Mar 20, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Five — Ice Cream

The funny, metallic pinging of “My Heart will Go On” filled the air as Donnie and I turned to see rural Uganda’s version of the ice cream truck.

I love the ingenuity and resourcefulness I see in Ugandans. I think we’ve had such an easy life in America for so long, that we tend to sit back after some small effort and declare that a thing cannot be done. In Uganda, they take what they have and make it work. So, this young man found a way to offer relief from the heat in the little poor area called Mpumudde — he filled a cooler with ice cream, secured it to his bike and drove around town, selling it for 1,000 shillings or so per cup. (That’s less than 50 cents U.S.)

The kids knew what it was right away, and Violet asked if she and her friends could have ice cream. Ha! As if we could say no to faces like these? (Still bearing the stickers they got in their dental care kits!)

I could tell by the way she was beaming that it made Violet happy to be able to offer this to her friends. Ice cream is a rare treat, and she says it’s one of her most favorite things to eat. (How fun is it going to be to take this girl to Dairy Queen?)

As Donnie was standing by the ice cream man and taking these photos, I was standing in the shade next to the van, talking to our driver, Francis. I think I’ve mentioned before that traveling with Francis is like having your own personal minister, life coach and encourager by your side. He is just a phenomenal human being. He said, “I think that ice cream man is going to thank God for blessing him today!” and I looked up to see Donnie waving some of the neighborhood kids over so he could buy them ice cream, too.

They’d been watching us from afar, but with great interest since we’d arrived to tour the property. We were actually getting ready to leave when the ice cream man came, and these kids had crept ever closer toward the road, to get a better look at what these muzungus (white people) were doing. One of my regrets is not capturing a picture of their smiles as Donnie invited them to come have ice cream, too. It was so precious to see their faces light up!

They stood patiently and quietly as the man scooped their ice cream, one cup at a time, not jostling or shoving ahead of each other like American kids that age might tend to do.

And one by one, they gently shook Donnie’s hand and told him, “Thank you,” in their sweet little accented voices.

One child held Donnie’s hand and kneeled down as he said thanks, and I could tell Donnie was choking back tears just like I was, watching everything just a few feet away in the shade.

One little boy was dressed in clothes so dirty you couldn’t really tell what color they’d originally been. He looked to be about four, the same age as our youngest son back home. That sweet child walked past me slowly, holding his paper cup of ice cream in both hands out in front of him, his huge eyes staring at it like he just could not believe his good fortune. It was like he was so amazed, he didn’t even want to take a lick of it, for fear he’d ruin the moment.

Like it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever received.

A simple cup of ice cream….

News spread fast, because a few more kids came running down the street, and after ten or so had been given ice cream, Francis and the pastor suggested that we stop buying it because we could be there all day. As Francis said, “The needs here are so great — there is no end to them.” I could tell that Donnie didn’t want to tell anyone no, and I didn’t either, but we understood the wisdom behind what our Ugandan friends were saying. Donnie took the change he received from the vendor and gave it to an old man in tattered clothing, limping down the road. As we drove off, I could see the kids who had ice cream sharing bites with the ones who came too late, and it just warmed my heart to see no jealousy or covetousness — just that warm, generous Ugandan spirit of giving that we’d already witnessed so many times.

A few weeks ago, Donnie and I were reminiscing about that day. His eyes grew misty and he said, “I never told you this, but I’d prayed before we went that I’d have a chance to buy ice cream for some kids.”

Just…wow, God. Wow!

It was such a simple answered prayer that became one of the highlights of our trip, and I’m failing miserably at articulating how much it meant to have been given that opportunity to bring a little joy into those kids’ lives. Because until the day I die, I will never forget the sight of the small Ugandan version of my boy Jonah, beaming brighter than the sun, gingerly carrying that ice-cold treasure in his dusty little hands.

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Feb 25, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Four – Part Two

(Continued from Day Four – Court)

Nothing like having a machine-gun-toting guard giving you a once-over before being allowed entrance to a mall parking lot!

Cafe Javas, the restaurant our driver Francis suggested for our after-court late afternoon meal, was located at the corner of a small shopping mall. Security is tight at these locations after the 2010 bombing in Kampala by a Somali branch of Al-Qaida — and even more so after the horrific mall bombing in Kenya last year where non-Muslim westerners were specifically targeted. I found the men with machine guns somewhat reassuring, but also an alarming reminder that danger lurks closer in Africa than America.

Regardless, we were impressed by the restaurant, with its coffee offerings and full menu geared toward western tastes. And there was air conditioning, a rarity indeed! We had three tables put together, to seat us, both drivers, the pastor and his wife, Pearl, her birth mom, her uncle and the probation officer.

