When you’re in a raging storm, the first thing you must do is secure your home. You check and lock the windows. You move the lawn furniture, the yard ornaments, and potted plants—anything that could become an airborne missile—inside away from the blast of wind. You “batten down the hatches” and yourself, and you wait it out.
I’ve lived in such a state, closed-in, sealed-in, for so long, when the storm of international adoption began to lift, I didn’t take it completely as fact.
“Everything’s cleared,” Jan said from Minneapolis. “The DNA test came back negative. Can you be in Addis for a court on the 1st?”
The call came into my cell on a snowy day in New York City, a little less than two weeks ago. The weather forecast that Thursday had called for flurries. The flurries assembled themselves into a blizzard, a wall of snow that rose to 19 inches. It was a day of surprise for every New Yorker, for me, even more so. I clicked off my cell, sitting on the edge of a black velvet chair in my living room, alone, taking in the idea that soon I’d hear a tiny, insistent wail of a baby within the walls of my Upper Westside apartment.
The flight to Addis Ababa was different the second time around. I knew the experience of the airline, Ethiopian Air. I knew the good meals and the nice wine served. I knew the feel of the route. But I never believed I’d travel alone, again, the second time. The final time.
With a new job on the horizon, my brother Jeffrey couldn’t work in travel in his schedule. Neither could my high school friend, and Julia’s God Mother-to-Be, Kim. Or my good friend Eddie (a nurse and fellow writer) or Carla, (a talented musician that I’d asked to accompany me, at the last minute. Carla had said yes. But the winter wonderland that became the Big Apple that Thursday put the kibosh on her traveling to Ethiopia with me. With most businesses shut down because of the weather, I couldn’t secure an appointment at a travel clinic for her required shots by the Saturday departure. So if ever there was a time to woman up, as they say, this was it.
So I mentally prepared myself while I tossed my summer clothes that were lying in wait, neatly folded on my bedroom chair, freshly laundered since October, into my suitcase.
“You’ll make friends,” Jan said, during our last phone chat before my departure. ” You made friends before,” she said like a camp councilor trying to get a kid out of a bunk and into the bright sun and a peewee softball game.
“Yes, I know,” I answered.
But what I didn’t say was that I felt put upon to have to make the connection happen yet again. I wanted to have security, rather than make myself feel secure. But that was not my single baby mama reality.
Of course Jan was right. I made friends, right in the airport. Heather and Jeffrey who hailed from Arlington, Virginia, were all smiles right off as Mr. Tefera gathered his new parent flock in the sun soaked entrance of the Addis Ababa International Airport.
A few days later, their daughter Sedona would take a shine to my daughter, partially out of her six-year-old fascination with Julia Tayech’s sweet baby disposition and her bright eyes that Sedona described as luminous as “black diamonds.” And partially out of Sedona’s realization that getting a younger brother—the four and a half-year-old Dereje—may not be the gift her parents had claimed him to be for a formally only child.
Even with my new friends, I missed the pals I’d made back in October. I looked for Greg and Kim to bound across the patio of the guesthouse, all smiles and jokes. I sat at the large dinning room table looking for Eric and Jess to saddle up into their preferred seats, beside me, just as before to tell me yet again they were from Iowa, and required a steady diet of McDonald’s and Burger King, not spicy curries and the sour bread that Ethiopians consider a mainstay.
No one gets what they want every time. But, if you’re lucky, you get the key things. And on this trip, the last and final trip, I would get Miss Julia Tayech. After a getting reacquainted on a double visit on Monday, followed by the good-bye ceremony at the orphanage on Tuesday, and a date at the US Embassy Thursday morning, on Friday, finally, at last, my daughter and I headed for home.
We entered the airport, thorough the glass revolving doors, to the first security checkpoint. Ethiopia, as a country, doesn’t play. Airport security X-rays all bags before you enter the airport. If anyone was determined to blow up something, or someone inside, their options were limited.
With all the metal on my person—from a underwire bra, to the jewelry on my wrists and neck, and a belt—I set off the metal detector.
“Are you wearing belt? Or a watch?” the female security officer asked.
“Please remove them.”
Some how in my mind, I thought security people gave you a pass when you where hauling a kid. Now off came my jacket, my belt, and my watch. After seeing the silver Mexican rosary looping my left wrist, the security officer let me slide on shoe removal.
