Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ghana Pick-up trip - Chapter 1

I have so many blogs stored up in my head! So many things to take note of. For some reason tonight, I feel the need for a disclaimer: Please know that I started blogging as a way to send some ‘Newsletter’ish information to our many dear friends in Marietta & family spread out through Georgia & beyond. That was before adoption life. Now, I blog for that same reason but also to remember. To share what I can’t remember when I’m standing in front of someone. I blog so one day Zoe will be able to read the details…For all these reasons & more…I blog…

What an adventure we had last week! Wow – just wow! There really aren’t enough words. The boys were amazing travelers. We drove an hour to Savannah – flew 45 minutes to Atlanta – 2 hour layover in Atlanta – then 2.5 hour flight to NYC – 7 hour layover – then 9 hour flight over to Accra. It was 9:00 am Ghana time when we landed.

Monday: Today is the day we get to go to Cape Coast! Woohoo! Headed for a vacation within a vacation! We are technically going to Elmina. Which is another small town right next to Cape Coast. When we very first knew we would be going to Ghana with our boys, we made the decision to ‘vacation’ in addition to our pick-up trip. We researched places and decided to go to Cape Coast. This is also where a couple of the old slave castles are. You can now walk through them with a guided tour. That was amazing. More later.

Let’s just suffice it to say that travel days make for GREAT blog material. That’s just the bottom line! We ask Yaw, a taxi driver and friend of our foster Daddy, Paul, to drive us to CC on Monday. We agree with Yaw that we will be ready for him to pick us up by 8:30 am all packed & ready. Yaw’s taxi is a very typical taxi for Ghana. It is an older version of a car – the windows are manual, a handle might be missing off of something, you ‘might’ have to open one of the doors from the outside handle every time. Which means if you are on the inside, either someone has to open it for you or you have to roll down the window and reach out to open it yourself. No A/C so you ride with all 4 windows down. Did I mention that it is about a 3 hour drive to Elmina from Accra? With all 4 windows down. We had to drive all the way through Accra. I would liken it to driving from Marietta to South Fulton. Lots of traffic – lots of road work – lots of smelly smells.

Zoe has this amazing ability to fall asleep when the conditions seem a little overwhelming. I admire this quality immensely. Stressful situation! Shut down! Fall asleep! We should all aspire to this gift. It would make life a lot smoother. Within an hour of being on the road (with all 4 windows down), Zoe is sound asleep in my lap. Some of you might be thinking, well it’s probably naptime. But Zoe doesn’t take morning naps. Good try!

We zig & zag out of Accra traffic. I’m realizing just how big Accra really is and that I have truly only seen a very small portion of the big city. There are gobs of people everywhere. We stop for gas on the opposite of Accra & the old school gas station attendant is a young girl in her late twenties/ early 30s. She looks in the open window and asks me if this is my daughter – yes, I reply. No more questions. Awesome!

As we set out on a more rural 2-lane highway, we are able to pick up speed. At one point, I glance at the speedometer. 110!! I freak out for about 10 seconds and then realize kilometers per hour. Kilometers. Not miles. But the truth is, like Pavlov’s dog, we are conditioned to panic a little when you see a speedometer over a 100! I shake it off and I am now trying to drink in the scenery when I start noticing signs every couple of miles. Please drive safely. 9 PEOPLE HAVE DIED HERE. Hmmmm. Then I start noticing big round signs with the number 50 on them. I still don’t know if this is a highway number or a speed limit. Please drive safely. 12 PEOPLE HAVE DIED HERE. I kept telling myself it was a highway number. It has to be, right? WE maintained 110 to 120 then whole way to Elmina. We ride every person’s bumper tail as best we can until we can pass them. Are we in a hurry? I think there should be better driver’s education in Ghana. 8 PEOPLE DIES HERE. These signs are like billboard size. Not yard sale size. There are people sprinkled along the highway walking places. There is nowhere around. Where did these people come from? Where are they going? Please drive safely. 10 PEOPLE HAVE DIED HERE.

Now, I’m beginning to get concerned. Why are so many people dying on this road????? Were they walkers? Were they drivers? Were they passengers? And the best one… WHY OH WHY aren’t there any SEATBELT signs!!!???? I swear I turn off the logical portion of my brain while I’m in Ghana. None of us wear our seatbelts. Zoe is never in a carseat. At one point, Eli was riding in Mark’s lap in the FRONT seat of our dilapidated taxi because he didn’t feel good and Zoe was in my lap in the backseat already. Good grief.

