Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yocheved Bracha

She came into the world as Addis Sisay, was Addis Morris on her Embassy paperwork and ticket home, then became Evelyn Sisay. So why not add one more... At her conversion to Judaism on the Friday before Passover, and then before about 400 dear family and friends this past Saturday, we gave Evelyn a Hebrew name: Yocheved Bracha.

In Judaism, Hebrew names are given for the purpose of Jewish rituals - primarily when called to read a blessing on the Torah (an aliyah) and in formal Hebrew documents, including the marriage contract (ketubah). For boys, that name is given at the bris (ritual circumcision) always performed on the eighth day of life. For girls, it's really done "whenever." For us, Evelyn's naming was just another step in fully embracing this beautiful child as a member of our family and of our religion and people as a whole.

Below are what Morrie and I read at Evelyn's naming on Saturday. Morrie also wrote a beautiful prayer that Ev's godparents - Morrie's sister Alisa and her husband Glenn - read. Once I can figure out how to put Hebrew on this blog, I'll add that too!

We are so honored to share the blessing of her name - and of her life! - with all of you!

(Morrie's words on her first name)

Evelyn – What an amazing journey you’ve had and we’ve had to reach this day. And what an amazing journey awaits for us as a family from this moment on…

We have given you the Hebrew name Yocheved Bracha which means “God’s glory and blessing” or even “God’s glorious blessing” and without a doubt, you are truly living up to the meaning behind your name. Your first name, Yocheved, is after my great aunt Evelyn who was truly a great aunt and my God mother. Aunt Evelyn loved life. She was always very youthful. And she, along with Uncle Ralph, z’’l, travelled the world. They were very social people and social conscious people. Family and friends were of the utmost importance to them. And in Aunt Evelyn’s final days of life, Baba Marilyn told her that we were just starting the process of adoption – so Aunt Evelyn knew that you were on the way well over a year before you were even born. I am confident that Aunt Evelyn is smiling upon right now, so proud that you are carrying her name.

The name Yocheved is also a very distinguished name in the Torah. Yocheved was Moses’ mother, who much like your birth-mother, made the brave and selfless decision to let her child go so that he could simply have a chance at life, and with the help of God, a happy, healthy and long life. Moses survived and rose to greatness – in God’s eyes, among his people and throughout the world. When we met your birth mother, we asked her what her hopes were for you and we assured her that we would do everything possible to help you achieve those goals. She said that she wanted you to have a good education. We responded, “She won’t have a choice in that one” at which point all of us laughed and your birth Mom smiled from ear to ear with love and pride.

She then said that she wanted you to hold an important position in life. Achieving that goal will take a lot of hard work, but you can do it, and rest assured, Evelyn, that you already hold an important position in our lives as our beautiful daughter and as Zachary’s adorable sister. With the sacred history behind your name, we know that you have the potential to impact the world in everlasting ways much like Moses did, and we know that you will continue to impact our family with much love and joy just like Aunt Evelyn did.

We love you so much and never forget that you are God’s glorious blessing and our glorious blessing, too.

(My words on her middle name)

For most people, middle names are very secondary and oftentimes afterthoughts to first names. But Evelyn, your middle name was actually your first name – the name that you were given by your birth mother. And it’s much more than a middle name, it’s the name that is at the center of your entire name. It is a reminder that at the very core of your being, you have a very special cultural identity and personal history that is the foundation of who you are.

When we found out that your Ethiopian name was “Addis Sisay,” we know that you were our beshert, the girl who was meant to be our daughter. For the almost two years since we first decided to adopt, your brother Zachary – and then the rest of us – almost exclusively referred to you as “Sissy.” Imagine our surprise when we saw that your name was Sisay. Daddy and I looked at your referral information in shock and said, “Oh my gosh, her name really IS Sissy!” And, we saw that your birth mother’s name was Sisay as well. We knew that we wanted to incorporate this name into your English name, but first we wanted to know what it meant. So, we called the Ethiopian restaurant in Montclair. We were told that Adis means “new” and Sisay means “blessing.” “New blessing.” That is truly what you are.

When we met your birth mother, Sisay, in January during our first trip to Ethiopia – about an hour after you legally became our daughter – we asked why she chose this name for you. She explained that she chose “Addis” – new – because you were new to her. And she chose “Sisay” because that was her name. You were the “new Sisay.” She defined Sisay not as “blessing” but as “gift,” and told us that her mother – your birth grandmother – had named her that because she had no complications with her pregnancy or delivery, and that was truly a gift. So your English middle name – your Ethiopian name, Sisay – has a long family history for you. You yourself came from a gift.

