Being "fragile", passing court, and the three longest weeks of my life

Monday, March 19, 2012

Forgive me for skipping quite a number of days. I did the same when my mother came to visit, and now with Doug and Aidah both staying at the guesthouse, there is no quiet time.

The biggest and best news of all is what you have all seen shouted from the rooftops the last two days. We are officially the legal guardians of Aidah Kwagala Nabuuza. the ruling wasn’t the piece of cake that we expected it to be. In fact, we sat almost holding our breaths for a good 30 minutes while the judge questioned Aidah’s father in front of us. Last Friday, there were just enough seats for everyone attending court - Aidah’s father and mother, auntie, Eve the social worker, Jurjanne, Aidah and myself. Add in Doug and there weren’t enough seats. So, in the back corner of the room, Doug, Aidah and I squished onto two seats, arms around each other, and Aidah’s hands twisting nervously on her lap. The judge immediately called Jacson to stand and talk with the interpreter. At the time it looked like lots of shaking heads, arguing back and forth, frequent pointing at Aidah and some strongly articulated comments by the judge:
“That’s NOT what you said last time!”
“I do not trust you!”
“Repeat what you just said.”
“Ask him again!”
  Jacson stood for about 10 minutes, and finally the judge released him. He relaxed back in his chair, glancing at us, making small talk with our attorney, and then all of a sudden -
  “I do not trust this man. He is not honest. Looking at the probation report, it is obvious this is not a family to be trusted (and he is correct about that). Normally I would not entertain such a case. It is only due to this child’s medical condition that I am hereby granting legal guardianship to the applicants.”
My arm immediately went to Aidah’s head and I squeezed her tightly. I bent forward to see if she had understood and saw that her mouth was broadened in one of the largest smiles I had ever seen on her little face. Doug and I both squeezed and and kissed her and she relaxed back against our arms as the judge finished up the details.
  A judge can ask whatever he wants in the ruling and it is up to our morals and ethics to live up to it. There are some things that judges ask that can make a child ineligible for an orphan visa, like insisting that the child cannot be readopted in the United States but instead must travel back to Uganda for finalization. But that wasn’t in the ruling. We are now obligated to bring her back to Uganda at least once every five years until she is no longer under our roof, provide updates to the Ugandan Embassy, the probation officer, the family court and several other places every six months until she is 18, and maintain her dual citizenship until the age of 18. The wording of our ruling is expected to be the norm for all Ugandan adoptions by the end of 2012. Remember the mass exodus of healthy young infants I referred to in an earlier post? This is one way that they hope to curb adoptions - people may see these requirements as being too extreme. But if, like us, they know that a child is their child, they will comply with anything within reason to bring her into their family.
  After the ruling, we walked out in the hallway, and it was the best description of controlled chaos I’ve been witness to. Everyone was hugging and kissing, slapping each other on the back. Aidah’s parents were bowing, kissing hands, thanking and looking generally pleased. Our attorney, Isaac, looked a bit stunned, at which point I thanked him for not revealing his doubts beforehand. Jurjanne and I hugged, all arms around Aidah as she beamed from ear to ear. And we all slowly made our way downstairs.
Stepping out into the sunshine was invigorating, and we all broke into groups and started taking photos of each other. Birth family photo, new family photo, all family photo, Ugandans, Muzungus, and so on. Finally, just us, just the three of us, climbed into our car and drove back to our guesthouse.
That evening I finally opened the suitcase that Doug brought for Aidah and I took out several books. Where’s Waldo, Richard Scarry, and a picture dictionary. I had also asked Doug to pack Hooked On Phonics Kindergarten for Aidah, but after just a few minutes I realized that I was way off. Aidah is reading and comprehending at a much higher level, at least third grade. She is quiet and difficult to hear, but her pronunciation is correct on virtually everything she reads and she understands virtually everything. When listening to Jurjanne or me speak, sometimes she stares and does nothing, leading us to believe she doesn’t understand, but it takes some time to work out our accents, what we are really saying and if it actually means the same thing that she believes it to mean. Words here, even in English, take on a double meaning, and when culture is added in, good luck understanding the true meaning of anything.
  Wouldn’t you imagine that “you’re so fat, you almost broke the shocks in my car!” was an insult? (This was not said to me...thank goodness. I fear if it were, I could not stop the tears.) No, this is a huge compliment. As Doug perused the personal ads in a local paper today, he pointed out one (of several) that asked for a woman with wide hips. I’ve never felt so adored as several times a day I am asked if I am married or for me to “show my finger”. Frank (remember Frank?) said appreciatively, “A man would not have to spend a fortune to make you healthy. You are already quite well. These skinny women cost so much to feed!” Maybe a future in Africa for me?
  In my initial meeting with the probation officer, I asked her to speak to Aidah’s parents about what she was like as a girl. Did she laugh a lot? Cry? Was she talkative? Quiet? Jurjanne and I laughed into our coffees as the answer came back. “She was quite stubborn and dull.”

