Books on Birds, Bees . . .

bird and bee

As I have mentioned before, I thought about a lot of weird stuff as a kid. In fact, I spent a good part of my childhood in strange thought experiments, pondering this and that, trying to work things out. Why were there so few colors and could I think up a new one if I really tried? How would Math work if humans had six fingers on each hand? How do they get the music on to those vinyl records? But when it came to where babies came from – I was only ever-so-slightly intrigued. Not enough to really spend time pondering it all. Men and women got married and spent a lot of time in each other’s company. Babies happened. No storks were necessary ( – that story was so lame). There were no questions.

That made it all the more shocking to me when all my non-existent questions were answered late one winter night in a cabin full of girl scouts at Camp Minikani. (See, Bitter Ben – once again it is those darn scouts! They are to blame!) Our hippie counselor had snuck out to join the other adults and the bunk-bed discussions began. An older girl started explaining the . . . production process . . . to a younger one and I listened in. Basically I had no choice.

Like many young kids (I assume) my first reaction was “Eewww!” Then came the realization – like a tidal wave rolling over me – “My parents did THAT!?!” Then the third wave crashed: “And they did it FIVE times!” While I was dealing with the undertow, the younger girl was made to repeat it all (to make sure she really understood, they said. Right. There was no sadistic pleasure happening here – this was all purely educational.) Then one of the good Samaritans said it was my turn to repeat the information. I pretended to be asleep.

It was only after this camp experience that I noticed the books. They were casually placed around our house for any of us kids to find. Masters and Johnson, David Reuben’s “Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex* (*but was afraid to ask)” . . . there might have been more. The first time I took one off a shelf to look at, I saw that it had been read a lot before. If I stood it on its back and let it go, it would always fall open to pages with interesting illustrations. My mom saw me looking at one of them once and said “If you have any questions, you can ask me.” I thanked her politely and she left the room. That was sex education in the early 70s.

Fast forward nearly 40 years and I was now the mom. But, once again, I was confronted with the topic a bit too early. My daughter was only in the 3rd grade when a letter came from her school. They wanted to offer a program with a team of social workers who would come to the school and talk to the kids about various topics. The title was something like “My Body Belongs to Me – Sexual Abuse Prevention” – who doesn’t want that for their kids? The first stage was a mandatory parent’s evening during which they ran through the entire program with us first. It was exceptionally well done. And yet . . .

At the end, the parents were encouraged to ask questions, make objections, . . . whatever. The silence was deafening. Slowly, a hand started going up and it surprised me to realize it was my own. I thought “Oh, shit!” when they noticed and called on me. Slightly panicked, I fell back on my training in negotiation: Begin with a compliment.

“I think it is very important what you are doing here. But . . . I am fairly sure my daughter doesn’t know about sex yet. And I’m worried about her learning about sexual abuse before she even knows what sex is.”

There was a murmur in the crowd. Then came the response.

“I understand your concerns. You should have the talk with her before we begin.”

The murmurs got louder. I responded.

“I don’t have a problem talking to her about this subject. But I have always gone with the principle of waiting till the question is asked and then answering it honestly. She hasn’t shown any curiosity about this yet. And if she had, she would ask me, I know that.”

It was a strong argument I thought. I had used this same approach to deal with all the questions my kids had about their adoptions and birth parents. So far it had gone really well. The social worker, however, was not convinced.

“Because of internet and cell phones today, it can happen so fast that your child is shown a porn video or confronted with something trashy from YouTube. It’s better they hear it from you than be introduced to sex in that way. You should have the talk with her before we begin.”

(Fast Forward: Years later, this exact thing happened to a very young student of mine. The drawings he started making in art class set the alarm bells off. A parent/teacher conference ensued quickly and I observed the mother’s face going white as she looked at her son’s artistic renderings. I felt so bad for her . . . )

After that, one of the parents complained that one of the points in the program (sexual abuse committed by a mother) was completely unacceptable. A mother would never do such a thing! I watched the social workers carefully as they dealt with this subject. They were fantastically diplomatic as they stuck to their guns. I also felt they were right. (I had read “Sybil” in Junior High School. It got passed around from student to student and it was another one of those books that simply fell open to the most insidious chapter. The kitchen scene. It haunted me for years.) It was during this discussion that I decided – if they were right about this point, they were probably right in their advice to me.

