Adoption: Our older girls, part 5

Our trip to get the girls began inauspiciously.   Before we boarded our first plane (of the 3-plane /30-hour trip) our two year old was already whining and refusing to walk or even ride in the stroller. All she wanted was mom to carry her. John and I looked at each other shaking our heads,  already wondering if we were nuts to bring our 2 and 5 year old girls along.  Thankfully a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich fixed her right up.  Apparently the two strawberries she’d eaten ate for breakfast at home just didn’t cut it.

The flight to San Francisco was blessedly short. The girls were both entertained by looking out the window and getting snacks and playing with the goodies in their fanny packs. The girls’ fanny packs were perhaps the best things we packed for the airplane. They loved going through and adding new treats and getting their own gum and using their Chapstick and then carefully zipping everything back in to the bags.

In San Francisco we got Mexican food for lunch, then headed to our gate, per the instructions given on the previous flight. We found the gate and saw that it was leaving for Frankfurt at the right time, so we settled down to look out the windows and let the little girls run around. When the flight started pre-boarding, John said, “It doesn’t say anything about Lufthansa– do we have the right gate?”

I went to ask. The woman who looked at my ticket gave me a look of alarm and said, oh, no, the Lufthansa flight is gate 100, not 102. Fortunately the other gate was only up one escalator and down another. When we got there, the line of families with kids waiting to pre-board had just formed. As we waited in line, our two year old fell asleep in my arms and proceeded to sleep the first two hours of the flight. The five year old fell asleep pretty soon after getting on board and had a nice nap too. The girls were surprisingly uninterested in the one movie we let them watch on my laptop. I think they didn’t like having to wear headphones.

In Frankfurt we found our flight with no problem, and the layover was just long enough to stretch our legs for a few minutes before it was time to get in line for the next flight. That flight went well also. It was just amazing to us how well the girls did. They didn’t weren’t thrilled about the airplane food, but ate enough to get by, and each had several decent naps on this flight too.

When we arrived at Bole airport in Addis we headed downstairs to get our visas. Since the visa line was long, I zipped over to the bank across the big hall to change a couple hundred dollars into Ethiopian birr.   I got back to John in the visa line in plenty of time. Once we had visas and money, we headed off to pick up our baggage. Every piece of luggage made it there– hooray! With the help of a green-coated official-looking guy we fill two luggage carts with our various bags, realizing belatedly that he of course would expect a tip.

Outside the main doors we found Zodu, our AAI driver, with no problem, and filled the red van with all our things.  We headed off into the dark night, glad to have a driver who knew where he was going. Between the airport and the guest house, we saw a fair number of desperate looking people, not to mention the men who think nothing of urinating wherever they are. We got to the guest house around 11 PM, Ethiopia time, about 32 hours after we left home. John was taken aback by the neighborhood around the guest house. It actually is quite safe, and a fairly nice neighborhood for Ethiopia. But it is still Ethiopia.

“I can’t believe I let you come here without me, twice!” John said, looking out the window once safe in our room at the guest house. He shook his head. I assured him that we’d been fine here before, and we would be again, but he was less than impressed.

We put our tired little girls to bed on a mattress next to our bed, trying hard to remember not to rinse our toothbrushes in faucet water. Then we went to bed ourselves. Ah….. there’s nothing like the feeling of finally being horizontal after a long, long day in airports and on airplanes.

At 5 am the chanting from the mosque woke us up. Our 2 year old said, “I don’t like that man. He’s mean.” We tried to convince her it was okay, but she didn’t think any reason was good enough to talk that loud that early in the morning. Daddy agreed.

We were wide awake. And no wonder. We’d slept 5 hours or so. The kids had also slept a fair bit on the plane, and the closest I could figure, it was now just past dinnertime in Idaho. We decided to get baths and breakfast. The guesthouse was stocked with breakfast fixings, so we had scrambled eggs and rolls. By 8 AM both the girls were melting down, and I was wondering how on earth they would ever be ok when it was time to meet our new girls. I laid them both back down to sleep some more.

At 9:00 Nate, our agency’s family liaison, arrived. Since the little girls were still sleeping and he had an errand to run, he decided to come back in an hour to bring us to see our new girls. I felt bad to be delaying it. But I figured we’d waited this long — another hour wouldn’t really make that much difference.

An hour later we were driving down the rutted road to Layla house, on our way to meet our girls. A layer of jet lag made the drive seem surreal. I didn’t really have any idea what we’d say or do once we met them face to face.