While we sat and waited to be called into the courtroom for the ruling, Godfrey mentioned that he finds me “fragile”. I was slightly insulted. I can’t fathom anyone thinking me fragile. I’m tough...mostly. I mean, I cry at a bad game of Risk, but in general, I go through deployments with little/no complaining, take one step at a time, and don’t think of myself as overly emotional. But my mini-breakdown in court, to the judge of all people, labeled me as fragile. I mentioned that I wasn’t particularly fond of this sentiment and it was explained, “No, like a fragile box. Handle with care.”
“Noooo....not exactly,” I still protested. “You are seeing me at the most stressful time in my life. You cannot judge someone by how they act when they fear their child will not be able to come home.”
  The next day, Godfrey drove us to Jinja, and I teased him good-naturedly (mostly) about the wording. As we sat in a restaurant high on a cliff overlooking the Nile River, I explained what I didn’t like about the word “fragile” again. And then a bet was made. If I could walk to the car after lunch in bare feet, on the sharp Ugandan rocks, and walk at the same pace as everyone else, Godfrey would never call me fragile again.
  So, after lunch, I stripped off my shoes and headed up to the car, not walking on pavement or grass, but only on rocks. I crossed the parking lot, ahead of Doug & Godfrey and plunked myself down on the front seat of our car with a grin at Godfrey. “Deal? You will never call me fragile again?” He shook my hand heartily. “Deal! But what about ‘delicate’?”
  Jinja was amazing. I have loved being in Kampala, and there is a city experience in Africa that cannot be replicated out in the bush, but so many times when driving to Bulamu, I have stared at the red clay roads leading back into the hills and just ached to follow them, to see the tiny homesteads that line those back roads and see the “real” Africa. Even though Jinja is the second largest city in Uganda, it still had a small-town feel to it. We took a rather small rickety boat (with small leaks) out to the headwaters of the Nile River. We attempted (and failed) a geocache. We ate at a restaurant owned and run by Americans - the second place in Uganda that I have been at, run by ex-pats, with horrible service. Every Ugandan restaurant I’ve been to has had quick attentive service, and the ex-pat restaurants do not. I’m sure there’s a reason but I haven’t put a lot of thought into it.
  We passed miles of tea and sugar cane plantations on the way to Jinja and again, the red clay roads leading to the hills beckoned me. I want to come back, rent a car, and just drive around the country on back roads. Imagine the faces you’d see?
  I asked Godfrey what might happen if you hit a goat with your car. Would you need to stop and pay for the goat? No, not in Uganda, but if you were in Sudan, it’s best if you stop. There, if you do not stop and pay for the animal, they make a note of the color of your car, and the next one that passes with the same color, they will shoot.
  I left the US three weeks ago today. These have been the longest three weeks of my life. The first week was fun, with very little homesickness. I have not had a break, ever, from my kids. And I haven’t felt like I needed one. But it was nice, in spare time, or waiting time, to sit with my Kindle and read books that I’ve looked forward to reading, or play a game on my iPhone. When we found out that we would be going to court last Friday and I would not be coming home right away, I was excited, but my stomach sank a bit. I was already beginning to really miss everyone - family, friends, pets. But it was ok, because we had to prepare for court. And now Doug came, and it felt wrong that Lydia and Gwen weren’t with him. Everything we see, every new smell and sound, I think, “Gwen would really like this!” or “Lydia would see this as being so funny!” I am aching to come home. But if this adoption is like our others, I will cry for a few hours (being the fragile woman I am) on our flight home. While you ache for home, there is a part of your child’s experience and homeland that will never leave you. My heart is in segments all over the world. Of course the largest part is with Doug and the kids (preferably in Montana), but a bit in Haiti, a bit in China, a bit in Germany, and now, forever, a bit in Uganda


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

 Friday morning - one of the two most important dates this trip could bring. We woke up early and I put Aidah in the shower, scrubbing her from head to toe. She spent the whole time playing with the shower knobs and turning the water from frigid to boiling. Several times I yelped and jumped out of the way as water spilled down on my arms. Aidah babbled away in Luganda and I enjoyed listening to her quiet voice telling me something....anything. She is so quiet and shy that when she talks, everyone stops to listen. I helped her get dressed, and she just beamed, not even trying to conceal her happiness at her clothing. Her shoes, the ones we thought fit well when we first arrived, are more than a size too small for her and her heel hangs off the back. Still, when she leans over to slip her foot in, and fasten the buckle, her hands literally shake with happiness. She went back in the bathroom to look at herself in the mirror, first at her head and shoulders and then standing up on the toilet seat to try and see her dress and shoes.
As I put on my dress and shoes, and then make up, she stood and watched, exclaiming over everything she thought was “kirungi nyo” - literally, beautiful so much! My yellow shoes, beaded necklace, pink lipstick (which I shared) and mascara.

Soon, we heard a honk at the gate, and we scurried out to meet Steven, our driver for the day. He navigated the maze of streets in Kampala’s city center, and eventually we pulled up in front of an apartment building, guarded by policemen. He explained why we were there, and we were shown to a parking space labeled “Austrian ambassador”. It was around this time that I realized I had forgotten my camera. “Oh brother!” I exclaimed and Aidah echoed me, “Oh brotha!”

