Adoption, Colombia, Isabel

Colombia Adoption, The Nitty Gritty–Day Nine

We enjoyed the Parque Infantil (Children’s Park) in the center of the city again today.  The weather was beautiful, until an afternoon storm rolled in.  Then we all sat and listened to the rain on our metal roof, which was beautiful in its own way.  Our meeting with ICBF, the central authority for Colombian adoption, went wonderfully.  They feel Isabel is doing well in our family.  We will go to the lawyers office to sign some paperwork tomorrow, and on Wednesday we will head back to the capital.  I will leave on Friday to go back to the States with 11 of the kids, and Joe and Isabel will move on to La Mesa to go to court.  

I have gotten so many emails, PMs and blog posts about adopting from Colombia.  I am more than happy to share details about our experience.  I hope that many of the children waiting will be adopted, but I also always balance that hope with the truth of what you should expect from the children living in Colombia who are waiting to be adopted.

Colombia is a Hague accredited country when it comes to inter-country adoption.  I know some people hate Hague because it adds extra layers and extra cost to the process.  I will tell you, I look for it.  We wouldn’t have come to Colombia if it wasn’t Hague accredited and didn’t have a LONG history of international adoption.

Colombia has a VERY active domestic adoption program.  This makes my heart SOAR with delight.  I want kids who can stay in their country of birth to STAY.IN.THEIR.COUNTRY.OF.BIRTH.  I can’t say that loud enough.  Our van driver in Bogotá was an adoptive father.  He and his wife adopted their child close to birth.  Because there is such an active domestic adoption program, the children available for international adoption here either have severe special needs, like some of the most severe I’ve seen, or they are older.  You may be able to get on the waitlist with Colombia and adopt a younger, healthier child.  I don’t know anything about that.  Isabel was waiting for a family, and she is perfection.

We spent $26,000 on fees BEFORE travel.  This is what I would consider average for international adoption fees.  It falls in line with the fees we paid to adopt from China.  Travel has been less expensive for us then it was to China.  Or, it would have been, had we not chosen to take ALL of us.  But, the cost is, in part, the reason we made that choice.

Travel is NOT what it was in China.  I didn’t expect it to be.  It falls somewhere between Ghana and China for me in terms of American comforts.  If you are not an experienced traveler, this is going to be a hard trip for you.  China would not have been.  In China, a guide was with us 24/7.  We were in 5 star hotels.  I’m sure we could have chosen nicer hotels.  I’m sure we could have paid an interpreter to be with us the whole time.  Joe is a Spanish Interpreter, so I can’t imagine why we would need an interpreter, and we would have to pay them.

The pretty places you might read about on our blog are places we chose to go to because Joe is fluent and I am fairly fluent.  My advice if you’re considering this is to REALLY work on your Spanish.  Your travel will be easier, and unless your child is Deaf like Isabel, the language skills will help you communicate with your child more effectively.

This is a country that has a requirement that BOTH parents travel.  The travel timeline is unclear.  The government moves at its own pace, and no one likes a pushy American.  All of us will have been here for two full weeks.  We anticipate that Joe will be here two more after I leave.  Yes, there are families who leave in three weeks, but there are also families who are here for six, or even eight.  This is a wonderful country.  Come, enjoy, plan to stay.  If the travel requirements don’t work for your family, then there are other adoptions for international adoption where only one parent is required to travel.

Colombia doesn’t especially want to hear that families are adopting for religious reasons.  That is not our motivation to adopt.  We find strength in our faith, but we don’t feel it is the reason we adopted in the first place.  Honestly, I think that helped us get accepted to the program even though we’re a mega-family.  We were told, VERY clearly, not to write our letter of intent to adopt with ANY sort of mention of God or religion as a motivating factor in our adoption.  Again, that was fine with us, because it isn’t why we’re adopting Isabel.

Colombia is also VERY proud of the fact that it welcomes same sex couples to adopt.  The adoption processed from Isabel’s region right before ours was to a couple with two fathers.  We were shown pictures of their beautiful family, because their daughter and ours look a lot alike, and we were told by every official who showed the pictures to us that “amor es amor” (love is love).  If you are someone who doesn’t believe in same sex marriage or in adoption by same sex couples, then this program is not for you.

–FullPlateMom, who is happy to answer more questions via email, when she’s home and settled.

Adoption, AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cam, Cate, Colombia, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Tess

Hiking In the Mountains of Rural Colombia–Day Eight

We are staying in an amazing hostel where the owners live in the adjacent unit.  When I told people that we would be staying in a hostel during our time in Isabel’s city, they thought I was insane.  This is a huge home on a giant hill, with a locked gate at the bottom of the stairs, and then again at the top.  There are two sides to the home, one where the hostel is located, and the other where the owners live with their son.  They are an amazing couple with a 7 year old.  The hostel is clean, and beautifully decorated, and our stay here has been wonderful.

