Thursday, 27 September 2012

3 days home

And then he slept. 
Not regularly, not all the way through the night. But what a difference. 

There is a sense that we have made it over a huge hump. Things have settled down so much, it is amazing. But it is so early, could it be?  I'm sure we will have many instances of two steps forward and one step back. And yet the traveling and first night here was SO intense- it must have amplified all his fears and worries. Now he is learning our house, learning that these toys are here every day, learning that he can have food when he asks for it, learning that I will always be there for him.  Maybe he really has begun to settle in.

He is already over the jet lag. Me, not so much. I know old people recover slower. I am no longer feverish, but I still have a sore & swollen throat. I know my body just shut down in reaction to the stress and also the relief of being home. I tend to be strong during the battle, and then collapse when it is over. I have been a jangle of nerves and emotions, almost like my skin is on inside out and I am so overly sensitive to everything.  I'm not yet sleeping well, but the few nightmares I was having have stopped. 

It is hard for me to reconcile my experience in Uganda with my reality in the US. I love being home, obviously for my family and friends.  And I like having my things, I don't wish to give it all up and move back there.   I feel wedded to that country though. My heart has changed - I have Uganda in my heart and in my family. I don't want to put blinders on and forget what and who I have seen. I have a sense of purpose, that I can be helpful from here.  I hope this proves to be true. 

I am still at odds with the ease of my life - with how much I have in excess. I could not get over my first shower- the strength of the water pouring over me, compared to the minuscule trickle that could barely get me wet, let alone rinse out shampoo. And I had a rather luxurious shower in Uganda, with a water heater and everything, mind you. I had to speak out loud: "This is Amazing".  I came into the kitchen where there was a bowl of sliced fruit sitting, and I realized I was shocked not to see black flies on it. I got ready for bed feeling so CLEAN. There was no red dirt all over my shoes and feet, blown onto my clothes from the boda boda. There was no sand from the sandbox, no dried food from multiple grubby hands.  The roads are smooth and wide and orderly, with cars stopping at red lights and stop signs. Even the less beautiful parts of town seem so well off. 

Coming from a first world, a third world is so cheap. Everything is affordable to me. The income that the average person makes there is so unfathomable. That mere cents can make a difference. One single mother was telling me that her monthly rent is 100,000 UGX (Ugandan shillings). This is about $40. It is for a tiny single room, where she cooks outside and has no toilet. For Fort's goodbye party, the care mothers requested ice cream. I found a tub of ice cream for 30,000 UGX. $12. Expensive ice cream, even for me. But unfathomable to compare it to things they have to pay for. To compare to an American rent, if you paid $1000 a month, that would be a comparable ice cream of $300. No wonder it was a luxury.  

If this is confusing to me after 6 weeks there, what is going on inside the brain of this little 3 1/2 year old?  What does he think of being away from his friends, his aunties, his food, his toys?  I can tell he is happy - he is more joyous than I have ever seen him. If you ask him if he wants to do something, he answers with a resounding "ye-EH-es!!". He has not shut down and turned inward since he has been here, something I was anticipating. He has not wet the bed every night, something he did in his first weeks at Kaja Nafasi. Nor has he stopped talking, which I know he also did for a time. He is testing his boundaries, testing his limits, testing ME. Which is good & healthy, albeit exhausting.  He eats almost everything (including an entire slice of red onion, which was promptly spit out, with a look to me of how could you serve that?). He loves jobs and responsibilities. He fights them first, but is learning our routine and loving it. He repeats things to me like "time for eating, then to bathe, then for sleeping". 

He absolutely adores his new siblings. They love him right back, in their own way. Madeleine loves him immediately & completely, like she has played out meeting him in her mind. Ben takes him in stride, wrestling with him to the on his very first day. They are very similar boys- affectionate, smart & sweet (and a tad crazy).  He also said my favorite -"we waited 2 years, and now he's crying??".  And Evie, perceptive to the end. She wanted to know why he didn't feel like a brother yet, just like we were babysitting him.   I'm so glad she could articulate this very normal feeling. 

There is a sense of home for him. Certainly of comfort. Going to bed, Fort counted the people of our family on his fingers. When we got to Fort, the pinky finger, he looked at me wide eyed. "This one is for Fort!!". Yes, I said, we are a family. "A family!  A family for Fortune. Ye-EH-es!!". 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

What have we done?

