I've discovered that a lot of things that are important to me are never written because I don't want to get them wrong.
At the risk of getting it wrong, I simply must force myself to write this because I fear if I don't, it won't ever be written. And, since it was one of the highlights of my trip, that would be a shame.
I've written before about Almnesh. Well, after many calls and much string pulling (they prefer three months warning and we had three weeks), Brent and I were able to finagle a visit with her while we were in Ethiopia for court.
What an amazing day.
At 7AM, our World Vision hosts picked us up at our guest house for an hour and a half drive southwest out of Addis Ababa. The scenery was so varied.
Yes, those are highline wires.
What you've got to understand here is how we were in the city for a week at this point, where people were stacked upon people in an unending mass of people. There were concrete houses and tin shacks and dirt roads and people, people, people. But once we drove out of Addis, there were open fields, horse carts, boys walking cattle through fields, children walking miles upon miles to school (you could tell when schools changed based on the uniform color), people harvesting by hand, those incredible flat topped trees, circular mud huts with thatched roofs, lots of people walking and a funeral procession. Among other things. And I was struck by how much the landscape looked like home.
Minus the mountains.
We drove through lots of small communities and before we knew it, we were at Wollisso where we stopped for breakfast. (Why I have no pictures of this, I do not know. I guess I need a spy camera, because I seem to hesitate to pull out my camera and look like a tourist, as if there was any question in this situation.) We had an wonderful omelet--best I have EVER had--with, of course, delicious Ethiopian coffee. Our hosts had more traditional Ethiopian foods. Tibs. Wot. And something that looked like minced meat. The guy with tibs (Wosson) offered to let us try his food (we did, it was good). So Brent asked to try Kasaun's minced meat. He took some and as he raised it to his mouth, he asked what it was.
Anthony Bordain would be proud of my innard eating honey.
He didn't have a second bite.
Andreas, Kasaun, Wosson
We all shared a laugh over coffee. And then, I think Brent and I had the same thought.
This is our last best chance for a real bathroom today.
So we asked to use it before we left. Wosson took us out the door, around the restaurant, past some sinks and pointed towards some doors. Brent took boys, I took girls. Shocking, I know.
Oh dear. My first squatty potty. I had a nice tile floor that cupped into cement that ended in a hole. There was a broom (I presume to sweep solids towards the hole) and a bucket of water.
The upside? Soap at the sinks. (Soap was in short supply in all parts of Ethiopia.)
Anyhoo...I'm game. There was a door. And I still didn't know that when I got to the World Vision compound that they would have running water. Frankly, at this point I didn't know I would see the World Vision compound and a hole in the ground behind a door was far preferable to a field of grass and I didn't yet know what wonders the day would hold.
Together we left the hotel/restaurant and turned off the last paved road of our journey. We crossed a bridge where I marveled at the trash strewn down the banks of the river/stream where people were bathing and filling their gas cans with what I can only assume was their daily drinking water.
And then we drove into Wonchi Project.
More soon! And it gets far more interesting! After squatty potties, the stories can only get better.
This morning I caught myself counting heads and coming up short. Very aggravated, until I figured out what was happening.
Yesterday in the library a friend of mine congratulated me on my 5th addition. I told her, "Oddly, it feels eerily similar to being the mother of four."
And then I went on to tell her not to judge me, but that I was OK with it. I was focusing on enjoying the four kids I could actually converse with.
I know. You can't believe I just wrote that, can you?
And then this morning it hit me. That all encompassing, heart gripping, stop me in my tracks, love for my little girl in Ethiopia.
Up until this point, well, after I met her and up until this point, I've been practicing the non-Biblical phrase "Love is a Choice." I was choosing to love her. Because, frankly, she didn't make it very easy. Everyone ELSE that meets her talks about how sweet she is. How kind she is. How puts others before herself. How easy she is to love.
I didn't see it.
That didn't come out right.
I didn't experience it.
That's a little closer.
I know, you look at that photo and say, "She looks like she likes you to me." I know. All three times she let me hold her, we got a photo. They are the ones we share.
Most of the pictures I have of her are taken with a telephoto lens because that is how close she let me much of the time. Except for right before we left each day and made her let us hug her. It was crazy.
