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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Heart of an Angel

Today, Nina had her appointment with the cardiologist after her initial appointment had to be rescheduled due to lightning striking the hospital the night before!

As many of you know, when Nina was referred to us we were informed that she had a congenital heart condition called a VSD. VSD stands for Ventricular Septal Defect and it's basically a hole in the heart between the wall, or septum, that separates the two ventricles (which are the two lower chambers of your heart). You can have a muscular or a membranous defect, and we knew Nina's is muscular which, if you're going to have one, is the one to have.

We were relatively confident based on ultrasound images and other diagnostic information from Ethiopia that the hole was small and would likely close over time. We also knew that if she had a serious defect, she wouldn't be thriving. And, for the record, a VSD is not uncommon even in this country. But, we still needed to consult with the pediatric cardiologist here to get a full assessment and path forward. Because, lest we've forgotten, the wise 12-year-old working at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia informed me that "medical care is better in the U.S. than it is in Ethiopia."

Shocking.

After I filled out pages and pages of paperwork on which I had to continually note "Not Known" next to umpteen questions about her family history (can you say "insert knife and twist?"), the door opened and I watched a sweet young tech as she mindfully wrestled with her options.

You see, when you have an uncommon name, teachers and medical personnel alike tend to pay the price.

"Rah...Ray...Rah...Lyons?"

Very close. Good save.

We spent 30 minutes attempting to get an EKG, blood pressure, pulse ox etc. on this child. This very squirmy, unnaturally happy child who thought I'd taken her to an amusement park for the day. Honestly. She was chewing on all the leads, the blood pressure cuff, you name it. And, if you move during an EKG, it's over. It was over about 38 times before we got anything close to acceptable.

Then it was time for the ultrasound. While on the exam table, Nina began wondering what she could next chew to smithereens, and the tech began doing the scan. The tech also began venting about Sarah Palin.

Honestly, there must be a lesson for me in here somewhere. I'm too tired to find it. But what I can tell you is that I am SO SICK of hearing about Sarah Palin, one way or the other.

So there I was, intently watching the screen as the tech droned on and on. I caught only every 6th word or so, but I unfortunately caught enough to know that her monologue had something to do with Planned Parenthood, an e-mail campaign, and the acquisition of MY email address, which was not going to be forthcoming.

Anyhoo, about 7 minutes in (was it only 7? Because it felt like 107), I interrupted her diatribe by saying, "Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but what exactly are we looking at here?"

I realize she must have been shocked to learn that I actually was more interested in the state of my daughter's heart than her thoughts on whether Sarah's poor 17-year-old daughter should be forced to marry "a thug" simply because she is carrying his child.

"These are the ventricles," she explained as she pointed them out on the screen.

"...and can you even beLIEVE that people do not like Michelle Obama?" she continued. "Because..."

"No I can't believe it. Now, I'm no expert [insert tech's name], and I'm sorry to again interrupt, but are those TWO flows from her left to her right ventricle?"

"Yes. I think so. But don't tell the doctors I told you. I'm not supposed to do that. But she seems to have two VSDs. Now, did you see the way that McCain did not even LOOK at Obama during the debate, because..."

"I'm sorry. Excuse me again. Did you just say she has TWO VSDs?"

"Well, I think so, but again, I'm not a doctor and..."

At this point, I completely tuned her out. Didn't catch even every 6th word. I determined that, over the course of the next 21 minutes, I was going to become an expert on the heart as seen on ultrasound. Poor woman didn't have a chance. Didn't have the opportunity to provide another opinion on anything, political or otherwise, because she was suddenly bombarded by little old me with questions like, "Is that blood supposed to be flowing from her ventrical to her atrium? Because I think it is. Oh, that's normal? Okay.

"Why is the wand now in her neck? Are you looking at her carotid artery? Yes? Is it normal? Oh good.

"What's the systolic gradient of the VSDs? How do I know about that? Oh, honey, I don't know if you've met my very best friend but his name is Google.

"What? No one else on earth listens to you vent? Clearly. Save it for the next patient. Now..."

Anyway, the verdict was that she likely has two VSDs. Very small ones, though, and they should not affect her in any way short- or long-term. She'll get some follow-up visits and ultrasounds with the hope that we'll confirm that the holes have closed, which will hopefully happen by her 4th birthday.