By the grace of God, we make it to Elmina without becoming a statistic. We find the town of Elmina but then we begin to periodically stop & ask people along the road where Coconut Grove hotel is. This cracks me up. I love this about Ghana. This is what you might call ‘Ghana Google Maps’: Drive until you don’t know where to go anymore and then start asking strangers.

Yaw started with a young gentleman outside Cape Coast University if he knew where the Coconut hotel was. Yes! He said. Then started thinking. Hmmm. He said go down the road & take a left. Then he said a few more things in another language that Yaw understood. We take off! We are getting close I’m thinking!

We go down a little further than I expected and take a left. I begin looking for the hotel. A good while later we are on another highway-ish road along the ocean. We must be close! I look over at Asa and he has his head in his shirt with his PSP. I ask him what he is doing and he says he can’t see the screen bc there is too much sun! I can’t decide if this is funny or irritating. Hey Asa! We are in Africa! Take a gander!

We enter this neighborhood-ish area that is very unique and quaint to anything I have seen in Ghana yet. I actually would liken it to European cobblestone, narrow, hilly streets. We stop again & ask a young guy at a bus station where Coconut Grove hotel is. He points and waves & says some things that Yaw understands. We drive on. We must be close! A left here. A swerve there. Head over one more hill. Surely, we are close.

We see Elmina Slave Castle and I’m awestruck. It is actually a beautiful white fortress just yards from the ocean. More later.

We are now passing through a fishing community. Tons of beautiful boats. Lots of commerce and busy-ness. I took some snapshots later from the top of Elmina Castle of this area. They look like pictures that you see on puzzles. Random, but true. And this area smelled HORRENDOUS. Fish. Dead Fish. Live Fish. Fish bones. Fish guts. Even Eli who will eat anything, try anything, tough- it-out-Eli was overwhelmed by the stench in Elmina.

We finally make our way through this community and it looks like we are headed out to the country and we still haven’t seen any signs of or for our hotel. It is now about 20 or 30 minutes past our first GPS stop at Cape Coast University. Let’s check MapQuest one more time. Yaw hollers about Coconut Hotel at an older man pushing a wooden cart. He points up the hill. Nice. We continue.

And a couple of kilometers later, we arrive at Coconut Grove Beach Resort!! Seriously. Amazing. For all of my non-adoption buddies. You must know that I’m almost embarrassed to write about this place bc we just had a family arrive back from Ghana last month who fed about a bazillion orphans when they took their whole family to Ghana for their court trip. Us? We just took a vacation.

CCBR is the kind of place celebrities would go to hide from the rest of the world. We actually did see pictures of Will Smith and Danny Glover in the office! It is so obscure and nobody in the world would be there unless it was intentional. You wouldn’t get a lot of passersby or buses of choir tour teenagers hanging out at the pool. It was secluded and perfect for letting our family just gel together for a few days. We highly recommend it for that purpose.

Tuesday, we did NOTHING. We took some walks on the beach. Let the kids play in the pool. Watched a little European soccer on the TV. Took naps. Ate dinner on our front porch. Took a family sunset walk. Then we had our first Fritchman Five Dance off. Ever since our kids were little, we would crank up the music real loud at night and everybody gets a turn to do their thang & show off. Zoe thought it was hysterical. She was right.

Wednesday, we got up & out to the Elmina Castle. Used one of the taxis that hangs out at the CCBR. Can you say Air Conditioning!?!? It was clean and our driver was dressed like he was going to a business meeting. He was serious stuff!! His name was Emmanuel.

I realize as we leave the resort that literally within yards of the resort property is this very old, poverty stricken fishing village. Mud homes, thatch roofs, Fishing gear everywhere. There stacks of what looked like wooden stretchers about 30 high. We ask what these are & he says they are the screens that they use to smoke the fish over the fire. Then they will send them ‘inland’ to market. I think, Gross. I dislike fish very much.

Mark asks our driver how long he thought that village had been there. Probably around 300 years he says. Mark says all the same families? Oh, definitely the driver says. Wow. Just wow. ‘Our’ world is so transient that I cannot even imagine all the same families living in one area for that many generations. Sure, you have Old Marietta & Old Augusta & Old Small town USA families. But 300 years!! I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that concept. I’d like to sit and listen to those women tell stories. Wouldn’t you?

At Elmina Castle, we have a very short walk from where our driver parked to the entrance of the castle. There isn’t any commerce along the way. It almost looks like a driveway. Yet, we are accosted on the way in by very nice young men who just want to meet and know the Obrunis. One of them asks my name and I already know this Schtick. He is going to go make something with my name on it to give me when I return as a ‘gift’ and then hope I will give him some money. I feel so irritated by this and hate myself for feeling irritated. However, we are super polite and head inside.

