>My heart belongs to Ethiopia…

>I just finished the fall semester (thank God!) so I should have a bit more time on my hands. But while I am playing catch up on housework, shopping for Christmas gifts, and catching up at work, I thought I could use this post to give a clear understanding of why my heart truly begins to Ethiopia. I wrote an essay a couple years ago for an English class about my experience meeting Teketel’s birthmother. I would like to share that essay with you now. Please keep in mind that I had to write it a specific way, (certain topic, certain style) but I was pleased that I was able to tell the story of my experience in a condensed way. (VERY rare for me!) So please read on of my amazing experience in Ethiopia, I will never forget this day and I am proud to share it with you.

The scenery was captivating; rolling hills spotted with thatched huts and beautiful acacia trees that stood above them as giants looking over the village. We drove past villagers caring for their livestock; the weight of the recent drought was reflected in their tired faces and in the emaciated bodies of the animals. Children left their huts to watch as we drove in our Land Rovers along the newly paved road. The children smiled and waved, asking us to stop so that they could practice their few words of English. They were dirty and their clothes torn, flies circled their faces, and they made no effort to swat them away. However, the dirt and flies could not hide the luminous smiles and piercing eyes that every child seemed to own. It was just two days prior that my husband and I had met our son, Teketel, for the first time in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Abba. At seven months old he had already laid claim to those Ethiopian eyes that had captured my attention instantly. After only a couple days of spending time with our son, the adoption agency organized a trip for the seven American adoptive families to meet the birth parents of their children. On that warm Sunday in June of 2008, we left our children in the capital as we made the journey to the town of Hosanna in southern Ethiopia to meet the mother of our son. Nothing could have prepared me for that meeting; I could never have predicted the amount of admiration I would have for this woman and the amazing strength she possessed.

We arrived at the adoption agency’s compound after four long hours. The social workers ushered the adoptive parents into one room. The room was fairly bare except for a couch and chairs lining the walls. We sat down next to our spouses and waited in silence. The only sound was the Ethiopian woman roasting coffee beans that would be used later as a part of a traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. The aroma of the coffee filled the room, and the anxiety of the adoptive parents was nearly palpable. I could feel the air escape as all of the parents held their breath in anticipation, waiting for the social worker to enter and call out their child’s name. It wasn’t until the fifth time that a social worker entered and asked for the parents of Teketel. At the sound of my son’s name I felt for the first time the magnitude of this meeting rest heavily on my heart. My husband placed his hand on my back as if to say he felt the same way as we followed the social worker.

The room where we met my son’s birthmother, Amsalech, was very small and had only three chairs. As we entered, she immediately stood to greet us. Her frame was small, and her disposition was very reserved. She stood no taller than five foot four, and she was dressed in a t-shirt and long skirt. She was young, a few years my junior, much too young to have three children and the burden of raising them. I extended my arms to her, and we embraced. We both began to weep. As I stood there and held the woman that had forever changed my life, emotions that I cannot attempt to describe overwhelmed me. At that moment, as we held one another, it was as if two souls became irreversibly connected. Two women with nothing in common from completely different cultures and backgrounds stood clinging to one another, mourning the same thing: her agonizing loss.

After a few moments had passed, we sat across from each other, and with the help of two interpreters, we began to learn about one another. Each sentence of conversation took time to translate since Amsalech spoke a dialect called Tembarssa which is spoken in the Tembaro district. It is a rare dialect and our interpreter was unable to translate it, making it necessary for two interpreters to be present. First, an interpreter would translate from Tembarssa to Amharic, and then our interpreter would translate from Amharic to English. This process was so time consuming that we had to carefully select the questions we had for her to make the most of our short time together. We first asked about Teketel’s siblings. She replied that her eldest child’s, Adame, health was poor and that she was very concerned for her. She said her son, Teshale, was a very energetic boy. She said both of her children adored their little brother, Teketel. She spoke about the time they had with Teketel and how he was a happy and content baby, only crying when he was hungry. We handed her a gift of a double hinged frame. In the frame were two pictures, a picture of us and a picture of Teketel at the age of six months. She held the frame close to her. It was not an expensive frame but it was more costly than anything she owned. She studied the picture of Teketel, rarely glancing away. She had not seen him since the day she took him to the care center when he was just two and a half months old. I watched as she stared at the picture and never once did I see the strength of her decision waiver. Her face never displayed an ounce of regret. We handed her a large map that had a star marking Savannah, Georgia, and one marking her home in Ethiopia. She stared in amazement at the map; she had never laid eyes on anything like it.

After thanking us for the gifts, we asked her if there was anything she wanted for Teketel. She said that she wanted him to remain true to his heritage and asked that we always celebrate Meskel and Easter, two important Ethiopian holidays. We promised we would and told her we would keep the name that she gave him so that he would carry a part of her with him. The expression on her face showed gratitude that her limited words would not convey. It was the next part of our conversation that showed me the true depth of her strength. She explained the circumstances that led to her decision for adoption. We had already been told the story by our social workers, but it was completely different to see and hear her speak of it. I saw shame and hurt in her eyes, but more than anything I saw an unyielding determination. I could see that it was her belief in the rightness of her decision that sustained her. We finished our time together with her sharing her dream for Teketel. She said that her hope for him was that he was able to grow to be anything he desired.

We left her that day after more embraces and tears. We took a picture of us with Amsalech to hang in Teketel’s room so he would see his birth mother every day. She had proven to be a pillar of strength. She watched us leave to return to her son and take him to the other side of the world, knowing that she will never see him again, and yet she remained steadfast. The gifts of the pictures and map seemed so insignificant in comparison to the gift that she gave us. I am forever indebted to this woman and to her unshakeable strength. As my son grows, I see more and more of her features in him. When I look at him I am constantly reminded of her sacrifice, and of the courage that sacrifice required. Even today I still mourn her loss and pray for her strength to continue. I hope that I can emulate that strength as a mother. I hope and pray that my son will inherit more than just her physical features; I hope that he will inherit the strength that embodies her. I know that with strength like hers he will accomplish her dream for him, to grow to be anything he desires.

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