We were originally going to have all 6 bedrooms in the hostel, but each day there has been someone knocking at the door begging for a place to stay for the night.  Each time we’ve given up a bedroom and the backpacker that has stayed has been amazing to our kids.  Our kids are getting to know about different parts of the world from the experiences of these people who have stayed with us, and they, in turn, have gotten to set aside some of their preconceived notions about Americans.

Last night as one of the owners sat with us to have a cup of aqua de panela, she told us about a little town, just outside the city, that is easily accessible by bus.  We’re already staying in a hostel, with a stranger in the next room, with our 12 kids, one that we adopted three days ago.  People think we’re insane.

Let’s do it.

So, we did.  We rode the bus to Cabrera.

We packed a picnic lunch and ate on the steps of the church.

We quickly learned an important lesson about stray dogs in Colombia.  They enjoy ham sandwiches, and also, they’re persistent.

We decided we would eat as we walked.

Cam and Ally are really enjoying carrying the little kids on their backs.  No one asks them to do it, they just offer, and Cam couldn’t care less that the carrier he is using is covered in rainbows and unicorns.

Gigi fell asleep on Ally’s back and she quickly covered her to protect her from the sun.  “We’re at a high altitude here.”  We sure are.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever hiked in a more beautiful place.

We got to the top of the mountain, and began to hike back down.  First, we got a pic at the peak.

We decided that since the ham sandwiches were a bust, we would stop at the small restaurant in the town square and eat a little late lunch before we rode the bus back.

The Ecuadoran man who owns the restaurant was so kind.  He found out that we have a tiny fan of everything meat, and he had some carne asada made just for her.

Gigi and Ally gobbled up all the corn with cheese.  Yes, cheese.  It was a soft cheese that was spreadable all over the ear of corn.

I have never had such wonderful yuca in my life.  It was so perfectly prepared.

We are trying to see as much of the area as we can before we have to leave on Wednesday.  Everyday is an adventure.

Tomorrow a social worker will come visit us in our little house on the hill.  She will decide whether or not we are good enough to be Isabel’s parents.  If her report is positive, an exit letter will be issued allowing us to leave the district with Isabel.  This will begin the next step in the process, going to court to officially make her a member of our family.

That part will occur without me.  The thought of leaving is killing me a little.  So, I’ve decided to Scarlett O’Hara that for now, and think of it another day.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

 

 

 

Adoption, AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cam, Cate, Colombia, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Tess

El Mercado–Day Seven

Today was a slower day, we decided this would be the plan so that the kids could all have time to get to know one another.  Right now, we’re in the phase where we’re all in disbelief that we are now 14 strong.  It feels odd.  Making yourselves into a family doesn’t happen overnight.  We are giving ourselves permission to feel like strangers, because, we are.

We decided that our only activity would be visiting the local market and trying to find familiar foods for Isabel that would comfort her.  We have committed to eating like Colombians while we are here.  So, mid-day, my motley crew headed to the market.

The streets of Pasto aren’t easy to navigate.  They’re like the busy streets of many large cities around the world.  So, the tiniest of our crew ride on various backs.  Tess, Gigi, Cate and Isabel all ride in a carrier.  When a brother or sister gets tired, piggybacks are the solution.

The kids commented that, for the first time, it really felt like we were in Colombia.  No one around us spoke english.  I had to really stretch myself to speak to people.  The accent here is a little different.

We bought all kinds of beautiful fruits and vegetables.

The people were so kind.  We managed to avoid an international incident when Gigi tried to sample the goods.

She’s too cute to go to jail.

–FullPlateMom, who loves her some Gigi.

 

 

Adoption, AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cam, Cate, Colombia, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Tess

The Day We Met, and The Aftermath–Day Five and Six

The last 48 hours were the whirlwind I thought they might be.  It started with a trip to the airport at 4am.  We were supposed to take a 6am flight to Pasto, the city Isabel is from.

We started off so well.  The plane took off.  The kids played their tablets and ate their snacks.

Then we tried to land and the fog just wouldn’t allow it.  So, the plane headed right back to where it came from.  It re-fueled, without allowing us off of it, and we sat waiting for the fog to lift.

A 90 minute flight took us 6 hours.

Thank God Cate did this for the last half of it.

The other kids, who are expert flyers, managed to entertain themselves with games like rock, paper, scissors.

We boarded a mini-van and a taxi and headed through some scary mountain roads to Pasto where we checked in to our hostel.  I have rented all the rooms in it for the week.

A quick change and some lunch from Mr. Pollito (no, I’m not kidding), and we were off again.  At 4pm, we pulled up here.

