Saturday, May 10, 2008
Ethiopia & Travel Tips
What a journey...we are happy to be home and settling in with mr. noah arone and we are THRILLED to have had the chance to spend 9 days and 9 nights in his home country, Ethiopia. Anil and I had an incredible time and though the trip was challenging in a lot of ways, merely because life there is so completely different from what we are used to so we were out of our comfort zone, we actually enjoyed the challenge. And we find that starting out our days as parents in a country, our son's country, where we had to think before we did just about anything, is a really cool way to begin. Now we take so much less for granted here at home, in Santa Monica, where we have so much. Our gratitude and humility grew by leaps and bounds after visiting our son's home country, and seeing all of the beautiful, happy people there. I am so happy that we were able to spend a good amount of time in Ethiopia, and I would not trade that experience for the world. I can't wait til my son is older and I can tell him all about the trip and share the photos and stories of everything we did and saw. It's absolutely mind blowing and forever changed us, just as I suspected it would. We look at life a lot differently now, and although we haven't had much time yet to really think things through and process it all and figure out what's next for our journey in life, we know that we will never be the same. And that's a very good thing.
I was in awe of the city, everywhere I turned I saw something that just moved me - whether it was a man sitting on the eucalyptus tree limbs that they use for scaffolding there (scary!) or a donkey carrying concrete bricks filled with heavier loot piled on top of them or a child begging through our car window for some change to eat - I was in complete and utter awe and wonder, trying to absorb it all. My life is much richer than it was before, and the path of this life has never felt more in sync and right on. We are incredibly fortunate and just blissful to be a family, to have traveled across the world to this amazing place to meet our son and bring him home and to have him here in our arms, right now. Unreal, surreal yet very very REAL.
A few families waiting to go meet their babies have asked for advice on travel. I am more than happy to give it. My advice may be different from others so take it for what it's worth. And please don't hesitate to ask questions if you have them. Again, these are only my opinions but happy to share. Here are some of the questions I've received and my best answers. I will post more about things as I think of them.
-What type of bottles did you bring? What type of bottles do they use there?
We brought Playtex Drop-ins...I plan to use the Born Free bottles back here in the U.S. but the drop-in system was ultra convenient for Ethiopia because you only have to wash the nipple and the rim really, and since you are using boiled or bottled (or in our case because we're paranoid, BOTH) water to clean them each time, it's nice to have less to clean. I don't know what type they were using at the care center, but they were not drop-ins. These kids do not appear to be fussy eaters though, give them food/formula, and they will take it down. They are fed, WELL, and I don't see it being a problem for you to use whatever bottle you'd like.
-How many diapers did you bring for each day? What size did you bring?
The Gladney travel packet says 10 per day. I think we used more and the Roberts, who we shared the Ayat House with, used less. I'd play it safe and go for 12 a day, but I'm crazy like that. I brought some Size 1 and some Size 2 and for Arone, they both worked. He's 5 months and weighs about 14 pounds. I have heard that if in between, go for the bigger, because they can hold more, well, you know...
-Size-should I get one of those on the bed, folding bassinet things? Do you think Abe would benefit from one of those?
We brought the Eddie Bauer folding travel bed since we were sharing the house and there was only one crib. I found it to be handy. Truthfully, we ended up putting him in it between us on the bed, because the first night we tried the floor and he didn't like it much. But it was nice to have so when we all fell asleep at the same time, we didn't have to worry about him rolling off the bed. I'd say if your baby is 5 months or under or a small 6-7 month, it's a good thing to bring. Much bigger than he was though and it might feel too confining.
-Anything you wish you would have brought? Anything you didn't need?
The only thing we didn't bring that I wish we had was sore throat medicine. Anil got a pretty bad one and none of the pharmacies we went to had a thing for it. Tafessa, the coordinator and one of the drivers (and a SUPER COOL human being I might add) took me to 4 or 5 pharmacies to check for anything, because he was in such bad shape, and we struck out. So any medicine you think you might possibly need, take. Also, I'm sure most of you realize this, but there is a decent chance you won't get your luggage right away, so try to pack the bare necessities including a change of clothes, underwear, and main toiletries/medicines in one of your carry-ons. And also be careful to keep your carry-ons to the necessary size/weight limits if you can. This will be a challenge but if you can, it's best. Otherwise, they may end up asking you to check it and then you lose your emergency stash. This didn't happen to us and we definitely had one piece that was over the limit, but it did happen to another family we were traveling with. Luckily for them, it arrived on time. We didn't have 3 of the 5 pieces we checked for half the trip.
I'm very happy I brought my laptop and a few memory cards and I have to say, my Flip Video camera. If you haven't seen these things, they are very small digital video cameras that take 30 or 60 minutes worth of footage and have a USB plug built right into them so you can download your clips easily and as often as you need to. This allowed me to get some really great videos of a bunch of scenery, scenes and gorgeous babies. And it takes up almost no space or weight at all. Occasionally I only brought the Flip and not my big camera along in an attempt to travel lighter.
