7.14.2014

Love/Light

Sometimes I feel like I open my eyes and realize that there truly is so much good in this world to fill our hearts and minds with. Just when I need it most, I am overwhelmingly taken over with this image of love and light working around me, reaching into those dark spaces that we all have. 

It's the Sunday smiles. The thank yous. Orderly lines. Full bellies, clean plates. It's second servings. The laughter of kids. Those childhood games. The jokes and hugs and fellowship. The goodbyes and see you laters and the tangible feeling of love. The constant opportunity to let that light reach farther, to make it a point to try and understand the otherwise incomprehensible. 

The light is the fact that there are whole countries in Africa, like Malawi, where there are one or maybe two plastic surgeons. Total. Whole countries with only a handful of people trying to relieve the burden of unrepaired clefts, and post-burn contractures and everything else that plastic surgeons in developing countries are responsible for that have nothing to do with elective cosmetic enhancement. It's the fact that right now one of those two plastic surgeons is living in Guwahati for four months to improve his skills and deepen his knowledge of cleft care so that he can stretch that light from India to his home. It's his peaceful demeanour. His quiet, humble sense of humor. His dedication. His desire. His compassionate passion to contribute to his country. It's his sacrifice. It's the fact that we are blessed to have a cleft care centre here that lends itself to spreading skills knowledge and awareness across the globe. 

The light is in visits to the orphanage throughout the week. The big pink building on top of the hill that calls me in, calls me home. The excited greetings and never ending hugs. The games and reading and singing and playing. It's the opportunity to create then nurture healthy and wholesome relationships with beautiful children who deserve every drop of love and light available. It's the caretakers. The kirtan being sung next door. The free community health clinic. It's having a pile of children climbing all over you and the happiness that fills every void in that room. 

It's in taking deep breaths and long yoga sessions in the morning or evening or both. It is in literally finding your balance. It's taking care of yourself so you can care for others. It's the desire to lower yourself down. It's reaching out and having someone reach back. It's being broken by humility. It's visualizing that light inside of you, glowing and burning and growing until it just emanates from your being. It's remembering that even when it felt like it wasn't, that light has always and will always be there. Someone will always be there to share their light with you. 


(photo by Gary Lee, September 2012)




6.27.2014

Looking Back: Cambodia March 2014

Cambodia was a complete and utter whirlwind of a work trip. The details of it kind of just merge together and that makes me a little bit sad! I went to Phnom Penh to teach one day of Basic Life Support (CPR) and one two-day course of Paediatric Advanced Life Support so my trip in total was only three days plus 1 1/2 days on either end for travel. Like I said, a whirlwind. 

The day I arrived, I was super tired because I had traveled all night. I was up late in the Kolkatta airport and then did what sleeping I could in a chair in Bangkok. When I got to Phnom Penh I was in a sort of dream like state. It was warm and muggy, a whole new language surrounded me and having just brushed up on Cambodian history, my main thoughts were on the not so long ago genocide that took place in this beautiful country during the life span of the driver who picked me up at the airport. I wished I could have talked to him and many of the people I came across in fact. 

I met up with my colleagues, many of whom I had met in Vietnam a few months earlier. We immediately headed out to the Russian Market and for some dinner. We drove by the King's Palace and some other beautiful Buddhist temples but as it was already evening, we didn't have time to go peek around. 

 King's Palace at sunset

 Cambodian rickshaws are so cute and spacious!

