Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Mothers me! Yikes!

Marie’s been living with me for several months now, but until recently nothing was done legally. I hadn’t been sitting down in one place long enough to begin pursuing it. However, I began the journey last week. After talking to a friend of mine who’s undergoing the same process but is much farther along, I knew I needed to start at the Social Welfare Office for the district in which we live.  Fortunately, a friend of mine know a guy that works in the office. As sad as it is, it seems to be easier to get things done here if you “know somebody who knows somebody.”  We saddled up “The Colonel” (my car) and made the 3 hour journey on the horrific road to talk to the people in Social Welfare.  They gave us the list of things we needed to do. 

After getting her birth certificate (very few people actually get one at birth) I went to her village to discuss the issue with the town chief.  This is where Sierra Leone is different from America.  Well, maybe one of the 5, 428 ways.  America is so much more individualistic than Sierra Leone. When I initially went to the Social Welfare office, I explained that since taking Marie, her dad had left the village to go do some mining in the eastern part of the country and her mother had moved to Freetown. To get us all together would be difficult. Not impossible, but it would take some finagling. That's where it got interesting. The man in the office told me that as long as I had a representative from both the mothers and fathers side of the family, that would be good enough.  Really?!?  It wasn’t the first time I’d run into this kind of thing. When we do a c-section in the hospital we will offer to do a tubal ligation (“tie the tubes”) but we have to have the consent of the husband.  However, if the husband isn’t there but a member of his side of the family is willing to sign, we can still go ahead. SO SO different from America!!! J

So after meeting with Social Welfare we went to Marie’s village to talk to the town chief. The town chief happens to be a relative of both sides so he could represent both Marie’s mother and her father. How convenient!!  (And a little scary to be honest…).   I got a call about a week later from the man in the Social Welfare office. He said that they had prepared all the documents and were just waiting for me to come with Marie’s birth certificate and the parents’ representative.  I went to Marie’s village and the town chief told me that Marie’s father had come, so he would be able to come with us. Good!! I felt better having at least one of her parents involved. (Incidentally, I was just trying to get temporary custody at this point. When things move to a more permanent holding, both of her parents will be there and everything will be explained in their tribal tongue and their replies will be videoed.  I really don’t want to end up in prison for child stealing!!!)  So a few days later we headed BACK down the road that has tried but failed to dislocate every joint in my body, to the Social Welfare office with Marie, the friend of mine who knows the guy in Social Welfare (“John”) Marie’s dad and her mother’s representative, and the town chief. 
When we got to the office three hours and 6 Ibuprofens worth of muscle pain later, I was nervous.  What was going to happen here?  They welcomed us warmly and we all went and sat down in the office.  The head man called Marie over to him and asked her a couple questions. He asked her where her Papa was and she pointed to her dad. He asked her who bought her dress and she pointed to me. He asked her who bought her shoes, earrings, etc. and she pointed to me. Then he turned his attention to Marie’s dad.  He asked him what we’d come for and he said he’d come to do the papers to give Marie to me.  Then the man went on to explain the difference between giving her to me to KEEP or to MEND.  See, giving children to other people to mend is VERY common here.  Most houses in the village I live in have at least one or two kids that aren’t their own because it’s a bigger village and there are several schools here.  So parents from smaller villages will send their children here to live with relatives and go to school. 

I was nervous for the response.  I absolutely do NOT want to take a child whose parents don’t want me to take her. Obviously.  And I want to make SURE that both parents fully understand what they’re doing.  Giving up the parental rights.  That’s NOT very common here.  So as the man was explaining everything, I was waiting with baited breath. I want the best for Marie. If her parents don’t really want to give her to me, then I would never want to take her.  But I love her. I’ve grown so attached that to give her up would be…..painful. To say the least.  I’ve explained the permanence of this situation many times, but sometimes I’m just not sure how much I’m understood.

So I’m sitting there listening to the man talk and just as he gets to the part where her dad is supposed to respond, Marie comes up to me and says, “Mama.  I need to toilet!! (Poop).”  Oh come on. Now?? I tried to put her off but got the fussiness with the legs crossing. I figured it probably wouldn’t look very good for me to deny a basic need of my child, so just as her dad was about to answer this most important question, Marie and I went off to find a toilet. IE. Little rubber bowl that kids poop in and then….I don’t know what usually happens to it. When I got back I waited for a break in the conversation and then interrupted.  “Excuse me sir. I really need to know how Marie’s dad answered that question.”  “He said he wants to give her to you to keep.”  Exhale.  Ok.
Next was the paperwork.  The Social Welfare guy drafted a letter that handed custody over to me for six months.  Temporary custody is the first step in the adoption process here. (It is possible to adopt if you don’t live here. Adoption just became legal again in this country last year, so I think the rules are still a little flexible while they are working everything out). I signed. Marie’s dad signed. The town chief representing her mom signed.  It was done.

 Next were the photocopies.  They didn’t have a photocopier at the office (I know….)  so my friend John got on a motorcycle and went to make enough copies for everyone.  Next were the photos.  We weren’t really sure where to go to get photos taken but fortunately Marie’s town chief knew someone in the area so he gave him a ring and told him to come to the office QUICK!!!  They took a picture of Marie by herself and then one with the two of us.  But after waiting a half an hour or so we found out the that photo shop’s generator wasn’t working so they weren’t sure when they’d be able to print the pictures.  John got on the phone and started calling some people and found somewhere they could print them. This guy knows everybody.

While we were waiting for the pictures to develop we went and got some food. Then we split up and I went to go shopping for some “American food” and Marie’s family went to go run a couple errands. While we were separate from them, Marie kept asking “Where’s my Papa? Where’s my Papa?”  It was a little bit heartbreaking.  It struck me that no matter how much her dad wasn’t able to take care of her, wasn’t able to provide for her basic needs, she still loved him. She still wanted him.  She was still a little girl who wanted her Daddy.  Heart. Breaking. 

After our errands were done we met back up at the Social Welfare office and they gave me the documents. It was finished.  They said I will be able to travel with her with these documents. I’m a little suspicious so will pay a visit to the US embassy when I go to Freetown next week. Next on the list of things to do will be to get her a passport so she can meet her cousins in November!! Je askeHe as



  1. Emily! I love this! So many emotions going on here! I was on the edge of my seat. Hahaha. Serioulsy. I especially love the part where I can envision you on that road you mentioned. I'm so incredibly happy for you. God is great. Gosh, I even feel ridiculous typing "God is great." As if a couple words could possibly even begin to describe our God. Can't wait to meet Marie!