"Every child deserves a home." --Harry Holt

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ethiopia Travel Memoir: Day 6 In Country 5/20 (COURT DAY!)

 **These are based on my thoughts and feelings while on our trip. Some events may come across clouded and foggy due to our high emotional state while encountering each event.**
We did end up taking Tylenol PM, but I was awake at 4am anyway. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was useless so I decided to just get ready for court. We were both so nervous, so breakfast was a lost cause. At this point, K was feeling yucky enough to warrant Cipro. Immodium wasn't cutting it (TMI?), but the Cipro definitely seemed to be helping. We didn't eat anything we "shouldn't have" or drink any non-bottled water. I think it was just a combination of stress, excitement, being off schedule and spices we just weren't used to. At home, we stick to a pretty regular schedule just because we both have routine oriented lives with work. Even when we travel for a weekend, one of us always seems to feel a little "off" from being off schedule and normal diet. (Am I the only one that believes calories don't count when you are on a weekend getaway or vacation? That always gets me into trouble...)
Mmmm. Warm 'Coke Light'
This wasn't my 'exact' court outfit, I wore dress pants (I had a heckuva time trying to find a skirt or dress this time of year that covered enough leg). Can I just ask, what happened to my pants? We took the pic, because I wasn't sure if it was a lighting problem, but the pic showed there is definitely something making it look like I possibly peed my pants...I did not, it just looks that way, I swear.
I wasn't necessarily nervous for the actual court appearance. We had been told by so many that had gone before us that it was a 5 minute or less ordeal with the judge. We had also been told that the judge may speak softly (obviously with an accent, too). Low-talking seems to be fairly common among Ethiopians. We knew a soft voice would be extremely difficult for me, even with my hearing aids, so K was going to repeat everything or answer for me. 
We were picked up by our driver at 7:30 sharp and headed to the office of our agency. We were allowed the opportunity to go through our entire file. So.much.paperwork. We were able to see all of our dossier documents translated (there were more pages than I even remember). It was fun to see all of that labor of love together, again. We also saw Cupcake's birth certificate (and incidentally have a different birthday for her than we originally thought). She is 7 days older than we thought (this tends to be a common occurrence due to the calendar conversion...remember it is currently the year 2003 there. It was exciting for me to "be" so much younger while we were in country ;). The birth certificate had a photo attached of Cupcake that we had never seen before. She was a newborn! So.darn.precious. I was grateful to see that. We couldn't take it with us, but we did get a picture of her picture! It will do... Along with all of Cupcake's paperwork was a thumbnail size, black and white photo copy picture of her first mother. K's first response was, "Wow, she is beautiful." I whole-heartedly agree. She has so many striking features. We will never have to wonder where Cupcake got her looks! What a blessing in disguise this photo turned out to be.
Holt Ethiopia office, just in case you weren't sure :)
The lawyer came in when we finished reviewing our files (2 other families had court with us). He gave us a list of questions the judge was likely to ask us. His only real tip(s) were to be straightforward, honest and speak from the heart. Can do! He also wanted us to let him know before court if any of us wanted to back out. 'Ummmm, no. I'm good!' If you've met Cupcake, you would understand the certainty in my heart. I was 110% sure she was meant to be our daughter the second I saw her photo. I was 10,000% sure the moment we met her. She is such a blessing! The lawyer didn't attend court with us. A social worker came instead. Which truthfully, seemed a little odd, but for us, it was no big deal.  

We arrived at the Ethiopia Federal First Instance Courthouse. It seemed like a busy place. There was a large group of people waiting outside, and we went right in. There was another group of people waiting in line to use the elevator. Our driver asked if we would mind walking up the stairs. It was 4 flights. Normally, this is fine, but have I mentioned the elevation in Addis? I'm not making this up, it made walking stairs a challenge, and by challenge, I mean I was always huffing and puffing by after the first flight. My 3rd floor office at school gives me a lot of stair climbing practice, too. Anyway, I'm just saying, I'm not THAT out of shape... :)

So, picture me in my business casual outfit (with specified quiet shoes) and I've just hustled up 4 flights of stairs. We came to this narrow, somewhat crowded hallway. Our driver lead us through the people, but he turned us around because their was actually more room for us to stand at the other end of the hallway. When he moved past me, I saw her. Our daughter's first mother (me being the 2nd, in case their is any confusion). I knew the instant I laid eyes on her even though the picture we saw of her in Cupcake's file was literally a thumbnail, black and white photocopy. I knew. instantly. 