Our kids actually got to meet Isabel first.  The psychologist who knew her best thought that would put her most at ease, because, apparently, she REALLY likes other kids.  So, Joe and I left all 11 of our kids in a conference room with balloons and a cake to meet Isabel.

We went upstairs to meet with the Social Worker and local Director of ICBF, the central authority for adoptions in Colombia.  They told us Isabel’s story.  This is hers to tell, but there were points in the telling of this tale where both of us broke down and cried.  Yes, Joe too.  Her story is just so hard.  We were also dogged in our quest for information about her living relatives.  The professionals in the room were puzzled why we would want this information so badly.

Joe is totally fluent in Spanish, so there was a good conversation about our other children, their wishes about having knowledge of their birth families.  In the end, we got all the contact information for Isabel’s living relatives.  I will be reaching out to them at some point.  I want to be the bridge to them for her, should she want to cross over someday, knowing that this is always a back and forth.  She can always go between the two of us, never having to choose.

Finally, once we were handed all this information, and all of the equipment for her Cochlear Implant, we got to meet Isabel!

I am not allowed to share photos of her, because at this time, we are only her temporary guardians.  Joe will go to court after I leave Colombia with the rest of the kids.  Once we are officially her parents, then I can share pictures of her.  For now, we must respect her privacy.

The meeting between her and us only lasted about 15 minutes.  Then we were ushered out.  This part is always so odd for me.  “You’re giving me this kid?!? Seriously?!? After all this time, you’re just handing her to me???”  I feel that way every single time.  Then there’s the odd feeling of “I don’t even know this kid.  Am I supposed to love her?” And a moment of panic when I don’t.  I know I’m not supposed to, but I always forget that.

The first night was rough.  Today was much better.  Isabel is very delayed.  It’s hard to tell why, or how much of it is shock.  She is as delayed as Tess and Gigi were.  Her heart is bad.  Her lungs are badly damaged, I can tell already.

All I can do is gear up to fight the same fight we fought for them.

At about 11pm last night, after having been awake for so many hours, I finally sat down and ate some of the cake I bought to celebrate Isabel.

It was delicious, but not as delicious as FINALLY getting our girl.

–FullPlateMom, who is ready to fight for her girl.

Adoption, Ally, Bowen, Cate, Colombia, Gigi, Isabel

The Whirlwind Begins–Day Four

Today began the whirlwind 48 hours that will lead us to Isabel.  I’m writing this at 9:50pm.  I am waiting for the rest of our socks to come out of the dryer.  I will be up at 3am and we’ll all be in the van by 4am.  We have to be on the flight at 6am to get to Isabel’s district.  It is only a 90 minute flight, but the minutes leading up to it feel like an eternity.

Who knew 13 people needed this much stuff for two weeks?  You all probably did.  I did not.  I thought we were simple people.  Turns out, I was wrong.  We are schlepping 200+ lbs of luggage across Colombia, and my back is feeling it.

Today was a fun day for the little kids.  Santa brought them a trip to DiverCity here in Bogotá, and today was the day to go.  This is a kiddie amusement park where you get to do jobs to earn money to buy prizes at the end of the day.  Look at my precious little electrical engineers, working for the power company.  *Apologies for the less than stellar pics.  I had to sneak my iPhone cam out to get anything.  DiverCity wants you to pay for pictures.  Sorry friend, this is where I pretend to not speak Spanish, and therefore not understand, and snap all the pics I want*

Here’s Cate and Gigi working hard in the yogurt factory.

Here are my tiny fashionistas in the Casa de Moda, putting on a show.  Cate wasn’t feeling it.

She was, however, all over trying to catch herself a pigeon in the Plaza Bolivar later in the day.  She wanted to make one of them her pet.

No, I am not kidding.

This was the end result.  Sorry, Cate.

We went to the plaza in search of the elusive coconut.  After spending FIVE HOURS alone with the smalls in DiverCity, my feet were KILLING me, and we couldn’t find the coconut vendor ANYWHERE.

Dejected, we boarded the van to go back to our hotel.  As we rolled through the streets of Bogotá, there was a simultaneous shout of “STOP THE VAN!” as we all laid eyes on a small cart on the corner of a random street.  There was a man there, coconuts piled high, whacking the ends of them with a machete.

Just.like.Ghana.

Joe jumped out of the van and shouted “I’ll catch up to you!”  And, he did.  He ran to the coconut vendor and then weaved his way back to our van as it slowly navigated big city traffic.  Tess was sure he was going to be hit by a car.  He made it though, and just like that, Ally had a coconut.

She is a very happy girl.

Tomorrow, Isabel!!!!

–FullPlateMom, who is too excited to sleep!!!

