Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our last day in Haiti...and reflections of our trip.

March 30, 2012

We woke Christina up just as the sun was coming up. She did not want to wake up. We got her ready, packed her bags and went down to breakfast. Sonia was nowhere to be found, but we figured she would show up when it was time for Christina to leave. I think this was the sweetest, most fun Christina had been for us yet.

She chatted and smiled through breakfast. We played on the patio for a while; she decided I made a terrific jungle gym and climbed all over me, laughing and talking.

We headed back to our room to finish packing and she helped us put things in our bags and tidy up the room. Suddenly there was a knock on our door and Sonia's husband told us he was ready to take us to the airport. (No time to take a shower, I guess not taking one last night was a huge mistake, now I had to travel all sticky and gross!) I asked who was going to take Christina and he replied that a driver was waiting to take her back to the orphanage. We picked up our bags, and Christina, thinking she was going with us on another fun excursion grabbed her things and happily carried them down the stairs to the carport. She was chatting and giggling as we loaded her bag into one car and our bags into another. We hugged and kissed her goodbye and Sophie and Weston began to cry. She was not sure why we were so upset until she suddenly realized she was not going with us. The driver buckled her into the backseat of his car and the look on her face broke my heart. Once again she had that sad, withdrawn look that she greeted us with only two short days earlier. A vacant stare.  She wouldn't even look at me or say goodbye.

We got in our car, Sophie was sobbing, but trying to keep herself composed. And we drove away. Knowing that Christina was the back seat of the car completely alone, with no one she trusted to explain to her what just happened was almost unbearable. I forced myself to look out the window and not think about it. Sophie continued to cry for most of the drive, which should have been 30 minutes but ended up taking us almost two hours. The night before it had rained pretty hard for a couple of hours and the roads were a muddy, flooded mess. Rivers of dirty water and trash raced down the gutters and the mud was a foot thick, swallowing tires and shoes that tried to get through it. Pedestrians did their best to avoid the puddles and muck, but most were covered to their knees in grey dirt. But at least they were making forward progress on the road as we sat in a true traffic jam. I have never before experienced the chaos of Haiti traffic like this. Cars made their own lanes, trying to pass anywhere they could. A two lane road turned into 7 lanes, cars drove on sidewalks, on the opposite side of the road. Horns honked and at one point a police officer, trying to direct traffic through an impassable intersection actually drew his pistol to get cars to stop. I watched as men took small shovels and attempted to clear muck and water from the flooded roads.  What a hopeless job, because the minute it rains again all the work they did will be back in the streets. It reminded me of the story I had heard about prisoners being forced to carry rocks from one end of a yard to the other, only to carry them back again when they were finished, until they went crazy.  We started to worry we wouldn't make our flight. Although I was never afraid for our safety, it is amazing how safe you can feel enclosed in a car, I marveled at the craziness of the street in front of me. 

We finally made it to the airport, said good bye to Sonia's husband and did our best to ignore the men trying to take our bags and "help" us check in. One man tried to tell us if we followed him he could get us checked in faster. We had to pay him $3 just to get him to leave us alone.

We checked in. The ticket agent asked us is Sophie was a "garçon" or "fil" and did not believe me when I said "fil". I could tell that behind the hands they had over their mouths they were discussing Sophie's short hair.

We went through two security check points and arrived at a large crowded, noisy waiting room with no gates, no clock, no signs, nothing to indicate where our flight was going to board. We asked an airport employee where Insel air was and we were told to sit anywhere. Our boarding time came and went. We noticed that others had boarding passes like ours, so we figured we had to be in the right place. And since no planes had taken off, at least we knew we hadn't missed the flight.

After an hour or so an employee yelled "Insel" and we stood up and followed a crowd through a door to a flight of stairs, where people jockeyed for position to be first in line. No rows were called, just one giant exodus to the plane. It was all we could do to stay together. It wasn't as though people were rude, but at the same time they were certainly not going to do anything to help a fellow passenger. It was every man for himself.

We climbed up a steep metal staircase each carrying two carry-on bags. We had not checked any of our bags, in hopes of being able to put them in the overhead bins and avoid a long line at customs in Miami.

Finally we were in our seats, luggage stowed and ready for the 2 hour flight home. The flight was uneventful, except for the occasional bout of tears from Sophie-- she missed Christina and couldn't believe we had to leave her.

Another trip behind us.

As I reflect back on the trip, I have mixed emotions. It was amazing getting to spend one-on-one time with Christina. I loved that Sophie and Christina got along so well and that Sophie fell in love with her little sister. I loved seeing the true Christina emerge. A smart, chatty, fun-loving, energetic little girl. I was glad to see what things made her come out of her shell and what made her withdraw. It will help so much to know this before we bring her home. But my heart breaks with the knowledge that even though the orphanage is a good place, it is not a place where Christina's personality thrives. She prefers quiet, calm environments and the orphanage is anything but that. Just like some kids do well in day care and others don't, Christina just doesn't do as well in crowds or lots of activity.  We never saw Christina cry.  I wonder if she has taught herself not to.  And she never truly hugged us or kissed us.  Yes, she snuggled up to us and wanted us to hold her, but there was never a real hug or kiss that she initiated.