Things I wish I hadn't bothered to bring - I can't think of much specifically. But I did learn that you can live on much less than you think if you have to...so if we go again, I will pack much less clothing and toiletries for us and make more room for the humanitarian aid. And I will leave the hairdryer at home. They are hard to use unless you are staying at the major hotels because of the voltage required, and in the end, I didn't much care what my hair looked like there anyway, as evidenced by photos. :)
-Did you bring any rice cereal? Do they eat that at the care center?
I didn't bring any rice cereal because they were still feeding Arone strictly formula and I didn't want to change his diet on the trip. I'm going to start him on cereal this week though, as our pediatrician said it's okay to do so. I would definitely try to find out what they are feeding your babes and mimic that for the trip. I don't know what they feed them when they start them on solids. It looked pretty pasty though, but the kids seemed to like it.
-Do all of the babies use a pacifier? Are they latex or silicone or something else?
They said that they stopped the use of pacifiers at the care center because as they were passed around, so was a lot of infection and illness. So they nixed them. We brought a few along just in case, and because our baby is such a sucker :), he took them just fine and they came in handy.
-Am I going to have a nervous breakdown while packing?
NO. Don't worry too much. Ask for help when necessary and trust your instincts. You will have what you need or you will make do. Just make sure when you get there to stop off and get a ton of bottled water. I drank it like it was going out of style. It's important because it's so easy to get dehydrated there. Plus you'll need it to wash bottles and brush your teeth.
-What are the most essential things you packed to take along with you, that were really really useful - couldn't have done with out, etc.?
The most essential things were the burp cloths (prefold cloth diapers are great all-purpose cloths), bottles (bring at least 6, mostly because of the plane rides), TOILET PAPER (or kleenex travel packs - have it with you everywhere you go, most bathrooms don't come equipped with TP), a small set of toiletries in the carry-on...definitely check the travel packet from Gladney, most of that stuff is good to have along. Also good to have a baseball cap to throw your hair in a ponytail underneath and go.
-What did you take along that you would say you didn't need to pack, just took up space, not really a necessity?
See above answer. I'll try to think of more and write again if/when I do.
-Is there anything you didn't take that you wish you would have?
Again, sore throat/cough medicine. Bring that and plenty of Tylenol and Ibuprofen. And baby medicine too, whatever your pediatrician recommends. Mine gave us a big list of stuff, if anyone wants me to send it to them, I can. I also took Lori's advice on the Boudreaux's Baby Kisses and that came in handy for the dry lips and cheeks on our little man.
-What ideas do you have for gifts for the caregivers? We were thinking of cash, but worry it is too impersonal. And then, what ideas do you have for gifts for Travis and Joanna, Belay?
We gave cash because Anil's sister organized a donation drive unbeknownst to us to raise money for these ladies who work so hard and give such love to these children. I also left a bunch of sample products for them to share. It's tough because there are so many caregivers. And usually your baby will have had a few 'special' caregivers who mostly looked after them, so you might want to consider bringing a 'special' gift for 3 or 4 if you are so inclined. Try to find out from Sister (the nurse at the centers) who the 'special mother' and other main caregivers were before you hand them out. :)
For Travis & Joanna, we took the Lydicks advice and got them some hot sauce, tea, chocolate and bbq sauce. I think they would appreciate just about anything, they are very cool peeps. And their kids are just awesome. I miss them. We gave Belay some really nice tea as well. I had a hard time thinking of anything else for him. He has a great sense of humor, so maybe something funny?
-Did you work with a travel agent - one recommended in the travel packet perhaps, or did you kind of just figure out travel on your own?
We did work with a travel agent - Susan Parr travel. I found it to be helpful to have someone handle our travel who does it all the time, especially when booking the ticket for Noah to come back with us. For instance, they knew that we needed to book his ticket under his Ethiopian name, then my husband's first name, and then his last. So if you do book on your own, don't book your baby's return flight with his American name. It won't work because that is not what will be on his passport and visa.
As I think of more, I will continue to write my thoughts. I hope this has been somewhat helpful. And again, just my opinions and take on things, for what it's worth.
Oh, one other thing, the diesel fuel smell in the city can get very overwhelming at times. I'm not sure if there's anything to do about it, but it may be worth looking into something homeopathic or anything that might help you to cope with the air.
Other than that, it's a beautiful place with a sight to see at every turn. Try to enjoy it and go with the flow while you're there. Absorb the culture and the people, it's so worth it. And go with the flow is probably some of the best advice I got before we left from Mary at Gladney. Schedules and plans change there pretty often - time sort of stands still there which is great but makes planning much looser so as she said, just be ready for anything and try not to stress about things and you will have an incredibly cool time. Take it all in, get as much rest as you can, and have fun!