Falling . . . Falling . . . Falling . . . in our leap of quickly diminishing faith.
It has been weeks now with not a word. CALL HER!
My husband and I had different aptitudes. I was better when it came to patience as well as having long-distance telephone conversations in English with Ethiopians. That second task was clearly my responsibility but I was also the one more willing to wait and let things take their course. My husband’s instinct was to be proactive and push things along. It created a lot of tension in our household.
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I left off last time in April of the year 2000. We had just handed over our adoption file to be sent down to Addis Ababa and begun our wait for The Phone Call - that infamous moment when someone tells you that you are a mother (or father). But there are a few salient details that I couldn’t figure out how to work into the last chapter . . .
The first is that the Ethiopian Consul in Vienna who sent off our file wasn’t very happy with us at the time. He had suggested a few attorneys we could hire, but on the advice of others – including a certain official at the Social Ministry in Ethiopia who would be processing our case - we ended up hiring a woman who was not a lawyer – and whom I will call Mrs. Herewego from now on. Our initial call to her was very reassuring; we got through on the first try, the line was clear, her English was good . . . I had a good feeling about it all. But when we told the Consul later that we had decided for her, he was visibly irritated. Oh well, too late now. The power of attorney was signed and stamped, the deal was done. He was still willing to send our file down via diplomatic pouch, as promised, but as we found out later, he took his sweet time about it.
The second salient detail was a much more positive one. Through our contact with the family in Tirol, we also connected with the secretary of the Austrian Embassy in Ethiopia. As luck (or destiny) would have it she and her husband were also in the process of adopting. That made them extremely gracious about our many calls, questions, requests . . . This woman would turn out to be our savior - but that is a subject for Chapter 5 or 6. At this point in the process, she was the one who relayed information and messages back and forth between us and that important official in the Social Ministry. She was the one who informed us that our choice of representative would be very important. ”No Lawyers!” those were the words of the official and she passed them on to us.
So it was now sometime in May. Our file had been in Ethiopia for a month (or so we thought) and there had been no news whatsoever from our representative. I finally came to the same point my husband had been at since the first week of our waiting period. It was time to CALL HER! I picked up the phone and dialed her number.
Busy signal. I tried again five minutes later. There was a ringing sound and then static. I hung up and tried again. Someone picked up. It was a man’s voice and he said something in Amharic. I asked for Mrs. Herewego. There was a long pause and some background conversation I couldn’t understand. I waited and the man came back.
“Herewego not here. Next week. Home. We message her. Next week.”
And then he hung up.
We figured this meant . . . . she was out of town, maybe??. So we waited a week and tried again. After the fifth or sixth attempt, we got through. The same man as before answered.
“Herewego not here. You call 10 o’clock.”
So we waited till 10 o’clock pm and tried again. No answer. The next day we tried again. After the fifth or seventh or fifteenth attempt, we heard a ringing sound on the other end. The same man as before answered.
”Herewego not here. You call again 4 o’clock. 10 o’clock. 4 o’clock. 10 o’clock.”
It finally dawned on us. With their Gregorian calendar, Ethiopians were not only about 8 years and 13 days behind, they also told time differently. Zero o’clock was basically when they got up in the morning - our 6 oclock am. So when that man told me to call at 10, he really meant something more like 4 in the afternoon.
Not surprisingly, further attempts to call in the afternoon were not any more successful. In the meantime, messages were coming to us over different channels about how our file sat on various desks for weeks at a time, pages were lost that we had to replace, others were misplaced, people were unavailable, phones were busy, calls were misconnected, email servers were down, electricity (and fax machines) were out . . . Imagine any kind of bureaucratic or technical hassle and we had it. And through all of this, not a word from Mrs. Herewego.
By mid-June we were at our wits end and decided to go straight to the source. We started calling the official in the Social Ministry directly, Mr. T, whose name was the Amharic word for hope and he lived up to it. He was friendly and very knowledgeable about our case. He said he had the complete file and was processing it rapidly. He told us Mrs. Herewego had had ”an accident” but that she was better and doing her work. He gave us his home phone number and said we could call anytime. Suddenly it seemed things were moving forward. Maybe, just maybe, in a few months from now . . . no, no . . . cant think that way . . . must stay theoretical. . .