I am overwhelmingly sad at the way our goodbye transpired. I had no idea a driver was going to load her up in the back seat of a car and transport her the hour or more drive back to the orphanage. What was going on in her head that entire time? Did anyone tell her where she was going? Did she cry? Did the driver console her? Or was he wearing his earbuds like he did when he picked us up from the airport on our first day, and keep to himself? Did she withdraw back into herself like I watched her do every time she was in a new situation? And once she got back to the orphanage, was she glad to be back? What did she tell her friends about her time with us? Did the nannies help her process her experience? How long did it take her to get back into the swing of orphanage routine? And has she forgotten us?  Or worse, decided she doesn't like us because we left her?

The culture is so very different, I can't imagine that our visit was explained in a way that would make sense to me, as a mom and American.

But more than anything, if I am honest, I am angry. I am angry at the Haitian government for having slow, antiquated processes. I am angry at the people who took kids illeagally after the 2010 earthquake, making the process slow even further. I know that was not their intention, but the fallout of that was a further distrust of the Haitian people towards Americans and adoption. Our paperwork has been in the Haitian government system since November, 2011.  We have not yet gotten one of the many signatures required to move forward, and according to Sonia, she has no idea when we will.  Presently our paperwork is sitting on the President's desk awaiting dispensation, and it could sit there for months.  He has no incentive to sign our paperwork, except when an American celebrity, like Oprah, visits.  Then he signs a few as a gesture of "goodwill."

And if I am truly honest with myself, I am angry at God. Because ultimately He could perform a miracle and cause our paperwork to go though faster. He could do something. You can’t tell me that Christina’s life is not being damaged in some way by living in the orphanage. Her little personality is not meant to be there. She is meant to be with us, a calm, laid-back family who gets that sometimes you need quiet. We already have one kid who didn’t do crowds and noise well when he was little. We know how to deal with that. I can’t even really think about it or I get so mad/hurt that I want to scream. How can where she is be best? Why won’t God do something?

And yet, I have a choice. I can choose to turn from Him, to tell Him he is not being fair. Or I can choose to really trust that He does have her best interest, and ours, in mind. That He is holding all of us in the palm of His hand and loves us immeasurably and is guiding our steps. I don’t feel like that, but I have to choose that path. He is the one who turned our hearts to adoption. It was His voice that told both Weston and me this was the path to choose. And He has it under control. He wouldn’t have placed us here without a plan. It is simply a plan that at this moment I do not see or understand. And I know that through it I will grow, Weston will grow, Christina and all our kids will grow. Our choice is to grow closer to Him through it. Ultimately, isn't that what He wants for us?  Isn't that His best plan?

Today, with tears stinging my eyes, that is what I must cling to in the midst of my anger and hurt. I will continue to pray with all my heart that He move the government to quick action. That Christina comes home in record time. I will pray for a miracle. But a miracle has already happened. She is my child. A little girl, born a world away, years after I decided I was done having kids, has become mine because of Him. So I know He can perform miracles and if He chooses, will perform another. But regardless, I will continue to choose Him, and trust Him, because it is not about what He can do for me now, but what He has already done for me on the cross.

Christina day one

Christina day three

Can you see a difference?

She was meant for our family.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Haiti day three -- best day yet!

March 29, 2012

Today I woke up and had a small heart attack because Christina was not in her bed. I jumped out of bed in a panic and Sophie, who was still in bed, shushed me to be quiet, Christina was asleep next to her.   Sophie told me she was awakened to Christina pulling on Sophie's toes, trying to wake her up. When Sophie opened her eyes, Christina climbed into her bed and fell right back to sleep. So sweet! She had stirred a couple of times through the night, but never actually woken up, and I am pretty sure she did not wet her pull up either.

We got dressed for breakfast and went downstairs to another feast. Once again Christina loved the yogurt and wanted me to feed it to her.   She smacked her lips with delight after each bite.

After breakfast we packed our bathing suits and towels because we had arranged for a driver to take us to a hotel with a pool for the afternoon. He arrived promptly at 10am and Christina willingly piled into the car with us and was so excited to be on an excursion!  Huge change from yesterday when she shut down when we got in the car for lunch. Today she pointed at things, cried out "chen" when she saw dogs walking on the side of the road. She was very interested in everything we passed. We arrived at a hotel with a nice pool, outdoor bar and patio area. It was not at all crowded and it looked as though we were not the only Americans. Our driver arranged for us to stay at the hotel for a couple of hours. 
We changed into our bathing suits, which Christina was pretty happy about but when we went to the pool area she got very shy and quiet. She really does not like to be in new situations. Can't really blame her. She sat on my lap with her head on my shoulder and was silent. Weston and Sophie got in the water and I walked over to the steps, but she wanted none of it. Eventually she let Weston hold her and her took her into the water about waist deep. She was not so sure about that and wanted to get out. So he gave her back to me, I dried off her legs and we sat quietly for a few minutes under the umbrella. She wanted me to sit on the towel, so we arranged the towel beneath the chair until it was to her liking. (Over and over and over. She did not like it when the towel moved around when she wiggled on the chair.) 