The teaching was an extra big challenge. We were a team of instructors from the U.S. (India?), Vietnam and China. The students were all med students or doctors, very smart and enthusiastic but we had a challenge with translation because we didn't have any local instructors and none of us knew Khmer. Somehow we made it work and part way through the day, I was informed that in the afternoon we would do a second session with the Cambodian Anti-terrorism Squad.... wait... what?! I was SO intimidated! We packed up our gear and headed off through thick city traffic and eventually made our way to a heavily guarded military zone. As if I wasn't already sweating enough, cue overactive perspiration! We pulled up and were met with a room full of very serious looking young men. I got up and nervously introduced myself and had them go around the room to introduce themselves. I always like to make some jokes to ease the initial tension in a classroom so I did, and it went over pretty well! The second I got them smiling, I finally started breathing again. These guys were so disciplined and absorbed everything we could teach them with the limited time we had. They asked awesome questions and by the end, I forgot that they were highly trained and specialised members of the Royal Cambodian Army. Sometimes I get so intimidated in a new country that I find myself holding back, especially somewhere like Cambodia where I didn't have much time to learn about the culture and language beforehand. I fear being a traveler or guest who offends the citizens and I was on extra-high guard being around the military of my host-country. Once I relaxed and opened up with them, I really felt like they also became comfortable with me. It was such an honour to teach them some life saving skills, and I would love to go back for a second round with more time. I really can't describe it in any other way besides honoured, humbled, grateful. It was absolutely the highlight of my time there. After the class was done, we stood around on the grounds and they explained to me a bit about their training, where they live and their duty. They lined the hallways, waving as we drove off and I was hoping I would see them again someday! 



The next two days were spent teaching the advanced course. My self esteem was admittedly a little low upon the completion of the course. We had a large class, difficulty in translation, long power cuts and late days. As the course director, I tried my best to keep everything on track and ensure that the students met all of the course objectives. I was a text book Type A personality growing up but the last 3 years have forced me to, I don't know, not be so much of a Type A. My overly organised, perfectionist, way-planning ahead, not that flexible, intolerance of tardiness self has been watered down. It's probably best this way, I am guessing my risk of dying young from a heart attack has decreased! One trait that hasn't changed is that I am still highly self critical, so it is hard to walk away from a set of challenges and feel like I faced them well. Did the students get a lot out of the classes? Yes! Did I feel my best at the end of the day? Nope! After a lot of reflection, I learned quite a bit from the challenges during teaching in Cambodia and there is good in that. It has helped me anticipate needs in other countries and also taught me what questions to ask ahead of time to ensure that we are going in with the best plan possible. Everyone I worked with remained flexible and energetic despite the heat and long days, I am very thankful for that!


 Buddhism in Cambodia sure is different from Buddhism in India. It is intriguing to me to see the visual difference between the Theravada path and the Mahayana path. 

My awesome team. I couldn't have managed without their input and experience! 

Before I knew it, it was time to leave Phnom Penh. We had one last yummy Cambodian dinner and the next morning I was off to India. I arrived to Kolkatta with a massively high fever (40 Celsius at one point) AND found out that nearly all of my money had been fraudulently debited from my Indian bank account. I was a pile of feverish emotions by the time I reached Guwahati. Luckily, the fever went away after a few days and a few months later all of my money was credited back to my account. Yes, it took a few months.... but at least it I got it back. Someone in Mexico really had a hay day with my Rupees. They ate at fancy restaurants, stayed in good hotels, drank Starbucks and probably had no care that half way around the world they were teaching me a big lesson in patience, perseverance and acceptance that I could survive without the money they spent. A true lesson in showing that what we think is ours materially in this world, is not. It's all an illusion! 

Cambodia, I will come back for you one day!

6.24.2014

Only good days

If there is a cure when trouble comes, what need is there for being sad?
And if no cure is to be found, what use is there in sorrow?"
-Shantideva 

After lots of research, emails, phone calls and meetings it is determined that because of my age and that I am single, I am still considered too young to move forward with adoption in India. What I have learned is that if you are married, they will make exceptions to the age restrictions but not when you are single. I will be 29 in the fall, and I need to be 30. I am hoping that when I turn 29 that I may be allowed to go further in the process because anyone familiar with adoption knows that it takes a very long time and I would honestly likely be 30 by the time it I am matched with a child. When I received the news about my age, I was pretty upset but I pulled myself together quickly. The answer was not "no never" it was "not yet." Its been my desire for over 2 years, that won't change in the matter of another few months or another year. I am actually pretty proud that in a country where corruption and difficulty in upholding law is a pervasive way of life, that they really strictly honour their commitment to both their in-country adoption laws and the Hague Convention.

The truth is, I will wait forever. How can I not?

