I realized as I was typing the title that my fingers fly over the keys for Ethiopia these days.....it rolls right off my fingertips....I've formed a new muscle memory....and I like it! It's a fun word to type fast.
ethiopia!! That word makes me smile....even more now
that what I can tell you about the place is what I've seen, not just what I've read.
It seemed like we had been waiting forever for travel dates. We officially accepted our girls' referral on December 4th but it took until mid February for the wheels to turn and the email to arrive with our court date of March 1st. Then, all of a sudden, wait wait wait turned into hurry hurry hurry!! We flew out Monday afternoon, hardly believing that it was real and we would fall asleep on the plane and wake up in
Our overnight flight dropped us into
Ababa as the city was waking up. We did the usual things, money exchange and
passport control, with an unusual lump in our throats knowing that this would
be the day we would meet our girls face to face.
Honestly, I had been living with an underlying current of fear about this day since we first considered adopting older children. I enjoy people, I love children, I've been a youth pastor's wife for almost 20 years so I "get" teens....but I'm not a good "meet-er." New people stress me out. I have to keep telling myself that all my deep, dear friendships started out as new people I had to meet for the first time once. Lucky for me, I'm married to the other side of the people loving coin. If you've taken the Strengthfinder tests you'll understand when I say I'm a relator, and my dear husband, he's an includer. Add a dose of "we don't speak each other's language" and a dose of "I've never met one of my children for the first time when they were old enough to remember if I was a dork" pressure and an overnight flight and jetlag to the fact that I don't sparkle during introductions. Yeah - I was sweatin' it.
My coping mechanism for this nervousness was to collect a bunch of fun activities to bring with me to fill the awkward moments. I was banking on there being a group of kids, including my girls for part of the time and we could just play. My suitcases contained my "crutches"....jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, Uno, Jenga, nail polish. I breathed easier imagining the first meeting with these things in my hands.....so I'm sure you can imagining the tightness that wrapped around my throat with each turn of the suitcase carousel that didn't contain our suitcases. Apparently, our bags decided to extend our long layover in
Frankfurt and stayed in Germany.
So we walked out of the airport with just our awesome personalities and carry-ons that contained a change of clothes, camera and the necklaces I was bringing for the girls.
We met our
Abel, and he gave us our first taste of Ethiopian culture with a history-laced
guided tour from the airport to our guesthouse.
He dropped us off to get settled and told us he would be back
mid-afternoon to take us to the orphanage.
It would have made sense to take a nap then....rest up from 30 hours of
travel and all. There was no way my eyes
were closing and my mind was turning off pre major life event. So I laid on the bed and stared at the
ceiling and called it rest while Scott snored beside me. It wasn't long before it was time for lunch,
and then a coffee ceremony (which is a beautiful, beautiful piece of Ethiopian
hospitality I'll have to write about some other time!)
...and then ....it was time.
We picked up the girls' social worker, Gelila, along the way so she could go with us. Daddy conspired with Abel to find a fresh flower shop along the way so he could bring his daughters roses. As Gelila and I waited in the van for the guys, we talked about the girls. Eventually the conversation turned to my worries...the fears I was fighting I might not be enough to be what they need. Gelila's words have been ringing in my ears since...."Oh you will be, they're just sweet girls who need love. Just love them, that will be enough." I took a deep breath and thanked God for sending a social worker that wasn't only what my girls needed, but what I needed too.
It was a sweet, sweet afternoon. The nannies had kept the girls home from school so we would have private time with them...so not only did I not have my "crutches" but there wasn't any other orphanage activity distractions. They had fallen asleep waiting for us so we waited on the porch while Gelila woke them up....longest few minutes of my life. It felt like walking into one of the pictures I've had on my fridge for the past few months, except I had my arms around them and could breath in their sweetness and watch their shy smiles form. They seemed excited and a little nervous, just like me. Scott scooped them up and swung them around, like big American Daddy's do....and their smiles got bigger....and the nannies hid their giggles behind their hands....and the adoption workers videoed and photographed like they knew something momentous was happening.
After the initial excitement, we sat down together and tried to talk. They offered us the bits of English they had been practicing and our
workers helped when our gestures and
explaining couldn't get the job done. We
gave them their necklaces and explained the names we had chosen for them and
they read their letters. There was some
excited chatter between the girls and Gelila while they were reading. We put the necklaces around their necks that
say "forever Florida"
and took happy pictures. And then we
just spent the rest of our time that day using the language of play. We delivered letters from sisters and friends. Scott and I got schooled at Kelebeleboshe, a
twist on jacks that they play with a handful of rocks. Then Scott showed off some of his PIG moves for a big basketball win!
The rest of the children came home just about as it was time for us to leave and looked us over with wide eyes and whispers. It's an awful thing to smile into a child's eyes who you didn't come for. Moms and Dads aren't as common in this place as they are in orphanages full of chubby cheeked babies and toddlers. Most of these kids will find themselves grown up without a family in a few years....and as much as their heads must know the odds, you can still read hope on their faces.
We hugged our girls, looked into their eyes and told them "Woo chalo, I love you" and kissed them goodbye. They eagerly asked if we could please come back tomorrow......sweet music to our ears.
The van door shut, the gate locked and the "how do you think that went" conversation started, wondering what the girls thought about their names and if they understood what we meant by giving them, especially Asnaku.
As we were driving up the hill away from our girls, the van abruptly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped....and God winked at us! We had been particularly thoughtful about giving Asnaku the name Hope. Although it had topped our best-loved names list for a long time, we didn't want the fact that Hope is also part of the name of the name of the orphanage to make her think we might have named her after it. We decided to use the letter to explain because there just wasn't any other name that fit so perfectly for our sweet girl and her life....and prayed that God would help her see it as a beautiful name full of meaning for a beautiful girl.
So we pulled over and Gelila opened the window to talk to a white girl she had seen walking down the road. They chatted for a minute and as we were on our way again Gelila explained that that girl had been volunteering at the orphanage for the last few months...and her name was.....
Do you need me to say it?? You've gotta know! If you know anything about our story and how gently God has cared for every detail and answered every worry along the way....you know already, that her name was HOPE! And she had been there loving on our girls for the last 8 months....making them see and feel hope.
Since we've been home Hope has found me on facebook and told me about what happened when she walked through the orphanage gate a few minutes later. Girls came running and yelling, telling her that Asnaku and her have the same name now! The next day Scott asked the girls what their "Highs and Lows" had been from the day before....it's a little thing we do with our kids around the dinner table at home. Asnaku spoke right up to tell us that her "High" had been her name. God's wink, His quick expression to remind us that He's got it all under control, came in the form of a girl He brought into our girls lives at just the right time with just the right name. He's so, so good.
The drive back to the guesthouse passed in a beautiful Ethiopian blur. Then....just like all Mommas do after they meet their newest little person for the first time.....after the googling and wonder.....I breathed a big sigh, laid down and slept with a silly smile on my face. It had been a very good day, a good that was "first day with your new babies" good, with an African, teenage twist!