After leaving the plane, I’d guess it took us about an hour and a half to get through the passport check line and to get our bags. Didn’t everyone know we had somewhere very important to be?!
We had learned from families who traveled two weeks ahead of us that our agency’s driver, M, was no longer allowed to come into the airport to meet us. After getting some help from a representative of a major hotel, we went outside, crossed a couple of unused airport roads, and went down a long flight of stairs to a large parking lot. I realized quickly that it was going to be a challenge for us to find M in the sea of people in the parking lot, and I remembered that our agency had sent his photo along with our travel information. Just as I pulled the page with the photo out of my backpack and showed it to Craig, M walked up to us. I think we were just a tad easier to identify in the crowd than he was!
The drive from the airport to Horizon House took about 20 minutes. Along the way, we took in the sights of Addis, a city with a population of about 3,000,000. The roads were lined with a mish-mash of very small buildings with tin roofs and 10+ story modern steel and glass buildings. There were many cars, and even more pedestrians. And then there were the random goats and donkeys. Riding in the car was a bit of an adventure at first, as there are essentially no traffic signals or rules of the road. (I think we saw maybe 3 or 4 working traffic lights over 6 days of car rides.) At first I found the car rides to be a bit terrifying, but by later in the trip I was entertained and amazed by the slightly organized chaos that somehow works in getting people from point A to point B. Much of what we saw of the city was through the window of a moving vehicle.
After getting off the main road from the airport and winding along a few small side streets, we turned down an alley that was barely wide enough to accommodate our van and approached the gate to Horizon House:
M honked the horn as we approached, and the guard opened the gate so M could pull the van through. We had arrived at Horizon House!
We quickly glanced around as our bags were unloaded. The butterflies in my stomach were hard to ignore, as I was pretty sure that Baby K was behind this door:
M took us to our room, set down our bags, and said, “And now we go meet Baby K.” And we said, “Okay!” I’m glad there was no expectation that we were going to unpack or clean up or generally do anything else – we just wanted to go to our daughter already!
We walked back out the front door we had just walked through, and took about 20 steps to the right to approach Room #1. The door was open. We slipped our shoes off at the door, as we knew we were supposed to do. I think it was about 10am by this point and all six of the babies that live in this room were out on the floor for morning play time.
I immediately recognized Baby K, thanks to the new photos we had received just the week before from another family. I’m so glad we had seen those photos; I had been nervous that we wouldn’t recognize her when we arrived. She was lying on her back, wearing a pretty, colorful dress. I can’t remember if we bent over or knelt by her, but we spent a minute or two staring at her, saying hello, and just taking her in. Then I asked the nanny if I could pick her up. It’s a good thing she said yes, because I’m pretty sure there was no stopping me at that point! And just like that, I was holding our daughter.
I have a photo of this moment that I love, because I think it really captures what I was feeling. It doesn’t really show her face, but I’m still nervous about posting it here, so I’m sorry that everyone reading this will just have to wait a bit longer. (I am not going to rock any boats at this point in the process.) The tears flowed a bit, but for the most part, I kept them in check. I am known to be a crier but I wanted to make sure I didn’t scare her or anything! But wow, what a moment. This was my daughter, in my arms. At long, long, long last.
I held her for a bit and then passed her over to Craig, who was beaming. Craig has not held a whole lot of babies in his life and yet he looked pretty darn comfortable holding his daughter.
As we knew to expect from other families, there was nothing ceremonious about our first meeting. There was no great presentation or handing over of the baby. It was just Craig, Baby K, five other babies, a nanny, and me in the room where Baby K spends her days and nights. At four months, Baby K was the youngest baby there (she’s the youngest baby our agency has seen in quite some time, according to our case manager), and then there was a five-month-old boy (whose parents were there with us for a few days that week), a six-month-old girl (who is coming home to live in the Baltimore area – more on that another time!), twin eight-month-old boys, and “Tank” as we called him, a nine-month-old boy that we will not be surprised to see as an NFL linebacker in 20+ years.
We spent about an hour and a half with Baby K and quickly learned how hard it is on one’s back to sit on a concrete floor (covered only with a very thin carpet) with no back support. I gave her a bottle, and then it was nap time for the babies. Craig and I stepped out and spent a little time in our room before it was time for lunch.
The guest house serves three (delicious) meals a day to all of the visiting families, and everyone eats together. There were five other families there (with one more coming the next day) and most of them had arrived a day or two earlier as their court dates were a day or two earlier than our date. It was nice to get to chat with others and find out how their experiences had been so far.
The rest of the group had already arranged to take an afternoon trip to a local coffee shop and book store and invited us to go along. At first we declined, thinking we should get settled and also wanting to be there when nap time was over. But we also wanted to take opportunities to go out around town, and we thought it would be good to get to know the other families a bit more, so we went along on the excursion. I’m glad that we did.
We first went to a well-known coffee shop, where Craig enjoyed an espresso. As we left the store, we were approached by many people asking for money. This was a very difficult situation, especially as the English words the people were using were pretty much, “I’m hungry,” or “My baby is hungry.” So difficult.
We then went to a book store that had a selection of children’s books (Ethiopian stories written in English) and some CDs of Ethiopian children’s music, and we picked up a few items. I would estimate that we came very close to having about two dozen car accidents on the drive back to HH, but we did survive. Our drivers were always quite good; it was the other people on the road I worried about since it seemed there were essentially zero rules in place. Sorry, we didn’t take any photos on this particular outing.
When we returned, the babies were up, so we spent the rest of the afternoon with Baby K. Craig and I learned quickly that whichever one of us was not actively holding or playing with Baby K should be holding or playing with another child. We were happy to do this, of course. We watched bath time around 4 or 4:30, and then it was pajama time. After Craig gave Baby K a bottle, she was very sleepy, so we put her down in her bassinet. She was the first to go to sleep that night – I think she’d had a big day, meeting her parents and all! We went to the room next door (Room #2, where the somewhat older babies stay) and saw one of our travel partners there with her 15-month-old son. I was also able to check on A, the sweet son of one of my wonderful bloggy friends. (She had just been to visit two weeks earlier.)
At 6:30 it was time for us to have dinner – and we were thrilled to see that the dinner menu consisted of Ethiopian cuisine, complete with injera, two wots, collard greens, and a rice and chickpea dish. Delicious! Another couple had purchased a couple of bottles of Ethiopian wine to share, so that was a treat.
Having been up for 36 hours, traveled halfway around the world, and had probably the most amazing experience of our lives, we were so exhausted – physically and mentally – that we barely made it through dinner. But we did, and we collapsed in bed immediately afterward.
This was a day we will surely remember forever.