I was pretty honest with the adoption authority here that I had my heart tied to a specific little girl, I know 100% I can not request to be matched with her but I can identify specifically the special needs I am able to care for. I would also request an older child and because I speak the local language as well as Hindi, I would also be best with a child from this area. Without going into unneeded details, it seems likely that through the process she and I would be matched legally, a procedure that is put in place to protect orphaned children from essentially being 'purchased' via special requests and extra payments. I have no desire to break or bend any rules (unless it is written in their guidelines that exceptions can be made for example, age exceptions) so I am in the open mindset that 1) She could very well be adopted to another family while I am sitting here ripening into the acceptable age of 30 and 2) I could be matched with a different child.  I genuinely believe that what is meant to happen... will. So though I still struggle with anxiety and worry for her development as she gets older in an orphanage, I also just find peace in knowing that right now she is well cared for and that at least from my family, friends and her caretakers, everyone is pulling for us.

I volunteer at the orphanage's free community health clinic every week and am welcome any other day of the week. In this waiting period we just use the time to bond and laugh and play and love. It really isn't too bad. She seems more and more confident as the weeks pass. She talks up a storm and has been initiating play with me which is huge progress. She confidently tells me "Bye Bye!" in English and "I'll see you later" in Assamese accompanied by a big old 'morom' (kiss) when I leave instead of crying and that makes it a whole lot easier. Her crying and tears from the balcony have turned into huge smiles and waves instead.

This past weekend was the best. I came early to reorganise the medicine cabinet in the health clinic. I was by a window when I noticed a clan of monkeys in the trees right outside! I went about my business and heard from behind me "_____ your mommy is here!" I turned around and received a huge hug. The kids were both ecstatic and scared of the monkeys. We ran from window to window, spotting every monkey momma, monkey baby and monkey papa. We talked about what they were doing, what they were eating, where they were going, how many were there. It was so much fun to just be able to absorb all of these moments with them, with her in my arms until my arms were jello. Needless to say, it took me a real long time to organise the medicine cabinet with so many monkeys to spot!

Though I am sure nothing will come of it, I am about to head off to a meeting with the Indian Child Welfare Council about my desire to adopt. They already know me there because I once had to hand over an abandoned child I found in the slum. They excitedly told me today that the little girl is doing wonderfully and being adopted to France!! They said she has grown and developed and that I wouldn't recognise her! I don't know, I just feel like somehow through fate I have connected with a lot of different people that know my heart and intentions and will support me in this long and crazy process. I know in the meeting today that they will not be able to do anything regarding the restrictions on my age, but it is good to reconnect with them. They actually called me and asked me to come so I will happily oblige.

I have been trying to keep my days and mind filled (or at times purposefully empty) because I know there is not much I can do right now in regards to all of this. My job is a little up in the air right now, I am hoping I still have a job with OpSmile after this month. It seems like it will happen, but my role will change. That is the hard truth about working as an independent consultant for a NPO. Things change a lot, and we as consultants don't have much power or protection. I love OpSmile and they seem to appreciate me, so I think the cards will fall in my favour. It is crazy to think of the future right now and what it means for me. I am incredibly home sick at times, I just want to absorb some sunshine with my family but tickets home in the summer are expensive. I don't want to wait again to visit until winter but it may have to be that way. Long term, I have no intentions to leave India until two years after the adoption process is over. I am in a weird residency status. I have to follow India's guidelines because I am a habitual resident here but I am a U.S. citizen. In order for my future daughter to become a citizen of the U.S., she has to reside with me as her guardian for two years in India. After two years, I can take her to the U.S. on an 'immediate-relative' visa and re-adopt her on arrival. I actually hope that living together in India for some time before eventually moving will help with adjustment and increase parental-attachment. It will give her time to learn English and feel some stability in a new home before being brought into a new culture. I have to imagine that moving across the world would be pretty shocking and extremely difficult no matter the background of a child, maybe this will ease some of that shock in the long-run. I may be a little gray haired lady by the time I move back to the U.S!

 It has been raining continuously. A huge relief from the smothering heat. 

 This sweet guy dropped in my room from my fifth floor window!

 I believe more and more in the sentience of every living thing. Still trying to figure out how to best honour that in daily life. 

 A whole lot of indoor and outdoor yoga has been taking place with semi-strange 6am classes at a local studio. 

 Monkey business. 

