Monday, February 24, 2014

moss forest

Luka walked yesterday for the first time. On wood floors, in a room warmed by a wood stove, with grandma and grandpa watching. We're in Oregon and it's winter here. Luka doesn't seem to mind, though he's woken to cold hands in the night, and probably more parts, as he is used to kicking the blankets off. He has met many kitties, ponies, horses, dogs of all sizes, rabbits, and parrots. He digs them. We run the dogs in the woods. He holds a piece of moss in his hand as we duck branches and dodge overhangs. We show him the fast flowing river telling the story of the snow and windstorms we missed this winter. 

It all feels so good. Eric is home full-time, we have a focus, the family as a whole has a new focus - the grandparents ecstatic -the future is exciting and renewed. Life is almost easier than when I tended it alone. Satiated. 

I am appreciative of the comforts I do have. I play more, dance more, laugh more with Luka here. I play guitar again. I cook better foods and eat better, at the table, with my family. Plain old happy. Nothing could be better. A good friend Rae once said, Having a child was the best thing she ever did. I've never forgotten her sentiment. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


We are home. With a printer. A fridge. I can fine tune my hunger with, what am I actually craving? Fine tune instruments of writing, pen, pencil, highlighter? Shoes for the rain, mud, comfort? Though equally enjoying how satiated I feel without doughnuts at work, going outside in the rain. Home.

Luka is adapting well. It seems as long as there is someone to witness his charm, he seems pretty satisfied. Sleep is all over the place but so it is for us as well. Plow through until the rhythm of our daily life is found.

Note: buy the child his own seat the next time we fly.

I will reflect more later. New life has begun and there are chores to do before I head to work. Before the children of the world wake.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

wax prints

US immigration visa granted and in hand. DONE. We can now fly to Zanzibar AND the United States. In celebration, in typical American fashion, we went shopping!

I take it back, Africa has crafts. They have fabric. Mountains of it, deep inside the basement of a building selling electronics, there are stacks and stacks of wax print and batik and whatever, with nine women in a 6ft wide closet/corridor (x infinity) sewing, selling, chatting. The ladies were all a little surprised to see us get whisked in by their street detective (scouting out muzungas) whose thumb was held by a small baby boy strapped to the bosom of his white mama and papa.

Then the show began. You like this? How about this one? Red? Blue? No. No. Yes. That one's pretty, keep that aside. OK maybe green. I love that! No.No. Making piles of fabrics, everyone smiling. Luka whisked off to the nearest mami, and absolutely loving the energy and attention. Anything Ugandan? Try these (more batiks). We negotiated. Back and forth. Thank you! We went a little crazy. Dear America, your fabrics kinda suck.

But your army boys gave me a little burst of warm nostalgia today. I saw three leaving the embassy. In the few visits we have had there, everyone has been Ugandan. The guards, reception, intake officers. Only the final counsel on whether Luka was technically an orphan was performed by an American. Then I saw them. I envisioned the three of them meeting for a beer in some opegn air tavern here, or going home to their American families, renting a house here in Uganda for a two year stint, having BBQs as usual. Home, familiarity, nationality is a palpable emotion and at times we are all subject to it. I KNOW YOUR TENNESSEE I almost shouted. But luckily Luka was escaping my grasp and crawling off in the dirt. In our time with him he has really gone from a baby to a toddler.

Everyday is something new: today he made new noises with his cheeks (grinding teeth? Crunching cheek muscle?); demanded to walk all over the driveway (which is strewn with tiny painful pebbles); and I swear he looked up at that hawk sitting on the electric pole during breakfast, pointed and said, Bird!

Tomorrow we head to Luwero, the district our son was born in. Better charge all devices including ourselves. Good night, and it is, a very good night.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Whenever the good news hits, it is rarely expressed as dancing and hysterical laughter. When the opposite happens, when I've been whipped around, am tense, angry, I have all the tools to express it. But happiness, this long-awaited relief, this lack of anger, is more like staring up Mount Denali. This monumental, word-depriving view, the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. It belittles 'amazing', 'awesome' and even 'beautiful'. So is this moment today. Waking up in the middle of the night not to a toddler screaming for milk, but one that smiles and scurries up into my belly and reaches his arms for me and lays his naked skin on mine. Two who have become attached in this hard world. Against many odds.

Yes, emphatically, I would do this all over again. And I would do vet school again too. These processes are small headaches (migraines) compared to the years ahead of us of living our dreams. Because difficult things, if you want them, are worth it. They are worth the gamble.

We will pick up a big fat packet of paperwork in two days from the embassy. With that packet we are allowed to fly out of Uganda and enter America. The following day we are going to Luka's village and having lunch with his birth family. This is very cool but sort of frightening as well. We don't speak their language and we'll need an interpreter. And one wonders what appropriate cultural behavior is. From table manners to clean up to should we bring gifts? Pay for lunch? What will our future relations be? How can we send photos without a mail system or email? Will there be any weird expectations on us to support them? On Luka in the future?