At the blue gate Nate honked the horn, and pretty soon the gate creaked open to let us drive in. Directly in front of the parking area, the soccer field was full of kids having P.E. As soon as we got out of the car and the kids got a look at our faces, I heard several yell out the names of our girls. It seems amazing in a group of over 100 kids, but the kids can usually recognize their friend’s parents when they arrive, just because they know whose families are due and know what they look like by looking at their albums.

Several children ran to find our girls. We followed breathlessly, not sure when we would be face to face with them. The first stop was the classroom of our 11 year old daughter. A child ran in to get her and out she came, looking tremulous. She and I took one look at each other and we were both instantly crying and hugging each other fiercely.

When greeting our other four adopted children (each of whom arrived as babies or toddlers) I was always sure I would be crying on first meeting. But I never actually did — until meeting our older girls.

The fact that they had lived through the loss of their mother while old enough to be aware of what was happening made my heart hurt for them. And to be greeted, not with fear, but with a tearful embrace, touched my heart even more deeply. It felt more like a reunion than a first meeting. And yet while hugging her, I was also getting to know her.

She was tinier than I’d expected, even though people had told me she was small. In photographs there is a maturity to her face and a presence about her that makes you expect a bigger child. But when you see her in person it is obvious she is still a child.

We hugged and rocked and I wiped her eyes while she sobbed. I had the feeling she was relieved. Relieved that we’d come (we later learned she’d thought we were coming a week sooner). Relieved at the warmth of our embrace. And most of all relieved because she and her sister were no longer alone in the world. I don’t know — maybe I was imagining the relief. But it did seem that just seeing us took a huge load off her.

After a few minutes I turned her to hug her daddy and her two new little sisters, which she did enthusiastically. She seemed delighted with the little girls, and picked up the two year old proudly to carry her while she led the way in search of our younger daughter. Our two year old smiled back at me over her shoulder.

We soon arrived at another classroom, and upon our older daughter’s call, out came our other daughter. She was even tinier, at age 9 fitting perfectly into size 7 slim clothing. She came for a hug with a shy but radiant smile, and curved her body responsively into mine at my tearful hug.

Then she moved around to greet the little girls joyfully, and then get a hug from dad. Her smile shone. We walked off to see their bedrooms, me between the two of them, a hand on each. It was surreal to be walking between them, touching them, instead of looking at pictures from thousands of miles away.


  1. Thank you for sharing this with such beautiful detail. I am still processing our trip. It feels like it never happened. Surreal is a perfect word.

  2. Thank you for sharing. Add my tears of joy for you and for the girls to have a mother again (to say nothing of a father and instant siblings!) to the ones you shed! Were you able to write about this day without experiencing them again?!

    Or perhaps, I am just extra teary this Monday morning after having to say goodbye to both my visiting daughters last evening. Sometimes it’s hard to put on a brave face when you send them back out into the world and their own lives!

    Bless you for the joyful story this morning!

  3. Each installment has me in tears. I love your girls so much. I am so glad every Sunday I have the opportunity to hug them! <3

  4. Such a beautiful story- It is so amazing how you and your girls came together from 2 worlds. Definitely got me a bit emotional reading this morning… just had to come back to post.

  5. I tried to look back and find it, but I’m curious how long the two and five year old girls had been home before you pursued adopting the older girls.

    Great story. I can’t wait to hear the rest of it.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I have read your book “A sane women’s guide” and loved it. We are a small God-loving family of 4. Our 2 children were adopted as infants (coincidently so was I) and all 4 of us agree that we would love to grow our famlily. Our 9 year old son is very vocal about it:) After researching infant international adoption we decided that that wasn’t right for us. We got our foster and adoption licenses in the hopes that we could grow our family through the public system. But we have been waiting for a year and although I have been very proactive nothing has come about. Your 2 older girls a just lovely as is your whole family. Where can I go to learn more about Ethiopian adoption? Do you have any suggestions for us? Our main challenge is finacial. Thank you for your time.

  7. Oh my goodness this brought tears to my eyes. Do you ever watch Adoption Stories on tv? The show is old and on very early (dvr) but I watch it everyday and cry. It reminds me of how i felt, holding my 16 month old daughter for the first time. We’re still waiting for her adoption to be completed. I can only imagine the relief of having her finally adopted.

    And the joy of seeing our Ethiopian daughter for the first time! I look forward (a long way!) to the day.


  1. […] |Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part 5 […]