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Here are links to our two most recent newsletters.  I haven’t posted anything for a quite a while, internet has been awful.  Today, so far, it is decent. 🙂

October

Ethiopia Newsletter 14

December

Ethiopia Newsletter 15

 

 

Week Off

The kids had their fall break this past week.  In the US, I was never that excited when our kids had time off from school.  I liked the structure school brought into their lives and I liked the break it gave me. 🙂  Here, though, it’s a different story.  I miss my kids.  I hardly see them during the week.  They are gone 9-10 hours/day for school and the drives to and from.  It makes for long days.  They get home, Chris does homework with them while I make dinner, we eat, they get ready for bed.  That’s about it.  We enjoy our weekends together, but weekdays are just survival mode, nothing too enjoyable going on.  This past week was different.  Chris and I didn’t take the whole week off, but we still found plenty of time to enjoy our kiddos.

Tuesday, we went to a local, government hotel to swim.  It was a holiday here, so all of the nice hotels/pools were charging way too much per person, so we found this other option.  It was fine, but I don’t think the pool is one I’d revisit.  The grounds were beautiful and we would like to picnic there one day.  There was also a small amusement park type area for kids–think traveling carnival rides.  We will likely take the kids back there, despite the fact that we were absolutely the only white people on the property.  We are getting used to that, but it’s still a bit strange to be the odd man out and then to have people assume that Kayla is not with us constantly.  Fortunately, she doesn’t notice yet, but I have to remember to keep her hand in mine at all times and then when she busts out the English, that helps, of course.

Thursday and Friday, we got out of town.  We headed to Negash Lodge, a little less than two hours from our house.  It was VERY refreshing.  We traveled with friends and each stayed in our own hut.  They had a fresh, hot springs water pool that was wonderful (not luxurious, but there’s only one such pool in Ethiopia that we know of, so it was wonderful).  It was just a relaxing two days spent in the water and sun and exactly what our family needed.  It was fresh air, time together and fun.  There were monkeys all over this property and we thoroughly enjoyed watching them and even interacting with them some.  We had a few nearly enter our hut…yikes…but they were fun, all the same.

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Meskel

Sorry for the total lack of updates lately.  Internet has been horrible and Chris has started his Masters program, so I’ve been left without a computer to update from and even when I do have it, internet hardly works.  Today, it seems better, so here’s hoping…

We’ve been busy, of course.  The boys are back in school and loving it.  Kayla stays home with her nanny, who is wonderful.  Chris and I are going to work.  I am teaching English at three different locations, plus tutoring a neighbor kid.  So, we are keeping busy!  Rainy season is just about done.  We made it through just fine, but were certainly happy to see the sun again after quite a break.  Glad to have a way to dry laundry again, too!

This week, Ethiopia celebrated Meskel.  We decided to join in on the celebration in our neighborhood.

We thoroughly enjoyed celebrating this Meskel holiday with friends! Beautiful little Meskel flowers were being picked by people all day Wed and Thurs. I had two huge bundles dropped off at my house on Thurs.  We were also invited to three different fires in our neighborhood by different neighbors. About 8pm on Thurs night was when all the fun started. Fires were lit, music was played, people gathered. Kids danced around a fire chanting the name of the person who started it and clapping. It was quite charming. Around the corner from our house, the neighborhood had planned quite the Meskel party. There was music booming, a large fire that remained lit for quite a few hours and food for all. It was kind of like a BBQ, but with Ethiopian food. We were treated as neighbors and eagerly invited to join in on the celebration. We had plates of food, bottles of Coca and a great time! We stayed out WAY too late, but it truly was a wonderful night spent with our neighbors. Friday was truly Meskel, but this is also a fasting day for the Orthodox, so the meal takes place on Thursday night. Friday, shops were closed. In the evening, neighbors gathered again around smaller fires and danced and listened to music. We gave up and went to bed around 10pm and the music was still going strong long after that.

