Our wake up call isn’t for another 30 minutes, but we are showered and dressed. I have all sorts of strange emotions this morning. The biggest, of course, is the realization that we are going to meet our baby in a matter of one or two hours! Just typing that makes my heart flutter and my hands sweat a bit. I am nervous, scared, excited, happy, sad…all at once. My most immediate concern? What does a mother wear when she is going to meet her son for the first time? Shallow, I know. But seriously, this is a moment we will all remember for the rest of our lives. Except Isaiah, who won’t remember it, but will have lots of pictures to look back on. I really hope he doesn’t look back on these pictures some day, and say “mom, what on earth were you wearing?” Okay seriously, I think I will just go for comfort right now.
I am off to finish my makeup, and head down for our free breakfast. I am so excited for the food while we are here. I love eating out!
Sunday, 9:50 AM
Gail met us in the lobby a few minutes before 10:00. Dad and Brian were still up in the restaurant settling the breakfast bill. Apparently the wait staff in Ethiopia isn’t in a hurry to get people out, unlike wait staff in America, so you have to actually ask for your bill – otherwise you may just sit there all day.
We loaded into Gail’s Toyota Land Cruiser, along with her three year old son, Zach, and headed off. This was our first time seeing any of Addis in daylight. We drove down Bole road during the Sunday morning traffic, drinking in all the sights. There are people everywhere - walking on the sidewalks, down the street, across the street, lying on the side of the road or in the median – just everywhere. I noticed some people dressed in their Sunday best, obviously on their way to or from church. There were people in casual clothes, hanging around and chatting with friends. And there were people in rags, sitting or lying in despair as others walked by. There are also animals everywhere – goats being herded down the road to slaughter, donkeys carrying loads, sometimes without their owner anywhere in sight, and cows eating out of dumpsters.
I had heard that driving in Addis is quite the experience – even from experienced world travelers. I was expecting to be hanging on to the car door for dear life, but thankfully it wasn’t quite that bad. I think the key is to not really pay attention to where the car is going, and just look out the window at the sights. If you do look out the front windshield, you will be certain that at any given second the car is going to run over a person. There are seemingly no road rules in effect, except to be persistent and confident in where you are going, and eventually you will get there. At one point we were stuck in an intersection with cars in every direction sandwiched around us – all of us stopped. In the U.S. I’m sure it would have taken traffic engineers all day to sort out that mess, but within a minute or two we were back on our way. Crazy. It is amazing that there aren’t car accidents all over the place, and the only one I witnessed was when Gail tapped the bumper of the car in front of us. The driver of that car didn’t have brake lights, so when he got out checking out the damage, Gail shouted a stern message to him in Amharic, and he climbed back in his car and drove off.
To get to Layla we drove down a paved road, then pulled a U-turn onto a dirt road, which is actually an expansion to the paved road that is under construction. This dirt road is barely passable by car, but people drive it anyway. If that were in the US, the road would be closed for months during construction. Brian appreciates the “efficiency” of the Ethiopians, and how they just make it work.
We pulled up to a big blue gate at the entrance to Layla, where Gail honked her horn and waited for a guard to let us in. As soon as I saw that gate, I was nearly paralyzed with excitement and nerves. I panicked when I went to pull out the video camera to give my dad a crash-course, and saw that the camera had been left on – running out both the tape and the battery. Everyone else had already gotten out of the car, and there I was, fingers frozen, trying to figure out what to do. I was almost in tears as I was just sure I was going to miss out on the presentation of my baby. Thankfully Brian came to my rescue, swapped out the battery and tape, and we were on our way through the doors to Wanna.
I had been telling people all week that I wasn’t sure I would get emotional the first time I met Isaiah. I thought it might be one of those things where it is more emotional to witness, than to actually live through yourself. But as we walked through the courtyard, past the hanging laundry, and to the doors of the baby house, I could barely even focus through the tears in my eyes. It didn’t help that when I glanced over at Brian, he already had tears on his cheeks. We followed Gail up a few steps, passed some toddlers having breakfast, and into the baby room. As we walked in the room, I quickly scanned from left to right, trying to get the first glimpse of my baby. Off to the left I could see one toddler standing in a metal crib, trying to get anyone’s attention. Then towards the right I started to see little babies scattered all over the couch, floor, and in caretaker’s arms. Before I could recognize any faces, I heard Gail say “Eftalem?” as she pointed to a baby, and bent down to pick him up. Within seconds she was coming toward me with a groggy, confused, wet baby, and handed him to me.
As I reached out for my baby, everything became a blur. Tears started running down my face. I was oblivious to all the eyes and cameras that were pointed in my direction, and was completely overjoyed to finally have my baby in my arms.
After a few minutes (or so it seemed) I realized that I had not let anyone else hold Isaiah, so I handed him over to his Daddy. I actually liked that better, because I was becoming so overwhelmed I was afraid I might drop him. Plus I could look at him better while he was in his Daddy’s arms. What an amazing sight, after so many long months, to finally see Brian holding his son.
I don’t really remember the sequence of events that happened next, except that at some point I changed Isaiah into some dry orphanage clothes (I hadn’t thought to bring him an outfit), and at some point Grandma and Grandpa each got a chance to hold him. After a little while we sat down as Gail talked to the caretakers and translated Isaiah’s daily routine to us. It seems like things were somewhat lost in translation, as the schedule doesn’t make a lot of sense. However the gist of what was said is that Isaiah eats every few hours, takes two long naps, and sleeps well at night, and wakes up for one bottle during the night.
Once we had all recovered from our emotional encounter, Gail called our driver, Dawit, and we prepared to leave. I had no idea how emotional I would get as I took my son out of the orphanage, but it suddenly hit me that I was taking him from the only home he ever knew, and the only people he has ever loved. And it was clear that they loved him, too, by the way they looked at him, and the tears running down their cheeks. As we slowly walked out, we stopped along the way to let a few people hold, kiss, and say goodbye to sweet Eftalem. I got pictures of him with some of the caretakers, and soon I hope to get their names.
As we drove back to our hotel, Isaiah on my lap in the back seat, we were all pretty quiet. I think it took a while to process the events of that morning, and in some ways I will always be trying to process it. I don’t know why God chose this as the way for us to add to our family, but I am so thankful he did.