Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Travel Journal Part Two: First Day in Ethiopia

Friday, June 4th

When I walked off of the plane and into the airport, the first thing I noticed was the smell of berbere. If you have ever eaten Ethiopian food, you know how distinct the fragrance of the spice mixture is that flavors almost every dish. While we were in Ethiopia, we smelled it constantly. The smell of berbere wafts from the door of every restaurant and home and it oozes from the pores of every person that you pass. After a while I got so used to it that I couldn't smell it anymore.

Ethiopia is nothing like the sanitized world that we are accustomed to, smelling like 409, bleach, and air freshener. Walking down the sidewalk, the smell of smoke mixes with the ever-present berbere smell. On each block in downtown Addis Ababa there are two or there women fanning small wood fires and roasting ears of corn over them, each to be sold for only two Birr. Then there are the animals. Donkeys, goats, sheep, and cows are everywhere you look and add to the fragrance of the city. Sometimes they are being herded by a shepherd, and sometimes they seem to be wandering alone, just grazing in the median of a divided highway.

The smell of exhaust is so strong that you can taste it. Smog hovers over the city. It's easy to see why after spending just five minutes on the street. Black smoke billows out the back of buses and cars that jam the streets. Most are 1980's models, and they certainly don't have any emissions requirements.

Music blares out of shops and out of cars, overlapping and mingling to create constant auditory overload. The sidewalks are crowded and full of noise - horns honking, laughter, loud talking. Many who walk down the street are hand in hand, even men. Displays of affection are common and comfortable. Shop after shop after shop sell the same American style strapless dresses and short skirts, but not a single person on the street is dressed this way. Ankle length skirts, long wrap-around dresses, and jeans are all that you witness.

The streets are a beautiful mess. No street signs, no stop lights - it's every man for himself on the roads of Addis. But somehow it all works out. Only the major roads are paved. Every road leading off of the main highway is all mud and holes and rocks. With no seat belts and no shock absorption in the vehicles, every block is an adventure. Hold on and enjoy the ride. Driving through town is definitely not this exciting back in Nashville!

Each and every building on the side streets is surrounded by tall cinder block walls and metal gates, many with guards outside. It's like each one is its own compound. It feels mysterious since there is no way to see what each compound holds. The guidebooks say that there is virtually no violent crime in Addis, but it is hard to believe when each ten foot fence is topped with broken glass or barbed wire. The property owners are certainly concerned with keeping something out. There is no such thing as zoning as we know it in America, so schools, office buildings, homes, and factories may line the same street, hidden behind the same unwelcoming walls.

Flowers that cost quite a lot back home at Home Depot seem to grow almost as weeds here. Geraniums grow as hedges, a single plant standing four feet high and eight feet wide. Lantana becomes a tree and spills over the top of the ten foot walls. Poinsettias, cannas, and fushias are everywhere. I particularly like the flower that looks like a bright purple morning glory, only it is still blooming at 2 in the afternoon. Ethiopia may be a poor country in many ways, but it is certainly rich in flowers.

There was so much to take in as we arrived in Addis Ababa. We were picked up at the airport by David and Robel, two of the Ethiopian AWAA employees that we had heard so much about. We got our visas, changed our U.S. dollars into an obscene sounding amount of Ethiopian Birr, and picked up our bags. Well, all but one of our bags, that is. The three bags holding donations made it onto our plane, but the suitcase with our personal belongings was still in Dubai. Bummer. I was really ready to wash my hair.

We loaded up in the baby blue van that would soon become familiar and headed to the Yesabi Guest House, our home for the next week. More about that later...

Our plan had been to do some sightseeing in Addis that afternoon. However, after we had a few minutes to get settled David (our driver) came up to the room and informed us that he could take us to the Transition Home to meet our son right away if we wanted to. If we wanted to??? Are you kidding??? We had no idea that this was even a possibility. We thought that it was the strict protocol of our agency that we wouldn't be able to meet him until the scheduled time on Monday afternoon. So with only about 15 minutes warning, we were off to the Transition Home to MEET BENJAMIN!!!

