Friday, 31 July 2009

The Safari, Part Three: Everything That Can Go Wrong Does

Continued from The Safari, Part Two: Bliss.

In the morning as we were eating breakfast, our driver walked in. We thought he was there to pick up our bags, but we found out that he was actually coming to let us know that our car had a flat tire. He tried to change it, but the spare was flat too. He had to remove the tires and carry them across the river to a service station and get them fixed. He told us he hoped to be back across on the 12 (which meant we couldn't leave until after 2). That actually worked well for us because it gave us time to swim and eat, which as you know, we did.

The Ferry to leave the lodge was leaving between 2:15 and 2:30, but, we could actually see when it left the other side, so we had a good idea of how to time our departure which we could do from the balcony where we were eating our lunch. We thought we were ready to go, and that my mom just had to sign for our lunch before we left. We thought wrong. Or rather, we were given bad information. It turned out that checking out was much more complicated than we had been told it would be by the front desk, because our lunch had to be added to our stay (each night includes three meals, but we had eaten lunch the previous day as well). It finally got taken care of, and we raced down to the dock only to see the Ferry just pulling away. Just.

We were disappointing, but there was another one scheduled in a half-hour, so we settled in to wait, and had an amusing baboon encounter. It turns out that baboons are the raccoons of the jungle, and they will do almost anything for food, including jumping into an occupied taxi. I got a great video, which I will post when I get home, of the baboon picking our trash out of the can and eating our granola bars and cheez-its.

The Ferry came, we boarded, and waited for the next car to load. My mom was sitting in the front passenger seat, and our driver was outside of the car. Mom spotted some hippos by the Ferry and decided she needed her binoculars to see them better, and climbed into the back to pull them out of her bag. Just as she stepped into the back we heard a loud crash. Our windshield suddenly had a huge chip, just off center on the passenger side, with crack radiating outwards all the way down and across. Small chips of glass littered my mom's seat. We thought that maybe the car backing up onto the ferry had kicked up a rock, or something. Windshields don't just break.

Just then we saw a little boy being scolded. It turned out that he had been throwing rocks into the water. The ranger, who had a gun, asked the boy to stop because there are so many animals in the river. The boy decided it would be an excellent idea to throw rocks at the ranger instead. The ranger was standing near our car. The rock missed the ranger and hit our car.

Have you ever seen or read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you were to imagine all of the children except Charlie, and roll them into one, you would have this little boy. He probably would have turned out to be a very nice little boy, if it wasn't for his parents (who were absent). He was on vacation with his grandparents, and they had absolutely no control over him, as evidenced by the fact that he was throwing rocks at a park ranger with a big gun.

We got across the river and waited on the other side for our driver to sort things out with them. They declared that they would fix the windshield, once we got to Kampala, and until then they had a wonderful temporary solution- a bumper sticker, that they would use to hold the windshield together for the 6 or 7 hours over bumpy dirt roads that we still had to travel. Mom and I objected rather stubbornly. We were not going to travel, at night, through the bumpy dirt roads, with no cell phone service, and the possibility that our badly cracked windshield could explode at any moment. The grandparents of the boy felt this was unreasonable and loudly declared that we were only upset about the situation because we were racists. And yes, they knew about Tommy. They weren't Africans, and thus they must have felt (absurdly) that our racism extended only to their particular ethnicity. I think they just wanted to get out of taking responsibility for their grandson's actions, as the events that unfolded proved.

They decided that we could share their car, so that we could ride in safety, and that our driver would just have to proceed, but that we would caravan so that if anything happened we could help him. We got into their car, and they all promptly got out (there were five in the family- two grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and a child) and crammed into our car, even though there was an entire bench seat open in the van. Whatever. Then their drive informs us that we need to stop and pick up their luggage and some food they had ordered, because one of them was diabetic. Of course we agreed, because diabetics need to eat, and since they had already ordered the food it would be fast. We were getting nervous because all of the sorting out had taken some time, and it was getting late quickly, and we were hours from paved roads. We proceeded to their lodge (Sambiya River- a total dump compared to Parra and only slightly cheaper). On the way there we were attacked by tsetse flies inside the van. Awesome. When we arrived, we went in and ordered a coke and a banana for Tommy to give them time to eat. Then we noticed that they weren't eating. In fact, they were just drinking. A bottle of wine. And our new driver (since we were in their car) was having a very large beer. Interesting. Mom went and asked the waiter what was going on, and we were informed that they had not previously ordered food. In fact, they had just ordered, and they had ordered the thing on the menu that takes the longest to prepare, and it would not be ready until at least six. Awesome. At length, their food came, and they ate it as slowly as possible. Finally, at 6:25 Mom asked them to hurry. The little boy declared he could not be hurried, because people who eat quickly become fat, and he did not want to be a fatty like his grandfather, whose belly was, according to him, so huge that he broke his belts everyday. Yes, he said that out loud. And no one contradicted him. His grandfather really wasn't even that big. Then, they called for tea, and started pouring out cups of tea, and sipping them, as if they hadn't lied to us about their dinner being previously ordered and ready. Finally Mom said we had been more than patient and that we had to leave NOW. The grandfather got so angry, but eventually they moved and we finally left at 6:45.

By the time we reached the park gate it was after dark, and there was an issue about the ranger letting us out due to how late it was, and us needing to pay another fee in US dollars (which we didn't have). The matter was settled to the satisfaction of both parties, and he opened the gate.

After driving a but further, the van we were in blew a tire. Yes, another flat tire. Now there were more of us in the van, as the Aunt and Uncle decided to ride with us after all. Between the two drivers it was fixed fairly quickly. Then we went to gas up, and Mom, barely, and I mean barely, escaped falling in a five foot ditch. Grace of God.

We still had at least two hours to go, when our drive fell asleep at the wheel. That's right, he fell asleep at the wheel. We knew because he totally swerved, and he had to admit it to us. Then he did it again. It turns out that he had barely slept for the past two nights. And, remember, he had been drinking beer. So Mom, who was sitting in the front, had to talk to him for the entire rest of the way in order to keep him awake.

Then we got to Kampala and met the agent of the car for negotiations over the payment. Not surprisingly, the grandfather basically refused to pay. He agreed to 95 dollars for the windshield. He refused to pay any damages to the owner of the car, who lost out on a great deal of money because he had the car booked for the rest of the week. He barely agreed to the 95, because he felt it was too high. FOR AN ENTIRE WINDSHIELD. Our driver had expected that this might happen, which is why we had to stay in their van the entire time, instead of switching back to our car when the roads smoothed out. They probably would have ditched us and ran without paying a dime. Of course the man tried to say that we had benefited because their car had air conditioning (which mattered almost not at all since we traveled at night and it was unnecessary). Then the owner of the car turned on our driver and decided to charge him, because the other man wouldn't pay up. We actually don't know how the situation ended, because after negotiations broke down our driver brought us home.

The point is, we got home at 2:30 am. We were exhausted and miserable, but safe, which was a miracle considering.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Passport/Visa Update

Amy received Tommy's passport as planned and on schedule this morning!

She then went to the Embassy with a (not quite complete, as it turned out) pile of paperwork to make an appointment to see the Consul, as she could not get through to her by phone. After some amount of waiting at the Embassy during which Tommy was confused/slightly traumatized by seeing a woman who from a distance looked very much like Sister Christine (he cried for her when he saw her, but then when brought close was confused and probably a little frightened when he saw that she was not Sister) Amy scheduled an appointment for the afternoon.

Upon meeting with the Consul we learned that we were missing an important document, which was... frustrating. However, the situation is under control and Amy will pick up the document in question from Isaac first thing tomorrow morning. Otherwise, once our application is complete the Consul is confident that Tommy's visa should be done within two business days. It is possible that Tommy's visa could be processed tomorrow, in which case Amy, Tommy, and Mary would leave Uganda on Sunday night. However, it is much more likely that Tommy's visa will be ready on Monday. If so, they will leave Monday night. Either way, it looks like they will be coming home within the next week. Praise God.

