5 Tips for Successful Adoption Homeland Travel in Ethiopia

By popular request, I have compiled some of our family’s tips on successful homeland travel in Ethiopia. Not that I am an authority on the subject!… Others travel much more often than we did. But we had an amazingly successful trip, with happy children, happy grandparents, happy parents, and happy birth family at the end of the trip.

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1.Plan your trip around your children’s wants and needs at this time.

We talked extensively with the girls about what their priorities were at this point in their lives, at seven years old, and 5 years from their adoption. Our recent trip was as much about reconnecting with Ethiopia, as it was about seeing family in person. So the girls made the priorities, and we executed them. We made sure that no one else’s priorities took precedent, and so we were able to do exactly what the girls needed on the trip. In our case, that was to go to the spa, spend time in the bush with wild animals, and see their family.

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2.Take only useful people.

When planning the trip, we really thought about who we should invite and take along. We decided to invite my parents, and it was a great move. First of all, my mother has been to Ethiopia many times, and is comfortable in most situations. My father, well I was a little worried about him! in advance… I didn’t know how he would handle the culture shock. He just got very quiet for a few days, and after that, was like a duck in water. But I knew that the girls feel safe around him, and he would provide muscle , if needed. (Complicated family stuff.) He was also very helpful keeping an eye on the girls, and breaking the ice with young Ethiopian family members. The flipside is to make sure you don’t invite anyone to go on vacation. Homeland travel is about the kids, and their priorities can even easily get overthrown by adult priorities, especially people who have spent a lot of money to fly across the ocean.My advice is to not to take anyone who needs babysitting themselves. If they are uncomfortable in other cultures, not well-traveled, or have other high needs, take them on a cruise some other time. So in a nutshell, my tip is to take only people who want to be there to support the kids, not people who have their own agenda. Harsh, but that’s my advice.

3.Run scenarios about birth family.

Everybody has a different story, and everybody has a different relationship with their extended family in Ethiopia, or the country of your child’s birth. We have an open adoption, and my mother and I have this did the girls family before. But the last time that the girls were in personal contact with their family was five years ago, when we picked them up. So we knew exactly which family members we were going to see, but we didn’t know how they would react with the girls. We ran 1000 scenarios… And one or two more right before we left. We talked to doctors, counselors, and Ethiopians about what might happen with various groups of family members, and all that consultation and scenario forecasting totally paid off. The important part of this is that we talked through each scenario with the girls. No matter what happened, we knew what our plan was. The girls knew that if they were overwhelmed, we would allow them to stay in a safe place with a parent or grandparent. They also knew that they were not allowed to run off, and knew some of the cultural events that might happen. I can’t stress enough how much this paid off. We have extremely complicated extended family, and it helped us navigate what would have been several overwhelming days. (A side note, some people object to us saying our family, but within our open adoption, that’s what our I feel can family calls us and that’s what we called them. Family. And the parents and grandparents are included!)

4.Expose your child to as many cultural practices as possible before you go.

Honestly, we didn’t plan this. It was a complete surprise, how much the girls connections with Ethiopian Canadian culture and my many visits and experiences from Ethiopia paid off. The girls learned a few words that they have heard before in short order, the language wasn’t the mean thing. The main thing was that they understood the basic intricacies of social interaction. They knew that anybody who was connected to them in anyway would scoop them up and smother them with kisses. They knew to make themselves scarce and quiet when adults were having coffee. They knew to take their food last after the adults, and that stuffing their faces was mandatory. All those little tiny things really paid off, and the girls felt completely comfortable in Ethiopia. Well not completely… Sugar did find Addis too busy for her. But aside from that, they were right at home. Fish in water.

5.Build in time for processing feelings.

