Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another visit with the kids

Well today was a much better day with Geta and Tamene.  Mike and I started out at the CHSFS Office meeting with their social worker, doctor, nurse and primary nannies.  It was a chance for us to ask questions, seek advice and just learn as much as possible about them and their time at the care center.  We also got to preview the video of their birth family and time in Ethiopia.  As you can imagine, that was very hard to watch and I was very glad to have brought extra tissue!  It is a story that I am not anxious to show them, but know I will have to someday.


While we were meeting at the CHSFS office, everyone else went to the care center to play with the kids.  Grandma took Tamene and rocked with him.   He was no better than yesterday, just cried and hid his face.  He also weighs a ton (hence the rocking chair!!)  Geta was tentative at first, but Courtney opened her arms and Geta ran to her with a big smile.  When Mike and I arrived, I took Tamene and we all played a game of duck, duck, goose.  (Mind you I told the older kids NOT to pick me because I would never be able to get off the ground with Tamene!)  But Geta really enjoyed playing.  Her laugh is wonderful!  We also read some counting board books.  Tamene was very interested in that and perked his head right up to listen.  He didn’t have enough courage to participate, but he was very interested in the activity and seemed relieved to see Geta laughing and having fun.  Geta can now count to 10 all by herself in English and by the time we left at lunchtime, she also says all of our names without help!  (I was so proud of her!!)  Even Mike got a little teary eyed to hear her call him “Daddy”.  I think, as a parent, that is a great moment no matter how your child came to you!


Tamene still won’t let me feed him and hit me and pushed me away a lot, but I also got some very big smiles from him today and he let me put on his shoes.  While he cried a lot before I got there, he never cried once while I was there and he also ran to me when he felt afraid.  For some, this might feel like a small step, but for me, it feels like I climbed a mountain!


Geta got to say prayer before lunch today, but I was with Tamene, so I didn’t hear.  I have asked them to write the prayer for us so we can say it in America.  It is an English prayer, but we can’t understand the whole thing.  J  Tamene also knows that when you say “Amen”, you immediately fold your hands and bow your head.  It is absolutely adorable!


As we were leaving, both kids were getting into bed to take a nap.  I got to hug and kiss both of them and we can’t wait to see them on Monday.   They will be coming here to the Guesthouse for the morning on Monday to play with us and get to know this environment so that it won’t be so scary when they come to sleep here on Tuesday.


We are off for some shopping now and then dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant.  Tomorrow we travel to Hosanna (about 3 hours south of Addis Ababa) to visit Geta and Tamene’s father.  (…yet another incredibly emotional day, but one that I am so grateful to be able to experience!)


We miss all of you, but are having a great time in Ethiopia!



Just a quick note about Mom and Dad.  Mom ate something else that didn’t agree with her and was up again in the night, staying very close to the bathroom.  She said that she feels fine, so it is much better than when she got sick last Wednesday.  Dad’s quote for the trip, “It is no wonder Ethiopians have so many children.  There is nothing else to do here after the sun goes down!”

Friday, January 30, 2009

We finally meet

We just met Geta and Tamene (Tommy for short) for the first time.  It was everything they said and more.  Being that I had no expectations (my typical m o in life), it was slightly different than I might have imagined.


Geta gave us a hug and kiss and sat with us.  Tamene didn’t want much at all to do with us and stuck with his social worker.  I took Geta and Courtney, Patrick, Emily, and Josh and we played some catch with a soccer ball.  Geta to me and back, Geta to Courtney and back, Geta to Emily and back, you get the picture.  She was clearly the center of the game.  Kristen eventually got Tamene on a toy car and pushed while saying wee (which is wee in English) until he eventually put his feet down and wouldn’t let the car move anymore.  She rubbed his back which calmed him down a bit until he eventually let her pick him up.  Then they brought us together for a picture and since things were going well, they suggested I pick Geta up for the picture as Kristen was holding Tamene.


