Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Our Biggest Adventure: Bringing Vander Home


Adoption Process:

We started the adoIMG_0014ption process approximately September/October of 2007. We adopted through Children’s Hope International out of St. Louis, Missouri. The adoption process was very arduous and time consuming. We completed more than 100 pages of paperwork, and  had several interviews. The adoption had to be approved by several different agencies; State of Wyoming, Immigration Services, U.S. Secretary of State, FBI, Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigations, Family Services and the Ethiopian government.

We selected Ethiopia because we like what the program had to offer and the time table for the adoption to be finalized.

Children’s Hope International Adoptions


Day 1 Feb. 1, & 2

Todd and I went to Washington D.C. to see our friend Gene and visit my Dad in Arlington National Cemetery. We put a picture of Vander on my Dad’s headstone, and wished he could be there with us.  It was an emotional moment, but I was glad to see my father before we departed.

At the Dulles International airport we meet Julie, one of the parentsIMG_0008 who was adopting the same week as us.  We exchanged pictures of our awaiting children, and confided how nervous and excited we were.

We stopped in Rome, Italy for a three hour layover. We didn’t get off the plane while they cleaned and refueled.  The plane trip to Rome was very relaxed, except for the American missionaries who kept singing at the top of their lungs.  

Day 2 – Feb. 3 Tuesday

After 25 hours on plane we arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With much confusion trying to leave the airport. We were bombarded by Italians getting through customs.  After finding our luggage we finally were out of the building. We had three rides waiting for us, (our friend Patrick, the Z Guest House and the House of Hope) but only connected with one of them; the House of Hope Transitional Orphanage (HOH) for Children’s Hope International Adoption Agency. Efrem whisked Todd, myself and Julie off to the HOH, to meet our children. As we drove through Addis Ababa, we noticed many uniformed men standing around with machine guns; we were told it was because the African Union (A.U.), was meeting. The A.U. consists of 53 African counties, and they meet twice a year in Addis. This meeting was headed by Libyan leader Gaddafi, which apparently made things much tenser, and added many more machine guns. We were told not to take pictures of the soldiers or the places they were guarding.  If we did, we would be shot. We did not take any pictures!

IMG_0015 After about driving twenty minutes we arrived at the House of Hope. As we were getting out of car Vander was in our arms. We were thrilled to finally meet him. He was very quiet and just took everything in, while looking at us with his  big beautiful brown eyes. We were served lunch and Todd and I tried to eat, but really couldn’t. Vander set right next us with a bowl of what I thought was oatmeal, but found out later it wasn’t. Todd and I fed him, the nannies fed him, it seemed anyone who walked by helped us feed him. Then he threw up. Welcome to parenthood!

House of Hope:

 IMG_0217 The House of Hope is a transitional orphanage for children that have been referred to Americans, by Children’s Hope International. It houses around fifty children and  consists of three structures. The largest structure has two small offices and a sleeping area for the children. Each sleeping area is separated into age groups. The second structure is the dining area for families and an apartment on the second floor. The third building is used for cooking, storage, laundry, etc. There is a courtyard in the middle of all these buildings where the children play. The courtyard is all concrete. The House of Hope is located a few blocks off a main street in a semi-industrial area. The surroundings are very crude and uninviting.

We eventually made it to our apartment at the Z Guest House, which was about another 20 – 30 minutes drive across Addis. Todd and I were exhausted not having had much sleep in the paIMG_0025st 30 hours. We had requested a crib from the guest house, but were too terrified  use it. It looked like an old soccer net, draped over an old metal frame. Todd wove blankets through the netting to make it more secure and we all went to sleep for the night. Vander kept waking up throughout the night and quietly peering over the crib at us, wondering who we were.

Z Guest House

This was a nice place with a beautiful garden and lawn. We rented a small second floor apartment. The staff was wonderful and cared for all of our needs. There were two women that cared for the daily cleaning and meals. Both women fell in love with Vander and constantly held him.   The owner was a very nice and gentle man. He and his wife spoke excellent English and assisted with travel and cultural questions. The guest house was located in a residential area, but still close to shops and the national museum.

Z Guest House



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Day 3 - Wed. Feb 4

Was a blur, we were still so jet-lagged and trying to catch up on sleep. Vander waIMG_0250s awesome, he just went along with everything, not complaining or crying. We went to the HOH to prepare our paperwork  for the visa appointment. Tsegay the director helped us through all that. Hung out at our guest house and got to know Vander and the wonderful staff there.


We went to Castelli’s Italian Restaurant. This was a fine Italian restaurant with excellent food. The waiters all wore tuxedos. Interesting how such a nice place is right in the middle of what looked liked a pretty bad neighborhood.