My girls actually suggested that I put this on the list, because for them it was a huge part of the success of the trip. When we were planning our adventures, we made sure that we had time just as a family, without the excitement of Ethiopian family, friends, or volunteering. Even time away from the grandparents. For us, the times our little family feels closest is in remote locations with few distractions. Every family is different, but you know when you really gel and connect with each other: You need to make sure that this happens during the trip. My dad suggested that we go to the bush, Lake Langano, after our visit with the girls’ family, just in case they had big feelings to process. Well, the big feelings still haven’t arrived… But having that space and time with us together was wonderful. The girls also said they really appreciated having every evening together, with no distractions. We made sure that, when in Addis, we stayed at the same guesthouse each night, with private space and a little garden. That meant that there was consistency in location and in routine, even amongst our travels.

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Hopefully these tips and tricks for homeland travel are useful to you. Again, every situation is different, but I recommend going as soon and as often as you can afford. We told the girls that their next trip will be within five years, and they are happy with that. In closing, the second-biggest question I always get is about the fallout of our trip. “Do the girls have unresolved feelings, or big nagging doubts or questions?” We ran the scenarios! Lol, as you we’ll imagine. But the truth is, the culture shock and angst simply didn’t happen. Maybe because we were so prepared, or maybe because we were lucky, but our trip to Ethiopia was a highlight in the girls’ lives so far.

 

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

Frugal Fridays: 5 Tips for Homeland Travel on a Budget

I’ve had so many questions about travel logistics, that I thought I would restart my Frugal Friday blog posts with this one on budget homeland travel to Ethiopia.

We were gone for two weeks total, which is not a very long time, but we managed to fly around the world and back again for almost exactly $8000 Canadian. Not bad! Here are my tips on how to have a wonderful time, without breaking the bank.

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Be flexible in your flights.

There were four of us flying, and we had a pretty tight timeline. Usually, to save money on tickets, it’s best to be flexible on departure and arrival dates, and to fly out of airports with a lot of service. I literally finished class and drove to the airport, however, so I at least didn’t have this luxury. What we did was drove to Seattle, which is across the US border. Sometimes driving from your hometown to a major metropolitan center can save a bundle. This saved our family at least a couple thousand dollars, so it is well worth it. This is even with an international Airport in our own backyard. I had to fly out of Kelowna, so I met my family on the way. But my big flight tips are this… Be flexible and when you have to leave, drive to a major metropolitan center, and be prepared to take a red eye flight every now and again.

Also watch those airport costs… Do you know that we paid more for food in airports on our trip then we did in country? That’s ridiculous! And something we will try to change next time. We always travel with food replacement bars, and fruit bars, and a water bottle. Although I don’t use the water bottle in country, it does save us at airports. Also, make sure that you are bringing luggage that fits your luggage allowance. It makes a ton of difference in the long run. We also travel with a tiny scale that allows us to we are luggage and save hundreds of dollars of overweight charges. That is a gadget worth the investment.

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Manage transportation costs.

In country transportation, I mean. In Ethiopia, as well as many other emerging economies, there are different prices for different categories of people. Taxis in Addis Ababa, for example, have a foreigner price, a foreigner that lives in the country price, and an Ethiopian price. If you are not prepared to barter dramatically, it’s simply best for a foreigner to get a driver. Or of course, you can ride in town buses. But if you want the convenience of going where you want to go, I driver quickly becomes a lot cheaper than a taxi. We have a great driver to recommend… His name is now home, and on our last trip had the extremely reasonable rate of 800 per day in Addis Ababa, and 1000 per day outside of the capital. Of course, you also pay for fuel, and his food and accommodation. But when you traveled as much as we do, it’s worth having someone at your beck and call.

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Barter and budget accommodation.

This might may surprise some people, as accommodation often is the second biggest expense. But not with my family! We find that people often spend way too much money, since they are used to western conveniences and don’t take time to look for something at a reasonable price. I understand that there is a good market for hotels at the same rate I would play page in Canada… But that is not for our family.

We stayed at perfectly reasonable hotels, and never spent any more then $40 US a night. Our hotel in the account, was only $20 a night. So first, choose a place without a lot of frills. But secondly, realize that everything is negotiable. If you are staying for more than three nights… Ask for a discount! If you have more than one hotel room and have rooms for drivers and translators, ask for a discount. If you have a popular blog or have sent lots of friends to the same hotel… Ask for a discount! These are not unreasonable request. You can also discuss room or bed upgrades and breakfast as well. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t try to take advantage of business owners in developing countries. However, bartering is part of every day life, and reasonable small discount of 10 to 20% for extended stays are the norm, not the exception.

