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We are home safe and sound. I attribute the fact that we survived the trip entirely to your collective prayers and good vibes. Seriously – I checked the blog at the Addis airport and saw a big chunk of these comments before I we boarded – and as Clare can attest, reading them had me crying my head off. But, they were good tears. I don’t know if I could have gotten on that plane without that much-needed encouragement.
When I started blogging, I never imagined that it would bring me a community of people who would help me through one of my darkest days. I’m sure the tough times are not over, but I am so so strengthened and humbled and RELIEVED by all of your comments. Thank you all!
More details to follow after some rest. My (wonderful) friend Kate is here and is staying the night so I can get some rest. Elsa is asleep for now. At home.
Well, the magic has worn off.
I took Elsa out of the orphanage yesterday, and she was fine until this morning. Today she has been just totally inconsolable – crying all day, and at times screaming for hours. I am beside myself because I have no idea what to do to make her feel better.
I know she is fed, her diaper is clean, and although she has a cold and is (I think) teething, she is basically OK. She doesn’t want me to hold her – will sometimes tolerate Clare, but not for long. I think she just doesn’t know what happened and why everything and everyone she knew is gone. I was OK with her when I was just a visitor at the orphanage, but not anymore.
I’m trying not to take it personally, of course but it is hard – I want so much to be the person who comforts her, but right now I’m just a stranger who doesn’t know any of the right tricks to calm her down. And several times today the mere sight of me sent her into hysterics.
Tonight is the plane ride and I am pretty much a nervous wreck about it. I know there is nothing more to do but just survive it. Thank God Clare is feeling better and is helping immensely.
I’m trying not to have a total panic attack about what happens when I home, alone, with this poor child. But to tell y’all the truth, I am scared to death about that. What was I thinking that I could handle this alone?
Please pray for us. We need it.
(here is a delayed post about Awassa…)
The drive down to Awassa from Addis is quite scenic. We left Addis in the morning after a quick visit to see Miss Elsa.
After only about a half an hour, dropped down into the Rift Valley. The scenery changed almost immediately, and I could feel the difference in the air. Vast expanses of dry grasses and acacia trees, and then the Rift Valley Lakes appear, one after another in a string.
After a few hours we got to a town called Mojo(!) and turned off the main road for the road heading South-west toward Awassa. The other road continues on East to Djibouti.
This is a photo of the shores of Lake Ziway. Check out the massive Maribou storks, which are about half the size of the horse!
Then, back on the road to Awassa, where we arrived about 2.5 hours later.
We checked in to the Pinna Hotel, which has a decent recommendation in my Lonely Planet book, but which I thought was a hole. The first room they tried to give us was hot and loud (right on the street) and the second room was slightly better. We had asked for two beds and this one had a big bed and a cot-like thing, but we were tired enough to just accept that. Only the big bed had a mosquito net, and it took quite an effort to get a second net, which was not exactly clean.
Speaking of clean, the room was not. The bathroom was moldy and smelled pretty rank. We sprayed the room with pesticide at dusk to kill any mosquitoes that may have been hiding away and when we came back in, there were dead cockroaches on the floor. Charming.
So, we had to sleep in a hot closed room that still smelled slightly like the pesticide spray. It was too hot to sleep for some time, so I lay awake thinking about how much I didn’t want to get malaria.
Anyway, enough of the bad news. The good news is that Awassa is lovely, and the best part is that I got to meet up with Mary Anne L-G, the person who works for the Yale-Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative. She is an amazing person – former successful fine artist who went into hospital management and then wanted to do something meaningful with it and ended up here. She is making a huge difference in Ethiopia, and now manages the entire Southern region for the Initiative.
Not only that, but she’s a very cool chick! We got along fabulously, and it was so fun to meet her. We went to a great restaurant in the Lakeside hotel called La Dolce. Had gorgeous grilled aubergine (eggplant) and fish with a really nice balsamic sauce. And a glass of Sangiovese – the real deal. Very very good. Like me, she has a soft spot for Ethiopian orphans and has adopted an orphanage in Hosanna (southern Ethiopia) and is trying to help them out. It was a wonderful evening, and I’m thrilled to have connected with her. (thank you Si!!)
I got up earlyish on Saturday to go see the Awassa fish market before heading off to Aleta Wondo.
The morning fish market is on the shores of Lake Awassa, and is a pretty amazing sight. Hundreds of people, of course, but also masses of birds – Egyptian geese, Sacred Ibis, and massive Maribou storks – and also Vervet monkeys and of course the standard Ethiopian fare of goats, dogs, donkeys, sheep and cows.
It was all really interesting and I was digging it until a stepped on an acacia thorn which went right through the sole of my shoe and into my foot. I took off my shoe and forced the blood out to (I hope) keep any creepy-crawlies from getting into my bloodstream. And I wiped it off as much as I could with one of my antibiotic wipes, so I don’t think it’ll get infected (but if my leg suddenly falls off, you’ll know what happened). Man, that hurt! I was slightly gimpy for the rest of the day.
We next went to find the SOS Awassa children’s home – this is the local branch of the SOS Enfants Ethiopie (the orphanage system that I am adopting Elsa from), and the place where she was first brought. It is a lovely spot with super-nice people. There is a much bigger facility for the older kids, but this building was just for the little babies. Right now there are only two kiddoes there – one who is about 6 months old and one who is just two weeks old!
I also brought them a letter and a photo book from Paige, with tons of photos of the beautiful Meklit, which brought exclamations of joy. It is so sweet to see how much they really care about the kids and how happy they are to see them growing up healthy and well cared-for.
