Nobody knew anything except that our daughter was conceived in Ethiopia, and there’s no doubt about that. Mino, our dog, was the first one in the family to know of our child, but there was no way to chase this intruder away.
Ignacia’s body told her she was pregnant, but she kept ignoring it until one day after climbing when the nausea was too great to ignore, and she bought a couple pregnancy tests and the little lines appeared. Globalized family planning was part of my immigrant existence, I reasoned, and the only way I could imagine the story of my life would go. Me, the American father, fell in love with the Chilean mother.
We went to a clinic that charges two dollars to see a doctor specialized in mother and child health and three dollars to use the ultrasound. While he rubbed the probe over Ignacia’s stomach, the doctor spoke English, a few words of Spanish and made jokes and when he finally found the heartbeat, it was as clear as a drum and we rejoiced. Tears and kisses followed. The Pregnancy HD app estimated poroto (Chilean word for bean is used to denote all the small things that make people happy) would arrive by December 10.
The contrast of a handheld computer and the ancient ultrasound was as much a sign of our age as the state of Ethiopian healthcare. After all, we were both discovered in utero by similar machines in the late seventies and early eighties.
Chileans love beans and some love gringos (euphemism and epithet for white American), so Ignacia spread the news about our poroto gringo. I still hadn’t met her family and was as mysterious to them as she was to mine. I was the guy who got their daughter pregnant in Ethiopia so I had some explaining to do, and we made introductions over Skype, saw grainy webcam images of each other, smiled and laughed in surprise when I spoke Spanish.
For Ethiopian Easter, we traveled to Lalibela and then to the Adwa Mountains and finally to Gheralta Valley to visit my friend Tewolde and his family. I wanted to show Ignacia the rugged beauty of rural life in those villages not yet connected to modernity’s comforts, the way people walk, greet each other, wait, fetch water and spend vast amounts of time in the sun, dirt, and silence. I hiked, climbed and celebrated with my friends while Ignacia took naps in restaurants, rested in the shade and mostly watched Ethiopia happen from a tired, expecting mother’s perspective huddled over the tiny being growing in her belly. When we got home, we called my mother on Mother’s Day and told her the news. Everybody cried.
We debated names for weeks, made a list and narrowed them down to those on which we could ostensibly agree. Ignacia liked Jose, I liked Santiago which was too long and complicated, Ignacia liked Elisa, I liked Lucia, we both liked Diego.
Ignacia always felt the baby was going to be an Elisa, and she ended up being right so the discussion was just practice and Lucia never had much of a chance.
Every baby comes with a marraquetaunder the arm, that’s what they say in Chile because in addition to beans, Chileans love bread, and the marraqueta is their favorite. The meaning is simple: babies bring bread, bread is fortune. Ethiopians certainly love babies, in fact I’ve never seen so many babies in my life, but in my experience, not many of these babies brought bread.
Ignacia’s visa was expired and for her first time ever, she was an illegal alien, a ghost in the system, out of bounds with no valid number or card, she was trapped in Ethiopia, but she felt freer than ever. So we went to Ethiopian court to see the immigration judge. The judge showed leniency, giggled at my Amharic and handed down an 80 dollar fine, and in no time Ignacia was on an airplane to plan our wedding back in the winter of Santiago.
I wrapped up three years in Addis Ababa while Mino stayed in the country and would miss our wedding all together and I arrived five days before the wedding.
Ignacia and her family organized in a matter of a few days the warmest way to share our love and our future with nearly 60 family and friends on a chilly night in the foothills overlooking the central valley. Under her flowered blouse and jeans, you wouldn’t know Ignacia carried Elisa, and when she put her hands on her hips to shake her shoulders like an Ethiopian dancer, the dance floor trembled like the strongest Chilean earthquake.
Time to start my new job in Liberia. Tropical rain at 100% humidity, traffic jams, and chronic potholes welcomed us to our new coastal home in West Africa. At first, we lived in the Cape Hotel in Monrovia overlooking the Atlantic ocean. I started my job, and Ignacia searched for an apartment and we moved in ten days later and then we bought a car and we went grocery shopping for the first time in a long time. We took malaria prophylaxis, some do, some don’t, but every Liberian has had malaria several times in his life and we didn’t want Elisa to know about malaria now or ever. I flew back to Ethiopia, said goodbye one more time, picked up Mino and flew him back to Monrovia on a Kenyan Airways flight. The aircraft dipped down quickly, bounced off the runway twice and pulled up to then successfully land on another attempt.
Our next door neighbors, the Belgians, are also expecting and became a wealth of experience resulting in their two-year-old son and life in Cameroon and Gabon, both havens for malaria in Central Africa. Their son sometimes goes to a playgroup, plays in the pool, but never stays out past night time when the malaria boogie man comes out. I went to the office and we slid into a routine for the first time ever in our relationship. We went to the beach, tried new restaurants and met people living in Liberia.
Then on a Friday night, Ignacia woke up with stark contractions, and since each of her sisters had a daughter prematurely, we didn’t want Elisa to unexpectedly appear and especially not in Liberia where people say the JFK hospital is the acronym Just for Killing.
After a frigid night of sharp pain, vomit, diarrhea and the urge to push Elisa downwards, Ignacia tested positive for typhoid and evacuation was on our minds. She recuperated quickly thanks to penicillin, but the fear of an early delivery and stunted fetal growth were now inescapable and critical enough to send mom back to Santiago six weeks after arrival.
Absent, I missed the entire eighth month of creating Elisa, a continent and an ocean away from my wife who sent me the weekly updates.
I wrapped up everything in the apartment and office and flew back to Santiago on the last day of November. My parents came to visit from Utah and on the fourteenth of December, we held a family celebration uniting our Chilean and American families. We slept until Ignacia’s water broke at 1:30 am.