The New Embassy Compound (NEC), designed by Page Southerland Page of Arlington, Va., and completed in August 2010 by B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Ala., is a truly beautiful building with pale concrete hues in an American style that closely resembles modern D.C. buildings. The design itself depicts both power and peace to those who walk by and those walking up to its doors.
Picture of Shiro Meda shopping area (Image: Eric Jorgensen)
The campus is nestled at the base of eucalyptus-heavy Mt. Entoto and just between the popular Shiro Meda shopping district and Addis Ababa University (home to a John F. Kennedy Library). The signage on the street stated that photography of the campus is strictly prohibited and rigorously enforced. We had been given prior instructions on where to walk, when to proceed and what to look for.
The NEC includes a water treatment plant and its own power generation and transformer. Locals told me that the facilities, which they called “a city within a city,” also included one of the best healthcare facilities in the Ethiopian capital.
Ethiopia’s large and historic Addis Ababa University (Image: Micheal Mullen)
The 22-acre site’s street-facing façade shows a well-manicured lawn with reinforced concrete walls and touches of marble flooring. En route to the main building, numbers of Ethiopians waited to get a visa that would allow them entry into the United States.
The main visa room seems like an upscale DMV: you sit in the lobby chairs waiting for your number to be called (both in English and Amharic, the most widely spoken of Ethiopia’s roughly 85 native languages). For the most part, people were silent, but as with all Ethiopians, they welcome children with a slight kiss on the head, a kind handshake and a gentle smile. My daughter, as always, loved the attention.
For Ethiopians, getting to the U.S. Embassy is also the end of an expensive process that involves paying the Ethiopian government for a visa and then waiting for a review of their request for entry. As several Ethiopians walked away with their papers, those seated gave a joyful — but soft clap — of congratulations.
Once our number was called, I walked past framed photographs of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After a few minutes with an embassy official, who asked about our daughter, we too were given the final papers and told that our dear Sitota would be an American the moment she touched down in her new country.
Author with his daughter Sitota (Image: Micheal Mullen)
As we stepped away, feeling the weight of the long adoption process finally lift, a funny thing happened. Those seated clapped for us too.