Meanwhile, we were quite the spectacle for those staying at the hotel. We got plenty of stares from the locals eating lunch, and even the Americans felt it was ok to stare at us. Guess I will have to get used to that. The hotel had wireless Internet, this was the first time we were able to contact anyone back home to let them know we were safe, so we sent emails and iPad texts to family. I worked on my iPad as Christina got used to her surroundings. We had ordered some bottled soda to drink, not knowing if the water was safe, and I made the huge mistake of giving Christina a couple of sips. When the sugar and caffeine hit her system, she was crazy! (We asked a couple of Americans who sat near us if the water/ice was safe, and they said yes, so we had water with lunch.  So nice to have clean ice!)  We Skyped a few people and she was extra hyper! She decided I made a terrific jungle gym and proceeded to climb all over me. At one point she jumped off the chair and if I had not caught her she would have fallen straight on her head onto the concrete. Totally fearless and unaware of the possibility of getting hurt. She waved to family and friends on Skype, blew kisses and acted silly. After we hung up, we took her back to the pool and she braved the water, but only up to her knees. She was very content to sit next to me on the step and splash Sophie. I image she had never before experienced a pool; it must have been quite overwhelming.

At one point she was happily running around the patio area and ran straight towards the water. Right past Weston, who wasn't paying attention. I screamed for him to grab her and at the last second he got ahold of her arm, before she splashed into the water.  It dawned on us that we haven't had to worry about one of our kids falling into a pool for YEARS.  Our kids are now old enough that we have been able to let our parent guard down.  Our parent radar is rusty!  So we have to figure out how to get back to being aware of where she is at all times.  Especially because I have a feeling she is going to be into everything.  She is very active and loves to climb and jump.  We are going to have to kid-proof our house and retrain ourselves to keep an eye on a little one 24/7.

We played in the pool, ate lunch (rice, again. By this time Sophie is getting tired of rice!). And soon our driver returned to pick us up.

We asked him to take us to a market before we went back to the guest house so he dropped us off on the side of the road near the airport where Haitians were selling paintings and other trinkets. Now this was an experience. We, obviously tourists, with a little black girl, walking through the trash and dust to look at paintings. Three men immediately accosted us and told us to look at their things. "You like? You like?" They kept repeating. We picked out a couple of paintings, two wooden bowls and a small Haitian flag that Sophie really loved. They gave one to Christina as well. We haggled over price, came to an agreement, paid and walked away with them still trying to sell us more. Meanwhile, Christina was visibly unhappy about being on the side of the road where it was loud and crowded. She buried her head into my shoulder and held onto me for dear life.  All I wanted to do was get her back in the car where she felt safe. Sophie was a bit overwhelmed too, once the vendors realized Sophie was a little girl they tried to push necklaces and bracelets on her.  I was not worried about our safety, but the girls were a little stressed, so I was glad to wrap things up and get back to the car.
Where we stopped for paintings and wooden bowls.
The men followed us to the car and still tried to sell us things from the window as we drove away. Now that was a true Haitian experience. 

Traffic on the way home was terrible, bumper to bumper craziness. People were driving on the sidewalks on the wrong side of the road to try to get ahead. It was insane! Our driver was great at maneuvering through the traffic without being (too) crazy. Sophie occupied Christina by having her repeat English words. It delighted both of them. Finally Christina fell asleep, which was good, she was tired and needed a nap.

We finally made it back, and relaxed in our room for a while. Christina and I read a book, sang songs and played. She livens right up when she feels comfortable. She and Sophie played with their flags and played repeat the English word again. We ate an early dinner -- none of us were the least bit hungry-- of rice (Sophie was almost in tears over having to eat rice again), some sort of fish or scallops so neither Sophie or I ate it to be safe, avocado and potatoes and fried plantains. I don't think I will ever get tired of plantains, they are so good!
Sophie and Christina relaxing in the room.
Weston sat next to Christina to help her and she was a nut all through dinner, chatting and wiggling and smiling. She would point to which ever bite she wanted to be fed next.   She does not like red onion.  There were slices of red onion in the avocado and potato salad and she chewed on a piece of onion for a while, but could not swallow it.  Finally she spit it onto her plate.  She then took her fork and pushed all the red onion into a pile, picked it up and put it all on Weston's plate.  

