Saturday, 30 April 2011

Checking In

We've had a busy few days. It took many phone calls, but we finally have an appointment with the pediatric hematologist next Wednesday. Hopefully he will be able to decipher Nicolas' blood work and give us some better answers about his condition and our options for managing his symptoms. Please keep praying for us as we will likely have lots of decisions to make, and a lot of information to process.

Jeff and I are trying to use this in-between time to take care of things...the IRS review of Tommy's adoption, stacks of paperwork to sort out from Nicolas' adoption, the rest of the unpacking from the trip, figuring out exactly how to cram another child and his stuff into our apartment, and (most importantly) getting my garden ready for summer planting. Doing all this while caring for Tommy and Nicolas is interesting. So far we are juggling it all fairly well, minus a few incidents.

On Thursday we had a rough night- I was up many many times with a fussy little boy- so we slept in and missed MOPS on Friday. Since it was an amazingly beautiful day, I didn't want to spend it inside, so I took Tommy and Nic to the Arboretum. Nic slept most of the time in the Ergo, so I had plenty of time to focus on Tommy, and I think he really enjoyed that. It was fun for me to see how much he has grown up through his choice of activities- his interests and abilities have changed so much since last Fall. Today was another lovely day, but we sadly spent too much of it indoors getting the boy's room set-up, but we did have time for a family walk to the hardware store.

Thank you all for your prayers, support, notes, calls, meals (really I should list meals right after prayers because not cooking dinner this week and being showered in cookies has been so awesome), etc. We feel so loved, and it really helps as we face so much uncertainty. We continue to rest in God's gracious provision for our family and our future. I really feel like he has been preparing us for this without us even knowing it, but that is a story for another day, when it isn't so late and I'm not so tired!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Most Likely

Nicolas most likely has sickle cell disease. I'll write about the insanity that was my afternoon below, but cut to the chase up here. People with sickle cell trait have a mix of sickle cells and normal cells. People with sickle cell disease (there are a few types) tend to have either all sickle shaped hemoglobin or the vast majority sickle shaped hemoglobin, sometimes with a little normal hemoglobin for one variant...but very little. Nicolas has sickled hemoglobin AND something else the pediatrician has never seen before. Nicolas has hemoglobin that is not sickled, but also not normal (and, from what the nurse was saying, oddly high in iron, whatever that means). Long story short they are passing us off to the hematologist to let him figure out whether Nicolas has sickle cell disease or trait (I earlier wrongly described trait/carrier as having a recessive gene, the genes are actually co-dominant, but if you have only one you can live a normal life), but when the pediatrician was forced to guess, he guessed that he has sickle cell disease. Until we know what type he has we won't know much about what to expect. Although there are no guarantees, on average the different types have different outcomes and we are talking a huge difference, for example, people with SS type have an average lifespan of 42, and people with SC type have an average lifespan of 68. We are processing this information as best we can without having the complete picture of what this means for us. We are thankful that we got Nicolas home before he developed any serious complications, which is miraculous considering all of the things he could have been exposed to. God protected him, and we are so grateful for that. We are further grateful that we have good healthcare that is allowing us to go see a specialist at U of C, thus Nicolas should be receiving excellent care in the future. God has been very gracious to our son, both in placing him in a tiny orphanage that limited his exposure to illness and in protecting him from complications from his extensive nasty yeast infections. We are amazed at how healthy (and huge) he is considering his blood doesn't work the way it should. Really, truly, amazed.

So, onto how this was all I shared earlier the nurse called at two and gave me the number of a hematologist and told me to schedule an appointment with him. She said that Nicolas had abnormal blood counts for iron, and that he had some very low iron hemoglobin and some high iron hemoglobin. When I asked her specifically if he had sickle cells, she said she did not know and she would have the doctor call me.

I called the hematologist and left a message.

About an hour and a half later the nurse from out pediatrician's office called back. She said Nicolas tested positive for sickle cell. I asked if he had the full disease or if he simply had the trait, she said she didn't know because they didn't test for that, but I could call the hematologist and find out if he thought they should test to find out, and that the doctor had left for the day so she would ask him what he thought tomorrow (Imagine how mad I was at this point). I told her that we thought they were specifically testing to see if he had trait or disease, and that I wanted to know if they did or not, and could she ask one of the other doctors in the practice to look at the results and let me know.

She called back a little later to say that she talked to the doctor and he looked at the results and didn't know if it was trait or disease, but he said I could call him if I wanted to. Guess what? I wanted to. So, I called.

What the doctor told me (and should have had the nurse tell me during that first phone call, in my opinion) was that Nicolas had some sickle cells and some other blood cells that look like nothing he had ever seen before, so he didn't feel comfortable giving me a firm diagnosis because he was in over his head on this one. When I asked what his best guess was he said sickle cell disease, but that there was still a small possibility that it could be categorized as trait (I think he was covering his behind on that one...Illinois is an absurdly litigious state when it comes to medical malpractice). At that point he was ready to hang up the phone, and so was I, but then I had a thought- might this change how we should be treating Nicolas? So I asked, and lo and behold, there are plenty of things that a parent of a child with sickle cell disease might need to know that he just wasn't planning on telling me. For example, if Nicolas is sick (guess who has a cold right now?), I need to keep an eye on his temperature because a fever over 101 is considered an emergency. In fact, if he runs anything above normal I have to phone the doctor right away. Also, I need to keep an eye on his spleen and his hands and feet because those are often indicators of serious problems. AND HE WASN'T GOING TO TELL ME ANY OF THIS. Even though our pediatrician believes that Nicolas has sickle cell disease, he was just going to wait until whatever time the hematologist decided to call me back and pencil us in to let us find out. The hematologist still hasn't called, by the way, and when the office does it will just be to schedule an appointment, which means we might have gone a week or two without this important information. Oh, I am so steamed about how this was handled.

On top of all that, Tommy was in a foul mood all afternoon. He wouldn't nap because Nicolas wasn't napping (Nic napped in the car when we drove my mom to the airport because her time with us has unfortunately come to an end), and he really couldn't fall asleep anyway with me running back and forth to answer the phone and make calls. He is not quite at the point where he can skip his nap, so he was just cranky and whiny all afternoon, until he had a full meltdown and cried for 45 minutes before finally falling asleep on the couch. And, to add insult to injury, we just found out we are having our adoption tax credit reviewed (like half the adoptive families we know), which means I have a mountain of paperwork to gather and send in, and the IRS has some fairly unreasonable expectations about receipt issuing in Africa. How many chapati stands issue receipts? NONE.

Enough ranting, I have a husband to snuggle with and milk and cookies to eat. One bright spot in our day was that we had a super yummy dinner that I didn't have to cook because we have amazing friends at our wonderful church who are bringing us "new baby" meals, and tonight's meal came with a massive box of cookies. Just what the doctor ordered...

