Profuse apologies for not posting these on time-internet was questionable while we were there and, well, since getting home we’ve been starting to adjust to our new normal. ;) But we want to record these before we forget. Here’s the first couple of days as recorded by Jeff while we were there. More to come..
Where can we even begin? How do you tell the story of a trip that’s 2+ years in the making? I guess it started at 4:30 in the morning with an extra early wake up call…
We had finished packing a couple days prior and just had a few last minute checks the night before, e.g. triple checking the weight of the bags using a shipping scale borrowed from a dear friend… Lauren made a game of seeing how close to 50lbs we could come without going over! (Final tally: 2 bags at 50.0 lbs, 1 at 49.5 and 1 at 49.0… NOT TOO SHABBY!) We got moving really quickly as we were on a mission… the boys woke up pretty well for that early hour and we were packed and in the car by 5:15 heading to the airport (a big thank you to Aunt Ash for transportation!).
We got to the airport by 5:40 and were checked in without too much incident. Security went swimmingly as well and we thought we were in such good shape (here’s where the ominous music would start to play…). Not 2 minutes after we arrived at the gate, a USAirways employee notified us that our plane had been “downgraded” – in other words, they replaced our plane with a smaller one and we no longer had seats! They needed 16 people to volunteer to take a later flight or we were pretty much out of luck. Of course we started scrambling and I started calling and emailing our travel agent (at 5:20AM her time, I’m such a nice guy). I begged the airline to help us get to Washington Dulles on-time or we would have to wait another entire day before we were able to get to Ethiopia. They assured me that things would work out and they would get us on the flight… after many prayers, and miraculously many volunteers to give up their seats, we made it on & were en route to DC, albeit quite late.
The boys enjoyed their first flight and we got into DC with what we assumed was little time to spare. I waited for our gate-checked baggage while Lauren and the boys hauled it to get to our next flight. I sprinted to catch up with bags in tow and breathlessly arrived at the gate only to find out that we were misinformed by USAir about the time of our flight to ET… it wouldn’t even start boarding for another 40 minutes! That gave us time to settle a bit, grab a much-needed cup of coffee and some bagels for breakfast. We finally got to board a VERY NICE Boeing 787 Dream Liner and sit back, relax and prepare (as much as we possibly could) for a 12.5 hour flight to Addis Ababa.
There really wasn’t anything to complain about on the flight… yes, it was long and yes, we didn’t sleep that much (or at all in Lauren’s case), but the boys were great, the food wasn’t bad and we had plenty of entertainment to keep us all occupied. We landed in Addis just before 7am local time (midnight in the US), boarded a bus that took us approximately 200 yards to the airport and headed to get our visas and clear customs. Once that was taken care of, we grabbed our bags off the carousel, scanned them and left the airport in search of our transportation! We met our wonderful guide Yonas and got into the van to head to the Guest House. Our driver “Johnny” was terrific in helping navigate the wild traffic and roads to get us to where we were staying. There are really no traffic rules (or lights, or stop signs) in Ethiopia – it’s quite the experience. We wanted to get to the TH and see Tsinat as quickly as possible, but also wanted to settle down for a few minutes, change out of our funky travel clothes and freshen up a bit… I mean, you want to look halfway decent for your first meeting with your daughter, right?
After a little over an hour, we jumped back in the van and took off towards the Transition Home. It’s about a 15-20 minute ride, but it seemed like it took FOREVER to get there. The boys enjoyed looking out the windows and seeing different scenery than back home; Lauren and I were each lost in our thoughts as we prepared ourselves for the moment we had been waiting for… when we would lay our eyes on our beautiful little girl in person! Of course, I tried to distract myself with meaningless conversation and questions to Lauren about when we should exchange our money for local currency (to which she replied: “Seriously?!?! THAT is what you’re thinking about right now? J). We arrived, coordinated with Yonas and Johnny about photographing and videoing our meeting and waited. We were literally moments away from a whole new world. I knew that nothing would ever be the same once we met… and in 2 seconds my heart would be wrapped around her little finger. We waited at the front steps, and then Yonas asked us if we were ready
She came around the corner with a HUGE smile on her face that could solve half the world’s problems, ran over to us, straight into Lauren’s arms… I wish I could say I remember the look on Lauren’s face, but it was just at that moment that my “allergies” kicked in and the tears streaming down my face kept the vision slightly blurry. She came to me and I picked her up and squeezed her so tight so that she would know that I’ll never want to let her go. INCREDIBLE… that’s the one word I can use to describe it. Well, that and PERFECT. The boys took to her immediately, hugged her as she picked them each up and then we all got together for a quick picture. It still seems surreal… I can’t begin to explain the joy that was in my heart the moment I saw her embrace Lauren. It felt like something broken inside was mending… like an emptiness, an aching that we felt while we were waiting began to fill and heal. No words… all emotions… absolutely incredible.
Now, I would be remiss if I made it seem like this is going to be easy. T speaks just about no English, and at this point in time isn’t overly enthusiastic about learning it or trying it other than when we try to have her say her brothers’ names. I know that is going to be unbelievably challenging and I know that she is going to grieve a lot, but meeting and spending the first day with her was priceless. Did I mention that she loves gum? Because, holy cow! She does! She loves it but also absolutely loves sharing it with all of the kids at the TH… and she loves playing games (on our phones). The first day was interesting in a way because we were definitely feeling each other out a bit. We had broken into her routine and were a big distraction not just to her, but to all of the kids (especially since there hadn’t been a family who visited in over 2 months). Yonas had talked to us about how busy the TH used to be with 8-10 families there at once… I can’t imagine how that would have worked logistically. I thought in my head that it was MUCH larger than it is in reality… so the idea of that many other families there sharing space would be difficult. I guess that’s one blessing of being there by ourselves!
We spent the morning with her and then went out to lunch at a nearby restaurant. That was the point in time where we truly realized just how exhausted we were. We wanted nothing more than to fall asleep right there, but wanted to get back and spend some more time with T before calling it a day. We decided to head back for just a little bit and try to spend more time together before we would go back to Yebsabi and crash. She loved showing off her brothers and they loved getting doted on and feeling like they were a part of such a fun group of kids. Too soon it was time to head back to Yebsabi but our bodies were telling us that we needed rest ASAP. Upon our arrival we crashed HARD for about 3 hours, woke up and had dinner, then went back to sleep. The boys didn’t really complain as they were just as beat as we were. Day 1 was in the books: it was wonderful, eye-opening and life-changing… and we knew that it was just the beginning.