Sunday, May 27, 2007

Our Next Model is...



Annie Marlene. She specializes in picking out her clothes herself. You can see in the outfit she is wearing a green top with a pink whale on it. She has orange capris with flowers on them, snow white socks, and cinderella shoes. She has added some nice accessories as well which include a gold muchroom necklace that her mother used to wear as a child and a blue hair brush to keep her beautiful. This outfit is not available in stores and is valued priceless.

Stuff I thought I'd never hear myself say, "Annie please don't use the kneeler as a trampoline.
Stuff you hope your child doesn't say at the top of her lungs in church, "Mommy my barbie has no clothes on!"

Friday, May 25, 2007

From Americans Working in Liberia Now


Weather Update: Speaking of moisture in the air, the months just leading to the rainiest months of July-September are the most humid. The temps climb because true summer is coming, but we experience occasional brief afternoon rains, followed by sun that leave us sweltering. The water table is very low, so we are hoping for more substantial rains soon for our wells.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

If you ever want to travel to Liberia...info. we're learning


Quick Facts
Capital Monrovia
Government Republic
Currency Liberian dollar (LRD)
Area 111,370 km2
Population 3,042,004 (July 2006 est.)
Language English 20% (official), some 20 ethnic group languages, of which a few can be written and are used in correspondence
Religion indigenous beliefs 40%, Christian 40%, Muslim 20%
Electricity 120V/60Hz (USA & European plugs. NOTE: there is no unified electrical system so bring adaptors for both)
Calling Code +231
Internet TLD .lr
Time Zone UTC

EAT

Like anywhere, travelers can find meals in Liberia to be either surprisingly expensive or enjoyably cheap. It all depends on where and what one eats. For Western-style or Middle Eastern food at restaurants in Monrovia like Diana's, Plaza Pizzeria, Beirut Restaurant and others, a meal will cost about US$15 per person. Eating at the Mamba Point and Royal Hotel restaurants can be even more expensive, although one can also find inexpensive items on the menus (falafel sandwiches and burgers can be had for US$5). The Royal Hotel in the Sinkor neighborhood is also home to Liberia's only sushi restaurant, The Living Room. It has the ambience of a classy, New York-style sushi bar, but the sushi, despite abundant local fish, is merely average. A meal there, with a drink, will set you back around US$25. A less expensive option is the Bangkok Restaurant in Congo Town (up Tubman Boulevard from downtown Monrovia, on a turn-off to Old Road). The Thai food is good and relatively cheap (e.g., a plate of pad thai is only US$5). A few Chinese restaurants can also be found on Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor.

Eating African can be enjoyable and easy on the pocketbook. Liberian meals like palm butter, casava leaf, potato greens, chock rice, and jollof's rice will barely leave a dint in your budget (US$2-3 with a soda). Portions are usually enormous. Another popular local dish is fufu (fermented dough made from the casava plant) and soup (the most common are goat soup and pepper soup). Fried or roasted fish, especially snapper, can be delicious. And for those who like to eat on the go, fruit and snacks can be bought from street vendors throughout Monrovia. Peanuts, fried plantain chips, roasted ears of corn or plantains, bananas, mangos, and other fruits can be had for LD$5-20 (or US$0.10-0.30). Especially delicious are the various breads sold freshly baked in the morning. Some breads resemble banana bread, other breads are more like corn bread. All are delicious although somewhat oily. A good local place to try is Beatrice's Mini Market on Broad Street.

Stay safe

Do not walk around at night, and make sure that your car doors are locked when you drive around. Rape and armed robbery are common and on the rise. Hotels etc have private guards and are rather safe.

There are some gangs of former combattants, armed with machetes, who walk around poorer areas of Monrovia (Redlight). There are also former combatants in the Palm Grove Cemetary on Center Street. Do not walk there alone at all.

The corner of Randall and Carey is also considered dangerous and supposedly a hang-out for drug dealers.

Avoid any desolate places, and stay in groups.

Keep an eye on the locals, if they are carrying on as normal and you see plenty of women and children about, it is unlikely that there will be major sources of concern. If, however, people have disappeared from a usually busy location, or you find yourself surrounded only by youths, you should try and make a hasty retreat.

UNMIL has calmed the country (in general) but it is already now anticipated that when UNMIL leaves the security situation will be worse.

It is advisable to inform you Embassy that you are in the country in case of evacuation.

Furthermore, learn as much about the security situation as you can. Locals are a key source of information. Be careful, however, not to believe everything you hear. Rumours spread like wildfire in Monrovia as they are the main source of news. Details, however, are often inaccurate.

Local newspapers are interesting reads. Daily Observer has the largest circulation but there are also several others. You can buy them from the street.

