Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

She is OURS!!

She is ours!!! Zoe Andrela Fritchman. Such a profound day.

I don’t even know where to begin. We have arrived back in Accra at 9:30 this morning (Saturday)… we left our hotel in Bolgatanga to travel at 2:00 pm yesterday (Friday). That would be a 17 HOUR TRAVEL DAY from hotel to hotel. Good golly. I can’t decide if this post is a serious let me tell you about our adoption day or our travel day. Let’s do both!!

Our original court date was scheduled for Thursday. Something about a file being left on someone’s desk at home or something…the judge had not had time to read our case so he postponed it until the next day. This was not crazy because they are ‘pushing our cases through quickly’ bc they gave us an original time frame for being in Bolga & the true time frame is slightly longer by about a week. We are VERY thankful that the courts were honoring their first words to our power of attorney and attorney about time frame.

So, we spent about an hour with the birth mother Thursday while we waited for court to begin & then get cancelled. I think it was a little intimidating for both the birth mothers and the adoptive parents. Andrela went straight to her BM and was quite content. The good news is that once court was cancelled, she came straight back to me without so much as a whimper. Yesterday, she was sitting in BM’s lap and I was sitting next to them. She would play with BMs hands – tickle game – and then lean over and do the same with mine. And then a few minutes later, she took my hand and BMs hand and put them together and put them both in between her hands. And looked at us and smiled. Are you kidding me?

So, today we meet back at court again early with the BMs. The judge is going to hear both of our cases first thing and calls it a personal case and clears the court room. We are thankful.

Same thing today, I give Andrela to her BM to hold for a bit. We sit together. Zoe Andrela is being an angel. Judge calls the case. Mark and I are first. The courtroom is very old and rustic. The benches are wooden – like Little House on the Prairie school wooden. Most of the walls in the room are painted plywood. The room is lined in length on both sides with windows that open for a cross breeze in the otherwise hot room. All the lawyers & judge are wearing robes and wigs like British style.

We are called to sit next to the witness stand in what I might call a jury like box. All of it is completely wooden or plywood. Our attorney reads our case directly from our document filing. The judge seems very friendly and is taking many notes. I think afterwards I realize he may have been writing our adoption decree. I don’t know. The director of social welfare speaks on our behalf and behalf of the BM to verify his report. The judge asks several questions of our lawyer. I am having a little bit of trouble understading because the accent is so thick combined with the lawyer-ese. They call the judge, 'My lord'. About midway through our case, the judge asks BM and Zoe to come and sit with Mark and me. She comes to the jury box and sits in between us. Zoe is still sitting in her lap. She has been with her since she first arrived. Now, I’m not making this stuff up! As soon as the judge makes his declaration that she is now our legal daughter, Zoe leans over on her own accord and comes to sit in my lap. She never attempts to go back to her BM during the court proceedings. I know she is only almost 2 but it sure felt like she was fully aware of the day and giving her approval of some sort. I prayed that the adoption day would be divine in it’s own right. That is as divine as I need to it to be.

It might have been the most profound thing I’ve experienced in my life to sit in court and then hear an authority declare that I will have the privilege of calling this child my own. Ghanaians do not cry in public. It was very difficult to restrain!!

Our case is complete and it is now the Gibbs turn. Their case was no less profound for me to watch than my own to experience. We have all been so humbled to be blessed with raising another woman’s child.

After the court case, we now get to go visit the villages. I’m REALLY tempted to begin talking about THE RACE again. Just know that after court, we return to our hotel rooms to pack and then to villages and we are in a hurry. I will return to capture all the details!!

We head to one village. They invite us all into the inner home of huts – there are math problems written on a clay wall – men, women, and children, some are cooking. They bring out a bench for us to sit on. There are many details to this story but it is not mine to tell. Just know that when we left – they chased down a live chicken to give to us and our taxi driver stuck it in the trunk. It was still in his trunk 2 hours later when he dropped us off at the bus station. I’m just saying.

Then we head to Zoe Andrela’s village. I was COMPLETELY and unexpectedly overwhelmed here. She is SO loved. She has an entire, extended family who loves her. She was a rockstar when we got out of the taxi. They haven’t seen her in 8 months. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister (Zoe’s great aunt) run to take her from me and keep saying her name over and over again. We learn their names & take pictures. We video taped a bit of me with Zoe’s BM and these 2 matriarchs of the family. I tell them that we will love her very much. They tell me they give their blessing to her going to America. They want her to have a good education and a good life and they want her to be loved very much. We assure them we will give her all those things. Then her grandmother goes off script and simply says to our interpreter, “Will you promise to bring her back to visit one day?”. I almost lose it right then and there. I assure her that we will encourage Zoe to come back and see her family one day. Our foster daddy and adoption coordinator assure me that this family will be right in that same spot when Zoe is old enough to decide when she would like to make that visit.

We meet her Uncle, Great Grandmother, Great Grandfather, and Great Uncle. Then we meet her 11 year old sister. We believe her to be probably 12 or 13 but most Ghanaians are unaware of their true age. She is beautiful. And I immediately imagine how incredibly different the lives of these 2 girls will be. I imagine them meeting again in 20 years and that her sister will be worn from the sun and the hard labor and Zoe will arrive educated and sophisticated fresh from college. I imagine the love that will swell from years of wondering what the other might be doing.

Living in Africa is hard. And I only did it for a week in a hotel room with air conditioning that worked sometimes. I understand why a mother would choose to allow her child a life where there is not only perceived more opportunity but truly more opportunity. Zoe’s father is not in the picture. That will be her story to tell one day. So, although I met an entire village of people who clearly love her – she is still another mouth to feed in a family that is struggling to begin with. Her mother chose adoption because she loves her too much. I left the village feeling peace for my mother’s heart and the blessing of the family. I do not have to wonder who they are or where they live. Zoe will have an abundance of pictures and stories to occupy her questions until she is old enough to discover in person. I was overwhelmed to tears when I left the village. I truly believe she will always be a part of that family. They will speak of her often. The one who was fortunate enough to have a journey that brought her to America. They will dream of what she is doing and pray sweet blessings on her life.

