Sintayehu - (One who has experienced many things)

Life in Ethiopia can make the young wise beyond their years. Here are collected stories, told by my daughter, about her time before I became her father.


The three sisters have been reunited! Thanks to everyone who helped to bring these kids back together and to everyone else who sent their best wishes.

More stories will be coming shortly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Jouney for a Lost sister

The three sisters sit outside the open door of their house, skin has turned dark black by the relentless summer sun beating down on the village of Wonji. Their father used work in the cane fields on days like this but the only activity they can muster the energy for is throwing small stones at the dried up body of a snake. The unlucky snake had entered their house the day before and the oldest of the sisters had killed the snake with their father's machete. The rusty machete with a sweat stained wooden handle sat propped up just inside the door. Sintayehu cooed at her older sister who was more like a mother to the little girl and her sister smiled back tickling here under the arms.

A few minutes earlier an old car had pulled up in the alley behind their home and a short, well dressed, man went inside to speak with their mother.

"Its time to go," their mother said in a quiet voice. "Please get into the car, we have a long ride today."

The two older sisters didn't realize that this would be the last ride they would take with their little baby sister and the beginning of a whole new life for them all. The baby would end up being left at the Holy Savior orphanage, and the two older sisters would be sent from that orphanage to a different orphanage never knowing what would become of their sister nor why they were seperated.

This is the true story of three girls who were adopted out of Ethiopia by two different families. The two oldest girls remained together and the youngest adopted by an American family in the spring of 2009. I will be posting the information that I have on Sintayehu and the family who adopted her with the hope of finding them so that the two older sisters, who cared for her and carried her on their backs while they did chores can know what has become of "their baby."

Ethiopia Memories

“Tedu. Tedu. Tedu.” Mete quietly calls out. “I am hungry.”
“Oosh Mete. Mother and baby are sleeping. The potatoes are almost done and then we can eat.” Tedu turns the potatoes over in the hearth. They are small, too small for there to be enough for everyone to eat. Just like the day before Mother will not eat and Tedu will eat what the baby won’t finish. Mete will get the small potato to herself.

Mete squirms in anticipation of eating the potato and says, “Tedu can I have some bread too?”

“Bread. Bread. Bread. All you ever ask about is bread! I give you bread and you eat like a hungry hyena then ask for more! We have no bread and if we did, the baby would eat before you,” said Tedu.

She can barely keep her eyes open and catches herself nodding off several times as she stares into the hypnotic dance of the flames. Her exertions during heat of the day and her constant companion, hunger, have wrung the energy from her wire frame. When the morning sun rose she had tied the baby around her back and carried the laundry down to the river. Washing the laundry was hard work and the water was cool and inviting. She could not resist the child borne urge for splashing in the cool refreshment and soon they were all laughing and squealing with delight as their existence condensed into a child’s simple enjoyment of life. Had the know that the water was contaminated with all manner of refuse and filth it would not have stayed their play – even the snake swimming next to Tedu’s leg only caused a momentary pause in their childhood revelry. For the moment, this brief moment they were just children, without care or context, wrapped in the divine veil of play.

The sun was now high in the clear sky, almost strong enough to burn shadows into the ground. Tedu left Mete and the baby to play in the hut while she went out to gather firewood for the night hearth, hopefully it would be a cooking fire. While Mete and the baby played nearby she dug in the dusty and dry garden looking for potatoes to cook for dinner. The ground had been turned before and the easiest and choicest had already been eaten some night in the past. Undaunted by handfuls of empty dirt she was finally rewarded by a small misshapen potato It would be enough for one of them. She kept digging and at the point where she was resigned to not eating that night her hands felt the smooth roundness of a large, round potato. She started bouncing on her knees as she carefully dug out the potato. It would be enough for her and the baby and maybe even some for mother.

This has been how it has been for more nights than Tedu can remember. Their mother spent the day laying on her sleeping mat the sickness preventing her from attending to the needs of her children and the home. The Baby has eaten her fill of potato, less than she should and Tedu finishes off the remaining pieces chewing slowly and occasionally falling asleep mid chew. Mete is curled up next to their mother and the baby sleeps between them.