My heart nearly blew out of my chest it was pounding so hard, and this time I don't think it was the stairs. Did she see me, I wonder? Has someone shown her the file or our picture? I know our pictures are in the file, I saw them. They are passport size, I remember having them taken at Walgreen's because they had to be all official-like and we didn't want to mess with getting all of the specifications right. At least that photo is a slight improvement over my original, actual passport. I stopped obsessing over the photo, and decided she probably does know what we look like. Then, I started obsessing over, 'what does she think of what I'm wearing?' Do I look like a kind-hearted, nurturing person? Am I allowed to give her a hug? Can I just explain who I am? Wow, this is so much more nuanced than one can prepare for. Is someone around that could translate if I wanted to speak with her? Does she speak Amharic? Would the court frown on me speaking to her, and look at it as trying to coerce her testimony, even though she has already given it in the lower court? Suddenly, I stop being so cotton-picking-selfish and think about her instead of me. After all, she came first in this process. 

By this time, we have all been escorted into a waiting room together. It is so full, there is even limited standing room. SHE is seated on a small, wooden stage and is literally close enough for me to touch. I don't want to stare, but she is so beautiful and we are forever linked through our daughter, so I find myself magnetically drawn to her. Still, I say nothing, but I can't help but get choked up. I can't imagine how she feels in this moment. How is that that she is so young, but so brave? She is holding it together and quietly glancing around while I sniffle and fight tears back. I feel awful that I have been longing for this day to come with excited anticipation, and she has most likely been dreading it. I think about how beauty and loss are intertwined in this process, constantly. We pray for this woman by name every night, but until now, I have never been faced directly with it. It has been more of an abstract concept, but now, I have looked into her eyes. There is nothing abstract about that. 

I couldn't fight the tears off any longer, and I didn't want to make a scene in front of all of the people crowded into the waiting room (even the Italian couple next to me, dressed as if they are 15 instead of 40, and pawing at each other right next to me (ummm, hello? You don't see the group of women and men in the room about to complete the relinquishment process? Please. let's all have a little respect.) I stood up from my chair and went to the window. I look out for a long time, so that nobody notices me crying. I pull it together, and our group was still waiting, and so is SHE. Can't they have some mercy on her and let her get through this quickly? Does she really need to watch adoptive families exit the judges chamber with tears of joy, hugging and kissing? She is here alone, except for who I assume is another social worker with our agency. I turn to face all of the people, and such a kind soul from our group noticed I'd been crying (I forget that my face stays all blotchy when I cry). She mouthed, "Is everything ok?" Her kindness brings tears again. It isn't me we should be worried about. I feel sick for the beautiful woman in the long black skirt, white shirt, hair braided, and put up so carefully. I explain why I'm upset in less than a sentence. C gets it, immediately. This is what I love so deeply about the connections with other adoptive families. They know. I have no problem explaining or talking about our journey with them. In fact, I love it. Sometimes, I just don't have the words to explain it all. Adoptive families...they just know.

2 hours passed and we were still waiting (along with 3 or 4 other groups). SHE is the only birth parent still waiting. COME.ON.PEOPLE. Finally, finally they call her into the judge's chambers. My heart sinks for her. I whisper a prayer for her that is familiar to both God and I from the last few months. "Please gran her the serenity and strength to get through this. Please." 

SHE was only in chambers for 2 minutes. I have no idea what they asked her, or her exact response. We asked a social worker later, and they basically asked her to state one more time, "for the record" that her intent is to let her daughter be adopted. Forever. She answered, "yes."

Our 3 family group was called next. First thought as we entered the chambers, "This looks NOTHING like judge's chambers from Law & Order." My crumbling, school counseling office looks like it has more life. 2nd thought, "Which one of you is the judge?" It is the older one behind the desk, further away, surrounded by all of the files. We handed over our passports and got started. As predicted, I don't hear a single word the judge says. When K says, "yes," so do I. I asked later what we were asked, and the questions were things like, " Have we met our child?" Do we want to go through with this?" Yes and yes. "Do we have kids already?" Nope, but I may have accidentally nodded a yes. "After 6 or 7 questions (I can't be sure how many), the judge announced, "She.is.yours." Except, she didn't get all bold and shout-y about it, but that was just how I felt. I wanted to hear it again, but unfortunately, the judge was busy explaining to the other 2 families that they did not pass court at this time. Heart-breaking. Neither of the birth family members appeared for their court appointment. In fact, a letter had been submitted that both birth family members in question were missing. Missing. The judge wanted the police to further investigate and submit another letter by June 6 (or more hopefully, produce the birth family members). 

Both families, like us, assumed they would be given the opportunity to meet and converse with birth family members after court. Due to miscommunication, neither family was aware that these people were missing. They sat for 2 hours in the waiting room, wondering which woman it might be. Needless to say, both families were extremely disappointed and worried, not for their case, but for their children and birth family members.

