Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Hardest Goodbye

Though we knew this was coming, tonight (Saturday night) was hard, very hard—for everyone.  Emily, Jasper, and Ruby are waiting at the airport now to catch their flight to London in about another hour and a half.  They’ve actually already been there for over an hour as we were told by the staff they needed to get there four hours before their flight.  Not!  We were a little late getting there according to that timeline, but it was still over three hours early.  At least they have Coke Light there (hopefully cold, although Emily neglected to mention that in her text) and luckily enough Ethiopian Burr to last until they leave. They'll finally arrive home Monday night at midnight, after spending a day in London so Sara, Dave and Haddie originally planned so could meet their newest family members.  Oh well, best laid plans...

But it was really hard to say goodbye.  Emily sat with Tinsae and Birhane in the van and cuddled them as T started to get really emotional.  She wasn’t crying yet, but was clearly very affected by having her new mother leave.  I think Ruby was actually the first to start crying as we travelled the half hour to the airport.  I held her close as the tears ran down her cheeks and nose.  I asked her why she was crying and she said she didn’t want to leave me.  Nothing tugs at a Dad’s heart more, or makes him feel as good.  It’s rare to have those kind of tender moments when your kids are really expressing their true feelings for you.  Savor them.  I did. 

We arrived at the airport and then the flood gates opened.  I think everyone started crying as we all embraced each other and Emily once again assured the girls that she would be waiting for them in America.  Just yesterday, once we knew that we would not be able to travel all together, we sat down with T and B and explained the situation to them.  We had previously told J and R but Tinsae clearly knew there was something going on.  Emily asked one of the receptionists to come in and translate as she explained that we couldn’t get all the problems fixed with our paperwork for the adoption in time.  We had tried so very hard so that we could all travel together, but now that wasn’t going to be possible.  Emily said that she would take Jasper and Ruby with her to America and Dad would stay with them here for a few days more until we could also travel.  Tinsae looked very concerned as the receptionist hadn’t yet translated anything.  She then talked to her for about 45 seconds and you could see the relief flood over T’s face.  It was clear she was expecting something much worse.

Just today, we learned that she had previously asked Gecho and Aki if she was going back to the orphanage a few days ago when she could sense problems.  They had said no, but she was clearly worried.  This was so touching to learn today.  We wonder how many other gems that would give us insight into her personality and thoughts so far have been lost amid the language barrier that keeps us from understanding all the quick interchanges she and Birhane have with the staff here.  Obviously, staying a few days with Dad here was much better news that what her little mind had been fearing.  But tonight, you’d never know that this was going to last just a few days.  Both T and B sobbed as they said goodbye at the van as we unloaded the luggage from the roof rack.  I told them that Dad would be staying with them and that I would be right back, but in the meantime, Gecho would stay with them in the van while I helped Emily, Jasper, and Ruby up to the terminal.

In the parking lot, there were two little girls selling gum it turned out, although at first I thought they were just asking for a handout.  This is very common everywhere we have gone.  Obviously, we are magnets for anyone selling something and Aki was vigorously shooing them away in Amharic.  I’ve been surprised at how sharp he seems to be talking to them sometimes, as I’m sure they all think we live where the streets are paved with gold.  Comparitively, they’re right. But we’re already giving so much to this country in the form of adoption fees that it has put my mind at rest most of the time to allow Aki to send them away from us.  However, we have still given quite frequently to anyone who has approached us for a handout.  When I realized they were selling gum, I went over to see if they had the banana gum that Jasper discovered at a little shop across the street from the guest house.  He and the rest of the kids love it.  I asked her how much and she said 10 Burr for one pack—we bought four for that price at the shop here.  We settled on 7 Burr for two packs and I caught up to our little group and gave them to Jasper.

