Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Silver Bullet and the Cockroach Coach

Transport. It’s an interesting thing in another country. Now, before I describe to you the high style to which we have become accustomed, I do want to be clear that those of us here are choosing to ride in these vehicles. One could hire a car of any caliber here, for a price. Like most adopting families, we are trying to conserve resources…and thus are riding in lower priced options. This means a certain share of misery, but also lots of funny stories to blog about.

Everything here costs an arm and a leg. Transportation is no exception. We typically pay $10 an hour for a regular car, and $15 an hour for a mini-van. If there were no traffic here that might be reasonable, but frequently we are paying $10 to sit in one spot (with the engine off) for an hour…or two, and of course you pay for all of the time you spend sitting around at say, the embassy, which has the habit of telling folks to show up two hours before they actually intend to see you. All of the cars are old, none have air conditioning, and they are in various shapes. Also, we always always always pack in way more adults and children than the manufacturer of the car intended. Let me elaborate:

The Silver Bullet, as this car has been affectionately termed, is an old silver hatchback. It has no starter. Every morning that we take this car, we stand in front of the guesthouse while the car gets a little help, or rather a long push, from our translator and the men that work at the guesthouse. This isn’t inconvenient for the families, since we never have to push, but you always feel like you have to hop in quick lest the car roll away without you. It’s also a bit less fun when you are out and about and parked on a busy road or a crowded side street, and your driver has to pay people to push start you. There are no quick get- aways in this car. The Silver Bullet also has trouble making it up hills. It adds an air of excitement to an otherwise boring drive when the ole bullet significantly decelerates and makes tired coughing noises whenever we hit an incline. The Bullet seats five. We typically have six (three adults, three kids) in the back seat alone.

The Cockroach Coach/The Doo-Doo Mobile: This car is a red ‘80s Mazda, meant to seat five. The drivers name is Doo-Doo (might be spelled DuDu?), and yes, it is oft repeated joke that his name means poop in English preschool-ese. But guess what? We are all so close to insanity that we find that funny, every time. Now, the Doo-Doo mobile has been the Cockroach car for about a week, ever since someone saw a four inch long cockroach in the backseat, then found that very same cockroach CLINGING to their back after they exited the vehicle. Now no one can sit in the car without imagining cockroaches swarming them. When I ride in that car I am hyper-aware of every little sensation by my feet, and jumping at the slightest brush. Of course, when there are six people in the back seat of a Mazda, you can bet that there are many violations of personal space, and thus many opportunities for me to lunge forward and quickly examine my feet for creepy crawlies. The worst part of all of this is that the Doo-Doo mobile is absolutely the cleanest car we ride in. Doo-Doo takes really good care of his car. It always looks clean when it arrives, even though our kids were munching crumbly snacks in it the day before. So, knowing that he works so hard to keep his car clean, I feel terrible that riding in it gives me the heebie-jeebies. Also, the cockroach incident occurred soon after we left an orphanage, so it is entirely possible that the critter hitched a ride from there, and we have been blaming the car unfairly. Still, a four inch long roach is just not something you forget about easily.

The Vans- we have rented various vans over the past few days. There isn’t a lot of consistency to which van shows up, so I really haven’t nicknamed any of these yet. The vans provide plenty of humor though, believe you me. Most recently, we rode in a large van that had two standard bench rows, on in the front and one in the very back, and then a funny little bench in the middle of these. The best part of the little bench? It wasn’t bolted down. It was just a free-floating bench. Thus, when you got in or out, or were say, driving, it was liable to shift right under you, or pop up on one side when you least expected it. But by far, the best humor provided by the vans is the presence of a conductor. What, you may ask, is a conductor? Well, according to the law here, each van or taxi must have a conductor riding in it. It is the job of the conductor to navigate the van through traffic, which the conductor does by opening up the sliding door of the van, and standing with most of his body outside of the van, as the car weaves through traffic. Yes, you read that right. It is the LAW- it is required- for someone to be hanging out of the side of large vehicles here as they drive through town. Obviously when traffic is brisk they tend to pull themselves into the van and shut the door, but rarely is traffic brisk here. Thus, in every traffic jam you see taxis with young men hanging out the sides advising (read: yelling to) their driver about how they can best cut off other cars…very safe. Now, our conductor is a different story. I suspect that because we are visitors and unlikely to complain, our conductor does not feel the need to earn his pay. Thus, he spends all of his time sleeping. Without fail, he sits in the first bench seat, all the way inside (so we don’t disturb him as we get in or out) and so that he can’t feasibly get to the door to do his job when we are in traffic. Not that any of us actually want the door of our moving car hanging open…but seriously, we pay this dude to sleep in the car and take up space, and space is a precious commodity in any car. But, it’s the law. Oddly enough, whenever we are stopped for a long time, the conductor always manages to find the energy to wake up and hang out with the driver.

Well, that is a brief overview of how we get from place to place. When I get home I will be so so thankful for our Corolla. Who cares if it is ten years old- IT HAS AC!!!

Another Day

We had an activity planned for today, but we were scheduled to leave at 8am...and Mtoto and I weren't exactly up at 8am, so we skipped it. It was nice to sleep in, and, fortuitously, breakfast was still out at 8:15 when we dragged ourselves downstairs (it usually disappears at 8). We lazed around all morning, which was awesome. We are both mostly recovered from yesterday's wretched drives. I'm great, but Mtoto has developed what I think is a heat rash. I let him air out a bit today, and I hope that it will clear up soon.

