Day 11- Home Sweet Home!

Exactly one month ago today, we walked off the plane at the Indianapolis Airport as a new family of three! I get teary-eyed just thinking about how special that time was for us. We couldn't wait to get off the plane to see our families.
Our long 26 hour trip home from Ethiopia was in one word: TORTURE! Poor Mekonen was sick with pneumonia and a ruptured eardrum and he screamed for pretty much the entire trip. We counted about 8 hours altogether that he slept. The rest of those hours? He pooped through his clothes and screamed his head off. He was inconsolable! Needless to say we have no pictures of Mekonen on his first plane ride! Jon and I slept about one hour total, and actually, I think Jon even less than that!

We had bassinet seating, but you don't even want to get me started on the bassinet seating. It was RIDICULOUS! They wouldn't let us put Mekonen in it while the fasten seatbelt sign was on which was pretty much the ENTIRE TIME (and there weren't even any bumps or anything). At one point, for about 5 minutes Mekonen was happily in the bassinet playing with his toys...5 minutes of peace and the flight attendant came by and said he cannot play in there, only sleep. So we had to take him out AGAIN. Then on another flight they made us fasten a lid on top of the bassinet that was like a mesh see through thing, which of course freaked him out. I don't blame him! I would freak out too! There were only a few inches between his head and that stupid top.

When we got on the first leg of our trip in Addis, many people on the plane, and the flight attendants were going on and on about Mekonen and how cute and sweet he was. Well, let's just say by the time we hit Amsterdam, I think they all wanted to physically remove us from the plane (and truthfully, I wanted to remove myself from the plane, via the window). As soon as we landed, Mekonen was fine. But every time we started on a new flight, he freaked out. We did everything to alleviate ear pressure (tylenol, bottle, pacifier, etc). Nothing worked. Poor buddy. So, let's just say we were soooo relieved to have finally touched down in Indianapolis and to be greeted by our family and some good friends. We asked two friends to be in charge of pictures and videoing as we met our family. This was such a great idea and we were so glad we did! Thank you Adam & Allie, and Joe & Julie! We really appreciate it!

Mekonen meets Grandpa Jack!

Mekonen meets Grandma Castro (affectionately known as Grandma Missy)

Long awaited kisses from Grandma!

All smiles for Grandpa Oren (affectionately called Grandpa Dig)

Mekonen gives a big kiss to his Grandma Magz!

My cousin Jess came from Chicago to meet Mekonen. This meant so much to me. We are 2 months apart and she has been at every big life event of mine: my birth (haha), first day of kindergarten when I started the school year late, milestones throughout elementary and middle/highschool, highschool graduation, college graduation, my wedding day, and now my first baby.

Lots of kisses from Auntie Jess

Playing with Daddy! Playing with Mommy!

The whole gang walking to baggage claim.

Our parents and my cousin Jess. What fun!

Our sweet Mekonen Jack...finally home!


Day 10- Our Last Day in Ethiopia

August 29, 2009

I was throwing up during the night our last night in Ethiopia and was feeling just awful. I couldn't even imagine getting on plane that night to make the 26 hour trip home. I spent the entire morning curled up in our bed pretty much just moaning. It was awful. My stomach hurt so bad and finally in the middle of the night I decided to take a prescription that our doctor sent us with in case we got sick. It definitely helped. By two doses I was feeling much better, but that wasn't until late afternoon. So up until then I felt so yucky.

Jon went out one last time with our new friend Yemamu to the Leper's Hospital where they sold goods and things that they made. Jon got some really cool stuff for Mekonen. A few of them were a turtle pull toy that had shapes as his back to put together (kind of like a puzzle) and a really cool ball with the Amharic letters on it. He almost got him a big Noah's Ark and when he decided he really did want it and was going to go back, it had closed for the day. Bummer. I guess we'll just have to make another trip to Ethiopia to get one. :)

After I laid in bed all morning, I mustered up enough energy to start packing up our room. It looked like a bomb had gone off. The rooms weren't very big and there weren't any drawers to keep all our stuff in, so we pretty much lived out of our suitcases. We also had clothes hanging everywhere that were still drying from laundry. The ladies who worked at the guest house did laundry for everyone, but there was no dryer and it's the rainy season in Ethiopia. So if it isn't raining, it is really damp, and our clothes took days and days to dry. (I highly recommend bringing a portable indoor clothes line that suctions to the wall. This would have been soooo helpful). So I organized all our stuff and decided what we needed to bring in our carry-ons for the plane ride home. Jon laughed at me because I packed 8 outfits in Mekonen's carry-on. But guess what... he pooped through 7 of them! By the time we landed, we had one outfit left!! Good thing I brought all those, otherwise our babe would've come off the plane wrapped in an airplane blanket. haha. Here are some pics of our afternoon packing up.
Mekonen: Sosi, wanna be my girl?
Sosi: Hmm...well, I guess you're pretty cute, but I have to ask my dad.

