Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Tuesday, 28 August 2012
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
This has been running through my mind today. I am in the midst of the great woods that is Uganda. The children here are lovely, yes, but the situations horrible. I have promised to take this one little boy out of the woods. And getting him home is just the beginning of our long journey.
This is not easy. Have I said that yet? This is not easy. I appreciate all of the kind remarks of awe or admiration, but I also feel the need to express the difficulties, not just of Fort's journey, but mine. I have hope that with a secure home, Fort will settle down into a trusting and loving boy. But the flip side of that coin is fear. I am so afraid that he has accumulated deep scars, which I could never fully heal. That he will struggle every day of his life with these fears of abandonment and rejection and feelings of jealousy and confusion. That he will throw our happy home into one where no one feels like they are seen enough, cared for enough, loved enough. That I have bitten off more than I can chew. That I suffer from delusions of "saving" this child from himself. What if this is it? This is who he is and will always be? Sometimes happy, silly and charming - sometimes disconnected, in pain and incapable of communicating. How will I manage this needy child and not hurt the three beautiful well adjusted children back home?
These are not new fears. These are the questions we asked ourselves when we were making the decisions to adopt, to adopt internationally, and to adopt an older child. What impact will this unknown body make in our family? Any child brings that unknown element- whether the child enters the family by birth or adoption. But he carries influences that I did not control. Scars inflicted by people I've never met. Promises broken of which I will never know the nature.
Today I am missing my children back home. It has been 16 days since I have seen them, 8 days longer than I have ever been away before. And I know they are sad and miss me. I also know they are incredibly well loved and taken care of in my absence, and as soon as I am back, they won't miss me anymore. Sounds logical right? It is that unconditional love that they KNOW- that Fort does not- that allows me to be here with Fort. Our 3 children in Ohio know without a doubt that Mommy will come home. And in Fort's case, it is much more reasonable for him to imagine I will disappear from his life forever.
I had to make the decision to stay here. To be away from home for an entire month. Because if I leave him here, even if I come back - I will be creating more scars that we will have to erase. I need to be the one who doesn't break promises.
"And I have promises to keep...".
Monday, 27 August 2012
Everywhere I go on Uganda, I meet people whose lives graze at the border of my comprehension.
Let me tell you about Daniel. He is a beautiful man, with skin the color of espresso, who is probably in his mid 20s. He picked me up at the airport on my arrival in Entebbe 2 weeks ago (could it be 2 weeks already? Yes, yes it could). On the bumpy, congestion filled two hour ride to the house where I was staying, he talked with ease and was quite candid with me. His story floors me. This is a brief, and probably not quite accurate, recollection.
He grew up in a government orphanage, after bombings in Kampala in the 80s separated him from his family. He learned to rely on himself, and was able to get a sponsorship to attend school. He did well in school, and went on to college, where he learned that his family was still alive by finding his brother on Facebook. His sponsors were Chris and Jurjanne, who have since opened and are running Kaja Nafasi, the orphanage where Fort is. Daniel is engaged to a Dutch woman, Jiska, who has moved here to be with him and help with the orphan crisis in some way. They have taken 5 street kids into their home. They want to have their own children's home, and have the children live in their home with them. Daniel has a car, and does some driving errands for Kaja Nafasi to earn extra money. The fact that he has a car makes him upper class. Yet he lost his cell phone last week and doesn't have the 40,000 shillings (about $25) to get another right now. He is wanting to get his Masters in business, so that he can have a steady income to support their children's project. He needs sponsors for the nearly $4000 cost.
Why is it that his story floors me? Because I am watching these children at Nafasi -I see the damage that these 4, 5 & 6 year old kids have incurred by being abandoned, abused and malnourished. Although they are desperately in need of families, they still have so much. Beds of their own, mosquito nets, clean clothes, 3 meals a day, fresh fruit, toys and activities like coloring and playdoh. Right now there are 2 or 3 care givers and 12 children, plus often times there is a volunteer or friend around. And I know that the government homes don't have these things. They are overcrowded with not enough beds, not enough food, not enough care takers. Little children are mixed with big children. Vulnerable children are mixed with hardened children. Children are sometimes beaten - sometimes by other kids, sometimes by the caretakers.
And here comes Daniel, who lived in one of those places. Not only that but he made it through the traumatic loss of his family. And he didn't live in the home for a few years, no- he stayed until he was 18. And his family didn't welcome him back with open arms, no- they remain distant. He took care of himself because nobody else would. And yet....And yet. Here he is with an open heart. With love for his country Uganda. With compassion for those street kids, who he thinks have it worse than he did. Here he is feeling like he's been given a break by meeting this Dutch couple and is determined to turn it into something bigger. To give back to the world that gave him so little.
And that is what floors me.