Please pray:

- That Tommy's visa will be processed quickly
- For a relaxing and enjoyable final few days in Uganda

The Safari, Part Two: Bliss

Continued from The Safari, Part One: Vexation

By 2:45 on Sunday I was convinced that the Parra Lodge is heaven.

We walked in the doors completely downtrodden- and they did everything they could to make arrangements to fix everything. First, the woman at the front desk switched our planned boat trip and game drive around. We could have lunch, take a game drive at 4, then do our boat ride in the morning. She switched our tickets with no fee or problem. Then I turned around, and a woman was holding out a tray of cold wet towels. Amazing. We were sweating like pigs (or more appropriately, wart hogs) at that point, I felt disgusting. Then I looked up, and the woman had exchanged her tray of towels for glasses of cold passion fruit juice. It was SO good.

They brought us upstairs to the dining room and seated us on the balcony overlooking the pool and, a little farther off, the Nile. It was beautiful. Then they placed a menu in front of us, and we found out that the "board" included in our room rates was a four course meal. When you haven't eaten all day, there are no sweeter words than those informing you that you are about to be stuffed with food. And it was western food. Salad with avacados, onions, and vinegrette. Leek soup. Beef, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables for me, fish for my Mom. And passion fruit flan for dessert. We must have looked ridiculous as we ate. You would have thought we hadn't eaten in weeks, and that we had never been to a nicer or better restaurant. It was absolutely the best food I have had since coming to Uganda. The beef was so good that my evil mother ate some of it when I got up to change Tommy's diaper. Since she was brains and financial brawn of the Safari adventure I guess I shouldn't complain too much.

Then it started to rain. Actually, rain is too gentle a word. It poured, and the wind blew, and we even had to switch tables and go inside. I started thinking that I was pretty glad that I wasn't on a boat tour.

The rain stopped by the time we finished eating, and so we went to check into our room and freshen up a bit before the game drive. The rooms were very nice with a great view of the river, and, the best thing ever, they had real showers with hot water. We did not have time to take advantage of this amenity, but, made plans to do so asap.

We went downstairs to meet our game guide, Charles, and head deeper into the park. As we were heading toward the car, he said, "Hold on, let me grab my gun."

Now guns are a very common sight here in Uganda. Big guns. Many stores have armed guards and so do many homes, so after a while you get used to seeing them around. I assumed that he needed his gun to protect us from rabid animals that might charge our vehicle, or something, but my mom made a comment about that and he said, "No, it's to protect us against the LRA."

THE LRA. Awesome. Just what we wanted to hear. (The Lord's Resistance Army is a group of rebels that originated in Uganda but mostly terrorize neighboring countries and the border regions and are rarely in Uganda any more). Apparently they had been active in the park only three years ago, so the rangers still carry guns just in case, and there is a base for the Ugandan army in the park as well. But did our friendly ranger decide to mention that it had been three years since the last incident? NO. He just got in the car and started given our driver directions. So I asked if he would use it to protect us against a charging animal and he assured me that he would, because otherwise he might lose his job. We were feeling a bit nervous, to say the least. About half way through the ride when we got to the army base he explained that everything was purely precautionary, and we were able to relax.

The journey started out with many of the deer-like species in the park, then upgraded to some buffalo and wart-hogs, then finally some elephants in the distance. Then we got into giraffe territory and it got incredible pretty quickly. The park has a large giraffe population, and they were all out grazing with their young. Watching a giraffe run is an amazing experience, as it completely defies logic. They look so gangly and awkward standing around, but when they run they move with such grace and speed. I think the speed of most of the animals really surprised me, as hippos are much quicker than you would expect as well. We also got very close to some elephants grazing. The driver estimated us to be 5 km from a big daddy elephant, and he said he had never been able to get that close to one before without the elephant making threatening gestures. We didn't see any cats, but we knew that it was hit or miss to see those.

The landscape was incredible. Africa is a beautiful place. The vegetation alone is worth the trip, and when you add in the wildlife it is rather overwhelming.

We had a wonderful experience, and Tommy even like parts of it, although mostly he enjoyed sitting on the floor of our 4 by 4 and dumping out a cheez-it bag and playing with the crumbs. I think he couldn't really see the animals except when we were really close. He enjoyed seeing the giraffes and elephants. It was really hard to see all that and not be able to share it with Jeff. I was really sad that he wasn't with us.

After the game drive we had yet another delicious dinner and the best showers ever. Then we got to sleep in beds with flat pillows. Now, if you have never slept using an African pillow you will not appreciate the joy that a good, flat pillow can bring. African pillows are huge, overstuffed, and very lumpy. I have slept without a pillow since the second night, so having a pillow again was bliss.

In the morning we had a great breakfast, and then went for our boat ride. The boat ride was also a wonderful experience. The Nile is FULL of hippos. Just stuffed with them. And they are very fun to watch. We also saw some huge crocodiles. Then the two collided and in a "nature uncensored" moment we saw a dead baby hippo get eaten by a crocodile. I did not take a picture.

You can't get too close to the Falls by boat because they are very powerful, but they were beautiful even from a distance. We were a little sad that we couldn't take the hike to the top of the falls, but Tommy never would have made it with his toddling, and I could not have carried him up the steep slopes, even with my awesome Ergo carrier (which has been indispensable since the terrain here is not stroller friendly and Tommy is not small).

The boat ride finished around 11, and went back to the lodge. While we were in the lobby we ran into some medical missionaries from Southern California, and one of the pediatricians decided to give Tommy an exam. Her verdict- his hair is too light so he needs more vitamins and he is slightly anemic. Otherwise, he is in great shape. She was actually quite impressed with his good health, so I will have to send Sister Christine a message and let her know! Then we went for a dip in the Parra's pool. We met even more Californians (not with the mission trip) at the pool, and one of them even used to live in Torrance. Small world. Tommy loves the water and had a great time, we had to drag him out so that we had time for one last delicious meal and got ready (with heavy hearts) to leave paradise.

Stay tuned for The Safari, Part Three: Everything That Can Go Wrong Does.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Passport Ready?

At 9:21 this morning (5:21 pm in Kampala) I received word that Amy had received word that Tommy's passport is ready, although in Amy's words "it is not in our hands," as in, we don't have it yet.

We had been told to expect it today and as such Amy had inquired earlier about an appointment with the U.S. Consul (for the Visa) who said she could see Amy tomorrow should the passport indeed be ready today. However, since we were notified late in the afternoon that the passport was done, we do not currently have an appointment with the Consul.

The plan is now that our lawyer Isaac will pick up the passport at 10 o'clock (Kampala) tomorrow morning. Amy will call the Consulate first thing tomorrow morning to schedule an appointment for (hopefully) sometime tomorrow.

Please pray that:

- The passport will indeed be ready
- Isaac will be able to pick up the passport as planned
- Amy will be able to get an appointment with the Consul tomorrow

The Safari, Part One: Vexation

After our ruling on Wednesday, our lawyer said, "if you want to go on a safari, the time is now." Mom was thinking that since she came all the way to Africa, a safari should be in the schedule, so we decided to make a plan.

We decided to call the Parra Lodge and make a reservation, but they were very booked, so we could only get a room for Sunday night. We secured a car and driver (our usual driver Eddie is away working with a group of visiting missionaries) and prepared for the big adventure.

We left at a little after 5 on Sunday morning. It was early, so we were tired and a bit grumpy, but we made it through Kampala with no traffic and seemed to be doing very well in our quest to make the 12 o'clock Ferry to the lodge. It was essential that we make it by 12, because we had tickets for a boat ride to Murchinson Falls at 2:30, and the Ferry runs at 12 and 2.

