Here we are.... The Hale Family. We're tall, short, black, white, thin... not so thin... we're diverse. We're a blended family built by marriage and adoption. In our family we have Wayne (dad), Tina (mom), Mia (19 yrs old), Tigist (17 yrs old), Sierra (16 yrs old), and Surafel (13 yrs old and the only son). We also have another 18 yr old daughter who we lost (in a way) several years ago... but that is a story for another day.
This story begins on an evening in 2002 when Wayne and I were watching the news while hanging out in the house. Sierra was 8 years old and at her mom's house for the week. A spotlight came on the news about an education program a local man and his wife had started in Ethiopia for girls. The program explained how girls often had little value and how much education can change their lives. We listened to to how this man and his wife had met a grandmother who was working three jobs to earn enough money to send her granddaughter to a private school in Addis Ababa to ensure she would have a good education and a better future. The couple asked how much the annual tuition was at the private school and were shocked to hear it was $150 per year. That's how it began for them. They started sponsoring the girl to go to school and then their friends wanted to sponsor a girl and so on and so forth. Until (at the time) the program had grown to include over 200 girls throughout Ethiopia. Wayne and I decided then and there we wanted to be involved. $150 seemed like such a small amount to give someone the gift of an education (I remember we compared it to about as much as trip to Sam's Club!) so we immediately signed up for a sponsorship online. Little did we know here we'd be 8 years later with two girls sponsored through the education program and four kids adopted from Ethiopia... not to mention writing out our story as we prepare for another 3-week trip to Ethiopia (humanitarian this time NOT adoption! Just in case you were wondering ;o)
Before we got involved with the education program we couldn't have even told you where in Africa Ethiopia was, let alone that Addis Ababa was the capital. The day after we signed up for sponsorship the man in charge of the education program called us and explained he was leaving to Ethiopia for 2 weeks in a few days and that he would find us a girl to sponsor. That girl ended up being Emebet, a 9 year old orphan living with her aunt in Addis Ababa. We were really excited to get to know Emebet and be part of her future. We also had a great time getting involved with the organization and helping with fundraisers etc.
It was about 2 months after we started sponsoring Emebet that our friend from the education organization sent an email out to sponsors saying that they weren't an adoption agency in any way shape or form, and honestly didn't know anything about adoption, but wanted people to be aware that some girls sponsored who were orphans living in bad situations and who would be eligible for adoption. He sent a picture of one of the students named Muluwerk (which means "full of gold") and asked if anyone was interested in adoption, or knew anyone who was, to let him know and he would pass along specifics about her case. Muluwerk was a beautiful (tiny) 12 year old girl who was very dedicated to her studies and had been orphaned about 4 years prior. She was actually the girl on the cover of the education program's pamphlets. Something about her just grabbed our attention. Wayne made her picture our screen saver for about a week and every time we saw her we just felt more and more connected. Individually, Wayne and I had always thought about adoption, but we had never really talked about it. It seemed like one of those things that was so outrageously expensive and complicated that it was out of reach for normal people like us. But, we finally decided to look into it and see if it would even be possible to bring this precious girl home. After a lot of discussions and even more prayers, we decided to try and adopt Muluwerk and her best friend (another student we fell in love with who did have a living mother who was mentally ill and unable to care for her). We had heard the girls were like sisters and we couldn't bear to break them apart.
Shortly after deciding to adopt the girls we learned the Ethiopian govt. wasn't working with agencies (they were sick of the corruption and competition it had been made into). Our education contact spoke with the Ethiopian government who agreed to work with us on an individual basis. That's when the whole independant adoption journey became a reality for us. Oh yeah, did I mention we had no idea what we were doing? Talk about "flying by the seat of your pants". I read blogs now and see all the preparation other families do to bring there kids home and I think, "Yeah, we did that wrong... Oh, that would have been nice to know.... Should have done that.... Shouldn't have done this...." Oh, well. Sometimes I wonder if we would have known what was in store for us if we really would have had the guts to do it. Honestly, when this all started we just took things one step at a time and prayed it would all work out in the end.