As we walked in the building we were searched and our belongings sent through a scanner. I believe I have forgotten to mention that this happens everywhere though, so it felt like just walking into an apartment building. Steven started the walk up a flight of stairs and I hesitated, looking at Aidah and then at the elevator. “Steven,” I called, “Can I bring Aidah on the elevator?” “No,” he replied, “It’s not far.” So, up we climbed. As we reached the first half-story, the first landing, Aidah stopped to catch her breath. A minute later, up we climbed. Steven had lost sight of us, so we weren’t sure how far we were going, but it took us at least 10 minutes to go up 3 more half-stories, resting at each landing. Steven poked his head over the bannister and said, “Are you coming?” “Do you know that Aidah is sick? She has a very bad heart! This is not good for her!” I sort of snipped. His mouth dropped open in shock, “Ay, what? A bad heart? She looks so healthy! Just one more to go!” So, Aidah plugged away, up 2 more flights until we saw the sign for “Family Court”. And there we were. Another check of our bags and some beautiful compliments to Aidah for looking so “smart”, and we were sitting in a courtroom waiting, 1 full hour ahead of schedule. Steven disappeared to drive to our attorney’s office and pick up Aidah’s birth family. I asked him to tell Aidah who was coming back with him, and the smiles disappeared. I put my arm around her and kept telling her it would be ok, and she leaned up against me, her head on my shoulder.

About 45 minutes later, a commotion in the waiting room made Aidah poke her head out the door. She exclaimed and then hustled back to my side, burying her eyes in the back of my arm. In walked Aidah’s father and mother, her littlest sister Elizabeth (age 4), her auntie and Evelyn, the social worker from Bulamu. Jacson, Aidah’s father, sat down immediately on a bench, and Ester, Aidah’s mother dropped to her knees and shuffled over to me to take my hand. She brought it to her lips, and began to talk to me, while Beatrice translated. “Mrs Mary, we are so happy for your love for Aidah. She is more your daughter than she has ever been mine.” At these words, Aidah stood up and walked to another bench. “N-nn-noooo....” I stammered. “She will always be your daughter.” The answer came back, “But you care for her more than we ever will.” I raised my eyes to meet Aidah’s across the room, and she dropped her face and retreated even farther. Ester pointed at her and motioned to her estranged husband, and Aidah obediently dropped to her knees, shuffled over to her father, her face turned away the whole time. He reached out his hand and she took it, but refused to look at him. As soon as he released it, she jumped up and came to sit by me, wrapping her arms around my arm, and leaning her head against me. When Isaac (our lawyer) came in the room, he saw two sides...birth family, and Aidah and me, facing each other, each silent. The tension was thick.
I have made it very clear to Aidah’s family that I feel no jealousy towards them. We will always refer to them as Aidah’s parents. Her siblings will always be her brothers and sisters. If it takes Aidah a year to call me “mama” that will be ok. We don’t own her, or her feelings. But when faced with the reality that Aidah has much to work out in her own heart concerning her feelings toward this family, it made the situation very uncomfortable. I sat with her in silence, my hand on her knee, her arms around me, and just kept saying softly to her that it would be ok. Every once in a while I would gently squeeze her knee and she would giggle and squirm.

All of a sudden, about 30 minutes after court was to start, Isaac barreled into the room. “Everyone come! Now! Judge is ready!” So, we filed into the court room. Two long conference tables faced each other, the judge on one side, and Isaac on the other. Behind Isaac, a row of chairs was placed and we all lined up and sat down. First me, Aidah and Jurjanne, and then Jacson, Ester, Beatrice, Elizabeth and Evelyn.
Only after we were seated did I notice the court reporter and the two translators sitting near the judge. They smiled at us and we smiled back, the judge looking quite fatherly and kind, if not a bit strict. Isaac introduced each person in our case, and we stood up and waited for the judge to acknowledge us. Except that no one had told me to stand at all, and I was the first person introduced. I remained seated because Isaac had told me that he would indicate when I should stand, sit or speak. Several intros down the line, he began to tell people to stand up, and my stomach sank with horror. What a way to start off the court session!

The first thing Isaac made clear was that Aidah is very sick, that she has been given just months to live and he thanked the judge for taking it so seriously. The judge stared at Aidah, who stared back but shrank into my shoulder again. As the affidavits were read, personal situations revealed, and although the words were spoken in English and Aidah’s comprehension is minimal, I felt her separating herself from her parents and clinging to me more and more. The judge asked me some questions about Sam, our other “heart kid” and then focused on the parents. He called up Aidah’s father and began to ask him questions. They went through two translators and his reply went back. The judge scoffed at him, “Noooo!!! This is not true! Tell the truth!” Back went the question and after a lengthy reply, the answer was translated back to him. The judge turned to Isaac. “You, sir, have been in too much of a hurry! This father believes his child will be returning to him in a matter of months, or a year. Why did you not explain to him what was happening?” Isaac stammered, “I did, your Lordship, several times! He has even signed the statement.” The judge turned back to Jacson and another series of questions was shot off. Jurjanne and I started to pray...I heard her whispering, “Please Lord, guide his tongue!” And my tears started. The judge began to speak to Isaac again. “I think you should return in 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 months, 6 months. However long it takes for this father to realize this girl cannot return to him. He is not mentally healthy.”

