Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This is for you, Biruk!

I have been trying to find a way to pay tribute to our friend, Biruk so I'm going to do it through these photos and stories.

Katie, De and Blake met him when they were working in Korah previously. He was there with another American friend, helping her. They all began hanging out and became fast friends. You may remember that I mentioned a guy who took a punch from a shop owner in Addis for Katie and De? That was Biruk. Biruk was helping them with a purchase and told them not to buy their items from this particular shop owner because he was ripping them off. When they walked away the man punched Biruk. Poor guy! We've been Facebook friends since then.

We knew when we went that Biruk was planning on spending as much time as possible with us Ferengy's (American's). He met us with the wonderful Korah welcome committee at the airport and literally almost never left our sides until we had to go into the airport to leave. He went home a couple times for things and stayed behind when we went for 2 days to Hossana but otherwise he was with us. Katie and De had a bunkbed in their room at the guest home where he stayed. We LOVED every minute with this kid!

In the picture above, he is interpreting for me at the Korah clinic. He is an incredible interpreter, rivaling any adult interpreter and better than most, that we've ever had. He is intuitive and sensitive. He knows what we're thinking before we even say it. His maturity is unreal and I had a very hard time remembering that he was only 17 years old and not a peer of mine!

One time he let his age show.

At the clinic in Korah, you will remember that my job was triage nurse. All the patients who were seen first came to me or the other nurse, Janet. We took down their names and their medical complaint. You can imagine the types of medical problems these people had...everything under the sun. Well, I am a nurse and a mother so not much flusters me.

The other thing you need to know about Ethiopia is that youth is not respected. If you are a young person, older people look down on you.

Ok, so here we are. I am heavily relying on Biruk for his interpreting skills and these mostly older people need to respect him enough to relate their personal medical concerns to him...a 17 year old boy.

It went very, very well...overall. I have to be a little blunt here to tell this story so I hope this doesn't make you blush too much.

Here's a little overview of the more sensitive cases:

Biruk: "She is having trouble with her breast..."
Biruk: "Her menstrual cycle keeps never stops."

Women lifted their shirts. Boys pulled down their pants. We saw it all and all the while, Biruk was completely unfazed...a true professional. I was impressed! I don't know any other 17 year old boy who could conduct himself like Biruk.


One of the days was particularly long and exhausting and we both were feeling it.

Toward the end of the day, a mother came through with a son of about 9, although he looked 6. Biruk proceeded to ask her what kind of problem he was having. After listening intently, he leaned in close to me and said, "He is having a problem with his butt hole."

Me: "Ok, what kind of problem?"
Biruk: "Something is coming out of his butt hole."
Me: "Is it a worm?"

(Don't forget where we are, ok?)

Biruk: "No it's not a worm. It's more like," he then makes a gesture with his hands like something being squeezed through his tight fingers and says, "it's more like meat!"

I totally understood what he was trying to tell me but by this time it was all he could do to hold in his laughter! He kept saying quietly, "He's having trouble with his BUTT HOLE!" This would bring more snickers and I am ashamed to tell you...I couldn't hold back either! Soon, I pulled myself back together and announced my diagnosis.

The poor kid had a hemorrhoid.

Even the best translator can have trouble with a word. Here "meat=tissue."

We just had the best time that day!

This pic is outside the shelter in Korah on sheep killing day. From left to right is Goshu, Murad (both Korah church leaders), De, Katie, Biruk and Danae (she nannies for Sumer).

Biruk and Katie on their balcony. A beautiful view.

De, Katie and Biruk.

In the van.

Biruk ate like a king (as we all did) the entire time we were there. This is kitfo, a traditional Ethiopian dish that is a huge treat that they rarely get. It's raw meat mixed with spices. I warned him not to do it! Maste told us he's gotten tape worms from eating it before but Biruk wouldn't listen. Hope he's tapeworm free!

Donkey carting in Sheshemene!