What have we done?  It is a question I would imagine goes through the heads of most adoptive parents at times, whether or not they share it with anyone. Adopting is not only a choice we made, but it is a tedious, pain-staking and emotionally exhausting journey just to get the child home. You put so much work and effort into it. And then, the real journey begins. 
For Fort, and for us.  And there are moments....oh there are moments when you just wonder, we chose this path, was it right?  Were we crazy? What have we done?
We finally arrived home after a brutally long and occasionally horrific trip of 32 hours. After an amazing reunion with our "first" kids, my husband, and my dear family friend - including Fort walking to the parking lot hand in hand between two new siblings- we arrived home around 10 pm. An overtired boy in a brand new house that is FULL of new toys does not like going to bed. There was much screaming and crying, a full on two year old temper tantrum with hitting and attempted biting. And it was only fair that I handled this- he needed to see that his mama would not leave him.  Steve put the other kids to bed, and I lay with Fort in his bed, picking him back up off the floor and putting him back in bed over & over. And over. Finally, I could see in his body that he wasn't as mad, only sad, and he let me take him in my arms and lay down. He sat up abruptly -"want brush"- and we went and brushed his teeth that he had refused to do an hour earlier. Then we lay back down, and whimpering, he fell asleep. 
After a bit, I got up and went to bed in my bed (oh yes, have I mentioned that I got strep throat and was entirely feverish and sick on the plane too?). Around 2am, my sweet daughter comes walking down the hall with Fort, hand in hand, leading him to me. He is awake. "Want toys". Big sigh. 
For the next 3 hours there is more screaming, some playing, some singing, some crying. There is no sleeping. This from a boy who maybe slept a total of 8 hours in 2 days. Around 5 am, Steve gets up for a minute. Fort starts screaming "Papa!  Papa!  PAPA!!". When Steve comes back, we agree that neither of us will leave the room without telling him where we are going. Sobbing, Fort climbs into Steve's arms. And sleeps. Until 8am. "Want toys!". Yes, Fort, now you may play. 
He has an amazingly great day. At 8pm, we are ready for bed. Fort is not done playing. He is crazy silly, laughing hysterically and barely able to get his pajamas on and teeth brushed. He does not want to sleep. I take him to bed and the crying begins- the loud screaming what-are-you-doing-to-me crying. he tries to take his pajamas off, testing me, trying to see what I will let him do. I put them back on, against his will. He is mad at me. "Papa!  Papa!  PAPA!!". Steve comes. He goes happily to Steve. They lay down. Fort sleeps. I cry. I sleep. 
At 2 am, I hear his door open and can see his lone figure walking wordlessly down the hall to our room. "Fort?". I go to him. He reaches up, and I carry him to our bed. He lays down on me, and without a sound, is asleep. 
What have we done?  Something, I think, I hope, good. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Almost Mine