The picture went well, but afterwards Geta started crying, which you guessed it led to Tamene crying.  Kristen held Tamene while he cried and I let the social workers comfort Geta as I sat on the ground across from her while she cried.  This lasted 20 minutes.  Yes, that is 20 minutes.  It was very sad.  Geta and Tamene have been through so much and for us to be taking them away from the place they now know, their friends, their caretakers, etc.  I can only imagine what they are going through.  It was truly sad.  This is what many people said we needed to be prepared for, and Kristen said she expected it.  Me, not so much.  I had heard it might happen, but I don’t like to prepare for the worst.


Anyway, after the 20 minutes passed, it was time for Tamene to eat lunch.  He sat down and Kristen and the social worker, Rosie (I think) took turns feeding him.  Since Geta eats elsewhere at a different time, she had a cookie while clinging to Rosie and I rubbed her arm.  The good news is the crying had ceased (temporarily, just kidding, it had ceased for the visit).


After lunch, we all moved towards the room the 2 year olds sleep in and the children sat in two rows of of training toilets.  Child rearing at its best.  Sorry, we weren’t allowed cameras in the orphanage so no photos of this awesome event for you.  No seriously, this might have been our breakthrough moment.  They literally sat there a half an hour.  After 5 or 10 minutes, I started playing peek-a-boo from behind a nearby wall.  The kids started taking to it, especially Tamene.  We did this for 15 or so minutes (mind you, all the adults were there watching me look like a fool, but I think they were okay with it as I was possibly lightening up their new additions also).  Kristen meanwhile was playing soccer with Geta and she had calmed down and smiling again.


After 5 minutes, Patrick and Courtney and joined me and I put them on peek-a-boo duty, but we were about done.


So, when it was time to go, I said bye bye from afar to Tamene (who of course, is still sitting on the toilet, heck for all I know, he is still there), and get this, he bellowed out bye-bye.  Of course, so did 4 or so other of his potty pals.  He kept repeating bye bye and we actually had good fun.  I guess I need to get a bunch of kiddy potties for home.  How does that sound?


I go up the stairs to get on the bus (and at this point, I don’t yet know that Kristen was with Geta and making progress) and I pass Geta and she comes up to me and gives me a huge hug and kiss.  So, we get a nice farewell.  She is hugging and kissing all the Morins.  She is also blowing hugs and kisses to Grandma and Grandpa Carlson.


All and all, it was a very emotional experience, but one I wouldn’t trade, but am a bit glad it has passed.  On the bus, I reflected with the people nearby, well, this is the worst it will ever be, of course, except for those days that are worse.  Laughter wasn’t all that loud, but I think they all agreed.


We embark on our journey and I for one am full of emotion and energy.  I am not one to feel love that quickly, but I can truly say after 2 hours, I sincerely love my two new children and can’t wait for them to know and feel that too.  Wish you all could be here, but you will get to meet our two beautiful new children shortly.  I am sure my excited and happy wife will blog again soon (if we have access to a computer).


Love from Ethiopia, 


Catching up

We have just arrived at the CHSFS guest house, having made the move in three cars to accommodate all of us and our luggage.  Again it was quite a scene.  We arrived just as the previous travel group departed for the airport and had a chance to meet them and their adopted children.  It was with some sadness that we said good-bye to Helen, Caleb and the staff at the New Flower Guest House and to Ayele and Ashu our drivers.  They have all been so attentive to us and we have seen much of Addis Ababa thanks to the two drivers. 


On Tuesday we hung out at the New Flower guest house most of the day while the children did homework, journaled, played soccer and basketball in the courtyard and generally took a day off.  We ventured out for dinner to an Italian restaurant called Makush, a short taxi drive down Bole Road.  It was pretty much unanimous that we enjoyed the Ethiopian dinner the night before far more, although the food was not terrible.  Patrick and Barb might have been hard to convince as the night progressed.


On Wednesday all but Patrick and Barb (who spent the day in bed after a very long night) took a day trip (10:00am - 6:00pm) south of Addis to two crater lakes and a lovely resort, a rock-hewn church (Adabi Maryam) and Tyia (grave markers of 12th century wariors).  Ask Josh, he can tell you all about them!  Courtney made the trip, but got sick on the way home (thank goodness for Kristen who provided the ziploc bag!) and went straight to bed.  Those who were well enjoyed dinner with Awol, a former ND law student the Morins had met in South Bend last summer and have communicated with since.