Then we'll head out early to Entebbe, the town south of us an hour's drive, on the lake, near the airport. We will stay at a place on the beach within walking distance of the botanical garden and maybe the zoo/rehab facility. Kampala doesn't have accessible beaches. There are docks to launch your boat from but not a people's beach. Here we will relax, for the first time, as tourists. A family of tourists.

The Finale

It's over. We are going home with a new child in our lives. And flying as a family. What a strange journey, almost as strange as vet school but not quite. We'll fly out Saturday and be home Sunday. Details to follow...

Saturday, February 08, 2014

river valley

We loaf around all day, playing with, feeding, holding baby, laying him down for a nap, discussing our spring home renovations and new budget,  future adoptions, and canker sores, and by late afternoon, somewhat dazed and unaware of exact time, we emerge from our baby opium den in search of adult food. We have lost our momentum to discover new parts of the city and are counting days until we are home. Yet we are starting to miss the things and people we have come to know too. Our initiation into east Africa, however much it felt like hazing, gives a sense of pride and access. Not unlike figuring out NYC as an outsider. It's hard to ever move away because it's a complex system you know intimately. Besides, you could never afford to return if you gave up your good deal apartment in the slope.

So we believe we can see the village from the top of the hill. Just one more dangerous valley to cross, a strategic vulnerability, but necessary to access the river water. We will come home changed. New parents. Aware of Africa. Its convoluted history. I think we'll forever pull a different set of books off the shelf. More history. More about relations between developing and developed nations. How or whether to interfere, or help as some call it. About compassion. The individual versus the community, or tribe. About the value of human life. How valuable is it? Is it different depending on where you live?

There's been a lot of discussion in our community here about whether international adoption is a good idea, or seen as a last resort, or shouldn't be done at all. The biggest error would be in thinking that it's a simple answer. It's political, economic, cultural. It can taste sour like colonialism or bitter as evangelism, sweet like opportunity or salty as theft. Theft of cultural identity, or the very real child trafficking. But maybe the question is all wrong. Is international adoption done with compassion? Laws can be set to stop it, but international exchange between individuals - whether via business, or tourism, or forming families - is a part of human migratory history and now, globalism. You can either be an ass about it, or you can do it with compassion. We will be exploring how to do it with compassion for everyone involved.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

last step

Everything is manageable if you have sufficient sleep. We received a phone call from our lawyer the next morning saying our passport was corrected and ready to be picked up. Needless to say it wasn't reprinted, rather a handwritten note was added to the inside cover. Although shocking at the time, and incomprehensibly amateur, no one here is complaining as the U.S. Embassy accepted it and granted us our final visa interview for Monday. That is the last step.

Unless there are technical difficulties administering the visa, as happened to our friends here yesterday.

The bureacratic process tires, and taints one's view of this country. But, you know what? The people here are friendly, and self-sufficient. They appear largely resistant to the woes of an international banking crisis, or a disorganized local government that has not prioritized clean drinking water, education, and a police force that protects its people.  It's impressive when one considers it is one of the most peaceful countries to meander through as a tourist. I haven't seen the men taunting women (though I am with a man and child often), and rare is the public argument or fight. Folks gawk at us but most seem genuinely curious and nice once you talk to them. Many waiters have held my baby and entertained him while we're waiting for cappuccinos, or offered an ear phone or rubber band in the bus to distract him before he has a complete meltdown. Which is more than I can say about Americans sometimes.

That said, they're back a century in terms of women's liberation, gay rights and animal care, and I have no interest in reliving battles already fought (and still fighting). They may even be back several centuries in terms of their tribalism. I'm treading into an area I know little so I will stop and go read a book.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014


When drought is coming the trees and plants produce extra flowers, and seeds.

Monday, February 03, 2014


I used to work at a newspaper and was responsible at times for editing a project, from early drafts to final publication. And still, after it had been proofed by numerous people - the writer, the fact checker, the copy editor, the editor - typos would still appear on the final printed publication. So it was with a lesser trained crew here in Uganda, ourselves included. A typo was located on Luka's Ugandan passport.

No. This isn't happening. Cartoon pages of a calendar flip in my head. The ramifications of this small error unfolding. A delayed visa interview (next step) would cost us another week in rent, airfare charges for changing ticket dates, and the probability of not flying home together. An R. It should've been a B.

So I had a public breakdown, cried and went downtown again, found my lawyer and made a call to the passport office. Swear briefly, be in awe of incompetency, move swiftly, and figure out how to solve the problem. I believe I have become intimate with beauracracy.