Her mother stirs and looks at her and Tedu looks back both sharing a sad smile; Mother’s eyes are full of an intensity that makes Tedu shift slightly. Her mother knows she is sick and knows what ails her. Tomorrow the doctor will come with medicine but it won’t be enough to make everything right. She is now an outcast in her village and even if the medicine helps her physically, her opportunity to provide a decent life for her children has died. She knows it is time to think of her children – women in the village have told her stories of childless white-skinned Ferenge who would raise her children as their own. The more she dreamed of it the more she realized that her children best hope was to leave all that they knew and to seek a new life far away from her. The thought makes her eyes tear up as she looks at her beautiful daughter. In response, Tedu places some potato in her mother’s mouth and as the heat quickly flees in the night they both fall asleep


Mete’s arm and leg lay across Tedu’s back like they had fell asleep in the middle of a game of piggy back. A slight groan from the other side of the room woke Tedu from her sleep and she looked across through sleep crusted eyes towards he mother who sat by the fire. Mother’s face was just easing out of a grimace as she looked up at Tedu. She slowly freed herself from her sister’s embrace and walked over to her mother and took her hand. It was damp with sweat and was trembling slightly but Tedu’s mother squeezed her hand and gave her a weak little smile. The sun was up outside and she knew her father was already hard at work in the sugar cane fields, having left well before the sun breached the horizon.

“What’s wrong mother?” Asked Tedu as she wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and gave her a kiss on her cheek.

“The baby will be coming today,” her mother said. She stood up and grabbed a jug from the table and poured some water into one of the cups. She took a long slow drink and handed the cup to Tedu. “Take some injera and go to Meron’s house. Tell her the baby is coming and I need her help.”

“Yes mother,” Tedu whispered. Tedu grabbed a roll of injera from the table, it was still slightly warm and the sour aroma pleasantly pinched her nose. She jammed a fist sized piece into her mouth and ran out the door and down the road.

It was a long run to Meron’s house down the rough road. Tedu stayed in the center of the road running in the well-worn tracks. She could not run very quickly on the shoulder of the road, the sharp rocks bit at her feet, but the car tracks were smooth and mostly free of rocks. She only slowed to shove more injera into her mouth. A little more than half way there she stopped on the side of the road, the running and injera combining to make the morning call of her biology urgent. She preferred going out here. There was no one around to watch. There was no foul smelling hole smeared with others feces just inches away from her. Lately, she had started to hold it in until she could get away from the community toilets and relieve herself in some bushes or tall grasses. Her mother got angry when she did this because she had no water to wash afterwards but Tedu was willing to take the punishment. When she finished, she ran with renewed vigor relishing the feeling of the air filling her lungs, the pounding of her heart and the rhythmic slap, slap, slap of her feet against the hardened clay.

Meron was an older woman who had many children, most of whom were now having children of their own. Although she was always friendly to Tedu and Mete, Tedu was wary of the woman who was the closest thing to a nurse they had. Meron’s house was one of the largest in their village with a proper stone fence and large iron gates. Her husband has served in the army and had become a soldier of some status, being rewarded with a sizable pension and giving his wife a sizable ego. Inside the yard was an old green truck whose trail of blue smoke could be seen lingering above the roads as Meron tended to the women of the village. She was a woman who believed that she knew more than those around her and carried herself with a slight condescending arrogance, dealing with everyone as if they were children.

“Hello! Hello?” Tedu called as she ran into the yard and up to the open front door.

A teenage girl came to the door, dressed in a white dress and wearing soft leather sandals. “What do you want?” She asked Tedu with scorn.

“My Mother said to come here. She says that the baby is coming,” said Tedu.

“Wait here,” she said and disappeared back into the house.

Tedu could hear the murmur of conversation somewhere near the back of the house then the scraping of a chair on the floor and the shuffling of feet. Meron came to the door; she was tall and heavy-set with wide hips and broad shoulders. She wore a green button-up shirt with a lace trimmed collar, its colour having faded slightly, tucked into a long flowing skirt which had stylized zebra, lions and giraffe chasing zigzag ribbons of orange and red. “You are Tedu. I remember bringing you into the world. So, the baby is ready to come out?” Meron said.

“Yes. My mother told me to come and find you. She said she needs your help,” replied Tedu.

“Very well. Go. Run home and tell your mother I will be there shortly,” she said. “Your Father is still working in the sugar cane fields?”

“Yes,” replied Tedu.

“Behtee! Behtee!”

The teenage girl who came to the door when Tedu first arrived came back to the door. “Yes mother?”

“Go to the Sugar Cane mill and have them find Addago. Tell them that his baby is coming and he needs to come home,” Meron said. The girl said nothing and walked out the front door and down the road towards the sugar mill. “You,” she said looking at Tedu. “Why are you still here? Go! Quickly!”

