Friday, November 30, 2012

Departing Accra Airport and arriving at JFK

I have mentioned before that I am a researcher, but there are some times that research can only help so much, such as when it is a topic that no one else has written about. So, I have written this particular blog post for people who need to fly internationally out of the Accra airport, as well as including information about what to expect at the JFK airport when you arrive from that flight.

Getting to the airport was easy. When we arrived (almost 10 hours early because we had a late flight, and a relatively early check out time) we hoped to check our bags, and then go to the relatively close Accra Mall for a large chunk of that time. Most international airports I have been in, this is no problem. You find your airline, you wait in their line, check your bag.

The first thing we noticed in the departure area is that there was no Delta area. At first glance, there were no airlines listed, so we thought you could just check in anywhere. Not so, its just that Delta only sets up their area about 5 and a half hours before departure. It isn't a big airport, so whoever has flights leaving relatively near that time, that is when they set up their area.

Because of how early we were, we had the fun afternoon of having our luggage with us at the mall. It mostly meant my husband was standing around with the luggage while I shopped in the stores there.

Anyways, when we arrived back at the airport at 5:30 (an hour after check in started), there was a whole Delta area set off by lines with the Delta logo on them. We find our area, and then are handed a paper to fill out. Then our luggage is inspected, as are our passports, and the document we had to fill out. We also had to make luggage tags for our suitcases. We get our boarding passes, and are told don't enter your gate until 6:30, but your gate closes at 8:00 (for a 10:10 flight).

Interesting... we weren't really sure what that meant, or where we could go or not, but figured that we would keep going until someone told us to wait there.

From entering the international departure area and checking in, we went left, and followed the signs to immigration (even though we were not really sure if that is where we should be going).

There are a few stores and restaurants, but not much. The stores sell similar items but more expensive than what you can buy on Accra streets, and we didn't try the restaurants, so I can't report on those. 

We make it to the immigration area. There are documents, just like the ones we had to fill out when we got off the plane that we are supposed to fill out again. (Moral of the story, have a pen, and be ready to use it).

This goes into a line to have your passport and this immigration paper checked. They should also check your boarding pass, and stamp it. This is important to note because my husband's worker did it correctly, mine didn't. She never asked to see my boarding pass, so I never showed it, and I am sure the lack of a stamp would have been a problem at some point! After talking to him, I went back and had her stamp it.

Then you get to the "typical" security check of our modern airports- take off shoes, jackets etc. have your stuff scanned. You are patted down (not always a part of the process, but was here), and scanned.

Now you are almost to the gates section. There is a duty free shop, and the typical bathrooms/ giftshops in this area.USE THEM NOW, as mentioned below, you can't use them later.

We get to our gate, very pleased with ourselves and start to wait. (So I never did find out where the 6:30 stop was supposed to be). Now, the waiting area had rows of chairs, but you could see that the next step was into a long room, with windows (why we could see this section) which is where they would take you next.

At I think 7:30 or so, they had us line up to go into this room. I figured it was one more passport/boarding pass check. Not so. It is actually another security screening, more intense than the other, and much more thorough. They opened every carry on (and that included people with the small suitcases as their carry-ons) and searched them completely. They asked questions about any items that looked suspicious. They did another full pat down and shoes were requested to be taken off for this further inspection before proceeding.

People with tightly packed suitcases were bummed, as their contents were totally rearranged, and didn't fit very well afterwards (which really is unfair that the next step for those people was to prove their carry-on fit in the carry-on space). Word to the wise, be ready to answer questions about any item in your carry-on, and don't pack in a way that would make it hard to close after being looked through.

Now we are in the room I saw when we were waiting by our gate. It is a nice enough room, but there are no bathrooms in it, no stores, and no food. We did fine, but remember, they start to close this room 2 hours before the flight leaves. The rule at home to arrive 2 hours before a flight will not cut it here. If you are hungry now or need to go to the bathroom, I honestly don't know what they would tell you, it was a slow and intense checking process to get to this step.

Depending on where you were on the line to get into this room, you will be waiting between 1-2 hours in there before the next step (boarding for us was 40 minutes before the flight).

Okay, so boarding was more or less normal- you had to ride a shuttle to the plane, and then go up the stairs to actually enter the plane, but not too bad. You made it though the Accra departures!

We flew into JFK. I wished that I had known what to expect there too, even knowing it might be somewhat different for the next person. Biggest thing is it takes crazy long to get to your gate- we had a 2 hour and 20 minute layover, and we needed almost all of it. Like, we had time to buy a coffee, sit down with it, and then they started boarding our flight. Second thing is to go to the bathroom on the plane, I hated those long minutes waiting in lines even though I had to go, but didn't have an opportunity. 

They pass out customs cards to fill out on the plane, and we knew that was the first stop off the plane. This moved incredibly slow for us, mostly because it was an early flight. Once you get to an official, they check your passport, your customs card (one per family) and ask you questions about your trip. I think it took us 30-45 minutes just to get through this step (there is a bathroom in this area, but we didn't use it, because we didn't want the line to get any longer while we did that).

After customs, we had to get our bags from baggage claim, EVEN THOUGH we had a connecting flight. One was on a terminal different than the one on the screen, and the other was off of the terminal sitting next to the baggage spinner.

We think, no problem, next step. Nope. There is a line, again, now to have your passport and boarding pass checked again. Once we got past that, we got to wait in a line to check our baggage. After checking your bags, there was finally a good bathroom that we could use.

A lady there handed us a slip of paper with even more confusing directions than the signs (go up, go past this point, go down?). After trying to follow those directions, we opted for the airport tram instead of the shuttle we were supposed to go to.

We, personally, were going from terminal 4 to terminal 2/3. So we took the tram, got off at the proper stop, and then had to figure out what was happening next.

