Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Reflecting on 2006--August
Getting to know you . . .
Each day that passed was new, exciting, and precious. I treasured every moment, trying to understand Makana's needs and wants as a four month old baby. She drooled excessively and incessantly. She was fascinated by hula hand motions and even liked it when I danced with her. Because she was on a different formula prior to me getting to the RMI, her little tummy was taking quite a while to adjust to the new one I had brought. Sometimes she would scream in gas pains for what seemed like an eternity when watching your baby hurt, but she seemed to like to be swaddled and held tightly while being serenaded to worship music.
When I took her to the Central Adoption Agency, the gentleman in charge commented that she was able to focus extremely well for her age and seemed to like the color yellow along with any type of patterns. Since he is a child development expert, I was encouraged by his remarks.
Even though I grew up with children all around me and knowing what types of things to expect with newborns, not having people immediately around me to physically and emotionally support me was a challenge. I had always envisioned that my child would grow up within the context of a family. However, when I was in the RMI by myself, as relieved as I was to be a mother, I felt as though my parenting was severely lacking and incomplete. I am someone who treasures "words of affirmation" [read THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES], and despite the fact that in retrospect I can feel assured I was doing well, I was uncertain of myself at that time.
For that reason especially, I am extremely grateful for my cousin Marjorie and her husband Gary, for they took us in and had us take over their living room for 3 weeks. (A great by-product is that we were able to save a TON of money by not having our hotel bill!) As missionaries in the RMI, they exposed me to everyday life in the islands. They also introduced me to many of our family members. :) Since Gary was in the Coast Guard, he and Marjorie lived much of their life outside of Hawai'i. Therefore, it was a splendid opportunity to get to know each other again and encourage one another in the Lord.
Makana's first mission trip was to the Majuro prison. Gary and Marjorie take youth with them each Sunday to conduct a worship service in the jailhouse. Makana's presence brought joy to many of the inmates. They thanked us profusely for coming. Sometimes the greatest present you can offer someone is presence.
Bonding: Our adoption agency warned us and prepared us for difficulty in attaching and bonding with our child. We had to come up with a strategy and put very specific ideas down on paper of how we were going to attempt to bond with our child. Hence, I was extremely concerned that Makana would not be happy with us for a while. After surveying veteran mothers who used various baby carriers, I decided to purchase a sling to help me be mobile in the RMI and to help with bonding with Makana. I guess it became our signature look in the RMI because no one else uses them there. In Africa and in Japan, mothers and others caring for babies would not think to live without their versions of the sling. Needless to say, I think the sling was perhaps the best practical purchase I could make; Marjorie attests to the fact that it probably helped Makana and me bond immediately. Despite all of my fears, Makana CLUNG to me as though she knew that God had brought her mother to her.
In fact, we bonded so well that she would go to NO ONE else. She screamed if other people held her, including her birth mother when she came to visit. I was so concerned that she wouldn't even want to go to her Daddy when she finally would meet him. I prayed and asked others to pray as well, that she would at least be open to looking at her earthly father without shedding a tear. I daily showed her pictures of Dave and me, and she would smile and coo at it. When Dave called, she would try to talk to him, smiling as she did. She got excited whenever he would call. God is sooooooo gracious! When Makana did meet Dave, it was as though she knew that was her Daddy. People around us were amazed by how she studied his face and placed her little head on his chest when he held her. She was in her Daddy's arms, and that was that. No crying, no tears. She was at home in her Daddy's arms. Thank you, God!
The waiting game: Things just move slowly in the RMI. August seemed to last FOREVER! Basically, our paperwork took the longest in our agency's history to process, as we hold the dubious record of 6 weeks in the Marshall Islands. Since the last adoption to be processed there was about a year previous to ours, people were re-learning how to do things, and that slowed things up a bit. Additionally, we were missing my signature (I was to perform in front of an RMI American embassy representative) on one of the many pieces of paper when the paperwork got to Manilla. (Our paperwork went to Honolulu and then to Manilla.) Because the RMI embassy couldn't find the necessary paperwork when I got there (on a Friday afternoon), I had to bring it back on Monday morning (count the days in between that were lost). Makana and I took the "bus" into town that morning, which was basically a 15-passenger van, which was a cultural experience.
Wanna hear more about our van experience? Marjorie and Gary ensured we could have a space on the van the night before by going to the corner shop that runs one of the buses. They said to wait out on the street in front of the house because that was one of the official bus stops (yup--no sign or anything, but it is an official stop!). There were others waiting at that "stop" when we got out, and they assured me that I was lucky because it was the last bus of the day.
We got into the van and took our place on one of the seats. People stared (especially since I had the sling around Makana). Where do I pay? I handed the driver my money, and he was puzzled but took it anyway. I noticed later that no one else paid the driver. Where did they pay? I have yet to know the answer. The van meandered through the little streets and then stopped at a store. The driver got out for a smoke break, and others in the van did so as well. We waited. I looked at these gallon jugs sitting on shelves just outside my window. I wondered what was in them, for they were unmarked. The contents looked like apple juice or cider. Just then, the driver picked up one of the jugs and and a funnel in his other hand. He placed the funnel in the gas tank hole and started filling the van with the contents of the jug. I assume now that those were gallons of gas, for our van did not die from the 5 gallons of that stuff that was eventually placed into the van. Interesting. They do have gas stations in Majuro, but I guess no one wanted to install one in Laura (one hour from the city).