Finally accepting that I will be here a while and making my flat a little more like home. 

6.14.2014

A Look Back: Russia 2014

Finding out that Russia was on my work itinerary for March 2014 kind of made me nervous at first. Given the tenuous political relationship between the U.S. and Russia, the difficult to anticipate laws, language barrier, and the COLD I wasn't sure how I would fair in this huge country. I have worked on missions and at the center with Operation Smile Russia volunteers before and found them to be incredibly nice, so when I found out that I would be meeting many of them again throughout my journey in their home country, I felt relieved! Just getting prepared to go though was one of the hardest parts. I had no clothes for cold weather save one pair of 'boots,' and a few long sleeve shirts my mom gave me while I was in California over the holidays. I had to piece together other cold weather wear from colleagues because there was nothing for me to even purchase in Guwahati. There just happened to be a team from Russia here as I was leaving and when I showed them my hodge-podge collection of 'warm' clothes, their general reaction was that they thought I would probably survive. I mean, they grew up in the Soviet Era so, if they're saying I'll survive I confidently went thinking just that. 

So off I went.... the week after Russia started militarising in the Ukraine over Crimea. And where was the first place I had classes scheduled? A city called Taganrog in the Caucasus region of SW Russia right on the border of the Ukraine. I landed in a bigger city called Rostov-on-Don in sleet and freezing rain and had a real Russian winter welcome! As we drove to Taganrog, we passed a handful of Russian military tanks that were heading to the border. The tensions were high, everything on the news was about Crimea and the Winter Olympics (which had the closing ceremony the day I arrived.) Talking to locals about the political situation was incredibly interesting, I spent each night after class at the home of my Russian colleague. His wife made wonderful food, my favorite was her vegetarian borscht, and we talked about Russian history extending from pre-Soviet Era to the current tensions. We watched together as the public of Crimea voted near unanimously to be annexed. My general impression was that the Russian people absolutely do not want war, but they also don't want the cultural suppression of their friends and relatives in the Ukraine, whom they consider as a branch of Russia itself still.  I am well aware of how the situation was brought across in western media vs. Russian media vs. Ukrainian media, it doesn't all align but was and is there a real crisis amongst the huge Russian population in Crimea? Yes. Is it/was it handled correctly? I do not know... When leaving the area I lost count of how many tanks I saw driving to the border, let alone other military vehicles. It was pretty quiet in the car at the time. As I said, no one I know in Russia wants war.

 Winter becoming Spring in Taganrog

 My favorite cafe! 

 See how sweet?



 WWII depiction in the underground tunnels of Rostov. 

After Taganrog my colleague and I flew to Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. I loved this little Siberian town! Perhaps the best part was the snow and that one of my favourite paediatricians came for the advanced class and we got to share a room and time together. It was the second morning that I woke up and saw the snow outside and was elated! We walked to the hospital we were teaching at just so I could enjoy it. I hadn't been in actual falling snow in years so it was a treat. The craziest part about teaching in Russia was that OpSmile volunteers were flying in from all over the country just to attend. Not only did I get to see Elena the paediatrician but I got see a nurse I know, an anaesthesiologist and one doc who was there during his birthday; we had a special dinner that night for him in Novo. The food everywhere I went was AMAZING. It was wholesome, warm, tasty and given to me in abundance. There were points that I thought I wouldn't make it through a meal because I was being fed so many heavy dishes and sweets. I had recently been sick and had hardly been able to eat prior to Russia. It all turned around here though. I gained weight for the first time in 6 months :) 
 Happy Snowy Kristin 

The largest Opera/Ballet Theatre in Russia. With a statue of Lenin in front. 

The cutest hand made birdhouse on the walk to the hospital

Happy Birthday Maksim!

