Its a safe place where I live. It’s all vanilla condominiums, white fences, tree lined streets and all the stuff of suburban legends. Every dog here has a license and a leash. It’s not like that in Africa. At least not in Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, only the donkeys were sure-footed, as I traveled during the rainy season. I slipped down the hilly, rocky streets and hopped over gutters filled with trash and the heads and hooves of the prior night’s sheep dinners. I slipped into buildings, mud caked on my sandals across polished marble floors. I fell down stairs-frequently. My memories of Ethiopia all fall into one of three categories: “Beautiful,” “shocking,” or “slippery.” I was in awe of the scenic mountains, provided I ignored the foreground sight, of a dead horse in the street, with rigor mortis so severe that its legs stuck upright like fence posts in the air. It was hard to shake the image of a frail, starving man eating a discarded leather shoe in the gutter for nourishment.
It was good to come back to the states and settle back into my “real life,” though now I appreciate that my world is the surreal one. Now as September looms and the rain returns, memories of Ethiopia fall into my mind like the raindrops that bring them. Some beautiful, some painful, but one especially haunts me. I’ll call him “Dimples.”
Like a raindrop sliding down a glass window, the memory gets stronger as the weather gets wetter. It must be an affliction of seasonal memory, or perhaps it’s just taken this long to be able to process the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had.
Each fall, when the rain starts pounding, I hear his voice again: “See my dimples, aren’t they cute?” The little boy, who even in the rain, kept watch outside the orphanage. Just him and his soccer ball. The other children sat inside and watched Orthodox church services. The littlest ones took a mid afternoon nap.
Dimples was on a mission. He was looking for a mother. This orphanage houses about fifty children under the age of ten, all with HIV or AIDS. Like all orphans, they’re eager to find a mother, but some are especially eager. Dimples was one of these ambitious children. I felt a pang of regret that I wasn’t there to bring him home. Instead, inside, a little girl was napping, waiting for me to arrive. She would have an “ferenjiamaye” (American mommy) today. I wished I could take both my new daughter and Dimples home with me.
Over the rain, not even the compound guard heard my taxi pull up, but Dimples was right on top of it. He woke the guard, and helped him to push open the heavy solid steel gate that insulated the orphanage from Addis Ababa’s busy “Ring Road.” As the white and blue Fiat taxi pulled in, he walked alongside waving and smiling at me.
I was surprised to hear his voice so clearly over the rain pounding on the cab and the metal compound roof “see my dimples?” He asked eagerly. “Konjo” I replied, “cute dimples.” He offered to carry my bag, filled with gifts for the children. He wanted to shield me from the rain, so this prospective mommy-the greatest commodity in any orphanage-would not be dampened. Bad things happen when mommies get sick, a lesson he has learned. Mothers should be protected.
I was stunned by the eagerness in his smile, his dark brown eyes, and yes, his dimples. Over the rain, I could hear that his English was perfect. A damning clue that he’d resided at the orphanage for a very, very long time, as their school is excellent, and all children are taught English, in preparation for living abroad.
After returning home, I called the adoption agency, and learned that in five years, Dimples has never been considered for adoption. If it’s his age, or his medical status, I don’t know. But certainly, not his smile, nor for lack of trying on his part to find a family.
Our autumn rains used to feel like a comfortable warm blanket, wrapping my cozy little community up for winter. This year the rain brings grief, and that sweet little voice. I walk to the mailbox, instinctively grabbing a headscarf to protect against the rain-a habit I must have acquired in Ethiopia. On my mind is the dimpled boy with the soccer ball.
Yes, conjolej (beautiful child) you have beautiful dimples.
This story has a happy ending. While we couldn’t adopt Dimples, our family sponsored him and his sister, and advocated for them to find a family. Eighteen months after we met in Ethiopia, Dimples joined a family in the States, and you should see those dimples when he smiles at his new mother or plays soccer with his father.
Submitted by Jessica Ward Jessica Ward . Photography attached was taken by Jessica Ward. Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger, and adoptive mommy to children from America and Ethiopia. She and her husband raise their family in the Seattle area.