We are continuing to w-a-i-t. No news thus far on the progress of our visa. They have been taking three weeks lately. Jeff is able to switch off with me after we have the visa, but we have to wait until the visa is finished for him to head out. Then I will head home and he will get to enjoy the mosquitoes for a few weeks.

Tonight we are having a little celebration here at the guesthouse. One of the families who has been here FOREVER gets to go home tomorrow! And, I get to inherit their ant spray!!!!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Stick a Fork in Me

I'm done.

So, today we spent way too many hours in the car, sitting in ridiculous traffic, inhaling repulsive amounts of smog, with very little benefit. I'm reassessing my get-out-of-the-guesthouse at all costs strategy. It isn't always worth it.

I am exhausted. I am getting a migraine. Mtoto and I might both be a little dehydrated. It is time for bed. Pray for a good night's sleep, our health, and our sanity. I'm feeling so done in right now.

I'll post a little more about what driving around here is like when I have more energy. I'm considering titling that post "The Cockroach Coach"- how's that for a teaser?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Scabies Carpet

Perhaps you are wondering what those of us here at the guest house do in our ample, nay, excessive free time. The answer is hang out, which might also be described as sitting around.

When you are in-country waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn slowly and eventually spew forth your mandatory paperwork, you have almost nothing to do. As I've shared, we have had a few orphanage service trips, and have more coming up, but at night after dinner, or in the morning when you are waiting two hours for your driver to show up there is very little to do. Today we had a trip planned to visit an orphanage outside of the city, but we woke up to a torrential downpour and were informed about mid-morning that the roads were impassable. Thus, we have a whole day to hang out around the scabies carpet. We also played bananagrams (and I won).

Let me give you a few fun facts about scabies. They are contagious. It seems they are mostly spread through bed linens and from those who are in very close contact. Scabies can't live too long away from their host, so if you can manage to avoid something infested with scabies for a few days they will die. Or, you can wash and iron anything that has come in contact with the scabies. Now, most of the kids who have scabies here at the guest house got them elsewhere. Mtoto is the only one who has recently contracted scabies, and we suspect that he caught it from the scabies carpet.

The guest house has a few different levels of rooms (and, as previously discussed, toilet paper). One of the mid-range rooms is actually a suite, with two bedrooms that share a bathroom and a sitting room that is sporadically air-conditioned (depending on our power source and if the ac unit is working properly). All of the families here tend to hang out in this room, congregating around a patch-work safari rug and curled up on worm eaten leather couches. Here we discuss the many glories of this country, laugh at absurd jokes that might not be funny anywhere but here (Bon Soir Ladies and Barbie Movies), commiserate over our parenting fails, and, on serious note, spend a lot of time discussing how to help kids here and improve conditions. One thing I have noticed, is it is sad how quickly your standards go downhill here, especially for cleanliness. Hence, the scabies carpet.

We suspect that Mtoto caught scabies from playing on the carpet in the hang-out room. All the kids play on it like crazy, and it might not be the cleanest carpet in the world. Or Africa. Ever since we decided that this might be the case, the carpet has been referred to as "scabies carpet." Everyone is being a little more careful on it, or at least we were for a few hours. We even talked about possibilities for cleaning the carpet- could the carpet be ironed? Probably not. Then desperation set in and we let the kids play on it again, scabies and all. "Scabies" is also starting to be applied as an adjective to many things. Scabies couch. Scabies towel. Scabies beach ball.

Speaking of downhill standards, I've decided that Mtoto can sleep in his bed barricaded by pillows and surrounded by mosquito net without me watching him. Sitting upstairs during all of his naps and at night was too isolating. Since he is barely able to roll over (yay for orphanage delays), I figure he will probably not be able to roll off of the bed. Mtoto took his scabies treatment well. Hopefully it worked. I am thankful that his scabies are new, and new scabies don't have the same itch-factor as established scabies, so he has been able to sleep well at night. We wake up a few times for bottles, but I am managing to get enough sleep. It is amazing how quickly you can adapt- now that I'm used to sleeping dripping in sweat with the little dude (who is like a little heater) curled up next to me, it isn't nearly as bad. Although the millipede/centipede/nasty weird bug thingy that I killed last night in our room was pretty gross and I may have spend a few minutes worrying about whether his entire family was going to come after me to avenge his death. Happily, they did not. We survived to live another day, to tell another tale, and to spend more time sitting around the scabies carpet.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Today's Adventures

Today we got out again- this time we tagged along on another family's embassy appointment so that we could go shopping and have lunch at the big store by the embassy. I went with S and her little girl J, and of course, Mr. Mtoto was also along for the ride. The store by the embassy has two levels. The bottom level has a grocery store and a café, and the upstairs has smaller specialty stores and a restaurant. The restaurant had been recommended to us, so that is where we spent some time. Really, it was rather a long time. I had forgotten exactly how slow service usually is at restaurants in Africa. The food was good though, and it was fun to get out.

