Saturday, September 3, 2011
Today we went to the Art Market with Ryan, Kristen, Rebecca, Tracey and all 6 children. It was very hot, a bit overwhelming, and quite interesting. There were all sorts of vendors, mostly set up in cramped stalls, under a huge tent. The stalls were filled with cloth, clothes, instruments, masks and beads, wood carvings of everything from animals to bowls, to name a small sampling of the things available. We went to get a few keepsakes and gifts.
As soon as we got out of the taxi we had many people trying to get us to come to their stall to by their items. If you give them a hint of interest you are pursued. One, turns into 3, turns into 5, etc. I do not like to be in those situations. I got so good at saying “No, small money” that I missed out on seeing many of the beautiful things. Ken, on the other hand, kept engaging the various vendors and as a result was constantly surrounded. I constantly had to pull him out of the middle of a crowd. It was funny. He did on the other hand have a chance to see more than I did because I was too busy saying “no”. :-)
We were thankful that we had Charles with us. Charles is a taxi driver that Tracey& Rebecca use. He is very nice man and stayed with us as we shopped. He looked out for us and helped us to know if we were getting a good price, or not.
This first place we stopped at the Art Market was the shop Tracey had told about to get drums at a good price. We purchased 2 carved drums for 35 cedis each, a price she had negotiated the previous week. Before we were able to pick out our drums we were treated to mini concert (I’ll post video once we have completed the puzzles). We selected one with a giraffe and African village scene. The other was similar except it had a kente cloth pattern for the upper portion. It was a great time with the drum craftsmen. Charles took the drums to the taxi so we wouldn't have to carry them around the market.
We then looked around for a bit and got most of the gifts and items we wanted; a small giraffe carving, a thumb drum and several beaded bracelets. After a while some of the kids were starting to meltdown, so we decided to leave and go to the mall for lunch and groceries.
Before heading out we bought the kids ice cream, in a bag, from an ice cream bicycle vendor, 50p. The kids loved it. One thing we will have to address is the matter of trash. The kids finished up their ice cream as we were riding in the taxi. The windows were down since there is no air condition. Before we knew it, the kids threw their wrappers out the window, oops. However, this is quite common in
where there are few trash cans and a seemingly less concern for litter. Ghana
After lunch Ryan and Kristen took their boys back to the hotel & Rebecca, Tracey, their girl’s & our family went grocery shopping. Having to eat out was getting old and expensive. Thankfully, the hotel we are staying at allows us to use the kitchen after 5 as long as we clean-up after ourselves. Tonight we’re having pasta with red sauce.
There was something we experienced on the way home, something that will stay with us. We were at a rare stop just outside the mall when a little girl of about 8 or 9 reached her hand into Ken's side of the taxi. She then put her hand to her mouth asking for food. It broke our hearts. Our groceries were piled in the front of the taxi and we were not with Charles, so we couldn’t ask about the situation. Was this truly a starving child? Or did someone send her to beg? We moved a bit and she was replaced by a boy about 6 or 7 years of age. Each time lasted only a few seconds, but it is burned in our memory. I imagined my children begging for food, going hungry. We held our children a little tighter.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Once again we woke up to the rooster calls at around 6 and got ready, as we did yesterday, for court. As we waited for “K” to arrive I started getting nervous. We had no idea what to expect. What court would be like? What the judge would be like? How would the kids act? I was nervous we might say, or do, something wrong.
“K” arrived about 8:30. When we climbed into the car, Kwame was quick to announce that Vivi wore “bumpers” at night which made “K” & birth mom laugh. Yes, thanks to Rebecca sharing some of her daughter’s diapers, I was able to enjoy waking up dry. Thankfully Vivi was good about wearing them. Kwame also touched my heart when he tapped his mom on the shoulder and said, while pointing to Ken, “My daddy, my daddy.” She smiled and shook her head, yes.
As “K” led us down the path to the courtroom, he briefly introduced us to our social worker. He then led us into the courtroom. The room had rows of wooden benches with backs. There was also one row of benches along the side wall. In front of the benches there was a podium and in front of that had a raised floor where there were two desks. One was for the judge. The room had no air conditioning or fans, so it was very warm. The room filled up quickly.
Our family, along with Ryan & Kristen’s birth mom sat in the back row. Ryan, Kristen and our birth mom started out on the side benches. They moved to the row in front of us when they were forced to move because guards brought in handcuffed prisoners to sit there. Hmmm.
As we looked around we noticed the sign on the door. It said, gender based violence court #5. A guard stands by the door. Are we in the right place? We are all asked to rise as the judge enters the room. We sit and listen while several criminal cases are brought before her.
