sábado, 7 de julio de 2012

Traveling Between Worlds





Maraya, 9 mos.
I want to write a quick update and have been meaning to since I wrote my last one. We made it to the US for family uniting and services in memory of/celebration of Dad's life. It was actually an amazing experience. I felt so heartbroken before making it there and after coming back but those five days while I was there with Maraya and Ilayas, I felt nothing but love and peace.


We found out that we could get an emergency passport for Maraya on Wednesday (5/23), then planned to head to Santo Domingo to have the meeting and retrieve it first thing Thursday morning. My mom booked a flight for Thursday afternoon flying out of Santo Domingo, then one back in to Port-au-Prince five days later, arriving on Tuesday(5/29). Jireste's visa appointment at the American embassy in Port-au-Prince was the next Wednesday(5/30), so we would go meet him there for that. We left Thursday morning, (5/24, my granddad's birthday), at 5:30am to catch a Caribe Tours bus to Santo Domingo. It was its normal 4 hour ride. We dropped off our stuff at a hotel... a cheap and nice hotel, great find, and then headed to the embassy. They were much softer on us for this report of birth abroad than the first one for Ilayas. We got in and out, then headed to grab some food, then back to the hotel. We is Jireste, Ilayas, Maraya, Ebo, and I.


Ebo, almost 2, when he first moved in with us in Jan.
At the hotel, we planned to part ways. Jireste would go with Ebo to Port-au-Prince at that time, rather than heading back to Puerto Plata, then back to Santo Domingo in a day or two, on the way to Port-au-Prince. We had planned on taking Ebo to his grandmother's house in the Port-au-Prince area, but would worry about the details later. I had spoken to his grandmother on the phone and Wideline, his mother, had given me his grandmother, her mother's phone number. She had agreed to receive him. Just as we were saying our good-byes and Ilayas, Maraya, and I were about to head to the airport, Wideline, Ebo's mom, began calling. She was saying that her mother had changed numbers and we wouldn't be able to find her. I couldn't deal with the situation at the time so I told Jireste I would try calling the grandmother from the US but just needed to go. Jireste was left to try to talk Wideline out of sending someone to get Ebo as we were not sure yet what her intentions were. We hadn't seen her in weeks and had no way of contacting her as she had no stable residency or phone number. I had tried to get her to take Ebo back on several occasions previously as I felt as though she was taking advantage of me and the situation and treating me as her full time babysitter rather than acting grateful as someone in need who is receiving a favor. Each time I attempted to have her take him back, she refused. Now it was quite confusing that this was coming up. He was so close to a grandmother home, which just seemed like it would be more stable. But if we couldn't find his grandmother, we would have a heck of a time crossing the border back into the DR with him as he doesn't have any paperwork. Child trafficking can be taken very seriously. 


We caught our flight with no problems and made it through the Miami airport. My mom told me to only come with the daiper bag filled with the essentials for the trip. Our family would provide clothes and everything we needed when we got there. So I went with the daiper bag over my shoulder, Maraya in one arm, and holding Ilayas' little hand in the other. We had set out with Ilayas' little bookbag that Gabby, (my mom-Gabby is her grandma name), had brought for him when she visited in April, but unfortunately lost it along the way. However, it was empty. Only at one point through the journey of the Miami airport did Ilayas want to be held. He took on every turn, passport check, and passing through metal detectors as a game and a mission. They were both such troopers. When we got to our gate, I checked out a sign for restaurants to see where we could get pizza, which was Ilayas' request. It was gate D40. We sat and ate pizza. Our flight was leaving at 9:30pm out of gate D44. After eating, we sat at gate D40, waiting for our flight. 9:30 rolled around and they still hadn't boarded. I went up to the desk and asked if the flight was late. What time were we boarding? "10:00," I was told. I looked on the screen at the desk but didn't see any information...just a blue screen. I hadn't yet realized my mistake and went and sat down.


Ilayas, almost 3.
We played on the ground and made friends with other people at the gate. We were freezing cold and a worker brought us three American Airlines blankets. It wasn't until 10pm when they called for the people at the gate to board to go to Orlando that I realized my mistake. I jumped up and ran with the kids to D40. The woman at that gate told me that the flight had left and that she had gone into the plane searching for us. I was confused by that. She didn't call our names over the loud speaker but searched for us inside the plane? Wouldn't she have known if we were on the plane because our tickets would have passed through? Anyway, I then had to decide what to do. They let me book a flight for early the next morning without charging me anything. It seemed impossible to stay the night in the airport with the two little ones who were so worn out from the day. Someone told me about an area that had phone numbers for all local hotels where you could call to check out prices, then take a shuttle. This is where I headed. The cheapest hotel I found, the Day's Inn I believe, was around $60. I took the shuttle and got there sometime after 11pm. Maraya was already sleeping but Ilayas was now crying to be held. I couldn't really hold him but asked people to let me go in front of them in line so we could get to our room quicker.


