I'll tell you about when I met Betelehem for the first time.
It was awkward.
There had been a lot of build-up to the moment. There was nothing natural about it, not one thing. Susan and I had traveled for many hours to land in Addis at 11:30 in the morning. As we drove down Bole Road to our guest house, everything felt familiar. I mean, of course it was; I had been there before. This was my first taste of what the theme of this trip would become: take it in. With Abe, I was so focused on being a mother for the first time that after a while, I think I checked out. I only sort of looked around me. I had bottles to make, and a nose to wipe, and beautiful laughing eyes to stare into. I realize this is probably a terrible thing to admit to, but I don't think I really absorbed the country my children were born in the first time I was there. I really didn't.
We checked into the guest house, got a little settled, went straight back out to exchange money and buy water. It felt so nice to be there. "Nice" is a boring word, I know, but that's how I felt. I had slept the night before thanks to the long layover in Dubai. I was pretty well-rested. On the flight from Dubai to Addis, I sat by myself (due to Susan inexplicably getting bumped up to business class!) and listened to the entire playlist my friend Julie gave me on a little ipod shuffle. I stared out the window watching Africa beneath the plane and cried off and on. It was the perfect thing to prepare me for entry into Ethiopia, to prepare me for what was coming. So as we drove around Addis, I was aware. I was present. I was looking. I was taking it in. I wanted to drive and drive and drive, to look and even gawk, to walk on Bole Road, to feel the dirt and rocks of Addis under my keens.
We ordered take-out and went to bed. As became the pattern for every night we were in Addis, I couldn't keep my eyes open much past 9pm. I woke up at 6am from a dream of a much-sassier-than-real-life Betelehem looking me in the eye and telling me I better learn how to fix her hair.
Our scheduled meeting was for 9:30 at the care center. It was Friday. I couldn't decide what to wear. I kept changing. Feeling sentimental, I decided on the purple shirt I met Abe in three years ago.
Betelehem was supposed to have been kept out of school for the day, but as we were driving to the center, we called to confirm and found out that someone had forgotten we were coming. She would be there by 11. I thought that waiting around the care center would make me more nervous than I already was, so we turned the car around and went to the closest Kaldi's. I ordered tiramisu with my machiatto. How I managed to eat tiramisu that morning, I'm still baffled by. But it was delicious. I shared with Susan and our driver. I couldn't talk but listened to them discuss technology as they tinkered around with our driver's ipad.
I kept checking the phone. Finally, it was time. I was all nervous energy at this point. Suddenly, I became terrified about being late even though we were only ten minutes away. I gathered my stuff and stood up, willing them to get up too. I walked to the door. I had said maybe twenty words all morning.
I sat in the front seat as we drove east of the city. The day was sunny but cool. I was ten minutes away.