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Spend money where it counts.

We chose to go to Bishanghari Lodge for three nights… Which was not cheap, by any standards! But it was worth every penny, and is the experience my girls will remember for the longest. We also never skimp on eating out, or on food or drinks with our meals, which is in direct contrast to Canada. In Ethiopia, it is so inexpensive to eat out… You might as well enjoy it and not worry about pinching a few dollars here and there. This also pertains to tipping… Make sure that you tip your hotel staff appropriately. The service will be so much better the second time you visit! And it’s also the Fairway to treat people in the service economy, in an emerging country.

Lastly, don’t spend money where you don’t need to.

Sure, we bought the girls new suitcases for Christmas. And yes, those are included in the $8000 Canadian. But we didn’t need to new clothes for this trip, or fancy travel apparatus, or exorbitant gifts for family. People can spend a fortune before they ever leave home. So think about all those pretrip expenditures, and if they will really add value to your trip. You can save a lot of money by not shopping until you reach your destination!

I hope those tips are helpful! Happy home land traveling!

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. Enjoy the many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip! I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

Visiting, Shopping and the Spa: our last relaxing days in Ethiopia

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

After five eventful days in the sun at Lake Langano, we were ready to head back to the capital. We still had a few things to do… Visit friends, visit the folks who run the orphanage the girls lived in, go to the spa and spend the girls’ saved allowance on Ethiopian toys.

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It was a peaceful ride back from Langano, but a long one.

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First, we stopped in at the orphanage where the girls lived for the better part of a year. It’s a different building than then, but the folks who run it, Selam and Wondu, are the same. We’ve visited and kept in touch over the years, but it was the first time we had visited them with the girls. Wondu was delighted to see them. I thought it was so interesting… He’s the only person in Ethiopia who asked about their personalities, their likes and dislikes. Most people, after seeing the girls and knowing they are ok, well… That’s enough for them. But he was genuinely interested. Selam was on her way back from Addis that day, so we met up with her for a brief visit at a truckstop. She was amazed to see them in person… They were such puny pants when she saw them last in Addis.

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Then we stopped in at my friend Menbere’s family’s house. I’m not sure how many times I’ve been there… Maybe four? But anyway, it feels like visited extended family. The girls quickly grabbed their friend N’s cousin, and they played coffee ceremony on the floor and outside, while the real thing was brewed in the living room. It’s was sweet to see Menbere’s sister teaching her daughter about coffee ceremony. Apparently now that’s she old enough to be going to university, (she was just home on spring break,) she’s old enough to take over coffee ceremony duties. Or at least, be schooled by her momma.

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I should also mention that Amaye’s house is my favourite locale for Ethiopian food, in all of Ethiopia! Seriously, Menbi is such a good cook, but here sister might even be better. I’ve eaten in countless Ethiopian restaurants, and she always has them beat. And just for me, they make countless fasting dishes… Let’s just say we all arrived with empty stomachs, and let groaning and and happy!

We had a quiet night at our guest house in Addis, and then our last day in Ethiopia were spent doing the last thing on the girls’ “to do” list: going to the spa!

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I can’t even express how excited the girls were… This was their number one thing to do in Ethiopia. You see, they’ve been seeing pictures of mommy going after each Ethiopian trip, and it’s something we could never afford at home. So we had a gorgeously relaxing day at Boston Day Spa… I mean, look at this kid’s face!

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They were treated like little little princesses! They didn’t have flip flops small enough for their feet after the pedicure, so the ladies carried them bodily over to the manicure table. So sweet!

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The girls had saved their allowance for weeks to spend in Ethiopia, and our last stop before the plane was… You guessed it… The toy store. Yes, my kids go to Ethiopia, and return with more stuffies. Do judge.. They have an addiction.