At first, we didn't really know anybody to help us get going, so we started researching like crazy on the internet. It was a crazy couple of months (with an insane push the last week which included help from a local news reporter and miracles which paved the way for us to obtain legal documents for our dossier from three different states). And there we found ourselves... in July.... flying to Ethiopia without our adoption paperwork (since we had to FedEx it to DC to get authenticated from the State Department and the Ethiopian Embassy). We finally got to Addis Ababa late the next night and the girls met us at the airport with flowers. They were so tiny. Probably each about 63 pounds at 12 yrs old. Muluwerk was so small Wayne could put one hand around both of her wrists together. It was hard to send them home but we couldn't take them with us to the hotel because they weren't ours yet. It broke my heart that they might not have had dinner so I remember loading them up with granola bars to take home that night.
Things went to pot from the first full day we were there. We met with the government in the morning and were promptly told we couldn't adopt the girls. The rep claimed that Muluwerk had a living mother and there were problems with getting documentation of the other girl's mother's illness. We kept asking for proof. and he kept saying he had it, but he never furnished it. We provided a death certificate for Muluwerk's mom and paperwork certifying the other girl's mother as insane but the rep wouldn't take it. He told us he could get his own death certificate in Addis if he wanted it. He told us, "There are a million orphans in Ethiopia, go find two others". We were heartbroken. We tried for 10 days to work it all out but finally the U.S. embassy basically told us even if we did get the adoption through without this particular man's help they wouldn't give us a visa to bring the girls back to the US. Well, that was a pretty firm NO that this was not going to happen. Wow, talk about hard...having to tell the girls that it wasn't going to happen. We had spent every day with them and now everything was crashing down around them. They went through all the stages too...denial, anger, etc... We decided we would go home and look into student visas and see if that would be an option for them in the future. In the mean time, we figured that we were cleared for two kids, and we must be there for some reason, so we started the quest for two kids out of an orphanage.
The government official told us if we would just look for children in an actual orphanage they would help us. I had told Wayne when we started this whole adventure that I felt in my heart I had a son out there somewhere and one day we would have to go back to find him. At this point, all of our paperwork from the states had arrived (thank heavens for FedEx) and everything was written to approve us for two girls. When we spoke to the American Embassy we asked if it was going to be ok for us to select two other girls and they corrected us by saying we could adopt two "children". I remember showing them our paperwork stating we were approved for two girls but they said they didn't care what our paperwork said, theirs said two "children". I remember asking "so we can select a boy?" and the annoyed worker said yes (I know she wanted to point out a "boy" was a "child" so therefore met the criteria but she was polite enough to not point that out....). So there we were with 10 days left (which included 2 weekends) and we had to find two more kids, get our paperwork changed and approved, and get the non-transferable plane tickets changed into the new kids names. I think this is where the "too complicated for normal people like us" stuff really kicked in. We were overwhelmed with the idea of having to "select" children from an orphanage. How could we pick two and leave the rest there? But we had no time to waste so we went to the only orphanage we knew of and begged for their help.
The nun at the orphanage asked what age groups we were looking at and we told her a girl between 8-12 yrs old and a boy between 4-6. She sent us to a children's home where she knew there was a 10 yr old girl who was eligible for adoption. On the way to the children's home Wayne and I were talking about how we were going to know if this girl was right for us... if we were right for her. What a scary decision to have to make! I remember plain as day Wayne saying, "we just need a child who is patient because we have so little time and we're going to be sitting in government offices for hours to get everything worked out". So, when we got to the orphanage we sat down and this beautiful, painfully shy, little girl came into the room and sat down on the floor in the sitting area (we found out later the kids weren't generally allowed to sit on the furniture). The workers promptly nudged her into a chair and introduced her to us. Again... ingrained in my memory... they told us, "This is Tigist. Her name means "patience" in her native language of Amharic". Wayne and I just stared at each other. God had led us to patience. We knew right away she was our daughter and we placed her under contract. We found out later that Tigist wasn't actually the girl the nun had sent us to meet. She had been in a bad situation in a foster home and had ran away (back to the children's home) just four days before so the nun was unaware. Fortunately, one of the workers at the home was very fond of Tigist so he made sure she was there to meet us first.