Tedu turned and ran for home. Part of her was hoping that Meron would let her ride in the truck back to their home. The run home seemed faster than the trip to Meron’s. She ran inside, and stopped in the doorway. Her mother was sitting in the chair next to the table, Mete was sitting on the bed mat playing with a pretend doll. “Mother, I am back”

“Was Meron there?” Her mother asked.

“Yes, she said she will be here shortly. She sent her daughter to get father.”

Mother’s face seemed to relax a little bit. “You are a good daughter. Please take Mete and go to the well. We will need fresh water when the baby comes.

Tedu and Mete grabbed the large water pail which had a thick leather handle on it and started out for the communal well. It was a long walk there, longer back carrying the heavy pail of water, needing to stop often to rest. When they finally got home, Meron had already arrived, her green truck parked in the center of the yard. They both walked inside, half carrying, half dragging the bucket of water.

Mother was lying flat on her back with her knees in the air. There were clean white sheets were underneath her and covering the sleeping mat. Tedu put the bucket by the water and stood very quietly behind Meron, looking at their mother. Mother’s face was sweaty but she looked calm and relaxed.

“It is coming fast,” said Meron. “Are you in much pain?”

“I am fine,” said mother.

“There is no holding this one back. I can already see the top of its head. Push hard!”

Mother grunted hard, her face wrinkled with effort. Tedu and Mete looked closely as the baby’s head came out. Mete was silent but Tedu started to cry at the sight of the blood. It quickly turned to a wail as she ran backwards and crouched in the corner, behind the kitchen table and chairs. Mete’s looked at Tedu and started to cry in harmonic sympathy with her sister.

“Quiet you two! Get outside!” Meron shouted at the two sisters. “The first ting the baby hears should not be your insufferable wailing.”

“Tedu, Mete. Please don’t cry. There is no need. I am fine. The baby is fine. Go outside and wait for your father,” said mother.

Tedu stifled her tears until they were hollow sobs, and she took metes hand. Mete quieted quickly with her touch and they walked outside. The sat on the ground beside the door listening to the sounds from inside still sobbing, their faces now stained with tears. They looked up and saw father running up the road. He was unmistakable, very tall and lean, his arms taught with strong muscles made from heavy work. Tedu and Mete jumped up and ran towards their father, Tedu shouting. “Father! The baby is here!”

He bent down and they wrapped their arms round his neck. He scooped them both up in his arms and stood up, looking at their dirty, tear streaked faces. He laughed his deep hearty laugh. He was always laughing and the sound calmed the girls down immediately and said in his deep calm voice, “Well, well, well. You two look the worse for wear. You can stop crying now there is no reason for tears. This is a happy time – we have a new baby. Come, let’s go inside and see if you have a new sister or brother.”

“But there is red everywhere,” Tedu sobbed.

“Red,” echoed Mete.

“Coming into the world is messy work. They will both be fine,” Said father.

They walked inside. Mother was sitting up on the sleeping mat, with her back against the wall. Suckling at her breast was a naked little baby. Meron was washing her hands and tending a kettle over the fire. “Come in,” said mother looking at the tree of them. “Tedu, Mete, come meet your new sister.” Father set them down on the floor and walked towards mother. She held up the baby girl for them to see. The baby let out two little squeaks as she was removed from her mother’s breast. She cooed as she was held up for the family to see.

“She is beautiful,” said father.

“Husband, she did not cry – Just a little cough and a couple of squeaks like she was a mouse. What shall we name her?” Asked mother.

“This year has been the hardest we have seen for a very long time my wife. This little one has already seen many trials and tribulations. She is Sintayehu.”

The Taxi ride

The small white and blue car seemed cramped even to Tedu and her tiny frame. With her two sisters, Mother , the driver and a large woman and her male companion whom Tedu had never met before inside the car the air became quickly laden with hot moisture. Sintayehu slept on Tedu’s chest and Mete quickly started dozing but Tedu couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

“Where are we going mother” Tedu asked as they were getting into the car? They were wearing their church clothing but today was not the day to go to church.

It was the strange woman who knelt down and answered, “We are going to my friend’s home. There are lots of children there for you to play with.” She stood back up and pulled at the sides of her brown skirt and then straightened her blue shirt. Tedu thought the shirt was a very pretty but it was a young colour that looked out of place on the middle aged woman.

Tedu hid herself slightly behind her mother and looked at the woman with a mix of suspicion and fear. Mete piped up, “Mommy, Mete stay. Play Tedu outside.” Mete was still not speaking in full sentences yet, resisting growing out of babyhood.

“Are you hungry?” The woman asked turning towards Mete.

“Yes” responded Mete.

“When we get to my friend’s house you can have some ambasha. Would you like that?”