An Update That is Not an Update

Well the nurse called to tell me to make an appointment with a hematologist (probably not a great thing). She would not give me the results of the test except to tell me that Nic's iron levels were not normal (which we already knew), so I asked her to have the doctor call me. I am seriously annoyed by this. I am hoping to hear back from him by the end of the day.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Round Two

We went in for the second round of blood tests today. Thankfully, we were able to do them at the lab and avoid the hospital. We had the same nurse as on Monday, and she was surprised to see us again. She was very good, but Nicolas' veins were harder to locate today (perhaps because he was down so many vials of blood from the first round of tests?). It was not fun to watch her digging around in his arm, but she got the blood they needed and we are now in waiting mode.

I'm doing better with this than I expected. I think this is partly because I understand that there is nothing I can do to control the outcome or the speed of the tests (we are hoping to hear back tomorrow, but the lab's official policy is that tests can take up to a week). The other part of my "reasonably calm" equation is that I know that God's grace will sustain us through whatever the doctor's phone call brings.

It is a great blessing and privilege to love and parent Nicolas. He is an amazing little fellow...and super handsome. Check my FB page for proof his adorable first photo-shoot.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

More Tests

We just got one of those phone calls that you don't want to get.

Nicolas' blood work came back abnormal. We go back for more tests tomorrow. Based on the info I gleaned from my conversation with the woman who works at the doctor's office (after I pressed her repeatedly), they will be testing for sickle cell and some other things (venting for a minute: why is is so hard to get the doctor's office to give you straight answers about stuff like this? Like I really believe that they are running a bunch of different tests just in case the lab made an error on the first ones? Not that I don't think lab errors are possible, but why not just say that there is also a possibility that my child is seriously ill? It's the truth). Obviously, we are really hoping that Nicolas does not have sickle cell anemia because it is a very painful, life-shortening disease (to put it in perspective, children with HIV have longer lifespans and better treatment options). There is a very good chance Nicolas is simply a carrier of the gene, as the early testing doesn't differentiate between carriers (those with one defective gene) and those with actual sickle cell disease (people who inherited two defective genes), and being a carrier is quite common in Africa. Or, it might be something else. They will be running more than one test...what, I don't know, because apparently parents only need very limited information. I'm sure that they give limited information because they don't want parents freaking out and googling every disease known to man...but let me testify that it doesn't work. Now I'm just googling with incomplete information. I don't think that is better.

Let me state the obvious, we love Nicolas no matter what: with normal blood, abnormal blood, or whatever he has flowing through his veins. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that Nicolas is the child that God chose to add to our family. If turns out that he has sickle cell disease then I will be even more thankful than ever that we adopted him and that we got him home as early as we did. I shudder to think about what his treatment options would be in DRC. If it turns out that he carries a recessive gene for a nasty disorder, well, welcome to the family, son, you're in good company.

Please pray with us that further testing will bring good news. If not, pray that we have the strength to handle whatever is next on our parenting journey. Most of all, pray for Nicolas' comfort and as he is subjected to another blood draw.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Day That I Admit That Two Are Harder Than One

Today was a heck of a day. We left the house at 9:30 for the doctor's office. I managed to schedule Tommy's three year check up and Nic's first ever appointment at the same time, saving myself an extra trip, or so I thought. We arrived early, and were seen early (amazing). The appointments were blessedly uneventful. Tommy passed his check-up with flying colors, and Nicolas appears to be in tip top shape. I say "appears" because we still have to do his bloodwork and parasite tests, and those could unearth something icky. The doctor wanted Nic's bloodwork done as quickly as possible, of course, because we can't move forward with vaccinations or treatments until we have confirmed that he is HIV negative (which was already done at his visa medical appointment, but has to be done again). The doctor had a whole list of tests that he wanted to order (which is good), but he didn't know if the county health department was going to require any extra testing based on Nic's country of origin. So, the nurse had to call the health department to find out so that if they did require something else we could add it to the bloodwork being ordered and not do two separate blood draws. Oddly enough, no one at the health department was answering their phone this morning, so we were given the option of waiting, leaving and coming back, or doing this tomorrow. We decided to leave and come back, because we didn't want to devote two days to the doctor OR sit in the waiting room for hours, even though our doctor has a very nice waiting room and super sweet nurses (who gave me a bag of formula samples that should get Nic through the rest of the week since his bad mother forgot to pick up formula last week at them). We amused ourselves by going to Buy Buy Baby (which is basically Bed Bath and Beyond but chock full of more baby stuff than you could possibly imagine), Chipotle, and the Yorktown play place. Finally, finally, the doctor's office called and said our paperwork was ready and we could come back.

At the doctor's office they explained that they could do most of the screenings at the in-house lab, but that one set of tests had to be done at the hospital. Ugh. We did the major blood draw at the office, and it was horrible. I hate hate hate having to hold him while they draw vial after vial of blood. I know it is necessary, but I hate it. Then we trekked over to the hospital, where Nicolas was admitted as an outpatient, a process that took three hundred years. Then we sat in the outpatient lab children's room for another hundred years, then the nurse came in and told me that they forgot to have me fill out all the paperwork while I was waiting, so I filled out even more paperwork. Next they had me hold a hotpack to Nic's heel to get his blood flowing, or something, then they did some gross thing with a little cup that they filled with blood and smeared all over a special paper. Tommy never did this, so I was not familiar with the test. Apparently they do it to newborns, but it is easier with a brand new baby because their heels bleed more readily. The nurse who was administering the test looked at me like I had three heads when she read the order, and then asked me repeatedly how old Nicolas was. It was obvious that she thought I should have brought him in a little sooner, which I might have were he living in the US prior to last week. She also had to verify multiple times that I didn't know his birth weight or the time of his birth. It all began to feel a bit absurd. It was fairly clear at that point that I did not give birth to my sweet son, as we look nothing alike and I clearly stated that he was adopted and came to the US last week from a developing country, and thus I feel it should not have surprised her that the hour and minute of his birth were not recorded. Yet it did.

We finally made it home at 4:30, thus the appointment that I thought would take an hour or hour and a half tops took up seven hours and all of our energy. I could not have done it without my mom along for the ride (Thanks mom!), since she watched Tommy so that he could stay in the waiting room instead of watching his brother suffer, which I think would have really disturbed him. All I can say is, at least this day is over and we are done with the doctor. At least until we have to start vaccinations next week...

Happy Easter!

Saturday, 23 April 2011


Someone is not handling this time of transition very well...and that someone is not Nicolas, it's Tommy. Wow. Apparently no amount of reading "A Baby Sister for Francis," along with practically every other book in the library on siblings, can actually prepare a child for having a new brother in the home.

Happily, the boys like each other. Nicolas finds Tommy absolutely fascinating. He loves watching him and delights in any attention Tommy pays him. Tommy also loves Nicolas, he just doesn't enjoy Nicolas getting any extra attention or doing things that Tommy is not also doing. As you can imagine, this has resulted in an abundance of "baby" behavior from Tommy.

