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July 18, 2011 |

Ethiopia: Day One

BY Jen Hatmaker

[Disclaimer: Sorry there are no pictures. We are having issues. In a city where donkeys roam the streets, the internet is something of a crapshoot.]

The second we deboarded into the Ethiopian airport, the smells hit me first. It is the smell of the country, and I’m not sure how to describe it, except that if you’ve been here, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some sort of mixture of incense, coffee, earth, and bodies, and there is nothing exactly like it. We’ll leave it behind Thursday only to get another reminder of it when we open our suitcases back home.

I love Ethiopia.

I especially love how we’re here this time during the rainy season, where the temps are in the 60’s and the rain falls at night, and the air is crispy clear awesome. (I do not love how the airlines take this opportunity to double all prices. Dear Airlines, WHATEVER.)

We are traveling right now with the most fantastic families with our agency. We’ve kind of hit the motherload of cool travel companions; there are about 20 of us or so, and it’s rad (yes, I said it) to meet each other in person after being online friends all this time.

About half of us are here for Embassy (trip 2), which means we have our kids with us all week, and the other half are here for Court (trip 1), which means they actually have time to take one million pictures and go wherever they want because they are not toting around a kindergartener from morning till night who wants to be carried because she is just a teeny weeny bit freaked out and doesn’t care one iota that she weighs 50 pounds and that we are at 7000 feet above sea level and her mom is freaking totally out of shape and her dad is all, my back is pinched, and there is not enough air to get into my lungs and my arms are on fire, and I should’ve just brought a Granola Girl Sling or whatever they are called like the baby mamas.

So we went to the Transition Home after lunch, and out came our darlings straight into our arms. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but they are the two cutest children on the continent of Africa, and that is not an opinion but mere fact, and if you’d like to argue it, I’ll fight you. Remy has lost two more teeth, and Beniam was taller. BLAH. I’m totally over missing their days and months and birthdays and firsts and milestones.

I took my first deep breath in four months the second they ran to us.

As we kissed our sweet boy good-bye with a promise to see him tomorrow, our girl skippy skipped her way into the van with all her worldly possessions (approximately 1/100th of everything we’ve sent her and the clothes on her back), and she headed home with us to Jimmy and Rachel Gross’s house, the most fabulous, kind, accomodating, laid back, precious, loveable, darling Texas-transplanted family living in Addis.

The second our driver pulled up to their house and let us all out and drove off, Remy had the most epic meltdown in the history of time. She was screaming and crying and muttering in her language, and she was clinging to our necks like her life depended on it. We left our bags and made a beeline for our rooms and sat with her on the bed, holding and whispering and kissing and rocking her, as tears streamed down her cheeks and her little body shook like a leaf.

This is the fear abandoned orphans carry.

She was terrified we were leaving her with this strange family, and her insecurity and fear came raging out of every pore. It was heart wrenching. No five year old should feel that scared that she will be left again. After ten minutes of terror, I started channeling Karyn Purvis. WWKPD? She would redirect. And folks, do you want to know what brought her out of her grief spiral and into giggles and smiles?

That’s right. Her new clothes.

Dear Everyone Who Made Fun Of Me For Packing Too Much Frou-Frou Stuff For Remy, I will accept your apologies in writing.

Daddy started popping out one outfit after another, and within ten seconds, she transformed into a character from The Devil Wears Prada. For the clothes she liked, she’d nod and point, as in, “Put my treasured belongings in this pile, Tall White Man,” and when she didn’t like something, she’d shake her head once, wag her finger no, and point toward the Banished Pile; the Queen wanted the detestibles out of her sight.

She spent the entire night glued to our laps/hips/arms/sides. Being out in the house with the whole family made her extremely nervous; she never spoke a word and was clearly uneasy that we might leave her with these people who, although highly fashionable and superior in culinary taste, were strangers. Gone was the smiling, silly, happy girl we knew from the TH.

But as soon as the three of us went to our room for the night, and it became clear we were all staying, she popped right out of that shell. She giggled and chattered and did her little Ethiopian dance. She tried on clothes and played with her toys and fawned all over us, yammering the whole time about who knows what. The three of climbed into bed together, Remy sandwiched between us, and she was the happiest little lark in all the land. For 15 minutes, it went like this:

Mommy, I love you so much!
Doddy, I love you so much!
Mommy, Doddy, Matawi.
Mommy, Doddy, Matawi, Beniam, Gabin, Sinney, Cilab.
*She kisses her hand and puts in on my face.*
*She kisses her hand and puts in on Brandon’s face.*
*She puts our hands to our lips and then to her face.*
Mommy, I love you so much!
Doddy, I love you so much!
Mommy, Doddy, Matawi!

Then she leached onto me like the little furnace she is, snaked her skinny brown legs all through mine like a pretzel, ran one arm around my neck with her hand in my hair, the other wrapped around my waist, fell asleep in less than two minutes, and didn’t budge until morning.

It’s been a long time since she got to fall asleep in a mother’s arms, safely tucked in next to a daddy. Brandon and I caught each other’s eyes over her curly head and just grinned.

We’ve got her.