We wanted to take one last walk throught the neighborhood, but the front gate was locked.  Christina watched us try the door, then she went up and tried it herself.  I was looking around the house for someone to open unlock the gate; Christina was talking a mile a minute, saying who knows what.  When I found Sonia and asked her to open the gate, she heard Christina jabbering away and said "Christina is telling you to go get the key.  'Le kle, le kle', she is saying to you.  She wants you to find the key".  One smart little girl.  

We passed by a house with two mean sounding dogs who barked and growled at us. I was very glad they were behind two fences.  Christina was not phased by their barking but kept calling out "chen, chen". We passed by other people walking the streets and said "Bon Soir" which some replied to with a smile and others totally ignored us.

After a short walk we went back to our room, once again we had A/C! Sophie and I bathed Christina, this time it was like wrestling a watermelon. She was full of vinegar, squirming, laughing and not being cooperative at all. It was a great big game. At one point she tried to climb the tub wall and I had to hold her down to finish her bath. To her defense, the water was really cold and she did not want to sit still and have the water splashed all over her. She did everything she could to get us to stop splashing the washcloth on her.

I had not touched her hair at all while we had her, the nannies had fixed it into pretty corn rows for us and I was afraid to mess it up. But by now her head was getting a bit smelly and her hair was not quite as neat. There as no way I was going to take her hair down and attempt to wash it and fix it, so I rubbed baby powder on her scalp to make it smell better and hoped the nannies wouldn't think I was a terrible mother for not changing her hairstyle the entire time we had her.

We put her in pjs, and snuggled up in our bed, all 4 of us. We put the movie on so Christina could finish watching it and she rested on Sophie's chest and tried to keep her eyes open. She finally gave up and fell fast asleep. We knew we had an early morning, Sonia told us she would take Christina with her back to the orphanage by 6am and her husband would take us to the airport a little later. I was too tired to take a shower and figured I would have time in the morning before we left. I also was not in the mood to freeze my tail off. Neither was Sophie, so only Weston took a shower. 
Her smile melts my heart!
Hamming it up for the camera

Today was our best day with Christina, by far.  I feel like we got a chance to really see what a fun, goofy, smart, happy little girl she is.  The pictures I got of her tonight as she was coloring capture her personality so well.  It is going to be hard, hard, hard to leave her tomorrow.  And we can't explain that we are coming back.  In fact, I have no idea if she even understands who we are or why she is staying with us.  My prayer is that she sees it as one fun field trip and falls right back into her routine with no problem.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day Two in Haiti

March 28, 2012:

I woke up a few times in the night.  The electricity was off again (no A/C) so we had to turn the fan on, which meant my sheet kept fluttering over my legs, waking me up.  But it gave me a chance to check on Christina.  She is a pretty restless sleeper, tossing and turning and hitting the wall with her legs, but she never woke up until morning, when she woke up quietly, bright and early. I was already awake (well, sort of) so I motioned for her to crawl into bed next to me. She snuggled up next to me under the sheet and fell right back to sleep for another half hour.

When she woke up for the second time we got her dressed, (she had wet the pull up, so it is a good thing we brought them) and went down to breakfast. Breakfast was chocolate filled croissants, lunch meat turkey rolled up (very weird), slices of cheese (White American, I think, which I did not eat, because that is just nasty on too many levels) yogurt, and raisin bread with butter. There was also thick strong coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. Sophie ate two croissants and Christina loved the yogurt. Weston fed it to her and she kept smacking her lips and grunting for more. I am not sure she had ever tasted it before. She also loved the cheese and ate two slices (I know, gross, but someone had to eat it and she actually liked it). We only gave her a small sip of juice but she would have had more if we had let her. In the middle of breakfast she got a strange look of her face, said "poopy", so off we went to the bathroom. I am so very glad she is potty trained.  (And this is probably WAY more information than anyone really wants, but it doesn't look like she has worms.  Everything looked very normal.)  After she was finished I guess she had more room in her belly, because she came back to the table and cleaned her plate.

After breakfast I took a very cold shower -- and I mean COLD!  Take my breath away cold! And since the water pressure was a trickle, it took a very long time to get clean so thank goodness I had thought to bring a stack of washcloths from home so at least I could cover my face to keep the water off and really get under the water to rinse -- and we all got ready. We played in the courtyard for a while, we threw the ball, and tried to get Christina to ride in the play car again, but she wanted to stay close to Sophie. She is Soph's little shadow.  She laughed and smiled and ran around. She seemed very happy to be with us. We also played with some toys Sonia had in the living room for visiting kids. Christina only gets out one toy at a time and puts away whatever she is playing with before getting out another. She was intrigued by a riding truck that made noise when you pushed the horn. She liked that the noises changed each time she pushed the button.

