3 Days in Africa

Day 1: Thursday May 25

After 28 hours of slightly traumatic travel (three words: curry, naked men wearing towels and B.O.) we woke up Thursday morning, tired but excited because we were getting to meet little man.  Breakfast was at 7:30 which we desperately wanted to skip but knew we needed to eat. We hadn’t gotten a ton of sleep because as soon as we got to bed the call to prayer started… at 2 AM! It lasted ALL NIGHT. We learned that there is an Orthodox Church and a Mosque nearby and they “take turns” with their call to prayer/very loud sermons. Anyways, after breakfast we took a short nap and woke up with an hour before we left.  For those of you who don’t know, I have a history of passing out at inopportune times… such as prior to getting on a flight or as my sister said “I do”. Well, as I got up to get ready I passed out… I’ll spare you the details but it was not pretty. Let’s just say my husband is a selfless and very loving man. Clearly we’ve established that it’s not an important family moment unless I pass out. (Side note, I am fine… just an unfortunate combo of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and as my husband likes to say, “emotional stress”)  ;)

Now for the part everyone wants to know about: meeting Little Man. 

To be honest, I had a hard time putting words to this for the last two days because after 3 years I have dreamed about that moment SO. MANY. TIMES.  I envisioned a tearful embrace, with this indescribable relief mingled with joy to actually be meeting our son.  

In truthful reality, it was kind of awkward, which feels terrible to acknowledge, but it’s the truth. It was overwhelming for me and I think for Little Man. And while the culture is known for being affectionate, Little Man seemed to feel uncomfortable with hugging us. He put out his hand at first to Meek, who shook his hand and then embraced him in a hug. He put out his hand to me next, and I started for the handshake and then awkwardly went in for a hug. He hugged me back and then pulled away. Looking back, this was so surprising and hard for my momma’s heart. Because he is so shy and there is such a language barrier, conversation was difficult during those first few minutes. But he did say something in those first few minutes that will stick with us forever. He said, “Now, I believe”.

I remember being acutely aware of my body language, wanting to cross my arms but forcing them down, finding my hands make their way to my pockets and forcing them out.  Our social workers told us later that Little Man rarely makes eye contact, and this was especially true in our first meeting which made it challenging to “read” him. Someone suggested he show us around, and I was thankful for the chance to do something together, taking the pressure off conversation. He showed us his room which is much smaller in real life then it looked in the photos. His bed looked tiny to me and I imagined his “giant” full size twin bed waiting for him at home with new bedding. The worn green blanket adorning his bed was neatly tucked in on all sides. His social worker suggested he pull out the photo book, which he kept under his mattress with a handful of his other possessions. Again, I pictured his room, twice the size of this room where 6 boys slept, with two dressers for all of his clothes and toys- both of which he did not have here. He had two sets of uniforms for school and one pair of “play clothes”. His shoes were fake crocs with a hole in the toe. 

We sat on the couch and showed him pictures, asking him questions. At one point, Meek told him that he too was adopted. This seemed to impact him and he began to ask questions about Meek’s adoption through the social worker. He seemed really curious about Meek’s birth mother. Meek explained that he didn’t know his birth mother as he was adopted at 3 days old. I thought that this might make Little Man feel as though he couldn’t connect, because he had known his birth mother and she had died. However, the exact opposite happened. He told his social worker that they had the same story. We later learned that D does not remember his birth mother, as he was so young when she died. This seemed to be a meaningful point of connection for Meek and D. D then asked about me and my family. He began to engage with us a little more, though he remained quiet and shy, laughing only when our guide Menge would make a joke in amharic. Watching him laugh was my favorite, as it felt like a glimpse into his soul… like we were getting a glimpse of the D behind the guarded shy walls I could not seem to see past. We went outside and played soccer and he seemed to enjoy that. We switched to basketball just as a 3 year old ran out to join us. He kept chasing the ball and hijacking our “game”.  I watched D to see how he was going to respond, and to my surprise, at one point when he had the ball, he reached down and gave it to the child. My heart melted as I watched D smile with pride watching this little guy try to shoot the ball. It was selfless and sweet and I remember feeling thankful as D will hopefully be a big brother to lots of little ones. It seemed God has equipped him well for that role. As we started to leave, we took our first family photo. They took a few and D gave his traditional camera smile… a slight grin. They told him to smile in amharic and made him laugh, and the next thing we know he is grinning ear to ear. He told the social worker in amharic, “ I am so happy” as we left. 

As we left, the social workers asked us how we thought the visit went. I said good, mostly because I didn’t really know how to judge it. How do you rate your first meeting with your fifteen year old son who is a complete stranger?  We asked what they thought and they all said they thought it went really well. They said he was so happy, so smiley, and very talkative. They said they hadn’t expected him to say much at all but the fact that he had initiated a few questions and responded to some of ours had surprised them and demonstrated how happy he was. I remember thinking I didn’t see any of those things. I remember my heart sinking as I had not been able to see that in him. I grew more anxious at the thought that what we had experienced was “talkative” for him and that they had considered him more expressive then usual. It was going to be really hard to connect and attach to a child who was so hard to read and communicated so little.  It wasn’t until later that night after watching the videos and seeing the photos that I could see his smile. I hadn’t seen that smile in the past 3 years. They told us that since telling him two weeks ago, he is a different boy. He is smiling all the time and very happy, telling his friends about us and showing them his photo book. 

