This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day started off OK with breakfast and playtime for the kiddos. They were very excited about going to Georgia and I was very anxious to get on a plane (imagine that) and get started. But we still had not heard that our exit letters were ready. That they would not be ready on time was a real possibility. The A. family that we were happy to meet earlier in the week was actually 1 day late in leaving because their letter was not ready on time. Another family earlier in the month had picked up their letter on the way to the airport. I was not interested in either of these scenarios. And my biggest fear was that our letter would be not be ready at all on Friday and we would get stuck for the entire weekend. The idea of 3 more days in that hotel room was making me sweat.
I was optimistically packing up and hoping and praying that I wouldn’t be forced to unpack later that evening when we got a call from D. around 11 asking [L] to come down to talk. [L] went down and came back up 15 minutes later with a very peculiar look on his face. My heart sunk. We weren’t leaving, I just knew it. “What?????” I asked him. Are we going home? We could go home, he told me but it was gonna cost us. Huh? Apparently the man whose signature we needed at the DGM still hadn’t signed and wouldn’t sign in time for us to leave that day unless we paid him $150. Per kid. A bribe. A $300 bribe to let us leave the country. Of course. They must know how badly adoptive families want to get home. Or maybe they don’t. He could have named a much higher number and I still would have paid it. Because, pay it we did (even though our agency had told us previously NOT to give bribes). With no hesitation. I obviously don’t like the idea of being exhorted (and truthfully, our agency was NOT happy about the fact that we did it) but it was definitely the lesser of two evils when compared to staying in [Home Country] for the weekend. Just one more night in our hotel would have cost more than that anyway. So we paid the money and he promised to sign our forms by 1:30, giving us plenty of time to make our flights. D. promised not to give him the money until the papers were completed. We promised each other to be on a plane that night no matter what.
Around 2 o’clock, [L] went downstairs to wait for M. to come take him and the other daddies to the Brussels Air office in [Capital City] so that we could do an early check in for our bags. In true [Home Country]lese fashion, M. showed up around 3. And he and the men headed off with our luggage. As of 3, (you know an hour and 30 minutes after our letters were SUPPOSED to be signed) our exit forms were still not ready. As [L] left with our luggage and I stayed at the hotel with my napping babies, I once again began to get very, very worried about making our flight.
[L] got back to the hotel room around 4 and said, “Load it up, we’re fixing to go.” Hot-dog! You mean we got our letters? Well, no but D. said we would have them in time to leave. Warm-dog. I was feeling a little more confident but I knew I wouldn’t really believe it until we were on that plane. As we packed up the kids and grabbed our bags, [L] told me about their little field trip and adventure. The boys had left the hotel right after 3 and had until 3:30 to get to the Brussels Air office in order to complete early check-in. Early check-in is strongly recommended because the [Capital City] airport can be a big hassle and by checking in early we could save ourselves time and headaches later. As it would turn out, it would be the best move all day since it’s the reason we actually got to leave. Anyway, on the way to the office, [L] and the boys got stuck in a traffic jam. Ugh. So frustrating. Well, the good thing (or is it?) in [Capital City] is that, if you have some money in your pocket, you don’t have to stay in a traffic jam. While the boys watched in amazement, M. leaned out the window, spoke to the cop, handed over some bills and the jam was cleared and they continued on their way! Crazy. By the time they got to the Brussels Air office, it was 3:30 and the staff told the boys that they were too late and they were closing up. Ugh! No! Luckily D. was already inside and explained that those white boys were with him and got them all taken care of. Oh, D. Thank God for D.! After all our bags were checked in, they headed back to the hotel. (P.S. Our letter still hadn’t been signed.) When the boys were almost back to the hotel, they ran into one more problem. At the very last red light, the van was stopped by a [Home Country]lese cop. The cop simply walked up to the van and quietly glared at M. through the passenger window. K. (who was along for the ride) told the boys, “They always want something.” M. cracked the passenger window as little as possible and passed the crooked cop a few [Home Country]lese francs. The cop gave a insulting smirk, a “Merci beaucoup,” and finally allowed them to leave. You see why I was ready to go?