We are so close.  So crazy close.  One step (one visa) and one flight (well, 3 planes) away from Fortunate coming home with me to the States.  Wow.  I am a strange combination of confident and stressed about the exit interview at the US Embassy.  On the one hand, I have turned in my papers (which actually doesn't consist of just dropping them off, no - it is a long wait and then a thorough review of the papers) with this fabulous woman at the Embassy.  She answers my emails and other crazy things like that.  She says I'm ready to go, and I believe her.  On the other hand, our appointment time has been postponed two times so far, not to mention the 4 times I have changed my flight due to delays.  Another delay would really be horrible at this point.  I am doing well mainly because I have my eye on my Thursday departure.
 I am really exhausted and worn out of trying to do and be so much for so many people.  I cannot yet be the mother I want to be with Fort, because he is still at the orphanage, and still needs to follow their rules.  Simple requests ("can I have water?") turn into a line of children following me Pied Piper-style into the small kitchen (where they really aren't allowed) and using half of the boiled and cooled water the caremothers have prepared for the next meal.  It is my job to give Fort special attention - to teach him that we are special to each other - and in doing so I acutely feel the other children's pain because of their awareness that they have been left out. Sometimes I forget that these kids have all been abandoned, have suffered from the disillusionment of that fundamental trust.  The family home is so lively, and so generally happy that people often stop by to inquire if it is a school.  There is such a fantastic ratio of adults to children - there are the caremothers, who rotate; the guard who also kicks the ball with them or picks them up when they fall; a Dutch volunteer, staying for 7 weeks; the 2 social worker and the manager, whose office is adjacent to the home; the workers who come and go but are Ugandans working on the continual construction of a the home - now working on a volunteer room; "mzungus" from other projects who stop in to converse with the organization leaders; and me.  It's not a quiet or forsaken place.  So you can forget that these children have holes in their hearts. 
But then you see it - and it comes whizzing back at you - and you are sick for a moment.  Every little choice you make throughout the day is weighed and measured by the children, consciously or not.  If they all want to swing and I let Winnie have the first turn, the other children feel that she is my favorite.  There is immediate collapsing to the ground and screaming by those not chosen.  There is difficulty in sharing, and little comprehension of taking turns.  When Maria is sitting in my lap, and Fort gets jealous, I am proud that he can now say "no Maria in lap.  Mama for Fortunate".  And then I have to manage Maria's meltdown when I put her right next to me - because clearly to her, I have rejected her.  When James asked me if I could be his mother "You Mama for Jamesy?", Fortunate went into full toddler tantrum land.  Simultaneously I had to calm him and convince him I was not picking James over him ("Mama is for Fortunate, only Fortunate") I was keenly aware that James was hanging on every word.  I could literally see him caving in on himself. 
I have some guilt that I do not spend every waking moment with Fort.  I see him every single day.  I promised him I would, and unless I had to fly back to the States, I would be sure to keep my word.  Some days I come later in the morning, depending on my ride situation, the weather (boda in the rain? no thank you), the appointments I have for the process.  I always leave by 6pm at the latest - to ensure I am off the road by dark (I know it can be unsafe, and I don't need to tempt fate) and also be back to the home where I am staying for dinner time.  Some days I am there 10 hours, once in a while only 2.  If I am later than lunchtime, Fort is clearly distraught - worried, sad and angry.  I have to manage his moods, and now I come prepared for that.  But it is so completely draining to be there - every time Fort goes off playing happily, I take a moment to cuddle with one of the children who are always clambering to sit with me.  There is someone who needs something at every minute.  The caremothers want to talk about their difficult lives.  Even the dog needs attention.
And me, I come back to this quiet room at the end of each day, where I sit and process and hurt and heal and get ready to do it again.  I will absolutely hate leaving these other children- I have come to know and love them.  But I am ready.  More than ready.  I want to take my son and go home. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Coming Home

Back when the Family Home emailed Steve and I to see if we were interested in going forward with the adoption for Fort (a big YES),  they recommended for both or one of us to spend 6 weeks in country . Steve and I laughed- there was absolutely no way either of us could do that!  He can barely leave his medical practice for a week at a time, and I stay at home with 3 kids and basically all the household duties!  Originally, one of the logistical things we liked about Ethiopia and Uganda was that 2 short trips was possible. Because the flights are expensive, it can be prohibitive to some families, but for our lives, it was much more practical. I did read many adoption blogs, and tried to educate myself on all the ins and outs of adoption and Africa. So I knew that many families encounter setbacks and find themselves waiting for weeks or months for papers to clear. 

But of course, that was not going to be us. Fort was abandoned when he was younger, and there were no parents involved in the case to bribe money or threaten the outcome of the case. Ours was a straight forward case. And so how is it, that I am sitting on my bed in a guest house in Kampala, going into my sixth week?

The reasons remain twisted around the slow and unpredictable whims of the Ugandan court system and government. Although truly- it all happened rather quickly, which is also why I postponed my initial flight 4 weeks ago. The court (after our brief scare) went well, and the judge scheduled our court ruling for the very next Friday. This was where the "long wait" was expected - where I would fly home until notice that the ruling was scheduled. So instead Steve left, and I stayed. And I was there for the court ruling in week 3. 
And then the passport drama. Who knew I'd be waiting over 2 weeks?  Well, possibly the lawyer, I guess - there was such confusion and bad communication. I only wish he had been more straight forward. If I had known it would take over a week, I could have made a decision to go home. Or not. Who knows if I would've made a different choice, but at least I would have been able to decide for myself.  

And now, I am really (really!) on the home stretch. One last penultimate step (the visa interview) to finish up, for once I have that visa in my hands, Fort and I are on our way home.
I have never felt the idiom "it takes a village" more acutely than this past month and a half. My mother, sister and dear friend have each spent 2 weeks being "mommy" to my kids. I could not have even begun to do this without their help, or the love and support from all of my family & friends back home. 