In case you’re wondering what’s in those glasses, it’s fruit juice, which I found our Ugandan friends generally preferred over soda. The light orange is passion fruit juice, which I’d discover the next day at breakfast is simply fantastic. The darker orange is a papaya/passion blend, I think. Anyway, the atmosphere was festive and Pearl asked for fish, rice and chips (french fries). Donnie happily ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a double espresso. My stomach was still off, so I thought I was safe ordering a simple cheese quesadilla. I’d learned that it’s a real insult in Uganda to leave food on one’s plate, especially when so many are starving. So I thought it would be like ordering a quesadilla at a Mexican restaurant at home, where they just bring me a little dry-grilled tortilla with cheese on a small plate.

You know, just a safe little something to refuel me but not overstress my tummy.

Well, I was wrong. The portion sizes in this restaurant were enormous! The tortilla used to make this quesadilla must’ve been at least 12″ around, and it was damp as if it had been fried in oil. It was quartered and served on a huge platter heaped with pinto beans, guacamole, pico de gallo and a rice pilaf studded with big chunks of carrots, peppers and peas.

Yikes. I would’ve taken a picture but I thought they would think I was so bizarre for doing that!

I nibbled a few bites of everything. The cheese’s flavor was odd to me. All the side dishes were very flavorful and I lamented not being able to enjoy more of them. Pearl kept asking me what was wrong, why was I not eating, and I tried to explain that I still didn’t feel well enough to eat much food.

Everyone else really dug into their meals, however, and would’ve won Clean Plate Awards if we’d have been giving them out! When the pastor noticed I wasn’t eating much, he said, “Well, give the remainder to them — they will eat it.” He was referring to his wife and Pearl’s mom. I said OK and slid my plate over. Between them and Pearl, they ate it all. I truly do not mean anything rude in saying this, but it was surprising to see these ladies have room for all their food and mine, too! But as someone told us later, that was probably the nicest meal some of them had ever had, and their bodies are used to adjusting to feast or famine. This same person also politely chided Donnie for leaving food behind when we left. He said, “In Uganda, you never leave a remainder. You should’ve had them wrap it up and we could’ve given it to a homeless person on the street.”

(Total interjection here, but that stuck with me and those whom I’ve told the story. Here in America, sometimes you can’t get homeless people or beggars to take even fresh food or let you buy them a meal. But there? Hunger is so real and prevalent, they will gratefully accept even food that someone else had touched or bitten off of. Just another of hundreds of ways this trip provided us with a deeper understanding of poverty.)

After the meal, we stood around for a while, taking photos and saying goodbye to those heading back to Jinja that night, which was everyone except us, Francis and Pearl. After they left, we went to the pharmacy, then back to the guesthouse where we all changed into more comfortable clothing. We finally received a call that our missing luggage had arrived at the airport, so Francis and Donnie drove off to Entebbe again while Pearl and I had some mother/daughter time.

We sat out on this lovely porch until nightfall…

Pearl played games on the Kindle, and I also had her read some passages to me so I could get an idea of where she is with her English reading and comprehension.

After dark, we went inside to the lounge. One of the guesthouse maids was watching TV and I found her selections very amusing. For a while, she watched a lively TBN-like Christian music show that was performed in both Luganda and English. Then there was a Hispanic soap opera that was dubbed in English; after that, an Indian Bollywood-ish soap opera that was dubbed in Luganda with random English phrases thrown in. Pearl was interested in all the shows and I passed the time checking Facebook and email on my phone, and then a sweet lady I knew from the Ugandan adoption group on Facebook came in and we talked for a long while. Finally, Donnie came back with our bag and we turned in for the night.

It was our first time that both of us were alone with Pearl, and she was just as sweet as could be. I gave her some new pajamas and she quietly changed into them. She played with her dolls for a few minutes, then hugged us goodnight. She neatly tucked the dolls and a stuffed animal under the blanket beside her. She dropped down her mosquito net and we never heard a peep from her until morning.

And then Donnie tucked in our net, and it was lights out, our first full night with our new daughter….

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Feb 21, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Four – Court

Donnie woke up at sunrise again, and snapped pictures from our balcony.

Kampala sunrises are beautiful, especially when they’re full of hope like ours was one month ago today.

My stomach was still giving me grief, so I skipped going down for breakfast. My gourmet morning meal consisted of one pretzel, a few sips of Coke, some Pepto-Bismol and a couple of Imodium. I had another freezing cold shower, baffled as to why there wasn’t any hot water in our room. (It would’ve been nice if the guesthouse had included a note that all we had to do was ask someone to flip a switch!)