I related the whole evening to my husband later and we ordered the books suggested in the parents’ evening. They arrived quickly and we placed them casually around the house for our daughters to discover. Days and days went by and, still, they didn’t take the bait. The day of the school program approached as the books lay untouched and gathering dust. We clearly needed a Plan B.

Two days before the program, my husband got the girls up and ready for school as usual. The bus was late. Suddenly my husband noticed that it was only 5:30 am, not 6:30. They had an hour to kill. “How about if we read a book?” he suggested.

He called me from work later in the morning to tell me about it. According to him, the girls were not particularly impressed. There were no questions.

I sat there, sipping my morning coffee, feeling just a little relieved. The Talk had happened. I thought about my girls on the school bus that morning and how they might have felt. I thought about my husband’s completely uncharacteristic clock reading “mistake”. I was ever-so-slightly intrigued. But not enough to really spend time pondering it all.

Freedom Egg

freedom egg

The top guy in our local chapter of the Freedom Party came by today and gave us this Easter egg. Of course it is blue – the party’s color. How nice. Maybe I’ll vote for them after all. Oh wait – I’m not allowed to vote. I’m a foreigner.

To be precise, they aren’t really the Freedom Party (“Freiheit”), but the Freedom-like or Freedom-ish Party (“freiheitlich”) – which always makes me think of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”. And like all political parties claiming to be freedomish, their definition of that term is hard to discern. It’s clear what they want freedom FROM: from government and regulation, from conservatives and socialists, from the EU and political correctness, and, of course, freedom from foreigners. The freedoms TO . . . do whatever  . . . are much less clear. What would actually be freer if they got into power – I mean, beyond cigarette lighters in election season and blue eggs in March?

The last election to happen while I was still teaching university students was for the European Union Parliament back in 2009. We discussed the platforms of all the parties, with the freedomish one providing some comic relief – literally! Part of their campaign came in the form of a comic book distributed throughout the country. It was all about the heroic acts of their national leader, HC Strache with his bluest of eyes. Here’s a little taste:

blue planet comic book
Translation: “We are only hospitable to guests who also behave like guests. Now get outta here!!”


More recently and locally, this same party got almost a third of the votes in my little village last year with their campaign slogans “Foreigner in your own country?” and “YOUR chance for REVENGE!” The posters shouting out these words also featured pictures of local party members, including the bearer of today’s blue egg. He is actually one of my nearest neighbors. He owned the gas station and restaurant at the bottom of our hill. Despite his retiring recently, this restaurant is still the favorite hangout of the village’s freedomish people.

And we all just got new neighbors. 100 meters uphill from the restaurant, an old Bed & Breakfast was renovated to house 30 refugees – all young men from various nations. Separated only by a meadow and a small stream, those two houses can now spend all day pondering one another. I wonder if the refugees – actually, we call them “migrants” now – got blue eggs today too?

Me and My Shadow

Whenever I am home and chance to look down at the floor – some version of this is what I usually see:

dogthree1My Dog Three. She is going on 15 years old which is really old for a dog her size. As I have mentioned before, she is deaf, almost blind and fairly senile. She’s also got some kind of doggie Parkinson’s, so she trembles a lot. Her back legs give out on her at times, and if I accidentally tug a little too hard on the leash, she topples over. But she can still chase the cat and make it all the way around the cornfield, even picking a little fight with an unimpressed cow along the way.