As for Zoe, I will pray for God’s grace and mercy as she grows. As her mind begins to fill with the wonders and the what if’s and Mark and I are not enough to fill in the gaps that she will allow God’s love to whisper that she belongs. She belongs to the Fritchman family. She belongs to her village. And most importantly that she belongs to Him.

How does one transition from this? There is no way but to do just do it. At Zoe’s village, we are running out of time and have one more village to visit. Our adoption coordinator’s daughter is from this region and so we travel further down the road to her daughter’s village. We learn that these 2 villages are connected by 2 brothers who were the great-grandfathers of this group. We realize this week that our daughters are cousins. That’s awesome.

We leave the 3rd and final village and are trying to get back to the hotel in time and pack to make it to the bus station by 2:30 for our 3:30 bus departure. Our tickets have already been purchased and we have purchased tickets for a lesser version of the 1st class bus but a MUCH nicer version of the chicken bus. We bought tickets that would take us directly from Bolgatanga to Accra – or so we thought.

We arrive at the hotel from the villages and everyone is hurrying us – 10 minutes! We need to leave as soon as possible! Well, I did not pack the night before. We discussed it as a group and the final consensus was we would have time tomorrow before we left. I KNOW BETTER. But I still didn’t pack.

So, I am throwing things in bags – pick up an extra Ghana bag I just purchased this week and start shoving things in it. The contents end up being: perfume, hairbrush, diapers, medicine, a babydoll, face powder, a Ziploc of clothespins, and several other things. NONE OF WHICH I need on the bus trip. Too bad – didn’t back the night before – just take it on the bus with you. I hate being disorganized. We don’t say hate.

We all climb in our 2 taxis that our overflowing with luggage. Mark has bought a nice walking cane – the top of it gets knocked off in the midst of packing. So sad. We all squeeze in for the ride WITH our 2 year olds lest you forget! Our taxi driver is holding Mark’s cane in his hand while he is driving. Holding the top of the cane with his left hand. We hit a bump and the top goes flying out the window. HAAA!! I’m not even joking. Our friends in the taxi behind us said it was hilarious to see it bouncing down the road. It was a pretty nice cane – I hope someone finds it and uses it as a table decoration.

We arrive at the bus station in Bolga and I’m completely frazzled and dehydrated and HUNGRY because it is 2:30 and none of us have eaten since Breakfast. We keep shoving bread in our mouths and the kids. We unload all of our luggage – I’m buying 8 FanYogos from a bicycle vendor (this is a large version of a frozen Gogurt) – one for each of us. The taxi driver turns and says, ‘Oh! We are at the wrong bus station.’. Good grief. I shove 8 FanYogos in my purse, we all repack the car, jump back in the taxi and peel out of the overcrowded bus station. I hand a Strawberry FanYogo into Zoe’s hands and she takes it like she hasn’t eaten in days.

We arrive at the next bus station a few minutes later and unload our stuff AGAIN. I am an extra dose of frazzled at this point. I climb out of the taxi with Zoe and the FanYogo in her hand. This 7 or 8 yr old boy walks up to me and says ‘Hello’ and shakes my hand. The kids seem to like doing this – talk & touch the Obrunis. Hello! I say brightly! He looks perfectly healthy and very clean for the surroundings. He eyes Zoe’s FanYogo and pats his tummy with a mustered up pout but half smile and says, “I’m hungry”. I internally roll my eyes in my mind and say brightly again, “Me, too!!!” and head towards the bus. At this point, we have all had it with being swindled as Obrunis. Every other person and their brother tries to charge double or add a charge for something made up. There have been a few people who have been very decent and honest but I was hot and I couldn’t afford to buy FanYogo for every child at the bus station and that is what would’ve happened. And….I WAS hungry!!

Mark looks at me with his ‘do what I say face’ on and says ‘Get on the bus with her while I load this luggage on the bus’. I obey. I am pleasantly surprised by the bus. Think youth ski trip circa early 1980s. It was old but had individual reclining seats and air conditioning. That’s all I need. We settle in for our 13 hour bus ride to Accra. Or so we thought.

I wanted to use all the cuss words I knew today. On several occasions. But I didn’t. None of us were happy campers today. But now that I’m in my airconditioned hotel with a shower and a bed, I’m so glad I have so much material to write about!! I really thought after the first bus ride everything else would disappoint. Nope!!

We leave the first bus station in Bolga at 4:00-4:30ish – check your watches – that’s nearly an hour and half after we arrived and boarded. What in the world are they doing????!!!!! All the people were on the bus. I don’t get it.

Whatever. We are on our way to Bolga. Babies are happy. We’ve bought bread and yogurt and they are happy. These kids have not 1 time all week EVER said, “I’m hungry’ or “I need a snack’. They simply eat when they are given food. We think ‘Praise the Lord’! All we have to do is settle in for a good night’s sleep on the 80s ski bus (with no potty-fyi). This is now the night bus. We pull to a slow stop a few times to get checked by some official people and the shouting ladies with things on their heads are back again. I pretend to be asleep. We have bread and bottled water – what more could we want?

About 6 hours into the trip, we make a stop at a gas station/market like place in the middle of the night. We tt in the nastiest ‘potty spot’ ever. I buy 2 hard-boiled eggs – 1 for me and 1 for Zoe. I am ecstatic about the protein. We get on the bus to eat them and I simply cannot do it. It is luke warm and not great. Apparently, Zoe thinks the same thing. She eats and swallows one bite and hands the rest back to me. So much for protein. We peel off a chunk of the fresh loaf of bread we just bought and eat half of it. Zoe won't let me take it from her and she falls asleep in my arms with the loaf of bread in her arms like a stuffed animal. Poor child. It's been some rough travel days.

We fall asleep. We awake 2 hours later in Kumasi. We pull into the bus station to let some folks off. Yay. More room. But Hey, this is weird, we think, we thought we were going straight to Accra? Whatever – people are getting off and it make the bus feel like it has more room. Then we sit. And sit. And sit.