And my hand shot up.

As His Lordship glanced at me, I, a bit hysterically, with tears and trembling voice, said, “Your honor she does not have months. She has weeks. If we must come back in 6 months, she will die. She will not make it.” And the judge became swallowed up in the affidavits again. I heard a clear voice from behind the papers, “Compose yourself, lady.” So, I composed myself and when I ceased to cause him discomfort, he lowered the papers. “Mrs Morris, I am asking this for your own good. Too often parents in Uganda think their children are coming back. This does not make the government happy. It makes them want to close the program. I am doing this for your own good. Look at how sad you are when I postpone. What despair would you be in if this family came to you and said their child must return? Now, trust me and I will work this out.”

Aidah wrapped her arms around my neck and patted me on the back, trying to comfort me as well, and I kissed her forehead. The judge called Ester, Beatrice and Eve up to speak to him, and each of them assured him that they knew Aidah would not be returning. That Isaac had made it clear to them that adoption was permanent.
The courtroom fell silent for a few minutes. Maybe even 10 minutes. Or 15. I have no idea. I was praying and Jurjanne was steaming.
“When will your husband arrive, Mrs Morris?”
“Tuesday night, your Lordship.”“Isaac, on Wednesday morning, you will appear for the ruling. I will ask the father again, and if agrees, I will give the ruling. You may go.”

And we stood and filed into a big group in the hallway. Immediately upon stepping out of the courtroom, Aidah burst into loud sobs, burying her head on Eve’s shoulder. A hurried translation told me what Aidah believed to be true - that it was over. She had no chance of life, or a family, that she would die in Uganda quite soon. She glanced up and found me and snuffled into my arms.
“Aidah, I am so sorry I scared you. You will not die here. I will not leave you. You will come home with me. It will be ok. I am not leaving you. Jurjanne wrapped her arms around all three of us, and as we stood there, the door to the courtroom opened again. The judge and clerk poked their heads out, and I heard the judge’s deep voice. “Is she ok?” “Yes sir.” “Come back on Wednesday. Things will be fine. You will see.”

We forlornly headed back to the stairway, passing the room where Isaac was incredulously questioning Jacson. Why would he do this? Nerves? Lack of comprehension? Only God knows.But tomorrow, at 10:00 AM we step back into court and listen to our ruling. My prayers of the last three days have mainly consisted of asking for help for Jacson, that he understand, give the right answers, and do the right thing by his daughter.

