Friday, August 29, 2008
Going out to dinner with the other family that was there to adopt 3 children, and several of the people from the orphanage/foster home in Addis Ababa. We went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant. The "tables" are actually tall baskets, with a small top that holds a large, round, metal or pottery platter. The food in set in little plops situated around the platter. There are selections of different types of wat. Very thick stew like substances. There are types with meat , vegetable, bean or mixtures thereof.
There are no eating utensils used, so the first thing you do when you go in is to wash your hands. One tears off a piece of enjera (very flat, moist bread) and scoop up some wat and eat it. About 5-6 people sit around each of the tables that are about 30 inches wide. (very close and snugly). It was tons and tons of fun. A very neat cultural tradition is that to show closeness even more, a person will feed the person near him - hand to mouth. The kids did that with us and it brought tears to my eyes. I loved it. A lot of the food was very spicy, so Pam couldn't enjoy it as much as I, but we had a blast none-the-less.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I remember our group going to church on Sunday in Beijing. It is called The International Church", for not always obvious reasons. It was established to give ex-patriots a place to attend a regular, semi-unregulated church to attend. The most obvious difference in this church and any other church I've ever seen was that you had to show your passport to get in. This was to keep Chinese citizens OUT. Because they didn't regulate what was said on done in the church, the Chinese govt kept its citizens from going in. Even more obvious were the weapons being carried by the military soldiers "guarding" the church. Our guide/translator, who is Chinese had to sit out in the bus until we came back. The service was in English, and was very lively. We met people from all of the world inside.
I remember Pam experiencing a hard learned lesson in a Chinese public restroom. Bring your own tissue. At some public restrooms, they have attendants that you "tip" for toilet paper when you enter and they only give you a few squares. Imagine...3-4 squares, you're in a big hurry because your tummy is rumbling, RUMBLING, relief...wait all I have are these few squares and now you're stuck back in the stall. With a hole in the floor style toilet at that. And nobody speaks English....
I remember experiencing Chinese food in China. It's almost nothing like here. The sauces weren't as thick and gooey as they are here. More vegetables, more variety, MORE food. They had the big round tables with the huge Lazy-Susan in the middle. That thing was piled high with food and they kept replacing empty dishes until we told them to STOP! It took us a little while to figure out they were trying to kill us by making us explode at the table. Of course I love Chinese food, so it was more like assisted suicide. LOL
Sunday, August 24, 2008
We would love for our family and friends to know that we are in the middle of another adoption process. That in it self is not so unusual, but we need to put it into clearer perspective. We are adopting three children from Ethiopia. This also happens to be our third international adoption, after which we will have seven children…at home. Our four children already at home were born abroad and they range in age from seven to 15 years old. Between us we also have another five children, who range in age from 19 to 35. We’ve also been blessed with three grandchildren.
LJ, AJ and JJ are a sibling group from Ethiopia and DJ is from China. Below are a few statistics that are part of our decision in adopting. We still can’t fully comprehend the untold hundreds of thousands of children who die every year from simple diseases and complications of malnutrition. Our hearts cry for them. The Bible tells us in James 1:27 "Religion that our Father accepts and pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress". In Psalms 82:3 it says, "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed."
The best way we know how to help this sea of despair is to dip our own cups in and do what we can. We’re doing it one child at a time (or three). I’ve read somewhere that "we can’t change the world for every child, but for one child we can change the world." We bring our children home to us to love, nurture, teach and watch grow into the beautiful people God has made them to be.
International adoption is extremely stressful and expensive. We need you to come along side of us in our journey. We need your emotional, and spiritual, support. Above all things we need your prayers. PRAY for our adoption process. PRAY for our children here at home. PRAY for our children (3-2-B ours) in Ethiopia. PRAY that God will supply for our financial needs.
Over these past two years, we have had plenty of time to sit and talk. As the girls' vocabulary and communication skills grow, our conversations obviously improve.
The Funny stuff they believed before coming:
All Americans are millionaires. AJ once asked for a diamond tennis bracelet for Christmas. When I showed her how much it cost, she said, "That's not a lot of money". I asked how much is a lot of money then..."A million dollars". I about fainted. LJ even asked for a cell-phone before she could even put together two decent sentences. We talked awhile and it was then that we found out that Ethiopians (especially children) believe that all Americans were filthy rich, with money just falling like manna from Heaven.
Americans only wear their clothes one time after buying them. You'd think that too if you paid attention to what is shown on TV in everyday "regular life".
They wouldn't need to learn English or eat American food. They were told that there were people from all parts of the world here and we understand lots of different languages and that there was available all kinds of food whenever we wanted it. Well, the first part is right.