Around nine we were in Masindi, which is the last main city before you head into the park. We had 84 km to go, albeit on rough road, but things were looking up. We drove for a little over an hour, and hit another town, but there were no signs for the Ferry. Odd. So our driver pulled over to talk to some taxi and boda drivers congregated on the side of the road. After a brief conversation he let us know that we had just gone an hour and fifteen minutes on a terrible road in the wrong direction. He had completely missed the turn to the national park. We were a little frustrated, but hopeful that maybe we could make it. We were a bit irritated because it was his responsibility to know the road, but at that point there was nothing we could do. We turned around and went back, found the correct road (difficult because there are very few road signs), and made it to the front gate of the park at around 11:15. With 68 km to go there was no way we were going to make it by noon. Then the ranger informed us that the road in the park was so rough it would be an hour and a half to travel the distance. We were so exhausted, so we took a short bathroom break (the bathroom at the ranger station even had toilet paper, a seat toilet, and a place to wash your hands- amazing) then we got right back into the car and set out along yet another very bumpy road.

We did get to see some animals on the way in. A number of baboons apparently just sit in the road, so we saw lots of those as well as some very interesting birds. We got to the Ferry around 1 or so, and it was hot. Africa hot. And there were so many people waiting. We paid and got in line, and actually got a decent spot in the car line up, so it looked like we would at least get on the Ferry. There was almost no way we were going to make our boat tour though, as none of us had eaten anything more than a granola bar (or in Tommy's case Cheerios, which he now loves) all day, and we needed to eat before we did anything.

The operator took his sweet time getting the Ferry ready, and didn't start loading until after 2. Then a bunch of trucks that were obviously together (and hadn't gotten in line) tried to block everyone else from getting on so that they could get their whole group on board. Thankfully, our driver got aggressive and we made it on.

We got across and to the lodge at 2:25. We were famished and exhausted. It looked like we had missed our boat ride and lost all the money we had paid for the tickets. We had just spent 8 hours in the car, apparently for nothing. Things were looking pretty bad.

Stay tuned for The Safari, Part Two: Bliss

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Prayers for Melanie

I have mentioned before how much we love our guest house and the people we have met there. The man who runs the guest house, Patrick, is in great need of prayer for his youngest daughter, Melanie, and I asked him if I could post on the blog and ask you to pray.

Shortly after we arrived she developed pneumonia. While she was in the hospital, they noticed some complications, and did an echocardiogram and found a heart problem that needs surgery. The surgery cannot be done in Uganda, because while the upside of medical care here is that it is cheap and they can treat common things easily and efficiently, the downside of that is that there aren't any cardiac surgeons, or high tech equipment, etc.

Some doctors in New York said they would do the operation for free, so the doctors here worked on stabilizing Melanie and Patrick got her paperwork in order to travel. When we left for our Safari this weekend we thought we would come back to hear news of when she was traveling.

We found out this morning that for some reason the doctors have backed out of doing the surgery. The doctors here (who may be wrong- here's to hoping) have given her less than two years to live without surgery. She has since developed Malaria, and will be at great risk every time she gets sick until her heart defect is fixed.

Pray that a doctor would come forward who would be willing to do the surgery and that the expense of the surgery and travel could be worked out. Patrick has informed us that he is planning on selling everything he has to pay for the plane tickets to get his wife and the nurse to the US if a doctor can be found. He will stay here and care for his two older children.

If you know a surgeon who might be able to help please let Jeff know. We can easily get them in contact with Patrick.

I think it goes without saying that our hearts are heavy for Patrick and his family. We know what it is like to get terrible news about your child and to feel completely powerless to help them. The worst part is that Melanie's condition is fixable. She doesn't need to die, she just needs an expensive operation that she can't get here. Please keep her and her family in her prayers.

We have no updates. We continue to wait on the passport. UGH. We are tired and done. Pray that it would materialize so that we could get the visa process started.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Quick Update + More Photos

First of all, thank you all so much for your comments. We cannot express how much we value the love and support we have received throughout this journey.

I spoke with Amy this morning and here is what I learned:

Amy, Tommy, and Mary went to Jinja today so that Grandma could see the source of the Nile and Bujagali Falls, and enjoy deep fried bananas at Gately. Mmmmm, deep fried bananas... They will be going on a two day safari this weekend and should be back in Ggaba by Monday night.

They met with the officials at the Ministry of Gender and received approval to proceed to process Tommy's passport. We should find out soon when that is expected to be ready. Once we have the passport we can finalize the Visa through the US embassy. Then, everyone comes home.

Please pray that Tommy's passport will be ready as soon as possible. The passport process doesn't have to take very long, but it often does. While Amy loves Uganda, we are all eager for our family to be together.

Now, here are some pictures from our trip to Jinja:

Our family overlooking the River Nile

We were totally safe

Tommy isn't so sure

Lunch at Gately: Baby loves potatoes

Baby wants daddy's Stoney

At Bujagali Falls

Kisses for mommy

A Little Video

video

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Good Luck


A little passed nine Isaac waved us towards the door of the Judge's chambers. His Lordship sat at his desk perusing a circular from Game (sort of like Costco). He glanced up at us as we walked in.

"Good Morning Your Lordship."

He gestured for us to sit. I perched on the edge of the couch, bouncing Tommy on my knee. He wanted down. I set him down and he lunged towards my mom, babbling loudly. His giggles drowned out the sounds of the proceedings. Isaac began the introductions, something about the case of Anthony Oklomugisha, he said Jeff's name, then mine. He spoke into a microphone/recorder, but so softly I could hardly hear.

The Judge turned the page. He was looking at power tools. He glanced up at Isaac.

"I accept your request. Good Luck."

Isaac turned to me and smiled.

We thanked him and began to walk out. I turned back, my eyes filling with tears as I held onto my son.

"Thank you," I mouthed. He looked at me, really looked at me, and nodded.

We are officially Tommy's legal guardians, and can get his passport and visa. Pray that these next steps will go quickly. We miss Jeff and want our family to be together.

ps- We found out that Tommy's African name was spelled wrong on the documents we received. It is actually Owomugisha.

He's Ours

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Field Trip to the Speke

Yesterday it was hot. Africa hot. We hadn't planned to go out, but given the weather we decided it was time to go swimming. Since we are staying in a guest house we don;t have a swimming pool where we are, so we took a little excursion down the road to the Speke Resort.

An intersection filled with African taxis

First, we had to ride in an African taxi. Yes, I broke down and did it. We hired our driver to guide us, as we were not prepared to attempt to find it by ourselves, and it made more sense to hire him and take the taxi then pay for the driver and the car combined. He led us through the neighborhood, to the road that leads to the Speke, then hailed a taxi. The taxis here are more like buses, in that they run certain routes. You do not direct them where to go, although you can get on and off almost at will along the road. They are Toyota vans, about the size of an old VW van, and they have seats for fourteen: four rows of three across, and two upfront. On the way to the resort, we were the only ones in the taxi, but on the way home there were twenty of us in the van built for fourteen. I have heard that actually it is not unusual to fit up to twenty-five people in, if you are in an area that is not heavily policed. It was pretty uncomfortable, but it was also very cheap. Transportation to and from the resort cost sixty cents. That was worth the discomfort.

The Speke Resort is really nice, but you pay for it. It was ten dollars for each adult swimming, and seven fifty for Tommy. We didn't realize it would be quite so expensive because our Lonely Planet had a much lower number, but that is what we get for using a 2006 guidebook. We assumed (wrongly) that they would have towels, so we had to rent one of those too (two fifty plus a ten dollar deposit). If we go again we will be bringing towels from the guest house.

The main pool was huge- probably olympic sized. It has a swim-up bar area, with little in-pool stools, so you can sit at the edge and have a drink in the shade of a thatch roof. The main pool was deep, so we spent our afternoon at the baby pool. Tommy loved swimming. He hated it when I would get tired and get out of the water to dry off/warm up or rest. I had trouble keeping him from drinking the water, and he tried repeatedly to lunge out of my arms. He had a wonderful time.

After we finished swimming (we spent about four hours in the pool),we walked down to Lake Victoria. Beautiful.

