Monday, June 10, 2013

Update on Feleke

I have been very busy with work, but I wanted to post a quick update in the form of a link to a recent story written about Feleke and our family.  Enjoy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Starting School

On September 4th, Feleke started school.  He is attending the Christian Montessori School of Ann Arbor.  It was one of the few schools in town that could accept a foreign student, and they seem happy to have him.  He is in what they call "upper elementary," which includes fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.  The teacher is fantastic.  She is smart, experienced, patient, and kind.  And she loves her students.  And the administration of the school has been very accommodating.  Despite all of that, Feleke is nervous.  The work is hard for him.  In part because he was in and out of hospitals for years, and in part because the Ethiopian schools in the remote rural areas are not very good, Feleke has not had much formal schooling.  So he has a long way to go.  But he is determined to learn, and has a lot of natural smarts.

Coincidentally, on September 5th, the Probate Judge signed the order declaring Ruth Ann and me to be Feleke's official guardians.  This will enable us to put him on our health insurance.  We sent in the form for that today.  Now, if he gets sick again or need another test, we don't have to ask the doctors to handle the case for free.

Here is a picture of Feleke before he left for his first day of school in the US.

Monday, August 13, 2012

To be continued

We had originally been scheduled to return from Ethiopia on August 12.  Because of the passport/visa nightmare, that did't work out.  Thomas made it home on the 16th.  Feleke and I didn't get back until the 18th.  The details of what happened between my last post, on the August 13, and August 18 are a blur.  I have contemporaneous notes and will write them up at some point.  The short version:  Thomas and I had to enlist the help of several amazing Ethiopians to help us navigate the Ethiopian immigration system and get Feleke a passport and me an exit visa.  (Somehow we were able to get Thomas out of the country without his having an exit visa.  I wouldn't recommend it.)  We obviously all made it home. So the story has a happy ending.

Police reports and passports

We head from the hotel to the American Embassy early Monday morning, as we were instructed to do by the Marines on duty at the Embassy over the weekend.  The rain is constant.  There is a reason they call this the rainy season in Ethiopia. As we walk up the road to the Embassy, I try to keep my backpack from getting soaked; it contains all of our important documents (copies of passports and such) as well as my ipad.  Thomas has a raging sinus infection and feels lousy.  He is ready to leave Ethiopia.  We were supposed to fly home last night, but that plan disappeared with our passports. The new plan is to send Thomas home Tuesday night, and Feleke and I will follow later in the week.  This is a big disappointment to Thomas.  He was more than ready to be home.  But he has adjusted his expectations and his doing his best to keep his spirits up. 

When we arrive at the Embassy, we are told, first, that they can talk to us only between the hours of 1pm and 3pm, as that is when they work with US citizens.  So, we will have to come back at 1.  They give us the paperwork we need to submit for Thomas's and my emergency passports, and the tell us to bring that back in the afternoon.  They also confirm that we will need to get the police report for the Ethiopian immigration department, as they will insist on such proof before issuing a new passport to Feleke.  And finally, they inform us that we should expect to get Feleke's replacement passport for several weeks, if we are lucky.  This is not what we wanted to here.

We leave the embassy discouraged, but determined to get the required police report. Our guide initially is Mesfin Hodes, one of Dr. Rick Hodes' sons. He is extremely helpful.  Being from Addis, he fully understands how the system there works, and he helps us find the Bole police station.  (Bole is the district of Addis where our hotel is located and where we lost the passports.  We were told over the weekend that that is where we must file the initial police report.)  Calling the Bole station a "station" is an exaggeration.  It consists of four or five small single-story ramshackle buildings, surrounded by a tall wall that has a large gate which opens onto an alley.  We arrive, like everyone else, by way of that alley and through that gate.  Mesfin takes the lead, which makes sense given our inability to speak Amharic.  And he explains our situation to the officers.  They send us back into the alley and across the street to a building made of mud. Here we are supposed to get the  initial draft of the police report writen.  We are greeted in the doorway of the shack by a little girl (maybe 7 years old) who goes and get a man dressed in jeans and a casual shirt and who is eating a piece of bread.  When Mesfin explains to the guy that we are there to get a police report, the man puts down his bread and finds a pad of lines paper and a pencil.  He sits down and writes on his lap as Mesfin recounts our story.  The man writes in Amharic.

