Travel Diaries: The Video Version (Part 2)

This second video installment of our trip to Ethiopia revisits memories from the time we picked Malachi up at the orphanage until the moment we were home. Oh how we love this little man. If you missed part 1, find it here.

Video Part 2 – Coming Home

Coming Home

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Travel Diaries: The Video Version (Part 1)

Before we left for Ethiopia last month, the girls at work said I should document our trip via a vlog. I said I was pretty positive I would be bad at it, but I gave it a shot nonetheless.

This video is part 1. It documents the first 48 hours of our trip when we met Farahol – the sweet little boy we sponsor through Compassion International. Later, I’ll get around to posting part 2 where we actually pick up Malachi from the orphanage. It’s probably a #vlogfail, but hoping someday Malachi can look back at these videos and laugh with us. Enjoy!

Video Part 1 – Meeting Farahol

Video Diary 1

The only thing we love more than orphan care is orphan prevention. Thank you Compassion International for working to keep children in their first families. You may remember that during our first trip to Ethiopia, we also visited Make Your Mark Ministries – another great organization engaged in orphan prevention. We will vouch for these two non-profits and beg you to check them out. They deserve your dollars!

Compassion International
Make Your Mark Ministries

A Letter to Our Village

Today, we began the journey back to Ethiopia to make Malachi an orphan no longer. We received the call out of the blue on Wednesday while enjoying some time with favorite friends from out of town- the Kisers – at the happiest place on earth – Disney! Here’s a pic moments after the call. Excuse the crying bio son. He really is happy about Malachi, just not about pictures.

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Two tickets to Addis Ababa and make it three for the return flight please! 60-ish hours and a beautiful, but blurry, stressed-out frenzy later, we were at the airport without passports. Mom brain. Fast-forward 45 minutes. We were at the airport WITH passports and saying goodbye to Maddox. Last picture as a family of three!

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Now, we rest for the night in Washington D.C., waiting to depart tomorrow morning for Addis.

It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. Today, we write an honest and open letter to our village. The time has finally come to explain what life will look like when we return home.

Adoption was the best plan for our family, but by no means is adoption the best way for a child to enter a family. The world is unbelievably broken, and we realize it now more than ever before. Malachi has experienced more hardship and loss in his 5 short years than most of us ever will. The wounds of hunger, separation, loss, and grief cut deep.

From an orphanage in Ethiopia to a family in Clearwater, Florida, Malachi’s whole life is about to change. We’ll introduce him to strange foods he’s never tasted. We’ll introduce him to doctors who will poke and prod. We’re exchanging a world where everyone looks like him for a world where some look like him. We’re replacing his sterile, yet familiar room, shared with eight close friends, for a colorful room that’s all his own. Malachi is leaving an orphanage that was his family, albeit 60 members big.

In a healthy biological child, secure attachment and trust forms when parents consistently meet the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs.

Child cries. Parent responds. Child cries. Parent responds. Child cries. Parent responds. Over time, attachment and trust form.

Children who have lost or never experienced the love of a parent can often have difficulty trusting that their needs will be met. That means we may need to retrain Malachi’s brain toward healthy attachment. We’ll need to help him relearn the real role of a mom and a dad. Parents provide food and shelter. Parents provide comfort and security. Parents don’t leave you (and if they do leave for a short time, they will always come back). We get it, but for a former orphan (yes, former!), the concept is novel.

He’ll need time to develop a connection to our family and to trust that we are safe. He’ll need extra patience and love as the Lord heals the wounds of his past.

The Case for Cocooning

When we return, we’ll stay home with Malachi as much as possible, attempting to create an environment that is calm, predictable, and comforting. The adoption world calls this a period of “cocooning.” It will last as long as he needs to feel safe and secure and connected to our family.

Cocooning looks like this…

  • We’ll avoid parties and large gatherings.
  • We’ll introduce new people in moderation and only when he is comfortable with us. When we introduce new people, we’ll do so in small groups of one or two.
  • We’re asking others not to pick up, hold, hug, or kiss Malachi. In the beginning, these displays of affection are reserved for Mitch and I.
  • Only Mitch or I should give things to Malachi, especially food.
  • Only Mitch or I should meet Malachi’s needs.

This all might sound over-protective, secluding, or like we’re over analyzing. But we’re following the advice of professionals who know the adoption thing way better we do. We want nothing more than for Malachi to be able to love and hug the awesome people who prayed and gave and prayed even more to bring him home. We just need to allow him the time he needs to get used to a brand new world and way of life. When he’s ready, we’ll widen the net and begin to look less like recluses. We’ll find our new normal in time.

