Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Visiting the village...by guest blogger, Kayla Cervenka

I promised you a guest post and here it is!!  I love the idea of sharing our thoughts and fears with each other and adore this woman and her heart.  She has been in Uganda for about two weeks now and will be staying for about 4 and a half months doing an internship with Sole Hope.  This post is from the day we did resettlement and it was quite an experience!  Can't wait for you to enjoy it from her perspective...

It was my first time ever visiting a village in Uganda. I was really excited for this new experience but also a little unsure as people kept telling me it would be a long trip there.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All I knew was that I was so excited that these children who had been living at the Outreach house were finally able to be resettled with their families! These children who came to Sole Hope, severely affected by jiggers, are now jigger free and full of hope! It is a beautiful transformation to see and it is why resettlement is such an exciting part of what Sole Hope does.

We loaded up the van and headed out towards the village.  There were 21 adults and children, and three babies in the van so it was quite a tight fit. I‘ve come to realize that this is quite typical for Uganda, so I just went along with it as a tiny one-month-old baby slept in my lap.

Eventually we went from pavement to red dirt roads and the ride got a little bumpier. We headed into Kamuli and along the way we dropped some people off while others hopped into the car. I was quite confused as random people kept coming in the car and at one point there were 25 of us all crammed into the van. Once again, I didn’t ask questions but just went along with it because hey, this is normal (I think)! As we headed further into the different villages children would wave and yell “Muzungu!” There was lots of smiling and waving out the van window and we passed the children. When it came time to drop off a few of the kids being resettled, we would pull over to the side and they would hop out. Before the children could even get out of the van there was already a crowd of children from the village gathered together outside our van. They would all just stare at us, eyes wide full of wonder. Many of them would wave and smile, occasionally saying something in Lusoga. It’s funny to me. There is often a language barrier, which can be hard, but I find it so beautiful that people can still radiate joy and love to one another without even a single word.  There was so much staring, smiling and giggling between one another as we passed through the villages. My mouth hurt from smiling so much but my heart was filled with so much joy!

We kept on bouncing along the bumpy red dirt roads, dropping children off along the way to their respective villages.  As we dropped of one of the children for resettlement, I got out of the van and there was a little girl staring at me. Her beautiful brown eyes looked interested yet terrified at the same time. I held my hand out and smiled, reassuring her that I wasn’t going to hurt her. As I slowly walked towards her she sprinted in the other direction and hid behind her mom. She was scared of me. I was foreign to her. She had never seen a white person. I was slightly in shock. What would it be like to never have seen someone that looked so differently than yourself? I realized it must have been like looking at a monster of some sort. Her mom reassured her that I was okay and with the help of her mother, the little girl slowly walked towards me, still looking quite unsure. I kept smiling
with my arm outstretched reassuring her that it was okay, even though she could not understand a word I was saying. She finally grabbed my hand and timidly said hello in Lusoga as she bowed down.  Bowing is a sign of respect around here, and as she knelt to the ground I stopped down beside her. As we knelt there, hand in hand, I couldn’t help but become flooded with emotion. This precious little girl has never seen a world beyond what she already knows. Her village, her people, only her own skin color. But here we were, from seemingly two different worlds, hand in hand, kneeling on the red dirt together speaking our own languages.  Yet even still, there was such a beautiful connection between us in that moment.

I loved my first experience of visiting the villages. It was all new to me and I loved getting to soak it all in. From seeing children return to their families, to experiencing a little girl’s courage overcome her fear, to simply being packed into a van with 25 people, it was an experience I will never forget.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Treasuring all these things

I promise you that it's coming.  I know you're dying to hear all the things I've promised to share.  My friends here and I have really tried to spend the last few days/evenings just being here together.  I had wonderful dinners with Sharon (our babies home director) that was much needed "us" time we haven't had since we hung out in Kampala before I left last time.  The whole Collie clan came over to share dinner with us last night and it reminded me so vividly of the full guest house we had during our adoption.  And the interns, I can't even begin to tell you how amazing these women are.  So grateful to have gotten to share this short piece of life with them.