She's clearly not suffering from any major heart condition, as she weighed in at 17 POUNDS and 27 INCHES. This means that she's grown 8 inches in 5 months and has put on 7 pounds since coming home two months ago! Yeesh.

She also continues to be an angel. Every time they did something, they'd say, "She probably won't like this," and I continued to respond, "You haven't treated a kid like this yet. Trust me." She smiled at everyone, never cried, and even after going 6 hours without a nap finally sank into her stroller, closed her eyes, and went to sleep as I talked to the nurse. We never even noticed!

I shudder at the very thought that David and I ever looked at one another with raised eyebrows, slowly and sadly shaking our heads in silence, as our case manager explained that she had a beautiful baby to tell us about but that we had to be very cautious because she had a heart condition.

We were shaking our heads because we heard "heart condition" and envisioned months living at the hospital while corrective measures were undertaken. With 4 other kids at home. And no family living nearby. Am I crazy? Yes. Am I clinically insane beyond measure? No. Not yet.

To be perfectly clear, a special need doesn't faze me in the least. But with 4 other kids at home, I could not manage the idea of living in a hospital with a baby for an unknown period of time. You deal with things that come up of which you were unaware in advance, but to know about something challenging in advance and take it on requires, for me, a different family dynamic than we have at this time.

Even with what limited information we had, David and I never considered turning down Nina's referral. The doctor's assessments gave us great comfort, but the specialists all insisted on speaking "off the record" and we didn't know what we'd learn once we got her home. We were a bit nervous as I prepared to leave for Ethiopia because, at 13 weeks of age, she still weighed under 10 pounds, had been hospitalized once with pneumonia and, not having laid eyes on her, we weren't 100% comfortable that all was copacetic.

The very idea that we could have been frightened enough of the possibilities not to accept her referral is something I cannot even think about. I simply cannot imagine not having this kid in our world. I mean, really, just LOOK at her!

To entice you to come back next time, I've found THE answer to be used when people ask what happened to your child's birth parents (and you don't want to answer). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Calling All Angels...

So, here's the update on Believe Impossible Things...

I was able to communicate with Almaz the other day regarding the $500 for Etagenge's nursing license. She assured me that Etagenge is ready to take the test, and that Almaz will get all this moving when she gets back to Ethiopia in October (she's still in the States). She also confirmed that she'll be able to send a photo of Etagenge when she gets her license, which I cannot WAIT to show all of you!

I've mentioned an organization before called Charity:Water. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, scroll down a few posts or go check out their website. One of the things I greatly admire about this organization is the way in which they are able to pass every cent of every donation directly to the cause for which it's intended. The way they do this is by using private funding for salaries (for the record, Believe Impossible Things will not compensate anyone with salaries for the foreseeable future, possible ever). They also rely on donations for web design, logo design, stationery, office furniture, etc.

I love this concept. Allow me to use a well-known example to demonstrate one of the things that's always bugged me about charitable giving: The United Way. The United Way does a lot of tremendous things, no doubt. But donations often go into a huge bucket and, in the end, I don't want to find out that my $30 donation paid for the leg of an office chair. I want to know that my donation fed a hungry child in a third-world country for six months. Also, the CEO of The United Way makes an ungodly amount of money. Again, I know she (I'm pretty sure it's a she) works hard. But I don't want my $30 donation filling up half of her gas tank.

As a donor, I like to know where my money is going and whom I've directly affected. I want the same for all of the donors to Believe Impossible Things.

The office of Believe Impossible Things is, at present (and for the foreseeable future), right here in my living room. I'd love someone to donate carpet or an unstained chair, but that would be for personal pleasure, not business need so I won't ask for it.

What I do need is the following. If anyone can help (or knows anyone who might be willing to help), please let me know.