The weight of the responsibility ahead is sinking in. Pray for us often. Offer to visit in small groups when he is ready. Text and call with encouragement – we’ll need lots. The same village that brought us to this point will bring us through the months ahead. Plus a whole lot of Jesus. Love to you all!

Saying Goodbye

We headed to the orphanage first thing this morning to see Malachi again. Those precious kids always have flies crawling on their faces. It’s like they don’t even bother to shew them away anymore, so I do it for them.

After a few hours we had to say goodbye. We won’t see him again until we return for our embassy appointment. We originally thought that it would only be 4 to 6 weeks until we came back. But today, they told us that it might be more like 8 to 12 weeks before we can return because of Malachi’s medical special needs. The medical review conducted by the US embassy often takes longer for special needs kids apparently. Let’s just pray for a miracle.

As we drove away from the orphanage, Malachi sat under a tree and waved goodbye. “Chow! Chow!” he yelled. Then he began doing his bear crawl toward the car while smiling and yelling in Amharic, “I’m coming!” That’s more than a little bit heartbreaking. US embassy, please work quickly.

We then began our drive back to Addis so that we could be ready for court tomorrow. We stopped at Soodaree to see hot springs and feed some monkeys. When those monkeys see you have a banana, they swarm you. They’re worse than the seagulls at Clearwater beach.

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We stopped for lunch and then later checked into our hotel in Addis. We’ll leave for court tomorrow morning at 8:30am. When we’re done, we officially become a family of 4, Maddox loses only child status, and you see photos of Malachi (Ethiopian internet permitting). Hooray to all of those things!

Meeting Malachi

It was 13 hours of slow torture in the middle seat as we crossed the Atlantic ocean. We slept a couple of hours, but just couldn’t seem to get comfy. And my mind was racing.

After landing, it took us almost 2 hours to get an airport visa, then change money, then go through customs, then go through security. And then we found Semmey. He’ll be our guide for the next week, and we think he’s pretty great.

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Completely jetlagged, but running on adrenaline, we set out for Adama. Everyone knows Americans are spoiled rotten, but oh my, was it ever obvious on our drive to Adama as I snapped some photos out the window. Ethiopians are such beautiful people, and many of them lead lives of severe hardship. We’ve visited our share of underdeveloped countries before this, but you see it all through a different lens when you know your child lives among the poverty. We’ve seen lots of cargo-carrying donkeys, and horses, and goats. Many of the buildings are simply makeshift shacks built of sticks and sheets of scrap metal. Children roam the unpaved streets in tattered clothes and bare feet. Other children were tilling fields using livestock as machinery. Poverty is much more heartbreaking when your own child is one of its victims. Knowledge brings responsibility, and friends, may we all be compelled to do something about this.

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We stopped by the hotel to check in and quickly change clothes before heading to the orphanage. Unfortunately, I can’t show you pictures of our time at the orphanage just yet. Malachi legally becomes our child on Thursday at court, and I will be able to share them then.

At the orphanage, we walked up to an outdoor courtyard with open-air rooms surrounding us. And within minutes, Malachi was walking toward us with assistance. Yes! He was walking! The last videos we had seen of him were in November, and then, he could barely take a step. What a sweet surprise – a miracle, certainly.

I walked toward him. “Tadias.” (Amharic for Hello.) I reached out my hand and he reached for mine in return. We helped him down a few steps and the three of us sat down in the courtyard where the orphanage workers had arranged three chairs. He didn’t seem scared at all, just really curious. He was soaking it all in. The workers had told him we would be coming, and that we wanted him to become a part of our family. I can’t even begin to imagine what must have been going through his head. Nor can I imagine what all of the other children were thinking as they watched us play, likely hoping that their family might arrive soon too.

We handed him a Lightning McQueen puzzle. “Wanna play?” The three of us got down to business on that puzzle with Semmey sometimes chiming in with Amaharic to help. As the minutes moved forward, Malachi became even more comfortable and began jabbering at us in Amharic as though we could understand.

We shared a photo album we had created for him with pictures of our home, his room, Maddox, Mia, and other close family. He rubbed the photos on each page almost endearingly. He was enamored with his room. The kid absolutely loves cars. So how did I know to make cars and trucks the theme of his room? We’ll just call it a God thing, for sure.

The car obsession also means bringing five of Maddox’s matchbox cars was a great idea. We zoomed and zoomed those cars around the brick pavers in the orphanage courtyard. When we had to leave for lunch, Semmey told Malachi we would be back. Malachi said, “Bring some more cars when you come back.” Ah. Never before has an expression of American entitlement made me smile so big.

