A Journey Back to Ethiopia Helps Wells Pay Homage to Her Adoption Angel

Date: 2002-12-02

PAUL ROLLY AND JOANN JACOBSEN-WELLS
The Salt Lake Tribune

A pair of big, dark eyes with long lashes peeked around the door, then darted back. Seconds later, they coyly checked me out again, but vanished when I tried to make contact.

Tsion was going to be a tough sell. So was Mickey, a chubby 1-year-old.

Even when I tried to bribe them with oversized bags of cookies, they wanted little to do with me.

Perhaps someone had told the diminutive 2 1/2-year-old girl that I had come to take her and her brother away.

I had no clue what challenges -- or rewards -- faced me when Merrily Ripley, director of Adoption Advocates International (AAI) in Port Angeles, Wash., asked if I would travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and bring two orphans home to their adoptive parents.

Not a tough decision.

It had been 36 years since I lived with my family in Addis Ababa, and I longed to go back. It also was my turn to repay the women who traveled to Taiwan to escort two orphaned babies home to me.

Within days, I was Ethiopia-bound, naively unaware of how profoundly my life would be changed by Tsion and Mickey.

And then there was Hannah.

I met Hannah when I accompanied AAI's program coordinator to the Kidane Mihret Orphanage, which refers children to AAI for adoption. While visiting with the Maltese nuns in charge, I shared the story of Sister Maria, a Catholic nun in Taiwan who helped save the life of a baby who was born three months prematurely, weighed 2 1/2 pounds, and was left in cardboard box on a cold window seat to die. That boy was a fighter. When the infant was still alive 24 hours later, the doctor moved the child to a hospital in Taipei, where he received state-of-the-art medical care and daily visits from Sister Maria, whom I never met. And never thanked.

Yet, the child whose care she oversaw is my son, now a healthy 18-year-old.

Touched by the story of Sister Maria, the Maltese nuns invited me to see their babies, including Hannah, who also was fighting to live. Her eyes were sunken and her breathing labored. She had been treated in a government hospital.

When meningitis broke out, Hannah was sent back to the orphanage. The nuns couldn't afford to take her to a private hospital. But AAI could. Because there were two of us -- one to drive, one to hold Hannah -- the nuns allowed us to leave with her. Just in time. At the hospital, a specialist confirmed our fears. Had Hannah not received immediate treatment for pneumonia, the 1-month-old would have died.

Hannah is now at AAI's orphanage in Addis Ababa, waiting for the bureaucratic paperwork to be completed so she can be united with her adoptive parents in San Francisco.

God gave me a way to pay homage to Sister Maria through Hannah. My prayer was that I would be able charm Tsion and Mickey, who were angry when I took them away from their family of friends at the orphanage.

But after bribes of toys and candy, their sobs subsided as we boarded Ethiopian Airlines for a 17-hour flight to New Jersey. Following a seven-hour layover at Newark (which included sessions with officials with the the U.S. Customs and and Immigration and Naturalization services), and an anxious flight to Seattle, all six of their new Gap outfits were soiled.

Nonetheless, Tsion and Mickey looked like angels to the childless couple who met us at the airport. The new parents cried at the sight of their children. So did Tsion and Mickey when they were lifted from my arms.

During the trip from Addis Ababa, we had bonded.

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