She’s always been a quivery, hypersensitive thing, but in the past half year, it has gotten more noticeable. If she is not sleeping in her bed, she is always within a meter or so of me – usually next to my desk. Whenever I get up to do something, I hear her sigh and drag herself up to follow.


dogthree2When I go get a glass of water from the kitchen, there she is. If I stay longer at the sink –doing dishes, for instance – then she comes up and stands directly behind me. I feel her leaning against the back of my knees.


dogthree3When I go out on the porch, there she sits. (She has trouble getting over the stoop and so usually waits inside.)




When I come up from the basement after doing laundry or something, there she stands at the top of the steps.


Even when I go to the bathroom, she comes and stands guard. If I don’t close the door completely, she pushes it open with her snout and I see this:


I fully realize that those of you out there who are not dog-people will probably find all this just a bit creepy. She has always looked scarier than my other dogs and old age has not exactly made her more attractive. But for me it has become normal – even comforting – to be stalked this way. It’s a little sad, and, somehow, so lovely.

A Love Song to My Spam Fans

I have recently discovered the fun of reading spam comments filtered out by Akismet. (If “kismet” means luck, then does “akismet” mean “no luck”feeder?) They are always so complimentary and contain such cute grammar mistakes. I like the fact that they all come from sites with running shoe brands in their names. I love how wonderfully inappropriate they are to the theme of whatever post attracted their algorithms. Take today’s example. It came attached to an earlier post about funny inventions my brothers drew as kids (“Grand Theft Notebook”). The comment specifically referred to “The Automatic Dog Feeder” invention (see picture) and said this:

Very efficiently written information. It will be supportive to anybody who usess it, including yours truly :).

I so wish I could reply!

Dear Mr. Spammer, Thank you for the compliment. I wish you the best of luck in building your dog feeding machine! And, if you don’t mind, please send me a picture of it when it is finished.

A Clash of Titans


I’ve had a wrestling match going on inside my body for the past two weeks. Or to be more accurate, I haven’t. But I should. Let me explain.

clash2Picture the ring.  In one corner is The Power of Pain making me dutifully swallow the pills, drink the tea and lie on the couch. In the other corner is The Force of Habit – and that particular force is strong with me – which keeps me gravitating to my laptop, sitting for too long, falling back into my slouchy posture, and forgetting to eat.  My recuperation has been a roller coaster ride as a result. After two sort of bad days in a row, I woke up this morning and just knew I didn’t want to take any more pills. Not only are they making me feel depressed, they are only treating the symptoms (pain) and not the cause (habits). It’s time to let these two have at each other.

Contestants on your marks! Blow the whistle!


Sorry Life Stories

My cleaning lady and I don’t talk a lot. Partly it’s because her German is quite limited, her English is nonexistent, and my Hungarian consists of hello, goodbye and “one coffee please thank you”. Usually when I say something to her, she just smiles, laughs a little and agrees. So we have conversations like this:

“How was your week?”

“Yes, yes.” (Little laugh).

Or, today:

“J., you don’t have to do anything in Mitzi’s room today. It’s a disaster zone. Just shut the door and forget about it.”

“Yes, ok, yes.” (Little laugh.)

She then started on the upstairs bathroom while I did the kitchen – the other disaster zone she doesn’t have to deal with. As I was sorting through the vegetable and fruit baskets, removing all the things that were no longer edible, my cleaning lady came in with a huge collection of dirty, crusty dishes and glasses, cups lined in dried cocoa with the spoon cemented to the bottom, a bag full of used tissues, empty plastic bottles and potato chip bags, candy wrappers . . .

“Oh! Are those from Mitzi’s room?  You didn’t have to do that!”

