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September 27, 2021

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Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 14)

By Erin Pohland

Day 14, Kinshasa

Hey all-

I’m utterly exhausted, so this email will be very short. The good news: we got the visa! The bad news: my agency (via Reverend Bashaka) messed so many things up that I had to spend 4 hours at the embassy fighting with the consul to get it, and I’ve now hired a local lawyer, and I’ll need to hire a translator tomorrow to get documents translated for the embassy. In addition to not having the proper birth certificate or signed relinquishment papers in Swahili, Bashaka also never bothered to have the entire stack of documents translated — which is a plain and clear requirement stated directly on the embassy’s website. This isn’t something that is surprising or new about the process — he just never did it. The embassy was refusing to give me the visa until they had the translations, but I stood my ground and was fairly aggressive in demanding the visa so I could get the DGM process started. I had to sign an affidavit promising to have the translations to them within 24 hours, but it was done. I actually couldn’t even get Andrew into the US without the translations — I’d have nothing to give Customs & Immigration — so it’s not as though I’d just not do it.

To top it off, Bashaka came by to tell me this morning that he is leaving and going back to Kigali. Just like that — adios. He brought by some sort of minister that he said will help me, but this guy speaks no English. And again, it’s great that he is a man of God and all, but please tell me exactly how that makes him qualified to handle an adoption case? I was so furious — but at this point, I felt that my progress would be better if I wasn’t impeded by his ineptitude. I know that he absolutely hates Kinshasa, and he is absolutely no help in negotiating the city or the process, so he shouldn’t be here to get in my way. I told him to go, and managed to not curse him out for wasting my time and money as he left.

But we’re on our way, and I’m hoping to head back to the US early next week. Let’s hope for a better day tomorrow — today went from joy to tears to anger to exhaustion. Busy, BUSY day tomorrow trying to fix everything Bashaka screwed up, so I’m signing off and joining Andrew in sleep (who — once again — was a waiting room angel!).
Love & miss you and see you soon!
Erin & Andrew

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Day 16

Good afternoon from Kinshasa!

I’m a day late on this update, but things were a bit hectic yesterday. I’m now at J’s, which is absolutely fabulous except for 2 things: no wireless internet and Andrew is deathly afraid of her cats (and won’t let me put him down EVER).

Yesterday was a long, but good day. John picked me up early and we went to Western Union to pick up some additional funds from Andrew’s grandparents. While we were sitting in Western Union, the power went out no less than 4 times. I did use the time to teach Andrew something new — shoo, fly! Lots of flies in that office! He doesn’t say the words yet, but he loves to make the motion at whatever bug he sees.

Next, we went to find a translator. John turned into a tiny gap in between two buildings — I was sure that he wouldn’t fit!! — and we drove back to this office. The parking lot, such as it was, was so tight that I was pretty sure that we would never be able to leave again. John not only maneuvered his SUV around in it, he backed into a parking space. Fantastic.

The translation itself was pricey, and they told me it’d take 2 days. I got them to agree to 1 day, for $350. The owner wanted to meet me (of course), and then he proceeded to hand me his business card and various pamphlets in French about saving young people in the Congo. I’m pretty sure that all Congolese think that Americans are made of money — he wanted me to donate to this fund (assuming that it even exists….). I politely said no, and we were on our way. I asked John if Andrew needed a yellow fever vaccine, which I had heard he did from the other parents. The answer was yes. I think he’s wrong — I can’t see how the Congolese government can require that to LEAVE the country, but better safe than sorry. We went to a crumbling building nearby (really, are they any other kind?) and got his shot — for $35. Poor thing did not like it one bit — he was fine with the needle going in, but once she pushed in the vaccine, he was seriously unhappy. But I calmed him as all good mothers do — hugs, kisses and a snack…

Back to the hotel to pick up K and S — the Congolese are very big on closely-shorn hair for men and boys. Apparently, if you have any hair on your head other than the tiniest growth from your last shave, you are ill-mannered. John had been insistent that S needed a haircut, so off we went to his barber — a little shack where everyone was quite amused by the Americans. As soon as we walked in, I was accosted by people — I thought they wanted to cut Andrew’s hair, and I said no, but it was the vaccine people. The Congo (or some foreign aid group, I suspect) is doing a vaccination program for polio. People go door to door in the city asking to vaccinate you. This is at least the 6th time I’ve been asked. As much as I really want to have a needle put in my arm by a man on the street, I said no.

~S getting a hair cut

The barber did really want to cut Andrew’s hair, but I’d like his first haircut to be with my dad (at the same barber that cut my grandfather’s hair, several uncles’ hair, and still cuts my dad’s hair). So we took pictures of S and the people in the shop — some Congolese, the more modern ones, love to have their picture taken. The more traditional ones hate it and will chase you if you try. These guys were more modern, thankfully. S sat up like a big boy for his hair cut and looked awfully sharp when it was done. Handsome boy!!

