On the wall of the CHSFS Ethiopia care center's playroom for older children is our daughter's 6-month-old handprint. It's in red paint, a tiny blob of a signature because Mihret didn't want to open her hand and spread her fingers when one of the social workers pressed her hand against the wall. But I admit, it's the most beautiful blob I've ever seen. Two days before our travel group departed Ethiopia to take our children home, CHSFS Ethiopia held what we've been calling a "handprint ceremony" to preserve the memory of our children's time at the care center and to allow the caregivers and CHSFS Ethiopia staff to say goodbye. For us, the families bringing these precious Ethiopian children into our lives, the ceremony was about saying goodbye "for now" to the country and people that had so graciously and warmly welcomed us. And it also was about saying hello to our newfound family - for, as the CHSFS Ethiopia social worker who led the ceremony told us, we are now part of Ethiopian society forever, for we are welcoming Ethiopia's children into our homes and our hearts forever. The social worker told us that even though the roughly 140 nannies - the primary caregivers at the care center for more than 200 children daily - and other CHSFS staff took care of our children for a short time, they love these children. And, she continued, even though it is hard to let them go, the staff knows the good hearts and homes that await our children. They love us, too, she said, because we, too, love the children. Each child received a construction-paper heart with their names lettered in Amharic script - which looks a bit like hieroglyphics - and English. Inside the heart-shaped card, staff had written thoughts and memories about each child. They told Mihret how wonderful it had been to care for such a beautiful and sweet baby. They told her they would miss her very much, and that they wish the best for her over her entire life. As everyone clapped in a steady beat, we walked Mihret up to the handprint wall for her turn to leave her mark. She looked tiny and a bit scared in her traditional white, cotton dress with green accents, and a matching head scarf with a loose bow that flopped into her curls. One of the two pediatricians on staff at CHSFS Ethiopia - the woman who had met personally with us to give us Mihret's health summary and records - prayed in Amharic over all assembled. Then, several of us said prayers in English.
Growing up in my half-Italian family, to share food was to share love. That day in Ethiopia, we ate cake and drank bottled soda to conclude our celebration.
In a few months, Mihret's name also will go up on the wall alongside the few hundred other children who've found forever families through CHSFS Ethiopia. When we were there, we were able to locate and snap a picture of another child's name for our dear friends in Appleton who also brought their daughter home from the care center, several months prior to our trip. We hope someday to return to that room, God willing, in several years, to place another child's handprint upon that wall. My heart remains full of Ethiopia. If you see me, or want to e-mail me, ask me about it. I'll gladly tell you more about our experience, and about our overseas family.