When we were determining your Hebrew middle name, we had to weigh “blessing” versus “gift.” Certainly you are both to our family. But a gift is something that is given from one to another, whereas a blessing is a gift that is bestowed in a holier way. A blessing gives thanks to God and holds promises for the future. And so, we have given you the Hebrew name of Bracha.

Just as your English middle name of Sisay is central to who you are, so too is your Hebrew middle name of Bracha. We hope and pray that at the center of who you are and who you become, your life is full of only blessings, and we are so grateful for the blessing that God has bestowed upon us in giving us the honor of being your parents and family.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Now That We're Home...

We've been home with Evelyn for four days now, and as Zach put it today, "she just came home and now I can't remember life without her." Evelyn is a real sweetheart - eating well, sleeping well, and always with a beautiful open-mouth smile on her face (usually with a big belly-laugh accompanying it!) We feel so unbelievably blessed.

Though we haven't put up our blog entries about our trip yet (oh, they're coming! lots of pictures too), we wanted to let all of you in on some critical information about what is going to happen now that Evelyn's home.

Just like other significant life-cycle events and experiences, our adoption of Evelyn has been beautiful, meaningful, and overwhelming. All the more so, this process has been very overwhelming for her. Many adoption experts explain that children who are given up for adoption, regardless of age, experience multiple levels of trauma – particularly feelings of loss and abandonment. Evelyn has experienced this significant trauma many times in her one year of life as she has moved from her birth family’s home to an orphanage to a transition home and now to our home. Each move reflects the loss of loving caregivers and familiar surroundings. Although it is clear that Evelyn loves us and Zachary, her world has dramatically changed in the last week – going from a small crib in a dimly-lit room in an orphanage of a third-world country to traveling close to 8,000 miles to her new home, spanning three continents, three countries and five states before ending up in Rockland County. That’s a lot for even the most seasoned traveler, and all the more so challenging for a very loving but scared and confused baby.

Without a doubt, our experience with adoption has been incredible, and we credit much of our success to doing thorough research on this process, listening to much of the advice from others who have taken this journey, and respecting the process outlined by our adoption agency and social worker. We are constantly reminding ourselves to be patient and take things very slowly because it is of paramount importance that Evelyn understands that we are her “forever family” - that she can trust us, that we will never leave her, and that we love her unconditionally. And like all things important and worthwhile, this takes time and must be done correctly with the proper love, attention and dedication. We are confident that over the next few weeks, and certainly in the coming years, we will provide Evelyn with a healthy foundation to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. We love her so much and just like Zachary, we want her to thrive!

We appreciate everyone’s sincere wishes and desires to meet and interact with Evelyn. She is truly special. However, over the coming weeks it is important that only Morrie, Zachary and I (and a few rare exceptions) hold, feed, hug and kiss her. The experts explain that in these first few weeks or longer, adopted children struggle with the concept of attachment. They feel very overwhelmed, confused and scared from the unexpected change of their surroundings. And as a result, they might try hard to attach themselves to any loving hand that reaches out to them. We know that each of you possess incredibly loving hands and want to reach out to Evelyn. And we are certain that once Evelyn starts to establish this important bond with us, she will then be able to branch out to other healthy relationships with you. But for now, Evelyn will have what may seem like a lot of structure, boundaries, and close proximity to us. Although it may appear at times that we are closing her off to you and others, we have been advised to follow this structure, as we must meet her needs quickly, consistently, and confidently. She may show her grief and confusion in many ways, and we are prepared to help her through it and prove to her that we are without question or reservation her “forever family”.

Please know that our decisions were made with the help and support of trusted adoption mentors. We are doing what we believe is the best to help Evelyn heal from her abandonment trauma and to help her develop healthy relationships and attachments to those who love her.

All of this is important for you to know since in many ways you have taken this journey with us. And of course, you are a vital and important part of Evelyn’s growth and development. Evelyn will need to learn that our lives are filled with many wonderful people who are loving and trusted family members and friends. Please understand that we want nothing more than to have Evelyn hugged, cuddled and cherished by ALL of you. We are confident that will happen – but it will have to happen a pace that she sets and that Morrie and I are comfortable with. Until she has a firm understanding of our family and her primary attachments, we respectfully request your patience and understanding as she makes her debut slowly over the next several weeks.

We thank you so much for all of your support and kindness over the past two-plus years of our adoption journey, and we look forward to the new beginning of our lives as a family of four - as Zach says, the chapter of our lives known as "-ed" (as in "adoptED")!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Final Phone Call!

