Monday, April 19, 2010

Home Sweet Home! (Lots of pictures!)

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of. Blaise Pascal

Well, it's been awhile. The combination of unreliable Internet in Rwanda, non-existent Internet in Ethiopia and utter, complete exhaustion, have kept me from being able to post. I apologize to those of you who have been so faithful in your prayers for us; I have been remiss in updating you. So, I will attempt to give you an idea of the last few weeks and the completion of our adoption trip abroad. For starters, I opened this post with a quote from Blaise Pascal, who happens to be the person whose name inspired our son's name: Blaise Christopher Mugisha Pawlak. We decided to keep the portion of his name that was Rwandan--"Mugisha", which means blessing.

When I last posted I was waiting for the travel letter which would allow Blaise to stay with me full time. In the effort of full honesty for future adoptive families; I will say that I think I probably could have pushed a little harder and gotten the letter for the weekend, but I'm not sure I was confident I was ready. However, by the time the next week rolled around, I felt that the letter was being unnecessarily delayed as I had known Blaise for over a week at that time. So, I politely requested that I be allowed to wait for the letter instead coming back that afternoon. I explained that Blaise needed his Yellow Fever vaccination and I didn't feel comfortable taking him back to the orphanage after that shot since it could make him ill. And I explained that unlike the benefit of families giving a child a day or two to adjust before taking them for good, the confusion of going back at night for such a long time was beginning to have a marked affect on Blaise. Finally, when she asked me if I got the passport yet, I was able to remind her that I couldn't get the passport without getting the letter from them. Thankfully, I then had the letter in a matter of minutes. ***To future families: Please understand this, I am in NO WAY advocating strong-arming your way around MIGEPROF. They are very busy and very kind-hearted. Our case was the exception so far. We waited much longer for our referral than other families; I waited MUCH longer than other families for the travel document, etc. We were beyond blessed with the speed in which our case made it through the court, the embassy, and immigration. We just managed to be on the slow track a couple times at MIGEPROF. Here are some photos of my first day with Blaise.

So anyway, let me back up a little. We went to file for Blaise's passport at Rwandan immigration on Monday where they informed us that they wanted originals of everything. Peter said that before they had only required notarized copies. So, we had to come back Tuesday and file everything. Then I went to the US embassy to file everything I had and to speak with the consular about how to handle the fact that they were closed on Good Friday which was when I needed to file the passport. The US Consular, Jeanne??, was so helpful and so accommodating. She agreed to process the paperwork on Thursday which is not a US Citizen service day and even provided a letter for me to show to the passport office so that I could exert pressure to get the passport in only 2 days instead of 6. So, on Wednesday, after I thankfully got the travel letter, we returned to the passport office to add the travel document and embassy letter to our file. At this time another family I met was also filing their paperwork and asking that their passport be ready in 1 day so that they could also go to the embassy on Thursday. They had the gift of being a little more assertive than me--Thank you Heidi and Dave!--so I was able to "ride their coattails." I waited until they got their passport on Thursday morning and then calmly asked where mine was. I was told to come back that afternoon; to which I still politely, but slightly more forcefully, explained that that was not possible as I filed my papers before the last family and had the same appointments to keep. I got it in 20 minutes. I was proud of myself because I was also alone at this time with Blaise since Peter had to be out of the city that day. Desperation tends to embolden you. Overall, I will say that the Rwandan Immigration office was the most efficient place I saw in all of Africa outside of the US embassies.

From here I was able to make it to the embassy where everything went very well. At this juncture, Chris and I had to decide whether I was going to leave for Addis to process the Immigrant Visa right away and meet him there, after which we'd return to Rwanda for him to visit. Or, whether he and Brooks should come directly to Rwanda and then we'd all proceed to Addis after a few days in Rwanda. Though this was simpler, it made me nervous because if all didn't go well in Addis, Chris would have to leave to return to work and I'd be alone again. But, the airline made the choice for us as I couldn't get Blaise in a flight to Addis until the next week so we waited for them to join us.

We spent Blaise's first Easter at the church where Don Schulz is a missionary, whose wife Leia, runs the guest house out of their home where I stayed. (Sorry about that sentence I know it's bad and don't have the energy to fix it--you get it right?) Anyway, Easter was great with Baptism and Communion. I made plenty of little friends who would come up and rattle off "How are you? Fine, thank you. What a nice day. Thank you, teacher." Every now and then I'd feel little hands in my hair. It was a fun experience.