The Only Person in Uganda I Have Not Liked

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday at noon found me sitting at Cafe Roma at Oasis Mall with Jurjanne. We were there to meet Aidah’s probation officer and her parents. While we waited, we talked about the probation officer.
She is young, about 24, and has the job because her father is friends with someone who knows almost everyone I have met here. I end up feeling truly sorry for the ones who are really fit for a job and can’t find one because they are all held by relatives or friends of the boss. The probation officer has no experience, and this is the first time she’s had to write a report for a child to be adopted. The grammar geek in me was forced to sit on my hands and not scribble all over her report with a red pen. My attorney said today, “Before I saw her, I was expecting a 12 year old because her writing is so poor.” Aidah's entire case has been held up by this poor performance, and it wasn't until we made it clear that we would not pay a bribe for the report and she was reported to the Ministry of Gender for requesting exorbitant amounts of money for her work, in addition to her pay.
We sat and sat and sat at the cafe, and finally, in came the PO, followed by Aidah’s parents. Aidah’s father and mother sat across from me, but when I was introduced as the woman wanting to adopt Aidah, her mother, Ester, fell on her knees in front of me and shook my hand, holding it close to her face. Her father, Jacson, shook my hand across the table, and eyed my empty plate, left from a piece of apple pie. I immediately asked Jurjanne if we could ask the waiter to come over. We ordered 3 passion fruit drinks, and then the PO mentioned that she was so fatigued from the long taxi ride, that she needed food before she could do any work. The waiter gave her a menu, which she perused, and then asked “Don’t you just have chicken and rice?” The waiter, clearly confused, said, “Yes, it is here. Pulled Caribbean Chicken with Rice.”
“Pituey!” spat the PO. “I am African! What do I want with Caribbean food?”
Jurjanne broke in, “Do you have anything like just plain barbeque chicken?”
“Yeeeessssss” the waiter answered haltingly. “See? Right here?”
“Well, then, bring it, and add rice, please,” answered Jurjanne.Problem solved. In just a few minutes a heaping plate of chicken, rice, and chips (french fries) were brought to the PO. Aidah’s father eyed the plate and I asked him, “Do you want the same?” The PO’s mouth was stuffed full of chicken as she spat the translation at him. He nodded and we asked for 2 more plates exactly the same. The waiter once again tried to direct our attention to the beautiful Caribbean chicken, but again Jurjanne put him in his place. “These are simple people. They want regular chicken. Bring them regular chicken with rice and chips!” So, again a few minutes later, 2 more plates were delivered and everyone chowed down. During this whole time I was attempting to communicate with the parents through the PO, but she was having nothing to do with that. “Do Jacson and Ester have any questions for me?” I asked? “Why are you in such a hurry? We have time to talk! Let us eat first.” So, we ate. And as each of us fell off our plate, full, Jacson would eye it hungrily. In about 30 minutes, he had a stack of plates, 4 high, in front of him, as he devoured the remainder of the food on our plates. The only one not giving up her food was the PO. I looked over at her, wondering when the right time was to ask if the parents had any questions. Finally, I opened my mouth. “Do the parents have any questions for me?” She was wrestling with a particularly tough chicken leg, as well as filling her mouth with coleslaw. A small bit clung to her lower lip and I stared at it, a bit fascinated. She translated to the parents, but eventually became aware of this bit of cabbage, and licked it away with her tongue and then spat it across the table. Ester jerked back with shock, as did Jurjanne and I, and we all looked at each other and laughed. Jacson and Ester mentioned their 4 younger children. They are not educated. They would like them to be educated. They want this responsibility to fall to Aidah, and while i have no objection to helping with that, it is a very clear violation of USCIS to offer or promise anything. Then they asked if Aidah would attend school, and what followed was a crash course in homeschooling. Ester asked incredulously if this was something every American could do - teach their child at home. I said, “Yes, if one has the mind to do it.” She replied, “Are you so smart that you will teach Aidah all the things she needs to know for school?” I laughed and replied that I am not so smart, but that we have books and spouses and computers to help us. “Ahhhh....” and she shot a look sideways at her estranged husband, who was cracking down on a chicken thigh. I asked the PO if there were any other concerns she had for me, and she rolled her eyes. “We have so much time! Please, stop talking and let me eat!” So, we all sat in silence and watched her eat, and eat, and eat. Finally when she was done, she wiped her face with a napkin and got about the business of translating. But 5 minutes into it, she collapsed back against the booth with a big groan. “This is hard work! All this talk!” Jurjanne said, “Well, yes, hard work, but it is *your* work. You must do it, eh?” I explained to the PO that I had some questions for the parents, things that every girl wants to know about her family at some point. How did her parents meet? When was Aidah born? Was she a happy baby? What were her favorite foods? Toys? Did she have childhood pets? Are her grandparents still living? Great-grandparents? Great-great grandparents? With each question, the PO became more and more exasperated with me, as the parents became more and more talkative. They started to share funny things that Aidah had done as a baby, and Ester remembered holding Aidah right after she was born and thinking what an ugly baby she was. I laughed and shared how I was terrified when Gwen was born because she was so blue! When I asked, “Has Aidah always been so quiet?” the answer came back in translation, “Yes, she is a very dull girl!” Soon the parents talked and talked and talked, and when I asked for a translation, the PO assured me it was nothing important. And in a few minutes, “Yeah, they are talking about how you are a wonderful parent.” And then, a few minutes later, “They are talking about stories of Aidah," and when asked for a translation, she responded, "Nothing funny or amusing, just remembering her clothing and her scrapes on the knees." Oh, how I want to hear those stories! Despite being assured several times by the PO that there was plenty of time, she had her place cleared and stood up to leave very soon after eating. She had to catch a boda to the other side of town. Jurjanne reminded her to be at our attorney’s office at 9:00AM, as court was at 10:00. She waved Jurjanne off, and left.

This morning, she did not show up for court. A few hurried texts to explain that she was caught in a jam and could not make it. And a text later to say that she had made it back home and good luck to us all.