After paying for our tour, an older gentleman leads us to the former slave chapel of the castle where they have set up a several small museum like display walls where you read about the history of Elmina, the British & Dutch influence, and the current status & market of Elmina. Mark & I are so interested. The boys so far could care less.

Our guide comes to get us a little while later and we are getting our own personal family tour! Wonderful!

I am in AWE of the history of this place. Elmina was the largest slave castle on the coast. It was fascinating. I cannot imagine. The smell was still strong and haunting in the dungeon chambers. 400 women locked in a small room with nothing. There were 3 rooms total just like this one. Girls 12 & up. Men were housed elsewhere. 4 hard walls and a floor. 2 small doors. Little to no sunlight. No ventilation. 1 small area where they ‘threw’ food in for all 400. Can you imagine the feeding frenzy? Urine and Dung on the floor. Nowhere else to go. Our guide pointed out women’s menstrual cycles. 400 women. I did the math in my head. Statistically, 1 out of every 4 was on her cycle EVERY day. 100 of those women was always on her period. That day I was one of them. And I thought I was going to faint just standing in that room thinking about it. They were kept there anywhere from 1-3 months before they entered an area known as the ‘door of no return’. They were led further down in the castle where boats pulled up directly next to the castle. The people were led onto boats that then took them out further into the ocean to meet the ships. The particular people held captive at Elmina were taken to Brazil and Canada. Cape Coast Slave Castle was a little further away. Those were the people taken to America.

Then they took us upstairs. This is where the Governor slept. The soldiers quarters were held. There was a chapel upstairs DIRECTLY above the room of the ‘door of no return’. I know some people believe that people are innately good. I do not. Because the Bible says we are not. We are innately sinful. I believe that. I cannot imagine even pretending to go to church and worship with hundreds of humanity locked in a room directly below you. Without the Grace of God, we are a sorry bunch.

I have so many thoughts about Elmina and slavery. I thought a LOT about the descendants of the slaves who made it to America. And the descendants of those who remained in Africa. Their lives are SO very different. The course of their family’s lives were forever changed the day they stepped onto those ships. I kept thinking about Joseph in the Bible and how his brothers sold him into slavery. Sometimes, we pretty up that image. But slavery was slavery. And Joseph was sold into it. But God uses for good what Satan intends for evil. The opportunities available today to the descendants of those slaves who arrived in America far outweigh the opportunities of those who remained in Africa. At least the very limited parts of Africa, I’ve experienced. There certainly was a price for that. This is such a sensitive subject.

As we leave the castle, low & behold, here come the guys we met on the way in. They have painted our names on large seashells – ‘Signed, your very good friend, Tim’ mine says. With an email address. It is a gift!! I tried to refuse 3 or 4 times until he finally shoves it in my hand. Then he pulls out a sheet of paper & I can see he wants my email address!! He has lost his marbles. We had already prepared the boys for this onslaught and we were getting in the car. Tim is hacked at me for not ‘returning the gift’ with cash favor. I hand him the seashell back. I think that it is a little funny and remember wondering if he was going to take it back to the ocean and wash my name off of it! Ha!! And actually, as I’m writing this, I wonder if it was in his bucket of seashells with names already on them. Amy is kinda common, huh? Either way, his kindness from our entry into Elmina has faded.

We are slap exhausted. All 5 of us. 2 hours in the hot sun and we need a nap! We had planned to try a little market after the castle but seriously, none of us could take it. Not after the seashell attack.

On the way back to the resort, our taxi driver asks us if we have a ride back to Accra the next day. I immediately recognize this as a quasi-offer to drive us back. Mark says yes – because we did – and I do that ol’ ‘Ahem, this taxi has air conditioning!!!’ And Mark takes the direct hint and hires him to take us back to Accra. So thankful!!

I could keep writing all night. So many more things to remember. Not the least of which was our goodbye time with birth mom. Sleepy for now. More later. Love to all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

There were 5 in the bed and the little one said....

So, we are a happy family of 5 tonight all sleeping in one bed!! Yikes!! It's only midnight but we'll see if this lasts all night long :) Don't worry there is a full-size mattress on the floor but for some reason.....there are 5 in the bed.

