me that she attended at 10am. She suggested that I might have gotten the time wrong although she explained that people attended at different times. I thought she meant that in the same way that most of our churches have early bird service. No matter, I took my tired self to bed, I woke up to the hot sun peering into the many windows that lined one side of my room but without the 6am wakeup call from the front desk. Thank goodness I'd also set my cell phone clock because having landed only two night before, my body clock was a little off. I got up and took a quick, hot shower and then I rushed downstairs. It was 7:10 but there was no Gedaye.

I waited about twenty minutes or more and then I asked the staff to give her a call. "Good morning Valencita," she decided that Valencita was a better name than Valarie and insisted on calling me that for the entire trip. "Where are you, you should be here with me. Come, come why are you not at my house?" Maybe I was more tired than I thought because I know for sure she said that she would pick me up. So, I took my 10 minute walk from the hotel, out the gate, down the hill, around the corner, up the hill, through the alley to the big blue orphanage gate and knocked, waiting for someone to answer. There was a new guard at the gate and he didn't recognize me so he blocked the gate a little to let me know that I wasn't just going to walk through. My baby saw me and shouted something to the other children and all of a sudden they were all at the gate. My baby went under the guards arm grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into the courtyard. I was smothered by a lot of little-people-kisses as I tried to make my way through the courtyard, around the crooked paved sidewalk of the narrow space that leads to Gedaye's backdoor. I must have hugged every child at least three time and believe me hugging the kids is like an aerobic workout. First you have to bend deep at the waist to get to their level and so that they can grab you around the neck with both hands clasped. Then they pull so hard at your neck that you have to lift them to your level just to take a breath. While you are with one the others are making kissing faces and noises waiting for their turn and please, please, whatever you do don't leave one of them out.

The backdoor of Gedaye's house was open and feeling so familiar I walked in and called out to her several times before she answered. She was in her room dressing and told me that she had picked a couple of traditional dresses for me to try on. It was the observation of Gabriel in Ethiopia and she told me it was important that I wear traditional dress. I chose one put it on and because they are one-size fits all, it FIT! It did absolutely nothing for my high waistline and made me look about 10 pound heavier but at least I was properly dressed for the day. After she and I were dressed she went into her room and came out with a very nice perfume by Krizia. She said that it was a gift from one of her daughters and she sprayed herself and then sprayed me. She said I was ready but she just wished that I had on jewelry for the occaision. I kept looking at the time and now at least an hour at passed. What time was church? Were we missing it? I didn't want to miss anything, but Gedaye said that we needed to sit down and have our coffee. Her maid Haimenot washed my hands for me by pouring cold water over them from a special pot that flowed down into a basin bowel. She then kneeled beside each of us as she poured the dark hot coffee into those tiny little cups. We sipped slowly and the time kept passing. I wanted to go to church. What time was it? Finally it was time to go. Finally...

I thought for sure that we would go out the front door where I was surprised to see a late model Mercedes in the driveway. Instead we went back to the courtyard and through the maze of kisses and hugs to get into the blue Toyota. Everything in Ethiopia seemed to be blue for some reason. So, we hope in the care to back out of the narrow gate. Mmmmmm. This was the start of my most adventurous day in Ethiopia by far. It became clear to me very quickly that this was going to be the scene from Color Purple. You know the one where Ms. Millie dropped Sophia off to visit with her family but really didn't know how to drive a stick shift. This was the EXACT sam scenario.. It took 10-15 minutes of stop and go, forward, backward, right, left to back out of the gate the WRONG WAY! Imagine each time the engine died another worker appeared from somewhere shouting instructions. The wrong way means that the director only knows how to cut the wheel to the right or she hasn't figured out that you cut the wheel the opposite way that you want to turn.

Finally...we are out of the gate facing but now we are facing the wrong way on a narrow, ROCKY, busy road with huge craters in it -- big and deep enough to bury 10 bowling balls. It took another twenty minutes to point the car in the right direction. At every hill, and there were many, the car stalled but I'm not sure if I was more scared at the herky, jerky stops or when she really got the car moving. She blew the horn at anybody who was in the way and almost dared them to continue even if they had the right of way. Is there such a thing on the roads of Ethiopia?