 

Adoption, AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cam, Cate, Colombia, Gigi, Jax, Juliana, Tess

Parque Central–Day Three

We spent the day at Parque Central Simon Bolivar.  Central Park in Bogota is even larger than Central Park of New Your City.  There is a giant lake in the middle, just like in NYC, where you can rent boats.  It was a beautiful day for a stroll.

There are gorgeous, accessible playgrounds there that are organized by age.  The little kids got to play first.  

Daddy gives the best pushes on the swing.

Bowen got to go between the little kid and middle kid playground.  He thought that was pretty cool.  Finally, a benefit to being of short stature!

He and Sofia had fun “surfing.”

I mentioned on Facebook that so many people have mistaken Sofia for Afro-Colombian, like Isabel.  She was a little freaked out by this at first, but now she has kind of embraced it.  She has even shown an interest in learning some Spanish.  That’s a first for her.

The big kids wandered just a little on their own and found a big kid playground.  They thought this was the best.

We ate empanadas and arepas for lunch from a little stand in the park.  The man working at the stand was so kind.  He gave us a giant bottle of soda and cups for all the kids to share it.  The empanadas were so tasty and the whole lunch cost us $17, to feed 13 people!  Not too bad.

Tess has been doing great with the altitude.  We were a little worried because of her heart.  She takes breaks when she needs to, and we give piggybacks for her, Gigi and Cate.

My kids who are internationally adopted have been talking about their homelands more than ever because of this trip.  Ally and AJ, who came to us at the ages of 6 and 9 years from Ghana, have never said a whole lot about their country of birth.  AJ speaks about it more than Ally.  She basically shut out Ghana when she got here.  She stepped off the plane and became American.

At first, we thought this was her way of trying to fit in with her peer group.  Recently, she has admitted that it was too painful to talk about, and that she purposely amputated that part of her life because of the pain.  Today, she confided in Joe that she had seen a coconut vendor in Plaza Bolivar and that she REALLY wanted a coconut.  Coconuts were available on the street in Ghana too.  Vendors would use a machete to chop the end off the coconut and you could drink the milk on the inside straight out of the coconut.  It was one of her favorite treats.

When Joe told me she had said this, I sprung into action.  We have hired a driver for tomorrow to take us back to the Plaza.  We are going to find that coconut vendor if it kills us, and Ally is getting her coconut.

This trip has been a jumble of emotions for her.  But, most of all, from it, there has been healing.  Ally will turn 16 on paper next month, but in all likelihood, she is really turning 17 years old.  It is time for her to embrace her past, to make this connection to all of who she is.  At first, I wondered if she would ever get there?  Would she ever acknowledge where she had come from.

I think she will, and I think this trip is helping with that.

–FullPlateMom, who is in search of a really good coconut.

 

 

Adoption, AJ, Ally, Bowen, Cate, FPD, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Tess

On Top Of The World–Day Two.

We rode the ‘funicular’ (it’s like a train) up the side of a mountain today.  It is a beautiful mountain, with a church at the top, called Monserrate.

The only rub was, half of Bogotá decided to ride with us.  Seriously, the line to go up the mountain was 1.5 hours long, EACH WAY.  It was like the world’s worst line at Disney World.

As we stood (and sometimes sat) in line, the kids doing beautifully, we met other families who were curious about ours.  We chatted, it was completely lovely.  The weather was beautiful too.  I can’t imagine asking for a better day.

The view at the top was absolutely beautiful.  The sky was beautifully clear and the metal rooftops of Bogotá shimmered in the sunlight below us.  We pushed our way through the crowds and I managed to get a picture of my whole family.  Well, whole for now.  We are still missing the person we came for.

At the top of the mountain, we all ate empañadas and drank soda from glass bottles.  Then slowly, we made our way back to the line.

On the way back down, when we got to the spot in line where we were stuck, couldn’t get out no matter what, Cate decided she had to pee.  For the next hour, I did dances and encouraged her to not pee down the side of me.

Poor little guy in front of us, started to look a little green as we stood there in the heat.  I thought he might have to pee too, that maybe all the pee talk was getting to him, even though it was in English, and he was the world’s most precious Spanish speaker.  But, then I saw him lean over and start to gag.  I dove to the side and shouted at the mom “Tú bébe va a vomitar!” But, too late.  I went into self-preservation mode and pushed all my kids out of the way, as the puke hit the floor with an epic splash.

We walked carefully around it, and smiled that, for once, it wasn’t us.  The crowd rallied for that mama and let her pass right through the rest of the line, onto the train, and down the mountain.  Cam thought maybe he could induce vomit to get us all to the front of the line, but we decided it wasn’t worth it.

After the mountain, we had our driver take us to Plaza Bolivar.  We walked past rows and rows of street vendors.

The plaza is beautiful.

After asking me every single hour for the entire day, Cate finally got her ice cream, and we made the day of some random ice cream man.

Cate gives Colombia a thumbs up.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.