Friday morning was shopping day. Ron was very organized about this, and had a list of folks at home to buy gifts for. I was glad that he was so disciplined about it. I was distracted the whole time with concerns about clothes for the boys – I had underestimated S’s shoe size, and needed to find shoes for him.
We bought scarves, and other lovely textile arts, jewelry, a drum and stringed instrument to bring home for the boys, and our last stop was coffee!! I can’t remember exactly how much coffee we ended up with, but it was a lot!!
That afternoon was the coffee ceremony, a tradition at the house that offered the departing kids a chance to say their goodbyes to their friends and to the orphanage staff. The preparations for that were starting when we got back from shopping. In the kitchen, smells of popcorn popping mixed with the rich scents of roasting coffee. Whole beans are roasted in an open pan, and then ground before the very strong coffee is brewed.
There was an enormous round loaf of bread on a small table in the center of the room, covered with a cloth – reminded me of the challah on Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath). After some introductions, and some words of both welcome and farewell, the only adoptive grandmother in our group was invited to cut the bread into quarters, forming a cross with the two cuts (keep in mind, Ethiopia is predominantly Orthodox Christian). Silly Sal was given the honor of leading the prayer, which he recited word-by-word followed by the chorus of seated children – these were the 10 children in our group who were leaving, and also all of the older children. As we watched, we realized that Silly Sal has been through this ceremony several times, sending off his peers from precious groups – and now it was his turn to join his new family, and leave these friends, some of whom he had known for several months. During the week we spent there, a minivan arrived midweek bringing a few children from satellite orphanages, so it seemed that this “rotation” of children and beds must be a constant background to life at this central house, the launching place for these children into their new lives.
That evening was Friday night, erev Shabbat, and we had already arranged to spend it at the home of Rick Hodes, a remarkable expat physician who has been doing amazing work in Ethiopia treating children with deformities attributable to TB or to congenital deformities, and assisting many to pursue education and productive careers. He hosts a Shabbat dinner regularly for a large extended “family”, and for many visiting Jewish guests – we had heard of him from our friend Elliot Cowan, who had enjoyed Dr Hode’s hospitality on a recent trip.
We would have loved to bring the boys, but the orphanage was very strict about that – no children can leave the premises until actual departure time. This was not an issue with Junet, who really had no idea what was happening, but Silly Sal was very clear about the state of affairs, and, as far as he was concerned, he now “belonged to us” – his new parents!! Ron and our new friend, Jim, attempted to walk our two boys, Silly Sal and E back to the “big kids” house, and Silly Sal protested vigorously, insisting that he stay with us. We were a bit at a loss, but fortunately, the house manager kindly offered to watch him, and to put him to bed in our room while we were out. Given the fact that we have hardly left the kids with anyone since we got back to the states, I’m still sort of amazed that we were able to avail ourselves of the generosity of the offer of babysitting!
We were picked up by a driver, and taken to our host’s home. There, we were greeted by a medical student who was working with Dr. Hodes, and walked up to the house. We joined a lively collection of about 20 young folks (and a few older ones), including a member of our own congregation from back in Rockville, MD, who works in Ethiopia – such a small world!! We were quite overwhelmed by Dr. Hodes, and his guests, and hospitality – he showed us xrays of some patients that he was seeing, and invited us to join him for hospital rounds the next morning….I tentatively planned on joining him. It was an unusual, but truly inspirational shabbat, and we felt really restored by the evening, and ready for the next 24 hrs+ (or so we thought)…
We drove home, and found Silly Sal peacefully sleeping in our bed…we wedged ourselves in, without disturbing him, and spent our first night, as a family, with our new oldest son.