“We got back to our room at the Hilton, changed the kids into pajamas, watched some bad television, caught up in the journal, and went to sleep. And for the first time, sleep I did…” –From Part XV
After literally sleeping for only two to three hours a night for days, I felt like a new woman when I woke up at 5:30. I just couldn’t believe it; I was thankful and relieved and thankful and thrilled to have slept for so long, though I was still the first one awake and up.
We met Getachew at 9 in the lobby of the Hilton. This was our second to last day in Addis, and we had lots to accomplish. First and foremost we wanted to visit Enat Alem, the orphanage where our children had lived for a time. They had actually lived two different places. We thought we were heading to the second place they stayed.
At one point along our drive, I asked Getachew if we were near Mercado. Getachew told me, “No, this much worse than Mercado.” And that was how I learned not to ask where we were. As we drove along down increasingly narrow and bumpy roads, I was fairly sure I agreed with Getachew. There were still people everywhere, but their clothes grew more and more tattered. The buildings looked less and less like buildings and more and more like shacks. Then Getachew turned left down a road that was the bumpiest thing I have ever seen. There was a lady standing in the road. As we turned, she moved the pole that supported the laundry line that hung across the road; I thought, “Dear Jesus, please give our car wings, because there is NO way it is going to make it over this road.” Rocks jutted out everywhere. Then Getachew stopped, and I slowly realized that we were there. He may have even said, “This is Enat Alem;” I’m quick like that. We were parked next to a gray concrete brick wall.
Getachew and Handsome went to the door in the wall to see if we would be allowed in. I stayed in the car with the children, wondering if I wanted to know what was on the other side of that wall.
We were told that yes, we were welcome. I grabbed the children and the bag of donations and walked toward the door. As we entered the courtyard area, Y walked very close to me. I was very aware of her, and I was struggling to take in all that I could see – a small dusty, dirty play area with a merry-go-round, a pathway that led to a number of rooms, peeling paint everywhere, the tiny fenced area that contained every living green thing in the compound, and so much more.
**Let me stop here for just a second to tell all of you reading that I have struggled so much with how to portray this part of the story. The memories of our trip are so very good, and I have only wanted to tell you good things. Yet I would be remiss if I left out the sad parts of the story, the parts that still haunt me now, the parts that make Ethiopia a country of 4-6 million orphans, the parts that brought us there in the first place. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the reason for sharing any of this is to remind myself and you that this world is so much bigger than our very comfortable American lives. So there you go, take it or leave it. This is really how it all happened.**
We were taken down the walkway between the buildings then into the building on the left. Through gestures we were told to sit down. We had no idea what was going on. We sat down and waited. A little bit later several children and a teenage girl entered the room and sat down. They all tried to talk to Y, but she was not going to give up a smile much less a word. We asked if we could give the children lollipops, and we had Y do it, hoping she would warm up. She didn’t, but we did get to ask the children their names. Meanwhile, M was on my lap making yet another mess with a lollipop.
It seems like a distant memory now, but so enjoyed getting to meet those children. I felt so awkward, holding Y and M and trying to be sure that M didn’t break anything or act unruly…yet wanting desperately to get past the language barrier. As I asked each child his or her name, I would try to repeat them. I was thinking, “This, this name that I am saying, is the only thing this child can call his own.” And I failed miserably at pronouncing most of them.
We eventually asked if we could see more of the rooms and perhaps take some pictures (for the children as they grow up and want to know more). A gentleman who we think is the head of the orphanage showed us around. He spoke very little English, but we got along just fine. We took pictures of a couple of the well worn bedrooms.
By this point in the adventure we have figured out that we are at the first orphanage in which our children lived. Knowing that this is where they were first taken, Handsome asked the gentleman if he knew anything about the children’s family. We were taken to another room with a couple rickety metal desks. The gentleman looked through some files. Eventually, to our surprise, he pulled out a file on our children. He proceeded to tell us several things that we knew, then he looked at us and said, “Would you like me to call the children’s mother; I have her number?”
I wanted to jump up and down and holler YES! But truth be told I also wanted to hide and pretend I’d never heard the question…or that I didn’t understand the broken English. I wanted desperately to meet this woman, yet I was terrified of this woman who gave birth to these beautiful children. I wanted to honor her and wasn’t sure what was more honorable – to meet her and possibly break her heart with yet another final good-bye or to slip quietly away with the children that she desperately loves. I wanted to be able to tell the children about her and give them the gift of pictures of her; I wanted to be able to ask her the questions that they will someday ask me. I had prayed and prayed that God would allow the right thing to happen. I had thought the opportunity to meet her had passed us, as we had not had a chance to ask Getachew to go to the address that was given to us. So when that opportunity was given to us so nicely wrapped up in a place where we never expected it, we considered it a gift. And we said yes, please call.
He did, and he got no answer.
By this point in the meeting the children were getting antsy, and I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed. The gentleman told us to call back later in the day, and he gave us his phone number.
We took a few more pictures, and we left. As we walked out of that small run-down orphanage, I was so thankful to walk out of there with our children, knowing they would not return to that life. Yet I was sobered by the fact that this was the second time this week that our children had said good-bye to a place that was familiar, a place that had been home, and I wasn’t even sure they comprehended it. I was heartbroken to leave so many more behind. All children should have someone to tuck them in at night, someone to know them, to calm their fears, to gently discipline them, to love them. And yet I was powerless take them all – or even one more – with me.
As we stepped into the sunshine on the other side of the gray concrete wall, I saw Getachew down the street, talking to the vendor in the booth on the corner and drinking an orange soda.
He returned to the car just as we did. We left Enat Alem and headed for the shops near Churchill Road again.