We weren’t scheduled to leave for court until around noon for our 2:00 appointment, so I took my time getting ready. This was just as well, because I still felt pretty weak and shaky, with all the energy of a geriatric sloth on Benedryl.

Suddenly, Donnie burst into the room. “The lawyer called. The judge has something to do at 2:00, so she wants to see us right away!”

W-wh-what?

So, my leisurely getting-ready became quite hurried, and we were concerned that our daughter’s relatives who were on the road from Jinja wouldn’t make it to Kampala on time. Because Kampala traffic is completely insane without having your appointment moved up a couple of hours.

Thankfully, our ever-faithful driver Francis arrived quickly and we all piled into his van. Miss Pearl was all smiles and adorable in her black-and-white houndstooth dress with a fuchsia bow and perfectly matching shoes.

By this time, it was raining and quite cool out. I found it refreshing, though. Driving through Kampala is a totally fascinating, completely butt-clenching experience! Imagine no traffic lights at intersections, everyone just crossing as they’re able, with cars, pedestrians and boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) zipping around you and toward you, so close you could stick a finger out and touch them. We saw a person holding a massive flat-screen TV (with no box) while riding on the back of a boda. There were times that traffic came to to a total standstill. For ten minutes, you’d not move an inch. And even with all this madness, we saw one minor accident our entire week in Kampala. You’d think there would be accidents on every corner. All I know is it must take some mad skills to drive in Kampala!

Family court was held on the 4th floor of a tall but smaller-than-I’d-imagined building. We were asked not to take pictures, but I could kick myself for not taking one outside (because I missed capturing the requisite family-together-at-court photo!)…just one of many photo ops we managed to miss.

There was an elevator, but no air conditioning. It wasn’t terribly hot, though, because of the rain and because there were open windows and vents everywhere. There were a lot of people milling about, waiting for their cases to be heard. Of course, most of them were staring at us, wondering what these muzungus were there for. After a brief wait, the relatives from Jinja arrived and we all greeted one another. I was struck by how handsome our daughter’s uncle was. I mean, I wasn’t surprised, as she is gorgeous and her mother is, too. But she clearly comes from beautiful genes all the way up both sides of her family tree. He is her late father’s brother and had a very dark complexion, but these beautiful light brown eyes and very refined features. I wish I’d gotten a picture of him. Maybe when we go back, we can get pictures of her with him then. He could be a model or an actor — no kidding!

Anyway, I was surprised by how calm I felt. Even as we walked into the judge’s chambers, I felt completely peaceful. (I think it was a God-thing!) The hearing started out with the judge and lawyer talking back and forth, outlining the details of our case. Then the orphanage pastor was asked to leave the courtroom while she questioned us. I was questioned first, and she asked things such as how we came to know Pearl, why did we want to bring her into our family, what type of work I did. She wanted to know about our boys, and how I planned to take care of Pearl’s hair and skin (as a friend mentioned later, ONLY a woman judge would think to ask about that–but it was a great question!).

Donnie was next, and he was asked about his work, and our income, and how he felt about having a daughter. She asked if we had healthcare, then inquired, “What do you think about Obamacare?” Donnie felt a little put on the spot, but was like, “Ma’am, to be honest, I’m not fond of it. I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Everyone burst out laughing, including the judge. (Most Ugandans we met seemed to regard our president as a pompous boob who needs to tend to his own country instead of sticking his nose in everyone else’s business.)

Next, Pearl’s birthmother, “H” was questioned about her late husband, her resources and health, and why she wanted to give up her daughter. Out of all of us, I think the judge was hardest on H, and it made me feel sorry for her. Even so, she wasn’t a harsh judge — just very firm and thorough.

All this time, Pearl was sitting patiently underneath the window, fidgeting with her handkerchief, bending over to play with the bows on her shoes, and after a while, she actually took off her shoes and fidgeted with her toes! (It’s sort of a running joke with this child, how much she hates wearing shoes.) It was a bit of an awkward moment for me, because H was sitting closer to her than I was, but she never corrected her for removing her shoes, and I didn’t know if I should say anything or not. I decided to let it slide, even though if that had been one of my boys I’d have been scolding him big-time for doing that in court, of all places! Hahaha!

Next, the judge asked Pearl what she thought about everything. She responded SO quietly, barely above a whisper, and was very shy when asked to speak up. I can only imagine how overwhelming it all was for her. The judge only asked her simple questions, and when she said, “Do you want to go to America with Kari and Donnie?” she giggled, hid her face in her hands and said “Yes!” Everyone laughed along with her — it was very cute!