  • Assistance incorporating. Several years ago, I met with a friend of a friend who is a non-profit attorney here in town about forming a different charitable organization (that didn't ever come to be). He was going to charge me $3000 to form it (before filing fees). I'm HAPPY as punch to pay the filing fees. But is there an attorney out there who would be willing to fill out the paperwork pro bono? Or, is there an attorney out there who would advise me against using a service like LegalZoom for any reason? LegalZoom is not free, but it's far less expensive than the friend of a friend was.
  • Assistance filing for tax-exempt status with the IRS. Filing as an official 501(c)(3) requires even more paperwork. Again, happy to pay the filing fees. Is anyone willing/able to help me pro bono with the filling out of the forms?
  • Logo - anyone out there a fantastic graphic designer (or a budding one with great promise) who'd like to take a shot at the logo?
  • Web design. Of course, we need a website!
That's it for now. All told, if formally hired out, the cost of these four needs could exceed $10,000. Sadly, I don't have $10,000 lying around. And, truthfully, even if I did, I'd FAR prefer to use it to help others in Ethiopia. I bet $10,000 would go a long way over there. So does anyone know anyone who might do pro bono work in any of these areas?

I know, once again I'm wondering if anyone knows anyone. But this is surely more important than knowing someone who knows someone who knows the Jonas Brothers, right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's In A Name?

So, the history behind Believe Impossible Things...

My grandfather was a man I truly admired. He was mysterious - at least to me, as there were many things about him I didn't know. He passed away 2 1/2 years ago and there continue to be more and more things I wish I could ask him. He was an Episcopal priest (yes, you can be married if you're an Episcopal priest), and he had much wisdom to share.

I asked him once what he favorite book was. Now, this man was brilliant. As in, a member of Mensa. Not "Mensa-Like," as Gayle King refers to her producer, Corny Koehl. REAL Mensa. Sadly, those genes didn't make it this far down the tree.

I expected his answer to be something deep. Something complicated. Like War and Peace or some tome I'd never heard of.

"Alice in Wonderland," he said.

Huh?

In honor of my grandfather, I've always known that I would give my organization a name that, in some way, paid homage to Alice in Wonderland. Let people wonder. Carry on the mysteriousness of him.

I asked my friend Heather a few months ago, What on earth will I name this thing?

She sent me a paragraph from Alice in Wonderland.

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Loved it. Still love it.

I wanted to call it "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast."

But that's a mouthful. Can you imagine me answering the phone? "Hi, thank you for calling Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. How can I help or completely confuse you today?"

I can barely type it.

So, I modified it to represent what the Queen wanted Alice to do. Believe Impossible Things.

There you have it!

Oh, and I need help again. More on that shortly...

Friday, September 19, 2008

WE DID IT!

24 hours. $500.

Think about how long it would have taken Etagenge to save up $500. It may never have happened. Yet we were able to pull it together in 24 hours.

The last 24 hours in my life went by in the blink of an eye. Somehow, I doubt the same was true for Etagenge.

In the last 24 hours, I wondered how to get my son to remember to take his homework to school and I wondered how to get my other son to eat something other than cereal. Two things I didn't have to think about were, Will I have enough money to pay for my children's education? and Will I have enough money to put three meals on the table tomorrow?

It took 24 hours to allow Etagenge's life to continue moving forward. To allow her to fulfill her dream. To allow her to continue to provide for her family.

If we can do this in 24 hours for one person, imagine what we can do in a week. In a month. In a year.

This is what it's all about. Breaking the cycle. Changing the "norm." Giving another human being the opportunity to be all that she can be. Giving her permission to Believe Impossible Things.

I'm going to speak to Julie on Monday and find out when Etagenge will be ready to take this test. I'll coordinate with Julie and Almaz regarding when it would be best to send the money based on this timing. I'm hoping to be able to get a picture of Etagenge with the donation, and ultimately with that license! I'll post all details of where the money is, where it's going, when it's spent, when that license is acquired, and, hopefully, at what medical facility Etagenge becomes gainfully employed!

Thank you all so much. You rock. I can't wait for Mission No. 2!

Donor Update

For some reason, the Widget isn't updating properly using a Firefox browser (on the Mac). If you're using that, I want you to know that we're currently at $410! You guys are amazing!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mission No. 1 - The Big Reveal

I mentioned in my last post that I was working on something. This is the beginning of that something.

First, a bit of background (you know by now that I start everything with "a bit of background.") I've wanted to start a foundation for years. The path to get here has been long and winding. It's become clear myriad times that the path I was heading down was not the "right" one. (And the signs were very obvious. Like, say, a brick coming off the back of the truck in front of me, flying toward my windshield as I drove 70+ mph thinking I'd just gotten the idea of the century.)