The Meskel holiday is all about the cross of Jesus. Years ago, a ruler here lit a fire (this is why they still light fires) and prayed for a discovery. The ashes from the fire flew up into the sky and landed in a particular spot. When they dug there, they discovered a large piece of wood, believed to be part of the cross of Jesus. Now, they light these fires with a cross on top and the direction the cross falls (north, south, east, west) predicts what the next year will bring–health, wealth, war or famine (in no particular order because I do not have any idea which direction means which prediction). Some have compared it to our groundhog day, but clearly the holiday has MUCH more meaning to Ethiopians, especially the Orthodox. Only Mslm families do not celebrate the holiday, though. It has become more about the tradition than the meaning for many Ethiopians (non-Orthodox especially), from what I am told.

There are a few pics below. One of the fire with the cross on top before it was lit, one of the fire burning, which my husband and kiddos got to help light and one of the Meskel flowers. Our favorite thing about the holiday was the reception of our neighbors to us. Clearly, we don’t fit, but they don’t care and welcomed us anyway. About a half dozen wanted to make sure we knew what the holiday was about, but that was the only way we were treated any differently than anyone else. It was a wonderful night!

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We have been in Ethiopia for a little over 6 months now.  When in the US, we traveled A LOT.  We were gone at least one weekend a month before starting our missions journey.  We enjoy packing up the car and going on a little adventure.  Since moving to Ethiopia, we hadn’t done that even once until this past weekend.  It’s tricky here.  Without 4wd, you have to be careful about where you go.  With rainy season, same thing.  But, the air and noise pollution of the city are good to escape once in a while and we have really been encouraged to get out of the city on occasion, so this past weekend we drove out of the city to Lake Langano for a weekend away.  We rented a private cottage, so the expense was minimal.  We packed all our own food and just hung out by the lake and in the cottage Fri-Sun.  It was a lovely weekend.

The drive should have taken about 2 hours, miles wise, but with constant road blocks (aka herds of cattle, goats, people, etc…) it took about 4.  We passed through a few cities on our way and the further we got from the city, the less auto traffic we encountered.  That was a nice change of pace.  On the way down, we barely drove over 50mph because we’re so used to going slow that going that fast makes it seem like your life is in peril.  On the way home, we went closer to 65mph. 🙂  We needed gas on the way home and stopped at 4 gas stations that only sold diesel before being told where the ONE gas station with benzene was.  Yikes.  We may have made it to the next town if there was no benzene in that town, but there was no guarantee that the next town would have the right fuel either.  The car trips were uneventful and the kids did great, so did our little van.  Whew!

Langano Lake is, reportedly, the only lake in Ethiopia that is “safe” to swim in.  We’ve heard a few reports of it not being, but most people still say it is, so we risked it.  The lake looks really muddy and is pretty brown in color, but it is our only option, so we all went in to some extent.  The boys, my brother, Josiah, and Chris all swam the most.  Kayla and I stayed pretty close to the edge.  What the kids really loved was playing in the sand.  It’s black sand, but not dirt.  In fact, all the granules are shiny.  Pumice stones wash up on the edge of the beach, so the boys had a great time collecting those and tossing them back in.  I really enjoyed some time in the hammock reading or just swinging with the kids.  They really playing in it, as well.

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The cottage was filled with bugs as it hadn’t been visited in a while.  HUGE bugs.  Josiah caught a couple of beetles that had to be a couple of inches long each.  They looked and sounded like little wind-up toys.  There were dozens of spiders that were really flat, but some three inches across.  We killed LOTS of those guys this weekend.  Still, we slept just fine and enjoyed the little cottage.  We hope to return at least once more while here in Ethiopia.  It was nice to get away and nice to return home.

For anyone wondering about the nature we encounter or what Ethiopia might look like, here’s a little slideshow of photos I took on the drive home.

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4th of July

One of our lovely supporters decided that just because we were in Africa we shouldn’t have to forgo the 4th of July.  She ordered decorations and quite possibly thought of every little detail and shipped off a box of great supplies to us a couple of months ago–making sure we’d have it in time for the 4th.  There were some fun treats inside, but most of the box was put away until July 3, when I pulled it out to decorate.  Seeing has how we had a box full of party stuff, we decided to have a party with friends.  Every year, since I was about 5, my dad has thrown a 4th of July party for the same group of friends and family.  I knew we’d miss that gathering this year, so having our own party was a great diversion.  (Thanks again, Valerie, for the box of fun).  We have saved most of the decorations so we can have a party again next year.