At that point, Pearl’s uncle and the probation officer (social worker assigned to our case) were asked to come in and testify. The uncle gave his approval of everything, and the probation officer shared the details of her investigation. Then the pastor was invited back in to give his side of things. All in all, it took about three hours for everyone to be heard. When the judge was satisfied with the information, she dismissed us. I later found out as we left the court, she stopped the pastor and told him that she knew his father, that she was from the same original village. I thought that was another neat God-incidence that hopefully worked in our favor.

It was quite late in the afternoon, but everyone was hungry and we needed to feed them all before sending anyone back on the long trip to Jinja. We were still in need of malaria medication, so Francis suggested a pharmacy and a nearby restaurant called Caffe Java. And off we went again into the crazy Kampala traffic!

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Feb 18, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Three

I can’t recall ever having been so dehydrated.

The midnight to noon hours of that January Monday are one big blurry memory of the same repetitive sequence: stomach cramps, rush to the bathroom, wash hands with terrible-smelling hotel soap, flop back in bed, try to sleep.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

After the first couple of times, when the fever began, I thought, “This must be the traveler’s diarrhea I was warned about.” So I stopped taking only Pepto-Bismol and asked Donnie to find the Cipro. He also brought me a Coke from the fridge downstairs, and a Stoney — a natural ginger soda so strong, it probably would’ve really helped — had I been able to get past the burn enough to actually consume it.

Around 7:00, I finally gave up the fight against vomiting and experienced the most painful retching I’ve ever endured. (A friend still teases me because I described it as feeling like my stomach was trying to turn inside-out.) It just went on and on and on.

After that finally passed, I was so parched, I wanted to gulp down the contents of all those bottles. But I knew I couldn’t. Each tiny sip was like torture, trying to keep from triggering my gag reflex and becoming even more dehydrated. The skin on the backs of my hands remained standing when I pinched it up; I couldn’t say more than a couple of words before my dry lips and tongue stuck to my teeth, ,making me slur like a drunken sailor.

I was miserable. And everyone else was worried.

Donnie went down for breakfast with Pearl, her birth mother “H”, and the pastor came over from his hotel to spend the day with us. I think I finally slept a bit at that point. I knew I’d have to get up and be presentable for our meeting with the attorney that afternoon, but in the meantime, Donnie gave my regrets to everyone and explained that I’d been sick all night.

I dozed off and on for a few hours, while Donnie and Pearl enjoyed some father/daughter bonding time. They colored and took pics together… (again — forgive the cheesy smiley faces — still no court ruling, and I can’t share her face here ’til it comes!)

They built a Lego Friends set together…which she loved and had never done before…

Pearl and “H” discovered the fun of playing Fruit Ninja together on the Kindle…they thought it was hilarious!

Pearl asked Donnie if she could go upstairs and check on me. It was a really sweet surprise, though I felt terrible that she had to see me looking like that. She looked very concerned and said she was praying for me and rubbed my arm. She asked me to come down if I could. I assured her that I would do that, soon. Donnie put in an order for dinner at the guesthouse, so I had to smell cooking all day long. Yuck! I could’ve sworn I was smelling fish, but they were served chicken. (That’s a little scary if you think about it! LOL Donnie said the food was really delicious, though.)

Around 5:00 p.m. our attorney came to meet with us. I put on a nice skirt and top, but I was pale and sweating from the fever and truly embarrassed by my appearance. (Later, the lawyer would tell us that he was a bit startled when he saw me and feared I wouldn’t be well enough to attend court the following day. So yeah…this mama was looking ROUGH. LOL)

We met outside under this lovely tented area, where it was cool and comfortable and beautiful….

He prepared us for what was going to happen the next day. He said that our judge was a Christian and would welcome honest answers about our faith’s involvement in our adoption decision. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that — open confessions of faith aren’t exactly encouraged here in the states anymore — especially not in a legal venue. I’d heard scary stories about families facing a really tough Muslim judge, so hearing this was a big relief.

After our brief meeting, I went back to our room to rest while the others ate dinner. After, as I’d promised Pearl, I came back down to visit with everyone. This was the last night we’d have with H and there were so many things I wanted to ask her about Pearl’s life so far and their family history. I didn’t really feel like being vertical, but I was pretty upset that I’d already lost so much bonding/talking time to sickness. I was determined not to lose another minute of this day.