I could tell that she was kind to the other kids. That she took care of those younger. That she would rather not be the focus of attention. And, don't get me wrong, she is a firecracker. She has spunk that will serve her well in a family of seven. She's independent. She's fierce. She doesn't take any crap.
Look at that face. She will not be someone's doormat. I love that.
But she isn't likely to let you know she needs you.
That's harder for this mama to take.
She let everyone in, but us. And I can rationalize it and see that she knows we're the parents so we are the only ones that "aren't safe" to let her walls come down. At least not yet. And I don't even fault her for it. Nor do I need you to tell me all the reasons this is healthy. My ego can take it. But it was a rough two weeks that I never want to repeat. It sucks to be the one person in the city that your kid spends most of her time avoiding.
Each day I woke, ready to fight for her affections and each day, eventually, I just quit trying. I'd fall into bed crying, wake ready to win her over, only to end the day discouraged. Over and over and over again.
And I won't lie to you, it made the goodbye much easier. She wasn't about to let me see her cry and since she held it together, so did I, almost. I spent a lot more hours crying over the rejection than I did over the goodbye.
Today I can't stand it that I have a kid I can't hug. (Not that I'm sure she'd let me hug her anyway, but that's a bridge we'll cross later.)
I miss her.
I want her.
I would even face her rejection day upon day just to be with her.
I'm ready to pull down that wall brick by brick.
So that these moments:
Looking through the photos of Kechene (and this is still just a smattering), I found myself pondering on a paragraph of Tom Davis' book Priceless.
"The hard part was getting them to act natural, especially the kids, who would pose like Ice-T, with a crazy gang hand symbol. I remember Mac saying, "Good God, of everything they could get from Western culture, the end up with gangsta rap?"
I didn't put in many of the crazy gangsta rap posers. Who wants to see an African child acting like they sell drugs on the corner?
But aren't these kids gorgeous? I mean, seriously, who could screw up a photo as long as the kid wasn't trying to look like a pimp?
We loved Kechene. The teacher oozed joy. The workers oozed joy. The children oozed joy. It was Genna (Christmas) Eve, so they had to scamper all over town to find all of our kids who had communication from their sponsors.
It was a radically wild day that I will never forget.
If you would like to sponsor a child through Children's HopeChest, there are many more where these came from. (I am happy to report that ALL of these children are spoken for!). Just visit www.hopechest.org and they will get you started.
I am admittedly a little horrified to blog about this today after my delightful post last night, however, at the risk of being a hypocrite of my own making....
Since my blog post "Nesting" got such a huge reaction--I'm not sure I've read the word "horrible" so many times in a single day before--I thought I'd post a photo of the process.
The "horrible" wallpaper (that, seriously, would have been gorgeous when it was put up) was obviously high quality. It came off easier than any wallpaper I have ever removed before. After the kids started it, I couldn't help but snitch a piece every time I walked past. It came off in sheets. Brent and our friend Mike got the rest off on Friday evening. Except for that scrap by the stairs you can still see. Brent recommended we leave it for posterity. Mike nixed the idea.
Two large walls are now painted. A couple small walls are as well. And the scaffolding that has been blocking my access to the laundry room all weekend is now down for another week.
Brent was feeling so good about the progress, that yesterday he and the boys started stripping their bathroom of the pink roses in there.
There are/were a lot of roses in this house. My boys don't think that is appropriate for a male dominated household for some reason.
Unfortunately, the pink roses don't want to come off and we will probably have to work on that in our off time all week while the scaffolding is down.
However, my mind in being occupied by nonsensical things and when I sleep, I sleep like the dead.
Nothing prepares you for the dust that permeates your pores or the filmy feel of your hair at the end of the day.
For the feeling that you'd like to boil yourself in bleach before you go to bed.
Nothing prepares you for the joyful welcoming shouts of "ferengi" by a thousand happy little kids.
To hear a hundred voices sing, "Welcome! Welcome! So glad see you!" (No, that isn't a typo.)
And why? Because you are marginally associated with a group that made it possible for them to go to school all day.
Or to discover, long after you leave, that is the school your daughter would have attended.