Tomorrow we meet Geta and Tamene for the first time, so excitement is high.  Hopefully we'll be able to post daily from the CHSFS guest house, so more later.




Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reflections on our trip

Wow, what a whirlwind of emotion.  I am really, really enjoying our trip, but my heart goes out to some of the people I see here.  There is clearly a good deal of poverty around, but there are also people who live okay.  The amount of begging is tremendous.  The people here who are guiding us tell us we can’t give or we will suddenly have a group of 40 around us begging.  But we were driving in a car and mother’s with daughters in hands come asking for money for food as well as small children.  I have to say no.  But we were discussing it and Josh pointed out that the Bible says, ‘do onto others as you would have done to you.’  There was a stop light where no one was around so I could give someone 1 birr (about 9 cents American) to hopefully set a good example for Josh.  It really is tough not to give anything to the children and people.

I feel the best I can do is buying hand-woven scarfs, local art etc to help subsidize the small income of some of the local residents and hopefully help their economy by spending money here.  But I just wish we could do more.  Obama is very popular here (sorry Rich), and I just wish America could find a way to help more over here.  But that is another, longer and maybe more controversial post, so I will stay on task.


A brief story from an American Ethiopian I met on the plane.  He said that he went to public school and there are kids who have enough to eat (live a middle-class life over here) right next to kids who are starving.  He said as a boy at 10, he heard a 7 year old neighbor boy crying in the street.  When he inquired what was wrong, the boy said his mom told him it was the girls day to eat.  They had to rotate days to eat.  For 8 months, this 10 year old snuck his lunch to this boy.  His parents couldn’t afford to feed all the hungry so his food was for him, so he snuck it away figuring two meals a day was plenty for him.


Oh, and the driving here.  There are no stop lights.  Well, we saw one, but it wasn’t active (possibly due to the fact that the government turns off electricity about once a week for a few hours or a day to conserve).  So, we are driving around and have to cross an 8 lane road (I wouldn’t call anything here a highway).  All this with no stop signs and no stop lights.  It was an adventure.  I never felt unsafe driving or walking through the streets (though I have never been known for my judgment).  But I think the general consensus is that life here is safe.  But the resources are thin.


Oh, and all cars are old used cars from elsewhere.  It seems to rain at night, and many cars have no functional windshield wipers.  The one I drove in from the airport had wipers but no defrost.  The driver kept wiping the windshield with his hand.  Heck, that is kind of how I drive and do car care, but my wife beats me up regularly for that trait of mine.


The streets are lined with shops (called trading centers) that are little boutiques but not like we might see in America.  They are six to eight feet in length and often not even 3 feet deep.  They are selling scarfs, t-shirts, vegetables, fruit, anything they can.  Apparently these people are often very poor.  If you look interested in something and inquire, they give you a price, if you pass, they lower the price and follow you down the street in a desperate attempt to make a sale.  They are all very welcoming, not just at the shops but everywhere.  Apparently, Americans or outsiders are treated with the utmost respect.  A good number of people speak English, but usually just the more educated people.


Oh, a quick story.  So, we are at a restaurant having a milk shake for me and of course, a beer, for Bill and Kristen and Barb, but mainly Bill.  We are ready to pay and Bill decides to inquire if they take credit cards.  Bill asked the manager, not our waitress, but a guy who had been a bit attentive to us, if he can use a credit card.  The guy is receptive and says sure, no problem.  He takes the card.  A few minutes pass and we see him conversing with another manager-type guy.  They are looking at the card, the front, the back, the numbers etc and he puts in his pocket.  It becomes clear that he sees this as a gift and was just being polite taking this token from Bill.  Bill eventually summons him back over and tries to explain how a credit card is used in America.  Good news, he still has his card and all is well, but it was a bit humorous.  I am pretty sure the manager guy saw it as a nice plastic trinket some strange American gave him.


One other neat experience.  We went to a zoo, but it basically had 8 or so lions and a few monkeys.  But in a little garden area, people were sitting and monkeys were playing.  So, the kids and I went in and played with the monkeys.  We started by holding out our hands and we shook hands.  The monkey took a liking to Emily.  Before too long, he was on her back and Patrick too got in on the action.  Of course, all the while, Kristen (often a bundle of nerves) was trying to summon us onward as she was worried about ringworm or other issues.  But we won out and it was one of the highlights of the trip so far.  Of course, one of the many highlights, but fun nonetheless.