H doesn’t speak very much English, so the pastor interpreted for us. I wasn’t able to ask very many questions, as the conversation seemed to lean more toward H asking questions about us. We showed them a photo album we’d put together and told her about the family and where we live. She kept telling the pastor to make sure we understood her gratitude for what we were doing, and kept referring to us as her sister and brother. There was one precious moment when our eyes met as mothers and she smiled the same soft smile I’d seen a hundred times before on her daughter’s face. She knelt down and grasped Donnie’s hand, and then mine, and it felt like receiving her blessing. The pastor explained that in their culture, deep gratitude is expressed by kneeling. I think we all had tears in our eyes, and we made sure H understood how thankful WE are for the gift she’s given us. It was a very, very sweet moment that I’ll remember forever.

While we were sitting on the sofa next to each other, Pearl kept reaching up and playing with my hair. It’s curly and unruly sometimes, and it was like she was trying to get it to lay down a bit. I wanted to giggle, but the back of my neck was damp with fever-sweat and it was kind of embarrassing for her to feel that. But she didn’t seem to mind, and there would be other times over the next few days that she’d try to get my hair to cooperate. It was one of those funny introductions to parenting girls that I hadn’t really thought about. I’ll probably write another blog post at some point dedicated to grooming lessons we taught one another during that week together. There’s definitely some humor in how that played out!

We took Pearl upstairs before bed and gave her the dress and shoes we’d bought for court. She liked them a lot and though it seemed to me that the fuchsia flats we’d brought were a little too tight on her feet, my pink-loving girl stubbornly shoved her foot into them and I don’t think she wore another pair of shoes the remainder of the week!

Thankfully, I rested better that night — even though I woke at 2:00 a.m. to find an almost three-inch-long cockroach hanging on the outside of the mosquito net near my face! (Thank the Lord for heroic bug-slaying husbands!)

I remember fading off to sleep thinking that it didn’t seem possible that we were only 12 hours away from our long-awaited court date. Finally, the day had come!

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Feb 12, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Two – Meeting Pearl

(Continued from Day Two)

It didn’t feel anything like the scenario I’d imagined when we finally met our girl.

I imagined us being ready hours before she came, wearing the outfit I’d chosen weeks before, my hair and makeup nicely done. I pictured us pacing around the guesthouse, peeking constantly through the curtains, rushing out the door as soon as we saw their car enter the gates. I imagined her stepping out of the car, directly into our arms, and lots of happy pictures taken against the lovely guesthouse gardens.

Instead, they’d arrived a day early, unexpectedly, while we were napping. So I hurriedly ran a brush through my hair and another one over my teeth as I tried to shake the cobwebs from my sleep-slurred mind. I glanced into the suitcase at my wrinkled, chosen outfit, then in the mirror and figured what I was wearing was good enough –I wouldn’t want to make them wait any longer for me to change clothes. I still couldn’t believe this was happening NOW and not at all the way I planned it. I hadn’t planned to feel shocked or panicked when it was time to meet her. But that was exactly how I felt as we stepped nervously down the stairs.

Donnie rounded the corner into the living room first. The pastor stood up, laughed and said, “Am I finally  meeting my brother?” Their embrace blocked my view at that moment, but I took one step more and a blur rose from the sofa in front of me. The next thing I know, a soft voice exclaimed, “Mommy!” as thin brown arms wrapped tightly around my waist and I wrapped my arms around her. She laid her head against my chest and I rested my chin on her head.

We just stood there like that for quite a long time, a hug that had been building up within us both for two long years. And the shock and panic melted away and that was how I met my daughter.

Donnie snapped the pic below when we finally pulled apart to look at each other — and it is the ONLY picture we have of those moments! You’ll have to forgive the silly sticker faces I’ve placed to protect her identity. That court ruling still has not come yet and I can’t share her full face here until I know we’ve been granted legal guardianship. But I also can’t stand to withhold the photos from you. (Once the ruling arrives, I’ll come back and replace the pics with the non-edited versions!)

Her birth mother (I’ll just use her initial, “H”) was there, too, and she was truly lovely. Very quiet and gentle in countenance. She speaks very little English, so we shook hands and then we all sat down to visit a bit. Since dinnertime was drawing near, we called our driver, Francis, to come take us to a local outdoor pizza restaurant that was suggested by the guesthouse staff. We also had to stop by another guesthouse so that I could pick up some malaria medication from a friend, to last us until our missing suitcase arrived.

First, H and Pearl wanted to shower and change clothes. Donnie and I took a few minutes to properly freshen up, then we waited for the other girls in the cool night air, Donnie chatting with the pastor while I chatted with Francis. I shared with him how many things had gone not according to plan so far, and he just smiled his mile-wide smile and reminded me that God’s plans rarely fit the agenda we create for ourselves. My eyes started tearing up, as this man has the purest ministering spirit I’ve ever witnessed in a human being. I’ll never forget what he said to me that night, and will always remember it in his beautifully accented voice. “We serve a BIG God!” He waved his long arms wide and smiled, “He made a universe SO big, it has no end!” His peace and joy was truly contagious and I began to see our evening for the adventure it was sure to be.