Before we left, some friends of ours who have also adopted from Ethiopia were praying for us. They prayed for our first meeting and while praying had mentioned something about it potentially being awkward. I remember being caught off guard, not having ever considered the possibility and yet hoping that it wouldn’t be. It took me a day to process it all, take it all in and let go of the moment I had hoped it would be. 

That night I woke up around 5am I was wide awake and I found myself asking God why he chose me to be D’s mom.  I was feeling inadequate and still slightly overwhelmed at the reality I was finally living in.  I was going to be a mom to a child God had chosen, a child who had 15 years of life that I knew quiet literally nothing about. A child I could barely communicate with, a child who, even with those he knows best is regarded as quiet and reserved. I have worked with and loved the kids that are loud and crazy. I am drawn to the “wild ones”, the ones that everyone else regards as “bad”. And here God had hand picked the quietest one. I found myself giving way to trusting that God knew what he was doing, even though it was overwhelming in the moment to me. 

Day 2: Friday May 26

Today we spent most of the day at the guesthouseresting. Little Man had off from school so we were initially a little bummed that we weren’t scheduled to go see him until 4:30pm. However, by yesterday afternoon jet lag and the overwhelm of the journey, the anticipation and finally meeting D for the first time, we were exhausted and grateful to get to rest. We played hanabi and monopoly deal after breakfast until lunch. Took a 3.5 hour nap and woke up just in time to get ready to leave.

Today all the kids were there so we were able to observe Little Man interact with his peers. When we got there and Little Man saw us, a huge smile broke out on his face. A few of his friends starting calling his name and saying “Mom” and “dad” in amharic. Little Man smiled shyly in response. One boy about Little Man’s age has significant special needs became ecstatic when he saw us. He rushed over to Little Man, saying his name over and over. This little boy was beaming with joy and our guide told us he was so happy for Little Man. Little Man responded so kindly to this boy, which made this momma’s heart soar. Little Man is definitely quiet, but he was not shy when it came to soccer. We played a “monkey in the middle” type game and he played hard, rarely getting in the middle, and quickly getting out when he did. 

Because of the altitude (we are blaming the altitude for pretty much everything and will likely continue to do so after getting home) ;) we were much more easily winded than the boys were while playing soccer. After a while we suggested a game, you know, one that requires sitting. We went inside and with about 6 other boys and Little Man played a few games of Uno. They play until there is only one person left, numbering the winners. Many of the other boys are quite outgoing, rambunctious and as our guide said, “wild”. Little Man is one of (if not the) oldest boys there. We quickly realized that while he maintained his quiet reserved demeanor, he became the moderator and peacemaker. The other boys would all be yelling and Little Man would in his quiet yet firm way make a decision about who got what cards or what not. Even amidst the shouting it seemed that when D spoke they listened. He seemed to be well liked and respected by the other boys. Our guide later said that D and his best friend E who is about the same age are regarded as the peacemakers among the kids. Whenever there is an issue, the kids and even the nannies will often call for one of them to help settle it. At one point two kids were fighting, one twisting the others arm. D saw it and promptly made them stop. 

When we arrived the guide would have his friends come over and introduce themselves to us. Most were happy to do so. One boy, E, whom we learned was D’s best friend, saw us and did not want to come and say hi. He did not look angry necessarily but definitely not happy to see us. He did not join us for soccer and I noticed him watching us at a distance. My heart broke for him as he knows it is a matter of time before we take his best friend, his brother away. There are not many older boys left, as many of them have been adopted or they get moved to a transition home. When we went to play uno, E would walk in carrying a younger child, playing with the babies in the home. He did not join us for the game though. After a few games I went out to find him and asked him if he wanted to play. I expected him to say no, but he agreed and joined us. It’s so hard to be there and get to know the other children and yet know that you are only taking one home. You think of how your adopting a child, but it’s not until you're there that the reality of all the ones you didn’t choose punches you in the gut.  

Day 3: Saturday, May 27

We had been (wide) awake since 3am so this morning was rough. We vowed to not take naps this afternoon and thanks to coffee, card games, and wifi we succeeded. Looking forward to sleeping through the prayers… can you pray for that? ;)

We went to see Little Man today and introduced a few other games. We played checkers first and oh. my. goodness. does that boy have an attention span. He was so strategic and thoughtful about each move… thinking multiple moves ahead each time. I’d bet money it was seriously the longest game of checkers ever played but it was amazing to see him concentrate so hard and play so strategically. By the end he was playing against meek, me, and a crew of boys who had joined our side to help us because we were losing THAT badly. 

Next we played memory and he again beat us, remembering matches like a champ. It was fun to get to see him interact with his “brothers”. He remains quiet and gentle mannered, but is definitely competitve. After winning his 4th game, Meek asked him if he liked to win.  He busted out a big smile and said, “yes”.  

When we arrive, he has a huge smile on his face and greets us with a hug. When we leave he gives us a hug, now unprompted by our guide.  His friends were teasing him today as they watched and said, “Little Man does not like hugs”.  

Today we asked him what movies he has seen. He shared he has seen about half the Harry Potter movies, and we told him that we’ve listened to all of them on our long road trips and have watched all the movies.  He has also seen action hero movies, tom and jerry and “animation”. 

Little by little we are getting to know him and see his personality peak through his quiet demeanor. He is such a sweet boy, patient (as evidenced as he had one boy climbing all over him, clearly annoying him but still did not respond harshly) thoughtful, strategic, and kind. What a journey we’ve been on. It’s taken 3 years to get to this point, but in many ways, the journey is just beginning. We can’t wait to see where God takes us from here.