Thursday, January 31, 2008

I couldn't help myself

Matt is going to kill me since he said not to start buying a bunch of stuff but I couldn't help it. There was a killer sale on Robeez shoes and I just had to buy some. It was a buy one get a holiday pair half off but it turns out there was a glitch in their online system and as long as you bought one pair you could get any number of the holiday pairs for half off. So I bought five pairs. Shhhh. At least I didn't buy all the same size so she'll have really cool shoes over the next two years. And they have a high resale value so I can probably sell them for the same amount I paid.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nappy Hair

So everyone has a huge concern about how white folks' hair is different from African hair and how hard it will be on the white moms to keep their Ethiopian princess' hair in check. There are websites devoted to it and it is a hot topic on the Yahoo group. When I told my (Jamaican) friend Tamara that we were referred a girl, the first thing she said was that she'd have to show me how to do her hair. Even funnier, when I was in Ethiopia prior to receiving a referral, I mentioned to a Dutch woman that we were undecided about a boy or girl and she brought up the point that I would have to learn to do hair if we adopted a girl. Now the reason I find this so funny is that she had three Ethiopian kids and the first thing I thought when I saw them was that someone needs to teach that woman how to do hair. In fact, I came across several Norwegian and Dutch folks with girls and each had hair that any Ethiopian or African American would have been mortified over. I'm not trying to generalize but someone needs to fly to Scandinavia and teach those women how to do hair. But I digress...

For those of you who don't know, I've grown up in a very multi-ethnic environment. I was partially raised when I was young by my best friend's mom as my mom worked nights and slept during the day. She (and her mom) are black as were many of the folks I hung around with growing up. I remember I wanted to do everything my best friend did including getting braids with beads (before Bo Derek!), getting my hair hot combed (bad idea on my fine hair - the smell of burnt hair remains with me forever) and joining her dance group so I could have my own gold lame costume ala Solid Gold (also a bad idea as I hadn't quite developed much rhythm at the age of 5).

But since I've always had racially diverse friends and continue to do so to this day, I have this attitude that I have an advantage over other white moms and hair will be easy since I've been around black hair all my life. But then I think about it. And I realize I've never DONE any black hair and if someone asked me what products to use, I'd have no clue. So I realize I'm really lucky I have my friends to guide me through or people might start thinking I'm Dutch.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Orphanages

During my three days in Addis Ababa, I spent time visiting eight or so orphanages, bringing donations, speaking with people and just generally trying to get a feel for adoptions in Ethiopia. My time was limited so by no means did I get the full range of experiences or talk with enough people but my days there were pretty full so I feel I have developed at least a bit of insight.

There are many, many orphanages in Addis that range from relatively well-funded to dirt poor. They have varying degrees of standards and sanitation. City water and sewer is available in some locations but often the water doesn't work and people have to bring in water in cans. Other places have open sewage trenches outside the gates and no running water.

Apparently many orphanages do not have a sign out front because people are known to drop kids at the front gate even though the orphanage is at capacity. And before you get all judgemental about it, you have to understand that people there are typically very, very poor. They love their children and it is only desperation, death or illness that leads them to give up their kids. I happened to witness a relinquishment at one orphanage and I can't believe how many tears were shed. The nun had dry eyes and I could tell this was a regular occurrence and that she must have had to steel her heart many years ago. Yet I could also tell she really cared and in fact took in a child who was very sick with AIDS even though it was against policy.

I also visited AHOPE, an orphanage for HIV+ kids. I came lugging a fifty pound box of donations and hoping to spend some time with the kids. Unfortunately, I showed up on a weekend when none of the management was there so I basically just dropped off the box and didn't get a chance to meet the kids. When I go next, I'll make a point to arrive during the week since I have heard it is a wonderful place.

I visited one place that had lovely murals painted on the walls of the infant rooms and seemed very cheery. I heard it was funded by the Dutch and is now run by a local Ethiopian who works with eleven or so different adoption agencies. There were scads and scads of kids running around what looked to be a five room house. Since I can't legally show pictures of the children, these are the shoes of apx. fifty kids that are inside gathered around an old TV set watching a school lesson on the VCR.

I went to another orphanage that was out in the country. It happened to be near a region that was called Clean Air (in Amharic of course). I found this quite funny since it is also the location of the public dump. Luckily the orphanage was nowhere near the dump but happened to be on large grounds with views of rolling hills. They had their own dairy that produced milk and cheese for their consumption as well as to sell.

