Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Bonding Family

Life with Rae the last few weeks has been better than I could ever had imagined. Everyday she gets more and more confident, assured, and attached to her new family, friends, and surroundings. On our first Sunday together she spent a lot of time on my lap. Brady and Hally were able to play with her as long as I was a short distance away. Hally and Brady are great older sisters and brothers to Rae. Brady loves to hug and kiss on her and brag about her while he is at school. Hally was able to hold Rae on Monday. Even though it was for a short time, Hally was so ecstatic and so proud. She started to let Kevin hold her a short time after that. She now is spending most of her time playing and being silly, and only occasionally wants to be held. This changes if we are out in public. Last Sunday, we went to church, where she was very bubbly, but would only sit in my lap or be held by me. We went back to Sunday evening church where she was able to hear praise and worship (we were late in the morning). She absolutely loved the music. She almost bounced herself out of my arms, as she was so excited!!! During the evening sermon, she would tease Kevin by reaching her arms out to him, go to him, but only for a second or two before she wanted to return to me. After service she got very brave and let Hally walk her around the atrium area.

Rae is also very much developing communication skills. She has always said something that sounds like the word auntie. Whenever she saw something she was interested in, she would say, "aunite, auntie", point to your face, and then to whatever it was she wanted you to see. We found out in Addis that she was saying "hey you"!!! At the beginning of the week, she started saying momma. She doesn't really realize what this means and that it is unique to me(she has called others this as well), but she does know that I get really happy when she says it to me. She is now saying daddy, Hally, and our dog's name Jo Jo (sounds more like doe doe when she says it). She repeats a lot of words especially when looking at pictures and picture books.

Eating. Rae does a lot of it. She can really pack it down and can eat about the same size portions that I eat (maybe even more). We went to the doctor and according to their charts, she is in the 8th percentile, but I can't imagine her staying there for long. She really isn't picky either. There have been very few things that she won't eat.

We are really pinching ourselves over this really smooth transition so far. Even our best expectations for this time has been exceeded. Thanks for the prayers and thank you to God for this unexpected blessing!!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Day 7: Love Is On the Way!

The only word I can properly use to describe this day is exhaustion. Not just physically exhausted, but mentally and spiritually exhausted as well. I feel like my senses were so filled up in the past week, that on this last day, it was all coming to a grand finally of sweet overload. Our travel group had ambitious plans of making several last minute stops to different places we wanted to see and do, but only ended up making one final stop. The place we ended up visiting was to a coffee factory/shop. You can't go to Ethiopia and not learn about the birthplace of coffee can you? We saw how meticulously the beans were sorted over and over again. The beans went through several sorting machines, and just when you thought the beans had been sorted enough, they again go through another sorting phase. The last sorting phase is a feast for the eyes. We were escorted into a large room with three or four long rows of tables. Beautiful women draped in gorgeous colorful scarves, that covered their noses and mouths, squeezed side by side up and down the tables as they sorted the beans by color. Several of the women looked up quickly and exchanged a quick smile before getting back to their tedious task of sorting. We ended the tour by buying coffee in the shop area. After this tour is when the Whitakers and our family knew that this would be our last visit in Addis. We all did our final traveling preparations and relaxed until the time came to depart for the airport. We had to say our goodbyes to the Joner family hours before our departure, and then said our farewells to the Whitakers in DC. These were not sorrowful partings, but more like a we'll be seeing you soon kind of farewells. I am thankful that God had picked such great families for us to travel with and I will always value our time we spent together in Ethiopia. We were quite early in arriving at the airport, but that didn't seem to be a big issue as we were occupied in making conversation with other adoptive parents who were congregating in the airport and doing last minute shopping. Yes, there is great shopping in the airport (great for spending remaining birr), and the prices are not that much more expensive as the markets we patroned a few days earlier. I was almost laughed right out of one shop I was in as I tried to barter for a cheaper price of an item I was interested in. Okay so there are shops in the airport, but no bartering!! Can you blame a girl for trying?!!!

