July 1, 2008

Advice from the Other Side

I’m reprising my recent “epic” tale about our journey to Ethiopia and to our son because I have received several requests for advice. Some of you have specifically asked me to elaborate on advice for upcoming travel and some of your questions were very specific. So this post is for you – and remember, I’m telling it like it is. No one has to like or dislike my opinions – they just are what they are…mine.

Where to Stay:

Your options in Addis that I’m aware of are the Sheraton and Hilton Hotels. We had the option, as you know, with our agency to stay at the guesthouse. The pros and cons of the guesthouse were that we had a house staff that saw to our room and needs. We were fed three meals a day, unlimited bottled water, and were given free reign of the property – which was quite lovely, considering. There was a lovely picnic area and, as I’ve said, animals that the children seemed to love. Cons being all the things I covered in my four part diatribe.

We visited the Hilton almost daily so that we could use their business office to send e-mails, etc. The hotel itself was quite worn. It was older and had outdated furniture, etc. But it was nice, and had a pool, etc. We did not visit the Sheraton, but we were told on more than one occasion that it feels like you’re not even in Addis. It’s very modern and a classy place. The downside is that it’s rumored to be very pricey $$$. The Hilton price was roughly $400 a night – I can’t imagine what the Sheraton was, if that’s the case.

Sidenote: The power goes out frequently in the city. This was not a guesthouse issue – and the guesthouse had a back up generator that worked on occasion. Sigh. But the power outages impacted the entire city – not just us.

Medication to Bring:

Thanks to my dear friend Robyn, who had recently been to China to adopt her daughter, we had a “medical kit”. It was a Rubbermaid tote that had many, many items in it. From throat lozenges (thank God!) to Band-Aids, to Tylenol and Motrin for the baby. We had all kinds of things.

Here are some items we used:

  • Infant Tylenol / Infant Motrin
  • Mylecon (for infant gas)
  • Teething Tablets
  • Rash Cream
  • Insect Bite Ointment
  • Cough drops
  • Throat Lozenges
  • and a TON of other little items…

Items I wish we had with us and didn’t:

  • Soft Kleenex – my aching nose…
  • DAYQUIL – lord, that would have helped
  • NyQuil – can’t even begin to say how much this would have helped
  • SOME KIND OF PRESCRIPTION ANTIBIOTIC for us and for the baby. This was what we needed the most and desperately needed. It was devastating to watch Quint suffer, when a good dose of antibiotics (not the archaic prescription we were given by the orphanage) would have helped tremendously.

Comfort Issues:

Right, so let’s talk about comfort. You need a flyswatter. Flies are everywhere and we could not find a flyswatter to save our lives. I also wish I had brought an egg crate to put on the mattress. It was hard as a rock. I’m not convinced the hotels would have had any better. It seems to be a cultural thing. Maybe at the Sheraton you might get a better night’s sleep but that’s a maybe – why risk it?

Better medication as listed above. For SURE.

We brought snacks to the tune of chocolate bars, (oh yes, I did) granola bars, crackers, and beef jerkey. I’m so glad we did too. I packed them on the flight from our hometown to Washington DC. Then I pulled them out of the luggage and put them in the carry on for the rest of the trip. We were never asked to throw them away at any airport. We used all of them throughout the trip. Total lifesaver. You need to know there are not places you can just stop and “eat” or “grab a coffee”. And you have to remember the warnings about consuming street products. Snacks help. One night after being there several days, I busted out a KitKat and it was like home had traveled 8000 miles to see me. Seems silly now, but it was so wonderful to taste chocolate in that moment.

If you have room – pack laundry soap. Even if you find another alternative when there, it might help with accidents, etc. I could have really used some Tide. Who knew spit up stains terribly? Our clothes and his… We did find a solution in the mini-grocery store we visited, but it was not the same as having some good old Tide.

We brought a digital camera and digital video camera. I’m glad we did both. It was worth it. Digital video camera’s don’t tend to take good pictures – they’re grainy. Go with both if possible. You’ll want lots of pictures and video. We’ve already watched the video and are so glad we have it. On the other hand, our pictures were priceless in capturing our journey. Both – you need both.

I took a laptop because I blogged our journey from Ethiopia and so many friends and family were anxious to see Quint, and hear from us. I’m not sorry I did – and it was fun to watch a movie on the laptop at the guesthouse. I also spent time playing games that I had loaded on my laptop – which was fun. The only problem with all of this was (1) we kept losing electricity everyday – so it didn’t do me much good and (2) even when we went to the Hilton, there was a few days where they had no internet connection – so it was a trip over for nothing. Sigh.

We packed light on the clothes and I guess I would do the same – but it got pretty obnoxious wearing the same things over and over with no easy solution for cleaning the clothes. Still, when it came time to travel, we were grateful. On the whole though (AB will disagree) I would have packed more, since we had a “two bags per person” limit and only ended up doing one bag per person. For shame! Think of all the comfort listed above that I could have crammed into three more suitcases!


Supplies outside of what I’ve mentioned above would be:

A backpack instead of a diaperbag. Something that can literally go on your back and you can use both arms to do what you need to do.

We brought only two large and two small bottles. I feel that was a mistake – we needed more than that – because washing nipples, etc. was difficult because you can’t use the water. If I went again, I would take 5 large bottles only. Forget the little ones, unless you are adopting a very young infant that’s only on four ounces per feeding. We used the Playtex Drop-Ins system and it saved us. Drop in the bag (it’s fitted to the bottle), fill with formula, add water and shake. When baby is done, toss the bag and start over. Piece of cake. Much easier than having to wash the bottles too.