Kayla, one of the interns, really is going to do a guest blog post for me about her first village experience the day we did resettlements for Sole Hope.  But I promise you, the time we've been spending in the moment has been so valuable that it had to be delayed for a day or two.

I also know there are many of you who have asked and wondered how our visit to our son's village went.  It was amazing.  I feel overjoyed with the experience.  And I do have things to share...some things.  Because even though this was my trip and my experience, it is still apart of our son's story.  And as you know, I am very cautious about sharing his story as it is not mine to share.

I won't get to the highlights now.  Maybe I'll write on the plane ride home (I can't believe I leave in less than 12 hours)!  But I came across this gem this morning while reading and this is exactly where I am with this story and these experiences.

Regardless of how you feel about the Bible, there are many lessons that can be learned.  I am taking a lesson from Mary this morning.  We don't hear much directly from Mary and I wonder if she realized she was just the protector of her son's story.  Entrusted with the pieces of the puzzle but not the one to put them together.  She knew he had to tell it in his own time, when he was ready.  In Luke 2, we see the story of Jesus' birth and specifically, in Luke 2:15, the shepherds had just been told about it by the angels, so they "hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby..."  The shepherds went about telling the world what they'd seen but Mary's response was different.  In vs 19 it says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Oh I can relate to that.  So many tidbits of information that I have received these two weeks, expanding on my son's story.  So many treasures I want to share with him.  And yet, if I share my experiences with you in whole, I have nothing left that is his.

Take heart, I promise to share some.  I do have some hilarious conversations with the infamous village chairman who we encountered for the first time whilst in court 16 months ago.  And other tidbits that are mine to share.  But for today, for now, this big story I will treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our family's village

I’m not sure why but man am I nervous today.  Restless sleep last night and longing to touch base with Justin this morning for reassurance.  I did have an awesome quiet time and reading what my peeps from bible study are reading back at home.  Miss you guys!

The reality is, it’s not like anything bad can happen today.  If anything, I am further paving the way to a future relationship between my Jonah and his biological family.  It’s kind of ironic.  One of the hesitations I had about domestic adoption was the horror stories I’ve heard of bio family interaction and we were concerned that if we adopted multiple times it would impact all our children, bio and adopted.  And yet here we are, reaching deep into the villages of Uganda to extend a hand, to love, to open a connection.  Oh, did I mention that, while not previously planned, my friend made it happen with little effort for me to go to Jonah's village and eat with his family?  Yeah, crazy!

Today, I will meet two of Jonah’s biological brothers for the first time.  I have seen their pictures and we have communicated through the babies home of their school status but that is the extent.  I met Jonah’s bio father twice, once in court, and once at the embassy appointment but with the language barrier, we did not communicate much.  Not to mention, at that place and time, I was so focused on getting Jonah home that I was less concerned with where we went in the future.

But here we are, in the future.  You know me, if I have a question, I will research it into the ground.  A little before we left and a ton since weve been home, I have been researching adoptees and when/how they figure out who they are.  So many people think that our child should feel so lucky that we brought him out of an orphanage and to America and wow how could he feel anything but grateful.  But that is very errant thinking.  Yes, Jonah is blessed to have a family who loves him.  We are just as blessed to have him as our child and to be Jack’s brother.  But the reality is, there’s a whole family that was left behind.  A whole family who looks like him, who spoke his language, who, despite being in a rough situation, still loves him.  (**If you’re in an adoption circle, please don’t read this and judge us and ask us why our child did not get resettled.  I do not owe you my son’s story, but I can assure you we exhausted every option before pursuing his IA. **)  It was not an option for Jonah to be in that or any of his other extended families homes, but that does not mean they will not always share a connection.  And from what I've read, that is a huge struggle for adoptees…connection.  Connection to people who look like you, to people who talk like you, to people who understand your culture and knowing where you came from.  How many Americans do all this research on ancestry?  Shoot, we have like 3 television shows about it!!  But we just expect our adoptees to be ok without knowing and in addition tell them they should feel grateful. 

