When we got into Dawit’s van on Saturday morning to go visit Julianna’s family, we thought we knew where we were going. Sophie had been there before, after all. How hard could it be?
We were hoping to visit Julianna’s birth father and some of her siblings. They live on a main road just outside a little town called Bombay. The name came because the town was bombed in the 1930’s by the Italians. It’s about an hour and a half from Soddo, half on nice asphalt and half on gravel.
We stopped at the Bombay health center since they have the best bathrooms in town. And even these were scary– squatty potties with enough rusted out spots on the bottom edges of the doors that you could not be sure of complete privacy. Most of us took one look and decided the need was not that urgent. (It didn’t help that there were men moving rocks right in front of the bathrooms.)
In Bombay Sophie couldn’t remember the exact road they lived on, since she hadn’t been driving last time. We had brought Mesfin, Sophie’s translator along, and he thought the best way to get directions was to ask at the family’s kebele– a kind of govt office that keeps track of citizens for tax purposes. So several times we stopped and asked for directions to the kebele, with all sorts of varying answers.
Around and around the main city streets we went. Each time we stopped, we gathered crowds of curious children, drawn by the sight of white faces in the windows.
Finally we were vaguely directed out of town, and off we went. I had seen pictures of the house before, and Sophie remembered it had a big open front yard. But she was puzzled because it was described as a short drive and then a 10 minute walk. She remembered the house as being right on the road.
A bit down the road, still uncertain, we paused yet again for directions, and were directed down an even bumpier little road. But the person directing this time looked very certain, which was encouraging.
We drove along the edge of a little swamp, which made Sophie sigh. She had treated Julianna’s family multiple times for malaria, and now she knew why they were so prone to it. Our best guess is that malaria was probably the cause of Julianna’s birthmom’s death.
Past the swamp, sure enough, the road came to an end. Here our driver would wait while we walked on, now guided by neighborhood children, who said the house was very close. Anticipation was rising.
We have sent pictures several times to Julianna’s dad over the years, but only my sister Sophie had seen him, and he didn’t know we were coming. What if he wasn’t even here?