All of America looks like uptown NYC. They were sort of let down when we moved them to Ft. Mill SC. and still a little more when we moved out here to the OBX.
Because they kids took care of themselves for a couple of years before we adopted them, they were fairly independent. It took them a little getting used to (and sometimes still does) asking for permission to come and go or to even announce that they were going. They would just walk out the door unannounced and head off down the street exploring. LJ and AJ seemed to share the mother role, but AJ was more a caregiver for JJ than LJ was. I think because their ages were closer. When they got here JJ always deferred to AJ for everything.
Because their way of life was so different from ours it was difficult to set them immediately to taking on any certain tasks. We also wanted them to decompress from being little adults and just be kids, having fun. Not that kids shouldn't have responsibilities, but they had too many. But the girls were very eager to jump in and help with tasks that they were familiar with. They would quickly reach to help us carry items when we were shopping. They'd grab a broom to sweep, or clear the table after dinner.
Somethings that they miss about Ethiopia:
They of course missed their friends and extended family for quite awhile. Apparently LJ was quite the social butterfly in her school and neighborhood.
The food. Though it seemed rather monotonous to me; it doesn't take a mental heavyweight to see that they missed the familiar more than actual food. Their meals consisted mostly of enjera (a flat moist, pancake type bread that goes with any and all meals) and wat (a thick meat and vegetable stew).
Traditions. Funerals were a very large part of their lives, for obvious reasons. All the neighbors and families came to the funerals and those that had any money at all would contribute to the family (like a love offering). My girls described how every house in their neighborhood had at least one person who had died in recent memory. The same for weddings (all the neighbors, families came and contributed to the family). Birthdays were not a big thing, hence why most don't know how old they actually are or even when their birthdays are.
An interesting thing. Ever so often the girls will experience a scent that will remind them of home and De ja vu! The memories come flooding in. It's really neat.
Another interesting thing. There were some cultural commonalities between my childhood and theirs. The most vivid was they told of their mother sitting them between her knees as she combed their hair. They would get a good smack up side the head with a comb if they fidgeted too much. I remembered my mom and sisters on Saturday nights. Wash, comb, smack! LOL
Friday, August 22, 2008
The first thing that stands out in my mind is that the Ethiopians look much like your "typical" African American. Meaning, their complexion is light coffee brown. Much of their clothing is semilar to ours and the metropolitan city of Addis Ababa is huge and crowded. Walking around I felt like I was in any metropolitan area where there happened to be more blacks than any other ethnic group. A lot of times when you see the TV shows, news casts, and commercials about the poverty in Africa, they show the west and south African regions where their complexion is deep dark brown - near black.
I travel frequently, being African American, and tall (6'3"), I'm used to standing out in a crowd. Not so here. The only time I stood out was when Pam was with me. White people stand out in Ethiopia. What a change. Here in America, when black people pass each other on the street, especially if they are in an area where they are the significant minority, they acknowledge each other's presence. Normally it's just a slight nod, purposeful eye contact, or a hand wave. Pam likes to call it the "secret handshake". It's a semi-subconscious was of saying, "We're in the same fraternity, and we know we share this experience. In Ethiopia, every body's black, so no need for the "fraternity handshake". It was an interesting feeling that I'm not sure I can adequately describe.
When the children came to us, I mentioned before, they only spent a few hours with us the first day, but after that day they were all ours. We spent that time talking to them and trying to assure them that we were going to try to take good care of them, etc. In retrospect, I doubt they understood 10-20% of what we were saying, but they smiled and nodded as if they did. It's a little more difficult with older children than with young toddlers. With toddlers, you just play! That's communication enough for them. It's more cerebral with the older children. What do you say? What do they comprehend? How scared are they? What do they think they want out of this relationship? How soon will they push the "limit line", and what do you do when that happens?
LJ was much more mature or at least tried to act like it. It's funny, just like any relationship we were all trying to impress each other. I guess that's human nature. Once we got to really know each other and were able to relax more, we could see she was a scared little girl, just like any other child would be under the circumstances.
AJ was a tween and fit her role rather easily. The funniest thing about her was she didn't appreciate her role as the younger sister. She wanted to be the older one and the two clashed frequently when trying to explain things to us or helping out in tasks. Still to this day, they compete on who know more about any given subject (past or present). AJ was and is quick to smile and laugh. She's not your non-stop giggly girl, but she loves to laugh.
JJ was just a scared little 4 year old. He did whatever his sisters told him (even if it was different from what we told him). They were his comfort and security, especially AJ.
