(Warning... this is a very wordy post)
Again, with our good friend, Ambien, Stacy and I were able to sleep through the night, despite our excitement (yes, we were a walking pharmacy.... heeding the advice of others who had been before us, we were also prophylactically taking Cipro, Acidophilus, and then pepto before each meal... and yes, I know, I'm not supposed to take Cipro prophylactically -- but, this one here didn't have any major gi issues, so.... enough said). I digress.
Happy days. We had hot showers both when we arrived and that morning. I can rough it, but there's nothing like having bonus hot water, in my opinion. We showered and headed down to the lobby to start the day and have some breakfast. I believe we may have been the last ones there. Shocking. We introduced ourselves to the three other families we hadn't yet met and helped ourselves to the breakfast buffet. We made small talk at our breakfast table, with the knowledge that we were all just trying to make the time tick away faster until 1pm. 1pm was the designated time for Almaz to meet us at the hotel and then take us to Hannah's Hope to meet our children.
After breakfast, a few of us decided to explore the Union Hotel's surrounding neighborhoods. Its one of my favorite things to do when traveling -- just get out and walk around a little; get a feel for the culture at its roots. I was really excited to see things and people for myself. I suppose you spend so much time reading other people's experiences, you are curious to how that will translate for yourself. Is it wrong to say that I wasn't shocked by the devastation -- horrified, of course, but not shocked. The neighborhood consisted of all things corregated metal. Corregated metal roofs, fences... everything. Obviously there is a roaming issue as all structures had barbed wire or broken glass at the top of fences. The roads were cobbled stone or dirt, and a little hilly. The air was polluted with dust and exhaust (that became a problem several days later... we had a difficult time breathing from day 3 onwards). But, what stood out in my mind wasn't the poverty or shabby dwellings, it was the kindness and joy from the local people. I was constantly humbled by Ethiopian's generosity. I could learn, and did learn, a lot from them. Despite not having much in material worth, they still give an abundance. So, absolutely, I was humbled.
Someone within our group met a young women heading to church. They asked if we could take a look, and she invited us along. We found ourselves at The Liberty Church. People were praying kneeled down at the pews and getting ready for the church service. Stacy and I had sat ourselves down and soon thereafter a women beckoned us into a church office. What does it say about me that when we entered the tiny room with all 7 or 8 of us sitting down facing the desk, I had some vivid recollections of being in detention from school! ha. Anyway, the minister and his friend wanted to tell us about the origin of their church that started 18 years ago with only 17 members and has now grown to a congregation of approximately 250 people. They invited us to speak in front of the congregation at that morning's sermon -- Jason accepted the invitation and then we were given seats looking out at the people. We witnessed the start of the worship service wherein they sang a song with the same melody with rising and falling crescendo's for about 20-25 min. They were passionate about their worship and were moving and dancing with the music.
Eventually we had to say goodbye and wander back to The Union Hotel. Stacy and I still had some exploring left in us and we still had about an hour and a half before meeting Almaz, so we departed from the hotel again, but this time in a different direction. We found ourselves wandering up another neighborhood street, but this one was filled with plenty of children. The children are just so great -- they all have big smiles on their faces, some are slightly shy but curious at the same time, a lot of them will run up to you and say "chocolate" or "candy" hoping that they would receive some. We didn't have anything with us. We didn't even bring our camera, which I'm now sad about. The difference about these children than from others I've encountered in some of my previous travels are that they are hopeful for any handouts that you may have for them, but are okay if you don't have any... of course, we wished that we had something for them. Anyway... as we were gathering quite a parade of kids behind us this teenage girl came up to us. She wanted to practice her english (which a lot of the kids did) and engaged us in conversation. After a few minutes of talking to her, she invited us to come look at her house. Sure. Why not. That would be awesome.
So, we followed her down another alleyway towards her home. In tow was her 14 year old friend. We eventually stopped at a home and she knocked on the tin door that was partially being held up from a large stick on the other side of the fence. Someone came out and removed the stick and we ducked into their little courtyard in front of their house. We were invited inside -- the main room was quite small, but big enough to cram in a sofa, love seat, and a large china cabinet. Also, they had a tv and stereo on display and both on at the same time. Off the main room there were two bedrooms and a kitchen, although we didn't really see these other rooms. The house was made with some sort of poured building material and was quite dark inside. We were invited to sit on the sofa and several of this girls' family members came to join us. There was a precious 2 year old girl that was playing around and being a typical cute toddler. There was also a 2 month old baby girl that Stacy managed to get her hands on and hold. Classically, the 2 month old was wrapped from head to toe in a fleece blanket. We learned that the girl that invited us was 18 years old, had just graduated from beauty school the night before, she was living there with her Aunt (I think we figured out there were 6 or 7 people living in their household), and her mother had died. The girl (I know, I know.... but, I can't remember her name) showed us pictures of various events of her life, and even showed us a picture of her mother. It was so great to be invited into their house and see what was important to them. They offered coffee to us -- I remember reading somewhere that it is rude to decline coffee in the Ethiopian culture, so we accepted their offer. Well, who knew. But, they started in on the whole coffee ceremony for us. The toddler helped lay out some straw material on the floor, they set up their cooking fire there, and began to roast the coffee beans. We knew that we were taking part of something really cool and authentic. It was awesome. Once the coffee beans were roasted, the coffee pot was put on the fire and they started grinding the coffee up with a mortar and pestle. The coffee grinds were dropped into the coffee pot and the brewing began. This was, like I said, so cool... but, I started to get a bit anxious about the time. Fortunately Stacy had her watch on. I leaned over to her and asked her what time it was.... 12:30pm.... 12:35pm... 12:40pm... 12:45pm. Great Shauna. Just great.... you're going to be late for getting your daughter! It was at 12:45pm that I kindly turned to the sweet teenage girl and told her that I did not want to be rude, by any means, but I had an important meeting I needed to go to at the hotel at 1pm. They couldn't have been nicer.. they quickly poured the coffee, offered more coffee once we'd finished drinking it, and politely wished us well as we left. The girl accompanied us back up the street and gave us her cell phone number, in case we happened to come back, so that we could text her. Like I said... the Ethiopian people could not have been nicer or more generous.