The luckier children at the orphanages that are well funded are neat and clean with matching outfits and neatly braided or trimmed hair. The unlucky ones probably haven't had baths in days, wear a hodgepodge of dirty and ripped clothes and have crazy hair. But there is one common theme that I noticed; the children all seemed to be happy despite their circumstances and to meet a sullen or cranky kid was the strong exception. At every orphanage, I met some really, really great kids. And if it weren't for Matt keeping me in check, I probably would have signed on to adopt several more right then and there.

I'll save that for the next trip. :-)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I have some additional photos of Fiori but I cannot post on the blog as we are not legally allowed to post pictures until we have made it through court and she is officially ours. So if any friends or family would like photos, please let me know.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Yes, I realize I've been conspicuously absent from this blog. But it was Nikko's idea and I figured I'd let her see how hard it is to write interesting copy day in and day out. But since we're mere months away from a tiny living being showing up to call me Dad, I figured it was time to chime in. So here's what I'm going to rant about: stuff.

We made our first joint trip to Babies 'r Expensive this weekend to test drive some strollers. How a product can be both so completely over-engineered and almost totally inoperable at the same time blows me away. But what really shocked me wasn't the fact that it took an advanced degree in mechanical engineering to fold a stroller, it was the sheer amount of crap that people think is necessary to raise a kid these days.

There were swings, and bouncy things, and play pens - which apparently aren't really for playing because you also are expected to buy "play centers" the kids lay on with dangling things overhead, and gigantic plastic monstrosities featuring every imaginable stimuli. There were so many colors, sounds and cartoon animals it made me feel like I was taking magic mushrooms while in the Alice in Wonderland section of Disney World. There were high chairs and short chairs you put on a table, and walkers and some contraption that looked like it belonged in a Teletubby S&M chamber.

It's no wonder this generation of kids grows up with no attention spans. We expose them to so much, so quickly, their little brains become the equivalent of a meerkat on crack.

My question is, do we really NEED all this stuff? My parents (and Nikko's parents) certainly didn't have a standard stoller and a jogging stroller and an umbrella stroller for when they travelled and had to pack light. My brother and sister didn't grow up deficient because they didn't have a 47-piece crib entertainment center complete with iPod dock and Bob the Builder figures. Does my kid need $65 Nikes that they'll grow out of in 2 weeks? Does she need a $1000 crib that she'll use for 6 months? Hell, my last bed costs less than that and I had it for 10 years.

So all I ask is this. Don't go crazy on our kid. I know it's exciting and all, but before you go run out and buy her the Fisher Price Rain Forest Jumparoo or the Starlight Papasan Cradle Swing, ask yourself if we'd do better not paying good money for a planet-killing hunk of plastic junk and instead donating $50 to her college fund.

Now if you'll excuse me, I had 84 dog toys in the living room to go pick up...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I know it's early but...

I went to go check out strollers today.

Actually, it might not be early since there is a possibility that she's coming home sooner than we thought. I have heard an unconfirmed rumor from parents currently over in Ethiopia that court papers might be filed soon which is 1.5-2 months sooner than I was estimating. So she could be home as soon as three months from now. Everyone keep your fingers crossed.

Anyway, my best friend Christina went with me yesterday to Babies R Us to put together a registry and figure out what the heck Matt and I need to get. We spent several hours there and I am truly overwhelmed. In that brief time, I couldn't process which stroller to get so I figured I would come back later and try them out a bit more.

One of our friends has the Ferrari of strollers, the Bugaboo. It's a gorgeous study of shiny aluminum and cherry red cloth with a price tag north of $1000 counting essential accessories. Matt thinks it is a ridiculous piece of equipment and says we should go for something light and minimalist (maybe he's worried I'm feeble and can't lift 20 pounds). Since he has (as far as I know) fathered no children as yet, I really only half listen to him when it comes to baby equipment but I do think light and easy to use might be nice. So here I am alone (metaphorically) in Babies R US trying to open, close and lift various strollers. And I feel really stupid.

Now I'm a handy person. I fix things, work on houses and have even changed brakes, belt pads and such on my 1967 Mustang back in the day. But I can't for the life of me figure out how to fold these strollers. And when I finally figure out how to close one, I can open it back up.

I actually have to take off my jacket as I'm starting to sweat.

So here I am in the stroller aisle surrounded by all these folded strollers and I'm looking around wondering if anyone is noticing my increasingly violent attempts to open these things. All the while, happy families are walking around in their perfectly opened strollers giving me sympathetic glances. So finally I buck up and ask a sales associate how to open the danged stroller. Easy as pie, he opens it as I watch on. Ah, so that's how it's done.

So what do I do? Close it again (which I have now mastered) and damned if I can get it open.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sorry for the delay.