People begin wondering what is going on. We sit for AN HOUR. Why in the world are we waiting here?????? GET GOING TO ACCRA!!! A little more than an hour later, another bus pulls up and we are all told we will have to make a bus switch. Huh? We thought we were going straight to Accra. Whatever. It’s past midnight and we all just want to get where we are going. We all climb off the bus AFTER collecting all our stuff that is spread out everywhere bc we didn’t know we were deboarding the plane. Our men tell us to get on the bus to find seats while they swap out our luggage from one bus to the other. We obey. After the men board the bus – we decide we have to tt and head to some old broken down buses in the pitch black dark to tt behind them. (I can hear my Dad having a heart attack now) We get on the bus and this older gentleman starts YELLING and CUSSING at the bus driver. Do your job!! You’re wasting our time! The company sold us all tickets for a straight trip!! I have a flight to catch!! You are stupid!! A stupid f*#&@! Man!!

Now. I am thinking. He sure is ornery. We are 2 rows behind him and our friend Anita has won the lottery on this bus ride. She is sitting next to him!!! He and the bus driver started YELLING. I’m thinking someone is fixing to get hit. Zoe is completely into it. I’m trying to shield her a bit and hide her head. Nope. She is standing up in my lap wanting a front row seat to this nonsense. It was the most excitement we’d seen in 9 hours!

So apparently the bus company knew they would do this little stop and switch thing in Kumasi but sold us all tickets for a straight trip. This man had become fully aware of this little corrupt switcharoo and was furious. Clearly. They were combining buses who had come from 2 different cities who would end up in Kumasi to Accra to save gas. But sold us all tickets on the premise that it was a straight trip. It’s called ‘Shady’ and this older man was NOT HAVING IT!! He FINALLY settles down and now we are off to Accra! Yay!! I say to Mark – it’s only 5 more hours. That’s a ride from SSI to Atlanta. We’re golden. That was only 1 hour –shake it off. Don't we wish.

We drive 50 yards to a street corner. The bus doors swing open and LOTS more people start filing onto our bus. The bus seats are full of people already!! Apparently, this is a spot where people know they can stand and ‘purchase’ bus tickets black market style. They would pay the bus driver and he pockets the cash. They were going to sit on plastic step stools FOR 5 HOURS to Accra!!

Old man fires up again. He is coming over seats yelling at people to get off the bus. It’s not safe! It’s against the law! F*&% this and F*&^% that!!! He is yelling at the bus driver. People who just got on the bus turn their back to him like they don’t hear him. They could probably hear him in London. I’m thinking: This cannot be happening. If all those people get on this bus it will feel claustrophobic again!!!! They file off and on about 3 times indecisive about whether it is worth it to hear this guy yell. Bus driver is trying to stand his ground and earn his under the table money. The man behinds us starts shouting at the other yelling man – ‘You are right! That is right!” You are right!” They cannot do this” Old man: “We are not cattle! We are not goats and animals’! We are human beings! Stand up for your rights!!” I have no idea what he is talking about but Mark and I both take note that Bob Marley’s song ‘Get up, Stand up for your rights’ was totally playing on the bus radio right then. We think that is funny.

FINALLY – old man makes a threat and says “You have no idea who I am! I will make a phone call and have someone meet us at the bus station when we arrive.’ Hmmm. I wonder if he is the governor of Ghana? For whatever reason, this makes all unwanted parties with no legitimate ticket file off the bus. Yay!! I am actually thankful that old-screamer-man was on our bus.

Can we go to Accra now PLEASE?!?! It is now close to 2 am. Sheesh.

We start moving. Making good time. We stop one more time for what we think is a potty break. It was too long. I have no idea what is going on. Then around 6:30 we make a huge pull over to the side of the road stop. We have a flat tire. NOT.EVEN.KIDDING. We are going on hour 15 of our 13 hour bus ride. There isn’t a spare on the bus and they are waiting for someone to bring it. We are about 30 minutes outside of Accra. Or so we are told.

While we wait, I am watching some people begin to unload their luggage and choose other options for the other “30 minutes”. I am thinking “Do I have too much luggage to walk?” But only for a brief moment.

I am looking out my window and we are in a very beautiful part of the country. Huge green leaves (palm tree like but wider leaves) on trees, bright green grass – mountains in the distance. I am thankful for the scenery and cool morning air and try to just be in the moment and remind myself I have no agenda to make. Zoe is still asleep in my lap.

While I’m looking out my window, I notice they have pulled up the luggage bay on my side of the bus and they are beginning to pull out something stinky. Hey! It’s a black goat in the luggage bin – oh wait, there is one more. 3, 4, 5. They are walking them around to the other side of the bus and loading them in a tro-tro. 6, 7. This is amazing. 8,9. We have toted 9 goats in a luggage bay 15 hours from Bolgatanga to somewhere-ville, Ghana. 9 goats in a tro-tro. Wow.

We call our driver with the adoption agency and he doesn’t have enough gas to come and get us. Huh? After about another hour, our foster daddy finagles a tro-tro to take all of us and our luggage to our hotel without stopping for others. Yay!!!

Except the road is under construction and the entire next ’30 minutes’ was at least an hour of complete dirt in our faces through the windows of the tro-tro. Babies still happy bc they slept a lot since the debacle in Kumasi. Seriously. We are all about to pass out. Even the Ghanaian foster daddy. It was not fun. None of us have eaten a true meal in 24 hours.

We FINALLY arrive to our hotel on hour 17 of our 13 hour trip and I want to cry. We unload. Kiss our babies bye as they head back to the foster home with foster daddy. We will get to spend the days this week with them but not the nights anymore. I’m already ready for her to come home.

Pray for us on Wednesday. That’s our next big step. Then we fly home first thing on Friday morning. A bitter sweet feeling to be excited about heading home to 2 children while leaving 1 in another country. Strange.

We so appreciate everyone’s encouragement this week. It has kept us going to check fb or blog comments.