We had to cross over to the terminal from where the tram was. It isn't far, and you can see it out the window, but yes, the right thing to do was to walk outside to the next terminal. (Not fun, dressed for 90 decree Accra weather walking even a little bit in 30 degree New York weather.)

Good, we made it to the terminal. We had very little trouble following the signs here, only to see... a security line. You know, the one where you take off your shoes, they scan you, etc. The line moves slowly too, there was at first only one line, but they eventually opened a second.

Once we passed this, yes, we made it to our gate.  I hope that knowing our long process helps you if you happen to be traveling this way in the future.

Biggest timing things:
-Accra departure, arrive 4 hours early to go through all their steps
-JFK connecting flight, have a significant layover, short ones would be tough

Ghana Part 6- The good, the bad, and the bittersweet

I didn't have the chance to update on Thursday because we actually made it home today, so I have been away from the internet of the hotel room since Thursday morning until a couple of hours ago.

The good

Our contact picked us up on time, we went to the embassy and successfully filed our I-600 (without the birth certificate) and got permission to have our POA turn in any additional papers!

If we can get an escort, that means that all of our parts are done. If not, we will be returning, but only to pick Grace up and take her home with us.

We were able to get on the plane, on time, and make our connecting flight, and successfully make it back home.

We did get to see Grace on Thursday (we weren't sure if we would or not) and she was happy and smiling almost as soon as we saw her, so she remembers us! Oh, and we were able to get a picture of her smile, which we had been trying to capture all week.


She is the most consistent in smiling after she "practices walking" on Blake's legs. He holds her, and she moves her feet, and he moves her forward, but she loves it.

Grace looking at us as she eats her snack. 

The bad

I was really under the weather on the morning of the embassy, and got sick again like Sunday, but this time in our contact's car (thankfully in a bag) but I was really embarrassed. This nausea made me almost decide to just let Blake visit her on the last day, but shortly after being willing to do that, I drank more water and thankfully I felt good enough to stay too.

After a short happy time with Grace... she had a full blown meltdown. Crying, squirming, our tricks that had kept the tears away all day were not working! So we had a real parenting experience outside of that orphanage playing the game of "why is she upset, and how can we fix it" that every parent has to play at some point.

Food and water kept her placated temporarily, and we actually figured out that she was really tired and needed to sleep, but getting her to do that was no easy feat. But we kept alternating snacks, water and then rocking/singing to her, and FINALLY (as I was singing a song I had made up with the super simple lyrics of "don't cry") she went to sleep in my arms.

Then Blake watched her to ensure she was really asleep before I very carefully sat down.

So this picture, which I love, is not just a sweet moment, but a hard earned moment of true parenting in an foreign country in front of strangers. Both of us, talking about it later, half hoped and half dreaded the orphanage workers coming over to rescue us, but are much happier that we were able to diagnose and fix her tears ourselves.

I plan on writing a whole different post on our airport experiences because I think they might be helpful to others having to travel, but both leaving Accra and entering JFK for an international flight would go in my bad category. I mean, they weren't awful, but they both were crazy unorganized, unclear and had lots of lines (every airport, I know, but I'll elaborate more later).

The bittersweet

We are home. We get to be with our dogs, our cats, our family and our friends again. We plan on decorating the house for Christmas this weekend, and look forward to all of the things that are comforts of home that we can't have in Ghana.

And yet... we are both seriously down, at different moments throughout the day. Today is the first day since meeting her that we didn't get to see her or hold her. Today it is hitting us that as wonderful as the week was, until we finish this process, which is still months away (at best), we don't get to be with her again till she has her visa and can come home. Who knows exactly where she is in the attachment process, but we are definitely attached to her, and missing her already.

We have 26 different items we bought for us in Ghana (as well as gifts for her as she grows and gifts for family) and lots of pictures and video to remember those precious moments together, but it doesn't even compare to being with her.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ghana Part 5- Sigh

My title for the day is Sigh.

All the way around, it was not a great day.

It started with the fun of the unknown. The driver who has been taking us to the orphanage to see Grace wasn't sure what time he would pick us up, and the last we heard yesterday is that he was going to talk to the other person (who would be taking us to the Embassy) to figure out what we were doing today.

Last we heard, Ghana contact 1 was going to pick us up at the hotel at 12 to go to the orphanage to see her, and Ghana contact 2 was going to pick us up at the hotel at 1 to go to the Embassy. Obviously that is a problem, thus why they needed to work it out.

No email, no call, no messages, so then we figured that what probably happened is contact 1 was going to still pick us up at 12. But we weren't sure, so we spent the morning wasting time in the hotel room, waiting for a call that could possibly come earlier. Then it was 12, and we still hadn't heard anything.

So I called Ghana contact 2, who was arguably more important for the day because it was all about getting our paperwork filed. He said he would call contact 1 and ask. He called me back, and said contact 1 was on his way to pick us up and then he (contact 2) would be picking us up from the orphanage at 1:30 (instead of 1). This was still close to 12, so we went downstairs and waited.

At 12:30 Ghana contact 1 finally arrived. We got to the orphanage, only to get to wait more. They were not prepared with Grace, so we just hung out under a tree with another adoptive family for another 15 minutes.

We did have a little silver lining in that we were able to sign a paper to allow us to take Grace with us to the embassy (though this turned out later to not be a silver lining).

After the little time of bonding with her, we started to look for contact 2.


Keep in mind our appointment at the embassy was at 2. I am NOT a late person. I typically run about 15 minutes before important appointments. This was incredibly stressful for us. We had been told that the embassy was very close to where the orphanage was, so I was just hoping that we would get there quickly, and just be a little late.

He arrived at 2.