Thursday, 23 August 2012
The rain is so loud I can't hear anything else. Partly because it is streaming down from the sky and partly because it bounces off the corrugated tin roof I am under. Steve is sleeping off the stomach bug he got sometime yesterday afternoon. I am trying to process today and feeling like the sky is doing my crying for me.
Mostly I feel empty. Hollow. That's not good, I know. I wonder if it is because we are just on pause here - not having the court finalized. The judge dismissed us for today. I should be able to go back to court tomorrow and maybe everything will go as it should have today.
I didn't think it was possible for the rain to be louder but it is raging above me now. The ground is supersaturated and puddles of mud are appearing between the blades of grass. The thunder sounds like 18 wheelers driving overhead. There is a chill in the air, and I know the Ugandans are huddled under sweaters and scarves while I feel mildly cool in my Capri pants and tank top. There are no sheets draped across the bushes to dry in the sun today. I imagine the mouth of the Nile swelling rapidly in Jinja, where the dam has replaced the beautiful waterfalls. The dam is one of the reasons we haven't had power outages in recent months. Just an occasional 24 hour period in the dark, which is no big deal compared to the 24 hours on- 24 hours off rotation people were furious about.
The mile from the guesthouse to the orphanage is a steep continual hill that we walk. Sitting in the shelter here, I wonder about all the people who are walking now. Do they carry umbrellas? Do people go about their lives and their business wet? How do they travel by boda boda? Sloshing through the streams of red muddy water that must be sliding from the street to the ditches on the sides of the roads? It is not the easy house-to-garage-to-car-to-parking- lot existence that I know. Our ride back from the courthouse was a taxi bus - more like a minivan- that carried 3 people to a bench seat for 5 rows. 700 shillings each - about 30 cents. Then a boda boda ride, with Fort sitting behind the driver as comfortably as you can imagine. He held onto the driver, and I slid behind him, with our court file and my bag slung across my chest. I think of the American reaction to 3 people on a tiny moped, zipping through traffic. One who a child, no one in helmets. This cost us 2000 shillings- about 80 cents. The boda bodas used to scare me- Steve was not up for the adventure until we had no choice, following the lead of the social worker back to the orphanage. But it feels surprisingly secure. Slow enough through the pot holed streets that there is no danger of falling off, and maybe with the mzungus, they drive a little slower anyway. After the 20 person taxi barely moving through the streets, the boda boda feels easy, breezy (although not so much CoverGirl). Fort's little body rests so easily in front of mine. He now trusts me completely and I cannot swallow if I contemplate for a moment that the judge will disagree. No. I cannot breathe. It is easier to feel empty than to think of the what ifs. Let me be empty. Just for today.
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Things are bumpy with Fort. He is like a 2 year old in a 4 year old body. He screams and melts down when you say no to something. His biggest problem is his inability to communicate his feelings. And he has lots of them. It is hard to say what triggers these meltdowns- it is usually a small disappointment - he can't have a carrot, or a walk, or maybe doesn't know how to say what he wants. He just stands there and starts to shut down. I can see it coming in his face. There are 2 very distinct moods- the happy silly one that he is usually in, and the shut down mode. Which is so difficult to manage. It can last 10 minutes or HOURS- and will continue until it passes, or until you can distract him with something- a fun toy, or often food. What makes it so tricky is we could probably avoid most of these meltdowns by giving him what he wants when he is home (really? You want a carrot? Wonderful!) . But in the long run, that isn't teaching him anything. It isn't teaching him how to cope with no, how to express what he wants, and how he feels.
Saturday, 18 August 2012
I feel like I am watching Fort's heart melt. Painfully so. I hear if you have frostbite it is quite painful to thaw out. Who knows when the time came that he had more emotions than he could bear. And so he just put it on ice. And now, with his skin drinking in kisses and his fuzzy head nestling under mine, he is beginning to feel again.
It is so hard to watch him. Struggle with feeling. I take comfort from the fact that he lets me be his comfort. He rejects the arms of the house mothers when he goes into one of his crying jags. Even though he often goes limp in my arms, he does not push me off. And it rolls off him in waves, first slow, even moans growing into sobs and sometimes the anger just overcomes him. His little body twists and kicks against mine, but not against me. What is he fighting? Who? Does it have a face?
There is fear that this will linger, that it will be disruptive to our family, and that I will not be filled with this painful patience at home because I will have more than just him to balance. Under that fear lies a calm pool, and in it I see Fort's real self. He is a sweet affectionate boy who was not lucky. Please don't call him lucky. He will not feel that, even when he is happy and safe. He will always have a hole from these years which were robbed from him. But after he goes through the painful process of connecting again, he will find that boy again.
Although yes, I guess there is a part of me that feels like though he may never feel it, he is one of the lucky ones. So many stories swirling in my heart, each a painful reminder of how cruel people can be. All of these children who will never get a chance to make it. And then smacking up against these stories like a tsunami are these remarkable people who are changing the lives of those they can. And the currents of generosity are enough for me to make peace with humanity.