Home. Oh, how I've missed it. Never did I think I would be away from home this long. But the further we got in the process, the harder it was to think about leaving Uganda.  Leaving and definitely hurting Fort. It has been incredibly hard knowing that our 3 kids back home have been struggling- occasionally acting out, being moody or sad. But I have also come to recognize our children's strengths. Of course, I have long thought them amazing kiddos (I am their mother, after all!), but here where I am meeting damaged children, I see my own kids more clearly. They are so confident, smart and secure. They may miss me, but they do not question my love. Or that I am coming back.  It is their sense of belonging in my world that has sharpened in my awareness.  The words of ee cummings are rattling around in my head tonight, which I have always thought of as the most beautiful description of what love feels like:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;...

think of what a gift this will be if we can teach this love to Fort.   For him to know so deeply his place in this world and in my heart. 

I am bracing myself for some rough seas when I return. Fort will be finding his way in an unfamiliar world- one where he, and not I, is the other color. A world where sounds, smells, and sights are all new. His bed, his food, and familiar faces are all gone and replaced by new ones. And at the same time, Madeleine, Ben & Evie will not have seen me in six weeks. They will be far needier than usual, and needy for me. They all may be jealous of each other.  The stage where they think everything Fort does is so "cute" may be short lived.  But I have a strong feeling that these children will open their hearts to each other so quickly, and that I cannot begin to know what they will give to each other.  

Sometimes you have to be grateful for things yet to be known. 

Here is the poem by ee cummings in its entirety, just because it's so beautiful. 
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The beauty within

I want Fort to have pride in Uganda- not just a sense of a country that failed him.  Since I have been here, I am seeing a side of Uganda that is tough, and I am watching it through these orphans' eyes, which in turn skews my impression of this country. It's not the people or the country that hurts my heart, but the need. I am inspired daily by the strength and beauty here, and want to be sure to share it and remember it so, as my sister mentioned, I can teach Fort that there is more to this country than heartbreak. 

Uganda is called "the Pearl of Africa". It is a country about the size of Oregon, and has some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes. To the south is Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. To the west are the "mountains to the moon" or the Rwenzori mountains, which continue past Uganda to include Kilamonjaro. The equator cuts across its southern region, and temperatures are mild year round. It has so many beautiful and "unspoilt" areas, that it is rather easy to make a safari and see tons of animals in their natural habitats, including elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, zebras. It is one of the premiere bird watching places in the world. It is also one of the few places in the world where you are able to track gorillas in the wild. 

Most of this amazing countryside is quite easy to explore. There are many touring ventures, yet the tide has not turned for tourism, and it is happily still reasonably wild.  I do not want to give up my time at the orphanage to go on any of these safaris, and I know Fort has not yet experienced the beauty in his country, so this is something we would love to do as a family when the kids are older. We plan to make at least one family trip back to Uganda- for the kids to see Fort's country. 

What I have experienced most are the beautiful people of this country. Yes,  there are those who baffle me and infuriate me, but the majority of Ugandans that I have met have been amazing. There is a kindness of spirit, a generosity of heart, and a warmth for fellow humans. This country has gone through such upheaval since its independence just 50 years ago, and still the citizens love her. They have been exposed to poverty and pain, but they are resilient. 

When Steve came over to meet me, I told him my interpretation of the people. As you walk down the road-the rare mzungu- the people passing you by look sternly at you. You almost have a sense of their disapproval. But then if you smile first, and say hello, their faces change so radically, so instantly. Immediately their mouths break onto a wide grin, their eyes crinkle up, and with utmost politeness, they greet you in English.

There was a man on the corner down from the orphanage who has a little stand where he makes chapatis. Chapatis are flat pan fried dough circles, almost like a puffed up tortilla or scallion pancake. The kids (and me!) love them. Most days I take Fort for a little walk down the road, and we watch the chapati man rolling dough into circles, then stretching them flat and spinning them around the burner.  Finally, the other day, I asked how much one was, thinking I'd finally get one for Fort the next day. The man insisted we take 2 even though I had no money on me ( I later paid him). 

I was walking down the road, when I slipped in the wet mud in my flip flops and fell down into the canals dug for runoff water. There were 2 men heading my way, and they both ran to me to assist me, in the ever-Ugandan way of apology. Sorry, sorry, our roads are not good for you. 

Another time, going for a walk with Fort, a young man came up to us, asking how we were doing. He looked Fort in the eyes and said, you are a good boy, eh?  And though this man seemed not to have much money, he took a small coin and gave it to Fort. 

Those who have little, still share. 

