Related to the orphanages:
For the orphanages—more matchbox cars, more brown skinned baby dolls (the girls call them “mimis”), more blow-up balls, more smallish nerf balls and / or nerf games, soccer balls, volley balls (you can easily and fairly cheaply buy soccer balls at your hotel in Addis).
A portable air pump would be good for the balls, too. You can’t imagine how much time you will spend playing outside games with the children at the orphanages. (There is no inside play area at the orphanages.)
We were glad we had lots of hair clips & headbands, etc. and lots of stickers. (You can’t have too many stickers for these kids!) Bubbles were good, too.
Think in advance what you can do, and what you desire to do in terms of serving the orphans. The orphanages made it clear to us that times are difficult and monetary donations from families are extremely helpful.
In addition to the cost of the adoption and our travel, we had spent a small fortune on items to give to the orphanages, so we weren’t quite expecting the (veiled, mostly) request for money donations, too. We ended up giving financial gifts as well (considerably more than we ever thought we would give), which is what it seems the orphanages most need and want.
It is a joy to play with the children and share small gifts with them. The children are happy and precious, and you will wish you could meet their every need!
For your own children:
If you are getting a baby---it seems most babies are somehow digestively challenged: either they spit up and spit up and spit up, or they poop and poop and poop. Amelia happened to be a profusive and projectile spitter upper. We had enough diapers and wipes, but not enough face cloths. We finally ended up using wipes for every spit up emergency.
In spite of my best planning, we sent many of Amelia’s clothes to the hotel laundry because of all the spitting upping. Hotel laundry was a good thing!
We had an Ergo baby carrier for Amelia. We were very glad to have it. In a perfect world, we would have had a stroller as well, if only for the hotel and airports. The babies are used to spending a great deal of time in their little beds….it took Amelia a couple of days to start to enjoy being held and carried. I think she would have enjoyed our meal times a bit more if she could have kicked around in a stroller versus being held while we big ‘uns ate.
While it would have been nice to have a stroller for Amelia, if you are bringing home a bigger child (too big for a carrier), I think you will definitely appreciate having a stroller. The kids are well-behaved, but there will (obviously) be a bit of a language barrier at first, and pushing your kiddo in a stroller will likely simplify things for everyone. Too, I think most children will like to “ride” in addition to being “carried”—particularly around your hotel and in the airports.
Regarding clothes and the weather:
We had heard the current season is called, “the rainy season.” Ethiopians call this season, “winter.” The weather was not cold for us, but the Ethiopians think it’s freezing! It is chilly and rainy in the mornings and evenings, but most afternoons the weather was sunny, a bit humid, and around 70 degrees. Neither you nor your kids will ever want to wear shorts during this time of year. We big Howletts mostly wore crop pants or long pants, long or short sleeve t-shirts and light jackets. But “native” babies and children think the weather feels cool. Your kids will be most comfortable in long pants, long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts / sweaters / jackets.
Don’t take “good” clothes for yourselves or your new children. Most of the places you will go are dirty, muddy or both. Obviously, we carried Amelia everywhere. But Crocs for the rest of us were by far the best shoe choice….you will walk a lot and stand a lot….in rain, puddles, mud, dirt and rocks.
Regarding the culture and the experience of being in Addis Ababa:
The people in the city were unfailingly polite and helpful. We enjoyed the people. Even at the huge market (we didn’t take Amelia there, and we visited with an escort—don’t go without an escort!), we never felt afraid or threatened in any way.
The city is very busy and colorful. As the week progressed and in spite of the fact we thought we were mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared, we found ourselves a bit exhausted by all of the need and suffering that is everywhere there. It is hard to take it all in. There are tremendous needs and challenges, and it hurts to feel so helpless to make much of a difference.
Don’t count on good internet service, no matter where you are! We were at the Ghion Hotel, where we could access email via their dial-up service. However, we met another American family who were staying at the SHERATON, and they hadn’t even been able to pull up email there.
By the end of our visit, especially, we struggled with a bit of resentment over feeling like we had been “nickeled and dimed” so much (maybe we are less generous people than other families?). We ended up spending about $1500 on gifts to the orphanages and a ministry we met with, tips, taxis and a few gifts for family and friends. The cost of our hotel and meals ARE NOT included in this $1500. We found things to be much more expensive than we expected, and we also found many, many hands outstretched in our direction.
As an example: leaving the airport last night, a man loaded half of our suitcases onto a free cart and rolled it approximately 20 feet to the sidewalk for us. It took a light-to-moderate amount of effort and about 2-3 minutes. Dave gave him 10 birr as a tip, which he rejected, asked for more, and pulled out himself another 10 birr note from Dave’s money.
Now that we have been back at home for a few days, we remember even more powerfully and more fondly our time in Addis. It’s true that financial outflow (and emotion and fatigue, etc., etc.) took something of a toll by the end of our trip. But looking back now, of course we trust that we will recover from the extra expenses, and the people we met don’t have access to anything like the resources that we have here at home. We desire to be generous people, and in the end, we are glad we erred on the side of generosity, and we hope and pray that we were “blessed to be a blessing” to the people we met in Ethiopia.