“Yes, yes.” (Little laugh)


food1Despite my troubles in communicating with my cleaning lady, this morning had no shortage of stories. That is because I decided, as long as I was at it, to rid all the kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator of expired foodstuffs too. In the process I discovered all sorts of new life forms residing in back recesses. Some had grown eyes. Some had grown hair. Some were all shriveled and discolored. Hard things had become flaccid and creamy things had hardened. Juicy things had dried up and once crispy things had become juicy. Some of the foods I simply couldn’t identify anymore. Some were wrapped in tin foil and I just tossed them out uninspected. Some of them had been there so long that they seemed close to achieving mobility or even sentience. And they all had stories to tell.

food2Take these pineapples for example:

Life started out so well for them. They blossomed and thrived somewhere in the Philippines in a region which I am pretty sure was NOT called “Sweet Valley”. They had decent lives until one day a few years ago when the machete showed up. Suddenly they were being rounded up and sent with 1000s of their kind to collection centers in Indonesia. Then the sorting began and these particular ones were not considered attractive or useful enough to be spared and left intact. They were handled roughly, stripped, sliced and diced, doused in acids and sugars, treated with chemicals, forced into metal containers and locked in airtight. Enter Otto Franck of Augsburg, (why is there so often a German in stories like these?), the wholesaler who said he would take them in. Thus began the pineapples’ long trek to a new home on the other side of the planet. After arriving in Europe, they were packed into a truck and dispatched in all directions – these particular ones to a small town in Austria, finally landing on a supermarket shelf. A middle aged man then chanced by, grabbed them and tossed them into a cart. They were destined to become part of a fruit salad – not a bad end for a pineapple, really – but then only half of them actually made it into the bowl. The rest were still stuck in the can, cooling their heels in our fridge. They kept getting shoved farther and farther back until they were completely forgotten. This went on for a long long LONG time. Well, today, they were finally released. On their short trip to the compost bin they saw the sun again (!!) if only for a few fleeting seconds. And then they reached their final resting place. They can now decompose in a mass heap together with thousands of other foodstuffs from all over the globe.

Once again, the sheer amount of (former) food I tossed out today made me feel ashamed. (It’s another reason I always do the kitchen myself instead of asking the cleaning lady to do it.) All of these foods – like my pineapples – probably traveled hundreds or thousands of miles before landing in my kitchen. They were grown, processed, packaged and distributed in a (fossil fuel) energy intensive way. Their various ingredients – like the high fructose corn syrup surrounding my pineapples – probably came from huge, corporate-owned mono-culture fields on land once dotted by now-defunct small farms. Fertilizers and pesticides were used liberally as well as chemical additives – the flavoring from New Jersey and the vitamins from China. Trees were felled to make the paper that the labels and advertisements were printed on. More gas guzzling trucks were used to distribute these. Maybe some of my food’s plastic wrapping ended up in the ocean and suffocated or strangled some poor sea creature.

But the worst part is that the sum total of what I threw away today was probably more than people in other parts of the world eat in an entire week – including some in my neighboring country of Hungary. I found myself thinking about the photo essay “Hungry Planet” by Peter Menzel, showing typically-sized families from countries around the world surrounded by the food they eat in one week. ( ) Here are a few examples to give an impression:

What does it say about the world that the wasted and decomposing foods in my compost heap are more traveled than the average American? That – comparatively – they have impacted the environment more than many an African? That I am one of about 8 million residents in Austria, 7,940, 281 of whom regularly throw away food just like I do?

“Eat your vegetables, C. There are children in Ethiopia who are starving.”

I suppose I could buy all my meat and eggs from near neighbors. I could restrict myself to local, seasonal, organic, fair trade and vegan products. I could say ”No” to fruits from plantations in Spain in winter. I could say “No” to fair trade products from countries farther away than, let’s say, 500 kilometers. I could say “No” to the entire frozen food section in the store. Canned foods too.  I could say “No” to ever eating in a restaurant. I could say “No” to the next trip to the grocery store as long as all my kitchen cupboards are already filled with foodstuffs near or beyond their expiration dates. Or I could say . . .

Our entire food system is a disaster zone. Just shut the door and forget about it.

“Yes, yes.” (Little laugh.)

Miss Peevish and the Bruiser

I can now say something that, in my entire life, all the way up to and including yesterday, I could not have said before.

Physical therapy is a hoot.