Before I knew it, we were loaded on the airplane and headed home. During our flight home, I developed a new admiration for my little brave Rae. She is such a strong little girl. She had been through so much in her short little life, and now here she was on her momma's lap as happy as she could be heading home. She was an absolute dream coming home. Our first flight was 17 hours, and she was perfect. We had a 4 hour lay over in DC, a 2 hour flight to Chicago, and then a 2 hour layover there. Again she was perfect. Our last flight to KC was a different story. As soon as we got on the plane, Rae released all pent up feelings of exhaustion, uncertainty, and anxiety. Even though she was exhibiting characteristics and actions that should have been terrifying to me, I had been given a grace and an understanding for her that surprised me. I almost could hear myself telling her to let it out and that she deserved this moment of frustration. And I was fiercely ready to defend her to anyone on the plane who might have even given me so much as disapproving look. Thankfully, I decided to not make eye contact with anyone (so I wouldn't have to repent later). As soon as the wheels touched the pavement in KC, it jolted Rae to where she immediately quits crying and falls into a peaceful rest. This is when I start to let down as well. Kevin and I decided to wait until everyone else got off the plane as it was the least we could do for these people who had to endure a plane ride full of wailing (and I knew my parents who were picking me up weren't due to pick me up for another half hour). I really felt like I was in my own personal little tunnel as I was walking off the airplane towards the waiting area. My skin felt numb and there was a faint pounding in my head that reminded me of the lack of sleep I have had within the last 48 hours. I am really feeling like a zombie as I blankly stare at who knows what when I reach the airport waiting area. I hear pounding and I have to really ask myself if the pounding in my head has somehow increased in intensity. I come to my senses enough to realize that it is coming from the the plexy glass that was separating the main lobby from the secured lobby of the airport. There before my eyes were the faces of two angels, Melissa and Jamie Jo. There they were with Todd and Andy clicking pictures and holding balloons and signs cheerfully describing the anticipation of our arrival. I melted instantaneously, but tried to keep it together as I covered my mouth and tried to hold back tears. It was a failed attempt. My step quickens and I fall into their embraces. What a great surprise!! The airport that we flew into was a good 3 hours from where we lived, so I was not at all expecting to be greeted by anyone but my family. They will never know how much this homecoming meant for me, and I will never forget this memory. A few moments later, I see my children, mom, dad, brother, sister in law and niece walking down the hall. I spotted them first and hollered out to them. My son bolts in our direction and seems conflicted on who he should greet first. Before we know it, we are all in a mad frenzy of hugs and kisses. The embrace I shared with my mother was therapy for us both. My pain was her pain and she had labored this journey just as if it were her own. It was at this moment, on Valentine's Day, that I remember the verse God gave me right before we got our referral....
Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way! Jude 1:2

Friday, February 20, 2009

Day 6: Beautiful Country, Beautiful Children

As I awoke to this day, I had begun to notice the same sounds on this early morning as I have heard all week long. A call to prayer broad casted throughout Addis, roosters crowing, dogs barking, the cleaning lady sweeping the hotel stairs, and big diesel trucks roaming the streets of Addis can be heard faintly in the backdrop of my sleepy dreams as they transfer to the reality of a brand new day. There are a million things that are new to me about this city, but the things that will make an imprint on my memory for eternity are the fact that there were trees everywhere. Usually in big cities, trees are scarce, but in this huge city with a population of several million people, there are so many trees. I will also remember the hospitality of the people here. These people really took a hold of Jesus's words when He said to serve one another. It seems to come so effortlessly to them and so apart of their culture that it is almost expected to put other's needs before your own. On this morning I was humming the tune "greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to do be done in this city". Now that I have been, seen, and tasted this beautiful country, I will never be rid of the burden I have for her. At the beginning of the week, all I could think of was how I wanted to get home and was counting the days of our departure. Now, tears welled up in my eyes as I looked across this beautiful city from my hotel balcony window thinking that my days here were coming to a close. The thought of seeing Hally and Brady soon are one of the comforts in leaving this beautiful country.

