a little and a lot

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Month in the (Ethiopian) Life

By the end of that miraculous Saturday, I was feeling back to normal, albeit a little frail.

I was so thrilled to wake up on Sunday morning feeling well that I suggested a celebratory outing.

My original vision of my time in Ethiopia with Rhet was an open-ended amount of time in which she and I explored the city and frequented our favorite coffee shops & markets, making friends along the way.

My reality turned out like our celebratory outing:

We decided to go up to Kaldi's, which was a coffee shop that mimicked Starbucks right down to the circular green logo. We were staying at a guest house owned by our agency liaison, and while it was possible to hire drivers when going out, it required planning ahead and paying by the hour. In addition, our agency only approved a handful of locations for families to take their Ethiopian children before the adoption was completed, and all of those locations were within walking distance of our guest home.

Kaldi's was described as a 10-15 minute walk from the guest home. I donned the Ergo carrier for the first time and Rhet was amused to ride in it. We stepped out into the sunshine and ventured beyond the gate.

There was a rocky dirt road that led out to a street. (Waive to the children playing and asking for "sweeties" and watch out for the heard of goats!) After turning onto the street, we passed a mosque from which we heard the daily prayers chanted over their loudspeaker. Lots of people walked on this street and cars passed by, honking at any person or animal (cows, goats) in their way. Our agency's offices were toward the end of this street behind a bright blue metal gate. At the end of the street, we turned right onto the sidewalk of a major road. Addis Ababa is quite dusty and smoggy--this road was noticeably different in air quality. We started the hike uphill on the sidewalk, passing little shops and people selling things on blankets or begging on the street. Up, up, up we went. Finally we saw the multi-level shopping center with Kaldi's in the distance. We crossed an empty concrete lot and then an interstate-like ramp. We walked down to the end of the parking lot and [whew!] we were there.

The morning sun had been beating down on us. The uphill hike in the altitude was brutal. With a 25 lb child hanging on the front of me. We were huffing and puffing and sweating when we walked into the coffee shop.

(10 minute walk?! Ummm...I don't think so.)

We found a table upstairs, fell into a booth, ordered a latte and some pineapple juice, and shed our layers. Ahhhh.

Reality check: Little Girl was hot and tired of being in the Ergo. Her idea of a good time had less to do with leisurely chatting and more to do with running, climbing, and squealing. (Duh, Jesse. She's a toddler. How many toddlers I have I seen sitting around Starbucks reading the latest bestseller? That's right...NONE.)

While this big scene was bound to happen at some point, I did not wish for it to be in front of a crowd of quiet Ethiopians. I got flustered, realized I forgot to bring snacks or toys, felt like a dummy, and then freaked. I stuck Rhet right back in the Ergo, told Mom to get everything to go and take care of the bill, and I rushed out of there.

I was so embarrassed and tired and frustrated and dreading the walk back and feeling like a big dummy. I took it out on my mom as we headed back in the now seemingly scorching sunshine. Then I felt guilty and I apologized. We both cried most of the way home. Scarred. For. Life.

I thought I knew what the whole thing (parenting, superlong trip to third world country, being away from husband, todderhood) was going to be like...but I had no idea. I really didn't have a clue.

Being a mother required my constant vigilance and energy all the time. ALL THE TIME. Do not mistake this as a complaint--it's more of a revelation. I was shocked that the whole thing blindsided me like it did.

After the Kaldi's misadventure, until Nick arrived later in the month, I did not even dream of thinking of having the notion of doing any "fancy" outings.


Instead, this is what life looked like in my Mommy Bootcamp:

Wake to the morning prayers being chanted from the mosque around 5am. Drift in and out of sleep until 6am, when Rhet wakes up in her pack-n-play at the foot of my bed.

Drowsily distract her in the bedroom for as long as possible until she inevitably voices her strong opinion to go downstairs and eat breakfast. (She likes to cut to the chase.)

7am breakfast #1 of rice cereal & bananas.
8am breakfast #2 made by the housekeepers.
(The girl is serious about her food!)

Play in common room with the guest house toys.
She started falling asleep on the floor from 9-10am.

Around 10am, go get dressed--her in a supercute outfit and me in waaay stretched out jeans and long sleeved tshirts.

(My belly doesn't show in this boyfriend cardigan, does it?)

10:30am - Head down to the agency offices to get the latest update.
Come back and play in the courtyard.

12p - Lunch made by the housekeepers or pulled out of our stash of Easy Mac, Ritz Bits, Goldfish, and Luna Bars.

Naptime lasts for about an hour while I straighten up our room and read "Hellhound on His Trail" on the iPad.

Afternoon playing in the courtyard and common room.

Dinner at 6p usually prepared by the housekeepers, if we signed up for it in the morning. Otherwise, we ate from our stash.

Post-dinner bath in the tub that we shared with most of the other guests in the house. (Ew. But Rhet didn't care--she loved bathtime. And as seen in this picture, she sorely needed it!)

Baby Mozart on VHS in the common room. Whoever left that behind: Thank you. Really. (Before traveling on our second trip, I had resolved that Rhet wouldn't watch TV until she was 2. That rule was quickly broken by this heavenly 22 minute video that glued Rhet to one place for brief spurts of time. Magic!)

Bedtime around 7:30pm. Afterwards, my mom & I watched Parks & Recreation on the iPad for an hour and then succumbed to sleep.


Power was hit or miss, as was running water, due to rationing. Ethiopia's weather was between 50-70 that month and no heat or air conditioning was needed (or available). The power outages meant that no lights would turn on & no showers would be warm, but that wasn't a big deal during the day, and the guest house ran a generator from dark until 10pm which allowed us to use the most important items requiring electricity. Water outages only affected washing hands or showers, because we used bottled water for everything else.

Using the Internet was addictive torture. You had to wait for a connection which could take 5 minutes or an hour on an old Dell laptop. (Identical to the one I bought for grad school in 2002--ha!) Then it was only a matter of time until being cut off. Web pages took awhile to load. It was hard to be away from Nick without an easy way to communicate with him. There was no way uploading and sending pictures was an option with this connection. I used an old Nokia cellphone (again, like my phone from 2002) to talk to Nick. He had to call me because I had to get the guard at the gate to load minutes on it, about 10 minutes at a time. When we returned to the States and got our phone bill, the total was more than $600! Ka-ching!

The rainy season was such a mystery to me before arriving. From the States the previous year, I had learned that the Ethiopian courts close every year during the heaviest part of the rainy season. While July was just the beginning of the season (courts close in September), I imagined mud and muck everywhere, walking in downpours, leaky ceilings, rain boots & coats...

The reality was that the weather was heavenly! 60's and low 70's during the day, sunny and pleasant. It rained about once a day, usually during the afternoon, in a rainforest/beach-like downpour for an hour or two. Thunder rumbled and rolled like a lullaby. And my dog with storm phobia was thousands of miles away in a sweltering, dry Memphis.


The fingerprints I had taken at the US Embassy in Ethiopia were FedExed to Nick. Meanwhile, Nick rushed to the USCIS office in Memphis and got a walk-in appointment to have his fingerprints taken. He had made a contact at the USCIS headquarters who was an angel in disguise. She promised to expedite the process to update our fingerprints. Nick then FedExed our fingerprints directly to her. She got the results in 1 business day and sent them onto the US Visa Center along with a request to continue expediting the processing. The US Visa Center then sent approval ASAP to the US Embassy in Ethiopia. And the rest will come in the next post...


Jane said...

Wow. This reads like an adventure novel. I am just so amazed by yours and Rhet's story! Looking forward to the next installment!

Adopting Rhet: Click on the timeline above to read more