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Friday, July 2, 2021

Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 4)



Forget whatever I told you last night….I love the Congo! Well, more importantly, I love my son — he is just the sweetest little thing. But I really am finding myself loving Kinshasa despite the overwhelming poverty and dispair. The people are just amazingly friendly — it’s been fantastic.

I woke up bright and early this morning so I could be ready to meet Andrew. Reverend Bashaka brought him to the hotel along with Timothee, a local woman whose name I didn’t catch, and his foster mother Sarah. He was dressed for Alaska — those red shorts from the last picture underneath a pair of white sweater pants, a white sweater, and a white cardigan. I was in a dress and dying from the heat, so no wonder he wasn’t too happy! After we introduced everyone, we tried for a hand-off. Not. Happening. Andrew screamed and batted my hands away, and then proceeded to cry/scream for the next hour. I tried everything I could — food bribes, toys, showing him my iPhone, but he was just mad. Not only was I a stranger, but I was a white stranger who is holding him instead of his foster mother. Poor little guy.

We attempted breakfast in the hotel, with the two women sitting away from us so he wouldn’t see them and cry more, but no luck. He did kiss the pictures of himself on my iPhone, though — adorable. He also drank some OJ for me before melting down again. All of the waitresses were in traditional garb, and I think they looked way too much like his foster mother in those clothes. So I took him up to his room, where I learned that his diapers were (a) put on backwards and (b) covered tightly in a plastic bag. He eventually cried himself to sleep, and I laid with him for 3 hours, just watching.

When he woke up, Andrew was less than happy to see me. This was compounded by Bashaka and Timothy coming to the room to give me his paperwork for the embassy appointment tomorrow and to check on us. The sight of somewhat familiar faces just set him off. Bashaka watched him for a while so I could say goodbye to his foster mother and give her a gift (the agency said no money, but I’m sorry — this is a desperately poor woman who raised my child as her own and who has 4 kids of her own back in Goma. I’m giving her money.). We took pictures and exchanged email addresses, and I promised to bring Andrew back to Goma to visit when he’s older and it’s safer. The foster mother was very shy and reserved — I don’t know if it was just the situation, or she is always like that. I think this was also really hard for her — as attached as he is to her, it’s clear that there is a strong bond between them. That’s what made it feel OK when he was screaming and pushing me away — while I hate to tear him from the only caregiver that he’s known, I know that it means that he is able to bond with someone and that he was well cared for with her. Bashaka and I decided to not take him to the doctor today — it’s been a big day, and he needs to rest. Plus, without getting into too many details, let’s just say that multiple diapers changes were necessary in a short period of time. He wasn’t in any sort of shape to go anywhere.

After they left, I gave him formula, cheerios, yogurt melts and even the chocolate part of my Luna bar. He realized then that I wasn’t so bad — especially once I broke out the iPad and we watched Yo Gabba Gabba. He was using the cheerios to touch the screen….I’m going to have quite a sticky screen!! He finally was acclimating to me, to the point that he started to cry if I left his sight. Hooray!!

I realized that I needed to get passport pictures of him and some other supplies — a Congolese cell phone and diet coke being my top priorities, of course. I attempted to put him into his stroller, but he freaked out — and it actually would have been worthless because the streets and sidewalks are either dirt or rubble. So into the sling he went, along with my hidden money pouch under my clothes (this is a cash-only economy), a slash-proof bag with my other important/expensive stuff in it, and then a diaper bag. It was quite a load — and once I added groceries, I was wishing desperately for a cab! (No such luck — and I wouldn’t actually get in one even if they had them. I’d rather break my back carrying all of this stuff than drive when not 100% necessary!!). And so we headed out…

Kinshasa is essentially unbelievable. I’m in the Gombe district, in the “nice” part of the city, and it’s basically a hellhole. My hotel — a nice hotel for Kinshasa — is on a dirt road. The streets are covered in trash, and there is a 3 inch think layer of dust/dirt on top. It’s like walking through sand, except with a fine dirt instead. There are open ditches along some roads, which seem to function as possibly a water run-off, and judging by the smell, a sewer. The streets are packed with people — and every single one of them was staring at me. In the 2 hours I spent running these errands, I was the only white person (that I saw) on the street.

Women and men were walking down the streets and sidewalks with loads balanced on their heads. The women would be selling fresh fruits and cooked yams from the baskets on their heads — totally amazing that they could carry such heavy loads (at least 40 lbs!) and that they kept it balanced when the going was so treacherous. Little street vendors were set up everywhere — often just a man in a chair with a few items on his lap. A lot of what they were selling looked to be used American clothes — I saw a Farve t-shirt for sale, but I’m holding out for Hines Ward. The sidewalks would end abruptly in a pile of rubble, or there would be a random permanent fence. The streets are no better, as I described last night. I am trying to figure out how much of this is from the war, and how much is just decades of neglect. I suspect it’s a combination of both. A lot of buildings look like they’d been bombed out. And admist all of this, there are thousands of people, and every one of them seemed to want to talk to me.

