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A Wayfarer is a person who is traveling, a particular place, a circumstance, a stage of life, etc. Let's walk the road of adoption together. The journey is so much better with company!
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I hope this blog will be helpful to you in your adoption whether you are considering, waiting or home. I started this blog when we were adopting and found there was next to nothing on the web in any orderly manner. I set about to collect information for myself and then for others. Now, there are more sites for resources, but still not much that brings it all together. I hope this blog will serve as a sort of clearing house for Ethiopian Adoption Information. Please feel free to contribute your knowledge through commenting.
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Welcome to the journey!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reasonable expectations for your trip to Ethiopia

I just want to give you a little tip for travel preparation.  It is not my intention to be negative, however some may choose to take it that way.

I have lived in the third world before and so for me Ethiopia was not a big shock, but for the vast majority of families who will travel there to adopt, whether they have done so before in China, Guatemala, Vietnam, etc..... Ethiopia will be a shock.

You all know what I am talking about on the socio-economic scale, the poverty is huge, the starvation, the disease, the lack of everything. You have seen videos, you have seen other families photos, you have read news reports, etc. You might even have an idea about the dirt, the mud, the trash, the smells, the filth that is everywhere. The bumpy, unmaintained roads, the lack of road signs and street names making navigation difficult, the millions of metal shacks that many call home. The idea of time and schedules, the difference in climate, cultural norms. Be careful of the water and the food, etc. We all do the best we can to prepare ourselves for those things.  After all it is a third world country.

But, what you may not be prepared for is that in no way does America go with you to Ethiopia. Even if we try not to be, we are still American and the standards of our country are ingrained in us weather we expect it or not. No matter where you stay Ethiopia is not America and your standards will be assaulted. Unless you stay at the Hilton or Sheraton and do not get to have your child with you........ things will be on Ethiopian standard.  There is nothing wrong with Ethiopian standards.  It is all a matter of perspective. You have to know they are different. It is the same whenever you are in a new situation, it is good to know the standards/expectations of the other party, whether that is a friend, company or culture. There is nothing wrong with the other standards, what is wrong is when we drag ours in and expect theirs to be the same. It is important to be on the same page, hence this post. Just a few things to clarify the difference, so you can be on the same page as the amazing and wonderful country you are traveling to. You may not like this post, but it is not my intent to be idealistic. I am a realist. Make it to the end and you will see my love for Ethiopia.

At a guest house: the floors are all tile, sound travels. The walls are mostly plaster, the sound travels. The windows are not insulated, sound travels. It is not quiet there, ever. The beds are not comfortable, they are ET standard great, not American. The kitchen is half outside and looks nothing like any kitchen in the US. The plumbing is more than likely to leak, it just does. The shower is a 2'x2' square pan with open sides and a not so adequate curtain. I have seen several, they are all the same. The shower head is either too low or out of reach... sometimes it has to be held to use, not fixed to the wall. If you have a tub it may or may not have a shower head, but some of those are great, in comparison. The water, if heated on site, is on an individual electric water heater IN the shower. You have to turn it on prior to use. They sometimes don't work. It takes a long time to get things fixed. If it is not heated on site then the hot is variable and you never know when you will have it or not. The water sometimes goes out, in the middle of the shower, for a few hours. The pressure is variable and not predictable. More often than not you share a bath with other guests. Ours was accessed outside on a balcony, and shared with two rooms. The electricity goes out regularly and at random times. There is not a plentiful supply of internet connection, DSL is hard to find, dial up is unstable and you may or may not be able to get on. You really can't send photos. Skype works out well for some. The computer for use is public, so your time is short. You can not access blogs, but you can access facebook. Oh, the electricity goes out too, sometimes when you are in the middle of the second or third email you have been working on and re doing after other outages. In most guest houses there is no adequate place for children to play, at least like we may expect, the kids will think it is great. There are lots of others there. It is nice to be with other families and other kids too, but lack of family time and privacy can get to you after a while. And all that dirt outside, well, there is no way to keep it out, even the cleanest guest house will not be to an American standard of clean. It just is not possible. I am not saying it is not clean, I am just saying if you are used to a 4 or 5 star resorts, well it just isn't that. I am used to camping and it's sure cleaner than that! The food you will be served will be "American" when you are not indulging in the yummy Ethiopian fare. But nothing like anything American you have ever tasted. Ethiopian food is their specialty, and that is a treat to be sure and comfort for your kids if they are older. There is no Walmart, no Target, no McDonald's, picking up something you have forgotten or find would make your stay more comfortable is a large task. Some guest houses cater to the adoptive family and will go out of their way to help you, others don't. I over heard a discussion between two Ethiopian women when we were there. They were discussing the excessive needs of these Americans. Ok, the standard is different. You and I think it is no big deal to ask for new towels every day or every other day. You may not get new towels but once a week. But, this is a big deal to them. They have to be hand washed and air dried. In the winter it takes days to dry. It takes a lot of time. Everything is time intensive, washing the floor and cooking and shopping and laundry. It takes a lot of work and they work very hard to be hospitable and welcoming and clean and to provide all you need and I think they do a really great job. I'm not saying don't ask, I am saying expect the standards to be Ethiopian- maybe not quite like what you are used to. And, it is often difficult to find someone to help you out. If your guest house is not helpful, that is that.  I think mostly they are, ours sure was, but I have heard of some who were not.  Most agencies do not have staff there to do things for you. They only do the stuff directly related to the adoption. That is enough work in itself. Some agencies do have courtesy staff for families, but those are few.  In general if you think about a motel, like Motel 8 for example, the standards in Ethiopia will be lower. Like bed quality and the bathroom and the privacy will also be less. You will wake up to the call to worship, dogs barking in the night and your friendly neighbor's crying baby. In general Ethiopian standards will be The Hilton, for royalty. The guest house, for an ambassador, a wealthy person, but not royalty. You get the picture.

I know we think about this but I am not sure the reality or the extent of it really hits us until we are actually there. It is all a matter of perspective and a choice of attitude.  I know that if we focus on the fact we are there for our children then it is all manageable and the discomfort for us is thankfully temporary. You can do anything for a week! Just hoping to let you know a bit more of what to expect.  Soak it all in and enjoy your trip. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to live and learn and be able to pass something of this wonderful place on to your precious children. Savor the call to worship, be thankful for the watchdogs barking in the night. Rejoice for your neighbor's baby who cries in the night because she has parents to love her. Know that though it is not your lifestyle, it is a life style that has significant meaning and purpose and it is wonderful in all it's differences.

Once you are home you will look back and remember the beautiful, sincere people. The amazing culture that has withstood so much. The strong people, the beautiful country. You will long for it in your soul. Which is good, you can give your son or daughter a sense of history from your heart.

Happy travels.

Another tid-bit from Matt a fellow IAN parent:
Ethiopia is an absolutely beautiful country, one that I hope to revisit in the future when our daughter is older. The people are so friendly and greatful for what they have, as well as so willing to share with you.
Some other things that I noticed:
- Kids begging in the streets was tough. Keep your coins in one pocket and hand those out when your approached by one child. Try not to hand money out to groups.
- Saw a lot of people "relieving" themselves on the street. However, once you realize they don't have a home to go to you start to understand why.

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