While in Ethiopia we had to decide whether to continue feeding them their native foods or begin to incorporate Western foods into their diet. We decided on the native foods. BIG mistake. You would have thought we were trying to feed them live rats. They looked at our food and dang near refused to sit down, let alone eat the food on their plates. Someone told them that America had lots of Ethiopians and that their food would be readily available. Rude awakening for them. It was a serious uphill battle at the chuck wagon, let me tell you.
Later I'll tell about all the misinformation and wives tales they learned about America.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Cleft palate team visits consist of meeting with his plastic surgeon, Dr. McGee (The founder and head of Operation Smile), an orthodontist, an ENT Doctor, and a speech therapist. They take a look at his progress charts and examine him (separately) and meet to compare notes on what they think the next steps are. DJ has had five surgeries over the course of being with us, so far. We don't expect to have another one until he is about 11-12.
We have been thoroughly blessed to be a part of this team. They are all highly experienced and highly sought after for their skills. And they are all very nice people , very professional and very friendly. Driving the 1 1/2 hours from the Outer Banks (OBX) to KDCH in Norfolk VA, and then dealing with the extended waits between doctors is nerve racking enough, so it's nice to have doctors with great "bedside manners". BTW, Norfolk is pronounced "naufick" here.
We arrived at about 9:30 and left at 3:00. What a day! Everything is going well with DJ, except he has one baby tooth with an abscess that needs to be pulled. Pam is taking him to his orthodontist this morning for a consultation before the dentist pulls the tooth. With the cleft palate in the mix our orthodontist and dentist must always communicate before either of them does anything for DJ.
We brought all the kids with us to Norfolk because we figured they'd want the change of scenery an want to stop to shop a bit before we went home. During the summer we rarely ever leave The Beach because the tourist traffic on the weekends is insane. I have seen the traffic bumper to bumper, parking lot for 10-12 miles! I know this because I was stupid enough to leave the beach on a Saturday and come back during the evening "rush".
Well Hi Ho Hi Ho! It's off to work I go!
Monday, August 18, 2008
One time he was pushing our "limit line" and started crying when he didn't get whatever it was that he wanted or wanted to do. So I looked him in the eyes, made a sad face and slowly dragged my forefinger down my cheek from my eye. I said (as if he could understand), "That's the track my tears would leave...IF I cared." Pam didn't think it was all that funny. I can have a weird sense of humour at times. Anyway, from then on when he was trying to tell us he was sad for any reason, he would draw a finger down his cheek to show us.
Another universal sign he developed all on his own was on the very next day after we got him. The group of adoptive families went out shopping with our babies to buy clothes and necessities. They came with the clothes on their backs, so we were all starting from scratch. The first thing Pam and I bought was a small stroller. Tiny or not, a kid gets heavy in a hurry walking through a store. As I was pushing DJ through a toy section, he caught the sight of a kid sized Jeep that was big enough to ride in. He took one look at that Jeep, and started poking my leg, to get my attention. He then commenced to pocking his tiny finger at his chest and then pointing at the Jeep. His eyes were as big as Silver Dollars. We laughed so hard! We figured somewhere along the way someone at the orphanage must have told him that his new Mama & Baba will buy him anything he wants. And he wanted that Jeep! If we hadn't have been in China at the moment, I would have bought it too.
Another interesting memory was watching DJ when he was in his crib. We hadn't bought too many toys yet, so we gave him little boxes that the soaps, shampoos, etc. came in and he played with them like blocks. He was really resourceful. More interesting was how when he was finished playing with them, he stacked them neatly in the corner of his crib. He made sure they were lined up by size and shape. Neat freak from that age. Of course that came to a screeching end when he got here. ;o)
Watching him explore was a constant wonder. There were so many things he'd never seen before, so he kept his little eyes - and fingers busy exploring. All that excitement and so much stimulation finally came crashing down on his little brain one day and he fell asleep at the table during breakfast. We didn't dare disturb him so we just sat there and watched him. A couple other families sat with us and talked. He slept for a couple of hours before we took him upstairs for a proper nap. He slept then too. Now I have to threaten him with his life to get him to take a nap. He hates them.
I have to get ready for work. More later
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Yesterday, Corey and I took AJ down the beach for surf lessons. Guys at our church hold a surf camp called Hukilau Surf Camp. Everywhere else people have vacation Bible school or summer soccer camps, whatever. We have surf camps. Ya gotta love it! We stood around and watched as all these kids did their best to get up on their feet in the waves. AJ managed to do so a couple of times. But is was mostly climb on, ride in, fall off, walk back out. I"m sure the adult helpers were absolutely spent by the end of the 3 hours. That is AJ with her friend at the end of the camp day.