After returning from Ethiopia, I was more sure than ever that the reason each of my previous endeavors failed to get off the ground was because I had not yet been to Ethiopia. I had not yet seen that kind of need. I had not yet connected with someone who lived such a different way of life.

Since returning, I've thought and thought. I always thought I wanted to do something around literacy (being a writer), but honestly after seeing what I saw in Ethiopia, I found myself thinking, "Who cares if you can read if you will starve before morning?" But literacy IS important, and I believe education is the key to everything.

I continued to think.

I'm still working on the exact nature of the need or needs the foundation will primarily serve. And, truthfully, I may just let it evolve until it finally becomes what it is designed by Someone Else to be. I know I need to partner with folks on the ground in Ethiopia who know not only what the needs are, but how to get in there and DO something, get past red tape, etc. I'm actively working on that.

For now, I have an initial endeavor, and I need your help.

Through AGCI, I've learned about a woman who is a special mother at Hannah's Hope. She works primarily with the infants.

Her name is Etagegne. Etagenge has 5 children; the oldest is 15 and the youngest are 3-year-old twin boys.

She is about 30 years old and her husband was injured in the Ethiopian/Eritrean war and, as such, is as dependent on her as are her children. Despite the daily challenges of her life, according to Almaz, you'd never know they existed upon meeting her. She possesses true joy, believes wholly and completely in God, and is willing to work 24 hours a day to allow her children to attend school and have three meals a day.

Here's the kicker. She is almost finished with nursing school. Being a nurse is her greatest dream for herself. Once she obtains her nursing license, she can work more normal hours and receive far better pay to care for her family.

The problem is, she can't afford to take the test to obtain her nursing license!

How much does such a test cost? Only $500.

$500 stands between Etagegne and not only her dream for herself, but her dream to be able to properly provide for her family.

This is a situation we can remedy immediately. I'm sure of it. This is the sort of situation that drives me --- a specific situation, a specific person, a specific need. Not a big ol' bucket from which $30 here and $40 there will be pulled for who knows what or who knows who.

This is a situation where we can each donate $1 or $10 or $20 and KNOW that we helped this woman obtain her nursing license and move closer to fulfilling her dreams. This is what assisting in Ethiopia is about for me. It's about ensuring that one day, with some amount of luck, there will be no need for places like Hannah's Hope. One day, parents will be able to care for their children. A $500 test will not stand in their way.

Now, let me be very honest. My foundation is not yet incorporated. I'll begin the process tonight. Therefore, donations aren't tax deductible. If you don't know me (or know me but don't trust me!) enough to donate before my foundation is formally registered as a not-for-profit organization, don't do it. Seriously. The only way I know to do this right now is to have folks donate through my ChipIn account (which goes to my Paypal account). I'll write a check to AGCI when we hit $500, they'll send it to Almaz, and Almaz will ensure that every penny is used to register Etagegne for the test that will enable her to get her license.

For the record, this is how my organization will ALWAYS work. Every donated penny will go to its specified cause. It's imperative to me for donors to know and approve of each and every cause they are supporting.

To that end, there will be a tally on the blog showing how close we are to our $500 goal. When the goal is met, I'll make a bold announcement. If we go over, any monies that are above and beyond the $500 will either be refunded to their donors or the donors will be contacted to ensure that the cause to which the moneys will be shifted is acceptable to them. Again, this is the cornerstone of this organization. I want all donors to go to bed each night knowing exactly the shape and size of the footprint they left that day on someone else's life journey.

At this point, you may be wondering, "What the heck is the NAME of this organization?" Without further ado, let me announce that Project Etagegne is the innaugural effort of:

Believe Impossible Things

Because Everything is Possible

I'll post the story behind the name soon, but for now, who cares. Let's just get Etagegne that nursing license! I'm donating $100 to get us started, and I won't post again until we reach that goal. So, if you like to read my posts, let's get on with this already!

TONS more details to come...





Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 4 in Ethiopia

Admit it, you've been holding your breath for this post and you're nearly blue.