Five minutes into my first consultation I randomly wondered if my therapist’s lips were permanently pursed in an expression of disapproval, or if my previous personal disregard of my physical condition particularly perplexed her. After peppering me with trick questions we went to the mirror and she pointed out the unattractive asymmetry in my collar bones. We then went through a series of contortions. For example, she pulled my arm straight out, bent the lower arm upward at the elbow, twisted it a half revolution, pushed it toward my right ear and then started sliding the whole thing downward along my back. “What am I? A wishbone?”  I thought through clenched teeth. Any second now there was going to be a loud snapping sound.

“Does that hurt?” she asked.

“Um . . . yes. ”

“That’s because you have no muscles in your arms. You are like jellyfish.”

It seemed to me that muscles would have just gotten in the way of achieving this position. After a few more of these pretzel moves, I decided to impress her with my old grade school parlor trick – the one I used to astound all my 9 year old friends. I clasped my hands together behind my back and raised my arms up to shoulder height and beyond. She promptly pooh-poohed that move.

“Don’t ever do that,” she said. “That will make your shoulders more likely to pop out of the socket.”

“I thought flexibility was a good thing.”

“It’s not flexibility. It’s jellyfish.”

Next came a few exercises with an elastic band that I am supposed to do repeatedly throughout the day, every day, until my next session. She gave me tiny verbal pat on the head after those. In the very last minute, she made a great save by telling me I could take the elastic band with me.

“But please hide it in your bag – I’m not supposed to be handing those out.”

Suddenly, I sort of liked her.

From there I proceeded to my therapeutic massage with a brawny little lady from somewhere like. . .  Bulgaria, I’m guessing. I forgot her name, but I’m pretty sure it was Olga. I lay down, stuck my face in the hole on the table and she had at me. She pronounced my absent muscles to be all very tensed up. “WHO’S a jellyfish?!” I thought, feeling momentarily good about myself again until Olga suddenly puffed up and turned all green and transformed into The Bruiser. At one point I wondered why she was trying to press marbles through my skin. Then I realized those hard round things she was pummeling flat were inside me. This went on for all eternity.  Okay, it was only a half hour, but that is a long time to be concentrating on not drooling.

This part also ended with a conspiracy. Olga informed me that my muscles would probably hurt more in the next few days – and not to worry – that’s normal. If it turns out to be true, I think that must be the world’s best kept secret. Massage hurts.

Since I like to end posts on a positive note if possible, here are the bright sides of today.

elastic band1) I’ve been initiated into the mystical and conspiratorial world of physical therapy. One more item for my “Been there. Done that.” List.

2) The bill is going to my (slightly hysterical) insurance provider and I get to keep the elastic band.

3) Two down, ten to go.

International Kidnapping – (Reunions – Chapter 8)

Note: This is part of a longer story. To read earlier chapters, click on the category “Adoption Stories” (and work from the bottom up!)



Mr. T and Mrs. Herewego abruptly stopped their heated and frantic whispering and stared at me.

“I want to know what is going on here,” my husband added almost as loudly. “Do you two even know what you are doing?”

Mr. T spoke up first, saying “The judges refused to deal with the case.”

“Well, we figured out that much for ourselves! So what are we supposed to do now?”

Mitzi was waking up in my arms. She started squirming a little. And she wasn’t the only one squirming. Mr. T was too. He signaled “One moment, please” and returned to his nervous discussion in Amharic with Mrs. Herewego. After minutes of this, she turned to us and said quietly, “We will go to the President now.” They turned and started walking; my husband and I had no choice but to follow.

There were, of course, several offices to visit, signatures to get, discussions to listen to, and fees to be paid before we found ourselves in the waiting room outside the office of the Court President. I could feel myself losing it in waves, each time it got harder to hold myself together. Looking down at sleeping Mitzi seemed to help. But as we were finally ushered into the president’s office, my eyes were tearing up. I blinked through his unfriendly discussion with our representatives. He then turned to me and began speaking in perfect English. He grilled me for a while about why this is an emergency case. Is it really about Mitzi’s health? Or is it just because we don’t want to stay in Ethiopia any longer? He then started lecturing me about how there are very good doctors here in Ethiopia too.

