Saturday, January 21, 2012

Now She's Talking

Nothing prepares you for Ethiopia.


Ethiopia is so much better than you would expect.

And infinitely worse.

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.
And again.
And again.


Unknown said...

Oh my goodness, this explains so much of what I'm still processing in my mind and heart, and can't quite get words to grasp. So much in my heart to work through and pray through...definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done..

Sara W said...

Thank you for for sharing this. Gives me much to ponder...

The Brew Crew said...

Glad you are feeling bold enough to "talk." Know that your life speaks volumes even when you don't utter a word. There are plenty of people listening to the unspoken.

I understand the smell thing. I have an old journal that smells just like the Dominican Republic. Just holding it & breathing deeply I can almost hear the mo-peds & roosters. Sigh.

Sunlit_Moon said...

i'm scared to post this reply because i don't know what i'm replying to. i read the words, and they even make me cry, but i haven't seen what you saw, so i know i have no idea!

But you've got to talk, Jamie -- you have to keep going. Jesus said "He who has ears, let him hear" and those who were ready, did. i ardently believe the One Who gave you the writing gift asks you to keep going.

It is through your posts that God brought a dream back to life that i thought had died looking for someone worthy to fulfill it. You brought the brown eyes back to me (the ones i vowed i would save when i was 8 years old) the same way Jesus told Peter to get back in the game and feed His sheep. The 12 people in the front row, that you can see from the stage, may be discouraging because you see them picking lint off their sweaters while you discuss famine and human agony, but in the back of the theatre, far from the lights, someone sobs through and forces herself to read every blog from beginning to end, and can't stop thinking about what she read until the next one comes.

Jake and i wait for our turn to get our children (it's not any time soon), but you should know you were used as the confirmation we asked God to send, out of the blue. And you prepare us better than our homestudy agent can with your candidness and rubber-to-the-road experience.

Additionally, your thoughts are a gift. And received as such.

By the way: :D Two of my FB friends have begun to sponsor children from HopeChest because of your blogs i repost. You're being used in ways you don't know.

Preach, sister! i promise you, someone is listening...hanging on your every word, actually. Gratefully.


Megan said...

This is really beautiful, Jamie! The most beautiful thing to me is how you've allowed your experience to touch your heart, challenge you to the core, rather than just ignoring it and going on with your life. God does great things with a heart that is willing to be taught! : ) So thankful to have been there with you...

Senior Citizen said...

A Challenge: If there are any doubters, post the photo of the baby with the huge eyes. Sr.

Nope, no lost coffee cup on this one, you just have to see the eyes to fully understand Jamie's blog.

JJ said...

Yes! Yes! Yes!!! And, I am ready to listen. So keep talking. I couldn't agree more. I. CAN'T. WAIT. TO. GO. BACK. TO. ETHIOPIA. I want to move there when my husband is done in the military. He's not feeling it yet. I'm praying for a change of heart, and God's guidance.

Michelle said...

I went to Thailand years ago and experienced something similar. Ethiopia is worse off overall than Thailand, but the difference to the American lifestyle is what stands out. I think every American needs to see a developing country so that they can appreciate what we have here. You don't really open your eyes until you see the difference.

missy roepnack said...

Thank you, my friend. I have had all of this building inside of me and have been unable to write it, return phone calls, write emails...I've been stuck and this really helped. I feel better just reading this.

Natalie said...

These are the words! You described it just as I have been thinking and feeling it. Thanks for this post!

Sean Hanrahan said...

I REALLY needed to read this today. Thank you so much for sharing this. I can relate so much to the state side stuff because I forget that I take the wrong things too seriously sometimes.