I was very excited about this day particularly as I knew we were going to visit several of the city's orphanages. We all got ready and met in the hotel lobby where we again loaded up the hotel's mini van and headed to our first orphanage called Gelegela. As soon as the home gates were opened, children could be seen running frantically trying to get a glimpse of the foreign visitors they had grown accustomed to seeing periodically. We all looked each other over and after exchanging waves and smiles, we began to make our tour. Forget everything you know about orphanages when you are visiting this place. Images of Oliver asking for more please to an overbearing heartless caretaker and the tune "a hard knock life" would have come to mind if you said orphanage before visiting Gelegela, but this place was a happy place. The children were happy and well taken care of, and you could feel that they had a sense of belonging and purpose in this haven they had been giving from a prior life of who knows what. Make no mistake, though, that this is not where these children belong for the long haul. They need homes desperately. They need mommies and daddies to hold them when they cry, cheer them when they accomplish a hard task, and to encourage them to reach their dreams. Gelegela is providing a short term need with excellence and the children are thriving. There are millions and millions of orphans in this tiny country just twice the size of Texas. This facility cares for less than 100 children. There are more children that need to benefit from this haven. About half way through the tour, we met the most amazing woman. She was the director of the orphanage who appeared to be around the age of my own mother. This women had the face of an angel. And to the one's she has been in contact with, I can only imagine they felt she was an angel. She proceeded to tell us her story and vision for the impoverished of Ethiopia. I will not share the details of her story as it is hers, but I will tell you that I was in sobbing tears by the end of her story, and will be forever changed and motivated by her testimony. Michelle, thankfully, was our group's spokeswoman and thanked her for sharing her story and for all the work she has done. The director was ever so humble and gracious and said something I would never forget. She said that she was nothing, had no education past 5th grade, and that God delights in using the foolish to confound the wise. There was nothing foolish about this women, and I can only hope to be and do a portion of what this women has done. We finished the tour by handing out treats to the children and giving the orphanage donations (which included the tees from James River Kids.... isn't it cool to think that kids in Africa are wearing "Got That" shirts?!!!!). There was one particular little fella who stayed really close to my side. He absolutely stole my heart and Kevin's....

The visit to Kids Care was also unforgettable. The same feeling of happiness that exuded from Gelegela was also present in this facility. We met Duni's mother at this establishment, and if you ever wondered where Duni got her fearless determination wonder no more as it is definitely hereditary. Rae was quite content on my lap as we watched Jason play jump rope with girls, Scott spin a basketball on his fingers, and Kevin taking pictures like mad of willing and excited children. We all left with a greater sense of gratitude towards the people who had been caring for our children and a feeling of awe and wonder as we witnessed many of God's commands set in motion.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day Five: An Official Date

Kevin and I were surprised to have passed the night away without waking up at least once. We were awake long before Rae opened her eyes for the first time that day, and I had to wonder what she was thinking when she did awake this day? She let out a few whimpers and I pulled her on the bed to my chest. She seemed quite comfortable and safe in this position. Kevin tried to get her to smile and play, but she only buried her face deeper into my chest. I was still in the state of wonder and awe of this precious child I was holding and was trying to learn every detail of her features. That was when I noticed that a few of Rae's rubber bands that were in her hair had broken within the night. I thought that I could put off doing her hair for a couple of days, but that was not to be. Thankfully Rae was very patient with me when I made my first attempt at doing her hair. The hardest part was definitely taking out the remaining bands. At one point I had to use Kevin's pocket knife to cut the ones that were in so tightly. All in all, Rae was perfectly patient with me and I feel like I ended up doing a pretty good job!