Once the baby and I passed through X-ray machine, I took the security guard’s suggestion of help, and allowed a brown- skinned, middle-aged porter to help me with the suitcases. He loaded them on a silver cart with a speed I couldn’t manage and directed the baby and me to the check in. After speaking to the airline greeter in whispered tones, the porter led us to the empty cue at the business check-in, rather than long, snaking line for economy class, where we belonged. My luck was not only holding, a good vibe was building.
After Julia T and I breezed through the upscale check-in, I tested my theory of luck by saying to the reservationist, “my friends are traveling with me,” and nodded to Jeff and Heather and the kids, fifteen feet away. “Can you check them in too?” I asked her finishing off with a broad, open toothy grin, the kind of smile, I rarely issued unless I was supremely happy. Or want to put a fine point on a request. She nodded yes. Jeff and family bounded forward to the desk.
Within minutes Jeff, Heather, Dejere, Sedona, Julia T and I were on our way to passport control passed the massive crowd at the economy check-in. Once our passports received the stamp, our merry band walked through and over to the escalator that led to the upper level to the departure gates with such a speed and effortlessness, it made my body go slack with happiness.
What was I so worried about, I thought as the adults merrily reviewed menus of restaurants along the long corridor of the right side of the hall, seeking out a snack before we boarded our 10:15PM flight for home.
“How much time do we have before we board?” Jeff asked.
I looked at my wrist and saw only brown skin. I’d left my watch at the first checkpoint. The shock wave that ran through me propelled me back toward the staircase, without a word. In the distance behind me I heard Heather yell, “Is it stainless steel? I saw a male security guard with it.”
I hurdled back through passport control, pass the hordes at the economy check-in, across the light gray marble floor doing a wonky, nervous speed walk over to the second of the three security check points wondering if the universe was exacting a pound of flesh, or a small bit of prized metal, for my good fortune, for finally getting my daughter. It was only a watch I told myself.
“Yeah, but it’s your watch,” the voice in my head answered, as I suppressed the urge to break into a jog. Running with a baby strapped to you, I decided, was only necessary during a house fire.
I came to a hard stop in front of a small, dark-skinned man with smooth skin, his hands sat relaxed in the pockets of his navy uniform.
“Hiya,” I said with a tight smile stretched under my wired, flashing eyes. “Do you have my watch?” I asked and broadened my grin. He smiled and glanced down at the left pocket of trousers and pulled out a clump of stainless steel links.
“How much you pay for this watch?”
I stared at my silvery Rolex curled in the palm of a stranger, wanting to snatch it away, gather it into the soft of my hand. I worked my face into a calm-looking portal of truth. “Oh it’s not real,” I said, trying to make the lie real. “It’s a really good knock-off,” I said as I eased the puddle of light gray metal from the flat of the guard’s hand.” Thanks again,” I said and turned on my heels and jetted away, the metal links still warm from the heat of a stranger’s body.
In some metaphysical circles there’s a standard belief that some good comes from even the worst events. And the only blessing that was born out of nearly losing my prized Tudor watch was that it took my mind of the terror of flying with an eight month-old-baby. For 17 hours. In coach.
All my life I’ve feared being the bearer of a screaming baby on a flight, not that anyone, whether they wanted to or not, could do much about it. I couldn’t even use the trick many parented friends had told me about, giving the baby a bottle during take off and landing. The sucking motion would help relieve ear pressure they’d all claimed. Problem was Miss Julia Tayech was never fed from a bottle. Ever. With limited time, funds and opportunity to sterilize bottles, the nannies fed the babies from small cups, stainless steel shot glass size drinking vessels I discovered with horror as I watched my baby being feed in a Hosanna orphanage back in October.
So all I had left was prayer. And I used a big dose. As the 777 lifted off from the black tarmac into the heated air of Addis Ababa, all around us, the echo of distant babies whaled and whimpered. Julia Tayech sat silent on my lap. Her head pressed deeper into my chest. Again, my luck held.
I’d held on to a small sadness about traveling alone to Ethiopia, remorseful that I didn’t have mate. Remorseful that Jeffrey who so wanted to come and display his love for his new niece from the start, was absent. All I carried was the heavy sadness that was extracted by my needless difficult road to motherhood.
It wasn’t until the aircraft leveled off and I glazed at my sleeping daughter I did realize that I had left the United States of America alone. But I was returning as a part of a family. Now I carried the certainty that Julia Tayech and I could now start to use all the time God had measured out for us.