Here is a picture of Mesfin kneeling to give our statement to the man who is writing it down.  Thomas, seated, is incredulous at this point that this is how the legal process in Ethiopia works.  Feleke looks pretty serious as well.

We take the finished first draft from this guy and walk back into the police station where Mesfin gives the paper to an older gentleman who is dressed in a police uniform and seems to be someone in charge.  (We had to wait in line to get to see him.)  He reads the draft, writes a shorter version of it on an official looking form, again in Amharic, stamps the form, and then sends us to another building in same police compound, where they again read the report and stamp it.  

To this point, we have been traveling by cab, but we decide to get a driver.  So I call my former student and friend Taddese, who agrees to come pick us up.  This is an enormous imposition on him, but he seems to want to help, and we are not in a position to turn down assistance.  Taddese says he will pick us up on the corner near the Bole police station.  As we wait for him, we draw a crowd of curious onlookers. They are especially interested in Thomas, who is 6 4 with blue eyes.  People walk up and try to touch him, which makes me nervous.  He seems not to notice.  

After Taddese picks us up, we swing by and get passport photos made.  This takes us out of our way, but it has to be done.  Then we head to the main police headquarters in downtown Addis.  It is a huge new building, but it is not finished.  There are many empty rooms, and there are large holes in the ground all around the building.  The elevator is just an open shaft, a trap for the unwary.  I guess in Ethiopia, you don't wait for the building to be finished to start using it.  

Taddese takes charge of these discussions, as he is not only a native but also a (Michigan trained) lawyer. We follow him up stairs to fourth floor, to the end of the hall, where he talks to several officers.  There is lots of Amharic back and forth.  Taddese looks exasperated.  He then comes back to tell us what the officer told him.   That the police report failed to mention that we had lost not only our passports but also our visas.  We are all certain that we told the first guy, and the older officer, that are  passports and our visas had been stolen.  But apparently they hadn't written it down.  The police say we have to go back and get them to amend the report.  There is no other way. 

At this point it is around 12:15.  We decide to fill out the forms requesting new emergency passports for Thomas an me then we will go to get the policy report revised at the Bole station. So we go to a coffee shop near the embassy and Thomas and I fill out the paperwork, while feleke plays games on the ipad and taddese and mesfin watch tv and sip tea.  We finish up around 1 and head back to the us embassy.  We are planning to drop off the paperwork so they can work up the new passports and then we will head out to get the corrected police report. taddese drops us off at the door.  We go through to the US consular window.  After we give them our paperwork, they say that they too will need a copy of the police report to be able to Thomas's and my replacement passports.  I ask them why they need the police report.  After all, the Ethiopian police will simply write down what I tell them. Why can't I just give someone in the embassy my sworn statement in English?  Isn't that just as reliable?  They don't want to talk about it.  Just get the police report and the new photos, and get back to the embassy before 3pm.

We leave the embassy and walk to silently to Taddese's car.  There is no way we will get all of this done by 3pm.  We have to cross town, get the report corrected, take it back to the main police station to get them to approve the final draft of the report, and then get back to the embassy in less than two hours. It can't be done. And given the attitude of the embassy staff, it may not get done tomorrow either.  Thomas is crushed.  He desperately wants to leave tomorrow (Tuesday).  As we start driving back to the Bole police station to get the corrected paperwork, I call Ruth Ann on my cell and wake her.  It is 6:30 in the morning back in Ann Arbor.  I tell her that, although we'd been trying to play this thing straight, like any other American citizen who walked through the door of the embassy, we were at a point now where we needed to call in some help.  So I told her to call or email or facebook anyone we knew with any connections in the federal government and gave them contact the US embassy in Ethiopia.  And she did.  She contacted a good friend of ours who used to work in the State Department; she called our US Senator's office; she even contacted my colleague at the Law School who is running for Michigan Supreme Court Justice (and who is very well connected politically) my other colleague and good friend (who happens to be married to the Michigan Supreme Court candidate and who happens to work in the White House),  to see if they could help.  Please, we ask, just somehow get word to the US embassy in Addis that we need them to give a damn, if only for a few hours.  At the very least, we need them to stay open longer than 2 hours to receive our paperwork and work on our passports.