Vivi and Kwame were amazing. They colored, played quietly, and neatly ate snacks as we waited. Ken & Kwame drew together on the magna doodle, and Vivi & I played with her new Princess Tiana doll. Birth mom frequently looked back at them and would gesture to look at that toys the kids had. She would then look at them and give them back.
There was a break in the cases and Kwame informed Ken he had to go to the bathroom. Right before they walked out we heard it announced that adoptions would be heard next. Great timing! Shortly after they left, “K” gestured for us to come forward. I quickly started shoving toys & such into bags. We had two backpacks several big bottles of water. Plus, Vivi had her bag. Ryan, seeing me struggle, came back to help me drag everything up to the front.
“K”, Kristen, their boys & their birth mom were directed up the platform and into the judge’s chambers by a guard/bailiff. As Ryan, Vivi, our birth mom & I approached the platform he made us stop. I wasn’t sure what to say, if to say anything; I didn’t want to get in trouble. Several minutes passed and “K” stepped out of the judge’s chambers and called for Ryan to come. By that time Ken & Kwame were back.
Not too much time passed and it was then our turn to go into the room. Ken, Kwame & Birth Mom sat on the couch that was along the back wall of the judge’s office. Vivian, “K” & I sat on the couch that was along the side wall. Diagonally across from us sat the judge at her desk. Our lawyer, the one we hadn’t met, and the social worker sat in front of her desk.
Then judge called off each of our names and we signaled to her that we were there. As our lawyer proceeded to present our case to the judge I watched. I watched my husband and my almost-son sitting next to each other holding hands. I watched their hands and tried not to get emotional. I watched Birth Mom, wondering what she must be thinking and feeling. Watching Vivi in my lap, excited to almost be her mother, but also wondered what she & Kwame understood of what was happening. I watched as the lawyer told the judge about our family. I watched, listened, and was moved by how our lives were about to be changed forever. It was exciting and sobering at the same time. Finally we heard what we have been waiting to hear for a year and a half. The lawyer petitioned the judge to grant us the adoption and the judge spoke the words that were music to our ears, “It is granted”. I wanted to yell out for joy, I wanted to run and give the judge a hug, I wanted to cry, but instead we each said thank you and walked out of the room. Solomon Kwame Okia and Vivian Afua Teye are now Solomon Kwame and Vivian Afua Bechtold.
I knew our time with Birth Mom had to be almost over and there were things I really wanted to ask. I asked “K” to interpret for us and we were able to get a few of our questions answered. There were so many more questions I did not get the chance to ask, things I will never be able to pass along to the children. But I am very thankful for the questions I was able to ask & the answers I was able to get.
It was then time to go. Ken, the kids, and I got into a taxi and headed back to the hotel. Ryan, Kristen, the birth moms and “K” went to try and pick up some documents that Ryan & Kristen still needed. We were going to go out for lunch when they got back. A lot of time passed when the phone rang and it was Kristen asking if we wanted to meet up with the rest of the group and have lunch at a place “K” was taking them, a Chop Shop. Of course! So off we went again. I had hoped it would give me an opportunity to ask more questions of their birth mom, but that was not to be. We did get more pictures, which was nice.
Ken eating fish & rice. I only ate the rice & sauce.
After lunch we got in “K’s” car and he took us to his home and his brother took the birth moms home. After visiting for a bit “K” took us back to the hotel. 6 adults and 4 kids piled into his 5 passenger car. Thankfully his car was air conditioned.
When we got back to the hotel we had a chance to Skype with Charmaine and a couple of her kids. We also got to Skype with Jacob and some family. We then took a much needed nap and chilled the rest of the day. We ate Peanut butter sandwiches for dinner; they were a hit.
We are so happy that we are now officially a family of six. What an amazing life changing day.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
One thing I forgot to tell you was, the reason we had chosen to stay at the Pentagon Hotel was because an adoption friend had told us about it. She and another American mom had been staying there and would still be there during our stay. Tracey and Rebecca where such a valuable resource and support for us.
We woke up around 6 to get ready for our big day. No need for an alarm clock, the roosters took care of that. Ryan & Kristen showed up around 7 and we sat down to a breakfast of eggs, toast, instant coffee and some super yummy watermelon.
We then anxiously waited for “K” to arrive and take us to our court appointment. 8 o’clock came and went. We tried to keep the kids occupied while also keeping them clean and presentable. 9 o’clock passed, then 10 o’clock. We had to remind ourselves we are on
time. At 10:30 the phone rang. It was “K” informing us that court was full and we would go same time tomorrow instead. We were disappointed, but at least we’ll be going tomorrow and not Tuesday, which is when we thought the “make-up” day would be. Ghana
After we got the news we all got ready and went swimming. The kids loved the pool! The boys had a blast jumping in and wrestling around in the water with Ken & Ryan. Miss Vivi took to the water with more caution.