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My mom sent 4th of July shirts for the kids, as dressing in red, white and blue was always mandatory for the Hendrickson 4th celebrations.  My good friend, Barb, sent loads of glow sticks so all the kids had fun with those and then my kids got to play with some locally purchased sparklers after it got pretty dark.  Yes, we tested them first to make sure no one would lose a hand. 🙂  The kids even had 3-d fireworks glasses to wear while playing with the sparklers.  The glasses made them even more fun and no one got injured.

 

Birthdays!

Well, I’ve been up since 3:30 am, why not update the blog?  It’s been a while.  The most significant thing that has happened in our house over the past few weeks has been Gavin’s birthday.  My birthday happened, too, but I have learned over the past 8 years that when you have a baby within a few days of your own birthday, you pretty much cease to matter around birthday time.  I’m not complaining, I could not care less, but now I’m 35 and that happened sometime last week.  It is barely worth mentioning.  For anyone who wonders, I had a great day that included dinner out with just my husband, but it also included 3.5 hours of language school, so…

Gavin turned 8 on the 16th!  This was his first birthday away from extended family.  He got to have a birthday party.  I asked him who he wanted to invite from school and I was thrilled he only gave me 3 names.  I don’t think I could handle a whole class thing, but three I can do.  All three are darling little Ethiopian boys who were so sweet and made Gavin’s party day very special.  On Friday, the boys had their last day of school which only consisted of a morning chapel that parents were invited to.  I went and then brought 6 kids (3 of my own) home with me–thank goodness we got that mini van a few weeks ago.  The kids all played at our house for a while so we could wait for Chris to get home from language school.  Then, we went to a local restaurant that has a game room upstairs.  Chris took the boys to play games and Kayla and I ordered sodas, pizza and chicken fingers for the mob.  Some of the games worked and there is a climbing area with a ball pit (yuck) that the kids enjoyed for a couple of hours.  The kids all had a great time and then we went home for cake (made from scratch because that’s the only option here…) and presents.  It was a great party, Gavin loved it.

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Sunday was his actual birthday and also Father’s Day.  Guess what?  When you have a child with the same birthday as Father’s Day (every few years), dad also takes a back seat.  Chris got to pick where we went for lunch that day and I made breakfast and washed all the dishes, but that was about it for him–other than some handmade cards from his kids.  The rest of the day was about Gav.  He opened family presents and had another round of cake.  It was another good day.

As hard to believe as it is that he’s 8, I love it.  He’s a super smart boy.  He excels in academics, namely reading and math (truly my son).  He is intelligent and a great conversationalist.  He loves to read and make beautiful art that now adorns my walls (because we can’t figure out how to hang anything more substantial on concrete walls and his art is cheap–free).  He is a kind boy and a wonderful brother to Kayla.  He has his issues with Reily, but sometimes he is a really great brother to him, too.  Yep, I give that a good, solid sometimes. 🙂  He is responsible, follows rules (and tries to enforce them for everyone else) and he loves God.  I could not be more proud of this boy if I tried.  He has an incredible heart and an incredible mind.  It is really fun watching him grow up.  I can just imagine all of the possibilities for his life yet to come.

As sad as we were to celebrate without family–and we were–Gavin had a great birthday.  Knowing that grandma and grandpa will be here in just 7 months surely helps.  We’re counting them down and can’t wait!

 

 

Adoption thoughts…I have SO many of them.  I don’t pretend to be a know-it-all regarding adoption, but my experience is pretty extensive and I’m often  asked for my opinion on things because of that.  I’ve had about a million thoughts mulling around in my brain over the past week.  This post is just my attempt to get them out of my head.  This post is geared towards international adoption as that is the type that we completed and the type that we are contacted about most often.

