Friday, January 31, 2014

banana gin

I have cravings for sauteed dark greens, lettuce salads with cucumbers, tomatoes and vinegar, salted arugula and olive oil. Cheese that doesn't taste like the cows have been grazing on weeds and plastic bits. There is gouda, parmesan and cheddar here, but it all tastes the same. They forget the basil in the marguerita. Sometimes they'll even advertise it on the menu but then won't put it on the pizza. (It grows quite well here, actually,  in the pots of the English lady we stayed with.)  I have urges to plant the first peas and broccoli when we get home. To stamp on the grapes grown on the family farm and learn to make wine. To press the oil out of olives with my thumbs. To nourish bodies with the best of earth's offerings.

They do make a nice gin, however. Sometimes made from bananas. Sometimes sugar cane. Waragi. And with some key limes and a touch of sprite, quite good. More affordable than beer and wine.

With all of this waiting time we wish we could take a boat over to the islands in the middle of Lake Victoria. There are monkeys. And probably crocodiles. And loads of birds. Monkeys are on the mainland as well, and apparently there was one in our backyard the other day. It's sort of like spotting a deer in the West. Or an elk if you're near the coast. Over Christmas, we saw a whole family of them, maybe eight, that traipsed through the resort we swim at sometimes. Like deer, people find them to be a nuisance because they get into things, provoke the dog, etc. I have gotten very little 'nature' out of this trip to equatorial Africa. Next trip here will be all about a safari and touring Murchison Falls, and taking a boat to the islands (with a baby life vest). Something to look forward to.

Instead, we've reignited writing and reading in our lives. After years in school, and busy new jobs, and excessive commuting, we had lost our connection to the literary world, and were only staying minimally involved in current events. My idea of my forties was to reengage with the world. Travel, read about history, care about the local community. Live what you want to share with your child about this world. I don't plan on relying solely on public education to brighten my boy. I think this boy will need to actively learn about this world, not just sit in a room with a book and a kid behind him kicking his seat.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Samurai

Our favorite Japanese restaurant

market day

It's hot out there today. Luka is drawn to the cement porch which has been absorbing the sun since its rise. Too hot for babies but he insists. Sweating. We're looking forward to a day downtown at the markets, both Aveno and the African crafts market. I think Aveno is like The Bins in Portland, with all of the excitement and anticipation of a new cart of thrift store clothing wheeling up among a crowd of mothers, immigrants, and hipster men. The cart is dumped on a long table and the mad competition begins.

I don't know why it took six days to send the physical report from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to the U.S. Embassy, but it may have cost us our trip home together. OK there was a weekend in there, and then a Ugandan holiday, and then the Embassy only does certain tasks on certain days, and the sum total of all variables equals a delayed paperwork filing appt. So we are scheduled for the approaching Monday, five days after we hoped. Eleven days after the physical exam. Ugh.

That is the crux of it. The process has been fairly steady and sort of understandable. What is hard and absurd is the assumption that we can afford to leave our life and go through such a long process! Who can afford this? In time and money? Even stay-at-home parents who are 'free' to not be at a job, often have other kids to tend to at home. And it is still costly to set up another adult in a new country with rent, internet, start up groceries, eating out, etc.

Next time I  might consider flying back and forth more. Still not cheap. But then I would've missed Luka gaining the strength in our care to stand in our laps, and then to walk with two hands helping, to being able to stand on his own with no help! for several seconds. He will likely walk his first steps on his own before we return. Not to mention his mental development:  improved verbal skills, learning English, and having a transition between first family and second family by continuing to see past caretakers and kids. These two months together, here in Africa, are invaluable and have been a critical bonding period for us. We know it was a gift from our friends and family back home that afforded us the chance to carry those memories with us. We are forever grateful.

Monday, January 27, 2014

what to bring

I'm now aware of what I would do differently to make this experience more tolerable. A lot of things are out of our control, but there are many that are in our control. Plus some tips for folks who are actually heading over soon...

- purchase local phone: there's a phone store next to the Orange dealer downtown, then you can walk over to the Orange store and sign up for service

- purchase Orange router so you have internet access all day, at home. It moves with you should you find a new place to live.

- purchase 10G monthly data plan (now you can Skype without running out of data, most cost effective)

- bring your own printer, ink, paper (we waste so much energy wandering around town looking for functional printers and copy machines)

- scanner, there is one on my iPad

- iPad with printer driver (I love being able to bring it and know it isn't at risk of theft if left in my room-people break in, house cleaners sneak, etc). Plus it is my camera.