The brief visit at the other guesthouse was wonderful, as I met in person other adoptive moms I’d only known through Facebook. You’ve got to love Facebook, though — it’s an amazing thing to meet someone for the first time but feel like you’ve known them for ages! Some of them also knew Francis, so it felt like a fellowship of old friends instead of a first meeting of strangers.

We soon left for the restaurant, and were seated in a lovely little courtyard under some trees. I was surprised by the lack of mosquitoes — you’d think there would be swarms of them everywhere from the stories you hear about Uganda. We ordered sodas for everyone and two large chicken/pepper/onion pizzas to share. I admit to feeling skeptical about eating the food, but I didn’t know how I couldn’t. And I figure it’s been in a hot stone oven–surely that would kill anything, right?

When the food came, the pastor suggested that I should serve my sister, “H”, as according to their custom. I certainly didn’t mind doing this, but it was unexpected and as I rounded the table I was silently praying, “Lord, please don’t let me miss this up!” There wasn’t a spatula to serve the pizza, so I had to use a fork, and it wasn’t cut all the way through, so I clumsily stabbed the slice, wedged it free and placed it on her plate, all the while kind of laughing nervously and looking like a total klutz, I’m certain. Then I didn’t know if I was supposed to serve Pearl, too, so I did, and then the pastor (who I now know should’ve been next before our daughter). The whole time my husband has this amused yet “I’m-glad-it’s-you-and-not-me” expression on his face, and I quite wanted to smack it right off him!

OH I felt like a doofus!

Pearl wasn’t too fond of the pizza, but the others seemed to really enjoy it, eating several slices each. I stuck to one slice and my bottle of Coke, not wanting to overdo the food just yet. We enjoyed good conversation, and after the meal was over, we all returned to the guesthouse and to our rooms to rest for the night. (Pearl and H shared a room together, while the pastor went to a neighboring hotel.)

I sat on the end of the bed and got all weepy with Donnie, because I’m just wired like that. I can meet an unexpected situation head-on and do what needs to be done, but I have to process through it later. He reassured me that the evening HAD gone well, that H probably was NOT regretting her decision to trust a couple of dumb Americans like us with her daughter, and that tomorrow would be a beautiful day spent getting to know one another.

My stomach was churning, but I have IBS, so I figured it must be a manifestation of stress, like usual. I took my IBS medication, and some Pepto, put on my gown and went to bed.

Except the IBS medication didn’t work…even though it almost always works…and as the wee hours of the night descended upon us, I began to feel worse and worse….

 

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Feb 2, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Two

(Continued from Day One)

The air in Cairo had been cool, but even at 3:00 a.m. the Ugandan night air was warm and damp. We tiredly shuffled down the steps onto the tarmac and another 20 paces into the nearly-deserted terminal, where the air was just as humid and still inside.

We got in line to go through customs, and it was a quick and easy process. Then it was on to baggage claim, where we discovered that one of our bags was missing. We’d been told to bring our court clothes on our carry-on bags, along with our basic toiletries, so thankfully, we had that. All our clothing made it safely, but the lost bag held all of our full-size toiletries, our snacks, pretty much all of our comfort items.

Oh, and in a total brain-fart moment, somehow we’d packed all our malaria medication into that one missing bag, too.

Sigh.

We got our first taste of “Uganda Time” when we filed the claim for the lost bag. Though it was the middle of the night and nothing was going on at the airport, though everyone was friendly, they were so very slow compared to American standards. What would’ve taken five minutes at home took nearly 30 minutes, with everything carefully handwritten out, the stapler nowhere to be found, the clerk disappearing for minutes at a time. There was just no sense of hurry or urgency at all. I didn’t really find it irritating, though, because I’d been told to expect it. It was more amusing than anything else, and we passed the time chatting with a missionary who’d also lost a piece of luggage.

A guard lazily waved us through the “Nothing to Claim” line, and outside, we met our driver who’d graciously waited for us. We hired Francis and his lovely wife Harriet was there to drive us to the Apricot Guesthouse in Kampala. It was after 4:00 by the time we left the airport and it was just crazy to see the number of people who were still up and about along the road from Entebbe. We passed lots of street vendors, and nightclubs blaring music — if you could call a closet-sized shanty a nightclub — people driving around on boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) and walking everywhere. The first thing I noticed were the smells: mostly the acrid smoke of burning trash, mingled with exhaust fumes and wafts of fried onions and charcoal when we passed the food stands. When the van was moving, the air blowing in felt very cool and comfortable. I noticed Harriet was wearing long sleeves and a knit cap. She said that to Ugandans, it was rather chilly out.

