Day 5: Thursday
What we did:
Thursday was another day of bonding and playing. It started with breakfast down stairs and, already, [A] and [G] had started to become, or show that they were, picky about what they ate. [A] loves bread and juice. [G] is a total carnivore and not so big on the bread or fruit. She wants meat! And she wants lots of it! After breakfast, the daddies took the kiddos back upstairs while the mommies went with D. and M. to the market! I gotta be honest, I was a little nervous about going out in [Capital City]. We had been warned to be seen as little as possible and I was fully committed to that before we arrived. Buuuut the idea of a) getting out of the hotel for a bit and b) seeing the city up close and personal was just way too tempting. And, I felt perfectly safe with D. He and M. were completely awesome so, traveling families, know you are in very good hands! The first place we went, the fabric store, wasn’t too far from the hotel and it was in a very busy part of [Capital City]. The drive was much shorter and a little less terrifying since we weren’t going very far or very fast. When we got out of the van in front of the store, there were people everywhere! They were shopping and selling and just walking and talking. All over the place. We had to walk through a few sidewalk “stores” to get to the fabric. And by “stores” I simply mean goods laid out on a blanket on the street. It was very intimidating being the only light-skinned people as far as the green eye could see. It was just very obvious that we were out of place. Or, at least that we were different. But the people we encountered were polite or, most times, indifferent. I never felt threatened or in danger on the street with these people. I think, sometimes, that we are warned so much about a place like [Capital City] that we begin to believe that these places are just hell-holes with devils roaming the streets disguised as people. But that’s really not the case. [Capital City] is a dangerous city but, not because the people are evil, but instead because the people are desperate. They’re not pepper-spraying people at a Walmart the day after Thanksgiving to get to an Xbox (now that sounds evil), they are trying to do whatever they can to feed their families and themselves. And since many people in [Capital City] are forced to practice food “power cuts” and feed their children every other day, it’s understandable that they would feel desperate. We’re warned that as Americans, we are targets for crime because they believe us to be rich. And, compared to the average [Home Country]lese citizen, we are. *The average salary for an employed [Home Country]lese citizen (and remember there is an 80% unemployment rate in [Capital City]) is $300 a year. That is nothing. Nothing. And the bigger problem is that the cost of necessities in the [Home Country] is comparable to the US. They make $300 a year and still have to pay the same amount we do for food and other items. Sometimes more. The van M. drove us around in all week was from 1989 and was beat up and barely running. It cost $13,000. Seriously. Our 2007 Jeep cost less than that and is in MUCH better shape that this van. The hotel where we stayed was $310 a night! How do these people live?*
Entering the fabric store I was overwhelmed by the options. There was literally wall to wall, floor to ceiling fabric. And it was all so beautiful. It was really hard to take it all in and pick out specifics. It all kind of ran together and formed this beautiful [Home Country]lese rainbow room. And in the middle of the rainbow room, was this man standing high on a podium draped in fabric. And he was talking and singing into a microphone while upbeat African music pumped through the speakers. It was a very festive atmosphere. It was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had buying fabric. We picked out our favorites and D. paid for them for us. This was an indication of the fact that it really wasn’t completely safe for us. Earlier in the van, he had collected our money because he said it would be unwise for us to handle it ourselves. I had given him enough money for 4 pieces of fabric but saw another that I just had to have. I told D. and secretly slipped him another $15. It felt very sneaky and strange to secretly try to PAY for something in a store. After leaving the fabric store, D. said there was an art market he could take us to real quick if we were interested. Of course we were!
The art market was a lot like an outdoor flea market. It was located at the back of an open dirt lot and it was, to be frank, kinda gross. The items being sold at the booths were not gross, in fact many were very, very pretty. But the setting was dirty with literally trash and waste strewn everywhere. It was the kinda place that made you want to take a bath. And the men and women who ran the booths were extremely aggressive. They weren’t mean and they weren’t rude but they wanted to make a sale. Badly. At this market, D. told us that we were expected to haggle. Ha! Easier said than done for me. I felt extremely intimidated and had no idea what kinda of price I should be expecting for any of these items. I wasn’t interested in buying a lot anyway, I was happy just looking. The other moms I was with really got into it though and I had a great time watching them name their price, start to walk away, only to be pulled back with a sudden “going-out-of-business” sale bargain. I did buy 2 beautiful paintings to frame and hang so that we could remember some of the beauty of the [Home Country] (because there actually is quite a bit of it) once we were home. But my transactions were not nearly as impressive as my friends’. After I paid, D. asked me what my price was and when I told him he laughed and said I had paid too much. Oh well. I’m a sucker. And I’m OK with it. I paid $15 for one and $20 for the other. Money well spent and I hope money that made a difference in someone’s family that night. And one of the guys I bought from was wearing an ATLANTA shirt. Emotional manipulation, anyone?