After swimming, and per Tracey’s recommendation, we went and ate at Frankie’s in town. Frankie’s is a restaurant that carries various international foods. She also put us in contact with Charles, the taxi driver they use. He is very nice and even helped us get a phone and minutes needed to use it.
We also got to experience street vendors, who if you engage at all, will not cease to pester you. I got very good at saying “no”.
After lunch we went back to the hotel & swam some more. It was a wonderful family bonding time.
We finished the night with the movie Lion King; courtesy of Rebecca. Rebecca, if you are reading this thank you, thank you, thank you, the movies were a life saver. After the movie it was off to bed. Hopefully tomorrow we will be going to court.
Court being canceled was a blessing; it gave us a time for us to get to know our kids and for them to get to know us. We learned more about their personalities and became more comfortable with each other. I can’t help but wonder what they must be thinking and feeling. And wondering how much they understand about what’s going on. It is hard to know these things since they speak very little English and we of course know only a few Twi words. They do seem to be bonding with us which is beyond wonderful.
Monday, August 1, 2011
I’m going to keep it real; today was a bit rough for me.
I wouldn’t say that I got the best sleep last night. Between being in an unfamiliar place, the excitement of the day, Kwame almost falling out of bed, and waking up in the middle of the night wet from shoulder to knee (courtesy of my daughter), it was a restless night.
We were the last of the three families to get up. They had already eaten and were getting ready to go swimming when we got up and ordered our breakfast. Our kids were not too happy that they weren’t getting to go swimming in the very green pool. As a result, Vivi kept running off; it became a game for her. We finally got everyone settled down to breakfast.
After breakfast, and a couple more Vivi chases, we got our stuff packed up and got ready for “K” to pick us up. The plan is to go back to the foster home to drop off Eric & Jenni’s children because they are flying back to the States tonight.
We made the short trip back to the foster home and soon learned that the girl I spoke with the night before was Kwame & Vivi’s biological sister. Because if that, and the fact that the grandmother of Ryan & Kristen’s boys was there the previous night, we asked about our children’s birth mom. We were very surprised when we were told she was inside the foster home.
My heart started pounding when we then learned she had also been there the previous night. She was there watching as we met our children, her children. Ken had actually spoken to her, not knowing who she was. It was a very strange feeling. What did she think of us? What did she think of us loving on her children; telling them we were their mommy & daddy? What had she felt as she watched us?
Their mother knew hardly any English so we were not really able to talk to her. She smiled and giggled a lot. I’m sure she had to be as nervous as we were. No sooner had we met then we were climbing back into the van, birth moms included, to go see the new orphanage that “K” was building.
The land that the orphanage was on is beautiful. And the building is looking great.. He shared with us his plans and details. One of his goals is to be self sufficient; crops including corn & mangos. It was all very exciting to hear. It was then time to head back to the foster home and drop off those staying.
We got back to the orphanage and the birth moms disappeared. Feeling like time was running out I asked their sister what she thought her mom would want the children to remember. I’m not sure if she understood my question because she said she wanted them to obey and do what they are told. Two other girls came up and said they too were sisters. We were so surprised to learn this. Birth mom then reappeared. We wanted to make sure we got pictures for the kids to have, so we gathered birth mom and the sisters together and took pictures. We would later learn that the two newly introduced sisters were not biological sisters. Thank goodness for photo shop…when I learn to use it. J
When birth mom reappeared I had not noticed that she had a bag with her. Heart pounding again, I remember that she would be going to court with us and because Kwahu & Accra are so far away from each other they would of course be riding with us. I said something to Kristen and I’m not sure we knew what to think. For me I was ready to stop traveling and start really bonding with my children.
Before we piled into the $300 (split between the 3 American families) non-air conditioned rental van for our 1 way trip to
, “E” & “J” had to say good bye to their children. It was so hard to watch. I knew it wouldn’t be long before we would be saying goodbye to our children. It had to be even harder for them as they had to watch us loving on our kids. Accra
Finally we were off. 11 adults, 4 children, and loads of luggage for our 3 1/2+ hour trip to
One thing I learned is that my kids are great travelers. Put them in a car and they are fast asleep, especially Vivian.
Nothing too exciting happened on the trip. It rain for a while and my window was stuck open so I got a bit wet; it was refreshing though. We stopped for lunch and the 3 families split the bill. It was so hard to be traveling with their birth mom and not be able to talk to her.