Life for us the past couple of years has involved a lot of waiting for phone calls. There was the "your dossier is submitted to Ethiopia" phone call, then the "you got your referral" phone call, then the "hooray, you got a court date" phone call. This week, we got two of my favorite two phone calls - first, the "the Embassy has approved you to travel" phone call (on Tuesday), and then the "hey guess what, you have an Embassy appointment!" which came the following day. Our appointment is on Wednesday, March 16, and we'll get Evelyn's passport and visa two days later.

This is it! The end! As Zachary puts it, "When you come home, we won't be adopting anymore!" That is such a powerful statement... It means much more than the end of a process, it means that our family is finally complete, after many years of many various struggles. When we decided to adopt, we said that someday there will be a baby at the end of this journey. And oh what a baby she is!

We will be driving to Washington, D.C. on Saturday night and leaving on Sunday direct to Addis Ababa. Danielle and Matt Bilen, who were with us on our first trip, are on our flight! We'll arrive in Addis on Monday morning. Then we'll reunite with Heidi and Ben Hartter, also from our first trip - and of course we orchestrated that we're all staying at the same place, Ethiopian Guest Home. It is an amazing, relatively new guest home created by an American adoptive family. EGH works closely with (and our stay there supports) many local organizations that help the people of Ethiopia. I'll share more about EGH's work when we get there!

We're not sure when we get custody of Evelyn, but it'll be Monday or Tuesday. Embassy is on Wednesday. CHI has an itinerary of destinations for us to see - museums, the merkato (market), a few other places - and we'll be going to Numan Orphanage, where all three of our children were relinquished. It will be wonderful to see Ethiopia outside of smoggy Addis Ababa! We also plan on going to the Kechene community, the congregation of Jews living in Addis. Hopefully we'll be able to be with them to bring in Shabbat on Friday evening and/or on Sunday to celebrate Purim!

We will leave - with Evelyn! - on Sunday night, arrive in D.C. on Monday morning, and drive back to Suffern to greet Zachary, Baba Marilyn and Zayda Chaim (and of course, Munchkin and Dodo) with open arms and our beautiful baby girl!

Stay tuned to this blog during our trip, as we actually have WiFi access!

See you on Monday, Evelyn Sisay Zimbalist! We love you!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

4-6 Weeks...

... that's the amount of time that CHI told us we should expect between our court date and our embassy date - the "second trip" when we actually get to bring Evelyn home! That six-week mark will be March 8th. And guess what. We'll still be here.

The wait between submitting our dossier to become a "waiting family" (#96 on the list, if you recall) till the time we got that wonderful phone call with our referral was 14 1/2 months. That seemed like forever. The few months between that phone call and our first trip to go to court and legally become Evelyn's parents seemed like an eternity. But these five-plus weeks since our court trip have felt like time has just stood still. We've filled that time with lots of activity - putting together her room, a little baby shower, work, play, and so on - but the time has dragged on more than ever before.

Part of what has caused much of our anxiety over the past month or so is that we have watched six of the other families in our original travel group - six of the other nine - go to Ethiopia, pass the embassy interview, and bring their children home. We've followed their journeys daily on Facebook and through their blogs. While we are so thrilled for them, I'd be lying if I didn't say that this has been exceedingly difficult. We found ourselves wondering why we weren't the lucky ones, why we - who were among the first to receive our referrals out of the group - were now last to bring our daughter home.

As it happens, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa had requested additional information about Evelyn's living birth relatives, which took some time and extra effort on the part of the CHI in-country representative, the Numan Orphanage director, and the embassy. All that extra information went to the embassy on Thursday, so we're only assuming that they have everything they need now and can approve us for travel and get Evelyn's visa all set.

Interestingly - maybe coincidentally - two of the other families that haven't traveled yet also have children from Numan Orphanage. The third family is adopting two older children who are in a different part of the country, and they are also having background-information issues.

I'm not sure what this all means, other than that we really hope to be receiving a phone call early this week with our approval.

In the meantime, my cousins Neal and Jenni are in Ethiopia meeting their son "Baby Y" (whose name and photo can be shared once they pass court), and hopefully doling out some love to little cousin Ev, just two cribs away. We cannot wait to welcome Y into the family - he's already such an important part of it! - and to show you some of the pictures of the two cousins together. They are such jokers together and are clearly good buddies. After all, they've been living together for about half of their lives! Our cousins, and four other families there now or traveling this weekend, will be sending us more photos and videos of Evelyn so we can admire her from afar, knowing that we'll be reunited - this time, forever - with her so soon!