Sonia picked us up mid morning to take us out to lunch. (It felt like we had just finished breakfast!)  We piled into her car, Christina sitting on Sophie's lap. She got very quiet and withdrawn in the car. Maybe she thought she was going back to the orphanage, or maybe it was just the not knowing what was next, I am not sure.  We drove through a busy street with crazy traffic. No one, I mean NO ONE, actually follows any sort of traffic rules. If you can pass, you pass, and a red light does not mean stop to most of the drivers. We drove by markets, tent cities, a graveyard (we were told it was the public graveyard), until we drove by the UN complex and the American Embassy.

We turned into a historical museum- like place for lunch, directly across from the American Embassy. Obviously this was a popular place for wealthy visitors and those working at the Embassy. We figured the food had to be safe. The dining area was outdoors under big tents, and open air buildings amidst old kettles and tools used when Haitian slaves made cane juice out of sugar cane. We sat down and Sonia ordered us each a cane sugar drink. Christina was reserved and quiet, which she tends to become when in a new environment. The buffet was not quite open, so we sat and chatted about the orphanage. Sonia has kids being adopted into many countries.  Christina's best buddy, Christana, is joining a family in Germany, which makes me sad because they will never see each other again.  The cane sugar drinks were sweet and thick, and very different from anything I have ever had before. Christina loved it (I had to take it away from her to keep her from drinking all of it, and she did a great job of not fussing) and Sophie didn't so we ordered Sophie a Coke instead.
Drinking cane sugar soda at the restaurant
When the buffet opened Weston held Christina and I filled her plate. The food was amazing-- tabbouleh, poulet et pois, fried plantains and some sort of root veggie, rice, and spicy pork with picklese. Again Christina ate and ate and ate-- she can pack away the food. Sophie tried almost everything but her favorite was the rice. Haitians really can cook rice, it is so good.

Christina's table manners are decent, she can use utensils, tries to keep the food on her plate and manages to stay fairly clean.

There were chickens, guinea hens and doves wandering around the grounds and Christina was enthralled. She had warmed up a bit by now and was taking everything in. She squealed whenever one came by our table.

Dessert was honeyed creeps and rum raisin cake. They were both a bit sweet for me. We finished our meal and then walked around the grounds where there were cages full of peacocks, pea hens and others birds. The peacock gave us a show which was fun to watch. We also saw huge mango and banana trees.

We walked next door to a huge two story warehouse full of furniture. Called "Voila", it is basically a giant furniture store, like you would find in the US.  The prices were listed in US dollars and were a bit cheaper than the comparable furniture we would find in the US.  There was a small Radio Shack store was inside as well. The warehouse was mildly air conditioned (I don't think the electricity was on here either -- the escalators and many of the overhead lights were off) and we walked around for a few minutes while Sonia went to get the car, because by this time Christina was getting sleepy and needed to be carried.

Sonia asked if we wanted a tour of a few Haitian sites before we headed back home. We piled into the car, Christina snuggled on my lap, eyes getting droopy.

We drove back the way we came and not too far after we passed the Embassy and UN complex Sonia turned down a bumpy, poorly maintained dirt road. We drove past banana trees for a mile or so until we came to a piece of land with a high metal fence and bright blue gate. Sonia said this was land she owned and dreamed of building an orphanage here. We found out that the house the orphanage is in currently is just rented. Sonia says the gate and wall cost $40,000 to build, but it withstood the earthquake well. The area is safer than where the current orphanage is because it is so close to the UN and embassy, and closer to her home. Somedays it takes her 2 hours to get to the orphanage from her home, if traffic is bad.  She estimates to build the buildings and furnish it will cost $500,000 which she does not have, but she says she "has to have a dream, right?"

What amazes me is that really is not that much money, if you think about it. The price of a really nice house in the US and you can provide orphans a safe, nice facility.  And I truly believe the orphanage is crucial in helping the kids transition better to their new families.  When the kids feel safe and warm and well cared for, it makes a huge difference.

We then drove through a private cemetery, which was beautiful; Sonia told us you can rent a plot for 99 years. Never did figure out what happens after the 99 years are up. What do they do, throw your bones and dust into the street!?!  We then drove through a newer neighborhood with very nice houses that Sonia had never been in before.

Finally we returned to her home. Chrisitna woke up when we tried to get her out of the car so we headed to our room to play. We had A/C for a change, so we sat in the room to soak up the cool air. It doesn't last long, the electricity is out more than it is on. When we have Christina alone in a place she feels comfortable, she is a hoot! She chats up a storm; I so wish I could understand what she is saying! It doesn't seem to bother her that we can't understand her, she just keeps talking. She sings to herself as well. She loves to copy whatever Sophie does and loves to tell Sophie she has to go peepee so that Sophie will take her to the bathroom. They played ball for a while, rolled around on the bed and Christina climbed all over Sophie. Then we got out the iPad and played a matching game. She was touching the screen a bit hard for my liking so made her hold my hand and use my finger to touch the matching cards. After 2-3 games she had it all figured out and knew exactly how to play the game. She is super smart. She got so tickled every time she won the game and would throw herself onto the bed with a squeal. She could have played the game for hours. 
I taught her patty-cake, which made her laugh and jump around with delight. She then had to play it with Weston and Sophie over and over and over. Nothing like repetition to make a toddler happy.