Love to all!
A for the fritchies.

Pics on FB to follow!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Off to Market we go!!

Thanks for all the GREAT encouragement from the last blog. I like to read it a few times afterwards and all of your comments made me smile as much as the story!!

If you commented on my first version, I needed to edit it to change the names of my Ghanaian friends so it erased my original ‘comments’ section. I did get to read all of them though!!

It is Tuesday night. Again, my baby is asleep next to me and hubby on the other side. As I said at the end of my last post – we got to rest all day yesterday. Mark and I didn’t even go out for the dinner. We just had them bring rice back to us. That ‘right-before-the-summer- diet slim down’ has kicked into full gear!

It is HOT here. From the way Ghanaians talk coming to the North Region of Bolga is like travelling from North Dakota to Florida. Ok. Not quite. But it is much hotter here than Accra. You just sweat to death here. Even though you are drinking tons o’aqua you don’t have to pee as much bc you are sweating it all out!

This morning we travelled to a local pottery & art place where they make products and sell them around the country. It was very interesting! We learned the term ‘Calabash’ today! For our island friends who remember the Coleman’s store behind the carwash on Demere named Calabash – it is a bowl with a top to put shea butter or jewelry or spices in that is made with pottery! Very interesting!

Today, Zoe decided she is independent. HA! We let her get a taste of walking around in public while at the restaurant Sunday night when we arrived. I can’t really gauge if this is an American thing or not bc we haven’t see any Ghanaian children in a restaurant. It is usually too precious to spend $ on a meal typically to take children too.

At the tour of the art spot – we are outside in a covered pavilion with benches. Much like a gazebo – there is one way to walk in and out– it is perfectly fine for the kiddos to walk around while the guide is talking. We are the only people on the tour so nobody cares. Then we walk over to an outdoor area where we are introduced to a statue of a very important Ghanaian UN rep bc he has visited this art center. Both kiddos totally fine -wandering around in the yard near us – content and happy not to be carried.

We walk into the art making house & it is like walking in to a china shop. So, we pick up Zoe – she is NOT having it today. Mark tells her no, sternly and she falls apart. I pick her up, walk outside – only bc I think the Ghanaians are uncomfortable with a crying child- I am fine! She is doing what in America we could call “a fake cry”. No worries – we just walk around the yard. Then Ghanaian mommy woman making baskets under a tree can no longer take it and she comes to get Zoe. She INSTANTANEOUSLY stops crying. I feel foolish and white and go back into the art center as she follows us.

She eventually goes back outside with Zoe to sit under the tree while I stay in to listen for another 10 minutes. When we return to the yard to leave – I see Zoe sitting in a chair playing with Brandi’s bandana. She smiles as I arrive. Gives me a high 5 – I pick her up – and there she goes again!!

It was short-lived – we get in the van to go to the crocodile ‘park’ – and she falls asleep in my lap. She was tired. That’s what I’m telling myself.

Crocodile Park – We have now driven to Paga and are just a few short miles from Burkina Faso which is the country north of Ghana. In Paga, crocodiles are considered sacred. The man who founded Paga took one in – the story is that he fed it and it became his friend. They train the crocodiles. We learn the ‘entry’ fee and we are also charged to take pictures per camera. We decide we will all use one camera to take pictures and email them. Good decision! Our ‘guide’ who is about 18 years old takes a chicken to feed the alligator and we head down to the pond below us.

This is no joke!! I didn’t believe them. Until I saw them WHISTLING for the crocodiles in this large pond. Here comes the ‘little one’…no, no, no… we think he is going to feed that one the chicken. Yes, we are going to feed that one the chicken but we are going to take pictures with the big one. Whistle! Whistle!! I see one – Yes! That is the big one! He begins to meander up towards us and opens his mouth like a baby bird. The women obrunis are backing up because we have small children in our arms. I’m sure that’s the only reason we were backing up.

The 18-yr old guide pats the gator on the back and then says “who will come?!” Our foster daddy is the bravest and heads on out to ‘squat’ on the gator and touch it. Snap! Next comes Mark. He is done this before and is acting like the veteran of the group. Snap! Next comes Jesse – Brandi not so happy with this decision is shouting ‘Let him eat all of you if he starts chomping!’ Snap! I succumb to the peer pressure and head on out to pat that gator on the back. (WITHOUT the baby) Snap! We all peer pressure Brandi into doing it. She does it but is neither happy nor proud!! Snap! What fun that was! The chicken is thrown in to the mouth of the OTHER alligator who has not performed a thing. The big alligator has already eaten today! YAY! I am so glad he did not want a mid-morning snack! We want to know where we are going for lunch.

As we leave, Owen asks if you were to swim in the pond, would the gator eat you? The 18-year old guide says…….it depends on what your intention is. Huh? Owen laughs and says, why don’t you take a swim and we will see your intentions! Funny, Owen!! Very funny!

We head to a nice restaurant for lunch. The Ghanaians have been so gracious about finding nice places for us Obrunis to eat. Zoe & I eat Fried rice and chicken. Tasted just like Chinese with a little kick!

On the way home – Zoe falls asleep – we take a break/nap/rest for a couple of hours before heading back out to market and to see foster daddy’s new home for children in this particular region.
When we make it to the true ‘market’ here in Bolga – it is a little like the farmer’s market in America – bc they only have it every 5 days. It closes at 6 and we arrive shortly after 5:30.

Apparently, we have just been transported BACK to the Amazing Race. The market has very little stalls VERY close together that sell anything & everything. The stalls are small wooden spots with thatch roofs or tin roofs. Clothes, cloths, spices, food, shea butter, school paper. We are arriving very late & people are beginning to close up shop. I imagine it is fairly calm for the market bc it is so late in the day. The smells are STRONG and NOT GOOD. We are DEFINITELY the only obrunis AND we are obrunis with Ghanaian children. We are causing quite a stir with the stares. There are 7 of us and the 2 kiddos. (5 Americans and 2 Ghanaians) We have gone purposefully to buy shea butter for the kids skin (like lotion for special purposes) and cloths for Brandi & I to tie the babies to our backs. Anita let us borrow a couple of hers but we wanted some to take back home also. The lady we bought them from is very happy. There is lots of translating going on with Owen and foster daddy. We find the shea butter and buy lots of it between the 3 obruni women. If our Ghanaian friends had gone and hidden – there is no way on God’s green earth we would have found our way out of there. We were so deep in the market. I would have loved to seen that market from an aerial view.