The car stalled at a very busy uphill intersection, cars were blowing as we kept rolling back down the steep hill trying to make a dangerous left. A left? The church was straight ahead, couldn't we just keep going in that direction. At that point, I wanted to get out and walk across the four lanes of traffic to the church. She decided that the problem of the stalling was because she did not have enough gas, so we bypassed the church that I was so happy to see to headed to the gas station; turning on what seemed to me to be a one-way with cars coming towards us. I kept gripping the handle right above my head holding on for dear life. God, could a woman really persih on her way to church? Please God, don't let that happen. She told me to relax and that the forward moving cars that had the right of way would stop for us because she had shown them the turn signal. Then came the confession. She said that she was a new driver and had not had much practice. She was very honest and said that it was like anything that if you don't practice you can't get good at it. I wasn't sure we should be talking AND driving so I just said some silent prayers and remembered that in The Color Purple version Ms. Sophia came to rescue. I absolutely ADORE her but driving is not her calling.

Anyway we made it to this beautiful church, St. Mary's. But the experience was different than what I expected. I don't know if it is because we were so late of if it is just custom. But there were many people that simply prayed and worshipped outside the doors of the church. There was a praying alter and prayer corners and benches. That is where we sat and prayed. At one point Gedaye said that if I prayed for God to let me have or give birth to a baby that I should promise to bring the child to Ethiopia to be baptized. She assured me that God could do anything and that 43 is not too old to have a baby. I believe God can do mighty things and that's why I decided not to offer up that prayer. I did feel a different spirit in that place. There was a reference and seriousness of the people that approahed the building. They brought their children and older parents and kneeled as they approached. There were so many people kneeling and on the outside. It was quiet and everyone was having their own private mediation.

As I sat on my own bench across from Gedaye, I prayed simply that God confirm that I was on the right path. I asked that he make it clear, crystal clear that I was in the right place at the right time and that He would not let me leave Ethiopia without know that this was indeed his plan for me. We rose from our benches and then we walked around to each of the doors of the church, Gedaye would pray a prayer, touch, and lean her forehead against the doors. There were offering boxes at each of the 10 or so doors and she placed money in a couple before moving on to the next. I could see as we walked that the church building was empty. Still, I felt that I'd had a really intense worship experience. After some 40 minutes of prayer time and without every entering the church, we returned to my hotel and had tea together we hung out in my room with her telling me that she hardly ever takes time away from the children and I can attest to that. We loaded up the last bag of goodies that I had for the children and drove up the hill, stalling and stopping all the way, the gas had not helped at all. Behind the bright blue gate, I spent time with the children until it was time for them to be served lunch. Again the kisses, my little girl followed me around and my little boy kept motioning for me to pick him up and hug him.

My plan was to go and see the city but I never made it. Church took a little longer than expected. The girl at the hotel had arranged a car to pick me up. I was to pay 100 bir or $10 for 4 hours of touring she had told him where to take me and vouched for him. It was so late and the director refused to let me get in a car with someone that she didn't know. She said she felt personally reasonable for me and this began the second adventure.

Just how much does it cost to tour the city or better yet how long does it take to negotiate a price to tour the city? The first driver arrived and the price was 250 birr, the next 300 birr, the next 400 birr. In between each driver was a long discussion and negotiation. One drive's price was so ridiculous that she told me to close the door and walk away, she was sure that he would lower the price so we began walking back down the hill around the child sized holes. He stopped but never spoke to us again. So, since we had walked all the way out of the alley and onto the main street, we stopped at the corner market and actually sat on crates to talk with the market owner. This store was like any neighborhood corner store it had everything from finger nail clippers to coffee. There were snicker bars and M&M's, Johnson's baby oil, and vaseline. The custom was for the patron's to sit while the clerk or one of his workers went through the store gathering things to be purchased. We weren't buying we were just sitting.

This was the hottest part of the day and that bright sun was hanging over my head like a tracking satellite. I grew uncomfortable sitting on the crate so the shop owner let me sit in a very high chair behind the cash register. Staring out the window, looking at my hotel that was not five minutes away started to annoy me. Why am I sitting here? Gedaye told me the sun was too hot and I should wait before walking. I used her cell phone to call the hotel and they said to stay put and they would send a car. A car? I want to walk and I want to go now, but here I sit perched in this high chair wearing a floor length traditional dress with my head covered. No car came but the security guard from the hotel walked across the street to make sure that I was me, the Americano from the hotel and then he proceeded to go up and down the street looking for taxis. This really is how it happened. So after sitting in the market I was tired and really didn't feel much like sight seeing. I told Gedaye that I was walking back to the hotel and against her urging that the sun was too hot and and in spite of the uniformed bell hop that was still walking up and down the street looking for a taxi; that is exactly what I did. I ended this two-hour adventure in five minutes flat.