We got her to stand still long enough to measure her, she is 39 1/2 inches tall, which according to the growth chart puts her at the 25th percentile for her age. And although we couldn't weigh her, I don't think she is more than 30-35 lbs. She has a big ol' belly but the rest of her is skinny.

We were called down to dinner, which was rice (again), some sort of shrimp dish that Sophie and I did not get to eat since we are allergic -- I can not imagine having to be rushed to a Haitian hospital with an allergic reaction, that would be AWFUL, but Weston said it was great-- fried plantains, and avocado and green bean salad. And they served Weston a Haitian beer, which tasted SO good. Christina once again ate well and was quite silly at the table. She laughed and made faces and wiggled. She is a bundle of energy when she feels comfortable and safe.

After dinner we tried to get her to settle down a bit so we read a book for a while and then put on a kid's movie, which she became enthralled with even though she couldn't understand it. We bathed her, got her ready for bed and she snuggled into our sheets and tried her best to keep her eyes open so she could finish watching the movie.  Finally I had to turn it off so she would fall asleep.

After she was snuggled into her little bed, stuffie in hand, Weston washed Sophie's hair (which she said felt great, even with the cold water) I snuggled Sophie for a while and we called it a night.

It was a great day.  Each day we get to know the real Christina a little more.  She was meant to be in our family and we love her so much.  We took tons of video (instead of photos), which I am trying to figure out how to upload.  Once I figure it out I will add video to this blog!  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day one in Haiti.

We did not have internet at our guest house so I was unable to post anything on Facebook or my blog while in Haiti. Since we returned to Florida to visit family and friends it has been a whirlwind of activities -- dinners, coffees, two book signings for my book, Running By THE BOOK. So excuse the lateness of these posts, but better late than never, right?

Tuesday March 27, 2012

I am sitting in the guest house relaxing and watching our two girls color pictures together. Today has been a long but good day...

We were awoken this morning by the phone ringing in our Miami hotel room. A wake up call that we never asked for. Fortunately the wake up call was only 5 minutes earlier than we had our own alarms set for; Unfortunately, the person who requested that wake up call for another room probably overslept. (Either that or the person who requested it has a sick sense of humor: “isn't it fun to wake up random people we don't know!")
In the airport -- excited to begin our journey!

After our last warm shower for a few days, we arrived at the Miami Airport. The ticket counter was a bit chaotic -- it was very apparent we were flying on a foreign airline-- but security was no big deal. I think Americans are the only people who understand what the term “waiting in line” means.

We got a cup of coffee (thank goodness, I was getting cranky! You know you are desperate when you are willing to drink hotel coffee, but when I had added the creamer, it curdled in the cup, so I hadn’t even gotten to drink it!) and headed to the gate. The waiting area was pretty full already, and we were the only white people. We got a few strange stares as we sat on the floor next to our suitcases, but no one bothered to move over and offer us a seat.
Our flight boarded without incident. It is amazing how as Americans we know the whole airplane drill: put your bags under the seat in front of you, fasten your seatbelt, keep the tray tables and seat backs up. No one else on the plane paid any attention to the rules and the flight attendants had to repeatedly ask people to put on their seatbelts, stow their bags and put the tray tables back. No one spoke English, a requirement to sit in the exit rows, so everyone in the exit rows had to be reseated. 

We were flying Insel Air, out of Curacao. I think this may have been one of their original planes. The overhead compartments were so small my bag wouldn't fit (and it wasn't a very big bag) so I had to check it at the door. The tray tables were broken, the seat back pockets falling apart. There was old, used chewing gum in the bottom of Weston’s back pocket. Not the cleanest plane we have ever been on. I prayed the engine was not as old and beat up as the rest of the plane!

Sophie fell asleep and I read. I think we flew over Cuba on our way to Haiti (non American flights are allowed in their airspace). The flight attendants were very nice. Less than 2 hours later we landed on the one landing strip in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

Thick, humid air blasted us as we exited the plane down some steep rickety metal stairs, and crammed onto a bus that had way too many people on it for my comfort. A bumpy five minute drive where my balancing exercises came into practice (I had nothing to hold onto and prayed I wouldn’t topple into the people beside me) and we arrived at customs.

The good news about being crammed against the bus door was we were some of the first off the bus. We were second in line for customs, only to be told since we didn't have the address where we were staying in Haiti we would have to get out of line and speak to a customs agent. A very nice security office with a cell phone called Sonia (our Orphanage director- thank goodness we had her number!) and was able to the address for us. By the time we finished that we were the very last people in line. But honestly it wasn't a big deal or a long wait.

