first published on October 6, 2009 on facebook
We got into Bole Airport at about 11:30 am. Customs, security, and the ride home are all a blur to me. We checked into the guest house, brought our bags up and called Ato Teklu. He agreed that we would come to the orphanage at 4 p.m….after naptime, for those not in the toddler set. There was some confusion about how we were to arrive, but once that was resolved, we were on our way. The whole ride over all I could think of was whether or not I would be any good at this.
The car pulled in and we parked behind a large van. As we were parking, I saw her. She was wearing brown knit pants and a pink sweatshirt, and was playing with some older boys. I grabbed Alex’s hand–”that’s her.” I didn’t cry. I wanted to. As I got out of the car, all the boys were yelling, “Selam’s mama. Selam’s mama!” The sea of children opened, and Selam walked through, and right past me. She went up to Zee, the interpreter that rode with us, and asked him (I’m told) why he didn’t drive in a bigger car–she pointed to the big van for emphasis. I’m not sure how he answered her. All I know is that for a brief second after that, things went very quickly. Ato Teklu greeted me, and someone pushed her forward–the children, a staff member, Ato Teklu– I don’t know. And there she was. I picked her up and said, “There you are.”
Of all the things to say, “there you are,” like she was a puppy that had been hiding in the closet, my spare sunglasses under the couch, the winter scarf I thought I lost. “There you are.”
But there she was. She liked my necklace, and played with it, while I checked her out. Her braids were fuzzy, and lunch was still on her chin. Her eyes were full moons of light and mischief and tomorrow. Around us children swirled, demanded “photos” from Alex, and wanted both of us to pick them up. They examined the car, the driver, the interpreter, asked us for cookies and stickers and rides on empty hips. We waded through the crowd. Maybe Alex stopped to play; I can’t remember. We followed Ato Teklu into the nurse’s office where they told me things about her health that I can no longer remember. She sat on my lap like she had making payments on it for months and finally owned it.
We had about an hour together that day. I gave Alex a lot of stickers, and she got sort of bum-rushed by the children in distributing them, though it bought me some minutes.
She called me mama that day. She also called me gewadegna, which means friend.
A few days later, a guest house staff member told me that gewadegna is one of a few different words for friend. Literally, though, he said it means someone who was lost and is now found. “It makes it all together,” he said.
So there you are.
There you are.