Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It is done!

Our family, finally together, after almost 2 years!
It is done. We are home. It has been a crazy, crazy process, but that is exactly what I expected. Let me back up and fill in all that has happened that I haven’t yet written about: 

We received the adoption decree mid-September. Christina was ours! What a mix of emotions, knowing she now had our last name yet could not come home.

We entered Ministry of the Interior (for her Haitian passport) on September 28, 2012. At this point we were given a loose timeline of 12 weeks (loose being the operative word here) which meant if all things went smoothly she could be home before Christmas! I latched onto Christmas...prayed for Christmas. Not that a few weeks on either side would make a difference in the scheme of life, but for some reason I just needed her to be home by Christmas.

We were out of MOI with her passport and entered USCIS for approval from the American government on October 29, 2012. We received notice from USCIS that our adoption had been approved by United States on November 23. Our adoption agency director told us to buy a stocking for Christina, she would be home by Christmas! My prayers were answered!

We did have one tiny glitch: our fingerprints for USCIS expired on November 24, 2012. Our fingerprint appointment was scheduled December 17. Considering we needed current fingerprints for the Visa appointment (which would happen well before December 17) we drove to the Denver USCIS office the day after Thanksgiving and requested they allow us to redo our prints. With a bit of grumbling and irritation from the USCIS government workers, we were told to come back in 2 hours and they would “fit us in” (after all, they had at least 5 people waiting in the lobby!). Two hours later we returned to an empty waiting room and they fingerprinted us...they fingerprints would be uploaded into the system within a couple of days, which, we were told should be in enough time for our Visa appointment. Whew! That was a stressful couple of hours. Wouldn’t it have been ironic if our fingerprints were the hold up in the process, after all this time.

We waited and waited for the American Department of Security (DOS) in Haiti to schedule our Visa appointment. I think I checked my emails every 15 minutes for a week. Nothing. At this point we were panicking. Our hope for Christina being home for Christmas dwindled. We knew the Visa appointment would be scheduled 1-2 weeks out and we had at least another week after that before we would receive the final exit letter from the Haitian government. And we found out that another family who had received their USCIS exit letter on the same day as us received their Visa appointment 2 days later. What was going on?!?

To make matters even more confusing, the orphanage director in Haiti was going to be out of the country as of December 13. Not only did we usually stay at her house, but she was the person who shuttled the paperwork from office to office in Haiti!

I am sure we drove our director crazy as we emailed almost daily asking if she had heard anything (as if she would withhold any information from us!). Weston even contacted our US Senators to see if they could pull some strings and get the Visa appointment more quickly -- only to then find out getting a Senator involved could actually slow the process. 

Finally we got the email that the Visa appointment was scheduled for December 11. Pretty sure our case got held up on someone’s desk -- 3 weeks between exiting USCIS and receiving a Visa appointment was unusually long. Grrrr!

Again we worried that there was no way that Christina would be home by Christmas without a serious miracle. I looked up plane tickets and to my dismay not only were the prices twice as expensive the weekend before Christmas, but flights were few and far between, with horrific layovers. Against our agency director’s better judgment, (she recommended we not book flights until after the Visa appointment happened, in case something went wrong), I booked flights for Weston, Jake and me for December 17, returning with Christina December 20. I was afraid if I waited there wouldn’t be any flights left! I had to trust that the paperwork would be finished in time.

We emailed our agency director on December 12, asking her how the Visa appointment went. Her reply: she hadn’t heard anything because the appointment was the 13. What?!? I went back through my emails, thinking I had lost my mind, but in fact, my email from the DOS office stated the appointment was in fact for December 11.

What if our Haitian attorney accidentally wrote down the wrong date? What if she missed the appointment? We already booked our flights!

We decided that regardless of the status of the paperwork, we would fly to Haiti as scheduled. If the paperwork wasn’t complete, I would stay in Haiti with Christina and Weston and Jake would return home for Christmas. I would fly home with Christina the minute the paperwork was finished (which could be as late as January, with government offices being closed for the Holidays). I did not enjoy the prospect of staying behind in Haiti without Weston, but there was no way we were going to leave Christina again.