I'll pause here to tell you that the Beth Shalom was a wonderful place to stay. To some it seems too far away from the orphanage and town, but really Kigali is such a small city that it isn't much of a drive in. Also, her rates are so reasonable that you still come out ahead after you pay for cars. Leia fixes a great breakfast and for lunch and dinner you have a Bourbon Coffee, a Chinese restaurant, and an Italian place within walking distance. You are also supporting her work with the people of her congregation whom she trains and then helps secure positions for with other households. Leia is helpful and full of resources; she is eager and ready to host future adoptive families. Her website is:

Moving along, about the time I couldn't wait another second, Chris and Brooks arrived on Monday afternoon. Don, from the guest house, and Peter, were along to photograph. It was a great first meeting and the first thing Brooks did in the car was to take Blaise's hand and show him how to do "Hook 'Em Horns." We stopped back at the guest house where we met up with our new friend, Mark, an American who lives in Rwanda with his Rwandese wife. He had been so generous to Blaise and I,taking us to lunch and shopping. He came load his truck with supplies for the orphanage. Thanks to all of you who sent money and goods for the orphanage. Aside from the items we brought with us: school supplies, tooth paste/brushes, baby dolls, soccer balls, hot wheels, toys, hopper balls, mega blocks, etc, we were also able to use money to buy medication, maize and bread flower, bath soap,detergent, powdered milk, and more. Leia helped me shop at the bulk market and then went with us to deliver it all.

Blaise and I with Mark at lunch after an afternoon shopping.

The brothers meeting & Daddy meeting Blaise

Brooks teaching Blaise the most important things in life.

Our first family picture and posing with supplies for the orphanage.

The nuns were kind enough to allow us to tour the entire orphanage and see the children's and adults' areas. I think that it was good that Chris and Brooks were able to come see the orphanage and see where Blaise as spent his first years. After that, we went as a family with Peter to see where Blaise was found. Like most adoptive families, this is a story we share only with our close family--it is something very personal for Blaise to know when he is older. But, suffice it to say we know very little and we do not know anything of his biological family. We're all he's got!
No rest for the weary--the next morning at 5:00 am we set off for Akagera to do a game drive. It was really a fun experience; I think I can let the pictures speak for this part.

As Wednesday was Genocide Memorial day,we felt that it would be appropriate for us to head out of Kigali, and most of our American friends agreed that it would be a good time to be away from the city. So, we took the only bus of the day at 6:00 am and headed to Gisenyi on Lake Kivu. **Note: In a country where EVERYTHING is late, we found it very odd that our buses all left 15-20 minutes early before they were full; as did our flight out of Kigali. So, be EARLY for buses!** Now, this was no ordinary bus ride, it was packed with every possible seat taken and all our bags resting at our feet. For 3.5 hours, we held on for dear life as the bus took narrow mountain passes on two wheels and dodged livestock, children, etc.
When we finally arrived, our car was made to stop on the side of the road as people gathered from villages to walk to their memorial site. After over an hour of waiting, during which we tried to keep the children and ourselves respectful of the situation, we made it to the Paradis hotel. Again, the pictures can speak for themselves. We took a boat ride to the hotel's private island and our guide led us on a walk to some hot springs. It was a beautiful retreat. Where else can you see tropical wildlife and flowers, hot springs, volcanoes, etc from your own private hut yards from a beach. The dinner, while it took 1.5 hours to get was delicious. It was worth the drive and almost kept us in good spirits the entire way home when the bus drive made the first one seem roomy and slow. It was a learning experience: A year ago, I don't thnk either Chris or I would have been able to relax when we sat literally a stone's throw to the Congo and a steaming volcano!

Waiting for dinner wasn't so bad when we had this view!

This chameleon had amazing colors!

The hotel's private island and the boat that took us there.

Flowers of Lake Kivu!

Outside our hut.

At the beach and by the hot springs

In matching PJ's

On the bus

When we got back to Kigali, we did some last minute shopping and had a great lunch at Afrika Bite with our American and Rwandan friend including Richard Masozera who is the brother of the Chief Primary Care at the VA Hospital where Chris works--small world huh?

Richard, Leia, Me, Brooks, Blaise, Chris, Peter

So, it was now onto Ethiopia. I was particulary unexcited about this portion of our journey, because of my previous experience in Addis, but Chris had a better experience on his layover and so he was more optimistic. However, we were both very nervous about the situation regarding getting an entry visa for Blaise. Technically, Rwandans are not elligible for point-of-entry tourist visas into Ethiopia as Americans are. However, months ago, I had read on the Ethiopian Immigration Authority website that they can grant exceptions if you write in advance. So, I emailed them a letter twice and faxed a letter twice. Though I got no answer, I hoped I had done enough to persude them to let us in. At fist, the supervisor informed us that the 3 of us (Americans) could stay but that Blasie would have to go back. We showed him the letter and the text from their website which he had apparently never seen nor did he understand the wording, but eventually he came back and said that because of that letter he would give us the visa.

A very happy Mommy to be getting on the plane in Rwanda--the boys wore their big brother/little brother shirts.

From there we were met by the Ethiopia Guest House where we were to stay for the next 8 days. The staff there was just wonderful and the room was spacious. My only word of caution would be that it is very far out of town, so if you don't have an agency shuttling you around all the time drivers can get expensive. But, it was a wonderful place to have room to play in with the boys and we were able to take any meals we wanted there so we weren't faced with going to look for food.

