Saturday, March 7, 2009

We're Home!

What a tremendous blessing! We are finally in the last stretch of recovering from over a week of "travel bugs" so we are excited to send out our official "We're Home!" post!!!!

WARNING: this is bound to be a long post (with some wording coming straight from my hand-written journal others brand new! tee... hee...) ... so grab a tasty beverage and settle in!

First a few fun statistics...

Total air miles traveled: 17,154
Total flight time: 37 hours 40 minutes
Total # passengers arriving in Addis: 2
Total # passengers arriving in PDX: 3!!!

Day 1 & 2: February 18th & 19th, 2009:
We left our home before the sun came up with Micah in the backseat with Grammie commenting on how dark it was! By the time we arrived at the airport, it was light... bummer... he could see Mommy's tears as she kissed him goodbye. Mommy did quite a bit of begging for a kiss from her sweet boy, but found herself covered in puppy kisses. And, I'm not talking about kisses from his favorite stuffed animal... I'm talking about my sweet boy licking my face just like a puppy would. Well, while it made me a bit crazy at the goodbye, what a WONDERFUL fond memory it gave me each time I thought of him while we were in Ethiopia (which was ALL the time!).

We left Micah with a special letter to open and "read" every day (telling him what Mommy & Daddy were doing that day and how much we loved and missed him, etc.), along with a surprise to open and Hershey's hugs and kisses from Mommy & Daddy.

The best part was that Grammie & Papa O. took video and pictures each day of Micah with his surprises. The video was the best! Each day, he'd open the letter and he would "read" it as follows after a sweet, long sigh: "Dear Micah. Glad to see you. Dear Mommy & Daddy." Then, with a swift toss over his left shoulder, he'd be on to opening the goods! :) I love our boy!

So, we said our goodbyes and began wonderful journey across the world! While we unpleasantly realized that we were in the back... and I mean VERY back of every plane we were taking to Ethiopia, we were pleasantly surprised to enjoy the personal entertainment systems in each seat. Nothing like catching up on 4 or 5 movies on a single flight to pass the time! So, how does one look after such a movie-watching spree? Here's David with Shani's elephant... bright-eyed!!

We briefly met the other family we would be traveling with in Amsterdam (Drew & Lynn from Louisiana). At that point, it was the middle of the night and I was exhausted but excited! By the time we arrived in Ethiopia, we had been awake for almost 2 days and it made obtaining our Visa's, changing currency, and getting through customs a bit... uh... "funny"... no that's not it... well, let's just say we were all a bit delirious by then!

One of the biggest blessings at that point was finding ALL our luggage. Here we are with Drew & Lynn with just one of our 4 carts of luggage! Nothing like traveling light! tee... hee...

The next blessing was meeting Dawit (David), Holt's main driver. What a friendly face to arrive in Ethiopia and meet! Throughout the week he was our virtual encyclopedia (and trusted friend) re: Ethiopian culture, history, the city, you name it!

And, David and he formed a special bond as well. When two people have the same name in Ethiopia, they call each other Mokshe ("mok-shay"). They kindly teased each other all week... When Dawit asked what the English equivalent of the term was... the only thing that David could come up with was "Your my brother from another mother" (a favorite line from the movie Fireproof!)... it brought laughs all week long!

We made it to the hotel and turned our clocks to midnight... easily falling asleep from pure exhaustion and excitement.

Day 3: Friday, February 20th:
We woke up at 4:30 am, unable to sleep even though we had only slept a few hours. It seemed that the streets never fell asleep either - cars with their friendly "hi, I'm here" honks, barking dogs, people chatting away....

And at 4:45 am, we were officially welcomed to Ethiopia and the Union Hotel by a neighbor rooster and "Prayer Man". There is a mosque very nearby and the beautiful chanting prayers come out loud and clear across the area via a loud speaker. We found it to be a welcomed part of the journey and fond memory.

We had plans to have breakfast in the hotel with Lynn & Drew at 8:00 am, so we did a little unpacking and then ventured out to find Kaldi's coffee (think Ethiopian Starbucks), supposedly only a few blocks away. We only made it a few yards past the entrance of the hotel when we decided walking at rush hour was not the best idea - cars jammed the streets and there were people walking EVERYWHERE... and the cars - well pedestrians have NO right of way and there are no sidewalks... and yet it works! And everyone was KIND and friendly! Amazing!

