Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lakay se lakay

October 7th, 2009

Arrived in PaP after six months away. This is my 25th visit to Haiti. I’m running out of pages in my passport, and the city feels absolutely familiar. Jamie and Ali picked me up their marvelous air conditioned car and we drove to the office.

Margarette is in Jeremie at the opening of a new BRESMA school, so tomorrow I will attend my first Visa appointment for a client family. I’m pretty excited to be able to be present at the very last step of the process for two of ‘my’ kids. We were hoping to find a copy of the power of attorney the adoptive family notarized for me, but we had no luck. The originals should all be with the Department of State at the US Consulate, as they were given to USCIS when the family’s I600 was adjudicated. But I’m holding my breath. We did try calling DOS directly, but their number is disconnected. I tried USCIS, and voice mailbox of the person I needed to speak to is full. When I called back, the operator tried to transfer me to DOS and dropped the call. Typical Haiti!

The rules were changed just recently so that no representative who does not have power of attorney can attend a VISA appointment, with or without the adoptive parents. This would prove a real problem in this case, as the children are 17 month old twins. I’m imagining chasing them both around the Consulate by myself while I try to file the family’s paperwork! As it is, our secretary Irlande will attend with me. We have a power of attorney form for her in hand. I’m going along, hoping that they’ll just let me in as I’ve been there a few times before. If not, I guess we’ll see how fast Irlande can run while she is filing paperwork!

Next stop was Jamie’s House. The new house is really beautiful, and it’s an easy walk from BRESMA I and BRESMA II. It has a much better play area for the babies and toddlers outdoors and the neighborhood is safer too.

Jamie’s landlord agreed to build a new room onto the house as part of the lease conditions, but now he is reneging on his agreement. Unfortunately, here in Haiti there is really nothing we can do about his dishonesty. I do wish the house were a bit bigger. We have at least three children who will go home by the end of the month, but I must agree with Jamie and Ali that the house is overcrowded and that they should not let in any more children from the waiting list. A crowded house leads to a lower level of care. I’ve asked her to look into the cost of having a new room and bathroom built, and perhaps we’ll fundraise for that addition.

As always, the children are thriving. One baby boy who was so sick and starving the last time I visited that I burst into tears at the sight of him has become a sleek, healthy, very American looking boy. He retains his sweet ‘old soul’ eyes, but he laughs and plays and bounces up and down in his walker as if he’s never had a real problem in his short life. This does NOT look like an orphanage. It resembles a very high end daycare center, but with a better staff ratio.

Jamie and I went to pick up two of the oldest children from preschool. They go five days per week. One of them is my ‘nephew’, Fredo. He is the half brother of four of my Haitian children. Jamie’s parents are in the process of adopting him. He reminds me so much of my son Greg at the same age. Even his thick, strong wrists and hands are just the same.

Fredo is very proud of himself in his little uniform. All Haitian school children wear uniforms, and the girls wear lacy socks and usually matching ribbons in their hair every day. No matter how poor a family is, the children will be immaculately dressed and groomed. Haitian culture places great value on hard work, pride in personal appearance and behavior, and education is more important than anything else. A birth mother once told me, “L’ekol se la vi”: “School is life”.

On the way back from school Jamie dropped me off at ‘my house’, BRESMA II. This is the home of all of our older children, starting at about age four or five. The noise from the house deafened the whole street outdoors when I stepped out of the car. More than fifty voices let me know that it had been too long between visits, all at once. As I entered I was mobbed my small bodies until Manmi Lis herded them all into the main room and had everyone sit down at the tables. The children performed a welcome song for me. There are at least ten new faces, and I felt the familiar bittersweet joy when I missed those of a beloved pair of twins who recently went home. I’ll have a lot of sorting out to do with Irlande and Margarette about who is looking for a family when we get a day in the office together.

This evening Manmi Robert dropped by for a visit. Manmi Robert was the house mother for BRESMA II for several years, and was and is dearly loved by the children and staff. We were overjoyed to see her. I was able to deliver several albums and photos for birth families from adoptive families who have already brought their children home. Everyone was thrilled to see their dear friends so obviously thriving, and it gave hope to the children who are still waiting here. One considerate French family had sent an album of their baby, now a chunky and indulged toddler, just for the nanny who raised her with such love.

As we pored over the albums, the nannies told me about the many parents who come to the house again and again, praying and waiting for a photograph of their children. Some of them come more than once a month and leave in tears every time. Some have been coming for years, hoping against hope for some word about their lost children.

To those of you reading this blog, please don’t forget your child’s birth parents. We will never know what it is like to have to choose to place a child for adoption because we cannot care for him or her. They never forget for their little ones for one moment. Would you? In Haiti, children die every day. It is very hard for me to convince a birth mother that her child is still alive if I don’t have the pictures to prove it. You can do the right thing and ease your children’s first family’s heart just by sending a little album every few months or even once a year with someone who is travelling. And then, later, when your child grows older and has more questions about his adoption, you can show him how much you respect and value his culture, his birth family, and therefore himself. You can let him know that you cared enough about his birth family to remember them and give them peace that they made the right choice for their precious baby.

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