For the orphanage where I have found Fort is a remarkable place, like a halfway house for the bereft to re-enter the world. The children have gone through the shock of a bed to sleep in, food at dependable intervals, toys on every shelf, and clothes that are just theirs. When I bring him home, it will seem like gross injustice to have such luxury for just one family, but perhaps his little brain will be more accepting, And be able to move from one painful world to a softer place.
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Yes, I saw our son today. Jurjanne asked me if I wanted to take a nap after finally getting here. I said, "I'd like to see Fort". She had some errands to do, so we changed some money for me, got a Ugandan cell phone, and had lunch. Then we drove over the bumpy & busy roads to Kaja Nafasi - the babies' home. When we got out, Fort was right in front- riding one of the little "boda boda" bikes another volunteer bought for the house. He looked up & zoomed away with his little pack of boys. When Jurjanne & I got out of the car, he came over to us but was so shy. He wouldn't look at either of us. Jurjanne said "do you know who I've brought to you?". And he looked down and said "Mama Adrienne". She asked if he could give a hand to me. And he did. And I held his little hand and said "Hello Fort. I'm going to be your mama, ok?". And still looking down, he smiled & nodded and zoomed off again. I sat and waited for him to come over. Slowly he sat by me. Later he took my hand and showed me around. He was clearly filled with mixed emotions all day-shy, friendly, silly, cuddly, clingy & sad. When he is silly, he has the brightest smile full of straight white teeth and these beautiful big brown eyes. His hair is fuzzy and he smells of dirt, baby oil, and sweetness. He was certainly jealous and territorial with me - he would cry when I would let another kid on my lap, even alongside him.
I took him into the bathroom to go "susu". After he washed his hands I picked him up and we looked in the mirror. I said "hello Fort". And he said "Hello Mama Adrienne". I told him "I am happy". He said, ""I happy too".
He understands English fairly well & speaks some too, but I don't think he could articulate what he was feeling- maybe not in any language. It'll be a process. He has times where he just inconsolably cries. He cried for an hour in my lap, and cried himself to sleep. He took a nap for about 45 minutes laying on me. I rested too. But when he woke up, he started with the crying again. A plaintive low cry, slow sobs. Like he wasn't even checked in anymore. But he let me cuddle him and hold him while he cried. Tough little Man. Who knows what he is feeling, or what he is allowing himself to feel.
I am feeling good about our first day. He was not happy when I left. The house mothers say that is wonderful- he is bonding with me from day 1. But it is very hard to see him begin to work through this, and have to learn that I will be back tomorrow.
I have come a long way into world the dusty, loud, sweet smelling, heart breaking world of Uganda.
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
I am in the Amsterdam airport and I have a huge headache. I'm probably dehydrated and definitely sleep- deprived, but it's probably mostly due to the ball of anxiety I have been carrying around. I got to the Columbus airport (was it yesterday?) and suddenly was so overwhelmed. Like maybe I had been doing so much planning that I hadn't fully comprehended the magnitude of this next step.
I'm flying to Uganda for a second time. When I meet Fort again- (hopefully tomorrow!)- I will be able to introduce myself to him as his mom! And Steve comes in a week to meet him for the very first time. I cannot imagine how we will all feel. I am so anxious for Fort - I want him to be happy and excited but I don't want to deny him any opportunity to mourn. He is losing the life he knows, whether it is perfect or not. He has been in many rough spots, but now he is in a delightful orphanage. He doesn't know our family- our warmth, our joy, our love- but he knows what he is saying goodbye to. That cannot be easy. I'm sure his goodbye will not be one swift cut. You cannot separate yourself from your past quickly, like ripping off a bandaid. Plus I don't want him to let it go. I want him to bring it with us. So we can have that as a part of who he is, where he is from, and take a step forward to heal.
I want to go to the first orphanage he was brought to - the one that isn't so delightful. I wasn't sure if I should take pictures or document it. A girlfriend of mine was adopted when she was a baby. The culture of adoption has changed- being aware that adoption is a moving river is a big part of the education classes Steve and I took. But one thing that she said sticks with me- that it is all a part of him and his story, and someday just having information to fill up the blank holes will be reassuring, even if the pictures aren't pretty. There is going to be so much that we can't find out, empty pieces of his story we may never learn- she is right to encourage us to actively search out any information we can find.
He will have a new life with us. And hopefully he will get used to it quickly. A new normal. Us too. It is hard to fathom how I will feel caring for another child, and potentially one that will require so much of me. I have tried to be realistics about the needs he will have and the time it will take to integrate ourselves into each others' lives. But you never know. There' is a big - what if? I hope Fort and I learn to be patient with each other. Although it will affect all of us, I know it will mostly be me down in the trenches with Fort. That's what I signed up for. But can you ever truly know? I suppose it's the same basic fear the first time you have kids- certainly when I was pregnant with twins! Somehow, we'll make it through and figure our our new way to be.