Once I got into the lobby of the hotel there was a little bit of talk about taxis, drivers, and the mix up. I told the hotel owner about the taxi drama and she said she would take me sightseeing but she had a party to attend at 4pm. It was 1:50. Before she arrived a priest had come into the hotel. I watched with great interest as he went to people in waiting in the lobby to over them blessings. Would he bless me? This priest had been part of the St. Gabriel celebration and had carried the talmut for eight hours. He was wrapped head to toe in white. The wrinkles on his sun-beaten face showed his seriousness and wisdom. He sat down to have his lunch with the hotel owner and she told me more about the significance of the day. I was happy and surprised when she asked me to sit with her and the priest. She asked for him to bless me and he prayed over me in Amharic. It was a long prayer and in between he would touch me with the cross or look at me for a response. After the prayer, he continued to talk to me and she had to explain that I was a black Americano. We had some laughs about it but I sat with him while he ate his lunch, he talked to me and I didn't understand one word. I only hoped that God heard him and that they working together to help me on my journey.

In an unexpected moment, Senait, the owner said that she wanted me to go to the celebration with her at 4pm. It came out of the blue as we both sat in the cool lobby dressed and blessed in our traditional dresses. Without much explanation Senait told me that her engagement was a celebration at the palace. I assumed it had to do with the Gabriel holiday. The next thing I know she picked up her cell phone, I was leaning back when I wasn't sure I heard what I heard. "El Presidente it is me, Senait. Yes, your Excellence, I am sitting here with Valarie A. (full name), she is a Black Americano from the United States and I would like for her to be my guest today. They laughed and still wasn't sure who she was talking to. They had a lot of laughter and exchanges and then she was told how to register me for the party. I was told that I needed to be ready by 3:30, to wear my finest clothes, let down my hair, put on makeup, lipstick for sure, get my passport, leave my big everything-that-I might need bag and meet her in the lobby. She told me that I was going to The Palace to meet The President.

I had come to Ethiopia to see my children and to work at the orphanage. I brought comfortable clothes and though I never, ever wear sensible shoes I bought a pair just for this trip. What on earth could I find in my bag to wear? My best friend had urged me to take one really nice black dress but I didn't heed her advice. Anyway I went to the room trying to figure out what one wears to meet the President. That's when I noticed that I had the orphanage director's keys in my bag. I called her hoping that she would help me figure out what to do. I was hoping that she would offer me some wonderful outfit for the occasion. I was hoping she would jump right in to help me prepare but that just didn't happen. I called her up all excited about my news, and she told me that I had to be confused and needed to bring her the keys. She told me that I sounded ridiculous thinking that I was actually going to meet the President of Ethiopia. At this point the curling iron had stopped working and I'd thrown a few rollers in my hair. I put on a head wrap to cover my rollers and walked my tired butt back up that hill. I gave her the keys and asked her what I should wear?

Gedaye laughed at me and said she had no idea what I should wear to the palace because she has never been invited. She teased me and told me that they must think I am a relative of Obama to get this special invitation. She kept laughing saying that someone was playing a trick on me and I was probably going on a site seeing tour of Menelik's palace, the one that is no longer used. It was 3:05 and I told her that I had to go and would call her in the morning if I actually made it to the palace. "No," she said. "If you go to the palace you come back and tell me tonight!"

Stay tuned for part II.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Some Things I Like

This place has some pretty good educational toys.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pyscholgical Impacts of Adoption

I know that many conversations in the community revolve around attachment but what I am most concerned with is the child's feeling of abandonment. We often think about abandonment from the birth family but when I visited my children in Ethiopia there was something that struck me in way that I had not imagined. The children are living life in an orphanage but every few weeks one or more of their friends leave. When I went to the orphanage there were nine children between 4 - 8 years old. Since December, two have gone to Denmark, two have come home to the states, two more are preparing to go to Canada or Denmark, and another little boy will come here before my two come home. By the time I pick my children up there will only be one little boy left from the original group. This little boy is still there because the woman who was to adopt him changed her mind at the last minute. She changed her mind after he had already been told about her and what his new life would be. I was told that he is constantly asking, "What did I do wrong? Why doesn't my mama want me?" This was in reference to the would-have-been-adoptive mom.