This Is the Day, Part II

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My mother and I went to Bulamu to say goodbye to Aidah, just hours before I knew if I was staying or leaving. Aidah was having a good day and was out walking, so we spent most of our time with her near the common area where the babies were playing and the other house mothers were doing laundry. I pulled some treats out of my bag - a Mickey Mouse paint set, cheese and crackers, and pop rocks. I asked Aidah if she wanted candy and she nodded, so I put a few pop rocks on my tongue and showed her. Her nose wrinkled with laughter, and I gave her some. She put them on her tongue, and then the real laughter began. She kept putting her hand over her mouth to hold in her laughter, and hide her funny face. I asked her if we should give some to Bright, and we all agreed it would be better to let his mother try some first. The house mothers wandered over and we let them each try some pop rocks. They all responded with outright laughter, shouts of surprise and urging each other to try some more. I left a packet of pop rocks with Aidah to share with her housemates. The only one not impressed or amused was poor Bright, who didn’t even try any. Just the sight of a rock, bubbling and crackling away on my tongue, scared him to tears. So, we didn’t show him any more, of course!
Sharing this story reminded me of something that happened a few days ago. Remember I posted about taking Aidah and Evelyn, the social worker, out for a meal after Aidah’s penicillin shot? Well, that same day, we determined that we would find her some shoes in this giant Muzungu mall where we were. So, after eating, we walked through the mall, looking for Bata shoes, the most prevalent shoe store chain in Kampala. I think I wrote about the wide utilitarian very-un-pretty shoes that they presented us with, and how we all turned around in unison and walked out of the store. But I think I forgot to tell you how we decided to go to the department store to look for more. As we walked into the courtyard of the mall, Evelyn pointed up and said, “There is the department store”, and we stared up through the center of the mall, to a store at the tippy top level. The only way up that we could see was by escalator. Holding Aidah’s hand, I walked over and she balked, with a nervous giggle. “Moving stairs!?!?!?!” she said, incredulously! Evelyn stood still, and then said, “Why don’t you take Aidah up one level and come back down so she can see how it works?” So, I took Aidah’s hand and she willingly came along. I showed her how to step on and off, and all of a sudden she jumped, about 2 feet up in the air and 1 foot forward and landed on a step. She cheered for herself a bit and then began to ready herself for the exit. Closer and closer we got to the top, and suddenly, again, a giant spring, and we were off. Aidah collapsed on a bench, taking a breath and getting ready for the trip back down the escalator. At the bottom, Evelyn waved to us with a big smile on her face. 2 giant jumps later, we were back down on the main floor. Aidah babbled on and on to Evelyn about this marvel that is the moving staircase, and we all started to get back on for the 4 story trip to the department store. I walked on, Aidah sprung, and Evelyn, with much hesitation, skidded on with a squeal. I realized this was her first time on an escalator as well, and most likely her reason for encouraging Aidah to take a practice trip. Halfway up, she said, “I think Aidah has the correct way of entering and exiting.” So, at the top, I walked off and the two others took gigantic leaps and landed in a heap together on the floor. Three more rides did nothing to decrease their enthusiasm, but finding no shoes did. Each pair we found, Aidah sniffed and expressed her displeasure. This girl is all about the pretty, let me tell you. Bows, flowers, sandals,’s all good. I tell her frequently that she shares the same spirit as Lydia. Each letter she gives is covered in stickers, hearts, flowers and curlyques. Her personal space is neat as a pin and she is not pleased when anything disrupts it. She watches longingly as the other children run and play, kicking footballs, chasing the cats and dancing with enthusiasm. She remarked to Evelyn that she couldn’t do these things anymore, and I rubbed her back and explained that hopefully in a few months, she would, that this is just a season of her life. She looked at me questioningly, and Evelyn explained that no one has told her that she will get better. No one wants to promise this as they have not been sure that it will happen. So I read her an email from Dr Fiore, her heart-surgeon-to-be. He says that this is treatable and fixable, that she will be back to “normal” remarkably soon after open heart surgery, and that she can have hope of feeling better again. Aidah mulled that over for a while before asking Evelyn if she had to stay by herself in the hospital. Her only knowledge of hospitals is New Mulago, the one she has seen and been hospitalized at here. Remember my description? No food unless you bring it, no toilet unless you get yourself there, and hundreds...or thousands...of waiting people. I have refrained during my visits with Aidah and her caregivers, from telling her all about America. It does no one any good for me to walk into a hospital and proclaim that it’s not as good as it is in America. Of course, when faced with nurses who belittle my girl, I think, “Soon she will be comforted through a shot.” When faced with a house mother that steals from her, I think, “Soon, she will have everything she needs.” And when asked, “Will I be by myself?” I think, “Never again will you be alone.” But what a slap in the face, even my thought process is, to those who have done everything possible to save Aidah’s life.
I can’t imagine any Westerner coming to Africa and not being hit hard with how much we live in excess. I proclaim a desire frequently to just live simply, not needing so much that many deem necessary. And yet, I don’t have leaky roofs. My floor is not mud. I have more than one outfit for weekdays and 1 outfit for looking “smart”. I relax in the evenings with a full belly and a very happy, basking in the glow of the tv, the Wii, and all the while congratulate myself on a life simply led. There is nothing like 10 days in Africa to expose the pride that has been hidden in my heart.

This Is the Day, Part I

It’s 5:00 am. Outside the birds are chirping and screaming and cackling. The sky is beginning to lighten and the Islamic call to worship begins. I look out my window, through the iron bars, decorative and functional, and see the roll of barbed wire lining the top of the fence. The barbs stand out against the lightening sky and each minute brings me closer to the days I’ve been dreading.

Today & tomorrow Aidah must face her birth parents, one of which has simply been inactive in her life, and the other causing deliberate physical and emotional harm. Ugandan children are taught to face their fears and their hurts, and to face them without tears and very little emotion. It’s almost impossible to read Aidah’s heart when she closes herself off. You give her space and time and within a half hour, she will begin to open up again. But I fear that the wounds caused by her family will make her retreat beyond the space of an hour, or a day.