After dropping off Eric & Jenni we finally made it to the hotel where we had made reservations. The birth moms got out of the van, with their bags, and started walking toward the hotel. My heart was pounding; they aren’t stay with us are they? Not that I had anything against her, I was just ready to have my family to myself. Thankfully they would not.
We then learned that only one of the rooms was available…ugh, not again. We ended up staying in the single room. The bed was a double….sigh. Ryan & Kristen were brought to a near by hotel & would be able to check into a double room tomorrow. “K” informed us he would pick us up at 8 in the morning so we could be at court by 9.
As we get ready for bed I am trying to process what has happened thus far. We have basically been traveling for two days: plane, car, taxis, bus, and van. We are in an amazing country; one I never thought I would see in my life. We have met, after almost two years of waiting, the children that were about to be legally ours; these two little strangers in my bed. And we spent more time than I had expected with their birth mom who, whether reluctantly or not, watched as we loved on her children, checking out the gifts we had given them, smiling when she’d see me watching her watching them. What a crazy, unbelievable, overwhelming, wonderful, full of surprises last 48 hours. My only regret is that we have not had more quality time with the kids before they become legally ours; more time to get to know them better. With that I will say goodnight. I still can’t believe tomorrow we will become a family of 6.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Our children are Solomon Kwame Okai and Vivian Afua Teye. We learned quickly after meeting them that Solomon doesn’t answer to Solomon. He goes by his middle name Kwame which means Saturday born. I was informed that Vivian is pronounced Viv-Yen. And we have loving nicknamed her Vivi. Vivi’s middle name, Afua, means Friday born. The day of the week the child is born is very important in their culture.
They are siblings. Kwame will be 6 on August 12th and Vivi turned 5 on July 8th. They are 11 months apart.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Our original plan was to arrive at the foster home during the day, spend time with the kids, have them sleep at the foster home that night, and then get them the next day, but the delay threw everything off. You learn quickly that you need to be very flexible.
When we exited the taxi it was dark and we walked down what seemed like an alleyway. We arrived at the foster home around 9:30pm. We were hungry, thirsty, hot, sweaty, jet-lagged, and experiencing culture shock. We expected to see “K” waiting for us, but he was not there. We learned later that he his vehicle had broken down along the way.
We came up to the green gate that we had seen in pictures, and the realization that we were about to meet our children really started to hit. I remember trying to find a place to set my bag down where I could keep and eye on it (I didn’t want it to be mistaken for donations). I vaguely remember the donation bag being given to one of the ladies who we thought might be an Auntie. We weren’t sure if we did it right because there sure seemed to be a free for all with the donations. This was all so new to us and we didn’t know if we were doing things right.
I don’t know if I was overwhelmed, experiencing culture shock, or just beyond tired; maybe I was just trying to process it all, when I heard Ken say, “Michelle, turn around.” When I turned around, there stood our daughter, Vivian, wearing a pink princess Tiana nightgown. It was so surreal. I dropped to my knees and took her into my arms. I held her, told her I was her mommy, and told her that I loved her. She was so cuddly and sweet, not to mention she was obviously tired since it was so late.
I then asked about Solomon and a little boy identified himself as being him. Another little boy was confirming that. I had seen many pictures of my son; he was not it. I told Ken what was happening, I wasn’t sure what to do. I then asked one of the adults where Solomon was and they quickly disappeared and came back with a freshly woken up little boy…our son. I felt so bad that he had been woken up, but I was glad to have him in my arms. No sooner was he in my arms then he was taken away and soon returned with his face and shirt all wet. He had obviously been dunked, or splashed with water, to wake him up; poor little guy.
I don’t know how long we were there, we of course took lots of pictures, but the time there was spent holding and loving on our kids. I know there were other adults and children in the room, but I all could see and focus on were Vivian and Solomon. We switched back and forth with the kids, each getting a moment with each of them. They were very affectionate and comfortable with us. They kept touching our faces and stroking our hair. Vivian eventually fell asleep in my lap.
We receive word that “K” had finally arrived and was ready to take us to our hotel. Unfortunately it was not the hotel we had reserved; they had given away our room due to our delay, ugh! Thankfully “K” had found one that had rooms available that wasn’t too far away. I went to give my sleeping Vivian to one of the girl’s so she could put her to bed and was told, “No, you take.” This was another one of those “flexible” moments we’d experience. So we took the children with us; Vivian in her nightgown and no shoes, and Solomon wearing a blue long sleeved button down shirt, black shorts, and disintegrating pink flip-flops.