Day 4 in Ethiopia was far and away my favorite day. No, it wasn't the day on which I met Nina. No, it wasn't the day on which the U.S. Embassy cleared me to leave the country with her as my daughter (those two events occurred on the same day, for the record). That day was memorable, no doubt. But more because I almost died of exhaustion than because the day was truly great by anything close to resembling Webster's definition of the word.

Thursday, however, was great.

In all of my mental planning prior to going to Ethiopia, one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to truly live the experience. I wanted to connect with the people. I wanted to take in the sights, the smells, the feelings. That was a little hard to do while praying to remain upright minute by minute, but by Thursday I felt so good that I was ready to dive in.

One place I'd wanted to go so badly was the Fistula Hospital, which is right up the street from HH. I'd seen a documentary on this horrendous obstetrical ailment, and I so wanted to go to the hospital to spend time with these women, many of whom have been completely ostracized by their families and villages because of their condition.

But, without someone to care for Nina, I wasn't comfortable going there. I feared, frankly, that the sight of Nina might remind many of these women of what they'd lost and that was the last thing I'd wanted to do. To go to the Fistula Hospital, I needed to go by myself, which wasn't going to happen on this trip.

Some of the families in our group wanted to go to a government orphanage: Enat Alem. Now, as I understand it (and my understanding changes constantly as the information changes), there are no truly government-funded orphanages in Ethiopia. They are all private. But some are run with more funding than others, especially those funded by international sources such as the U.S. This particular orphanage, Enat Alem, operates with far less funding than Hannah's Hope, and many of the children at Hannah's Hope initially spent some time there (or at Bethzatha Children's Home). Families whose children spent some time there understandably wanted to visit.

I decided not to go to Enat Alem. There were 3 main reasons behind this decision. One: I needed to see something hopeful. The sun was out for the first time and I needed to go somewhere that wouldn't make me sad. Two: I'd have to primarily carry Nina since she hated the sling I brought (as did I). Three: By carrying Nina, I wasn't altogether confident that she'd be protected from whatever illnesses might be present at the orphanage and I didn't have someone to hand her off to so I could mingle with the kids. How could I lean over a crib and have an exchange with a baby if the baby were coughing and Nina were right in his face by virtue of the fact that I was holding her? I was simply too worried about what she might be exposed to. And I know that's a bit wrong. But there were too many unknowns, and with her heart situation (and not fully knowing what that entailed) and the fact that she'd been hospitalized at 3 weeks of age with pneumonia, I just didn't want to take the risk.

Plus, like I said, I wanted to find some joy. I wanted to connect with one person. For me, connecting with one person meant more than handing out miscellaneous what-nots to 100 people at that point. Doing much for many is valuable, no doubt, but it keeps us in a state of seeing only the whole rather than the parts that make up the whole. And in Addis Ababa, the whole represents poverty, lack, sadness, and hopelessness. I needed to find a part that showed a different side; a side I knew was there.

After breakfast, I learned from the mother of another traveling mom (the very adventurous mother of another traveling mom!) that there was a boy who lived across the street from the hotel named Danny. Danny was, apparently, a terrific tour guide.

Haley and I decided we needed to find Danny.

This wasn't hard to do, as he hangs out just outside the Union Hotel gates all day long, talking to the security guards and, quite possibly, waiting for us Americans to ask him to take us somewhere. He'd already given the adventurous mom's mom a tour and had taken another mom's sister to a place to buy some CDs.

We asked him if he'd walk us around and he agreed. We decided to head to the Addis Ababa Golf Club.

So, along we walked, quickly learning that his English is quite good and also that the golf club was a bit further away than we'd thought.

Over the river and through the woods...

Okay, not really. But over a bridge that crossed a major highway.

This is the first picture Danny took using David's brand new and quite expensive camera. Was I a bit nervous? You bet. Then, I thought, "It's a frickin' camera. Get a grip, Elizabeth."




Up and over the bridge we walked. So many people sat on the sides of the bridge with medical issues --- gaping wounds, missing limbs, loss of spirit. I doubt these folks ever moved. I can still see one man who sat with a huge gaping hole in the back of his hand that was clearly infected. Danny pointed at his own hand and motioned toward the man and said, "Cut."

"How could he get such a cut?" I asked.