I admit to choking back tears in the back seat as Donnie and Harriet chatted up front about any and everything. It was my first time being face-to-face with conditions so poor, and I’m sure exhaustion didn’t help my frame of mind. The buildings were held together with sheet metal, wood scraps and whatever else they could find, and everything was so close to the road that you just felt immersed into it. There were deep ditches along the road and occasionally the smell of sewage rose out of them. I saw a man passed out on his face on the steps outside a shop, and people just walking around and over him. It was a lot to take in at once.

After a half hour or so, we approached the area of town where the guesthouse was located. We began to see small houses behind walls topped with razor wire, and still so many people walking about. The guesthouse was enclosed with solid metal gates; the gatekeeper opened them and it was like driving into another world. Even in the dark, it was clear that the grounds were beautifully landscaped and immaculately kept. We paid Harriet, and we followed the worker who carried up our bags.

We had a simple room on the second floor, with a glossy tile floor, a king-sized bed for us and a twin bed for Pearl. Thankfully, there was a fan that I immediately turned on, and a private bathroom. (Although the toilet was quite a tight fit for us, and it wasn’t until the last day that we learned we had to request the hot water to be turned on before we showered.)

I don’t really remember what we did over the next few hours. We both took (COLD) showers, Donnie shaved, I know I cried a bit more, we checked email and updated Facebook, we slept a little. We finally ventured downstairs for “breakfast” at 3:00 p.m, at which time our only choice for food was a plate of pineapple and papaya and a loaf of bread for toasting. It was adequate, though, and I found out that Ugandan pineapple is truly one of God’s most delectable creations.

They told us we were too late to request dinner at the guesthouse, so we decided we’d opt for a Power Bar later and spend the rest of the day catching up on sleep. The orphanage pastor, our daughter and her birth mother weren’t scheduled  to come until the following day, so we went back to the room, stretched out under the fan, tucked in the mosquito net and promptly zonked out.

At 6:00 pm. we were startled awake by a light knock at the door.

“Someone here to see you,” said a voice.

Donnie hopped out of bed to peek out the window, which looked out over the gate and parking area.

“Oh my gosh…is that Pastor Ronald?”

My head heavy with sleep, I stumbled over to the window and saw that it was, indeed, him.

“They’re here — a day early??? Ohmigosh…Oh. My. Gosh!”

We stared at each other a moment.

“What do we do?” (I’m really quite skilled at asking stupid questions at stressful moments.)

“We get dressed and go meet our daughter!”

And so, we did.

 

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Feb 1, 2014

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Travelogue: Day One

We didn’t think this day would ever come, then BAM! Friday, January 17th was finally here and it was time to go meet our girl!

After lots of tears on my part, picking up Nana to stay with the boys, separation anxiety for me and the kids, tons of cleaning and packing (we ended up bringing waaayyy too much stuff!),  and countless prayers, we were finally dropped off at the airport and on our way.

My face…it oozes with anxiety. And those puffy eyes from crying…mercy. Donnie, however, is cool as a cucumber, as always! (The International Terminal in Atlanta is super-nice, by the way.)

So we flew on British Airways, and once we got settled into our seats, I was doing a bit better. I let go of the worrying and started to get excited. We were on a plane! Going overseas! To meet our girl!

After sitting on the runway for an hour, the 8-hour flight to Heathrow was basically uneventful. I was too wound up to eat, but Donnie enjoyed some kind of chicken curry thing. BA has these cool in-flight entertainment screens where you can watch all sorts of stuff. Donnie watched a lot of movies while I flipped channels like I do at home, catching bits and pieces of TV shows, music, movies, etc. I mostly enjoyed tracking our flight. (I am soooo boring!) I must’ve fallen asleep or something because I missed the screen shot of landing in London. Oh well.

Once we landed, though, we were in a huge hurry to make our connecting flight to Entebbe. There was only 1 hour and 20 minutes between flights, and we now know that is NOT enough time to navigate through the steel-and-glass rat maze that is Heathrow Airport. Especially not when you arrive late to begin with, thanks to ground delays in Atlanta.

We didn’t make it. We got to security at the exact moment our flight was closing. So we detoured to the counter instead. My stress level at this point was a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, and only grew worse when the CSR called over a supervisor….