Research has shown, "...when the mother/child entity is split, it causes an acute and lasting trauma in both mother and child. The repercussions are ominous and tenacious. Though they become buried deep inside, the repercussions follow both mother and child throughout the remainder of their lives."

Here is an excerpt from an article on how abandonment might affect our children:

The “chosen” child story also has negative affects on a child for other reasons. The child may feel that she has to be perfect to live up to her “chosen” status. Her role model adoptees include Superman and Jesus. This is a hard image for the average child to live up to. She may either become the compliant “perfect” child or she may act out and misbehave to test the commitment of the adoptive parents. Either way, often times she is not being herself, but rather acting a part. This acting can be very emotionally draining and confusing, and may last until the early adult years and beyond. When the adoptee can not live up to her perfect “chosen” status, it will contribute to the feeling of low self-esteem. This will be further exacerbated if the adoptive parents are not aware of the issue and their actions reinforce the adoptees beliefs, i.e., sending her away for residential treatment or openly wishing her to be more like themselves.

The adoptee is also aware of many ghosts that follow her through life. These ghosts include the person she would have been had she not been adopted, the ghost of the birth mother and birth father, and the ghost of the adoptive family’s child that would have been (Lifton, 1994, chap. 6). She may find herself trying to connect to her ghosts through her actions. Either being her image of her birth family, living her life according to her fantasy birth family, or acting as her vision of the adoptive parent’s natural child.

Read the full article.

Then there is the adoptee's perspective. Here is part of another article that you might want to read:

I am not the happy and grateful adoptee that you want me to be. Don’t get me wrong. I was happy and grateful for almost 45 years – or so I believed. Had you asked me then how I felt about being adopted, you might have heard something like, “Great! I am so grateful to my (adoptive) parents for all they did and, no, I am not interested in finding my ‘real’ family. My adoptive family is my ‘real’ family, thankyouverymuch, and they are a wonderful family. I’ve had a wonderful life. Of course, I am grateful to my natural mother for giving me life. Oh, you’re adopting? How wonderful!”

I enthusiastically expressed that view all those years because I needed to convince myself that my life was normal and right and that I was okay. I did it because everyone else wanted me to feel that way, too. And I thought I would die if I ever looked deeper.

You’ve seen adopted children who seem to be perfectly happy, too. They smile and have fun just like those whose families are intact. They act happy and, occasionally, they are.

Yes, adopted children smile and laugh. Did you stop smiling after you lost a loved one? Didn’t you still laugh when someone said something funny? Weren’t you still capable of having some fun?

Did you ever smile and act happy to hide your grief?

Of course you did. But even when you smiled, those close to you knew it didn’t mean you were happy. Those close to you accepted and expected your pain and sadness. They did not expect you to be happy about your loss. They gave you something most adoptees do not get: acknowledgment of, empathy for, and permission to express your grief.

Read the full article.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Clock and Countdown

If you haven't noticed I added a new clock to the top of my website.

We are counting the days!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Connected by a Thread

I read this Chinese proverb that I think applies to all things in life. After spending a year and a half in this process with you all and visiting the children in Ethiopia, it seems to relate to our experience.

“An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This Time I Won

I've been playing online poker for about four years. It's on the Bravo TV site and it's always free (I'd never play for money). I'm not a gambler at all, I'm too tight with money for that but it's how wind down sometimes. They have daily tournaments at 5, 7, 10, 12 midnight and 2am. I play just to unwind at the end of the day a few times a week. In a tournament there are usually between 200 - 300 people playing and when you win you get to play in a championship tournament. Over the years I've probably won 3 or 4 times but never played for the championship.

To play you have to have focus, patience, and make good decision making. If I've got too much on my mind I can't play well, if I'm stressed, or pissed off, I can't play well. Going through the adoption stressed and pissed means I've lost many times and in the early rounds.