For almost a year Tommy has been sitting in a chair without a booster. He hates booster seats. But, as soon as I got out the little highchair booster for Nicolas, guess who HAD to have a booster seat too? The same goes for any number of things- bottles, pacifiers, the baby car seat, riding in the baby carrier, etc. I actually wouldn't mind (it really makes no difference to me if Tommy wants to suck a pacifier or drink from a bottle for a few days), except that on the rare occasions when Nicolas' activity can't be duplicated, Tommy goes into a full meltdown. Tonight I was working on putting Nicolas in a wrap, and Tommy decided that he too wanted to be in a wrap. Unfortunately, he had trouble communicating this sentiment because he didn't know what to call the wrap. Thus, as my mom was trying to get Tommy out of his bath and ready for bed, he was insisting to her that she needed to "tie him up." Of course, she thought that meant wrap him in a towel, or something, but nothing she tried was good enough, and Tommy got frustrated and started crying and just repeating that he wanted to be tied up over and over. Finally Mom figured it out and, as I was done practicing with Nicolas anyway (side note: I never had to practice with my beloved Ergo- I'm just sayin'), I put Tommy in the wrap and all was right in his world once more.

I knew that Tommy would struggle with Nicolas coming home. I knew that conversations couldn't prepare him for the reality of sharing the limelight. But knowing that this turmoil was coming didn't really prepare me either.

I know that it has only been two days, and that things will improve. Hopefully that improvement will come sooner rather than later...

Sorry for the lack of videos. Jeff (my tech guy) is still feeling poorly. He definitely had a bought of food poisoning on the flight home, and while the worst is over his stomach still isn't quite recovered. Also, there is the small matter of jet-lag to contend with as well. Nicolas is experiencing some jet lag as well, but not as severely as Jeff. Other than that Nicolas is adjusting well. He frequently has his "confused" face, and cannot stand his car seat or our bathtub, but things are going as well as we could expect given the crazy amount of change he is experiencing. I'm sure he is still in a bit of shock at this juncture. I'm finally sleeping through the night, I think. My mom is still here helping out, so I haven't had to adjust to caring for two by myself yet, which is fine by me.

We are planning to take some family pictures tomorrow...if all goes well you might even be able to see them. But just in case I don't have time to post: Happy Easter from the Klug family! We are so thankful to be all together as we celebrate our risen Savior.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


All my boys are home! The flight from DC was delayed an hour and a half, so we didn't get everyone home until early this evening. Please excuse the fact that Jeff looks half dead in these photos...that is what 30+ hours of travel with an infant and ten hours of throwing up on an airplane will do to you. As soon as we got home Jeff had a little chicken soup and went to bed. Nicolas made it almost until his normal bedtime. He had a big dinner and spent some time with his brother, who he is quite fascinated with, and also had a chance to g-chat with his Poppa. Now he is sleeping soundly.

Tommy is having an interesting day. He really likes Nicolas, but he is also a little unsure about sharing his life with him. He alternates between being a "big boy" and asking to be treated like a baby...just like Nicolas. I hope this phase is short.

Some pictures of our big day, video tomorrow if I can figure it or if Jeff feels better:


I just got off the phone with Jeff! He is in Dulles (DC), waiting for their connecting flight. He and the mom he is traveling with, Kelly, have both been throwing up since Rome. Thankfully, the passengers nearby noticed that they were both running back and forth to the toilets every few minutes and offered to help with the kiddos. Nicolas has made a number of new friends today. Also, thank you for your prayers, Nicolas got a bassinet for the long flight!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Nicolas Andrew Ahuka Klug

To clarify, it's pronounced a-hoe-ca, with a short a and a long o. It means "a giant man," or so we are told. And yes, that is Nicolas without an "h"- he was named by people who spoke French, and consequently used a different spelling. We added a middle/family name, Andrew, this time (instead of a first as we did with Tommy). While we were choosing names we continued to call him Nicolas...and the name grew on us.

Nicolas is eight and a half months old, and was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I resisted the urge to label this post "Our Congolese Cutie." It was hard, but I held back.

We are so excited that this sweet, adorable, cuddly boy has joined our family!

We are SO blessed.

Two more days...

until our family will be together. Two more days until I can hold both my little boys in my arms. Two more days until Jeff gets home.


Please pray that all of the flights and connections go smoothly. Pray that they get out of the airport with no intimidation and no "special" exit fees. Pray that Jeff will have loads of patience. Also, it is very unlikely because Jeff booked Mtoto's ticket so last minute, but pray that he can get a bassinet for the long flight. That would help out so much.

I will post pictures as soon as I know they are safely out of Mtoto's country. Right now I am scrambling to get things ready- the infant car seat needs to be installed, the crib sheets washed, a ton of adoption paperwork sorted out, etc, etc. Let's hoping "nesting" wins out over jet-lag.

Monday, 18 April 2011


A short list of things that are uncomfortable:

1. Being without city power for five days, which means five hot hot nights with no fan to provide a bit of breeze and white noise to block out the sounds of the bar across the street, where the party goes all night long, and the church on the other corner, where loud music alternates with screams...gotta love nightly exorcisms. It also doesn't help when the generator breaks down, and you are without power during the day as well. Poor Jeff has had a rough time of it these past few days, as this has been his life. Please pray for good sleep and some relief from the heat. Also, that we would get our letter already so he could come home!

Enough about Jeff, onto my lovely trip home:

2. Arriving at the airport too early, sticking out like a sore thumb, having all the guards stare at you while you know they are calculating how much they can demand in "special" exit fees...all while knowing you (foolishly) only brought fifteen extra dollars. Thankfully, the necessary palm-greasing only took ten.

3. Sitting in an airport "waiting room" that has no monitors, and realizing that you will have to rely on other passengers to make sure you get on the right bus (one takes a bus out on the tarmac and climbs stairs into the plane). Picking another passenger who speaks broken English, spending some time making friends so he can help you find your flight, and then having him confide that he missed yesterday's plane because he was too drunk to figure out boarding. Or, as he put it while motioning to his beer, "Yesterday I have so much beer, I forget airplane."

4. Making a new friend who speaks much better English and is able to direct you to your flight, but having him repeatedly mention how much he hopes he will see you again while asking about where you live and when you will come if that's at all likely.

5. Riding on an inter-Africa flight. They are loud, smelly, have wretched food (which I did not eat), and the bathrooms are unclean. Also, I heard the song "Runaway Train" at least three times, because apparently songs that were somewhat popular in 1993 should be blasted repeatedly on such flights...and that was pretty much the best music they played. On top of that, my personal headset port was broken so I couldn't watch the movie or listen to anything besides the in-flight music. Enough said.

6. After settling in for the long flight (Ethiopia to Rome to DC), being so so happy to be on an aisle of a three seat row with only one other person (on the other aisle) and going to sleep with the armrest up so as to take advantage of the middle seat, waking up to see that your aisle mate has changed sit right next to you so she can pile her stuff on the empty aisle seat. It should be noted that my new neighbor was not a small woman, and she had voluminous clothes that were all over me for the rest of the flight.

7. Falling asleep again, and waking up with said seat-mate's feet on top of you, because she has decided to lay across ALL THREE SEATS, including the one you paid for. (If you are wondering why I didn't say anything, she was really really old and spoke no English and I felt bad because she was so seriously old).