After lunch we went shoe shopping for J. Her mom brought shoes, but they were a bit too big, and the shoes she wore home from the orphanage fell apart after a day or two. So, we went into one of the specialty shoes stores. S picked up a little sandal, tried it on J's foot, and asked how much it was. Fifty dollars. We knew shoes would be expensive, but that was a bit steeper than she was expecting. So she picked up the sandal next to it, which looked much more poorly made. How much? One hundred and twenty dollars. Needless to say, we left the shoe store empty handed.

Now, in contrast, we then went to the fabric store a few doors down. I bought 24 yards of African fabric for twenty four dollars and seventy-five cents. Granted, this is cheap fabric, but still, fabric for a dollar a yard and shoes for one hundred a pair. It just doesn't make sense!

We also went food shopping downstairs. It was quite an adventure. Instead of listing prices, the store has a letter and number for each item. If you want to know how much it costs you have to look it up on a list that hangs on the end of each aisle. This makes comparison shopping next to impossible, and guarantees you will spent more money than you think you are spending. Happily for my wallet, I couldn't find most of the things I wanted, so I only bought a few overpriced apples, a bag of Doritos that cost about as much as gold, some ginger soda, and some jam.

After the market we cruised by the doctor because one of the little girls was feeling poorly. While there I even got to read a magazine in English! It was an US Weekly from October. Now I am all caught up on what celebrities were wearing six months ago. I also found out that Jennifer Garner is just like me because she puts sunscreen on her little girl AND lets her eat ice cream. I wonder if people in other countries pick up these magazines and think WHY ON EARTH do Americans buy this stuff?

We had a pizza party again for dinner tonight. This was top notch for me because spaghetti was on the normal menu, and I am not fond of that dish. Then, Mtoto and I began our war against scabies, which will hopefully be done after tonight. Now, you may wonder why I didn't mention that Mtoto had scabies in my first posts. Well, I didn't say anything about it because he didn't have scabies then, but he has them now. Yes, I took my poor child out of his orphanage, where he was critter-free, and brought him to a western-style guest house where he contracted scabies. To be fair to the guest house, the other kids here have it and they all play together. His case is very mild thus far, and I am hoping and praying that we are nipping it in the bud. Mtoto is also doing some teething and having some stomach issues. I don't think he has any parasites, but something is upsetting his tummy. I'm hoping it isn't the formula. His diaper rash also took a turn for the worse for a while, but I have been very careful with it the last few days, both with keeping him dry and spending hours airing him out, and it is beginning to show some signs of improvement. The room is what it is. Getting things done is far more work than it was before. We are very hot and having difficulties sleeping in a sweaty dog-pile in the center of a twin-bed (with a mosquito net you have to be very careful that your skin is not touching any part of the net). The net is working to keep the lizards out. I have yet to see any lizards, but they are leaving their poop everywhere, so I know they are here. Mercifully, I have not seen any cockroaches yet. I am sure they are there, but I feel so much better not actually seeing them. Thank you for all of your prayers. I am hanging in there. We've had a few good meals in the last two days, so I have been full for twenty-four hours straight. Not feeling hungry all the time has been a nice improvement. Tomorrow we are taking a trip to another orphanage outside of the city to do some work there. I am really looking forward to it, because I've been told that the woman who runs it has an enormous heart and the kids there are so loved. The car ride promises to be an adventure (pray we actually make it, some of our transportation has been a bit questionable).

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A Different Perspective

This morning started out wonderfully with a trip the church pastored by one of the men who has assisted us with our adoption. We went to a service in the local dialect, but had a translator with us so we got to hear the sermon (Abraham/Faith= timely for most of us), as well as some of the announcements. I had no idea what the choirs were singing, but the music was beautiful. During the service all of the Americans had to stand up and introduce themselves (since it was obvious that we were visitors). Everyone was very welcoming, and after the service finished we went through a very large receiving line and shook everyone's hands, then went back inside where they served us each a cold Fanta. I thought this was very gracious and welcoming of them. I can't tell you how good that drink tasted, because man was it HOT in that building. I almost didn't make it through the two hour service because of the heat, but thankfully I did not keel over.

After church a few of us were sitting around at our guesthouse reviewing our experience thus far. Everyone there had been in country between one and two weeks, and all felt that our trips had been harder than we expected. Having spent a long amount of time in a developing country during T's adoption, and having been amply warned that conditions in Mtoto's country were far worse, I thought I would be prepared for the conditions here. I wasn't. I think I expected it to be about five times harder than Uganda here, but it has felt about ten times harder. My equation this afternoon was this: take all of the negatives of Uganda (those typical to most developing countries)- the trash, the smog, the trash-burning smoke, the poverty and desperation, the worn down buildings and streets, and multiply it by ten, then subtract all the beauty and hope we encountered, and that describes Mtoto's country. Everywhere we have been all we have witnessed is desolation. Yes, we have seen pockets of hope- in the wonderful Christian people we have met who are working so hard and so selflessly on behalf of orphans here- but overall it has been a very difficult and depressing experience.

I think this has been especially hard on me because we had such a positive experience in Uganda and because we fell head over heels in love with that country. Ask me to tell you about it and I might mention the trash and smog, but mostly you will hear about how gorgeous it is (easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been) and how amazing the people were that we met there. After almost a full week in Mtoto's country I was really beginning to feel that we would have to either curtail our glowing reviews of Uganda, so as not to make Mtoto feel bad in the future, or else be really creative when talking about his country. But seriously, how much mileage can I get out of the fact that Mtoto's country has superior hot sauce? I want to be head over heels in love with Mtoto's country too, but am having a really hard time of it.

