Over breakfast at our guesthouse we and the other families staying there agreed it was going to be a hard day.
The day had already begun on a sour note, as Cipro was passed around at breakfast (several in our group had upset tummies from the week in Ethiopia, Cipro is the prescription antibiotic for traveler's tummy -- don't go to Ethiopia without it!).
The agenda for the day was to have our last visit with our kids at the foster care center, our last visit before having to leave them for months, and then there were the scheduled tours of the government-run orphanages, places where we knew we'd see kids in circumstances much worse than the care center where we'd been visiting our kids.
The morning's visit at the care center was good, I tried not to let the dread over having to say goodbye, the sadness of knowing I wouldn't see my little girl again for a long time, mar the time we did have together.
Our girl had latched onto a little Ethiopian Amharic language dictionary we'd been carrying with us. We had it out in her room at the care center trying to speak some basic words to her, but she loved the book and kept pretend reading it, flipping through it's pages over and over. We let her all the way up until we had to go, and then she didn't want to give it back, I didn't want to just grab it from her, thankfully I remembered the stickers in our backpack. I traded her a sheet of stickers (we weren't supposed to give them gifts, but I thought stickers hardly counted) for the book, she promptly began sharing stickers with the roomful of kids and it was a lovely distraction of our actually leaving. She wasn't supposed to know we were her family (just too incredibly hard for a little one to think of us as mom and dad and then have us leave for months), and I don't think she did, so I just said a quick goodbye and gave her a quick hug and rushed out of the room before the tears could start for she or me!
For about 18 months since there was the change to the Ethiopian adoption process and two trips were required, I had worried about that moment. What would it be like to meet my daughter and leave her? How do you do that exactly?
Well, I can tell you, although it was hard, leaving her was not as hard as I expected, however being home without her all these weeks since have been WAY harder than I ever expected, nearly unbearable.
We left the care center and went to Kaldi's Coffee (the best coffee in the world and my kids think the best milk shakes!) to decompress. Kaldi's seems like a Starbucks knock-off (even the logo is similar), but it's better! Ethiopia knows coffee! We have craved a macchiato from Kaldi's every day since we left Ethiopia!
Next we let the kids burn off some energy at the Hilton Hotel playground. There are not many playgrounds in Addis Ababa, so the kids were thrilled to be able to run, climb, and play free for a bit before we set off on the orphanage tours.
A few months before our trip to Ethiopia we had become involved in helping the kids at the government orphanages. I don't want to say exactly how, and it is still not nearly enough, those kids need so much more, but the agreeing to give, on an on-going basis for this particular cause in the amount we did was a stretch for us, more than was comfortable for us to give was a faith-building moment. A big step in our challenge to ourselves to live on less so we could give away more. I say this not because I want pats on the back but because I want to testify to the blessing of giving beyond what is easy. Anyway, we were excited to see these kids, grateful to already be involved in a small way towards helping them.
First we went to the government-run orphanage for boys age roughly 7 to 18, called Kolfe. There are over 160 boys there, sweet, sweet boys. We were so impressed by how articulate many of them were, how good their English was, and how polite they were.
Here's my 8 year old son with some of the boys at Kolfe:
We especially connected with a 12 year old boy named Moses, he was so friendly, kind and articulate, wants to be a pilot when he grows up. He has lived in an orphanage as long as he can remember. The boys were just so happy we were there to visit them and so excited to show off their soccer field (a completely mud covered yard), the monkey who was running loose in their cafeteria!,
their beds (several rooms row after row after row of bunk beds, only one blanket and a mattress to call their own),
and their gymnastics abilities (back flips off a rock wall). There were no parents, really very, very few adults at all, except us and the 8 others in our travel group. For a few minutes I filled in the role as mom, worrying they'd get hurt during the back flips, yet cheering wildly and yelling "Gobez" (means "good job" in Amharic). We asked the back-flip boy if he ever fell on his head. He said, "Yes". I immediately thought of the fact that there was no mother to comfort and care for him when he got hurt.
Here's a sign that hangs in their cafeteria, it says "We are orphanage but we can do everything just like others."
This scene was particularly hard for me, the caving, leaking ceiling in their orphanage cafeteria right above the words, "God is love." on the wall. It reminds me of the quote,"Sometimes I'd like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice in the world when He could do something about it...but I'm afraid God might ask me the same question." -Anonymous
I have thought about those boys at Kolfe every day, usually many times per day, since I met them. I wish I could adopt them all.
The girls orphanage had over 300 girls with again, no obvious adults. Sweet, sweet giggly girls. We were not allowed to take pictures there or at the baby orphanage, but I remember them, their faces. One latched on to me immediately hugging me with both arms for most of our time there, only stopping for a few minutes to braid my hair! Our 5 year old daughter was very popular there as the girls loved carrying her around. Our 8 year old son was popular for a whole other reason he was not particularly comfortable with as the girls giggled and whispered that he was beautiful!
At one point when we were outside seeing the garden the girls are very proud of, I lagged behind our guide and travel group, just a small circle of the girls and I. There was one girl who spoke really good English and was translating for me. There was so much I wanted to say to those girls, things like, "You are so beautiful and precious and special." Things I worried they'd never heard in their entire lives. I felt very helpless, wanting to somehow change the outcome, knowing the statistics that many, many of the girls would age out of the orphanage, end up on the streets, and fall prey to prostitution or sex trafficing. I noticed all the girls in that group were wearing wooden cross necklaces (very commonly seen on many in Ethiopia) and I said, "You know God loves you, right?"
The girl who had been clinging to me looked up into my face, her own eyes shining, and she asked, "You love Jesus?" And I said, "Yes, very much!" She said gleefully, "Me too!" and buried her head back in my chest. I was so grateful to have Jesus that day, He is truly their only hope, mine too.
The baby orphanage undid us. So many babies, two to a crib, some with arms and legs not much thicker than my finger! The caregivers were doing the best they could, they are just too outnumbered. All the babies needed to be changed, fed, held, and loved. We'd pick some up and cradle them in our arms, talking to them with our faces close to theirs and they'd stop crying, some even smiled and cooed, of course we eventually had to put them down and then the crying began again. I wished I could stay, wished the orphanage was near my hometown, I'd go over every day and feed babies, change babies, and hold them. Oh how they needed more loving arms to go around!
It was a hard day, but one I wouldn't trade for anything. We prayed a couple years for God to "break our hearts for what breaks His." It's been done a thousand times over, but each time, and most definitely that Friday on Day 8 in Ethiopia, I feel like I know Jesus more, like that's exactly where He wants me to be. Changed! May we never be the same, in Jesus name, may we never be the same.
I think of this song by Sara Groves:
Find more Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers.
and Wordful Wednesday here.