8. Having the above mentioned feet kick you while seat-mate dreamed.

9. Watching Little Fockers. Really, it was a terrible, terrible movie, but I was scraping the bottom of the in-flight entertainment barrel by then.

Ok, that's enough complaining. The trip was mostly just looonnnnnngggg. I am so done with traveling until we adopt again. I cannot tell you how thankful I was to get off the plane in DC. I was so tired of sitting I actually spent an hour of my layover walking back and forth between the D and C gates just stretching my legs. Then I bought a HUGE burrito and gorged on mediocre Mexican food...but it was so much better than nothing, and I was rather hungry by that point because I was not interested in most of the airplane fare, although the lasagna we picked up in Rome wasn't too bad.

I am so thankful for clean water and good food and all the comforts of home. We have it so good here in the US. I am fully aware that my list of uncomfortable things is the product of a very pampered life, generally speaking. Nothing like a little trip to the developing world to make you realize exactly how good you have it, and how infrequently you are uncomfortable.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

What I Missed

It feels like Tommy grew so much in the few weeks while I was away! Thankfully my mom took lots of pictures. I am seriously jet lagged right now...I will get back to writing as soon as I recover. Jeff and Mtoto are doing well, and are continuing to wait for the last paperwork they need to come home. We are praying that they will make their scheduled flight on Thursday (or be able to make an earlier one).

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Birthday Boy

The little man made a surprising choice for his birthday dinner- ribs. I was so certain we would have to go to a "train" restaurant, and more than a little excited that we didn't have to (remember, I've been eating mediocre food for weeks).

Here we are waiting for our slabs:

I can't believe my baby is three! Time flies...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Home SWEET Home

I'm home and exhausted, but thrilled to be with Tommy. He was very excited to see me too, which I was so thankful for.

Jeff was sick when I left, and I haven't had a chance to speak with him (power was out tonight so we couldn't skype), but he tells me he's feeling better and that Mtoto is doing well. Assuming that everything goes well, Jeff and Mtoto should be home by the end of next week...we appreciate all prayers that it will actually happen. We are anxious to be together as soon as possible, and it seems like things never go according to schedule.

More later after I catch up on sleep...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Picnic on the Scabies Carpet

As I type this, sleeping Mtoto rests in sleeping Jeff's arms in the chair next to me. Apparently they both needed an afternoon nap. Jeff's flights were uneventful, the way flights should be, and he had an easy go through the airport and very little traffic coming to our guesthouse, so he arrived mid-afternoon yesterday. Unfortunately, he arrived so early that Mtoto was still sleeping, so their first meeting was delayed a bit. Mtoto was a bit unsure what to make of Jeff, who he has seen and heard many times over the last few weeks via a fuzzy skype connection. He had his confused eyebrows (he has very expressive eyebrows...oh I am dying to post pictures) for the first few minutes, but soon relaxed and let Jeff hold him for most of a nice long walk inside the guesthouse compound. He still prefers his mom…since I am more familiar now, but I am hoping and praying that he will adjust well to being with his dad.

Mtoto is teething, judging from the copious amounts of drool spilling forth from his mouth, and thus he is a bit fussy and uncomfortable. Jeff brought some teething rings, and he has enjoyed having those to gnaw on, but it still seems uncomfortable. I don't know which teeth will be next. He currently has two half teeth on the bottom (which were just little nubs when we first met- he's growing up so fast), so maybe these will be the matching pair on the top?

And, now it's later. My bags are packed and waiting for me to weigh them on the awesome 1950s doctor's office scale here at the guesthouse. We are only forty minutes from losing power/internet because we are on generator power right now- so it looks like my last night in Africa will be an early one. It's been a nice evening. We ordered takeout and had a picnic on the scabies carpet, which we believe is now scabies-free. I was thankful to skip the guesthouse fare- Wednesday night's menu item is not the worst, but it isn't really the food I want to remember my son's country by. It was fun to have something different than the usual, and it was more celebratory.

I'll be signing out for a few days, I'll see if I can persuade Jeff to update you all in my internet absence. Please pray that I will have make it through the airport in one piece and have uneventful flights home. Pray for Mtoto as he adjusts to yet another new caregiver, and for Jeff as he begins this new parenting adventure. I am so looking forward to seeing Tommy, and I really want to make it home when I promised I would be home.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


I’ve had a busy few days, and not enough time to process all the things that have been happening. I was able to go to church on Sunday because the couple who runs our guest house gave me a ride. This time I went to an English language service. It was a “blended” worship service, and rather similar to what you might experience in the States except the congregation was decidedly international. We got to hear a really amazing testimony…I’ll probably post on that later, after Jeff and Mtoto get home.
After church we went out to lunch, to the same yummy schwarma place I went to before, and then, since it was such a hot day, we had to stop by my favorite ice cream shop. I swear it wasn’t even my idea…mostly.
Yesterday we went back to Mama G’s (and that’s getting a post later because meeting Mama G was such a humbling experience), and then on to dinner. We got to go to a South African chain restaurant that serves tasty peri-peri chicken and had a play place for the kids and a great view- and wasn’t that expensive. It was very refreshing. At night I had the privilege to attend a photo exhibit/talk at the local American school by the man who gave his testimony at church Sunday. It was a very moving evening, and thankfully Mtoto slept through almost all of it so I really got to watch and listen.
This morning we awoke to torrential rain and cool breezes. I almost feel like I’m back in IL already. Jeff gets here this afternoon, and we are anxiously awaiting his arrival! I expect he will be walking through the door in about five hours...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

On Going Home

Yesterday while we were driving to a new (to me) orphanage, in the midst of an awful traffic jam with some of the dirtiest, grittiest air I have yet breathed, it struck me that I am really going to miss this place. I'm not sure how it happened, but this city has grown on me. It's funny, because it remains as dirty and crowded and hot and dangerous as ever, and I still don't really like it, but I am going to be sorry to leave.

One of the things that have been hardest about this experience has been having something to compare it to- having an expectation of how things could be because of the amazing experience we had during Tommy's adoption. I fell hard for Uganda. I love it there. It is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I know if I were able to travel extensively in Mtoto's country, or even leave the city, I would be able to write glowing things about the beauties of this country too, but that is not on the agenda because here we don't have freedom to roam. Adjusting to that loss of freedom was very difficult for me. Not being able to go most places (even with an escort) or see the things I want to see, or shop at the stores I want to shop at, or take pictures to share with Mtoto as he gets older, has been demoralizing. Also, there is always an undercurrent of fear here that is very difficult to escape. I don't know if it is the level of past brutality, current political instability, ongoing war, the corruption that seems to permeate every aspect of life, or perhaps a lovely combination of these problems, but this place is hard.