So then began the search for our son. The nun had told us she knew of a 6 yr old orphan who was living on the streets and would be eligible for adoption. After the conversations we had had with the government officials, we were not willing to take a kid off the streets. We had been specifically told the children must be physically residing in an orphanage. The nun told us it would be fine but we didn't even want to try it. We couldn't bear getting attached to another kid we couldn't take home and we didn't have time for any complications. So we set out to visit another orphanage and met another 6 yr old boy. He was adorable, so shy and reserved, and gave us no reason to think he wouldn't be a fit for our family. But when we got back to the hotel, I just had this feeling that something wasn't right. By this point the stress of the trip was really taking its toll. Wayne and I had lost a combined total of about 20+ pounds and I have no idea how we were functioning on the few hours of sleep we were getting. I felt horrible for even thinking this little boy wouldn't fit into our family. It made me feel like I was saying he wasn't good enough for us or something and I just couldn't face that. So, I'm ashamed to admit, but I got really angry at God right about then. I couldn't believe he was going to make us make this decision. So we prayed and I remember telling God that they were all his children and we were just going to have to assume he would put the kids he wanted us to have in our path so we would know what to do. Since we had met this little boy first then I guess we would adopt him and trust that God would work it out. The next morning, we went to the orphanage to put the little boy under contract only to find that the orphanage was closed to visitors that day. We really didn't have time for any delays but there was nothing we could do. So we went to pick Tigist up to do some shopping (because the kids weren't even allowed to keep the clothes on their backs... we needed to buy her something to wear so she could turn the other clothes back into the orphanage). On our way to the children's home we were told they had found the street kid and brought him for us to meet. We were so upset. We had told them not to do that. But we pulled up and there he was.... They brought him in and introduced him. Another defining moment, "This is Surafel. He is named after an archangel from the Book of Enoch". Archangels guard the throne of God. God had brought us one of his most beloved sons. l knew it from the minute the boy smiled and his dimples caved in half of his cheeks. He was our son.
I remember Wayne explaining the experience once as being like pushing a boulder up a huge hill. We couldn't see the top. Had no idea how much further it would be and had no clue what was on the other side. We just knew we had to keep pushing and have faith we would eventually reach the top. And when the boulder finally rolled down the other side, we knew it would all be worth while. So, DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME but thanks to a bunch more miracles, we were able to get through the entire court process, the post-court process (more stressful than any of the pre stuff), in about 8 days (note, that included a weekend when the government offices were closed) and we flew out on our regularly scheduled flight I add the disclaimer because none of it makes sense even to me and I lived it! At one point we found our plane tickets had been cancelled before we even left the US (yep, they admitted they let us fly to Addis on cancelled tickets because there was room on the plane... but they didn't seem to think it was important to mention the tickets had been cancelled before we left the US.... guess it didn't seem important to them at the time). So there we were and the next available flight out of Addis was in a month. We finally got someone at Ethiopian Air to admit it was their fault our tickets were cancelled and they were working on the problem, with only 4 day til our departure. Our flight was set for a Tuesday...Monday we managed to get the kid's birth certificates and passports created, and their physicals done. Tuesday was all day at the U.S. Embassy working on visas. We finally got done with the visas around 4:30 p.m. and headed to see what was up with our airline tickets. We got the new tickets around 6p.m. and flew out that night at 11p.m....with two kids we had only known for less than two weeks and couldn't communicate with. See where the disclaimer comes in?
So that's that. Tigist and Surafel are great! We couldn't ask for better kids. They're both very loving, affectionate, outgoing...just all around good kids. We have had our ups and downs but we wouldn't change a thing. A few years later we found that the man who stopped our initial adoption of Muluwerk and the other girl had left the country and that Ethiopia was working with agencies again. So we contacted an adoption agency and were finally able to bring the two girls home in 2005. We usually say that maybe the two girls had to give up another year and a half because Tigist and Surafel were in situations where they needed to get out of Ethiopia sooner. In addition, our second daughter (who you've probably noticed remains nameless to protect her privacy) ended up having some mental health issues of her own. Her struggles have been difficult for us all and looking back we can see that if the girls would have been adopted first we very likely wouldn't have chosen to adopt again. But we're happy to say all the kids are doing very well and we couldn't be prouder to have them in our lives.
So, that's our adoption adventure. The rest is just family life. Maybe with a few more interesting stories here and there (new experiences with food, language, culture....). Good times, bad times, hard times, smooth times, you name it we've got a story! But through it all we can truly say we are the family God intended for us to be. We've all got such different yet similar personalities. It just "works". It was HARD but, I'm telling you... I could have never imagined how much love was waiting on the other side of that hill.