Monday night I won the 10pm qualifying tournament! It wouldn't be that big of a deal except now they now pay the championship winner $5,000! The championship game is April 26 and I will be in it. $5,000 can pay for my trip back to ET or summer camp for the kids. Well, it might be a down payment on summer camp but I'll tell you about that later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

To Know Me is to Love Me -- Maybe

There is a best selling book called Strengths Finder that comes with a psychometric assessment. It helps people identify their top five strengths. In the work that I do, I am often the one prescribing assessments for client groups but in this case I actually took it and these are my strengths:

#1 - I am STRATEGIC defined as having a distinct way of thinking and a special perspective on the world. I am guided by patterns and continually play out alternate scenarios until I find the best solutions.

#2 - I am a LEARNER drawn to the process of learning. I am a veracious reader and always looking for ways to gain and share new knowledge. It says that this skill enables me to thrive in dynamic environments where asked to take on projects and I am expected to learn a lot about a new subject in a short amount of time.

#3 - I possess the skill of IDEATION that means I am delighted when I discover hidden things beneath the complex surface. I look for elegantly simple concepts to explain why things are the way that they are. I get a jolt of energy from new ideas and some label me creative, original, conceptual, or even smart.

#4 - I am strong in the skill of CONNECTEDNESS and believe that all things happen for a reason and that we are all a part of something larger. The writer says that I gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another. ** The book actually says that I am a bridge builder for people of different cultures. My faith is strong and it sustains me and my circle of friends in the face of life's mysteries.

#5 - I possess some sort of COMMAND orientation that allows me to comfortably take charge and lead. It says that I am not frightened by confrontation because I know that it is the first step to growth and resolution of any situation. The writer says that these command types feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. He says that people like me need for things to be clear-eyed and honest and that I may often push people to take risk. He writes that some people will be intimidated by my strength, others will think that I am too opinionated while most people are drawn to me because of my strong presence.

I will let you all decide.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Foreigner in a Familar Land

As I write part two on my trip to Addis, I think of all the stories I read about the poor conditions in Ethiopia and wondered what I would find when I arrived. Many people talk about the situation of beggars approaching them as they leave the airports and move throughout the city screaming out to them "ferengi" or foreigner. I've read how families develop strategies for dealing with the beggars; some decide to hand out money, others swear that we should buy fruit, a few take sweet treats from home, and I've even heard of people handing out pens. I've read some who say that there are far too many beggars and that you will never have enough and so when you start giving out anything more come.

With those stories in my head the only thing that I was fearful of was landing alone in Addis at 9:30pm dependent on strangers who said they would pick me up at the airport. Would they be there on time? How would I know them and how would they know me? In looking for my strangers would I be swarmed by beggars coming out of dark places? I am usually game for any challenge but as my plane landed I felt my heart racing a little. I've landed in tiny airports like the one in Kingston, Jamaica that greets you with tropic heat and people singing. I've landed in Los Cabos, Mexico where you have to hit the button to find out if you will get a green light for go or be stopped on red. I've landed in San Juan and Mexico City, and even at the tiny airport hut on Martha's vineyard, but in this unfamiliar land so far away, I wondered what I would find.

I guess if I'd given some thought to the fact that large Jets from Ethiopian Air, Turkish Air, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Alitalia are landing there daily, I might have envisioned a large international airport like so many I've landing in around the country. I walked from the plane expecting something third world, antiquated, dusty, dark, old, hot, and a little unwelcoming but when I stepped onto the concourse at 9:30pm in Addis it was a big international airport busy with people and activity. Every site was familiar from the lines, the signs for baggage and ground transportation. I knew that my first stop was the visa office and I wondered how much I'd have to explain and how my trip would be scrutinized. These were people about their business and I was nothing more than customer 1,225 for the day paying my $20 and getting a stamp. As I stood in the line I was surrounded by Americans, Europeans, Ethiopians, and people from many other African and non-African countries. It was like landing at Dulles or DFW or any other airport where you find many of the service workers to be people of color. It was like landing in Hartford or Detroit, maybe even a smaller version of ATL.

Still I had to get the visa and then figure out how to get to my bags, through customs and find my ride. It took about 25 minutes of standing in line, the same usual suspects complaining, trying to cut, and suggesting that the process should be more efficient. Some of us looked at each other with knowing head nods as we watched one man continue to kick his bag along the floor in front of other people until they had to let him move forward in the line. Usually I am always in a hurry, but I found myself looking at people who looked like me or people that I know trying to imagine where they'd come from or even what they were doing in Addis. It was efficient as there were about four people checking passports, taking money, handwriting receipts, and affixing visa stamps for a never ending line. The time went quickly I think because I was busy studying the faces of the people that passed me by. I was cleared to the next step, where I stood in line and waited to be officially cleared to enter Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That $20 stamp and my time in line was enough to get me through.