- a fan or ear plugs (purchase a fan in Uganda. I fall asleep to a fan at home, so I'm biased, but here it drowns out the painful noise of this city:  music and dog barking all night)

- comfortable walking sandals (choose something where no socks needed, good for long long hiking walks, worn daily- looks good with skirts or pants)

- no jeans, no socks, one versatile sweater, maybe a light jacket with waterproofing (if it was a cooler day, long sleeves often are enough; I usually regretted bringing a jacket anywhere); skirts below knee but I wouldn't try terribly hard to not be Western. You are who you are. City girls here wear tank tops, leggings, tight jeans, as well as the classic T-shirt with African print skirt.

- "mommy" nice clothes for court x3 (over the knee skirt, blouse, colorful); dad wears slacks, collar shirt, probably not suit (as our lawyer said, as to not compete with the attorneys)

- baby of any age must have shoes and socks for court, a little jacket if at all cold out, must look dressed up (yep, collar shirt or something special for court)- there was a case where the judge really scolded the parents over 'casual wear'.

- men: lightweight trousers, linen, light cotton blends, no shorts, no jeans (shorts for around the house are great)

- scissors, staplers, paper clips, stickies, black pens, pencils

- swimming suit for everyone! Even something for baby.

- figure out who your driver is, and discuss the idea of having them for the day at times (roughly 100,000ush) and you can do all of your pain in the ass errands quickly, grab a week's worth of groceies, and have the driver wait while you grab lunch...worth it.

Eric kindly added pith helmut and adult diapers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

goodbye flower girls

There are several other families here adopting children from the same babies home. Some come and return home and come back again, some stay for eight months. That latter family in particular leaves to the U.S. today. Finally. It has been a long road for her and her family, and I think I have absorbed some of her endurance by watching her wake up each day, do all of these tasks by herself (no husband 6ft away) and organizing three children daily, for 4x as long as we will ever have to. Thank you. Thank you.

 It has been a great experience to see Luka continue to see these children outside of the babies home, with their new families, eating pizza and playing, oh, and waiting in compounds together and embassy lobbies. The older girls (five or six) who used to pick up Luka at the home and carry him around on their hips, run over to him now, and plunk him back on. Kids carrying kids. It has been really helpful to run into these other American families, check in on their progress in this process, and glean any tips they've discovered. There is a community of us out here, and many that are already back home living their new lives together, and some who were denied an immigrant visa for their child due to some technicality of what defines an orphan in the eyes of the U.S. They indeed left without a child.

I didn't know that was possible coming here. I think we actually chose adoption because it seemed like a guarantee. You will have a child at the end of the process. Unlike IVF. Not true. There have been several times the whole process could have buckled: the child you are matched with is not always investigated fully until you are in country (local parents take home their children after years of being cared for by the babies home-once they realize the adoption process has begun), the Ugandan judge has to agree the child is actually an orphan, the judge has to agree that you are actually competent parents (this was our hang up!), then the U.S. embassy has to agree the child is an orphan by their criteria (different than Uganda). We almost failed at what seemed the easiest one. The judge didn't like that the mother worked full-time and the dad was a stay-at-home dad plus freelance work. I (the woman) did too much of the talking, was too strong. Plus there were plain old language barriers and miscommunication. We so easily could have not received a ruling in our favor because of cultural miscommunication.

That said, every American mother I met here in this process is very strong and speaks her mind. You have to be to even go through this process. This is the American woman. Independent, strong, knows what she wants and how to navigate a ridiculous process. It's been said before, but adoption is not for the fainthearted. It will likely be on your list of the hardest things you will ever do. Amp yourself up. The rewards are worth the effort I think.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Thinkers

ebony and baby socks

After 2 months we are finally learning our way around this city. Just yesterday we discovered there was a Rolex stand at the bottom of our hill where we catch the bus. Rolexes are freshly made chapatis with egg inside and often some peppers and onions. An omelette wrapped in a fried bread. There are probably variations on this we haven't discovered yet. Cost: 60 cents. People can live on this. I think we'll take this idea back home and feed homeless Portlanders. I always thought there should be some basic food in every city to feed people. In New York City you can get a large slice of pizza between $1.25 and $2. Coffee. 50 cents. Egg and cheese on a roll for what? $1.50? $2?
In Portland we'll have Rolexes for $1.

Also at the bottom of our hill are several stands with mangos, pineapple, watermelon, tomatoes, onions, avocados. The last place we bought tomatoes from the storekeeper took a little bag and walked behind his building. He was gone for a little awhile and we wondered if we miscommunicated again. He came back with a bagful (8) of Roma-sized tomatoes...that he had picked from his garden. For fifty cents.

