Monday, July 18, 2016

Pye'm Pa Touche Ate 'A

Meeting day, with a capital M.  First to the Consulate.  Once upon a time, when I first started working in Haiti, DOS was difficult.  We had a few workers who weren’t very enthusiastic, and one who was perfectly vile.  Fortunately he didn’t last long.  Over the last few years, we’ve been blessed with true allies in finding ways to follow the law and bring kids home.  I’m especially grateful to have just that sort in the Adoptions Unit now.  We have a lot to discuss.
First, we go over what a ‘normal’ adoption process might look like.  I need to know – we’ve only had ONE Hague process Haiti adoption completed for the US!  The second one will also be a pretty standard case, but my case with the Puerto Rican family is unusual, in that the family legally adopted the child prior to the issuance of an Article 5 letter from DOS.  I’ll explain all those Articles and steps in another post, but for now, suffice it to say that it’s pretty involved, and if you don’t do everything in the right order you’ll have an enormous mess to clean up. 
In this case, my client family followed the specific and wildly inaccurate advice of a licensed attorney who apparently did not know much about immigration law or international adoptions.  We had to obtain the first-ever letter of permission from IBESR to proceed with a Hague adoption that was completed out of order.  Obtaining that letter took a truly monumental effort on behalf of some friends of the family, my partner and myself.  Not to mention several US government employees.
Because we’re sort of backwards and upside down in this case, the Adoptions Unit officer explains the procedure we need to follow.  He also explains why, because the future lawyer in me always questions everything for my clients and he’s a lawyer too.  But it seems that he’s worked out the fastest possible way to get M home with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.  And then, just because he’s a nice guy, he agrees to try change the family’s visa appointment so that they can attend it and not have to reschedule their flight home.  Honest- the people at DOS are not heartless bureaucrats.
He proves this point even further when we go over all the possible options for getting my dear O out of Haiti depending upon her TB status.  I tell him that I understand it’s just one child, but she means a lot to me.  He tells me that she’s just one child, and she means a lot to him too.  They all do.  I think for some of the USG staff, working on messy cases is even more painful than it is for me and my colleagues.  They are the ones who have to say no, and they do understand the consequences that befall the kids when they do.
Next I meet with USCIS, who has agreed to see me on ridiculously short notice even though I argue with them every time I meet them.  This time is no exception, and all three ladies in the unit are present for the meeting.  Good thing I don’t get intimidated easily!
We discuss three of my cases.  I don’t get everything I want, but I come out basically satisfied with the meeting and which battle I’m going to win, which I’ll concede, and which I might have to revisit.  USCIS is not looking for trouble either.  It’s just that our agency often takes on really complex cases, which are more involved and challenging than the ‘average’ adoption.  Our ordinary cases are going through nicely, with no debate needed.
Next I meet Dr. Bernard in his office downtown.  We go over our mutual case load, talk politics, and discuss his desire to expand the school at New Life Link to the community.  It’s a remarkable program he has started.  The kids speak English.  Like, really speak it.  Not just memorized phrases.  They are using the Abeca curriculum.  Many of the kids are at or approaching grade level.  They will have a huge advantage post-adoption.  I offer to put him in touch with a professional grant writer that I know to see if she’d like to donate some time and expertise to a worthy and proven cause.
Finally, I am supposed to visit one last potential orphanage partner.  But the torrential rains have made access impossible.  I just can’t get there.  Frustrating!  Instead Franck and I head to the airport.  I hope he’s not tired of me after our very long day together, because we end up sitting in the car for two hours waiting for a late flight.  And then it turns out the people we were waiting for were not on the flight at all.  Even Franck comments that we wasted a lot of time – a complaint I’ve never heard him make before in all these years.  As we pull out of the parking lot, it begins to rain and then to pour.  Our drive home through streets that resemble flooding rivers jammed with stalled traffic takes around an hour and a half.  It’s fully dark and most of supper is gone by the time we finally reach the guest house, and I feel like a wrung-out sponge.  The remains of a marvelous dinner taunt me.  I eat some of what little is left, but Susan saves the day by magically producing ice cream. 
It’s my last night in Haiti. I am surrounded by family and friends.  I have chocolate ice cream, good conversation, and the knowledge of some tasks accomplished.  My cold shower awaits.  It’s all good.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Half-day