It has been very educational, fun, joyful, yet sad.  We have met many nice people, learned a lot and have only touched the tip of the ice berg.  Until next time.  Mike


Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 1 in Addis Ababa

Today, after sleeping in until 11am, we ventured out into Addis Ababa.  We walked along Bole Street which is a main street with lots of shopping just one block from our Guest House.  It was raining off and on, so I was glad I brought our unbrellas.  We had some St George's beer at a nearby restaurant and the kids had milkshakes.  They were very impressed.  Dad tried to pay the bill with a credit card.  The waiter was a little confused and thought dad was giving him a gift.  He thanked Dad and then, after reveiwing the detail on the credit card, put it in his own wallet.  Dad, realizing that he wasn't getting it back, called him back over and tried to explain.  He did end up with his credit card and just paid the bill in birr. 
We had dinner at a very nice place called Canaan's Restaurant and Pizza.  The kids ordered lamb wtih injera and Mike (of course) had Dora Wat.  Patrick and Mike both had Pizza for dessert!  The kids got a quick lesson on how to use toilets when there is no running water.  Their journal stories are hilarious!  Everyone was in bed early in the hopes of being better rested today. 
I am attaching pictures of the taxi ride from the airport with the luggage piled on top, and of our walking trip and dinner last night. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

We have Arrived!

We finally arrived! We got off the plane at the Addis Ababa airport at 5pm Saturday evening (South Bend time) which was 1am Sunday morning in Addis. We spent the next hour and a half getting our visas to enter the country, going through customs and getting all of our luggage. Amazingly, everything arrived! We then proceeded to meet our driver who came to pick us up in a Toyota hatchback and could fit 2 people without luggage! He quickly found some extra taxi drivers to help get us all to the guesthouse. I have pictures of the luggage tied to the top of each taxi. But the dial up connection is too slow to upload them. So you will have to wait, but needless to say, it was quite a site! Did I mention it was pouring down rain, also? I, of course, had umbrellas for everyone, but no clue where they were in all the luggage. It was more important to just get to sleep than try to find them, so we all got wet!

We finally went to bed about 3:30am. We slept well and I got everyone up at 11am to start getting them used to this timezone. Josh and Emily are a little cranky, but I am really proud of all the kids. They did great on the flights and so far have been very patient. We are ready to venture out into the city, but wanted to let all of you know we made it!

Will post more when I find a broadband connection!

Love from Addis!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A post for our designated worrier

In true Carlson spirit, Brian is awake watching our flight on the internet and reading the blog to make sure we made it.

We are in London Brian. It is the top of the morning here, but it feels like 3am (I must be lonely) to me.

They had no cots on the plane, and I had no access to a camera to get pictures of all the other Morins and the Carlsons sleeping. I worked and read the paper and listened to music. No sleep for the weary.

I never did an all nighter in college but looks like I might start now.

We are safe, get some sleep. Mike

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mike's first ever blog

Wow, what a month. And to think life is only going to get busier. We have spent the past year and especially the past month gathering paperwork, planning our trip, looking at vans, stressing about plane flights (Kristen) and getting excited. Kristen has read ever book known to adoption-kind and I have told her I like to take it as it comes and just be grounded in my principles and ready for action if need be. Some call that lazy (Kristen again maybe), I call it laid back. Okay, I am not laid back, but I am certainly not lazy. There is a long inside joke about that one (Ray), but I have only a few moments before we board the first of our planes.

So, in the past week, we have looked at a 12 passenger van. I love the idea of being able to have my entire family plus Bill and Barb be able to fit in the same van (Bill can drive) for any and all events; Redamax, camping, vacations etc. And as many point out, the white multi-passenger van will fit right in in my work parking lot. I won’t even know which one is mine. In my old job, I was the crazy one with 4 kids, in my newer job, I am just getting started with kids. We have Rich with 10, Randy and Tim with 7, but I passed Chris who only has 5. So, multi-passenger vans are the norm and mine will be obscured in the lot.

