Guess where I am right at this moment? Africa!
I can still hardly believe it. It took me a week before I managed to make a decision. “Yes,” I told Reginald. “I’ll go with you to Ethiopia.”
“Wonderful!” He pulled me into his arms, a wide grin plastered on his face. “I can’t wait to see your homeland.” I couldn’t wait either.
The next few weeks were a blur of preparation for the big trip. Passports, check. Immunizations, check. Packing, check. Then came the sad day when I hung up my bakery apron for the last time. This was followed by the even sadder day of saying goodbye to Belinda and Chris, and my sweet little nephew.
“Will I ever see you again, Auntie Tadi?” he asked, his wings drooping.
I stooped down to kiss his cheek. “Of course you will,” I said.
And then, Reginald and I were on an airplane, flying far away from Pirate Bay. Although we would only be gone for four weeks, an unexpected lump rose in my throat.
It was nighttime when we arrived in Senalat, a small village many miles from Zewedu. The inky black sky was brilliant with stars. And the warm breeze blowing in from the savanna smelled like my childhood adventures, like my mother and father, like you and me and one hundred summer days. Flooded with emotions, I dropped to my knees on the dusty road and wept.
Soon, Reginald and I were settled into our home for the next four months – a humble bungalow with cool dirt floors and mud walls. There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, not even a place to prepare meals indoors. After so many years of American luxury, I had nearly forgotten. But it didn’t take me long to adjust. Reginald, however, was another story.
“This is like living in the middle ages,” he said as he lugged in a pail of water from the well, sweat pouring down his face. “Or in the middle of an oven. I can’t decide which.”
On our third day in Senalat, Reginald began his volunteer dentistry work, and I fell in love with four orphaned children. There was Naomi, whose gentle smile and doll-like eyes reminded me of Megan. Then there was Emanuel, who was always telling jokes to make everyone laugh. Adia had a sharp wit like Belinda, and sweet little Elias reminded me so much of my baby brother, Fisha.
As the days passed, Reginald grew crabbier, filled with complaints about the oppressive heat, the enormous insects, the lack of modern conveniences, the Oromo language that the people spoke, though many of them spoke English as well. I, on the other hand, became more settled into Ethiopian life, shopping at the village markets with the other women, wearing local dress, and cooking the familiar meals I’d grown up with over an open fire. I spent most of my time with the children, helping them with their schoolwork, telling them stories, watching them play the games that we once played long ago.
One day, Adia ran to me and wrapped her thin arms around my neck. “Miss Tadi, I am so happy that you came to be our mother,” she said, her face beaming. My heart soared. The children looked to me like a mother, and they were beginning to feel like my very own children.
Too soon, our four weeks came to an end. “Are you looking forward to returning home?” Reginald asked. I did not have to ask him the same question. The relief was apparent in his worn-out face.
“I’m not returning with you to the States,” I said.
“What?” Reginald’s voice was shocked. “But I thought that…after we go home, you and me…”
I pressed my lips together. I could picture it. Reginald and I could fly back to Pirate Bay. Get married. Have a couple of kids and live the American Dream together. But a huge part of my spirit would always be missing. It would be many miles away, in a land where lions roam wild and the sun hangs heavy in the sky like a copper coin. “This is my home,” I said. “With Emanuel, Adia, Naomi, and Elias. I belong with them now.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
I nodded, then stood on my tiptoes to kiss Reginald goodbye. Two days later, he boarded a big plane and went back to the land of luxury. And I stayed behind with my little family in my new village, where I am not an outsider, or a freak, or a ghost. I am just Tadi.