Monday, April 25, 2011

Our Gotcha Day Video

I am SOOOO happy to have this done!  I finally gave up on doing it myself and had a computer wiz at our high school help me.  HE'S AWESOME!!! 

My only regret about this video is that we don't have more photos of Kinshasa and the people.  Unfortunately, it is not recommended to take pictures in public, so we only have a few that we snapped from a moving vehicle.

Life with Caleb is going great.  He's so much HAPPIER and HEALTHIER than he was in Kinshasa and on our trip back to PA. 

Stop my blog music at the bottom of the page and enjoy the video.  Blessings to you all!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Trip Notes #5

January 31, 2011

Vickie and I had often talked about the day when we would FINALLY get to fly home.  We had tried to “plan” what that day would be like.  In preparation, we had some of our things packed in case we had to leave quickly.  We knew we have to make A LOT of photocopies after getting our DGM letter.  We also had to pay our hotel bill, pack the remainder of our things, line up a driver, etc.  EVERY time we talked about flying home, I’d tell Vickie, “The LAST thing I’m doing before leaving for the airport is taking a shower.”  It was hot, sticky, and dirty and I wanted to get on the plane for the long ride home feeling as “fresh” as possible.  I also joked and said that I was going to blow dry my hair.  The one time when I tried to dry my hair was quite funny.  I’d blow dry for ten seconds, and then the breaker would trip.  I’d turn off the blow dryer, run down the hall, flip the breaker, run back, turn on the blow dryer for another ten seconds, and the cycle would repeat itself.  I did this about ten times and was so sweaty from running back and forth down the hall with Caleb in tow, that I gave up.  I said that the day we left, I was going to pay someone to STAND by the breaker box and flip the switch for me every time it went off.  Anyhow, to accomplish our list of things to do before leaving Congo, we figured we would have to have our letter in hand by 12:30pm.  Fr. Theo told us that for our flight, we should leave St. Anne’s by 4:30pm. 

Last post I mentioned that the flights were VERY limited and that we were hoping to be able to fly on Dec. 9th.  When Thursday, the 9th, arrived, Caleb was still sick.  Fr. Theo once again had Matthew, his driver, take us to the hospital.  We went for the better part of the morning for his exam and blood work.  We got our lab number on a piece of cardboard and then returned an hour or so later.  The doctor that Caleb had before was not in on this particular day, so we had a different doctor who did NOT speak English.  We were doing sign language during our conversation.  One word I clearly understood was malaria.  Literally, while I was in front of the doctor having this sign-language-style conversation, Vickie called and said that she thought we might be getting our DGM letter.  I quickly told the doctor that I was flying to America.  He told me to take Caleb to the hospital as soon as we arrived.  I promised I would, and the driver and I returned to St. Anne’s.  By this time, it was around 2pm. 

There was some confusion as to whether or not WE (not just the coordinator) had to be present at DGM and ultimately, we did.  I knew at this point that if we were going to make the flight, my shower was down the tubes.  Not only was I not going to get a shower, but I had been in a small, crowded, un-air-conditioned waiting room bouncing a sick and fussy baby all morning.  The same thing happened at DGM.  The office we were in was VERY small.  The kids were fussy because it was nap time.  And, folks, let me tell you, WE WERE WATCHING THE CLOCK!!!  We felt such a sense of urgency to get that letter and get on the plane.  I remember telling Vickie that since we had tickets, we had to at least TRY to get to the airport regardless of what time we got our letter. 

This was a real test of patience as we were at the Director’s mercy waiting for his signature.  That’s all – just a signature, so why did it take ALL day????  Anyhow, 4:00 came and went and finally the DGM worker came down with our folders.  He had a look of satisfaction on his face – kind of like “See?  I told you you’d have your letters today.”  Vickie and I had looks on our faces like, “Come on!  Hurry Up!  Just give us the letters already!”  He began flipping through our folders page by page when I noticed that a signature was missing.  He quickly took the folders and ran back up to the director’s office to wait for his signature – again.  By this time, we were having a conversation with Teetee (our coordinator) about having copies made.  We were telling her that it would have to be somewhere that could do a LOT of copies QUICK.  We kept stressing, “Teetee, we have to be SO FAST!  We will miss our flight!”  We called Fr. Theo and told him that we got our letters and wanted to fly out that evening.  We were the only ones scheduled to go to the airport, so the driver would wait for us.  We were finally taking these children home to the rest of their families!