Danny didn't really understand my question and we kept walking.

We offered most of the folks sitting on the bridge lollipops. I remember thinking, "This is so ridiculously outrageous. We are giving these folks lollipops like we're at a carnival. And I realize they don't have access to these here, but lollipops? How about a sandwich? Or BandAids? Or prayers?"

As we crossed onto the other side of the highway, Danny began telling me about his brother and sister as well as his parents, who both work. His mother works washing clothing and his father works at a printer. His sister's name is Eyerus and his brother's name I can't remember, which is killing me, so if anyone meets him, please ask and report back!

We spent a couple of hours with Danny. He loved my cameras - both still and "mobile" as he called my video camera. At one point he asked me if he could keep them. I wanted to leave them with him more than you can imagine. He simply LOVED taking photos and videos with them and I have a video he made that, while I get nauseous each time I watch it because he was all over the place, I'll treasure forever because it has his voice on it. He introduces himself and just talks and talks. It's fantastic (as long as you don't look at it).

But, there is no way for him to print his pictures there. There is no way for him to charge the camera or purchase batteries. It was a gift that made no sense. Otherwise, I would have left them with him in a heartbeat. Because come on, it's a frickin' camera.

I did blow up two great photos of him to 8x10s and sent them to Almaz to give to him. I doubt he has any pictures of himself and I hope he enjoys these.

Before I go on, here is Danny...

Here we are at the golf club.


We finally began to walk back to Hannah's Hope where we planned to spend a few hours with the kids, and ultimately to say Goodbye.

As we were leaving the golf club, Danny said, "I teach you say 'Welcome to the Addis Ababa Golf Club.'"

Okay.

He said a word. I repeated.

Now, to put this into perspective, I have a B.A. in Japanese. I lived in Japan for a summer. I LOVE languages. And Japanese is not an easy language, per se. But compared to Amharic? Compared to Amhharic, Japanese is cake. Simple Simon.

He spoke. I repeated. He finished the sentence and started uttering 2 words at time. I repeated. Then 3 words. I repeated. Finally, the full sentence.

I forgot.

We started at the beginning. Again.

Each time we finished, he'd say, "Again."

Finally, I said, "What is this, Danny School?"

"Yes," he said. "Now, again."

I never got it.

I started asking him how to say Stop or Go or Dog. I don't think I said any of it correctly.

When we got near HH, I started to reach into my pocket. This kid, I don't know how to explain this, but he never asked for anything. So many people came up to us on the street or to the sides of our van begging for money, food, anything. They had nothing to give us, they just wanted whatever we had. It was a constant life of giving on our part for 4 days, which we were happy to be able to do. But at some point, it got to where we all started feeling as though, to many of these people, all we were were Americans with "stuff." Whether we emptied our pockets or had nothing from the start, the result was the same: they moved on to the next van or the next person on the street.

No connection was ever made. Many of these folks didn't even say Thank You. It was just "More? More?"

But not Danny. He escorted us around. He answered our questions as best he could. He asked for nothing. In fact, at one point I wanted a photo of a woman and her child on the street to whom we'd given the stupid lollipops. I asked him if he'd take it because he had my camera. He just started taking the photo and I was like, "Um, Danny, can you ask? I mean, can you ask if it's okay?" He goes, "It's okay." I looked at the woman like, "Uh, okay, thanks. Yes, I'm a stupid American."

Anyway, we were leaving to head through the gates of HH and I was reaching into my pocket and his eyes would dart, every so subtly and ever so quickly, to my pocket. He was wondering if I was taking anything out of there. He was wondering if I'd give it to him. It could have been a lollipop. It could have a been 1 birr (about 10 cents). It could have been 100 birr (about $10). It could have been a Kleenex.

Honestly, had it been a Kleenex, I have no doubt he would have graciously accepted it. It wasn't a Kleenex and it wasn't a lollipop. But I slipped it to him without any fanfare and a hope that when he got home he was ecstatic. I hope it's the most money he ever made giving a "tour." He deserved it.

There was another occasion later that day when he arrived at the gate and offered to carry all of our donations up to HH for us. I thought, "Crap, I've got nothing." But he just said "goodbye" with his beautiful smile after dropping us (and all our donations) off. He's an amazing, beautiful, grateful boy of eleven, and I will forever be grateful that on that day, that fourth day on which I felt fantastic and the sun was shining, I connected with him.