We were anxious to just go... but first he had to take care of some business at the orphanage... then try to get copies made, but that place didn't have electricity... then we waited for him at another copying place.

All this while Grace is with us, in the car, but incredibly fussy (not crying, thankfully) but very wiggly and very much NOT wanting to be sitting in the car (which isn't that surprising from what we have seen of her, she is happiest being held, but by someone standing).

Blake and I were pretty fussy too (just better at hiding it) as each minute we spent at the various places to get the copies was a minute we were already late for our hard earned appointment.

We arrived at 2:40. Major sigh. Then he asked us to wait while he parked the car. Then we had to try to unload all electronics from our backpack (eventually just deciding to let them hold the backpack with all the stuff, there was so much).

By the time we got in to the embassy area, it was 3, and apparently, the people we needed had just left.

We were told they had been calling and calling for us, but we were not there. They told us to wait, but there was probably nothing they could do. We put our name on what I think was a walk in list, and proceeded to wait. A lot.

Grace, thankfully, by this time had stopped fussing and gone to sleep on Blake's shoulder. So cute! Couldn't get a picture though, because as previously mentioned they were holding all our stuff.

At 3:30, we had a glimmer of hope. The lady who had our name on the walk in list had found one of the people from the department we needed, and she would see us in the next room.

We walk in, with our paperwork, only for us to learn that this particular worker was really sorry, but she had never done one of these before, and she didn't want to mess it up, so could we come back tomorrow. She made us an appointment for 10 tomorrow morning.

We did hand her our paperwork (and are now not sure that was the right thing to do) and left.


In short, we had very little time with Grace at the orphanage doing the playing, fun bonding time. We had a lot of time trying to keep a fussy baby happy in the car and in the U.S. embassy, and we haven't filed our paperwork, which, you know, is the primary reason for the whole trip.

We are trying to be positive. We are thankful that we didn't make our appointment on the last day of our trip, but made it a day before our last day so that if we needed, we could try for an appointment on the following day. We are thankful that our flight is late at night so we can spend a lot of time waiting at the embassy if we need to.

If we are late, if tomorrow doesn't work out in some way, I am not really sure of the next step. I am ready to go home, but it really doesn't make sense for us to leave, only to come back next week or two to do the paperwork. In all honesty, the most logical thing to do would be to stay until this is taken care of. Or at least until they say that our POA can do the rest. It wouldn't just be one day though, because they don't have appointments on Fridays...

Pray. Pray that all goes well tomorrow and we fly back home. Pray that contact 2 is on time tomorrow, and tomorrow is easy. Pray that tomorrow is a better day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ghana part 4- Three precious hours

Today was wonderful. We had three wonderful precious hours with Grace at the orphanage today, and at the end, we agreed, we FELT like her parents.

She loved some of the new toys we brought. She spent lots of time banging her crayons (plastic toddler crayons) together to make noise. She also loved the little tupperware container that I filled with beads so she could shake it and make noise.

We heard her trying to vocalize a lot more (though, of course, not for the camera lol). She seems to love being read to, being sung to, and being held. The few times that she got a bit fussy, and she started to frown, we could see that tears were coming soon, we just needed to hold her, sing to her and rock her a little, and she was good again.

She is already quite the little daddy's girl. While she loved us both, she definitely showed a preference for him. This is the main reason that the shutterfly pictures feature her with him, because he held her most of the time (and I was more likely to take pictures too, and he had to be asked to take a picture or a video).

I think the big things that made us feel more like parents today were:
1- We were able to get a smile out of her a couple of times. Man, there is no feeling like having your child smile at you.
2- She reached for us, both of us on different occasions, wanting to be held.
3- We got to feed her. Not a real meal, but a lollypop, a cracker and some water. Even though it wasn't our food, we were the ones that helped her eat, helped her drink, and cleaned her up afterwards. Awesome!
4- We got to hear her verbalize, trying out little words. It isn't a huge thing, but just like seeing her look around shows us that she can see, her moving her arms and legs show that they are working fine, having her turn when she hears noises shows she can hear, having her try to talk shows that her voice is fine, all of which make us really happy.
5- She crawled for us! It was even more exciting than we thought when she first did it, because although we had been told she could crawl by our former coordinator, the orphanage worker we talked to yesterday said that she couldn't. Today though, she was totally crawling (to get a cracker that had fallen on the sidewalk... but who cares what her motivation was). We even got it on camera! It isn't on shutterfly yet because it was captured on our video camera, not our phone or little digital camera. Later, we found out that she crawls often, but it was still a first for US to see her crawl. Best feeling ever.

Yesterday it felt like someone else's child, but today, she felt like ours. It also helped to see our adoption decree today where it names us as her legal parents and guardians. It also says that her last name is officially Olsen.

This is a bittersweet thing though. I love that we are attaching more to her, and her to us... but it makes it that much harder to leave, and wait for her to be allowed to join our family in America. If we had gone home after yesterday, it would have been hard, but okay, like when I have to wait to see my friends again. But after today, we missed her within a few minutes of getting in the car to drive back to the hotel.  Tomorrow we will get to see her, but just for a little bit. Then we can see her again on Thursday, but then we are flying back that night, and unless we end up having to do the pick up trip, not see her again until her visa is issued and she arrives at the airport near us. It makes me want to cry just thinking about those months until we get through that step.

Sigh. But for today, I will treasure my wealth of pictures and video and memories, and look forward to seeing her again tomorrow.

In other news, our hotel was crazy busy today because apparently the owner of our hotel is one of the main presidential candidates! So the parking lot was full, and there were reporters and cameras everywhere when we came back. We were thinking about eating here tonight, but instead we will probably head to the Italian place (I know, sad right? but comfort food is awesome) to get away from the crowds.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ghana part 3- Who are these strange people?

