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Amha Goes to the Inauguration

by John Malone

When I heard from our congressmans office in Washington that I was one of the very lucky few who would receive a pair of tickets to attend the Presidential Inauguration, I asked my wife if she would like to attend with me. "I don't want to stand all day in the freezing cold. No, thanks. I prefer to watch it on television.

It was then that I decided to invite our son, Amha. I thought he, as an African American, would especially appreciate being an eyewitness to such an important event. He seemed overjoyed at the idea, and so I traveled north to visit him, his wife, Alem, and their nine-year old son, Mikael, our youngest grandchild.

In 1976, we adopted Amha while we were living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Amha was then about fifteen or sixteen years old — he wasn't exactly sure about his birth year. Born in a remote Ethiopian village, he had been sold by his father when still a small child to a traveling trader. After running away from the trader, he had survived in the mean streets of the capital until being admitted to an orphanage, where he began his education. When we first met him, he was living in the garage of an American Embassy couple who had fed, clothed him and paid tuition until his school was closed by the police. After school and on weekends he worked as a ball boy at our little international tennis club, becoming a good tennis player. Everyone at the club liked Amha.

Then his benefactors were recalled to the US, along with most of the other 'official' Americans in town, during a time of political unrest we called “the Red Terror.” Amha suddenly had no school to attend and no place to live. My wife was warming up with him one day before her tennis lesson with the club pro. As they were walking off the court, he approached her and asked, “Can I come and live with you?”  And so he did. Later we, too, were recalled to Washington as the political situation continued to worsen. The only way we could take Amha with us to America was to adopt him legally, which we did. A little older than our eldest child, he became the first born and the last to join the family.

Fast forward to Inauguration Day 2009. Amha, Alem and I wake up at four a.m. in their new town house in Lorton, Virginia, twenty miles south of the Capitol. They moved into this house just the week before I arrived. Amha has acquired three townhouses, moved into one and rented the other two to other Ethiopian families. They are a typical American success story. With his degree in computers from Virginia State and a top-secret security clearance from Homeland Security, Amha works for IBM at the US Customs Service near their new home, while Alem is a stay-at-home mother taking care of our grandson.

Amha and I have been advised by my congressmans staff to get to the Mall by eight oclock and pass a rigorous security check before being admitted to our reserved standing area on the Mall. The day before, I had waited in line outside the Cannon House Office Building for two hours to pick up our tickets from the congressmans office. There are a total of 245,000 tickets being distributed for the ceremony. Now, were on our way to downtown DC, being driven to the Springfield-Franconia Metro Station by Alem. Mikael is sleeping over at a friends house. Far from the Metro on I-95 we encounter a back-up. We head for an exit in time to avoid being trapped in the traffic. Within a few blocks of the Metro we are stopped again. Saying goodbye to Alem, Amha and I jump out of the car and start walking as fast as we can toward the station. It is still dark and we stumble over curbs.

Springfield is the first station on the Blue Line. Our train arrives empty from DC and immediately fills up completely, leaving some passengers to wait for the next train. Amha and I grab the last two seats in the last car. We pass through the other stations on the way into DC without stopping. Crowds of angry people watch helplessly as we go by. Finally we reach LEnfant Plaza. The conductor announces that our station, Federal Center, SW, has closed temporarily due to overcrowding. We have to keep riding farther to Capitol South.

It takes us half an hour to leave the station and begin walking to our designated security checkpoint. Each reserved area is color coded to match the tickets, and ticket holders can only enter the Mall at their designated gates. We have silver tickets, but to reach our gate, we must first pass by the blue gate, already swarmed by a huge crowd of people with blue tickets. We are already almost an hour behind schedule, but our goal is in sight.

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