Monday, July 30, 2007

No News is Good News

At least it is in our case. The integration of Neti and Meke into our lives has been an amazing thing. Not completely flawless but much closer to flawless than we ever expected. Apprehensions have completely disappeared. Everyone seems to be settling into their new roles well (at least the roles required to this point). The older and younger girls are acting like sisters.

We're amazed at the speed in which Neti is picking up English in the last 2-3 days. Less than a week ago she was a one-word communicator. Today I patted my stomach before sitting down to dinner. In response Neti said, "Daddy big tummy." She's been independently stringing correctly constructed phrases with 3-4 words on a fairly regular basis.

And somehow she even knows how to read - I think. Actually, I don't know what to think. Yesterday morning she picked up a spiral bound book and said, "Nose," as she pointed to the cover. I took the book expecting to see a picture of someone's schnoz. Instead, her finger was pointing to a word. The word? "NOTES". Pretty close.

I asked all the English speakers in our family. None of them have ever showed the book to her. No one taught her to read or write the word "nose". Not sure what to think about it. Either she's extremely gifted in language, extremely lucky, or has some background with English letter sounds.

Meke's Hobby

This little girl doesn't need much to entertain her. Obviously, her rhythm and moves are either genetically inherited or culturally implanted. She doesn't even need music. She creates her own.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gifts from Iowa

My mother made these quilts for her newest grandkids.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Neti and "NO"

We're at an awkward stage of the language barrier. Neti and Meke understand dozens English words and phrases. However, they don't know how to respond in English. Consequently, to the casual observer it might appear that politeness and obedience are out the window. Nothing illustrates this more than Neti's fixation on the word "No".

Under normal circumstances a 6-year-old has several hundred words to choose from to let Mom and Dad know what's going on in their gray matter. Neti, though, doesn't have that luxury. When Mommy or Daddy ask her to do something and she can't find the proper English response, she has two choices.

Choice #1: Talk with a line of reasoning that makes perfect sense to her but sounds like random string of unintelligible syllables and random chatter to Mommy and Daddy. (This usually results in Daddy smiling and saying "I have no idea what you just said," followed by a repeating of instructions in English.)

Choice #2: Just Say "NO!"

"No" means a lot of things. When Mom says, "Wash your hands, it's time to eat," NO can mean "I will as soon as I go to the bathroom" or "I thought you wanted me to pick up my toys first". It can mean, "I don't like green beans, so please don't put them on my plate" or "Can't we stay up and play a little longer?"

But we're wise to the fact that "no" can also mean, "You're not my boss!" or "Don't tell me what to do!"

So we're faced with paying much more attention to details. We don't want to discipline a child when her "no" means, "I'm hot. I'd rather sleep without a blanket tonight". Neither do we want to give a pass to a verbal act of defiance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Two Versions of Daddy

Well, we've somewhat settled into "normal" life (as normal as life can be). I'm discovering new challenges with being a Daddy again.

On one hand I have two older girls who, by nature of their age, don't demand much "maintenance" attention. They dress themselves and pick out their clothes. When we say, "Get ready to go," they do. They buckle themselves up, open their own doors, and eat with their silverware. Most significantly, they've each had 10+ years of experience with life in the Waal household. They know what's expected.

On the other hand are two younger girls who, by nature of their age, demand lots of "maintenance" attention. They need help with tons of things (bathroom, hand washing, reminders to blow their nose, etc.).

Throw in a language barrier and cultural differences and you begin to see the challenges we face. This is all what I expected.

I think the biggest challenge for us all has been Neti and Meke's lack of experience in our household culture. Every tradition, procedure, rule, and practice of our household is up for grabs and being tested. It's not an intentionally rebellious act on their part. They simply don't know how we're accustomed to doing things. They don't know the boundaries. They're oblivious of the simple nuances of how our family operates.

Bethany and Kailey, for example, know the difference between Daddy's "game mode" and "discipline mode." As Neti and Meke have only experienced the former in their first week with us, they're still trying to figure out the latter.

I noticed today that out of necessity I've become two versions of to my older kids, and quite a different version to my younger. My older girls have noticed. Not sure if the younger ones have (they couldn't tell me if they did).

I thinking this is probably some pretty normal stuff that comes after the "The End" of the Fairy Tale.

But I wouldn't trade it for the world!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Meke's First Week

Neti's First Week

A week ago today the girls came home. Here's Neti's first week in pictures!

(Yes, that's a tooth!)

Friday, July 20, 2007


You're riding in a blue taxi van through the crowded streets of Addis Ababa. The driver turns right onto what seems in your American mind to be nothing more than an alley. In reality, you've turned onto one of thousands of unmarked, unnamed streets that make up the city with 4 million inhabitants. No rhyme or reason for where these streets lead. No master city plan. Just a series of corridors that dodge in and out of the rough-hewn structures that people call home.