If you haven't headed over to my shutterfly pictures yet, do so today, and please comment or sign the guestbook so I know people can see those pictures! There are tons of pictures of our little girl. Before I even talk about today, I want to say that it is huge to me to be able to say that I don't know how many pictures I took today! Before today, I knew I had exactly 8. That's it, eight pictures of my child total. Today? I think it is somewhere around 60, and we get to take more tomorrow!

How do you put into words meeting your first child for the first time?

Last night Blake and I couldn't sleep, seriously. I think we both got a couple of hours, but it was sporadic at best. We ate breakfast at the hotel, and then started waiting in the lobby for our contact (not the one I thought I had frustrated... but I actually think we are fine now) who was supposed to meet us at 10:00.

At 10:15, the hotel receptionist asked if we had someone meeting us and if we wanted her to call them for us. We declined, but tried to call him. We didn't get through, and just kept waiting. Around 10:20, he called us and said he would be there in 45 minutes (I actually wasn't sure if he said 4 to 5 or 45 at first... but as we waited... it was  45 minutes lol). He arrived right around 11:00.

He drove us to the orphanage, and along the way, our main contact called, asked to talk to me, and told us that our adoption decree was ready and signed (phew, one thing off of my radar).

When we got there, another family from Montana was meeting and bonding with their children (two kids, a boy and a girl). We waited in the car, and then in chairs in the parking lot, but eventually, they brought Grace out to see us.

She is so tiny! Shortly after starting to hold her, I had our contact take a picture of the three of us together, which is now officially my favorite picture!

I honestly don't know how to put into words how it felt to be there with her. Both Blake and my main goal was to try to make her smile. I am not confident we totally succeeded, but we did keep her from crying the whole time she was with us, though she got close.

Whether it is because she is actually younger than her official age, or if she is just behind developmentally, her behaviors are typical of a younger child than one. From what we saw and what we were told when we were with her caretaker, she isn't crawling yet. Standing is out of the question, and even sitting unassisted is not totally mastered.

She can grab small objects though, and spent a lot of time holding the ball we brought to play with her. She enjoyed tapping it on the ground, and on Blake's arms. We both had a chance to have her on our backs Ghanian style (see shutterfly for those pictures), and it was strange, and we both much preferred to have her in our arms.

She liked it when Blake made strange noises with his mouth. She didn't make any vocalizations while we were with her, but she might just not be used to us yet. The caretakers, and our contact and his wife said that as we keep coming, she will smile for us, and interact more with us.

We read her a few books, and she did like looking at the pictures. Tomorrow we plan on bringing crayons, and see if she shows any interest in coloring.

I was torn a lot of the time between interacting with her, and taking pictures/ video so that I can continue to enjoy those moments in the next few months before we get her case finished and get to have her at home.

I want to say that I totally felt like a mom... but I didn't. Honestly. I loved holding her, but it was like holding my friend's kids. Fun to play with, hold and try to make smile, but I don't think those are the moments that make you feel like a mom. I think those moments will come when I get to change her clothes, feed her, give her a bath, and put her to sleep. The hard moments, the nights that we spend trying to get her to fall asleep or having to take her to the doctor.

I love being with her, but until she gets home she still doesn't feel like mine. Sweet, wonderful and precious... but not mine.

In other news, after time with her, we just cruised around, got dinner, and bought some more from friendly salespeople.  Actually, one of those encounters was very strange. We were trying hard to say no, only for him to go with another Ghanian technique. He "gave" us the item, and said its a gift, I want you to have it. Take it back to America, tell them its from me. If you want, you can give me a little for it, but take it, it is a gift. Normally, I sell for ___ but for you, I'll give you good deal. Etc. It actually was the second time today that someone got our money with that particular technique, because how do you turn down "a gift" that costs money?

Stranger was that we were talking to him after we bought it, and he introduced us to his daughter, and shared the story about how her mom had left her with him, and he is trying to make a living for her. We shared about Grace, and showed him a picture of her, and then he asked if we wanted to adopt his child too, and even showed us her birth certificate! It broke our hearts to hear that he was so ready to give her up if he could. We, of course, declined, but it was a strange encounter all the same.

The other interesting side note is that since we keep shopping from the same general area, there are a few people there who remember us, by name, as we walk by. Most just say hi, some try to get us to buy from them again, some introduce us to their friends who try to get us to buy something.

As bad tourists as we may be, we think this will be basically how the rest of our days will be here. Breakfast at the hotel, then a trip to the orphanage for our time with Grace, then back to the hotel or local areas for dinner, and then stay in the hotel at night. The tour company we had thought of booking with never got back to us, and that is just as well because I don't know when we would have time to go anyways. This trip was never really about Ghana... it was about being with our daughter and doing what we need to work towards getting her home.

It will be very nice when she is finally home, and we can start getting to do all of the hard parenting stuff. But for now, we will treasure the sweet moments, and try to grow our bond with our little girl.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ghana Part 2- First Full Day here

First let me state, for the record, that jetlag is crazy!

We crashed super early last night (way earlier than we should) which was understandable since we didn't get more than a few hours of sleep on the plane. Then we slept somewhat restlessly, only for me to be wide awake at midnight here. Obviously too early to get up.

I spent an hour or two looking at different things to see here, and thinking about where to go today, and then read some of my new book on my kindle, until about 2am.

At this point, I apparently was still crazy tired because then I fell back asleep, and slept until almost 10am. When I got up, I felt well rested, but awful. I am not sure if it was the heat, lack of food, crazy schedule or what, but I had a headache, and felt nauseous (sorry parents, don't panic, I'm okay, but just telling it like it is). Even though Blake was trying to get me to eat something so I could take my malaria pill, nothing sounded good, and the thought of eating made me want to throw up even more. At his urging, I took a bite of a protein bar, and got down my pill... only to go and throw up the food (and hopefully not the pill) a few minutes later.