Next, we headed to City Market to buy S shoes. From his days of no shoes or bad shoes, his feet are a total mess. This was the first chance that K had to get him to the store to buy new ones. While we were there, we discovered an aisle with Pop Tarts — I have a feeling that Andrew is going to love them! $89 for two bags of groceries later, we headed off to the Maison Shengen to get Andrew an airport transit visa.

Andrew and I are flying Air France through Paris, simply because it’s the most direct route back to Alaska. Air France runs a Paris to Seattle non-stop. Plus, it’s easily the nicest airline to fly out of the Congo and it’s an Alaska Air partner. Yay for miles! Unfortunately, because Andrew is a Congolese citizen, he needs a transit visa just to be in the airport. Total pain, and it’s not even 100% clear that he needs one because he has a U.S. visa. But I’d prefer to not be held up at De Gaulle while this gets sorted out, so I’m just getting one at the Maison Shengen, which is sort of a clearing house for Shengen visas.

I tried to get one yesterday, but it wasn’t in the cards. The exit visa process has been much slower than anticipated, and John made the mistake of telling some of the other families that I was Simon’s priority right now. For all of the Americans other than K, this meant that I was now public enemy number 1 (despite the fact that there was nothing to be done other than wait for their visas — the paperwork had been submitted, and it was just the government being slow, and that K and I had been there for over 2 weeks to their 2 days).

At the Maison Shengen, K and I got in line with Andrew and S. John stayed with the car as it was a no parking zone. It was just us and Congolese people. For whatever reason, the locals got pretty aggressive — at one point, a man threw Congolese francs on the ground and demanded that we pick them up. The guard refused to let us into the compound, and people were crowding us more and more. It was starting to seem unsafe, so we decided to get out of dodge and come back another time when perhaps John could find better parking and wait with us in line.

This started the ugly American portion of the day, which continues to the present. We dropped K and S off at the hotel, and I ran upstairs to change Andrew and put my groceries away. In the meantime, D and J came into the lobby where John and K were waiting for me. K told D & J that they might not get their visas until Monday, and then it was ON. D and J started demanding their exit visas RIGHT NOW. John basically ran back to the car as soon as I came back downstairs with Andrew, and he was mad. I was doing him a favor — I offered to accompany him to the embassy so he could get in easily to file some papers for families waiting in the U.S. – -and they were acccusing him of favoring me and making snide remarks about why that was happening.

At the embassy, John and I had an hour or so to talk, and he was just so upset — how could Americans act this way, didn’t they understand that there is a process, etc etc. I empathized with him — the American visa process takes FAR longer than the Congolese exit visa process, actually. And D and J had only been there 2 days — I can’t believe they had the nerve to complain! They are completely out of line; the normal DGM exit visa process takes 2 weeks. Because Simon — the lawyer, a friend of John’s — has contacts at DGM, we can pay an expediting fee of $150 and get it in 4 – 5 days. He can’t abuse these contacts, though — these are people who need their jobs. They can’t turn around a visa in 24 hours, but somehow these women expected that. And on top of that, tomorrow is Congolese Independence Day, and they’re mad that offices would be closed. As if any Americans work on the 4th of July! I was mad at them along with John — this type of behavior ruins it for everyone. John kept threatening to call Simon and tell him to hold up their visas. I asked him not to do that, but to let me talk to them about being a bit more patient and understanding.

After the embassy, John and I picked up Simon. He told me that my case file was woefully deficient, and he had no clue how I got my visa — but the fact that the Americans approved me was my saving grace. That, and my American dollars. There is an approval from the family ministry that I was supposed to have gotten months ago that is REQUIRED. I didn’t have it. Luckily, Simon had a contact with the head minister for family & gender, and I could have the approval that day instead of in several weeks….for a price. And so, the rest of the Western Union money quickly went to fees and costs. John kept telling me that I am so nice, not like the other Americans, and this is the reason they are helping me. He said that if he could, he would get me my visa before everyone else — but I told him not to do anything silly! I don’t need that kind of drama. I want to get Andrew home, but I don’t want anyone else to be delayed because of all of this (although frankly, D and J would deserve it for their antics today).

While this entire exchange is occurring — in John’s car, where all meetings with lawyers happen — John is arguing with a man on the street selling car parts. John needs a new muffler (perhaps the off-road tracks the Congolese call roads have something to do with that?), and I guess this man was selling one. You can buy anything on the street in the Congo. Lamps, water, maps, car parts, shoes, bras, phone chargers….if you can buy it, it’s available on the street. So John has a heated argument with this man about the car parts, shouting angrily in Lingala, and it ultimately ended in John buying one. It didn’t look like a muffler to me, but what do I know?

The transaction with Simon done, and me considerably poorer, I took Andrew back up to the room where he fell asleep. I should note that again, Andrew was an angel all day long — but he had help in the form of Pringles. My little boy ate 3/4 of a can of Pringles from the time we went to City Market until we got back to the room. I need to keep them on hand for whenever I need to bribe him! John was amazed — Andrew would have 5 or 6 chips in each hand and would alternate bites of each stack. He’d stick his little arm deep into the can, all the way up to his elbow, and would bring it out, covered in sour cream and onion dust (and proceed to lick it off). My little American!