We left the art market with one seller following us, hell bent on selling a tribal mask to S. She was extremely insistent that she didn’t want it but he was not taking no for an answer. He went all the way to the van and was still pushing it towards her as we got in and shut the door. After that, I was more than ready to get back to the hotel. So we made it back quickly and before we went back to our rooms, we gave D. some fabric and measurements for his mother-in-law who had offered to make a few dresses for our girls. I got a dress for [G] and a matching skirt for me and they are too beautiful! When I got back to the hotel, the kids were glad to see me and greeted me happily. (I forgot to mention, [A] had fixed my hair before I left and put pretty yellow barrettes all over. Does it make me a bad mom that I took them all off in the elevator on the way down?) We again spent the day hanging in the room, playing and watching some TV. For dinner we went downstairs to eat and found ourselves in an awkward situation. Our first night at the hotel, Monday night, we had ordered room service because we got in too late to eat at the restaurant and we were starving. The guy who brought it up was very nice and [L] gave him a tip. We ordered again on Tuesday because, again, we were late and the kids were asleep. He again brought our food and, again, got a tip. On Wednesday night, when we went downstairs with the kids, this same man immediately grabbed us and seated us in his “section” even though that was not all at where we wanted to sit. But he wanted our tip. And, again, he was very nice, even if he was kind of pushy. So on this night, Thursday night, we went downstairs determined to sit where we wanted to sit, which was outside in the courtyard with the other adoptive families. Well we did, but our presence there ended up causing a scene. Our actual waiter and our wanna-be waiter actually got into an argument over who would serve our ticket and who would get our tip! Our wanna-be waiter won the argument and served us separately at the same table as everyone else. Awk-ward! It really was at this point that I began to get nervous about leaving the country.
Even though, so far, our experience had been fairly painless, I was starting to feel the walls closing in. It felt like we had been in [Capital City] just long enough and we were teetering on overstaying our welcome. We were getting more looks from others in the hotel and I was feeling much less secure about the police presence outside of the hotel. On our way back from the market, D. had told us a little more about the police situation in [Capital City]. He pointed out the difference between traffic cops and regular cops and explained the responsibilities of their jobs. When B. asked which ones were the “good cops,” he laughed and said “none of them.” Extortion and bribery is the name of the game. We also passed a legless man begging for change on the street. As we “awwwed” in sympathy, D. explained that this man was a notorious former soldier who had caused too much trouble so the government had shot and crippled him. That stopped my “awwww” right in its tracks. First, at the idea of a rogue soldier stirring up trouble and then at the way the government handled dissent. Pretty scary either way.
So, I was very ready to go. The only thing we needed to leave were our letters from the DGM (immigration) which basically gave [A] and [G] permission to leave the [Home Country]. On Tuesday, D. had taken [L]‘s passport to the DGM office to prove that we were in country and ready to take them home and now we were just waiting for approval and our letters. We were told this was a fairly painless process that would probably take 2-3 days. When D. dropped us off after our little field trip, he had headed back to the DGM to see if our letters were ready. He called later that evening to report that the D.’s letter was ready but ours and the W.’s still had not been signed. He promised to wait until they were. At 9 o’clock that night, there had still been no progress. Our plane tickets had us leaving at 8 o’clock the next night. I started to worry.
How we felt:
Um, tired is the first word that comes to mind. But there were a whole lot of other emotions those first few days. And those are kind of difficult to talk about. It’s really hard to suddenly get everything you’ve been waiting for and dreaming of for months (if not years) and then it not be at all what you expected. And it was not what I expected because I had no way of knowing what it would be like. To be completely honest, the [A] and [G] who we took home from the transition house were not the [A] and [G] from my dreams. Because these kids were real. They were the ACTUAL [A] and [G], who are awesome, but who were total strangers to us. And that has to be acknowledged. Even though we had fallen in love with their pictures immediately, the process of falling in love with their persons takes some time. After having 2 full days with them, I was feeling a mixture of emotions. I was thrilled to finally have them in my arms but I was also overwhelmed by the amount of physical and emotional work it takes to parent two brand new toddlers. And, it wasn’t like my sister had dropped off my nephew for 2 days or something. I didn’t know these kids and they didn’t know me. I didn’t know what they liked and hated, what they were used to, or even what they were saying most of the time! I’ll be honest, it was a difficult transition for me. It’s hard to juggle the happiness and the fear and the confusion and the exhaustion all at once. On 2-3 hours sleep. In a “fourth-world” country. There are a lot of emotions that rattled around in my brain that first week and I hate to say it, but they weren’t all happy ones. I’m actually glad that I’m writing this now instead of that night because this post would have probably been much, much darker. Being safe in the USA and 8 hours of sleep a night – not to mention 2 weeks of getting to know each other – has given me a much better perspective and many more warm, fuzzy feelings than I had those first few days and I’m thankful for it. Because I would be lying if I said there weren’t a
few dozen times that week when I looked at [L] and said, “What have we done????”