The hotel guards greeted us back warmly and I quickly found myself in front of the best and strongest cup of Ethiopian coffee! I drank a whole pot... which another adoptive mother staying at the hotel informed me told me equated to about 6 espresso shots! Ha! Good stuff!

We had a wonderful breakfast which David had at least 4 servings of!!!!... strawberry pancakes, fried bananas, eggs with veggies & toast. Then we patiently waited the few more minutes for our 9 am meeting with the care center.

We had been told that someone would come over to the hotel at 9 am and meet us, then take us to the care center. By 9:15 we were starting to get antsy... by 9:30, we were calm, but going a bit nutty! Drew called the center and Tamirat came over right away (a small scheduling oops!).

The care center was directly next door to the hotel. So convenient for the families and children! They took us on a tour of the administrative offices, then up to the 1st floor where 6 toddlers sat motionless as Dr. Fikru gave us instructions and rules re: the center. Drew immediately saw their daughter and whisphered, "There she is!" Lynn and Drew couldn't take their eyes off of her. Finally, Dr. Fikru called Miseret (2.5 yrs.) to come and she eagerly embraced Lynn and Drew. It was an incredibly powerful moment to witness and I quickly ushered David to grab their camera to capture those first moments.

Then two nannies came down the stairs with our babies (Lynn & Drew adopted sibling girls!). Meskerem, the head nurse, held Shani and our love for her at that moment was so intense... like reaching out to hold your baby after just giving birth. We "oohed" and "aahed" and then I reached out to take her into my arms. She came easily and cuddled right in. She was so much smaller than I'd expected, but so strong and wonderously content! David held and kissed her like a proud daddy! Within moments I heard him say the precious words, "I love you sweetie."

We spent the next 2 hours holding Shani and playing with the other babies and toddlers. Our two most memorable moments: (1) After a big feeding of cereal, Shani cuddled right into my chest and fell asleep while I rocked and sang to her our children's bedtime song "I Love You Best". Knowing it was naptime, I tried to put her down in her bed, but she woke and cried... needing me, right?! :) We spent some more time cuddling and then it was time to go! Which leads us to memorable moment (2): We tucked Shani into bed and as I rubbed her tummy she gave us our first BIG smile. We melted. What a miraculous start! Needless to say, I was teary-eyed having to say good-bye for the day.

We went back to the hotel for lunch. Drew and I both had traditional Ethiopian tibs with injera. It was much spicier than in the states and set my lips on fire! Although the "Cajun-loving Louisianan"didn't have any problem! David had a huge filet mignon for $5.00. Tasty food!

After lunch we had 45 minutes before we were to meet up again, so we headed to our room for a quick cat nap. Mind you, our room was on the 3rd floor of the building. Taking into account that Addis is at approx. 7,000 foot elevation and they don't have elevators, and with the first floor really on the second floor... we traversed many flights of stairs and were breathing heavily each time we got to the top of the stairs! So much for Wii Fit! tee... hee...

At 2:00 pm we met Dawit at Holt and arranged for him to drive us to the Holy Trinity Cathedral. (Holt had set aside the time for us to go to a bank and/or visit a shop or two... but our group opted for this extra tour!). One of the Deacons of the church gave us a wonderful, historical tour of the church - the 2nd most important place of worship in Ethiopia. From the moment we all stepped into the church, and took off our shoes, as Moses did, to respect the Holy presence of God; we were ALL astounded at the stained glass, paintings (phenomenal dome!), statues; everything! And what was so beautiful to me was how the deacon effortlessly described each item of interest in relation to Ethiopian history and through scripture. It was truly the best tour I have ever been on.

Next we visited the museum of the church which contained ecclesiastical elements, crowns and robes of previous Emperors & priests, hand-written bibles written on animal skins in Ge'ez, Hebrew, Arabic and more; orthodox crosses and much more. It was another amazing display of cultural and spiritual history.

The drive to and from the church was fascinating, sad and a little nerve-wracking. Dawit told us that there are over 3 million people living in Ethiopia and only 200,000 cars. People litereally cram into taxi-like buses that seem to fit 12 passengers plus the driver and his colleague. The diesel fumes from all the vehicles cramming the tiny streets was a bit intense. As you travel, you drive on roads similar to American highways,then in an instant, the pavement ends and you are bumping along on dirt. We saw herds of sheep along the road, donkeys, chickens and a random cow here or there just meandering through the streets. And, again, it seems to be there are no "rules of the road", no lines on the pavement, no merging rights, and yet... it works!!!