December 17 drew closer and closer, with zero word from Haiti on our Visa/Exit letter status. At this point Sonya, the Haitian orphanage director and our only Haitian contact, was out of the country. There just was no way to know if the appointment happened, or the status of our paperwork. We didn’t even know where we were staying once we arrived in Haiti!

My mother-in-law arrived at our house the Saturday before we were to leave to stay with Sam and Sophie. We were supposed to leave at 11:50 pm, Monday December 17, to arrive in Haiti Tuesday morning, December 18. Sunday evening Jake, who was going with us, declared he didn’t feel well. Sore throat, headache, achy body and a bit of nausea. Seriously?

I spent Monday packing and running last minute errands. I made Jake stay home from school, hoping rest would speed his recovery. I debated whether or not to take him to the doctor and get him tested for the flu. I certainly didn’t want him to travel if he had the flu; That wouldn’t be fair to anyone! Him, the other passengers, the kiddos at the orphanage in Haiti, no one needed those germs. But by 1pm he decided he felt a bit better, so I prayed that he was on the mend. If he wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhea by the time we left, he was going. We still had not heard if Christina had a Visa or the Haitian exit letter. I waited until late in the day to contact our agency director, figuring if she knew something she would have called. Finally at 4pm I couldn't take it any longer. We were supposed to board the plane in 8 hours and had no idea if the paperwork was finished, where we were staying or if I needed to rebook Christina’s and my return flight!

I left a couple of panicked voice mails. Finally I got the phone call we had been waiting for: the Visa was complete, and the exit letter was done. It was finished. A miracle had happened. Praise God! A huge weight was lifted. But I still had a tight feeling in my chest and couldn’t relax. 
On our way to the airport...finally!
We boarded the plane at midnight for our 4 hour flight to Miami. I had to sit by myself in the middle row (there weren’t any seats together) and my plan was to sleep. Unfortunately, the man who sat beside me apparently had salami and onions for dinner. He slept great. I, however received the brunt of his dinner.

Here’s a little tip: if you plan to fly overnight, eat something that doesn't eek out of every pore, your breath and your rear end. Just a thought.

So we landed in Miami at 4 am, me with zero sleep. We grabbed coffee and breakfast and waited for our flight to Haiti. Jake, thank goodness, was feeling pretty good. I truly believe God healed him. He had all the symptoms of the illness that was traveling through our community with a vengeance and yet after just a few hours seemed fine. I was so grateful to all those who had been praying for his health.

I sat next to a very kind Haitian man who asked me to help hime with his customs documents. I don’t think he could read and write. So I asked him questions and filled out his documents as best I could.

A few hours later we landed in Haiti. Hot and humid, just like we remembered.

I will write more soon, with a busy 4 year old, my writing is taking a while...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Our Embassy Appointment and Saying Good-bye to Christina

We woke up before the sun today.  Still no water.  We bathed with wet wipes.  We couldn’t even use the bathroom.

We had a quick breakfast of cereal (Fruit Loops -- Christina was in heaven!) croissants and coffee.

We loaded up the car with our suitcases, tidied up the room and headed to the US Embassy just as the sun came up.  I couldn’t believe how busy the roads were already.  People and cars everywhere.  

We arrived at the Embassy at 6:15 am for our 7:00 am appointment.  Sonia did not want to wait in the Embassy with us, the air conditioned waiting room hurts her injured arm, so Margarette from BRESMA , who also had an adoptive parent with an Embassy appointment, met us and waited with us.  There were already at least 50 people waiting in line, standing outside the Embassy in the hot sun.  We took our place in line.  Christina was a bit apprehensive, it was noisy, dusty and crowded, so I held her.  

We waited in line in the hot sun for about an hour before a guard looked at our paperwork and told us to stand in yet another line.  A group of people had already been let inside the building, but we had to continue to wait outside.  At one point I asked Sam to hold Christina for a few minutes, my arms and back were killing me.  She allowed him to carry her for a few minutes but then asked for me again.  How could I refuse?