We got our letters and Teetee told us “NO Worries.  Follow me.  We will get your copies QUICK.”  I was thinking, “Phew, she gets it that we need QUICK copies.”  We followed her around the corner and there ON THE GROUND along the street was a copier with a cord running from who knows where.  There was a woman on her knees feeding one page at a time into an old copier.  I thought I’d have a heart attack!  She began copying our documents when we noticed her grocery bag of paper was nearly empty (another heart attack).  We told her we’d have LOTS of copies and to please get more paper.  She sent someone running and he came back with paper.  She made the copies while another gentleman correlated and stapled my documents.  When my folder was finished, Teetee began reviewing it while they began the process of copying and stapling Vickie’s documents.  All of a sudden, Teetee got a worried look and began shaking her head and saying, “No, no, no” while she was looking at my documents.  I was looking at her saying, “What?  What?”  I know my voice got louder.  She showed me my exit letter (the piece of paper we’d been waiting for that would let us leave the Congo airport).  Halfway through my letter, it switched from “George & Hope” to “George & Vickie”.  Ok, now I DEFINITELY was having a heart attack.  Teetee left us on the corner with the copy lady who continued to work on Vickie’s documents.  She ran to DGM to have the Director fix the letter.  She came back shortly and told us the Director had left for the day.  My heart was ready to pound OUT OF MY CHEST!  The new plan was for Teetee to go to the airport with us.  If DGM at the airport gave us a hard time, she had the phone number for the DGM worker she had spoken with and she was to call him. 

At this point, I knew it would take a miracle for us to get on the plane.  It was past 4:30 and we hadn’t even gotten back to St. Anne’s yet.  When we got back to St. Anne’s, we quickly ran up those dreaded steps.  Fr. Theo must’ve told some of the workers that we got our exit letter because it seemed like there were people there asking if our bags were ready, what they could do to help, etc.  Well, let me tell you, we left a LOT of our stuff behind.  We took the necessities and our souvenirs.  Our room still looked lived in when we left for the airport.  We figured the St. Anne’s workers would take what they wanted and SOMEONE else would want what they didn’t.   We paid Fr. Theo, posed for a quick photo and were on our way.  Our stop at St. Anne’s to pack, pay our bill, change diapers, etc. had taken not a second longer than 22 minutes!!

As a side note and to give readers an idea of what it generally looks like in Congo, when I got in the van, I had all of this “loose stuff” that hadn’t been put in my suitcase.  I was cleaning out my backpack from the day.  I had a dirty diaper, empty water bottles, etc.  A St. Anne’s worker in the van asked me if it was garbage and held out his hands.  I said, “Yes, thank you”, thinking he’d put it in a garbage bag.  He took the items from me, opened the van window and heaved it out as we were driving down the road.  I was flabbergasted, then looked around at my surroundings and thought, “That’s what EVERYONE does.”  That’s part of Congo.  It’s no wonder I’d been stepping over trash every where I walked the last 40 days!  

We arrived at the airport and got checked in with the help of the protocol Fr. Theo provided (the BEST $20 ever spent!).  The protocol helped us get our tickets (which were handwritten, by the way), navigate the airport, which was not at all big, just confusing, and slipped the appropriate people money to allow us to take our souvenirs home (which, by the way, should NOT have been an issue since they sell the same souvenirs IN the airport).  He and Teetee also got us through DGM.  When we cleared DGM and stood in front of the massive solid wooden doors to enter the only terminal at the airport, I had a feeling of sadness.  Why?  Don’t get me wrong – I could NOT wait to get home!  Forty days was too long, but in those forty days, this Congo craziness had become a norm to me.  It had given me an understanding of why there are so many orphans, why there’s such poverty and corruption.  And, I felt sad that I was taking Caleb away from his heritage.  I was sad to say “good-bye” to Matthew from St. Anne’s, my hospital buddy who had navigated me to various pharmacies, through the hospital, the lab and our admission process.  He was also our driver and our airport protocol.  And Teetee, our coordinator - I was sad to say “good-bye” to her.  We had been in Congo 40 days and had seen her EVERY day except one or two.  She had worked incessantly to assure that Caleb and Andee would be able to be adopted to America.  Strange that I couldn’t wait to leave; yet, I was sad doing so.