After that lovely trip to the bathroom, we both decided it would be good for me to lay down and see if I felt better. I ended up falling asleep AGAIN, and then woke up again at about 1pm. I felt much better, was able to get a little food down, drank a bunch of water, and actually felt good enough to get out of the room and go somewhere!

I know that isn't the most pleasant start to our trip, but it is the bottom line truth of what crazy jetlag can do to you, not just sleep schedule, but how you feel as well.

We chose to go the Kwame Nkurmah (I probably spelled that wrong, but the slow internet means that I am NOT going to search for it and the right way to spell it) Museum and Memorial.

Probably the biggest thing that we did today was shop. Even though we try to be careful with our money, and know that logically we can't buy from everyone who asks us, it turns out to be really hard in practice, especially here!

First off, being white here is like a walking sign that says, "I am a tourist here." All day, we would have people walking us to us, guessing what country we are from, and just chitchatting with us. After this friendly greeting and welcome, all of a sudden you find out what they are selling. Saying no is practically impossible, as they just keep lowering the price until you agree! As a matter of fact, we haven't successfully said no to one of these friendly sellers yet. We had a few sellers who were less focused on introducing themselves and talking to us, and them we could decline.

So even before we got into the museum area, we had two people who had asked us our names so they could make us bracelets while we were in the museum. They are really cool bracelets, and the fact that they were made for us made them even more interesting. When we came back out to buy the bracelets, they tried to get us to buy more bracelets (and sigh, succeeded, we are such pushovers lol).

The museum itself was very interesting. Basically it was a museum honoring their first president who was also responsible in part for making Ghana a country free and separate from England. Imagine if George Washington had become our first president not in the 1700's but in the 1950-60's, what would be in his museums. First off, there were plenty of pictures, which makes sense because cameras were common in that time, but it was still pretty crazy to see their president dancing with Queen Elizabeth, or talking with Kennedy and Castro (two different pictures). They even had his car, a blue Cadillac, which again, makes sense because of the era he became president.

The whole museum and memorial were surrounded by trees and fountains (which we didn't take pictures of because it would have cost us 10 U.S. dollars just for the right to take those pictures) but it was a scenic enough place that we saw probably 4 different wedding parties taking pictures there.

Around the same time we were being asked our names for the bracelets, a few guys from the arts center next door introduced themselves and asked us to come and look at their items. We agreed to look after the museum, and they were fine with that.

So we honored our word and walked over there afterwards, only to be greeted by new people trying to lead us to their items for sale. We started walking with the new guys, but then the guys who had introduced themselves before the museum saw us, reminded us of our word, and we went with them. As we walked, one of the new guys tried to persuade us not to buy from them because they are kind of like ebay (my words, not his) where they buy items like the kind that he makes, and then tries to sell it at a higher price.

Still, as I mentioned above, we can't say no. Not just our personalities, but our persuasive salesmen make it very near impossible to say no. Besides, we truly love the craftsmanship here in Ghana, and want to buy a lot!

We walked away with only a few items from that shop, though they of course wanted it to be more, and then went with our new people to their booth.

These guys were awesome! Totally worth the experience (and the money). They played the drums for us, and gave us a drumming lesson of our own. I was better at it than Blake, and for the most part I was able to keep up as they kept the basic rhythm going faster and faster! Definitely a take home memory, playing the drums in Ghana. We then, of course, needed to buy a drum of our own.

But of the three drummers that we were spending time with, though they all play, they actually all have their own businesses. One of them was a painter, so we had to buy one of his paintings, then another guy was a basket maker and showed us how to make a basket, so of course we bought a basket. Actually, by the time the basket guy showed us his products, we literally were out of Ghanian money, so we told them that we had to go to an ATM before we could pay him for the basket. These nice guys were willing to escort us to get the money (and yes, it was escort, because if it wasn't for them we would have had another group of people trying to convince us to buy from them).

They even haggled with a taxi driver for us to get a better rate for our ride back to the hotel.

After we went back to our hotel, put our newly bought items down, we decided we really needed to eat.

I had read online about an Italian restaurant called Mamma Mia's with good reviews, and we enjoyed our comfort food there a lot, especially since it was really the first time I had eaten all day. I had spaghetti and Blake had pepperoni pizza.

The general market was right around the corner, so we decided to walk there to get our (apparently daily) supply of water, and a few other supplies. On the way there we had some more super friendly salesman introduce themselves to us. So we bought another painting and bracelet lol!

Over dinner, we did discuss it, and decided that we really like supporting the Ghanian economy, and we hope for this to be a once in a lifetime trip, so it isn't bad to get lots of items to remember the place and celebrate it in our homes. Also, if there is going to be any regret, I would rather it be us spending too much money, but having lots of items, rather than "I wished we had gotten ___," when we can no longer get the item at all.

You might notice that there are no pictures with this post. Well, it seems that though there is internet, which I am super thankful for, it isn't great, and some sites are worse than others. The normal site that I upload my pictures on to put in posts is one of the ones that doesn't want to work. So, this week, I will be uploading to a shutterfly site, and then I will go back and fill in pictures later on the blog, once we are home.

To see our pictures so far, and keep looking here for the week, go to:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ghana part 1- Home to Hotel

All we have done is made it from our home to our hotel and I already feel like we have had an adventure!

Both flights were fine, though they were close together, so the layover was crazy fast. The first passed quickly, and while the trip across the Atlantic was longer, between dinner, breakfast, movie, and catnaps, it didn't drag on too bad.