Respect

Liberians are very friendly and sociable. However, they do not take kindly to being ignored and will call you "rude". Make sure that you greet as many people as possible and smile when you do so. Make friends with any guard, cleaner etc that you come across, introduce yourself and remember their names. Your security will also improve as the locals will warn you of security threats if they know you and know that they can talk to you.

Handshaking is the norm, usually followed by a finger snap. Shake hands with people you meet, even fruitsellers.

As Liberia is incredibly poor, you will inevitably be asked for money or help of somekind. Usually the most persistant beggers are former combattants. Giving money to the elderly or the physically disabled will not go amiss. However, with most children and others, it's best to spend a little time with them, play a game, take digital photos (loved here) and then possibly give something as a gift to your friends. Liberians are proud people and their desperate need is no reason to treat them as beggers.

School fees are expensive (up to a $100/year) so often foreigners are asked to pay for school, but this can also be used as a ploy.

Most people in Monrovia, with the exception of internally displaced people, are relatively well-off in Liberian terms. The worst conditions are in the countryside, where help is also most needed.

Rather than saying "no" to the requests, considered rude here, say "later" or "tomorrow" or "I will see what I can do". Do not ignore people.

Buy

Liberia is well-known for its beautiful masks. Masks are on sale around hotels and UN centres. After haggling, they will cost you about $25 (depending on the size etc.)

There is beautiful printed fabric in Liberia. It is sold in lapas (usually 3), a lapa is rougly equivalent to 2 yards. 3 lapas of the best quality, real wax, will cost about $15.

Bottled water (about $1/ bottle)

By car

Road conditions are poor, so a 4x4 is necessary for travel. During the rainy season travel times are increased dramatically. In Monrovia things are not much better but nevertheless keep trodding on.

By bus

There are no busses for tourists. The government just received a few busses for public travel but they are not usable for travel.

By taxi

The best way to get around Monrovia. Do not take a taxi off the street though as these are commonly unsafe and jam-packed.Getting robbed in a taxi is a common occurrance. Ask other foreigners if they know of a reliable taxi driver to contact. If you are unable to find one, at least insist that you are the only customer in the taxi, and of course pay accordingly.

Costs

Liberia is a very expensive country for a tourist. There are no cheap and safe alternatives. Expect to pay what you would in NY or even more

We are staying at the Royal Hotel, 125/night average price of the 7 hotels in the city. It will be worth every penny for airconditioning and wireless internet access. It's not surprising toursim is expensive, that's how they make what little money they have and figure if you can get there you can pay for stuff.

We Leave for Liberia....

5 Weeks from today! Let the countdown begin!

WE WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS

We have a book, similar to a baby book, for both Abigail and Emmanuel. It's called 'Our Chosen Child.' We plan to print some of the blog out and save it for them and will add any of your comments if you would like. It will be fun for them to look back and see all the people who followed their journey along with ours and were excited for them to join our family.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Conversations With Annie, Soon To Be 3




Today I had a pin on given to me by Scott's Mom when she went on a mission trip to South Africa. It has a beaded white girl, black girl, and brown boy on it. They are all holding hands. I have been wearing it a lot lately, keeping my kids with me. Annie saw it today and asked me about it and I told her it was to represent her brother and sister who would be coming home soon. I said do you remember their names? She stopped for a moment and then said, Manuel? I was so impressed as I didn't think she had picked up that much. I talked with her more about the adoption and compared it to one of her favorite movies 'Annie' which ended up being a mistake because she then asked if we were all going to live at Daddy Warbucks' house.
Tonight I was trying to go to bed when I overhear Annie and Scott talking. Somehow the subject of Foxy, (Grandma and Grandpa R's dog) comes up and all of a sudden she blurts out, "I go stay with Baby Maddie and Grandma Charlene and Papa Arthur when you go and get my brother and sister. " Scott also impressed, says that's right. Do you know what your brother and sister's names are? Annie says, Manuel and Abi---gail.. Scott told Annie her brother and sister live in Africa and asked where do you live? And she says, "My house." Who says blondes are slow! Then Scott tells her that Mommy and Daddy are going to go to Africa to get them and we're all going to come home and live in Minnesota. Is that OK? She says, SURE, Daddy got diet coke??? (she's trained so well to get daddy a soda!)