So by 4:30 we and the other families were all gathered in the lobby waiting for D. to come and take us to the airport. After leaving Brussels Air, D. had headed back to the DGM to pick up our letters and, while we were waiting in the lobby, he was still waiting for them to be signed. Good thing we had just paid $300 to have them signed by 1:30! When we left our hotel room and took our kids down, we assumed we were leaving for the airport that very minute. Oh no. That would have been much too easy. We had to sit down there with 5 restless children until 6:30 waiting on D. who was STILL waiting on our letters. Finally we got the call that he had our forms and he was on our way. At 6:30, we started to prepare for the hour long ride to the airport where our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:40. Could we seriously cut it much closer? Turns out we could.
This trip to the airport we had 5 new passengers and it was obvious that we could not all fit in M.’s van. D.’s solution was this. Women and children in the van with M. and daddies and D. would wait for a car that, at this time (6:30!) still hadn’t been located. Separating from [L] at this point was difficult. Getting in a van as a “single mommy” to two children was harder. Not knowing when [L] was coming behind me and whether or not we would both be making it on the plane was torture. And the night was only fixing to get worse.
I know that I have already talked about how terrifying car rides are in the [Home Country]. I said I was scared and I told you each ride felt like the last, you know, ever, on this Earth. But let me tell you, those previous
roller coaster car rides were cotton candy hugs on angel’s wings compared to this one. The hour I spent in that van was the most stressful and terrifying of my life. Because we were leaving the hotel so very, very late M. was forced to pull out all his “fast and furious” moves to get us to the airport on time. And, on top of everything else, it had rained all afternoon essentially turning many of the roads into a muddy, jacked up mess. Of course. As we pulled out of the hotel parking lot, K. turned around from the passenger seat and told us “M. will fly.” Oh Lord, hold me now. For the next 60 minutes (3,600 agonizing seconds), I sat in the back of a beat up ’89 previously broken down minivan clinging desperately to my 2 children (who were NOT in seat-belts by the way) as we swerved and we skidded through the streets of [Capital City]. We swayed this way and that way and were thrust forward and backward. We saw cars coming straight at us as we strayed to the wrong lanes in order to go around others and I swear at one point I saw a chariot of fire coming down to take us to Glory. [A] and [G] cried, threatened to vomit, and screamed to be let out. I was screaming on the inside myself but I knew the end result was worth the terror. They did not. They just knew we were flying through the city in the dark and were being tossed around a minivan like kernels in a popcorn popper. It was absolutely miserable. But, we arrived at the airport in 1 piece – at least on the outside. Inside I was already a trembling, crumbling mess who was just so ready to be HOME.
As we gathered the kids and climbed out of the van, imagine our surprise to see the boys and D. already there. Suddenly I was so thankful and grateful that I had been in our terrifying van because they had left a good 10 minutes after we did. I don’t want to know what kind of deal with the devil their driver made to get them there before us. I’m still surprised that it was even possible to drive even faster or crazier than M. did. (And I say that with total respect. M. is a wonderful man who took crazy care of us all week. I have so much love in my heart for him and I worry constantly now about his safety as I picture him tearing through the streets of [Capital City]. He also loved our babies so very much. He gave [G] so many sweet kisses before we left.) Finding [L] in the darkness almost made me break down in tears. I was already so very exhausted emotionally and we STILL weren’t on the plane! We were herded across the parking lot by D. from one place to the next. By this time it was almost 8 and we knew it was getting time to be on that aircraft. But, we had 40ish minutes – or so we thought! We were led one way then another by policemen and airport personnel (I hoped!) until we finally were taken down a fairly dark alleyway that I wasn’t completely sure we’d come out of alive. Thankfully it led to the check-in area of the airport. This “departing” part of the building was not just as basic and bare as the “arrival” area, it actually looked dilapidated. There was no actual ceiling, just old beams and wood and some gigantic spider webs that made me incredibly fearful of the size of the beasts that it would take to make such impressive creations. We were led to immigration officials who were sitting behind booths with stained glass windows. It was weird. I felt like I was suddenly at church. But maybe that’s because I was already doing some super-duty hard core praying. It was about this time, at roughly 8 o’clock, when they were checking our passports and papers, that we were told that our 8:40 flight to Brussels was already completely boarded and preparing to depart. What the what??? Why is the only thing in [Home Country] that has ever been early suddenly our plane home??? The idea of being this close to leaving only to watch our plane fly away towards civilization without us on it almost sent me over the edge. If I hadn’t been holding my beautiful [G] I probably would have gone all “Newark flight to Brussels” crazy right there in the airport. Just about the time I was fixing to lose it, the Brussels attendant said they were holding the plane for us. If we would hurry. (Holding it only, we later came to find out, because we had already checked in and our luggage was on board. Thank you Lord!) Ha! As if we weren’t already breaking our necks to get out of this country! But we couldn’t hurry the officials and it still took us another 15 to 20 minutes to finish sorting out our papers with immigration. Finally they let us through and we ran out to the tarmac and saw…no Brussels Air airplane. Heart. Sunk. Where was our plane? They said they would wait!