We spent the remainder of the morning getting ready and eating. Rae was buzzing about the room playing with Kevin right up until the time we had designated to leave for lunch. As soon as we leave the room, Rae makes it very clear that the only place she'll be is in my arms (and that is where she remained for the entire day while we were out). We ate at another Italian restaurant and then headed off towards the US Embassy for our consulate appointment. We went through several security check points, but all I could think of were past new's headlines where US Embassies were bombed abroad. Mix that with the fact that an US Ambassador employee had mysteriously died the day before we arrived, and then you have one nervous momma!! Everything went very well for us, despite my wild imagination, at our appointment, but I was very glad when it was over. We spent the remainder of our afternoon at the post office area shopping. We had such a good time interacting with the people and making our purchases. We ended our day at the hotel where we ate dinner and unwound from another busy day.

Day Four: Living in a Dream

Duni had given us a real treat when she said that she wanted to take us to the site of where Kids Care wanted to build an elementary school. Duni had informed us that we were going there after we had finished filling out the massive amount of paperwork that morning at Kaldis Coffee Shop (Addis's version of Starbucks and if you are ever there get a juice spritz as it is DEVINE) in order to be prepared for our embassy appointment the next day. I have to say that when she first told us that we were going to the location, I was not so thrilled. Look at land? Really? I had no idea of the treat we were in for. The location is a little village (or suburb if you will) just outside of Addis. Currently, they have a kindergarten and early childhood complex that educates toddlers and 5 year olds. If a family wants their child to get an education past this age, then they have to commit to walking an hour each way to school. It isn't too hard to figure out that the need for a school here is huge. The school is painted in a bright aqua green and although it looks dilapidated, it somehow speaks out of its cheerfulness. The school was on break this week, so when we take a tour we find vacant rooms. The school is surrounded by a gate and children had started to accumulate outside its borders as curiosity takes the better of them. There were two little girls by the gate that caught my eye, and I signal to them that I would like to give them a piece of gum. Unlike the shopping experience a few days before, when the other children saw me do this, they did not run and try to get a piece too. I took it that they didn't want a piece but later realize that shyness was the culprit. At about this time Duni leads the group to the plot of land about 50 to 100 feet away from the early childhood complex that will be the location of the new school. By then we have quite the following of children, teenagers and even some adults from the village who are curious of our visit. The land is large and flat with not much grass our any type of plant or tree growth. To tell you the truth, I was having a hard time focusing on the school site as there was a small group of boys that looked like they were around 10-12 years old that stayed a close proximity of my side. I guess it was because they noticed I was carrying a cup of juice (the delicious juice spritz from Kaldis) that was almost gone that caught their attention. One of them points to the cup and says "juice?". I hand it to him and he takes a few quick steps back and immediately inhales quickly from the straw. He did this so fast that he made a huge slurping noise which caused him embarrassment and the other boys to crack up in laughter. I couldn't help but giggle myself. It reminded me of the kids I see everyday at school and how they too are quick to be embarrassed and giggle at small embarrassing moments. As we strolled back to our car, Duni asks one of two girls that are walking hand in hand their names and ages. The older was 12 (she really looks about 9) and the younger was a 5 year old student at the kindergarten building. Duni has a small conversation with them in Amharic and finds out the 12 year old indeed makes the hour long trek each day to and from school. Duni also coaxes the younger child to sing a song she learned in school. It had to be the sweetest melody my ears had ever heard. The little girl was very apprehensive about doing it, but visible strength took over her as she belted out the tune she probably had sung so many times before. The group roared in applause and praise when she was finished, and a huge smile envelopes the little girl's countenance as she lifts her head with pride. Duni explained that she sang a song about a naughty monkey who stole a banana, got in trouble for it, and then vows never to do it again. How precious was that? We ended our visit with sharing more gum with the children and waves goodbye. As the van pulled away, children continued to wave frantically and run along the side and back of the van. I kept my position facing the back of the van until all the children were out of sight. I had settled two things in my mind as we pulled away. One, I wanted to be a part of the building of this school, and two, I was going to choose to be as happy as these children who seemingly have nothing.