Ambassadors for Other Families
So far we have five families we are taking albums and a few other things for, one is here in South Minneapolis! It is a small world after all isn't it? I'm keeping a list of names and kids so I can make sure to spend some special time with each of these kids who already have an anxious, loving, and waiting family. Then I can't wait to report back to them. I know HOW important that is not only to them but all of their extended families too. I wonder what my kids think and I want to make sure all these kids know they are already loved half way across the world!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why International Adoption

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in Kenya on Semester at Sea. Semester at Sea was a study abroad program through the University of Pittsburgh, but instead of going to one country you went to 12 (mostly 3rd world countries) and had your classes on a boat. We had already seen some extreme poverty and been to the poorest villages in South Africa where Apartheid was just ending. I was in Kenya coming back from our Safari. We were on a bus and there were hundreds of people on either side of the bus, mostly women and children with no shoes, the women carrying things on their heads. The children were stopping and waving at us. It was obvious these were people trying to survive. I thought right there and then, there are so many kids in this world that deserve a better life there is no reason for me to bring several of my own children into the world. I always kept that moment with me. I often wonder what some of my other classmates from that experience are doing. When times are tough I think, "no I couldn't have been one of those people who just went and looked at the wild elephants, I had to get involved." But I believe anyone who had seen what I did would have done the same thing. When I met Scott I told him what I wanted to do and he agreed. Although he really wanted a biological child, it is amazing to me the passion he shares for this without ever having been on this trip.
As this year got tough for us and we told people we were adopting I could see people's heads spinning and the wheels turning, why would they adopt when they are losing a business? There's no book on how to have your business fail while adopting internationally and if there was it doesn't seem like a huge market. When we started this how could we have known what would be happening two years down the road? Should our kids suffer because times have gotten a little tough? No, we are still so rich and still have the most important thing, the ability to get jobs which can support our family. I think people don't understand these are OUR kids, even though we don't know them. Even when I was pregnant with Annie I said to my girlfriend at work, I wonder if my other children are born yet?
The other comment I just love is when people say well what about the kids here? What about the kids here? They are gonna get fed and gonna get an education with or without parents. And what makes you think American children have more of a right to a family than African children? To me that's like saying you shouldn't raise money for lung cancer because breast cancer is more prevalent. Cheryl is known for telling people who say that, "what are you doing for the kids here?"
I often think about how it's no coincidence that Jesus was born in the poorest town in Israel, he has called each of us to do something no matter what the obstacles. With our challenges this year I asked him, if I can only do one thing please let me bring my kids home. It looks like God will come through.
The one thing most of the African Adoptive families I have gotten to know have in common, is that most of us are living on the edge financially and most of our lives center around a strong faith.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A little Biased

I admit it, I'm totally biased FOR black people, especially native African black people. I have no idea why. Even our one black photographer at work said to me one day, you are our black reporter, because I love doing stories with the people in North Minneapolis which is predominately black. Today, I was in the parking lot of the grocery store and this guy was having car trouble and I could tell he was from Ethiopia. When I asked if he needed help, that was confirmed. His starter was out and he needed to push his car to a parking spot instead of in the middle of the parking lot. So Melville (the guy who collects the carts, also black, not that it matters) and I pushed his van with the Ethiopian flag on it I noticed later, to a parking spot. I offered him my cell phone but he said he had a friend coming. I go back to our minivan (my co-worker called me minivan Mama and I now have a strong affection for the term) and get Annie. Meanwhile we come out of the store and I almost run over two old people. Not that I don't like old people, but I know if they had been African immigrants I would have stopped and given them a ride to their car. I guess its sort of like when you are pregnant it seems everyone around you is pregnant. I never meet a black person with an accent now without asking them where they are from and if I'm so inclined I tell this total stranger about my impending kids. But I know that's how African people are, they are the friendliest people on earth. They are never too busy, never too rushed to stop and learn about you. It makes them so rich in ways we will never be.

THE ESCORT QUESTION


Many people have asked me, now Cheryl has brought kids home, could you have an escort bring your kids home? The answer to that question is yes. But there are several reasons we are going over to get the kids ourselves. One is, we don't want to be on anyone's timetable. The minute those kids are able to leave Liberia, we want them home. But more than that, we want to see where they've lived, where they are coming from. We want to immerse ourselves in their culture, in their people. We know that will help us raise them, understand what they've been through and why or how they might act in the future. We also want to raise them knowing where they've come from and allowing them to be proud of that. If we have never been there we think that might be a challenge no matter how many great videos you see. At first, just I was going to go. But then we were encouraged by family to go together. In reality, it really is like a hot, dusty, humid delivery room. There were lots of factors of course, the first always on my mind, money. But in 25 years what will 2500 dollars be for one plane ticket? And both Scott and I and A & E will always have this week together, on THEIR turf. They will spend their lives being overstimulated and learning our way of life, this is the least we can do for them.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day...A waiting Mom's state of Mind

