Adoption Story, Part 3: Nairobi

This is Part 3 of 3 in our story of adopting our daughter, Maliah. Though I think I’ll tag on an epilogue in a few days, since there’s plenty of details I had to skim over. Sorry this ended up being so long… but it was a crazy trip!

We reached Kigali Airport at 1 a.m., finally finished with the Rwanda stage of our journey nearly a week later than we’d hoped, and ready to tackle the visa process in Nairobi. It took a while at the counter to sort out my ticket, a recurring theme every time I reached an airport. (If you really want to confuse airline staff, book a solo ticket one-way and then try to add an infant to your ticket on the way back.) But we got it sorted, and climbed the stairs to the departure area.

At the top of the stairs was a man in the booth, our last checkpoint before leaving the country. We showed him our passports, our children’s passports, and copies of the many documents saying these kids were legally ours. We were good to go, we thought.

He looked over our documents, then up at us. “You must leave copies of these.”

We stared at him. “Copies? Of what?”

“These documents.”

Now, we’d been handing out copies all over Kigali. Everywhere we went, somebody needed a copy of something. I’d carried doubles and triples of almost everything all week. And I still had an extra of everything—except my letter of no objection from the Ministry of Family and Gender Promotion, the ace document that trumped all others. Dale and Adrienne, my friends who’d adopted a little boy, were in the same boat.

The man shook his head. “I cannot let you through without copies. You must get some and come back.”

It was 2 a.m. Our plane departed at 4 a.m. And in our dozens of trips through every borough of Kigali, I hadn’t once seen a 24-hour Kinko’s.

“You can’t be serious,” I said. “Isn’t there a photocopier here we can use?”

He gave us the look that meant, as we knew too well, things were about to get complicated.

“Wait over there,” he said.

So we waited. He talked to a fellow worker; he disappeared into an office and made a phone call.  “The photocopy room is locked and the person with the key is not here,” he told us.

No kidding, I thought. It’s 2 a.m.

We tried reasoning. “You’ve seen all our papers. We can leave copies of some things, but we don’t have them all.”

He shook his head. “I must have everything.”

Dale finally snapped. “Well we don’t have them, so you can’t have them!”

Finally, this poor man who was just doing his job in the middle of the night took pity on us. He led us back into the office and hand-wrote copies of every document he needed. He finished just after 3 a.m., and after thanking him profusely we rushed through screening before anyone could change their minds. We didn’t exhale until we were in the air, finally clear of Rwandese bureaucracy.

We hit the ground running in Kenya, dropping our bags off at our hotel and heading straight for the Canadian High Commission. The visa process was a wild card: we had submitted our paperwork back in February, but we had no idea if anyone had even looked at it yet or how long it would take. The High Commission in Nairobi services 18(!) countries in Eastern Africa and has a reputation for being agonizingly slow.

But we were optimistic: by some amazing coincidence—or divine providence—we’d met an official from Nairobi back in Kigali who was in Rwanda specifically to check out their adoption process. He was on his way to visit the orphanage we were adopting from, and he even had Dale and Adrienne’s file in his briefcase! We were hopeful that once the High Commission had his first-hand report, our cases would sail through.

But when we sat down in a booth with the processing officer, she stared at us like we had two heads. She’d barely looked at the Kehlers’ file yet; nobody in the Nairobi office even knew where my file was. And just because we were sitting in front of her, 11,000 kilometres from home with two children on our laps, didn’t mean she could fast-track our cases. It might take three months, she said.

She took in our stunned faces and shook her head. “What are you doing here? You should not have come yet.”

This, for me, was the rock-bottom moment. I was done. I’d barely slept in 24 hours, my stomach was a wreck (thanks to some curried goat in Rwanda, I think), and Maliah, who had been a model child for the first few days, had gotten so used to being carried everywhere that she now wailed every time I put her down. Even to go to the bathroom. (Which, thanks to my flaming intestines, was often.) I wanted to go home.

We went back to the hotel and crashed for most of the day, then we pulled ourselves together and went out to change flights. It was Wednesday and we’d originally planned to fly home on Saturday; that was out of the question now. But Dale had to return to a job and their family back home.

For a few days we weighed our options. Spending up to three months in Nairobi was a dire scenario, not to mention an outrageously expensive one. Did we go back to Rwanda, where accommodations were cheaper? Fly to the U.S. and try to get our visa processed closer to home?

Eventually we decided to wait it out. We said goodbye to Dale on Saturday; Adrienne and I moved with the kids into a guest house, which was cheaper than our hotel and in a far quieter (and nicer) neighbourhood. To add a layer of intrigue to our lives, Maliah developed a rash and some odd red bumps that Adrienne thought might be chicken pox.

My prayers that week became very simple: “Oh God, just help me to do today.” But life became easier. At least we weren’t rushing all over the city; we had time to relax, and settle into a routine. Maliah and I got to know each other better.

We went back to the High Commission on Monday so I could drop off another copy of my file, since they hadn’t found the original. Our caseworker told us to call her on Tuesday afternoon. We were on pins and needles, but when we called she delivered good news: we could pick up our visas on Friday morning.

Thrilled, we rushed out and rebooked our tickets for Friday night. We’d be home on Saturday, July 11, in the end only a week later than we’d planned. Just to be safe we called our caseworker again on Thursday. “Yes, everything is still fine,” she said, sounding almost insulted. “If it weren’t I would have told you.” We were just so used to things falling apart at the last minute in Rwanda that we couldn’t help ourselves.

Maliah and I visit a giraffe. The giraffe is not actually rooting around in my ear.

With the finish line finally in sight, we actually had some fun in those last few days. We did a safari at the big game park in Nairobi; we visited an elephant orphanage and a giraffe centre, where you could feed giraffes out of your hand. People had warned us that Nairobi was a grimy, crime-ridden city, but I ended up really enjoying my time there, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Our final days actually felt like a vacation—though I don’t know if Adrienne would say the same thing, since her adorable three-year-old had figured out exactly how to drive her crazy by that point.

Fortunately, there were no last-minute surprises in Kenya. We picked up our visas on Friday morning and had a mini celebration before we went the airport that night. Once again, it took a while to sort out my plane ticket, both in Nairobi and on our stopover at Heathrow in London, but we got off the ground without any hitches. And Maliah was amazing on the plane. She slept all the way from Nairobi to London, and barely made a peep on the final flight from London to Halifax. She and I probably set a record for smoothest transatlantic flight with an infant. (If this were Adrienne’s blog, though, she’d tell a very different story.)

Landing was sheer joy. I’ve never been so happy to come home to Halifax. We had a teary, giddy family reunion at the airport. Shawna got to meet her daughter for the first time and I got to hug my boys, whom I hadn’t seen in three weeks. We were, finally, a family of five. Soon to be six.

And from there, well, you know some of the details. We soon found ourselves on another journey as we discovered Maliah was deaf. But it’s been wonderful every step of the way. And we’ve been able to help out other families who are adopting from Rwanda. We’ve gotten to know a couple on the Eastern Shore who are in the middle of adopting right now, and we’ve had families from Alberta email and call us to help walk them through the process. From the beginning we had a sense that this wasn’t just our story; we were a part of something bigger.

And someday we’ll go back. We want Maliah to know where she came from, and Shawna really wants to visit Rwanda since she didn’t get to make the first trip. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even adopt again someday. We’re very content being a family of six right now—very, very content—but if we ever decide to make it seven, we’d definitely go the adoption route.

At least we’d know exactly what we were in for next time.

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2 responses to “Adoption Story, Part 3: Nairobi

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