We located my bag, fought off the men asking to carry our luggage for us (no, Meci, NO MECI, N.O. M.E.C.I) and walked the 1/4 or so mile to the parking lot where we hoped someone was waiting to pick us up. Being the only white people (seriously, we were the only ones on our flight) we were easy to spot and our driver grabbed our bags and took us to the car. A huge difference from last time when we waited in the heat for close to two hours, accosted by men every two seconds offering to take us to who knows where.

We were not sure where the driver was supposed to take us, the guest house or the orphanage, but he seemed to know what to do. Like I said before, the one thing we have learned from our previous trip is to have no expectations. Just go with the flow. I actually was able to figure out some of the landmarks from our last trip and could tell we were probably headed to the orphanage. Sophie was taking in all of the sights - the crowded streets, venders selling their wares on the roadside. The street scenes looked the same as when we were here before. Sophie was very upset when a little boy about her age in dirty clothes and covered in dust, came up to our car as we were stopped in traffic. He tried to get money from our driver and then knocked on the window where she was sitting. She was so sad to see a kid her own age begging. She talked about him for the rest for the car ride.

When we opened the gate to the orphanage we were greeted by the sounds of children singing and playing. All of the older children had their school uniforms on (green polo shirts and blue jeans) except Christina, who was wearing a fancy red satin dress and brand new sandals with tags still attached. (I later found out she had picked her outfit out herself in honor of our visit.)

All of the kids gathered around us-- some faces we knew from last time, but many faces were new. The little girl who had burst into tears every time she saw us last visit actually smiled at us today. And the little boy who had thrown himself at Weston during our last visit once again seemed thrilled to see him.

A nanny led Christina by the arm over to me and I knelt down in front of her. She had her typical sad face, the one we see in the pictures sent to us by the orphanage. After a few seconds she leaned on me, then she grabbed my hand. She warmed up to me within a few minutes and wanted me to pick her up. But she did not smile. I sat her on my lap and Sophie sat next to us. Christina was interested in Sophie's hair and face, she touched her hair, her cheeks and even her teeth. Then she grabbed Sophie's hand too, still staring blankly into space. 

Not too sure about us.

We sat together while Weston fended off the little boys who were vying for his lap. After a few minutes she grabbed Weston's hand too.

The kids thought Sophie was a boy -- her short hair was throwing everyone off. Even the nannies thought she was a “garcon”. I am not sure we convinced them that she wasn’t. I am sure a little white girl is strange enough to see, much less one with really short hair.

The nannies had prepared lunch for us in another room; so we played with the kids for a few more minutes and then went into the other room to eat. The nannies were playing music for the kids-- music from Flashdance and Boy George filled the room. Christina had a place at the table as well, so she sat between Sophie and me. We had chicken, zucchini and tomato salad, cold buttered potatoes and (very, very strong) coffee. I cut up the food on Christina's plate and she dug in. After a few minutes she climbed onto my lap and handed me her spoon so I could feed her. I gave her a bite of tomato and by the look on her face (crinkled up nose and typical "yuck" face kids give) she did not like it, but she swallowed it anyway. It was too funny! But she loved the chicken and potatoes. Sophie loved the chicken as well.
Suddenly Christina got a funny look on her face, said "peepee" and ran upstairs. A nanny followed her up the stairs to help. She came back down and her hands were wet, so I really hoped she had washed them with soap. She climbed back into my lap and decided she needed to feed me. So for every bite I fed to her, she gave me a bite off of my plate.

Both girls ate very well. We went back to the courtyard area of the orphanage while the other kids ate their own lunch.

Christana, who seemed to be Christina's best buddy, wanted snuggles and crawled into Sophie's lap, with Christina's permission. Christana snuggled Sophie and slowly her eyes dropped and she fell fast asleep. Sophie was so sweet to her and was thrilled that she had been able to put her to sleep.

One little guy, about 2 maybe, was a piece of work. All smiles, throwing a ball to us, running away from us and then back to us, sticking his tongue out at us. He was so full of energy and fun to watch. Whoever adopts him is going to have one high energy little boy.

At one point Weston walked to the other side of the courtyard to talk to Sonia and Christina was extremely unhappy that he was not next to us. She pulled me over to him so we could sit together again.

The little guy who had been showing off and running around somehow wormed his way onto Weston's lap and when Sonia told us it was time to go to the guest house he got so upset when Weston put him down. Huge tears fell from his eyes. What a cutie.
Christina seemed fine leaving with us, she climbed into the car and onto my lap without any hesitation. I have no idea what she had been told about our visit, but she seemed as though she wanted to leave with us. We stopped off at a local bazaar that Sonia thought we might like and Christina stayed in my arms the entire time we walked around. She seems to withdraw and become very shy when in unfamiliar surroundings.

We bought some art, decorative boxes, handmade stationary and other Haitian things. Everything was beautiful. The prices were in Gordes, and we had no idea how to translate that to dollars-- turns out a dollar was about 38 Gordes. So we filled up a basket and paid only $49.00 for all of it. I want to go back there again!

