The day my family meets our family. The people who gave my daughter life. The woman who came to visit her daughter in the orphanage even after she placed her for adoption, who made the long journey every year to read the reports we wrote and sent back to Ethiopia. The woman who traveled yesterday on a 5 plus hour bus ride from her home to see the daughter she had to say goodbye to seven years ago.
And then suddenly she is here. Big Zeni, as we call her. She is here and she is hugging My Zeni, grasping her hand, leading her over to the car in which she arrived to meet her 4 year old daughter, Zeni's half sister Fitsum. Zeni is skipping along next to her, their linked arms swinging.
Then we are all together. I am crying, everyone is crying. Everyone is crying except for Hayden, who is jumping on the courtyard trampoline and yelling "hi Big Zeni!". We sit at a round table in the sun: me, Jeremy, Big Zeni and our translator. We talk and the kids play and Zeni flits back and forth between groups gushing over how well her little sister has learned to blow bubbles and then dashing over to give me and Big Zeni hugs.
Coffee is drunk , gifts are exchanged, a million questions are asked and answered and every time we see a similarity between Zeni and Fitsum everyone bursts out laughing and remarking on it- Look how they both stick out their tongues when they color! How funny that neither likes sweets!
We go in two cars from our guesthouse to meet the rest of Zeni's family, who are waiting at the Grandfather's house in the Shiro Meda area of Addis. Zeni wants to ride with Big Zeni and Fitsum so Jeremy goes with them and Hayden and I follow in a second car. Once we reach the neighborhood we turn off the Main Street, drive a few hundred feet and park where the road narrows to a footpath. Big Zeni leads us, through few twists and turns, past houses with mud walls and corrugated tin roofs. She again holds Zeni's hand and guides her. She is not ashamed of Zeni, as I feared she might be.
Grandfather lives in a stone walled, tin roofed shack. As we enter Hayden tugs my ear down to his lips and wispers that their house is smaller than our dining room. I nod and watch tears well up in his eyes. Grandfather and his new wife (Zeni's grandmother died before she was born) welcome us with popcorn and bananas. A fire is lit and coffee beans are poured into a pan to roast. We barely fit in there, our huge American family with our backpacks and water bottles and cameras.
Once again, the adults sit and talk as the children go out into the road to play. We meet a two Aunts and an Uncle. The walls of the hut are cluttered with Grandfather's loom and weaving equipment - he has been a weaver for over 50 years and is still at it despite losing vision in one eye and hands that are gnarled with arthritis.
Pictures are passed around, amillion more questions asked and answered and then, suddenly, it is time to go. Our translator has to get to his other job, my Zeni's eyes are beginning to droop with sleep and Hayden, who has fared the day a million times better than Jeremy and I had imagined, is starting to get fidgety.
I wisper to Zeni that it is almost time to say goodbye.
"I want to ride back with Fitsum and Big Zeni!" She whispers back to me and I remind her gently that they are not coming back with us.
The rains have started and as we stoop to exit grandfather's house we see that the footpath has become a creek, red with mud. The kids squeal and splash their feet and for the last time Big Zeni takes Zeni's hand and leads her back out to where we left the cars. Fitsum cries as she watches her mom walk away with Zeni. At the cars I hug Big Zeni for a long time. She is so small and slight but she hugs me back just as hard. I tell her I love her, that we are always connected and that I will try to bring Zeni back to Ethiopia again. She hugs me and tells me she loves me, and that I am a good mom.
Big Zeni lifts my daughter into the car and hugs her. I watch her lips move as she whispers into Zeni's ear. She shuts the door and heads back down the path. Zeni climbs into my lap and closes her eyes. She wispers "thank you" and then she is asleep. As our driver navigates the streets which are rendered less dusty, if not less chaotic, by the downpour, Hayden takes my hand and Jeremy leans back from the front seat to rest his hand on ours and we head home.