A Sunday in Ethiopia
We woke up early on our third day in Ethiopia. Today was the day we would meet our son’s family.
In March of 2009 my wife and I traveled to Ethiopia to adopt our son. We looked into his eyes for the first time on Friday. We spent Saturday morning holding his tiny body in our arms as he slept. On Sunday we wouldn’t see him at all, but we would meet his birth family.
We crowded into a van and drove three and a half hours to the Hosanna region in Southern Ethiopia. We were told to expect a harrowing journey—bumpy roads, no seat belts, crazy drivers. This trip is the reason we purchased emergency medical evacuation insurance. But the newly paved road was smooth and offered beautiful glimpses of life in rural Ethiopia. We saw cows and goats crowding the road. We stopped to tour a traditional thatched roof hut. I saw women gathered around a muddy stream with yellow jerry cans, collecting their daily water.
We were traveling with nine other families. The children we were adopting came from Hosanna. The point of the trip was to meet family or anyone important in the lives of the children we were adopting. They might be parents so mired in poverty or illness that they could no longer care for their children. They might be grandparents or aunts or uncles who could no longer care for their relatives. They might be a police officer or random stranger who found an abandoned baby.
We arrived in Hosanna tired and weary, but emotionally charged and eager to meet these people who would prove mythical in the lives of our children. We visited the care center where our children first lived and met the nannies who first cared for them. We used the facilities—a literal hole in the ground—and then gathered in a small, stuffy room to wait for our turn to meet birth family.
Those Ethiopian families were there to tell us everything they could. They were placing their children—and all their hopes—in our arms. And we were there to receive all we could, to give our humble thanks. We were told to bring two photos—one of ourselves and one of the child—and a world map showing where we lived. These were trinkets really, small tokens of connection.
I doubt they had ever heard of Minnesota, just as I had never heard of Hosanna.
It was weird. How do you listen to a parent explain why they can't care for their child? How do you respond to the man who found a child abandoned on the road and cared for that child for mere days, but five months later has traveled many miles to wish that child's adoptive parents the best? How do you respond to the aging grandmother who sees no other choice?
I won’t go into the details of those meetings—they were private moments to be shared with the children some day when they’re ready.
At the end, when all of us had met with these people so important to our kids, there was a ceremony. We were gathered in that small, stuffy room that hadn’t been big enough for us American families, and they crowded in the Ethiopian families and social workers as well. A line of American families stood on one side of the room, a line of Ethiopian families on the other.
We stood in a line and lit candles and read from a sheet of photocopied paper. They read their part in Amharic, and we read ours in English. We didn't know what they were saying, but we clearly understood 'America.' And they didn't know what we were saying, but they clearly understood ‘Ethiopia.’
Here was a roomful of people gathered in the best interest of these children. It wasn't easy. It wasn't simple. But there was a moment when it all became clear and tears flowed from every eye in the room.
On that Sunday I realized the reality of adoption. It is full of pain and loss. But in the midst of all that there is a glimmer of hope for something new.
The Idea Camp will gather on February 25-26 in NW Arkansas to focus on the issue of adoption and orphan care. Inspired by this event, we are sharing stories related to the high calling of orphan care. If you have a story of your own to share, post a link at our introduction to this series, Caring for the Little Ones.
Image by Claire Burge, used with permission via Flickr. Post by Kevin D. Hendricks, author of Addition by Adoption: Kids, Causes & 140 Characters.