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Out of Africa

For one local family, it’s been a long haul adopting two children from Ethiopia. But as Hanook and Adee recover from illness and malnutrition, life is getting easier for the Goddards.

By Andra Coberly from the Fort Collins Weekly

 

Hanook’s doe eyes look even bigger in his post-nap dazedness. And the whites that surround his almost black irises look even lighter and brighter peering from his rich, ebony skin. The 3-year-old boy is slow to begin playing after his early afternoon snooze, but he soon crawls from his father’s lap and pours a cardboard box full of colorful wooden blocks onto the carpet.

His parents recently discovered Hanook’s love for blocks. He also loves bread dipped in sweet tea and has taken a fancy to Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

Less than two months ago, Hanook had no concept of who or what a Cookie Monster was. Sesame Street is a totally new thing for a boy who was living in an Ethiopian orphanage not long ago, given up by a family too poor to feed him and his 16-month-old sister Adee, so sick he still coughs five weeks later, and so affected by malnutrition his belly is still distended.

Many things are new for Hanook and Adee: new parents and siblings, a new home and country, food and medical care, language, toys and more. As it has been extremely exhausting—emotionally and physically—for their new parents, it’s surely been an overwhelming experience for the two children. Not only have their world and family been completely transformed in five weeks, but both were extremely sick when they left the orphanage. Little Adee has been diagnosed with pneumonia and Giardia and is still being tested by doctors.

But things are getting easier and calmer for the children and their new parents. Routines are being learned, and the language and habits of the Goddard home, set in a comfortable house in a small subdivision next to Lory State Park near Bellvue, are coming fast to Hanook. His English vocabulary is growing quickly.

In fact, the first English word he could associate with an object—thanks to Sesame Street—was “cookie.”

***

Alicia Goddard always wanted to adopt.

Her grandmother had been adopted from a southern Ohio orphanage in 1910, and Alicia was raised hearing her grandmother’s stories. After being married to Tim for a while and having three kids of their own, she thought it was a good time to bring another child into their home.

“I like kids, so I wasn’t adverse to the idea,” Tim says. “A house full of kids is fun for me, and this just keeps the fun going.”

They began their research in mid-2005 and began the formal process that September. After the Goddards decided they wanted to adopt a child from outside of the United States, the task became finding a country to adopt from. Many countries have their own restrictions for adoptions, so the country often picks the parents as much as the parents pick where they adopt from. For the Goddards, selecting a place also involved finding a culture that they could bring into their home.

“The question was, could it be a part of us? We didn’t want it to be just the kids’ culture. We wanted it to be a part of our family,” Alicia says.

In looking at Africa, they were at first hesitant. The couple was uncertain if a lack of diversity locally could make an African child feel too isolated.

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“We really wrestled with racial diversity. We don’t have a lot in the neighborhood and not a lot in the school system,” Tim says. “But we found that we would be open to adopting siblings, so we could have some diversity in the house.”

Before they found Hanook and Adee, the Goddards were given a home study, during which a licensed worker comes to the home to assess the environment and interview the family. It helps to ensure that the family is prepared for an adoption and to make sure the children will be placed in a good home. The family also chose an international adoption agency, to which they provided a dossier of information. The agency, as well as adoption officials in Ethiopia, then examined the information to match them with a child.

“And then you wait,” Tim says, “a long time.”

The Goddards submitted their dossier in April 2006 and waited until December for the referral, which stated that they had two healthy children waiting for them in Ethiopia. They left for Africa at the end of January.

Their trip was not just a short stop to pick up the children. Tim and Alicia, as well as their 10-year-old son Joshua, took two weeks to immerse themselves in the culture and the routines of Hanook and Adee, working and spending time at the orphanage the children had been at for months. They learned everything from social interactions to health, schooling to potty routines. The Goddards say that the orphanage was very good by international standards—with four or five care-providers for three dozen children. The nannies gave the children attention and sang songs, they dipped bread in sweetened tea as a treat for the kids, something that Hanook and Adee still find comforting.