The thing that stands out in my mind about the market were the children. Small, small children had on very few clothes and very dirty – nothing is paved and it is very hot! The more elementary school children are VERY interested in the Obrunis!!! Hello! They shout and run to see. Hello!! Several of them sitting on a bench while there parents are packing up. Hello! The mothers are less friendly. I wonder if it is simply culture or disapproval of white women with black babies. Maybe I am paranoid.

While we are buying Shea butter, Mark is playful from afar with about 5 or 6 children. I have pretended to stand for a picture so that Mark can snap a picture of the market aisle behind me. As he snaps, a little boy poses silly and he and his friends laugh. Mark says ‘Again’ and he tries to act shy – ha! His friends laugh and encourage him enough that he does it. Mark snaps and then shows him the pic on the digital camera. All of a sudden about 20 children run up to see the picture. Laughs and pointed fingers are going all around.

Thankfully, our Ghanaian friends have not hidden and we follow them out of the market. Whew!

We go to dinner at a restaurant that serves pizza!! Not American pizza by any standard but good pizza nonetheless. I ordered a ‘tomato’ salad with a dressing that tastes a little like vinaigrette and put it between two pieces of toast. It was heavenly. The tomatoes were fresh grown. So happy!!

Zoe and I go out to a big patio to walk around several times bc it is taking them an hour to cook our food. Unlike America, Ghanaians start cooking whatever you order when you walk in. There is no cooked food waiting on you in the back kitchen. We play sweet games. She is SO happy to finally be able to walk around and not be carried. I told you that today was little Miss independent day.

She has begun calling me “Mommy” and “Ma”. I am totally in love. She is still very stand-offish with Mark, but will definitely refer to him as ‘Da!” and will respond if anyone says “Where is Daddy?” or ‘Give this to Daddy”. She will let him play a game with her but she will not let him hold her. She will flirt with her eyes in a blinking game with him when she is in a good mood during the day. It is just taking more time. ‘They’ say that the children typically attach to one parent before the other and that it just takes time. She and I are definitely bonding and I think I would be a basket case, honestly, if she had attached to Mark first. For those of you who know Mark well, he is taking it all in stride. I think Zoe will laugh at her early interactions with Mark once she is older and totally in love with her Daddy who is already head-over-heels about her. I am certain Mark is gathering more sermons in his head about how some of us play hard-to-get with our heavenly Father when all he wants to do is shower us with love LAVISHLY the Bible says.

During one of our times on the patio, she was standing in my shadow and I started patting my hands on my legs for no reason at all. She started copying me. I put my arms out straight to see if she would copy that also - she did – and then ran the 5 – foot distance between us to jump in my arms and hug me!! Yay!! We did this about 3 or 4 times. The 2nd time, I said ‘I love you, Zoe’ then I said ‘Can you say, “I love you, Mommy’? And she totally did!! Then kissed me. I am head-over-heels. Mark said today that I have a new best friend and I totally do.

Tomorrow, we are sleeping late (we got up early today at 7:00 so don’t get the idea that all we are doing is sleeping (KIM!!) We will head to a different market tomorrow after breakfast and then we are going to see Zoe’s home village. We found out earlier that my daughter and Anita’s daughter are cousins – I love that we know that!!!

Please keep praying for us. We have some important days ahead.

Kim & Holly – thanks so much for helping with the boys and for giving my in-laws a break.

Frank & Dixie – THANK YOU for loving the boys these 2 weeks.

Asa & Eli – Daddy and I love you!! We keep saying how much you are going to love Zoe and she is going to love you! We can’t wait to have our first dance off with the 5 of us!!

Love to all!
Amy for 3 of us.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We are here!!

Wow. What a day. Wow. So many things to say. My best-all-around-friend from high school (that’s her official title), Christine, says that she and I should go on a “The Amazing Race” together. She has been saying this for years. Well, Chrissie…too late! I am ON the ultimate Amazing Race. I am CERTAIN there are hidden cameras.

First –to Lora – she adores the blanket you made her. We toted everywhere in this story and it is amazingly still clean!! Will post pictures of her with it soon!

This post may be long – I am typing it off line and trying to remember everything – for you, my dear readers and friends, but also for Zoe Andrela & our family. There is SO much to remember and we have only been here for less than 72 hours. I’ll start at the beginning but go grab that cup of Joe!

On Thursday afternoon, we meet our adoption coordinator in New York from layover in Atlanta. We have a couple of hours to get to know each other in person. She is super nice and very helpful. We are SOOOOO thankful she is making this trip with us. Mark and I get to ask lots of questions, yada yada yada. (By the way – our lawyer today actually said ‘blah, blah, blah’ while explaining something! Ha!) We arrive in Ghana with no glitches. None whatsoever – thank you Lord! Even our 8-hour flight was not as bad as we anticipated. Mark managed to ask for a ‘bulk head’ seating which is the first row – and the next best thing to the emergency row – thank you, Lord! A little overwhelmed at Ghanaian airport – Anita is with us – thank you, Lord! So far so good!

We meet the AAI driver,load up without being accosted by many ‘helpful’ Ghanaians to our van/bus/tro-tro (big discussion about the name of this vehicle! Final answer: bus! It looks like an American ‘van’ but also looks like an African tro-tro BUT! Because it is private owned and run – not picking up people anywhere like a taxi….it is a bus! (same vehicle!) All have learned a new fact for Trivial Pursuit.

Headed to Hotel Bora Bora – lovely place – very decent AC – and flushing toilets! YAY!! We decide to take an hour or so to get settled and unpack from the plane before heading over to meet our kiddos.

