Day Four of our adoption week in Addis Ababa. Our entire travel group, consisting of six families working with our same adoption agency, was on the Partridge Family era bus the agency used to ferry adoptive families from place to place. This was one of the last outings without our new children.
Our travel group consisted of a number of couples entering into parenthood for the first time, a couple of families there to pick up their second child , and us. Us consisted of Ben, myself, Mae, Lana and our friend, Megan. We had heavily debated bringing the kids with us (Pros: adventure of a lifetime, it would include and invest them in the adoption, we'd miss them so damn much if we left them home. Cons: Thirty hour journey there and back, exposure to disease and abject poverty, sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass and we'd have to concentrate, damn it) and finally settled on bringing them and my friend of twenty-five years, the Mary Poppins of Ethiopia, Megan.
While for the majority of other families this was, I suspect, the last stop of a long ride on the infertility train, and therefore, both a joyous time and one freighted with all the disappointment and agony that had come before, it was for us, for our whole merry crew, a much more light-hearted affair. No, adoption wasn't a lark and this week of meeting Mihiretu and beginning to incorporate him into our life was challenging and sometimes scary but we had, with every option open, chosen adoption, chosen Ethiopia, chosen a toddler. We were fresh from the land of Yes. This also wasn't our first rodeo in the parenting department. We were seasoned and felt confident (even if that confidence would get shaken later on).
And we so very much outnumbered the other parties, both in size and in energy. The girls, of course, were in constant motion, sobbing, giggling, leaping, tripping, sobbing again. And Megan and Ben and I have all known each other since we were fourteen. There is a certain ease and, sometimes, a certain corresponding youth/immaturity that can go with that. Megan and I, particularly, could be found trying on each other's clothes, discussing gluten-free options at dinner or gossiping about boys over a covertly shared cigarette. Megan and I are both tall, rather willowy, and always interested in a good outfit. This all, I imagine, could be a bit alienating for our fellow travelers, most of whom haled from the midwest. California girls can be so...Californian.
We had just climbed back on the bus after an afternoon of shopping in Addis - one of the few non-adoption related activities on our schedule. Mae had been complaining of a headache. She, like me when I was her age, is susceptible to migraines. She was pale, her pupils were huge. I knew we were in trouble.
As we trundled along through the clogged and stricken streets of Addis back to the guest house, each passenger in his or her own exhausted reverie, I heard an ominous belch. I turned behind me to see Mae projectile vomiting all over herself, the seat, the floor and Megan. I vaulted the seat while Ben emptied a plastic bag of our purchases. He handed me the bag just as I arrived beside Mae to place the bag under her chin, where it quickly filled.
We were seated at the front of the bus. Megan told me later than when she glanced back, she saw shocked, silent, bloodless faces.
"Preview of coming attractions!" I shouted over my shoulder, as I used Mae's soiled t-shirt and a mini bottle of the ever-present hand-sanitizer on the seat and the floor. I heard a few wan chuckles.
The next day we were scheduled to visit the region to the south where our children had been relinquished. Each adoptive family would, hopefully, meet the person who had left the child at the local orphanage. Usually that person was a member of that child's birth family. It was expected to be a very emotional day.
Early that morning, we boarded the bus. We had left the girls with Megan, as it was a long drive and they couldn't be in the meeting. The bus was cool, everyone dozed and watched the countryside.
We arrived at noon. We disembarked. We had our meeting. I won't describe what happened there as it's really not mine to describe. It belongs to those children. I will say the we were different people when we got back on the bus than we left it. It's a little like witnessing a first-time mother's water break and then visiting her the next day in the hospital. For you, it's only been twenty-four hours. For her, it's been a lifetime. She's traveled an incredible distance and arrived at a deeper self.
As we dragged our deeper selves back onto the bus, we were hit with the stench of vomit. Apparently, the cursory wipe-up I had done the day before had been the only effort at restoring the bus to it's pre-Mae state. The bus had now been sitting in the African sun for two hours, windows rolled up to protect our backpacks from the impoverished locals.
I watched as each wrung-out person climbed the bus stairs. The smell would hit them, register and then they would, with closed eyes and a drop of their head, accept it resignedly. They had been through too much that day, that week, to put any energy into combating that horrible stink.
The bus rolled, and the wind blew through the open windows. We put our hankerchiefs over our noses and mouths. We drove back to Addis in silence.
A couple days later, when our newly adopted children were in our custody in the guest-house, the playing field was evened out a bit. Everyone was now noisy, not just us. Everyone was struggling to find their feet with these new kids, including us. Megan and I didn't have time for gossip or diets or cigarettes. In those couple remaining days, we cohered as a group. We had walked through, and were continuing to walk through, the same fire. It was forging us, no matter how different we seemed, into similar shapes. We were parents of children of Ethiopia, of the world - not of our own individual bodies. We firmly, at least for the moment, understood how we were part of the greater whole. We would carry the weight of that, the specific weight of that, back into our lives, along with these children. These beautiful children, who, if all went well, would now one day have the opportunity to puke on a bus, loving parents at the ready with comforting words and a plastic bag, the birthright of any American child.