Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mourning to Dancing

4 weeks ago Dustin and I sat in a 20'X20' waiting room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia waiting to hear our names called so that we could yell from the rooftops "Yes! Yes! Yes! We will love Bamlak Feker (Penelope) with every ounce of ourselves!"  We had flown over 7,000 miles for this moment, when we would stand before a judge in the Ethiopian federal court and hear her give her blessing on parenting our newest daughter.  We had heard from several people that had gone to court a few days before us that it was "super easy".  That the questions are fairly standard and the judge was extremely kind.  That we didn't need to dress up, as previously requested by our agency out of respect for the proceedings, but that it was an informal waiting area and the judge's quarters were simple.  I felt good that morning as we got up, having said goodbye to Penny the day before when we put her down for a nap but knowing that this court appearance would bring us closer to taking her home.  We met with the agency staff in Ethiopia to get a briefing on court the day before as well, so I felt prepared for what to expect....

Boy, was I wrong!...

But I'm not sure how (or if) a woman prepares to see and feel what I felt that day in court.  It has taken me four weeks just to be able to put it down on paper and still, as I write this, I can hardly find the words to explain the raw and bitter sorrow that I felt as we sat in the waiting room - I had not expected this.

We arrived at 9:00 am at the federal courthouse building - a four story building in the middle of the city.  We met our agency's lawyer at the curb at the entrance and she led us to enter the first floor lobby.  After showing our passports, we were directed up to the 2nd floor via a tiny elevator squished in between nationals and foreigners, all wearing their business best.  I held Dustin's hand as he followed our lawyer down to the end of a narrow hallway with one small window at the end of it.  The judge's quarters and waiting room were to our left.  We entered the waiting room - a medium sized waiting room with metal doctor's office chairs lined up around 3/4 of the perimeter.  There was a single door in the back corner of the room, which held the judge's chambers.  The back wall was lined with large windows that let in sunbeams that cast shadows along the bottom of that same wall along with smog and sounds of the busy streets bustling with people selling their wares and doing business down below us.  The room had several computer generated signs on white paper taped to the top of each wall... "Silencio"  "Silent"  "Silence Please".  We followed our lawyer to the side of the room opposite the door so we could see when it opened and our name would be called.  Our lawyer tipped her head in greeting to several men in suits already sitting in the room - obviously other lawyers waiting to meet clients.  She motioned for us to sit down, asked us to speak quietly and then got up and stood near the door so she could hear names called when the judge arrived.

I sat nervously, anxiously - wiggling my knees and ankles ( a bad habit when I'm nervous).  We were one of the first groups to enter the room so I sat back to begin to "people watch" and dream about the stories of the other families who began to enter the courtroom...  This courtroom was solely for adoption cases, so as caucasian couples continued to enter, accompanied by an Ethiopian national, I started to make assumptions about who they were, where they were from, etc.. silly things mostly - oh, they must be from Spain because that lady has some gnarly armpit hair... oh, that couple is from Italy no doubt - check out the crazy hair on him!... you get the idea - totally frivolous, not at all sympathetic or insightful really.

And then my heart skipped a beat as I watched a woman walk in dressed in well-worn leather sandals, a long floral skirt and tshirt, and wearing a long head shawl that she held on to with both hands.  I made eye contact with her and she quickly averted her gaze to the linoleum tile squares on the floor.  She was followed by an older woman in a suit (a lawyer) and two children followed behind the lawyer.  They all sat down in a row directly across from us.  I couldn't take my eyes off of the woman wearing sandals.  She looked incredibly forlorn - very unlike any of the other families that had already entered the court waiting room.  She dabbed her eyes with her shawl.  I realized as I glanced at the ceiling and then back at her, at the ceiling and then back at her, that I knew why I couldn't stop staring at her...  Her eyes... her face... her body shape... they were all so similar to Penny's Amaye.

And then it hit me - this melancholy soul wrapped in leather sandals was signing away her rights to her child today... Here.... in this very same court room that we were anxiously awaiting to shout LOVE from the rooftops... she was shouting LOVE through her sacrifice.