Once in the terminal, we commented about how gross we felt, how sweaty we were, etc.  Caleb had a raging fever.  I tried to give him his purple medicine we hadn’t gotten earlier in the day.  He puked all over me, even in the ends of my hair.  There was not ONE working sink in the women’s restroom at the airport.  The workers took me to the men’s room, where one sink managed to trickle a little water.  The feeling of being gross and needing a shower was NOT going away!  There was no place to change our clothes, but we changed the kids.  An airport worker kept the clothing, even though it was quite dirty.  I left my Birkenstocks under a chair in the airport and put sneakers on so I didn’t have to carry them and I knew I’d be coming home to cold weather. 

We boarded the plane close to midnight.  There was no rest for the weary as poor Caleb was getting worse.  His temp was high and he could not get comfortable.  Some man behind us kept going, “Shhh!!” every time he even whimpered.  I finally stood up, went over to him and told him to get over himself.  I was sorry, but my son was sick and he was just going to have to deal with it.  Saying “Shhh!” loudly was certainly more annoying than Caleb’s whimpering.  And, it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying.  Good Grief - I stood, walked and bounced nearly the ENTIRE flight (which was NOT short!).  It just added to my sweat and stickiness!

Our first stop was Belgium.  We had a five-hour layover, so the plan was to “shower” in the sinks, change our clothes, brush our teeth, etc.  Somehow I was determined to not look bad when I stepped off that plane in PA!  Come to find out, there was an error with our ticket, which took HOURS to straighten out.  So much for freshening up!  Instead, the United worker ran ahead pushing Caleb in the stroller, while we followed trying to make our flight (Still haven’t figured out how one can have a five-hour layover and almost miss their next flight!  Oh well…).

Finally, on this plane, we used the bathroom to change our clothes and “freshen up”.   I threw away EVERYTHING I had on when we left the Congo (the puked on shirt, etc.) as soon as we landed in Washington, D.C.  This flight wasn’t as full and Vickie and I had our own rows to stretch out.  It was strange that, with the exception of our hospital stay, we’d been together 24/7 for 40 days and here, on our last flight together, before she’d head to Hawaii and I’d head to PA from Dulles, we weren’t sitting together.  Caleb and Andee were definitely bonded and if one cried, the other was looking to see what was wrong.  Caleb was still sick, but was quieter on this flight. 

Alas, what we’d prayed for since Oct. 31 and now on Dec. 10, it would happen - U.S. Soil!!!  Going through Immigrations and customs was not an issue and was quite simple.  The pilot had told us that there were seven planes in front of us, but it wasn’t that bad.  Saying “good-bye” to Vickie and Andee?   Now that was hard.  I knew it’d be a year or more before we’d see each other again.  We had experienced something together that was unique to two sisters-in-laws.  We had lost and found Caleb, we had both lived through the ups and downs and the volatility of International adoption, and we had lived in Congo, our children’s birth country. We had experienced court and hospitalization.  With me on the inside, Vickie on the outside and God on our both our sides, we’d made it.  Sisters-in-law, but now really more like sisters, bonded for life.   Fortunately, there was only enough time to shed a few tears before we both had to catch our flights out of Dulles.  We said quick good-byes and were on our way.  Vickie would continue on all the way to Hawaii while I only had a quick flight to Harrisburg.

Stepping off the plane in Harrisburg was EMOTIONAL!  George and the kids, my faithful sister, Kara, my brother, Matt and his family, and my parents were all there to greet us at the airport.  Emily was the first to come hug us with her tear-filled eyes.  The kids were awesome – both to me and to Caleb.  They were anxious to meet him.


                                    Poor Caleb wasn’t as anxious as they were!

In the end, we got home, slept a couple of hours and headed to Geisinger Medical Center, where he was admitted for the weekend.   Here's our little man enjoying the selection of toys at the Janet Weiss Childrens Hospital.

        And, here we are - waiting for our family so we can go home to stay......finally!  

Thank you, Everyone, for praying for us on this journey.  Since I’ve been home, I’ve told many people that we could “feel” people praying for us.  And, it’s true.  God’s hand in this process was evident over and over again.

***Thus concludes the traveling part of our adoption process, but we’ll continue to keep the blog updated with photos and DRC news, family news, etc.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Readers Comments - My apology

Ok, so I have NEVER claimed to be technologically smart, or even technologically competent for that matter....