After we had all our things together, we walked back to the Layla House orphanage one last time to say goodbye to the nannies who cared for Mekonen. It was bittersweet. We were so glad that he was finally coming home, but we were also taking him from everything and everyone he has known for the last 6 months of his life. That's a lot for any baby to handle. All these months while we were waiting for him, he wasn't waiting for us. He had no idea there was a family on the other side of the world waiting to smother him with love and kisses (poor baby...hehe). Although the conditions of living in an orphanage in a third world country are not ideal, the nannies really do love the babies so much. We were very impressed with the care Mekonen and all the other kids received. The nannies were always kissing the babies, hugging them, and singing to them.

This picture below by Donovan is one of my all-time favorites. Here we are in the bus heading off to the airport. Mekonen's facial expression cracks me up. I love how he's holding onto the side of the window. (With the way they drive in Ethiopia, he should hold on real tight. We put him right into my body carrier after the picture. Don't worry. haha). Mommy and Mekonen at the airport in Addis Ababa, ready to board our first flight on the long journey home to Indianapolis.


Day 9-Goodbye Party & Ethiopian Restaurant

August 28, 2009

Today was the day I started to get sick. Blah. We were leaving to go home the next day and I jumped the gun thinking I got through the trip unscathed! In Ethiopia, we couldn't drink any of the water and had to use bottled water for everything. So even in the shower we had to consciously remember to keep our mouths closed. I have no idea what made me sick because Jon ate everything I did. I woke up feeling bad and it just got worse. Jon walked quite a distance to get to a bank to exchange some money before our trip home. My stomach felt horrible. I pretty much laid in our room the entire morning writhing in pain. Mekonen took a good, long nap which was helpful. I was so afraid that it was going to get worse and I would have to travel the loooong flight home feeling horrible.

When Jon got back we all got ready to go to the Layla House for the going away party. At the orphanage whenever children are going home with their families they have a big party. They bring out drums and sing and cheer. It is the most amazing thing. I just loooove hearing all those little voices singing in Amharic. It's priceless. We have some awesome video of this but cannot post it online since there are children in it who are not adopted yet, and it's against the rules. The two times we have seen this party I just cried. I can't believe how amazing these kids are and I can't believe how many of them are longing and waiting for a family. It breaks my heart. Our view of older child adoption has totally changed. It was nothing like we imagined. All these kids are deeply loved and wanted by their birth families, and they know it. Their reasons for being placed for adoption are due to economic struggles, sickness, and death. I cannot even comprehend the losses that these children have faced. I can't even imagine the last visits with their birth families to say goodbye before heading to the U.S. with their new families. I am convinced, that after being in Ethiopia, and seeing the tremendous loss that these children have faced, that Jesus is with the orphan in a very special way. We always knew this, but the reality of it, the stark reality of their circumstances, opened our eyes in a bigger way. Don't be surprised if in the future, we are back to Ethiopia to bring an older child into our family. I get goosebumps thinking about it.

After the party, we hung at the Layla playground for awhile before heading back to the guest house. Jon & I, Donovan & Julie, and another adoptive parent Zach and his mom all went to an authentic Ethiopian restaurant with traditional Ethiopian dancing. It was sooo fun. The only bad part was that I felt awful the whole time we were there and could barely eat anything. I was so bummed because the food was great and I was looking forward to it all week.

Here is the Ethiopian lady who waited on us. There is a whole sytematic process they go through to set up the plate. But, first someone comes around with a whole fancy tray of handwashing stuff. Check it out.

Everybody eats off the same plate with their hands. We all chose a bunch of items from the menu and they were brought out and placed on injera. The best way to describe injera is like a sour spongy bread. I know that sounds gross, but it's actually really good. You rip off pieces of injera and scoop up the food with it, so the injera acts like your fork. Ethiopians like their food very spicy! We got a mix of spicy and mild, vegetarian and meat. It was soooo good! Check it out.

A popular drink in Ethiopia is honey wine. It's probably the nastiest thing I have ever tasted, but I'm probably not a good judge seeing as though I'm not a fan of most alcoholic beverages unless they are fruity tasting. You would think the honey wine was sweet. Nope. It wasn't. I don't even know what it tasted like, but it was gross. They did serve it in pretty cool glasses though. They looked like science beakers.
Another part of the Ethiopian restaurant experience was seeing traditional Ethiopian dances and costumes. It was pretty neat. Their costumes were very colorful and bright. Here is a short clip of one of the many dances they performed. In one of the dances there were a bunch of guys and we all said one of them looked like Mekonen in about 20 years. Haha.

I can't believe that our trip to this amazing country is coming to an end. We are eager to get home and see our families, but a part of us wants to stay forever. We will be coming back...


Day 8- Unforgetable Dire Dawa!

August 27, 2009
Out of our entire time in Ethiopia, this is the day that the right words and emotions simply do not exist. This was the day we took an in-country flight to Dire Dawa, our son's hometown. We went with another traveling family that we have been in contact with over the entire adoption process and got the incredible blessing of being in Ethiopia together. Their daughter was also from Dire Dawa. AAI set up the entire day for us. They sent a social worker named Henok to Dire Dawa the day before to set up the necessary arrangements for learning about our children's stories. The social worker then met us at the airport and brought us on the journey of a lifetime.