Sunday is supposed to be a day off.  But with only seven days on the ground, I don’t have time for a whole day off.  My first meeting is scheduled for 8:00 am, and it is truly serendipitous.  The family is Pureto Rican.  Susan referred them to me for cleanup of a really tangled, complex independent adoption.  They are the first US family to receive a letter from IBESR authorizing an out of order adoption.  It feels like coming full circle to meet here in Haiti with Susan, and I really enjoy meeting their delightful little girl.  She’s happy about meeting us too, once I convince her that I am not a doctor and that I am not going to give her any shots at all.
My next meeting is with Sonia Andre.  For some reason we mostly speak in English this time, which feels a bit odd.  We usually stick with Kreyol.  Well, this way is a lot easier for me!  We go over our case load too.  It sounds like we’ll have good news for several families quite soon, as Sonia is seeing a lot of progress too.
Finally, it is time to rest.  As a group, most of us go to the Karibe hotel which offers a great poolside lunch and pool pass package.  Once again, it rains, but when you are sitting in a hot tub with a bubble jet massaging your calves, getting even wetter just doesn’t matter.  I cheerfully procrastinate an enormous spreadsheet for Margarette to take to IBESR first thing Monday morning until late into the night, and I can’t even feel sorry for doing so.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Special Visitors at BRESMA

It’s Saturday, but it’s still a workday for me.  Delia gets up quietly in the dark to make her flight, but I have so much to do I get up soon afterwards to get started.
I begin with two client meetings.  ABI works with families who live in Haiti and want to adopt a relative or a child placed with them by IBESR.  It’s hard work, but necessary and interesting.  Susan sits in with me on the first meeting, with the family’s permission, while I go over their various options for adoption of the child they have raised since infancy.  Susan has a strong interest in immigration law and the interesting complexities of relative adoptions.  I have an interest in these families who sacrifice so much to live in Haiti and serve in whatever way they can.  They tend to be flexible, strong, and fascinating.  I truly admire the full time Haiti warriors.  This is not an easy country to live in as an ex-pat.
Next, Margarette and I finally get to go through our large mutual case load.  She’s got quite a bit of progress to report.  Things will always be extremely difficult in Haiti, but at least now it seems like we’re getting somewhere.  The past two years, it’s often felt like we are banging our heads against a wall of bureaucracy in an effort to knock it down.  Now, our foreheads (and feet) are still sore, but at least the wall is a bit more flexible.
They're Back!!  BRESMA Alumni.
After my meetings, it’s time to do something a long time coming.  This is a photo of six grown BRESMA alumni, ages 18-24.  Each and every one of them is either in college or working or both.  Every one of them is here to visit their biological families.  Every one of them is a happy, independent young adult. They are strong, confident, outspoken with their opinions. Their lives renew my faith in my work.  Each of them lost a great deal when they left behind their culture, language, ethnicity, and country.  But it would appear that each has gained as well as lost.  There are many things a family can give that even the best orphanage can never match.
The current BRESMA kids are fascinated to meet my own adopted children.  It’s a glimpse at their own future, and it spurs a fast and urgent round of, “do I have a Maman Blan?”  “When are my parents coming to visit?”  “When can I go on the plane?”  Adoptive families try to convey to me the urgency of their cases, but truly I know how important it is that kids go home as quickly as possible.  I am answerable to each and every one of these children to perform to my utmost and bring them all home.  Maybe someday they’ll come back to visit and stand in front of BRESMA too, grown and strong examples for those who still wait for families.