I do have a small fear of hyenas and they all know that there. So whenever there was a dog present, I was told it was a hyena. This is one tame hyena who lives in Korah.

Best buddies.

Messing around on sheep killing day!

I love this picture! Biruk did kill one of the sheep and was feeling pretty macho about it!

I have something else to tell you about Biruk. He is one of the most godly people I know. He loves Jesus and relies on God for absolutely everything. His faith is huge and can and will move mountains. God impressed on his heart when he was a very young boy that he'd one day be an evangelist, sharing the gospel to people who've never heard it, in places where it is not welcome.

He's been looking into schools in the U.S. He wants a theology degree and a minor in music, as he wants to use music in his ministry. He's interested in North Central University in Minneapolis. We've told him that if God provides the tuition, he can live with us. So as of now, we are praying for God to move the 'tuition mountain.' Can't wait to see what God will do!

He spent so much time with us and not in school that we all went to speak with his principal. We explained what he was doing with us and for us but the principal wanted to know what it was that we were doing for him. He was very concerned about Biruk missing school but with the promise that he'd make it all up, finally gave him permission to miss a few more days to be with us.

We really are indebted to and thankful to and for Biruk. He helped us with so much while we were in Ethiopia! Honestly, I don't know what we would have done without him there. He is an outstanding young man and I know God will use him greatly in the future.

So this Thanksgiving, among so many other things I am giving thanks for our friend, Biruk.

We love him!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Saturday in Addis Ababa at the feeding center

We had all decided when we went to Ethiopia that we wanted to be busy. Our group did not have a need for rest but wanted to be put to work and be busy all the time. That is exactly what we did.

Maste gave us an idea for an opportunity to serve on a Saturday...go volunteer at the Hope Enterprises feeding center in Addis. We really had no idea what we'd find when we got there other than a lot of hungry people, so we went. When we arrived we told the workers there that we were there to volunteer and they put us to work.

Above you can see Kevin beginning to fold the injera.

This was the result. They stacked plate/bowls 5 high and covered the table. At this point, I had no idea exactly why but we followed directions.

This center is open every day but Sunday, serving breakfast and lunch. (I think breakfast) People can pay 1 birr (about 5-6 cents) for a token, which they exchange for a meal. This place has things figured out perfectly and do an impressive job with organization. They feed 750 people at the site where we were (mostly to men and boys) and another 250 next door (mostly to women).

Blaine helping fold injera.

Counting to make sure there's enough.

The people are allowed in in groups of about 170 each. They get in line, hand the man their token, pick up their plate with injera, go over to the outdoor sink to wash their hands and proceed to the tables that sit under a large, covered roof. This process happens 3 times until all the people are fed and all the food is gone.

As I have said before, I will not exploit people. I don't try to be dramatic or take graphic pictures of people to shock Americans.

I do believe it is important, however to paint a picture of this day in a vivid way because it is the one and only day that I was shocked...shocked to the point where I had to take a step back, reabsorb the tears that had formed in my eyes and get back to work.

Most (I'm guessing all) of the people who visit this feeding center are homeless. There are many street kids, boys of about 10-14 years old who came through the line. They are always charming, giving you a wink. It's cute until you realize the reason they are so charming is because they know it gets them something. Cute, charming people earn more as beggars or sales people. It's for survival...and that's sad.

There were men who came through the line that I wondered how they'd be able to carry their plates, since they were walking on their hands. I'm not sure what happened to their legs...was it a birth defect or an injury? Whatever caused it, their legs were crippled and small. So they walk on their hands. Oh, their poor hands. The streets of Addis Ababa are filled with broken glass, gravel and other things you wouldn't want to walk on even with shoes. But these men have no choice. I offered to help those men but they had their own method. They either stuck the plate under their chin and carried it that way or had a friend who helped them.

A few women came through the line, one woman who stuck out to me in particular. She had a sweet baby on her back and was being led by her other daughter, a 3 or 4 year old girl. The mother was completely blind.