Enter A.

A is a friend of one of the families we are staying with. A grew up in Mtoto's country, but moved to America, and is currently here on business. His wife and kids are currently in town visiting him. This afternoon he graciously offered to show us around a bit. He picked us up in his car, which has air conditioning- a luxury we have not seen in a week- and took us on a tour. It was amazing. He gave us a totally different perspective. He showed us that this city hopes.

We saw a side of the city that we not seen- well tended gardens, paved streets, homes, new buildings, a beautiful fountain, some government buildings, the national stadium, a brand new hospital, and a big hotel. We went to lunch and had the first good food any of us have eaten in some time. He took us to purchase the best bread in the country, and told us where we might find other things that we thought didn't exist here (good butter! tasty cheese!). We went to the market to look at art and carvings and all the usual tourist junk. We were hounded and harassed by the vendors who wanted to sell us everything for "a very good price" which was easily 5 times what the item was worth. We had so much fun.

This afternoon we got to see the best face of this city. Is it the most real face? Decidedly not. The vast majority of people here could never afford the restaurant we ate in, even though our meals cost maybe five dollars. They can't afford to stay at the big hotel, and frankly, neither can I. It is expensive. They can't join the swim and tennis clubs, or purchase million dollar homes with well-manicured gardens, or fritter their money away on overpriced goods at the craft market. But, they can enjoy some of the projects we saw- the roads, the hospital, and the gardens. More than that, we saw a small hint of progress, of beauty, of hope for the future. The investments we saw mean jobs. Jobs mean increased standards of living and the prospect of something better. Investment means that someone believes in this country. A's son told us that they are working hard to bring the US to Africa, to make things better here. They believe there is light in the institutional darkness. It may be weak. It may be at the mercy of politicians and diplomats and warlords. But they believe the light is there. You can just see the glimmers of it breaking through the smog, and the dirt, and the burning trash. Today, I saw that. Now I believe too.

New Room Update

Awesome things overheard in my new room:

Hey, look, you have a crushed lizard in your door. All dried up. It's an old one.

Are you planning on putting your bed against the wall? (Why yes, I was, so my child won't fall out in the middle of the night). Hmmmm, you might not want to do that, because you'll wake up with lizards on you.

That's right. My excellent plan to sleep with the bed up against the wall and me between Mtoto and the floor has been possibly thwarted by wall climbing lizards. I say possibly, because since I have no other alternative we are trying it anyway, using our mosquito net tucked into the mattress (instead of brushing up against the floor) as a potential lizard barrier. We'll know if it works if we wake up lizard free. Otherwise...I may need some new suggestions, and no, the floor is not an option. I've heard the floor has cochroaches and mice. Yum.

As for the bathroom...I barricade Mtoto on the bed if I need to go, and I found (a wonderful, generous, helpful) someone to watch him while I shower in the morning. I loved all the ideas...but trust me, the bugs/grime/general grossness on this bathroom floor mean he should not sit on it, and there are no extra towels or dresser drawers to be found here, only closets as far as the eye can see. We do have laundry baskets, but children are not allowed in them. I may not be showering tomorrow anyway, since we have lost our city power...and no city power means no hot water.

The ant invasion has already begun. I am armed with bug spray and bounce sheets (which supposedly keep them away...although I thought those were for the mosquitos), and have already destroyed many a sad ant life. The battle will really rage if they go after Mtoto's formula/bottle tonight. I will not be in a merciful mood at 3am this morning.

Happily, I can anticipate sleeping because Mtoto stayed up for his late bottle. So, unless a rocking party at the bar accross the way, or, (worse because it's louder/longer lasting) the all-night church decides to hold a service, I may actually get some solid sleep tonight. Mtoto stayed up with me to watch a movie. Since I wanted to watch it, and he can't be on the twin bed all alone, I decided it was time for him to experience the silver screen. Apparently the guesthouse will often show a movie on Saturday nights, which helps break up the monotony. We even had butter flavored microwave popcorn in a big plastic washtub. It was so delicious. Mtoto was unimpressed and fell asleep after a bit, and only woke up to eat and score some kisses.

One last bit of new room trivia. There are different grades of toilet paper here at the guesthouse reserved for different types of guests. In my old room, I merited soft white toilet paper. Now? One ply,rough, recycled, pink toilet paper. Seriously, it's pink. PINK! Why?

The new room is swarming with mosquitos because it is in an unscreened area of the house. Thus, it is time for me to retire to the safety of my mosquito net. Despite the thick fog of Eau De DEET wafting around me, the little buggers are still after my blood.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Busy Day and Some Welcome Uplift

Well, we've been busy today so far. Although we are allowed to sleep in on the weekends (when breakfast goes from 7 to 9 instead of 7 to 8), Mtoto didn't get the memo and woke up as early as ever. After breakfast I finished packing and moving our room, then unpacked and rearranged as much as possible. I still need to put up our mosquito nets (I'm too short to get it done on my own). I do have some positive things to say about the new room. It is spacious. Also, it has windows. The ants have already begun their attack, which should make all those night time bottles quite an adventure. The little mister is old enough to be sleeping through most of the night, with a bottle at bed and then one in the early morning, but he seems to have figured out that I will make him a bottle when he is hungry...and he is apparently very hungry...all the time. He drank three bottles last night. I'm tired.