A number of things have happened to tip the scales. Maybe it was finding a store that sells really decent ice cream, and realizing that I won't be here long enough to try all the weird flavors (today it was Nougat and Ferro-Rochez for me). Quick confession- I might be their new best customer as I have been three days in a row, and I may have lamented their lack of a frequent-diner program today in the car on the way home. I would be so close to earning a free cone by now. Maybe it was spending so much time at various orphanages where people are doing the best they can with what they have to care for those who have even less. But, it is more likely the soft dark hair, big brown eyes, and sweet smile of a certain little boy that won me over. I love Mtoto, and by extension, I love the place he comes from. It also helps that Mtoto was cared for by some amazing people, and that I continue to be totally blown-away by the love he was shown in the time before we were able to be a family.

That said I am looking forward to going home. I can't wait to see Tommy. I am super excited to have reliable hot showers and clean water to brush my teeth with. Oh, and don't get me started on food. I can't wait for some yummy meat (watch out Uncle Bub's) and Mexican food. But mostly, I'm looking forward to some big kisses from my oldest boy.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

I've been meaning for a week or two to post a short update on how and what Tommy has been doing during his special time with Daddy and Jjaja, or to at least get some pictures or video back on the front page of this blog. As I get ready to leave for Africa myself I realize I'm running out of time to do that, so here we go.

Here are a few video highlights:

A couple of bears at the zoo

Squirrel watching, and where are my drumsticks?

General silliness

We've also enjoyed getting to talk to Mum and Mtoto pretty regularly each day via Skype. I'll have to get some video one of these days of Tommy's impression of his baby brother. It's pretty awesome.

Chatting with Mum, and wearing his favorite pajamas

And last, here are a few Tommyisms I've collected over the last few weeks:

Getting ready for bed on Wednesday night, I offered Tommy two suggestions for which pajamas to wear.
     Daddy: Tommy, stripes or penguins?
     Tommy: Oh, penguins. My favorite. I love my penguins.

After dinner last Saturday we had the following exchange:
     Jjaja: How about a bath, Tommy?
     Tommy: (To Daddy) How about an S-R-N-O-P?

I was gathering some travel-related paperwork this week, and Tommy picked up two passport-sized photos of me:
     Tommy: That's Daddy. I want to snuggle him.
     Daddy: Tommy, I'm right here! don't you want to snuggle the real Daddy?
     Tommy: No, I want to snuggle the pretend Daddy (laughes).

Friday, 8 April 2011

All the News That's Fit to Print

Today we visited orphanage "B" again. This morning we made about 115 peanut butter sandwiches, then crammed into a stifling hot mini-van for an extremely long and slow ride to the orphanage. I think it ended up taking us an hour and a half to get there. We were hot and sticky and so glad to get inside the compound. Somehow that made the smell more bearable.

This trip was easier than the last one. I was better prepared for the things that we would see, and, I made a real effort to put things into perspective- there are 50,000 children living on the streets of this city. The 110 kids in this orphanage really are better off than any of the street kids. No matter how dark their lives seem, there is an even worse alternative. At least these kids can count on being sheltered from the elements and a meal or two a day. Instead of focusing on how dark this orphanage is, which is easy to do, I focused on bringing whatever light I could. I've been studying Isaiah 58 this week (highly recommend, it's a fantastic chapter), and it's been very encouraging- while I can't bring justice to these oppressed kids, I can show them love. I can make sure they have full bellies for an afternoon, that someone smiles at them and pays them a compliment, gives them a little tickle, or demonstrates an exploding pound-it. I can blow bubbles to make them laugh, and take pictures and show them. It isn't much, it isn't justice, but it's something.

Today while we were there the head Mama asked us for money to take a sick baby to the hospital. She said she would do it whether or not we helped, but wanted to ask to see if we would. Of course, we asked to see the sick baby, and she let one of our group verify that the little girl needed medical attention. Apparently this baby arrived at the orphanage that morning, in very severe shape. According to my friend, she was skin and bones and nothing else. Nothing else. Not even an ounce of fat. She had so little energy she couldn't even close her mouth or move; she just lay still as death on the bed. This little girl is starving to death; by the time you read there is a good chance she will already be gone. I hope that the money we provided was used to lessen her pain in those last hours. There are so many "what ifs" and "if onlys" in a situation like this, and sadly, this kind of thing happens all too often here.

After our trip to the orphanage we ran some errands in town and got some lunch and ice cream. We had driven past this particular ice cream place multiple times, and had intended to go for over a week now, but it just never worked out. I so wish we would have gone sooner. It was very yummy and reasonably priced (amazing, because everything here is absurdly expensive). While I was at the counter someone asked me where I was from and what I was doing with Mtoto. I hesitated. Adoption is not well-understood or accepted here, and some adopting families have received negative or threatening feedback. I was nervous, but when I said we were adopting they immediately congratulated me and wished me well. That was nice, and so was the ice cream.

Jeff's visa arrived! He is getting things together for the trip and will leave shortly. I can't believe how close I am to coming home. I am really looking forward to having a little time with Tommy before Mtoto comes home. I think having some time with him beforehand will make the transition a bit easier. Mtoto has a little cold, which is making him unhappy. He really does not like having snot running down his face, so I am learning to be quick with the tissues. Thankfully tissues happen to be one of the products most commonly sold on the streets here, and you can typically buy a pocket pack for a quarter or so- depending on whether or not you are paying "mzungu" prices- so I am never in danger of running out.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Quick Update

We've moved rooms again. This is move number four, and hopefully the last one. Now we are living in the "apartment"- we have our own room but share a bathroom and sitting room with another family. Our bedroom is not air-conditioned, but our sitting room is, so it is pretty sweet. Also, we get a few bars of wifi in the front room, and it is really nice to not have to skype in the heat.

The last few days have been low-key. We had to cancel our orphanage trip on Wednesday because our escorts had important business to do- get someone from the airport and get the final paperwork for a family going home. Instead we sat around the house on Wednesday and then again today, because our escort had to go to the airport again. We have been pretty bored, but things should be picking up tomorrow- we are taking lunch to orphanage "B" again, and hopefully going out to dinner.

As for coming home- our paperwork has to go through the equivalent of USCIS in Mtoto's country. This averages ten to fourteen business days (we started Wednesday). Without getting into the boring details, the paperwork is shuffled through a number of offices, and we are praying that it will be in the "second step" as of tomorrow. The "first step" is usually fairly quick.

Jeff will arrive early next week (please pray that he gets his entry visa in time!), and I will head for home. I am really looking forward to seeing him and for him to meet Mtoto! At this point I feel like I could definitely finish out the trip if it was necessary, but I am really glad I don't have to.

Mtoto is doing fine. He has a little congestion, which seems to be disturbing his (and my) sleep. Since we have had some free time on our hands, I've decided to teach him some tricks. We are currently working on rolling over, because according to guidelines for hyper-achieving US infants, he should have been doing it months ago. I'm positive that before he met me he had never ever been placed on his stomach before. So, we have been gradually introducing "tummy time" so that he can strengthen his arm muscles for crawling. He rolled over today for the first time that I have ever seen, so that was exciting.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'80s Pampers

I only brought one pack of diapers. Remember, half of my checked luggage was devoted to the donated formula, and about 3/4 of the other half was dedicated to Mtoto's food and formula. That left about 1/4 of a checked bag for medicine, toiletries, and my snacks for 3 1/2 weeks. My carry-on was all adoption paperwork, essential meds (Mefloquine and Cipro), mosquito nets, and Mtoto's and my limited wardrobes. When we traveled to Uganda to get Tommy I had been warned about the poor quality of third world diapers, and thus had packed an entire suitcase full of Huggies and Kirkland wipes. This time around I didn't have the luxury of extra space, and knew I would be relying on diapers purchased here.