The one thing they all had in common was they were dirty and very hungry. It was nice that they had a place to wash their hands and they all did so eagerly.

After they took their plates of injera and sat down, Blaine, Katie, Kevin, Biruk and De went out with buckets filled with a lentil stew and a large ladle and began dishing out the "wat" or stew as it's called. I'm pretty sure Denise and I had the cleaner job as the others came back with their fronts covered with lentils!

As the first group finished their meals, they returned their plate to the counter and we were to dump whatever was left on the plate into a plastic pail on the counter and then put the plate into the blue tub to the right to be washed and readied for the next group of people coming through. When I say we dumped the remains of the plates in the bucket that's an inacurate statement. There was usually very little left or nothing on the plate so we actually hit the plate on the side of the bucket to get the plates cleaner for washing...or so I thought.

The bucket got about 1/3 of the way full of scraps. An old man walked up to the counter and opened up a little plastic shopping bag and looked at the man who was working with us. As I watched, the worker then took a plate and began mixing the scraps up. He then, using the plate as a scoop, gathered half of the 'scraps' and put it into the mans bag, which the man then tied up and walked away.

This almost did me in. I literally took a step back as my eyes filled with tears (as they are now again as I tell you this). After this man came with his bag, another did...then another. There were simply not enough scraps to go around for these people to have another meal that day.

I don't know how to hit you with this as hard as it hit me except to say...if you went to McDonald's and everyone dumped their leftovers into a bucket, then someone mixed it up and then gave it to those who wanted something for supper later...this was exactly the same thing. It seemed so dehumanizing at first but of course...these people NEED something for supper or maybe they bring it to someone who is sick. It would be MORE of a shame to waste it...I get that.

It just simply took me off guard and shocked me.

I got over it and went on but I will never, ever forget that.


It was a huge blessing to be there and get to serve that day. We all enjoyed the work and the people.

God showed us in a new way...the need is just huge.

We were told that on Saturday a sponsor pays for the entire day and 1000 people eat for free. They put the sponsors name up on the window to honor them.

And just how much does it cost to feed 1000 very hungry people the only meal they will have on Saturday?

About $60 USD. $60 to feed one thousand people!

It made me many dinners have we spent that much on ourselves or even a couple times, just on myself? Yes, we have done it.

I think I'll have to pass when I see that price next to a steak on the menu next time. I'll get the salad.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Meeting our boys biological family in Hossana

Cows, donkeys and sheep in the road are so commonplace in Ethiopia that we almost didn't bother getting a picture of it. It finally dawned on me that we might have no pictures of this so one of us took these.

This drive is on the way down to Hossana, which is about 4 hours south of the capital city of Addis Ababa.

Just drink in this view! Absolutely breathtaking. The drive to Sheshemene is similar but we noticed some differences...fewer people walking along the roads and more of these round huts.

We also noticed that the crops in the region were big and healthy. We've heard so much about drought and famine in southern Ethiopia but we didn't see that here. They had good rains and that's produced these beautiful crops. The bad famine is farther south, it seems.

This is the hotel where we stayed in Hossana. There is a restaurant attached where we took our sponsored kids to lunch and also Mihiretu and Misganaw's family. Good food.

An early morning view from our balcony at the Lemma Hotel.

We had the room with the view here. Kevin and Denise overlooked a parking lot or a bus station.

The gas station in Hossana. No, I'm not kidding.

This is the Hope for Hossana school. It is supported by Children's Home Society, the adoption agency used to adopt the boys. It is a beautiful facility full of children of all ages. The man in the white coat is the teacher...all teachers in Ethiopia wear white coats like this one.

Ok, you see what they are learning?? Impressive to say the least!