I hope he was inspired to continue giving without expecting, and I hope it helped to instill in him that when you do that, you'll succeed. I think Danny will do something great some day and I sure hope to see him again. He's a smart, resourceful kid. And in any country, even one of the poorest in the world, those kids don't fall through the cracks.

At about 5:00 that evening, we headed to the airport for our 10:15 flight back to Washington D.C. It was a weird feeling. We were all ready to get home. I was, especially, as I was ready to return to my entire family. And at that point, I can honestly say that I didn't have feelings of "I can't wait to come back." Honestly, I was happy to be heading home and had NO thoughts of returning for a LONG time.

But it's been nearly 2 months since we returned. And now, honestly, I cannot WAIT to go back (with a prescription for sleeping pills). That trip had its own mission: meet and bring home our daughter. But it was an emotionally exhausting trip that took turns that weren't anticipated (even for a planner such as myself). It was a whirlwind 4 days.

Now, having seen, smelt, and felt the reality that is Ethiopia --- ALL of it --- the poverty, the beauty, the despaire AND the hope, I would like nothing more than to return with my travel group --- this time to do something different. To be on a different mission. A mission that reflects the hope and the joy I found in Danny's face.

To that end, I'm working on a little project. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Injera anyone?

Okay - who has found a great injera recipe? I keep seeing them without teff and I feel like that's not authentic. But maybe I'm being an overachiever?

Anyone who's made it and thinks it's come close to the real deal, PLEASE let me know! I'm ready to cook (and that's saying a whole lot).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Quest for Nick, Joe, and Kevin


First, Amber - thank you for the GH update. It is most validating (and frightening) to know that I appear to have been right in my assessment that Laura is only a vision to Lulu. More frightening that I could assess that in 4.6 seconds. Almost as easily as I can predict when John will say, "That's a fact" on Days of Our Lives.

Now, I got this email yesterday from the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. I will admit, I've made it my life's mission to get to this resort someday. It simply looks too spectacular to miss out on. And with a family who LOVES water activities, this place seems like the place to be.

The major issue is that it's about the most expensive resort this side of its partner resort recently opened in...wait for it...Dubai.

So, I got this email yesterday announcing that they are running a special for their Jonas Brothers weekend December 12 - 14. Why would that interest me? Because it would interest Grace. Tremendously.

I'm not one of those give-them-all-they-want-and-then-some parents. I'm really not. But Grace ADORES the Jonas Brothers (like most other 9-year-old girls on the planet) and, truth be told, costs aside, she deserves to be in on this weekend. She's gracefully and quietly accepted the addition of a new child almost every year since she was two. She does her homework with little-to-no prodding or assistance from me, a fact I've only recently come to truly appreciate since getting her brothers' homework done every night requires a little prayer and a lot of liquor. She's writing a book and she secretly dedicated it to me and promoted MY books thereafter (which I'm not supposed to know, but I saw the dedication page). She's a great kid. And I'd LOVE to spend the weekend (which happens to be the weekend of my 36th birthday, if I haven't mentioned it) with her and the Brothers Jonas.

So, the DAY AFTER I received this email, I call the resort to find out just how accurate the "starting at" prices mentioned in the email are. I mean, like, does "starting out" mean "the cost of parking at your local airport?" Because that's often how it works.

It doesn't even matter. The show is sold out. Already. How can that be? I asked. I just received the email yesterday! It's like the email was just a way of saying, "Nah Nah Nee Boo Boo; We'll be there without you!" So wrong.

The reservations agent said, "We have accommodations available, but not show tickets."

Oh, yes, because that would go over real well. "Guess what, sweetie? The Brothers Jonas are here, on the property, singing! No, we can't go. But they're HERE!"

So, what I'm getting at is, does anyone know anyone who might know anyone? Long shot, I know. But I just thought I'd put it out there. I mean, no concert is EVER truly sold out. The fancy people can always get tickets. I'm not fancy. But maybe some of my readers are. Or maybe they know someone who is. Six degrees of separation and all. Kevin Bacon anyone?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Top 5 Things NOT To Do...

video

Now try to get that song out of your head. You'll hate me by dinner.

