Famous Last Words

Our Adoption Journey to Haiti

Perspective March 20, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — rgraham100 @ 5:12 pm

Every trip to Haiti has looked and felt different.  I’ve learned so much over the past 16 months.  It was such a joy to be able to experience J’s home country with Jen, Colleen, and Erin.  Every night after we would return to the hotel from the orphanage, we would sit outside to eat dinner and talk for hours about our adventures that day.

We all admittedly know absolutely nothing about the country and could not even begin to scratch the surface on the complexities of its history, current conditions, or the future prospect of its people.

I wanted to share with you the perspective of each woman on the trip in their own voice…

Colleen-

Great Expectations vs Reality: 

INFANT/TODDLER ROOM:  In retrospect, I was not at all properly prepared for my time in the infant/toddler room.  Without realizing it at the time, I now see that I was envisioning a church nursery set-up where I’d be rocking sleepy, snuggly newborns who have that new baby smell with soft music playing in the background.  As a parent who has had 3 kids in a daycare setting, I also anticipated some kind of tracking system for which kids were in the room, who had eaten and who hadn’t, and a secure door to keep the children contained.  Let’s compare these expectations to the realities I experienced:

(1)  Instead of lullabies there was talk radio playing in French/Creole.  (silver lining – the babies and toddlers are hearing words/sounds)

(2)  Instead of rocking chairs there were a few toddler sized plastic chairs.  (silver lining – at least some of the kids had places to sit other than the floor)

(3) Instead of the sweet newborn baby smell there was a smell of urine as the babies/toddlers were in cloth diapers primarily rather than disposable diapers and unfortunately many of those cloth diapers were soiled. (silver lining – ummmm, hmmmmm, well, cloth diapers are better for the environment??!?)

(4)  The door to the infant/toddler room was sometimes closed/locked and sometimes left opened/unlocked so the babies/toddlers often could come and go from the room into the hallway as they wished.  There was no tracking system that I saw for keeping track of who should be there and/or who had eaten and/or who had been changed.  This was such a shock to my Type A personality.  (silver linings – (1) the freedom of mobility seems to have led to good physical development in most of the children – lots of kids were crawling, creeping, walking and even a 5 month old and a 6 month old were both already sitting up on their own.  (2)  The open/unlocked door to the infant/toddler room allowed many of the older kids to come in the room and interact with the little ones and help the nannies – this was heartwarming to see; (3) perhaps the nannies just know “their” 18-20 kids all so well that they don’t need lists and tracking forms any more than I need one for my own kids at home.)

(5)  Kids as young as probably 9 months old had already begun pushing other kids away who came near them when they were being fed for fear that the other child would take their food.  This was heart-breaking to see.  (silver lining – hmmm, another hard one, I guess the kids have good situational awareness and are learning to stick-up for themselves??).

One last note on the infant/toddler room – the nannies in that room in particular have an amazingly difficult job.  While some things were surprising to me or maybe not the way I would do it, these women clearly love these children and work very hard.  Additionally, seeing the older kids love on these little kids too was so encouraging and sweet.  Most importantly, in general, the babies/toddlers were happy and playful and very physically capable!

SOCCER:  God had laid on my heart to spend some time playing soccer with the big kids during my time in Haiti so I was thankful when the opportunity presented itself on Saturday.  I’ve played soccer in some pretty poor parts of Brazil before so I thought I was definitely prepared for this.  I expected to play in dusty dirt.  I expected to have make-shift goals.  I expected to see some kids playing in non-soccer shoes and I expected many kids to just be playing in bare feet.  I wasn’t too far off with these expectations but I still had some surprises.  We did play on a dusty dirt field and the kids did have make-shift goals (but they were full sized goals)!  I did see kids playing in whatever shoes they had and many played in bare feet.  But I was still surprised to see kids playing (effectively!) in flip-flops and also surprised to see another kid playing in tall, rubber rain boots!  One child actually had a good pair of soccer cleats and a second child did too but his cleats had no laces at all (yet somehow he could run in them?!).  The most surprising situation however, was the child playing with one soccer cleat on and one bare foot!!!  What??!?!  It didn’t seem to bother him in the least but that kind of unevenness would drive this woman crazy.  LOL!

It’s worth mentioning that these soccer boys were so sweet and they welcomed me with open arms to play with them.  We had such a fun game and scored lots of goals on both teams so there was lots of celebrating which was super fun.  Also, I think the hearts of these boys was really on display when I did a head ball and my sunglasses broke and immediately a group of boys all came running over to help fix it!  It was so nice and they were able to pop my lens back in and fix my glasses.   The boy who actually fixed it was so proud of himself and so excited to show me!  It was a sweet, sweet moment.