After Novosibirsk we took the Trans Siberian Rail to Krasnoyarsk in Eastern Siberia. I was SO SO SO excited to take this train. I really enjoy train rides even on the most rickety trains here in India so I had my expectations pretty high for this trip. I wish I could have taken pictures of the station and the exterior of the train but apparently that is punishable by law, including the possibility of jail time... ? I still get that travel-happy fullness in my chest looking back. The train was perfect. We got in our little car. Sat down with tea and talked for sometime. Eventually my colleague went to sleep and I stayed up and read Harry Potter and gazed out the window until it was too dark to see anything. I drank more tea, snacked on Russian treats and eventually dozed off while reading. When I woke up in the morning it was just becoming light again. We were passing through vast Russian wintery tundra and I was smiling from ear to ear watching it all go by. We ate breakfast in the home of a volunteer, again the way I was welcomed so warmly humbled me at every turn. Krasnoyarsk was different from the other two cities, it felt like a whole different place but had its charm.  My favourite tidbit about Krasno is that the Yenisei River running through the city flows North into the Arctic Ocean!

On the Trans-Siberian Railway

 My favorite Russian Orthodox Church I saw

 Take a book/leave a book in the middle of the sidewalk!

Guiding the students while they practice Intra Osseous Insertion

On my way back to India I had around a 9 hour layover in Moscow; I took the opportunity to utilize the rapid metro so I could see a bit of the city. Again, I was so accommodated, my colleague's daughter in law met me in Moscow and took me all around. We first went to the Red Square so I could stare at St. Basil's Cathedral. Stare I did. Up to that point (I hadn't been to Petra) this was the most stunning piece of architecture I had ever seen (far surpassing the Taj Mahal!) To me it was so unique and also very lucky to have survived the communist era which was characterised by an atheist state. During that time religious buildings and properties were being seized and this was one of them. It hasn't functioned as a church since the late 1920s and is still owned by the government, not the Russian Orthodox Church. Ironically enough, the mausoleum of Lenin is just to the right of it in the Red Square. The rest of Moscow was such an interesting mixture of extremely old buildings alongside high end malls and modern architecture. We walked for hours just so I could see the many different sides of the city. We ate lunch, had tea and braved more walking in the beginning of a large snow-storm. Before I knew it, I was back on a plane headed for Delhi. 

 The Red Square (R-L: An old building turned shopping mall, St. Basil's Cathedral, The Kremlin with Lenin's tomb right outside)

 It just doesn't even look real to me!

So many beautiful buildings

 Russian Harry Potter!

Matryoshka! 

Russia completely blew me away and exceeded every expectation I had for it. I want to go back and visit my friend in Tomsk and explore other parts of this diverse country again someday. It really goes to show that we can not have reservations or assumptions about travel and the way you will be treated in the country simply because of political relations. I was so worried that I would be treated differently. I was scared that I would unintentionally do something wrong. I had so many incorrect ideas before I went there and every single one of them was disproven. I was lucky to have been there for work and therefore had access to English speaking Russians who could help me with anything I needed. I was made to feel like family and this changed how I have accommodated guests who come to Guwahati for short term volunteer work/work at the center since my return. I truly learned a different and warm hospitality from everyone I met there. Every day they taught me about the country's vast history, and even helped me picked up on the Cyrillic alphabet and essential phrases! I had fun, stayed warm in the freezing cold and came out feeling like Russia gave way more to me than me to it during my time there. 

6.04.2014

Community project: We built a roof!

For the last two or more years we have been using a small temple as the grounds for serving our Sunday picnics for Pratyasha Foundation. It really is just a tiny place but I am so thankful for it because it gives us a consistent place to meet every week. Ever since I can remember, the roof of the temple has been rusted through in many places. We have many incidences where water, trash, leafs, and other unmentionable things have dropped down through the rusty holes and onto us or the food as we are serving it. Before I left for Jordan, we talked to the temple care taker about helping them to replace the roof and finally last week we were able to get it all done!

After meeting with several roofing companies we decided to go for an aluminium roof which should last the life time of the temple. On Thursday morning we hired a carpenter and headed down to Lakhtokia to get rid of the rusty roof!

(the kids approve of our roof choice)

(out with the old!)

 (goodbye rotting wood)

 (goodbye rusty sheeting!)