One of the most clear examples of the mix of extremes came when we were told that we were driving one of the poorest areas in Addis with 20-30 families sharing one "restroom", houses seemingly made out of tin just slanted against each other for support. Then at the end of that very street sat the Palace of the Empereor - just as you'd imagine - huge, immaculate, beautiful landscaping, security everywhere.

Jet lag was hitting us all, so when we returned to our rooms we crashed for another hour. Drew & Lynn decided to have a "date night" exploring the city a bit more and David and I opted for a quick dinner a tthe hotel then settled in for the night. David was fast asleep by 8 pm... I shortly thereafter.

What an amazing day! To meet our daughter and fall completely in love with her and to learn and witness so much of her birth country, it's beautiful people, culture, history and spiritual life! Thank you Jesus!

Day 4: Saturday, February 21st

We woke up at 4 am after almost 8 hours of sleep! What a treat! I've decided that the rooster who crows day and nihgt is immitating "prayer man". :) This morning the chanting began around 4:45 am, but since we were already up for the day, it's a nice, welcoming sound!

We experienced our first power outtage this morning, starting just before 6 am and lasting until just about 1/2 an hour. Then we spent the next hour trying to get an outside phone line to call Micah. When we finally were able to make the call, they weren't home. It is now so much easier to understand how difficult communitcaion can be. I miss Micah and his sweet hugs and puppy dog kisses so much!

When we went to the care center at 9 am, we found all the toddlers outside in the courtyard with Dawit and the 2 security guards and one of the nannies. Meseret grinned and ran to Lynn & Drew. It made us ALL beam with joy! David and I walked upstairs and found Shani in her bed waiting for us. Immediately, she needed her diaper changed and the nannies let ME! Although I was a bit nervous with numerous eyes watching me (tee... hee... ), Shani made it easy! She smiled and cooed the whole time.

When we came out to see David, she smiled at him and then we heard her first GIGGLE when David was making silly sounds to her! What joy! We went outside to join the toddlers and had such fun watching them excitedly blow bubbles. I was able to talk more with Dawit and was so touched by how he was lovingly interacting with one of the children. He looked at me and said, "I love this one..." along with some other touching words. I nodded then had to turn my head away as I was so touched I could not help but cry. These children are ALL so loved. God's presence is so apparent.

Then at 10 am, it was time for Shani to have cereal. They asked me to feed her and I was a complete failure! Cereal went EVERYWHERE and she was not happy! Finally, one of the nannies saved me and took over. I sat there in awe of how much food they put on each spoon, how quickly they fed her and that she ate the entire bowl! The funniest part when I was feeding Shani was when the two nannies kept speaking in Amharic and giggling. They are all so incredibly sweet, but I can't help but wonder what they were saying about my feeble attempts! tee... hee...

After lunch at the hotel, Dawit picked us up and too us to the National Museum. It was a four story building filled with Ethiopian histroy. We saw everything from replicas and originals of "our ancestors" dating back over 4 million years ago (with the exception of "Lucy" who is currently in Seattle), to articfacts from each of the Emperor's reigns, to beautiful traditional and modern artwork.

Then we headed to the grocery store where we picked up some Ethiopian formula, cereal, Ethiopian coffee, and Coca-Cola Zero (Diet Pepsi... where are YOU????).

We headed back to the hotel for a MUCH needed nap! Then at 7 pm, Dawit & Tamirat picked us up and took us to the Crown Hotel for a traditional Ethiopian dinner and tribal dancing. Everything from the traditional hand-washing ceremony (which we all quickly followed up with Purell), to the food, the company, the atmosphere, dancing and traditional coffee ceremony complete with popcorn, was fabulous!

I'm in awe that God has brought us to this amazing place, to meet these amazing people! We are so blessed and feel so honored to be chosen by him to be Shani Mihret's Mommy & Daddy!