The street is brimming with life. Buyers. Sellers. Animals. Children. No more than a half block of zigzagging to avoid people and potholes, the driver veers right in order to line up the hard left turn onto yet another street. This street has every marking of an alley - wide enough for only one vehicle and not a front door in sight. You soon realize that these are homes. And there are doors. Front doors. People live here. This is where the missionary told you the middle class reside. One or two rooms made of scrap metal. Home sweet Ethiopian home.

One block later you arrive. A large steel blue-gray gate announces your destination. Kid's Care Children's Welfare Association. You're about to meet your children for the first time. They've lived behind these walls for the past 4 months.

The driver gives the horn a quick tap. Barely audible you wonder if anyone hears. Within seconds, a middle-aged man wearing a white stocking cap peeks through the small door. Recognizing the driver, both gates swing open. There are no marked parking spaces. Several cars are already blocked in. Your blue taxi van takes the last available space effectively preventing the escape of every vehicle.

The sound of children fills the air. Happy children. This is not a place of sadness. Mourning and grief are locked outside the gates and kept at bay by a small army of loving caretakers. Although grief and loss are familiar travelers for the fragile young souls that inhabit this compound, this place has become place of hope and healing.

Healing begins the first time a child passes through the gates. New clothes. Regular meals. A touch. A hug. Being known by their name. Hope.

Not much larger than a middle-class American house, seventy children now call this place home. Tight living quarters can do little to squeeze out their anticipation. This home is only temporary. Better than what was, this place is only a glimpse of what is to come.

Your arrival is largely overlooked until one of the children notices the color of your skin. As your foot hits the playground-turned-parking lot, a tiny whisper incites a giggle. Then another. One child points shyly. Another catches your eye and nervously smiles and looks away as if nothing significant has occurred. As curiousity outpaces apprehension, some of the more seasoned residents venture outside for a closer look. Windows and doors are lined with tiny peering eyes. Caretakers steal an inconspicuous glance - or two. Piles of dirty laundry and unmade beds take a momentary break.

The last link in the chain of healing will become reality soon. Someone's family has arrived.

A moment of awkward introductions is quickly replaced by a sense of awe at the significance of what is happening. Apprehensions begin to melt away. A family is formed.

Children begin singing and dancing.

Once again, hope has found a home.

(Scene repeats daily)

Random Happenings

We're starting to settle into some normalcy (is that a word?) around our house. A few highlights from the last two days:

  • Neti beat me TWICE in "Memory" (the child's matching card game...and I was trying my hardest)
  • We've noticed that Meke doesn't shake her head "yes". Instead, she raises her eyebrows and throws her head back.
  • Speaking of memory, Neti knows nearly all of the English words for the pictures of nearly every card in the Memory game. She's picking up the language very quickly. We're thinking she may even be ready for kindergarten this fall.
  • Neti asked for "ice and water". Pretty soon she'll be speaking in full sentences.
  • Meke always says "auntie" (pronounced on-tee) all the time. Does anyone know what that means in Amharic?
  • Meke's dinner tonight: 3 pieces of ham loaf, a cup of corn, a banana, 5 strawberries, and 2 slices of homemade bread. Almost before we removed her bib after dinner she asked for a banana. She asks to eat at least once every hour or two. Is this normal?

Let the Weaning Begin

You know who you are. You've come to this blog to see what the Waals did today. I'm not going to tell you.

It's for your own good. You've gotta get used to the fact that I go back to work next week and won't have near the time to do this blogging thing.

Tune in tomorrow. Maybe I'll tell you what we did today...maybe I won't. (evil laugh)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Your Questions (and then some)

Yesterday I told you I'd answer any questions you had to the best of my ability. Those who will be traveling to Ethiopia soon may find this useful. The rest of you might find it boring.

1) What was the hardest part of taking care of your children while you were in Ethiopia?
I'm assuming you're talking about our adopted children. Language was an issue. Hair was an issue. And nearly every kid in the orphanage had the sniffles. Our advice is just to be prepared with tissues and over-the-counter cold meds. (Speaking of tissues, you'll want to take them with you everywhere. Although most public bathrooms have a toilet, some didn't have the accompanying paper assortment we're used to in the US.)

2) When Rhonda got sick, was it from the food, being very tired, or just a "fluke" sickness? And is there anything you would recommend we bring along for such a time when we travel?
We’re not sure what brought it on. We don’t think it was the food because we all ate the same stuff. We were prepared with anti-diarrhea and stomach medicine but it didn’t seem to help. She does have the tendency to get motion sickness which probably added to whatever she was experiencing on the flight home.

3) What was the most difficult cultural difference you experienced that you just weren't prepared for?
We really didn’t experience any cultural difference that fits this category. You’re going to love the Ethiopian people! We didn’t run across one rude Ethiopian!

4) What were the best things/toys for distraction and entertainment purposes on the trip home?
Coloring books. Magnetic games. Sticker books. Magna doodles. Simple picture books.

