Featured Writer: Ashleigh Keizer
It was March 2008 and the inkling to complete our family grew stronger by the day. Two small blonde boys were enough to fill our home but something was missing. Someone was missing. Unbeknownst to us, it would take three and a half years for our family reach completion.
Though raised in BC, Canada, I attended high school in England and while there my family took advantage of our proximity to Europe and Africa. We had the privilege of travelling dozens of times to dozens of countries, between the two continents.
Not a passionate traveller at heart, Africa seized mine and never let go. I knew I would be back. The beauty of the countries (Senegal, Morocco, Kenya) captivated my being. The people: beautiful, joyful, destitute. The contrast between joy and poverty was – still is – indescribable. The desire, the want for nothing is completely unfathomable in our country. And yet, these qualities and cultures possess a beauty unknown to most.
I found a connection – though did not know the depth until 2008.
Our joy and anticipation-filled adoption journey turned gruelling. The patience of Job would have been tested. Ours nearly failed. We clung, however, to the hope and to the only thing we knew at that time: faith.
Nearly half way through 2011 we received a call which would change our lives. A baby. A beautiful Ethiopian girl destined, chosen to be ours. We would travel to meet her once, and a second time to pick her up.
Setting foot on Ethiopian – African – soil in July 2011 was life-changing. The poverty had not changed, in fact it had worsened since my last visit well over a decade earlier. The streets dirtier, the beggars more evident and plentiful than my high school years would allow me to accurately recall, effects of the draught and food crisis more pervading
And the people…they were more joyful, more beautiful, more radiant than words can accurately depict. Grace personified. Humility exemplified.
Our first trip took us to meet our daughter (and attend court, a process legalizing our adoption). Her orphanage screamed all of the above and more: beauty, joy, rich culture, gratitude. A sense of thanksgiving for what they had was evident. And they did not have much. In fact, when the money, the food, the diapers, the medicine ran out, that was it. Children added to the orphanage population daily, our daughter’s orphanage was no different from the rest in it’s bursting numbers. The draught and famine had left many of the children parentless and those whose parents survived could not make enough to feed their children. Above all, sacrifice for one’s own was, and continues to be prominent in Ethiopia. The desire for more for their children, the want to spare their own flesh and blood from a life of destitute poverty, it’s not a human trait we see here. The mercy shown, the grace offered, to comprehend this would take a lifetime. Conceptualizing the reality of millions of orphaned children in this one country alone…it’s excruciating.
The physical beauty of Ethiopia is not found on the streets of Addis Ababa, the capital city. The true depth of beauty is found in places such as Mount Entoto, Lalibela, ancient cities such as Dire Dawa – which, while sometimes filthy, posses a culture and heritage parallel to none. Stories, traditions, food and drink all date back centuries ago. Yet, each is so engrained and customary they shall not soon disappear.
I would do anything to return.
During our trip we had the privilege of ascending Mount Entoto. We passed Women Fuelwood Carriers trekking up and down the 3200 metres as we drove up the rubble road, insurmountable by taxi, done only on food or in a 4×4. (We had the privilege of the latter.) Young teens through to Grandmothers make this trek daily in order to take fuelwood (eucalyptus branches) and sell their bundles at the base of the mountain…only to make the 3200 metre trek back up and return again. The round trip would take several days. The determination, the intensity of spirit and knowledge that without this source of income there would be no food at all – it is all unspeakably remarkable.
We would leave Ethiopia changed. Contrasting our North American wealth and desire for more to this indescribable poverty and yet gladness and hopefulness, it was truly an exercise in humility!
I would return eight weeks later and pick our daughter up and make the long journey home. A quick four day trip would prove similar to the previous in it’s uniqueness. How can a person leave a place such as this without profoundly changing?
I brought our daughter – a day shy of ten months – home and sobbed as we stepped onto the plane for our final leg of the nearly eight thousand mile journey.
Our home is full of the tangible: a warm bed, food, clean water, clothes.
Our home is full of the intangible: love, laughter, screams (especially from her two small brothers).
And yet, what we were leaving behind, what she has left behind, can never compare to that into which we brought her. Two worlds. Two cultures. Two families (her birth family and us, her adoptive and forever family). Two lives. Meshed into one small baby girl.
As we boarded our final flight home, I looked down at my daughter Mihret and promised that someday, somehow we would return.
Her birthmother named her. It is tradition and culture in Ethiopia that children’s names are carefully chosen. Each holds great meaning. Naming is very intentional.
In Ethiopia the name Mihret, it means Mercy.
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