Just a few days until our ruling- July 22- (and hopefully) until we start having more adoption things to work on. Keep praying for a positive ruling, and for a quick passport and visa process. I want to bring Tommy home.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Slowing Down


Early last Friday morning our car was hit by a drunk driver as our driver was on his way to meet us at the guest house. We were not involved and Eddie was not injured, just a little shaken up, but the car was not so fortunate. So, since our car has been out of commission this week as it undergoes repairs, we have been staying home and resting a bit more. That has worked out well because my mom has been pretty jet lagged. This has worked out really well for me, because she is up very early and can't sleep so she has been feeding Tommy breakfast and letting me sleep in. I haven't slept this well since we got the little guy, and I am feeling much better.

We went to the Museum of Uganda on Tuesday. It was much bigger than I expected, and definitely worth the trip to learn more about the various people groups in Uganda and their histories. Tommy's is Banyankole, which is a smaller tribe here (the major one is the Baganda), so we only saw a few artifacts from his people. The museum is no Smithsonian, but they have some interesting collections (including relics of a Buganda warrior that include his umbilical cord and one of his testicles- very exciting). Tommy's favorite was the interactive display of musical instruments. He loved pounding on the big wooden xylophone.

Wednesday we hung out at the house, except for a short walk in the evening to get some phone minutes. It was quite an adventure because we went out at the time when everyone in the area is moving around. Everyone always stares at us, but it was especially bad that night. Of the people who talk to us, I would say that 90% are very positive about us adopting Tommy. I have been stopped and thanked numerous times. On Wednesday I received my first obviously negative comment- this man at the grocery store grabbed Tommy's leg and said "Black man, this white woman is trying to carry you away" over and over again. The man in front of me stepped in and said, "He is really brown, not black," and then started talking to me about how nice it was that we were adopting him, and he ended with saying "God bless you."


Thursday we went back to the Surgery because Tommy's giardia may be back- very frustrating but not unexpected. We had an appointment and test, and will have to go back again because they didn't find anything yet (it can take more than one test). Going to the surgery isn't too bad because they have both a water cooler and a nice bathroom. If I have to be stuck somewhere in Kampala waiting for hours I would rather it had both of those things.

We are having extreme internet frustrations- it is basically impossible for me to log into email, and entirely impossible to get into facebook. I also miss my microwave a lot. And of course, Jeff (even more than internet or microwave).

bffhctcgrtrcrtrfv yg k (That was a message from Tommy)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Pictures Are Here With More Coming Soon

Well, Amy's mom made it safely to Uganda on Monday night (or, at least I am fairly certain that I saw her get off the plane as I waited to board it - she looked like she arrived safely), and I made it back to Chicago yesterday. Now that I am here I can finally some post pictures, although we will still hold off on posting pictures of Tommy until after our ruling is issued. We still have plenty of other photos to share to illustrate our many adventures in Uganda (or, at least our comings and goings during the first 2 weeks). Where appropriate I will add pictures to the older posts as I have already done with the Jinja post. I hope to get the rest done soon.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Jinja

The source of River Nile
On Tuesday we had a free day, so we took a day trip to Jinja so Tommy could see his first river- the Nile. Most people associate the Nile with Egypt, but it originates from Lake Victoria in Uganda.

Without traffic Jinja is a short drive from Kampala. It took us a little over two hours to get there. The road passes through the largest forest in Uganda (name is escaping me right now), and passed tea and sugar cane plantations. It is a very scenic drive, and we enjoyed seeing more of Uganda's diverse terrain.

A tea plantation on the road to Jinja
A tea plantation on the road to Jinja

There are two sides to Jinja. We first went to the source of the Nile. We took a short boat tour to the spot where Lake Victoria ends and the Nile begins. We got to dip our fingers in both bodies of water. The boat was an experience in itself, because it was the sort where you have to balance out where everyone is sitting in order to be safe and remain upright, and there weren't any flotation devices aboard!

Our boat
It seemed safe enough at the time

The marker for the source
The marker for the source

Left: Nile; Right: Lake Victoria
To my left, The Nile River. To my right, Lake Victoria

After we finished the tour we told our driver it was time for lunch and he took us to Gately on the Nile. It was great to have some good "western" food, and we had an awesome dessert of deep fried mini-bananas with ice cream. So good. We also tried our first "Stoney" (ginger soda). Man, that is good stuff. It has quite a kick.

Stoney
Stoney Tangawizi

Then we went to Bujagali Falls, on the other side of Jinja. The falls are not tall, but they are very beautiful. We took lots of pictures. At first the falls were not crowded, but then a tour bus showed up with a crowd of people. Then some men began to ride over the falls using square plastic water jugs to stay afloat in exchange for money from the tourists, and there were some other strange "tourist attractions" that made us very uncomfortable, so we left.

Bujagali Falls

If you are adopting from (or just visiting) Uganda absolutely make time for taking a trip to Jinja. It was a really nice break from court appointments and paperwork.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Mum

Yesterday the wife of the man who runs our guest house stopped by. She came up to Tommy and put out her arms. He looked at her, looked up at me, and lunged towards me with a scared look on his face. He recognized that she was a stranger and that I would protect him. This was the first time he has rejected a black woman for me. When we first got here he was willing to come to me, but he prefered women who resemebled his previous caregivers- and everyone here looks more like Sister and the Aunties at the babies home than I do.

We are so excited that he is starting to choose us, and to recognize that we will take care of him. Of couse he has no idea what it means to have parents or to be part of a family, but it is a huge step for him to understand that we are responsible for caring for him and that we will keep him safe.

He has started to call me "mum." Only occasionally, and usually when he is bored with Jeff (or angry about not getting his way), but he will stretch out his arms towards me and say "mum." Super cute.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Pizza Delivery

I woke up this morning craving pizza.

There have been a few things that I really miss (my microwave is at the top of the list), but I haven't missed American food that much- until today.

We have been eating plenty of somewhat American food. If we are in the city all day we eat there (with traffic and the cost of gas it is not worth it to go back to the guest house), so we made a trip to Ranchers in the Garden City Mall for burgers (not worth it- they tasted like meatloaf), we had an excellent lunch at Gately on the Nile in Jinja, and we had decent chicken sandwiches at Chicken Inn, although they double charged us for soda and refused to correct it. Mzungu prices are lame. And Top Up is not ketchup, or anything even close. Also I have been cooking what I can with the ingredients and utensils that I have access to. I have made a passable casserole, chicken and potatoes, soft tacos, quesadillas, and macaroni and cheese (Kraft from home). Lately I have been practicing my Ugandan cooking, so we have been eating matooke, posho, and bean sauce. But no pizza.

At home we have a bread machine and a pizza stone so we have pizza quite often. Here I don't have anything that remotely resembles either of those two things, and I am not about to attempt pizza in a stove with no temperature gauge. So this morning when I woke up longing for pizza I figured my case was hopeless.

In the early afternoon we approached Alfred about our dilemma. We knew there was pizza in Kampala, but our car/driver were in a minor accident yesterday, so we are without our usual wheels until Tuesday. I have no desire to get into an African taxi, and even less desire to take my baby in one. Multiply that times one hundred for my feelings about riding a boda boda (motorcycle transport- no helmets).

We first asked Alfred if there were any restaurants serving Mzungu food within walking distance. No such luck.

Then we asked if there was any way that we could have some delivered, specifically pizza. He said maybe, but he would have to call and ask. It had happened before, and he still had the phone number of the delivery guy. He told us he would call when we wanted the food and find out if it was possible.

I waited and waited. I was hungry at four. But Ugandans eat late, and they think we are crazy for eating at six, so I decided I would wait until at least five. At maybe one minute passed five I asked Alfred to make the phone call. He did, and told us we could get pizza!

We had some things to sort out about how we would order (the directions were lost in translation), but finally we got our order in: one Hawaiian and one pepperoni.
The pizza arrived at about six. It was the best thing ever. I ate half of a large pizza (in my defense their "large" is maybe an American medium). I am totally having cold pizza for breakfast tomorrow.