Day 4 – Thur. Feb. 5

Thursday was our visa appointment at the US Embassy. The U.S. IMG_0039 Visa appointment was February 5, 2009. This was held in at the U.S. Embassy in Addis. We left the Z Guest House and went to the House of Hope for lunch with the other four families. After a very nice traditional Ethiopian meal, we all departed to the U.S. Embassy. The Visa appointment was very “matter of fact” and simple. Basically, after going through a long series of security checks we were escorted to a lobby area. The lobby was on the first floor and the interview area was on the second. We were the last family to be interviewed, which was a little nerve racking. Finally, our name was called over the loud speaker. We walked up the stairs to window number four. The interviewer was behind bullet proof glass and was a young man from Washington D.C. The interview tooIMG_0035k less than five minutes. He asked questions such as; “How did you come into contact with Yeabsera?” “Have you had any contact with his relatives?” “When is Yeabsera’s birthday?” and various other simple questions. The Visa was approved and we received the paperwork the following day.  Yeabsera is Vander’s Ethiopian name, which now his middle name.

  That evening we went to Patrick and Jeanne’s house for Pizza and to watch the movie “Holy Grail.” We had a fun time, and Vander enjoyed playing with their children. Going to their house that night made me feel like we were just driving across town to visit friends.  Just a taste of what life will be like in back Wyoming.  It was wonderful to see them.  I think this was the first time Vander saw a white child his age.

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Day 5 – Fri. Feb. 6

We walked to the National Museum in the morning. The place was just so-so for a museum, but did have some interesting artifacts. The new museum was being built, which looked like a nice building.

IMG_0116 Todd was looking forward to seeing Lucy the superstar fossil, a 3.2-million-year-old adult female; she represented the oldest and most complete skeleton of an early human ever found. Unfortunately Lucy was in Seattle, so we only got to see a poster of her. He Was a tad disappointed!

We went to Vander’s orphanage Yehitsanat Merja Mahiber . By far IMG_0178 this was the most emotionally draining place we visited. We first went to the main office, which is separate from the orphanage. This place was directly off the street and was very presentable and clean. We talked to several staff members. After our conversation we took a short five minute walk to the orphanage. It was located down a dirt alley. Once we entered the children ran over to us and immediately grabbed our hands. We took a short tour, and found the facility to be very run-down.

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There was one little girl at the orphanage about five or six years old. She really broke my heart. She held my hand for almost the entire visit. She is so cute and had a vivacious personality; she sang and danced for us, and had the most beautiful smile. When it came time to leave the orphanage director asked the children to sing a good bye song to Yeabsera, “ Vander”. The little girl was holding my hand at the time, and suddenly she clamped down with a rock-hard grip. The weird coincidence is here name is also Yeabsera, and she thought we were taking her home.  That was emotionally tough. 


Day 6 – Sat. Feb. 7

IMG_0230 Efrem from the HOH took some of us shopping, and Todd and I bought a few things for us and our friends and family. I thinking my shopping experience was pretty well fulfilled while in Ethiopia. Patrick took me to a few great sIMG_0207pots and Todd and I ventured out on our own. Shopping on our own wasn’t the most successful day we had. I bought a few things, but never found the spot we had gone with Patrick. But it was an adventure. After we were finished shopping we went back to the HOH for our final visit. They had prepared a wonderful traditional Ethiopian meal. It was delicious. I wish I could find a place around here that made Ethiopian food that tasted as good. We have an  Ethiopian restaurant in Ft. Collins, it isn’t bad, but I loved what we ate at the HOH.



Preparing Injera!

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Chicken Dinner Part One & Chicken Dinner Part Two

I joined Patrick and Jeanne for dinner that night at Serenade. Todd stayed in with Vander. Serenade was a quaint beautiful restaurant, perfect for Valentine’s Day or a marriage proposal. It was very close to the Z Guest House, every day I had seen the sign, but all it said was “Serenade” and had a reproduction of a Modigliani. I had wondered what it was every time I went by it. It was up a road literally two or three blocks from the guest house, but the road was almost impassable by a 2-wheeled drive car. We arrived at a huge metal gate, which opened for us and let us into a beautiful garden area, and a very fancy restaurant. I was really surprised. I was finding Ethiopia to be the land of extreme contrasts

Day 7 – Sun. Feb 8

I was starting to get sick. I still felt well enough to do things, but  didn’t want to miss out on seeing Ethiopia, so we can tell Vander about our experiences there. Todd and I tried to go shopping on our own. As I said before, we could have used some assistance.

IMG_0285 We made it back to the Guest House for the Traditional Coffee Ceremony. It was fascinating to watch and learn about coffee Ethiopian style. First Eyalam started with green coffee beans, and she roasted them on a charcoal stove, and wafted the smell of the roasted beans around to all of us. Then she heated the coffee in a handmade clay coffee pot, lit some frankincense, and served the coffee with sweet popcorn.

That night we went out to dinner with Simon. He is a German reporter we met at the Z Guest House. He was there to write about the African Union and to interview the Ethiopian Soccer President of Fila. We really enjoyed getting to know him.





Day 8 & 9 Monday, Feb 9 & 10

We had rented a car and driver to take us out of Addis and see some country side, but unfortunately, I had a temperature of 104 degrees. I ended up in bed the entire day. Todd hung out with Vander.


Feb 10

This was our departure day; we flew out of Addis at 10:30 PM. We spent the day with Patrick and his kids.  I visited their international school, which had a relaxing atmosphere.  It was so nice to have Patrick and Jeanne in Addis. 


