The woman felt at home at the American Embassy in the capitol city of Ethiopia. It’s a familiar structure, built just like any federal building you might see in the States. One moment you're on a busy street in Addis Ababa with all of its people and noise and animals and chaos, the next you’re in Any Town, U.S.A. walking on solid concrete through heavy doors to do something official.
The official business that day was the adoption of a child, a process more than three years in the making. It was a spring day in 2013. Could you feel the joy?
At dusk, the woman and her husband—as light and buoyant as they had ever remembered feeling—returned to the hostel with their daughter (was she really . . . finally their daughter?!) and prepared for bed. The child was sweet in her new pajamas. She was tiny. Her legs, at first glance, were shockingly small. Though the new parents could tell that their daughter was tired, the child was steadfast in staying awake. She allowed her mother to pace the floor, her slight body resting heavily against the woman’s chest, but if the bed were approached, the girl would resist with an arched back and hoarse cries.
"Ish-shee, sweet girl," the mother whispered in clumsy Amharic over and over again. "It's okay ... Ish-shee."
Just as it had been for Mary, for her own mother, for her sisters and aunties and any new parent before her, the moment was long awaited. She existed to feel this beating heart against her chest.
And yet—as is so often the case in this rebellious, incredible world we inhabit—the moment felt significant, but was also slightly baffling. Nothing was turning out exactly the way she had expected. The power had gone out again throughout the city. The room was dark and there was crying. The child was already 15 months old. The two had only just met.
“It’s going to be okay,” promised the mother from the Midwest, whispering softly to her Habesha baby.
This mother believed the words she uttered in the darkness. Probably because she believed in GOD and in LOVE and in a world that needs to be electrified by JOY in order to be restored.
She kept rocking her child back and forth on the cold tile floor saying “Ish-shee, sweet baby girl. Ish-shee.”
Comfort, comfort my people, says our God.
Ish-shee, He promises.
Leslie Klipsch is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Davenport with her husband and three children.