The night we landed in Addis Ababa, the landscape was dotted with bonfires you could see from the air. We walked out the airport doors into a haze of smoke. I didn’t care. It felt so good to be off the plane, to breathe fresh air again. As we rode in the agency van through the streets of Addis Ababa, we saw the bonfires up close. People were dancing and laughing. Celebrating. We had landed just in time for the celebration of the Meskel Festival. As we unpacked in our guest house room, Jarod opened the window, and a boy next door saw him and called out, “Welcome to Ethiopia!” Yes, yes. Welcome. To Addis. To Ethiopia. To our daughter’s home.
In the morning, we ate breakfast. Pancakes. Nutella. Laughing Cow cheese and jam. And coffee–good Ethiopian coffee. We were ready to go early. How could we help it? On the drive the butterflies spun in my stomach. Would she like us? What if we scared her? In the courtyard, she was standing alone as our van pulled in, wearing the same dress as in the first photos we have of her, but with legs sticking out underneath. She’d grown. A lot. I got out of the van and knelt a few feet in front of her. “Selam, Zinash.” She looked up and away to the side. Who are you? “Zinash, nay.” (Come.) And then she did. She walked right over, and held out her arms when I asked if I could hold her. That was it. It’s what you see in our video–me, holding our daughter, who we wouldn’t let go ever again. Little did we know then that she would stay with us from that moment on.
The whole thing is surreal–the meeting of a daughter, a ready-made, potty-trained, three-year-old daughter, who doesn’t know you at all but somehow wants to be with you anyway. That still surprises me, seven weeks later, that she would walk into my arms and be all right with that arrangement from the very first. You might say that she knew. You might say that she needed us. You might just call it like it is and say it was a miracle, one that we all needed. It was as if heaven came down and moved earth to make it all happen just the way it was meant to be. Us. Together. A family. From that moment until forever.
And yet, it wasn’t exactly meant to be that way. I will never argue that this was God’s will because I don’t think that a loving God would have purposely taken Zinashi’s first family. You can say what you like about the story of Job, but I think that sometimes this world is just a shitty place to live. Pardon my strong language, but I don’t think any alternate word is strong enough. I think that God steps in and offers consolation, but I don’t think He ever meant for it to go like this. We are her consolation, or at least I hope we are, in the fullest sense of the word. We are the ones who will love her unconditionally, and hope and pray that we can do right by the decision her family had to make, given the heartbreaking circumstances. I don’t say this to diminish or demean who we are as her parents and what we purpose to give as her family, but as an acknowledgment that were life fair and good and right all the time, we wouldn’t be necessary to her life. We just wouldn’t. And I’m not looking for a pat on the back for “rescuing an orphan” or some sort of confirmation that she’s better off with us. I don’t see it that way: the rescuing part or the better off part. In some ways, yes, she is better off in her current circumstances. See also: hunger, poverty, injustice to women in the developing world. But in some ways, she isn’t. See also: loss of family, culture, homeland. And that simply is what it is.
I miss Ethiopia a lot. I watch Zinashi learning new words in a new language and think about her losing her beautiful accent, and it is hard. I see her becoming a little American, and I can’t stand it sometimes. Those thirty days in Ethiopia were a gift in many ways; among them was the chance to see our daughter in Ethiopia, as an Ethiopian. It all changes far too fast here in the US. We change far too fast, too. We forget the luxury of drinking water right out of the tap, of having electricity all of the time, of eating fresh vegetables without the possibility of walking away with a parasite or two. We forget what it’s like to live with dust everywhere and pollution hanging low in the air, our daughter’s cough ringing out in the night from so much strain on her small lungs. We sink back into life as we knew it, into our normal, which we now understand isn’t the norm for most people in the world.
And then there is this face:
It implores me not to forget. Where she came from. What she lost when we got on that plane to bring her into America. Ethiopia doesn’t allow for dual citizenship, but she is and always will be Ethiopian, whether she can use that maroon passport or not. And that, we will never forget. Not ever.