Friday, July 15, 2016


 Haiti has an astonishing diversity of micro climates.  My kids are in a desert in the north, where the earth is bone dry and everything seems to have spines and needles.  Yesterday we visited the mountains above Petionville, which are a lush, verdant, tropical rain forest.  Today we visit Mirebalais, which is green and forested with small trees.  We drive through some of the desert area to get here, and then the environment abruptly changes to farmland and flowers.  It is truly beautiful, and the views from the twisting road through the mountains are heart stopping.  Heart stoppingly beautiful for Delia, Susan, and myself, heart stoppingly terrifying for Margarette who does NOT like mountain driving.  It’s really quite brave of her to come.  Although she’ll kill a cockroach that would have had me standing on a chair screaming like a little girl with one swift blow of her shoe, she is truly frightened of driving anywhere near a cliff.  And there are miles of cliffs on this journey, most with minimal guardrails.  I’m glad we got Denis Frantz to drive us today.  He’s careful and sensible, and he knows Margarette’s feeling about fast driving on curves.

Cottage at HCH
We almost pass Haiti Children’s Home’s new facility off the new road, it has grown so much since last we visited.  But the big wall and beautiful buildings catch my eye and we turn around to enter.  HCH might be the most beautiful orphanage in Haiti.  It’s set up as a community of group homes, each of which is a whole lot nicer than my house in the States, around a common playground.  They have a school, off-the-grid solar power, and water you can drink right out of the tap.  I even try it myself, although I feel much the same as I do when I see a big, big cockroach as I take a sip…
Around thirty children live here in groups of eight with permanent house parents.  It’s like a real family, with different ages, assigned chores, sibling squabbles, and lots of love and consistency.  HCH does adoptions, but their system is so like a natural family environment, I’d be unsurprised to learn that none of them are suffering any developmental damage from living here.  Some of the kids have special needs, and I relate that ABI has pretty good luck with finding families for such kids.  I would be happy to work with HCH.
Delia and a New Friend
Delia has a few cases to go over with their director of adoptions.  Margarette is offering some assistance with completing cases.  It’s hard enough when you don’t live two and a half hours from IBESR and the courts.
We manage to miss lunch – my third day in a row! – so we decide to stop by the Apparent Project on our way home.  I’ve always wanted to go.  The Apparent Project promotes family preservation through economic independence, and the products that their artisans make are beautiful.  Anyone fundraising for anything should consider their program.  Who wouldn’t want their amazing handmade jewelry?  We have pizza at their second floor restaurant, then descend where I souvenir shop like a tourist.
We arrive home to find that the kids are all back, and what’s more two more young adult BREMSA alumni have joined us.  The house is full to bursting, and I couldn’t be more proud of BRESMA’s ‘graduates.’