Oh and as I promised, here is a shout out to Lauri and Beth, you guys (gals) rock.

Okay, so is this blogging supposed to be free-flowing rambing? I know, not much different than a conversation with me, but I digress. I said it for you Bob.

So, we have had an adventure already. See the attached picture of the van. It is say 9:20am, we have to be at bus by 10 and I start to pack the car. We have 19 bags. I put the first 4 bags in and the trunk is full. Time for the 12 passenger van!! So, I jam some in the back seat and decide the kids will have to ride with their legs up. Still more bags keeping finding their way to the van for me to put in. Okay, now I decide, all 4 kids in the far back (don’t tell the police, the pictures don’t truly show us driving and it was only a mile or two to the bus) and I load bags in one of the 2nd row seats. Still more bags. Okay, I have decided I will kneel or squeeze in a second row seat myself as I now need that floor space too. All the bags are in and right on cue, here comes Kristen with the camera. She always wanted 8 kids. But then, I always said, if I were going to have a fifth, it would be a fifth of whiskey. Some may says she is off to get 6th and 7th, but I contend that I am a quasi-adult, just a kid at heart, so it is really only our 5th and 6th, not her 6th and 7th.

I promise my next blog will be more reflective of the experience we are embarking on, but as I did a week’s worth of work in the past hour and actually locked a loan, maybe two in the past half hour in the airport (have I mentioned historic low rates), I can’t keep my mind from racing a mile a minute.

And I say the kids on my basketball team need ridilin. I am off to relax and calm down on the plane, before all heck breaks loose with my new Super-Sized family. Sorry to ramble. Blogging off. Mike

Packed and Ready to go!

Well, I think I have everything packed and ready to go. I had to do some rearranging tonight as a couple of suitcases were too heavy. But they all fall under the weight requirement now. I am attaching a picture of the mound of luggage for just Mike, me and the kids. Thank God we are flying on big planes!

Mom and Dad had water leaking into their house today. Dad spent a couple of hours putting salt on the roof to melt the ice. They also had furnace issues ths week, so life has been a bit stressful at the Carlson household!

Well, tomorrow will be a long day! We depart from Notre Dame on the United Limo at 10:10am. Our flight out of Chicago O'Hare is at 5:55pm (CST). We arrive in Addis Ababa early Sunday morning (1:25am) which is really 5:25pm Saturday here in South Bend. So you probably won't hear from me for awhile! I will do my best to update when we arrive, but no promises!

Thank you for all the many emails and prayers. Your support is truly overwhelming!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What to drive when we get home

So, Mike calls me at work today and says he has found a deal we cannot refuse. A 12 passenger used van that we can actually fit our whole family in and still have room to carpool! Yippee!! We went and test drove it and, while it wasn’t as bad as I thought, it was pretty big! But it certainly seemed like a good fit for our family. One of my coworkers was joking about me driving a school bus and I must admit that it felt a little like a school bus! :-( So you might just see us tooling around town in this vehicle in the near future. I am going to miss my leather heated seats, navigation system and satellite radio!

37 hours and counting till we leave!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Barb's test

Minus 6 days and counting.  Packing is proving to be a challenge.  We’re in the “I don’t need to take that” stage.



Courtney's 7th Grade Project

Courtney worked so hard during Project week to complete her topographical map of Ancient Greece.  She put in 30 hours researching, creating, and writing about Ancient Greece.  She was very proud to talk to all her teachers and parents and friends who came to the project fair.  Congratulations, Courtney!  Awesome work!

Happy Birthday Geta!

January 9th was Geta's "estimated" birthday and we just couldn't let the day pass without celebrating.  It was sad to think that she probably didn't even know it was her birthday.  But her family here in the US celebrated with her in spirit.  The kids came up with the idea for the cake and I added her picture.  We can't wait to meet her in just a few weeks!  Happy Birthday, Geta! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

first time posting

OK, so I just setup this blog. I have never done this before. But I figure how hard could it be? I thought it would be a fun way for us to share our adventures to Ethiopia with all of you who have supported and loved us along the way. So, I may not be good at this, but please know you are with us as we head to Ethiopia!