Day 5: Sunday, February 22nd

We started our day off with another yummy breakfast at the hotel. Even though we won't see Shani today, we will have a wonderful time in her birth country. Dawit & Tamirat intended on taking us to an international English speaking church. We all asked if we could go to a more traditional Ethiopian church so they took us to Dawit & Dr. Fikru's family church - Gospel Light Church. It was wonderous! While I felt slightly uncomfortablesince they took us to the only seats left in the building in the FRONT row that was the only reason (I'm just not a FRONT ROW girl!). The worship was like nothing we've ever experienced... so passionate, REAL and ALIVE! While we understood none of the words, it was as if God had opened our eyes and ears to true worship. David and I were both teary-eyed and emotion filled.

Then an angel (ok... it was an usher) delivered to us eahc our own electrical personal translator for the sermon. The sermon was about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. How it is the wind and the fiery passion the Lord gave us in His grace. I found it completely ironic how the pastor talked about "What would our church body look like if the Holy Spirit was living and active in our lives?" It WAS!!! He also spoke of how God intends for us all, each nation, each person to let the Holy Spirit lead us, drive us, and inflame us with passion... all united for His sake. It was AWESOME!

After church we went to the Kariftu resort in Debrezeit about 50 kilometers outside of Addis. It is kown as the nicest resort in Ethiopia. For $25 US, you can buy a day membership which included a wonderful meal, swimming and kayaking. David and I opted out of swimming as the pool was chilly, but did enjoy a wonderful excursion kayaking. We saw 5 or 6 different species of birds (Ethiopia is known for it's amazing bird species!) including some that reminded us of pelicans, king fishers, falcons & ducks.

It was wonderful to be there, yet my heart wanted to be with Shani and I missed our sweet Micah greatly! What an amazing journey this has been. We bought a beautiful silver cross pendant at the resort in remembrance of the presence of God we witnessed today... although in my soul, I know I'll never forget.

Having pretty much been "vegitating" all day, we finished our day with a walk to Kaldi's with Drew & Lynn. (For those of you traveling with Holt, it is worth the walk!!! Go out of the hotel and turn left. Walk past the care center up to the main road. Take the foot bridge over the top of the big road. At the bottom of the foot bridge head in the opposite direction of the car traffic... and walk to the next over-head foot bridge. At that road turn left... Kaldi's will be on your right). Kaldi's is truly an Ethiopian Starbucks. Everything resembles Starbucks... from the green circular emblem, to the uniforms of the workers... the only difference is that along with yummy coffees they also serve food ($2 burgers & fries, sandwiches, etc.) and ice cream! Another nice treat!

Day 6: Monday, February 23rd:

Today was the day our hearts had been preparing for the past two years! Today we took custody of Shani full-time!

We went over to the care center at 9 am again, we were emotionally overwhelmed to see the arrival of 15 new children from Addis (primarily toddlers). I cannot begin to describe how beautiful these children are, how lovingly cared for, how beautifully behaved... and how LOVING they are. Their own displays of love proved to us that in order to love they have been shown love. You see this in Addis for yourself and I am convinced of it in Durame (Holt's care center in the south) too. We cuddled and played with every child we could, but our time was never long enough. The nannies and staff... we thought they were busy before the new arrivals. They were even busier now, but never too busy to love on the babies, lovingly feed, clothe and play with the toddlers... LOVE ABOUNDS!

We did a bit more paperwork in preparation for our Embassy appointment the next day... then it was time to go "home" to the hotel!

Just before we were taking Shani Mihret out of the care center for the first time, a little one came over, kissed my name tag and kissed the baby. Truly, LOVE ABOUNDS!

We spent most of our first day together cuddling, napping and eating! Good times! tee... hee... Shani adapted and slept wonderfully. Thank you Jesus for this precious gift!

Day 7: Tuesday, February 24th:

Unfortunately, I woke up not feeling well today and it only grew worse as the day progressed. We left the hotel at 8:00 am for our appointments at the U.S. Embassy. The car ride is still a blur to me as I spent the ride doubled over and sick. Nice, eh? However, the on the plus side, I don't think anyone has ever made it through the security check points of the Embassy faster than me! I think they were radioing ahead saying "Let the green American woman in!!!" I had one destination in my mind and once I reached it, it was only then that I panicked that I had no idea where I was, who had my baby, where my purse or paperwork was! Never fear, trusty and faithful Dawit was waiting for me and Holt's social worker had sweet Shani!

Our appointment went easily (thank you God!!!) and Shani officially was released into our care and able to return to the United States with us! Just two more days and we'd have her Visa and Passport in hand!

