We fly in four days. Ethiopia is a jigsaw of pieces I am trying to put together into a whole picture. Any child can tell you how it is done. You look for the straight edges first so you have a frame. Then you match by color, and finally by the shape of the interlocking parts.
But I am not a child. And I can’t do it. I am in a revolving globe of light, of the sort that swirled at the recent Sixties Night! Fundraiser. I was probably the only one there who actually did dance in the sixties. I can remember me at fourteen, in a patchwork skirt, the kind my mother was so fond of making, and an Oxford shirt. Standing at the side of the dance hall wanting to go home.
I can remember the day my daughter died. I did not say goodby to her when I left her at the daycare center. I came early, and the daycare lady was not dressed. She was cross because I came early. She hastily took Sophia from my arms and rushed back into the house. I did not say goodby.
Faced with saying goodby to so many people I still can not do it. These final gatherings and dinners only exhaust me. I am trying to make sure my children see everyone they need to see. But what do they say at the last minute, while their parents carefully instruct them: “You will not see them again.” They dutifully hug and look at the ground. The enormity of never again is unspeakable.
At the end of my last food run I waited by a hospital near my home for the second car. We had given out all the remaining food. There was nothing to say. Finally I turned to the other woman in the car. We were alone because no one wanted to ride with her. “I am done,” I say. “I am walking home.” She looked confused. “Will you be all right?”
Yes, I tell her. My house is just here. She puts her arms around me. “Have a nice life,” she says. I cannot reply, as “You too” seems a bit pathetic. I walk down the hill as the thunder from Ethiopia’s rainy season cracks and cracks.
My five-year-old is encasing his remaining toys, those we will not take with us, in bags of water like little goldfish from a pet store. “What are you doing?” I ask. “I am freezing them,” he replies. “Why?” I ask. “So they will be frozen forever,” he replies pragmatically.
Everything in my brain is running. The children playing hide and seeks through the grounds of ILRI, along the shores of Lake Langano, in and out of cafes and mountains of baboons. All the places and people I’ve seen and haven’t seen melt together.