We landed in Addis. We are in the same city our daughter is in right now!
We get our visas, exchange currency, and collect our luggage. We go directly over to the domestic terminal to fly out to Mekele (the city Alanah Marya was from).
We board the tiny plane to Mekele, but something is wrong with the plane....the main door wont close. So, after a half an hour, the crew decides to move us to a different aircraft. Once we fly off to Mekele, we are already almost an hour behind schedule. Now we will arrive around 5:30 pm ET time.
As we fly further and further from the capital the city disappears and it is replaced with wilderness; endless plains, mountains, and valleys. From the plane it looks like no one lives down there, but every once in awhile you can see a small cluster of shiny squares which I assume are homes. They glisten in the sun like tiny mirrors; maybe they are made of tin?
Exiting the plane in Mekele, we are approached by two airport officials who ask to see our papers. We present them with our passports, and they proceed to question us: "Why are you here?" "Where are your foreign papers?" We have NO idea what is wrong or what else they would need, so we explain to them that our agency is sending someone to meet us that may be able to answer their questions.
Tsehaye, a member of IAG's staff, met us at the baggage claim. We recognized him from the photos we had seen of him with Marya. Tsehaye spoke with the officials and tried to sort everything out for us, but there was a complication.
Apparently, tomorrow is election day for Ethiopia (which happens once every 5 years). So, the Ethiopian government has issued a rule a couple days ago that NO FOREIGNERS were to travel outside the capital without special authorization from the Foreign Affairs Office.
We were not aware of this rule or the additional paperwork required. Obviously the airport staff in Addis was unaware as well as they allowed us to board the plane without the proper paperwork. Had the staff in Addis realized this, we never would have made it to Mekele! (but as you will see, God is orchestrating everything).
The officials at the Mekele airport wanted to have us on the next flight back to Addis, but (get this...) because the plane in Addis left late (due to the door not being able to close), we missed the last flight out of Mekele for the night, so we would HAVE to stay the night in Mekele.
I have heard people say that God opens doors, but did you know he can also hold them open :)
Apparently, God has something in Mekele he wants us to see.
The airport officials were very upset that we would be in the city overnight, and they demanded that we leave on the very first plane out of Mekele at 6:00am.
Tsehaye was great, and convinced the officials (after several calls to 'higher-ups') to release us for the night, and he promised we would be out the next morning on the first flight.
Now, one of the reasons that Dustin and I wanted to travel to Mekele was that is where Alanah Marya was found, abandoned. Other than that, we know nothing of her past. We do not know her parents, or if she has any siblings,...nothing! So, we wanted to be able to document for her anything we could of her past. We felt that if we could at least tour the area she was from, photograph the place she was found, and visit the care center that she stayed in, it would provide her with at least some history.
Tsehaye agreed to take us to where she was found.
We drove back behind buildings and streets to dirt roads. People walking and carrying their children, stands where individuals displayed their goods for sale, horses pulling carts, children running across the streets with bare feet, a market place with someone selling chickens...etc. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. As we got further away from the city streets there was such extreme poverty. Now, I have seen the commercials on TV for sick and impoverished areas, but being in it was overwhelming.
The driver stopped at the top of the hill, and we got out. There were chickens roaming, sickly skinny stray cats, people sleeping on the ground, and children rushing up to see us with smiles on their faces.
One old lady spoke to me, and one of the IAG staff translated that the lady asked me to take the one little girl in the group back to my country. She instructed the little girl (maybe 1 1/2 yrs old) to come up to me with her hands clasped together. I fought off the tears; if only it was that easy. I would take her home too; I wanted to take them all home.
We headed towards a small church. (Until this trip to Mekele, I had no idea that Alanah Marya had been left at a church). We approached a tiny church painted blue and pink. People had their houses (tarps and/or pieces of tin) set up around the church.
We were told that their was a spring there that was believed to have healing powers, and that people would travel from all around to this special church and holy water to heal any ailments they suffered from.
The church's name was Saint Mary's; our daughter was named for the church that she was left at. In Ethiopia adding a 'yay' sound to the end of a name as a way to show endearment. So, they named our daughter Marya.
I am flooded with emotions and the tears welled up in my eyes. I had wondered why Marya had been left somewhere instead of being taken to an orphanage or to the police. I couldn't understand how someone could ever abandon their child, but now it is a little clearer.
She was left at the church as an act of mercy; although I may never know what conditions surrounded that decision, I know that whoever chose to leave her there made a sacrifice. The heart ache that must have encompassed such a decision is unimaginable. Deciding to leave her at a church was surrendering her to God's mercy, and having faith that God would watch over her and take care of her because for whatever reason Marya's care taker no longer could.
I imagine her mother (or father) praying long and hard at the church, wrestling with what was best for her child, conflicted with the desire to remain with her child, but knowing that was not possible.Selflessly sacrificing her own desires for the well-being of her child.
I thank God I have never been in a situation as grave as her family members, as I doubt I would have the strength and faith to make such a sacrifice. I pray that I would never have to make those choices; no one should ever have to. I grieve for her family members.
Please pray for Marya's previous caretakers, wherever they are, that they may have peace. It is because of their selflessness that I am able to be blessed with another daughter. They prayed a desperate prayer, and God heard their prayers. I am honored to be a part of God's plan.
God has watched over this child, placed a desire to adopt in our hearts, and brought her into our family, and there is no disputing his hand in this adoption.
As we stood there at the church, I began to cry. I looked around wondering if any of these people had witnessed Marya's family praying and weeping. Maybe one of these people knew her family? Could one of these children running around be Marya's siblings or friends?
Leaving the church, we were speechless.
After learning of the story surrounding Marya's name, Dustin and I agreed that her name will remain Marya.
As darkness fell, we were able to briefly visit the Mekele care center to take pictures and drop off donations, but it was the children's bed time, so we returned to our hotel; we would leave for the airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning as we promised the officials.
Though our trip to Mekele was short, it was revealing. A piece of myself would be left forever in Mekele; not only had my ignorance been ripped from my eyes, but a piece of my heart remained at the very spot my daughter was found.
I had known poverty existed, but had never witnessed it as I had today.
Ignorance and attempts to distance myself were no longer an option- I saw it- I witnessed it- and I will be forever changed because of it.
That night, my head was filled with images from throughout the day, filled with questions, filled with sadness; I cried myself to sleep.