Rough re-Entry to the US

Ethiopian Air didn’t have our flight confirmed, although we did call them before hand. They also didn’t show we had bought three seats on the way home. It took forever, but finally they gave us the bulkhead with a bassinet. We had to go through two security checkpoints, and they really searched us. They took everything out of  our bags, it was a real mess. I could never get everything back in it quite right. We wanted to exchange our money before leaving, and it didn’t happen. I ended up doing last minute shopping at the airport.  Shopping at the airport isn’t always economical, but it was still fun.

We had a couple of rough days when we first got back. Vander travels really well. He slept most of the time on the plane. What a relief. But I gave him yogurt, and then he had explosive diarrhea and we had run out of diapers in my diaper bag.  We had more in the overhead, but they were too far away.  The people behind us came to our rescue, and started handing over wipes and a diaper.  Wow, we really lucked out. 

We missed our flight in D.C., which we thought we would.  We re-booked and had a burger while waiting for the next flight.  Eventually, we made it to Denver International Airport and headed back to Wyoming. 

IMG_0336 We pulled up to our house and Chad and Jeff made a yard sign in  Amharic.  It was very colorful and had balloons attached to it. After that all went downhill. Todd and I had made a plan how we were going to deal with Molly our Golden Retriever and Vander. We were going to go in the house one at a time to say hello to Molly, then bring Vander in. That’s not at all what happened. Molly saw me and ran in into the garage and Vander IMG_0447 screamed in terror. He kept screaming in terror for the next two days. When he saw the cats more screaming. We live in front of a field which has 11 horses. When the horses came close to the fence he screamed. It was awful for him and us.

Vander and Molly now best of friends; they compete over and share  food and toys. Vander will just go up to her and grab whatever he wants from her, she is not bothered by it at all. He is fascinated by the cats; the cats do not share his fascination at all. And he runs up to the window now whenever he sees the horses.


Many people tell us Vander is so lucky to have us, but really we are the lucky ones to have him in our lives.


I found Ethiopia to be the land of contrasts.  According to UNICEF, it is estimated that there are six million orphans in there.  Yet Ethiopians LOVE children.  Where ever we went people were always kissing and IMG_0103 pulling Vander into their arms.  Every time we went to our guest house he was whisked away into the arms of the nearest Ethiopian, and they showered him with hugs and kisses.  While we were visiting the National Museum, a large school group also toured the museum, as we passed by them the children reached out and grabbed Vander’s hand and kissed it.  It was very strange and heartwarming at the same time.  Maybe because they love their children so much, the parents are willing to give them up, to hope for, dream for, and to chance for a better life. 

The Ethiopians are the warmest, friendliest people we have ever met. 

Yet, another contrast….     Addis Ababa on first site seemed to be very poor, very much like how you would imagine any developing country’s city to be, with almost no infrastructure and shanty shacks everywhere.   As we toured the city we found some of the most beautiful places behind giant gates.  Truly spots of paradise in the mists of dire surroundings. 

Driving in Ethiopia was very exhilarating.  Seat belts, baby car seats,IMG_0253 mufflers and vehicle emissions standaIMG_0043rds are nonexistent.  Traffic laws are not enforced.   The driving requirements seemed to be a working horn and a cell phone.  One of the drivers we had said, “Driving is by negotiation.”  What he meant is using the horn, and who could squeeze into the lane faster than the other driver.  Soon we could understand the language of the horn.  The smell oIMG_0053f the city is extreme vehicle exhaust, mixed in with a few unknown spices and coffee. Ninety percent of all the  cars in Addis were 10 to 15 years old or older, and made to run in any possible condition.  The nick name of the taxis is the “Blue Devils”, because there are so many of them and they are very aggressive.  By far, they are the majority on the streets.

The sounds of Addis were interesting and many.  One of the most IMG_0090 memorable was the 5 AM call to prayer by the Muslims and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  These were pumped through loudspeakers for entire city to hear.  We were fairly close to one, therefore no need for an alarm clock. It was a novelty at first, but towards the end of our stay it would have been nice to catch a few more winks.  There were plenty of animal sounds, since it is very common to see all types of livestock walking the street.  Addis is a busy city, which can lead to sensory overload.




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thank you


Thank you


While we were in Ethiopia we met four incredible families.  The Stienecker’s and the William’s have blogs about their experiences. 


Bloom Where You’re Planted: Stienecker Family Blog

Williams Family Blog

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6 Responses to “Our Biggest Adventure: Bringing Vander Home”

  1. Rick McAlister Says:

    Nice story. One question… did Todd ever change his Wyoming t-shirt on this trip?

    - Rick

  2. Connie Says:

    No Todd travels pretty light, he only wore one pair of Wyoming underware also.

  3. Patrick Wozny Says:

    We were so happy to see you & Todd and to be among the first to meet Vander. I am really glad you took the time to detail your trip

  4. Connie Says:

    We are honored to have you and Jeanne to be first to meet Vander. I hope you get to see him again soon.

  5. Heidi Werner Says:


  6. Frances Says:

    Great post Connie!! makes me think I should get back to my trip…I think I only blogged through day 3!