Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hit the Ground Running

It’s a good thing I never try to make concrete plans in Haiti, because what comes next is always a surprise.  Or, as one very clever person told me, ‘you can have plans.  Just don’t have expectations.’

I arrived yesterday afternoon and found a small group of Americans at the guest house.  To my surprised, I discovered that they were one of my client families.  We had not expected to run into one another, but we quickly turned a lucky chance into an opportunity to discuss their very complicated case with Margarette.  I decided to accompany them to their I600 filing appointment tomorrow, as theirs is a very complex case and if there’s going to be any arguing, I figure I should be the one to do it.

We arrive on time for the family’s appointment at the Embassy.  I warn them that what is likely to happen is that we’ll be send to the back of the long line, despite the specific time written on their invitation, and that we’ll be late for the appointment.  USCIS expects this as part of the endless friction between the private security company monitoring the outside, and the US Government working inside the Embassy.  This time I am very pleasantly surprised to be asked what time our appointment is, and waved right in!

It’s freezing inside, and I wish I had a jacket.  As often happens, there is another family here to file.  They’re adopting independently, and their interview lasts a long, long time.  My family’s interview is very short.  I accompany them to the window to explain why we’re filing now and how it is still legal even though the older child is already sixteen.  The officer and I have worked together quite a bit before, and she already knew about this odd little loophole so there’s no debate.  Whew.

In between the various trips to the window, two BRESMA staff members come in with a biological mother and two little boys who are being adopted by another one of my families.  The older boy doesn’t seem to remember me.  But the little guy sure does, and he remembers that he does not like me one little bit!  I have to avoid eye contact to prevent him from crying.  He liked me a lot as a baby, but now stranger anxiety has set in and he wants nothing to do with me.

At the Embassy, I also bump into Mike Noah, the Haiti program director for Holt International.  Port-au-Prince really is a visit – this sort of thing is not that unusual.  Mike and I have worked together on multiple trips, usually with the Joint Council of International Children’s Services, and I’m very pleased to see him here by accident.

Mike invites me to accompany him up the hill later on to visit Dixie Bickel at God’s Littlest Angels.  We’re all on the same team here, and I happily accept.

I switch cars and ride home with my staffers, the I600 filing and the I604 interview both having gone very smoothly.  I ask the biological mother of the two boys about her interview.  She seems cheerful, and says that they were kind to her.  She was asked many questions, including whether she’d been given or promised any support, such as money for a house or a business, or tuition for her other children.  She hasn’t.  Although kindness and common sense dictate that providing for the birth parents of adopted children is the right thing to do, it is strictly forbidden.

In many ways, I don’t like the policy, but it does make sense.  I’ve seen it happen.  A family who adopted independently sent money to the birth mother of one of their daughters after she went home to the United States.  Five hundred dollars bought the woman a house and established her in comfort.  But all of her neighbors knew where the money came from.  There were two reactions: many of her neighbors believed that she had sold her daughter, and reviled her.  The others still thought that she had sold her daughter, but that it had been a very wise move.  They also decided to relinquish their children for adoption, even though some of them could have supported them.  By attempting to ease the suffering of one Haitian woman, the well-meaning American family prompted the separation of multiple Haitian families that might have stayed together otherwise.

I eat lunch at the guest house, and as ever Sherley has prepared enough food for a small army.  It’s useless to point out that I can’t eat this much at fewer than three meals – she’ll cook the way she wants to.  I’m not complaining about the quality, only the quantity she expects me to put somewhere.

Mike and Holt’s new orphanage director, Beverly Sannon, come by to pick me up.  We speak mostly English in the car, with Beverly, Mike, and I all giving directions to our driver.  It’s truly a miracle that we ever find GLA at all!  At least the driver has a sense of humor about it.  He and Beverly work together to process cases for Holt, so they’re colleagues and equals.

As ever, GLA is peaceful, beautiful, and welcoming.  It’s so much cooler and quieter up here.  And once we’re inside, the concrete walls block out the rocket of the generator.  We all crowd into Dixie’s office, which is filled with her desk, chairs, files, supply cabinets, and her enormous blue merle great dane curled up under her second desk.

Dixie had a meeting yesterday with Mme. Villedrouin.  It would appear the general consensus is that Dispensation is a thing of the past, and that all of the dossiers that have been sitting and waiting far, far too long for that one signature should be released shortly.  ABI doesn’t have any families stuck waiting for Dispensation – just blind luck, as Dispensations are issued completely at random – but many of our friends and partners do, and we are all desperate for their release and completion.

I leave the office so that Mike and Dixie can discuss some potential matches for some of her special needs cases.  I wander around, and see a few babies that I met here in October who are unrecognizable, they have grown so much.  The rooftop playground is occupied by GLA volunteers, performing their assigned ‘work’ of playing with the babies and toddlers.  Everyone is having a great time.  It’s rejuvenating just to spend a few minutes with them, chatting about their experience in Haiti thus far.

Next we drive over to the toddler house, which is no longer aptly named.  Ever since GLA took in a large number of children from a horrendously neglectful orphanage, this is a more of a big kid house.  There’s no room to move the toddlers over.  IBESR has promised Dixie that she will be able to send some of these children back to their families soon, and I hope they will.  It is fortunate that GLA is well sponsored, feeding so many extra children for a year and a half thus far.

Here I meet another ABI family.  They’re adopting a pre-school age boy, and this is their court and I600 filing trip.  They are the last family that GLA and ABI will serve under the old laws and policies.  They are enjoying their son and their trip, and all seems to be well.  I spend a few minutes talking with them and observing the child.  I agree with GLA’s staff – he’s a smart little guy!  And a good match for experienced parents.  Busy, active, intelligent, and determined, he’ll give them a run for their money.

Finally we descend back into the noise, smog, and clogged traffic of Port-au-Prince. 

At the guest house I meet another ABI parent, travelling with her father.  This woman and her husband worked in Haiti for three years, and she has fascinating stories about little cultural differences between Port-au-Prince and Port-au-Pais, where they lived.

Finally I turn in, fingers crossed for a successful IBESR meeting tomorrow.

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