We have had a fabulous time! Learning about each other, learning new family dynamics. You would think Zoe is a professional vaudeville act by the way the boys laugh at her constantly. This could become hazardous in the way of teaching her not to throw things or say 'Shut up!" but for now apparently it is absolutely hysterical! Asa and Eli adore her. Want to hold her, tease her, kiss her, love her. If I were her, I'd be saying 'shut up!' too, for as many times as they call 'Zoe!' all day long! HA!!

So, as I am listening to a rooster cock-a-doodle doo out my hotel window at midnight...let me tell you the FULL story!

I had much angst last week as evident by my last post. Wanting to have faith that this would be our week yet preparing my heart and mind to 'brace myself' that we could be waiting yet another week. I stayed busy Monday & Tuesday. Hid at home Wed. because I didn't want to complain nor did I want to pretend to be happy. So, I stayed at home and did pretty much nothing of significance. Thursday, I volunteered at the boy's school all day long. The office needed some help with paperwork systems getting ready for the accreditation audit coming soon. Menial work, low passersby, little conversation..I'm in! Thursday morning, we totally overslept and the 3 of us dragged into school 30 minutes late. Nice, mom.

In my baseball cap and no shower, I go to work filing and updating forms. I am making a new friend, Megan. Megan is the school admin person who has recently (1-2 years?) moved to SSI and we are having a blast. She is funny, how can we not be??!! I am laughing bc after the day was over, Megan says 'Our friendship was put in the express lane' that day! Right before lunch, we begin to 'bond' for about 20 minutes over our deepest woes. We talk about the adoption and her life. I tell her I am watching the clock bc around 1 or 1:30 is when we will know our wait is over for the week. We both end up crying, hug it out and I go pick up Chick-Fil-A. Every girl's solution to any problem!

At 1:30, I simply note with a sigh, 'Guess we're looking at next week, again.' I feel a little numb - but am trying to be more worried about the paperwork I'm filing. THEN, IT HAPPENS. At 2:00, I look at my watch and THERE IS THE EMAIL!! THANK YOU, LORD!!! I am nearly speechless!! I have emailed them 4 times in the past 3 weeks. They send me the same reply to all 3 emails. The 'Come pick up your daughter's PRINTED VISA EMAIL!!" I jump up and down and run around the divider to tell Megan! This is hilarious! We've known each other about 5 hours! THANKS MEGAN!!!

Since I was at the boy's school, I was able to go down to their classrooms to tell them that Zoe got her visa. Both of them jumped up and down, "YES!!", they said! Hugged big! SOOOO excited! Ran to tell their classes who had been praying for Zoe since the start of the school year. SO PRECIOUS. My boys are awesome. I'm just sayin.

So, I run home to call Delta. :) The NICEST lady helps me. I immediately tell her we are going to pick up my daughter from Africa and she bends over backwards to help us find the right flights within our SkyMiles range! We can leave in 12 hours or we can leave in 3 days. Seriously? Do I even need time to think about that? 12 hours! it is! I run around and start throwing things in suitcases. I was just there last month. Trial run, people! I already have things in ziploc bags, and all the chargers and donations and Zoe's clothes were already packed. We weren't taking shirts for the boys bc so many people donated shirts in their sizes that they are just going to wear those shirts and then we leave them. Same for towels. Check! We leave with the maximum allowed for 4 international tickets. 8 checked bags, 4 carry-ons, and 4 'personal items' (that reads book-bags). This makes Mark very nervous to get all this to Ghana with 2 children in tow. He has given me the 'you-better-be-glad-I-Love-You' look several times. Especially when he packed his Armada and then had to switch to the suburban bc it wouldn't all fit in his SUV. He needed the extended cab! The boys were AMAZING travellers. So helpful, carried their own bookbags and even rolled a carry-on a time or two!

Mark and I slept 1-2 hours Thursday night bc we were packing and then we had to get up at 2:30 am to head to Savannah for our 5:30 am flight! Connect in Atlanta for 1 hour and then make it to JFK by 9:45 am. We now have a 7 hour layover in NYC. Fortunately, I did my AMEX homework last month with Christi and we are going to spend all 7 hours in the Delta SkyClub watching the Ryder Cup and eating free snacks. THANK YOU, LORD! The boys even get out there homework/school papers and did some school work while we were at JFK. You'd be proud, Ms. Fuller and Ms. Hawthorne!

As we loaded the plane, in Atlanta - I noticed a VERY tall man & his wife getting on the plane. I knew immediately, it was one of our former youth from Marietta. Michael Elmer & Esther! How fun! We haven't seen Michael in years and only know Esther by pictures. They are going for an anniversary, no-kids, play weekend in NYC. YET, they spend an hour or so hanging out with us at Burger King in JFK! So fun! What a sweet treat for us! THANKS LORD! We catch up - learning about their life in the past 5 years - take pics - we pray together - and we are moving on!

