Adopting Ghana

Ghana: Day One

In Journal Entries on October 18, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Arrived 8:30am GMT after a 9 hour plane trip. Tired but excited, anxious and hopeful to meet Seth. People on the flight cheered and applauded the pilot upon landing. He came on the intercom and, laughing, said “Akwaaba!” (“Welcome!”).

A lady on the plane asked me to hold her darling baby girl while she pulled her luggage. She referred to me as “Uncle” when asking the girl who was holding her so she wouldn’t be scared. Calling people “uncle”, “auntie”, “brother”, or “sister” is a common and natural way to address people here when you don’t know their name. I like that.

I got my baggage and changed my money to Ghana cedis from dollars at the exchange rate of 1.43 cedis per dollar. I wasn’t worried about the exchange rate being a little low since I was making $0.43 for every dollar. On the way out, it will feel much different, I’m sure.

As I left the building of the airport, I saw the driver who was holding a sign with my name. Kingsley, the orphanage director, had arranged for him to pick me up. We had just started walking to his taxi when we were instantly surrounded by 5 or 6 fast-talking Ghanaian men who seemed to want to accompany us to the car. I had read about this kind of behavior beforehand and the warnings about giving them anything, but it was so intense that it still caught me off guard. In my attempts to be courteous and friendly, I seemed to have inadvertently encouraged much more than I had bargained for because when we got to the taxi, they began to demand cedis for being my security detail, or body guards, or whatever. The more I refused, the more aggressive they became, insisting I pay them for their “troubles”. Feeling rather cornered in the front seat of the cab as I waited for the driver to return from putting my bags in the back and other business he had to attend to nearby, I gave up 5 cedis hoping it would make them go away. No such luck. Then it became a demand for 10, then 20. Finally I put my foot down and said, “Go away. I’m not giving anyone any more money!” and they left me alone.

The cab driver’s name was Kofi, which in Ghana is a day name meaning you were born on the day of Kofi, or Friday. Almost everyone has a day name. Before I could ask him much about the aggressiveness of the “bodyguards”, we found ourselves being diverted out of the parking lot by a uniformed man (whom I assumed to be an official of some kind, at least) and told to park by a small blue and white building marked “K.I.A. Police”. Another man, not in uniform, asked me to come into the station with my driver. His questions to me were along the lines of “Who are you coming to see?” and “How do you know this Kingsley person is who he says he is?”

I tried to explain as best I could without revealing too much about adoption plans. My fear was that they might be unjustly cracking down on legitimate adoptions. There was some confusing conversation about how much money was involved with my coming here and I started to see my options dwindling quickly.

It was at the point when he asked for Kingsley’s phone number, putting it into his phone and rather magically producing a “response” message saying Kingsley was a fraud that I realized he was not a real police officer, but yet another scammer trying to shake me down.

I called the US Embassy and asked them what I should do. After an argumentative conversation between the Embassy official and this supposed “Inspector Nat”, the Embassy official, Officer Delgado, advised me to simply leave as it was a sure bet that “Inspector Nat” was not legitimate.

I got into the taxi and we left right away. For a while I thought maybe my driver was in on it, but further interrogating him to see if he was lying about his not understanding why we were pulled aside didn’t yield anything suspicious. I decided to drop it.

An hour drive later, we arrived in Biakoye-Buduburam, #18 Kings Street, Luckyhill Children’s Home and Orphanage. Kingsley was at church (he’s in the bishopric there) so we had to go back to the church building to get a key to the house so I could unload my luggage. Kingsley paid the driver 30 cedis and I tipped him another 20 after my bags were unloaded.

Then, a boy named Edward, who had come back to the house with us, walked back to the church building with me (about 1/4 mile).

We attended the last half of Aaronic Priesthood meeting and then waited for Seth to be done in the Primary.

Seth was very shy at first when Kingsley brought him out of the Primary room to meet me. I gave Seth a big hug and told him my name, but that he could go ahead and call me “Dad” if he wanted to. He was very silent and shy, but seemed to want to stick close to me while I talked to the other kids and adults. Seth began to open more and smile when I showed them all pictures of our family on my iPhone. I let Seth listen to music on my iPod and he really liked that.

After waiting more than an hour for Kingsley to finish bishopric meeting, we all drove back to the orphanage in his SUV.

At the house, I unpacked the 31 lb. box of books (my employer, Pearson, donated them) and medical supplies I had brought. Kingsley was very appreciative and we put them in a cabinet in his home for temporary storage until we got a chance to put them in the infirmary that had recently been established in the orphanage out-building next to the Eshun family home.

Then, I invited Seth to my room so we could finally talk alone and I could give him some gifts from home. I told him again that Mom and I were working hard to adopt him and bring him home to us, but that this was just a brief visit to meet him and to ensure that the governments of our respective countries were satisfied that we had actually met him before adopting. I’m quite sure all of that sailed over his head, but my plan is to keep bringing it up in hopes that it somehow makes sense to his 6 year old boy mind. Then I played the video the kids and I had made of hugging a stuffed lamb toy and putting it into my carry-on bag. I videoed him opening the bag and taking it out. He really thought that was neat.

We pulled out the box of books and puzzles and read and played for a while. I gave him a Nutrigrain bar (Rachel’s favorite breakfast food) which he also liked.

Seth went outside to play, so I ate lunch (late) with the Eshuns and a member of the Elder’s Quorum Presidency (I think his name was David). It was a delicious and very spicy beef (or was it goat?) and palm oil stew called fufu and a ball of rice. All was eaten with just one’s fingers. Kingsley calls it “the original spoon” and counts off the letters of the word on his right-hand fingers. He’s funny in a dry sort of way.

Kingsley and family drove to Accra later, so Seth and I read and played some more. He’s doing fairly well with numbers, letters, and some words. I fell asleep while he was looking through books. When I awoke, it was dark, but only about 6:30pm (there are no seasonal daylight corrections necessary at the equator as it’s pretty constantly 6:30 to 6:30 all year around). The sound of my harmonica being played in the yard by all of the orphans was what had awakened me. Seth had taken it out to show everyone and it was now being passed around. I went outside to watch the kids. Auntie Selena, one of the caregivers at the orphanage, was giving the little ones a bath. Some kids asked to see my “torch” (flashlight). Then Seth asked to use the house bathroom (not usually allowed unless invited to do so).

Seth came back into my room crying. I couldn’t get him to tell me why. So I just held him for a while and we both cried. Suddenly this felt more like a search and rescue mission to find a child who was always meant for our family but that earthly choices and circumstances somehow had interrupted. I want more than ever to bring him home right now, but can’t until the court here in Ghana issues the adoption decree and we get his visa. It will be hard to leave him behind because he will probably wonder whether he will ever see me again. I know he will see me again, but he doesn’t grasp it yet.

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