We finally get back to the Bole police station, where, after much arguing on our behalf by Taddese, we get the needed language added to the report and the needed official stamp, and we head back to the main station to get the final report approved. There we end up there in front of another police officer, this time a woman who seems to be very high in the organization.  There is an argument between her and Taddese. And Taddese almost loses his cool.  I gather there is something else wrong with the paperwork.  He pleads with the woman in Amharic.  She pauses, looks at us, and writes something on the report, stamps it, and then sends us on our way.  Taddese thanks her repeatedly, and nudges us to do the same.  And we leave quickly.  Taddese later tells us that apparently another word had been left of the revised report (the word "American" next to our names) and that the woman was thinking of sending us all back to the Bole police station AGAIN to have them write that one word on the report and then to restamp the paperwork AGAIN there before sending us back to headquarters for further review.  But somehow taddese talked her out of it.  He persuaded her somehow that made more sense for them simply to write the word "American" themselves on the report, which she did.

Thomas then tells me that, while we were in the main police station, when taddese and I had been meeting with the police boss, Thomas had fielded a call from the US embassy.  Someone there, a woman named Tsion, was calling to say that they had decided to remain open longer than 3pm, but that we needed (a) to get the police report translated from amharic into english and (b) that the passport photos we had brought before were too small-they needed to be a bit larger.  This is how they help us? I am exhausted at this point, and Taddese sort of takes over.  Don't know what we would have done without him.

He drives us to a place where there are official translation services.  We park and go in.  Two very young women who are at computer terminals tell us it will take them 30 minutes to do the translation.  Taddes says, okay, leaves the report with them, and say, let's look for a new photo place nearby, kill two birds with one stone.  hHe finds one for us.  At this point, I call embassy, and i basically tell them that what they have asked us to do will  put us around 5:00 or so getting there.  She says that is okay. Obviously someone important has gotten through to them.  I can tell from her tone and from her answers, Tsion is fully on our side.  I begin to calm down a little.  But the translators are taking forever, and the silliness of having these folks translate this Amharic report into English it is hard to ignore. Pluse, the guy doing the actual translating, for the young women to type, barely speaks English.  Taddese has to constantly correct his grammar and facts in the story.

Finally, we go back to the embassy and we are the only people there, other than a few guards and one or two lingering staff members.  Tsion takes our paperwork and genuinely seems concerned about is.  She does most of the paperwork herself.  She does our passports right there.  We have them in less than 30 minutes after we turn in our stuff.  Finally, a little success.

But tomorrow will be the the hard part.  We need to get a new Ethiopian passport for feleke and then new US visa for him.  The people in the Ethiopian immigration will not be moved by any US Senator or anyone else from the States.  Also, the US embassy tells us that Thomas and I will need to get exit visas from the Ethiopian immigration office to be able to leave the country.  One piece of really good news that we receive at this point is that Felek's the father, Biru, will actually be here tomorrow morning to accompany us to the immigration office.  it is conceivable, then, that we will be able to get things done tomorrow.  We have been told that even ricks patients rarely get their passports faster than 3 days, but it is at least conceivable with Biru there. We have a flight tomorrow night.  Maybe we will be on it.  On the other hand, maybe Feleke won't.  What if Feleke's passport takes too long or they refuse? 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Logistical catastrophe

What follows is a series of posts about our last days in Ethiopia.  They were written after we returned to the States but are based on handwritten notes that I took at the time.


The drive back from Dafe Jema was less pleasant than the drive there.  First, the traffic was horrendous.  In places the road was completely blocked by the bottleneck of trucks and cars and goats, all trying to cross the same small bridge.  Second, Thomas was experiencing the worst allergic reaction I had ever seen.  It started on the horse ride back to the car, when Thomas's nose started running like a faucet.  By the time we reached the car, his eyes were red and teary, and he had broken out in hives. We called Dr. Rick from  the road, and he suggested, in addition to benadryl, that we give him 40 mg of Prednisone, which we did.  (Thanks to Mohammed and Fosia, our friends from Ann Arbor who were visiting in Adama and were able to get us the medication.)  The medicine helped, but Thomas was miserable the whole ride back to Addis.

When we arrived back at the hotel in Addis, we all were exhausted. Shimeless pulled the Land Cruiser up to the front door, and we piled out, as the doormen tried to help us with our gear.  Shimeless was especially tired. He had just driven to and from the village, through some of the worst traffic I have ever seen, and he road almost three hours on horseback.  To top it off, being the busy academic, he still had several hours of work to complete at his office, so our goodbyes were brief. When the rest of got inside the hotel lobby, Thomas and Feleke collapsed into some chairs, while Million walked over to the desk to arrange for our room. We had been planning to stay in Adama that night, but our plans had changed, so we needed to make sure our hotel had a room for the night. I went with Million to the front desk so that I could pay for the room. I unzipped by money belt to remove my credit card. Million, seeing me do this, waved me off, saying that he would cover it, and I could pay him later.