My head was spinning! In retrospect I am really thankful that I didn't have any time to get nervous. I probably would have lost sleep the night before if I had known that it was going to be the Big Day.

Benjamin's nanny Hanna brought him out onto the porch where we were waiting. They had told us that we would have to wait a little while because he was napping, and I so I wasn't expecting to see him for a bit. We had only waited a few minutes when I looked up and locked eyes with a beautiful chocolate colored boy on the other end of the porch and I realized - that was him! It was really him!

It was a surreal moment holding him in my arms for the first time. I just couldn't believe that it was really happening. He was such a pleasant little guy from the very beginning, even though they woke him in the middle of his nap. That's pretty amazing! For some time I had been preparing my heart that he would probably cry when we held him for the first time. I knew that everything about us would be so strange and unfamiliar to him. But no! Our first meeting went so much better than I ever dreamed! He was full of smiles and laughs. It was obvious from the very beginning that our boy was full of personality. He is quite a little flirt!

I was on cloud nine to finally get to touch him and feel how smooth his skin is and run my fingers through his soft curls. After six months of studying his picture I got to see in person how beautiful his eyes are - so dark brown that you can't even see the pupils. They are definitely full of mischief. He seems like he is going to grow up to be a big guy - he has big hands and feet and ears. He seems like he is built like an athlete. How wonderful to finally hear the sound of his babbling - dadadadada. He took to his daddy immediately. It was clear that he is going to be dada's boy.

To be honest, the whole experience was a bit awkward because we had quite an audience. Since no other families were there meeting their children that day, all eyes were on us. There were several well-meaning staff members hovering around trying to help and make us and Benjamin feel comfortable. I would have preferred to have more privacy for this personal moment. I was so afraid that I would do the wrong thing - that I would do or say something culturally offensive or that I would upset Benjamin and feel embarrassed. We were absolutely exhausted by the time we left.

However, I will never forget the magical moment that I first saw my boy face to face. So many months of waiting and so much praying, and finally here was the answer to those prayers right in front of me.

Dear B,

Oh sweet boy, I met you for the first time today, and I am in love with you already. When your nanny brought you out onto the porch, I nearly ran to you. I couldn't believe it was really you - the boy that I have been praying for and longing for for so long now. I cried as I held you in my arms for the first time. You are just right. You are so handsome. I love your eyes, your hair, your skin. You smiled and laughed for us lots, and you even said "Dada." I think you know already, you sense in your little heart, that your daddy has come to get you. It was such a precious time as we played and cuddled and laughed. I told you about your house, your yard, your big sister, and all the people waiting for you at home, loving you already. I'll treasure today's memories forever. I will spend the rest of my life loving you.




G said...

Hi is ADORABLE! What a great description of Addis Ababa, too!
~Gini :)

Gillian said...

Oh, my...What can you say after a post like this? He is breathtaking!
LOVE, LOVE these postings!!
As we get back in town about a week from now, we would DELIGHT to see Benjamin --we feel like we already know this little guy--can't wait to see those precious cheeks in person!--we certainly love him very much!!
Blessings in the first days of this wonderful season!
Blessings PRECIOUS family,

Jill said...

Wow....what a tear jerker! Sarah and Daniel, I am so thrilled for you and really appreciate your awesome descriptions. Your first meeting with your son was just awesome! He is adorable!!!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Tracy said...

I'm still crying every time I lay eyes on him!! It's so good to have a happy cry!! Such a special boy and he for sure has a special Call on his life!!

Love reading your perspective on your trip! The bars and barbed wire are definitely to keep people out!--- Our kids have been talking way too much about all the thieves in ET.

Ann said...

congratulations sarah and daniel!! I am so happy! I can't wait to meet the little guy. My heart is filled with joy and eyes with tears of happiness. God is so good!!! love you guys!

E.T.'s Mom said...

Mmmm, pretty much the sweetest thing I've ever read.

Thanks for your insights into that piece of this big world.