I followed the arrows and found the baggage carousels that were labeled just like they are at home. I saw my bags come around on the conveyor and before I could get to them a skycap approached me; the way only a skycap can do, wheeling his cart insisting that he take over. You know, just like at home. I pointed my bags to him and he pulled them off the belt. I have to tell you after 20 hours on a plane I was happy to see him and glad for the help. We really didn't speak so I don't know much about his English skills but if you travel you've done this dance before. We approached another checkpoint where people were lined up to go through a customs check with their bags. My guy with my bags directed me away from the lines and he took me directly to a man that was some kind of gatekeeper. The two men spoke it Amharic and I only gathered that somehow I was being given the hookup that allowed me to bypass that checkpoint. The gatekeeper asked me if I had any electronics in my bags. When I said no, he ushered me through.

I'm thinking this isn't bad at all. Just as we wheel pass the customs checkpoint, I'm feeling a lot more at ease and we go around a corner and there are two WOMEN holding a sign with my name on it. I didn't have to look, hunt, wander around looking lost and confused. They were right there. One was the owner of the hotel named Senait and the other was the hotel assistant Tsion. Senait kept repeating my name. "You are Valarie A. (add my full name)? You are not at all who I expected to see. You are the Americano Valarie A. (insert full name). I had imagined someone very different. Welcome my friend you will have a great trip here. May I give you a hug?" We hugged each other and kept looking in each others faces, she was looking at me as though she were trying to find some connection that she was sure was there. There was another couple with us who were traveling from Germany. I instantly felt secure whatever fears I had went away and I began walking out of the airport into the darkest, darkest night.

The night was very, very dark and it reminded me of the dark summer nights that we spent in Indian Rock, Virginia when I was growing up. It was a different kind of uninterrupted darkness and my family would joke that it was a place where you had to pipe in sunlight. With little more than small light bouncing off of the cars, there were many people hanging out in the airport parking lot. Was I really in Africa? It didn't feel like I thought it would feel, look like I thought it would look or even smell like I thought it would smell. I kept looking around amazed at how much walking into that parking lot reminded me of driving down Madison on the west side of Chicago on a hot summer night. It was the same way that you see people on the corners in groups talking loud, laughing, drinking, or smoking. It was like walking out into that urban area that exist in any big city where the late night activity is just hanging out in the neighborhood in a way that makes many uncomfortable but where people are really minding their own business and keeping their distance.

Here I was going through the parking lot with these two very attractive women and watching beautiful petite Tsion wheeling the big heavy cart with my luggage and the luggage of the other family. Something about it didn't seem right and I kept offering to help. She insisted on pushing that rikity old cart with one bad wheel alone. We kept walking and I heard men saying things in Amharic that I only can imagine were something like, "Damn, girl you look good. What's up can I get a number? Why you walking so fast? Where you goin', can I go? Why don't you let me carry that?" It was all in Amharic and delivered in softer tones that I'm use to hearing but I was sure I understood. You could tell some were on the late night neighborhood hang, some where hustling offering to wheel the cart for a fee, some just wanted the momentary attention and then there were a few that were begging, looking for hand outs. Well I don't even know if they were begging but you could definitely tell that they were down to their last and needed some help. Some it looked like made the parking lot home for the night.

I am a big city girl so the sights and sound were not all that unfamiliar. I might hear and see all the same things going to church on Roosevelt and Wolcott in Chicago that is flanked by an amazing Medical district on one side of the street and dire poverty on the other. I think I was more surprised at how "city" it seemed. When I was a teenager in Indianapolis you might have seen the same scene being played out at the McDonalds on 38th and Meridian or at the White Castles on 38th and Keystone. Any sista that grew up in or around the neighborhood knows is that you keep walking with attitude and give NO eye contact, men will do their cat calling but there is a level of respect in some weird way that they don't go beyond; I saw the same thing in Addis. We walked through the parking lot deliberately but were slowed only momentarily when we Tsion and I looked back to see the German couple way behind. They had gotten caught up or something I don't know. They obviously stood out more as foreigners but Senait went back tried to move them along.