We were pleased to visit this school as since we adopted the boys, our family has sent support for this school. It is a complicated issue and hard for many to understand but after you adopt a child, you may not financially support their biological family in any way. The agreement is that when the biological family chooses to make and adoption plan for their children, the only contact they may have with the adoptive family is the yearly post placement reports (they may view them) or we may send them an occasional letter with photos or drawings by the children. That's it! So by supporting this school in their community, we feel we are supporting their family in an indirect way. Otherwise, what will we say if one day they ask us, "What did you do to help our family in Ethiopia?" Supporting this school has been our answer.

The reason is simple. If we sent monetary support or gifts to the family, other desperate families might see that and decide to "give their child/children away" in order to receive such support. This is shocking and difficult for the Western mind to conceive of. But trust me when I say that you have to see this kind of poverty to comprehend it. Who knows what lengths I might go to as a mother? I can understand thinking, "I will give away one of my children to save the other 4...the new family will send me money and the rest will survive." This is avoided by adoptive families NOT being allowed to do such things, as hard for us as that was and is.

We completely understand and agree with this policy. It's about ethics.

So this school was the sight chosen for us to meet with Mihiretu and MJ's family and we were doubly blessed that day.

Only Blaine and I were allowed in the initial meeting with their family so Katie and De, Kevin and Denise remained outside. You can see what happened to Katie and De. Surrounded! One little boy asked De if he was his real brother. He asked if De was from Ethiopia and if his name was Eyob. He said that De looked just like his brother who'd gone to America. So cute.

I don't know any other way to do this but to make this the worlds longest post ever. But I have to give you some background to this meeting. It's important to us to retain our boys' privacy and I've always done that. I've never posted any picture of their family.

Their story is very typical with really nothing to hide but not every child has that kind of story. It's important never to ask an adoptive parent, "What happened to their parents?" or "Did they die of AIDS?" Oh, man that's a bad one. You may be curious but don't ask.

There is pain with each and every adoption story, international and here in the U.S. When you ask, you put us in a bad spot..protecting our child/children or risk making you mad. We'll choose our kids every time. Please don't be mad at us.

I have chosen today to share some of their story because I want you to see that they are human beings...real people. I know that when we adopted them almost 5 years ago, I mentioned on my blog that we'd met their mother and that she was incredibly lovely. I had not mentioned that their father had died and left her with 7 children to care for and she could not do it. M and M were the youngest and she chose to place them for adoption. She told them in a recording that she loved them so very much that she wanted them to live and have a future. Selfless...more than I can comprehend.

When we decided to take this trip, we immediately knew that we must visit her to reassure her that we were holding up to our promises that we'd made her in regards to the boys. We promised her they'd attend church, own their own Bibles, learn them, etc. The least we could do was to show her these things after she'd entrusted her most precious gifts to us.

We made arrangements through Children's Home Society to meet her. Soon after we made these arrangements, we got some wonderful news. It was shocking but wonderful. Their father was alive. He'd gone looking for more farmland and after he'd been gone a long time, she got word that he'd died. But in fact, he had been very sick but he recovered and came home! What a thrill for her and the rest of the family. We'd never have known this if we hadn't arranged for this visit.

So not only did we get to see their mother, we got to meet their father and their siblings!

This is the boys maternal grandparents. I can't say enough about them. They are strong Christian people who simply could not stop praising the Lord when they say each photo of the boys! She kept raising her hands in praise, saying "Yesus Christos." She couldn't stop thanking Jesus.

I chose to include a few, carefully selected photos for the first time. My desire is that you see the love and connection they have to us and we have to them. The photos I've chosen to share, with the exception of the grandparents' are not full face. That's by design. We do have some portrait type family pictures with all of them and all of us but those will hang in our home, not be put on the internet. Hope you understand.

This man hugging Katie is the boys' father. He looks very old but considering the hard, hard life he's led, we believe him to be about 50. The sweetie walking away is the oldest boy, who if he turned around, you would see Mihiretu's face looking back at you. Really, it is eery in a good way.

The girl hugging Katie is the oldest sister, who also looks so much like Mihiretu. The boy on the left is the oldest brother, the girl behind Katie is the younger sister and the little guy in the grey shirt is Mihiretu's older brother.

