Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hoffmans at home

We are finally at home and feeling a little bit like a normal family. What a trip. What a journey. It's crazy to think that we are really here at home - that Meron is really here with us. Until we get all of our pics up in an album we'll try to throw a daily picture of life with Meron up here. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 9: Greetings America!

Somewhere over the vast expanse of blue called the Atlantic Ocean, day 8 turned in to day 9. Actually, it could have been somewhere over Africa still or near Rome - but honestly - on a flight like that - ya start to lose track of pretty much everything.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful. We boarded the plane pretty late with an already snoozing Meron. God blessed us yet again with a great bulkead seat and once we leveled off at our cruising altitude, they brought us the bassinet and got us all hooked up. Meron settled in for a pretty good snooze of about 4 hours. Wish we could say the same for us.

The plane a had a BUNCH of kids on it. I would guess around 20 families or so with their children they were bringing home. This was great - it meant nobody was too irritated by crying or parents pacing the aisle. Not that we had to deal with either really - because Meron was spoiling us yet again. I did get to do a few laps with her hanging out in the Baby Bjorn - but other than that she was a champion. She actually handled the flight better than her mom and dad I think!

We landed in Washington DC bright and early and right on time. It was a fast descent and Meron tugged at her ears a little but she survived it and we were heading in to clear customs. Here is where we had our first real hang up of the trip. We had 3 hours between landing and take-off for our flight to Atlanta. By the time we got our luggage and cleared the customs line with Meron's secret envelope we had less than an hour to get checked back in and make it to our gate. We actually started thinking we might not make our flight.

But alls well that ends well and not only did we make our flight but the agent at the gate counter hooked us up with great seats (we initially weren't even sitting together) and we had time to spare. We both were feeling pretty crappy at this point. It felt like we had been awake for like 3 days and I was starting to feel sick again - sore throat, headache. We just wanted to get home.

The flight from DC to the ATL felt like nothing compared to what we had just survived. Of course Meron couldn't let us have just a simple flight - no way now how. She had to see what the restroom looked like on this smaller plane - what better way to do that than to blow out her outfit. Laura spent a good 15 mintes in there getting her cleaned up and by the time she came out we were prepping to land.

There was an overwhelming feelng of happiness to know that our next stop was going to be home. We stopped and got Meron changed into her "welcome home outfit" and then headed toward the baggage claim.

We were three tired, weary, beat-down but happy Hoffmans.

Coming up the big escalator towards baggage claim we didn't know what to expect. We knew a few friends were coming out to greet us but we weren't prepared for the massive amount of people - the cheering - the signs - the clapping. Man. It felt good to be home.

Thank you so much to everybody who came out to welcome Meron and us back to the good ole USA. That meant more to us than you'll know. After having travelled for about 27 hours and being awake for close to 2 days, this jubiliant welcome really energized us and helped us get through the rest of the day.

After taking pictures galore and thanking everybody for their prayers and support - and also Meron jumping from arms to arms to arms - we headed out of the airport towards the house. We pulled into the driveway to find the house decorated with pink ribbons and bows, a huge banner on the garage and a giant chalk drawing in the driveway welcoming us all home.

Man it felt great to be back.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 8: Farewell Ethiopia

Today is our last day in this wonderful, amazing, beautiful and loving country. We have met so many amazing people and experienced so much in such a short period of time. This trip is something that will lay on our hearts forever and has changed us permanently.

Last night there was a power outage and we both spent the late evening reading by candle-light. We decided to sleep in today and have a later breakfast than normal. Just kind of hang out here at the lodge and get ready for this monstrous trip home that was looming at the end of the day.

Breakfast came around 9:00 AM and we spoke a little with Nardos. He works at the lodge but also has a passion for the kids on the streets of Addis Ababa. He has a program he is working on starting where he sponsors kids and helps them get off the streets. He even goes as far as begging for these kids if he has to. He is quite a guy. He is working full time and helping kids AND going to law school. We are not sure how yet but we want the Brighton Asher Project to possibly work with him in some capacity.

After making sure we had packed everything - and making sure our carry-on luggage had the right amount of diapers for Miss Wild Bottom - we headed up to the lobby to close out our stay and to take some pictures with the staff. We exchanged email addresses with a bunch of the people working here with promises of sending some pics of Meron.

There was a farewell get together at the orphanage at 2:00 PM so Abraham picked us up right around 1:45 and took us over to the orphanage. I was a little worried how Meron might take it - ya know? Like what is going on inside that head of hers? Would she worry we were leaving her there again? Would she be upset? Agitated? I should have known better. Meron is so laid back and she seems to just take what life throws at her and deals with it. She was a champ at the orphanage. She went from nanny to nanny and was showered with hugs and kisses and just smiled the entire time.