There was one beggar that caught my attention. Without realizing he had been walking in front of me a little earlier, I now saw him standing dressed all in black, obviously trying to keep warm. I saw many people walk by him just like he wasn't even there, but I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I had just made a purchase and still had the change in my hand. I passed by the man the first time, but I doubled back and put almost two dollars in the cup he was holding. I had watched this man for nearly 30 minutes being passed by dozens of people, so I was shocked to see that he had one coin in his cup for all his efforts. When I put my money in he said, "Thank you and God bless you! I hope you have a good day." I could understand him perfectly and he spoke clear English. That's not really surprising considering that it was last week and this man was standing outside of the McDonald's on the corner of Wacker and Washington in downtown Chicago. In the city of Chicago it is nearly impossible to pass through the downtown streets or enter any big corporate building without passing by one of these homeless forgotten people. Some are lame like those I saw in Ethiopia, some are just down on their luck, some created their own problem through a series of bad decisions. But they are the same, they are there and many of us walk pass them without thought. I'm not sure why people have to go to a third world country before they recognize poverty when the same conditions exist in our own backyard.

I know that times are difficult in Ethiopia and there may be homeless beggars screaming out to ferengis at they pass them by, but the same scene is played out in every city throughout America every day of the week. I honestly was not approached by one beggar while I was in Addis Ababa, not when I went through the parking lot of the airport, while I went through the streets of the Merkato, or even as I walked daily from the hotel to the orphanage. I saw the poverty in the streets, I saw the people that you knew had nothing, and maybe once or twice I saw people look at me trying to decide if I was ferengi or one of them but no one extended their hand to me looking for a hand out, a hand up, or just a little compassion. I do, however witness that any day that I walk through downtown Chicago.

We got all of my bags in the van and headed out of the airport down the long dark streets. The van we got in was a non-descript cargo van with a seat for me and my driver. It was an old stick shift that Senait drove with confidence wearing her "pretty girl outfit" and cute high heel sandals. Her nails were done, her makeup was fresh and she new she was cute. As we drove the fifteen or twenty minutes, I saw familiar sights of people walking in the darkness carrying their lives in plastics bags. We talked about Oprah, Obama, God, and how an Americano named Valarie A. (insert full name) could arrive looking so much like an Ethiopian. We continued the drive and I learned that Senait sings Opera. She assured me that she was the only Ethiopian that sings opera and she started singing Ava Maria.

I'm listening to her amazing voice as we passed areas where it was obvious that life had been less kind to some. We laughed on this dimly lit night about how we could get Oprah to do an expose on Ethiopia and feature Seanait and her operatic aspirations. Laughing with her on the drive we covered religion, her thoughts about adoption, and politics and it seemed that I wasn't that far from home. In Ethiopia like any other big city it is difficult to travel through to your destination without passing those that really have no where to go. We pulled up into the quietness of the Dimitri hotel. People came from inside the hotel to usher me in with my bags. Tsion now went behind the desk to do her second job of registering me as a guest and a small woman about 4' 10" and 90 lbs came to get my bags. My heavy bags that barely met the Lufthansa weight requirements. She told me I was on the third floor and looked for the elevator but all there was in front of me where a set of white marble stairs. I watched this tiny woman, happy to be working insist on carry my heavy bags one by one up three exhausting flights of stairs. I tried to help her but the urgency and pride that she had required that I assume my role as guest and watch her work. I watched her lug every false idea about the industrious nature of Ethiopians on her back without a complaint. I can't tell you how hard it was to watch her struggle up those stairs and do nothing. I walked the stairs once with my everything in a purse bag and needed to use my rescue inhaler once I reached my floor.

Many of my preconceptions were shattered from the time that I landed and made my way through the dark streets of Addis. I stared out the window of my hotel room and reflected on the earliest days of my adoption journey. One question that people would ask is why Ethiopia? I always responded that Ethiopia had chosen me. For months I heard the same refrain in my head, "I am the God of everything, not the God of the United States. These are ALL my children and care for them ALL the same. What you do for the least of these is what you do for me." I began exploring this far away country and thinking how big the world was and how small and insignificant I felt in it, but landing in Ethiopia assured me of my faith.What I've learned on this this emotional and spiritual journey is that I live in a world that is small and that it is the God of my creation that is big.

I've watched my worldview grow and the world itself shrink into familiar themes and connections centered on the same core values of love, hove, determination, perseverance, and compassion. There is no body of water or distance that will ever separate us from the fact that we are all connected. The bible says that there is nothing new under the sun but that it only time and chance happens to us all. I went to bed exhausted and anxious to see what the morning would bring.