I was of two minds on this subject. On the one hand, I want to support the economy of Mtoto's country by purchasing things here. On the other, I hate getting ripped off and buying sub-standard items at inflated prices- and this described just about every product available here.

When we went into the store to purchase a set of diapers (I opted for Pampers because they were cheaper), I found it somewhat disconcerting that most of the diapers were covered in a thick layer of grime, as if they had been sitting in that very same place for say, the last ten years. When I purchased them, at the price of thirteen dollars for 36 diapers, I admit felt the price a bit steep, but not as bad as I had been expecting. The diapers are quite clearly imported, as are almost all good because very little is manufactured here. I just checked the package and verified that they were produced in Morocco, which explains all the funny looking writing covering the pack. When I opened the pack I was struck by the resemblance that these diapers have to those worn by my brother Kevin when he was a 1987.

The outer part of the diaper is a thin plastic, and the tabs are the old tape style. I will say one thing for these dipes- they absorb like crazy and rarely leak. That is the benefit of the plastic. The downside? Plastic is not exactly gentle for baby's skin. I can see why Americans have switched to more cloth-like paper diapers. After a long spell in a hot car, and probably three gallons of sweat, Mtoto developed a huge rash where the plastic hits his skin. It was awful. I wish I could switch to a better diaper, but options don't exist here.

As an American, I understand that I have access to many of the best products in the world. Big manufacturers spend billions every year creating and testing products to ensure that they meet the expectations, needs (or wants), and tastes of the American consumer. If a company tries out a new formula, and the public stops buying it, they remove it from the shelves and go back to the old or try another new idea. What do you suppose happens to all those products that American reject as subpar? Or those television sets manufactured in mass quantities right before some huge new technological improvement? I imagine they get sent to a country that is slightly less discriminating than America. If those consumers won't purchase it, maybe it goes elsewhere. Eventually, it will end up here. This place is the dumping ground for all the garbagy products that no one else in the world wants or will buy. And, insanely, to get one of those rejected products here, you have to pay top dollar.

We were in one of the nicer import stores that caters to a wealthy clientele, and were looking at appliances. We ended up in the television section, and saw sitting on shelves "new" TVs. They were the little mini- tvs that are probably 14 inch or so that look like little boxes. They particular TVs had a plastic skull and crossbones affixed to the top and a logo that read "Pirates of The Caribbean." These TVs were clearly an ill-advised marketing ploy from the very first Pirates movie. How long ago did that come out? Ten years? Yet the TVs related to the marketing bonanza for that movie are being sold as new products here. I wish I would have looked at the price, because I'm sure it would have been shocking. We saw about the flimsiest, cheapest plastic slide I have ever seen (a Chinese product) that wouldn't be sold in the US except at maybe a dollar store, priced here at $500, and an equally pathetic "swing set" priced at $1400. Anyone with that kind of money would be a fool to pay those prices, because you could import something of higher quality for about that much, I'm sure, but it was crazy to think that someone might actually make that purchase because they simply had no other options and those were the best toys they could find.

You can purchase most American or at least European products that you want here, but, you never know what quality you will be receiving. Yes, I got my hands on some Pampers, but they were not the quality I would get from the same brand in the US, and they were more expensive (Not much more, I know, if I were to buy Pampers in a small pack at full price, but most Americans have access to sales and coupons, which does not happen here). The same is true of food products and toiletries. You might find a familiar brand, but you never know if the quality will be good or poor. Buying products here puts the gamble in Procter and Gamble (sorry, couldn't resist).

Let's be honest, very few people here or in most of the developing world can afford American products. But it is very sad to think that those who can don't even have the option of buying real goods- instead they are consigned to shopping a dumping ground of outdated and subpar items. Even if you had all the money in the world you couldn't get the same quality meat, produce, and medical goods sold in every single Walmart in the US. It is sad to say, but even food and products that many wealthy Americans turn up their nose at (like meat treated with antibiotics or fruits and veggies sprayed with pesticides) are far and away better quality and nutrition than the foods available in this city.

The one exception to poor quality products our group has found? Potato chips. We can get excellent potato chips, thanks to Simba of South Africa and their partnership with Lays. They are very expensive, but nothing says home like a bag of Doritos..even though I never ever buy Doritos. Also, Lays and Simba both produce very interesting flavors. A few examples: Caribbean Onion and Balsamic Vinaigrette, Smoked Beef, and Mrs. H.S. Ball's Chutney. The fruit jellies aren't bad either, but don't get me started on the peanut butter...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


We've had a big day. We now have Mtoto's US visa and all the supporting paperwork. Tomorrow our paperwork goes back to Mtoto's government so that they can grant us final permission to leave the country. That process usually take 10 to 14 business days.

So, the visa surprise- in my last update I posted that a number of families here got a message from the embassy that they should pick up their visas on Tuesday (today). I didn't get a message, and I was unable to get through to the embassy before they closed for the weekend. Then, on Monday morning I spent a very long time attempting to get through the embassy switchboard. Around 3:30 I was finally able to speak to the woman who handles parents of adopted kids. I asked her if they had any news about the progress of Mtoto's visa, and she shuffled some papers rather loudly and said, "yes, come pick it up Tuesday at 3." You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I admit I was a bit skeptical. The last family that went in to pick up a visa on a Monday had to sit in the embassy for four days, and eventually got it at the end of the day on Thursday. Thus, while I really hoped that my visa was actually ready, I had to reason to doubt that it would be printed and ready to go.

This morning we went to Mtoto's orphanage to drop off some food and say hello, then went to the embassy store and ate lunch/killed time until our appointment, then arrived at the embassy a few minutes early. The guard there will scold you if you are late, so we always try to get in early. Now the problem with getting to the embassy early is that even though they want you to be prompt, they rarely return the favor. At 4:30 I was called in…and they let me know they would be starting my letter, so it would just be a bit longer. I think we ended up leaving at 4:55, which means we waited almost two hours. I am thankful that the embassy has nice air-conditioning, and the coldest water in the entire city. Also, the water tastes just like cooler water should- that added mineral taste that lets you know you are drinking bottled water…mmmmmm. I am sorry to report that the United States apparently does not feel this embassy's restroom should have toilet paper. This is super gross and unacceptable in my book. I understand from the news that the US government might be shutting down soon, but seriously, can't they spring for a roll of toilet paper?