We turned our attention back to our regular lives after that call and there was a whole lot to attend to. I was working two jobs at the time and the school/academic years were winding down. We had a string of visitors from Stateside and we were in the middle of some major house renovations. We had dug a trench all the way around the house to improve the drainage and crew of men were insulating and plastering the outside of the house. We also repainted all the windows and moved the entire office down to the basement to create a “guest room” upstairs. We also had about 20 truckloads of earth delivered to level out a part of our property. The whole house- inside and out – looked like a bomb had hit it.
One day in the midst of all this I took a close look at my beloved dog and noticed a huge lump protruding from her lower belly. It was a tumor. I carted her back and forth to the vet for a week or two and then we decided on an operation. We scheduled it for the next day, agreeing that if the vet saw the tumor was too large, she would not let my dog wake up.
That afternoon, we tried to reach Mrs. Herewego for the first time in weeks. After many dialing attempts, we finally got a connection and once again, I heard the now familiar voice of The 4 O’clock 10 O’clock Man. But this time he said,
”Herewego market. You call twenty minutes.”
Twenty minutes later, I dialed again and a young woman picked up at the other end. She spoke English well, and when I asked for Mrs. Herewego, she told me I had the wrong number and that there was no woman there named Herewego. Never was. I said I had reached Mrs. H. there before (of course that was only the one time- way back before we had even hired her) and she replied, ”Not here.” I asked her to tell me the phone number, thinking we were misconnected and it turned out to be the right one. I asked who the man was I had talked to many times before - including just twenty minutes earlier. She said that must be the man from Somalia who lives there with his family and that “they think this is their phone.” I explained again that we had reached Mrs. H at this number before. She said maybe I meant the Somalian guy’s sister who was living with them for a while ” but she is gone now.”
We had reached rock bottom. It seemed to us that this representative woman was just a front. Maybe she had taken our down payment and skipped town. We frantically started calling the official Mr. T and were told to try again in the evening.
To help the time pass and keep ourselves sane, we decided to return all the extra building materials from our renovation project to the store. (We had ordered more than we needed with the understanding that we could bring the rest back and be refunded.) We loaded all of it into the trailer and took off. It was when we got to the parking lot of the store, that my husband first noticed the big dent and scratch in his car. (His father had probably made it the day before when he was helping out at our construction site.) My husband flipped out – something he never does - he was swearing and tears were welling up in his eyes. It was so unlike him. I said hey, it was obvious that this was not about a dent in the car - it was the frustration and stress and fear of the adoption thing coming out in another way. He managed to pull it together and went into the store. I stayed in the lot with all the materials. Inside, my husband was told that the materials were specially ordered and couldn’t be returned. Apparently, he snapped and marched off to the manager to raise some hell. It must have been quite a show, because I suddenly saw a horde of nervous looking employees running out of the store toward me. They quickly unloaded all the materials and brought them back into the store. When I walked in after them, two more employees rushed over to me with a friendly “Can I help you?” I did the paperwork while my husband paced in circles around our car outside.
Back home, I told my husband he should just take off - go play golf or go running I would make the phone call to Ethiopia.
So, there I am. I go to the phone and stand in front of it. Thinking. My husband is losing it, my dog is possibly going to die tomorrow, my adoption is going down the toilet, my house is a disaster zone, but too far along to stop now, my finances are the worst they have ever been. I pick up the receiver and start dialing an Ethiopian number, knowing full well by now that I might have to do this 15 times before I get a connection. Meanwhile, I am trying to figure out what I will say to Mr. T if and when I get through - how things aren’t working out, how this Mrs. Herewego situation has become an intolerable problem . . . I hear a ringing sound.
Mr. T picks up and we greet each other. Before I can say another word, he starts talking about a beautiful three month old baby girl who just passed all her medical tests. And she is ours.