Once we reached security at the bottom of a hill leading up to the terminal, Aki and I could go no further.  At this point, Jasper and Ruby were sobbing as bad as Tinsae and Berhane had been when we left them in the van.  I hugged them both so tight and told them how much I loved them and we would all be together again real soon.  I told them I would be home for Halloween (a major concern they have both shared on MANY occasions) and told Ruby I had bought the banana gum they love.  Their tears left me pretty misty as I hugged Emily goodbye.  She said, “If you die, I’ll kill you,” which is our standard departure farewell.  I so wished I could help them push the two luggage carts up this hill to the terminal, but security wouldn’t allow it.  Aki had greeted a friend at security there and he jumped up and helped push one of the luggage carts up the hill.  He wouldn’t even accept a tip when they reached the top, Emily said.  Now that’s a real friend.

As I turned around to head back to the van, it suddenly hit me that Emily didn’t have much Ethiopian money with her.  I hollered up to them, but they just looked at me with expressions like ‘what do you need?’  Aki’s friend came down the hill and Aki wadded the 100 Burr note (the equivalent of about $8) that I had gotten out of my wallet and threw it up the hill as far as the worn wad of money would travel.  As Aki explained quickly and as we both gestured, he ran it up to Emily.  As he came down the hill, I reached for a 10 Burr note to give him as a tip and he wouldn’t accept that either.  I put my hand over my heart and nodded my head to slowly and deliberately to him, a common gesture here that is as magnificent in meaning as it is simple.  It is ‘Thank You,’ ‘I’m Honored to Know You,’ and a host of other unsaid feelings that can suit so many different situations.  I held Tinsae and Birhane close the whole ride back to the guest home and felt grateful they come from such a country as this, with people as selfless, kind, and generous as those we have had the pleasure of interacting with.

Upon returning to the guest home, Tinsae went in quickly and while Birhane was all smiles and giggling like usual, by the time I saw T through the windows of the entrance doors, she was wiping her eyes with tissues and crying again.  Gecho said to me, “I’ll give her some advice” and proceeded to give her a ‘buck up’ kind of message judging by the tone.  I’ll have to ask him in the morning when he drives us to church what he actually said.  It was strange coming into the room where we have lived for two weeks with its queen size bed, cluttered with a few of the last minute items that are sorted out as being unessential to the trip at hand and Jasper and Ruby’s empty bunks.  Now what, I thought.  Tinsae took over and started talking to Birhane—the only word I understood was pajamas.  Ok, maybe this won’t be that hard for a few days.

While they had some wind-down time reading magazines (they love books and magazines, even catalogs as they seem fascinated just looking at all the pictures in them), I texted with Emily for about a half an hour.  She said Jasper and Ruby bawled for almost 40 minutes after we left.  When we talked by phone a little while later, Emily said everyone at the registration desk was concerned asking why they were crying.  By the time they stopped, their faces were puffy and eyes swollen.  When I talked to them on the phone, Ruby wasn’t her normal talkative self and Jasper started to cry again.  It’s really special to have your nine-year old son tell you he loves you so much and he will miss you so much.  Jasper even said he was going to save all his banana gum until I got home.  What generosity.  In the van when we were all going to the airport and Emily asked Aki to see if there was anything more Tinsae was concerned about because she was being so emotive and quiet, Jasper suggested, “Why doesn’t Tinsae just use my ticket to go to America and I’ll stay here, that would be okay with me.”  What a kid.  Jasper, you’re the greatest.

After talking with both kids and blubbering through my own “I love yous” to Jasper, Emily got on the phone and we talked for a few minutes.  Though the connection wasn’t that great, she asked me to read what I had written thus far.  She chided me, saying “The tone shouldn’t been sad—it’s exciting.  This is the home stretch.  For one thing, I don’t feel sad.  I feel great.  I’m excited more than sad because I get to go home, prepare the house, get the Jasper and Ruby back in their routine and you’ll be there in just a few days.”

She said that after they had gotten through all the check in procedures and security, she asked Jasper and Ruby why this was so hard.  They said they were sad to be apart from me and to leave me in a foreign country, something they’ve never done before.  They said they are really going to miss me and this is the hardest thing in their lives, ever.  Ah, shucks—that is high praise.  But really, tonight was two weeks of pent up emotion for them.  As Emily talked to them more, Ruby asked why fingerprints have to expire.  Jasper cursed our agency and said that the last two weeks have been so hard.  They both mentioned going to the embassy everyday, something that took more of a toll on them than we realized.