I have at least three, probably four, hopefully not five, weeks left here. I have a feeling that pizza delivery guy is going to be hearing from me again.

Figuring Tommy Out

We still don't fully understand the little guy's cues, partly because we don't know him well enough, and partly because kids in orphanages loose their ability to signal their needs because their needs are never met on demand. However, we are learning some of his likes and dislikes, and it has been very fun to get to know more about him. Food is hard for us because his diet is limited now due to the Giardia, and because we have to be careful of his food insecurities while mindful that it is hard for him to know when he is full and to stop eating.

Likes: fried or scrambled eggs, rice, bread soaked in milk (water now because the Dr. has him off milk), yogurt, carrots, pineapple, papaya, bananas, green peppers, oatmeal, potatoes, apple juice. Loves: posho and beans, Krest Bitter Lemon (Sister gave it to him, and who was I to say no to a nun?) Dislikes: mango juice, greens, passion fruit juice, cheese crackers, granola bars, potato chips, Cheerios.

His favorite toy right now is an empty water bottle, second is any cell phone (he likes to put a cell phone up to his ear and say hello), but he is also enthralled with mirrors, enjoys bubbles, his beach ball, his lion, anything he can throw, and flip flops (he puts them on his hands and crawls around with them). He is a fast crawler, and has been working really hard on walking. He is getting much better at standing without support, and loves walking while holding onto furniture or our hands.

He has just figured out how to use a pacifier, sort of. This is a really good thing because he currently sucks his fingers for comfort, and this has caused him to develop a fungal infection on his hand. He is otherwise doing well, the Giardia is under control, we hope, and he passed his visa medical exam with no problems.

He wiggles like crazy, and likes to get his way. Jeff overheard one of the Sisters at the orphanage tell Sister Christine that she was "raising a stubborn boy" because she indulged him so much. At some point he is going to realize that his situation has changed for good, and we think that will be very hard on him, because he really loves her.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Sunday Morning

Wow. Church is very different here. On Sunday morning we attended Ggaba Community Church. It is a very large church with an attached school and mission center, called African Renewal Ministries. It was about a thirty minute walk from our guest house. Alfred led us on the walk, and we even took the short cut, along the dirt paths instead of the main street. Lining those paths are the smaller houses, some made well, but others cobbled together from sheet metal and wood. Interspersed between these are compounds, some with enormous and beautiful homes. It is a very odd juxtaposition to see such poverty and such wealth side by side. The paths are very rutted from where the rain washes down the hills, and there are lots of rocks and trash to dodge, so you have to be very careful. It was tricky to navigate them carrying Tommy on my back. As you walk through there are many little children playing, and many yell out for you to say hello, or wave, or tell them how you are. Some run up to you and grab your hands and walk with you for a while. They are especially attracted to Jeff. In church the children ran up to him as well, and they all wanted to touch his hair, and to know Tommy's name, and hold him. Even the littlest kids here will pick up other little kids and cart them around. A girl who was four, maybe five, grabbed Tommy out of Jeff's lap during the service. We were caught off guard, and so was he, but he was pretty patient about it. Then the little girl and her friend sat with us for the end of the service. They were very friendly and sweet.

The service was very different for us. We grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and although we attend contemporary or blended services, we still fit the "frozen chosen" stereotype fairly well. There is nothing held back here. The Sunday School teacher was very direct, and as he taught he addressed some of the social issues they have here and told people very bluntly what they ought and not ought to do. The music was incredible. Everyone sang and danced and it was very loud. And when I say danced, I don’t mean that they swayed side to side while clapping their hands. They were actually dancing. The service included an infant dedication, and an engagement ceremony. It was really amazing to see both, and we were really impressed with how they perform engagements here. We, of course, had no idea what was going on when it started. Music began to play, and all of a sudden people began rushing down one side of the church. They lined up on one half of the stage area. One of them was holding a basket of flowers. Then another group of people came down the other side, and stood on the stage. Then the couple was introduced and they spoke about their love for each other and God, exchanged gifts, then rings, and announced the date of their wedding. Marriage in the context of the church is very important here, as many people chose to have common-law marriages (married without a ring) instead of marrying in the church. I thought that having the engagement in the church was really special, as it solidly places the marriage relationship within the church community and emphasizes the importance of the couple's relationship with Christ to their relationship with each other. Then there was more singing, and a sermon by a visiting evangelist from the US. The church had sponsored a week-long crusade for students that culminated in a "Jesus Festival" last night. The entire experience lasted about three hours. It was a lot of action crammed into a little time, and we really enjoyed it.

One thing that is really noticeable in church is how nicely Ugandans dress. Eddie, who has been teaching us about Ugandan culture as he drives, informed us yesterday that dressing "smart" is very important. This is obvious on the street as well, but it really stands out in church. People wear all kinds of different outfits, from traditional African clothing, to formal dresses (think prom, but more modest than in the US), to blouses and skirts. Everyone is always dressed very nicely, and everything they wear looks pressed (it probably is). Even walking through the dirt paths almost everyone is dressed quite well. Occasionally a child will be wearing something that is dirty. Everywhere you look you see clothing drying on the line, which explains why everyone always looks so clean. Jeff and I (who are generally very casual dressers) look so shabby in comparison. I think we embarrassed Alfred today at church because there were slobber marks on Tommy's baby carrier. He told us we had to wash it when we got home. His comment this evening when I told him I did not want to iron all of Tommy's clothes as per his suggestion/insistence, but that I was worried he would think we looked bad:

Amy: "In America I can be wrinkled."
Alfred: "When we look at you we don't think you look bad because we know it is your culture."

I laughed and told him that comment was going on the blog.

After all these years of graduate school most of our clothes just aren't very nice, and we didn't want to bring the ones that are nice because we knew we would be hand washing them and hanging them on lines. Cultural differences limited what we could bring anyway. The point is, with the exception of the court outfits we left our best things at home. So, we are basically the worst dressed people in all of Kampala. I am really thankful that we decided to wear one of our court outfits to church, or we would have really stood out. But at least everyone would have forgiven us, because 1) we were in church and 2) being poorly dressed is apparently a hallmark of American culture.

Third Time's A Charm, We Hope

So we had our second hearing on Wednesday morning. We got ready, made it to the High Court with an hour to spare, waited around with some other adopting families, and at nine, went over to our Judge's hallway. There were many people there, and our lawyer informed us that it would be a while, because he was a junior lawyer and the Judge saw clients in order of their lawyer's seniority. So we waited, and waited, and waited. After about an hour it became clear that something was wrong.

It turned out that the Judge had called our names sooner than expected, and our lawyer was no where to be found. The Judge became very angry and cancelled our hearings completely.

We found out that our lawyer had two appointments that day at the same time, and because our Judge looked busy he went to see the other Judge he had an appointment with, believing he would make it back in time to see our Judge. Because the Judge he was seeing was the junior of the two, it was very offensive to our Judge when he found out.

When all of this was explained to us we were very upset. We spent the morning begging God for mercy and for him to soften the Judge's heart towards us. We also had to sit outside his chambers so he would see our commitment to this adoption and feel bad for us. The judge was very merciful to us, in that when he cancelled our hearings he did not adjourn them to a later date, leaving the door open for an apology and a rescheduling. Our lawyer had to write a formal apology letter and send it to the judge. A little after 12 all of this was accomplished. The Judge accepted Isaac's apology. The clerk who acted as the mediator's words to Isaac were "You all must have prayed hard this morning, because he has agreed to see you tomorrow at ten."

We immediately drove to the embassy to work on Jeff's paperwork. He had to sign some visa documents before he could leave. When we got there we realized we had forgotten our tax returns, and so he wouldn't be able to fill out everything. The consular was closing at 2, so we didn't have time to go back and return. We sat in the little cubicle waiting to meet with the vice-consular for about half and hour. Finally, one of the secretaries came out and said that she was double booked, and could we come back in about an hour? YES! That was just enough time for us to run back to the guest house, grab our paperwork, change, and eat some lunch. We made it back for our appointment just in time for our appointment, and Jeff finished filling out all of the paperwork he needed to take care of.