We loaded back up in the car and headed on to the guest house, which we found out is actually Sonia's personal residence. It is a fairly long drive from the orphanage, through parts of Port Au Prince we had never seen. Lots of hilly, curvy poorly maintained roads. We would drive past a tent city, and then go by a really nice looking neighborhood, all within the same block. It was an interesting drive and nice to see more of the city.

Christina fell asleep on my lap for a good portion of the drive. I prayed she didn't pee on me. We drove into a gated community and it was like we were back in south Florida. Big, pretty houses and landscaped yards. The only difference between this neighborhood and one in Miami are the gates and walls topped with barbed wire around each home. Crazy that only a mile away people are living in tents and tin houses surrounded by trash.

Sonia said she has lived in this house since 1993. It is a safe neighborhood and many doctors, attorneys and business people live there. The US embassy has two houses there as well, that they rented ($7000 a month!) after the 2010 earthquake. 
The neighborhood

Sonia's house

It is a very nice home, with a terrific patio and backyard, a huge eat-in kitchen, a formal dining room and three living areas. Our room is upstairs and is clean and set up with three beds-- a double for Weston and me, twin for Sophie and toddler bed for Christina. The bathroom is in the hall and is typical Haiti. Sub-American standards, but luxury for Haiti. Of course there is no hot water and not much water pressure. The decor tickled me. Pictures are hung on the walls in the strangest places. One framed picture of flowers was located uncentered above the bathroom door. The guest house we stayed in last time was similar, perhaps it is a cultural thing to put pictures in random, weird places.

Although our room has AC, it isn't working because the electricity hasn't been on since we've been here. Haiti has rolling blackouts, apparently it is this area's turn to not have power. The lights and appliances are run on a generator in the front yard, so we do have lights and a small fan. But it is HOT.

We unpacked, changed Christina out of her hot dress and into a cute short set I bought her (and thank goodness it fit! She is a solid 4T, size 9 foot). That's what I am watching right now, the two of them color together on the bed, Christina jabbering away in her cute Kreyol. I so wish I could understand her, she is certainly a chatterbox once she feels comfortable.

Before I forget I want to write down the rest of our first day. So much has happened I am afraid I will forget it all if I don't get it all down. Some of the things we did after we arrived at the guest house:
  • Sat in the backyard and watched Christina ride a little riding car around. She was quiet and intense at first (I think she really liked not having to share it -- there is a similar one at the orphanage and I have seen the kids fight over riding in it) and after a while got all smiley and talkative. Sonia sat with us for a while and commented that Christina is content to play alone, can occupy herself well and doesn't seem to like a lot of chaos and activity. In fact, the last time Sonia took the older kids out to dinner for a special occasion Christina did not like it and asked to go home- the noise and crowd was too much for her. I wonder if that is her personality or if she has bad memories of crowds and noise from somewhere in past. Regardless of the reason, we will need to be very careful about taking her into crowded places when we finally get her home.

Playing in the backyard
  • We ate a yummy dinner of fried plantains, beef meatballs, rice and peas, potato casserole,and broccoli carrots and cauliflower.   Sophie loves the food and both girls ate very well.  Christina loves fried plantains, I am going to have to figure out how to make them myself.
  • We gave Christina a small ball to play with and she wouldn't let it go for anything.  She toted it around all evening, along with a balloon she brought from the orphanage and a little stuffed rabbit Sophie gave her.  She carried these items around all afternoon and got very upset if one of them dropped out of her arms.  At dinner they had to sit in front of her plate where she could see them.
  • Sonia said her neighborhood was safe if we wanted to take a walk, so we took Sophie and Christina for a short walk after dinner. The houses are big and well cared for, brightly painted in oranges and greens and even purples. The flowers are all blooming the fragrances were incredible as we walked by. We taught Christina how to smell the flowers. There is new construction on a couple of lots. The construction is all concrete, even the roof. We saw a couple of houses with for rent signs so we asked Sonia when we returned what houses in her neighborhood rent for, she said anywhere from $2000-7000. 
Taking a walk through the neighborhood.

  • Sophie and I bathed Christina. Christina did a great job of standing still as we bathed her, even though the water was really cold. She willingly put on a pull up (to Sophie's delight, since I was going to make her put one on to show Christina how to wear one) rubbed her skin with lotion, and put on her PJ’s. Then we piled into our bed and snuggled until she could no longer keep her little eyes open. She fell asleep clutching her balloon and ball. 
Clutching her ball and balloon.  Sweet girl.

Sophie was a great sport all day. She was so patient with Christina, so helpful and kind. She is a terrific big sister. She tried everything on her plate and didn't even complain about the cold shower she took before bed. I am so proud of how well she handled things today -- it was a long, hot day with a lot of excitement and she did great. It will be interesting to see what tomorrow holds. Will she sleep through the night? How will she react to us in the morning? I am exhausted and ready for bed myself -- I will write more later.