The other major thing that could keep an adopting family from passing court (that I know of) is whether the MOWCYA letter is in the file.  MOWCYA stands for Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (formerly MOWA). This is the branch of the Ethiopian government that is in a sense "responsible" for adoptions. MOWCYA was given our file (our paperwork and Cupcake's paperwork), and they review the file. Once the file has been reviewed and MOWCYA determines that everything on our part and on the part of our agency and Cupcake's orphanage was done ethically and legally, they write a letter of opinion to the Ethiopian court giving their approval of the adoption. To my knowledge, MOWCYA comes in contact with every.single.international.adoption, and no adoption can be approved without a "green light" from MOWCYA. Unfortunately, not all agencies follow an ethical or moral code in every case. When the more questionable cases "slip through the cracks" it is in some ways MOWCYA that is held responsible (even though it would be the agency or wrongdoing individual that should be held responsible), and the birth family, child and adoptive family are victimized. In an effort to improve checks and balances, MOWCYA "announced" in March 2011 that they would only write 5 letters/day when in some cases, they were writing 40-50. This would give them more time to comb though every file. I feel caught between a rock and a hard place here. I want ALL adoptions to be ethical (which would make going through all cases more closely a necessary), and I can now say with certainty after meeting Cupcake's first mother that this adoption is expressly what she intended for her daughter (not her wish, but a necessary for survival). So, I feel sad at the thought of cases like Cupcake's where the child would spend more time in an orphanage than necessary. None of this is easy, but I've never seen an ethical dilemma that wasn't fraught with grey area. So far, it doesn't appear that every case has been slowed due to MOWCYA's announcement, but that hold-up may remain to be seen for a few more weeks.

Due to the importance of the MOWCYA letter to our case moving forward, I NEEDED to hear the judge say it was in the file. Previously, I have heard of families appearing in court and the judge told them, "He/She is yours!" which meant, 'your part is done, but we are still waiting on the MOWCYA letter,' but they weren't told that in court. In some cases, these families returned home only to find out a few weeks later that there would be a delay. We were so sad for the 2 families with us, and the birth family members and children involved. I was not about to question the social worker with us about the MOWCYA letter until those families had a chance to process and ask questions and provide feedback. Instead, I talked K into beain sneaky and working on getting more confirmation a little later in the afternoon. Somehow, he talked the social worker into going back to the court house and checking it out in person. Have I mentioned how much I love the man that puts up with my neurotics?! I knew that it was a perfect example of being a pushy American, but if it could be helped, I didn't want to get on that plane in the evening without a little more peace of mind.

After court, we went to lunch with one of the other families, the social worker and driver. We returned to Yod Absynnia, but this time without the cultural music an dance, so it was much quieter and more subdued. The lunch conversation could have been melancholy with 2/3 of our group not passing court, but we were all able to enjoy each other and try to find 'M' a girlfriend. I *think* he got a kick out of my tactics (at least I hope!) I know 'S' was enjoying it as he couldn't stop laughing!

After lunch we headed to the Holt office to meet Cupcake's first mother. I felt so nervous and unprepared for this meeting. I had no idea how I was going to find the words to express my love and gratitude for both she and Cupcake in our lives (and I'd spent months trying to figure this out). We had 2 translators. One to translate English to Amharic and the other to translate Amharic to Kembatissa as that is what SHE speaks. Wowsa. We will be keeping the majority of the details from this meeting private. We want to be transparent in as many ways as possible about our journey to Cupcake, but these details are for her to hear when she is old enough to hear them. I will say, it only took a few moments to feel completely at ease with this beautiful woman. She is an amazing and courageous woman. I am forever grateful for the chance to meet and speak with her. I wanted so badly to put her at ease at our meeting, and instead, she gave me words that I will forever find beauty and comfort in. We will always be linked with her, and we loved her in an instant. The three parents of Cupcake made some beautiful promises on that day, and I want never to forget what I vowed (and I don't know how I could). Let's just say, we all ended the meeting in tears and long hugs. I couldn't have asked for more. I will forever cherish our photo together (which will not be shared on the blog), and the more I look at it, the more I hope that it isn't the only one we ever take together.

We were extremely emotional after the meeting but a sense of peace also came over me. It was the thought of Cupcake's first mother's bright smile that induced (and still does) the feeling of serenity. I pray that she walked away with a similar feeling as well.

We were taken to do a little more shopping, but I was feeling so grained from  the day that I was feeling a little "shopped out" (I know, me not having my heart into shopping?! I must have been worn out). We did grab a couple more items from our list and headed back to the Guest House. We packed, had dinner, packed some more. At 10pm, we were picked up and taken to the airport. It seemed like Day 6 never ended with the marathon travel beginning...
Maybe it was this maneuver that actually broke my traditional coffee pot?


SaraLyons said...

I can't even imagine what the birth parent meeting is like, but you described it beautifully. To be able to share that with your little girl when she is older is an amazing thing.

Becky Nakashima Brooke said...

He had us try to get him a girlfriend too! Must be fun for him:)

Loved the birth family meeting. Brought back memories for me:)


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