Enough soapbox.  We are doing what we can about it.  I will not give you the specifics of how our family is working with the biological family but our primary focus are Jonah’s older brothers that were not put in the same position he was in and thus remain in the home.  And today, I get to meet them in person!!  Today I get to look into one teenagers eyes that looks strikingly similar to my little boy.  I cannot promise I will not cry.  For us adoption is more than just our son but he story, his family, his blood.  That means his brother, while he may be my son, is my family.  I want Jonah to know his homeland, his culture, his people.  I love it so much, I want him to have that opportunity as well.  He will choose what his relationship with his biological family looks like but we will give him every chance to know them and have consistent interaction as he desires and we will walk through those decisions with him as he grows and gets to a place to be able to make them.

SO, I’m going out of order a little bit because yesterday we, the two Sole Hope interns (who have been gracious enough to let this old woman hang out with them for the last week) and I, went to a village to do resettlement of the children who have been at the Sole Hope outreach house healing from their significant jigger removal.  I wanted to tell you about it but I’ve asked one of the interns to give you her experience because 1) she’s awesome and has a huge heart for helping people, 2) she’s from Illinois so she has to be great, 3) this was her first time in any village so she will give you more of that perspective while I love, and 4) she is a very artistic, creative, beautiful person and I can’t wait to see her post!  Her name is Kayla so stand by for pure awesomeness.  Then I will come back and let you know how the visit went!


Thursday is my last full day here and we will be doing the weekly jigger removal clinic.  Friday afternoon my friend Brian will be picking me up to runs some errands in Kampala and take me to the airport!  I can’t believe how fast the time goes.  Obviously I’m ready to see my boys but I am at such peace here.  Love to all of you!

Friday, January 16, 2015

A quick (awesome) story...

I intended to tell you this story when I arrived but it's been lost in the shuffle.  Only tonight did I realize how crazy the connections get when you get into this Uganda world!

As you may have heard, I ended up being on a flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe with a woman I have been facebook friends with for a while but haven't gotten to meet in person.  She posted about a month ago when she was coming and where she was flying through and I realized we were going to be traveling that stretch together!  It was so cool to actually meet in person and she had a team of 4 total including this awesome lady named Amber so I got to meet their whole team!

So we're talking in Amsterdam, fly to Uganda, and they are helping me so much gather my baggage since I was traveling alone.  As I'm loading one of my 70lb-ers onto the cart my friend, Brandi said, "Hey, where did you get that bracelet?"  I said, "Oh man, I love this so much.  I found it on Etsy and ordered it for myself for my husband to put in my stocking at Christmas.  And the cool part is, it even came neatly wrapped so all I had to do was literally put it in my stocking."

Brandi said, "Um, yeah so Amber made that."  SAY WHAT?  Yes, Amber, the girl I just met in Amsterdam, the girl traveling with Brandi to go to Uganda to teach women how to stamp leather to make stuff to sell and support their families...that Amber, she's the one I bought the bracelet from that I found on Etsy and bought for myself for Christmas.  SO crazy.

Seriously though, you should check this out.  The bracelets they stamp this week they will be selling and Amber sells some other awesome ones (like the one I bought) on there too!  Not to mention what a great way to support mamas and families around the world!

https://www.etsy.com/shop/VillageLoveCo

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jigger Digger

Ok, so not me.  I mean, I didn't actually remove any jiggers myself.  That is mostly Ugandans and a few Muzungus (white people) that do that.  But I did serve at the clinic today (sounds like I stayed at a holiday inn last night).  If you've been around me at all, you know of our love for Sole Hope and their mission in Uganda.  While non-profits seem to be a dime a dozen here, there is no other like theirs.