On Thursday we went back to the high court for our hearing. This time we got to see the Judge. It was very intimidating, just as it was the first time, but this time he accepted our paperwork and announced that he would have his ruling on July 22nd. Both Isaac and Sister Christine think it went very well and are expecting a favorable ruling. We hope they are right. Please continue to cover this process in prayer.

Jeff will be leaving soon, and my Mom will be arriving. Jeff will not be here for the ruling. He does not want to leave, but he can't stay away from work any longer. When he leaves I will no longer have a computer, but Jeff will have easy internet access and a phone card, so he will be posting updates more frequently. We hope that we will have a favorable ruling on the 22nd, and as soon as we have that we can post pictures.

On a side note, there is a sticky situation that we are dealing with here that has to do with some cultural differences. We really need your prayers for our wisdom and discernment. We need to avoid offending certain people key to our adoption process, but two things have been asked of us that we feel uncomfortable with, and it is hard to stand firm when so much is at stake.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Categories

Here everything that we do is divided into Mzungu and African. Our driver and the caretaker of our guesthouse comment about our different habits and the categories they fall under. My cooking has elicited the comment: “Mzungu cooking is so strange.” But since I save the leftovers, I am “very African.” It is funny to hear something you do at home called “African,” but I think it is because generally westerners are (accurately) viewed as so wasteful. We had chicken yesterday, and the difference between my piece which had skin, fat, and tough pieces left on it, and the stripped to the bone piece of our African driver’s was striking. I felt bad, but it was not enough to induce me to eat chicken skin. I had already choked, and I mean choked, down some liver to be polite.

We have been trying to learn some new things, although we progress slowly. I have learned to make passion fruit juice, eat bananas (small and large) almost constantly, to prepare food without a microwave or toaster oven (easy since I do this at home) and reheat it (not so much), pour milk from a bag, estimate instead of measuring (instructions on Omo wash powder: pour one handful in basin), and wash our clothes by hand.

I am going to learn to cut a papaya (popo) today, and hope to progress to learning some real dishes soon. We have loved many of the things that we have tried so far. I am a huge fan of African style chips, and we love samosas and chapatti. The produce here is incredible. The pineapple is so sweet, and the avocados are huge and so fresh. I have even experimented with African greens.

We are having a fantastic time here. Uganda is a beautiful place. The terrain is very different around Kampala, more green and tropical, than it is in the west which is grassy. There are hills, and planes, and lakes everywhere, and many interesting animals, birds, and lizards. We have had wonderful experiences with people here, and are looking forward to the rest of our stay. The only things I could do without are the smog in the city, as there are no emission regulations here, the loud music at night, and the Muslim call to prayer. I don’t mind the evening call whatsoever, but the one in the morning, around 5 or 5:30 is really unpleasant. Maybe over time people learn to sleep through it, but when you are not used to it it wakes you up and it is very loud and very long. Being woken up at that hour everyday makes you really question the merits of freedom of religious expression.

Some other random things that are awesome here include the cell phone system, which is pay as you go, very cheap, and easy to use. Everyone seems to have a cell phone. You simply purchase minutes as you need them, and they are available everywhere. You can either buy them in the stores, or as you are driving around the city people weave in and out of the traffic selling minutes (and other things too). Also, medical care here is cheap. Tommy’s doctor visit, lab test, and medicine cost about 27 USD, the wait was not too long, and we didn’t have to have an appointment in advance. The doctors here are typically trained in Europe or the US, and I thought the one we saw was very good.

It is also hard to see so much poverty, although I have found that much of what I consider poor many of the people here do not see as a particular hardship. Our facilitator Linda told us that she prefers to live cheap than to have the many amenities, which are easily available in Kampala for a price, that we consider necessities. Apparently it is possible to be happy without a television, or a washer and dryer, and using a latrine is not the end of the world. Who knew?

There are many really sad things that are not just cultural differences: the stick-thin children with bellies bloated from parasites, the slums, the people who die from dirty water and malaria (Tommy has been treated for malaria twice), and the millions of orphans, many of whom would not be orphans if people had access to food, clean water, and medical treatment.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Pictures

Hi Everyone,
We know you want to see pictures, but we are not allowed to post any of Tommy until he is ours. The internet is really slow here, so posting any pictures would be difficult anyway. We will absolutely spend the time to post a picture of Tommy as soon as we can.

Please Come Again

We are so sorry that it has been so long since our last post. We do not have access to the internet, and we have had a very CRAZY few days.

We had our court date, and it turned out as we had expected but not as we had hoped: the judge asked us to bring in some more paperwork for a new hearing next week. There was a problem with one of Tommy's documents, and he wanted it to be fixed before he would hear our case. It was intimidating to be in court, even though it is only in chambers, not in front of the full court. Tommy did not exactly behave. He screamed almost the entire time, and threw his sippy cup, which spilt all over the floor. I was surprised he acted up because Sister (the woman who cared for him at the orphanage) was there with us, and he loves to be with her. He has been otherwise fairly well behaved, so the judge just got a special show. Our hearing will resume on Wednesday, July 8.

After the hearing we met with Isaac to learn what new paperwork we needed. Sister Christine was going to have to go back to Ibanda to get the signature sealed by the district Magistrate. Since we wanted to go to Ibanda anyway to see Tommy's home, we decided to go with her. It was probably about 10:30 at that point, and we had to hit the road quickly, because it is unsafe to travel in the western part of the country after dark due to ambushes. We dropped Sister off at the convent where she stays while in Kampala, went back to our guest house and packed our stuff really quickly, then picked Sister up and headed for Ibanda.

The road is nice for the first few hours, but after a while it becomes very potholed, if it is paved at all. There are parts where the paving is so worn down on either side that you essentially have to drive down the middle of the road. Some of the potholes are the size of a bathtub, so you have to doge those too. There is only one lane on either side (although lanes in Uganda general are more like suggestions), and many hills and some turns. Did I mention that we don’t have a car seat? It was one wild and nerve-wracking ride. We stopped at the equator for a picture, then at a roadside stand to buy sweet potatoes for the babies to eat for the next few days, and then in Mbarara (which is the area that Tommy is actually from). We ate dinner at a bakery there: cheese pies, pizza, sausage rolls, samosas, sodas, and pastries- we fed the five of us for about 8 USD. Any food that is not "American" is very cheap here. And the soda is incredibly good because they use real sugar. I never drink soda in the US because I don’t really like it, but I am happy to have a Krest Bitter Lemon here.

We got to Ibanda after dark, so we were a little nervous for the last leg of the Journey, although both Sister and our driver Eddie were confident that the road from Mbarara to Ibanda was safe. We stayed at a hotel in Ibanda. It was an interesting experience. We pulled up, and Sister went in to acquire our accommodations. Then she asked Jeff to come inside. She brought him into the hotel lobby, where many people were gathered watching TV and playing video games and brought him up to a man in the far corner of the room, and said to Jeff, "I'll introduce you to the mayor of this town and the owner." The she said to the Mayor, "This man is here to foster one of the children, can he stay here?" He looked at Jeff and said “You are welcome,” then he asked Sister: "Is he alone?" And Sister assured him that Jeff had a wife and that the baby was with us. He agreed.

So, we got to stay in the Mayor's hotel for the night. We got up early for breakfast because Tommy had not eaten much the night before and was hungry. We were the first ones out, so we got a lovely seat on the patio overlooking the gardens. We started eating, and this man came and sat at the table next to us. He began to talk to us and ask us questions about Tommy and our jobs, and how we would raise him to be a Ugandan American instead of a black American (examples given by Eddie: Michael Jackson or Oprah). I had a hard time understanding his accent, so he let me know my English was very poor. I agreed. After he left, Jeff turns to me and tells me that I had been speaking with the Mayor! I felt so embarrassed because here officials are called special names and such, and we hadn’t paid him the proper respect. I was so worried that I talked to Sister about it, but she assured me it was fine because he is a supporter of the babies home.

