During our last hours in Addis Ababa, nine of us crowded into a tiny bedroom at the Danish Evangelical Mission guest house to say our goodbyes. Another family had moved into the guest house and their barrels, boxes and belongings had completely overtaken the place. The couches and chairs in the (supposedly shared) living area were covered with this family’s books, papers and household items. There was no place to sit inside, and it was raining outside.
The Europeans seemed visibly stressed when Brian and Keri deGuzman, Stephne Bowers, the two babies and I showed up after a four-hour, early-morning drive from Soddo. So our group crowded into one bedroom that Stephne and her family would occupy that weekend, hoping to minimize the tension.
Our arrival was a happy reunion for the Bowers family. Stephne has been on her own in Soddo much of the summer as her husband Harry and two children, Karmyn and Benjamin, lived in Addis Ababa so they could attend daily lessons in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia.
The reunion was also a time of sad goodbyes. The Bowers and deGuzman families have become very close friends — almost family — in the last few years, bound by a shared faith, love of family, a deep-rooted commitment to the people of Ethiopia and personal experience with the complexities and rewards of international adoption (Karmyn and Benjamin were adopted from Russia; the deGuzmans’ four children all were born in Ethiopia).
This was one of many intimate moments during our trip when I struggled to find my place. Was I supposed to be a journalist, sticking my camera in faces, recording conversations and scribbling notes on my reporter’s notepad? Or could I let that piece go for now, and experience this exquisite moment of human connection on a deeply personal — if not well documented — level?
For almost an hour, I sat outside on the patio step, watching guest house staff plod by on the road outside the gated compound in the mist and rain. I gave in to a familiar sense of discomfort — and the intense desire for solitude — that surfaces when I’m not sure how I fit in, or what my place should be. I craved a sense of belonging to this extraordinary group of people and yet I knew that it was not now, or ever, entirely possible. I will always be a witness, not a participant. They must live their lives and choices; I must tell their stories.
And there are so many stories. In the handful of blog posts I managed to make during seven days in Ethiopia — seven days of of utter exhaustion and lack of time, energy and Internet connectivity — I have only scratched the surface. The stories continue to surface in my mind, details erupting at odd moments, compelling me to scribble notes and wonder when — as I face re-entry to my overly busy life — I will find the time, and peace, to explore them.
Brian saw me sitting alone. “Come join us!” he insisted. So I wedged my way into the room, among its four beds and a desk, various pieces of luggage, four other adults and two 13-year-old children, two babies and even the Bowers family dog, a pure-white cockapoo named Selah (like the Psalm).
The centerpiece, as always, was the babies. Mintesinot Solomon and Tesfanesh deGuzman were lying on the bed, propped up on pillows, blissfully unaware of the cramped conditions and basking in the loving attention of their parents and friends.
At one point, each baby grabbed for the same toy at the same time. As they squealed in protest and the beginning stages of sibling rivalry, everyone laughed.
“Let the games begin,” Brian said.