Okay. Running. Yes, we were running back to The Union Hotel. I think we ran into the lobby doors at 12:58pm. Other families were stressing for us. Its not good when you're stressing out other families! I ran up to our room to grab my documentation that I needed and saw Almaz and Johannes walking through the door as I was running upstairs. Phew. Not late. Close call though!
Next. Fill out the documents needed for our US Embassy appointments the following day, give our coffee orders, pay various fees, and give whatever US Dollars we wanted exchanged to Birr. It is so smart of Almaz to do all the mundane paperwork before we meet the kids. I doubt our focus would have been adequate afterwards. After everything was filled out and monies collected, Almaz briefly told us the kids schedules, any changes in formula/diet that may have happened since our latest update, and told us a brief thing or two about our specific kids. When she came to Maeve, she just laughed and said something about how much hair she has... Hilarious.
Okay. We were now ready to walk up to Hannah's Hope. I had guessed in the direction to where the house was, but I had guessed wrong. I suppose that's why we never found it in our explorations. Hannah's Hope is only one block away up a cobbled stone road. You round the corner to the right and there are those famous red gate doors. We were all anxious and excited. Stacy was armed with the video camera and we all walked through the gate doors. All of the kids were inside the house so we just waited in the courtyard. Within our travel group there were 4 families that had toddler aged - 4 year old. They brought those kids out individually and we were able to witness those families meet their children. It was very special. The remaining 3 of us had babies... Josh and Brandi were being brought into the house to meet their 4 month old daughter, Eva, and Josh handed me his video camera to capture the moment. Aghh... I don't want to screw this up! I just followed them into the main downstairs room where Eva's crib was and watched them see her and hold her for the first time. Very very special.
While I was filming, I heard someone say my name behind me. I turned around and asked, and they said they were bringing Maeve down from upstairs right then. I gave Josh and Brandi their video camera back and then saw the most precious site of my life -- Maeve! So so sweet and she looked exactly as I had imagined her (minus the cornrows! I'm still too intimidated to try those yet...). She just looked at me... she smiled a little... and had big eyes taking in the scene. She was so soft and she let me snuggle her as much as I wanted. She was kind of looking at me like, you're nice, but who are you... and what's going on here? She didn't make a peep though. She just took everything in. After I did the ugly cry on video and snuggled and kissed her all over, Stacy had a moment to hold her while I took some photos. I stole her back and I just held her. I sat down on the main floor, held her, and tried to take it all in -- watching everyone have their first moments with their kids. It was crazy to finally have my girl in my arms. We stuck around Hannah's Hope for a couple of hours wandering around -- I went upstairs and saw Maeve's bedroom, met some of her special mothers, played in her room for a while.... I then went outside, wandered out back to where the other kids were hanging out. I put Maeve in the Ergo to force her to like me (ha)... she didn't love the Ergo at first -- because she likes to look out a lot, and because she couldn't hold her head very well... now she loves the thing.
Eventually we all started filtering out of Hannah's Hope back to The Union Hotel. I was able to take Maeve back with me. The moment I met her, she was mine. Sometimes the older kids spend their first night still at Hannah's Hope to help with transitions, but this wasn't required for Maeve. At the hotel we had dinner all together -- again, its a weird thing to think back on because you're trying to focus on the entire moment, everyone's moment, but you're so enthralled by your child alone, you don't get it all. I just couldn't believe I had her in my arms. She just snuggled into the sweet spot, sucked her thumb, watched all that was going on with big beautiful eyes, and didn't make a sound.
We then took her up to the hotel room, gave her a bath, fed her, and she fell asleep instantaneously in the moses basket the hotel had provided for us. Now, as I had mentioned in my previous post, I was, at this point, very worried about her. I was concerned about her strength, her lack of gross and fine motor skills, and the fact that she was too good. I didn't sleep that night. I just listened to her (it wasn't hard as every child in Hannah's Hope has a pretty wicked cough and chest congestion... ) Of course, when she would take a silent breath I worried that she wasn't breathing... I felt better at midnight when the faintest of whines came from my daughter -- she was hungry and she was letting me know. Thank goodness. I still didn't sleep well for the rest of the night, but I was greeted with big smiles and a more animated baby in the morning. A lot of my pent up anxiety left me then. Maeve was a little person... and she was ever-so-slowly showing me who she was.
Told you. Wordy. Doubt I had anyone follow me through to the end!
Here is the picture book version:
Exploring the neighborhoods around The Union Hotel