Suddenly I felt Mrs. Herewego nudging me. She whispered forcefully, “Say something! Speak!”

I have no idea what I said. I doubt it was even intelligible. But it was enough that this man sensed he was dealing with a woman on the edge of a breakdown. He seemed to take pity on me and the tone of his voice changed. He ended up telling us to re-petition the next day – but this time to make a stronger case about Mitzi’s health. He even suggested we get our letter from the clinic translated. We thanked him and left.

Outside the office, Mr. T was suddenly all upbeat and confident again – but he was alone in that feeling. It dawned on us at that moment how incompetent this man really was. Why was he even here? He wasn’t our representative. He was a social worker whose job was to process our file, not lead us through every step of the adoption. His mere presence seemed to irritate every official we had seen so far. What was going on? We had originally thought he was a person of influence who would be important for us, but now we could see that his authority was just another borrowed car that he was trying to drive through red lights. We had been distracted, by our new daughter, her health issues and our beginning parenthood for too long. We had to turn our attention to the legal side of our adoption and give this man a good strong push. And we needed help.

Enter the two White Knights of this story.

I still have a mental image of the first time I saw . . . let’s call him “Arthur”. We were standing on a street corner in Addis attracting the attention of every sort of Ethiopian, pretending not to hear the requests for money, hoping we would not get surrounded by excited children again. Then Arthur came sweeping up in his big, new four-wheel drive car – appropriately white just like the proverbial steed. We piled in, all smiles, and all said how nice it was to finally meet in person.

You see, we had first contacted Arthur and his wife, “Jean”, weeks earlier. Jean was the secretary in the Austrian Embassy in Ethiopia and as luck or fate would have it – they were also in the process of adopting their first baby. That made them not only an excellent contact and source of information, but also meant that they were always gracious no matter how often we peppered them with emails and calls (even the one my husband made in the middle of the night and for which I apologized profusely the next day.) In all of those conversations, a long-distance friendship had formed. They were ready and eager to keep helping us from the moment we arrived in Addis. At that first meeting in person, Arthur was picking us up and bringing us to the Swedish Clinic to have Mitzi checked out. Later in the day, we met Jean after work. The first thing she did was supply us with preemie-sized baby clothes that their new daughter – just one day older than Mitzi – had already grown out of. We met up with them almost every other day and they suffered with us through our series of adoption pitfalls, offering vital advice, help and the missing information we needed to solve our sticky situation. They were our first call when we finally got back to the mission after that botched court date.

flying papers“I’m so sorry,” I remember Arthur saying when we told him the story of our adoption file being thrown across the room and the machine gun escort out. “And you really have to go through this all again tomorrow?” he added.

Well, my husband did, at any rate. I was in no shape to go through it a second time. Stress had been wreaking havoc on my ability to eat and digest food. The pounds were dropping off me. And Mitzi was in no shape to spend another day in cold and damp concrete rooms. So we decided that my husband would go alone with our representative and that I would stay back at the Mission with Mitzi. On Court Day Two, he came home empty handed. Despite waiting for hours, only two of three judges showed up so he never even made it into the chambers. Court Day Three turned out to be a repeat of Day One, right down to the soldier escort. Once outside the court, my husband basically exploded. He yelled at Mr. T that “This is NOT WORKING!” It was time to try something different. WHAT were we going to do? Mr. T assured him that he had a plan and would contact us soon. And then we didn’t hear from him for three days. In the meantime, we postponed our flight home and I started to come to terms with the idea of staying in Ethiopia for another 8 weeks.

You see, we had been dealing with the Emergency Higher Courts all the while because the lower courts were closed down for two months. There were two problems attached to this approach, as we eventually found out. The first was that our little adoption was of no real concern to the judges at this level to begin with. It was like the equivalent of taking a parking ticket all the way to the Supreme Court. The second problem is that they were given no reason to overturn the original judgment. This wasn’t an appeal – Mr. T was basically asking them to ignore it, pretend it never happened. And that was never going to fly. Our file did instead.

