Awakening East

A few years after adopting her son and daughter from China, Johanna Garton and her husband took them back to the land of their birth – leaving the only lives she and her family knew for the adventure of a lifetime.

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Excerpt from Awakening East

She was a shover. That’s what Deirdre dubbed her. A shover. Some kids were pickers. Picked at their food. Some threw it. Others spit it out. Eden seemed to have a love affair with food of all sorts. It hit us like a tidal wave. We’d been experiencing the opposite at home. Carefully measured tablespoons of peas and pasta made up Will’s plate at dinner.

And now here we were, 10,000 miles away. With a shover. Meals would start slowly. Then the torrent would be unleashed. Plate after plate of food placed in front of us. Eden’s eyes widening at each one. Laughter filled the restaurant as we watched her take handful after handful of noodles and shove them into her little mouth. And apple juice by the liter. Fearful of constipation, I was liberal with juice. More than I should have been. With each nibble and sip, Eden seemed in heaven. I wondered whether she’d simply never tasted these foods, sipped these liquids.

Our distraction with her eating got the better of us one evening at dinner. We sat eating Indian curry. It was delicious, and I began eating with my fingers. Bread soaking up the yellow curry. A wonderful change from the Chinese food we’d been served. I was ravenous. Licking my fingers, I looked over at Eden. Slumped in her chair, she had a look of contentment. We’d put her in a diaper for mealtimes, just to be safe.

At the table next to us, a glass tipped over and fell underneath Eden’s high chair, shattering. Instinctively, I reached down to feel her exposed legs to make sure she wasn’t cut. I felt something wet on my fingers.

“I think she’s cut her leg. I feel blood!”

I pulled up my fingers, expecting to see the red of my daughter’s blood on my hands. Instead, it was yellow. Thank goodness, just my curry. Relieved, I put my fingers in my mouth, licking it off. A wave of shock washed over me as my taste buds identified the flavor not as my delicious curry. I glanced over at Eden, still happily poised in her high chair. Another glass of empty juice sat on her tray. I realized with horror that I’d just ingested a bite of my daughter’s blown out diaper. The combination of the broken glass, the fear of a cut on her leg, the yellow curry and the over indulgence on apple juice had resulted in a shocking twist of fate for my taste buds.

Oh shit! I thought. Literally. Johanna, you’ve just eaten your daughter’s diarrhea. I would like to crawl into a hole now. I stood straight up, trying to use as few words as possible as I grabbed a napkin and began spitting into it.

“Don’t panic, but I need some help! I think I just ate some of Edie’s poop.”

Ernie and Deirdre jumped up, unsure what to do.

I raced to the bathroom, but even that was of little help. We’d been instructed not to drink the tap water for fear of disease, so as I swished and spit out mouthful after mouthful, I had alternating visions of giardia and worms crawling through my intestines. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Who the hell eats their child’s crap? I looked up into the cracked mirror. I had a horrified look on my face but I couldn’t help laughing. Though this fiasco was the product of my own idiocy, it still had a distinctly Chinese stamp on it. I would only accidentally eat shit in a place like rural China where anything was possible. I looked at myself, humbled by this country. With all the ways China had made me tear out my hair year after year, there was always something like this to keep me on my toes. Unpredictable. Unimaginable. This place was beyond my comprehension. I hated it. And part of me loved every bit of it. I felt China sink more and more into my being as I swished and spit, swished and spit, swished and spit.