5) Would you take Ethiopian Air again?
Probably. From what we’ve heard it’s the shortest flight (time-wise) available by any carrier. I can’t imagine intentionally choosing a flight that was longer. And talking to other couples adoption who did extensive shopping for the best ticket price, Ethiopian Air was (by their account) significantly lower (I don’t know how much…we just trusted our adoption agency’s judgment on this one because of their extreme competency in everything else).
One of the things that impressed us was the service of the stewardesses. They repeatedly went above and beyond with our little Meke who was having a tough time on the long trip.
However, consider the following. Not once was any leg of the flights we took on time. The shortest delay was probably at least 45 minutes. And even though a friend of ours confirmed the seats of their return flight (something you're required to do or they'll sell the seats out from under you!!!), when they showed up at the airport and printed off their e-tickets, Ethiopian Air split up their families and separated them by 12 rows.

6) Where did you stay? How much money do we need for things other than hotel, embassy appt, etc.?
We stayed at the Addis Ababa Hilton. It’s hard to answer this question about money. It really depends on your agreement with the adoption agency. For example, we paid America World for our airline tickets and in-country expenses, which included hotel, all breakfasts and most other meals, and transportation. Most of our expenses incurred were for souvenirs. We probably spent around $300.

7) One question I will pose to you is in regard to the AWAA rep. How was your experience with him? Was he available when you needed him or was everything scheduled out for you daily?
Girmachew is amazing. He’s very competent and very much a servant. See my post about him here.
We were the only America World family in Ethiopia. As their Ethiopia program continues to grow there’ll be times when several families will be in Ethiopia the same week. Keep in mind that Girmachew also has the power of attorney for all legal work that takes place in Ethiopia. As we were in Ethiopia he had several court appearances he had to make. Anazingly, none of it interfered with our visit at all.

8) Also, how was the Hilton?
The Hilton is a very nice hotel. If you stay there take note:
A) Start the check out process earlier than you think you need to! Our adoption agency prepaid our bill but we had some discrepancies in the billing that took nearly 45 minutes to sort through.
B) There are no rooms with two double beds. The only two room arrangements are two single beds or one king bed. Adjoining rooms are hard to come by but can be arranged with a little persistence and advanced notice to the front desk.
C) The ATM in the lobby only takes VISA bank cards. You can, however, use your bank card at the bank in the lobby to get cash. There’s a $150 minimum with bank card money exchanges.
D) We were required to have our flight itinerary to exchange our Ethiopian birr back into American dollars.

9) Was it awkward to stay in such a nice hotel with your surroundings?
In Ethiopia the extreme rich and extreme poor aren’t as separated as in America so the paradox seems to go more unnoticed by Ethiopians than by kindhearted Americans. At no time did I ever sense any sort of resentment of the rich people staying in the hotel. We always felt very welcome.
The Hilton was chosen by our adoption agency because it is an extremely secure hotel (gated, armed guards, metal detectors, etc.).
All that said, of course, it was an eye-opening experience to see such extreme poverty while staying in such a nice hotel. It makes me even more determined to continue making a difference wherever and however I can.

10) Are there any social no-no's? For example, when my husband went to Brazil he was told not to do the OK symbol with his hand because it had a derogatory meaning there.
None we were aware of. If we offended anyone we don't know it! In general, just don't be the stereotypical loud American international traveler and you'll be OK.

11) What are the best, cheapest places to eat?
We ate at Abesha, the Elephant Walk Restaurant, Top View Restaurant, and the Blue Tops Restarant. Abesha has authentic Ethiopian food and a coffee ceremony afterwards. The only expensive place we found to eat was at the Hilton. Most meals at the restaurants listed above are less expensive than American fast-food value meals. For example, we fed our family of six for just over $20 at Blue Tops.
Take note before ordering: many of the dishes are served with garlic (you can request that they leave it off). The missionary told us that it's a natural weapon against malaria. Eat a lot of garlic and you start smelling garlicy. Mosquitos hate the smell and supposedly leave you alone.

12) On the flight to Ethiopia, how many layovers did you have and how long did they last?
Just one stop in Rome for a 45-minute refuel. No deboarding the plane was not allowed.

13) I'm wondering what the weather is like there - I know that it's rainy season, but what type of clothing did you find that you needed most? Was it humid? Did it cool down at night?
Not humid at all. Upper 50s to lower-70s most of the time. We never needed A/C or heat in our hotel room. A few chilly nights AND days. A day can start in the seventies and drop to the fifties pretty quickly. It can also start raining at any time. We always carried our jackets when we left for the day.

Other useful information you didn't ask about:

Wages and Tipping – $120/month (approximately 1000 birr) is considered a good wage in Addis. Given that fact I think we overtipped the guy who brought our suitcases to our room. We gave him $10. $3 is more normal. And we were told that a generous tip for a four-person meal is around 150 birr (about $1.50). (We overtipped a lot. Why not?)

