Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 2009 Trip Journal, part II

April 20th, 2009

A very Haitian day of missed communications and appointments. We did not go to the Consulate after all today. Fortunately we will be granted an audience tomorrow. The Consular officer was pretty negative on the phone about issuing a Visa for a child living in an orphanage. Vanessa Carpenter, Director of Angel Missions, did a good deal of persuading on the phone, pointed out where the child will be staying, and said that it started to sound a bit more positive at the end of the discussion. The Consulate will only allow me, the child, and Margarette to enter. I would have liked very much to bring Jamie, who knows the little girl’s medical history so much better. I’m trying not to think about it too much. This is another instance where I cannot control what is going to happen in advance. Of course, if we are denied I intend to fight the denial.

I spent much of the day at home, went over to visit with the two kids I have at the Baby House, and went to the office to check email and post to the blog.

We’re looking for a professional teacher for the Big Kid House. One of Margarette’s younger sisters is teaching the preschoolers at the Baby House, and it seems to be going very well. The kids say that they love school, and Jamie reports that every single time she drops by in the morning, the teacher is there and hard at work. One of our secretaries’ uncle came to the office today to interview. Although she claimed that he spoke English, that is not really accurate. He does have a few words, but he can’t express himself. However, he has 20 years of teaching experience and he understands that we will have zero tolerance for violence in the classroom.


Mr. Museau “Mee-soh” told us that MINUSTAH has been putting a lot of pressure on the Haitian government to control casual violence. It is now against the law to beat your wife or strike someone else’s child. With the great incentives we have here, there will be no reason to resort to violence for crowd control. I explained that the consequence for misbehavior should be dismissal from the class for the day. Not only is it very embarrassing to get thrown out of class, it means you can’t earn candy for good behavior and you won’t get to watch a movie after class. Dire punishments indeed! And so much more effective that hitting. Everyone here either remembers or has heard about the time I fired our old teacher for hitting the kids, so I have no worries such situation will be allowed to occur again. It can be difficult to change cultural norms, but this is one I cannot permit or accept.

If we do choose this teacher, the kids won’t have as much training in English as I would like, but I suspect they will catch up in arithmetic, phonics, reading, and writing. It’s far easier for them to learn those concepts in their original language, so we need to do everything we can to give them basic educational concepts here.

I’m struck once again at what a good house this is. The kids spend most of their time playing peacefully. They do seem to have some respect for possessions which specifically belong to another child. Maybe that’s the trick – to only hand out a few at a time and assign a specific owner to each. Today I encharged the older children with the care of the DVD player. I told them that I was going to bring down a new one when next I come, as this one no longer shows color and the speakers are going, but that I won’t be back for a while, and I won’t be able to replace the new one for a long time afterwards. If they want to watch movies, they will need to care for their things. We’ll see how it goes. I do believe that children (and everyone else) tend to rise to one’s expectations. I expect the children here to be well mannered, respectful, and to follow a few rules. They generally succeed in doing all three for me.

I had the choice of spending the night at Jamie’s with her air conditioner running for much of the night, or here with my kids and REAL hot chocolate at supper. It may be 90 degrees, but I’ll take the hot chocolate. And the kids aren’t half bad either…

April 21st, 2009

SUCCESS!!! Thank you to all of you who prayed and sent positive thoughts. It looks like we will indeed be issued a visitor’s Visa for Mia. Words can’t say how relieved I am. Jamie is going to have to go back tomorrow morning to deliver three documents we didn’t have and they now want to see, but it looks like we’ll be granted mercy for this little girl. I do think it helped that she will stay with my family. After all the speechmaking I’ve done about making sure all work in Haiti is done legitimately, I’m not terribly likely to kidnap a child. And although I certainly do make a lot of work for them, I think the personnel at the Consulate understand what I’m trying to accomplish here in Haiti.

We’re trying to obtain three documents for Mia. It’s a perfect example of Haitian reality. One letter must come from AFC. Rob is trying to email me a letter from the agency, but we couldn’t get internet connectivity in the office today. I’m sitting in the hotel bar in the Karibe hoping that Rob will be given permission to email me the letter. I’ve already sweet talked the staff into printing it for me as a ‘gran sevis’. One document was simply a translation of Margarette’s power of attorney for the child. The third is a referral letter from Mia’s Haitian physician, which will require an amazing amount of driving around and waiting in rooms with no air conditioning. But I’m willing to sit wherever and drive wherever and beg whomever. Hooray! Hope for one more child!

On to the next – tomorrow morning we have a planning meeting with the Director of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Never a dull moment!

April 22nd, 2009

I spoke to Jamie this morning and was overwhelmed with relief that she had Mia’s passport and Visa in her hands. Hallelujah! We had a very long day and evening of it last night gathering those final three documents, but the Consulate personnel were very courteous and helpful. We’ve never requested a medical Visa before, so we weren’t quite sure how picking it up would work. I had visions of trying to get it on my way to the airport and possibly missing my flight. But the Consulate worker asked Jamie when I was scheduled to leave and then invited her to wait in the air conditioning while they printed the Visa on the spot. I’m so pleased with the obvious concern they demonstrated for a sick child.