Day 8: Wednesday, February 25th

At 9 am we returned to the care center for the most wonderful farewell party for our children. They took our children upstairs and dressed them in traditional Ethiopian clothing.

They had a beautiful traditional coffee ceremony prepared, balloons, cake, popcorn and tables set up for all the toddlers to join in the fun! I continue to be amazed how ANYONE can get 15 toddlers to sit quietly, compliantly, and sweetly for any length of time... let alone an entire party!

The party began and ended with prayer and the parents and staff giving thanksgiving for the lives of the children and the role of each person... giving glory to God. I really lack the words to explain the beauty and amazing meaning of this time. It is something that will radiate in my heart always... forever touched by the LOVE our daughter was shown and the LOVE that remains for her there. We may have brought our daughter home from Ethiopia, but I feel as though we have left family behind.

That afternoon, we returned Shani to the care of the nannies one last time (for a love-fest I am certain!!!) to enable us to go shopping to bring home a bit of Ethiopia with us. They first took us to the Bethseda Leprosy Hospital where we were able to see first-hand how some of the textiles were made. Thank you God for your beautiful provision! We were able to purchase many textiles (scarves, blankets, pillow cases, tablewear, doilies, etc.), several hand-carved wooden crosses, and "yarn" animals here. Then we were taken to a couple of souvenier shops where we were also blessed to find beautiful silver orthodox crosses, a traditional coffee set, a beautiful hand-painted nativity on animal skin, baskets, and more.

Day 9 & 10: Thurs. & Friday, February 26th & 27th:

We spent most of the day organizing, packing and re-packing... and then realizing that we had a bit more room... David and Drew headed off to find Ato's Basket shop... (at the VERY end of the same street as Kaldi's). David did a great job finding a few more baskets and Drew... well, he came back with a carved wooden bench! (tee... hee...) and knives in sheaths? for his boys! tee... hee...

Leaving was so hard... especially when we arrived at the airport and Dawit couldn't find a parking spot. Our goodbye to him had to be so quick that it made my heart physically ache. Our luggage was headed in one direction and he stood on one side of security, us on the other. We ran back and gave him quick hugs turning back in tears.

Thus began the 2 day flight journey home... praise the Lord, though Shani did not like taxi-ing... she slept nearly 15 hours of our 18 flight hours! Truly THANK GOD!!!

We arrived back in the U.S. the day Shani turned 6 months old... God honoring my hearts desire to have our daughter in our arms by the time she turned 6 months! We were greeted by Great-Grandma, Grammie & Papa O., Auntie Do Do, our WONDERFUL Holt family friends (The Schmidt's & Williams'), Kathie (our social worker) and good friend Jeannie & mom. The biggest blessing was seeing our BIG boy Micah! I was overwhelmed in seeing him... truly, joyfully, overwhelmed. I'll never be able to describe what it was like seeing him for the first time again. My boy... proudly wearing his "Big Brother" t-shirt! I could have hugged him all day!

Finally, we are a family of 4! Thank you Jesus for your loving-kindness in making this dream a reality!


  1. Thank you so much Shana! Your descriptions are beautifully written and really help prepare those of us who haven't yet traveled. Shani looks so full of life; too precious! Welcome home :).

  2. Shani is so wonderful!! Thank you for this great description of your trip. I will come back and reread it often to prepare us for our trip to Ethiopia. Thanks again for telling us about seeing our son at the care center. It is so nice to know he is in such a loving environment. May God hold your family in His arms as you adjust to being a family of four.
    Sweet Blessings!

  3. Congratulations! Your baby girl is beautiful. I really enjoyed reading about your trip. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Thank you for sharing your sweet and powerful story. We are rejoicing with you and can't wait to meet her once you all settle down.

  5. Thank you Shana! Blessings to you and your family as you continue on your life's journey as a family of FOUR!

  6. You should tell people to get their beverage and tissues ready! Thank you for sharing your trip with us. You described everything so well I felt like I was there with you. Also, I cannot get over how much Shani looks like your husband. Congratulations to you and your family of four.

  7. Thank you for sharing your trip with us! Shani looks like a JOY :) Congrats!

  8. What a great story!! We are so excited to live our own version of this story sometime in the next year. You have done an amazing job capturing the emotions of the experience and it makes me ache for the day we get to meet our baby. We hope you are enjoying your time home with Shani!
    Brooke (waiting patiently for a referral from Holt)