The new roofing had to be delivered by a man-pulled cart. We had called for the delivery around 1145am and it made it to us around 4 or 430... it was a long wait in Lakhtokia for it. At one point the volunteer that was there with me had to actually go and look for the man who was delivering the roof. When they finally arrived I couldn't believe that this thin, ageing man had pulled the sheets so far in the crazy heat. Cart delivery is very common here but boy did I feel guilty. Once it was finally here, the new roofing was placed within an hour! Our carpenter was very efficient and thoughtful. There was so much excitement during this time. Families were coming by and giving their thoughts and opinions on wether the roofing was good (a resounding yes) and how it should be placed, what else should be done for the temple, etc. There was so much positive energy!

As the main source of economy in the slum is a recycling business, the old roof was weighed and sent for recycling right away. The money they receive for the old roof will go into new paint for the temple! 

(1 sheet)

(2 sheet)

 (3 sheet, 4!)

 (a shiny new roof!)

The best part for me was just taking the time to spend almost the whole day with the kids. We had tickle fights, wiggled loose teeth, played games, chit chatted about school, cuddled babies, looked through old photos and one of the girls had a very in depth question and answer session. Her questions were so cute. 
"Why are your eyes a different color than ours?"
"Is your nose stud gold?"
"What is that on your face?" (the answer is acne, adult acne my friends)
"What do you eat"
"Where is Hannah/Olivia/Lis/Rosie?"
"Sister, why have you become so thin? You used to be healthy!" 

The last one killed me because, I was sick for a few months and lost a lot of weight. I never would have really guessed that they would notice but they did. She was genuinely concerned as she placed her hands on my wrists and arms. When we had satisfied with our answers, she ran off home and slowly all the families came to check out what we had been up to that day. 

I feel pretty blessed to be allowed to be there for the day, hanging out and just being trusted enough in general to be a part of their lives in the first place. This little community sure has captured my heart and the hearts of many all over the world <3 p="">


6.01.2014

They call me her mommy

It was 30 months ago. I was sitting in the recovery room, recovering a patient when a coworker said from behind me "Kristin, don't you want to adopt... this little girl needs a mommy..." My heart just collapsed in on itself hearing those words, that's how it felt anyways. I turned and there she was. A beautiful little girl with an unrepaired cleft lip and palate. There she was, my girl. I don't even know how to describe that feeling. I could maybe imagine that it is what expecting parents feel when they see their baby on ultrasound for the first time and it all becomes so real. In that moment there you are tied together eternally.

 She was wearing a fancy dress. Her eyes were bright and shining but with a sad uncertainty behind them. I held her so close. I will never forget the first time I held her. Her eyes searched mine for a moment before she wrapped her arms around me and nuzzled into my chest. She had coconut oil in her hair and baby powder on her skin. She was so small but looked to be around 18 months old. She was just beautiful. I met with her caretakers from the orphanage. I heard her story. My heart, it became bound to hers. I loved her before I even knew her, I felt like our lives were meant to be one. I wrote my parents and close friends that day and said I had just met the little girl that was going to be a part of me forever.

Sometimes I worry that my heart is too big, or like I fill it with too many things and it becomes too much to bare. I should feel blessed to just to have been a part of her life, and still I am. But I have had so much heartache in these 30 months. I have watched her grow and change. I have helped her through two surgeries. I have cleaned her wounds, rocked her to sleep when she was in pain. Made late night and early morning visits. Check-ups, house-calls, play time, prayer time, nap-time, bed-time... Countless hours shared between us at the hospital and at the children's home. So entwined that at some point, I don't remember when, they started to refer to me as her mommy.

Despite this, I have been told no. I have been told it won't happen for a long list of reasons. In 2012 India placed a suspension on any new adoption applications in order to clear the backlog of applicants. I was too young. You can not request (aka choose) the child, you have to be matched. I hadn't lived in India long enough. The biggest reason though was that India restricts heavily international adoption and this orphanage in particular was not certified to facilitate international adoptions.

The reality is that they also have extreme difficulty in placing special needs children (which she is special needs due to her cleft). They have extreme difficulty placing older children. On top of all of this, my baby is a little girl in a country that traditionally prefers boys. It makes me want to stand there and scream, open someones eyes and make them see the indescribable love I have for her. The odds are stacked against her as far as being adopted locally. That is an undeniable truth. I have felt lost, confused, depressed. I remember talking to my mom and questioning why she and I would meet. Why would this little girl come into my life? Into my heart which has forever yearned to adopt. I didn't understand why I would feel so strongly that I am hers and she mine but be told no at every turn. What good was it going to do? What was I supposed to be learning from this?