Thursday, July 14, 2016

To the Winds

Today we scatter to the winds, all over Haiti.  My three kids and K head North to Cabaret.  GE and her cousin go off with GE’s sisters, who are delightful, classy people.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree there – GE is just like them.  I always liked that kid…
And we head off to the mountains, three raucous attorney types loose in Haiti!  It will be a miracle if they don’t kick us off the island.  I feel truly blessed to be accompanied not only by Delia Ramsbotham, managing director of Sunrise Family Services, but also by my friend Susan Levin, newly beginning her independent law practice.  I’ve traveled with Delia before and she’s a delightful companion.  This is Susan’s first trip to Haiti.  All of us have a lot of experience in child welfare and a great interest in how the law relates to adoption and immigration.
Our first stop is a brief visit at GLA.  Susan is amused by how we navigate in Haiti, which involves repeatedly calling for directions and asking people in the street about our location and destination.  I’ve been to GLA dozens of times.  I have a good sense of direction.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever find the place on the first try.  Haitian back roads are like a dropped handful of cooked spaghetti, and just about as easy to drive on.  Eventually I recognize where we are and we arrive.  Susan gets her first-ever look at a Haitian orphanage.  I have to explain to her that this is not typical – GLA remains one of the finest child care facilities in Haiti.  In fact, we are introduced to a tiny preemie who was brought here from the hospital for neo-natal intensive care.  GLA is Haiti’s NICU.  Baby and mother will stay here until she’s big enough to go home.  Now, she is under two pounds and as fragile as a breath of air.  I would be terrified to touch her.  Instead we all sanitize our hands and play with other, sturdier babies.  By the time we reach GLA’s roof top play area, it begins to pour.  It’s earlier than usual for rain, but I seem to bring rain with me when I travel.  At least it will cool the air down in Port au Prince.
Outside Rivers of Hope
Our next stop is Rivers of Hope, managed by Mme Rachel Danache.  Rachel looks familiar, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced.  As we talk more, it seems odd that we haven’t.  It turns out that we’ve been at several of the same symposiums, and it’s inevitable that we’ve met at IBESR more than once.  I hand her a business card and she laughs as the light goes on.  “Oh, it’s you,” she laughs, and I don’t know whether to nod or cringe.  It turns out the program coordinator at the agency she has worked with for a long time is a colleague of mine, with whom I have spoken many times.  Haiti is a small world.

Rivers of Hope is a beautiful facility, with ample room outside for the children and a very spacious home for just 30 children.  Another one of the very best there is.  Rachel’s English is superb.  We discuss the various problems of Haiti, but Rachel doesn’t have the answers either.  She agrees that things are definitely getting better as far as adoptions are concerned.  We are seeing movement at last.  She asks how my partner, Margarette Saint Fleur, is getting her Authorizations, as Rachel has really been struggling with IBESR to get her kids out.  I’ll try to put the two of them in touch to see if Margarette has any special tricks.  But I don’t think she does – I think she just goes there and sits all day, every day that they allow visitors, until they get sick of her and give her the documents that she needs to make her go away.  That’s how we do things in Haiti.
In the late afternoon we head back down the mountain, hope renewed after visiting a few children for whom things have gotten better and will continue to get better still.

Inside the House

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

One Precious Starfish

A dear friend of mine arrives today.  She’ll join us for the remainder of the trip.  I plan to meet her at the airport if I can, ignoring my own advice from last night and the previous post.  Guess what?  I never make it to the airport.
Worth every moment of a very long day in the heat!
Instead, today is about one precious little girl – a good friend of mine.  Amazingly enough, O is the first child I’ve worked with who has tested positive for TB in her visa medical exam.  That part wasn’t a surprise.  We knew she had TB, and she’s been treated.  But we are concerned and alarmed to learn that she’s been referred for further testing and no visa can be issued at present.  So today is for O, assessing her health and trying to figure out what we need to do for her to fly home with her new family.
To my surprise, first thing in the morning I’m asked to interview two English teachers, a job for which I am absolutely unqualified.  We have a small group of adoptive families who are interested in trying to hire a teacher or two for BRESMA orphanage.  The need is urgent.  Not just for educational reasons; the kids need challenge and stimulation during their long, slow wait to leave.
As usually happens when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, or more than one American trying to help organize things in Haiti, things are confused from the beginning.  I wait for hours for the arrival of a guide, who carefully escorts us from the guest house to the exact same clinic to which the staff to O last time.  We could have been here hours ago.  After we arrive, I explain our situation to a doctor, who promptly informs us that the pediatric TB specialist is at another clinic today.  I have to call Rony and have him come right back to get us.
We drive for a very long time through intense traffic to the other clinic, O cheerfully pointing out interesting sights and discreetly mooching for attractive sale items in the street.  We buy her water and I feed her a peanut butter granola bar, which is a huge hit.  She’s a neat little girl, and leaves her pretty dress just as clean as it was when we got in the car.
At the larger Gheskio clinic we hit the next road block.  I don’t have any legal authority over this kid.  The doctor, who speaks crisp, perfect English, discusses her situation with me and expresses the same concern we have that she seems to have lingering TB.  Possibly even drug-resistant TB.  I promise to provide her with everything she needs tomorrow, and she goes ahead and bends the rules for us a little bit.  We do an x-ray, which shows that O basically has one functional lung.  Holy smokes.  A radiograph is not diagnostic for TB, but O now has the doctor’s full attention.  It is now 4:45 and we can’t do any more testing, but she does some calling around for us and sets up more testing, private testing, so we can have access to all of the results.
We head home at last.  I am wilted and drooping in the relentless, sweltering heat.  O and I had granola bars for lunch (and she had more than I did), but I’m almost too hot and tired to eat.  Nevertheless, a day very well spent.  We’ve found someone who cares about the health of this one child.  I have a starfish tattooed on my arm to remind me of what my priorities are.  Perhaps Dr. R does too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Best Laid Plans