After my moving adventure, we went for a visit to orphanage P (where Mtoto used to live). The drive there was horrendous. In true African-traffic-style we were stopped for ages in the burning heat, windows only slightly cracked (for safety), all sweating like pigs, and for some reason everyone seemed to be burning their trash by the area where we had stopped, so the smoke was terrible. Traffic like that isn't exactly unusual, but we were hoping for clear roads because it was the weekend, however an old truck stalled out and dashed our hopes of a quick drive.

At least it was a very nice visit. We did a little work assessing the needs of the home and the kids there, and had time to sit with the woman who sponsors the home, Mama P. She has some wonderful ideas for improving the facilities and raising money to sustain the orphanage by opening a store on the property. We also got to play-I blew some bubbles for kids, which is always fun. The whole experience was very uplifting (which we needed). P is a marvelous orphanage. It is very small and has a family atmosphere. Obviously it is no substitute for a family, but the kids there are loved, fed, and live in comparatively nice circumstances. When I walked in with Mtoto, the mamas all wanted me to take him out of the ergo so they could say hello and hold him. They gathered around him and started playing their little games with him. It was touching for me to see that they missed him and wanted to see him again.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Down Time

Today we canceled our plans and decided to hang around the guest house. The last few days have been grueling for almost all of the families- either physically or emotionally or both. We've spent many hours in very hot cars, and our kids were all wiped out. Thus, a "down" day.

It's down in other ways too. A few of us are feeling under the weather. Most of us are itchy from mosquito bites, and it just rained so the swarms of insects are about to get much thicker. Everyone is exhausted, and most of the kids are a bit cranky (but I can't complain because Mtoto is peachy). In addition, a few of the families here have experienced some setbacks. Overall, the tone here is not exactly upbeat. Please pray that we would all be refreshed and that we would be able to focus on our blessings (which really are abundant).

I'm doing ok. I'm one of the "under the weather people" but I took some probiotics this morning and a short nap and have been very careful about eating today, and am now feeling much more perky. I have to switch rooms tomorrow, and I am really not looking forward to it-partially because I dislike change and almost never handle it well, but also because I'm informed that the room I am moving to is basically awful. I haven't actually seen the new room yet, but my understanding is that it is isolated, infested with bugs, has no place for Mtoto to sleep (we will be sharing a twin bed), shares a bathroom with a bunch of other rooms (and therefore there is no way for me to watch Mtoto while I shower or go to the bathroom), and is very hot. Hence, I'm not really looking forward to the change.

I will do whatever it takes to get this little guy home. If living in less than ideal conditions are what it takes, then so be it. That said, please pray that I will be able to find workable solutions- especially for sleeping arrangements and showering. I really don't know how Mtoto and I will share a twin bed. Although in general I do like the idea of cosleeping to facilitate bonding, he really isn't big enough for me to feel comfortable sleeping with him in such a limited space. We have been sleeping in a double bed, which has just enough room for a pillow barrier on one side and a mom barrier on the other so that he can't roll off. Sleeping hasn't been the easiest because I am afraid I will crush him (I fully realize this is irrational), but at least I feel confident that he isn't going to hurt himself falling off the bed. I don't feel that way about a twin. As for the new bathroom arrangements, I need to figure out how to take a shower every day (this is necessary for my emotional well being). Showering with Mtoto is not an option. He does not like water at all. Getting bathed at his orphanage was a rather cold and traumatic event, and even a little warm tub freaks him out. We've been doing "bath-time" via washcloth and that has been acceptable for him thus far, but I know I can't just haul him in with me, or leave him alone in our room (to roll off the twin bed). So, I have an quite an adventure ahead.

I will write about yesterday's visit to the orphanage...but I feel like this post is depressing enough as it is, and talking about that would just put it over the top. Way over the top.

On a positive note, Mtoto's diaper rash is a yeast infection and it is responding well to the cream I'm using on it. His skin still looks awful, but I can tell that he is more comfortable. He continues to eat like a champ, drool constantly (teething), and has the best dimples. His smile lights up the room. He loves being tickled, listening to me sing "Good morning [insert his name] Sunshine," and banging this red firetruck I brought on the floor. I have been introducing fruits and veggies (via babyfood) into his diet, so his diapers have been a little more work, but I continue to marvel at how much easier kids are to care for when they aren't shooting poop all over themselves, you, the furniture and the walls four to six times a day. Did I mention how thankful I am that Mtoto does not appear to have giardia? And he's up! So, I'm signing out...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Time Will Tell

It's hard to say how today's appointment went. The tone of the interview was much more aggressive than Tommy's and the outcome was far more noncommittal (this is standard), so I didn't exactly leave in a good mood. We have no timeline. Seriously, none. This is hard. Even though I know that timelines were made to be broken (and frequently are here), it is difficult to have absolutely no idea when they might be calling. Please pray that they would be able to finish their investigations quickly and that they would grant us our visa very soon! Tommy and Jeff and I want my whole family on one continent.