In other bathroom related news, Mtoto peed on me in the embassy cubicle. For those of you who have not been in an embassy, they have one large waiting room, and then a series of doors that are numbered. When you enter into one of these doors they are a small room with a counter and a huge sheet of glass. The person working with you stands behind the counter/glass and you stand in the little room. So, I'm in the little cubicle holding Mtoto on my hip and the woman who is helping me is trying to figure out if she should put my name or Jeff's name on the letter she is writing (because I am turning the letter in, but Jeff is picking it up and taking Mtoto home), and all of a sudden I feel something really warm on my back. It was a very odd sensation, and I thought, did Mtoto just pee on me? On my back? I finished answering her questions and rushed him to the changing table. It turned out that he somehow managed to pee on my back, but, amazingly did not wet himself at all. His onesie and overalls were completely dry. He somehow peed sideways out of his diaper (which was wet) and onto me. On the plus side, I really like his outfit and was glad it didn't get wet…but I carry extra outfits for him. Not so much for me. Happily, it dried out pretty quickly. I am considering talking to Jeff about changing Mtoto's name to "John the Baptist." He pees on me that much (although usually he gets me when I'm changing him-today was a special event).

I am so thrilled and thankful that we have Mtoto's visa. It has been hard to celebrate because one of the other families we are here with didn't get their visa today, and have no idea when theirs will be done. We are all in this together, and it doesn't feel right to be so excited when they are still in limbo.

Jeff bought his ticket to come as soon as I had the visa. I'll post later on why we decided to split the trip instead of me doing the whole thing/continuing to pray that the letter would be done for me to make my flight for Tommy's birthday, but the short version is that we believe that God has a purpose in bringing Jeff here, and that Jeff needs to experience Mtoto's country. It will also be nice for me to have some time to mend fences with Tommy…who might not be so fond of my absence. Pray for Tommy, he has had a cold and also has been struggling a little.

This blog will probably be posted late, because our internet has been awful the last few days…same with the power, but we are back on "city" now, which means AC for me tonight because I moved rooms again and am back in the lap of luxury! Woohoo!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Mama G's

Yesterday we took a trip to the outskirts of the city to visit a more rural orphanage, Mama G's. Mama G is a professor at a nearby school, and my understanding of her story is that there were a number of kids in her area without parents or a home so she began taking kids in, feeding them, and showing them God's love. Soon she had a full house.

The car ride to Mama G's was long, but interesting. We got to see another part of the city we had never been to, and enjoyed the new sights. The hills were a bit frightening to drive on, we had a very close miss with a crazy driver, and got stuck waiting for an accident to resolve ( and by resolve, I mean a whole bunch of people gather round and yell about what happened, and everyone within walking distance has an opinion that must be added to the cacophony until someone is blamed and carted off). The hills were also beautiful. There were trees and plants and scenic views- it was quite lovely.

Mama G lives on the side of town that has severe water issues. Where we live in the city we have access to running water all the time. It isn't necessarily clean water- in fact it has a decidedly brown tinge and leaves a sticky residue when you shower. But, water is water. At least we have it (and in case you wondered, we do not drink it, the guest house provides us with filtered water that we carry around in reusable bottles). Here, they don't have water. Our guide informed us that in these areas they have the infrastructures for running water, but shortages require conservation, so the water will usually be turned on for only brief periods each day, say from 2 to 3pm. All washing of bodies, laundry, watering of plants or crops, and collecting of drinking water must be done during this time.

Water poses a problem for Mama G's. Their water collection system is currently broken because they are missing a small piece of pipe. Now, if it were as simple as running to Home Depot to grab some pipe and screw it on it would have been fixed long ago…but nothing is simple here. Even fixing the smallest thing is a huge undertaking, because few people have access to basic supplies and tools, and when they do they are exorbitantly expensive and difficult to get. If Mama G's water collection system worked, here is how it would work. Rain would fall on the roof of the orphanage. That water would collect in pipes and those pipes would funnel the water into a few different collection areas- two big tanks covered tanks to collect "clean" water for drinking and cooking, and a large cistern for laundry and cleaning water. Now, "clean" water for drinking does not mean "clean" water. It means water that has fallen from the smoggy sky onto a roof that is covered with dust, sand, grime, and bird poop, run through a system of dirty pipes into a tank that has probably never been properly scoured. This is the "clean" water that the children drink, and it is probably better and cleaner than the water that many of the people around them drink.

Now, water is only one of many problems faced by the children and caretakers at Mama G's. This orphanage is easily as poor as "Orphanage B," but the huge difference is that the kids at Mama G's are loved and happy. When we arrived we were enthusiastically greeted, and welcomed into the main room, where they gave up their chairs and insisted we sit down. We began to take out the goods we brought for them- cans of formula, little toys, clothes, and shoes. They stopped us, and the main caregiver there, C, told us that we needed to stop giving the gifts, because they had something we needed to do first. We needed to open with prayer.

A number of the older children prayed for us. They began by giving thanks that we had come from so far to visit them, and they thanked God that we cared about them, and that he was keeping us safe. Many of the children took the time to pray for us, and to sing. It was incredibly beautiful and touching. The sincerity of their prayers of gratitude in the face of immense poverty and hunger were humbling. It was so obvious that they loved Jesus- in fact they risked offending us by interrupting us to thank Him for our visit. They have nothing, nothing, yet they still believe that God is good, and that He cares for them...and the evidence for them, the thing they were eager to thank Him for, was a pile of used clothes, a bag of McDonald's toys, and some infant formula that most of them won't get to eat. I wonder if I could pray like that if I lived in their circumstances. Aside from meeting Mtoto, this time of prayer is the highlight of my trip so far.

After the prayer, we continued to unload our bags (we managed to fit three large duffels in the car with us). It seemed like so much when we were all squished in around it…but so little stacked up on the one table in the whole building, and even less when one of the children motioned to one of us that they were hungry…and we had no food. We meant to bring food, and had specifically asked our guide to stop when he saw a market where we could pick up some supplies, but for some reason he never did. We made the best of it- we toured the building. Part of the group examined some future projects, and some people got to work photographing the kids and taking names and ages for a school sponsorship program that should be up and running soon (and in need of monthly sponsors, hint hint). The rest of us hung out with the kids. They were busy with two things- playing with these little happy meal toys that we brought, and taking pictures with our cameras. I have some of the funniest pictures of eight year old boys posing holding cans of infant formula (why they thought this was a great prop I will never know), and of the kids trying on clothes and carrying our babies around. They loved the cameras and pictures so much, and I can't wait to print out the photos they took and send them back with another traveling family.

The needs at Mama G's were so great. They have a decent structure, but few beds (I think twelve for 40 to 50 kids). They have a wonderful piece of land, but most of it is unutilized. Their pit latrine is disgusting. It is full to the very brim, and this is not sanitary (or pleasant, as you can imagine). Mama G's has a wonderful, loving atmosphere. Since it is outside of the city proper, the air is clean, and the view is breathtaking. On a quick side note, I would be much happier here if I could get outside of the city more often. The landscape is truly beautiful- you just can't see any of it from where we are staying/the places we frequent. However, extensive travel with our children is simply not advisable and thus we stay put. Anyhow, at Mama G's there is a gorgeous view of the countryside, and you can breathe without choking, and the kids have space to play outside and soak up some vitamin D. Just to give you an idea of the atmosphere there, while we were taking pictures of the kids, we kept pointing to one child or another and saying- what about that one? We missed that one. Then our guide would explain that that child did not live at Mama G's, he or she just liked to play there. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind going to play at orphanage B.

