Thursday, October 17, 2013

A story (with update)

Last weekend we were in DC, staying with a friend in Silver Spring. The missed calls started at 5AM, when we were still sleeping. By the time we woke up, we each had a dozen of them on our phones. The number was too long to be domestic. I googled the country code. Someone was calling from Ethiopia!

The calls kept coming while we were having breakfast. We'd answer the phone and the call would disconnect. They continued while we were on the metro going into the city. Then when we were waiting to go into one of the few still-open museums in DC, the call finally connected.

"W___,  W___, W___," the voice said. And a string of Amharic.

But it wasn't W's voice and W doesn't speak Amharic.

"Man now?" (Who is it?)

"W___,  W___, W___." It disconnected.

W has our phone number. I sent it with the photo album. The power imbalance, of us having a way to reach them, and them not having a way to reach us, just wasn't right.

"The person is saying it's W, but it's not W," I said to T. "Do we tell the kids?"

We told them. They were briefly excited, then distracted by the museum doors opening. The friends we were meeting had also shown up, and we told them what was going on.

I was standing in line at the ticket counter when the phone rang again. This time the connection was clear. The caller again identified as W.

"Ye A inna D enat negn," I said. "Lijochu dehna nachow." (I am A and D's mother. The children are well.)

W who was not W wanted to talk to them. What to do? I ran over to where they were and held the phone up. Say, "Selam." Say, "Dehna negn." Say, "Dansa."

My kids are either super resilient or super good at suppressing things, because they took it in stride and then went back to the museum exhibits.

The caller continued to talk in Amharic. "Amarigna alchillim," I kept saying. "Algebagnim. Tinish ichillalo bicha." (I can't speak Amharic. I don't understand. I can only speak a little.)

"Nege," the caller said. (Tomorrow.) Not-W would call back tomorrow.

Tomorrow I wouldn't be able to speak Amharic either, but that gave me 24 hours to find someone who could. I tried to reach the person back home who has helped us with phone calls before and left a message.

"Goodness," said my friend, who hadn't seen us in two years. "Is it always so dramatic?"

After the museum we met another friend who is also an adoptive parent, and went to lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant. As soon as we ordered I asked the owner if I could speak to him. I explained the whole situation - sometimes we guard our secrets carefully, and sometimes we dump them at the feet of someone whose help we need - and asked if he could call the number for us. He very graciously agreed to do so, but by then it was evening in Ethiopia, and there was no answer. This at least was in line with what we'd expect if it was really W calling - there is no cell phone reception in the village. Meheteme, the owner of the restaurant, promised he would call the number tomorrow morning.

Not-W called back the next morning while we were watching the Ethiopia-Nigeria soccer game.  

"Ye man qutur now?" I asked. (Whose number is this?)

"M___. W Amarigna aychillim." (W can't speak Amharic.)

M is a relative. We met M on our visit to Burjii. I know M has a cell phone and can speak Amharic. I felt much better hearing the name.

"Beitesebu dehna now? Hulum dehna nachow?" (Is the family OK? Is everyone OK?) I asked.

"Dehna." (Fine.) Then a string of Amharic.

"Leyla sow yidewellehal. Amarigna yichillal." (Someone else will call you. He speaks Amharic.)

"Zare?" (Today?) 


I hung up and called Meheteme. His wife answered and told me she would call M for me. A few minutes later she phoned back to report.

Everything was fine. There was no emergency. M was calling to say that the photo album had arrived and to see how the kids were. Meheteme told M he had seen the boys the day before, and that they were healthy, happy, and well-behaved. M was happy to hear it and told him to "say thank you to the ferengi."

Now we are home and are making arrangements to call M on Saturday, with the help of the person who has helped us in the past. I'm hoping that now that we have the phone number of a relative, rather than that of the kebele chief whom we have always called before, we may be able to establish more regular communication. I want to normalize calling Ethiopia, to make it not a special occasion, but just something we do. How wonderful that would be.

I'm very grateful to Meheteme and his wife for their help, and if you're ever in DC, check out his restaurant. The food is delicious and you've already heard how nice the people are.

It took two weeks, but we had a successful phone call this morning. Huge thank you to Ato Y, who's been coming over early on weekend mornings to attempt calls for us. 


  1. wow! I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions here!!

  2. What a fantastic story this is! I love it.

  3. coordinating calls with Ethiopia is always a feat. so glad you made it happen.