Corruption & Ethics

It happens.  This is not a shocker to anyone, I hope, who has considered/is considering/is in the process of adopting or who has already completed an adoption.  I mean, we all think it won’t touch us and our case is not corrupt, but that’s just plain foolish.  How can you know?  Especially with international adoption.

Many parents who adopt internationally get background information on their kids and their birth families.  Sometimes it is all perfectly in order and other times facts just don’t quite match up causing some red flags, but nothing that looks too corrupt or unethical.  So, we plod on–especially if it is our first international adoption.  We want that baby/child home, with us, their family.  Problem is, they have another family.  A family that made a decision.  Here’s the question…WHY did they make that decision?  Why is adoption what they chose for their child?  I used to think it was as simple as having no choice (which still kills me)–i.e. you keep your child and they die or you give them up so they could live.  This is unacceptable and does happen, but I am learning that far more often than we’d like to think, adoption happens because the birth family wants something more for their child–something they cannot attain for them in their country of birth–and so they choose to place them for adoption.  The real kicker is that many times, these birth families do not have a full understanding of what adoption means and they make an uninformed (or even misguided purposefully–by the agency) decision without really comprehending the consequences.

What is it that they want for their child?  A life in America.  Ugh.  Now, I am glad I was born and raised in America.  I know that I have many privileges and advantages because of this, but it’s not the magical place that so many non-Americans dream it to be.  Ethiopia, is not an exception.  We were recently asked, in all earnest, if there were flying cars in America, but not like it was a question, more like this person was verifying a fact.  That’s just one example of the ridiculous things people assume to be true about America.  So, when a family chooses adoption simply to get their child to America, they often believe life will be a cake walk for that child simply because they are in America.  Fallacy #1.  Additionally, many families clearly do NOT understand that adoption is permanent.  They either seem to think their child will return as an adult to provide or that they will send $ back to Ethiopia to help provide for their family.  Fallacy #2 (most of the time).  Sadly, I believe that this lie is often propagated by the agencies we all hire to help facilitate our adoptions.  It’s not the US workers that go in and lie, but the nationals.  Where there is $ (and let’s be honest, there is LOTS of $ in adoption), there is corruption.  Where there is corruption, we need to be concerned about ethics in each and every single case.  Just because paperwork looks above board, does NOT mean that it is.

Lies are being told.  Birth families are lying about their situations in order to get their children adopted into America.  They are going so far as to claim that a birth parent is deceased to make their child appear more “adoptable”.  Can you imagine the agony of being the mother who has to pretend you’re dead in order to get your child to America?  You send your child off to another land where they will be told, all their life, that you are no longer living.  Sad, sick, wrong.  You may hope that one day your child will show up again and learn the truth, but there are no guarantees, especially with life expectancy being so short here.  My heart grieves for all of those mothers who made this decision, through false pretenses and with false expectations.  Part of me wants to say…”Shame on them, they should know better”, but most of me just aches for them.  It is hard to fathom having such an ideal view of America that I would part with my child and tell such untruths just to get them there and then to have to live with that decision.  Sincerely, unfathomable.

You might think that hiring a finder and having them search for the birth family after the adoption is complete would help verify the story you have received on your child.  Often, this is not the case.  If a birth family has already lied 4-5 times to different agency workers, government officials and courts, they will most likely continue to lie to a finder, as well.  There are also cultural differences that come into play here that cause a breakdown in truth.  I won’t get too into those because I don’t know everything about the Ethiopian culture, but I know that they come into play–things like lying, how it’s viewed here and directness.  One thing I can say with certainty is that if a question is not asked directly, you will not get an answer.  You have to be very blunt if you want to find the truth and that is just not the Ethiopian way, so truth is often just missed because the right question was not asked.

My opinion is that corruption is rampant in international adoption and ethics are compromised.  You cannot guarantee an ethical adoption unless you, yourself, travel to the country and interview the birth family in their native tongue while understanding almost everything about the culture.  Since that can’t happen, what can we do to protect ourselves and our children?  Investigate!  If you see red flags–even in the referral paperwork–start asking questions.  Don’t rest until you get an answer.  I know that when you are waiting for your child and all you can imagine is holding them in your arms, it’s easy to sweep this stuff under the rug.  We did.  But, when your child is older and they find out the truth and ask you if you could have done anything to clarify things before they were taken from their first family forever…what will you say?  What will I say?  I don’t know.