Laura and I took advantage of some Meron-less time to dip out and take some more pictures of the kids who were coming home to other families. But we couldn't stop there. We went room to room just taking pictures of all the kids. They were just all so cool. So happy - full of life. Smiling, laughing. We had to get out of there or we'd try to bring them all home.

We finally made it back to the room where they were preparing to do a coffee ceremony. We met two other families who were there to pick their children up as well - this was their first meeting with their kids and it was cool to see how excited they were. We knew the feeling (matter of fact we were still under that magical spell).

The coffee ceremony was cool - ya know Ethiopia is known for its coffee and I believe Ethiopia is where coffee originated from. The ceremony is neat to watch - it's not a Mr. Coffee quick brew or anything. They roast the beans over an open fire and something about they way they prepare it all gives it an amazing taste. And I am not even a big coffee drinker. They served it to us - along with some popcorn - and man it was good. It's just neat to see something that has been reduced to a drive-through window or a push of a button in our country still be given so much time and consideration here.

After the ceremony it was time to leave the orphanage for good (for now at least). This was hard - we hugged all of the nannies and caregivers and thanked them so much for all of the love they poured out on Meron and Brighton while he was there. We took one last round of the place and snapped as many pictures as we could. We want Meron to be able to see where she spent the first few months of her life. Then it was back in Abraham's car to head back to the lodge.

We barely had time at the lodge to freshen up, clean Meron up and get our stuff together before Abraham was back to carry us to the airport. Our flight didn't leave until 10:00 PM but we were bound and determined to secure a bassinet for the trip so we were getting there as early as possible. When we hopped in the car Abraham handed Laura a wrapped gift - from him to us. How nice is this guy?? It was an awesome wall-hanging that showed many of the Ethiopian icons the country is known for. That will be hanging in our home as soon as we get there. Thanks Abraham!

If you can navigate the Atlanta Airport than you can pretty much get through any airport and the Bole International Airport proved to be just like that - relatively easy to get through. We were first in line for flights to DC and again pleaded for the bulkhead seats and the bassinet. Everybody stops short of saying "You've got it" but this guy did say "It shows in my computer that yes, you have one."


Next we cleared immigration with no problem and headed towards our gate. We had some time to kill so we ate some dinner, changed some diapers and pretty much paced around until it was time to board. Meron had passed out well before this so we got all situated in our seats and had her sucking on some water during take-off for her ears.

This was it. We were about 18 short hours way from landing on US soil!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day 7: Ethiopian Countryside

Today was our last full day day and night in the beautiful country of Ethiopia. We wanted to make sure and make the best of it. We had met an awesomely wonderful person staying at our lodge named Arainey and she offered to give us free passes to Kuriftu. Kuriftu is a resort and spa in the countryside of Ethiopia. We had heard about it and how beautiful it was so we decided to head there for a day trip.

It was about an hour and a half drive so Abraham and Teshome picked us up at 8:00 am to get an early start. Once again the city traffic kind of stalled us but once we got a little outside of the city we were cruising right along. Meron did great on the trip there - I think the car actually puts her to sleep. She fell asleep in my arms the whole way there - and dropped a smile or two in her sleep every now and then.

Kuriftu is definitely as gorgeous as people said. It is basically carved out of the hillside beside this beautiful lake and it looks all natural. Like it was always there. We walked the grounds and took about 2 billion photos. It was getting close to lunch time so we decided to eat there at the resort before heading out back towards the city.

Ahhh - a nice leisurely lunch with good friends, good food, good times - right? Wrong - not with Meron in tow! About 2 minutes after the food was brought Meron decided it was time to blow out a diaper. All over mom. So Laura and I head off to find the restroom - which seemed like a quarter of a mile away or more. Up steps, down pathways, around corners, over the river and through the woods...

We eventually found it. We stripped the girl down to her birthday suit, cleaned her up and as she lay there on the changing pad all clean and ready to be dressed back up - she peed. And then she smiled. And then she giggled. Thanks Meron.

So one thrown away outfit later we were back at the dinner table. Abraham and Teshome had finished eating, so Abraham - being the great dude that he is - took Meron for us. He fed her and rocked her while Laura and I ate. What a guy. That is the nature of all the Ethiopians we met while we have been here. So loving. So willing to help.

It was starting to rain so we decided to pack it in and head back towards the city. We needed to go by the Hilton to visit Ethiopian airlines and confirm our flight for the nexty day and beg and plead for a bassinet for Meron.

On the way back we stopped at an out-of-the-way bar to taste some "Honey Wine" or "Honey Beer" as they were calling it. We had heard about this drink and Abraham and Teshome wanted to give us a chance to taste it. Man - the view from the bar was amazing. It was settled on this hillside basically hanging over this huge lake. The view was actually better than the honey wine. It wasn't bad - but probably not something I'd drink regularly.

