We spent our first night in Burji in Soyema, the only town in the area. At 5:50AM our interpreter (a local teacher who is a friend of a friend) called to say that he was with the boys' family. I asked for a little time to get ourselves together and by 7AM we were at the cafe for our reunion.
Reunion was beautiful and joyful but I won't be posting any pictures. Here's a picture from later that morning.
A was immediately comfortable with his family. He remembered them from our last trip. D was happy at first but then started to feel confused and needed to stay at my side.
After a while we went to the home of the family we had stayed with on our last trip. The adults visited while the kids hung out with a niece we had met two years ago. A few people went to the store for food to take with us. Finally we loaded people and bags into two very stuffed bajajes, and drove out to the village.
Last time we had come in April when there wasn't much farmwork that needed doing, and a huge crowd had greeted our arrival; this time we came at the first harvest / second planting so the village was quiet, with everyone off working. We set up our tent behind Uncle M's house. Some extra cloths were hung up around the outdoor toilet for additional privacy. We brought out the soccer ball and the kids got a game going. By now D felt comfortable too. As people returned from the farms they came to greet us. Kids came to stare. We went to visit the family of another child adopted to the US who lives in the same village. Then after a dinner of injera and eggs, and as a slight rain started, we went to sleep in our tent.
The next day I felt sick - maybe the eggs? After breakfast we walked down with Uncle M and our teacher-interpreter to see the farmland.
Along the way we met the relative of another child adopted to the US, who lives in a nearby village. It was heartbreaking to have only a single picture and no news to give. I told our interpreter that the child now uses a different name in the US. Our interpreter declined to translate this information.
In the late morning we returned to Soyema to buy more supplies from the twice-weekly market.
We gave everything to Aunt M, with whom we had arranged for meals during our time in the village. In the afternoon I still felt sick, so I lay down while the kids played soccer. All evening a continuous stream of people came to greet us.
The following day after breakfast we all went with Cousin C to the farmland on the hill above the village. Uncles W and M brought oxen and we all had a chance to try to plow. Plowing is a lot harder than it looks.
Later in the morning we had coffee in Aunt C and Uncle D's yard and more people came to see us.
Then we moved into the house for a more private conversation. We had lunch with Uncles W and M and Aunt M, and in the afternoon the kids went to play soccer.
After lunch our interpreter left to take his father to the clinic in Soyema so we were on our own. Luckily we have enough Amharic that we could communicate the basics, and with our interpreter gone, more people who before only spoke Burji came forth as knowing some Amharic.
Aunt M was one of the people who knows Amharic and the next morning I tried to help her in the kitchen (I was not very helpful). After breakfast Uncle W took us to the small village market to show us off and buy the boys some sugarcane. Then I was able to communicate to Uncle M that the boys wanted to help Cousin C bring the cows to the farm. It was T's turn to feel sick, so I went with the boys to the upper fields. They really enjoyed driving the cattle up the hill. At the top of the hill Uncle M plowed while the boys watched the herd and played. After a while D was feeling sick too, so I returned to the village with him. A stayed with Cousin C to watch the cows. Later I asked him how he and Cousin C communicated and he said they pointed at things and named them in English and Burji, counted, said the alphabet, and created miniature plows out of sticks. It didn't matter that they didn't speak the same language, they are the same age, and they had fun together.
We had lunch at Uncle M's house and then Aunt C insisted that we have a second lunch at her house. By then our interpreter was back and T was going to return to Soyema with him to run an errand at the bank. They went to the road to look for a bajaj, and when one pulled up, T looked in the back and saw a young man we had met in Colorado! He had told me he would be in Burji getting married and would look for us. His family is from a village on the other side of Burji but as the only ferenjis around, we apparently weren't hard to find. T and our interpreter took our Colorado friend's bajaj to town while he stayed and translated for me.
The next two days we had private conversations with each member of the family and with the other local families whose children are in the US. In each house we sat and talked, with our interpreter translating, and I filled pages in my notebook. Uncle W told us about how he and Aunt M got married. Aunt M told us about how hard it was to grow up without a mother. Aunt C told us about working in the fields when she was very young and being scared of the monkeys. Uncle D - who is a spry 80 years old - told us about the Italians. They talked about what our boys were like when they were little. Uncle W disappeared for half a day to go get a relative from a village in the highlands and when they returned, we found she looks exactly like A. Aunt C told us that Uncle D was a chatterbox in his youth, just like D.
A and D were interested in some of these conversations but not all, so at times while we talked they went off with other relatives. They went with Cousin C to load a donkey with water from the pump. They spent a couple of hours driving oxen in circles to thresh 'tef, having a blast and getting covered with 'tef dust head to toe.
The last day we said our goodbyes over meals at Uncle M's house and Aunt C's house and then we returned to Soyema.
Our week in the village was the highlight of our six-week trip. Logistically, it worked out really well. The tent was comfortable enough. Buying food and hiring Aunt M to cook for us was great. Having an interpreter unconnected to adoption and whose father lived in the village was very important. T, D, and I each had a day when we felt sick, but it was nothing serious. The outdoor toilet was better than expected. The weather was cool and dry enough that a week without showers was fine - we just used a lot of wipes and I wrapped my hair when it got greasy.
More importantly, for that week our boys were surrounded by love. They got used to walking down the main road and having old women rush up and hug them. People argued over whose house they would eat at and cried over who they looked like. Staying a week allowed us to meet more distant family that we hadn't known existed. We were there long enough to stop attracting crowds and join the family in their daily activities. A week gave me context for a situation that I have mixed feelings about. We got to know personalities, see how people interacted with each other, and imagine what it would have been like for our boys to live here. It was a wonderful week.
Read Part 7