A little Haitian woman standing in front of me could tell my arms were tired and she said to me in broken English, “You should put her down, she is big enough to stand.”  But how could I explain to her that if Christina requested I hold her, I was going to hold her, no matter how much my arms ached and back screamed?  So I said I was ok, and I could tell she was thinking “that crazy American, holding that child when she should stand on her own.”

Finally we were allowed inside the building.  We went through 2 security lines.  I had given Christina her little purse to carry with a few toys inside to keep her occupied while we were waiting.  One of the toys was an empty bubbles bottle -- the guards had no idea how to handle that: did it have liquid in it?  Why was I bringing in an empty bottle? I almost just threw it out for all the trouble it was causing.  

We walked into a waiting room that looked like any standard government agency in the States, rows of hard plastic chairs filled with waiting people armed with paperwork, a wall of receptionist stations behind glass.  Except instead of waiting for hours to renew a driver’s license, these people were trying to get permission to enter the United States.  

At first Christina sat quietly on my lap.  But after an hour she warmed up a bit and played with the toys in her purse, chattering in Kreyol.  At one point she repeated a phrase over and over, trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t figure out what she was saying.  A woman sitting across from us finally spoke up and said “she wants something sweet”.  She had just watched me put a mint in my mouth and she wanted one too!  It made me realize how many people were listening to and watching us, three white Americans with this little black child.  

During the first two hours of waiting only two people got called to the window.  Most of the time the reception windows were empty of workers.  Didn’t seem very efficient, if you ask me.

But Christina was an angel.  She played quietly, never fussed and was very patient. 

Finally it was our turn.  We went to the window, handed over our paperwork, answered a ton of questions.  We were told to sit back down and wait until our name was called again.

Another hour passed before we were called up again.  We were given a sheet of paper with checkmarks next to our missing documents, as well as a date for Sonia to come back to the Embassy for an interview to verify that Christina is a true orphan, since it is impossible to interview Christina’s biological parents.  We were told we have to turn in all of our paperwork or ask for an extension by October 29.  I am sure we will be asking for the extension, because until we get through Parquet Court we won’t have the required paperwork to turn in.  

Margarette says the interview is a new requirement.  Thank goodness Sonia will be back from her trip before her interview so we don’t have to reschedule.

After 5 hours of waiting, we were finally done.  We met up with Sonia outside, who had waited in the car that entire time.  Since Margarette’s parent had to go to the airport as well, we loaded his suitcases into our car.  Sonia told us she would go back with Margarette and our driver would take all of us to the airport and then drive Christina back to the orphanage.

While we drove to the airport I tried to explain to Christina that we had to leave, but we would be back.  Her face turned sad and she stared into space.  The same blank stare she gave us the last time we left her.  I held her and rocked her, trying to get her to understand what was happening.  My heart was breaking.

We arrived at the airport and she tried to get out of the car with us.  We sat her back on the seat and buckled her in, telling her we had to go, but would return to visit soon.  She started sobbing, big tears streaming down her face, her little arms grabbing for us.  I think she would have gotten on that plane with us if we had let her.  

Leaving her in that car was the hardest thing I have done so far during this 18 month process.  

We made our way to the check in line, being pushed and shoved by people trying to get in front of us.  An airport employee noticed Weston’s arm and took him to the front of the line.  But he wasn’t going to let us go with him, until he looked at me and decided I must be Weston’s “petite fille” (little girl) and he let us join him.  I wasn’t going to try to explain I was an adult if it meant we could get to the front of the line -- we would be lucky to make our flight, as busy as the airport was.  Of course the employee wanted a tip, which we gladly paid.  

Another employee grabbed my suitcases and shoved them through the first of three security checkpoints.  After our belongings made it through he too demanded a tip.  Weston offered him a few bucks and the man said it wan’t enough.  Weston would not budge and the man stomped away.  I guess 5 dollars wasn’t good enough for him and his 30 seconds of work.

A few more lines and we were on the plane.  We never stopped walking and didn’t even get a chance to use the bathroom or grab a drink.  But we made it.  

Two hours and we were back in the States.  Amazing.  I will post one more blog with my final impressions of the trip...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A quiet, relaxing day.