Calm down, they said. There is a van that will take you to your plane. Crazy-eyed Americans. The van came, we hopped on, and rode to the most beautiful plane I have ever seen. I’ve never, ever been so happy to see an airplane. And I’ve certainly never been so anxious to get on one. As soon as it stopped, we jumped out of the van and ran across the tarmac (no fancy walk-ways here) so we could go through “security.” This is where I had my first ever out of body experience. I’m hopping out of a van, in the [Home Country], running across the tarmac, trying to catch an airplane, holding the hand of a little brown eyed boy who is now my son. It was like I was watching a movie. It felt so surreal. So crazy surreal. And, as I’m running, I see the pilots sitting and waiting in the cockpit. And one of them looks just like Gallagher. Awesome. [L] looks up and says “Watch me smash this watermelon with an airplane.” I think I laughed. I’m surprised I didn’t vomit.
We got to security which was one guy “wanding” us as went passed by. I felt so safe. But I figured, if any of my fellow passengers had a death wish, they wouldn’t be boarding this plane with suicide bombing plans, they would have just stayed in the [Home Country]. So I gladly ran up the stairs and into the plane. Since I already had [A] with me, he and I found our seats and settled in. All the way home, none of our seats were together – we were seated 2 and 2. So [L] kept [G] and my boy and I prepared for some major attachment bonding in this big metal tube as it flew through the sky. Literally minutes after we were seated, the plane began to move and we were taking off. I remember I held [A]‘s hand as we climbed into the night and I wish I could say it was because I was trying to comfort him, but it was totally for me. He was having a ball and I was just trying to keep it together. He and I watched “The Lorax” together and then, thankfully, he stretched out and went to sleep. At that point, I finally felt that the night was over. And I have never been so exhausted and emotionally scarred in all my life. Or so thankful to God for my safety and that of my husband, children, and my new friends. Or so damn proud to be an American. I was ready to curl up and sleep all the way to Brussels. But, if you’ve been reading these posts you should know by now that wasn’t going to happen. I tossed and turned for the entire flight and arrived in Brussels feeling like a zombie and looking like one too. But I was a happy zombie! Because I was out of the [Home Country] and on my way home!
I just realized I left out a few things that I meant to include. On Friday afternoon, I got a call in the room about 2:00 from “our waiter” asking if I was ready to order room service for dinner. He knew we were checking out in a matter of hours and was trying his best to get one more tip! He and another waiter also came out to see us off. They were very sweet and hugged and kissed us goodbye. One even gave me a bracelet to remember them by. The other (our pushy waiter) asked for our phone number in the US, which was only kinda creepy. Also, waiting families, when we went to check out we found that the HR had charged us for 5 days worth of “complimentary breakfasts” (25 dollars a person!). They took it off the bill when we complained but make sure you check! We weren’t the only family they did this too. They’ll gladly take your money if you don’t stop them!