We then made a hour long journey to a restaurant and hotel called Dream Land. Again, I was wondering about how worth it would it be to take two hours of our precious time from Addis to visit this place, and again I was proven that I had no idea what I was talking about. Dream Land is situated at the top of what I can only describe as a bowl. In the pit of the bowl is a huge and vast lake. Evidently a volcano had made this lake and 3 others nearby that were very similar to the one we were visiting. The restaurant facilities are mostly outdoors. When you take your first step outside the indoor area of the restaurant, you can see for miles and feel as though you are on top of a mountain. Downward stairs lead to a lookout area patio. The drop from the patio to the lake was quite steep and the distance to the other side of the lake was vast. The images and scenery I was viewing were absolutely breath taking. With our zoom lens on our camera, we were able to see children swimming in the lake and herdsmen leading their flock for a drink. It had to be one of the most beautiful images I have ever seen.

As beautiful as it was at Dream Land, there were other thoughts pending my mind. Today was a historical day in the Blackwell family as it was the day that Rae would be taken to her forever home. So once again we made our way back to the transition home, and crossed through those magnificent silver doors. Rae was a lot quicker to come to Kevin and I on this day. We tried asking lots of questions about her to the nannies and get as much information about caring for her as possible. We also spent as much time as possible with the other children and babies that were waiting for their families to come. I really did not know but a handful of children and who they belonged to, but between the three families that were there, we made sure that every child got some attention and love. I do know that I cuddled and loved on baby Martin and Kulp. They were both such good and sweet babies. I also played with the Hall's little guy. He is something else!! He loves attention and is very social!!! I think I spent the most time with A. Semlow. She is such a spunky little sweetie. Wherever I went, she made sure she was within a short distance of my side, and if I didn't have anyone else in my arms, then she made sure that my arms weren't vacant for long. By the end of our visit, we were having kissing wars!! I so hope that she and her brothers are able to go to their forever home soon!!! Leaving the transition home was very emotional and bittersweet for all of the families. Nannies were saying their cheerful goodbyes to our children, but all we could think was that our children were leaving the only place they had ever known.

We all spent the remaining of the our evenings in our own rooms. Kevin and I tried to make the evening for Rae as comfortable and fun as possible. She was very somber and sweet. She ate, looked at books, tried on her new shoes several times, and stayed close to my lap at all times. Kevin and I could not get over the miracle that was in our midst. It didn't seem possible that she was finally in our care.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Day Three: Meeting Rae and A Little Tradition