Weekly, they go into a village and conduct a jigger removal clinic.  Today, I was blessed to be a part of it.  I met two new friends, Vicky, an ex-pat who lives here with her family who started an organization to teach business locally and Nick, one of the founders of The Archibald Project, a media mission organization who, in which he and his wife make beautiful art to share the plight of orphan care.  Then there was Dru, myself, and a handful of Ugandans that set out this morning at 9:30 am (ok it was supposed to be then but we’re on Ugandan time so it was more like 10:30).  The setup is like a well-oiled machine.  Intake person (Ugandan) talks to the kids and checks them in.  Then they get in queue to have their feet washed.  Today, this was the Muzungu’s job.  Vicky and I (and Nick for a few) jumped right in and got our hands dirty.  And it felt like I washed a hundred feet today.  Then the children are carried from the washing station to the removal station where 6-8 Ugandans literally dug in and removed hundreds of jiggers today, about a hundred alone in that one child of which I posted a picture.  Once they’re finished getting treated, the children (and adults as well) are carried to the shoe fitting station where someone sizes the shoes and gives them to the child.  Of course there are stickers and sweeties (candy/suckers) galore to keep the children content during this rigorous process.  The hope is, once the child is jigger free and has shoes, they will remain that way and not be affected by these debilitating insects.

I am always so thankful to be a part of experiences like this.  Is never ceases to amaze me how much of a bubble we live in and how many luxuries we are afforded.  It sounds so silly but even here, staying at this beautiful guest house with a dairy right down the street (can you say fresh milk and ice cream from jersey cows), an amazing cook for the organization (Mary just opened her own Mexican restaurant in town), and very hard working people who daily sacrifice to love and care for people in need.  I am humbled to be in their presence.

One of these such people is a social worker, Adam, who now works for Sole Hope but used to work for the babies home from where we adopted.  I am always thankful for conversations with him and for his amazing work ethic and moral standard.  As an adoptive mom, especially in international adoption, you hear a LOT about unethical cases, children who bribes were paid for, whose families were lied to, etc.  You may read that and be appalled but you would be amazed at the number of organizations for which this is the standard.  After coming home with our Jonah there are times when I would go back and comb through paperwork and go over conversations in my head.  I’d chase facts down rabbit holes and annoy the crap out of my husband doing so.  I always just wanted to make sure that we didn't miss anything.  That poverty wasn't the only reason Jonah was with us.  That there were really no such family members, extended or immediate, that could care for Jonah in his home country amidst his culture.

I didn't write yesterday because, while I got to go to the outreach house and have some great nap and alone time, the highlight of my yesterday was my conversation with Adam.  We started discussing our case and some other issues he is working right now and how we had some similar and difficult experiences that he is currently dealing with.  As I have stated before, I will not be sharing details of our case publicly as these things make up Jonah’s story and they will be his to share when he is ready, but the point is not about Jonah’s story, the point is about the great sense of peace I received.  I had no reason to question him and the ONLY reason we worked with our babies home is because we did our research and trusted the director and our lawyer completely (and they have now become our dear friends).  But even still, you begin to wonder.  Adam recounted different aspects of our story and I loved that every detail was just right, just the same as it has always been.  After a year and a half, I know there would be no way he could have carried untruths.  In addition, I found out some other cool details of the extended family that I have captured in the journal I have been writing to Jonah to try and catch anything we possibly can of his origins.  What a gem.  And to know that this man is disgusted by some of the inner workings of other organizations and frustrations with the process, it is completely in alignment with what I would be searching for in an ethical adoption.  I slept so calmly last night having even more peace about our story and Jonah’s placement.  I am so thankful for these amazing people who love these kids and want to do the best for them, even if that means someone like a prospective adoptive parent is hurt in the process.


My thought of the trip has seemed to focus on freedom.  What does it mean to be free?  I wonder what your thoughts are on this question.  I’d love to hear!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Traveling Mercies

I’m here, I’m here! Be still my heart!

I could not have asked for a smoother trip with so many traveling mercies.  Because the flight was significantly cheaper, I drove to Dulles to catch my flight.  While the drive was rainy, I-95 was unusually sparse and I had time to make a quick stop at Ikea on the way J  Once I was loading the van, a super nice man came and helped me with two bigger boxes I had.  So awesome.