This was fine with me, so I put my credit card back in the money belt, which is where I was keeping my cash and our passports, and we headed up to our room. The hotel gave us the same room we had been staying in.  However, since we now had Feleke with us, they sent up three women to bring a mattress prepare a bed for him.  They were in the room for maybe ten minutes.  We were in the room with them at the same time, the boys watching TV and me ordering food from room service.  Fifteen minutes after the women left, a young man arrived with our meals, which we inhaled.  We then went to bed.

The next morning, as we were getting ready to go to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, I looked for my money belt on my bedside table, where I had placed it every night since the trip began. The money belt was not there.  After searching the room two or three times myself, I then tell Thomas and Feleke to help me. Together we basically destroy the room, several times, the first time in a sort of frenzied panic with with no particular plan of attack, but then more systematically, dividing the room into small sections that we checked off as we covered.  Nothing. Although I remembered having the belt in the lobby (and thought I remembered having it in the room the night before), maybe it had fallen out in Shimeless's car.  We called him just in case.  He checked his care and found nothing.  We called the hotel desk and explained the situation.  They were alarmed.  One of the women at the front desk actually remembered seeing me with the money belt the night before (she was able to describe it), so it definitely made it back into the hotel.  But where was it?  The folks at the front desk immediately had security question the three women who had come to our room as well as the young room-service guy. They all, of course, denied seeing the money belt.  I then asked the hotel to question the folks working in the lobby that night, on the off chance they had seen who picked it up.  Nothing.

We then called Million, who remembered my having the belt in the hotel lobby.  He came over and helped us scour the room again.  He was convinced that someone in the hotel had taken it, and he tried threatening the hotel (with bad publicity, I guess) and then reasoning with them.  He finally persuaded the hotel to tell the staff to get the word out--that if anyone were to return the missing passports and visas, there would be no questions asked.  That didn't work either.  Presumably whoever took the belt, from wherever it was left, decided that, even though they could not make use of the passports, it would be too risky to try to return them.

Because my credit cards were also missing, I tried calling my bank to cancel the cards.  That turned out not to be so easy, because the phone number for the lost-card department was not toll free, at least not from Ethiopia. And the call quickly ate up the prepaid minutes on my rented cell phone.  Using the bank's website was tough too, since, for some reason, the Internet at the hotel had become very unreliable.  My consoling hope was that the thieves, or whoever found the money belt, would not be able to use the credit cards.  One of the benefits of losing your credit card in a country like Ethiopia is that credit cards are not taken in very few places.  That is normally not a convenient fact about the place.  Now it was.

By mid morning, we head over to Dr. Rick's house to see what he suggests.  His main passport guy, Berhanu, the person who gets the passports and visas for all of Dr. Rick's patients who get sent to other countries for surgery, was not optimistic about our chances of getting Feleke's passport any time soon.  Also, he said that we would have no chance of getting a new passport for Feleke without his father's presence, which would mean we'd have to word to Biru back in Dafe Jema that he was needed in Addis.  Biru, of course, has no independent means of transportation, but would have to rely on buses to get him there, buses that are notoriously unreliable.  It was Saturday morning, and we had a flight home the next night.  Berhanu said that there was no way we would make that flight.  Berhanu also said that we would not be able to get anything--new passports or visas for us or Feleke--unless we first got police reports recounting the lose/theft of the items.  Luckily, we had photo copies of all of the lost items.  That should help us, but we would need to reschedule our flights. Our friend Senait, a doctor in Ann Arbor who travels often to Ethiopia and who happened to be in Addis at the time, helped us change our flights to Tuesday, thinking that might give us enough time.