Monday, 10 September 2012


Kampala. Uganda. Africa. The world. 
It doesn't really matter where you are, suffering is suffering. But here you face it on a daily basis. I think that is the difference. The people who live with such suffering have ways to accept and live with it.  Much in the way that Steve handles death more often as a doctor than most Americans - he has developed skills to cope, and indeed accepts death as a part of life in a way that Americans have forgotten. Here, in Africa, to say people are touched by death is an understatement.  The median age in Uganda is 15 years of age, with a life expectancy at birth of 53 years old. HIV and AIDS are still an epidemic, and poverty is rampant. 

Living here these many weeks, I am stuck by how many conversations have traumatic events casually thrown in. "My mother died of AIDS when I was 15...", " father beat me..." , "...I left school at 10 to care for my younger siblings...". It is not just the stories that are shocking- more so the fact that these stories are normal circumstances here.  I don't know how Ugandans cope with the realities of life here, but each day I hear something that strikes me across the face anew. 

I am unaccustomed to such pain. I am knocked to the ground by the individual stories of abandonment, rape and abuse, but I am more offended by the way these horrible things are common occurrences. I know that i am compassionate, probably to a fault, but I am also well aware of my sheltered life. The things I empathize with are things that have happened to others, that I have learned about in books, newspapers, movies. To rub up against them in such a personal manner is to rub myself raw. But I think I like it that way. 

I need to walk through Uganda with such a blistered exterior, because even so, it is just a glimmer of what these people have experienced. I don't think I need to put myself through the exercise of living in poverty or hardship to feel their pain. But I do think in order to live here for an extended time, you have to harden your heart to survive. And I think change comes when those of us who can afford to be affected can do that, and share the stories. 

I need to be affected. It is how I go through life, how I vibrate in this world. How I feel alive.  I am no pioneer- I am not changing my life to move here and dedicate my time to raising up the poor.  It matters though, what I am doing. Helping one boy. Changing his life so drastically, and ours too in turn. Contributing to the ongoing efforts of this home that has sheltered him for nearly a year. This safe haven, where children can begin to heal even before they are adopted or resettled. And sharing the stories by writing about it, so others can be affected in that 3rd person way we Westerners usually are. 

So how do I cope?  I suppose my answer is I don't. But I can afford it. I can afford my heart to be singed by the heartbreak. I will carry it with me forever, and I will relay it to my son one day. Maybe he will in turn do more than I ever will at helping his country, his people. Maybe he won't, and that would be fine too. I am not adopting him so that he will rescue Africa. I am adopting him to make him whole, and I think in turn he will do the same for me. 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Bikes, broccoli and bed

Last night, Fort spent the night with me for the first time.  I wasn't sure either of us was ready yet- but only because I knew that he would have to go back to spending nights at the orphanage. Would it be terribly disruptive?  Either staying with me or going back - or both?  But, we had an early morning interview for his passport, and both of us need to be there. Since Jurjanne was driving us, she kind of made the decision for us. 

Fort was very excited to come. He knows Jurjanne and her husband well, and their 2 Ugandan boys, Chris(6) and Seth(2).  We packed pajamas, his toothbrush, a change of clothes, and the blanket I brought him from the States.  He rode in Jurjanne's car back to her house. He saw the guest house where I sleep and nosed through some of my things. But his friends had more fun stuff to do and quickly he was outside, begging me to help him go around on Chris' slightly-too-big bike with training wheels. 
I had to use my hands to teach him how to keep his feet circling around the pedals. My mind flashed back to the States, and Ben's old spiderman bike that will be just a perfect size. 

After a day of playing in the red dirt of Africa, the children get bathed nightly- here before dinner. Fort easily stripped down like the other 2 boys & followed them to the tub.  His eyes grew wide at the tub filling with water- at Nafasi they sit in an empty tub, with a small bucket of clean water next to them in the tub. There is a little sponge and a bar of soap, and baths are quick & efficient & done by the caregivers. In the steaming bath, the boys lowered their bodies down, and Fort had his first "western" bath. 
Then we were called in for dinner. Unlike the prepared plates of food that he gets at the family home, here dinner was piled onto dishes in the middle of the table. There was no point in asking what he wanted to eat- he has never had that choice before. So I gave him a little of everything- chicken, French fries, cucumbers, broccoli, bread. We found the first thing I've ever known him not to like- Broccoli.   He took one bite and promptly put the remaining stump on my plate, saying simply "no". I believe it's his first broccoli. I like broccoli, so it won't be his last!
But like his fellow Ugandans, he likes his chicken. These were chicken wings, and though they are not my favorite, I know meat is a nice treat here. These people are serious about their meat. They do not just chew daintily on the juicy middle meat around the bone, or gnaw the skin away from the ends. Nope.  Ugandans, and my son, eat every non-bone part of that chicken including any cartilage, fat, or gristle. Wow. 