I just "found" a WHOLE BUNCH of comments that some of you have made - many while I was in Congo, some from before, and some from recently.  I apologize for not commenting back.  I've never clicked on the "comments" tab before.  I promise to do better in the future!  :)

Congo Trip Notes #4 - More Waiting and VISAS!!!!!!

While Caleb and I were in the hospital, Vickie continued to have contact with the U.S. Embassy regarding our visas.  She was an unbelievable liason – checking with the consular, texting me regularly with any developments, researching the forms the Embassy uses, etc.  Waiting is NEVER fun and this type of waiting felt useless.  We were frustrated and emotionally spent.  We’d been in the D.R. Congo since November 1 and, other than court, the Embassy, the hospital and the market across the street, we hadn’t left St. Anne’s.  It was getting OLD!

Just when I thought I couldn’t take another day, some American families arrived.  They were a breath of fresh air!  There’s safety in numbers, so we were able to go out for dinner.  Our first adventure was to Hunga Busta’s, a pizza place, where we had Thanksgiving dinner with our new friends!

The next several days would involve more and more (and more and more…) waiting.  While we waited, not without discouragement at times, our husbands and some good friends back in the USA worked diligently making phone calls to do ANYTHING to get these visas issued.  My brother-in-law spoke with Hillary Clinton’s executive secretary.  They both called congressmen and people in the State Dept.  A good friend of ours made phone calls to congressmen while he was on vacation in Disney World (thanks, Pres!).

While they made phone calls and worked from the United States, Vickie and I continued to bond with Andee and Caleb.  We had times where we were both discouraged, but, for the most part, if I was down, Vickie was up and vice versa.  We were great friends before the trip, but spending this amount of time together, sharing a room for THAT long, bonded us for sure!

One day during our journey, we were both feeling kind of “blue” (well, blue might be an understatement!  We were both REALLY, REALLY discouraged!).  I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and pen and told Vickie we weren’t going to do anything else until we made a list of things we were thankful for.  And, ya know what?  It only took about FIVE minutes and the page was ALMOST full!  By the end of our trip, we could have OVERFILLED the page (with new friends, more children with their forever families, etc.).  Despite the circumstances, we both had SO much for which to be thankful.  God is sooo good!  We hung the list with a paper clip (we made due with what we had) to our mirror where we would see it every time we brushed our teeth, washed our hands, etc.
We also continued to spend time with other adoptive families.  It was refreshing at the end of the days to be able to share a meal with other Americans and their BEAUTIFUL new children.  TOTALLY a BLESSING!

Finally, On Dec. 1st, the Embassy called us through Father Theo.  Poor Father Theo, the Embassy had called him before and each time, he’d have to run up several flights of stairs to our room to give us the phone.  He was always excited to tell us we had a call from the Consular.  Being an optimist, he thought for sure they were calling to tell us our visas were issued.  After several disappointments, we were no longer getting our hopes up.  This time, however, they told Fr. Theo to have us come over to pick up our American passports.  Vickie and I both kind of held our breath as we checked for OUR (adult)passports, knowing we hadn’t left our passports with the official who took them every time we entered the embassy.  Sure enough, Vickie and I both had our passports in hand.  Could it be that they meant the children had American passports there?  Hmmm….we rushed around and packed the kids up in their pouches to walk to the embassy.  By the time we got there, we were sure Father Theo had misunderstood the call and that it was just REGARDING the passports, not to pick them up.  What little faith! 

Yeah!!!  We got GREAT news!  The kids’ visas were being prepared!!!  We hugged and cried, knowing that the end was now FINALLY in sight!  Two of our new friends just happened to be at the Embassy when we got the news as well.  They’d seen our frustration in waiting and then got to share in our relief and joy as we got the good news.  The security guards at the Embassy doors, joined in our excitement.  These men had gotten to know us well.  When they’d see us walking down the street, they would begin to yell, “Come in, Mrs. Laubachs!”  They had checked at least one of us (Vickie while we were hospitalized) in at the embassy nearly EVERY day for three weeks.  They hugged us and posed for a picture.  J

When we arrived back at St. Anne’s, Father Theo gave us greeted us with hugs!  We did the “visa dance” and took our Congolese coordinator out for pizza (her choice – she doesn’t get pizza often!). 

My Facebook post from my phone that afternoon read, “Thank you, Lord, for our Christmas gift – visas!”  The end was in sight!