This morning I went with Margarette and our paralegal, who also manages a mid-size orphanage, to meet with Madame Gabrielle Beaudin. A social worker and champion of children’s rights, Mme. Beaudin was the former Director of IBESR. She has been promoted to the Head of the Ministry of Social Welfare. This was my third meeting with her, and even though I already knew that she is just as kindly as she is authoritative, I was pretty nervous!

The Ministry is housed in the crumbling remains of a columned and shuttered mansion from the French Colonial era. Inside, twenty foot ceilings outlined with elaborate crown moldings and hand carvings have been abruptly interrupted with fake wood paneling dividing walls, and in places dropped ceilings out of sixties have been hung over the original sculpted din. However, it does have electricity and many computers are evident.

Our meeting was conducted entirely Kreyol, for which I was grateful. The first time I met with Mme. Beaudin she spoke in French, and I could not understand much of what was said. Margarette had to summarize the entire meeting for me in detail afterwards. Today I understood at least the main idea of all that was said, which was very gratifying as I heard much that was greatly encouraging.

First the bad news РIBESR truly is rejecting all dossiers in which the adoptive parents are under 35 or a couple has been married less than ten years. They are requesting Presidential Dispensation for families which already have biological children. There is another meeting of IBESR and Parquet Court in May. Cr̬che Directors will request that Dispensations be requested for families who are too young or too recently married according to the law, but that do meet the standards of thirty years of age and five years of marriage which have been followed for the past several years.

Now some general good news. The new second in command at IBESR is working very hard to increase overall professionalism in the department. This could very well account for the sudden increase in processing speed we’ve seen in adoption cases of families which conform to the law of 1974. Social workers are being asked to scrutinize each case to ensure the quality and capability of families adopting Haitian children.

And now for the really good news – the new adoption law is on the menu for the next legislative session! The session will start after the new Senators, elected last Sunday, are inaugurated into office. There will be time for discussion of and
alterations to the pending law. The adoption community has a few concerns, particularly with Article 5:

ARTICLE 5.- Priority is given to couples who are married or living together who do not have biological children at the time of the adoption. When the aforementioned heterosexual couple has a maximum of two biological or adopted children, they may only adopt children with special circumstances (handicapped, with health problems or older than 5 years of age).

Thank you to professional translator Isabelle Gaellemart for the translation of the most recent version of the proposed law.)

Advocates of a child’s right to a permanent family are concerned about the two child limit. Many of the children we have in care are older and may have issues which would challenge an inexperienced family. Additionally, the law as written would separate siblings – a practice we wish to avoid whenever possible. So our next task is set for us. We must present an eloquent and persuasive argument to change a few words in Article 5, and then support a speedy passage of the new law. May it allow the average processing time for adoptions to return to a reasonable eight to nine months!

Our meeting was over by noon, but my day certainly was not. Margarette took me to a public notary to get a legal Power of Attorney to escort Mia to the U.S. In Haiti, a notary is actually and attorney with additional certification and powers. I was horrified by having to pay $50.00 US for one notarized sheet of paper until Margarette explained the distinction to me. The process took well over an hour. One thing that Haiti is continually teaching me is patience!
Jamie picked me up at the office and we were off to run a few errands. After that I returned home for less than one hour before I was off again, this time to the barn.

Several years ago as I sat at the gate in the Miami airport waiting to board my flight to Haiti, I was approached by the only other ‘blan’ who was waiting. I was reading a book with horses on the cover, and she asked if I liked horses. I replied that I used to work as a horse trainer, and specialized in teaching students to ride dressage. It turned out the Rony operated the single riding stable in Port-au-Prince. We exchanged contact information. The chance meeting turned out to be an act of grace. Due to a series of unfortunate events, including the violence surrounding the election of Rene Preval and the subsequent grounding of all flights in and out of Haiti for weeks, I spent a full month in Haiti that February and March of 2006. The money I had brought was intended to last for five days. It was during that trip that I began teaching riding lessons while in Haiti. I’ve been doing it ever since, and it is my moonlighting job that provides for the bountiful chicken parties you see in my Snapfish photo albums from most of my trips.

The teaching and occasional riding has provided me with much needed stress relief, some excellent contacts in the country, and a bit of extra money all dedicated to indulging the kids with a few luxuries and pleasures.

This particular trip I didn’t have many students, due our inability to arrange a clinic for Sunday because of the election. But I did earn $50, which will be enough to buy one big case of chicken, a few bags of mango lollipops, and some extra petty cash for the house.

After teaching I went to the house of a friend for supper. Her husband, of Danish descent, was born here in Haiti. I learn a great deal about Haitian culture and history from those who walk in both worlds – people who are Haitian but still understand our American culture.

The afternoon and evening felt like vacation, which I must admit makes me feel a bit guilty. My husband likes to tease me saying that I’m going off on another Caribbean vacation each time I leave him in charge of our household, farm, and six children. Of course he knows I come here to serve and work, and I tend to consider every unproductive moment as wasted time.
Looking back over this trip, I feel as if I’ve accomplished much of what I came here to do. There is work left undone, issues unresolved, always another task for my next trip. But as far as the kids are concerned I’ve fulfilled my purpose. I can overhear them outside my door and downstairs in the yard. They are chanting “Kris poul, kris poul!”

Chicken legs!!

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