Eric and I have been discussing why we haven't explored the shops more. We haven't purchased a single momento. Nor have we purchased a new pair of pants for Eric (don't pack jeans) or new socks for the baby (losing one sock, apparently, is an international problem). One reason is that I'm not a tourist and I am usually exhausted after a day of errands in a bustling, hot city with a kid strapped to me.

The second reason is that it is hard for an introvert to approach all of these hole in the wall shops with people staring at you, wondering how two whites were able to make a black baby. Adoption is a new concept. Witchcraft is more familiar. Not kidding. The other half know you're a good Christian taking care of God's babies. Needless to say, this is a weighted visit when we were just wondering if they had some size 34 slacks.

The third reason is more interesting, and more complicated. I am not educated enough to discuss economics but I intuitively get it. Recall we are talking about why it is difficult to shop here.  It's always good to start with expectations. Indeed, I expect some organization. A shop of just shoes. No airtime for your phone. No four unique dresses of varying sizes. No mangoes. Just shoes. This will increase the probability of having what I want, in my size. I may even seek your store out from further away and you can increase your customer count. This shoe shopkeeper may even take in shoes on consignment and then provide a used shoe collector or local cobbler access to  more customers (and more money) than they could ever get selling things individually. Which is what goes on here. There are very few small to medium-sized organized shops. Everybody is their own entrepreneur. Pretty impressive really. But a lot of wasted labor.
Can I relate it to land use? If we each had a 6ft sq plot of land and had to grow all of the types of food for our family it would be hard to individually access water, grow enough variety, etc. Why not share a larger plot with the neighbors and share in the harvest, the run off, the labor.

But if you don't trust your neighbors. If corruption is the rule of the land. If war or politics or religion has torn up relations, it is each for himself. And so every shop looks identical for miles. No one has a better tomato or shoe or dress. There is little free time to be creative, be an artist or intellectual, or artisan. It is rare to see African crafts in Africa.

I know there is a big African craft market downtown. There is also a big grocery store down there too like Fred Meyers, but that's not the point. The suburbs, the rest of the city, where the people live, where we live, where there are busy busy packed streets all day of thousands of people waking up to sell the same tomatoes and grow their two stalks of corn and sell their pink flip flops size 6, seven days a week. It somehow seems, well, inefficient. And a waste of labor. I don't know. At minimum, it makes it hard to shop here and I'm dying to buy some ebony and baby socks.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

goat meat and collards

My brother once said, that if you get at least one thing done everyday, you're probably doing alright. i.e. visited the post office, made a call you'd been putting off, called your grandma. True in America, and even truer here. We are lucky to accomplish one thing per day. Monday we made copies. Tuesday we picked up Lu's passport. Wednesday we picked up a blue form at the U.S. embassy. All tasks took 1-2 hours to get to, and return from, usually walking in the heat. The task itself can take a minimum of one hour up to four. (Picking up a form today took over an hour). Some of those days we stopped to eat (not the passport day so Lu was tantrum city). We tried to print four things today but ended up only successfully printing two.

This is probably worth a little elaboration, as it hits on why it's sometimes hard to wake up and face the day. Printing. Printing day follows closely behind copying day. (Alluded to in facebook.) This was our third attempt to print our W2s needed for Lu's immigration. The internet was not working the first attempt (electricity was actually on). So we came back a week later - to the same place - and now the internet was so slow we couldn't load anything to print. Attempt three. New place. Printer not communicating with computer. But was able to transfer doc to server and print it with the front 1/4 and back 1/4 missing ( of the W2). So now I don't have an acceptable print out of my W2 and my ss# is now on his server. Sweet. We gave up but we did get our return ticket itinerary printed so we can at least renew our visas tomorrow. We tried to renew last week but the government dude said we couldn't because we still had 9 days left. Us: 'Yeah, but it's sort of hellish to come here, and since we're here dealing with passport stuff in the same building, we thought we'd get it ahead of time.' Dude: but then you would lose 9 days. See? Come back next week. Okayyyy...

Things here are like Eric's meal this afternoon : he ordered chicken pilaow. It was a heaping plate of local food: 75% seasoned rice, 5% cooked collards, 10% gristled goat meat, 10% cabbage. No chicken. It would have been a better meal with less food with equal parts rice, collards, goat, cabbage. Not bad for $6.
For example, I may be wrong but a lot of people seem to work all day long here, everyday of the week. The waiters at the hotel, cleaning staff, store keepers, folks on the street selling whatever, but then there's five guys at the gas station helping each other pump your gas. Overstaffed, working all the time, often not busy. Too much rice, more goat meat and collards.