Thank you all for your support on this lengthy and emotional journey. We can't wait to share Evelyn with you!

And she can't wait to meet you too... here she is, sending you a big kiss.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Meeting Addis in Addis: A Daughter At Last! (Jan. 24-26, 2011)

From the land of the Queen of England to the land of the Queen of Sheba, from Princess Di to Princess Ev!

Ethiopian Airline does not have a very glamorous fleet of smaller planes. If your Ethiopian Air plane is post-1981, then you’ll probably be okay. Our planes on the way there and on the way back to Heathrow featured worn blue seats with lime green starbursts and lime green seats with aqua starbursts. They also featured the most tenacious flight attendants ever. They literally shook people awake for coffee and tea service, and I think I have a bruised kneecap from one flight attendant slamming my tray down when I was sleeping so she could give me a meal that I already had said I didn’t want.

We arrived at Bole Airport on Monday morning at 7 a.m., just as the sun was rising over the Entoto Mountains. The scenery was like nothing we’d ever seen.

Ethiopia comes into view

Beautiful mountains

First view of Addis Ababa

As we landed, we zoomed by an old airplane graveyard that lined the runway. It took no time to get through customs, get our transit visas, and exchange $60 for 994 birr (about 16 birr to the dollar). I panicked when no one from CHI was apparently there to meet us. This was our first taste of Ethiopian hospitality. Many people asked us if we needed help, and one man tried to help us track down the phone number of the guest house where we were staying. By the time we racked up major minutes on our international phone, we were found by Hermella, the House of Hope Guest House (known as HOH 2) coordinator, and the CHI driver.

And this short drive to HOH 2 was our first look at the indescribable poverty of Addis Ababa. Tiny shops lined the streets, along with people sitting along the sidewalks with their wares, some selling just a basketful of tomatoes or stalks of sugar cane, and many stores selling rusted auto parts and traditional Ethiopian clothing, baskets, and carvings. Lots of children walked around selling packs of gum and bundles of sticks that Ethiopians chew on to clean their teeth. Clothing often didn’t fit right or was so tattered and dirty that you couldn’t tell what colors the fabrics were. There were many huge areas of “neighborhoods” in which the homes were made of corrugated tin and tarps. Looking inside you could see they were just one dirt-floored room used for every purpose, likely for big families.

Homes behind corrugated tin fences

The streets are lined with tiny shops like these.

Driving in Addis is an experience like no other. Once away from the airport, the roads were, for the most part, unpaved and rocky. There were no lanes or traffic signs on these roads; people would just drive where they saw fit. Many roads were only passable by one car at a time, even though they were two-way roads – even some having four-way intersections. We saw men guiding donkeys with huge packs on their backs, and lots of dogs basking in the sun. People walked freely in the middle of the road. Yet, in all the disorganization, we didn’t see any accidents, and when our van was cut off or drove perilously close to pedestrians, no one got angry or even gave a second glance. It was clear that to Ethiopians, it is sometimes more important to just live by the laws of courtesy and kindness.

We also saw some lovely things on these dingy streets. There were lots of schoolchildren making their way to their schools in brightly-colored uniforms. And in Ethiopia, friends walk hand-in-hand or with their arms around each other’s shoulders, regardless of gender. Our driver seemed to know everyone, and people would stop their cars or vans just to say hello or have a quick conversation. I described it as a city of loiterers. Everyone is so laid back and just enjoys each other.

Schoolchildren at lunchtime at the school next to HOH

We arrived at HOH 2 about 20 minutes after we left the airport, met the other four families staying there, unpacked a little, and were at House of Hope – CHI’s transition home, where our children were! – by about 9. HOH is a U-shaped gated two-story complex with a courtyard in the center that serves as playground and laundry area. There were ten families in our travel group, and nine of us were there (the tenth were out at a different orphanage in a far-away region called Mekele, meeting their children).

The courtyard at HOH - so much laundry, all the time!

Everyone else had arrived on Saturday or even earlier, so we were the last to meet our child. Basically, whenever we went to HOH to see our kids on this trip, we went upstairs to a “family waiting room” and the nannies would bring our children to us. Evelyn was the last one brought in – torture! – but we were so thrilled to finally meet her! She was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and, of all things, a cheerleader outfit, which was hilarious. She’s a little tiny thing, probably a size 3-6 month even though she’s almost 10 months old, and all eyes and cheeks, and just beautiful.