“Mete likes ambasha” mete said, her eyes grew wide with excitement. As she contemplated getting the slightly sweet spiced bread she began to dance in a circle and started singing in her squeaky voice “Dabbo! Ambasha! Dabbo! Ambasha!”

Mother slightly shifted to the side and quietly put her hand on Tedu’s shoulder and looked down at her. Mother gave her the sad little smile that had become her quiet reassurance lately and she guided Tedu toward the car door. Tedu climbed into the rear seat and sat in the center and Mete hopped in next to her still quietly singing “Dabbo. Ambasha.” Mother handed Tedu Sintayhu and climbed in next to them. The door next to Tedu opened and one of the men climbed in and the woman sat in the passenger seat in the front and the driver started the car. They pulled out of the alley way with a shudder and a puff of thick blue smoke.

Now, Tedu strained to try to find any breeze coming from the open windows but very little air is making it past the adults who are leaning up against the windows trying to cool themselves. It doesn’t help that the car can only go slightly faster than a walking pace, slowing down often for one of the thousands of ruts and pits that are in the road. The driver is swerving left and right trying to avoid the largest of the craters in the road making Tedu feel sick to her stomach with every lurch. They hit one particularly large hole that sent a jolt through everyone in the car snapping Mete out of her stupor and causing Sintayehu to squirm slightly. Tedu gently rocked her as best as she could in the confined space and cooed her baby sister back to sleep.

“Dabbo?” Mete asked looking around wildly too see if they had reached their destination.

“Wait” responded Tedu with a mix of anxiety and impatience in her voice. She could feel the tension in the car increase as they came closer to their destination. Tedu tried to straighten her dress which was getting wrinkled in the cramped car and gave up with a frustrated sigh. She loved her pretty white dress and the thought of how winkled it was getting because of the humid crush of the cramped car was making her angry. If Sintayehu wasn’t sleeping on her shoulder, she would have tried to push Mete over or try to stand up to fix her dress but being stuck in the seat simply added to her frustration.

Tedu could not see where they were going. She was glad her mother was there because she knew she would not be able to find her way home if the car broke and they had to walk back. It seemed like she had been sitting in the car for the whole day when it finally stopped and the driver honked the horn on the car twice. A few seconds later, in answer to the horn, she heard the rusty squeak of a steel gate being opened and the car pulled ahead and stopped. The driver shut the engine and the passenger got out of the car. Tedu stirred in anticipation of getting out of the cramped space but no one in the back seat moved for several minutes. Tedu shifted in her seat and used her body to shove Mete so she could have more room. Mete awoke and sat up, looking at Tedu with sleepy eyes.

The woman in the blue shirt came to her mother’s door and leaned down. “It’s time,” she said and opened Mother’s door. Mother slowly climbed out exerting herself far more than someone who is only twenty five years old should need to for such a simple movement.

“Come Tedu,” her mother said. “Mete, come.” Her mother reached out and took the baby from Tedu and passed her to the woman in the blue shirt then helped the two sisters out of the car. The man who had been sitting next to Mete remained seated, saying nothing but took a slightly dry leaf from a bag in his pocket and put it in his mouth and started to chew. As Tedu climbed out she saw two more women dressed in white skirts and shirts waiting behind the woman in blue.

“Ambasha?” Asked Mete as she climbed out.

“Yes dear, you can have some ambasha. You must first give your mother a hug, she must go and then you can have some ambasha,” said the blue woman.

Mete jumped up on her mother and wrapped her arms around her and Mother picked her up giving her a big hug and a kiss on the forehead before setting her back down.

Tedu stood stiff as a board and looked at her mother and the back at the woman in blue as the meaning of what the woman in the blue shirt had said. She didn’t know what was going on but knew that something was not right. Her mother should not be leaving them here. The anxiety and frustration began to boil to the surface fueled by the incomprehension of what was happening and tears began to stream from her eyes. “Mommy don’t go!” “Mommy,” she wailed! She began to sob and cry uncontrollably and ran towards her mother. One of the young women who were standing behind the blue woman stood in front of her and grabbed her in a big hug. “Mommy! No! Don’t go Mommy!”

Mete’s face, which had, just seconds before, been filled with anticipation of having her favorite food drained into a sullen pout at the sight of her sister. She started to cry and wail for no reason than in response to the distress of her sister.

Tedu kept sobbing, “Mommy don’t go.” As her mother climbed back into the white and blue car and it drove out of the compound, the steel gates clanging closed behind them. As Tedu was carried inside the house her cries ceased to be pleading and begging and devolved to a hollow wail.