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And then that night, we left Ethiopia. It took a few days to get home, with three cancelled flights, but we returned happy and healthy. Well, happy, anyway! Lol

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On the discussion board I belong to, a popular topic is “what age should I take my kids back to Their birth country?” Well, my answer is this: as soon as you can financially swing it. I’ll be back in the fall, but id can’t wait to bring the whole family again. Especially our two little Habeshas.

Stay tuned for my tips on successful homeland travel!

Family Forest Fun: Bishangari Lodge at Lake Langano

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

We had four lovely days at Bishangari Lodge at Lake Langano. There is lots to do at the lodge, nestled in the ecological reserve. When our daughters told us their priorities for their first trip back to Ethiopia, second on the list was to spend some time in the bush. We returned to the cabins we had visited five years before, when the girls were three years old.

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The girls and I went horseback riding the first full day we were there… And had a blast. These are literally the largest horses in Ethiopia… I don’t think I’ve ever seen larger ones. So I actually felt comfortable riding on one without killing it. We walked through the woods and the fields, causing to stop and chat with some of the locals. There were amazing birds to see, and it was just lovely to have that quiet time we’ve from the city.

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Back five years ago, the girls were terrified of the warthogs, and found the baboons amusing. Jason actually was grateful to the warthogs, because the only time the girls would come to him back then was if they were more afraid of the warthogs in the bush, than they were of daddy. The first time he really got to hold them was when he was “rescuing” them from warthogs.

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This time, they were delighted by the warthogs, and we spent several hours stalking them in the bush to take pictures. They are so neat, as they graze on their knees and the little ones follow them through the grasses.

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The girls were slightly afraid of the baboons, as the baboons have become a little bit more aggressive. Perhaps a lot more reasonable feelings around the wild animals! One time, Jason and Sugar had going off for a walk, leaving Spice in the hammock outside our cabin and me inside. I came out of the bathroom to hear “mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I looked outside and saw the hammock rolled up into a sausage, and three baboons sitting around on all sides of the hammock. I chased them away with a stick and pulled my quivering, scared daughter out of the hammock and into the cabin. The poor thing. Another time, a big male actually came after Jason, growling and aggressive. I am told that the baboons are over populating, and the forestry service occasionally “removes ” a few of them.

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The girls spend copious amounts of time in the water, swimming and splashing around, and building castles and other architectural masterpieces on the beach.

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My parents went a little over the deep end birding… And took my husband with them. There were some Brits at the lodge, who had come specifically for the birding… They saw 120 species in one day, and a total of 190 in two days. We didn’t see as many as that… We aren’t so serious about the birds. But with a little guidebook and a little help from the Brits, we still saw enumerable amounts of birds. They came in all shapes and sizes, and you didn’t have to hunt for them very much. Just sit on a lounge chair by the beach, and 30 some odd different birds would fly or walk by. Just up into the bush, and you could hear their calls in the trees, and see them printing from branch to branch. It’s quite amazing. Even if you are not into birds, can’t help but be amazed by the variety of wildlife at Langano.

The only downside to our trip was that I got very sick the third day. I actually have never been sick like that in Ethiopia… And was grateful that I had a private cabin, with a private bathroom, to be miserable in. I didn’t leave bed for 30 hours straight. That was sick!

But there is a silver lining to everything, and because of my absence, Jason actually went with the girls horseback riding on the third day. I still have never seen him on a horse to this day! But there is photographic proof that this actually happened.

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To any families that enjoy wild places and peace and quiet, I can’t recommend Bishangari Lodge at Langano enough. The service is amazing… The people are super nice and accommodating. The food is good, and the cabins are delightful. Simple, but clean and amazingly privately situated. There are few wild places left in Ethiopia… And this is an amazing, safe, and family-friendly way to experience a real Ethiopian forest.

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The road to Lake Langano

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

I resume our travel blog …
… as we were heading south of Addis Ababa towards Lake Langano.

The best times in our lives, and certainly the best vacations, have been by ourselves in the bush somewhere. For our family of four, this started with our last trip to Langano. I think that is where we really started to become a family.

