Long Road Home

     There are few things in this world more beautiful than the mountains of Southern Ethiopia and a mother’s love for her child. Today I was blessed to witness a full measure of both. Today we took Alemayu home. The road was hard and we faced many challenges along the way, but those blessings that we work for are often the ones most appreciated.
    

     I was happy to leave the car behind. It had been nothing but trouble since we left Addis Ababa almost one week ago. From where we left the car it would be a long hike through the mountains, but at that point my feet seemed like much more reliable transportation. We were deep in the countryside far from anything that we would call a road. I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on the car. It had taken us over some incredibly rough terrain and was still in one piece. We parked on a grassy hilltop tucked in a small valley. A narrow trail tapered into the trees of a neighboring hill with a few grass huts on either side.
     Our guide had taken us here and would continue on. He was a young man in his teens, tall and slim. We met him by chance, if there is such a thing, after going far off track. We were far up the mountain following the only road there was, or so we thought. As we were reaching the limit for the car we came upon a few small huts. The family was working outside, but we paid little heed until, when we were almost past, Alemayu shouted to stop. He happened to recognize one of the boys. We stopped and the family was called over. Sure enough the boy recognized Alemayu as well and knew where to find his family. After much debate, as there always is here, one of the older brothers of the boy climbed in the back to guide Alemayu home.
     We went back down clinging to the side of the mountain on the steep, rocky road. A few miles down we came upon a sign which marked our way. To the left I saw what looked to me like a sheep trail, but what everyone else apparently saw as a road. Off we went. It was a beautiful bright sunny day, the first one we’d seen in a while. Had the rain come we would have been spending the night.
     Finally, to my delight, we reached our grassy meadow parking lot. As we plodded our way over the rough terrain I caught myself walking with my head down watching the obstacles as they passed. All around me the birds sung, the wind whispered softly through the trees, and open vistas revealed deep green valleys sinking into the horizon. We miss so much in this life as we are caught up in the challenges of the moment, when all we have to do is look up to see the beauty that surrounds us. If only we could see the bigger picture instead of focusing on the details.
     The excitement mounted as we proceeded further on. We met one man, then another, then another who recognized Alemayu, even calling his mother’s name, and guiding us on. One of the men tried to lead us down the trail to his house with the selfish intent of sharing coffee with the foringe. We almost followed until our other guides corrected us. Choosing our guides wisely through this life is a lesson often learned the hard way.
     Alemayu walked faster and faster down the trail. At one point he started to run and went out of sight. We called him down unwilling to lose our lost sheep this close to home.  We reached a hilltop overlooking a valley that stretched far into the distance. On a small rise in the middle of the valley we could just see the glint of metal roofs through the haze. This was Alemayu’s hometown. The pace quickened yet again. We were in sight, but still far off.
     A bit down the hill a village of small grass huts became visible at the head of the valley. We scrambled down the steep hill. We slipped and stumbled on the loose rocks, but didn’t slow our pace. Alemayu had recognized this village and at the foot of the hill just beside the trail he recognized two huts in particular. This was his home.
     A farmer on the hillside gasped in amazement as he ran over and grabbed Alemayu. He hugged and kissed him repeated as he shouted praises to God. Then he came to me and did the same. Tosemo, tosemo, tosemo (pronounced Toe-see-moe), a word that was etched on my mind this day, means thank you in the local language, Gomoniya. When he released me I rushed to catch the group still moving swiftly down the hill. The farmer’s voice echoed through the valley as he loudly proclaimed the return of the one who was lost.
     I caught the group as they were held up by a group of children, old friends of Alemayu. More and more people started shouting from the hillside. Then voices shouted back and there was a flurry of activity among the huts below. His mother was there. In shock and disbelief she was asking “have you seen him with your own eyes?” She started running up the hill to meet the son that had disappeared four years ago. They told me that she had gone mad at that time. I can’t imagine, and hope I never know, the loss that she must’ve felt. When we rounded the next turn there she was and there he was. She dropped to her knees, face to the ground. He walked slowly, shyly to her and gently pulled her up. They embraced, Alemayu speechless, his mother sobbing and praising God. Finally she came up to hug each of us, thanking us in turn, tosemo, tosemo, tosemo.
     She led us down to the base of the hill. We greeted neighbors on the way. Everyone was thrilled at the return of Alemayu. We crossed a small stream and there it was, the home that he hadn’t seen in four years. His father stood speechless as he tried to process everything. An uncle and his wife were there. The women cried, shouted, hugged. The men stood dumbfounded.
     We were ushered inside the dark hut and invited to sit on low benches. Our eyes adjusted slowly from the bright sun outside. The family cow made his presence well known even without sight by making the sounds and smells that only cows make. I may as well have been deaf and dumb as the others chatted around me in the local tongue. Roasted beans, barley, and peanuts were served as sour milk made the round. The plastic drinking cups were the only sign of the modern world that could be found there. Outside the door the community filed in. Each one would come in bowing and mumbling greetings then go back out. Alemayu held his younger brother in his lap in front of me. His joy was quite apparent. He would sit for a while then go out to greet old friends and explore the home that he’d missed for so long.
     Eventually, it was time to leave Alemayu to his family. We had a long hike and drive to get out and the afternoon was passing quickly. We took a last round of photos, received a last round of hugs and blessings and then we were off.
     So many challenges and discouragements come with this work. I often get down when I think of being separated from home and family. I’m often frustrated by cultural and language barriers. I’m often discouraged with the constant little details of the day to day. I often wonder, is worth all the sacrifice, all the struggle?
     Today there is no doubt. Today I am encouraged. Keep the wealth, keep the easy life. Today I have my reward.

A Few Notes:
     You should note first that the day this was written and the day of it’s posting are a bit off. This actually occurred last Wednesday, March 10, 2010, but lack of Internet delayed me from posting.
     You may also have noted a slight correction from my last posting. Both language and cultural issues often make details difficult to obtain. It turns out that Alemayu was gone for four years instead of two. For three years he worked in the sweat shop and one year he spent on the street. Now he’s home.
     Please forgive the lack of photos. It’s impossible to post photos with the Internet in Chencha. When we get the car I’ll be able to drive down to Arba Minch, a larger city in the Rift Valley, where there is better Internet and post some pictures from there.

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2 comments

  1. Dear Jon,
    Oh this post brought tears to my eyes. It must have been the best day of that family’s life. I’d like to post it on my blog if that’s ok. I think this story really really demonstrates why it is ESSENTIAL that we look into a child’s story and background before putting him/her in an orphanage or up for international adoption. So many children separated from parents. It breaks my heart. I’m so glad you got to be part of an amazing reunion. Can I repost to share with some of my adoption friends so they can better understand street children? Miss you!!! Are Jess and Dawit coming to join you soon? I so so so hope we get to see you in ET in June. Amanda

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