We discovered these things out slowly with the help of information from Arthur, Jean, and Mrs. Herewego, who dropped by to visit while we were waiting for Mr. T’s next great new plan. I made a point of building a relationship with her – with mixed success. There was something amiss in her relationship to Mr. T that we couldn’t quite figure out. Was he her employer in some way? Did she have to share our fee with him? Was she his way of avoiding those nasty lawyers he hated so much (the same lawyers that might have been more helpful to us in the courtroom than a social worker turned out to be?) We discussed all this and theorized with Arthur many times as he drove us around Addis. As we weaved and honked and swerved around little skinny goat herds and barefooted beggars and old bent over women with huge bundles of sticks on their backs, I realized that I was growing accustomed to this strange African city. I could imagine staying awhile after all, which was good, because I really had no choice. I could not leave here till Mitzi could go with me.

Our drives back and forth from the Mission to A&J’s house always took us past the slaughterhouse yard. The first time we passed I noticed the smell but not much more. The next time that smell came up, I took a closer look. Arthur and my husband were discussing Mr. T. once again in the front seat. They had started referring to him as “the Weasel”. As I stared at the tall wall and the huge white-grayish piles behind them – hills, really – I wondered . . . what was that?? Could those all be animal bones? Large black birds were perched everywhere on the piles and walls. Arthur was talking about how much corruption was a problem in this country and that the fee of $1500 we were paying was more than most Ethiopians earned in a year – definitely enough to tempt some official into vying for his share. Maybe that was the reason the Weasel originally got so involved in our case, why he disliked the lawyers. It would be harder with them to get his cut. Some of the big black birds were flapping and sparring.

“Are those . . . vultures?” I asked incredulously.

vultures1 vultures2

When the Weasel finally showed up again, he reported having a meeting with the original judge, but that it was not a success. The judge said he couldn’t do anything until the courts reopened. But never fear, Mr. T had a new idea. He was going to ask for special permission from the Immigration Bureau for us to take Mitzi to Austria for medical treatment. Our adoption could be finalized by our representative in October and the papers sent on to us. He was checking it out and would tell us the next day if that could work.

I rejected this idea out of hand and was surprised when my husband, Jean and Arthur later talked about it as a real option. They theorized that if Mitzi could get an Ethiopian passport issued to her with an exit permission stamp, and if the Austrian Embassy (where Jean had some pull) could put an entry visa stamp in there, well . . . what could go wrong? I couldn’t believe they were seriously considering this insane plan.

“So . . . you are saying that we come to Ethiopia, take a child out of an orphanage and bring her back to Austria without us having any legal attachment to her? Tell me,” I asked, “how is that different from an international kidnapping?”

Those three started throwing out more ideas and options. I put Mitzi in my husband’s arms and set off – once again – to use the bathroom. (My intestines had become something of an issue.) When I returned, Jean asked me, “Would it help if I called the Foreign Ministry in Vienna and got their okay on this plan?”

Would it? I felt a tiny glimmer of hope, and for the first time in over two weeks, a little twinge of hunger.

We had a Sunday to get through at the Mission House first. I spent it dodging the pious (who were constantly wanting to pray with us) and pushing the thought out of my head that we would actually be home now, if things had gone as originally planned. On Monday, Mr. T called with the news that his latest scheme was working. We just had to show up at the Immigration Bureau with a letter he was writing and they would issue a passport to Mitzi. Mrs. Herewego would pick us up after lunch.

She arrived as promised, but instead of going to Immigration, we found ourselves in Mr. T’s office where he was nervously still trying to compose the letter. He kept getting up and mumbling about “doing it later” and we kept coercing him back into the chair. Finally, Mrs. H stood behind him and dictated as he typed. Immigration was due to close in an hour by the time we set off. There were only 20 minutes left to the work day when we finally reached the Director’s Office.