Leaving the airplane was crazy though. We walked down stairs off the plane, then took a bus to the immigration area, where they scanned our eyes and took our fingerprints besides checking our visas and passports. Then we waited forever for our luggage, and then we tried our best to communicate with people in the airport to get ourselves a phone, a phone card, and a taxi to our hotel. Though they speak English, we both have such strong accents it was actually a bit difficult to communicate. All of this passed with only minimal problems, but all felt very foreign and different.

Checking into the hotel went smoothly, and though it took a bit of time to get a signal, it looks as though the internet is working fairly well, so I was able to update facebook people, and now my blogging people that we are here.

Unlike most of my vacations, this one is pretty much NOT planned, more of a figure it out day by day kind of trip except for our appointment on Wednesday, and knowing the first day we are able to visit our little girl is Monday.

As we drove along the streets in the taxi, the biggest thing that strikes you is the sheer number of people selling items by the side of the road, and all of the women carrying their items on their heads, with perfect amazing balance.

Oh, and not only have I not seen another white person since leaving the airport, I noticed that even all of the advertisements have black people on their ads. It makes perfect sense, but just is that reminder that we are SO not home. We are in Africa. Crazy!

The plans for the rest of today is to try to rest without messing up our trying to recover from jet lag (i.e. not actually go to sleep), eat and then really go to sleep as close to Ghana time as we can.

Laying down sounds awesome right now. I'll try to post again tomorrow, but we are here, and we are safe in our hotel for now (if you consider safe being seeing the occasional mosquito and having water that if we drink we could get sick lol).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


That's why I couldn't be happier
No, I couldn't be happier
Though it is, I admit
The tiniest bit
Unlike I anticipated
But I couldn't be happier
Simply couldn't be happier
  Well - not "simply":
  'Cause getting your dreams
It's strange, but it seems
A little - well - complicated
There's a kind of a sort of : cost
There's a couple of things get: lost
There are bridges you cross
You didn't know you crossed
Until you've crossed
And if that joy, that thrill
Doesn't thrill you like you think it will
Still -
With this perfect finale
The cheers and ballyhoo
Wouldn't be happier?
So I couldn't be happier
Because happy is what happens
When all your dreams come true

We are traveling to Ghana the day after Thanksgiving, and we don't have to cancel our tickets! That is the good news.

But I chose this song above because it is perfectly my emotions today. We have an appointment with the embassy to file our I-600, just got it today for next week at 2:00pm. This is what we were waiting on, because we were told that our decree was issued, just needed to be signed, and that would be done this week.

The birth certificate is recommended, but not required to file, and this will save us money from not canceling, even if it possibly delays the process.

Last we had heard, we would get to have her with us the whole week. We were thrilled and scared all at the same time. Today, as I confirmed with our contact that we would be coming, and asked how we would get to have her with us, I found out that the situation has changed, and we have to just visit her at the orphanage- up to two hours a day.

We still can do our paper filing as needed, we still get to see her, hold her, play with her etc. and we were not sure if we could take her with us in the first place, until this same contact, a few weeks ago said we could. 

Honestly, I think it is because of
 "There are bridges you cross
You didn't know you crossed
Until you've crossed."
 For various reasons, this contact was not supposed to be our primary contact. We (I) made the conscious choice to talk to this person instead of the "normal route" because this contact was responsive and able to answer our questions, where the people we are supposed to contact have let me down in terms of communication, with delayed, inadequate answers that ultimately would have to be relayed to this contact, then back to our people, and then to us.  When I found a way, I chose to eliminate the middle man in the situation. In retrospect, I am not sure this was wise, but a determined mom will do what she feels she needs to do...

It started with very positive conversations.  But my second to last contact with this person showed their irritation, and I think I somehow pushed it over the edge. My last words from this contact were (to paraphrase) use the correct route to communicate with me in the future, no more direct contact. I also suspect this is the reason for the "situation change."

I think it takes a lot of additional effort on the part of this contact to get permission for us to take her out, and he might have been willing to do that for us at the beginning of the conversation, but now...  sigh.

I should be thrilled, jumping through the roof happy. But I'm not. I'm frustrated with myself that while we are able to go, and able to keep our tickets, I lost a great contact, and lost the opportunity to have her with us for the week we are there. More than that, I hate that I so frustrated and irritated the person who has been one of the most helpful for us, and is definitely the most important in getting things done for her to come home.

I see those suitcases full of things for her, and while I am sure they will let us change her clothes while we are there, read her books etc., there are a lot of items we wouldn't have bought if we knew that it was just visits.

Maybe it isn't all my fault, and maybe something really did change that was out of my contact's hands...but as I reread our conversations, I can see this contacts' responses continue to shift downwards in attitude towards us. I don't know.

I know we are going, and as far as my facebook will say, I will keep just the positive, because the fact that we can go at all is amazing, and something only God could arrange. Hopefully, I can smooth things over with this contact when were are there, in person. If not, I will count my blessings that I get to see her, and get the paperwork filed, and start the waiting till she gets home stage.

Thank you for your prayers, and for your positive thoughts. Please continue to pray for this trip, and also that I get back on this contact's good side when we are in Ghana, oh and that he is not so frustrated that we cannot contact him in Ghana, because that would be bad. Anyways... I have paperwork to gather, lesson plans to make, bags to pack and a house to clean for Thanksgiving, I just had to get this out.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mom proof #3- receipts

Those of you who look at my blog title will notice that I started with Mom proof #3, while never having written about mom proof #1, and #2. I figure as my life continues, I will have many of these, similar to those frequently shown on mugs, cards, random stuff online. You know, the ones that say, "You know you're a mom when..." and then end with some witty reason that you have proof that you are a mom.

I will be mainly writing about my receipts from the day, but I knew it wasn't the first mom proof that I have experienced, and figured that I should throw the other ones in here, and then label it with #3.