It is well-within the probation officer’s right to request a meeting today with all parties involved. She hopes to outline expectations, help Aidah’s parents realize that this isn’t a temporary decision. Many childcare agreements in Africa are temporary - “You take my child and pay for their schooling and care, and when they are of age, they can come back and care for me.” For the vast majority of children raised in poverty, they are truly cared for by the village. They are given the consistency of neighbors, friends, aunties, uncles and other relatives who want the best for them and remove them from a bad situation to help. But almost always a child will eventually return, and hopefully the parents will have been able to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and make a better life for them. (More on this in a bit, as I talk about our time spent with the Riley’s.) The probation officer hopes to touch on what Aidah’s life will be like in America. Education is highly valued, and will our “simple home learning” be enough to help Aidah reach her full potential?

My visits to Bulamu have grown more and more uncomfortable. Aidah very rarely leaves her house, so we remove our shoes and enter the home. We are greeted by her house mother, with a smile and a wave, and then directed to the table. Mom and I sit on one side, Aidah and the house mother on the other. Aida’s eyes are almost always down, her hands in her hap, and only when I gently tease her or speak to her, does she look up with a smile. She is quite lonely, and when Bright, the baby boy of one housemother, peeks in the doorway, she greets him with a huge grin. One day, I couldn’t stand the atmosphere one moment more, so I took out my computer and put a movie on for Aidah to watch. I believe I picked Kung Fu Panda, but within a few minutes, she had changed it to My Fair Lady. When Bright came back, I put on Mickey Mouse, and then again, within minutes, heard the opening strains of My Fair Lady. Could she enjoy a good musical? ;o) The housemother sits and speaks occasionally to us, then goes to stir the coals, then comes back and sits. And we ask questions, or compliment her housekeeping, or bring out little gifts to share with the other girls in the house, and things grow silent again. I ask Aidah if she can come out and sit on the porch with me, and as we go out, the housemother follows. We sit on the front porch swinging our feet, and occasionally playing footsies, a phrase that Aidah has picked up in the days I’ve been here. “Play footsies!” I babble on about how beautiful the country is, what does Aidah like most (the trees and grass) and how this little area near Bombo looks remarkably similar to our little farm in Missouri. The housemother makes the little “mmmmm...” sound that means she is listening and Aidah goes in the house to get my computer and look at pictures of the home she will be going to. She points out that the trees look different and I agree. They are much more shapely here. Flat tops and wide spreading limbs, perfect places for hundreds of birds to nest. The wild here seems so much more wild, and the city so much more city-like. I fear Aidah will grow bored in our sterile environment. All the hustle and bustle of normal activity seems like it’s been taken out of life at home. There are no bikes, no constant signs of hard physical labor, no honking horns and no women struggling under the load of 1,000 bananas. At a stop light, there is no one knocking on your window or pulling at your arm. It’s all so in-your-face here, and in a good way, lest my words be misconstrued for insensitivity. Bulamu is building 4 new houses, and the labor is right outside Aidah’s doorway and it is intensive. They bring in mud, to make the bricks. The kiln is made and the bricks are fired. The thin trees are cut down to make ladders which fall apart every hour or so, as they are lashed together with vines. There is no anger or frustration, just a man who falls off the ladder and then gets up and remakes it.