If there ever was a day that I was up and at 'em, it was last Monday!! Kevin and I met Duni for the first time ever at the Hilton that day, and she is such a beautiful woman!! We had lunch by the pool and discussed what would be happening that week. During our lunch conversation, we were able to learn a little more details about where Rae was from, and I look forward to being able to share what I learned with Rae someday. I think we were all anxious to get on with the day and before we knew it, we were making that historic ride to the transition home. With every turn, I was wondering if we had arrived? Could this be it? We finally pull into a very bumpy alley way and I begin to see lots of gates like the one I knew surrounded the transition home. We stopped at the gates that I immediately recognized and without a doubt knew that we had arrived at our destination. The three families had agreed on the order that we would go in, but all of that was put to the wayside as the gates were open and the Whitaker's little guy was in the arms of the transition home's security guard. There was no prepping the Whitakers. This union was a beautiful and unscripted experience. It seemed within moments they had their little guy in their arms. Next, the Joners were united with their beautiful little girl. This was exciting to witness as well as it was remarkable to see how amazingly this little girl resembled both of her parents. After a few pictures I could see that Duni was starting to get ready to bring out Rae. I literally had to drop the camera in Michelle Whitakers's lap so that I could stand up and get in a stance that would prepare myself for my first glance at Rae. Fortuna, the TH nurse, had her in her arms when they immersed from the doorway. Rae had a look on her face that completely said that she did not want to go outside and that she was way happier doing whatever she was doing a few moments ago. All I could see was a beauty and radiance that I have not seen too often. Every emotion that I may have stored away were coming to the surface as massive tears came pouring down my face. As Fortuna came closer, Rae became more and more panicked that she may have to actually be held by these two strangers; one of which is crying uncontrollably. I knew I had to gain composure if this child was ever going to want to come to me. I was actually perfectly happy to just gaze at her, but before I knew it, Fortuna put Rae into my arms. Rae was not at all happy about this! My heart went out to her as I could only imagine how scary this experience was for her. Fortuna suggested that we give her a toy, so we reacted quickly and pulled out a book and a sucker. Within seconds, she was occupied with the items and I was able to take in this little wonderful creature. Her warm little body was finally in my arms. I could feel her breathe move in and out of her lungs and all I wanted to do was absorb every motion, detail, and smell about her. Emotion and gratitude towards God began to overwhelm me again as Kevin drew Rae and I into his arms. Kevin began to pray the sweetest prayer of thanksgiving to God for this wonderful blessing that He had aloud to occur. Rae's head was against my chest and she seems completely content with the sucker she had been given. Kevin and I looked her over and before we knew it, Rae seemed to come out of that shell she had been hiding in moments ago. She was very playful and eager for whatever attention we were willing to give her. We made our way to the TH garden and explored flowers, which Rae loved to pull apart, and then we sat on the grass to look at the book she seemed now interested in. After spending a little time with her outside we eventually went in to the home. There were so many children and babies!!! Such beautiful happy faces!!! This home had an overwhelming feeling of joy as nannies and children were hugging and interacting with one another freely. I began to notice children I had only seen before in pictures and that feeling of surrealism began to overtake me again. After visiting a few hours with the children and nannies, we were notified that our visit was coming to a close. At about this same time, I realized how heavy Rae was against my chest. She had been exhausted by the day's events as well and had retreated to a peaceful slumber. I laid down this sweet jewel in her bed and vowed to return tomorrow when she would be forever ours. Parting on that day was not hard, and I was very thankful for the transition period we were given as it allowed Rae and her new parents to get used to one another. The three couples and the driver piled into the van and there was a collective sigh of contentment coming from us all as we pulled away from the home.

That evening we went to a traditional restaurant in which we all ate from a single basket. Ethiopians are not as concerned about personal space and borders. As far as they are concerned, people are connected collective beings and flow from one person to the next freely. To hug, hold hands, and be close to one another is expected. So why not when eating, eat from the same basket (plate) and share the experience as a group and not just as an individual?!!! I could totally get used to this lifestyle. Being a person who loves to be affectionate and be touched, I felt right in my element. The families at dinnertime reflected on our experiences of the day and we all had a sense of fulfillment and elation as we could not have asked for a better experience (even us as we had tears and hesitation to begin with). That night was another hard night for sleeping. I was dealing with emotions of excitement of getting our new child we had waited so long for and also the agony of loss of the children I had left at home. Hally and Brady were deep in my mind this night. I longed to hold and kiss them and to feel their warm touch. Being so far away from them was so extremely hard for this mother's heart, but I looked towards the future knowing we would be reunited soon!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Day 2: Sightseeing and Meeting New Life Long Friends