We're excited, she's confused!

First family photo! (Zachary was with us in spirit!)

She was very shy and hesitant that morning, and she cried a bit (she had a little cold, so that made her a little extra-cranky). We of course were hoping that she’d be the happy, smiley baby we had seen all these months in the photos and videos from other CHI families, but she only really lit up when the nannies were giving her attention. Really, though, that’s a wonderful sign. Children in orphanages often have a hard time attaching to their caregivers, since they switch caregivers so often, so when they are all smiles and go to anyone with no problem, that can indicate an attachment issue. As Tsegay, the CHI in-country coordinator, told us, Addis (Evelyn’s given Ethiopian name) is very attached to the nannies, and that is a great indicator that she is capable of attaching and bonding to people well. He also said she never cries, babbles a lot, and always is smiling. The more she was with us over this trip, the more we saw her coming out of her shell and witnessed those important bonding signs, like eye contact and grasping. She’s a big snuggler, so she spent really every moment we were with her melted into one of our shoulders. It was precious!

So snuggly!

Snuggling on Mama...

...and on Daddy!

After about 3 hours at HOH, we went back to guest house for lunch and rest, and then back to HOH from 3-6. That afternoon, I took lots of pictures and videos for other CHI families who had asked me to do so. One such child was the now-famous cousin-to-be, Neal and Jenni’s son “Baby Y,” who is, by Tsegay’s account, “a real powerhouse.” He’s all open-mouthed smiles and big belly laughs and pure sugar. He and Evelyn are in fact roommates, with their cribs caddy-corner from each other!

The door on the right leads to "Infant Dorms #1 & 2" -

home to Ev and Baby Y!

In the afternoons, I also played a lot with the older kids (ages 2-5). The children are all so adorable and loving, and really well cared for. They called all of us adults Mommy and Daddy, would hug us and blow us kisses, and would offer us their half-eaten candy canes to share with us. I had so much fun playing ball and blowing bubbles with them. The families who are going to become their Forever Families are truly blessed, as are the children.

It was hard to say good-night and good-bye on Monday when we left for HOH 2 for dinner, but we had to go, and Tuesday was a big important day ahead. Meals at HOH 2 (and, I’d assume, at the other guest houses) are all family-style and unbelievably delicious. Lots of soups, stews, Ethiopian traditional dishes, pastas, and salads. Bottled Coke was served at every meal, and rich Ethiopian coffee afterwards, though no desserts. The best part about the mealtimes, though, were the friendships we forged with the other four couples who were staying there. For those few days, we really were a big family and support group. We’ll all hopefully see each other in a few weeks for our Embassy trips, and there’s already talk of everyone attending the CHI annual reunions.

On Tuesday, we woke up and went to court right after breakfast. The whole court trip is a very new thing, and every experience for each travel group has been different. We all drove together at about 8:45 to court and got to see a different section of the city. This section had paved roads, though still not many traffic signs or lights. There was a lot of new construction, and as you see in these pictures, the frames and girders are made up of huge stalks of some plant that I’ll need to ask about. Yikes!

New construction in Addis Ababa

When we got to the court, we went to a holding room, where all the families who had relinquished their children earlier were sitting. The court house was a very simple building – maybe four stories high. We obviously didn't know who was who. They called us in by our children's names in groups of 3 or 4 - not individually, because there were so many of us in our group of ten families. The "court room" is just the judge's little office. We sat there and she just rushed through yes/no questions to the group as a whole, which we answered together, all yesses: "Have you learned about Ethiopia? Do you all have other children? Do they know about your adoption? Do they approve? Have you met the children? Do you want to go through with adopting these children? Do you know other families in your area with Ethiopian adopted children?” We’ve heard with smaller groups, families go in individual and the judge asks similar questions, but open-ended as a conversation. Then she told us where we were in the acceptance process. We were told that the birth mother was present that morning in court and gave her consent, but they were waiting on one paper to come in at 11 a.m. All of the CHI families passed, as expected – and because one of us was adopting siblings, ELEVEN Ethiopian children have new loving homes in the U.S. Congratulations and countless blessings for all of these wonderful families!

We then went back to HOH 2 for our individual birth family meetings in the courtyard. It was awkward, like a junior high dance - adoptive parents waiting on one side while birth families waited on the other until we got matched up. Because there were only two translators there, it took a long time to get through everyone. Meetings were 20-30 minutes on average. I think everyone videotaped and took pictures. Everyone had different experiences - some were very jovial, some (like ours) were extremely reserved - but all birth parents truly appreciated getting photo albums with their children's pictures in them.