Mom proof #1- Pictures
You know you're a mom when you can't help but show anyone you think might be remotely interested pictures of your child.

I only have 8 pictures of our daughter total... so I think this is even worse for me in some ways because I not only want to show pictures, but I want to show literally picture I have! I have one picture of her in my wallet, and I kid you not, there are moments that I think to myself, does this cashier, waiter, random person possibly want to see a picture of her?  I have been able to restrain myself (so far) but the thought does cross my mind.

Mom proof #2- Worry.
You know you're a mom when one out of ten (or less) thoughts is a worry about your child.

I am told that this is normal, and that it never goes away. It seemed to have hit the moment we got the real referral, and it hasn't really gotten much better. Every picture I have gives me a bit of peace, because then I know that at that moment, when the picture was taken, she was safe, happy and healthy. But otherwise, yes, worries flit through my head all the time. I usually take them as a hint to pray for her. My biggest fear is that something will go so wrong that we will never get to see her and/or never get her home. I spend more time than I'd like having to commit this fear to God, over and over again, and trust that He planned for her to be part of our family, and she WILL join our family, here in the U.S. and hopefully soon.

But my mom proof for the day is:

Mom proof #3- Receipts.
You know you're a mom when you see the receipts from diapers, tiny dresses and tiny shoes for YOUR child (as opposed to a gift).

I may not have seen my daughter in person, or had the opportunity to hold her yet, but the items that I have bought over the last week sure make me feel like a mom!

After a period of time that it looked like a dim possibility of traveling to Ghana after Thanksgiving, it has turned around, and now looks more likely than not (though still not certain yet). Also, we got definite confirmation that when we are in the country, we do get to have her with us for that time! So, we have been shopping in preparation for that event.

First up on the list is clothes! I asked my friends with kids and they said to plan 2-3 outfits a day for her... and at the start of the day today we had... one, total. I am sure I will eventually have more clothes than I know what to do with, but as I haven't had my shower yet (its in the works)... we needed to fix that, now.

Tricky thing about these clothes too is that we aren't sure what size she is, so we are guessing based on her age. Even though we have been told she is really small for her age, we got almost all dresses, so if they are a bit big, its okay. Oh, and the fact that by the time she gets home for real, she will likely have grown (considering it is another couple of months from time of travel to Ghana) so these probably won't be worn much after this week (unless she stays small, and the clothes are a little big, but who knows). So, I wanted to keep it cheap. We started with looking at various garage sales.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
I am a bit proud of my haggling these three items down from 10 to 8 dollars for the three of them.

Then we went to Target's clearance rack, and got these five outfits:
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Add those with the items we bought on the day we found out we were legally her parents:
IMAG0307, Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

and the dress I made for her from a shirt that I was no longer able to wear:
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

(I know the lighting is terrible... but the pictures were taken at night, and Blake needs to replace a lot of light bulbs downstairs lol!)

That brings her up to 10 outfits for the five or so days we have her! Not bad. I also did get an order off ebay with some more outfits, but we will see if it arrives before we have to leave.If it makes it here on time, then we have the 3 a day recommended by friends, if not... we will make do with what we have.

Funny thing is that I want to see her in all these outfits... even if she doesn't need that many outfits due to dirt/spills/accidents, and I have mental images of changing her anyways just to get pictures of her in more outfits to treasure during the time till she is home. But then I wonder if that is treating her too much like a doll for me to just dress up? Anyways...

We also got other supplies:
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

There are more not featured on here, but I tried to follow the suggestions of my friends... though we still have to take at least one more trip to Target (or somewhere) before we go, because I forgot a bathing suit for her! Sigh, I got swimming diapers, but no swimsuit yet. Hopefully they have some for sale even though it is November...

The hardest item to buy was shoes. We have no idea what size her feet are, and even looking online, we basically learned that shoe size varies by kid. Great. So we ended up going with two different sizes, and hoping that one of them works... or we will be buying her shoes in Ghana lol! Both could be too big, or too small, we aren't really sure at all, but they are very cute!
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Every time, at every store, I did feel a bit strange buying this toddler stuff. Especially since Blake and I were together... and don't have a child with us. I wondered what people thought, and (as mentioned above) contemplated telling the cashiers that I wasn't buying for a friend, a shower, a niece or anyone else... I was buying for OUR child. Who we haven't met yet.

It is a good strange. It is also a really good strange to think that if we cross our last hurdle... we will be with her in a week. 1 week. Wow.

Just like with Ireland, it seems surreal. Like it hasn't really sunk in yet. Although, we now have two suitcases that have her items in them (and room for ours as well) in expectation that it is happening.

My biggest and best mom proof is coming... holding my child in my arms! Soon... hopefully, prayerfully soon!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

From Abstract to Concrete

Almost two weeks ago, I received new pictures of our daughter, and proceeded to show them to pretty much everyone I work with, as I am very proud of my beautiful little girl, and when you only possess eight pictures total, you are inclined to share literally every single one you have.  I also e-mailed them to my mom and Blake's mom figuring they would disperse them to other family members.

Somehow there was a breakdown in this plan as I found out this morning that my dad hadn't seen them yet, and he wanted to know why they weren't on my blog (as he is a very faithful reader).

Honestly, the main reason that I didn't post these earlier is that when I received these pictures, I thought that I was going to be receiving more in the very short future, and then I would have more of a luxury of choosing which of them to post on the blog. Even as time went on, and it looked like the other pictures were not going to be showing up as quickly, I kept waiting because I could wait "just one more day."

But I do have more to say about our daughter, and I know there are people who I don't see in real life, who do read my blog, and for them, and for posterity, here are a few more pictures of our beautiful girl.





Most parents, having the luxury of their child with them, look at photos of their child as a way to remember the cute dress or a fun memory.

