Saturday, we knew the agenda: tour the agency offices, go to the orphanage, and go to our attorney’s house for dinner. Seemed like a pretty safe plan. And as a bonus, we were told there was a chance our exit letters would be ready on a Saturday. The office that issues the exit letters isn’t typically open on Saturday, so I was a little dubious.
We were told to be ready at 1:00, so at 1:00 p.m. sharp, we were ready at the front porch of the convent waiting for our driver. Our interpreter was there, and helped us
corral interact with our kids, trying to keep them from rolling around in the dirt in their clean clothes, from picking fights with each other, and from screaming.
In tow, we had hundreds of flip flops, donated to the orphanage by the families in the children’s ministry at our church, as well as gifts for all of the “mamas” (the caregivers) at the orphanage.
We waited an hour. Two hours. At three hours, our interpreter told us that our driver had been arrested on his way to get us. Ken asked her what he had done to get arrested. Her only response was a quizzical look, as if to say, “There isn’t necessarily a reason for people to get arrested, they just are.” Ah yes, we had committed the same crime only days earlier.
We loaded up in the van, and headed just a few blocks away to the office for our agency. It was small but adequate. We met a secretary, another attorney, and then met with our attorney who told us that we would next be heading to the office where he would get our exit letters. We asked if they were typically open on Saturday, to which the response was, “Sometimes, if the electricity is on, but since we don’t have electricity on many Saturdays, they are not always open.” But that particular Saturday, they were open!
We loaded up in the van and headed to the Congolese immigration office that would release us from the country. After waiting in a hot van for a 1/2 hour or so, though not in police custody this time, our attorney appeared with the letters, and we were off to the orphanage.
Driving through Kinshasa is absolutely insane. Traffic jam on a divided highway? Just jump the median and drive down the other side of the highway. There were hundreds of 15 passenger vans that were stuffed with 20-30 people. Often, the passenger door would be open, and one or two people would be leaning out the door. Hanging on with one hand. At 60 miles per hour! Stoplights were rare. Drivers just forced themselves between two other cars, making one screech to a halt.
Another interesting thing I found in the Congo was that everyone was dressed very nicely. Everyone always looked like they were going to a party or out on a date. Whether traditional Congolese dresses, or western clothing, everyone looked very nice! Ladies hair was always beautifully groomed with braids or extensions. For the second poorest country in the world, you would never know it by looking at their appearance. I felt a little shabby in my simple knit dress!
After an hour of driving, we headed onto the dusty dirt roads of the town where the orphanage was located. Children were toddling along the streets, hauling water. Others were playing soccer with whatever piece of garbage was lying around.
Finally, we reached the gates of our orphanage just as the sun was setting.
We drove inside the gates to a small courtyard area, just bigger than the vehicles that drove through them. Sitting on the porch were a dozen women (the caregivers of the orphanage). As we opened the doors and the children jumped out, the “mamas” shouted each of the childrens’ names with great joy. The children ran to the mamas and were greeted with hugs and enthusiasm. After we greeted the mamas as well, we were ushered inside, where 75 children were sitting in their little plastic chairs at small plastic tables.
The room was exceptionally crowded and dim and hot, but the adults had all been outside waiting for us. It seemed like the children were largely just patrolling themselves, and they were remarkably well-controlled, given the excitement of the moment.
I was asked to take pictures for several specific families, and had brought along a small measuring tape to measure them, so I immediately went to work trying to find 8 children amongst the 75. The interpreter and our bodyguard were helping me locate individual children, when the children began to sing.
Our interpreter told us it was a song about the children going to America. They sang a verse for each of the four children who were leaving the orphanage, including their name. Then they began to sing a different verse saying “we’ll see you in America.” After all, this is an American orphanage and all of the children are headed to either the United States or Canada. Emmanuel and Addie Rose were singing right along and were bursting with smiles. They sang a few more songs that I did not recognize, and then I began to recognize a familiar tune,
“Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
Altogether wonderful to me.”
How beautiful to hear the voices of children who have been abandoned, abused, betrayed lifting their praises to God in spite of their circumstances! They literally had nothing to their names, just their voices to offer to their Heavenly Father. The angels themselves would have a hard time competing with their chorus.
Ken brought in the suitcase of shoes for the children and showed them, but we quickly realized that absolute chaos would ensue if we tried to fit 75 children with flip flops at one time. So the mamas tucked the suitcase into storage, in order to distribute the flip flops in a more organized way at a different time. Each child was given a sucker, which was accepted with great giggling and smiles.
Emmanuel ran around the great room, showing his friends my camera, and taking pictures of the friends that were most important to him. Addie Rose found “her” baby (girls as young as 4 are caregivers for babies in the orphanage) and set her up on her hip and toted her around.
We took a brief tour of the kitchen, the bedrooms, and the back yard, where cooking and showering took place. Back inside, we saw that there was one toilet for 75 children, and only about 5 packages of diapers. I’m sure they went through those daily. We found out that Emmanuel had been in the nicest room of the orphanage — the one for the oldest boys.
Before I had even finished looking through the bedrooms, it was announced that it was time for us to depart. After all, we were running hours behind, and dinner was waiting for us at our attorney’s house. I found out that each child had a primary mama who cared for them, and we asked who Addie Rose’s primary mama was. Our interpreter told us that it took all of the mamas to care for Rose. We laughed in understanding. We were finally introduced to the mama that was responsible for both of our kids, talked to her briefly through our interpreter, and hugged her goodbye. We snapped a few last pictures to share with families who have children there, and climbed back in the van. We waved goodbye to those who had been our childrens’ family for the last time.
It was dark by the time we reached the gated home of the attorney. It was very nice by any standard. We had a lovely dinner of fish, goat, fufu, plantains, and spinach and drank Fantas and Cokes by the light of the lawn lamps . . . and then in the dark when the electricity went out.
Eventually, we were asked to go into the house with our attorney, where we met his 5 children, and he handed us large packets of paperwork — some from the embassy, some from the office that he had just received that afternoon. We took pictures to commemorate the Congolese end of our adoption journey.
Our van driver had since left, but we still had to return back to the convent, so three adults and four children piled into the back seat of the car, and our interpreter hopped in the hatchback for the hour back to the orphanage. Our attorney assured us that our driver was a police officer himself and would be able to ward off any trouble that we had previously had.
As we drove away, I had both Addie Rose and Emmanuel in my lap, and they were soon fast asleep. And so were my legs.
We arrived back at the convent at 10 p.m. with full bellies and satisfied hearts, knowing that we now had permission to leave the country — at least from the government immigration officials.