I was going through phases where I could not go and see her because when I would leave she cried. And when she would leave from a check up at work,  I cried. Quietly and privately I cry. Because sometimes I think I can not take it a moment more. I can't keep hurting her, I can't keep hurting myself. I thought our fate had been planned and I thought that plan was for us to be family. How much time has passed since they told me it's not possible to adopt her? Every day that would pass, I thought about how things could have been. I still think about how differently I would have happily lived the last few years for her. I ache, I have actual pain and a deep sadness over this. I still don't know what the future holds. I got the point, to be honest, that I don't like hearing the other kids call to her:
"____ Ma ahi sai!!" ("____ Your mom is here!!!")

 I sink every time one of her caretakers asks her who I am:
"____ Is this your mommy?"
To which a smile creeps across her face and she nods yes before nuzzling her head on my shoulder. I don't like that pure joy on her face when I arrive replaced with tears when I tell her I have to go. The way she stands on the balcony and cries for me as I walk away to my separate life. Because I don't understand how two lives can be brought together in a way that doesn't make sense to me. Then I go into phases where I feel like she deserves to have love even if it is limited by bureaucracy.  I visit frequently though painfully. Even though I have friends and coworkers and the Aunties at the orphanage who refer to her as my daughter, that is a word that has never escaped my lips. She feels like mine, I feel like hers but I am not. And still they were saying I can not be. These have been the phases. Back and forth like an unnerving roller coaster.

I was sitting in a coffee shop on Friday when I wrote the above paragraphs. I have been in a phase of not going to visit her. I had essentially cut myself off and the few people close to me that knew about her, also knew that I had sadly given up hope. I was sitting there in the coffee shop when I got this wave of memories with her out of no where. I was completely blindsided by this overwhelming push to go and see her. To be honest I thought the reason would be because I would go and find out that her adoption was underway and I would get final closure. Something instinctually told me to wait until Saturday and so I did. I went along with two of my friends/co-workers. We were casually sitting and chatting in broken Assamese with one of the office women. She mentioned in passing that one of the other little girls who is 5 is finally in the process of adoption. I squealed with excitement for the other little girl when the woman said "She is being adopted to Italy, she is going to be Italian!!" My eyes almost dropped out of my head. One of the reasons I was told no, I could not adopt, was because they were not yet certified to do international adoptions... but now they can. I also found out this week that the ban on new applicants was lifted and that India is trying to expedite adoptions for children with disabilities and older children. I squeezed my girl tight and said to the woman "You know I want to adopt her!" She said "Yes! We want you to. We would be so happy."

"But..."

There is always a but, right? At least there is here. But because she is in an orphanage due to a criminal case, she does not yet have her adoption clearance. The woman could not really explain in English what the implications of that are so I will come back Monday and talk to the head of the home. It has been 30 months and I have never shared this publicly because it has been my hearts single biggest hope and I felt like I couldn't even bring myself to speak about it to anyone but my closest family and friends in case I lost her forever. I was told no but now I feel like that no is slowly transforming and my hope is too big not to share. We need prayers, support and well wishes because my house is empty without her and I want to bring her home. Forever. No more good byes, no more uncertainty. No more being told it's not possible. Maybe it will take one year, two years or more. I don't know. Maybe she will get adopted to another home instead. Maybe I am matched with another child. There are more hurdles than I can count and we are only at the starting line. 

5.27.2014

Jordan in pictures and words (pt.2 aka Petra)

 I am going to start this by being totally candid. Everything I knew about Petra up to last month, I only knew because in high school I had a friend whose older sister's name was Petra and it intrigued me. I remember meeting her and scrambling home to look it up in an Encyclopedia because, yes, it was long enough ago that I didn't have home internet and Wikipedia. So that was my first introduction to this magnificent place... fast forward fourteen years and I found myself with an unexpected extra day off in Jordan. I originally didn't plan on going to Petra at all because I thought I should take two days there (which I didn't have) but then I found out it could be done in a day trip from Amman. Then I didn't plan on going because it seemed like it was really expensive and I wondered if I would feel like it was worth it. I was completely and utterly wrong and in retrospect would even pay more if it helps to conserve the site.

