On the other hand, I was just not feeling ready to leave Ethiopia, which really surprised me. I just didn't feel like I'd had enough time to soak in my son's heritage, his people, his language, his country. I wanted to stay longer, to talk more with the people at Hannah's Hope, to spend some time there on a "normal" day, when there weren't lots of American families coming and going. David and I agreed that we wanted to spend a few hours just "taking it in" and letting Yikealo be with his friends one last time.
First, though, we had breakfast down in the lobby with several of the other families, and David kept Yikealo entertained for quite some time by helping him ride the exercise equipment.
Afterwards, we walked over to Hannah's Hope. I took a lot of pictures and video that day, very conscious of the fact that it was Yikealo's last day in his home of 4 months, but I can't post a lot of the pictures, as they show children who haven't yet come home to their forever families. This first photo is of Tomea opening the gate for Yikealo to enter one last time.
After kissing Tomea good morning, Yikealo took off running down the path toward "his" house, arms thrown open as various little boys "doing their time" on the potty chairs began shouting "Yikealo!!!" in their high-pitched voices. He only wanted one person, though, and when nobody could tell him where Alem was, he went searching for her himself, squeezing past a potty to get into the house.
She wasn't inside either, but someone else had alerted her to Yikealo's presence, and when he came back outside, she was running toward him. Here is a video of their last greeting - I think that it really shows the affection between the children and their special mothers - followed by footage of Yikealo attempting to take over a school session for some of the older children!
After hugging Alem, Yikealo ran all over the place, showing EVERYONE his new "tiger" backpack and his photo album of his new house. He handed out granola bars that we had brought to all of the children and special mothers, and gave out lots of kisses to the potty chair brigade.
He barged repeatedly into Almaz's office, interrupting her final meetings with other families, and trying to get her attention. She just laughed it off and told us, "He thinks this is his office - he is in here every single day trying to be my boss, but he's really a good boy. You know, he acts all rough, but he has so much love in his heart!" That is SO true, and we've been blessed to be the recipients of that love every day since. Then she looked at us with a sly smile and added, "I think that he needs a brother or sister, but just make sure if you do this again, that he is still the oldest so that he can still be the boss!" We just laughed exhaustedly and told her that we needed to get used to having one kid first!
At some point, while running frantically around, Yikealo managed to confiscate a harmonica from one of the other children, and spent over an hour blowing in and out, in and out, in and out until I thought I was going mad. He eventually threw up from the constant deep breathing, at which point we finally managed to "lose" the toy. Almaz laughed about that too, and said, "That is a good example of why we want people to think before they send donations. Some well-meaning soul sent us a box of about 40 harmonicas, and I spent WEEKS surreptitiously stealing them back from all of the children."
While David kept his eye on the boy, I walked around taking pictures of Hannah's Hope, specifically the house where Yikealo had lived: the room with rows of cribs and two alphabets painted around the walls,
looking out into the courtyard where one of the special mothers was busy spoon-feeding several toddlers at once,
the bookshelf full of lined up pairs of little shoes,
the many bunk-beds in Yikealo's room (his was the bottom bunk at the far end of the room just to the right of the center of the photo),
and the staff eating area/all-purpose room.
I finally found the place where most of Yikealo's referral photos had been taken, so of course, we had to take a picture of him in that spot. Here they are - a photo from March, followed by one from July.
I could not keep the tears from falling as I walked around that amazing place: tears of joy and thankfulness for the incredible love and care that my son had received at the hands of those people, and tears of deep sadness and grief for the loss that Yikealo was about to face yet again in his young life. I had watched Almaz tell him several times that he was going on an "ah-row-puh-lan" (airplane) to America with his new Amama and Ababa, and he always nodded and said, "Eh-shi" (okay), but how could he possibly understand? Did he have any idea whatsoever that he would probably never see these people again? As we stood in the courtyard, we saw a new little girl arrive at Hannah's Hope. She looked so sad, so haunted somehow, and she reminded me so much of some of those first pictures of Yikealo - taken on the day that he had arrived.
What an enormous difference those few months had made in his life!
He loved these people so very much - was he going to resent us for taking him away from them?
We finally said our last goodbyes and thank-yous to everyone, and watched Almaz wipe away tears as she gave our son one more hug, and then we walked out of the gate, and back down the hill. It felt like the end of so much and yet the beginning of even more.
We had a few hours to clean up our room, re-pack everything and nap for a bit before having an early supper and leaving for the airport at 6:00 that evening. David picks up the story from there in his lovely post "The Longest Day!"
Our time in Ethiopia was an experience that I will never forget - heartbreaking, beautiful, amazing, sickening, eye-opening and earth-shattering all at once. It got my attention and has brought me to my knees numerous times when I remember the things that we saw there and the stories that we heard. The people of Ethiopia will forever be a part of my life, my dreams, my heart, and I have been blessed beyond measure by my short sojourn in their world.