Sunday morning we met our driver and our new Ethiopian friend, Alezar so that we could go to church together and go sightseeing. Our intentions were to go to a Evangelical service that was mostly attended by Ethiopians, but spoken in English. We were so disappointed when we learned that the church had moved across town. Alezar reacted quickly and got us to another service that was spoken in English, but very contemporary, diverse in the people in attendance, and similar to what you might find in the states. The pastor had a very good heart and did a great job of preaching the gospel literally to the nations. We then went to lunch at an Italian restaurant that had an art gallery in the restaurant. It is funny to think about eating Italian in Ethiopia, but for 12 years, Ethiopia was occupied by Italians, and it's influence can still be detected today. We then went to two museums and finished the sightseeing day with a round of shopping at the post office area. The shops are lined up and down the street and their owners are anxious for you to come in. The stores are quite peculiar as some are no bigger than a small closet. Others are larger, but would be considered a very small store in the states. This was a great area to shop if you were looking for a variety items. They had bowls, clothing, scarves, carvings, artwork, jewelry, purses, and such. Today, more than yesterday, we had a lot of children asking for food or anything we could give them. I was apprehensive as I have warned not to give especially money. Alezar explained that a lot of the times that the children could be coerced into working for drug dealers or other scams in order to get money. An elderly lady came up to me who appeared to be blind. I gave her some money, and she took my hand into her very frail and soft hand and lead it to her lips as she proceeded to kiss my hand and whisper what I can only imagine were words of thanks. This really penetrated right to my heart. Who am I to be given such a blessing? The children kept following and I asked Alezar if it would be okay to give them chocolate and he agreed that it would be okay. That's when all pandemonium broke loose. Once those kids saw that I had candy, you would have thought I was handing out one hundred dollar bills. It was a little chaotic, but I don't regret doing it one bit.

When we got home, we ate at the hotel. The kebabs and the beef tibes are delicious!!! After dinner we relaxed a while in our room and waited for the other AW families to arrive. I was so excited to meet with these two families, that when the receptionist called to say that the Whitakers had arrived, I raced downstairs and probably scared Michelle with my eagerness as she was trying to get checked into her room. She was very gracious and let me be giddy about seeing them even though they had just been traveling for over 15 hours!!! We decided we would meet later on the outside patio bar area. The Whitakers left to get settled and Kevin and went to the Joners room and introduced ourselves to them. We all eventually congregated on the patio. With the night Ethiopian breeze (which is just about perfect by the way) in our faces, we enjoyed getting to know one another. You know when you meet someone and you know you are going to connect with them easily? That is the way Kevin and I felt about these two precious families. They are all incredible people and felt very privileged and blessed to be in their company. Later I was talking to Michelle and Jessica and told them that we all came here as strangers, but we leave knowing that we will never forget each other for the rest of our lives, and that we share such an amazing and unique bond. We all parted that evening with an intense excitement as we knew that in the morning we would be meeting our children... how in the world did we expect to go to sleep?!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We are home!

Just wanted to give a quick update while Rae is asleep (that felt great to write). We are all safe and sound and a happy family of five!! I have so much to say about what occurred last week, but somehow I don't think words will be able to give justice to the journey that we have been on. I do plan on writing posts in the future reflecting on our experiences... they were absolutely amazing and life changing. To get to the main and most important details though, Rae is absolutely wonderful. Make no mistake as I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking we had a fairy tale scenario where Rae immediately loved us and we all lived happily ever after. Rae has had her world turn upside down on her. Everything she ever knew is gone and she is learning everything in her life all over again perhaps for the third time (or more) in her life. When she first met us, she wanted nothing to do with us. She has warmed up to us, though, fast and is starting to like us more and more with each passing day. One thing is for certain is that the moment that we saw her, we melted into a puddle and felt our hearts burst into a million pieces.

I am feeling very lethargic and tired, so I am signing off for now. Thanks so much for everyone's prayers and posts. We appreciate them so much. Also, a big thanks to Jamie for posting while we were gone. You have been a Godsend during this time!!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

We Love The Blackwells!!!

I haven't heard anything more, but I did hear (by reading one of the comments) that Kelly called her mom and told her that Rae is more beautiful than the pictures could have ever captured! I also read that Kelly said that she is such a funny little girl!

We cannot wait to meet you, Rae!!!!!!

The Blackwells return this weekend! Please pray for safe travels and for a calm and peaceful toddler on the long flights home! Pray that Kevin and Kelly will not be anxious. Pray for Hally and Brady as they will be meeting their little sister! What a huge transition and a fun homecoming!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No News. . .

. . .is good news.