Everything went well and we caught our 6 something flight the next morning. Everyone's last daipers were leaking as we waited to be picked up at the airport. My brother Matthew came and got us and we loaded kids into car seats, something they are not used to. Ilayas sucked it up as he remembered them from our trips last year, but Maraya cried herself to sleep. Ilayas got frustrated at times during the hour long ride home but was passified by the apples Matthew had brought and the search for horses along the roadside.


The only thing I will say about my five days at home is that I was so very very thankful for my family..immediate and extended, as well as close family friends. It was wonderful to see so many people and to receive so much support. My mom was busy and carrying herself around strongly and beautifully...but I still couldn't help but to worry about her for the times after the busyness ended. When I arrived at home, I tried calling Wideline's mom, Ebo's grandmother, and could not reach her, but reached someone else with her cell phone number who hadn't heard of her and was not in the same area. So Wideline came to meet Jireste in Santo Domingo and took Ebo back. I was confused and sad about this but pushed my thoughts about it back for the time being. I spoke to her on the phone when she went and met Jireste and said, "Remember to be careful about what he sees. He watches everything." She assured me that she would. And I pray that she truly is. 


 Heading back to Hispaniola, I tossed and turned in my mind about incorporating a life in the US into our future. With my sister being due to give birth within the next month, and having had such wonderful talks with all family members, I couldn't imagine being apart from them so much for the long term. And I felt guilty for being so far away from my mom and felt a responsibility to be closer to her. This led me to start imagining how we could spend perhaps half of each year in the U.S. and half of each year in the Dominican Republic. I told my mom that in order to live in the US, even if just for 6 months out of every year, we would need lots of money and lots of kids - some adopted. The reason we would need lots of money is to be able to adopt and care for a large family, as well as travel frequently with a large family. The biggest thing that gets to me in the US is the space between people and the overabundance. I am so very grateful for having grown up in the US. I am grateful. I am grateful. But growing up I felt lonely and always begged my mom to have more kids on top of the four she had. 
Ilayas and Jireste, April 2012.


Here in the Dominican Republic we live in a small apartment just a step or a shout away from visitors and sleep all crowded together in a queen-sized bed. And this makes me feel "at home". Jireste who grew up being much more crowded, would feel very lonely with the space between people in the US as well, I'm sure. And as for the abundance, while I am still so very grateful for it, it just makes me uncomfortable being surrounded by so much when I know so many who have so little. I just wish it could all be shared more easily. And spending too much time around this abundance tempts me to become comfortable and I don't want to. I would feel as though I were forgetting and betraying my loved ones here in the Dominican Republic who remain without barely anything, and I would, in fact, be betraying them. So this is my main beef with the US. Again, I am forever grateful, especially for the education and the organization that the country has and has instilled in me. Now, back to the summary of events... 


We flew into Port-au-Prince and Jireste was waiting for us at the airport. We went over bumpy, dusty roads to an expensive and low quality hotel he had found. And that is Port-au-Prince for you. You may be their only client of the month and you may receive a very low-quality product or service but you are charged to feed their family for the month. As always, my head spinned as I came from one land into another, and felt that gap between Jireste and I as he had not been to the other land with me. It's a horrible feeling and each time I vouch that I will never go without him again.


The American embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The next morning we got up bright and early, put on nice clothes, and took a taxi to the American embassy for Jireste`s visa meeting. He got his pictures taken by the eager street side photographers outside of the embassy. He got suckered into paying them extra money to graft his photo into his appointment sheet by showing him that others had theirs done this way. He consulted me after having given the money and I assured him that this was not necessary... the photo we had uploaded did not meet the requirements but the website had simply said to come with photos in hand. I debated with Jireste and finally he took my advice and went and asked someone who actually worked at the embassy, rather than someone who was trying to make money off of him. They let him know that I was right. Not surprisingly, the overly eager men did not give him back his money.