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Five years ago, when we picked the girls up, we had to stay in Addis and Adama most of the time. We were waiting for their visas and were city bound. However, as soon as their visas were announced, we heaved a huge sigh of relief, and headed out of town to Lake Langano.

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Now, five years later, we were heading down the same road… but with long legged girls writing in their journals in the backseat, and grandma and grandpa enthusiastically thumbing through a bird guide for Africa in the middle. I had time to look out the window, and simply enjoy the scenery.

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There is a huge difference in landscape and lifestyle between west and south of Addis. South of Addis, you enter the famous Rift Valley, one of the best locations for bird life in the world. Along with Langano, there are a series of famous lakes: Lake Awassa, and Lake Ziway. The land here too, here, is over farmed, but it is not done with the same density as west of Addis. The families own bigger farms, and you can see during harvest season bigger piles of wheat and teff. The trees becomes sparse, and the land is dry. There are less big ficus trees, but millions of shorter acacia trees.

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Our destination, Lake Langano, is the brown lake amongst the blue ones. It seems silly to be heading for the only brown lake in the area… Really, it is the color of milky English tea. But it’s one of the few lakes that doesn’t have bilharzia, so it is perfectly safe to swim. The girls do love swimming! The other attraction is the eco reserve on the south side of the lake. Last time we stayed at Bishangari Lodge, and we wanted to return to the same lodge, due to the eco reserve. Within that preserved forest, is one of the few intact ecosystems in the whole region. The cabins delightful… And the whole place is off the grid solar with compost generated methane cooking.

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As gorgeous as the lakes are, don’t expect much for tourist services in this area, on the road in. We did have a delicious vegetarian dish at the “Tourist Restaurant” in Lake Ziway. But except the eco-lodges, there really isn’t much to eat, sleep in, or do.

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A funny thing happened on the way into the lake.

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We had just turned off the highway and were heading down the dirt road, when we saw a bunch of camels. I looked around and didn’t see anybody who belonged to the camels, so I started taking a couple of pictures. Sure enough, three Southern tribesmen popped out of the bush and surrounded the front of the car. In angry voices they demanded payment for the camel pictures. I follow enough Amharic to understand the negotiation and they had settled on 10 birr as payment for the grievous affront.

One of the guys came around the side and stuck his arm in the window for the payment, muttering angrily at us. When I put the 10 birr in his hand, he gesturing wildly at my wallet and wanted some more. He scowled, he shouted! But the deal struck is a deal done, as far as I am concerned, so I lost my temper. I smacked him on the hand, and replied in a firm voice “bucka!”

He withdrew his hand, and we pressed on in the van. The girls were nervous at the time, but as soon as the van pulled away, they thought it was hilarious that I had smacked the hand of the tall, angry, Southern tribesman. I think the tribesman thought it was a little funny too, because amongst the anger in his eyes I saw a little bit of humour as we drove away.

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As we drew near the lodge along the dirt road, the evidence of wealth coming from this local employment was everywhere. The houses got nicer, the children looked healthier, and there were even obvious medical centres and schools. It was really nice to see the positive effects of this tourism industry. You can also see when local tourism is working well when there isn’t a lot of begging. The children were delighted to see a Farengi vehicle, as I’m sure they do several times today, but they didn’t shout “money!” But rather just waved and smiled. That’s a good sign of stable income and non-dependence on handouts. Again this is not everywhere in Ethiopia, so I really noticed it.

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When we stopped at the lodge, we were greeted by the gahri, horsecart, that trucked our bags over to the cabins. As soon as we got out of the van, you could just feel the pressure and the stress level of traveling go down. It was such a good idea…

After unpacking our bags in our cabin godjos, the girls immediately got into their swimsuits and headed for the beach. We all grabbed our books and binoculars, and set out in the sunset, watching the birds with wonder and anticipating a dinner of locally caught fish.… Heaven…

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Enjoy the pictures on our way down to the lake. I will post many more as the week goes by.

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