The van then continued through the streets of the tiny town, picking up and dropping off passengers who didn't pay the driver. :) After about a half an hour of riding, a little boy behind us got sick, and his grandmother was trying to hide things that came out of him. All the Marshallese people around them tried to shift away from them, but being that this was a van we were riding on, it was difficult. I pulled out my handy wipes, and offered them to her via the people in between us. Once again, people stared at me, but this time they seemed grateful for this American. In that way, it seems as though Marshallese are suspicious people. I was a little taken aback, for in Hawai'i, in the "aloha spirit," people smile, "talk story," help each other out, even when they are strangers. In the Marshall Islands, it is different. Perhaps because their history is one of takeover after takeover, they are less welcoming of outsiders. They seem to like outsiders for their money, to help their economic growth. I am not trying to make a blanket statement; those were my cursory observations of 6 weeks.
Once people knew you with some connection to themselves, they were more than welcoming. For example, in the hotel's dining room, on my first night alone with Makana, people just stared at me. The servers were noticeably talking about us, and they barely helped us. After frequenting that place for a while, people got to know us, and they were friendlier. However, when Marjorie and Gary met us there and then introduced us to all the servers, ahhhh--life was different. There was now a connection to people whom they knew, and we were accepted.
Marjorie and Gary introduced us to a myriad of people. For me the best introductions were to our family members. What I didn't realize until later was that even though Marjorie had been there for 4 years, she was also meeting many of these family members for the first time as well. We went together to meet Auntie Neirom and her family, who were wonderfully gracious to us! Auntie Neirom told me about how she had met my Papa (grandfather) and Daddy in Hawai'i in the 60's. She had tried to convince Papa to come back to the Marshalls, but he didn't. She also met Mommy at one of the Assemby of God conventions in Hawai'i (probably in the late 70's or in the 80's). I felt comfortable talking with her; she did feel like family to me. Her children and grandchildren were also wonderfully gracious to us as well, and we saw them again at a picnic a couple of weeks later.
Connecting with my Marshallese roots was the second highlight of the trip there. I hadn't dreamt it possible to do so, since Papa had died when I was a toddler. It felt right, just like when I went to Japan and met Auntie Toyoko's family outside of Tokyo, and later our other family in Fukuoka and in Kumamoto. It made me realize that keeping Makana's roots alive will probably be important to her someday as well.
The fruit in one of the pictures is the pandanus--"pup" in Marshallese, and "hala" in Hawaiian. It was the first time I had eaten the fruit, but it is abundant in the RMI. In Hawai'i, I know we use the lauhala (leaves) for weaving mats and things, and we used the fruit for lei (known to me as the "make-man" [pronounced /mah-kay/, meaning dead] lei, for they were used at funerals). The fruit is apparently nutritious, and it is delicious. It is the first table food the Marshallese give to babies. On the day before we left the RMI, we cooked up an entire bunch of them at Marjorie's place, and then pounded out the pulp. Actually, Gary did most of the extracting. It was quite a task!
There are so many stories of what transpired in the RMI while we waited. Perhaps I'll blog some of them later, as I recall some things that stick out. In retrospect, I think I tried to savor the time there despite the anxiousness I was trying to supress to get to the States and be reunited with Dave.
We finally got "the call" from the American Embassy that our paperwork was in. On August 30th, Makana and I travelled to the USA together. I'm not sure what it is, but it seems as though the Marshallese flights have the most children on it per capita than any other flights I have ever taken. Children were in front, on the side, diagonally across from, and in back of us. At first I was thrilled that there was an empty seat between a lady and me, so I sat Makana there, relieved. However, when everyone settled in their seats, the lady near the window called another lady over to take up the empty seat. Bummer! Oh, well, we only paid $17 for Makana anyway, so I cannot complain.
Makana was great! I had trained her to suck on her pacifier from day 1 with her for the very task of flying in the plane. She fell asleep after we leveled off, so I placed her on my seat. She liked having space rather than being held in my arms. Makana stayed asleep until we started to descend. :)
We arrived in Honolulu at around 1:30 am. It took us about 2 hours to get through customs b/c we didn't have an extra passport picture of Makana for the paperwork they needed to complete there. It was actually hilarious because the customs officers had a Polaroid camera, but they had no idea of how to take a passport shot. After about 8 shots (and waiting in between for each of them to develop and then get disapproved by an unseen supervisor), the custom officers gave up and said they'd use the pictures already provided on other paperwork. Whew! The baggage claim people had already gone home and brought our luggage to the customs officers. :)
Lisa came to pick us up; it was great to be HOME in the USA! :) What a RELIEF! God is sooooo gracious; I don't know how to express my gratitude.
Life in the USA is MUCH easier with so many more ammenities and things to help out parents. Of course, there are more laws, like car seats and medical requirements and such, but they are all for the benefit of the little lives with which we are entrusted. In the RMI, I was pretty freaked out that I didn't have a car seat for Makana. Riding for 1 hour each way every day from my cousin's house posed many risks, but there was no way around it. Thank you, Lord, for safety!
Of course, people drive much more speedily in the States, but the road conditions are somewhat better as well. Africa still wins for the worst roads, though.
Makana loved meeting my family in Hawai'i; she took to them as though she knew they were family. It was amazing. Even at the RMI airport, when her birthmother came to say her good-byes, Makana cried uncontrollably. It is unexplainable. I just thank God she likes being a part of our family. :)