And as usual, I hit the ground running…
I am back in Haiti for the first time since February.  Every year I swear I won’t visit in July or August, and every year something happens so that I must.  This year, I’m here during the hottest season to accommodate a wedding.  Not one in Haiti, not even one that I’m attending.  On this trip, I have my three oldest Haitian-born children along, and one was a friend’s bridesmaid this weekend.  So, July it is.  We are joined by my son’s fiancée, another Haitian-born young adult, and her cousin from the US.  We’re a happy, noisy party eager to see relatives and friends.
For today, friends will come first.  We are met at the airport by Rico Changeux, a friend of my oldest son and his fiancée.  Everyone except for G, K, and I go to the MASAFECS/ABI guest house with all the luggage.  Rico takes us to Vertile House in Carrefour.  There we meet about thirty children who live at the house, receiving schooling and eventually vocational training.  We pass a long time discussing the state of child welfare in Haiti and an orphanage exit strategy for older children, and come to the conclusion that it’s all very difficult and none of us the answers.  At least Vertile House has a concrete plan and vision for their kids.  It helps to have Haitian directors!
Next we visit a Haitian beach resort owned by Rico’s father.  The music is very loud, but the sea breeze is cool and relaxing.  The place has a “good vibe,” as Rico puts it.  There is no real beach here.  The property has been extended with additional materials – tires, boulders, and a covering of asphalt support a few extra feet of ground, from which steps descend into the churning Carribean.  I dip my feet, the kids go for a swim.  I regret telling them we need to get rolling to make it ‘home’ before dark, but it’s Mom’s job to be practical.
On our way to Vertile house, the car stalled repeatedly but always restarted.  On the way home, we are not so lucky.  After several uneventful stalls, we have one from which the car does not recover.  And NOT in a good place to get stuck in the city.  But, it’s not dark yet, so things could be worse. 
And moments later, they are.

Torrential rain drenches the street, like huge buckets being upended over and over.  But there’s still good news – any scary people have run indoors to avoid drowning on the sidewalk.  As the rain pours on and on, the street empties completely of people and fills with filthy running water.  Our driver gives up on getting our car to start and disappears into the deluge to try to find someone to give us a ride and him a tow.  We have to keep the windows up to keep from being soaked.  It’s like being in a sauna!  A dark sauna, as night falls.  But the steam of our own breath on the windows and the darkness are a good think as K and I should not be in this part of the city at night, hence my motherly nagging to leave the ocean early. 
Did you know it can hail in Haiti?  Neither did I.

Eventually, the rain slows and K points out we have a new worry.  The water is at least a foot and a half deep on the opposite side of the street.  We wonder how deep it will have to be to actually move the car, because it’s quite a strong current.
Finally a rescuer appears, who delivers us to BRESMA’s faithful Franck, out in the dark and the drizzle to fetch us.  We return to the guest house to a chorus of complaints from those who believed up until our arrival that we spent hours playing at the beach – not trapped in a stuck car in Carrefour!
Welcome to Haiti, K, where the best laid plans often come to confusion!