After cleaning his plate, and then his hands and face, Fort went back outside while I completed my now daily ritual of doing the dinner dishes. (A small task for a nice meal each night).  I was happy he was able to feel secure that I was in the house while he played outside. A little checkmark registered in my mind -*incremental step forward!*.  Seth and Chris go to sleep at 7pm, but at the home the children don't sleep until 8. I wanted to keep his routine, plus I anticipated a bedtime battle of sorts.  So we said goodnight and went to the guest house. We brushed teeth, and since I didn't have any toys, we looked at pictures on my iPad, and then a few games and stories. Around 8pm, I started moving him to my bed. Even when they don't know much English, kids know how to make their wishes clear. "No  bed!  No go sleep!". I bribed him into the mosquito netted double bed by letting him play with my flashlight (for power outages and to seek out cockroaches if I have to pee in the night).   Finally, I gently took away the flashlight, fully expecting the tears that quickly came. I had a sense he would almost need to cry in order to settle down.  First it was an angry cry- about the unfairness that was the taking of the flashlight. Then came the sobbing of "I don't want to sleep" and then finally we got to the real issue: "want to go". 

"I know, baby. I know you want to go back to your regular bed at Nafasi. But we are going to sleep here and Mama is going to stay with you". He crawled on top of me, chest to chest, and slowed his crying to what I call his 'keening'- his low, repetitive moaning, seemingly meant to block out the world and block himself from his own hurting heart. He let me hold him, kiss him, console him. He listened when I named all the kids back at the family home. "Jose is sleeping.  James is sleeping. John is sleeping". Rhythmic and slow. "Winnie is sleeping. Emily is sleeping. Maria is sleeping". We went though all of the kids and caregivers. He quieted down, moved away and rearranged into sleeping position. After 10 quiet minutes, when I was sure he was sleeping, he murmured "Rebel is for sleeping". Rebel, the dog at Nafasi. "Yes, Fort. Rebel is sleeping". Another ten minutes.  "Jemiro is for sleeping". I guess we forgot Jamiro. "Yes, Fort. Jamiro is sleeping". I looked across the pillows. His eyes flickered open. I could see the whites of his enormous eyes against the brown that made his sweet face and deep irises. We looked at each other silently. This boy and me. This boy and his mother. My son. He closed his eyes

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Second day at court

Needless to say, our first day at court was a hard day. It was horrible being dismissed from court and knowing we had only 1 day with Steve still in Uganda to finalize everything. I was upset with the lawyer, and baffled by the expectations of the judge. The people he wanted to see - the probation officer and the director of Fort's first orphanage- were obviously relevant people to our case, but it seemed like a crazy bone to pick since there were sworn affidavits. 
And of course, getting people to one place is not easy in Uganda. I heard most of this story later- the probation officer did not spend the night with the lawyer. He instead "borrowed" 40,000 shillings (about $16) to go get a few drinks. At 5am, our lawyer began driving around to find him. He did find him, and got him some breakfast and had him ready to go at 8:30am. It sounds like the sleazy guy that you pay to impersonate a probation officer, but no- this was the real guy. He was no longer working (because all probation officers have been fired-????- what???) so just mainly got drunk. But he was the guy who did the report and follow ups when Fort was found. Just couldn't remember a damn thing. 
And we also brought the woman who runs the government home. She was scared to come before the judge and not a fan of international adoptions. But she was very warm when we met her at breakfast, and remembered Fort well. He really is so comfortable with me, and was sitting in my lap. Whether or not that was the reason, she seemed to take a liking to us. 
So our meeting with the judge was to be at 9:30am, and I was shocked and thrilled beyond belief that we actually managed to get all these people to court. And then I was horrified when they told us he had to reschedule to midday because of an emergency. How can we keep tabs on these people??  We were outside, exchanging phone numbers to find everyone again, when the clerk came out and said he was able to see us now.  Ok, that was crazy close. It almost slipped through our fingers. 
So we went back in, and truly, my heart was pounding and I was sweating. First, after chastising our lawyer for wasting his time the day before, the judge called up Drunk Probation Officer.  It didn't go so well. He was nervous (and maybe in withdrawal?) and had trouble recalling any of the circumstances. At one point the judge asked, "Do I look stupid to you?". I kept looking at Steve. Then there was a complication of the birth certificate, which was made up after he was found as is required, with an estimated date based on his apparent age. That was called into question. Then came the other center's director,  and low and behold, she tells the judge he needed to be in a family. I think he was moved when he asked how many kids in the home right now. Unimaginably over crowded.
Then he called me up and I was ready to be grilled. He asked me to tell how we came into being interested in adopting Fort. So I told him, slowly, and without going into too much unnecessary detail. It seemed good. Then he said see you next Friday for the ruling and we were done. Jurjanne & Chris definitely were feeling that it went well & we should celebrate. I suppose it is possible that it will not be a favorable ruling, but I cannot figure why that would be. He said he'd let the birth certificate slide, and he could've asked for another court date- more papers, more people. But he 
didn't - so case closed.  I think. I hope?
Steve goes home now, and if something else comes up, it will be exponentially more difficult to solve. So here's for a straight forward ruling next week. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


