The remarkable thing about a book tour is that the publicity reaches into wider territory than my usual neighborhood, telephone, or even internet contacts. Surprising connections and reunions occur.
A year ago, in November 2005, my 24-year-old daughter, Molly Samuel, accompanied me to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to visit Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra (the subject of my book) and her two foster homes.
A small silent boy of two, named Yohannes, attached himself to my daughter.
An orphan of the HIV/AIDS pandemic devastating his country, his continent, Yohannes ? like many small children ? barely knew what he had lost. Under the supervision of kind caregivers, he had enough to eat, clothes to wear, rubber flip-flops on his feet, a bed. He moved from hour to hour obediently, asking nothing of anyone, not feeling himself especially loved, not missing it.
But Molly’s arrival in the compound triggered something in Yohannes; an inchoate memory perhaps; a longing. He put up his arms. He needed her to hold him. He needed her never to put him down.
Molly, on the staff of ForestEthics in San Francisco, is not a wild fan of small children. She humors her six younger brothers and sisters, but has been known to protest, "For the love of God, will you stop with the noise?"
But Yohannes, sidling near her, closing his eyes, lifting his arms, needed her, and she complied. Every day that week, whenever Molly was in Haregewoin's compound, Yohannes was on her. From the clasp of Molly's arms, he laid his cheek on her shoulder.
Did he fantasize that she would be his mother? He was too young to elucidate such a thought; but if she had carried him out of the compound in her arms, ridden with him in a taxi to the modern airport, and flown home with him to her San Francisco apartment, he wouldn't have protested. He would have awakened to the happy reality that once, long ago, he had had a mother, then he had lost that mother, and now he had a mother again. He would be a good boy, you could see it; he occasionally pulled back from Molly's shoulder to gaze up at her. He snuggled closer when other children romped nearby; he was claiming her.
It is hard to say goodbye to these children. None of them has a mother. Whenever I visit Mrs. Haregewoin's houses, a couple of times a year, the orphaned children pile around me boisterously; they call my name, cover me with kisses, twiddle my hair, sit beside me and on top of me. The older ones know I am not their mother and will not be their mother; but, when we are together, we act as if it is kind of true. I love these children; I've known many of them for years. On my day of departure, many of them feel sad. They pull away from me, refuse to make eye contact.
So Molly and I said goodbye to all the children at the end of our visit, and Molly had to ask a caregiver to pry Yohannes from her neck. He didn’t cry. This was what happened with mothers. They went away. When we left, Yohannes was sitting on his little chair at the child-size table. He wasn't doing anything. He was just sitting. He had re-entered the rather blank state of existence that is the lot of an institutionalized orphan.
On my original author website, www.melissafaygreene.com, I posted a photo of Molly at Mrs. Haregewoin’s house, holding Yohannes.
Even when Molly tried to interact with other children, she had to do so with Yohannes on her lap:
Now it is the fall of 2006.
I receive an email from Calgary, Ontario:
Hello Melissa Fay Greene and family,
In April of 2006 we traveled to Ethiopia to adopt our son, Yohannes, who was for a time at the Atetegeh Worku Memorial Orphanage in Addis Ababa.
Today, my step-daughter Kristin sent me an e-mail about your book release as she recognized Haregewoin's picture from our visit to the orphanage.
I checked as many of the links as I possibly could ? a sponge for information about those who have been on a similar journey and any information that would be pertinent for Yohannes later in life. I found lots of both. I checked out your family pictures and, being a methodical person, I started with what looked like the oldest first ? your daughter Molly. And there it was, a picture of Yohannes on Molly's knee. I called my husband with such fervour that I think he thought something terrible had happened to me. My skin was alive with goose-bumps!!
Anyone who has traveled to Ethiopia is permanently touched by the experience, and I thought that Molly might like to know that that little boy is now in Calgary, Canada as the youngest member of our family of six. He is thriving and probably wouldn't be recognizable without this sequence of pictures:
Here I am, with Mrs. Haregewoin and Yohannes, in May 2006.
Here is Yohannes with my husband Ward upon his arrival in Canada.
Here are Yohannes (2), Fraser (15), Kristin (17) and Laurèn (4) in May 2006.
And here's our boy hiking in the Canadian Rockies in September.
Please share these pictures with Molly.
I forward these photos immediately to my daughter and she phones from San Francisco within the hour, shouting, incredulous and joyful.