At the Hilton Laura and I headed in to the Ethiopian Airlines office with a little bit of a fussy Meron. I am handling her since Laura was the paperwork guru on this trip and she would be talking to the travel agents here. Meron starts getting fussier and I am thinking I'll just feed her and calm her down.

Let me set the stage here - small office - chairs close together - already kinda cramped. So Meron starts chowing down and making her "mmmm..." sounds which are completely adorable. But then I see her legs stiffen. "Oh God, no... not here. Not now..." is what I'm thinking. And then her cute little "mmmm..." sounds turn in to all out gorilla sized grunts as she makes a deposit squarely in the pocket of her diaper. But not just there. How about on my shorts. And her blanket.

I am stressing now. I dip out of the office to save the other patrons from the armoa-riffic odor eminating from her booty and we pace the hall. I have no diapers. I have no change of clothes. I gots nothing. Nothing but a very stinky baby and a hotel full of Ethiopians looking at me like I have no idea what I am doing. I kinda didn't.

Long story short - Laura finishes up and we head out to the car. We actually decide to trek it back to the lodge before changing her. We were only about 15 minutes away and it would just be easier. Once there we promptly change her and Teshome comes in to let us download all of pictures he has taken of us over the past few days. It was something like 600 of them.

Anybody heading there needs to use Teshome. He is a freelance photographer and friends with Abraham. Had we known of him we would have gladly paid him money to come on gotcha day and photograph the whole experience. He is a wonderful guy with a great eye for photography.

We wound up our last night in Ethiopia by just hanging out at the lodge - getting our stuff packed up and ready for the next day. It was kind of a bittersweet feeling. We are really ready to go home and be at our house with Meron - but we are going to miss this place so much. We are already looking ahead towards the day when we come back for a visit with Meron.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 6: Thank Goodness for Public Changing Stations

Yesterday's historical tour of Addis Ababba was supposed to wrap up with some shopping - but one thing we are quickly learning is that our big adult-sized bodies don't tire out nearly as fast as Meron's little 17.2 pound body. So we pushed the shopping out until today and got an early start on it.

We had heard about a Leprosy Hospital located nearby where the patients hand-craft all types of products and the proceeds from the sales go to support the hospital. This sounded like something right up our alley. Our driver had not heard of it so after a phone call to get some directions we were on our way.

What a ride. First off - we hit some traffic that made Atlanta rush hour look appealing. And let me add that there are very few rules or regulations to adhere to when driving here. And don't find yourself as a pedestrian trying to cross a street. If you do - your life is in very serious danger. I have only crossed one street on foot since being here and I was afraid - I was very afraid.

Anyways - the traffic was the first issue - once we got past it we hit some seriously bumpy dirt roads. Then we got lost. After asking around for how to get there we finally found an isolated dirt road and headed up it. After a few "hit your head on the ceiling of the car" bumps and a couple of turns we ended up at the Hospital. What an amazing place. The patients all have leprosy and just like in the biblical times are pretty much ostracized and cast aside. But they are talented. They make all types of handcrafted goods - rugs, clothes, carvings, etc. They sell them there in a shop to raise funds for the hospital. It was pretty impressive and moving. We bought several items and then after getting permission we took some great pictures with some of the patients. Meron somehow managed to sleep the entire way there (bumpy roads and all) and the whole time we were there. She is a trooper.

After leaving there we headed to a local shopping mall to look around - and wouldn't ya know it Meron decided to bless us with a very dirty diaper. She always seems to know the best times to hit us with these to keep us on our toes. Thanks Meron.

Around 6:00 PM Tenaye showed up with a special delivery for us - Meron's passport and visa! Very exciting. We were also handed a sealed manilla envelope that we are not allowed to open and must present to an immigrations officer upon our entry in to the United States. Kinda weird and kooky in a Jack Bauer kind of way - but we'll do what they say!

Shortly thereafter Emebet showed up to pick us up. She was taking us out for a traditional Ethiopian dinner with cultural music and dancing. We got to the restaurant about 30 minutes before it opened so we decided to drive down to a nearby mall to kill some time. We all piled back in Emebet's car when - wait - what's that smell? Did someone empty their septic tank in my lap? Oh no
- that's just Meron doing what she does best. Emebet says "No problem there is a restroom at the mall." So we track it down - and oh my. This is where the title of this one comes from. We haven't used a public changing station yet in the USA but we are fairly sure they are gifts sent directly from above. The restroom at this mall was about 2x2. No lights. Meron was precariously balanced on a closed toilet (on top of her changing pad - thank you Perrys!) and to make matters worse - Laura had 2 others crowding in to the room to make sure she was doing it right.

The local Ethiopians here love their children so much that they have no problem telling you when they believe you might ought to do something a little different. But Laura passed with flying colors. Me? I was running as far and as fast as I could in the other direction.