Beggars – They’re everywhere. At every stop sign they find your car and start tapping on the window. Some are blind. Others are lame. A majority are children. Some parents intentionally maim their children (cut off a hand, etc.) to increase the sympathy factor. Beggars are especially attracted to cars full of white people. We’ve learned not to give money but to take food with us to hand out. If you do decide for some reason that it’s a good idea to give out money, do it when you’re leaving, not when you’re arriving. Otherwise, you’ll be mobbed!

Friendship – If two guys are close friends they’ll walk down the street holding hands. In Amharic (as in other languages like Spanish) there are masculine and feminine forms of words. Really close guy friends will use the feminine forms of words when talking to each other to show the depth of their friendship. There are no homosexual overtones to any of these behaviors.

English – Our Amharic phrasebook went almost completely unused - a testimony to the excellent care of our adoption agency rep. Nearly everywhere we went had someone who spoke English well enough to function. Over half of the TV stations are in English. Even the missionary and his wife speak very little Amharic and are very functional in their culture.

Air Travel
– If you’re tall and traveling Ethiopian Air, here are a few tips:

  1. Try to book a seat in an exit row (row 30 on our plane). There’s tons of room!
  2. If you can’t get an exit row, try to get an aisle seat. At least you can stretch out one leg.
  3. If you can’t get an aisle seat the best you can do is put your carry on bag overhead instead of under the seat in front of you.
  4. On our flight home we discovered that rows 1-30 have slightly more leg room than rows 31-42.

Taxi Travel – We never needed a taxi. However, we found that if you ever need one you’ll need to negotiate a price before you ever get in. A “contract” ride is when your party pays to be the only passengers in the vehicle (that's what our agency did for us - we had a driver at our disposal every day). Otherwise, the drivers will pack as many as possible into their car or van. According to Getachew a contract ride from the airport to the Hilton would only be about $10. He estimated that a normal ride would probably be only $1 per person. Again, negotiate ahead of time.

Blogging – For some reason we aren’t able to view ANY blogsites with the extension “”. I don’t know if this is a Hilton thing or an Ethiopia thing. These pages just don’t load. However, we’ve found that we can still view these sites by subscribing to them at

Web Access – Web access was consistent at the Hilton but VERY slow – especially to upload. For example, each picture we’ve uploaded usually takes between 5-10 minutes. And a 15-second video took over 2 ½ hours to upload to YouTube!!!

Ethiopian Hospitality – Not once did we ever get attitude from the people who served us. Every single Ethiopian served us willingly. Although we did have an incompetent waiter, he still served us to the best of his ability.

Orphanage Donations – We brought three suitcases full of donations for the orphanage. Some of the things needed were baby formula, over-the-counter children’s medicine, plastic diaper covers, and clothing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Neti's Gift

Just when I though we had a day too normal to blog about, 6-year-old Neti gave me something that I'll never forget. She's been a little bit cautious to make the connection with me as "Daddy". Not extremely slow - just slower than Meke. Maybe she feels the need to hang onto the Mom role she's played for little sis until we pass the "parent test".

Tonight it was as clear as ever. She's still a little girl who needs a Daddy.

If you've studied attachment in adoption you know that one of the most effective ways to connect with your kids is to lay down with them as they fall asleep. Tonight I did. Immediately, Meke grabbed me around the neck, gave me a big smile, and burrowed her face into my chest. This didn't surprise me. We connected on the long miserable plane ride home.

Within a few short minutes Meke's breathing got deeper and her little arm went limp. I carefully grabbed her little hand, lifted it slightly enough to slither out from under it without disturbing her innocent slumber. As I did, a somewhat larger hand somehow found mine and picked up where the smaller one left off. Neti had felt the bed move and reached over Meke's body to find me.

I shuffled to the other side of the bed and lay down next to Neti. She grabbed me around my neck with a grip that wouldn't let go before I could find a comfortable position on their pillowless bed (they don't like pillows). Pulling me every bit as close as Meke did, she let out an audible sigh. It was the first hug I've received from her that clearly said, "I need Daddy."

For at least thirty minutes I endured the most physically uncomfortable, yet emotionally rewarding hug I've ever had. As her breathing deepened and yet another arm fell limp I tried lifting Neti's arm from my neck. Just before the escape was complete she grabbed my hand with both arms and pulled it close to her chest, intertwining her fingers with mine. This time my position was even more uncomfortable than before. Half my body in bed and half out, for another 15 minutes I enjoyed simply being Daddy.

Stuff You Wanna Know

Rhonda and I are currently working through a list of things we've learned about Ethiopia from our trip. In the next day or so I'll be posting it to this blog. We're especially thinking of parents who will be traveling soon to pick up their kids. If you have anything you'd like to know, simply leave a comment. We're not experts but we'll do our best to answer based on our experience.

Kailey as a Big Sister

A month ago if you would have asked me I would have said Kailey was having somewhat of an identity crisis trying to figure out what her role was going to be in this new family. She was no longer the baby of the family. How would she adjust?