Trust me, you don’t want the people managing your journey to be wearing these expressions. At one point, there were five CSRs staring with bewilderment at that screen. Unnerving? Yeah. Just a wee bit.

This was Saturday afternoon by now, and there wasn’t another direct flight to Uganda until Monday. We had exactly two options: fly to Johannesburg, South Africa then back up to Entebbe, thus spending the rest of our natural-born days on an aircraft. Or switch to Egypt Air and layover an hour in Cairo before connecting to Uganda, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.

Cairo? Like, Egypt-Muslim-uprising-unstable I’m-clearly-an-American-and-therefore-a-target Cairo?

Yeah, that one.

M’kay. Cairo it is!

Of course, that did nothing for my anxiety levels. (I should probably interject that I’m not afraid of flying at all. I was a nervous mess because of leaving my kids, because of the Great Unknown ahead, because I started the journey sleep-deprived. Flying doesn’t bother me a bit — I even think turbulence is fun!) Donnie and I had a few hours to kill, so once we finally got to Terminal 3, we used the airline’s “inconvenience” vouchers  to get some Starbucks and sandwiches. It took me 30 minutes to choke down half a chicken sandwich. Anxiety isn’t fun, but it sure is great for weight loss! (Little did I know, I’d soon encounter something else that’s great for weight loss…)

So, we board the Egypt Air flight a few hours later, and the captain was this scowling 6-and-a-half foot tall man who bore an uncanny resemblance to 9-11 hijacker Mohamad Atta. (Unnerving? Yeah. Just a wee bit.) The flight attendants grabbed my boarding pass and conversed rapidly in Arabic before pointing us down the aisle. We were pleasantly surprised by how roomy the plane was. The seats were more comfortable than the ones on British Air, and there was even in-flight WIFI service. Score!

There were a few other Americans on the flight, but it was mostly full of Egyptians. Good heavens, the women were beautiful. I mean, impeccably dressed, perfect hair and makeup. Just gorgeous. I felt like a blob in comparison. I tried not to giggle over the cartoonish-sounding music that was playing on the plane. And then once everyone was seated, before backing out of the gate, a picture of a mosque was shown on the screens and a very long Islamic prayer was read. The plane was totally silent during the prayer, which lasted a full minute or more. Then the safety video was shown in Arabic first, then English, then French. All the announcements were made in that order, too. A meal was served — some kind of odd curry-ish chicken thing, with oily round rice, and a vegetable that seemed a cross between zucchini and eggplant. And a salad of cucumbers, canned corn and giant smashed olives. And a roll that didn’t seem to have been made with any salt. But the hot tea was good.

So as we approached Cairo, we commented on how it was neat to be able to see both ends of the Nile River on this trip (our daughter is from Jinja, where the Nile begins). It was dark, but we could see the moon reflecting off the Nile, and that was very cool indeed.

Cairo at night. I’m thinking the waterway to the left is part of the Nile Delta, but I’m not sure…

So, we land in Cairo and the airport is much smaller than I expect it to be. We really only had time to navigate our way to the next gate, which was fine with me. We did feel a bit like targets as we wove our way through crowds of Imams in their long, flowing robes, and women in full black burqas, the kind with a screened panel over their eyes. We had to go through two “security” checkpoints, both fitted with totally outdated equipment and staffed with angry-looking guards. We didn’t have to remove our shoes, or show our liquid containers, or take electronics out of our carry-ons, or anything we had to do in Atlanta and London. It didn’t exactly inspire confidence in their security protocol. We did have to show our American passports at each location. (Unnerving? Yeah, a bit.) The “gate” was actually a doorway at the end of a long corridor, and outside a bus awaited to carry us to the plane. We were just relieved to have made it in time, because if we’d gotten stuck in Cairo, I don’t know what we would’ve done!

The second plane was considerably older and less comfortable than the first Egypt Air flight. We were served a meal almost identical to the other flight, only this time the oily rice was long-grain instead of round. We debated which Egyptian Curry Surprise was the best and the second flight won. However…about two hours into the flight, we started smelling wafts of cigarette smoke. There had to be at least a dozen people “secretly” smoking under blankets on this “non-smoking” flight! And the crew said nothing about it. Heck, they were probably joining in.

I kept looking out the window, but there was nothing to see over that part of Africa except darkness punctuated by the occasional dot of light or two on the ground. Even as we approached Entebbe, it was so much darker than what you expect to see flying over a populated area. I didn’t manage to snap any pictures of Entebbe as we landed. By then it was 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, we’d lost count of how many hours we’d been awake, and all we could think about was meeting our driver and getting to the guesthouse to sleep.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be quite that simple….

(Stay tuned for Travelogue: Day Two)

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