I will attempt to fill in the blanks a bit during the time we were in Africa. As some of you may know, we decided to finally go on our honeymoon and to do a safari in Africa. We were to leave from Nairobi and spend two glorious weeks in Kenya and Tanzania living it up and hanging with the wildlife (more on that later). When we decided to adopt, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend a few days in Ethiopia as it is only a two hour flight from Nairobi. I did not go there with the intention to find our baby but I figured I could check out the scene, bring some donations, talk to folks and help out our adoption agency with taking pix and gathering information on older waiting kids. I could only spare three full days but how full those three days were.

I put out the call for donations and was inundated. I managed to get permission to bring an extra piece of luggage so I had my bag plus two fifty-pound boxes filled with all kinds of clothes, medicines, toys, etc... and I still have more stuff for the next trip. I had one box earmarked for AHOPE, an orphanage for HIV+ kids and the other I planned to give to my adoption agency which funds several orphanages and was in the process of setting up a transition house where I knew our baby would be staying until we could bring her/him home. I am also tasked with trying to get photos, weights and measurements of the matched children waiting to come home to the US.

So I had just about the longest series of flights ever. Here is my routing:

SFO-London: 11 hours
8 hour layover in London
London-Nairobi: 9 hours
10 hour layover in Nairobi
Nairobi-Addis Ababa: 2.5 hours

Now before you feel too sorry for me, I will tell you that I exchanged something like ten years worth of frequent flyer miles so that Matt and I could fly Virgin Upper Class. So my on-board experience looked something like this and my eight hour layover in London was here. I tell you, once you go business class, it is hard to go back.

So two or three days later, I arrive in Addis and head to the New Flower Guesthouse which is run by an Ethiopian-American woman who is quite active in the adoption community and started the guesthouse primarily for adoptive families. When I arrived, I am greeted in the communal lounge by all these foreign white women holding little Ethiopian babies. It was really kind of strange and I had to think "that will be me soon".

The next day, I am met by my driver Genanew who turns out to be my adoption agency director's brother. From there it was a whirlwind tour as I spend time visiting eight or so orphanages. But first a bit on Addis Ababa...

Now I have traveled to something like eighty countries and have spent lots of time in poor communities and third-world nations. But Addis has to be one of the poorest capital cities I have been too. They're even too poor to have a McDonald's if you can believe that one. Usually even in a poor country, you can see pockets of really ritzy neighborhoods where the "haves" live in posh houses. I went through the city several times and the only place I saw that looked remotely ritzy was the Sheraton Hotel. I would say it is akin to a nice four star hotel but for Addis, it is considered WAY over the top. It's like an oasis island in the middle of a tin roofed ocean, complete with armed guards to keep the riff raff out.

Speaking of guards, lots of houses had them and almost every house had a tall surround wall with sharp object such as broken bottles or razor wire at the top. You drive up to the gate, honk softly and some older male eventually opens to gate once he makes sure you are on the level. He probably gets paid a dollar a day which is more than twice the national average.

The streets of Addis are enough to shock 99.99% of Americans. It is really, really hard to describe but imagine cars going in every direction sharing the main road with scads of people, fully laden donkeys, cows, flocks of sheep and homeless people actually sleeping ON the road next to the middle median. OK, I have changed my mind, I think that 100% of Americans will be shocked. I was taking it all in stride until I realized a slight accidental veer to the left by about a foot would crush the skull of a sleeping man and you probably wouldn't even get in trouble for it. Yet in all this mayhem there are very few accidents and people don't get hit. The protocol is to gently honk at every opportunity which actually causes humans, cars and beasts to veer out of your way. So whatever the unspoken yield/go etiquette, it seems to work.

Ok, so here are some stats:

Life Expectancy: 48 years (Ethiopia), 78 years (US)
Gross National Income (per capita): $160 (Ethiopia), $43740 (US)
Percent of population living on <$1/day: 23% (Ethiopia), 0% (US) % of population w/ improved drinking water: 22% (Ethiopia), 100% (US) % of population w/ adequate sanitation: 13% (Ethiopia), 100% (US) Child Labor (5-14 years): 47% (Ethiopia) Female genital mutilation: 74% (Ethiopia)

COMING SOON: my visit to the orphanages.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Oh, where to start?

We're now back from our trip to Africa and we've seen and done so much that I don't know where to start.

I guess I'll start with the best news of all. We're adopting a baby. OK, I guess you already knew that but now we are adopting a specific baby. Her name is Fiori and she is about 2.5 months old. And, yes, I did meet her when I was in Ethiopia. And boy is she cute.

So when will she be home with us here in the good ole US of A you ask. It's a little up in the air but my best guess is in the next 3-5 months. So we've got a lot of of getting ready to do.