With the exception of getting my tail KICKED by jet-lag, I am doing very well. I feel safe and at peace. I have been able to go to bed easily, but keep waking up in the middle of the night and have been completely unable to fall back asleep. I am an eight hour girl, so I am exhausted.

Thankfully, Mtoto is a dream. I had been told that he had a very easy-going personality, and this was an accurate description. He gets fussy when he wants to eat or desires a bit more attention, but he has not been a screaming or yelling much at all. He likes to be held and cuddled, enjoys tickles and songs, and has amazingly cute dimples when he smiles. I am head over heels.

He is scarfing down food- his introduction to fruit was a delight to behold. He gobbled down the entire packet of baby food, then tried to put his head in the bowl to lick up the leftovers (he failed miserably at this). He is bigger than I thought he would be, but also younger than I expected. I know that probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but it is what it is. I was certain his birthday was off...but now I am thinking it might be close to accurate.

He does not appear to have parasites (you have no idea how amazing this is or how much easier it is making my trip). He does have a nasty, terrible diaper rash, that I suspect is (and am treating like) a yeast infection. He was not in real diapers, he was wrapped in a rag with the absorbency of cheese cloth and that was wrapped in a section of plastic. It is clear that he has suffered from an awful rash for a very long time. His skin looks like he has been burned. Please pray for his healing. He is so sweet about letting me tend to it, but I can see in his facial expressions and grunts that he is very uncomfortable.

Now that all of my appointments and such are over for the moment, we are in a holding pattern. Timelines for others have been very long of late. Although we are praying for a quick result (and that I would be home by Tommy's birthday with Mtoto) we are also throwing around other options. Please pray for wisdom as we discuss our alternate plans. Also, please continue to pray for me as I sit out the wait. God has granted me peace and patience thus far, but there is a very long road ahead. The group of families that I am with are planning a number of service projects, which should help our time be more meaningful. We intend to visit one of the more difficult orphanages tomorrow. Please pray for a fruitful visit with these kids- that they would be nourished by both the food we bring and the love we show them.

Thank you for all your comments, emails, messages, etc. I appreciate the support so much. Please continue to pray for a positive and speedy response for our visa, for our health, for bonding, and for opportunities to serve.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Big Day

Today started a bit earlier than I expected. Last night I stayed up as late as I could in an attempt to jolt my body into this new time zone. I made it until about 9 or 9:30. When I woke up I felt great-full of energy and ready to start the day. However, it was still pretty dark out and so I decided to stay under the cover of my mosquito net for awhile longer. After waiting as long as I could I got up to check the clock, assuming it would be about six or so. Unfortunately, it was ten to one. After tossing and turning for at least an hour I got up and finished my unpacking, organized my paperwork and receipts, and read for a bit. I did manage to catch a few more hours sleep, and was still sleeping when the breakfast bell rang at seven. We had "city power" last night (which means our guest house was powered by the public grid, and therefore we had hot water this morning. It was so nice to take a hot shower when I was expecting to have to take a cold one.

After breakfast we got ready to go to Mtoto's babies home, which I will call "P" when I blog about it (I will be visiting at least two other orphanages, and I want to keep them straight for you). The plan was to go meet him, let him get used to me, then bring him back to the guest house for the rest of the day. However, TIA, and the person who needed to be there for the official hand-off was not able to make it, so I had to leave without him, BUT I will be able to return this afternoon or evening and barring another unforeseen circumstance will have him with me tonight.

It was amazing. Very different than with Tommy, because we were on Mtoto's turf so he was already comfortable. He came to me very easily and was reasonably content to stay with me. He looked a bit confused by it all, and put up a fuss when he got hungry, but after he ate he fell asleep in my arms. Sigh. I am looking forward to going back tonight. He is adorable and I can't wait to bring him "home."

Tomorrow is another big day. Tomorrow would probably be more appropriately described as "huge." We have our visa interview between 12 and 3 (it won't actually take three hours, but it will be during that window of time, which, is 6 to 9 CST). We desperately need your prayers for this. It's funny, because during T's adoption I was not at all worried about the visa interview because I thought it was just a "rubber stamp." However, I know a lot more now, and realize that things don't always go well in the visa process. Mtoto's orphanage, "P" is a newer orphanage, and thus we (and the two other families adopting from there) will be under increased scrutiny. Please pray that our interview would go smoothly, the investigations conducted with integrity, and that our visa would be promptly approved.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Safe and Sound

I made it! I arrived at the guest house a few hours ago, and got settled in. My room this week is very nice, and I have a feeling it will be quite a change of pace when I move to a more bare bones room next week (I have AC right now- talk about the lap of luxury).

The long trip was blessedly uneventful. I could feel your prayers- thank you all. I felt enveloped in God's protection. While I won't describe the trip as comfortable, because economy class for 13 hour stretches can never be described in such glowing terms, I was at peace the entire ride.

Not only did my flights go smoothly, but I even had someone offer to help me with my bags at each stop, and a very nice American that I knew I could trust to walk me through everything at my destination airport (the airport I was worried about), and I was able to arrange this with him before the last leg of our flight-so I spent no time even worrying about it.

