Ethiopia Trip-Our Second Day in the Villages

This post was written on Wednesday, November 11.

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I woke up this morning knowing I was going to make it to the villages. I had slept soundly through the night, despite sleeping most of yesterday. After careful calculations I realized I had slept 21 of the last 24 hours. My body put up a good fight and won, I’m so thankful.

This morning we were off to Tomas and Binyam’s village first. We spent the morning talking and playing soccer with his special people. Though the crowd of 200 people wasn’t there to greet us today, we had a truly beautiful time in the hut with our special people. True to our experience in Ethiopia, there was a steady stream of community members who came and sat at the doorway of the hut just to watch the ferengi (foreigners) talk with their fellow villagers. Binyam and Dailah remained fixated on the tiny chickens. Binyam, I think, because staring back at the dozens of eyes staring at him was just a little too much for my introvert. Dailah because they were simply too cute (one of T & B’s people told Dailah she should name the chicks. She named one “Cutie Patootie” and they all really loved that. )

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I loved that the special people didn’t just ask Tomas and Binyam questions but also Tariku, Dailah and Trysten. It was clear they saw no difference between the siblings and loved them because of their relation to T & B as well. It’s rarely like that in America where one of the first questions we get asked is, “But are they brothers?” about our Ethiopians, as if the fact that I called them all my kids wasn’t enough proof that they are brothers. The Ethiopians never asked if Trysten and Dailah were our biological children or how/why our family came to be. They just started calling Trysten, Dailah and Tariku “son” and “daughter” as well. What a beautiful thing that is.

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We were served roasted beans (delicious), crackers and soda. Despite my churning belly I was struck by how relaxed I was. Obviously no one in the tent save for our family, our translator and our driver spoke English but it never felt uncomfortable. It just felt really, really good to surround our boys with so many who love and pray for them every day-Ethiopian and American alike-and sometimes just sit and marvel at the miracles they truly are.

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We got to hear funny stories of Tomas and Binyam when they were younger. Both sides of the family (Ethiopian and American) loved to hear that, though so much has changed, in many ways the boys remain remarkably similar to how they were when they lived there. We have told similar stories they told with just a few different cultural variables. Some of the stuff I had worried might be adoption related with both of them turned out to be something they’ve done from the beginning. It felt so reassuring to hear details on those personality traits and think to myself, “Oh my, they’ve been doing that since they were babies, everything is going to be ok.” Very rarely with international adoption do you get to fill in holes of the adopted child’s story so I genuinely can’t tell you what it meant to do that in so many ways for Tomas-adopted at age 6 and Binaym-adopted at age 3.

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After many photos and prayers, we were off to Tariku’s special people for the afternoon.

We found out that one of Tariku’s special people had essentially told the village they weren’t allowed to hang around their hut the two days we were there. This special person didn’t want a spectacle made of the return of a beloved. It is perhaps why it felt so much like spending time with family while we were in their village.

They set up a soccer game, Tariku’s special person chose teams this time and definitely stacked one of the teams with all of Tariku’s people. Normally I would question the fairness as Tariku’s gift of excelling in sports ran rampant through his team, but it was clearly making his special person so happy so I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

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Zach and I sat on chairs with other special people to watch. Our translator walked around so it wasn’t as if we were holding conversations but there was something so universally joyful about those moments. To be watching the two worlds collide in such an ordinary way. No fanfare, no staring. It felt like a regular Wednesday in so many ways. I have to admit it was maybe my favorite time of the whole trip.

I’ve been asked if it was weird to not be able to communicate. Of course there were times when the translator was maybe in one area and we were in another that I would’ve normally started small talk with the people around me. But without the small talk, when we were able to communicate via translator our words had more purpose and more weight.

I realized that in America it’s so easy to “know” people. Maybe we small talk on a pretty regular basis, perhaps we comment on all the social media the other posts. We share the same language and perhaps we talk all the time but we don’t know each other. One of the truest gifts we received in Ethiopia was our ability to get to know our special people. When you don’t speak the same language there’s no fluff-our conversations were about the hopes, dreams and fears the other has. The stories told weren’t just silly anecdotes they were glimpses into a larger narrative about who my boys were then and how they’ve affected who they are now.

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We had some funny moments too to be sure because there was an awareness of the weirdness of the whole situation.

There’s no doubt God never intended Tariku to be with us and not with them, adoption was never part of the original plan. I think we were all aware of that in a rather profound way. But somehow we found ourselves huddled over a large plate of injera and shiro celebrating the messy, traumatic, complicated way in which we had become a family bound together by the absolute love we share for Tariku. If Tariku’s special person would’ve allowed village members in I have no doubt they would’ve recognized the common language of love in our adoring eyes and directed smiles whenever Ethiopian or American looked Tariku’s way.

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I was asked recently if it was awkward to be around Tomas, Tariku and Binyam’s special people knowing in some ways we share the same roles in their lives. In all honesty, I feel so grateful to have partners in this monumental task of raising our sons. An open international adoption is weird and inaccessible at times but when I’m feeling dark or hopeless about my abilities to raise my boys right I’m reminded of who is alongside me and I get a tremendous amount of strength from that. I feel more reassured that the boys will be okay knowing I’m not alone in raising them.

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When Zach was speaking to Tariku’s special people he said, “I just hope that I make you proud as his father with how I’m raising Tariku to love you and to love Ethiopia. I think of you often when I’m with him and just want to do right by you. Thank you for the opportunity to help raise our son.”

