Monday, February 04, 2008

To Ethiopia...and the middle of the night

It is 2:30am on the first day of my 26th year. I haven't slept yet: Max has kept me awake and I have done my best of fight off my irritation at a two year old insomniac. When I realize that his ear is bothering him once again...probably the remainder of an ear infection from several weeks ago...I of course sink in pity for him and regret of my annoyance. Upon setting up a makeshift bed on the love seat, and setting my glass of water and book within arm's reach (in other words preparing for a long night ahead) I crawl into their bedroom, pick up my whimpering boy and gently carry him into the living room; trying to avoid the known creaking spots of our old carpet covered wood floor.
It takes a few different tries before I can find a position that makes him quiet, but finally he settles in, halfway laying on me and halfway snuggled into the crack of the couch. He won't sleep long, so I pick up my strategically placed as not to wake him...and begin reading. I am not in the best position, especially considering my protruding belly filled with a squirming infant, but I don't dare move. The January night air feels like it has made it's way into our home from some large crack. Perhaps I should have turned up the heat. Then I remember our heating bill and am glad I refrained from bouncing my fingers over the "up" button of the thermostat.

I quickly move from an uncomfortable couch in an uncomfortable position, trying to pull whatever blanket I can from the crack of the couch, to a hot compound in the middle of Addis Ababa (capital city of Ethiopia). Ironically, it is the middle of the night there as well. Only, instead of two sleeping children in the house, there are over 30. Some have been dropped off outside the compound alone, others have been brought and torn from their protectors; but all sleep now under the care of a woman who just can't say "no." She goes from room to room, calming nightmares and easing sicknesses...finally climbing into her bed where another huddle of children have spread out over her corner of the mattress. She drifts off to sleep.

It all started when one of the churches posed to this woman in mourning (who had recently lost her daughter) a orphan girl...who needed a home. "She doesn't have anywhere else to go." Mourning was directed now towards the business of raising another child. But again, she was called with the words "There is no where else for her to go." Another orphan. And another...and another. When she tries to tell them she has no room, the answer is always the same: "But they have nowhere else to go!"
And that is true: thousands of tiny Ethiopians walk around the streets or live alone in their parent's old homes: doing their best to survive as they become "instant adults." Their childhood days are gone, but maybe...just maybe...if they hold on...they can survive.

The ones inside her compound are a drop in the bucket, but at least they can salvage a remainder of their childhood with the privilege to go to school and be fed and clothed. You can feel her confusion when an international woman requests a visit with her: she browses the rooms of sleeping babes, learning children, and toddling preschoolers. "There are people...foreigners...who would like to adopt a baby" she is told.
Suspicion rises and the question "why" is asked. Don't they want a baby like them? What will this child in my care be doing for them? The cold truth is then realized: elsewhere in the world, babies do not just get dropped off with nowhere else to go. It is actually quite hard to adopt a baby in some countries. Although unfathomable, there is now a spark of hope for these children inside the compound walls. International adoption has made it's way to the overcrowded house.

I am immediately back on my couch when Max begins to fuss. I bounce him and rearrange his blanket. Unlike the orphans I have just been with, Max still knows to cry. He hasn't had to learn that no one will come because he has a mother. A mother of his own. And he knows that I will come when he calls.
He quickly settles in again and I reach for my book. Only this time I pause: my couch does not seem as uncomfortable. The water on the table beside me looks so clear, and the temperature of 62 degrees now seems unnecessary. I realize how wealthy we are. I realize how privileged my children are: that I do not have to work, that they do not know what hunger is...or cold nights...or incurable sickness. My mind jumps down the road of time and sees one of these precious orphans cradled in my arms. I smile. And then I cry.

Long gone is the idea that international adoption is the answer to the orphan crisis. Gone, as well, is the "heroine complex" of "saving an orphan." This child will be like our own. He will know how to cry for his mother, how to expect food when he is hungry, and he will know how to play. He will not carry the status of "saved little orphan boy" but he will be a part of our family. The only difference he will carry is the grand title of ambassador; for, hopefully, his presence (and the presence of the others who have come from so far) will open the eyes of those his life touches to the immense struggle of the others...the ones who weren't called away to a wealthy land. Perhaps having these special ambassadors in our country will compel others to give, to pray, and to remember the orphans elsewhere who, as of yet, see no hope.

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