Finally they let Jireste enter but did not let Ilayas, Maraya, or I enter. We waited outside by the dusty streetside until finally I asked if they would at least let us enter the court yard, which they did. We waited for a few hours. I was so sure he would come out with good news. He had applied for a visitor's visa in 2010 at the American embassy in Santo Domingo. They denied him, saying that he would likely be granted residency right away if he replied, but for a visitor's visa, which would allow him to visit and return for 10 years, they would like to see that we were married longer. Try again after one year. Many people said that if we had applied in Port-au-Prince, his country of citizenship, he would've likely been granted it. So now we had waited two years and were applying in his country of citizenship. I thought it was a done deal and had our trip to the US all mentally planned out. 


Jireste entered around 8:30am and came out at 11! He said that they simply told him that he had to get residency if he was married to an American citizen. We had again applied for a visitor's visa, not planning on living in the US, but visiting. I got very upset, as they were supposed to ask him to prove his attachment to his home here and reasons he would return rather than stay in the U.S. illegally. They did not do this, but simply asked him for his passport, and asked why he wanted to go to the US. When he mentioned visiting my family, and me, his wife, being an American citizen, they shooed him away, saying he would have to get residency. This is completely wrong. I cried to the security guards to let me enter. They wouldn't. They could lose their job. I cried and cried until they did let me enter. But I was only allowed to stand in the very first intake area where a man in a red shirt spoke to me. He said two things. He said that if Jireste is married to an American citizen then he must get residency. When I assured him that I knew that was not true, not the law, but perhaps the norm, he said that Jireste would've had to have shown the consulate that he had strong attachments here. The questions the consulate asked Jireste and Jireste´s answers must´ve revealed that he did not have these strong ties. I, again, asked Jireste what they had asked him. He repeated that he took his passport and asked why he wanted to go to the US - nothing else. I cried and begged to pass and talk to the consulate. The man in the red shirt assured me that he couldn´t do that. He would likely lose his job. He gave me a card with the visa section´s e-mail, who I had e-mailed several times before the appointment. 


Upon leaving, we went straight to an internet center so I could e-mail them. I was so upset that we would travel all of that way, pay the ridiculous hotel and taxi prices, the fee for the meeting, and receive so little attention.. and unlawful attention at that. I didn´t receive a reply for weeks, which I replied to again, pleaing for a free second chance meeting for him to prove his attachments, but still have not received a reply from that. If we are met with a dead end, Jireste will have to apply for residency, which will take about a year, cost more money, and will mean that he cannot be out of the country (the US) for more than 6 months at a time... So if we are in the DR for nine months, for example, after six months, he will have to fly to the US and then fly right back, just to get around this rule. 


Public transportation in Haiti.
After we stopped in the internet center, Jireste was set to go back to the hotel. I told him that I had to go meet with the adoption lawyer I had been referred to. We had spoken on the phone while Jireste was in the embassy and he was waiting for me at 3. There were traffic jams as far as the eye could see and it was now after 1. Jireste was adament that I don't go and told me to tell the lawyer to come to the hotel, (haha). I let him know that this expensive lawyer who I would not be paying would not agree to that. But I needed to talk to him to talk about Elisenia and her siblings, as an adoption would likely go through him. Jireste did not want me to go as I did, but I needed to. And afterwards he said he knew that I did need to for the case of Elisenia. But he was not happy a the time. He went with Ilayas to the hotel and I went with Maraya on a series of public transportation trucks to Delmas 31 to the lawyer's office. There's not much to report from the meeting unless someone reading this is interested in adoptiong and wants to send me an e-mail. But I made it there and made it back to the hotel and for that I am thankful.


Haitian market scene painting by Wendy Joseph.
The next morning we found Caribe Tours in Petionville and got our tickets to Santo Domingo. I loved driving through Petionville when we did so in 2010 and I loved it again this time. The market scenes that are painted all over the place in paintings here must be created after a drive through Petionville. The roads are just a sea of street vendors selling fresh, homemade bread, avocados, mangos, bananas, charcoal, etc. They wear flowing cloth clothing, the woman in long skirts, and wear large, beautiful straw hats with large beautiful straw baskets. It makes me want to go back. I love it and I do love many things about Port-au-Prince, (the arquitecture being one thing I love, and the kidnapping not being something I love of couse). 