Nothing quite prepares you to see a funeral procession as the day breaks. Not one of long black cars, but of traditional white gowns whipping in the wind and a stretcher and bare feet in the dirt on the side of the road.
Nothing prepares you to sit in the seat of honor as the ill man of the house sits on the dirt floor in the candlelit darkness in the rear of the room.
Or the amount of pleading it will take to get him off the floor and into the circle of light.
I was prepared to bring my own toilet paper and towels...and I'm so glad we tossed them in at the last minute. Something about the lack of them when we arrived made their appearance at our door the next morning so much sweeter.
Nothing prepares you for the first hug that goes on and on and on and on, but will be one of the last signs of affection you will receive, unprompted, for the next two weeks.
Nothing prepares you for the smell. Is it charcoal, incense, woodsmoke, roasting coffee beans and goat all wrapped up in one?
I don't know, but it is still present on the dirty one birr note we found in a pocket when we got home.
It smells like my sponsor child.
It smells like the mother with HIV who hugged me for a gift of what amounted to a date night for us but is life to her.
It smells like the mother of my fifth child.
Nothing prepares you for the people who selflessly serve you night and day, who laugh at your jokes that probably aren't funny, who bend over backwards to give you the comforts of home--and come up short, not for their lack of effort--when you can't even imagine what they might go home to at the end of their workday. When you realize that whatever you are complaining about, you are still living like royalty.
Nothing prepares you for the rage you feel when you see a fat man in the marketo, strolling past the swarms of beggars with nary a glance. How can you eat yourself into oblivion when you see this every day?How can you just go about your life?
That man, he is me.
Nothing prepares you for the cries of "sister!" from the mother on the side of the road with a suckling babe.
Or for the child who pops off his snack long enough to delight you with a smile and a grasping hand in the universal "gimme" signal.
What have we done?
Nothing prepares you to see a child of no more than four--my Charming--weaving through traffic stopped at an intersection, asking for handouts, while his mother looks on from the sidewalk. Dear God.
Nothing prepares you for the rage you feel when the man sitting on the side of the road, listless, looks over his shoulder and, when registering the color of your skin, leaps to his feel to come running with his hand out.
If you can move like that....get a job!
Nothing prepares you for your judgmental reaction.
Nothing prepares you for the number of times you'll have to "muscle through the gag reflex" and fervently pray while eating foods for which swarms of people around you are grateful.
Please God, don't let this make me sick!
Nothing prepares you for children exhibiting animal like behavior in true Survival of the Fittest form.
Nothing prepares you to see a man whose pant's seat is completely worn out, and by that I mean GONE, who keeps walking, anyway. Nothing prepares you for the all out street brawl you caused by handing an old airplane sandwich out the window of your van.
Nothing prepares you for the gentleness of a people who have little, but still receive you with a smile and make sure you know the name of Jesus before you leave their presence.
Nothing prepares you to meet the mother of your child.
To see the pain etched on her face.
To be told, "I've already entrusted her to you."
And to ask her for one more picture when it is clear she does not wish to have her picture taken.
Nothing prepares you for the unemotional, tearless, little girl who turns her back and walks away from your final goodbye, because you are just one more in a long line of people who have let her down by disappearing from her life.
And nothing, NOTHING, prepares you to come home.
To a thirty minute conversation between three entitled college students about the audacity of the Chilis Too not serving the full Chilis menu. (While you are sucking down your fifth Dr. Pepper because it has ice and is SO GOOD, while picking the lettuce off you sandwich so you can eat the first fresh veggies you've had in two weeks.)
To your cush bed you were certain needed to be replaced two weeks earlier.
To children who whine about participating in an organized sport because it gets in the way of their laying around time after you just saw children go euphoric over a new soccer ball and two old gas cans that would make a goal.
To people who talk, and TALK and, for the love, TALK and say absolutely nothing.
Lord, still my tongue.
Ten days ago I got on a plane absolutely baffled about why people "miss Ethiopia." I certainly didn't see the draw, aside from my child, to go back. But last Sunday, in the middle of a worship song, it hit me. I'm not even sure yet what "it" is that hit me but I'm going to take a stab at it.
It's because we are all dead men walking, but most of us in the states don't know it yet. We fill our lives with stuff--homes, jobs, friends, money, petty arguments, judgmental thoughts, decisions, volunteerism, ball games, politics--and rarely spend a whole lot of time pondering the things that matter, probably because if we did, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves.