 Petra is an ancient city that was probably established around 6th century BC (!!) by nomadic Arabian tribes. Not only was it a place for trade, but it was also a Holy Site where sacrifices took place and over 500 tombs were carved directly into the beautiful sandstone. It was most populated around the time of Christ then slowly trade routes moved. It underwent a brief revival but eventually was essentially 'lost' to all outsiders. It remained a secret place until the early 1800s when a European explorer, disguised as a Muslim holy man, found it by saying he was vowed to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Aaron. He heard that to get to that tomb you had to pass through these ancient ruins hidden away in Wadi Musa.  He was allowed in and therefore essentially brought Petra back into the known world. I couldn't stop thinking about this piece of history as I entered into the ancient city. It is really easy to imagine how it must of felt to him, coming through this long beautiful gorge and laying eyes on The Treasury. Then after every turn there are more and more tombs carved high into stone, places of High Sacrifice, monasteries, an amphitheatre... it is indescribable so I will do my best by showing pictures but nothing can ever do it justice.

When you enter into Petra you start by walking through the gateway to the Siq, this is where you see the first tombs and carvings and it definitely gets you excited for what is coming.



Then you enter the Siq, it looks like a gorge but it wasn't created by flowing water, it was created by the walls getting pulled apart by tectonic forces and you can actually see that many of the walls match like puzzle pieces! The Siq itself is incredible. I felt so tiny in there and just envisioned all of the pilgrims who came through this canyon centuries ago. It is a pretty long walk but I savoured it because I knew I would be too exhausted at the end of the day to enjoy its beauty.



Then after about 1.2km, through the narrow cleft at the end of the Siq, you see Al-Khazneh known to us as The Treasury. It literally took my breath away. Al-Khazneh is not only a tomb but legend has it that a Pharoah hid treasure inside it in a rock urn. Another Al-Khazneh claim to fame: It was where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade.

 (the first glimpse of Al-Khazneh 

(Al-Khazneh in its morning glory)

 After sitting and soaking in its magnificence for a while, I headed on past through the street of facades and went straight for the trail to the High Place of Sacrifice. One hour, 800 steps, one asthma attack (my allergies were horrible the whole time in Jordan) and one litre of water later, I beheld a panoramic view of the city. With a little imagination you can envision the holy sacrifices that took place here so long ago.


 (on the climb to the High Place of Sacrifice)

(the street of facades)

I went back down the way I came (amidst some really off-putting racist remarks by local Bedouins) and because at the end I had a serious case of jelly-legs, I stopped at a tea stall and prepped for more walking. I guess I thought I had seen the most beautiful or inspiring parts already so I was completely taken aback when I came upon the Royal Tombs. I actually welled over with tears at my first glimpse looking up into the rock faces in complete stunned silence. I climbed up and inside the tombs; they are really fancy outside but basically just big rooms inside.


 (the Royal Tombs)

 (my favorite of the royal tombs)



I actually didn't stay too long at the Royal Tombs because I wanted to keep going. I wandered through Colonnaded Street and then sat in The Great Temple and snacked on some nuts and fruits I brought. I really wanted to go to the monastery but it was another 800 stair journey. I didn't thing my lungs could handle it so I spent some time sitting in the shade then decided to go back to the Royal Tombs. There is a short hike near the Urn Tomb to another high place. Almost no one seemed to go up that way so I headed there and ended the day with a beautiful view of Petra in complete quiet. I could've stayed there for hours imagining the past, wondering if it is good or bad that hundreds of thousands of tourists tread through this delicate sandstone city every year. Eventually I had to leave to start the walk back. I stopped one last time at The Treasury to enjoy everyone capturing their last pictures of the day in front of the changing light.






The walk back seemed so much longer than the walk there! You definitely have to plan to take more time getting out, my legs were so tired and the sun was beating down in the late afternoon so you move pretty slowly. I kept turning around during the walk to take in The Siq one last time, I doubt that I will ever see Petra again and I hope that the images, sounds, feelings never ever fade from my memory.