Monday, March 2, 2009

You Don't Really Have a Referral

Over the last few weeks I've read several Yahoo and blog post of families that say they have had referrals since September or earlier but have no medicals or court dates yet. I've learned some valuable lessons in my year and a half of this adoption journey. There are some things that many of us have painfully learned too late. I know that most of my blog readers have been around as long as me but for those that are a bit newer, this is an important lesson that I want to share with you.

If your agency has sent you a picture of a child that is NOT a referral. If you do not have a medical record and if you have not signed and notarized referral papers you do NOT have a referral. This is especially true if you are looking at being matched with waiting children. You have simply been matched. You are being considered as a candidate to parent the child. While there are some procedural differences with agencies this is something that is fairly consistent across the board.

Why is having the medical record important to the process and why does not having one signal a potential issue?

Children living in orphanages are under the guardianship of that particular orphanage they are not the wards (using an American term) of your agency. If a child has been identified to you the agency may or may not have yet completed a contract with the orphanage for that particular child. Before you can get a medical record or more specific information, there must be a contract for a specific child made between your agency and the orphanage where the child currently resides. Facilitators work with the orphanages to identify children and then the agency pays a fee to that orphanage to take guardianship of the child. The adoption agencies cannot leagally run an orphanage that is why they operate care centers that serve as a transition point for children being adopted. Children are usually moved from an orphanage to a care center after a contract for the child has been signed, after the fees have been paid, and in many cases not until AFTER potential parents have been identified.

Part of that contracting process includes getting a current physical and medical record created. This is where there may be some variation. Your agency may just give you a medical check-up form that was performed on the child while they were living in the orphanage but in most cases, the medical record is created as part of the contracting processes. It may not be done until the child is in the care or under the legal guardianship of your agency. Once the children are moved the agency then begins assuming the cost for the child. This is the point where some agencies charge a fee to the families for "foster care."

Why might that be a concern?

It's a concern for a few reasons. If you do not have a medical record it may be that your agency does not have legal rights yet for the child. Without that signed contract between orphanage and agency there is a chance that the child may go to another agency, that there is another family somewhere looking at the same picture, or even that the child will even go back to their family of origin. It means that you will wait for many, many months and not actually get that child or that the child in the picture ultimately may not be legally available for adoption. Another issue may be significant issues with the paperwork that passes between the orphange and the agency. The paperwork may need to be authorized, verified, or approved by local kebele's (local governments) before the transfer can take place. If you find yourself in this situation; wondering why you can't get standard documentation, you may find that the agency reps providing many reasons why the information and medical records are not available. Just know that without it you do not have secured referral and anything can happen including the fact that you may not be able to adopt that child.

Here are some parameters that may help you. In a normal case it should not take more than 2-4 weeks between the match with the child and the medical report being produced with formal referral acceptance papers. If you are in your second, third, or fourth month of waiting after being matched and you have not seen that documentation you should be concerned. The problem is that once you have that picture in your hand and you are being told stories about the children it is not easy to give them up. You want to believe everything that you are being told even though your gut tells you that something is wrong.

You have a couple of options; you can accept the match knowing that what I've written is a posibility or you can wait until you have the medicals in hand before you ever proceed. That would be my suggestion. I would also suggest that families not pay the REFERRAL fee until they have the official referral documents in hand.

So what's the bottom line?

If you have a bona fide referral you should receive documentation within 2-4 weeks. Once your dossier arrives in Ethiopia and the child has legally met all of the requirements for adoption your file is submitted to the court for a court date. You may receive a confirmed court date in as little as two weeks; however it can take up to 4-8 weeks from to get the court date. The court date may be scheduled 4-10 weeks out from that official notice. So, if you get a picture and a name but no medicals the child may not yet be under the guardianship of your agency, has not been seen by a doctor, and may not even have a clean medical history. I'm speaking in terms of those things that will require waivers. If this is the case, your agency will not be able to provide you with an official referral agreement until they are the guardians and have that record. If you do not have all of those things in hand you should not pay a referral fee that locks you in both financially and emotionally to a child that you may never be able to adopt.

I have read some really heartbreaking stories over the last few weeks and I hope that this helps at least one family that is lost wondering what may be going on with their process.

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]