Meeting them was a priceless time for all of us. Since we got home, I can't look at Mihiretu without seeing his mother, sister and brother. I look at him and wonder.

I have so much more to share about our feelings but I know this is an epic post so I better quit now and come back to it later.

Thanks for sticking with this one. You're amazing if you did!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Meeting our Compassion boy in Hossana

Our afternoon ended with a visit to Mandefro's home. We were honored that their whole family was there, meaning that his parents stayed home from work and his sister skipped school for a day, a big sacrifice for them.

Of all the homes we had the privilege to visit, Mandefro's compound was right up there in beauty. It was clear that his family had worked hard to keep up their property. This is the view walking into their yard.

Just inside their front door, we received such a warm greeting by his family. I would say his family, according to Ethiopian standards, is middle class.

Mandefro's sister roasting the coffee beans for the coffee ceremony. This is all done right in the house, smoke and all.

Mandefro's mom finishing the roasting of the coffee beans. The floors of these homes is actually dirt covered with a large piece of linoleum.

His mom putting sugar in the cups.

Pouring the coffee into cups. The glass jar with the stick in it is inscence burning.

Under the lace is baskets filled with treats...oranges, bread and honestly the best popcorn I have ever had.

Mandefro's and I peeling oranges. Ethiopia has some amazing oranges.

his family and us. Isn't their compound gorgeous? The trees behind us are called false banana plants. They grow no bananas but they are very drought resistant and have a root that they make a food called kocho. It is one of their staples. Kocho looks like a slice of Parmesan cheese but tastes like Limburger cheese and dirty socks. It is by far one of the worst things I have ever eaten! If you have Netflix, you can watch all about Ethiopian food on Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern. He says that the false banana root spends 3 months fermenting in the ground after its been chopped up. Yep...that explains it! Fortunately Mandefro's family didn't offer us any!

Us with our sweet boy.

As we sat in their living room they had obviously read our letters because they asked us about our house fire. They asked about Aliya's adoption and knew all our kids' names. It was clear that they were as interested in our lives as we were about theirs.

We all enjoyed meeting our sponsor kids, their families and to be so warmly welcomed into their homes and lives.

We stayed overnight in Hossana and on Thursday met with Mihiretu and Misganaw's family. I've thought and thought about how much of this to share online? Hope I do it justice tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taking the boys to lunch

After we went and had the feast there, we met the 2 boys we sponsor at the restaurant and had lunch. We'd spent so much time with Ayano's family that it was now 2pm and the boys were pretty hungry! We, of course were not since we'd already eaten at Ayano's. But eat again we did!

Our boys started out acting very shy but warmed up as time went on.

In Ethiopia, it is a sign of respect and love to feed another person. It's done very regularly and is completely normal to see. Ayano started it out by feeding Denise some of his injera, wat and tibs.

Ok, now Katie!

Mandefro, our oldest sponsored child got into the game and fed me.

And then Blaine!

After lunch, the boys went into the courtyard to show us some of their soccer skills with Ayano's new ball. They put the American kids I know to shame:) Little did Mandefro and Temesgen know that in their backpacks were a sweet soccer ball for each of them, too!

Even in a fancy suit, Ayano had skills.

This is Temesgen, our younger sponsored child. He was so sweet but very shy and quiet.

Blaine and I had made up a Shutterfly book with pics of our family. The Ethiopian's were very interested in seeing our 3 Habesha (Ethiopian) kids and what their new lives looked like as American's.

Lunch! Each of the boys had tibs, either beef or lamb fried in oil with jalepeno peppers. Very delicious and a big treat for them.

The whole group of us waiting for lunch to come.

This was a full day! We met with Ayano's family and went to his program. We took everyone out to lunch, which I think cost about $30 or $40 USD for all of us. We next will visit Temesgen's house and mother and after that we'll visit Mandefro's home and family.

Just too much to post all at once!

Tomorrow, Temesgen's home visit.