We decided to get started on the police report, but we needed a translator.  One of Dr. Rick's adopted sons, Mesfin, who is now a US citizen but was back home visiting Addis at the time, agreed to go with us.  So we walked to the nearest police station to make our report.  In the ensuing hours, we were sent to three different stations, each one saying that the other one was responsible for taking our report. After doing a complete circle and ending up at the station where we started, someone finally told us what we later learned to be the cold hard truth:  Unless you were be robbed or attacked, or robbing or attacking someone, and maybe not even then, the Ethiopian police department did not want to see you on the weekend.  Monday morning first thing would be the time to file the police report.  That was frustrating, but we took it in stride.  We would regroup and start back on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, my efforts to reach the US embassy had to that point been equally unfruitful.  I had succeeded only in reaching a young marine who told me I was out of luck, and to have a nice day.  But I did finally get through to someone slightly higher up in the hierarchy, the "duty officer," and that person told me that I should come to the embassy first thing Monday morning at 8am and someone there would help us.  Cool.  So we took Sunday to rest and regroup, waiting for the big day on Monday.  We were disappointed not to be flying home on Sunday as originally planned, but we were feeling pretty good about our chances of getting out by Tuesday.  I had confidence at the time that the US embassy should be able to issue thomas's and my passports quickly, and the visa for Feleke should not be a big problem, since we had a copy of the old one.  But I had a nagging worry about getting Feleke a new Ethiopian passport.  That could easily become a serious issue.  They could say no.  And how would we get his father there in time to help us by Tuesday?  We left messages with his brothers, but they had not called us back.  What if feleke's passport takes weeks?  I can't stay in Ethiopia that long.  My classes were to begin in a couple of weeks. Plus Thomas is really ready to get back home.  Ever since the allergy attack, his sinuses were killing him, and he was not feeling well.  The though of a delayed return was not appealing.

That night, we were able to connect to the internet briefly, and we learned from facebook that word of our trouble had spread.  There were many expressions of concern.  People praying for us.  That night we talked several times to our friends in Ethiopia--Senait, Shimeless, and Taddese.  They gave us words of encouragement, but seemed very worried.  I was not able to sleep that night, and we had to be up early to be first in line at the embassy.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Problems getting home

If you are new to the blog, you might want to start at the beginning and work your way forward.


We made it safely back from Dafe Jema to Adama. It was an amazing, entirely peaceful, and, as best we could tell, safe experience.  We did not encounter any Islamic extremists.  To the contrary, twice during the trip we were helped out of tight spots by incredibly generous Ethiopian Muslims. First, when we got our Toyota Land cruiser stuck in the mud, a group of Muslim men and boys who live near dafe jema helped get us unstuck. Then, we were helped again when our friends from Ann Arbor who were visiting family in Adama provided us with medication that Thomas needed for his allergy atack.  (Turns out Thomas is allergic to horses, which we learned after he road on horseback for an hour to and from Dafe Jema.)

On the whole, despite the above-mentioned minor hiccups, it was an absolutely fantastic and unforgettable experience.  The family was honored and pleased that we had made the effort to come. But they were mostly grateful for the help that has been given to Feleke.  Obviously, there have been many people along the way that have helped Feleke to get well, and we have been only a small part  But since we were the only ones there in Dafe Jema, we got to experience all of the family's concentrated gratitute.  And the beauty of the location--what is essentially Feleke's backyard--is impossibly beautiful.  

I will have more to write about the trip to the village, more details and  lots of pictures. But a full post on the Dafe Jema visit will have to wait. We have been distracted by what I would call a minor logistical catastrope.  Our passports, money, and credit cards seem to have been stolen from our room.  How?  And why do I say "seem"?  Good questions.  We don't know exactly how, but the evidence points to hotel staff.  When we returned from Dafe Jema, I had all of the aforementioned items safely tucked in my money belt, which I remember having in the lobby of the hotel last night--a fact that is also confirmed by several witnesses, including a hotel employee.  I remember setting it on my bedside table when I got into our room last night.  Then we had room service and several housekeepers came in to make feleke's bed.  I didn't notice it was missing until this morning.  I say "seem" because there are no witnesses to the crime, if there even was one.

We turned the room upside down looking for the money belt, and we repeated the procedure at least five times.  Then we had friends of ours here do the same thing.  Nothing.  We inquired at the hotel, and they said nothing was turned in.  They are in the process of questioning the staff.  We are not hopeful, however.  If the staff took it, they will not admit it, because doing so would mean losing their jobs.  