Afterwards we headed back to the restaurant - we enjoyed a traditional dinner of Njera and tons of vegetables - no meat as Emebet and Tenaye are in the midst of one of their many annual fasts. The food was incredible - Laura and I were chowing down. And the dancing and music - it was incredible. An overall wonderful and amazing night.

As the young girls were dancing and singing and serving people food - I couldn't help but stare at them wondering what Meron was going to look like when she got older.

Thanks again for reading and traveling along this journey with us. It means a lot to us to have all this support for our girl!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 5: Opening Our Eyes Through Answered Prayers

Today we planned to get out in the streets of Addis Ababba and really get the feel for the city - get to know some of the places around Meron's birthplace.

Abraham, our driver, and his friend Toshume picked us up at 9:00 AM to head to some museums. We immediately set out to the top of a mountain where there is an incredible Orthodox Church and a museum dedicated to the past Emperors of Ethiopia. More on that later. Let's talk about the trip up this mountain.

We have prayed for God to open our eyes to whatever it is He needed us to see - what He needed us to know - what He needed us to burn in to our permanent memory and never ever let go of. The trip up that mountain was exactly that. The reality of the ride up the mountain is that we went directly through some of the most heartbreaking scenes you can ever imagine. Stuff you might read about once in a lifetime in the National Geographic or MAYBE the newspaper but never even really consider the depth or magnitude of. Stuff you might get an envelope about in the mail asking to help but because you feel so separated from it you typically end up doing nothing about it (I know I have).

That's the stuff we drove through. First off, the women climb to the top of this mountain to "harvest" tree limbs - like thatch type material - they then bundle it in huge bundles and strap it across their back and proceed to walk back down the mountain. They do this for 5 Birr. 5 Birr is about $.48 cents. It's not even enough to buy enough bread for the mouths back at their homes. But they do it because they have to feed their kids. And let me tell you - the trip up the mountain is no walk in the park. It's hard. And it broke our hearts to the very core to watch this.

Then - there are the families on the sides of the roads. Small huts housing them - if even that. begging for anything - food, birr, hope... anything. These people really affected us. We didn't know how to react - your gut instinct is to empty your wallet, empty your bag of any food and water, tell them you'll do whatever it takes to help. But we followed the cue of our hosts and basically moved through the crowds. Seeing young children walking their parents down the street begging - young mothers asking for anything so they could feed their kids - we couldn't help but realize that any one of these women could be Meron's mom. This shook us up. Everyone keeps telling us "She is so lucky" and yeah - ya know - sure, her circumstances are now going to change and you can call that lucky - but we are the really lucky ones here. We are blessed beyond anything we have ever experienced. Ever. God has propped our eyes wide open and it is something we think about constantly - helping these people. You almost can't understand it without experiencing it - the kindness, the love, the friendliness, the neighborly attitude, the love for God (its amazing here). All right smack dab in the middle of the most extreme poverty you could ever ever imagine.

Sorry to stay on that topic so long - it just really impacted us. I think Jesus said "Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me" - and we are fully planning on working with Emebet and even possibly a young guy we met here at our lodge who works with the kids on the street in Addis.

So on to the rest of the trip - the view from the mountain was out of this world. It was foggy at first but it burned off and we were able to really see the spread-out-ed-ness of Addis Ababa. Then we headed in to the museum. First we walked the grounds of some of the emperors of Ethiopia's past. These buildings, courtyards and grounds were over 125 years old. It was incredible. Then we headed in to a guided tour that really taught us a ton about the history of Ethiopia. For the record, Emperor Menelik is my favorite - he has influenced the world in ways he never knew and ways the world doesn't even know. It was pretty cool. Meron was a breeze during all of this - she was hanging out in the Bjorn until she got hungry and then after her chowing down Abraham carried her around for us so we could both enjoy the tour.

After leaving the mountain top we headed to the National Museum and we had amazing tour guides helping us out. We had read about this and it was something we wanted to see. "Lucy" lives here - you may have heard of her - she is like the oldest humanoid skeleton ever found - found here in Ethiopia. It was another great visit full of tons of info.

There were several schools here on apparent field trips - and they were awesome. They were all waving at us and couldn't stop running up to Meron and kissing her and loving on her. It was awesome - I think Laura really loved it!

We wrapped up our day by taking our gracious hosts out to lunch. We ate at an apparently pretty well-known spot here called the "Milkhouse" on the 10th floor of a building. We had great pasta - and Laura and I got to practice the "you eat while I hold and then we switch" technique that is used by many a set of parents. We loved it - and honestly - we'd both forego food if it meant hanging out with Meron. She's just that cool.

Last time we threw some shout outs to the folks taking care of the house and dogs - this time we wanna thank some great friends who just offered up their amazing camera and video equipment for us to bring with us. It has been so used and we are SOO appreciative.

We are beyond thankful.