Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Travel log, Day 3: Back into town

I woke up far earlier on Monday morning than I would have liked. I was anxious about my USCIS appointment, but I think I might have managed to sleep past 4:00 a.m. if it hadn't been for my rooster friend who was definitely an over-achiever in the "waking people up" category. Even though there was no hope of going back to sleep, I laid in bed until I heard the children starting to stir which was my cue to go and see Noah. He was wide awake and eager for company when I went into his room. I was greeted by a big smile and outstretched arms, which is the best sight a mom could ever hope for.

I enjoyed a great omelet and toast breakfast along with some fresh-squeezed juice and hot chocolate. Mrs. Coindy, the on site director, somehow knew that I wasn't a coffee drinker so she thought hot chocolate would be a welcome substitute. I had told her the night before that water would be fine because with the oppressive heat I couldn't imagine ingesting anything with a "hot" label attached to it. She insisted and I have to admit that it was some of the best hot chocolate that I have ever had. I laughed when she told me that it was simply Nestle powder, but then she admitted that she had added a few spices to jazz it up a bit. I'm not sure if my experience was typical or if they were spoiling me because I was there by myself instead of with a group, but everything I ate the entire time I was there was really, really good. I had been warned about a couple of things, but there wasn't a single thing that I was reluctant to eat. They definitely fed me well.

After breakfast it was bath time for Noah so I turned him back over to the nanny so she could get him ready for the trip into town. I hadn't thought about what the lack of hot water at the orphanage might mean to him, but when she poured the water over his head I saw him gasp at the shock. I had taken a cold shower there and even though it was kind of refreshing to cool off, it certainly isn't something that I would want to do everyday like he had been doing for over a year. With the exception of the deep breath, it didn't seem to bother him though. I watched as the nanny scrubbed him and then vigorously brushed his teeth. It was obvious to me that he had been through this routine many times before. All of the kids at the orphanage were remarkably clean and so well cared for. The nannies run a tight ship, but with all those kids nothing else would work. I think it would be easy for chaos to take over in a place like that, but it was amazing to me how ordered, clean, and calm everything was. They stick to a schedule and the routine, I'm sure, is invaluable to those kids who have undoubtedly experienced much turmoil and confusion in their young lives. I was told that there were just over 60 kids in the orphanage when I was there. Almost all of them had been matched with families and were waiting, like Noah, for their turn to go to their new homes. Mrs. Coindy was amazing and obviously very loving . She told me that she feels like she is their grandma; she loves them all but she knows they have moms waiting for them and that is how she is able to say good-bye each time one of them leaves. She told me "A grandma is great, but every child needs a mom."

After his bath he was taken back into his room to get dressed for our appointment. When Roberto returned in the Jeep we all climbed in and started down the bumpy road that would take us back into town. I was in the front seat with Nedi and another little boy on my lap. That was a strange feeling since kids outside of a car seat, let alone in the front seat, is something that we Americans aren't accustomed to. The back seat was occupied by a nanny who was holding a tiny little boy whose thin cheeks and slightly sunken eyes suggested that he was a new resident of the creche. I remembered the first picture that I had seen of Noah; he was older than this baby, but the signs of malnourishment were unmistakable. I was encouraged by the fact that I knew he was going to be fine now that he had found his way to these people who would love him and restore him to health while he waited for his new family. Also in the back seat were three kids that all looked to be about a year old, and two other little boys who were probably 3 or 4. They were all going into town for various reasons. I think some of them were going to see the doctor and others were going to get their passport pictures taken. All of them were very wide-eyed and silent for the entire trip.