I sit awake. 
Knowing trouble is sleeping
And wondering how the morning will go. 

His little aching heart
Is finally resting in the night,
Enveloped by a fortress
Made like the buildings of this country. 
Scaffolding made from long wooden poles, filled in by
Bricks baked in clay ovens, and
Covered with cement made by crushed stones. 
Smoothed by hands to make it seem like all is strong and resilient. 

But unlike the buildings that will stand for years,
His walls are made by patchwork,
And bit by bit I will endeavor to dismantle
His fear
Of being hurt
Because he loves. 

Tomorrow we begin again,
He and I,
This demolition and reconstruction.

Monday, 3 September 2012

How to get about town

When in Kampala, it can be overwhelming when you think about how to get around. 
If you know someone "rich", they may be able to drive you in their car, or you can hire a car & driver. But gas is expensive and there is "jam" in the traffic everywhere. It takes a long time to travel via car. Of course you can walk- most people do. There are no sidewalks, but you can walk along the side of the road. Be alert- the boda bodas and cars will zip by you, and narrowly miss you. Or if you're not lucky, won't miss you. Accidents are a part of life here. Daily I see pedestrians jump out of the path of a car or motorbike. The other hazard is the red dirt all along the roads, or sides (if the road is not a major one it will not be paved). After the rain, the dirt turns into a slick mud. I have taken a few spills- not been hit, but just a wipeout in a mud slalom. On the sides of most roads are deep ditches, to carry the water off the roads during the rainy season. It's not so fun to fall into one of those, plus you kind of feel like an idiot. 
So for me, walking is my least favorite and most nerve-wracking way to travel. Many people take the matatus, or taxi buses. They are a cheap way to travel- usually under 1000 shillings, or less than half a dollar.  There is a driver and a "conductor" who opens the sliding side door, and takes the fares for the passengers. They stop periodically at matatu "stands" and cram about 14-20 persons in at a time. Usually there is some walking to and from matatu stands. Plus, these usually take double the time- or more- than a direct car ride.  Give yourself a few hours to get across town. 
So this leaves the boda boda. Which is more like a moped than a motorcycle. If you are a mzungu, you just need to begin walking for one to find you. Apparently, most white people don't travel "on feet". Alternately, you can walk down to the nearest intersection to the gang of guys on bikes waiting for riders.  First, you see if they know where you want to go. Some drivers don't know the areas farther than 5 miles. Each neighborhood has its own name -and usually the road changes names within each neighborhood too, so you can't direct them by road names. If they know the neighborhood and can understand your English " do you know Namirembe?" then you ask how much. They will say 10,000 shillings (or whatever) and you will laugh, because they have doubled the price for you, mzungu!  You say, no, no- 5000 shillings. And they will counter with 7000 and you will say fine, and they will pat the seat of the bike or say "on" - for let's go.  I have yet to have the nerve to respond with "kyabike!" (pronounced chia-bee-kay) which is my new favorite phrase meaning "let's get this party started"!!  I learned this from the large poster boards around (but what they advertise I can't recall- airtime for your phone, perhaps?).  You are still overpaying, but now you are paying under $3 instead of $4. Such an accomplishment. 
You get on behind the driver, but beware. On the right side of the bike is the exhaust pipe, and even if you know about it, you may forget one day and get the infamous burn on the inside of your right calf. I will call it my tattoo from Africa.  So try to remember to get on from the left. Your driver may or may not have a helmet- I haven't decided if this means he is a driver concerned with safety, or he is going to be flying up & down the steep hills. In any case, you - the passenger- will not have a helmet. Most men straddle the bike- the local women ride side saddle. But one good pothole or speed bump...I prefer the ability to grab the jacket of my driver in fear and in warning, so I straddle the seat, like the other mzungus who dare this form of travel.  If your driver takes 2 of you, it will cost more, but not as much as 2 bodas. If he takes 3 or more, I advise you to take a different one, or you may find yourself in the side of the road!  If you have a choice of boda boda- look for the bike with a wide seat, and if you see one with the luxurious padded back, grab it!  Most have a metal handle behind, which is a convenient place to hold on, but also can grate up & down your tailbone. If all this seems too crazy, try to enjoy the fresh air as you travel, passing the cars in "jam", and try not to get dirt in your eyes. 
When you get close to your location, It will be nice if you know where you are going and can point.  Directions in Uganda can go like this:  go to the end of the road, take a left at the mango tree. Go until you see the old man with the bike. Do not greet this man, but continue until the very large anthill. Turn down that road until you see the newly plastered boundary wall, and you are there.  Or just point. If you don't know where you are going, be sure to carry a cell phone!  Or ask another boda driver in the area. Or maybe you should just hire the car with driver after all. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Court: Day One

