Joe and I sat on a beach last weekend and reflected on where we were just one year ago this time last year. We have showed you lots of warm fuzzy stuff (you can see the whole first year of us as a family of 5 below), some of the more challenging things (hopefully you read the guest blog from last week where I am keeping it real), but not much about that crazy time in between meeting Jack and actually getting him home!
One of the memories that sends me into hysterics every time I think about it takes place at the International Organization for Immigration in Nairobi. Granted- it was not a hysterical day. Jack, Joe, and I arrived at the humble compound around 7 in the morning. We were basically following the adoption order of things…. with no real understanding of what the IOM was. We just knew that Jack needed specific medical testing done and the IOM’s signature of approval before we could receive his Visa- Jack’s ticket to home sweet home.
I have spent a lot of time in a lot of countries, and I try to be as non ethnocentric as possible. I appreciate America, but love seeing the reflection of God in other cultures. That day, however, I was wishing for some American special treatment (there was none.) The IOM is the east African processing office for all refugees leaving Africa. After several hours of waiting in a room filled with refugees from neighboring African countries, we finally saw the doctor. He looked at Jack’s TB test from a couple of days before…. It was inflamed. This happens often, even when the child doesn’t have TB, because the test picks up on the antibodies from the immunization. We were told we needed a chest xray.
We were herded to a van, along with all the other adults who had tested positive for TB, for a trip to the hospital. I sat squeezed between Joe, Jack on my lap, and a Somalian woman covered completely in her traditional Muslim clothing. I heard an elderly woman coughing behind me…. And then it dawned on me that if Jack didn’t have TB now, his chances of getting it just went up 100% (along with Joe and I’s). I asked Joe to crack a van window.
After waiting another eternity at the hospital, getting xrays done on him by ancient machines while doctors yelled in swhali, his parents comforting him in English, but absolutely no one there to tell him what the heck was going on in his native kinyarwandan, we went back to wait out the results at the IOM.
We sat waiting in this tiny room, the only white faces in a sea of African refugees. At one point, I looked over and Joe was sandwiched next to a guy that looked exactly like the dude from the Sole Glo commercial from Coming to America. They were both sitting there, stroking their facial hair, trying to figure out why we were waiting so long, if we would ever get to leave. Joe gathered he was from Eritrea, and was getting political asylum somewhere in Europe.
I won’t bore you with all the other insane details that happened those few days battling for Jack’s visa in Nairobi (getting picked up on by the Kenyan doctor treating Jack, sharing an apartment with new friends who had been tied up and held up at gun point while robbers stole every last possession of theirs that morning, and visiting multiple doctors myself for what was a severely throbbing rash on my head that turned out to be the shingles). While there were crazy amounts of stress (I guess that is where the shingles came in, my face was swollen shut by the time we were literally begging the embassy for Jack's visa so we could make our flight. see below for said shingles), I was also so thankful for our days spent living as close to the life of a refugee as we ever will.
I still have these sea of faces in my mind (especially the Sole Glo guy). Where are they now? Are the settling into their new lives? Are they safe? Have they learned English? Is there even one American friend in their lives? These are the faces I think of when I purchase from Open Arms- an organization here in Austin that employs refugee women with a living wage and Hill Country Hill Tribers where Jessica often brags on us (we like to brag them on them, too). YOU see these faces all the time. Maybe when you are in a cab, or checking out at the grocery store. The next time you notice an accent, engage that person in a conversation. Invite them over for dinner! Show them the friendly America they hear about in their home countries but almost never meet once they here. And, of course, shop our Crocheted Bracelet and Earrings, hand tatted by Burmese refugees right here in Austin. (and, in case you were wondering, Jack's chest xray was clear!)