I wanted to run across the room and weep with her.  I wanted to tell her how brave I thought she was.  I wanted to carry the burden of extreme sorrow that was raw in her eyes.  But, there I sat - staring at her but trying not to (which is not easy).  She looked up and stared into my soul.  All I could do was let my tears roll down my cheeks without wiping them - wiping them away felt like it was speaking of my shame to feel sadness for her and I wanted her to know that I was deeply, profoundly affected by her sacrifice.  We looked at each other and let tears fall until I had a puddle in my lap.  As tears fell I knew I needed to get it together because very soon our name would be called and I would be asked to act like I was "emotionally in control" - so I took deep, heavy breaths deep into my lungs.  I looked at the ceiling, at the floor tiles.  Heck, I even counted how many chairs there were in the room - all to keep myself under composure when all I really wanted to do was scream "This is NOT fair!  Why do I get to reap blessing from another's pain and sacrifice?  Our circumstances are all that separate us and I feel ashamed for the life I have been given."

I gained my composure as a large group of Europeans (the give-away was their black socks with sneakers ;)  walked into the room and stood in the center, because now the chairs around the perimeter were all taken.  Holy cow, were they LOUD!  They came in smiling, laughing, chatting.  In their defense, I am certain they were all extremely excited and had been waiting for this day for months, as we had been.  I do understand where their boisterous noise and excitement came from, I really do.  But as I sat with the puddle of tears in my lap, ringing the scraps of kleenex I had received from someone sitting near us, I was ashamed of my own excitement for this day.  An extreme paradox reared its head in the waiting room filled with chairs and bodies - joy met mourning in the waiting room.

I continued to breathe deeply and my gaze followed two more women who entered the room.  One was carrying a toddler wrapped in a wrap swaddled around her body.  Their eyes surveyed the room until they found the shadows under the wall where sunbeams danced.  I watched them make their way, wrapped in the same head shawls and carrying the same expression of grief, to the corner of the room.  They scooted back into the shadows, hiding behind their shawls as they wiped their eyes.  The woman swaddling her baby unwrapped her shawl to reveal a gaunt and pale frame wrapped in pale, linsy woolsey fabrics.  Baby sat down on the ground in front of her and she reached for a bottle cap on the floor near her travel worn feet.  She handed her baby the bottle cap as a toy and baby turned it over and over in his hands.  She pulled out her engorged breast from her dress and picked up the baby to nurse.  Her body hung limp, her skin dull and eyes hollow.  Baby sucked on her breast and I wondered if she might be saying goodbye to her child at her breast today - the baby who clung to her and suckled the very life from her bones.  She wiped her eyes and patted the back of her little one, his bare bottom exposed under his too large pants.  Baby's hair was orange, a clear sign of malnourishment and I smiled at the baby as she put him down to play with the bottle cap again.  His mother looked up at me from the shadows and I tried to smile, tried to give her some sort of hope - that in her despair, that God cared and would provide redemption for her child.  She looked so near death that I was overcome with emotion again.  I began to cry and she looked at me with understanding.  She smiled at ME.  She was here doing the very thing that I cannot even fathom having to do - to sacrifice my own love for the love of my child - and yet, she offered comfort.  She wiped tears from her eyes and tended to her baby as he crawled around my her feet.

Even the position of people felt wrong - Americans sitting in chairs with lawyers, Europeans chatting in the center of the room, lawyers answering texts on phones... and the Amayes of these children - giving up their babies to hope, sitting on the floor - on the floor.  I wish I had been courageous enough to get up and walk over to the woman nursing her baby and offered her my chair.  I just sat there.  I prayed for her.  I prayed for her baby.  I prayed that somehow, some way, she, along with so many women in the heart of Africa, would find a way to receive healing from their sicknesses and diseases and poverty - and I begged the Lord to turn their pain into dancing.

1 comment:

  1. So beautifully've captured the thoughts that have been heavy on my heart for over a year!!! Thank you for sharing your heart. Good luck with your wait. Blessings for a return trip very soon!