HANGING OUT:  The other thing that I realized I was expecting was a big central area for hanging out.  I guess I was envisioning an area with couches and shelves with games and toys and puzzles and books.  There was nothing like that at the orphanage – at least that I saw.  In fact, I only saw one book the entire time I was at the orphanage which really breaks my heart because reading is such a huge part of my own children’s life. I’m hopeful there are maybe books in the kids’ bedrooms or at their school that I just didn’t see.  I’m also not sure I saw any toys or activities other than the ones we brought and the indoor/outdoor playgrounds.  But consistent with Becky’s past trips, we used the 3rd floor balcony as a central hang out place to spend time with the children and of course, we spent lots of time outside too!  This worked out great but just wasn’t quite what I had initially envisioned.

Erin-

My highlights:
-From my perspective, the most significant impact that Rocky (our driver) had on our trip was the revelation that we could buy food from the street vendors – thereby feeding the kids at the orphanage (with food they wanted to eat) and supporting many hard-working women (and men). Thinking of the lady from whom we purchased 150 meals, we paid her, which fed her family, some of whom were working with her. To fulfill our order, she had to buy extra food and supplies, which supported others in the chain. Even if this business school lesson had occurred to me at the time, I never would have felt comfortable to act on it without Rocky. Such a practical, win-win and I loved it.
Low points:
-Obviously, the kids we encountered live vastly different than most kids I know. Though they live more in want than in plenty in physical terms, the most striking disparity is their connection to family. The only time I choked back tears was when a girl flung her arms around me in such an obvious “I never get hugged” way. There were lots of hugs over the trip, but this was the one that stood out as symbolic of the craving for attention and love. I do not think the orphanage is void of love and emotional connection, but the dynamics are certainly not the same as a family setting. I’m not sure what was more heartbreaking – the four-month old infant I held or the 17 year old who is about to step out into the world.

 

Jen-

If I were to give advice to anyone going to any 3rd world country I would say, you are going to see things that are completely foreign and maybe unimaginable in the bubble we have lived in, however, some things are different – but not necessarily completely wrong. I’m also reminded of a quote I’ve heard attributed to Mr. Rogers (yes, the one we watched growing up!). I’m paraphrasing – he said his mother always told him if he was in an emergency situation he should always look for the helpers – the police, the doctors, the strangers that help each other. I wish on this trip I would have focused on that more. I wish I would have focused more on the smiles and the laughter versus the other. In retrospect I see the helpers and the good, but I wish I could have seen it more when I was in Haiti.

 

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Mangos and Street Food  March 12, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — rgraham100 @ 10:24 pm

We got a late start today. The time change here in Haiti is not quite so straightforward because sometimes they change and sometimes they don’t. Well this year they decided to change, but the telecom companies didn’t get the memo, so Lewis the translator was a bit late😀.

We knew today was going to be a long day with a lot of moving parts. Our driver picked up more mangoes and waters for the kids. And we ordered street food for the entire orphanage.

All of us were experiencing toddler fatigue. We adore those cute faces, but we needed to reclaim our personal space so we invited the older kids to hang with us on the balcony all morning. It was glorious! They made bracelets, made puzzles, they did adult coloring books…in general it was peaceful and fun. 

J was very chill today as well, which was great for me to just sit with him and listen to music.

I want to thank Colleen’s friends and family who allowed us to purchase more than 300 mangoes and bags of water; diapers; 50 jars of baby food; and 150 meals for the kids and staff at Foyer. The best part was that the $$ was for the most part put directly into the hands of Haitian workers. Also, big shout out to Amy Nolan for helping to purchase diapers and formula for the babies!!

The meals arrived around 1 and they were a hit! All the kids devoured the chicken and savoured every last morsel.


In the afternoon, Erin entertained the littles with wiki stixs, pipe cleaners, and sidewalk chalk.

Colleen and Jen fed at least 20 babies pears, apples, guava, etc…

We passed out mangoes and water again around 4. We said our goodbyes and were off☹️


It was an awesome trip-our driver really made the difference. He helped to connect us more directly to the economy and use our resources in a meaningful way. He also opened our minds a bit more about the complexities of this tiny, beautiful place.

We head home tomorrow to snow…but families who are ready for mom to be home.

 

Baseball player March 11, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — rgraham100 @ 10:54 pm

A lot happened today, which I will get to shortly. The most important news to share is that J used a plastic toy bowling pin and bowling ball to simulate a baseball bat and ball. Be still my heart. 

Ok, now back to the rest of day. We met our driver and translator at 9. Our driver picked up 180 bags of water and 125 mangoes on his way to pick us up to give to the kids today.

Colleen  and Jen both received donations for this trip, so we have been using the donations to buy fruit, diapers, formula, etc…We still had quite a bit of $$ left, so we decided to ask a lady on the street if she could make 150 individual chicken/rice/beans meals for the kids and staff at the orphanage. We found a woman on the street who Lewis said made delicious food. She normally doesn’t cook Sundays, but made an exception for us. She is even going to deliver the food.


We arrived to the orphanage and passed out the water and mangoes, which were a huge hit.


I’ve noticed on these past two trips that J is much more active. We used to spend most of our day on the balcony, but now most of our day is spent running around the yard. Which is great, but makes for one tired mama.