He was a friendly man who spoke English well, but he also began by lecturing us. He made it very clear that he did not see any real emergency here – Ethiopia has excellent doctors. But then he added that he thought we were doing a very good thing in adopting a baby and so he was happy to help us. He asked Mr. T for the letter and began to read it. His face changed. He was obviously irritated and he began berating the Weasel. It seemed Mr.T still had one last screw up in him – of course he had! – and now this wasn’t going to work either. I felt panic rising inside me. I asked Mrs. Herewego what was going on and she said quietly, “The letter doesn’t have the proper signature.” Then she stepped into the fray.

Somehow, they worked out a plan. Mrs. H. and my husband rushed off to get the necessary signature and I was taken back to the Mission with Mitzi and, unfortunately, the Weasel. We sat there for two hours as he chatted away happily. I could barely look at him. Finally, I saw the front door open and my husband walk through. He had a strange look in his eyes. He walked over and stopped next to me. An Ethiopian passport plopped into my lap. Mr. T happily congratulated us and then himself on his work well done.



The passport gave off an energy that kept me going through the whirlwind of the next 36 hours. We started packing and preparing to leave – last minute shopping, paying bills, delivering donations, etc. Of course the first thing on the list was racing to the Austrian Embassy to get an entry visa and extra letter for emergency’s sake. From there it was off to the travel agency where we begged our way onto a flight for the next day. Here we experienced our last little pitfall.

“I can get you all on a flight to Milan,” the agent said, “but from there to Vienna, there is only one seat available. I will put you on the priority waiting list for the second seat.”

We took it. I couldn’t be bothered to think about this minor hitch at the moment. I knew the only thing that mattered was feeling our plane take off from the ground in Addis. At that moment, no one would be coming to take Mitzi away from me anymore. I barely remember anything else from our last day in Ethiopia, but I do remember the lift off. The three of us had made it. Kidnapping accomplished.

At least to Italy.

“I’m sorry, but only one of you can board this plane with the baby. The other will have to take the next flight (12 hours later).”

We were stunned. There we were, just a one-hour puddle jump from our homecoming, and we couldn’t get there together. The plane was boarding any minute and we had to make a decision. My husband’s family was probably already on the way to the airport in Vienna with their stork signs and presents and champagne. It was his family, so I told him to go. I would follow on the next flight. He refused, deciding we would all wait, but I put my foot down. I wanted Mitzi on Austrian soil. He gave in, then checked in, and we took seats in the waiting area.

And then I burst out crying.

The airline employees at the check-in looked over at us with sympathy and nervous concern in their eyes.

A few minutes later a flight attendant walked up to us and said “We have found you a second seat on this flight. Here let me help you.”  She escorted us all the way into the plane, carrying my bag for me. Once inside, she went to some passengers in the emergency row seats (with extra legroom) and asked them – or more accurately, told them –  to move. She helped us get settled, asked us what we needed, chatted with us and generally stayed close by. I loved her. I watched Mitzi sleep in the basket at our feet as the plane picked up speed on the runway and then lifted off the ground. We were going home.

I’m Thinking My Cat Might Be the Devil

One aspect of my recuperation is that I have been sleeping on the living room couch since Monday because I can find a position there where my arm doesn’t hurt. On the first night I set up everything I might need in the night on the coffee table: a glass of water, my cell phone and Kindle, the IPad, the two remote controls. Unfortunately, I forgot about the cat and that he would have access to my face all night long. And he is a drooler. So I spent a part of the night waking up and swatting him away. The morning started badly with, literally, a rude awakening. My cat jumped on top of me, landing squarely on my bad shoulder. I reflexively took a swing which sent him flying off the couch and on to the coffee table. I heard my water glass smashing and water spilling out. I jolted up (OUCH!), scrambled for my glasses (OUCH!), and surveyed the carnage. Luckily for him the water ran off the table right in between all the electronics or he would have been banished from the house for the duration. As it is, we had a little talk and set the ground rules of where he can lie from now on. His restraining order stipulates that he cannot come within 18 inches of my face. So far he has complied, but this is how he feels about it: