Each day we are here, the more impressed I am with Ethiopia. There is a peace, community and kindness here that Andrew and I have to actively get used to. People are kind to each other, and I see it as a byproduct of their humility. If we are walking down the road, and Poppy trips, but is holding onto our hands, a man in his 20’s will throw his hands up to his head and react in the visceral worry that she may hurt herself. “She’s ok,” I tell him, and he smiles and waves, and keeps walking. In the states, business men would walk by wrapped up in their lives, but here, with suits and ties, they stop, they pause, casually, kindly. They speak to her in soft voices, their eyes lighting up to see her, and keep walking with their smiles. Each night as we drive through country and towns, people aren’t behind the closed doors of their homes alone or wrapped up in technology, but everyone is together, sitting, standing, large groups of people, everywhere, eating warm roasted corn being fanned by women sitting. Men here don’t stand and talk feet away, arms crossed, drawn faces, but always have their arms around each other. They touch, they lean, without fear or pride. Children hold hands, little boys run down the street, hand in hand. Older children don’t exclude or hurt younger ones, but delight in them without expiration. Today I was watching a 7 year old boy play with a two year old, catching him down a slide, over and over, each time at the bottom, smiling at him with the kindest most loving eyes, his white teeth shining in the little’s boy’s face, genuinely happy to see the young boy’s smiles.
There is no overt sexualization here, and the more I notice that, the more I see that as a community builder here, an equalizer. There are no billboards with sexy woman on them, not even for something like make-up or alcohol. The corner shops don’t have a section for cigarettes and trashy magazines. There is a great amount of equality between the sexes, more here than I have seen elsewhere, and it’s effortless. There are women construction workers, male orphanage workers. You will see just as many men out with their young children, holding their hands down the streets as women, no gender loves children more. Women nurse their babies openly, or from their baby carriers, they are not looked at sideways, but supported. While I walk down the street, never once has a man tried to make eyes at me, a foreigner, only kindness, freedom, connection as human, I have heard the same from other foreign women, too.
There is very little alcohol or drug abuse here. I remember a missionary in Mexico saying the most destructive aspect of where he works is alcoholism. The dads are overworked, they drink, they beat their families. I have been thinking about the kindness here, and I think it stems from their connection. There is new evidence that addiction is likely caused by lack of connection. This could be why there is very little drug and alcohol abuse here, which trickles down to the kindness among people, that you see between the children, even the animals. The stray dogs are loved, and not abused. We feed them and they seem thankful, but not cruel or pushy, they hadn’t been hurt.
Our girl, as you know, comes from a loving orphanage. But nonetheless, orphanages are not families. There are still many, children, with staff here who can only do so much, and much of her day was still spent in a crib. Our first morning together, we got her up, and she just wanted to keep laying and snuggling. She blinked deeply, rubbed her eyes as we prepared for breakfast…and would roll back over with a deep breath…so tired. So not used to being so present yet. We don’t mind, in fact, we love it. Her coping to being in the world is to snuggle us, it’s the perfect scenario because there’s nothing we’d rather do, and we have all the time in the world to so just that.
Poppy is the daughter you dream of having. When you are young, and you hold a baby doll, who is content to sit with you all day. With soft seamed joints that fold up into your arms so perfectly and smiles up at you, or sweetly falls asleep. That is Poppy. No fuss to get down, kind, gentle, lovable.
She is floppy and has low muscle tone, so we take her on little walks here and there. At the fair, we thought we’d take her down a tall, inflatable slide with Andrew. We took off her shoes, and gently tried to carry her up, until we were told Andrew can’t go up.
A woman watching her three kids and Fekadu looked an the 8 year old girl playing with her younger brothers, “Take her,” they looked at her. It wasn’t a question, it’s what you do, you help. The girl didn’t bat an eye that her play was interrupted by a big job, Poppy isn’t light. I started to panic on the inside, this poor girl, just wants to play, now she has to struggle to bring up a 2 year old. Is this our culture? Fun being the crux? I start to wonder as I see the adults interact with the children here, see their expectations. You don’t show kindness once, for show, then continue in your own pursuit…
And they loved it. The girl would look to her mom at the bottom of each slide, the mom would just nod, and she’d take her again, three times. The third time she had to have her brothers push her from behind to get her to the top, they worked so hard. I felt this sense to free her, to let her have fun, but her mother and Fekadu had other expectations–to help. To connect, to serve, that’s the expectation, not a cool personality trait, or an extra.
This girl’s drink of choice, water. Water, water and more water. I remember this being the case with our other two when we brought them home. Diapers are expensive in orphanages, so water isn’t freely given. We will refill this cup to the brim, 5 to 6 times a day. She will panic if it is not in her arms.
Other than that, she’s not a big eater. We order her avocado or papaya juice, which she will drink, and she’ll have tiny bits and pieces of other food, but prefers water.
We are at Adulala. The air is intoxicating with it’s freshness as we gaze through tangles of trees to a lake. We lay by the lake in the soft grass and time passes in a way that we aren’t used to at home with our busy lives. Poppy falls asleep on our laps from one moment to the next and sleeps the rest of our visit. She sleeps through the rain when the drops fall and shatter the reflections of circular light. We sit under a tree, shielded from the drops. We look around, no one is panicking, hurrying, angrily checking mobile phones. They sit and absorb the break, as we do.
This is what she does when she sees mommy. She is a mommy’s girl. She wants mommy at all times. If most anyone else tried to hold her, she will cry. Yesterday, I had to leave for a few moments for the first time, and she cried for 20 minutes as anyone around her tried to console her in her papa’s arms. I could hear her and it was breaking my heart, my palms were sweating, I felt like I needed to get back to her, like you do with a newborn. Bonding has officially been completed on all ends.
The Ethiopian man I was walking with smiled a big smile, “She loves you,” he said.
“Yes, we love her, too.”
She has found her home. She has found what her heart knew it always needed, but didn’t have. A mommy and daddy. That’s where a child belongs, to be endlessly fussed over and cherished. To see their preciousness reflected back in the eyes on the one caring for them.
Everyone tells us how blessed we are to have her. Fekadu says, “Lots of kids, they are crying, they are overwhelmed, or they throw up in the cars, they have never been in one. She loves you guys. She is good, and kind. She has found her place.”
We’ve taken day trips into the country. Green rolling hills, cows grazing openly. Barefoot children climbing trees with each other, women herding goats in the fresh air with babies on their backs, waving as we pass.