I know that all of you are so anxious for news! ME TOO!!! I've been taking my phone with me EVERYWHERE (literally) so that I don't miss another call.

No news is good news. . .I'm thinking that they cannot get internet access and that they are having too much fun with Rae to bother looking further for easier access. I'm so excited for the Blackwell family! What an amazing life journey they are on! I am so proud of them and so happy for them!

Please continue to pray for their safety and their bonding with Rae! What an adjustment for a girl who is walking and just starting to speak (a different language).

They will be home before we know it! I promise to keep you all posted the SECOND I hear from them!

-Jamie Jo

Monday, February 9, 2009

They Met Rae!!!!

Well, I know that you all are as excited for news as I am and I have some. . .not much, but enough to wet your appetite!

Kevin & Kelly are having problems getting internet access, so I am going to blog for them until they can.

THEY MET RAE TODAY!!!! They got to spend some time with her today and I know they are thrilled. Her message said that they are all great!

She is going to try and call again tonight so that I can pass along more details to you all! Keep praying!

Jamie Jo

Saturday, February 7, 2009

We're in Addis!!!

We arrived safe and sound in Addis about 8:30am (Addis time). We had very good flights, connections, and checking in experiences. Airports always intimidate me, so I was very thankful that we didn't have any glitches. We were able to take our two donation bags that were overweight by 10-20 pounds each for free as well (we didn't even have to ask). The plane trip on Ethiopian was fantastic. They had the best food and the attendants were very friendly. It was heartbreaking to make a stop in Rome and not get off!! Arriving in Ethiopia was also great, too. Finding the visa counter was very easy, but we almost missed the bank to exchange currency. Right before we passed the passport security point (last checkpoint before lobby), I asked an official where to exchange and he pointed me in the right direction. I was able to turn back and get the money we needed. The exchange rate right now is about 11 birr for 1 dollar. This is quite a bit more than we were expecting. When we came out into the airport lobby we found a gentleman (not Robel) holding an America World Adoption sign. He helped us with our bags and took us to our hotel. Along the way we got an eye opening tour of Addis. There were so many sights and scenes to take in. I saw policemen wearing camouflage holding big guns, lots and lots of people walking in the streets and sidewalks, vendors selling their goods, children running in and out of people, beautiful babies strapped to their momma's backs, herds of goats in alleys, goat carcases hanging from shop windows, I really could go on and on. We arrived at our hotel and were checked into our rooms quite quickly and with attentive service. By this time it was about 10:00, and Kevin and I were exhausted. We caved into taking a nap, which we said we weren't going to do, and slept for about three hours. At this time, I have to say that I was feeling a little nervous and a bit scared about my environment, but know we need to go and get some water. So with some hesitancy, we chose a driver from a list our agency gave us and asked him to pick us up. Alezar, who was super, arrives 20 minutes later and I asked him if we could look at traditional clothing (might as well while we're out) as well as get some water. Alezar took us to a market, not the mercado, that sells mostly traditional clothing. I had so much fun walking around and smiling and talking to the people. I was surprised that there were so many who could speak english. Everyone brightens up as we walk buy, and they call out "mother, (or sister; I personally liked mother) come in here". I went into everyone's store who asked. I thought it was interesting that they never called out for Kevin to come in :) When it came time to pay, the bidding began. Alezar started me off, but by my last purchase of the day, I was doing my own bidding (my mom would be proud)!! A kid's or toddler's dress costs about $10-15 and a nice scarf costs about $5-10. After that we went to a very small shop that sold fresh produce and bottled water. We bought 6 large waters for about $3 total. We are now back at the hotel and are going to call it a day. Tomorrow we have plans to go to church with Aleazar, as he goes to a evangelical church that has a service in english. We are also hoping to go to a museum or two. Later we are excited as the two other families, Joners and Whitakers, from America World will be here. It is very surreal to be in the same vicinity as Rae. To know she is just maybe a block or two a way doesn't seem real. I cannot wait to meet her, but am waiting patiently for our big day Monday.