Once we made it back into town, Roberto took us to the offices where I met Lucien who, along with his wife Gina, is the director of the foundation that runs the orphanage. A nanny came and took Noah from me and I'm not sure where they went. Lucien was a very nice guy and I sat on the couch and chatted with him for a bit while we waited for I'm not sure what. At that point I had pretty much just decided to put my trust is all of these people and assume that they would get me where I needed to be when I needed to be there. After about 30 minutes of chatting and watching Lucien take phone calls and conduct some business in French, somebody came in and told us that "she is here". I didn't pay a lot of attention to that because I had no idea that it concerned me. Lucien stood up and said to bring her in. The next thing I know I was being introduced to Nedi's birth mother! What?! I had no idea that was going to be happening, and after the initial deep breath I was so excited that I was going to get to meet her. I had wondered for a long time what I was going to tell her son when he started asking me questions about where he came from and his birth family. I have always been so grateful that I can answer most of those questions for Adam, but I was pretty much resigned to the fact that it would have to be different for Noah. She was very quiet, but Lucien translated for us and we had a nice conversation. I had been told before that his birth father had died before he was born. In reality, he had simply left and she hadn't heard from him since she was pregnant. It was interesting to me that as soon as I asked about his birth father, she felt compelled to tell me that his father is much lighter skinned than she is. She told me "I am very dark, but he is lighter." It was almost as if she was trying to make me feel better about her dark skin and reassure me that Nedi wouldn't be as dark. It made me sad. Since I didn't know that I would be meeting her, I had nothing prepared. Now that I am back home and have had a chance to think about it, I have all kinds of questions for her that I'm afraid will never be answered. I do have pictures though and I have a sense of what she was like so now I have something that I can give this baby when he asks me about his birth family. I also feel much more encouraged that there may come a day that he will be able to reunite with her and ask her all of his questions himself. One thing that she told me that was completely unexpected is that Noah has a half-brother also at the orphanage. That was a complete shocker and I immediately started to formulate the words that I was going to use when telling Phil that we have to start this whole thing all over again because we have another one that we need to bring home. My mind was racing and I think Lucien could see it on my face so he interrupted his translation to tell me that Noah's little brother has already been matched to another family in Washington state. When I asked about it back at the orphanage they were just as surprised as I was by that news so nobody could really point out to me which baby he was. I've already given Phil the assignment to track him down and take pictures of the two boys together when he returns.

Before too long, Roberto was back and ready to take us to USCIS. Noah, his birth mother, the social worker, and I all loaded into the Jeep and off we went on another trek through Port au Prince. After navigating what seemed to me to be a completely random combination of roads, we finally arrived at the USCIS building. It was the only place that I visited in Port au Prince that was air conditioned and I'm guessing that's because spoiled Americans work there. The a/c didn't sound like it was enjoying being overworked, but my guess is that regardless of what else doesn't work in the PAP USCIS office, the a/c is never down for long. Once inside I was glad for the brief reprieve from the heat and humidity. I had been drinking lots and lots of water the entire day and really needed to find a restroom, but just as I started to ask I remembered some advice that I had received from another adoptive mom right before I left Utah. She told me in an email to avoid at all costs using the restroom when I go to file my I-600. Although I was very uncomfortable, I heeded that advice and though I will never know what I might have found in that restroom I have a feeling that I made the right choice.

The USCIS appointment was pretty much what I expected it to be - long wait, rude government employees, and leaving with no clear result. They did the birth mother interview after I tried to file our I600 and then we left. Much of the discussion between the social worker and the agent was in French so I was in the dark about what was going on until I talked to Phil the next day and found out that they were missing a document that the Salt Lake City office was supposed to forward. I don't want to relive any USCIS experience so I won't elaborate on the details, but it wasn't until just a few days ago back here in Utah that we finally got that settled and now we are waiting for the visa appointment so that we can schedule Phil's flight to go back down and pick up our boy. On our way back to the orphanage, with no notice (because they were speaking Creole) the jeep stopped and Noah's birth mother and her sister (who had also gone with us) got out on on the side of the road in Port au Prince. In spite of Roberto's protest, I got out of the car and gave her a huge hug. I'm sure that she had no idea what I was saying when I told her good-bye, but I'm hoping that she felt my emotion as I hugged her. She hugged me back and then I handed Noah to her so she could kiss him good-bye. I hope that she will be able to see him again before he comes home with Phil. They told me that she comes to see him every month so I'm confident that our rushed good-bye on the side of the road won't be their last.

We went back to the creche and spent the rest of the evening much like we had spent the night before. I played with the kids outside and enjoyed talking to John, the teacher at the orphanage. He told me that Noah sometimes doesn't like to sit still for his lessons, but he is a good boy and he listens well. People ask me if Noah is learning English. My response is always the same: when the kids turn two they start them in English classes, but I don't know any two year old who is actually capable of that type of formal learning so I'm not expecting him to come here speaking English. It's going to be an interesting transition for all of us, I'm sure.