So far so good. She’s become a great big sister. We’ve seen a nurturing instinct in her this week that wasn’t visible before. She’s taken it upon herself to pull Neti and Meke under her wings and show them the ropes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

To Bring or Not to Bring...

We labored over the decision whether or not to bring our biological daughters (Bethany and Kailey) to Ethiopia to pick up Neti and Meke. I leaned heavily toward bringing them. Rhonda was slightly in favor of not. I won. (It wasn’t a highly contentious argument.)

If you were to ask her now she’d tell you we made the right decision. It cost us approximately $5000 more to bring them along but it was well worth it! They not only made the trip easier for us but had firsthand experience of the adoption process – something they’ll never forget.

I know that our daughters are older (10 and 12) than many others who are faced with the same decision. Here are some questions I’d consider:

  1. Can your kids take care of themselves? Are they responsible?
  2. Can they emotionally deal with parental attention temporarily shifted to a new family member?
  3. Are they natural nurturers?
  4. Do they obey well?
  5. Are they OK with sticking close to Mom and Dad?

The answers for us have been unequivocally “Yes!” Now our girls – all of them – have a lifelong memory they’ll cherish much longer than we’ll mourn the loss of $5000.

Battles With a 3-Year-Old

I'm told this is completely normal for a kid this age. Guess I've forgotten.

An absolutely adorable make-Daddy's-heart-melt sweetheart can suddenly turn into a bawling wreck for no apparent reason. Meke's been testing our boundaries. I'm told that's normal too.

Today was her (and Daddy's) first (and second) experience with "time out". She and Neti were coloring together and very nicely sharing crayons. For no apparent reason Meke decided she was sole owner and controller of anything made of colored wax. I nicely asked her to share (one of the words she should understand by now). Not liking the suggestion she threw the crayons across the floor.

I have to admit I wasn't prepared. Unlike SuperNanny, I hadn't thought through which would be the "naughty" chair but knew something needed to happen quickly. After a firm "NO!" I escorted Meke to the closest chair (which also happens to be the most comfy in the house).

She knew she was in trouble but decided to test my will. Immediately she got off the chair. I picked her up and put her back. She cried. Determined not to lose she got up again. It took three times putting her back with three very firm looks before she realized Daddy meant business. She ended up serving her sentence well.

It wasn't more than 10 minutes later before the fun-loving cutie was at it again, this time stealing building blocks from Kailey. It could have ended well had she returned the blocks without throwing them in disgust. This time the guilty party served without a hint of insurrection.

I think she understands.

The two faces of a 3-year-old

Adjusting to the Challenges

Since I have complete control of the content of this blog, it would be easy to keep up a fairy tale facade. But as we have readers who are on an Ethiopian adoption journey of their own, I feel it necessary to peel back the layers reveal the entire picture. Anything else would be dishonest.

If you've read this blog for long you already know how proud I am of my family. But let me take a minute and share a few of the frustrations and challenges we've faced in the last few days.

Challenge #1 - Language
I've been on plenty of cross-cultural mission trips. Whenever there's a communication breakdown we run to the missionary and s/he interprets. There's no interpreter in our house. And we know of no one in the Toledo metro area who speaks Amharic (we're still looking!). We do lots of hand signals. I'm convinced that many of our attempts to communicate end up with varying degrees of confusion. Sometimes they say things back and forth to each other and giggle uncontrollably. We usually join in the laughter. Who knows? Maybe they're making fun of us!

Challenge #2 - Food
Our girls both eat great! Several times I've mentioned Meke's ability to pack it away. But still, there are some challenges. For the first two days they were with us we gave food to Neti and Meke nearly every time they asked for it (sympathy for not having lots to eat in the orphanage, I guess). Now they (Meke especially) like to ask for food all the time. We're trying to teach them that there are certain times of the day where food happens.

Challenge #3 - Hair
This is probably Rhonda's more than mine. Kailey, our 10-year-old, had her hair braided in Ethiopia 6 days ago and it still looks fine. Meke, on the other hand, seems to need something done to her hair almost daily or her head ends up looking like a tennis ball run through a belt sander.

Challenge #4 - Maintenance
Even I've noticed the difference that having two extra bodies has on running a house. The dishwasher fills up exactly 33% more quickly. The toilet paper always has less than 4 squares left on a roll. Laundry piles up more quickly. Things get picked up less quickly. In the middle of this post I was interrupted by Neti who dropped her ring from Ethiopia down the drain.

Challenge #5 - Boundaries
Our first meeting of Neti and Meke was as genuine as could be. However, they only saw part of the picture. They experienced our love but had not yet had the opportunity to experience our boundaries or discipline. And some of the boundaries they seem accustomed to are different than ours. We're working through these together (largely through hand signals).

Challenge #6 - Toddlerdom
This one deserves a complete post of its own. Just because she's adorable doesn't mean Meke doesn't have all the tendencies of a normal 3-year-old.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Today's Fix

With success comes the pressure to perform.