Exciting news: we have his passport in hand. I think we'll head to Zanzibar....

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Maybe we'll learn that we can pick up his passport today. If things go smoothly it is possible to finalize everything within 2 weeks from picking up the passport. But US Embassy only does certain tasks on certain days so it is easy to see how it won't play out so perfectly. That said, we have to book our tickets home now, without knowing our final date, because it is required to renew our visas. I don't know why we only got a 60 day visa. Maybe we thought that would be plenty of time! I will go home no matter what, and Eric will stay for any glitches that arise. Or, if we are fortunate, we can fly home together.

Today's interesting project is to make a gbillion copies of Lu's folder from the babies home. His intake papers, visits to the doctor, etc. Most businesses are in tiny closets off the street- from fruit seller to copying center to hardware store-so we were thrilled to find a copying center in a mall where we can spread out (on the floor) and organize lots of differently sized pieces of paper. And then cross the street and stop in at the French patisserie. (In this country you need to have a reward for every task accomplished.)

Everyone on the street asks, How's the baby? Well, he is well. He crawls (he couldn't when we first met him) and he walks holding only one parent's hand. He eats everything we eat (we figure if he likes it and it doesn't cause diarrhea it's probably OK). He doesn't care for chicken but likes goat and some times beef. He prefers macaroni and cheese, pizza, and peanut butter bread to anything. Already he's so American. Vegetables are kind of hard to get here but he likes cucumbers, avocados, cooked carrots. He sleeps in until 8 or 9. He learned to sit and spin yesterday. Favorite toys: pill bottles, nail clippers, toy cars, doors and latches. He can't say words but understands a lot. Lots of babble. Knows a couple sign language signs. Likes dogs. My favorite part...he loves to dance and drum.

dance and drumming

We attended the Ndere dance troupe with a friend who is also adopting. Unforgettable.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Each day has been much more calm since the good news. I still have a meltdown around 4pm - late in the afternoon when I've been carrying Lu around for hours in a wrap off my right shoulder, heat stressed, just having deboarded a bus snug with folks, and I become increasingly indecisive about how to coordinate access to internet, milk, dinner, whatever remaining errands in the day, and then I snap.

I find it interesting how much stress I can bury that just bursts out in the late afternoon like a pregnant Louisiana sky unloading a rainstorm. Yeah, I'm overheated but I had been absolutely unsettled underneath waiting to find out whether I'm a mother. So that grip on me has been unfurled. I just have the usual afternoon crap of not having a car (not that I would drive in this traffic) or internet or a fridge, small things I have learned to love.

So we broke down and bought a wifi router/modem and now have access to the internet in our home. A wildly freeing move. That is the first thing I would do upon arrival, in retrospect.

Anyway, we applied for his passport today. I felt like we were in Africa. No info center. No signage. Go to room 6. Don't say a word. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

this day is a great day

This is the day your life will surely change.

The honorable judge granted us legal guardianship of Luke. The dam finally broke today. An emotional flood like no other. I have been so frustrated lately that I couldn't sleep at all the night before and I woke up and wrote this:

I need to unload. If I haven't been at the breaking point yet, I'm certainly there now. I hardly slept last night from the raucous of the dogs barking down in the valley, and other annoying party sounds going on. So I will likely have to retract everything I say.
I just don't think we can on like this. We're going to have to pick a day and just say, We're done. We're broke. We have to get back to work. Pack our bags, check the baby back in at the babies home, and call it a failure. There's a limit to how long this can keep going on, emotionally, financially. The strain on so many people back home caring for our animals and home and work. It's just becoming too much. And, in truth, we wonder if the best thing for Luke is to be in America. Perhaps he should stay with his people, no matter how life plays out. I don't know, but something, or someone, is going to have to give in. Call a truce.

And so the judge spoke. Aghhhh!!!!! Man! Our second thought, was Shit! Now we're parents! This is real! What did we just do!

To celebrate we went to the Olympic-sized pool at a resort nearby and had fish fingers and a burger poolside. (Luke likes fish fingers.) There was a wedding taking place within the resort, with live music and drumming, and traditional dancing. A lovely backdrop. I guess all the world is celebrating.

Now we can start getting his passport, an official physical exam for immigration, and set up an appt for acquiring his US visa. Sometimes waiting for that final visa appt can take awhile so I may return before Eric and Luke.