What's Next?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

So, what are the best and worst scenarios? What can you be thinking of and praying about for us? Here is a quick rundown of our next few days. :D
Wednesday: Noon, I go to our attorney's office and pick up copies of Aidah's file, and bring them to the US Embassy so they can begin the orphan research step. (Praise #1: this step is normally not started until after a court ruling has been received, but when I went in to the Embassy to get the medical form, I introduced myself and explained Aidah's situation, and they asked me to bring everything in so they could get a start on her file and shorten the process. What you can be praying for: they normally don't see adoptive parents on Wednesdays, so getting in the gate could be a problem. Also, we have to get a form notarized tomorrow and they are quite difficult to find and expensive.)
Thursday: meet with Jurjanne and Aidah's parents and the probation officer. (Praise #2: Aidah's family lives more than 3 hours away. It is unbelievable how open they have been to helping us out. We cannot offer funds or any pay for their time or efforts. This has to be done at their own expense as anything else would be considered coercion. So far, this has not been an issue, and they have had to make 4 trips to Kampala. There are two more trips to go - 1 for court and 1 for embassy. What you can be praying for: that I am able to have a good discussion with them, get some questions answered about 1 particular horrific event in Aidah's life that led to her abandonment, and that my discussion with the probation officer be fruitful. Also, we have requested that Aidah spend Thursday night with me so we can help her get ready for court the next morning. You can pray that the Lord works this out, as no one except Aidah and I are in favor of that.)
Friday: Leave the guesthouse, all gussied up for court, by 7:00 AM. Arrive at IOM by 8:00 AM so Aidah can have her TB test read. (Praise #3: we were given a last minute appointment today, and everyone was extremely helpful in getting the paperwork done so all we have to do is come back for the reading. What you can be praying for: that Aidah's TB test comes back negative, like it normally does)
At 10:00 AM we will be in court. The judge will speak to us all separately at different times and then interview us all at the same time together. Then he will give us a date that we can expect our ruling. (Praise #4: unbelievably we received a court date here in Kampala just 4 days from our request. People are waiting MONTHS to be assigned a judge, get a court date, and then sometimes the date is 4 months in the future. This is truly a miracle! We know it is because of Aidah's health, but we will take it with no questions! What you can be praying for: that the judge give a ruling the following Monday or Tuesday so we can file for our visa on Wednesday morning.)
Saturday: Nothing planned, except spending time with Aidah
Sunday: Nothing planned, except hoping to go back to Kampala International Church.
Monday: Doug Morris leaves Missouri and begins traveling here. We hope to pick up our ruling. IF Aidah's tb test comes back positive, we go back to the medical clinic and she gets her chest x-rays and does her sputum test.
Tuesday: Doug arrives at 10:55 PM
Wednesday: If we have our ruling, we go at 7:00 AM to the embassy and request a same day appointment for them to interview us. (What you can be praying for: Aidah's parents must also be there for the interview, and arranging this can be difficult, as you can imagine. If the embassy is immediately content with the ruling and our case, we are told to come back in 2 days for the visa.)
Thursday: Nothing planned
Friday: Market in the morning and hopefully picking up Aidah's visa in the afternoon
Saturday: If we have received the visa, a trip to Bulamu CV to hold a going-away party for Aidah. Hopefully bring her back to the guesthouse with us. (What you can be praying for: a good closure for Aidah, a time to say goodbye to her close friends and that she be able to look forward with hope.)
Sunday: Take Doug to Kampala International Church
Monday: Doug flies home, as do we, hopefully. :D
Obviously, still, there are lots of ifs, ands, and buts. I am prepared to stay a bit long, in case of questions regarding the visa. If the embassy is not happy about the fact that Aidah has 2 living parents, then they send our case to Nairobi, Kenya, and that process takes a long time...upwards of 6 months. So, more than anything, please be praying that the Lord work in regards to the orphan interview at the embassy.

The Glory of God

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

We went to Kampala International Church this morning. What an experience! There is something about being in a church in a foreign country. Any kind of church. A tribal church, and ex-pat church, a home matter what, it always brings home how universal our faith is. How privileged to serve a God who has brought people to Himself all over the world!

The worship was refreshing, standing in a room surrounded by British, American, Chinese, Japanese, South African, Ugandan, Brazilian, French (and the list goes on and on and on) Christians. All worshipping their Savior.
When the sermon was preached, it was about the death of Lazarus, and the man who preached is the youth pastor of the church. I remarked to my mother that he was a great youth pastor. He was funny and engaging and serious and historical and wrapped it all up in a great package. I know my pre-teens would have listened with rapt attention, especially when he described the bloating stage of a cow. Really. That did have significance, I promise.
But, before the sermon, the passage was read by a Ugandan. I love the lilting African voice. I closed my eyes and listened to the story I’ve read and heard so many times, and one verse jumped out to me. Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” And then again, when the pastor spoke. “DID I NOT TELL YOU THAT IF YOU WILL BELIEVE, YOU WILL SEE THE GLORY OF GOD?”
It hit me like...well, I don’t know like what. But it hit me. Yes, I am feeling discouraged, and maybe this situation with these gossipy families was the catalyst, but the unrest within is coming from something else.
I want to see the glory of God. I want, whether in Aidah’s adoption or her lack of adoption (please, Lord, don’t let that happen), in her life or her death (please God, no), that we will be able to say without a doubt that the glory of God was seen. I sat for a moment thinking, for whatever reason, God has chosen a host of people to work together for the good of one specific child. A Ugandan man, a Ugandan woman, 2 Dutch couples, 1 American woman, and 1 quirky odd American family. I thought, it is easy to think or have the hope that because the Lord has orchestrated this, it must mean He desires Aidah’s life to be saved. Still faith is not so shallow as to think that God is only working all this out so we can be happy, that our lives can be complete, and we will have everything we desire and here we will be, one big happy family, all together, and healed. He sometimes works His glory in the death of his saints.
And I let my brain rest a little bit, and the words of the preacher soaked through my thoughts. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Both Mary & Martha came to Jesus and said, “If only you had been here! Because they thought they knew what He would have done if Jesus was there. They thought Lazarus’ healing was a no-brainer. And when Jesus saw their mourning he was moved and troubled, and he wept!
So, even though, no matter what happens, I will choose to say that “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” it is ok that the thought of Aidah not making it through this fight collapses me in grief. It is ok that if He takes her home to be with Him, I will fight and fight to work out why we were brought this far, only to say goodbye.
I still don’t know where my heart is taking me with all this. But I know I’m terrified to be a bad example in my happiness or grief, joy or confusion, or sorrow, or shame or rejoicing... Whatever the Lord is about to take us through, I want His glory to shine. I want, in Aidah’s life or death, that everyone who knows about her to be able to say that they believed, and they were shown the glory of God.