I thought it perfectly summed up our time spent with all of the special people. It was our way of thanking them for the gift it is to help raise our sons and to celebrate the gift in a beautiful multi-cultural, multi-lingual way.

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Today

Today he argued with me about mustard. The conversation went a little something like this:

Tariku: “Mom, you’re putting mustard on that?!? You don’t like mustard!”

Me: “Yes I do, honey, I’ve always liked mustard.”

Tariku: “No you don’t, you didn’t before, I remember that you didn’t like mustard.”

Me: “Tariku, I promise, I have liked mustard since before you were born.”

Tariku: “No, I’m positive, you didn’t like it before.”

and on and on for MINUTES. Minutes, people.

It’s been like this for about 2 weeks, which is to say the length of time in which the kids have been released into the wild on summer break. And most days I can let it roll off my back but some days he argues with me about my never liking mustard and on those days I want to call for a do over.

Because I get it. All of his disrespect, all of his angst, all of his constant arguing is always with me. Moms. They are an integral part in my Tariku’s story. Not just me, of course, but of his first mama who he reportedly looks and acts just like. When I think of her, I always think of him. Smile for days, bright eyes, playful and funny but mostly serious and determined.

And I have to believe there are times when he is interacting with me but thinking about her. I’m sure our upturned eyes when he says something funny or wise and our creased forehead when he’s on our every last nerve is vaguely similar. I can’t imagine the pain it causes him sometimes to see her in me or to look at me and be scared not because of what I’m saying or doing but because I remind him of her-of loss and heartbreak.

So on other days, days when it’s not about mustard-obviously, I’m sympathetic. I get it. Changing schedules means anything can happen. It’s why since the time he learned English he asks me what we are doing for the day and then if the car goes off course asks a million follow up questions to make sure we are doing exactly what I had said we were doing. Because of the day when he was told they were going one place and then instead went to an orphanage. That’s why he gets effed up when his scheduled gets effed up.

And I. Get. It.

But it’s fekkin exhausting some days. Some days I look at him and I can see in him the battered and tattered soul that must be looking back from my eyes too. Like two people hanging on to a tree in the middle of a windstorm. We want the same things: to be loved by each other, by other people and for God’s sake we want to love ourselves. Maybe one of those happens first, maybe they happen together-who the hell knows. But here we are, on the damn tree again. Clutching hands and searching for eye contact. A nod that we’re in it together but come hell or high water we will end up together too. Perhaps a little worse for wear but together just the same.

Some days, not days in which we argue about mustard-obviously, we do end up quite literally together. He’ll let me snuggle up to him on his bed. He’s never super relaxed, my Tariku, when I’m snuggling him but ever so closely I creep until he lets me throw an arm around him, sometimes even a leg. “I love you, you know that?” He smiles, nods his head. “No, I mean I seriously love you. Like sometimes I clench my jaw so tightly because if I don’t then I’ll squeeze you to death with all of the love I have for you. It’s too big for my body. My whole body can’t take it, so my big jaw takes it for me.” Laughs, nods. “Ok, just so you know, no matter what-it’s true.” And then as I get up to leave and my back is turned.

“I love you mommy, so much.”

Redemption.

So bloody, sweat and tear strained we retreat to our corners. Me thinking about how mind numbingly frustrating loving another human can be sometimes and him thinking about how I stayed. I freaking stayed.

Heavy

Weeks like this one just make me feel heavy. I am a feeler. As much as I have tried in the past to stop being a feeler I just can’t, it’s an impossible task. I’ve really grown to love how much I feel everything and have even begun to allow those feelings to propel me into action the last few years.

But sometimes being a feeler sucks.

The events of this week caught up to me today because I hadn’t allowed myself to fully process it all week. So I chose to take my morning away from stuff and spent some time in meditation and am now spending some time here.

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I know the world reacts to weeks like this in different ways, right? I think as Americans we are even “encouraged” to react a certain way-with tremendous amounts of fear. And so on days like today I tend to feel really lonely.

Because I don’t feel afraid, I feel sad. I feel sad for the people of Boston-not just the families that have had people killed or severely injured-but for everyone. I feel sad for the people of Texas. I feel sad for the people in Congress who can’t grow a pair and do what’s right are so crippled by their need for re-election money that they no longer remember why they tried for office in the first place. And, as scary as this is to admit, I feel sad for the Boston bombers. I feel sad for their families, for their uncle who had to go on national television and call his family “losers” just so other Americans didn’t retaliate on his family.

I just feel sad.

And that’s ok. I’m thankful I have slowly reprogrammed my body away from what my society wants it to do (fear) and towards what God intended it to do (love, hope, sympathize).

It’s kind of a scary place to be. There are days when it hurts a lot to be this vulnerable, but feeling tremendous amounts of sadness also means that I’m better able to feel tremendous amounts of happiness too. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So if you’re out there and you’re like me, if this week has just left you feeling sad. If it’s left you feeling a bit lonely because you don’t want retaliation, you don’t want retribution, you just want things to be ok. You want the country and the world to start healing. If that’s you, then I just wanted you to know I’m with you. I think there’s a small pocket of us that grows every day. So even when people call us “soft” or “out of touch” or whatever, just know you’re not alone.

Much love to you,

Tesi

P.S. After I published this, I read this. Go read it, please. Really good stuff.