In the morning Jeff and Sister met with the probation officer of Tommy’s district and had her correct some of the paperwork and also had her get the paperwork to make us Tommy's official foster parents according to his district (it has to be confirmed by the country for us to get a visa). Then all the papers had to be taken to the Magistrate for a signature and his special seal. He was in court this morning, but Sister has a way of getting things done, and he agreed to sign while he listened to court proceedings. While we were waiting for all of this we played in the car and on the streets of Ibanda. We got lots of strange looks. Everyone stares at you because you are white, and then they stare even more because you have a black baby. Most people are very friendly and say hello to you and welcome you, and some ask you questions about where you are from. After a while it can get a bit overwhelming.
When Sister finished with the Magistrate we went to the Babies Home. We got there after lunch so almost all of the children were sleeping. I was relieved. It is heartbreaking to see all of the children who don’t have homes. There was one group of older little boys, who were about three, who were still awake and taking their showers. When we came by they ran up and hugged us and stared at us with their eyes begging to be picked up. We saw Tommy’s bed (now empty), the place where he ate, showered, was changed, and played. We got to meet the Sisters who run the orphanage and many of the staff. The sisters fed us an Ugandan lunch, and we took pictures with everyone and left.

The people who work there love the children so much. It was so obvious in the way they fawned over Tommy (whom they call Baby Jesus- long story). The orphanage has very little money, because Ibanda is very far from the main cities, so very few families will adopt from there because it means some rough travel (although seriously, if I can handle it, anyone can). Most orphanages are supported by families who have adopted from them. Orphanages that are outside of areas where families prefer to travel have a much harder time finding support for feeding the children and maintaining facilities. Also, without families fostering, they tend to have more children coming in then they have leaving to join families. They care for all the children as long as they are able. Even though they are only supposed to keep the children until they turn three, the nuns keep them until they can find a new place for them to go. The home relies on donations, and although they get support from the local community, the facilities are very crowded right now and there is simply not enough money to adequately feed the children and pay the workers. One bright spot for this home is that a Parish in Pennsylvania has befriended them, and has been sending groups of people over and helping with improvements. It is actually through the mission work of this group that we ended up being connected with this home and with Tommy.

Our journey home was rather uneventful, with the exception of a major diaper explosion, which had to be taken care of on the side of the road. When we pulled over in this little "trading center" everyone who was there gathered around our car and watched me change Tommy's diaper. It was very odd to have such a large group of people just standing there watching me change him. They must have thought we were quite a strange sight to see.

We also stopped in Masaka for some minced meat Samosas, and at another trading center for milk (Jeff and I were not allowed to leave the car at that one) and another for vegetables. I bought a ton of things I did not need from all the children selling produce. They just look so pitiful with the baskets of fruit and veggies on their heads. I know I probably overpaid, and that looking sad is how they get Mzungus to feel sorry for them and overspend, but I really did not care. Even paying Mzungu rates (usually twice the African rate) I still paid less than I would in Kampala and those kids looked hungry and they had no clothes. Now I have more bananas than anyone could every possibly want.

Although the trip was very last minute and hectic, it was truly a blessing to spend ten hours in the car with Sister Christine. She loves Tommy so much, and he her, that it was good for them to have more time together. Also, she was able to tell us so much about him, and I was able to tape her telling his story and singing him some of his favorite songs. I know he will treasure those memories as he grows up. In regards to the details of Tommy’s story- it is something we plan on keeping private until Tommy decides he wants to share it. He has lived at the orphanage all of his life, and he has no known living relatives.

Tommy is having stomach issues. He has been diagnosed with Giardia, and is undergoing treatment. It will probably be some time before things get any better. Otherwise he is doing really well. He has a very strong attachment to Sister Christine, so it has been hard for him to leave her and be with us, but he is adapting. He is eating well, he loves to be cuddled and held, and he is enjoying all of his new toys. He speaks a number of words, mostly in his native dialect, which we are learning to recognize, and a few words in English. He is crawling like crazy, and likes to walk while holding onto furniture. He is a blessing to us, and we are so thankful that God has brought us together.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

The following post was written early Tuesday afternoon. We have retained its temporal reference frame.

Right now Jeff and I are waiting for Tommy to come to our guest house. Our lawyer and our facilitator are on their way as I write. I am so excited and a little nervous about whether or not we are going to totally freak him out. It has to have been a traumatic couple of days for the little guy. Being taken from the only home you have every known to a big city, cared for by an adoption facilitator, meeting new people, etc. He must be pretty overwhelmed.

I think we are ready for him. Last night we set up our room as best we could. Got out clothes, washed his cups and dishes, and arranged his books and toys. We enjoyed a slow and restful morning. It is really beautiful here, and the green hills, red roofs, blue sky, and temperate climate make us feel right at home.

This morning we went and got food and water so we wouldn't have any more errands to run. First we went to Barclays, the bank, to exchange our money into Ugandan shillings. It was very confusing to us to deal with the money, but we got it sorted out eventually. We also bought petrol for a ridiculously high price. We paid over $50 for only 46 liters. We are the only people using the car this week, so it made sense for us to fill it up so we don’t have to stop for fuel every day. We went to two outdoor markets and the Super Supermarket. At the first market we got avocados, bananas, onions, peppers, carrots, green beans, greens, passion fruit, potatoes, cooking oil, and a phone card. We loaded up on cheese, milk, yogurt, cereal, sauces, meats, bread, and detergent at the Super Supermarket, and then went to another market for Chapati (like a thick tortilla) and some beans. Our driver Eddie and our guide David helped us negotiate and taught us what fair prices were. I'm sure we still paid extra, but it was all very cheap (for example, I got three huge avocados for 1,000 shillings, or 50 cents), at least at the outdoor markets. The American things, like Cherrios, at the Super Supermarket were very expensive. We tried not to buy too many of those things, but we just can’t imagine life without cheese. We are imagining life without ice cream however, since it is eleven dollars a tub!
The outdoor markets are really interesting. People say funny things to you (Hello Mzu), and ask you to talk to them, tell you that you should buy from them. We spread out our shopping among a few different stalls, so we talked to many different people. The markets are set up with a few shops in front inside a building with open-air storefronts that close up like a garage door, and in the back you find open air stalls. Everything is on red dirt, quite rutted, and there are various drainage ditches, often uncovered or partially covered with wood that you have to carefully avoid as you walk. The ground is hilly and uneven. We experienced some rain at the first market. It comes down quickly and hard, so we got very splattered with the red mud. There are live animals at the market, and freshly slaughtered meat, and whole dried fishes. It costs $4.00 to buy a live chicken, but we didn't because I do not want to kill and pluck it when I can buy it clean and in fillets at the Super Supermarket.

After we finished at the markets we came back to the guest house and I made an interesting Mexican-Ugandan lunch. I made quesadillas using Chapatis, and put sautéed onions and peppers inside. I made guacamole with the avocado and garlic, and we had purchased green chili sauce from the market. We ate with Eddie, David, Alfred (the man who is the caretaker of the guest house) and Amos (who does the accounting and administrative work for the organization). Everyone seemed to enjoy the strange food that I made, and Alfred even asked me to show him how I did it! I take this as a high compliment because he is supposed to be a very good cook, and he will be showing me how to make some Ugandan dishes.

After lunch we called our facilitator because we weren't sure if we were supposed to be doing something for the adoption or not. She told me she would call Isaac and let us know. Then we received a message that they were going to bring Tommy over soon. A while ago we heard a car at the gate, but it was only Patrick, although he brought news that Isaac texted him that they were on their way. A few minutes ago the phone rang and we heard Patrick give Isaac directions, but we are still waiting, as patiently as possible...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Entebbe

After writing the last post, we went to board our plane. They do things differently in Amsterdam, so you go through security as you are boarding the plan. They don't line you up by your row number, everyone just crams together in one long line. The actual checks are just like in the US, although they use nice colorful trays instead of grey bins. Jeff got stopped because some of his electronic equipment appeared suspicious.