It seems I’ve created an audience in the last week while documenting our adoption. To our knowledge we’ve had people visit from at least 44 states and 33 countries around the world. I’m feeling the pressure to write because I know people are coming to this blog for their daily dose of Neti and Meke. I took this week off work to be with my bigger family. I plan to slowly wean you of your daily fix so that when I return to work next Monday you don’t experience withdrawal.

Last night Rhonda’s sister called. Rhonda handed the phone to Meke. She loved it instantly - couldn’t understand a word being said but loved hearing her name. Before long Neti was involved. Here are a few short video clips illustrating not only our girls’ love for the phone, but also their mastery of the English language.

Two Great People

Behind every adoption are unsung heroes who make it all happen. They do it, not for the recognition, but because they love kids. We met two such people last week.

Esther started Kid’s Care orphanage in 2000. Since then she’s placed well over 500 kids into loving homes all around the world. Currently there are 150 orphans in three orphanages run by Kid’s Care. This lady is amazing. As she gave us a tour of the facilities she not only knew every kid by name but greeted them and made them feel special. The kids love her.

Girmachew (pronounced grr-MAcho) is the in-country representative for America World. We spent a good part of every day with this guy. He’s not only a lot of fun to be around, he does his job very well. You can’t imagine how much work he does. I don’t know how he manages it when there’s a family in-country adopting. He’s was with us every day of the week from 10 am to at least 7 pm, yet somehow manages to make all the court appearances and complete paperwork/forms/etc. for other America World families. He’s simply a servant to the core. Prime example: at one restaurant when our rookie waiter was overwhelmed, Girmachew, with pen and paper in hand, took the order for our table. Mark my words...someday this guy's going to work at the new Embassy in Ethiopia as an adoption advocate. He's that good!

These people, and many others like them, have made our adoption possible. A big hearty sincere THANKS, Esther and Girmachew.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Lesson in Parenting

Meke needs a nap every day. The problem? She doesn't like naps. She becomes very strong-willed when it comes to nap time.

Determined not to sleep a wink, we played the "in-bed, out-of-bed" game for about 10 minutes. The entire time Neti kept trying for my attention. "Daddy!" "Daddy!"

Deep in battle with a 3-year-old and determined to relieve Neti of the role of mother she has played for so long, I tried to dismiss her for just a few minutes. "Shhh, Neti. Meke sleep."

Finally after a few more unsuccessful tries at settling Meke down I turned my attention to Neti. She reached her arm out to an imaginary doorknob and pulled it violently toward her chest.

I got it. She wanted me to slam the door. I put Meke in bed, slammed the door, and waited on the other side for the sound of scuffling feet and tiny hands trying to turn the doorknob.


Meke was asleep within a few minutes. The wisdom of a child. Thanks Neti!

Meke's New Doo

Rhonda's first attempt at a new hairdo for Meke. Pretty good, if you ask me!

Day 9 - Finally Home!

A warm, sunny Ohio afternoon. Everyone's sleeping when we arrive home.

Neti and Meke in their bed. We couldn't rouse Neti so Meke got the first tour of home.
Meke helped Daddy with the cucumber harvest.

At 4:30 AM I was awakened by two little girls singing their ABCs with their new buddies.

First breakfast at home - generic Lucky Charms.

Day 9 - What Goes In...

...eventually comes out.

Dad's choice of reward for a toddler turned out to be Rhonda's nightmare.

Thank God for leather plane seats.

Day 9 - Neti

We learned a lot about Netsanet on the way home. She's accustomed to being sister and Mom. Any time Meke cries Neti presses her way into the middle of the scene to wipe away her tears with the palm of her hand. Wherever there's a Meke misstep, Neti's right there to correct her. This little girl has taken on responsibilities far beyond her years. She's resilient. She's faced more change in her short little life than I've faced in my 36 years. She's full of poise and courage. Yet, she's still a little girl with an infectious laugh. I love her!

Day 8 - Traveling with Meke

By far the most challenging part of this trip was the ride home! We began traveling at 10 AM Friday (Ohio time) and didn't hit our driveway until 4 PM Saturday. That's 30 hours - more than enough under normal circumstances. Throw in a sick wife (Rhonda threw up twice on the plane), a sick 10-year-old, two daughters who don't speak English, one scared little girl, flight delays, jetlag, and immigration paperwork and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

Our challenges started as we checked out of the hotel, an adventure in and of itself (AWAA adoptive couples, I recommend you check out earlier than you feel necessary so you don't miss your flight). For the first time Meke (our 3-year-old) decided it would be fun to play "run away from the family" in the crowded hotel lobby. Of course, we started after her. But since everything else on this trip was fun, this must be a game, right? Evidently she thought so. Despite our firm calls she raced around the corner and was gone. When I finally caught her she squealed and giggled. Funny for her, maybe, but not for a couple parents about to navigate through a busy airport in a foreign country. A child who runs away when you call them in a public place. We need to correct this now!