Emily explained they don’t need to worry about anything, those are grown up things that they shouldn’t even necessarily know, let alone worry about.  But she encouraged them to just cry and let the emotion out.  Yes, they’re missing their Dad, but this two-week experience has been emotionally exhausting for them too.  We are both so proud of them and admire them for being so eager to embrace this life changing adoption of two sisters.
Obviously, worse things happen to people than being apart for a few days for sure.  But the point is that while it’s no big deal, this is the climax of a couple of very difficult weeks for all of us.


With all that out of the way, let me tell you what we did today.  After being told that we couldn’t go to Meki, or anywhere outside of Addis for that matter, Gecho called Aki and said he had gotten all the approvals needed and we could go.  Wow.  It took him over two hours and five different government offices to get the approval stamps necessary for our trip.  (We asked him for the form later in the day, with its five different stamps of approval so we could keep it—a clear demonstration of his commitment to helping us better understand where these girls come from.)  So by mid-morning, we were off on our ~120 km journey south to Meki.  We had Jasper come with us, although we left Ruby with her sisters as we thought that would make the day go better.  Jasper really didn’t want to come, especially as we waited for two hours to leave, but in the end, I think he really enjoyed it. 

The scenery on the way to Meki is much more of what he expected Africa would be like.  It seemed considerably drier country that our earlier day trip to the Portugese Bridge and the Blue Nile Valley.  That road side of that earlier trip was dotted with little farms, a patchwork of fields, and even dairy farms crowded with cows.  It could have been Cache Valley if not for the traditional grass huts.  Today, however, the color palate was all the yellowish tone of dry grasses with acacia trees and fiber plants growing in haphazard fashion.  There was actually plenty of farming going on in this southern region as well, but it bore little similarity to the greenery of the farms in the north.  We saw men and women winnowing their crops, cutting the hay with sickles (is that spelled right since I can’t Google it?) and little boys herding cows that towered over them.  We even saw a large group of camels (should that be a different word too—like a gaggle of geese or a pride of lions?  Oh Google, where are you when we need you!).

Anyway, after a couple hours of driving, we reached Meki, the largest city we had seen on our journey.  This was actually a bit surprising for us, as we had envisioned more or a village.  We drove around and really got a great view of the city as it happened to be market day there.  The streets were crowded with people selling their wares.  Words cannot do justice to the complete randomness of what is available for sale.  There are women sitting on the ground behind their small but neatly stacked piles of potatoes, carrots, beans, cabbage and other vegetables I couldn’t name.  A vendor right next to them might have a blanket of random shoes for sale while another may have baskets of every size and shape, depending on whether you’re looking for a flat round one to hold injera (the staple flat bread that acts as one’s fork when eating firfir and other dishes) to large colorful baskets that could easily serve many different purposes in the countryside.  From sunglasses to t-shirts to religious parasols to bleeting sheep and goats, the market has it all.  It was a great day to be in Meki.

We knew from Tinsae’s description that they lived somewhere between the river that runs through town and the market we were rather conspicuously driving through.  Aki asked someone where Kabele 01 was, their exact block (as they don’t actually have specific addresses here, even in Addis) so we could drive through it.  I had the camera rolling out the window the entire time so if your stomach can stand the jolts from the pot-holes while you watch, it should make for some good viewing someday.  We don’t know how much T & B will want to remember about their past life, but we hope to have enough information to share with them when they have questions or want to see where they came from.  While so many things looked the same with what we see in and around Addis Ababa, we just wanted to make sure we had the images that may bring things to their remembrance at some future time.