A fellow adoptive mom paid for a ministry called Outside the Bowl to deliver beans, rice, and chicken sauce for all the kids, which was great to see all the kids with full bellies. J said the prayer for his group before they ate, which was adorable beyond words.

He also rode on a bike today, with the help of our buddy Gabriel.

Jen hung with babies again. 

Colleen played soccer with the older boys-she’s the tall white person in the picture below.


Erin did lots of puzzles and had several kids clinging to her ALL DAY. 

We left the orphanage a little early and did some shopping at the Apparent Project. We loaded up on gifts and then got smoothies at Clay Cafe. 

 

These Ladies Keep This Place Running March 10, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — rgraham100 @ 10:31 pm

Excited to get our day started, we all met for breakfast at 8. We filled up on watermelon, sweet rolls, and omelettes. We met our driver around 9. He is an American who has been in Haiti for 3 years. He runs a bed and breakfast with his wife and is very familiar with Haitian adoptions as he is adopting two kids and most of his hotel guests are adoptive family.

Our driver was unbelievably helpful and informative. We usually stop at a local grocery store to buy supplies to make lunch for kids. Our driver encouraged us to instead put our money into the hands of the ladies who sell goods on the side of the road. 

He told us about these Haitian women who are up at 3 am, getting their supplies from the markets to sell for the day. They are warming us their ovens to cook pate for the kids who go to school early. “These ladies keep this place running”, he told us.

We decided to buy bananas, mangoes, and peanut butter sandwiches from the ladies. It was an adventure. We made a rookie mistake by getting out of the car at the first vendor. The seller wouldn’t negotiate on price, so our driver moved on. He said it would be a bad precedence to buy from someone who won’t negotiate. 

The next three vendors were a success. Our driver told us that the ladies did not believe him when he requested to buy all of their merchandise (we bought a lot of fruit!). He kept having explain himself and reassure the ladies that he was serious.

We arrived to Foyer a little before 11. Apparently J goes to school now. Who knew? Kiki from Foyer went to fetch him for me. 

When he got to the orphanage, I got a huge smile and running hug❤❤.  Colleen and Jen headed to baby room and jumped in feeding and changing diapers. 

Erin got busy coloring/painting with the little kids.

Our driver helped us keep some semblance of order for the fruit/sandwich distribution. 

We rolled through our day playing with sidewalk chalk, painting, coloring, pipe cleaners, etc…

I followed J’s lead. He was equal parts sweet/snugly and mischievous (he somehow got a hold of a sharp stick and was terrorizing other children with before I finally wrangled it away).

We made it through our first day and left around 4, exhausted and emotionally spent. We are now back at the hotel drinking wine poolside watching stereotypical Americans on spring break chicken fighting in the pool.

 

Traveling with a VIP

Filed under: Uncategorized — rgraham100 @ 1:30 am

We made it! 

The four of us (Colleen, Erin, Jen, and me) had uneventful first legs of our trip and met in Miami around 10 am. We grabbed lunch at our favorite airport Mexican restaurant and headed to Port-au-Prince around 12:30.

Erin, Colleen, and I sat in the back of the airplane with the rif raff. Not Jen. She sat in first class with the diplomats and money makers. 

Once us coach travelers finally made it off the back of the airplane, we headed through customs in record time. We then went to baggage claim, where we got to meet one of Jen’s new friends from first class😀 

Once we all got our luggage, we went and found our ride to the hotel.  We held our own on this trip! Only one us gave up our bag for “assistance” and a tip. Not too bad.

We made the short trip to the hotel. We settled in and organized supplies for tomorrow. And then headed to the outdoor seating area of the restaurant for some red wine, rum punch, and Prestige beer. We ate Haitian cuisine tonight: accra (friend veggie hash);  and various meat dishes with beans and rice prepared creole style. 

We are off to bed now (I love these early bedtimes in Haiti) to get some rest before our first day at the orphanage tomorrow.

 

Trip #6 March 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — rgraham100 @ 2:53 pm

It is hard to believe that our first trip to Haiti was only 17 months ago.  Patrick and I were reminiscing last night about how our perception and feelings on these trips have drastically evolved.  The very things that at first felt so foreign and unsafe (driving, navigating the airport, etc…) are now some of our favorite parts of our visits.

We are unbelievably blessed to be able to visit our son so frequently (although I miss him fiercely in between visits).  And that we have family and friends who are willing to invest in our family and the kids at our orphanage to accompany us on these adventures.

I leave this Thursday for our sixth trip.  All the boys are staying home because this is a LADIES trip!  I am thrilled that our friends Colleen, Erin, and Jen are joining me.  Two of us are traveling from Virginia, one from North Carolina, and one from Ohio.  We will meet in Miami Thursday afternoon and head to Port-au-Prince together.

All of these ladies are moms with busy lives, jobs,  and families that they are leaving behind – we are so grateful for their love, support, and sacrifice to join me.

Please pray for our trip  – for safe travels, health, and opened eyes/hearts.  I’ll keep you posted during our visit!

 

 

 

 
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