For those of you who’ve seen Zoe in pictures with a little boy her age – his name is Sammy. He has a young mom & Dad from California who are here with us. We have all said many times in the past 72 hours what a blessing it has been to have another family to walk through this with AND Anita! Yay! Thank you’s, Lord! heard all the way around the ‘bus’.

After our hour of decompressing from our 8 hour flight, we grab our 2 bags of clothes and school work donations and head down to meet Brandi & Jesse in person, then get in the bus with driver & Anita and head over to the foster home. We are going to meet our DAUGHTER!! So thrilled! So nervous! Have tried to play out every scenario in my head from her running into my arms shouting mommy! To completely disinterested (expecting this to be the most realistic) to her screaming bloody murder bc an ‘obruni’ (White person!) has come to hold her!!

We could not have asked for a more PERFECT first meeting. Foster Dad came out with both children dressed in outfits we had sent them a few months ago. She came straight to us – was little sleepy – and thus allowed me to hold her and talk with her and even caught a smile or 2 in there. We spoke with P. & his other children for about an hour and then left. THANK YOU, LORD!! What a glorious first meeting and we left feeling like a million bucks. Sammy was the same way and we were all satisfied for the day. “See you tomorrow!” We are coming back to play with kids in the am and then there are 7 of us catching the 4:30 bus (real bus) to Bolgatanga to meet with our lawyer and sign the adoption papers so that they may be filed in court on Monday.

And the 4 of us today, my friends, started the AMAZING RACE! Ok – it was technically yesterday but we have not slept since Sat am and it is currently 10 pm on Sunday so it is still one long day. This is not an exaggeration. I WISH IT WAS!!!

Morning starts with 8:30 wake-up knock for delightful boiled egg, fresh squeezed OJ, hot tea & yummy bread with marmalade with our new friends Brandi & Jesse. Fabulous conversation had with another Christian couple in ministry who are in the same adoption process. We have much in common (and they are funny!! Yay!) and many things to discuss about our journeys!! Thank you, Jesus for orchestrating a life long friendship with an awesome couple!

We have called our driver and he will come get us to go to Foster home to see our children and play with all the kids at his house. We have confirmed a later check-out time of 3:00 instead of 12 since that is when we are leaving for the bus station.

Driver drops us off at Foster Dad's for a couple of hours. Fabulous day – Thank you, Jesus! We walk in to Foster Dad's yard hug all the kids, wave at a couple of Aunties & go in the house to see our 2 ‘babies’ of the house. After about 30 seconds, Foster Dad comes to me inside and says “Come with me, I’d like to speak to you outside”. I follow Foster Dad and as he introduces me to a beautiful young woman who I thought was an Auntie as I waved by, he says “I’d like you to meet Andrela’s birth mother.” SCREECH OF BRAKES. NO PREPARATION. NO time to get nervous. Thank you, Jesus! My brain calms down and we hug – I say a sincere-from the bottom- of my-heart-thank you. Look each other in the eye. Tell her we will love Andrela very much. She is beautiful. She turns & leaves with no salutation. Hmmmm. Very Ghanaian. Very American awkward. She has come to receive the fare to reach Bolgatanga for court this week and then leaves. Mark comes out at some point in those 60 seconds and I’m not even sure what just happened!!! We go back inside.

We play in the yard with all of the children including ours for a couple of hours. Jumping rope – drawing coloring – just hanging out and laughing. The 4 of us had a great time – so did the kids (I think!!) The weather has been graciously and uncharacterisctically, slightly overcast both days. Thanks Lord! I truly, at this point, am thinking we could not be having a better experience. We are here experiencing this with ‘friends’, we have several ‘guides’, our kids are gorgeous! We have it made!!

Side note for a couple of my AAI mommas:
David – is absolutely delightful! He has a calm, sweet spirit about him. He seems very contemplative and loving. He is realizing Bismarck will be his brother in America and he is so sweet and loving and protective of him.
Bismarck – Strap on, sister!! He is FULL of life and smiles! He is super sweet- of course one of the babies with our 2. He loved trying to do what the big kids were doing – jump rope – drawing. Very loving. VERY smiley!
Abigail – such a sweet darling. She was very respectful of adults and the other kids. The boys were having a ‘jump off’ with the jump rope to see how many times they could jump in one count. The boys were getting 50 & 60s & Abigail stepped right up with out a word and jumped to 100!!! Everybody was impressed! She was quick to remind the others not to grab or not to push.
Joseph – was very quiet while we were there. I’ll let Brandi share about Joseph as she had some special time with them. Both Joseph and Abigail were very excited and intentional about coloring pictures and dictating letters to their America Mommy & Daddy. Brandi has those too.

Back to the RACE! So we leave foster home around noon – “We’ll see you (Foster Dad & 2 children) around 3:00 pm (in 3 hours) to go to the bus station to ride the 4:30 pm bus to Bolga!!” Wave, wave, wave.

We ask to be dropped off at a restaurant around the corner from our hotel – ‘Gnat” For my island friends – NOT EVEN JOKING!! Except everyone here calls it G- Nat. It is an outdoor patio that is serving a couple of Ghanaian dishes. Time for my first real Ghanaian food! We order Jollof Rice which is spicy, fried chicken with spicy rice, with cole slaw. I liked it! Yay! Thank you, Jesus!!

We ‘hurry’ back at 2:30 on foot to be back by 3:00 to be ready. We will our guide and local Ghanaian who handles all of the adoption cases along with a beautiful woman who is our AAI rep. Mark has correctly and decidedly said that our guide looks like Terrell Owens. He is right! He is a tall, young, great-looking man who is very helpful. We will call him Owen in this story.

Owen calls Anita. The 4:30 bus filled up already and we will have to wait for the night bus. ‘Well, what time does the night bus leave?” 6:30 or 7:00. Are you sure? Oh yes! Stay at hotel and we will call you when it is time to come. OK.