We won’t tell you much about Ev’s birth mother or the conversation we had with her. That will be Evelyn’s to share, if or when she ever wants to. But we can share that her birth mother is very sweet and shy, and that the baby has many of her physical features (including her beautiful big eyes, dimples, and tinyness) and mannerisms (including her expressive eyebrows). It was clear to us that Ev has always been very loved and adored, and that this meeting brought some peace to her birth mother. We were able to videotape our meeting and take pictures with her birth mother, and these are truly gifts for adoptive families to have. It is extremely rare in international adoptions to meet relatives, nonetheless to have video and photographs that will be so important to our children as they grow older.

Then, what we all felt was the weird part. We new adoptive families stayed and ate lunch, and the birth families went to HOH to see the children one last time and say good-bye. I have mixed feelings about this, which I’ll generally keep to myself except for saying that I can't imagine what it was like for these birth families, who gave up the kids months ago, to go to court in the morning to officially sign off on their relationship with these children and then go to see them again.

We had convinced Hermella to take us to the Mercato (outdoor market) to shop a little bit after lunch. We will go back on our next trip, but we all spent plenty of birr on gifts and special items for our homes and our children. We felt like we were spending lots of money – 900 birr on lots of different things – but in reality, it was only about $50. We were inundated with children and women holding little babies begging. They wanted to shine our shoes or sell us gum or maps of Africa. A policeman stood by us, though, holding a big bamboo cane, and if the beggars were too aggressive, he’d wave his toward them and they’d scatter.

Ethiopian treasures at the Mercato

We then went back to HOH around 4 and stayed for a couple of hours. Evelyn warmed up to us and was much more connected than on Monday. We brought a bunch of clothing and medical donations for Tsegay to use at HOH and to distribute to the orphanages that needed them, as well as adorable taggie blankets that Jenni sent to me to pass along.

Much more "connected" to us on Day 2!

It of course was so hard to say good-bye to Evelyn, knowing that we won’t see her for about a month. But, we also know that she is getting well taken care of and that she is getting lots of love – and there is so much more on the way!

Partying in Cousin Y's crib

One last group dinner, and then everyone went to their rooms to pack up. We left for the airport at 8 p.m. Addis time with two other couples who were leaving on an earlier flight (our flight was at 1:35 a.m., but we had to take that van to the airport!) We spent a little more quality time with them at the café in the airport and browsing in the overpriced duty-free shops, and then we said our good-byes.

More time in the airport, where I got online for two minutes – long enough to announce that we have a daughter and finally post her picture - and then on the first plane. Addis to London was 8 hours, and though we left at 1:35 we arrived in London at 7 a.m. London time. I actually slept on the plane! And, hooray for WiFi at the airport! I sent the photos and videos off to the other families, made some snarky Facebook comments, and checked and deleted tons of e-mail. We ate a quick breakfast (bonus points to those of you who know what bubble and squeak is!) and boarded for Newark at 12:45, and took off at 1:15 London time. And here I am on that very plane, wrapping up a very long blog entry that I told Morrie would be short and sweet, and after 8 hours of flying we’re going to be landing shortly in Newark around 4 Eastern time! Longest Wednesday ever!

We are so thrilled to be sharing all these details with you, and we look forward to sharing the news of our visa approval phone call, which will be in a few weeks and will signal the booking of our second trip! Looks like we’ll be going back at the end of February or very early March to bring home baby! Lots of baby room- decorating and clothing-buying to be done before then!

We love you, Evelyn Sisay - can't wait to see you soon!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Royal Stop-Over: Our London Vacation (Jan. 19-23)

As a precursor to our long-awaited Ethiopia trip, we decided to take a vacation in London, which is a common hub for plane changes to Ethiopian Air. It's been at least eight years since we went on a kid-free vacation, so we took the opportunity, and it was well worth it!

We took off for London on a very quiet, uneventful, and unfortunately sleepless flight on Wednesday night. By the time we got to Heathrow on Thursday morning, I was completely exhausted. We stayed at the Millennium Gloucester in Kensington—a great choice, if I do say so myself—and as soon as I saw the bed I essentially passed out for much of the rest of the day. We eventually got ourselves together and walked down to the ritzy department store Harrod’s, just for the experience of seeing the first floor. We didn’t venture upstairs, because really, when you can’t afford a box of chocolates, you can’t afford a diamond-studded dog collar or even half of a pair of shoes there.

