Another day, another lack of clue where to begin. How can I capture our time in Ethiopia with words? I could spend hours carefully choosing each word I write and still, I know that it will at best be a Polaroid picture of what we have experienced so far. But I will try. Just know, dear reader, it is merely a sketch that I am drawing for you, and nothing more.
Actually, before I begin, I want to say this to anyone who has done little, if any, international travel: Do it. It will change your life. And to anyone who is considering adopting from Ethiopia but is hesitant to make the trip: Please don't be. This trip will be one of the most important and life-altering ones you ever make. The staff at Children's Home Ethiopia goes well out of their way to help those with little international experience transition gently to life in a third-world country.
OK, now to our day. We were up at 4:30am after a difficult night's sleep (due, in large part I imagine, to jet lag). Breakfast was at 4:45, and by 5am we were off. It was dark and rainy as we bounced along in our Land Rover, driven by Sagae (pretty sure that's not how it's spelled), our driver and guide for the day. But by sunrise, the clouds were rolling away and we witnessed the sun coming up over the low mountains of southern Ethiopia.
I wish I could describe the landscape of Ethiopia. Alas, I'm not much of a nature writer, so my hope is to upload some pictures soon to spare you my inadequate descriptions. Let me say, though, that it was as peaceful as driving through France, or Vermont. Sloping hills dotted with thatched roof huts and small plots of farmland, low mountains green with the recent rains, even dormant volcanoes hiding ancient monasteries at their peak. We were so fortunate to be traveling down to the southern region during rainy season, as everything was bright green and lush, with rushing rivers and blooming tropical plants everywhere. It was relentlessly beautiful.
Ethiopians walked along the road, with their donkeys, bundles of wood, children, goats, cows, water, or their daily goods from the market. Each village was easily identifiable as primarily Muslim or Christian. In Ethiopia, Sagae informed us, Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully together – until recently, that is, as extremist Islamist ideology has slowly drifted into the country. Every once in a while, we'd reach a village made up primarily of mud homes slammed together side by side along the road, almost like townhomes, only made of mud and not anything like townhomes. There is no question that poverty is everywhere, although it's easy to pretend it isn't so bad, given how peaceful it looks from the inside of a Land Rover, and the smiles on so many of the beautiful faces we pass by. Truly, we Americans have forgotten how little it takes to be happy.
Sagae let us stop and take pictures whenever we asked, and also answered all of my questions about Ethiopian culture, history, politics, and impressions of Americans. He was a willing teacher, and he and I chatted for much of the drive down to Hosanna. Paul was pretty tired, and has had a stomach ache for the last day or so, so he was pretty silent, asking only a few questions. Segae informed us that sometimes when a girl is born, and the father in particular wanted a boy, they will say "let her be," which is the meaning of Tihun. It does make you pause and wonder if we should even keep Tihun as her middle name, if that is how the name is often used.
Upon our arrival to Hosanna, where we hoped to meet Tihun's first mother, we stopped at the nicest hotel in town to use the facilities, and have some coffee. Believe it or not, I have been drinking the coffee here straight, with only some sugar and a little milk powder if available. Considering that less than a year ago I didn't like coffee at all, and until we came here could not drink coffee unless it was combined with a bunch o' milk and some chocolate, I've come a long way. The hotel was beautiful, with marble floors and intricate woodwork everywhere, including on the ceilings. The rooms were less luxurious, and the toilet had some of its plumbing missing.
Although the hotel was lovely and relaxing, everyone was anxious to get to the CHSFS office to meet the birth families. As we arrived, swarms of children from the town gathered to see the Americans, hoping that we had brought trinkets, candy, or some other treat for them. Fortunately for them, the 4 teens from South Dakota brought trinkets, and passed them out while their parents met with the birth mother and father of their 3 newly adopted siblings. Tsion, our social worker, walked up to us as we came through the gate to inform us that Desalech, Tihun's first mother, had not yet arrived. Tsion said they had contacted her, and that Desalech said that she would come, but she was not there. Then they informed us that Desalech would have to walk for 3-4 hours before she would have access to transportation that would take her to Hosanna. In an attempt to reassure us, they said that if she showed up after we had gone, they would drive her up to Addis to meet with us there. I'm not hopeful. Tihun, she named her, and perhaps Tihun is what she meant.
The news hit me pretty hard. I don't know if it was the lack of sleep, or the pent up emotions about the whole situation, but I sat down and started to cry. Everyone else's birth families had shown up, why not ours? It wasn't fair. Why couldn't they go to her and bring her to the center themselves? Why did she have to find her own transportation? They made it clear that they made every effort to help the birth families get to the care center, but from what I could tell, they hadn't done anything to directly assist Desalech with the trip. I wanted to meet her so badly. I didn't know why the need was so strong; maybe it was for my own sense of closure, my own need to let Tihun's mother know that she would be loved and well taken care of. Maybe it was sadness for Tihun that I could not tell her that I had met her mother and that she had said this or that to me about Tihun. That I could not tell Tihun that her mother told me of her love for her daughter, that I could not tell Desalech of my love for her daughter. I had such big plans for this moment, and now they were dashed, and I could do nothing.
The children from town stared at me while I wept. Maybe they had never seen a white woman weep before. For all I know, maybe weeping isn't done very often at all. After all, you probably have to be pretty tough to make it in the kinds of impoverished conditions in which they all lived. I tried distracting myself by showing the children my rain boots, black with checkered laces. They laughed, although I'm not sure if it was at my boots, or at the very white legs poking out over them.
Skip ahead to the trip back. I was tired from crying, and devastated that we left without meeting Desalech. I wondered why she hadn't come, and if we'd ever get to meet her, or even have a picture of her. I chatted with Segae, again in an effort to distract myself from the sadness, while Paul sat silently again, occasionally nodding off. He was so tired, poor guy, and his stomach still hurt. Quite the birthday for my husband.
We were exhausted beyond reason when we got back to the guest house, physically and – for me at least – emotionally drained from our long day. The drive to Hosanna is 4 hours one way, much of along bumpy roads. We collapsed in our bed and slept for an hour. After dinner, we walked the 15 minutes to the care center and visited our beautiful baby. With every visit, I fall more and more deeply in love with this precious little person. And I think the feeling is mutual. We see more of her personality each time. Today she was pretty interested in her papa. She took turns playing with each of us, testing us to see what we would do when she, say, put her hand out our mouths, or tapped our foreheads with Paul's name tag. She would laugh when we'd blow gently on her face, and it was during one of these moments that we discovered the dimple on her left cheek. I'm telling you, she is astonishingly beautiful.
I need to end this long, long entry. I apologize for using so many words, but again, there is so much to capture, and I don't want to forget a moment.