Thursday, August 2, 2007

Amesegenalu Means Thank You...

Ameseganalu. My friend, thank you. It has been the theme of our stay here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which began with a domestic flight to Chicago, a flight from Chicago to Germany and a flight from Germany to Egypt, and finally, our flight in to Bole International Airport in Ethiopia early Saturday morning. Despite the airline struggles and the luggage delays, we have had much to appreciate here. When we needed underwear, socks, clean shirts and pants during our three days without our checked bags, one of our two or three drivers assigned to our care center guesthouse took Josh and I to a three-tiered Ethiopian mall for the errand. The same man also ran us back and forth along the bumpy, flooded roads to the airport - about 20 minutes away from where we're staying - until we finally retrieved our luggage. One of the many things we value about our stay here in the country that has become our adopted homeland is our exposure to both city life and rural life here. On Sunday each of the seven families receiving children in our group climbed into a Land Rover and headed south to Hosanna, a community where our international agency takes children into care at a satellite care center. The trip was a four-hour drive beginning at 5 a.m., and around 6 a.m. we saw an Ethiopian sunrise. It was a Sunday, a day of rest here as well, with families, children, and lone men and women milling about. We passed little oncoming traffic but saw pedestrian traffic of all sorts, the two-legged and four-legged variety, with six-legged (man or boy driving a donkey) an occasional treat. We waved at people, who responded with a variety of stares and smiles. Little girls blew us kisses. Only a handful of times during the ride, teenaged boys or twenty-something men shook their raised arms at us in an unfriendly gesture, as if they were motioning us onward faster, and yelled at us. It's appropriate that Ethiopia's flag colors are so varied - so are the colors of the country's terrain. The mountains in the distance and the green hills reminded me of my father's family's village in Pennsylvania and the view from my grandparents' back porch, only more breathtaking. At Hosanna, several adoptive families, including ours, met and spent time with members of our children's birth families. Because this experience is Mihret's, and we are only the guardians of it until she is of the age to understand it, we won't speak about it in detail. We closed the meeting with all adoptive and birth families praying for and about each other in an entrustment ceremony, where Mihret's birth mother and birth grandfather gave us a white, lit candle signifying their trust in us and their entrustment of Mihret to us. It's an experience we will never forget. People here don't have much, but what they have, they are willing to share. On the way back to the city, we stopped to visit the traditional hut, or tukel, of a large farming family. The wife and mother of the family, who used to work at the care center where Mihret had stayed, wanted to make us tea but she had just given birth to her youngest baby and was breastfeeding when we arrived. She invited us inside her home, which smelled earthy and damp. It held little but bowls and plates for the family's meals, and mats for the floor. A firepit in the center of the tukel provides heat, light and warmth, and the smoke escapes through the straw-like material of the roof, so that from the road it looks like the huts are steaming. It had rained all day and the farmer's chicken was perched on an enclosure inside the hut, making its presence known. We took photographs and video of the children, who were amazed to see the images immediately afterwards. During our stay here, we've also visited a maternal-child hospital under construction, which is slated to open within days. We walked through its rudimentary operating room, delivery room, and patients' rooms and spoke with a physician who'll work there. He told us about the blood bank where mothers can donate blood to their children for procedures, and about the common illnesses from which children suffer, including tuberculosis, malnutrition, HIV, diarrhea and malaria. The government often dictates who gets what level of treatment, so it's not always a fair process, he said. But, he said, he doesn't expect many patients to be able to pay, so the hospital will be partly a non-profit operation. We also visited the second class of 38 health care workers in training assisted through our international agency here. Some of the health care workers will go on to become nannies, or caregivers, in the care center where Mihret has stayed, after a one-month apprenticeship. They learn human anatomy and physiology, nutrition, first aid and other courses on which they're tested. Of the first class, at least 25 young women and men already have found jobs in the health care sector. The instructor who introduced us to this current class told us that most of the students are women, and that's intentional, because women in Ethiopia still struggle in the workforce and to obtain fulfilling careers of their choice. We did find time to take in the National Museum, the residence of the fossil of Lucy, a female hominid from several million years ago who is thought to be one of humankind's closest ancestors. About 40 percent of Lucy's skeleton is housed there, with the rest replicated. The museum is also working on an exhibit of Selam, a three-year-old hominid child thought (to the best of my recollection) to be a bit older than Lucy. Selam is the Amharic word for peace and also used as a greeting. Josh is at the guesthouse playing with Mihret, who has had her first bath and sat up on her own today in my lap when she reached for her teething toys. I'll sign off here. Amasegenalu, thank you, for reading along and sharing this journey with us.


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