The bus ride from Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo ended up being a 10 hour bus ride!!! When Jireste had come from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince a few days earlier, it had not taken him nearly as long. We know now not to travel on flea market days. We spent about three hours at the border as it was packed with everyone selling and buying their flea market items across the border. At one point, we looked out the window and saw two men fighting. I saw a larger Dominican man strike a lanky Haitian man. The Haitian man stood there after receiving the blow and the Dominican man braced himself, then ran away. I watched to see if the Haitian man would go after him. He stood there and stood there with his back to the bus. I remember wondering if they had knives and fearing that they did... as I often do when people fight. I hate the presence of such items and wish people would always only fight with their hands, if they have to fight. An extended moment went by and the man stumbled and fell over. I now saw that his white shirt was filling up quickly with blood. He had been cut in the chest. I was horrified. Ilayas was watching and commenting. "Ohhh nooo! Li t'ap goumen," he said in a parenting voice. "Pa goumen." This means, in Creole, "He was fighting. Dooon't fight." I didn´t have the intuition to pull him away so he didn't watch as the man lay on the ground and bystanders watched confused and unsure of what to do, but just watched myself and tried to pray. Eventually police officers forced bystanders to pick him up. There was actually a Red Cross tent right by the scene. I had seen it because it was right by the border check where they had just searched our luggage. I pray that he lived and I pray that situations that bring out such things can be lessened and taken away altogether.


I was really feeling bad after seeing this. I had so many thoughts. Thoughts about life and thoughts about death. Thoughts about heaven and thoughts about earth. Thoughts about fighting and thoughts about giving up. Thoughts about the US, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Thoughts about poverty and thoughts about wealth. But mostly thoughts about Heaven, God, and my dad. I told Jireste that since my dad died, I kept thinking that I wouldn't mind dying and going to Heaven myself. Before I had always been so saddened and burdened by horrible things we encounter here on earth, but always filled with hope and fight to change. My dad dying has dislodged something here where I no longer feel so attached to experiencing the sixth grade and actually less strong to continue working toward change, but more so longing for Jesus' return to end all such things that were never in God's will. (I am referring to my last blog post where I shared a story about my dad desiring Jesus' return and me desiring to experience the sixth grade.) When I told Jireste this, he started crying.... and he then started sobbing. My pain was lifted as I guess it was transferred to him. The bus attendant stopped by to ask what was wrong with him. I tried to explain and she tried to cheer him up but he ignored her and kept on crying. I didn't have much in me to try to cheer him up but was honestly just thankful that he took my sadness from me. I just sat next to him and felt relieved. He stopped crying after a bit. (Don't be misled by this report of him crying. He doesn't cry often.)


Elisenia with her new caregiver Adeline.
We made it to Santo Domingo that evening, stayed in a very comfortable and much cheaper hotel, and took Caribe Tours up to Puerto Plata the next morning. We made it home, saw the boys, our neighbors, and everyone, and after a few days, things started to feel normal again. I felt depression the first few days though, getting adjusted again. Volunteers are now here and English camp has started. It is so much fun. There is lots going on and things are looking better financially for Project Esperanza, at least for the summer and for paying off teachers. Elisenia is doing wonderfully in the care of one of our neighbors who has a 10-year-old daughter with special needs of her own. But honestly, caring for her is a financial burden on the organization (not that I'm complaining - I believe in caring for the least of these), but because we do not receive any consistent funding from anyone for her, and just to pay her caregiver, it is around $100 US each month. Then there are daipers, food, milk, medical attention she has had to receive, etc. We have received I think four donations since February which total $220 US. I had hoped that her expenses would be covered by new sponsors that believe in such a cause but instead the expenses have mainly had to be taken from general Project Esperanza funds, which are too scarce to properly pay our teachers. So this is problematic. But nonetheless, she is doing well. 


Lastly, I have decided that I´m going to start the online law school in September. I have a scholarship for a fourth of the tuition and financial aid will cover the rest. I don't feel like talking about that much more now, but it's what I feel I should do. As I post at the end of most posts, please do consider supporting our family through this, specifically using this visa credit card. It's such a simple request that can quickly be turned into a regular little check that will help make this work more possible. Oh, and let me report some praises. I have a few new students to give Haitian Creole and Spanish lessons to. One is a Haitian from New York City who understands a lot of Creole but has never learned to speak it. We met on Skype for our first lesson yesterday morning as set up through Buddy School. Additionally, the colmado (small grocery store) that we had planned on opening to serve as a consistent job for Jireste was finally opened in June! Praise God! And thank you for reading. :)


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