Malachi likes both of us, but he really really likes Mitch. Maybe it’s because he is so tall, or maybe because he wore a soccer jersey with his jeans today. Or maybe just because the kid already has a sense that Mitch really is the most wonderful dad ever. Whatever it was, my heart was happy watching those two play. We brought one of those big rubber band punching balloons to bat around. For not being able to walk without help, that kid sure can move. He does this super fast and super sweet bear crawl running thing. His ankles are rough and calloused from dragging them on the pavers, as it seems he is usually barefoot.

We were shocked at how well he does with English. We simply point to an object, say the English word, and he will immediately repeat it with the most precious accent you have ever heard. He knows his ABCs and can also write some English letters. He was sure to show off his skills. Videos to come later!

Oh happy day. I know we had many fears going into that first meeting, but now I can’t even remember what they all were. My heart is full.

Now to another favorite part of the day. In addition to all of the donations of clothes and diapers and hygiene products that we brought, many people had also given us cash to use toward helping the orphanage. We ended up with about $600 from friends, my work family, and the kids that attended Skycrest VBS. The orphanage has about 58 children and receives no government assistance. It is funded solely through donations.

Semmey told Selam, the orphanage director, that we would like to buy something that the orphanage really needed. She shared that what they needed most right now was a printer/copier/scanner. The orphanage has been operating all this time without one! Maybe this helps to explain why every document takes weeks to obtain. The adoption process is sometimes so highly inefficient because some of the offices involved do not have these basic necessities. The printer/copier/scanner would allow Selam to complete the necessary paperwork to accept new children into the orphanage and to complete the needed documents to facilitate adoptions that would take children out of the orphanage.

So in the afternoon, we drove with Selam and Semmey to a small, dim shop that sold every kind of appliance, including printers. And we used that money from our friends and family to buy the orphanage a mac daddy printer/copier/scanner. It was absolutely the perfect gift! Here’s to renewed efficiency in document preparation. Future adoptive families, you’re welcome. Love my generous friends.

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We went to bed super jet lagged, and I woke up four hours later unable to sleep. I arose to write and reflect on all of the day’s life-changing happenings. Back to bed with heart overflowing.

Takeoff Round 1

The last 6 days are a blur. Since that call on Monday, a beautiful flurry of activity has made us busy bees. I thought I was ready, but there were tons of little last minute to-dos to prepare us to cross the Atlantic. Malaria pills, medical authorizations, flight booking, travel insurance, donation packing, and on and on. And then my getting-ready time was cut short when my work trip to Baltimore became 2 days longer than expected.

So I landed in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, and the packing commenced. The suitcases were a hot mess, and so was our bedroom. When it came to clothes, we went with the bare minimum so we could have space for the important things. Puzzles, play dough, legos, and games to play with Malachi. And snacks. Lots of snacks. The Kuhns aren’t very adventurous with foreign foods. I’m prepared for forced weight loss, and if they have my pizza and mac & cheese staples available, I will be pleasantly surprised. The biggest packing debate was whether or not to tote my laptop. My life is in that laptop. My opinion prevailed, and it came along so I can feel like a whole person.IMG_6998

The suitcase situation gradually got better as Sunday departure day neared. We ended up with 4 overstuffed bags and 3 carry ons. Mitch and I packed super light, I swear. It’s the orphanage donations that make us look like hoarders. Thank you friends who gave so generously for supplies for Malachi’s orphanage. Can’t wait to introduce those precious kids to brand new clothes, socks, undies, and more.

T minus 18 hours to departure. This is what “I have so much to do” + “My whole life is about to radically change” looks like.

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We dropped Maddox off with Gigi and Papouli on Saturday evening. He was happy to go with them which made saying goodbye easier. But boy oh boy, I already miss that little guy. Let’s review his handsome face.

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Sunday morning, and it was time to load up and leave.

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A sweet friend gave us some airport blow money to fund Mitch’s coffee habit. Thank you Laurie Tarbox. You just enriched our marriage.

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So now we join you on Sunday morning via in-flight wi-fi on the first leg of our voyage.

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I’m blogging, and Mitch is having church.

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We’ll spend the evening in DC, and then depart for Addis tomorrow morning.

We’ll visit Malachi on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Thursday, we will have court, and Malachi will legally become our child. Oh beautiful day. On Friday we say goodbye. Ugly day. We then wait 4 to 6 weeks for the US embassy to process Malachi’s paperwork and prepare him to immigrate as a US citizen. Then, we’ll return to pick him up.

Adventure awaits.