After spending a bit of time there, we hit the road for Aleta Wondo.
Embassy appointment went swimmingly – despite having a bit of a hard time finding Sintayehu (the “parking lot” is somewhat hidden) and the fact that he appears to be coming down with the same plague that Clare is now getting over. (We had plans to take him out to dinner, but he could barely make it through the Embassy interview, and needed to go home to bed.)
We asked for expedited treatment, and got it – so tomorrow morning I’ll return to the Embassy to get the all-important visa and we can indeed leave for home in the evening.
I just spoke to Sintayehu (my attorney here) and found out the timing of the Embassy appointment today.
Basically, he said to meet him in the parking lot of the U.S. Embassy, and to bring Elsabet Aden and my passport.
Sounds very much like some illicit transaction, no?
Am attempting to embed a little video of Elsa Aden here – I don’t know if this will work.
And if it does, it will probably be the world’s most boring video, except to me. I can stare at her for hours, but I don’t expect that is quite as fascinating to anyone else but me.
We are back in Addis early, and very glad to be here.
Remember how I wrote that Clare seemed to be coming down with something? I thought it was the elevation up north, but it was not – turns out it was a full-on flu bug of some kind. She started feeling sick on the last night in Aksum, and by the time we got back to Addis, was really knocked out. She has been in bed for the last 4 or 5 days.
On Friday morning when I was getting ready for for the drive to Awassa for a few days, she thought she was over it and so decided to come with me. But, no such luck – she felt terrible by the time we got there, and again was totally bedridden. Poor thing.
It was especially bad because the hotel in Awassa (the Pinna – don’t stay there!) was pretty much a pit. Our room was hot and stuffy and we couldn’t open the windows at night because of the mosquitoes. Neither one of us is on Malaria prophylactics, so we had to douse ourselves in Deet, cover our beds in mosquito netting, and hope for the best. This made for a not-so restful stay, to say the least.
Yesterday after I was done with my explorations I got back to the hotel in the afternoon to find a pretty sad-looking Clare lying on her mattress on the floor. She was trying to stay cool and the bed was horribly uncomfortable. Solomon (our guide) and I took her to the “best” private hospital in Awassa. This was quite a scene, and somewhat scary, and involved a lot of waiting in crowded hallways with crowds of Ethiopians who were pretty shocked to see us there. Thank God our guide was there – he managed to expedite the whole thing, and Clare was seen by a doctor relatively quickly. That said, the medical care was not exactly cutting-edge. But we really wanted to make sure it wasn’t malaria (it is not) and it was somewhat reassuring that the doctor agreed it is in fact, flu.
After the nightmare of the hospital visit, we couldn’t stand to say another night in Pinna hotel, so we decided to cut the trip short and head back to the comforts of the Sheraton in Addis. We told our guide and driver, packed up our things in about 20 minutes, hit the road, and hightailed it back.
Driving in Ethiopia is terrifying enough in the daytime – you DON’T want to be on the road at night!
Among other reasons, the Ethiopians have a weird tradition – stubbornly adhered to – of not turning on headlights until it is pitch frickin’ black out. At one point, I just broke down and demanded that our driver turn on the lights. Many of the vehicles, including the biggest trucks, have no functioning lights at all. In addition, every 10 minutes of so, you come across a stationery object in the road – maybe it’s a broken-down truck (with – you guessed it – no lights) or maybe a donkey lying on the still-warm asphalt or maybe a drunk blind man on his hands and knees (I am not making this up).
In all cases, if it is daylight, you honk the horn at anyone in your path. This occasionally works, but usually you have to swerve. If it is night, you flash your highbeams at the offending object or being, temporarily blinding them.
I am including a few photos of some typical roadside sights.
We made only one stop (for fuel) and ate in the car so we made pretty good time – about 4 and a half hours. By the time it was dark, we were on the outskirts of Addis, so it wasn’t too scary (well, it WAS scary, but we survived).
Checking into the hotel and an air-conditioned room and clean sheets was a huge relief –
this morning as I write this, Clare is already feeling and looking much better and I’m so glad we decided to come back.
For a while there, I was pretty scared that I’d get sick too, but it’s been long enough now that (thank God) it appears to have passed me by. Now it’s looking like she’ll be in condition to travel on Tuesday night, when we plan to leave for home.
I will write another post about my explorations of Awassa and the trek to Aleta Wondo, which was interesting and good, but didn’t reveal anything about Elsa’s family. And I promise to post more photos of Elsa!!
As of today, I’ve been in Ethiopia for 2 weeks and it has been (obviously) challenging, but also great. The best part – of course – is getting to meet the wonderful Elsabet Aden.
Tomorrow I have my Embassy interview and the next day (I hope) we get Elsa’s visa. I’m taking her out of the orphanage for good tomorrow, now that I’m done with running around the countryside. I ordered up a crib for our room at the Sheraton – can’t wait to have Elsa in it!
Tomorrow morning we leave to go South to Awassa, and then to Aleta Wendo, Elsabet Aden’s home town.
I’m so looking forward to seeing the part of the country where she is from, and – God willing – perhaps discovering something, anything, about her beginnings. At the very least I can take tons of photos of Aleta Wendo to show her when she grows up and wants to know…
We also have a local contact there, thanks to Si (you rock!), who we hope to connect with and perhaps share a meal. She works for the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS project in Awassa, and sounds like a super cool person.
Again, we’ll likely be out of internet range, so please stand by until Sunday night or Monday when we return to Addis.