“Can you please let us in there?” I ask as stand just to the side of the 500 person long line that I am determined not to wait in with my four children, and point to the sliding doors that lead to where we want to be.
“No” The tall slender Ethiopian man who is responsible for the door replies, hardly glancing my way, and clearly uninterested in a conversation with another person who wants to get special treatment.
“But the children are cold” I say, considering falling to my knees and begging.
“These are the rules and you have to get in the back” He shoots back in broken English and turns towards the next person in line and takes a little pink ticket, ripping it in half. “No ticket, no get in” He adds.
“Can we not go in?” Luella, my oldest daughter asks, her eyes almost pained as she tugs on the bottom of my shirt.
“We are going to keep trying” I say as I lean down to pick up little Everly. Her third birthday is coming up next week and Jessie, (if we can ever get to her), has presents in her luggage for the party.
“Is Mama here yet” Everly says as she swings her legs across my right hip and leans into the warmth of my body.
“Soon, sweetie, soon” I pull her closer to me and look around in desperation, unsure what to do next.
The cold night air is blowing harder than I had expected and despite my best efforts to come to the airport prepared, (if for not other reason than to show Jessie that I could handle this single parenting thing,) we are all under dressed and now the wet taste in the air and gusty winds are telling of rain. Down below there is a line that looks like it is about an hour long to get the pink tickets that we need for this door, but even once we have those the line to get in this door for the people who have tickets is even longer.
“Go get a ticket and come back” The same tall Ethiopian man says from behind me. “Get ticket, and see me”
I thank him and head off towards the ticket booth relieved that at least we will be able to get past one of these lines.
Truth is I am more than ready for Jessie to be back, I held it together okay, we did lots-of activities, and I worked in the evenings to try and stay on top of things with the project, but after 21 days of single parenting, I could just about throw myself into Jessie’s arms when I see her. Of two things I am sure, first; I am madly in love with Jessie. Second; she balances this family out in a way that I could never even come close to. I might be able to help feed and clothe these kids, but she shows love to them in a way that I never can match.
This surgery that took Jessie from us was not planned, but of coarse what medical issues are ever planned, right? This one however was terribly timed, and we had to go way out of the way to make it happen. The surgeon who offered to do the surgery for free is in Texas, and we… Uh,Yeah. We do not live anywhere near Texas. The project is just getting underway, and at a time when we are all hands on deck around here, Jessie had to leave for three weeks.
“Can I just get to the front of this line and buy tickets for the airport?” I ask, yet another Ethiopian man who has been put in a uniform and placed in charge of yet another long line of people.
“Stand” He replies.
I flash a quick glance at the kids. One, two, three, four. All here.
At least he did not make us get in the back of the line. “We are going to get tickets” I say, with more certainty in my voice than I feel inside me.
I turn my attention towards the woman who is sitting behind the glass window in the little metal ticket booth and gesture to the four desperate looking children who are with me.
“Lejoch betam kas kaza” I say in Amharic (The kids are cold)
“No time” She replies in English. (And you wonder why it is so hard to learn Amharic)
“Please” I say. Abandoning my feeble attempt at Amharic. (as usual)
“No time” She repeats and turns back to her cell phone.
“What does that mean?” Nickoli, my oldest and most observant child, asks me.
“Who knows” I reply as I look across the line of more than 200 people standing waiting for tickets and wonder how any of them is ever going to get in the airport if they are not even selling tickets.
Just then a hand emerges from the booth and five small pink slips of paper are handed to me. “Fifty Birr” She says quietly, as though she is avoiding someone who will get her in trouble for this. I quickly hand her the money and take the tickets.
Back up at the front door once again we are given the privilege of jumping the line, perhaps it is the mis-dressing of my children who are now freezing cold, or perhaps the man is just being nice, either way I am thankful to be in the door and finally ready to see Jessie.
We stand in a group mobbed around the double doors where all passengers who fly into Addis Ababa must come through, and the kids take turns riding on my shoulders so they can see over the heads and into the baggage claim area.
“Can you see her yet?” I ask, whichever child happens to be riding in the coveted top-seat at the time. “Not yet” They reply, until finally Luella spots her.
“I see her!” She yells out and she nearly throws her body from my shoulders and onto the floor, instantly the four of them are circling around the back of the crowd and over to the left side where Jessie is emerging. She is wearing a new shirt and looks stunning, for a moment I consider throwing the kid aside and kissing her right there, but I hold back and allow them to see their mother.
They all throw their arms around her and cheer so loud that I think the whole airport comes to a stop to watch the emotional embrace.
Then, just as they all begin to shout out their pent up questions.
Was the food good-Did the surgery hurt-Did you eat at McDonalds in America-Are you happy to be home-Did you watch movies on the plane-Did you know that Daddy fed us popcorn for dinner?
I notice that Everly has taken a step back and her face is scrunching up with emotion.
“Are you okay sweet girl” I ask as I lower to my knees down at her level. “Mama” She says, only the words don’t come out, just the shape of them rides on her lips for a brief moment before a flood of tears overtakes her.
Jessie notices the commotion and drops her bags to the floor, “Are you all right?” She asks as she wraps her arms around Everly’s tiny frame. Her head nods in agreement as she nestles deep into her mother’s neck.
The emotion of finally having her mother back after so long, seeing the one who loves her like no one else on this earth could, and feeling that-the most important of embraces is too much for her. While the other kids jump for joy, little Everly fell to pieces, letting all of the emotion she had felt for three weeks of having Mama gone, rush back into her.
As I stood there, watching this little wonderful girl of mine hug tightly to her mother, tears flowing down her cheeks, soaking Jessie’s neck and shoulder, I realized why we are here in Ethiopia.
We are here so that children who once had a mother, can wrap their arms around a mother once-more. Orphans can be scooped up into the only arms in the world that will ever feel like home, and they can stay there forever.
We are here to give mothers. The most important gift in the world.