Then I was off to Dulles.  Because I had 3 bags that each weighed 70lbs but had planned on parking further away due to cost, I figured I’d go drop off the bags in short term parking and then get settled in with just me and my carry-ons.  I knew my bags were going to cost a lot but with the help of some awesome donors, I had offset that cost a bit.  I had called Delta the night before I left to ask them exactly what I was going to pay and they said since it was technically a KLM flight and I was technically checking in at the KLM counter, it was going to be based on their rates…so a sum total of $500.  YIKES!!  I didn’t freak out.  I stayed calm.  I figured we could get some more donations when I got back or something and it would all work out fine.  So I get to the short term parking lot, there was a cart right next to my car (woo hoo) and I lug the massive 210lbs to the terminal.  I’m not sure if it’s because I opened with “I’m Sky Priority, I’m in Economy, I have 3 bags, and every one of them is overweight” followed by handing him my credit card, or because I may have mentioned that one entire bag was all baby formula…regardless, instead of the $100 for each bag and the $300 for the extra and overweight third he only charged me $75 each for a total of $225 (which was already fully covered by donations)!!  I was stunned but acted cool (probably not really) and went to get to the cheap parking lot!

I get back to the airport and into the security line.  Unfortunately, my normal TSA Pre-Check was a no-go because I was traveling on a foreign carrier (I get way too spoiled with travel perks) so I head in line with the rest of the herd.  My liquids are out as they’re supposed to be but as soon as they go through the woman scanning said “all your individual amounts are fine but you have WAY too much in this one bag” and hands the bag to this other guy.  He takes me aside, asks me to knock it down by half and we’ll throw the stuff away, and I just go along knowing I couldn’t win even though this is literally all my toiletries for the whole trip because my bags are full of other stuff.  A nice older gentleman (that works there) walks over and says, “If there are any things in there for medicinal purposes, those don’t count.  May want to see what the bag looks like without them.”  So I start with things like eye drops and inhaler and he pulls out other stuff like Neosporin and Melaluca oil…then he starts grabbing the stuff I pulled out and starting putting it back in.  Needless to say, by the end of this fiasco, he has returned everything to the bag, hands it to me and says “that’s good.”  Say what???

Head to the lounge to relax and eat free food before we board.  A little concerned because no one has seen my carry-on bags yet and the rule for KLM is that they weight no more than 26lbs.  Welp, when you take a ton of stuff you want to fit in as much as possible.  This means packing everything for me in my carry-on only.  Plus more stuff for others.  So my rolly bag weighed more like 40lbs.  And my backpack at least 20.  Meh.  I held my breath as I boarded the plane and no one said a thing!  I was stunned and thankful.

Fast forward 7 hours and I land in Amsterdam.  It was really nice to walk and eat and rest.  I love Schipol airport and am grateful it’s Delta’s partner because it means I end up there about 4 times a year!  Oh those poffertjes…had a nice nap in the lounge and it was time to go again!  I get to the gate and got the pleasure of meeting a facebook friend in person for the first time!!  This is an awesome lady who runs a non-profit helping mothers in Uganda called Beauty for Ashes.  We hugged and chatted and I met her traveling crew and then it was time to board!  I find my seat, get everything settled and it’s time for takeoff…and no one is sitting next to me.  HOORAH!!  I had an 8 hour flight with no seat partner and man it went by so smoothly. 

As we arrived, we walked off the plane and saw everyone waiting to get on.  It started to hit me…this is where I left this all just 15 months ago.  There, in the window, stood a little boy, about the same age and size as Jonah when we were getting ready to depart.  I was so overcome by emotion.  So many things have transpired since we left here.  Yet I could see my little boy there so clearly, waiting to leave this beautiful country and trust us in this new place.  Whew!

All my bags arrived, Brandi’s crew helped me get my 3 big bags, my large carry-on and my back pack outside where the amazing Brian, my dear Ugandan friend and driver was there to meet me…and he brought friends too!  It was so great to see them. 

We set off on the few hour car ride from Entebbe to Jinja and I am impressed with how much they’ve improved Jinja road.  I was overjoyed as we crossed the Nile River and entered Jinja.  It was like coming home.  I remember all the sites and sounds (and horrible roads) so vividly and my heart was so full of joy. 

And, in true Ugandan style, as soon as we pulled up to the Sole Hope guest house, the power went out.


So thankful.