We all went to church together this morning. We we are members of The Nags Head Church.
Nags Head is the name of the town, and has nothing to do with the type of people here. LOL
Corey's leaving this afternoon to head back to base; Virgil and Marilyn will head back in the morning. We'll have youth group at the beach this evening. The family will work together to clean an office building (making extra money) and we'll call it a day.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Since Pam and I are going through this adoption process, that's a no-brainer as to what will be a major topic of discussion. I think these types of times should also be used to try to listen. That is the hardest part for me. Just listening to what the Lord has to say, without interrupting. Some will probably try fasting as well. I can foresee trying it at least once for a day or two, it will depend on what the Lord leads me to do.
They say that a good habit takes about a month to form, so if I can be faithful to this, it will be a very good habit to start or restart. I'm not very faithful in my quiet time (I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that). It goes in spurts and sputters.
After the 40 days of prayer we will be studying the 40 days of a Purpose driven life together as a church family. I look forward to that as well.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
You have to sit and go over the flash of the day to realize that it happened. I took LJ to work and dropped her off. I love our alone time together. I'm so proud of her. She tries to be so mature, especially when she's working or even talking about work. She sits in the front seat so quiet and solemn, and I laugh inside at the thoughts of when she likes to be the family's stand-up comic. She's also our resident "blond". LJ can be a little naive at times and so sweet about it. We say our good-bye's and exchange "I love you". We're trying to teach our children the habit, as shallow as it may seem to some, that the last words we want a loved one to remember us saying to them is "I love you". So we try to always say it as part of our good-bye either in person or on the phone.
I drove 20 miles up from Kitty Hawk to Corolla NC to work. On a highway or even a main road in most places the trip would be a snap. Here, it takes over half an hour because the speed limit ranges from 25 -45mph. We live in a tourist environment and the roads are two lanes, and we have slow traffic and gobs of week-end warrior athletes clogging the road with joggers and bikers. When I get behind a tourist with no place to go and all day to get there (or he's lost), the trip will take about 45 minutes. No place to pass!
My day at work is non-stop from time in to time out. That's a good thing because it does make the day go by much faster. Except, I tend to forget to accomplish anything else that I was supposed to do, like get some of my adoption paperwork signed and notarized. Pam's much, much better at that than I am.
When I get home, the kids are normally playing on their computers in the living room. We sit them side by side in the living room so all is relatively "safer". They actually acknowledge my arrival - most of the time. I'll kiss the closest one to me if anyone passes by me. I'll find Pam either working on the adoption paperwork (her full time job it seems), or preparing dinner. Her cooking is fantastic! (I can't call her a "cook", she hates to cook, but can put a good hurtin on you in the kitchen - Go figure)
If weather permits we eat out on our screened in deck in back. The back of the house faces west, so we get to see the sunset through our trees over the Albemarle Sound. This is my favorite time of day - family time at dinner. That's where it all really gets real. Pam and I talk and pull in the kids whenever it's applicable. We talk about our day, their day, the day, extended family, the news, the Olympics...whatever. When we first brought them home, this was teaching time, both during and after dinner. We learned vocabulary and culture at the same time. I still smile when I remember standing up doing the little song and motion to "Head, shoulders, knees and toes!". I look forward to doing it again with our 3-2-B.
After the kids clear the table, we watch a little TV. We only have one in the house, so we all watch together - Dad normally gets first choice. Pam's not much of a TV watcher, she likes to just sit in the room with us as she's working on one project or another. Bath time for the kids and then I pray with the boys in their bedroom. By then Mom is going down for the count. She has to be at work more than 3 hours before me.
And then it's all quiet. Time for bed and do it all over again!
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
It's unfortunate but we live quite a distance from all our extended family. Tammy is actually the closest to us...5 hours. My parents are in GA, and Pam's parents have both passed on. I have another sister (with family) and our daughter (with family) in Maryland. Pam's sister lives in Florida and her brother is in southern SC. So my kids will grow up knowing their church family much more than they will their family, family. Of course, some would say, well you need to move closer to family. Are you kidding me? We live on the beach, I ain't movin! LOL Our house is always open for visitors. :o)
Tammy and Al left for home this morning. We're going up to Maryland this weekend to go to our grandson, Riley's first birthday party. Next weekend we have old friends from Charlotte visiting (not that they're old, but our friendship is). We also have our social worker coming in to visit for the adoption. Busy, Busy, Busy!!