On the balcony at the Ethiopian Guest House

While in Ethiopia, our adoption related tasks went very smoothly after an initial scare. We showed up at the embassy on Friday to get the piece of paper we needed to complete our medical exam and saw a piece of paper taped to the window stating the embassy would be closed from the following Tuesday to Friday. Being as these were the exact days we needed them to conduct our interview and process our visa, we were a bit concerned. However, the embassy personnel were so helpful, I explained the situation, told them I had checked their web page to make sure there weren't any holidays before we came and threw myself on their mercy. They took everything we had at the time and agreed to come in on Wednesday to do our interview. They said barring any technical/sercurity issues we would have the visa Friday. So, we went for our medical exam/tb test Friday; had the results read Monday (where they marked them urgent and had them driven over to the embassy that afternoon); and came back to the embassy on Wednesday. Then, the good part--they gave us the Visa 30 minutes after the interview! Our experiences with the US Embassies in Kigali and Addis were very positive.

So, onto some of our experiences in Addis. We were forunate to be able to meet the family of Suzani, the Ethiopian wife of one of my dad's good friends, Gary. They took us to see Addis including a school where Brooks got the rock star treatment; a bar/pizza restaraunt where Brooks got to make the pizza; dinner at Finfine, a very old Ethiopian hotel on a hot spring; and a family lunch complete with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Here are some pics:
Visiting the Lemlem School

At Finfinne and Habenyom's bar

Making pizza and family dinner

Now, those of you close to us know that we had a huge family event while we were away: Brooks turned 5! We celebrated with playing and pizza at the Ethiopian version of Chuck E Cheese: Bob and Bongo's at Edna Mall. Then the staff at the guest house threw Brooks a wonderful birthday party complete with cake, decorations and dancing to very loud Ethiopian music.

Happy Birthday, Brooks!

Mommy with her 1st baby on his 5th birthday!

Suzani's family took us to the National Museum which we requested. We enjoy museums, but it was especially cool to see such ancient treasures in such a comparitively casual setting. We saw Lucy, and then Ardi, who is 1.1 million years older than Lucy. Brooks was our photographer and he took pictures of everything!

Lucy and Ardi

We intended to go to the Sheraton or Hilton to go swimming, but then we were told that the Ghion was more kid friendly so we went there. The water was cold but it was fun and there was a playground where Blaise loved the swings. They also had a tilt-a-whirl type ride that the boys liked. Finally we had french fries and ice cream for a snack. It was fun day and the boys went to sleep that night at 7:30!

Check out his expression after his first bite of ice cream--the cold really surprised him.

On our last day, we went to the "Lion Zoo" which we noticed across the street from the Museum. It was incredible to see the lions up VERY close. We could easy have touched them, but I didn't want to leave behind any appendages so we didn't. However, Chris did have a close encounter of a different kind. As he watched two lions one of them turned to walk away and sprayed Chris with a lion-sized shot of urine! Yes, the lion peed on Chris. Needless to say, all those around were very amused (maybe not Chris, but the rest of us were!) Here is Chris staring down his lion nemesis.

We also saw tortoise, monkeys. ducks, etc. But they all behaved themsleves and were, therefore, not as memorable as the lions. The funny thing about the lion story is that later, our Ethiopian friends informed us that a lion peeing on you means you will be wealthy. This made me wonder 2 things: 1) Wealthy by American or Ethiopian standards? 2) Really, there is a proverb about lions peeing on you? How often does this happen?

Though we woke to news of the Iceland volcano, we were fourtunate that our refueling stop occured in Rome and our flight, despite being 2 hours late, was able to proceed. I have to say that I'm not sure I'd have held it together if we hadn't been able to come home. The boys both slept the first 6 hour leg of the flights but very little after that. Chris slept the same as the boys, but I slept very little. I am not a sleep in places other than your bed type no matter how I try. So, by the time we got home Saturday night it had been almost 48 hours since a slept for any significant amount. We were all exhausted. The Pawlak's picked us up and fed us Chinese food before we went off to bed. I can honestly say that I have never been tired like that in my whole life. I closed my eyes to wash my hair and had trouble forcing them open to get out of the shower. We are all trying to recover. I think that having been over there for 4 weeks, my clock really reset itself. I feel okay in the morning and then I'm struggling by the afternoon. Brooks is waking up very early and refusing to nap to make up for it. So, needless to say, our evenings have been cheery!

Blaise in the Addis airport & the boys just before the final leg of the journey into Houston from Charlotte.

Both sets of grandparents and Momo have gotten to meet Blaise. Here are some pictures:

All in all, I think that we are doing well. Blaise is not an "easy" child. But neither is Brooks and the rewards of parenting such children are as great as the challenges. After we all get our clocks reset and get rested up I'll be able to speak more about our adjustment and such, but for now I'm just glad to be home!

Bye for now!


Kari said...


We brought home our 3 year old son from Rwanda in December. I think our boys were probably in the same room? Anyways, we have definately had some adjustment issues as well. If you would like to talk privately with me about it, what has worked for us, what has been hard, etc. drop me a email at

Hanna said...

Hi! My name is Hanna and I have been waiting on a referral from Rwanda for a very long time. I am wondering if you could send me any contact information. I'd really like to be able to get your take or advise about our situation and how to proceed. my email is
Thank you!