Picture this: sitting in a birth parent meeting watching your son’s beautiful birth mother dictate a letter. As you listen to a language you can’t understand, you can’t help to notice her beautiful features and wonder if her son, our son, has her amazing cheek bones. As she finishes dictating and the Wolytinga translator finishes writing, the letter is handed to another translator. The Wolytinga text is translated into Amharic and then into English as the translator shares the letter with us. Imagine our surprise when we realize the letter was dictated to us, not our shared son. We are so thankful for the letter and clarify that we’d like a letter to our son. Our sweet and quiet birth mother dictates a second letter while the clock continues to click. As they finish Judah’s letter, time has run short and we’re told by our translator that he’ll translate it later.
The “later” came multiple times. However we didn’t have the letter with us at supper. Because I was hanging on to that letter with dear life (aka had it pressed in between pages of my journal), we weren’t carrying the letter around with us. Fortunately one of the nurses on the Holt staff back in Addis understood Wolytinga. Tesfaye volunteered to take the letter home with him and bring it back in the morning. I was apprehensive and not as trusting as my husband but let him take the letter. We were in Ethiopia so it wasn’t like we could run to the copy machine and give him a copy either.
Before you read on, imagine how touched we were when we read the words of Judah’s birth mom. How cool it is to be able to offer that letter to Judah as he grows up and wants a connection to a lady who brought him into this world and then sadly had to give him up.
The next morning, our last day in Ethiopia, Tesfaye had a family emergency and didn’t make it to work. I was devastated but Tesfaye assured us that he would bring it by later or send it in the mail.
Again, as we think about the value of that letter, we’re just thankful to have it, even if we don’t get to read it for another few hours. We’re thankful to the Holt staff who are willing to take it home and translate it on their own time.
The letter didn’t make it back to the orphanage. In fact, we left Ethiopia without the letter. We arrived back in the states and began adjusting to life although we didn’t forget about the letter. Just recently, almost 3 months after being home and no news of the letter, I sent an email inquiry. Almost immediately, the Holt Eugene staff forwarded the inquiry to the Holt Ethiopia staff. The response I received was crushing. Holt staff informed me that Tesfaye no longer worked for Holt. They managed to contact him by phone and he said he LOST the letter. I couldn’t believe it!
The more I think about it, the more frustrated I am. Why didn’t the man return the letter the next day? He worked with the orphans. How did he not understand the value of that letter - Judah's connection to his birth mom? I also fully understand that I played a role in that. I could have emailed Holt right after returning home to ask about the letter. Why didn’t I value that letter more and assure that we got it back?
Now I know. I know the value of the letter. I know to not leave in the hands of Holt staff. I’ve also learned recently that not all staff are employed by Holt. I still don’t understand that one. I have since emailed Holt asking them to educate families so this doesn’t happen again. Hopefully other families will ask the birth mom to dictate a letter. And hopefully other families won’t have to imagine what the letter says because it will be translated to English and shared with their children!