So the 4 of us and Anita all pile into 1 hotel room at 4:30 to consolidate not having to pay for any more of the rooms extra. We start chit-chatting. At 7:30, another phone call….still waiting…stay put….Not enough people to fill night bus….hmmmm. For our Marietta buddies, we call Eddie in Kumasi to see if we can hire him to take us. He can’t but has a friend. Call him if we cannot find anyone. Another phone call 8 or 9:ish maybe - They think the night bus is going to fill – now we come. It is now 11 pm as we pull up to the foster home with the driver in his bus-not-a-tro-tro. Foster Dad brings us the babies gets in the bus to go and we are off!! Just a slight 7 hour delay! Thank you, Lord! The 5 of us had a fabulous time talking and discussing in an air-conditioned hotel room. And I’m not being a smarty pants on this….we really did! We never spend 7 hours just talking to people with no agenda, event to plan, or time constraints. It was delightful!!

We arrive at the bus station around 11:30 – it is captain crazy busy here. I copped my first squat!! The 3 obruni ladies must t-t so we walk down the street and find a dark spot in an alley way and go Ghanaian. Pretty proud of myself. There are people urinating everywhere here. Nobody thinks a thing of it. Hmmm. Can I get an Amen? I don’t think so.

This is where it starts getting good. Amazing Race good. We arrive. Bus is BRAND NEW. Like no joke – take on your youth trip ski retreat nice. First class airline nice. Wide, reclining seats. TV with an exceptionally bad and even more exceptionally loud Ghanaian soap opera playing. The air conditioning is so cold that the Ghanaians won’t stay on it to wait for it to fill up. They are in the yard. Obrunis still on the bus.

At this time it begins feeling a little Amazing Race-ish. The only problem with this tricked out bus is that it only goes to Kumasi. That’s only 5 hours away. Bolga is 13! But still – we all agree (with Owen) that we are making progress and we cannot afford to wait until morning or noon to start travelling as we will miss our appointment with the Adoption Lawyer bc he has to leave after our appointment to go to another town and this will delay our filing.

We talk smack with a tro-tro sized bus driver who has an 11 seater van who could take us all the way to Bolga in one trip but we only have 7 people. Brandi and Jesse and me and Mark quickly agree to just snatch up the other 4 tickets and Let’s GO!! We will pay for it. Lest you forget that all this time we have 2-2year olds.

He calls his manager – realizes it is Obrunis and we must hire him as a private driver and not just buy all 11 tickets but charges us twice the price. Owen isn’t having it. We all load onto the mack-daddy 30-below-Americans-not-complaining bus and within an hour – we are full & off to Kumasi!! THANK YOU, JESUS!! Forward motion, people.

The only kink in this plan is that we re planning to take the ‘firm’ 4:30 am Mass Transit Bus the other 8 hours to Bolga. Good plan! We will arrive in Bolga in time for our Monday-first -thing in the morning appointment with the lawyer! We make great time and arrive at 4:00 am in Kumasi at the bus station. Woohoo! All are VERY tired but in good spirits. We knew this would be long and not so pretty. We are fine. We tell ourselves: We are FINE. Everyone still has smiles on. Sleepy smiles but smiles nonetheless.

Kumasi bus station was full of a lot of very awake people or very asleep in chairs or children on the GRAVEL sleeping. We are a little shell-shocked but no-one will admit it. Seriously, we really were all doing great. BECAUSE WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT LAY AHEAD. You must know that I am laughing as I write this. Because 90% of the day, I wished that you were a mosquito on the bus to see this nonsense. Honestly, I wrote about 19 blog posts in my head along the way. Mark gathered several sermons in his. And I just kept laughing. Until about hour number 7 on that bus.

So. The 4:30 am bus has not arrived (from where? I think but don’t ask)……it looks like we will be waiting until AROUND 6:30 am or 7:00 am for the Bolga bus. We find old bench bus seats in the out door-gravel parking lot- waiting area with our babies and settle in for a 2-3 hour wait.

The Bolga bus arrives – yay!! THANK YOU, LORD!! We are finally headed towards our destination. We begin boarding around 7:00ish and depart at 7:30.

So….when you think bus – scratch the original description of our glorious first class edition. We have just boarded a version of a glorified school bus with no air-conditioning and 62 of my closest friends. With my 2 year old that I just met yesterday. The kids have been AMAZING!! The WHOLE time. They are not like our American kids…when I say ‘our’ – I’m including yours.  They aren’t running around – being loud – screaming because they see something they want – pitching fits – they are very quiet and subdued. ALL of the very young kids we see. I think part of it is culture – they get carried so much that they aren’t down walking around & it is so stinkin hot that I can’t imagine they have the energy!!

Mark and I have won the lottery and have been assigned the 2nd seat from the back. There is luggage piled EVERYWHERE!! There is a small luggage bay underneath but also lots of luggage on the floors – like 2 & 3 high- bags of agriculture, etc… The ‘back door’ where step down stairs is directly in front of us – piled so high with luggage that Mark can’t even see over it. We are now squished in a tiny little school-bus seat with Zoe for 8 hours. We realize there is a chicken in a basket right in front of us underneath 2 layers of luggage. We hear him clucking and chirping. We decide to name him Chipper for the ride. Thank you, Jesus????

It is now Sunday morning – the sun is coming up again but it is very overcast again. THANK YOU, JESUS!! All bus windows are open and Chipper is going to town. Zoe is now wide awake and quite content to watch out the windows and the people and towns passing by. There is no bathroom on this bus (It’s a school bus, silly!) and they only make one real stop where people may ‘deboard the plane’.

After about an hour, we slow to a stop in the middle of a road. Young girls and women walk up to our open windows and start yelling things I cannot even begin to understand. Loudly. They all have baskets on their heads. All of a sudden at the same time different people on the bus start hanging out the windows handing them money while they throw fruit and water bags and other such stuff into our “I can’t eat another bite” bus. Yay! Ghana’s version of the Kangaroo convenience store. That was fun. The 1st time.

Cluck Cluck!! Hey Chipper!