First of all a big shout out to my Aunt Nancy...my most faithful blog reader, she checks this everyday without fail! Happy Mom's Day Nanc!!
With six weeks to go until I officially have three children I have reached a whole new level of psychosis. The emotional roller coaster I rode before I had Annie is coming back for another spin. I remember two weeks before giving birth I must have felt that Scott was not being attentive enough and stopped him on the basement stairs and laid it on the line, "I need to be the QUEEN of your universe NOW." On Saturday it hit me. I am completely overwhelmed and have 64,000 things to do in the next six weeks and Scott why are you sitting down? What are you doing??? Do something. Um, you are breathing incorrectly, is that the remote in your hand??? Cause there is no time to hold the remote, we need to figure out rooms, plant the flowers, mow the lawn, get the visas, make the plane reservations, and the vacuum is not picking stuff up! Are you cleaning out the vacuum at the kitchen sink? That is what our driveway is for. Lucky for Scott I had to go on an overnight trip for work and he got to sit down, breath as he liked, and even hold the remote. It was quite evident when I got home that is what he had done. But he is trying to not get in trouble with his queen, he is now even posting on the blog (notice the three new videos) and editing my posts (Hi there it's me Scott, I'm writing this and haven't breathed in a full minute!) The psychosis will soon end, but just so you know nesting is not a symptom of pregnant Moms its a symptoms of expectant ones!

Black and White DO Go Together

www.mercyships.org
Some of the amazing humanitarian work going on in Liberia

Liberian Montage

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Taking stuff to the Kids..

We will be taking albums for others families' children and about 80 pounds of stuff to the AFAA house from Cheryl.
Cheryl was telling one family the children like to put the albums under their pillows and then added,
"Liberia has the WORST pillows I've ever seen but that is all that is available." She says the pillows are very lumpy.

Cheryl also says, "One of the things I saw that all the children need are thin, sleeveless, T-shirts. The kids sleep in them - it is so tremendously hot there and we raised our compound walls to about 8 or so feet so it blocks any tiny breeze."
There are now 30 children with more coming in at the AFAA house.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Preparing to Travel, shots and instructions


Scott and I went to the Infectious Disease and Travel Clinic yesterday to get vaccinated against a lot of things that don't look like fun to have, yellow fever, typhoid, malaria. They also gave us two sets of strong antibiotics just in case. At first I said oh, just give us one set whoever gets sick first can get them, then I pictured us on the plane with two kids we barely know both running to the bathroom with the runs, uh, maybe we'll take two sets of those drugs
Most of the diseases of concern are from mosquito's but we also have to be careful with water, drink bottled or canned, stay away from anything made with water like lemonade or ice-tea, watch the salads, eat fruits with peels like bananas or oranges instead of strawberries and grapes, and wear a lot of bug repellent. As we were getting our instructions, it was all coming back to me. Although it's been 13 years since I've been in a 3rd world country I remember all the precautions you have to take.
I also spoke with Cheryl yesterday who said our tentative dates should work, we are waiting for a field investigation for the US Embassy in Liberia to go through, whatever that means. Cheryl also warned us about taking loose fitting cotton clothing. She said, "have you ever been to a 3rd world country." I said yes, and started listing them and she said, "those are nothing compared to Liberia. You will be drenched the minute you walk outside because it's so hot." I've heard the humidity is always at 80 percent or above and one of the big challenges at the AFAA house is getting clothes to dry because of that.
I handed in my form for FMLA leave. I will tentatively be gone from work June 28-July 26, using as much paid time as possible. I didn't seem to ruffle too many feathers.
We had a great trip home to see GRANDMA M-A-R-I-A-N. She is being a good patient and seems to be improving by the day. Annie also got to see Grandma CHAR-lene last week and baby Maddie and Auntie Amber. Coming home on the plane from NY she turned to me and said, "Such a sweet child" while patting my head. I thought, there's no doubt we've been with the Grandma's! Annie talked non-stop from Detroit to Minneapolis, everything from playing with her Dora Backpack (I gotta have my packback) to talking about Blue's Clues to imagining play with an old barbie of mine she found in my old room and brought back. When we finally landed, the woman across the aisle said do you know how smart she is that she can talk that entire time? I thought, yes and annoying to everyone around her as I was trying to feed her to keep her mouth full so she would be quiet. But the lady says her little brain is working so well. I thought, I bet you are a Grandma too! Speaking of my room, it is very pink and flowery and although Annie had been there before, I'm guessing she didn't remember because when we got there she said, "I love your room, it's beautiful, its my favorite." Two nights in a row, she told me to leave the room and go downstairs, it was her room now.
While at home, I helped Dad open the pool. Annie was so excited and demanded to put her swim suit on that she was going to go swimming "right now." That was, until we put our feet in and found out how cold the water was.
We are working on where to stay in Monrovia. Cheryl is suggesting the Royal Hotel because it has air conditioning and she says there is wireless Internet access, so we can take our laptop and update the blog, which will be great.
Today we redo our fingerprints, it's always fun dealing with immigration!

Monday, May 7, 2007

What Time Is It?

If it's Noon in Minnesota, it's 5:00 p.m. in Liberia. They are four hours ahead of East Coast time and five hours ahead of Central time.