Have a great and blessed day.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
From my first time through, I've gained patience. Children will be children and no matter how much I want it to be, I've learned, they're not little adults. Older adoptive children have issues of being traumatized from whatever is in their background. We are learning that taking on older children is not easy because believe it or not, you have to earn their trust. (Go figure, LOL) You also have to earn their respect, which is just as difficult. It doesn't come automatically with the adoption certificate. All this before you can adequately nurture and discipline them.
They may appear to be mature, but I realize they are still children and are trying to adapt and cope the best they know how. When we adopted LJ at 13ish, she was the oldest child adopted out of Ethiopia at the time. She had taken on the mother role for a couple of years, and shared the parenting tasks with her older two brothers (who we've learned were not a lot of help - Men! Typical) and her little sister. She and AJ are still trying to adjust to the fact that they are not independent little kids fending for themselves. They want to make decisions on their own, and are angry when Mom intercepts them. But then when we try to guide them toward some appropriately mature decisions/actions, they sometimes flounder. Their emotional growth was stunted because of the trauma of losing both of their parents within a couple of years of each other.
It can be very confusing at times. We have teenagers with teenage issues, then we have to add in personal character issues, orphan issues, cross culture issues, and language issues! Which monster are we trying to conquer at the time? Which two or three? We try to approach scenarios academically...what did I read or learn about this? We try that. If I can't figure it out, I go to autopilot and sort out the mess afterward. For me (I'm a big push over for my baby girls) that means giving in. Typical dad, right? Hey, I'm human!
BUT, very often around here I get to sit back and watch my children as they are doing children things like playing together, or talking, whatever. The joy comes in watching them mature and adapt and show love toward each other. Next best thing to heaven. The the biggest joy is when one of them says to me "I love you" first. That IS heaven for a dad, let me tell ya!
Sunday, August 3, 2008
They didn't understand much of any English as I'd said before. They only knew that they should be polite and cooperative, so they nodded yes to everything. We gave them "American" Names and tried to explain it to them. They smiled and nodded approval. It wasn't until recently that they admitted to us that they didn't have a clue what we were talking about. We could have been explaining the theory of thermonuclear dynamics and had gotten across just as much. Now, they are not so quiet and shy.
We know that their love for and their comfort level around us is growing, because now they tell us what's on their mind (with respect), and tell us what they like and don't like. (mmm, maybe we should have kept them in the fearful, shy stage a little longer - like say 10 years). They were so afraid of everything and really everyone. Now they venture out on their own and talk and play with kids they don't know. They continually enlighten us with tales of life in Ethiopia. At times, it brings us to tears and at others to sheer laughter. They are comfortable enough to ask us for cell phones, which after two years we've done. (What have I done?)
God asks, demands us to love and care for these 4 children. He has also called us to open our hearts and our home to another 3 more that need a mom and a dad to love, nurture, care for and protect them. We are following Christ. And it is such an exhilarating joy to watch how God is "growing" our babies!
Friday, August 1, 2008
In Guanjo, a city of about 4 million people, there were countless people who stopped to talk to us because they realize we're adopting babies from their country. It was neat to see how they wanted to try out their English, even if it was only a few words or sentences. What was amusing was they don't have the same cultural inhibition of not staring. You know when you mom said, "Don't stare it's not polite"? Not in China; whole families stopped and stared trying to figure out why a white family had a Chinese baby with them. In our case it was a Black man and a White woman with a Chinese toddler. This is so the norm with adoption groups that our agency provided us a laminated card that explained in Chinese why we were there and how we loved China and will be taking care of this new baby in the US. When families stopped and stared long enough and we had sufficient time, we gave them the card, they'd read it and they got the broadest smiles on their faces. This actually brought joy to them. So much so that several took pictures of us and with us and the babies.
Fujian (Now DJ) actually took to us fairly quickly. He was so tiny at the time, that Juan had to carry him if we didn't have the stroller. At over 3 years old, DJ weighed just over 25lbs. He had spent his entire existence in a crib, so he couldn't walk very quickly or very far. Not that 3 years want walk that far anyway, but he couldn't walk as far as the average child his age. When we had an opportunity to let him run in the halls, it was painfully apparent that he had never run before. His tiny legs were extremely uncoordinated and lacked average musculature.
His eating...now that was not a problem (at the time). We were told that at the orphanage his diet consisted mainly of rice, egg and noodles with some vegetables. At the hotels everyday he ate like it was his last meal. Which in retrospect, he probably felt that way subconsciously. We started to worry that he'd eat us out of house and home and become obese. He was eating as much as any of us adults at the table and was pointing at the plates of others for more when he was done. BUT, when we got home with him, showed him the pantry...that apparently fixed his internal alarm system. After that, we couldn't get him to eat anything. It took over a year to get his diet anywhere near the norm of kids in the States. And he still loves rice!