It’s for this reason that I’m falling in love with the Congo. The people are amazing. I was a curiosity, of course, so I drew a lot of open stares. I greeted each person I passed with “bon jour!” and I stopped to talk to about 50% of them. Everyone wanted to know if the baby was mine and if I was American. One guy wanted to know if he could take me to dinner! He was wearing a suit and having his shoes shined in the middle of the road by a child, so it was tempting, but I figured I should refrain from dating for at least the first few days of being a mom…;-)

One woman decided to help me, and walked me three blocks to a grocery store. She introduced me to people as she went — she had celebrity by proxy. I suppose that the staring could have been intimidating, but as she explained to me, “It strange, you white and baby black.” The Congolese love babies — people stopped to coo at him and tickle him. Andrew was less than impressed — he comes from a rural village on the other side of the country. This heat (oppressive), noise and pollution aren’t exactly his favorite things. But he was good — excellent, actually. He didn’t cry until a group of men in the photo shop were teasing me about the price of the passport photos and they all laughed together. Andrew covered his ears and started screaming — and stopped as soon as we got home.

The grocery store was pretty basic, but it had just about everything that I could need. Expensive, but the important thing is that they have Diet Coke! This trip is getting considerably better.

Andrew is napping now — he’s had a big day. We both have! And tomorrow is an even bigger day. We’re going to the U.S. Embassy to file his application for an entry visa into the U.S., and then to the doctor for his medical examination. Tonight, he’s going to get his first bath (from me, at least — he seems pretty clean overall, actually) and maybe we’ll watch some Yo Gabba Gabba if he’s lucky…

Love and miss you all — see you soon with Andrew!!



13 Responses to “Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 4)”
  1. Congolese girl says:

    Wow…interesting post. I actually logged in on this site randomly and was intrigued by your post. Truthfully I am a bit ambivalent about the adoption of black and/or African children…but ultimately I think you are doing a good thing and with the right intentions it seems. He is a fortunate child and I hope everything works out! 🙂

    Also, it’s interesting to read foreigners’ points of view of my city. You are indeed in the nicer part of Kinshasa. All the decaying roads/buildings are more the result of years of neglect and economic issues, but the town is quite chaotic these days because they’re refurbishing the roads and all. By the way the current war didn’t reach Kinshasa (in fact if you talk to people it’s not the 1st topic of discussion, because the affected areas are so far), but it was impacted economically. The war has resulted in so many orphans, abandoned women, etc. I’m glad at least one boy will get to escape the horrors.

    All the best!

    • Erin Pohland says:

      Congolese Girl-
      I actually believe that I’m the lucky one….I’ve been given the most incredible gift I could have ever hoped to have receive. My son is smart, sweet, and adorable beyond words. He’s from Goma, in Nord Kivu, and I hope to take him back there to visit one day when it’s safer. I know it’s a complicated issue, and I’ve cried for my son’s loss of family and country. I didn’t undertake the adoption of an African child lightly. I intend to do everything that I can to keep him connected to his Congolese roots, and to be proud of his Congolese heritage.

      If you follow my posts, you’ll come to see that I have mixed feelings about Kinshasa. It’s definitely a shock for an American such as myself, but a lot of my frustration had to do with my specific situation — being trapped by bureaucrats — rather than the city itself. All of that being said, the DRC is my son’s home country, and we spent the first weeks of our new life together in Kinshasa. It will always have a very special place in my heart, and I absolutely would go back to Kinshasa (and next time, won’t give up our passports to DGM and we won’t be trapped!!).


  2. Zyxomma says:

    Blessings to you and Andrew, Erin. Health and peace.

  3. A fan in CA says:

    Thanks for this great story. What an adventure you will have to tell you new son about his arrival in your family.

  4. jimzmum says:

    What a perfect story to read right now, this minute! I am about to go get ready for the play. No butterfiles about my actors and technicians at all. Hoping for a filled 500 seat theatre, and that I do NOT fall flat on my face making my way up a dark aisle in an unfamiliar space after giving my director’s speech. Then, after the play and a very short intermission, I deliver the check. Whoof.

  5. thatcrowwoman says:

    {{{{{Erin and Andrew}}}}}

    Mazel tov,
    and safe home.

    “…Safe home as they used to say
    Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
    And go home another way…”

    James Taylor: Home By Another Way

  6. Leota2 says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t wait for your next report.


    i just love this real life story.
    i don’t want it to end!

  8. auni says:

    How wonderful to read this post on Sept. 11th. Life goes on, good things happen, pain heals, and Andrew gives us hope for the future. May God bless you and Andrew as you build your life together.

  9. Really? says:

    What a lucky little boy! Everyone benefits. May you and your family enjoy all he has to give.

  10. Elsie says:

    I was adopted at birth, and then, after many years of marriage, my husband and I adopted a baby ourselves who is now in her twenties. This adoption story is fascinating. I look forward to the remaining parts of the series with great anticipation. Thank you so much for sharing all this with us.

  11. UgaVic says:

    I am so enjoying the glimpse you are giving us into this/your world. Thanks for taking the time to share, it is special.

  12. Alaska Pi says:

    Holy moley, what a huge couple of days for you both!

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