When it was time to go, the children walked up to our van and sang us a farewell song. Ask me sometime to show you the video. I would love to share the joy of these kids with you.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

No One Should Live Like This

The other day we visited an orphanage, which I'll call orphanage B...for bleak. Before I record my thoughts and observations about this trip, I want to be clear about a few things. First, I am not accusing anyone who runs the orphanage of any wrongdoing, and second, I am well aware that the circumstances at this orphanage are actually vastly improved compared to the state of things only a few years ago, and that these children are far better off than those living on the streets. These things may be true, but it's still bleak.

The orphanage is situated in an urban area. This means it is in a compound, with a large gate and a thick wall that separates it from the street. The building housing the orphanage takes up almost all of the space inside the compound, so with the exception of a small walk-way and a little back alley (which appeared to be used for laundry) there was no outside space for the kids at all.

The orphanage had one large downstairs room with some tables and chairs and a few old couches, and two upstairs rooms that each had eight sets of bunk beds, or sixteen beds per room, and a storage shelf stuffed with an assortment of bags and garbage bags that presumably held the children's clothes. The upper bunks lacked adequate railing, and the mattresses on about half the beds were awful looking. In those two small rooms, with sixteen beds each about one hundred and ten children sleep. One hundred and ten children. In thirty-two beds.

These kids range from infants (very few, since the healthy adoptable ones are pulled out and placed in foster care), to many many toddler boys, to children of both sexes who are elementary aged, and even some older teenagers. All of these kids, from the tiniest baby to the young men and women, share two rooms.

They also get the same meal, in the same portions- one cup of porridge. From the biggest boy to the toddler who can barely hold onto the handle of his cup, they all get the same amount. I cannot imagine how hungry those older children must be. Because of this, many of the younger children lose their portions to those who are older and sneakier. All of the children fight to "feed" the babies, because that means they can help themselves to the uneaten portion- even if that means saying the babies are full when they clearly are not. A few of the youngest children were skeletal, probably because they rarely get more than a few mouthfuls of their meals while the rest fills the empty bellies of the older children. It's wrong, but it's hard to blame the older children for this kind of behavior. After all they have probably only survived in this orphanage long enough to be "old" because they put their survival first. They don't know anything else.

When we went we brought a supplement for their lunch- peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, and bottled water. At first I thought bringing bottled water was silly, because these kids drink dirty water for every other meal of the year, but I was wrong. You should have seen how excited the kids were to receive a bottle. You could tell by their reactions that many of them had big plans for that plastic receptacle. They were so thrilled about owning their very own plastic bottle- the same kind of bottle that we recycle and throw away in vast quantities all the time. I saw quite plainly that my trash was indeed another man's treasure.

After lunch I blew bubbles until I was light headed. The kids loved it. Even some of the older ones hung around to watch. Mtoto was not entirely thrilled about this, because the soap dripped on his head more than once, but thankfully he didn't fuss too much. Then the older kids got out some drums and they played music and danced for us. I'm glad that we got to stay for that, because watching them dance and tease each other made the place a little less grim. A little.

I wish that I could post pictures so that you could really see this place. My words can't do it justice. But, we've been asked not to post pictures, and I want to be respectful.

This orphanage is one of the larger orphanages in this city. I don't know who decides, or how they decide which of the abandoned children end up here, and which go to smaller, better orphanages (like Mtoto's). The randomness of it all is heartbreaking: one child to a home where he will be loved and fed, one child to a place where the food will be taken right out from his mouth; one child to a home where he will be taken regularly to a doctor, one child to a place where they will sit with snot pouring out of their nose and diarrhea oozing out of their diaper; one child to a home where they place a mosquito net over his crib, one child to a place where they won't even be treated if they contract malaria. One woman's child given a chance at life, another's consigned to fight to survive against the odds. I am so thankful my child was given the first set of options. I would walk across hot coals to keep Tommy and Mtoto from suffering like this, but all I have offered these kids is a bottle of water and a peanut butter sandwich. They shouldn't live like this. No one should live like this.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Quick Update

Guess who has a King-sized bed? That's right, we've upgraded. Or, we've sort of upgraded. We are still in the same room, but some of the families moving out freed up a very large mosquito net, and it was the kind that can be hung in the rooms (round) as opposed to the kind that I brought (square), so I was able to push the two twin beds in my room together to create one very large bed. It isn't exactly the same as a real King, since the mattresses are slightly different heights and one is far more comfortable than the other, but Mtoto and I at least have a little room to breathe…and sweat. It has been very very hot today. In fact, it was so hot that we spent most of the afternoon in someone else's room. In fact, most of the families were in that room, because it was the only one with air conditioning.

Other room news: my fan is working. It turns out it was always working, I just thought it was broken because it is wired backwards so that if you turn it up it doesn't work. However, if you turn it to low it will work. It is not exactly the best of fans, and it is attached rather precariously to the ceiling, but I am hopeful that despite the excessive shaking it will remain attached to the ceiling. If it does fall I am confident that it will fall away from the bed, based on the way the cable that powers it is attached to the ceiling. Also, the biggest spider in Africa used to live on my door frame. It is now dead. This afternoon I came up to the room to grab something, and as I went to put my key in the door something black and wiry skittered up the door frame. I didn't think it was a spider at first because it was so large. But further inspection confirmed that it was a huge spider. I would compare it in size and body type to a tarantula, but without a hair and with a triangle shaped body. Also, it was very fast, and it ran all the way up the wall. I thought that was the end of it, but tonight it was once again lurking on my doorframe. I tried to scare it away by throwing a trash can at it, but it would not budge. Thus I called on the services of a valiant spider slayer, and he put on quite a show trying to kill that big ole thing. At one point it almost ran into my room, but the slayer aggressively pursued his prey, and vanquished the spider after three solid attempts (told you it was quick).

Some of the families got good news today- visas. We were not one of them. In fact, families who interviewed both before AND after us will have their visas ready early next week, and we didn't even get an update. This is not entirely surprising, because Mtoto's orphanage is newer and has never done adoptions before, so we were expecting that the investigations might take more time. Neither of the other families whose kids are from that orphanage got updates either; still it was discouraging for us. It would have been nice to at least hear a progress report. Please pray that we will get some good news soon. It is less about the waiting and more about the knowing, at this point.

Tomorrow we are going on an excursion to the orphanage that we planned to visit last Tuesday (before we got rained out). We are all really looking forward to it.

Jeff will be coming to relieve me in a few weeks. Please pray that he would be able to find an affordable flight with a good schedule. I am really excited that he will have the opportunity to experience Mtoto's country (spiders, lizards, cockroaches and all). It hasn't felt right being here without him, and I can't wait for him to meet his next boy. Mtoto is doing well, aside from teething and diaper rash. He is such a fun boy. I am having a great time with him. And now, I'm tired- time to test out that big huge bed!