There's just something about being daily begged by the 63 year old HIV positive widower to find someone to take his nine year old twin daughters before he dies and leaves them, too, to make you focus a little more on the ones you love and a little less on the crap that consumes your daily American existence.
So, people seem to think I should want to talk about Ethiopia.
I'm not ready to talk yet.
Unless you are really ready to listen.
Because what I've got to say isn't pretty. There are beautiful things, yes, but you have to sift through a lot of HARD to get to them.
I recently heard someone describe the international adoption process as the hardest thing they've ever done and I thought, "Oh, come on. You haven't done much."
I was wrong.
As Brent says, "Even the good parts were hard. There was nothing easy about that trip."
Except for the one time I was able to flag down the coffee man at Kaldi's as we drove past. He walked down the alley, chasing down our van, to take our order (four mochas, two sugars), go back to the
store, get the coffees, and bring them back to us, all for a 10 birr tip.
That is the determination that will make Ethiopia survive.
That is the determination that makes Ethiopia beautiful.
And that is the reason I will go back.
In this dream, I had left my husband (not Brent) to give this other guy (not Brent) a try.
Yes, I know both of them and No. *shudder*
In this dream I was desperately trying to figure out what was missing. I'd determined that this new guy was great to cuddle with--he just "felt right" (and incidentally was shaped much like Brent)--but he had no substance, but when I considered going back to my "husband" I couldn't get over the fact that he was just such a goober and I didn't know why I'd ever married him in the first place. Ugh.
In case you are curious, I suspect this dream was in direct relation to the conversation I had with someone last evening about people leaving their spouses for another flawed person and how it rarely makes life better for long because we are ALL such a mess...
Anyway, desperation in my dream.
Wherein I laid one on Brent as if morning breath did not exist.
"I'm so glad I get to do life with you!" I told him.
"Where'd that come from?" Asked the man whose wife went to sleep treating him like they'd been married for 15 years. In other words, not overly enthusiastic about doing life together. Not mean, or anything, just, you know, routine.
Sometimes dreams work out in his favor.
And sometimes he has to deal with a mad wife whose dream husband picked a bitter dream fight with her.
And if my pictures DON'T tell a thousand words, meet our new (and now finally legal!) daughter, Iris.
Not her legal name, but her blog identity.
Her legal name will be changed, too, but that's another day.
For all seven of you that don't tunnel in through Facebook. :)
I think in some ways it's like that for all of us, living with the ghosts of things that used to be, or never were. We're all of us haunted by yesterday, and we got no choice but to keep marching into our tomorrows.
Keep marching, boys and girls. Keep marching.
From The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
The United States Customs questions could use some help, in my humblest of opinions. And the following is the reason.
Q1: Are you bringing soil into the US?
What I wanted to say: Did you see the part where I said I was coming in from Ethiopia? Does the dust accumulated in my lungs, on my shoes, in the crevices of my skin, imbedded in my clothes count?
Are you bringing insects into the US?
WIWTS: Have I mentioned I was in Ethiopia with MANY children? Do head lice count?
Were you in contact with any livestock while on your trip?
WIWTS: Remember how I was in Ethiopia? Well, there are goats on every corner. In fact, we bought one, lashed its legs together, strapped it to the top of our van, loved on it for a night, slaughtered it in the morning and ate it for lunch. Melkam Genna to you.
Were you on a farm/ranch on your trip.
WIWTS: Again.....Ethiopia. It was my pleasure to tromp through my sponsored child's false banana grove, teff fields, coffee grove, and tomato fields. As it is winter in Kansas, I doubt I will cross pollinate, even in view of Q1.
Are you bringing foods into the US?
WIWTS: Does it count that I'm returning with food I took OVER to Ethiopia? And yes, there were the 2kg of green coffee beans.
Are you bringing more than $10000 US in goods/products?
WIWTS: I just left a country where people are begging on LITERALLY every corner. Shame on me if I spent more than $10000 in freaking "goods" to bring home. Especially in light of the fact that I could have a 5 star candle light dinner for two for under $10. And that is counting the tip.