If you want a $150,000 watch, this is where to get it!

Later on Thursday, we got our Oyster Passes (subway cards) to take the Tube (subway) to meet Morrie’s friend (okay, mine too) Jay at the stop by his office, and then on to Jay’s house to hang out with his family and then go to dinner with Jay and his wife (my newest Facebook friend!) Alyssa. It was great to catch up with old friends in a new environment. We were last all together in Boston at their older daughter’s Bat Mitzvah last year, and now they’re working in/from London for the year. Did you know that Jay changes into pajamas on overseas flights if they are provided by the airline? He has two pairs to prove it.

Over the next few days, we did as much sightseeing as we could squeeze in. I think my favorite site was the Tower of London. We did the audio tour, which was a good move, since we knew so little about its history and it is so massive. The history is fascinating. If you are one of my Facebook friends (like Alyssa!), you will see some of the cool old stuff we saw. Writing this now, I regret that I didn’t recite any of Poe’s “The Raven” outside the raven cage, or the first 18 lines of the General Prologue to “The Canterbury Tales” (which has nothing to do with the Tower of London other than it was written by a Brit about Brits.)

In front of the Tower of London

Lots of tower. Moat used to be where the grass now is.

The White Tower

I found it "humourous" that the people who worked at the
Tower of London park right under the tower.

Ye Royal Huge Catapult

We also loved walking down the Thames at sundown from the Tower to Parliament and Big Ben, which allowed us to see lots of the famous sites, including London Bridge (not falling down at all, and actually now reinforced with cement, lit on one side with red lights, and totally anticlimactic), the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, the Tate Modern, and of course Big Ben and Parliament. On one afternoon we took a cruise in the reverse direction past those same things.

Totally NOT falling down!

Globe Theater - this photo dedicated to my Salem High students!

We and a few thousand other people went to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards, which happens every other day. We were right in front of the palace and had a great view. Basically, it’s a lot of band fanfare and pretty horses and marching about. Then the royal band played right in front of the palace. You’d think they’d play “God Save the Queen” or something Englishy. Or maybe something by Queen or Prince. Instead, they played the theme to James Bond and “For Your Eyes Only.” You’d also think that the royal band would be a bunch of really official pros, but this was a very young group, most of whom looked like they were in high school, and the ceremony included them setting up their music stands and sheets, and one drummer screwed up. It was like halftime at a Parkway North football game in 1986. Morrie said he expected the Buckettes to come out twirling flags, but no such luck.

Guards changing

More guard-changing shenanigans

Buckingham Palace

From there, we walked all around that area and got ourselves sufficiently lost, but somehow managed to see a whole lot of sites. We stumbled upon Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, and then hopped on a Big Bus Tours bus to get to Parliament and Westminster Abbey. We unfortunately missed our opportunity to tour the Abbey, so instead we gawked at the outside and pictured the famous dead people who were buried inside. And again, I missed my chance to recite passages from English literature.

Big Ben/Parliament with the London Eye in the background

Parliament/Big Ben

Main entrance of Westminster Abbey

We decided to take the Big Bus back to our hotel and ride on the top. We had commented throughout our trip that we thought the people that rode the open tops of the buses in the winter were complete chumps, yet there we were, major Dumb American Tourist chumps. Did you know that 6 degrees Celsius translates to “really cold” in Fahrenheit? And did you know that it is very misty and windy at the top of a double-decker? We ignored these basic science facts but felt like we got a little more out of our London experience, including Morrie’s opportunity to start a Z-pack, thanks to the sickness that ensued. We caught it early enough for it not to affect the much more important second half of our trip. Thanks for the prescription, Dr. Lorah!

"Hello, I am a dumb, frozen, American tourist!"

We also dropped a few pounds at the casino in the downstairs of our hotel (the currency, that is, not the weight measurement, which would be stones… didn’t drop stones either, the rocks or the weight measurement). It was really more of a large room with slot machines and a few tables. It was like playing with Monopoly money, since we never really wanted to admit to ourselves that a pound is about $1.75, until we left with less money.

Of note: If you watch Top Model or any other mindless modeling-related show, you know that London fashion trends tell us a lot about next year’s fashions in the U.S. Get ready for 2012, ladies of America! You’ll be wearing very, very short shorts with tights underneath, even when it is 6 degrees Celcius! And, tennis shoes and cross-trainers will be staying in the gym and Uggs in Australia – the fashion footwear will be brightly-colored sneakers and leather boots, short and tall. If you can wear a peacoat and look like you are not wearing pants, you have the look right! And, you will probably not be seeing me in this look. I’ll stick to the shoes.