When you still haven't met your child yet, you appreciate seeing her and her cute faces, but you also use the few photos you have to detect clues about your child.

From our pictures, we noticed that she has pierced ears. Blake is excited, I am on the fence about it. They are cute, they do make her look more feminine, and they are obviously a big cultural thing (if even a baby in an orphanage gets them). If entirely up to me, I probably wouldn't have let her get them pierced until she was older, but now that it is already done, it's not a big deal. At the same time, I am not super thrilled about having to keep her in earrings, keep track of her earrings, make sure she doesn't eat her earrings etc. I suppose I could take them out, and let her ears close, but as Blake likes them, it is apparently a cultural thing and it was something I was going to let her do someday anyways, we are going to keep them in.

We also have observed how inquisitive she seems from the pictures, looking around, and trying to look at everything around her. Without more information, we (proud parents that we are) conclude that she seems to have normal intelligence. :-) Can you tell that just from pictures... probably not... but hey, that's all we have.

She does have teeth. Cute little tiny teeth (seen clearly in the second picture and just barely showing in the third picture). So we can anticipate the fun of teething, and have a nice confirmation of her approximate age.

But the biggest thing that has happened lately with her is that she has moved in our heads from the abstract to concrete. We know now that when we travel to Ghana (hopefully, prayerfully, miraculously the week after Thanksgiving but possibly later) we will get to have her with us for the week we are there. I am super excited, Blake is a bit apprehensive, but we both feel like it makes the whole prospect of parenting more real.

We have to get supplies for that week. So when we were at CVS last week on another errand, I decided we could just stop by the baby row, and pick up some of the needed supplies. I walked to that row... looked around... and lost my nerve and walked back to where Blake was in the store. Something freaked me out about really buying things for her, not just fun items (like books, clothes, hair things, I got those without any trepidation) but the necessary ones. That step was like really believing that I have a little girl who will be needing those items, and soon. Like this is really happening. It just, I don't know, got real.

I got back to Blake and he asked why I didn't get anything. I told him how it intimidated me, and sweet guy that he is, walked back with me, and just started grabbing items. We didn't get a ton that day, but we did get a few items. It still felt weird buying baby items when we don't have a baby at home yet, but I kept telling myself that we have a right to buy them, because we ARE parents.

The other way that it got real recently is with my researching. If you know me well, you know that I approach life like a college student. Every somewhat significant life event is like a class that a portion of my brain feels the need to study for to feel equipped to handle it.

Before Roxie, I read copious amount about dogs, dog care, and dog training. When we learned about getting Tasha, I prepared by reading about huskies. Before our kittens, I read about caring for kittens and cats and the supplies needed. Even before our camping trip, I read about cold weather camping.
You get the picture. Knowledge/ research is my shield that equips me to feel prepared for new situations and things out of my comfort zone.

A few years ago, when we decided to adopt, I read a lot of books about adoption, and caring for an adopted child, connecting with them and helping them understand the loss that is a portion of their life story. After choosing Ghana and starting that portion of the process, I started reading about transracial adoptions, raising a black child, multicultural families, and about the country and culture of Ghana itself. When we found out that we were referred a girl, I started reading about African hair, and researching how to keep it healthy, and clean and braid it.

Do you notice a huge gap in my research? I didn't, until recently. I don't know why, but it just hit me a few weeks ago (I know, sad) that more than an "adopted child," more than a "black child," more than a "black girl," we will be raising a child. I never read about how to care for a 1 year old, what to expect of a toddler, how to do the nitty gritty day to day parenting stuff!

Blake laughs at me, because most people don't approach life like a college student, and I am sure that a person could just be thrown into parenting without ever picking up a book and doing just fine. But me? I always research stuff before I do it (I even researched about mud runs before going!), and to leave out such a HUGE area of research really made me concerned about myself.

I think I figured it out though, and it goes back to the title of this blog, and really most of the things above too- I am having to go from abstract to concrete, and it scares me. All of the other topics were "safe" where they would be helpful no matter who our child is, and if something fell apart, it would still apply. Starting to learn about a one year old, buying items for her specifically, these things mean that I am putting myself out there that we aren't just adopting A child, we are adopting our little one year old girl whose smiling, inquisitive face is featured in the pictures above, and soon we will be taking care of her, since she is already ours.

I have now gotten a small collection of books from the library on this very topic, and am already feeling more prepared both for our week of caring for her, and for when she gets home and we care for her full time.

It is a good thing for it to feel real, and truly, I want to let go of my fears that she is an illusion, a mirage, or a beautiful dream that I could possibly have to wake up from someday. I hope my week with her will cure that, but I think it won't be resolved until she is home, and even then, I wouldn't be surprised if there are days when I look at her, while she is playing, sleeping or just sitting next to me, and wonder, even then, if she is really there, and really ours. I hope and pray that day is soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

When shopping for Christmas...

I recently joined an AMAZING facebook group, where everyone has adopted or is adopting from Ghana. It is awesome, truly. Anyways, a post a little bit back was about how families are fundraising for their adoptions.

For various reasons, Blake and I went with waiting longer, and just saving like crazy, but it makes sense that not everyone can do that. A bunch of websites allow you to sell their stuff, in exchange they give the families a large portion of the proceeds. I plan on perusing this list as I shop for Christmas this year (if I shop for Christmas at all lol).

So... I decided to do what I could to help these families, if not by buying the items, but by sharing them with my small group of readers so that they can see if any gift items for people this year can be bought from one of these many sources and help another family adopt a child!

I apologize that it isn't better organized. It is a copy from a facebook post, but hopefully all of the links still work. Lots of people selling coffee and t-shirts. Thanks for looking, all of these families appreciate it if you do.