Practical baby clothes. You need two cute outfits. One for a special night out or even your Embassy Appointment (but really, you don’t even need it for that), and one for when you come off the plane back home and everyone gets to see your little baby in all their cuteness. Otherwise, stick to the basics. Easy on and easy off. User friendly and comfortable for baby. Just trust me. This was HUGE. I only brought two blankets and that was a mistake. Wished I had more when he was throwing up. Only brought two burp clothes – darnit. Only brought two bibs – amateur. If you’re adopting a baby – be wise, unlike me, and pack appropriately. We spent our “fun” money on extras that we could have brought from home.

We found the wipes, diapers, and formula at the local store to be perfectly fine. So was thier supply of baby food solids and cereals. Don’t pack all that. Just ask to be taken to Bambi. You’ll be fine. I am a bit of diaper snob, so I was worried about their diapers, but no reason to be. They were nice. I would still pack 50 with you. You’ll still need more – especially if baby is sick.

We packed jumbo travel size shampoo, soap and conditioners, as well as shaving cream, razors, and toothpaste. When it came time to leave, we dumped it. Helped a lot!

We brought several toys with us, but made sure they were small. This worked well. Bring a teething ring – Quint went for it big time. I don’t think he’d ever had anything to gnaw on, because it was in his mouth constantly, and he wasn’t even teething. We also brought a pacifier, and he loved it. Just be practical – he was much more entertained by paper, as I’ve said, than anything we brought with us.

For those of you adopting an older child: our travel family adopted a five year old and I thought they were brilliant with their planning. They took a fun activity for their daughter to unwrap and do each day. In addition, they packed a Hello Kitty Backpack (adorable!!) with tons of little surprises and activities for her to delve into on the plane. Because she was so excited about the backpack, they decided to let her get into it a little each day and she was thrilled! I’ve never seen such a happy face. They brought a beautiful doll for her and she loved it. Took it everywhere we went. The activities saved them. Coloring, clay, yarn projects, cards, games, etc. Too fun!


In retrospect, if we could have taken a relative along, that might have helped. We were sick and exhausted and it would have been nice to have reinforcements. On the other hand, this is a life changing and huge nuclear family moment. Having someone else along, even a close family member, might be awkward for some. You really have to decide what’s the most comfortable for you. Keeping in mind that in close quarters, together 24/7, and a 3rd world country – you might get a little sick of each other ten minutes into the trip. Anton and I did remarkably well, considering all that stress we were under – but it really is a family decision.

Final thoughts:

Regardless, you will find on your trip that there were things you needed, didn’t need, did or did not do, and wanted or didn’t want. And your list will be different from mine, most likely. It’s all dependent on where you stay, what time of year you travel, if you get sick, if your child or children get or are sick, etc. Lots of factors and lots of solutions.

Most importantly I would say that my journey was my own and the negative things that I encountered were my impression. They were also seen through the veil of tremendous physical strain. You may find your stay quite nice and much like a vacation. Others I have read, have felt this way. Some have written to me to say they felt the overall air of Addis was “depressed” and so too, were they - as a result. You must prepare yourself for both – but keep your expectations at a reasonable level. I read about a gal adopting twins who literally was vomiting and passed out as her children were being brought out to her for the first time. Talk about a disappointing “gotcha” moment for her! It’s never to infer the journey is not worth it or rewarding – because it’s both. It’s only to say that you must be prepared to leave the story book ideas at home and keep a very open mind about what you will see, hear, and most importantly feel.

Say to yourself “this might be the hardest trip we will ever make, or it might be the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen – either way, the reward will outweigh anything else”.

I hope that each of you embarking down this road will find, as we did, that the journey to your child(ren), though paved with many challenges, was worth every single step, every single feeling (lousy or happy) and rewarding beyond measure.

Wishing you all the best on your journey!! I’ll need updates from you – that’s the “fee” for the post…(tee hee)


Catherine said...

So much helpful and useful information. Thank you for sharing it with us!

Kim said...

GREAT information..
I have this saved to help me when we get to go to CHina.
You have done such a wonderful job on posting and helping others out..
Hugs to ya..

Dan, Misty & Ashar said...

Priceless info. Thanks Christie! I will be referring to this again and again I'm sure (probably around October/November!)

Jennifer said...

JJ Cole has a great little diaper bag that you can strap across your back, leaving your hands free. It's light and could be packed into suitcase easily. You can't put a huge amount into it, some onesies, bottle, pacifier, couple diapers, but if you are on the go it's wonderful.

I used it after the second baby because I knew I didn't want to lug a big bag around and I would need my hands. It would be really great for traveling. It's called the Logic bag and it can be had at Target and Babies R Us. You can get a little pacifier pod to attach to it also.

The Diaper Dude would have been great for Anton too, but it's bigger.

Joy said...

Thanks - that was really helpful. I am debating whether to stay at the Toukoul guest house or another guest house. The other guest houses seem much more reasonably priced, but the Toukoul one would be close and seemed to include a lot. It included meals and water, did it also include the driver, but no internet?

Our baby Zambia said...

I have saved this post so I know what to bring when we go to Zambia. Thanks so much!

Amber said...

Ok, I have to start by saying, wow, you are an amazing writer. I don't know how you remembered in so much detail. I have been reading your blog on and off for two days. It's amazing. I think our agency, Adoption Avenues, uses the same orphanage that you went to. I really appreciate your honesty and your advice. Your son is beautiful! God bless,