Before leaving Meki, we stopped at the Frank Dubisa Hotel, or Hooteelaa Fraank Dubbissa according to the sign in Oromiya, the language spoken by the predominant tribe in that region.  Their language is actually derived from Latin if you can believe that, just a phonetic spelling for it.  This was the sign about the toilet: Qulqulleessittuu.  Cognicere anyone?   We avoided the Liver with Kidney on the menu although we did think the Shish Kibebe listed on the Lamp Dishes page had a certain familiarity to it, but the silent ‘P’ threw us off and we couldn’t place it.  Jasper absolutely loved the cheeseburger he ordered, proclaiming it was the best one he had EVER eaten.  It helps that he said he was starving when we left the guest home at 10:30 and the protein bars we’ve packed along with us have lost their allure at this point.  Gecho and Aki shared a chicken wrapped in injera which they also indicated was extremely tasty.  We topped off lunch with ice cream.  I was yet again the ‘designated eater’ for the strawberry cone Emily ordered.  It tasted like I was eating frozen perfume in ice cream form and a piece of cinnamon gum still couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth for miles after we left.  (As Emily mentioned in an earlier post, back in the archive of this blog somewhere you can read about some of my other ‘designated eater’ duties performed in remote villages in Uganda when hairy goats meat and other dubious dishes were served to us as the guests of honor when we visited 2004.)

When we arrived back in Addis, we drove by the Fistula Hospital, a wonderful place that we had just wanted to see from the outside ever since we arrived.  I won't go into detail here, but seeing the documentary, A Walk To Beautiful after we had already decided we would adopt from Ethiopia convinced us this was the right place.  We have two copies of the DVD at home and would be happy to loan them to anyone interested.  It is a very moving story. 

Overall, it was a great outing and a wonderful day.  We were so glad Jasper came along with us as this is surely a memory that will stay with him for a long time.  We’ve learned so much about the people, the culture, and the everyday sights we’ve seen by peppering Aki and Gecho with our questions.  At the same time, it has perhaps drawn us closer with them since we have shown such an interest in their country and everything around us.  We not only appreciate their time and patience they’ve shown us, but view them as true friends.  They seemed to indicate the same today as they eagerly shared their addresses, phone numbers, email and even Aki’s Facebook name with us.  They said very few families invite them to eat with them when they go out, instead making them wait in the van while the family eats inside. Aki said we are only the second family he has ever invited to his home, the first being an Australian couple he invited to his wedding celebration.  What an amazing experience and journey this has been. 


Preston said...

I can see how everyone was emotional with the temporary parting. It will be quite the adjustment having had dad around, night and day for four weeks, to have you go back to work. Steve, you will be great for the last bit of time you have to spend in Ethiopia and alone with the girls. We hope Emily and the kids have a safe flight home, and when the time comes Steve and the girls. Love, Jen and Garth

Amy D said...

Steve, your girls are lucky to have such a loving, caring father to stay with them. Your account of your farewell was very touching. I feel like we get to experience things right along with you. Best of luck to you all over the next few days. Before you know it, you'll be together as a happy family again! We'll keep you in our prayers that everything will work out smoothly from here on out. And, of course, we'll keep on reading to see if it does :)

Tyler said...

Sometimes separations make for reunions we would not have otherwise felt in quite the same way. Not that I'd ever wish this separation upon you or the vengeful way Montezuma has toyed with you guys this past week, but we are excited for the prospect of Steve bringing the girls home to Emily and their new brother and sister. Just imagining the scene is amazing.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, all over the globe for now, but Home soon!

At the risk of sounding like the cheeseball I am: Here's hoping "The Hardest Goodbye" makes for "The Happiest Reunion".

We love you guys!
-Kellie and Tyler

(Also, as a random aside: my favorite unexpected paragraph in your blog was the one where you mentioned the Fistula Hospital. I'm so grateful you took the time to mention it; I have a soft spot in my heart for those women. And thanks to your recommendation, I've got the movie all ready to stream from Netflix tonight. So thank you!)

Brooke said...

Steve, I'm so glad that you are going to continue to post. I look forward to them each night. Thanks. We are going to see U2 tonight at the Rose Bowl wish you were coming too. Can't believe how incredibly sad that send off was. I didn't expect the children to be so upset since they were traveling with mother. You must be a great dad to evoke that kind of emotion. Good for you. You are a great dad and a wonderful husband to Emily, and a great friend to Bjorn and I. God Speed!