Dear Kelel & Senait,
This is a letter I write to you in hopes that one day you’ll read it and know. Know part of your history. Know how our hearts are forever linked to your birth country and your birth family. Know how you are loved – both here and there.
Two years ago, the probability of meeting your mother was just that. A possibility.
Daddy and I had asked our international adoption agency if it would be possible to meet any part of your family when we traveled to Ethiopia for our first of two trips. They said they would ask, but there were “no promises.”
To our nervous delight, however, we received word that your family had agreed to a meeting but it would be necessary for us to travel up north to your native Tigre province.
Stepping off the plane in rural Mekele was a welcome reprieve from the cacophony of sights, 24-hour a day sounds and significant array of smells that had surrounded our senses in Addis Ababa. Our eyes were opened to an entirely different view of this beautiful country. We breathed deep the fresh mountain air.
After visiting the care center you called home for nine months, we crammed ourselves once again into Tshaye’s little red hatchback. (I laugh remembering how wide-eyed he got when he picked us up at the airport. His eyes darted back and forth between his humble car and our American-sized luggage. Somehow we squeezed it all in, but I definitely remember wondering why in the world I needed to pack that last pair of shoes or extra socks. No doubt we carried more in those suitcases than the sum total of most Ethiopian’s worldly possessions.)
Tshaye, the agency’s director in the region and Birhanu, the local social worker would be our guides. As they drove us through the dusty streets, eventually heading towards the outskirts of town, my heart began to race. “We’re getting closer now,” they narrated. “From here we will get out and walk.” We were told the place to which we were going was not your original home. Your mother had moved to a new place. According to these men, your first home would be impossible to get to by car and at least a 2-3 mile walk.
As we traipsed up the pastoral hill full of grazing sheep and bleating goats, I noticed a little band of boys beginning to follow us. I joked with Birhanu the boys must wonder what in the world these strange-looking white folks were doing wandering around their territory. He looked back at me and said, “I think one of them is their brother.”
At that moment I looked down to see one young boy in particular walking right on my heals. I looked at him. He looked up at me. I bent down to look in his sweet face. “Welday?” I questioned, recognizing him from the pictures you had shown us in the care center. His eyes, as round as saucers, told me I had just connected with the first member of your family.
Immediately, I pulled out my digital camera to show him a picture of you two. “Look! Kelel,” I pointed. My exuberance quickly turned to deep compassion as his eyes welled up with tears. In my naiveté I’m not sure I realized just how profound an experience this was going to be. It was clear he missed his baby brother and sister. I can only imagine the questions running through his head. Wondering what on earth would become of his beloved siblings.
My heart stopped as we reached the top of the hill. Your mother was there to greet us along with your older sister and your mother’s new companion, an elderly gentleman wrapped in white cloth. Looking like a quintessential tribal elder, his weathered face seemed much older than his chronological years.
The details of our afternoon together will forever be engrained in my memory. Your mother prattled on in Tigrinya and we only received bits and pieces of translation from our social workers, but it was clear this meeting would change our lives. She welcomed us into her humble home and we were the richer for it.
Stories were shared. Pictures snapped. Hugs exchanged.
Rights of motherhood were transferred from one to another. The crazy thing was that the “other” was me! Our eyes locked and the tears flowed. A spiritual exchange took place in our hearts. This mantel was now mine to carry. A privilege of the highest order.
The weight of that day replays in my mind on days like today. The words “Mother’s Day” are loaded with more meaning than I can convey in my humble attempts to write this story.
As I watch you run and play, laugh and sing, dance and prance your way through life I am awestruck at the gift your mother gave me that day.
She gave me an extension of her heart that day. And you have grafted into an extension of mine. Our family is richer, complicated, complex, full-bodied (oh wait, thats just me!) like a fine wine. Your resilience astounds me. The fact you let me into your hearts at all is an honor.
I am forever grateful. Forever changed. Because of how I met your mother.