Homecoming

To quote Ricky Gervais: “Now where was I?” I tuned in to the Golden Globes simply because I thought he was hysterical last year. He was funny, but apparently not funny enough; I fell asleep. But that has nothing to do with this blog, so let me get back on track. My last blog ended at the point of my trip to Ethiopia, so I will resume it there to preserve chronology.

As I was picking up my bags to leave for work at 8am on Thursday, December 15, S stopped me. We had been corresponding with the US Embassy in Ethiopia for several days, and the last news we had (from 4 hours prior) didn’t seem all that encouraging. But he simply held up his left hand as he stared intently at his iPhone. His words were simple. He said that the Embassy approved us and that I could travel whenever I wanted. WHAT??? I always tell people I cannot jump, but I found some hops right then and there. I jumped like a leprechaun! I had to read the email for myself before I could believe it, so I grapped the iPad and did so. I was stunned. What a turn around in such a short period of time. I immediately called the airlines and booked a ticket. I went to work (late) and told my boss that my last day before 9 weeks of leave would be the following day.

The next few days were a blur. We still went to a couple of Christmas parties and I still went on my normal trail runs, but I was on such a high that I barely remember any of it! I packed up my stuff on Sunday night and headed to Dulles at the butt-crack of dawn on Monday.

I HATE flying. The 12.5 hour flight there was rough. I was thankful for the direct flight since I hate take-offs and landings, but that was a long time to sit. I had a nice seatmate, so that helped. He got us hooked up with red wine from first class when the flight attendant told us there was no more. Sweet. There was some really nasty turbulence when we first got over the Atlantic, and I didn’t have nearly enough wine in me to make that okay. Despite depriving myself of sleep the night before, though, I could not sleep more than about 90 minutes. I survived and landed in Ethiopia exhausted but unshaken.

There was no one to pick me up at the airport, and it took me about an hour or so to get a phone call to S to get the number for the guest house. Finally someone came to get me, and I got to head outside into the BEAUTIFUL weather. I wanted to bottle it up and bring it home!

I arrived at the guest house and met up with Jen and Bonnie and their kids. It was so wonderful to see them again after only emailing and talking to them for the last three months. I slammed down some food and showered quickly and then hopped back in the van to pick up Little Dude.

As I traveled the 15 minutes from the guest house to the orphanage I realized then – and only then – that I was really going to get my son. The little face that had enchanted me so during the past 8 months was going to be looking up at me. The little arms that showed so much strength despite being so weak were going to be in my arms for good. It was an overwhelming feeling, and again it was something I wished I could bottle.
I arrived at the orphanage and told them who I was. They led me to the room where Little Dude and several of his little buddies were. I was shown to his crib. For an instant I was worried. What if I didn’t recognize him? What if they showed me to the wrong baby AGAIN? What if he cried incessantly as soon as he saw me? It’s amazing how much can go through your brain in such a short amount of time. Pushing all of those fears aside I stepped past the kiddos doing tummy time on the floor and approached his crib. I peered over the side and was greeted by the most enormous smile. I told him that I was his mama and was there to take him home. The smiles continued. I could see why Sovanna and Holly nicknamed him “Smiles Galore”! I reached in to pick him up and he looked eager. I hugged him close and every fear I ever had just fell to the floor. I turned to the nannies and said, “Is this it? Do I just leave now?” They said yes; it was as simple as that.

We climbed in the van and I realized that I was now with my son. MY SON. Wow. I just couldn’t grasp it. There are no car seats over there so I grasped him tight and we rode to the guest house. After that, we had our embassy appointment. S told me what he witnessed, and it sounded like it was going to be quick and easy. I packed up Little Dude and a bottle and headed out. My ignorant self took no wipes, no diapers, no toys. God really watched out for me during this episode. We were there for about two hours and thankfully needed none of those things. Looking back on that, I realize how badly it could have gone. But Little Dude was a gem.

I spent the next 2 days at the guest house with our extended “family”. Jen and her son K, Bonnie and her kids A and H, and Little Dude and I shared a two bedroom suite. It was cramped, but it was great to be with people I knew.