Again, at JFK a VERY NICE Delta attendant who moved all of our seats to a full empty row (all the way across) prior to boarding the plane. The row was the last one on the plane. Was he being nice or trying to get my children out of the way? Just jokin, people! He was being nice! GREAT stewardess who for some reason we thought was named Denise, but I think her real name was Cindy gave the boys all kinds of treats throughout the trip. We give Eli and Asa some Triaminic about an hour into the trip (sorry for all my organic friends!) and a little while later, it is sweet dream city for all of us! When Eli woke up, he was amazed that we only had 1 more hour to go!! HA!

Mark was amazing all the way through the Ghanaian airport - even with 72 bags and 2 children. Paul and Zoe meet us at the airport...SOOOO HAPPY!!! The boys are excited to meet Zoe. It is a little chaotic and we all make it to the taxis. The boys are at first more amazed that they don't have to wear a seatbelt and Zoe is not in a carseat than they are with the scenery! I am SO enjoying viewing life in Ghana from their children's perspective. It is not deep and philosophical. It just is what it is.

We all slept very much yesterday. We made it out for pizza at the Accra mall, the playground at the mall, and ShopRite for a few groceries. Pretty American day. We're easing the kids into this people. I LOVE watching people watch the boys. Pretty much all Zoe wanted to do at first was touch their hair. :)

Cold showers this morning. I was secretly glad it was finally a little uncomfortable for the boys. No sympathy from mom.

This morning, we were all recovered from JetLag, new family initial shock, and are ready to play! Paul and a couple of his boys come over to play mid-morning at the hotel. Asa and Eli love it. We talk with Paul for a very long time.

Paul is starting his own NGO (Non-Government Organization) - non-profit. It is called Nyame Dua and it will embody his foster home in Accra and his home in Bolga. He asked Mark and I last month to serve on the board for the organization and I could not be more excited about working with Paul and others to help these kiddos and Paul's family. My friend, Christi and I have lots of ideas and plans. We'd love to have anyone join us!! Let me know if this speaks to you - email me!

For those of you who sent me donations, the big boys, especially LOVED them. We brought tons of shoes and they were very thankful.

This afternoon, we walked to Paul's. Talk about an unusual sight! 4 Obrunis - 2 little yellow headed boys - walking down fairly obscure streets in Teshie. Lots of children coming from around corners to take a peek. We take FanYogos (big gogurts) and soccer balls to the children at Paul's. The big boys, especially, are so happy to have soccer balls! They all go with our boys down to a dirt field a couple of houses away to & play a wonderful game of soccer for a couple of hours! Mark and John Baker play too. Paul and his wife fix a lovely chicken & rice dinner for us. We eat with another adoptive parent, John Baker, & head back to the hotel for the evening.

Lots more laughing. Rolling around on Daddy. Riding Daddy's back. Smacking the boys with pillows. Eating potato chips. Laughing. Looking at pictures from our previous trip. Laughing. Laughing. and More Laughing. I love my family. I feel such a GREAT sense of relief with the 5 of us together. We are thankful and blessed beyond measure.

Our POA is supposed to go pick up Zoe's visa tomorrow at the embassy. I will feel even a GREATER sense of relief once that is over.

Headed to Cape Coast for a few days. Will come back Wed. evening. Thursday, we will get to spend some more time with Zoe's birth mom. Letting her say Goodbye and learning anything she wants us to tell Zoe as she gets older. Taking more pictures. Paul says she was thrilled to hear that Zoe is now going home with her family. She will have to travel 5 hours to come tell her g'bye. I'm pretty sure I will be a wreck after that.

I do love Ghana. The people here are proud of their country. They are so friendly. A piece of my heart will always live here.

I cannot thank all of our friends & family & even those of you who I do not know but have met in passing and you say you read our blog or those that have commented...we are grateful for prayers and encouragement. Mark and I cannot decide if we feel like this is 'finally over' or if we are 'just beginning'. We know it is BOTH. 'Finally over' in the immediate sense of the word but Only just beginning in the long term sense.

We have had many friends comment on how Zoe and I look alike. Paul said that the hotel staff here was saying the same thing! Isn't that so funny?!? and so God.

Love to all - a
PS - we WILL post pics... our camera software has not been loaded to Mark's mac. Will do once we are in CC and then post! They are pretty stinkin cute! I'll just say that!