On top of that, the woman at the international ticket counter was going to check my carry-on (and charge me for it), but then changed her mind and allowed me to keep it. I was amazed, because I had heard that this airline was particularly strict with screening carry-ons at check-in and at the gate. Was it a coincidence that the same woman who screened (and allowed) my carry-on even though it totally broke the rules also was also the person checking us in at the gate (who looked the other way again when I walked passed)? I think not.

Tomorrow I meet Mtoto. I am very excited, but a little nervous about how he will react to me. I am praying for a smooth transition for both of us.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

And We're Off

I am slightly closer to Africa than I was yesterday. I had a flight to Dulles, then a planned stay overnight with the woman that I am traveling with, or rather supposed to be traveling with. When I got to the hotel last night there was a message for me at the front desk- she wasn't coming. She had a very rough day yesterday and due to flight delays and problems was unable to make her scheduled flight or any flights after that. Trying to travel within the US right now is insane (thanks Spring Break!). I am now traveling the rest of the way alone.

Obviously, this is a huge change of plans, and a scary one. The dynamic of the trip changes considerably, and while I have no issues with riding on a plane by myself, it will be significantly harder to navigate the transitions alone. I am specifically praying that I will have a smooth check-in and that they will let me keep both of my carry-ons, and I will have no problems when I change planes in Africa. On Monday morning I should be arriving at my destination. I need prayer. Although I have been prepared for what to expect, I know that it will be very daunting and that there are a number of things that could go very wrong. Please pray for courage and protection, that I would not be detained, and that I would find my escorts immediately.

When the woman behind the front desk at my hotel handed my the little sticky note with trip-altering message on it, I was like, "Really God? Really? You want me to do this by myself?" Apparently the answer to that is "yes." I'm actually doing fine, which I attribute to lots and lots of prayer. I got a decent night's sleep, and am looking forward to a long hot shower with lovely clean water and a good breakfast. It's probably the last time I will have either of those two things for almost a month, so I intend to enjoy them. On a funny side note, in the flurry of emails that went around last night regarding the travel issues, the woman who runs the non-profit that has assisted us described me as "seasoned" and "well traveled." It made me laugh, because I have been outside of the United State four times. Twice to Mexico on church trips to visit an orphanage (one of those being a day-trip, the other two days), once to Paris with my mom, and, of course, to Uganda. Honestly, I don't even know if those Mexico trips should count since I was eight on one of them. The point is, I am not a traveler. When Jeff and I plan trips for ourselves we go to [pick your adjective: boring, nice, quiet] places like Wisconsin and Indiana. Don't misunderstand, I adore Africa and I am excited to go back, but that is not because I love to see new places, it's because my son is there. For my son, I will endure this "seasoning"- because sometimes a little seasoning is the price you pay for your kids. I just got my "wake up" call, which apparently was unnecessary, but that means it is time to get ready to go. I know this is getting redundant, but please pray. I really need it. Also, pray for my friend who missed her flight- she has to contend with a harder situation than I do, as her remaining flights are unconfirmed.

Friday, 11 March 2011

My Bum Fell Off and Other Vignettes

Lest we leave our entire front page without any pictures or stories about Tommy, here are a few recent snapshots:

Playing drums along with current favorite song: Guy sweaty and the lady dancing (Arcade Fire - No Cars Go)

I buckled Tommy into his carseat, and he immediately started crying. I asked what was wrong and he sobbed, "My bum fell off." His pants had come down in the back a bit, exposing his bare rear to the cold seat...

My current MOPS magazine has a bunch of stick figures holding hands on it. Tommy found one he liked and proclaimed, "This is Tommy." The one next to Tommy? "That is mum." The one next to that? "That is Daddy." He pointed to a fourth stick figure (it was a girl) and I asked, "Is this Jjaja?" "No." "Is this Grandma Janie?" I could tell he was getting a little frustrated, and then he blurted out, "No, Mum, this is sister Leah." Heart melt. (FYI Mtoto was on the other side of the circle. I'm hoping that was a reference to his current proximity).

Jeff and I have to spell out certain words. This morning Jeff was letting me know that Tommy had eaten his morning B-A-N-A-N-A (the mere mention of which reminds Tommy that they are his favorite thing to eat), then Tommy turned to me and said, "I'm hungry for breakfast. I want a B-S-O-R-A"

As we lay in bed snuggling, Tommy proclaimed: "Papa is lazy! At Jjaja and Papa's and Aunt Emily's house he is lazy." (I think this is a reference to my dad sleeping in in the morning while my mom takes care of Tommy). Continuing on: "Jjaja and Papa's house is too far."

Me: "Tell that to your Daddy."
T: "Daddy, I want to go to Jjaja and Papa's house and be lazy."

Monday, 7 March 2011


My plane ticket is booked, my visa request is filled out, my anti-malaria prescription is filled, and my suitcases are half-packed. I am still waiting on that one document for my binder - but should have it very very soon. Hopefully, I leave in less than two weeks.