Our flight home was Thursday night. I had the flight time wrong, and thankfully ran into someone in the lobby who was on the same flight and corrected me. Thank God he did, because I would have shown up 30 minutes later. Before leaving for the airport I gave Little Dude a bath. I was afraid of making the water too hot and ended up making it too cool. He SCREAMED the whole time. Then I tried to feed him, but I gave him nasty pureed meat and he doesn’t like that (how could I blame him?), so he screamed again. I left for the airport terrified that I was going to have a screaming child for the next 21 hours of travel. We arrived at the aiport and were approached by one of the guys who takes your luggage. He’s not an airport employee or anything. He takes your bags from you and tells you that you will pay him at check-in. There really isn’t an option, especially when you are a single woman with a baby and 3 large bags. How else was I really going to get around? Though he was pushy, I was thankful for his language skills.
I got to the ticket window and was asked for Little Dude’s ticket. I told them that the folks at Dulles told me I had to buy it in Addis. They shuffled me to another window. My new porter-friend helped me to that window. After they finally figured out what I needed, they asked me for my credit card. I handed it to them and then my heart sank. I knew what was going to happen. It was going to be declined. I had meant to call my credit card company when I was at the Dulles airport, but was so late that I checked in and directly boarded the plane. The ticket for Little Dude to sit on my lap was $180. I should have had enough cash, but I had discovered on Wednesday that I was short $100. I have no idea what happened to it. I absolutely panicked. I started crying. Ethiopian women started coming up to me and said stuff like, “Mother, why you cry?” and, “Mother, are you okay?” I was wearing Little Dude in a sling and he just looked up at me like, “Mother, why are you crying? It’s going to be okay. Don’t you know what you overcame to get me this far?” I tried to calm down, but after two cards declined I just didn’t know what to do. I figured that something would have to work out if I just cried enough! The ticket agent then took me back to an office and let me call my airline directly using their phone. That seemed to be a good idea except that every time I hit option 1 to speak with an agent, something in their internal telephone routing system kicked in and I was taken out of their phone tree. As I was making my third attempt (and as time was flying by), I saw my bank card in my wallet. I never use that thing, but figured it was worth a shot. I thankfully had unspent birthday money in it, so I knew there was enough there to cover the ticket. I gave it to the agent. Within a minute I miraculously got an agent at US Airways. Just as I was working on booking a ticket, the Ethiopian Airlines agent came back and told me my card went through. Praise the Lord!

I was ushered back out to the main area. I relaxed and Little Dude just looked at me like, “See? You just need to trust.” Indeed, little one. Indeed. The ticket agent asked if I had filled out my immigration forms yet. I said no, and realized I was shaking. She and another agent were so kind. They took our passports and filled out the forms for us. They then led us to immigrations. From there, a kind, tiny Ethiopian woman helped me with my bags since she thought I looked burdened. When I got to the security line, a TSA-like agent saw me and came to get me out of the line. She brought me up to the front, told me not to bother kicking off my shoes or taking out my liquids, and she pushed me through the security screening. Everything was coming together, and I was relaxing. We even had about twenty minutes to spare!

We finally got on the plane and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. We were going home. Nothing could stop us. All we had to do was trust the pilot. To make things even better, the plane was only half full and I had an entire row just for the two of us. Little Dude fell to sleep immediately. He slept through take-off and almost the entire first 7 hour flight. The flight attendant put up a bassinet on the row in front of us and let me put him in it so I could grab a nap. I got about 2 hours’ of sleep, making my total for the 5 days equal to about 14 hours. Little Dude slept through the landing in Rome too. He woke up when we were on the ground so we spent some time pacing the length of the plane. As we were doing so, an Ethiopian man stopped me and asked me if Little Dude was my son. I told him that he was. The man looked more closely at Little Dude and then at me and said, “But he’s black!” Yes, he is. And I am white. And his daddy’s Asian. And his dog is a Pit Bull. Questions??

We took off again for the final 9 hour segment of our flight. Little Dude slept some more, and was just amazing when he was awake. Out of 21 hours of traveled he might have cried a total of 5 minutes. He was an absolute angel. Lots of passengers and the flight attendants helped me with him, taking him when I went to the bathroom or helping me to make bottles. Even though the travel time was 5 hours longer than my flight over there, it felt way shorter. I think I was so wrapped up with Little Dude that I didn’t notice it.

We landed in the US and I cried. I was so happy. We just had to get through customs and immigration, which took a while. Since he had been sitting on me (on a Boppy) for 20 hours, we were both soaked with sweat. After baggage claim we slipped into the bathroom and both changed. After we go to the final doors to the main area of the airport, I popped a Santa hat on his precious little head and we headed out to meet our family.
That moment was something else I wish I could have bottled. Seeing our family and friends there melted my heart. Just thinking about it now makes me tear up. The reunion was magical. Our fabulous friend Kasey-Dee took amazing pictures of those moments, so we will have them forever. A guy who worked at the information kiosk came up to us and said that even George Bush didn’t get such a welcome when he came through the prior week. He said, “I don’t know who this little boy is but he must be someone special.” Indeed, old man. Indeed.

After spending a long time at the airport, we drove home with a quick stop at IHOP for breakfast. We entertained friends and family that afternoon for a bit and then settled in for some long overdue family time. It really was a magical time.

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