Our flight was less enjoyable as we were more tired and there was a very unhappy baby a few seats from us, who cried for the better part of eight hours. Food was still good, entertainment was better because the plane had those screens for every seat which allow individual program selection. KLM has a good library of movies, so we finally got to see Little Miss Sunshine. We both slept on and off throughout the flight.

Our plane after arrival at Entebbe

We were pretty beat when we got to Entebbe. Neither of us could really believe that we were finally in Uganda. We got off the plane and the side of the airport building says "Welcome to the Pearl of Africa." The airport is smaller, but very clean and nice. We didn't know anything about going through immigration, so that was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. We received forms to fill out while on the plane, then when we got off we were handed health forms. We (foolishly) filled ours out, thinking that was the right thing to do. We should have gotten in line. The line took quite some time because a group of nurses had to read and stamp every form to certify that we were healthy for entry. While standing in line we talked with a fellow passenger who was leading a group and asked if he knew which visa line we had to stand in. The signage wasn't great- just a line for residents and others. We had gotten visas while still in the US, so we didn't need to purchase them at the airport like almost everyone else on our plane did. However we were told that everyone has to stand in the same line, because you have to get your visa checked and stamped. So we waited in a very long line, rather irritated because we paid extra to get our visas in the US for apparently no reason. We get to the front of the line, and the woman behind the counter informs us that we shouldn't have waited in line at all! That should teach us not to rely on other tourists for information. We ended up being some of the last people through the line, we got our bags (did I mentioned we checked five bags, and carried on two small suitcases and a personal item each). We must have looked pretty odd with our luggage cart piled so high. In our defense, the biggest bag was stuffed full of clothes, shoes, candy, and a few toys to take to the Ibanda Babies Home. We may have also brought a rather large amount of food, including a Costco-sized bottle of ketchup, because I was worried I wouldn't be able to get real Ketchup here, and unwilling to go without for six weeks.

Our driver (Eddie), guide (David), and the coordinator of our guest house (Patrick) met us right outside. They had a little sign with our names on it and the name of our adoption agency. We were very relieved to see them. By that time it was probably 10:30 pm or so, as our flight was delayed about 40 minutes. We drove through the outskirts of Kampala, glimpsed Lake Victoria, saw a very cool Coke advertisement (hopefully I will be able to post a picture later), the backside of the US Embassy, and lots and lots of shops and homes.

The view from our front porch on our first morning in Uganda

Front view of the guest house

Our yard

The interior front common room

We are staying in the region of the Embassy, and we are told that this is where all the Mzungus (white people) like to stay. Our guest house is amazing. It has far surpassed our expectations. We have rented a bedroom and adjoining bathroom with hot water, and have use of a front room, dining room, kitchen, and yard/porch/lawn. It is decorated nicely and even has a TV. For now we are the only people staying here so we have the run of the place, some missionaries are expected for a week sometime this month, but we think it will be nice to share the common rooms with them. The house is in a compound, which means it has very thick walls topped with barbed wire and an armed guard. We feel very safe. We are on the top of Bbunga (sounds like boonga) hill, and have a very refreshing breeze. The air is a bit smoky because people burn their trash, but it being up higher really keeps the air clearer. My throat feels a bit scratchy from the smoke. The men who run it also run an organization coordinating missions in Uganda. Everyone has been wonderfully kind and so helpful.

Quick Update

We have very limited internet access, so I don't have time to do a full post on meeting Tommy, but we have him now, and he will continue to stay with us. He is adjusting fairly well. He is very attached to the head Sister at the orphanage (the one who brought him to us), so while she was here yesterday (Tuesday) he wanted NOTHING to do with us. He only had eyes for her, and cried every time she moved from him or left his sight. However, once she left he consented to hang out with us. He is probably pretty confused right now. It must be scary to leave the only home you’ve ever known, travel for hours, and then get placed in the arms of two people who look and feel very different from everyone you have every known.

He is pretty content, and very curious. He is really enjoying the toys we brought for him, especially his mirror. He is one big boy. I guess the information we were sent on his weight was accurate after all.

Right now we are headed to The Surgery (the doctor for Americans and Europeans), as Tommy has pretty much the foulest stuff I have ever seen or smelled pouring out his behind. I have changed many a diaper and never seen anything that remotely approached how disgusting this is. We aren’t overly concerned, as it is very normal for the kids in the orphanage to have parasites and bacterial infections, but we figured better safe than sorry. He has a few other minor orphanage related issues, but nothing major as far as we know.

Please keep us in your prayers tonight (Weds), as we go to court Thursday morning at nine. We are praying that the judge will be satisfied with our paperwork and hear our case. It will be at least a week before we know the results.

Amsterdam

Well, the Dutch certainly know how to treat you right. We are flying KLM- Royal Dutch Airlines, and our flight here was amazing. The seats were comfortable, there were lots of drinks, and the food was good. That’s right, the food was good. Both of the meals they served were great. In fact, my "western chicken," had such good flavor that I almost licked the sauce off the tray. I managed to restrain myself in the interest of not looking weird.

Jeff says it was without a doubt the nicest flight he has ever taken. It was, of course, also the most expensive flight he has ever taken, but that is beside the point. Actually, KLM gave us an adoption fare that has no charge for flight changes and allows us one extra checked bag, and it was about the same cost of our other options because of the last minute nature of our trip, plus it is a short journey: about two eight hour flights and one four hour layover in Amsterdam. We had the help of a very smart travel agent, Shirley, at Open Door in Palos Verdes. We are so grateful that she found this amazing schedule for us. We never would have figured this out on our own, and she was right when she said KLM would be very comfortable. The entertainment was lame though. Small TV covered in subtitles, and the movie showing was wretchedly bad. I watched it anyway. It was a romantic comedy in which a young female striving to make it in the corporate world played by Renee Zellweger is torn from her trendy Miami life and sent to Minnesota in the dead of winter to improve production in a factory town. She clashes with the local union rep, played by Harry Connick Jr, until they fall in love, and eventually save the plant and town from being closed by the evil corporation by mass producing tapioca pudding. I didn’t make that up. There were no funny parts. None. The acting was so ridiculously bad and the dialogue matched it. I should have just gone to sleep but I am such a sucker for in-flight movies. Watching them makes me feel like I am getting my money’s worth. One upside of the in-flight entertainment was that there were tons of newspapers to choose from, so I read the WSJ and FT. It was nice to catch up on the news as we have been way too busy to read the Trib the last few days. Then I slept for quite a few hours. Jeff wasn’t able to sleep as much. Too enthralled with NCIS reruns, I guess.


Now we are sitting in the airport in Amsterdam for our layover. We walked around for the first couple of hours, and went to the airport art museum (small, but some beautiful paintings). Now Jeff is resting, and I am sitting here typing away.


In all seriousness, this day has been difficult for me. When we arrived at the airport I became very emotional, and actually started crying in the baggage check-in line. I couldn’t believe that this was finally happening. It has been such a long, hard road to this place, and I am so hoping that we are nearing our journey's end, but also apprehensive because of all the things that could go wrong. Then I almost cried again because my carry-on didn’t fit into the recently downsized box, not because of the bag measurements, which fit what they have posted online (checked and rechecked last night), but because of the stupid handle and wheels. The KLM agent wanted to check them for us, but I couldn’t let her. Our court clothes are in those bags, and all of our paperwork duplicates. When I explained she gave us a size waiver and allowed us to carry them on.

We are so excited to meet Tommy and to bring him home, but we still miss Leah. I want them both. After things had settled down and we were in the air, I had some time to reflect on the events of the last few days, something I have been unable to do in all the hustle and bustle of packing. It is difficult to process the range of emotions that we have experienced since Wednesday (Leah's Birthday). Thank goodness for long flights.