Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How Bad Is It?

Sometimes I wonder how bad the orphan situation really is. The UNICEF report certainly paints a dim picture. The title on the cover ("Excluded and Invisible") almost seems cheery compared to what is reported in the back tables (700,000 orphans due to HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia . . . 4,000,000 orphans due to all causes in Ethiopia . . . 42 million orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa . . . 143 million orphans in the world).

But what does it mean? I just can't seem to wrap either my mind or my heart around such numbers.

Then a vignette.

CrazyMom and I were walking last October through an airport changing planes on our way back from an Ethiopian adoption conference. We ducked into one of those sandwich shops that put on a fa├žade of being upscale with the only supporting evidence being the prices they charge. We were (and still are) in the early stages of being able to recognize the origin of people, but the woman helping us appeared to have the look of one from the horn of Africa. Debating between Somalia and Ethiopia, I guessed she was from Somalia since a brightly covered scarf covered her head (there are more Muslims in Somalia than Ethiopia).

"Do you mind me asking if you are from Somalia?" I asked.

"I am from Ethiopia," she responded.

"Really?!?! We are adopting from Ethiopia and we are on our way home from a conference about it," I said hoping my enthusiasm would be shared by her. In some way I want every Ethiopian to approve of me parenting a child from their country.

The conversation turned. The enthusiasm that I had injected into the air now quickly turned to urgency. The receipt was already being ejected from the register and others in line behind us were inching forward into our personal space.

"Please," she said. "My friend is dying and she has a daughter. Can you do something for this girl?"

She went on with a few particulars, giving the town where they live. She did not seem to care if we were good parents, had a tidy home study done, were properly fingerprinted, had taken the mandatory training classes, or that we were white Americans. She just wanted to know if could help -- if we could do something for the girl.

"Our adoption agency does not work in that region of Ethiopia, but let me check into it," I said feeling the pressure of the next in line.

She took the receipt from the register and wrote "Fayo" and a cell number on it in elongated letters and numbers. I reached out and took it from her hand and my wife and I reluctantly moved on.

We did look into it and, as suspected, short of hopping on a plane ourselves, it would not work out. We know of no adoption agencies working in that area.

So how bad is it? I don't know. Ask Fayo.

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