This is when the frustration began for me as a father. It's hard enough to reason with a toddler. It's next to impossible if they don't understand you. All I knew to do was get down on her level, look her straight in the eyes and repeat the most firm "NO!" that I could muster. Over and over..."No, Meke. No. No. No, Meke."

But it was still a game. She laughed and squealed. So I increased my volume and intensity. "MEKE! NO! NO!" Not screaming, but loud and firm.

Somewhere around the 36th "NO" it took hold in her little brain. I saw it in her eyes. "Uh oh, Daddy means business." Then came the waterworks. LOUD waterworks. I scooped her up and ducked into the jewelry story (there's one in the Hilton lobby) and asked, "Does anyone understand English?" I asked the women working to please explain to Meke that she cannot run away from Mommy and Daddy.

That's how the trip home started. Fun Dad turns mean.

For the next hour it took to check out of the hotel and change our money, Meke was fine. Back to business as usual. Until we arrived at the airport in Addis Ababa. We pulled our bags from the taxi and the waterworks began again. Meke was scared. The experience was becoming overwhelming. She had been told what was to come but now that it was real, her little mind couldn't take it all in at once. For the next hour as we waited through lines and filled out forms Meke cried, and Rhonda held her close.

She was OK whenever our family was able to be together. Sitting and waiting was fine. Long lines and crowds of people weren't. We could expect fear and tears during those times.

As the plane ride got longer, Rhonda got sicker and Meke became more and more reluctant. She would cry and say something over and over that we couldn't understand. Finally, Rhonda asked for the flight attendant to interpret: "I want to go home!" Meke wanted to return to the familiar. The orphanage.

Two trips to the bathroom later, Rhonda needed a break. I gave up my seat in kid-free zone and plopped down into "I wanna go home" central. I held Meke and whispered over and over into here ear, "Daddy loves Mekdelawit" and held her tight in spite of her efforts to squirm free. At some my chant became a song. Then it morphed into a lullaby. I quietly sang to her until her sweaty body went limp in my arms.

When she woke up twenty minutes later mean Dad turned fun again.

We replayed this scene two times on the flight home. Meke gets scared. Dad sings. Meke sleeps. Each time trust was restored. Each time I felt a connection with my new daughter I hadn't felt before. Maybe it was supposed to happen like this. Maybe the Fairy Tale ended sooner than we expected so love could be forged earlier.

We're Home!

After 30 hours of travel we finally made it! Hopefully, when the dust settles a bit this afternoon I can post an update.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Day 8 - Friday

I can't take too much time to blog today but I'll give a quick update. Rhonda's been sick and in the room all day today. Not a good thing since we fly home this evening. The rest of us went out and braved some more shops. We even visited the Mercado! That was quite an experience. The girls all stayed in the van with the driver while Girmachew and I went looking for the things on our list. Wall to wall people, animals, and vehicles!

We're frantically packing this afternoon for the long trip home. I'll blog more on the plane and then post it sometime after we get home.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Day 7 - Hair and Stuff

This afternoon after a long-needed nap, Bethany and I went to see King Menelek II's first palace in Ethiopia in the mountains overlooking Addis Ababa. It's 124 years old. Not quite what I expected for a King's palace.

The entrance to the palace!

The King's palace!

History Lesson: King Menelek kept the Italians from colonizing Ethiopia by defeating them in the Battle of Adwa (or Adowa) in 1896. It was a David defeats Goliath battle that maintained Ethiopia's sovereignty. He was also an early environmentalist. A natural resource in high demand to this day in Ethiopia is wood for cooking. The country was in danger of deforestation but Menelik introduced the fast-growing eucalyptus tree from Australia. Right next to the palace was the first eucalyptus ever planted in Ethiopia. The view overlooking the city from the mountains was amazing. However, being a hazy winter day it was hard to get a good picture.

Meanwhile, the other girls stayed back at the hotel. Rhonda doesn't know how to repair corn rows should they come desheveled on the trip home so Neti, Meke, and Kailey all got their hair braided.

Day 7 - More Giggles

This is what we woke up to this morning.

Day 7 - Thursday

The girls slept well last night. We all did. I think my body has finally adjusted to the new time zone. Too bad we leave tomorrow. I'll have to start the process again.

We’re learning a lot about Neti and Meke. Neither of them like to use pillows. They’re both very polite. Even though our hotel room is full of snacks they don’t eat without asking us permission first – even candy. They say “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. They have a chant that they sing together. I'm guessing it's something they learned at the orphanage. They can say their numbers from 1-100 (skipping 20-99 - we'll have to work on that), their days of the week, months of the year (including Aprily), most colors, and a couple other words we're trying to figure out. They know most of the major body parts you would teach to a toddler and names of a few animals. We're off to a good start. Every now and then I'll pull out my English-Amharic Dictionary to communicate but it doesn't have the words "Sleep" or "Nap" in it. What's up with that?