So I stopped watching (or TiVoing) Days of Our Lives and General Hospital about a month ago. I decided I could have an extra hour each day (only takes 30 minutes, max, to fly through the shows when they're on TiVo) by doing this. I need all the time I can get.

Today I checked in for a moment (feeling strongly that I'd missed little at best because there's no reason to watch a soap opera every single day unless you're on bedrest because you can glean the present status of each character after a few scenes once a month).

Imagine my shock when I turned on General Hospital and learned that Laura appears to have again emerged from a catatonic state. However, I'm most disturbed because I don't know when or how she came out of said state nor do I understand why she's hiding from her son Nikolas and now I'm wondering if perhaps she has not come out of a catatonic state but in fact is only a vision to her daughter, LuLu, who is presently following in her mother's footsteps by going clinically insane.

I couldn't ascertain the answers to these questions, which surely would have come after the commercial break, because George was far too interested in the show.

I quickly switched over to Days of Our Lives only to glean that John has regained his memory and is trying to get Marlena back, or so it seemed, however she seems not-so-interested which is most interesting because the last time I watched (and let's remember that this was only a month ago which is, like, 7 minutes in soap opera land) Marlena was ready to slit her wrists to get John's memory (and hence John) back.

I'm so confused. If anyone has a clue what's going on, do let me know.

Now. A few people have asked what the 5 things are Almaz said not to do if you don't want to appear to be (or just plain be) an idiot. Here they are.

1. Do not under any circumstances open the large manila envelope Almaz will give to you along with your child's passport. The only person who can open that envelope is the customs agent once you enter the U.S.

2. Do not under any circumstances leave said envelope in a bathroom or something somewhere. She said women have entered a restroom in the airport, set the envelope down on the counter (or wherever) to wash their hands (or whatever) and then walked off without it.

3. Do not under any circumstances forget to get your child's passport back from the customs official. They keep the envelope, but not your child's passport. You want to be sure to get that back.

4. Do not lose the original copies of the documents you get at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. You need those for readoption in the U.S. They WILL NOT reissue original copies if you lose yours. And if you email Almaz to request original copies, the email will be mysteriously "lost." There is simply no way to get these documents reissued so guard them with your life.

This is why I took a vinyl accordian folder with me. I put all important documents on the way there and on the way home in it. They were protected from the elements and kept together and with me at all times.

5. I actually forget #5. Karen? Sharon? Anyone? Do you remember?

But if I had to add my own #5, it would be that if you are faced with the short-haired, blond, and clearly bitter woman in customs in D.C. to whom you present the all-important (and unopened) manila envelope, smile and pay little attention to what comes out of her mouth. Like I said, she's bitter. And a bit racist. This is not a good thing when you're standing there with your beautiful (and thankfully, for the moment, non-English speaking) Ethiopian child. Remember, karma will bite her, so you don't need to.

Friday, September 5, 2008

If you're as addicted to The Amazing Race as I am, you likely remember Blake Mycoskie, who ran the race with his twin sister many seasons ago. Blake started a fantastic charitable organization called TOMS Shoes for Tomorrow, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair you purchase to someone in need of shoes in the world. They do "shoe drops" here there and everywhere and have made a huge difference.

Today I got an email from TOMS (not from Blake personally, as that would have rendered me incapable of writing this email because I'd be passed out) alerting me to a new organization called Charity : Water. This organization was also created by a young kid - seriously, he was 31 when he formed it. Their goal is to bring clean, safe drinking water to everyone in the world who needs it. They started in Kenya, and tomorrow they will drill a well in Ethiopia. You can even watch the drill occur live through their website.

I was really touched by this --- and I think their approach is brilliant. If you're turning 33, for example, ask relatives to donate $33 to the organization in lieu of giving you a gift. This could be expensive for my relatives this year, as I think I'm turning 89. But as a heads up, this IS what I want this year for my birthday (which is on December 13th, lest you've forgotten). And I just checked my drivers license; while I feel 88, turns out I'll only be 36. Am I worth $36? Don't know. But these kids in Ethiopia without something we all take for granted each day --- safe, clean drinking water --- most certainly are!