Didn't we do this like 25 years ago?

The one thing that continuously resonated with me in London was more about the U.S.A. We often regard the Revolutionary War and all that came after as events that took place a very long time ago. But we live in such a young country —not even 235 years old—a blink of an eye in the history of countries like the U.K. And, when people in the U.K. (or Europe in general) get on a plane for a few hours, they end up somewhere really cool and historical and old, whereas when we do that in the U.S., we go to St. Louis or Disney World or Phoenix. I don’t know why this was so striking to me, but it was.

Even though we were only there a short time, we really felt like we saw London, and there’s so much to do when we eventually go back.

And then, we boarded an 8-hour evening Ethiopian Airline flight on Sunday to arrive in one of the world’s oldest (is it the oldest?) countries at 7 a.m. on Monday. And to finally meet our daughter!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Days Away!

At this point, time feels like it's flying, and it also feels like it's stopped. We can't believe we leave for our long-awaited Trip #1 - the one when we finally get to meet Evelyn and become her parents - in just a few days! It's amazing to think about our overall journey to her, one that has taken many years, and that this journey will be over very, very soon as our new journey as a family of four begins.

I wanted to post a travel update so you know what we'll be up to on this special trip!

Morrie and I leave the evening of Wednesday, January 19th and fly to London, where we'll be staying through Sunday. We're looking forward to our first vacation with just the two of us in about eight years (maybe longer). We will of course see the sites, which my mother insists must be written out on a schedule. We also will spend a little time with Morrie's long-time BFF Jay, and hopefully his family, who are in London for the time being.

We leave late on Sunday evening for Addis Ababa, about an 8 1/2 hour flight, and land around 7 a.m. Addis time. We'll be picked up by a CHI driver, who will take us to House of Hope, the agency's transition home.

We will be staying at HOH this trip, in a guest suite that is very nearby. HOH will be a type of bed-and-breakfast for us - we'll eat our meals there, sleep there, and basically spend all of our non-court time there. We'll get to meet Evelyn hopefully shortly after we arrive on Monday, and will spend most of the day playing with her and the other children (including cousin Neal and Jenni's son "Baby Y"). We're very excited to also meet the other nine families traveling at the same time as us!

We'll hopefully sleep well on Monday night (though probably not, between nerves, excitement, and the howling dogs - we were told to bring earplugs!)

On Tuesday, January 25th, we'll go to court and meet with the judge who handles all Ethiopian adoptions. We hope that all of our paperwork is in order and that we pass court without delay. Oftentimes, paperwork mishaps cause families to "not pass." Though we don't anticipate this happening - I don't think it's ever happened in our agency's history working in Ethiopia - there is always a glimmer of a chance, and while not passing court would not require an extra trip, it would cause a delay in our Embassy visit, which would delay Evelyn's homecoming. So please think of us and say a little extra prayer on the 25th that we pass!

After our meeting with the Judge (which will hopefully conclude with her words, "She is yours!"), we will be honored to meet and speak with Evelyn's birth mother. In Ethiopian adoptions, the person who relinquished the child must also appear in court that day, and then we have the opportunity to all sit down with an interpreter and talk. We hope to learn a lot about Evelyn's birth family and their hopes and dreams for her future, and we hope that we will bring reassurance and some semblance of peace to a woman who made an extraordinary personal sacrifice for her daughter, and for our family. We do plan on capturing this emotional and life-altering meeting on film, but it's likely that we will not share many - if any - of the details with anyone. Evelyn's history will be hers to tell someday if she so chooses. For now, we will be cherishing this meeting as sacred and extremely personal.

We'll then return to HOH, hopefully have time to love on Ev a little while longer, and then we'll say our goodbyes for the five to six week wait that we'll have until we meet again for our Embassy visit, when we'll be bringing her home! We hope that trip will be in early March.

And then, we'll board a plane to London around midnight Wednesday morning, and will have one looooong, extended Wednesday - flying 8+ hours to arrive in London around 6 a.m., hanging out at Heathrow until 12:30, flying another 8+ hours to Newark and arriving around 4:15. Should make for some interesting jet lag!

We have an international phone and will hopefully be able to update you all between phone calls, text messaging, Facebook status updates, and e-mails. We'll be able to update the blog upon our return, once our bodies adjust to New York time, and can't wait to finally be able to post the long-awaited photos that we've had all these months - as well as photos of us with our beautiful daughter in our arms!