Both of them can really eat – especially Meke. She shoves food into her mouth with both hands almost as quickly as we can bring it to her. This morning Rhonda gave Neti and Meke some crackers and pretzels to hold them over until breakfast. Then 20 minutes later we went down to the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Meke had a full bowl of cereal, a pancake, a big bowl of fruit, and at least 2-3 rolls. She’s 3!

This morning we made our way to the Piazza, a shopping area in Addis where you can find gold and silver for a good price. (There also happen to be lots of dentists in the area.) We wanted to get the girls a ring and necklace from their homeland. Silver is only 8 birr per gram in Ethiopia. That’s less than $1. The rings in the picture below were only about $6-7 for both!

We’re continuing to bond as a family. While Rhonda and the 3 older girls looked at necklaces I spent time playing and talking with Meke. She taught me one of the little songs she sings. I’m not sure if she learned it in the orphanage or it’s just something she made up on her own.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Day 6 - Fairy Tales

If you were to stop reading this blog right now it would have the perfect “happily ever after” ending. I don’t think I could have scripted it better. Everything is better than I dreamed. Fairy tale complete.

When this depth of goodness is spilled at my doorstep I want to soak it in like a sponge. But I know life won’t always be like this. Without warning the rainy fertile places can become bone dry. Ethiopians know that better than anyone.

Real love is proved in the most difficult times in life. The Waal family has experienced those challenges many more times than we planned. We wouldn’t want to repeat them, but they’ve shaped us and deepened our love for each other and our Creator. I know there are tough times and challenges waiting for us, many of which we know nothing about right now. In other words, the Fairy Tale may take a difficult turn. None of us can see around every corner. Sometimes what waits isn’t what we desire. Those tough days, not these, are when our love for our kids will be shown for what it really is. I hope I’ve been the kind of Dad who has that kind of love. It’s been shown to me. I want to pass it on to my kids.

Day 6 - End of the Day

The day is through but I just had to throw a few more pictures and videos onto the blogsite. When we left the orphanage with the girls today the director pulled us aside and told us how lucky we were to be bringing these girls into our lives. She talked about how kind, disciplined, well-behaved, and loving they were. As we drove away several of the nannies were visibly having difficulty. At least one was crying.

After spending an entire day with Neti and Meke I can understand why. They brighten up a place with their sweet spirit, their giggles, and their smiles. It's hard to believe they lost their parents recently.

I have to start with their giggles. Here are two video samples - Neti, then Meke.

Add those giggles to the pictures below and you can only imagine how much fun bedtime was!

Day 6 - In Pictures

After picking the girls up we went straight to the Lion Zoo, just a few blocks away. Then it was off to the U.S. Consulate together to get more paperwork done. We just got back from the girl's first swim at the hotel. Every single simple part of this day was fun. Here are some pictures of the day so far.

Day 6 - Wednesday

This morning we picked up our girls from the orphanage for keeps. They'll be with us all day for now on.

When we arrived at the orphanage there were 30+ kids sitting along the outside of the building in anticipation of our arrival. When the guard opened the gate and they saw our taxi van, a few began chanting "NET-SA-NET, NET-SA-NET". Our feet barely hit the pavement before Neti came running out of the building and greet us with a big hug. Meke wasn't too far behind. They were all smiles and giggles. This all happened before we could arm our cameras.

This begins a new chapter in our lives. Rhonda and I are finding joy in the littlest things. Our first meal together at the Blue Top Restaurant was so much fun. We found out, for instance, that our younger girls can way out-eat our older ones. Neti and Meke began feeding Bethany and Kailey - a sign of love and affection in the Ethiopian culture. Meke isn't as shy as we thought. Neti has the cutest giggle. Kailey has become quite adept at her new role as big sister. Bethany is always responsible as the oldest sister should be. Meke likes to dip her bread in Coca Cola.

I'm finding myself soaking this all in. I'm watching all my girls with new eyes. This whole process of adoption has changed me. I'm noticing things about the people I love that I haven't seen before. I'm living in the moment.

Day 5 - A Milestone

Bethany and Kailey taught Netsanet (Neti) to write her name in English. This may seem insignificant, but it's pretty significant to us for a little girl who only speaks Amharic.

We also found out from their family that both Neti and Meke attended school before their parents died.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Day 5 - The Mercado

This morning we visited the largest open air market in all of Africa. Maybe that's a bit misleading... After intending to shop at Africa's largest open air market we decided to just drive through. It was too intimidating.

The Mercado is basically a tighter and narrower Addis with - as Grandma would say - "more people than you can shake a stick at" buying and selling their wares (I never figured out why I'd want to shake a stick at one person let alone a lot of them.) It's so crowded that the homeless have to sleep in the median of the street (No lie! Cars and buses were passing within inches of this guy on each side. And he was one of several sleeping here.)

These pictures don't even come close to showing how crowded it was. We were told to avoid the Mercado on Wednedsays and Saturdays because that's when they get really busy!