After we got back to the room, K came up. She immediately started crying. She’s just frustrated and really misses her husband and kids at home and just wants to get home. She got here the day before I did, and had a much rougher start with the nun refusing to hand over her son until she paid more– I can’t blame her (plus, I can’t even imagine having kids at home waiting for you). We talked through it and we agreed that we just have to be patient and sweet to John and Simon. D is still a major witch. She called her agency to complain about John helping me, which I found out when I called their agency contact at John’s request (the embassy claimed he hadn’t submitted a document that I had watched him submit, so I was backing up his story. John is very paranoid about Americans thinking that he is lying). Their agency contact was really nice and said that their agency would do whatever they could to help me (her agency is Wasatch, for those of you looking for a fantastic adoption agency –she was so gracious and helpful to me). She also noted that their agency doesn’t own either Simon or John, and they’re more than free to help me, and she was glad that they were. What these women aren’t getting is that Simon and John aren’t helping me at the expense of getting their visas; their packets are being processed at DGM, and mine hasn’t even been submitted yet. There is nothing to do but wait! So why shouldn’t Simon and John help a person they like out of a jam and make some money in the meantime?!

Within an hour, Simon and John were back — I signed a few things for Simon, and he gave me the approval from the family ministry! Money sure does talk. I didn’t want to do it this way, but ultimately, I couldn’t be stuck in the Congo for several additional weeks while waiting for all of this to go through. I can’t afford it, financially or emotionally. Now I just needed to take that approval back to the embassy for it to stamp, and then it could all go to DGM. Andrew was still sleeping, so we decided to do it in the morning.

J picked me up after work; I had quickly packed up my room while Andrew slept. It was quite a chore getting everything downstairs, though — the elevator barely fits two people, let alone me, Andrew and three suitcases! I handed Andrew off to J with the can of Pringles, thinking he’d be fine for a few minutes while I checked out and checked the room. No such luck — he screamed for me the entire time I was gone. Poor J, but I am happy to know that he’s attached to me. He really loves his mama!!

We got to J’s, and various men who hang out in her apartment compound to help the foreigners for tips immediately brought our bags upstairs. I made the mistake of putting Andrew down on the bed in our room, and one of J’s cats jumped up next to him. Poor Andrew! He let out the most blood-curdling scream!! From that point on, I was NOT allowed to put him down anywhere. If I even acted like I was going to do that, he screamed. What’s funny is that he’s fascinated by the cats. He sat on the couch with me as the two cats were fighting and rolling around right next to us, and he just watched. But later, when the other cat walked towards us, he started screaming his little head off. He’s going to have to adapt to pets for sure! To the Congolese, animals are for eating (yes, including cats and dogs), and are NOT part of the family. Andrew is going to have to get used to pets, or else he’ll be very limited in where he can go once we get back to the States (especially in Alaska, where almost everyone I am close to has at least one pet).

J and I took Andrew to dinner, where he ate like a champ — he discovered butter, and licked it off 3 pieces of bread before eating them. I tried the local delicacy of cossa — shrimp from the Congo River — with pili pili sauce, which is the local spice. I also had antelope — yum!!

John just arrived with my translations, so I have to sign off. Until tomorrow, love from the Congo!

Erin & Andrew

~John and Andrew

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Comments
10 Responses to “Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 14)”
  1. auni says:

    This is a wonderful story–think of what you have to tell your grandchildren. A most Happy Thanksgiving to you both

  2. Leota2 says:

    That was something!
    Andrew is just getting more and more gorgeous.

  3. jenjay says:

    WOW. Thanks for sharing your story. Andrew sounds like such a cutie, and you have unparalleled patience. And poor John!

    Thanks for posting your journey here, I look forward to the happy ending. πŸ˜‰

  4. Kath the Scrappy says:

    Oh my! Thank heavens you are both home. That would test the patience of Job.

    Love the pic of John & Andrew. John looks like a kind man, helping you for more than just the money.

    You’ve really met some nice and generous people throughout this experience, even though there’s been some pitas. Like J. letting you stay at her extremely expensive place. I think D&J need to get an attitude adjustment! Playing the Ugly American will surely increase the time & money they end up spending in the Congo.

  5. UgaVic says:

    I too keep saying, “They are home and safe. They are home and safe”. Emotions, money, hot, bugs, delays, and not being able to always understand all that is being said, what a way to go crazy while trying to secure something you love!!
    Thank you again for sharing part of your journey with us!!

  6. barbara says:

    thank you so much for sharing your story. it’s fascinating.

  7. jimzmum says:

    Whoof! My last nerve is frazzled. I keep reminding myself that you are home, you are home, you are home!

  8. merrycricket says:

    What an emotional roller coaster! I’m so glad that I know you are already home while I’m reading this. I look forward to each installment. Kiss Andrew for me. Tell him it’s from Auntie Merrycricket! πŸ™‚

  9. laurie says:

    Love that last photo. It looks like Andrew is trying to decide if he likes what is going on. Mom is in sight but not holding him.

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