We also have to ask ourselves…are we okay with lies and unethical behavior if it leads to something wonderful?  I mean, if the birth family wants their child in America, why should we stop them?  I can give you a list of reasons, but this is for each adoptive parent to answer for themselves.  I don’t want anyone to think I’m advocating that international adoptions be stopped.  I am not.  I LOVE adoption.  I have my life because of adoption.  I was adopted.  But, there are so many true orphans in the world.  Children who desperately NEED parents.  I just want corrupt adoptions to stop.  Children who live in a two parent home where they are loved, cared for, well fed and school would have been attended…those children don’t NEED to be adopted.  They just don’t, but they are being adopted…daily, while true orphans wait and wait and wait.

Agencies

I probably get an email a week asking me what agency I’d recommend.  LOTS of people read this review I wrote of ours–Holt International Review and then email to ask what agency I would recommend.  The simple truth is…none.  I don’t think it matters.  I used to think that there were a few that were okay, but the further down the path we get in reviewing Ethiopian adoptions, the more clear it becomes that ALL agencies have ethics claims against them and so few stories are brought to light that I know what we do hear is just the tip of the iceberg.  Now, there are definitely some agencies I’d steer clear of–those with claims of abusing the children in their care, those that don’t have an actual license to operate in the country they’re placing children from, etc…–but there are places that name them, so I don’t need to here.  After ruling out those agencies, it’s pretty much a roll of the dice.  Pick one and determine that you won’t just believe everything they tell you.  If there are red flags in your case, ASK QUESTIONS.  For the sake of your future child, do all that you can to determine that they truly are an orphan.  At the very least, go in with your eyes a bit more than slightly opened.  Assume that there will be fraud and untruth in your case.  Dig for it.  If you can live with what you find and justify proceeding with the adoption to your child one day, go for it!  Just have as much of that information as possible ahead of time.  It is painful to discover the truth after the fact.  I have seen too many friends discover the truth later and it is heart breaking.  We will investigate our own case in the coming months and I’m already dreading what truths may lie ahead of me and how I will justify these to my daughter.

I won’t endorse any agencies and I won’t tell you which ones not to use either.  For one thing, it has been 2.5 years since we adopted.  So many things have changed and I’m just not up-to-date on the latest information.  For another thing, I believe there is corruption in all agencies, so I just won’t tell someone who to use and give them any false hope that it’s an agency without corruption.  I don’t want that responsibility resting on me.  Adoptive parents simply need to know the truth and then make their own best decisions from there.

What I really want to communicate to those considering adoption and those who already have adopted is this:  corruption is rampant, it runs deep in international adoption.  For your child’s sake, seek the truth–before they come home if possible or after if it’s not.  Yes, it is expensive, time consuming and often heart breaking, but your child deserves the truth.  You deserve the truth.  No doubt, you set out to adopt with just intentions.  We all deserve better than this.  We deserve agencies that are ethical.  Agencies that see a batch of 20 kids from the same community with the same “surrender” date and go…huh, this doesn’t seem right and then ASK QUESTIONS.  But they’re not doing it.  They see all those red flags and just sweep them under the rug, too.  Why?  For the sake of the kids?  Nope, for the sake of the bank roll.  Let’s be honest, they don’t care about our kids.  That was clearly demonstrated in our case.  My eyes are opened SO much more widely than they were when we started this process.  Do I think I still would have adopted Kayla had my eyes been more open in the first place?  Yes, I do, but I would have searched out some truths first.  I have the very unique privilege of living in my daughter’s birth country and I can now seek them out without hesitation or additional travel costs hindering me, but even if I didn’t have that privilege, I would do it.  She deserves the truth and so do I.  Knowing my own true history, as an adoptee, has meant the world to me.  She deserves the same opportunity and I don’t want to be the one accused of unethical behavior in her eyes.  Truly, how she sees me and my role in all of this is my greatest concern.