What does all this mean for our flight tomorrow? It means that, unless the passports turn up in the next 12 hours or so, we will not be on that flight.  We will be able to get new passports and visas, because my brilliant wife thought to make copies of all of the original documents and to store them in my suitcase.  But we cannot get them before Monday at the earliest.  I called the US embassy here and they are closed on the weekend.  The emergency number of the website for the American embassy here got me to a young Marine who guards the door.  He tried another number he had, but it didnt work.  He then said, firmly but politely:  Sir, I think you'd best hunker down till Monday and try again then.  And try to have a good day.  That's what he said. I guess a US citizen who loses his passport is not an emergency.  If we had been kidnapped by terrorists, they probably would have called the ambassador's cell, but not for this.  Fair enough.  So we start on Monday.  

My biggest concern is replacing Feleke's passport and visa.  We have copies of those as well, but they may work more slowly than the US embassy. If my experience so far with the Addis police is any indication, they will be very slow.  Maybe the US embassy will be able to help speed things up.

In the mean time, we are stuck in Addis trying to make the best of things.  One of Dr. Rick's sons, Mesfin, has been helping us today.  And he suggested that maybe God had a reason for keeping us here a few extra days.  Maybe he's right.  We just have to see what that is--as we continue to look for our old passports and apply for new ones.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

The celebration

After riding for over an hour on small but well adorned horses, led by Feleke's brothers Simee and Derege, we finally made it to the village of Dafe Jema. Our group included my son Thomas, our friend and translator Million, and our driver (and world traveling geophysicist) Shimeless. Near the end of the horse ride, I actually began to recognize landmarks from the pictures Steven Weinberg had taken during his visit earlier in the year. And as we turned the corner at the top of the plateau, we could see Feleke's house several hundred yeards in the distance, encircled by that same fence we saw on Google Earth a few months before. And there, in the middle of everything, was the honey tree.

Even from that distance Feleke could be identified among the ten or fifteen people loitering around the outside of the main house.  He was wearing his bright blue "Angry Birds" t-shirt, the one he had picked out before leaving Ann Arbor.  When he saw us rounding the corner, he strolled over to meet us with a big smile on his face.  It was the perfect greeting given the situation.  He was in an awkward position.  He was leaving his family to come to the United States to live with a bunch of Americans.  He was  happy to see us, content to be coming back to the United States, and pleased that we would finally meet his Ethiopian family.  But he was also sad to be leaving his home and his family, and he was sensitive to their feelings.  Throughout the day, and in the days to come, I was impressed by  his ability to manage the interaction between us and them. He struck exactly the right balance between host and son and sibling and ambassador.

For one example, when we arrived in the village, Feleke's father offered Thomas a beer. I should say that, although Thomas only recently turned 16, his over 6'4" tall.  Before I could say a work, Feleke spoke a few words of Amharic quietly to his father, and his father took the beer away.  Shimeless overheard that conversation and then looked over at me. "Feleke is a very smart boy. He just said to his father:  Don't let Thomas's height deceive you.  He is a boy."  Well put.

Inside the main house, the family had prepared a seat of honor for us, a place where we could sit while we received guests.  It was a bench inside their new house, a house that was still under construction and was at least partially funded with some of the money that had been sent earlier in the year to help replace the oxen.  On that bench they had spread a couple of blankets, including the University of Michigan blanket that Susan Weinberg (Steven's mom) had given to Feleke.  Once we had taken our seats, they  brought in food to go along with the beer.  It was "doro wat," a spicy Ethiopian dish made with chicken.  Thomas and I agreed it was the best doro wat we had ever tasted, and over the last seven months we have had some good doro wat.  The dish was also special because the family happened to be fasting at the time of our visit and therefore could not eat meat. So, as we ate plate after plate of doro wat (they kept refilling our plates), they sat and ate shiro wat, which is made of a sort of chick pea paste, along with onions and lots of Ethiopian spices.

This is the new house.  Not yet finished, but this is where they entertained us.This picture allows us to see how these structures are built--first wooden poles and roof, then mud on the outside.

The seat of honor.

Me and Biru.  The two dads, with the honey tree in the background to the left.

Me with Kibinish and Bayush.

Million, me, Thomas, and Shimeless chowing down on some doro wat.

Thomas showing Addisu how the Ipad works.  Feleke with brother Derege and a friend of the family.

After eating, we handed out gifts.  Feleke had brought with him two suitcases full of clothes for the family and their friends, all of which he had distributed the week before, when he had first arrived in Dafe Jema.  Thomas and I brought only a few more items. Michigan t-shirts for the brothers. Colorful and soft t-shirts from Target for the girls.  We also brought a soccer ball and a solar powered radio for the family, along with a bunch of little drawstring backpacks, donated by friends in the US, for all of the children in the family and village.  They were all pleased to receive their gifts.

