Today was one of the biggest, most important, most nerve wracking, most emotional and most rewarding days of not only this trip to Ethiopia, but of our entire lives.
Following a light, nervous breakfast, we left on the bus at 6:00 am and headed south on the road to Hossanna for the birth family meetings. Everyone was very quiet on the three and a half hour ride there...looking out the windows. snapping a few pictures.
We had knots in our stomach the entire way. Leaving Addis was intense. So far we've seen such a small slice of Ethiopia; the market yesterday, AHOPE, the care center . . We've only seen a few places that we've specifically needed to go. As we drove through the city and out through the outer ring we saw another side of poverty.
Everything seems to be made of corrugated tin, wood and dirt; roofs, walls, fences. The roads are all dirt, gravel, stray dogs and people. We see women and children walking with 5 gallon plastic containers, bringing water from miles away.
The landscape as we got into the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. Everything was so much more green and lush than I had imagined it to be.
The sunlight was coming up over the mountains, there was a light fog, it was very picturesque. Very peaceful. . . . . This was the beauty of Ethiopia that I had heard about.
Every forty-five minutes or so we would drive through a small little village...which meant a few shacks-make shift street markets, animals and people. We drive by one that abruptly ends with a 50-60 foot gorge and waterfall.
Children here live differently than anything we could have imagined. We see 4 year old boys, alone, walking behind goats and donkeys using small switches to drive them along the side of the road. Our bus honks as it comes near them, demanding space on a shared highway. 5 year old girls wave to our bus from the fields and hills as we drive by, their baby brother strapped to their backs.
We continue to drive further south, the elevation here is over 7,000 feet. I'm not sure whether it's the thin air or the prospect of meeting the family of our children that takes the air out of me. We stop a little over halfway in a small crossroads of a town to use the restroom. It is in a hotel, which has toilets as opposed to simple holes in the floor. There is a metal fence around the hotel and as we stretch our legs, children poke there faces through and over the fence. Asking to have their photo taken, asking for a few Birr, asking . . .
The scenary continues to change. It becomes more and more rural. Life here seems simple, and we begin to imagine a different, less complex life. Mud huts, well tilled fields, livestock. . .But it's all lived on such a razor's edge. The nearest 'health center' is miles away. The nearest hospital would be in Addis. It might take days to get there.
As we pull into Hosanna, the bus quiets. All of us are alone with our thoughts, wondering who we will see, what we should expect. We empty off the bus and into a room with 20 chairs set around a small table. An interpretor comes in and tells us that they will call us by name when they are ready.
Other than to say that that they were intensely personal and emotional meetings, we are keeping the details of each of our children's families as a private birthright that we will give to them as they get older. It is their gift to share when and with whom they choose.
We met with Will's family first. We were able to give them a map of the world and point out where Ethiopia is and where Wisconsin is to them. We also gave them two photos; one of our family and one of Will. The meeting was short, intense and emotional. It left both of us drained.
We then met with Emma's family. The difference between the two meetings was palpable. While Will's meeting felt a bit raw, Emma's family meeting provided a true sense of happiness, closure and peace to our trip to Ethiopia. It truly changed the entire tenor of our trip. We were allowed to give them a photo album that showed the last five years of her life with us, as well as a copy of the same map showing our respective countries. We saw true happiness as they looked over Emma's life with us and we felt at peace.
We left Hosanna and drove an hour to the school that CHSFS has established in this region. They educate 200 students, from K4-4th grade. The kids come from 3-4 miles away for school and are considered lucky to get an education. There are no buses. Behind the school there are numerous residential buildings under construction. These can take 10-12 years to complete. They are built by hand, with scaffolding made from tree branches and cement and rebar laid by hand.
The rest of the drive back passes quickly. The conversation is more animated, we are all more relaxed, learning about each other, sharing in the cathartic afterglow of meeting the families of our children. We stop for photos at one point on a mountainside above some huts and hillsides. While stopped we meet some women, young and old, walking with donkeys on the road. The women have children on their backs, the donkeys are carrying jugs of water. A monkey runs across the road and up a tree. We take pictures of the women and show them the pictures on the backs of the cameras. We look at each other and laugh. Neither knowing the life the other leads.