Monday, January 06, 2014


Sunday. Temperature 84F. Cool breeze, not too humid. There are small animal vets here. Usually a hole in the wall with a desk up front and a couple of rooms in back. Looks like the human clinics they have on every block. When Luke first started staying with us he had a bad cold. His lungs were wet and congested. He quickly gave it to me. We had gone across the street from our hotel to get some local take out - red beans, rice, matoke - to bring back to our room. While waiting, I peeked in next door to the 24-hour health clinic and saw a woman mopping. I asked her if there was a nurse or doctor around to look at Luke. She dropped her mop and whipped out her stethoscope, listened to his lungs, and handed me some Clavamox for $16. By then our food order was ready and we went home. !

The real business for vets is likely in knowing your goat and chicken medicine. The goats run loose in little families. There may be a kid nearby moving them alongside the road to nibble on some free greens. Though many just seem to know where home is, more like a wandering dog looking for extra morsels. Though they seem to be more wary of cars and look both ways before crossing the street. Perhaps being born prey animals they are naturally more cautious to the hazards of anything.

I saw more dead pets in a week stay in Naples, than I've seen in a month here. Italy was a mess. I saw two dogs get hit by cars; dead bunnies in a pet shop - apparently the shopkeeper hadn't noticed yet; a few dead cats outside of dumpsters. The most striking thing here is all the mangy dogs that aren't noticeably itching, and one steet dog with non-weight bearing hind limb lameness. I've only seen two puppies and no kittens. There is an animal shelter here, which I would like to visit if it wasn't such a hastle getting around this city (with a baby). Someone I met had found some pups on the side of the road, so young still their eyes were closed. She called the shelter and they came out within an hour on a boda-boda (motorcycle) and whisked the pups away.

The boda-bodas make life here a lot more convenient. You can hop one anywhere. But they weave in and out of traffic, you may lose your knees, or your head. Few drivers wear helmets. People transport everything imaginable on these. Twenty live chickens. A twin mattress. Fifty pineapples. Twenty-foot long pipes dragging behind or 10-15' pipes transversally. Four grown men. I'm trying to uphold my US standards for baby care, yet if I wish to fit in culturally, I'd just hop on sideways with the baby in one arm and my groceries in the other.

Can anyone explain why the Muslim prayer is going extra long this Sunday morning?

Saturday, January 04, 2014



'This was when she stopped believing in man's rule on earth. She turned away from every person who stood up for war. Or the principle of one's land, or pride of ownership, or even personal rights. All of those motives ended up somehow in the arms of careless power. One was no worse or better than the enemy.'

Refugees from south Sudan are arriving in Uganda. Mostly Christian missionaries from what I can tell, young American families with children. Some are involved with orphanages. The kids swim at the club and don't know why they're on vacation. The lives of the adults, in limbo. We will be home soon. That is something they can't say.

If we lived here long enough, the things we value would have to shift. Give way to a life more manageable. One can't go on with the tension we feel here everyday. We'd begin by including the rooster that crows at 3am, and the dogs that rummage through the neighborhood and break into howls, as acceptable noise. Maybe we'd eventually include the Muslim prayer at 4am that reverberates over all the Christian homes everyday. And 1pm. And every evening. We could aspire to include the amped repetitive party music that blasts from the churches down in the valley through all hours of the night. Kampala is a city that never shuts up. I don't know where we could go to escape it but out on safari or deep within ourselves.

I wonder if safari would be conducive to a toddler....

We're plenty impressed with getting through a night without a waling babe, having perfectly strategized to reroute the meltdown with water bottles, milk bottles, a cracker;  nesting guests through paper walls. We're raising someone else's child. We're impressed by everything. Tiny toes. Tiny heartbeat. When he cries after a bath, and the water was too cold, he looks like I just gave birth to him. What events were not in place? What skills, what people, what cultural beliefs. What disease. What finances. Here and at home. What are our histories that led us to have met one another. Was there an alternative to us? Was it any better? Can we make up for it and provide for any losses.

I live on air here. Not yet tan. We take antimalarial pills daily. Three US dollars a day. We eat mango fruit spread and g.nut butter on toast. We dust our ankles red on our walk to town everyday. We all cry once daily then feel better til eve. Babe falls asleep watching the lizards hunt flies on the ceiling over us; suckling warmed milk, fresh from a bath. We scan the horizon and watch the birds turn into silouettes of bats; enjoy a glass of something dusty from France we found in the corner of the store.

Friday, January 03, 2014


Anyday we may hear the judge's decision. Will we get to be a family like so many others, or will we carry on as a couple and allocate our wealth to new furniture? Why has motherhood been so evasive? And now in the hands of a stranger? Whichever way the winds blow, I imagine we'll carry on with no regrets. We are lizards in waiting on the ceiling at night.