Another part of the event was the taking of pictures.  Everyone seemed honored to meet us, and even more honored to have a photograph taken with us, even though they knew they most likely would never see the pictures again.  So we took lots of pictures with various combinations of us and them.

The whole crew.  Big family.

We also took care of some business.  Back in the States, Ruth Ann and I were in the middle of the guardianship process in the Washtenaw County Probate Court, and we were expecting to meet soon with the Probate Judge to request a formal decision giving us full legal guardianship. Feleke's family had already told us that this is what they wanted, and the process was going smoothly.  The one document we lacked, and which the court had told us to get, was something signed by the mom saying that she wanted us to be named guardians of Feleke and that she understood that she was waiving her rights to appear in the Washtenaw County courthouse to address the guardianship question. All of our documents had been signed by Biru, but nothing had been signed by Elfinish, the mom.  After explaining the nature of the document to her, and watching her nod her head and say yes in Oromifa, we inked her finger and had her make her mark on the document.
Million helps Elfinish make her mark on the document for the Michigan court.

Elfinish, at least that's the best English rendering I can muster of what they tell me her name is, seemed a little healthier to me in person than she had in pictures I'd seen.  But still she did not look well.  And Feleke is worried about her.  She complains of various pains in her neck and throat and sometimes in her chest.  Feleke got his father to promise that, if we would pay the transportation and medical costs, he would take Elfinish in for a medical exam. Later in the week, after we got back to Addis, I called our friend whose father owns a private hospital in Adama, and she agreed to facilitate this.  She will pay for the exam, and then I can reimburse her.  Elfinish has given birth to and raised eleven children, including Feleke.  She deserves a good medical exam.

Mama grinds the coffee.  Emebet minds the coffee pot over the coals.  Kibinish and Bayush looking on.

During our visit in Dafe Jema, I also was able  to spend some time with Biru, who went to great lengths both to thank us and to express how happy they were that Feleke was living with us.  He said several times that Feleke was now ours, that we should raise him as American.  Elfinish concurred with this, again with nods and words in Oromo.  Biru also thanked us repeatedly for making the long journey and said that he would be happy to see us again sometime, but that we shouldn't feel obligated to make regular trips to Ethiopia. He understood that the cost of getting there was very high.  He also toasted us a couple of times with the local wine, at least I think those were toasts.  Glasses were raised; wine and beer were drunk.  The oldest brother, Simee (the police officer), occasionally made eye contact with me and nodded.  I know he doesn't speak English, but it was if he was communicating with me nonverbally in English--saying something like: "I know all of this is kind of crazy.  It's crazy to us too.  But it's all going to be okay." Maybe that's just what I wanted him to be saying.

The two dads after a couple of beers.

Our original plan had been to spend the night in Dafe Jema.  That would have given us time to visit Feleke's school and his favorite hangouts.  But our driver needed to get back to Addis, so our visit could last no longer than a couple of hours. Therefore, after lunch and coffee, we told Feleke to retrieve his backpack and whatever he was taking back with him and get ready to go.  He actually left most of what he had brought to the village, including most of his clothes, and his new watch, which he gave to one of his sisters.  Saying goodbye was very difficult and emotional for everyone. It was especially hard for Feleke and his sisters.  Bayush, Kibinish, and Emebet were all in tears. Feleke was close to tears, and may have cried some though it was hard to tell. He kept his composure, though he seemed deeply sad.  I asked him again, are you sure you want to go with us.  And he nodded, yes.

Sad picture.  Feleke has just said goodbye to his sisters. In the process he must have given his new watch to Bayush.

Mounting up for the ride to the car.

Feleke's brothers helped him up on a horse, and then they led our group--Thomas,Shimeless, Million, and me--back down the hill and across the fields, back along the narrow path leading away from Dafe Jema.  This time Biru went with us, and he led us straight through the river on our horses, who did not seem to care that the water was up to their haunches.  They led us all the way back to our car, and said goodbye.  As we got into the car to drive away, Biru mounted the horse I had been riding and gestured for us to take his picture.  I think he realized this would be a picture that Feleke would someday treasure--his father on a horse, dignified and in charge, almost majestic.  We pulled away and headed back to Addis.