the journey home
End of the journey.
Epilogues and prologues don’t get theme music. Not in my world they don’t. They do enough sitting as the bookend chapters in a long journey, and anyways, how many of you even read my well chosen songs, or figured out why I chose the songs I did as the theme song for the day?
Wow, to think a week ago I was shaking in my boots over the anticipation of meeting my kids. Now I am looking out the window in Ethiopia wondering where all the time went.
The first few moments were driven in silence, we wound our way through homes of the obviously rich, next to the homes of the obviously destitute. To call this a road would be a lie, to say I felt safe in this blue jalopy as we crossed bridges I would be afraid to walk across would be a lie, to say I was happy to be in this car, leaving ½ of my kids 10,000 miles behind would be the understatement of the century (and we have just begun this one)
Suddenly we emerged from the windy dirt trail onto a major intersection of road lined with shops. My taxi driver noticed me looking into the shops and asked if I needed something. I told him about the fact that I have spent all week trying to find a Senzero doll for my daughter, but everyone was sold out, or didn’t carry them. Of course it took 10 attempts to say Senzero for him to understand what I was saying, I know enough Amharic at this point to know there is a sound in the middle of that word that the native English speaker doesn’t hear, nor can he speak. That or I just really suck at Amharic.
Well he knew of a place on the way, so we stopped and I went in, but they were sold out. This guy was undaunted though, after 4 more stops, all on the same road, just a few miles away from the airport, we found a supermarket that had them in the basement. To define a supermarket there in Addis, well growing up we would go to these crazy flea markets around the rural surrounding around Reading, PA. They would be in these old mushroom houses, and people would be as crammed as a can of sardines in there. The most memorable of trips was when one of the family cars left early, without telling anyone, (this was an extended family affair) so my cousin bought a VW bug and drove it home. On that same trip I think my uncle bought an Elvis clock, some one had a Cabbage Patch doll, and we bought our groceries and seeds for the garden. I say all that to say I believe I could have had the exact same shopping list from then, including the VW Bug and I could have bought everything on the list
The salespeople were amused at this late shopper trying to pronounce Senzero, and then buying 2 of them. But I was happy, knowing I had found a gift for both of my American kids that they would both enjoy. That and the taxi driver had a good sense of accomplishment with finding this doll on a Sunday night on the way to the airport.
Walking into the airport I started noticing the other American families going home with their new Ethiopian children. This was going to be a long reminder of what I was leaving behind.
I arrived at the airport at 7:30pm, and was through customs and in the lobby of the airport by 8pm. Now part of that came from the adoptive families that recognized me, and had already figured out where to go, but since I had no kids, and very little to claim, I got my paperwork done way before them (thanks be to the mothers who carry spare pens, there are no pens at the customs desk in Addis)
Once you are through customs you go upstairs and are in the most modern of malls I have seen since my arrival, and the prices are fair market, twice what you would pay outside the airport, ½ what you would pay in the US. I walked around just looking at what was there, and contemplated buying a bottle of Tej to take home, but didn’t feel like dealing with any complications from alcohol-food laws from the US customs.
Eventually I made my way into the lounge, and was beckoned to by a large cluster of adoptive families in the corner. I went over and made my introductions and we swapped stories and talked about our individual journeys. If you’ve ever been in the airport for long you are familiar with strangers who become friends only to become strangers once again.
Once I boarded the plane, which is a major ordeal there, you want to be in the front of that line as I saw several people who all shared the same seat numbers on their tickets, and I saw several people who had to wait for the next flight with available room. But Once I was on the plane, I found myself sitting next to the head of the lab that does all of the lab work for all international adoptions in Addis. We discussed adoption for a while, and I asked about his job and such but we were both ready to go to sleep. Remember its 10:30 pm.
Well after sitting there for an extra 45 minutes we finally taxi to the runway, only to be grounded by a lightning storm for the next 2 hours. We didn’t take off until 1:30am, but thanks be to the makers of Ambien for I slept soundly. I vaguely remember them making me put my seat up for take off, and I remember putting my seat back down as soon as the front wheel was off the ground. I didn’t wake up again until sometime mid morning. I even slept through our refueling in Rome. Somewhere we made up some massive time as we were only about 1 ½ hours behind schedule, but I had a 5 hour layover so I was more than fine, it just cut down the time I had to spend idly in the airport.
Customs in America was a joke, they didn’t read the paper, didn’t look at my bags, and could have cared less what I brought in with me, and I was through the doors and back in America.
I made my way to check in for my next flight, and then headed to find some pizza and a Mountain Dew with lots of ice. I can’t tell you how nice it was to walk around chewing that ice. I decided to use the Ethiopian Air razor and other supplies in a pretty desert wing of the airport in the restroom. A few pilots joined me about ½ way through but other than that I freshened up, as best I could, in piece. I noticed my sandals reeked of goat, and so I dumped an entire airplane bottle of aftershave on my shoes and on the floor, then rubbed my soles into the liquid. I can’t say that it covered the smell totally, but it was better than before. It would take putting them outside in the rain and sun for 2 days before the smell was actually gone from those shoes.
After a fiasco of another double booked plane, which thank God I got on as they were sending the others to another airport on a taxi to try to catch a plane, and if they missed it they were going to be put on a plane going to 3 ½ hours away form my destination to catch a connection in the middle of the night. I felt bad for those that didn’t make it on board, but I was going home.
Everything arrived in one piece.
My family was thrilled to have me home, they all loved all of their gifts, and the opportunity to live vicariously through me with our kids.
And the journey was over.
Except for typing this journal out.
This has been a very interesting exercise. I have had to balance what to actually share, what is mine to share, and what is too personal to share. Had this been a complete journal, with every action taken, every perception and thought I had, well, I’d still be on the first entry, and you wouldn’t have survived the first page. I have had to weigh out what I can share about my kids, as this is their story too and I want to respect their boundaries as much as mine.
I am not the same man that I left as. I have been forever marked by Ethiopia, and it’s beautiful people. I owe so much to those who enabled this journey. I am forever in debt to those who sent me. And I am forever changed by the journey.
For those who follow my trail, I encourage you to take the road less traveled upon. Yes there are motels that are very western, and very plush, but they insulate you from some of the reality that is Addis. I have spent many, many hours processing the images that haunt my memories, and I know I will spend many more seeking justice for those impoverished souls.
My small journey to visit my kids has come to a close. But in many ways, the larger epic adventure has just begun.
Thank you for sharing this road with me, I pray it has been a blessing to you.