What lifelong friends we have gained from this trip. It was one of the deepest experiences we have ever shared with another family: watching, witnessing, supporting, crying tears of joy and grief, photographing and videoing the stories of our children's lives will be a memory that we will have forever.

I never knew that in one day we could experience such sorrow and such joy. Again, words cannot even begin to describe the crazy emotions that were part of us today. This was by far, one of the most incredible, life-changing days Jon and I have had together. If any of you are even considering a trip to your child's hometown, do whatever you can to get there, no matter what the cost, no matter what the story. You will never regret it. Part of me thought I wouldn't be strong enough for this day, but boy was I wrong. We were given an incredible gift for us and our son on this trip.

Here is the view of Dire Dawa from the plane. Dried up river beds brought on complete silence as we looked out across the reminder of the devastation of drought and famine on Ethiopia.
The whole gang at the airport in Dire Dawa.

Jon and Mekonen outside the Dire Dawa International Airport We saw some great sights! Dire Dawa is much like what I picture Bible times to have been like. When we were driving out of the airport onto the dusty streets of Dire Dawa, we had to stop for a huge herd of camels that were crossing the road! It was hilairous! Check out this short video clip of some of what we saw.

Here's our taxi following behind Donovan and Julie's taxi.

This little boy followed our taxi's around all day!

We received a wonderful gift while in Ethiopia. The absolute very first picture ever of Mekonen at 1 month old. Simply priceless.

Here is my bad photography skills at the market. It's kind of hard to see but there are lots of little shops tucked back in there.

The shops sold lots of bright colored fabric which I loved. Too bad Mekonen doesn't wear dresses! (Well, actually, that's a good thing.haha). Sosina got two dresses that little girls wear in Dire Dawa. They didn't really have anything specific to boys though.

The Acacia tree in Ethiopia. They were everywhere! I loved seeing these trees. They are part of what I pictured of Ethiopia the whole time we were waiting for Mekonen.
After a very busy day full of over abundant joy, and deep heartache and sorrow, we piled back into the taxis, and said a tearful goodbye to the place that brought us the wonderful gift of our son. We pray God gives us the opportunity to return to this amazing place so Mekonen can see for himself why Ethiopia is so easy to fall in love with.

On a side note (from Dad): We are not sharing details of our son's story and ask that you not inquire about the specifics of our trip to Dire Dawa, but just enjoy some of the photos and tidbits we shared. We have videos, pictures, and stories, that are for his keeping only unless he decides to share them. The repeated overly inquisitive people make a really awkward situation for us when we keep having to explain that it is not our story to tell, but or son's. We are proud of his heritage, his birth family, and his hometown, and can't wait to share with him the intimate details of how he joined our family. Those details and stories are his and his alone and he can share them with whoever he wants, whenever he wants, if he so chooses. And please, even worse, do not ask our son about it when he is older. If he wants to share it, he will. We have done a lot of reading and research about adoption and how adopted children all deal with their stories differently. We want to make that the best situation possible, and giving him privacy and control over his story is the first step. We are not trying to offend anyone, so please don't take it personally. Thank you so much in advance for your understanding.

***Photos taken by Donovan Witmer


Day 7- U.S. Embassy Interview

August 26, 2009

Today was our embassy interview appointment for Mekonen's visa out of the country. This was the BIG DAY! The final legal part of the adoption and we passed with flying colors!!

It was a fun morning with all the families getting ready for the appointment and waiting for Gail to come pick us up. She arrived a little after noon and we all piled ourselves into two cars. All the moms had the babies strapped to them in baby carriers because in Ethiopia the driving can be a little crazy and there are no carseats or seatbelts! Look out!

We were told by other AAI families that the embassy appointments have lasted several hours! We must've gotten lucky though because our day went by really fast. The appointments started at 1:00pm and we were done by 2pm! We walked into the building and went through two security checks. Then we walked to an upstairs room with all the other families to wait. Gail took each family one at a time upstairs to where all the windows are. When she called us, Jon, Mekonen and I all followed suit up the stairway. The lady we got at the window was training two people during our little session. The lady had us raise our right hands and swore us in. She then asked us a few simple questions such as, "What is his name, what is the nature of his parents, and do you swear that all the info presented in this file is true?" (and a few other questions I can't remember). She looked through all our papers, signed and stamped them, and handed the file back to us. VOILA!!!! HE IS OURS!!!!! Not a single hiccup! YEAH!!!!

Inside the red folder that contained our life were things like his official adoption decree, his original Ethiopian birth certificate (which is so cool) and two pictures we had never seen before. Priceless. It gave me the chills looking through all the papers. Can't believe he is ours!

I wanted to take a picture of us at the embassy but no cameras were allowed within one block of the U.S. Embassy, so that was a no go! Instead, here are some more pics of us hanging out with our babe back at the Guest House.

I seriously cannot stop kissing those dimples. Unbelievable cuteness!
Here's Mekonen trying out some rice cereal. Yummy!!!
Daddy blowing raspberries on Mekonen's belly. He was crackin' up!
Uh-oh...DOUBLE TROUBLE! Pure sweetness.