We hand Zoe a couple of McD’s toys a plastic dog and a plastic horse. She likes the dog but can only process 1 toy at a time. Doesn’t need horse. We are on hour 2. It’s only 9ish – still smiling. Knees hurt – butt hurts but my baby is happy and we are on our way to Bolga!! Thank you, Lord!!

We slow again – the fella behind us (on the last row) buys a whole bag (15ish) of an orange-smelling fruit. Nice! About 30 minutes later we hit a speed bump on a dirt road in a school bus going about 45 miles an hour!! AIR BORNE!!! All of us. Especially in the back. I grab the baby. Mark grabs our bag. Oranges are flying everywhere. One knocks me in the head and another lands in my lap. Chipper is clucking and everyone laughs. That was fun! Ha ha ha. Here are your oranges. Nice. Nice. Nice. I ask Mark what time it is. We are only on hour 3. Still smiling!!

On hour 4, the girl across the aisle from us and one row up starts throwing up! Yay!! Unfortunately, our friends Anita, Jesse, & Brandi are sitting directly in front of her. Mark and I quickly look out the window and sing ‘LALALALALALA” real loud in our heads to avoid looking, thinking, or smelling about it.

Isn’t my baby acting so swell? She really is. That’s no joke. She has now fallen asleep for a morning nap and is the sweetest thing ever! YAY!! THANK YOU, JESUS!

Hey! I hear Chipper!! I thought he had fallen asleep too! Nope! Still there.

I have begun calling her Zoe Andrela throughout the day and she is responding. LOVE IT!! She is the most beautiful thing in the world. By the end of the day, she even responded to just Zoe. Smart girl!

Hey! I hear Chipper!! I thought he had fallen asleep too! Nope!

Mark and I are still twisting and turning every 10-15 minutes to give the other butt cheek a rest. Poor Mark. He is 6’3” folded into a 2’2” spot. For 8 hours. Did I mention that?

Hour 5. I think maybe this is when we were allowed the exodus off the bus to tt in 15 minutes. This is no joke either – we stopped at a grassy market area with a concrete ‘pavillion’ like area with a restaurant and bathrooms. We stand around stretch – buy some rice for the kiddos for lunch to eat on the bus and HONK HONK HONK. Time to get on the bus! HONK HONK. Obrunis haven’t tt’d yet- so sorry!! HONK! Become tempted to flash the Universal sign for take a hike but decide to run to the bathroom instead.

3 Obrunis – last on bus. Dirty looks from all. HA!!

I am STILL smiling. Sorta. Running on NO food but granola bars & almonds AND we are trying not to drink much so we don’t have to pee – which means we are dehydrated. And Cramped! SQUAWK! Goes Chipper. And I laugh to myself. Isn’t this funny? It was 6 hours ago.

Hour 6 – BLUR. The only thing I can remember is that my darling new Ghanaian beauty tt’d ALL over my lap. Dunno what happened. Had on a diaper. Too much tt? Bad diaper? Bad installment of diaper? I don’t know but at this point I am so very sad about my very wet skirt.

Hour 7- I FINALLY fall asleep. With Zoe asleep in my lap – with Mark’s fleece neck pillow. Hmmmm. I sleep about 30 minutes. Long enough to get REALLY GROUCHY when I woke up. Too bad. Nowhere to go! You’re stuck on a bus! How much longer? Bout an hour. We’ve heard that before.

So, we pass the “Welcome to Bolgatanga” sign and our bus driver decides to pull over with 62 people and a chicken and get gas! I AM DYING to get out. Mark couldn’t be rolling his eyes any further back into his head.

And then – it happens. The Saturday Night Live skit of all time!! We pull out of the gas station and drive about 2-3 more miles to the BUS STATION!!!! Seriously??? Was it going to take up too much time to let us all out and THEN go get that gas?

Right before we pull in the gas station, Owen tells us that the Attorney has to go out of town tomorrow and he is now waiting in his office for us to come by to sign the adoption papers. Are we going to hotel first? Nope! Are we going to be able to change clothes? Nope! Straightaway!! Yay! Thank you, Lord that our attorney wants to come early and not late!!

As we all start throwing our luggage out the windows Ghanaian style, I realize my skirt has dried – because it has been 2 HOURS since my darling daughter released a liter of pee on me. Maybe no one will notice? Maybe we all smell bad? Anita and Brandi assure me that yes, we all definitely are dirty and smell bad. As I deboard the school bus, I realize just how disgusting it had become in those 8 hours and hold my breath as I get out. G’bye Chipper!!

The rest is not nearly as entertaining. We sign papers – we go to hotel – we go out to eat. Brandi, Anita, and Amy each almost have a break down during dinner. We order a bottle of wine and we are all better now!!

I am now in my hotel room, with my Ghanaian beauty sleeping next to me and her Daddy on the other side. We have prayed for her purposefully tonight. She is mine. There is no doubt that God had each of us in mind when he created the other. I love her so.

If you’ve read this far – you are amazing. I needed to process before sleep more than anything. Hope this will tide you over for a few days. I will try to post pictures in the morning.

It is now Tuesday early evening. We have slept all day and been in our hotel room all day….and it has been heavenly.

Couple of quick notes –
Pictures are coming. Mark’s computer is not connecting to the internet but Anita’s is. I couldn’t actually post last night bc of that. We have connection on his blackberry now so feel free to text Mark’s bb or email Mark’s email to get us. Mark’s parents have that info if anybody needs it. They are at our house.

For our Marietta friends circa 2004: the Camille & Molly days. We actually learned where “Aw Debbie, Debbie” used as an expletive in our terms came from!! It twi in Africa, ‘de be’ means ‘I do not like” “no thank you” ‘take that away’ HA!!!!! Apparently, Mark and Molly both brought that back from the 2004 Africa mission trip and forgot why!!! Hilarious. We had an entire youth group use that term for a couple of years and nobody knew where it came from. Honestly. That’s good stuff.

Love to all but especially my big boys at home!! I love you!!! Mom!