With all of my emotional posts, I feel the need to tell a little bit about where we are in the process. So, if you're not interested in adoption, this could quickly get confusing or boring. (I hope it won't be that for those who are interested, but let's hold our judgement til the end). 

I have been writing about our court experiences, but not blogging about them -1) because I didn't want to put our case in jeopardy in any way (like our judge would read this?) and 2) because I was so emotional that they weren't always the kind of things one should post to the world. So now I will try to put the story together a little more objectively, which is always easier to do when it has worked out in your favor!  

I think most of you know our court case was scheduled for last Thursday.   Steve and I both had to be there, and it is easily the most nerve- wracking part of adopting. We had already invested not only in the adoption process and Uganda, but also deeply with Fort. In Uganda, Americans are not allowed to adopt without living in country and fostering the child for 3 years. Obviously, with Steve's job and our kids- this was not an option.  In addition, there is what used to be considered a loophole, but is now becoming acceptable to the courts:  the process of legal guardianship. We become the child's legal guardian, obtain a US visa for him, and finalize the adoption in the US as a domestic adoption. So that's why we were at court.  

Cultural  differences can be hard to see and understand. In the case of the court system, nothing is like the States. It is common that a judge will reschedule his case on the day of, which can cause havoc with the carefully orchestrated time off from work and flight plans. This was our greatest fear. Well, that and that the judge would say flat out NO.  Turns out, we didn't have to worry about rescheduling. 
We barely got started when the judge asked our lawyer where were the people who signed affidavits regarding the first year our son was found, before coming to Kaja Nafasi where he lives now.  The judge wished to cross examine the probation officer and the woman who is running the government home where Fortunate was first living.  So he dismissed us until we could come back with them!   Jurjanne (the Initiator/Director of Kaja Nafasi) took the social worker and also our lawyer to go and find those people. I can't figure out if this truly came out of the blue, or if our lawyer was unprepared.  The judge seemed to chastise him for not having the people ready. Steve and I were totally shocked, and obviously worried.  Steve had one more business day (Friday) before flying back 20+ hours to Ohio. 
Steve and I took Fort to a coffee shop (he is learning all about the games on my iPad) for a few hours, until they came back from their search.  Both people were available for the next morning, and the lawyer was able to book a time with the judge for 9:30am.  
Here was the kicker- the woman from the government home was quite hesitant about international adoption and was very scared that her name will be involved in an illegal case. So, many promises were made to her to get her there, and reassure her that everything was above board and she was not being asked to tell anything but what she knew of Fort last year.  And....the probation officer is a drunk who can't remember the children, even though he has met Fort several times. He stayed overnight with the lawyer so we didn't "lose" him.  Great. 
And Steve and I were completely relegated to the back until it is the portion of the case to determine if we are suitable guardians. The first part (of whether he is an orphan) was out of our hands- and seemingly in the hands of incompetents.  It was maddening and also mystifying that all of this was just run of the mill.  That afternoon was a dark day, the day of the rain.