The first thing we did when we arrived at the hotel was to buy a large bottle of water. Ah, refreshing. My feet were SO swollen! Ken dug out some beef jerky he had in our luggage and we feasted. They had given us an extra blanket to use as a bed on the floor for one of the kids. We got the kids ready for bed and Kwame climbed on the blanket. After climbing into bed Ken pulled Kwame into bed with us and the huge smile he gave us let us know we made the right choice. I was nervous he would fall out of the bed since we were all crowded into a double bed and he was on the edge. I said to Ken, “Put him in the middle. You’re going to knock him out of the bed.” He assured me he wouldn’t. Guess what, he almost did! I happened to wake up in time to see him starting to fall out of bed. I grabbed his arm and kept him from falling and yelled for Ken to catch him. After moving him to the middle we finally all fell asleep once again. Good night all.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
We walked off the plane onto the tarmac
and boarded a bus to take us to the main terminal.
We were kind of nervous to go through customs but it went good, well almost. We were told on the plane that we only had to fill out one declaration form per family (I think that is what it’s called), but in fact, each person needed to fill one out. They were gracious about it and I quickly filled it out so we could be on our way.
Since we arrived a day later than planned we weren’t sure who was going to pick us up, or if anyone would be there to get us. It had also been previously arranged for someone from the Fern House to be at the airport to pick up two suitcases that we had brought; we didn’t know if we’d be lugging four suitcases to Kwahu or if they’d be there.
Thankfully we walked out to see a man holding a sign with our last names on it. Then, as we followed him out the door, there was another guy holding The Fern House sign, thank you Lord.
We then went to a nearby hotel were the driver went to check on a family who would be traveling with us to Kwahu. Then it was off to the US Embassy where we would wait for our POA to finish with the appointments he had scheduled for that day. It was a bit un-nerving to have to leave all our electronics and bags (which held all our important documents) at the front desk, but that’s how it’s done.
Our driver then took us in to meet “K”, our POA. We walked into one of the buildings. It was a long narrow room. The room was lined with chairs and every chair was filled with a person, not to mention those standing, waiting for their appointments. “K” was very nice. After introductions he said he’d like to take us to meet the kids. MEET THE KIDS?!?!? Did he mean OUR kids?!?! My, and Kristen’s, heart about stopped. This is not what we had expected. We were led to the courtyard where we met 5 kiddos, representing 2 families, who were there for their visa exit interview. I’m not going to lie and tell you we weren’t a little disappointed, but it will be great to meet our in the morning when we are refreshed and more prepared.
We spent what we think were the next 4+ hours in the Embassy courtyard playing with the kids. While we had fun playing with kids we couldn’t help but wish we were playing with our kids. We wondered what their personalities were like, and how they would react to us. I will say we were excited to be a part of learning that the interviews had been a success, and these children would soon be with their forever families.
The birth moms were also there. One was busy nursing her twins (at the same time), one seemed shy, and one of them tried to give us a crash course in Twi. She kept laughing as we’d say a word wrong, or would forget one she’d just taught us.
Finally it was time to go. Since we were such a large group we had to take multiple modes of transportation to get to Kwahu. We first split up from Ryan & Kristen and took a taxi to the bus depot; where we would meet up with them again. With us traveled little “A” who we had just spent the afternoon with. The other family rode with our POA, and our luggage, to the foster home.
We had to wait for an hour on the bus while we waited for it to fill up. Full bus equals departure time. With us were 6 kids, yes we gained one more, the four of us and the driver who had picked us up from the airport.
While we waited I had a guy blow me a kiss, through the window, as he tried to get me to buy something from him. There were SO many people selling all kinds of things, most of which were carried on the top of their heads (I wish I had a picture of this). Women even came on the bus with their wares. We weren’t sure if it was safe to buy any of the food, which was tough because we were hungry. We hadn’t eaten, or drank, anything since 6:30 this morning on the plane. Next time we’ll be prepared!
We finally left at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The driving here is crazy. You have a two lane road with about 5 cars going various ways at the same time. Everyone is frequently blowing their horns. There were hardly any stoplights/signs anywhere. I was so surprised we didn’t witness any accidents. It was also interesting when the charter bus would basically go off-roading on tiny roads through tight inhabited areas. Thankfully it was air conditioned and while we couldn’t understand it, they entertained us with Ghanaian movies. Oh, and we were very happy to remember we had a couple Snicker bars in our bag; we were so hungry. Little miss “A” slept on my lap the whole way. If I remember correctly, we stopped about 9 and had to take a taxi the rest of the way to the foster home.