Joshua spent time working at the orphanage, cleaning and cooking and caring for the children.

“We wanted to go see where the children came from. We wanted to glean as much as we could about their background,” Tim says.

The Goddards were also able to meet the children’s family, which was forced to give up Hanook and Adee because of extreme poverty. The family was able to tell the Goddards through a translator their wishes for the children: They hoped Hanook and Adee would be raised as Christians and would be educated.

“(Their mother) was sad to be giving her children up but at the same time she was happy at the thought that they would receive good care and the opportunity for schooling,” Tim says. “They would not have that opportunity otherwise.”

Upon arrival at the orphanage in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the Goddards also learned that both the children were sick. The little girl had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and when they arrived back in the United States, she was also diagnosed with Giardia. She will receive her third chest X-ray this week. Hanook, whose cough was so bad he couldn’t sleep, was suffering from complete respiratory distress.

The new family left Ethiopia after two weeks. With two sick children in tow, Tim and Alicia boarded the plane for a ride they describe as “really, really rough.”

“Those airplane bathrooms are very small and a 16-month-old with Giardia,” Tim sighs. “At one point, it was where I was washing outfits and being really, really tired. I’m getting her cleaned up and I’m getting the bathroom cleaned up and I’m looking at my watch and saying, ‘Wow, seven hours to go. That’s pretty good.’ And then I head for the coffee pot.”

Added to that, Joshua had also come down with a staph infection while working in the orphanage. It was just one more ball for two extremely exhausted people to juggle.

“You come off a plane and you have two seriously ill children and jetlag. It’s no cake walk,” Alicia says.

“The first two weeks were very intense,” Tim adds.

“And you have two children waiting at home who haven’t seen you in a while and want your attention and a son that needs to get medical care,” Alicia continues. “It was …”

“ … It was a lot all at once,” Tim finishes. “I think that regardless of how much we had prepared, when we got home there was that impact of changing the family. Even though we had thought we were prepared, that was still really draining.”

Alicia will take care of the children full time and Tim has taken a month off of work to help. The Goddard children are all dealing with the arrival of Hanook and Adee in their own way. The youngest, 4-year-old Priya, has had the hardest time adjusting.

“Not just do you have a baby sister but you have this kid who is only a year younger than you are, who doesn’t speak your language and doesn’t understand that you don’t want him to touch your toys … at 4 years old it took her four weeks to get who he was and why he was in her house,” Alicia says. “But she’s been marvelous at coming along.”

They’ve all been adjusting. Hanook is learning the language quickly and is picking up the family routines. He is beginning to sleep through the night. At first, he would wake in the middle of the night and wander through the house. They once found him exploring the oven.

Hanook watches an hour of Sesame Street each day to help him learn English and he plays with the family. He also loves to take baths and showers.

While they have made a few trips into town—once to church—the family spends most of their time at home.

“It’s a humongous adjustment,” Alicia says. “You need to settle them into the new environment. If you do too much, it’s overwhelming. It’s important that you are establishing stability.”

Adee, they have learned, likes her adoptive daddy and likes to eat. She came with two teeth and now has seven.

“The little girl was ravenous,” Tim says. “Once we got her here, she ate and ate and ate, which was great. She would eat anything. It wasn’t for three weeks that she got at all particular.”

Her affinity for the father, they say, is common for adopted children. Sometimes they will take to one parent in particular, and it’s something the family is working to end.

“She’s still much more comfortable with her daddy then she is with me,” Alicia says. “She still has some bonding issues going on, but it’s only been five weeks.”

As far as keeping the children’s culture in their lives, a local Ethiopian woman, the owner of Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine in Fort Collins, has agreed to be their godmother. And the Goddards are making sure to carry out the wishes of the children’s family, raising them as Christians and making sure a good education is in their future. The children will go to Cache la Poudre Elementary when they get old enough.

“For now, we are working on family unity and education,” Alicia says, as Hanook once again pours out the box of blocks.

“And playing,” she says.

 



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