I'm feeling a little crazed at this point. We have a great deal of paperwork to print out, compile, and send in the next few days. Our coordinator is amazingly organized - our embassy binder is a piece of art, very very organized art. Organization is not my strong-point, so it has been a challenge to pull everything together...and subsequently a number of things have fallen by the wayside. Binder? Check. Stack of dishes in the sink? Check. Folded but not put away laundry? Check. Trains and Hotwheels underfoot? Check. Oh well, they will keep for another day. This tired mama needs to sleep, because I have yet another errand-filled day tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


Talk about a whirlwind. On Friday we decided to go for it and coordinate a flight itinerary with the other mom I hope to travel with. We set it up for booking on Monday (the organization helping with adoption uses a specific travel agent, so I couldn't just hop online and book), and kept waiting. We heard a rumor that some families would be getting copies of their birth certificates on Friday evening, so I may or may not have checked my email many times last night before finally giving up and going to bed at 11.

This morning I woke up to not only Mtoto's birth certificate, but also two of the other documents we need for our appointment. We only need one more piece of paper and our file will be complete. ONE.

Needless to say, we are praying for that one and I am packing my bags. I (hopefully) leave in two weeks.

I should be gone 4 to 5 weeks, if everything goes "average." As you know, I am praying for better than average - to be home in time for Tommy's birthday in mid-April.

Obviously, it will be far from the end of the world if we miss Tommy's birthday. Adoption requires sacrifice(s), and being with my oldest boy on his special day may be one of the things I give up in order to bring Mtoto home. I fully accept that. God may have an even better plan for me than the one I long for. However, I see no reason not to pray for the best thing I can think of - having our whole family together to sing happy birthday to Tommy!

And now, back to packing...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Decisions, Decisions

We have some big decisions to make in the next few days. Without going into too many details, we have the opportunity to apply for Mtoto's visa sooner than we hoped/dreamed/prayed for, but we are missing something crucial to that process. Our lawyer is confident he will have it in time, but a plane ticket to Africa is a rather large financial risk to take. On the flip side, if we don't go for it, it may be a while before we get another opportunity.

For those of you wondering where our visa appointment would put us on the "home for Tommy's birthday" timeline - the current appointment is not soon enough to say that we would be home without any trouble, in fact, we would need things to move faster than they typically average, but again, God has done bigger things than what we are praying for.

We have two major barriers that need to be moved in the next two weeks. One we will refer to that the Illinois barrier, and the other is procuring the necessary documents. We are praying for discernment - we need to make a decision about purchasing tickets and applying for our travel visa in the next few days. We are confident that this is in God's hands no matter the outcome, but we will be needing to act soon, and it would be sweet to have a little clarity.

Update since I wrote the above paragraph: there is no longer an Illinois barrier. We are rejoicing at this news- it was a tough one, and we are thankful that God moved this mountain.

Please continue to pray for us for clarity in our decision and for those papers!

We got to see a copy of Mtoto's passport today. On a sad side note, his hair is neatly trimmed. Someone must have gotten the idea to spruce him up for his official paperwork (boo!). He looks rather adorable in the photo though, so I suppose I forgive them.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Quite A Day

I came home from a busy morning (bible study, errands), put Tommy down for his nap, fixed myself some lunch, and checked my email. My inbox was stuffed with emails back and forth between my two adoption buddies - the two women whose children are in the same babies home as Mtoto - and whose court cases, decisions, etc have occurred at the same time as ours.

They got visa appointments. Us? Who knows. My first reaction was panic mixed with discouragement. My mind tends to go to the worst case scenario (no matter how absurd and unrealistic), so I fired off an email letting them know we hadn't gotten any news, and then flipped over to facebook for a little distraction.

I had a recent notification for a wall post from my sister (in-law) Colleen, that had been put on my wall about a minute before:

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Timely. Very Timely.

I messaged her that she had no idea how perfect that verse was for that time, and she sent me a note saying that she had posted it on my wall completely accidentally. She had been trying to put it in her status update...and somehow it landed (out of her 500 million friends) on my wall. Not a coincidence.

So, I obeyed.

I prayed. I was thankful for my circumstances, and I rejoiced. Of course, I felt somewhat better, but still a bit...distracted. After all, what if that little encouragement was not just a nice reminder for the afternoon...but something that I might need to carry out for weeks? What if I had to watch my friends go to Africa while I waited on an appointment. So, I repeated my prayer and thankfulness, then I sat down to do my bible study (standard during nap-time routine) and got a little ways through it, when Tommy woke up. It was far, far too early for him to wake up. I'm not just saying that because I want more time alone, but because he gets rather cranky without that nap. I went into his room to see why he was crying, and he asked me to snuggle. I lay down, he curled up on top of me and sweetly nuzzled my neck...then proceeded to urinate about three gallons of pee all over me. I got soaked. My jeans, my tank top, my shirt, my sweater, my undergarments- all dripping wet. He also got the sheets and of course, his clothes. It was an incredible amount of pee.

I just looked at him and said, "did you really just pee all over me?" It was then that I realized that the poor child wasn't even awake. He had peed an ocean and hadn't even noticed. In fact, after I got up to change, he continued to sleep in that wet mess until I returned, and finally my changing his clothes woke him up.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to add in the gross pee story, but, it's a snapshot of what this day has been like. We might not have a visa appointment and I got doused in a few gallons of pee. But, as I taught Tommy to sing (for the first time) this afternoon, "God is so good, God is so good, He's so good to me."

Late this afternoon I heard a rumor that I shouldn't worry about whether or not we have an appointment. We are super excited, but still waiting on confirmation both for the appointment and the rest of our documents...

Please pray with us that our remaining documents will be ready in time for us to pick up our Mtoto.