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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