Sunday.  We all slept in.  A night with AC allowed us better sleep.  Christina woke up happy and full of energy.  She excitedly looked over the clothes I brought and decided she needed to wear a yellow top and blue skirt.  She was very happy to pick out her own clothes.  We let Sam sleep and went to breakfast, which was pancakes, juice and coffee.  Christina ate her usual container of yogurt as well.  

After breakfast we played on the back patio.  Christina picked flowers and put them in our hair.  Then she wanted flowers in her hair.  It was a sweet, sweet time with her. She took pictures of us, we took pictures together.  We got a taste of who she really is -- a delightful, playful little girl.  

Putting flowers in our hair.
The kitten returned and this time Christina was willing to watch Weston pet it.  She would slowly approach the kitten, but if the kitten moved towards her she ran away, squealing.  
Sam finally woke up, so he ate breakfast and we all got ready for the day.  I had a chance to ask him how he felt about Haiti, the orphanage and our trip so far, now that he had some rest.  He said he loved all the kids.  But of all the kids there, he knew that Christina was meant to be ours.  And he missed his brother and sister and was ready to return home.

We didn’t have any plans for the day and we weren’t sure where Sonia was.  We played with toys, I pushed Christina in a stroller we found, and we basically just had a relaxing, quiet day.  Weston napped a bit and I played matching games and building blocks with Christina.

In the afternoon we went outside to the back patio again.  Sonia arrived home, she had been working all day to secure a missing signature on our IBESR paperwork.  Although we have officially been approved by IBESR, one signature had been missed accidentally. And we needed the signature in order to file our paperwork at the Embassy the next morning.  Sonia doesn’t like to drive (I don’t blame her, I wouldn’t want to drive there either!), but because it was Sunday her driver was off and she had to get behind the wheel and brave the traffic herself.  After driving to the person’s house and waiting for hours, she was successful and our paperwork was signed.  I was so impressed with how hard she was working on our behalf.

Playing on the patio

Over ice cold Sprite and pear juice we looked over the paperwork, making sure it was filled out properly.  We asked Sonia the question I am sure she dreads: when does she think we will be able to finally bring Christina home?  

We were told the next step in the process requires a signature from a judge who happens to be on vacation for a month.  Rats.  But we were finally given a loose timeline.  Before when we asked, we were told “who knows”, but this time we were told anywhere from October to January.  (I am afraid that October is probably out of the question, we haven’t moved at all since we entered Parquet Court, but I think Christmas is actually quite possible, which makes me smile!)

We talked a bit about all of the new kiddos in the orphanage.  Sonia says IBESR has been sending her new children, many of them older and not adoptable.  A few weeks ago she was told to take in three teenagers that IBESR found living on the streets.  Sonia doesn’t have the facility to take care of older children.  She has to keep them separate from the little ones.  And she doesn’t run a jail.  She can’t force the older children to stay in the orphanage, and the older children have no desire to be there.   They keep leaving the grounds, causing the nannies to have to search for them.

Her hands are tied.  If she says no to IBESR she will no longer be in their good graces.  She has no choice but to take in the children and then try to find a facility better suited for them.

I can’t imagine how difficult it is for Sonia and all the other orphanage directors in Haiti who are trying to do the right thing, play by the rules and still have the children’s best interest at heart.  Must be very frustrating.

We had a final dinner of traditional chicken and peas on rice.  Very yummy.  After dinner Christina played a few more minutes and then looked at me and said “mwen fatigue” (I’m tired).  So I took her back to the room, gave her a quick bath, put on her pjs and she motioned she wanted me to pick her up.  Snuggled into my shoulder when I picked her up and was fast asleep within minutes.  I carefully sat down on the bed and just snuggled her.  This is the first time she requested snuggles from me.  She has always been agreeable to snuggles given to her, but never initiated them. 

While I snuggled her Weston took a shower.  We had to leave for the Embassy at 6:00am the next morning, packed and ready to go to the airport.

Sam got ready to take his shower to discover that the water had been turned off.  So no flushing, no showers.  Hopefully it will be back on in the morning so we can be clean for our travel day tomorrow.

More pictures of our day: