Friday, November 16, 2012

The Front Porch

As we got to know the kids, one of things we loved the most was the front porch. We dragged the cushions from the couch out onto the front porch and played. At night it was a great little retreat for us two adults to sit and enjoy the beautiful jungle nights. When one of the twins woke us up (because we definitely weren't getting up on own since every minute of sleep was super precious) we'd make a pot of hot water, grab the instant coffee, and head outside on the porch to have breakfast. The front porch was, in fact, our cross roads of entertainment, leading to the pool, the courtyard, the ramp, and the restaurant. It was just a brick tiled floor with a rustic wooden fence and a step down to the sidewalk but it was a great place to sit and have coffee or lie down and play a game.

In the Morning

One would wake up before they other, though there was no pattern on who. Coffee in hand we'd sit on the porch all waking up. Here's some photos of the coolest place in Jukwa:
First thing in the morning you have to get all the toys out of the box even though you just put them away the night before.
When Nala works on standing her little tongue comes out in concentration.

Mama sits with the twins as Nala tears up a napkin and Noah decides which crayon to eat.

During the day...

There were lots of smiles on the porch...
and beautiful faces full of wonderment.
You could have a snack...
... or share one with your daddy.
You might say, "Mama, he took my toy!". LOUDLY!
And then forgive him for it.
Of course to get to the porch you have to make that first step down:

But once you get there there is all kinds of things to do:

You can play with rocks...
Sit with your mom...
Lay on your Dad ...
Play patty cake with mama from across the porch...
Or feed your mama blocks...
The porch is so fun that things that seem mundane are actually fun:
The caps off water bottles are like fine cake!
Blocks taste good too!
You might need to charm Dad a little to get your way...
...but Mama's lap is always a cushy couch!
Even the chickens and lizards hang out at the front porch:

There's always smiles...

...and something to cheer about!
But we have to stop playing with Daddy's didgeridoo lips sometimes and say goodbye:


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Jukwa and the Rain Forest Lodge

Cape Coast

On Tuesday we left Accra and headed west along the Accra-Cape coastal road to Cape Coast. Like all roads we travelled on it was rough and bumpy but because of a lesser police presence for patrol these add rumble strips about every 10 miles or so that are two sets of three bumps that make you slow down a little. Then any time you approach a village of a certain size they put a speed cushion in place that requires a speed of about 7 MPH in order to navigate it without damaging your vehicle. Add in, every so often, a police check point where they can randomly pull you over, and it makes for a long trip.

At one point we did get waved over by the police. He showed us a radar gun indicating a speed which was, not surprisingly, over the speed limit. It was, in fact, a fairly unbelievable speed, but "official is official" and our driver and Percy, whom is responsible too because he has hired the driver, get a speeding ticket. The scary part for us is, the police may suspect you are trafficking children, then it gets ugly pretty fast. Fortunately for us, they were happy with just the speedning ticket and we were on our way again.

As with any drive in Ghana, along the way were street vendors selling everything from coconuts, ground nuts (peanuts), water, and even wild roast rat flattened on a bamboo frame. This is the rain forest area and Ghanians could simply go into the forest and harvest what they could find which was bountiful. Mangos. Coconuts. Wood. Bananas. Figs. Pineapples. Sometime we would see a group of people working together to retrieve them from the forest, creating large piles of them up along the road.

We were driving to Cape Coast to meet with the lawyer that works for the Ghana Department of Social Welfare (DSW) in order to prepare for our court date set for tomorrow morning. Did I mention no AC in the car? By the time we arrived it was late in the afternoon and it was getting hot. We were holding the two kids, Jena had Nala, and Mick had Noah, and all four of us were sweaty from the constant contact. They did sleep a lot at least but we arrived tired of being in the car so long and the last thing we wanted to do was have a meeting in a hot room as there as no AC there as well. Since we were late we had to wait even longer because he was in a meeting, but the view was beautiful, at least. This is not our picture, but this was nearly the exact view from the hill to the Atlantic coast:

Down town Cape Coast from the hill, looking at the Atlantic ocean.

Big waves were crashing into the shore and we were very impressed with Cape Coast as opposed to Accra. Very scenic city. Cape Coast is the capital of the Central Region which is the same as a state here in the USA.

News from the Court

We were informed that yes, officially, the courts were closed and that the judge would not come in to handle the adoption on Thursday due to the state funeral. That was followed up with the news that the next week was the beginning of a long holiday period where government (and the whole country basically) operated at about a fourth of its regular capacity, so it was entirely possible we wouldn't get a court day for a while. When we asked, "When it is over?", the reply was "late October". Remember that blinking reaction?

So we found ourselves in Ghana without any real purpose to be there that would help our adoption along. We would know Monday if we could still get into court the next Thursday. It was Wednesday. We'd need to wait five days just to see if we might get a court data. No matter, as we had the kids and we were there to enjoy them as well.


Our place of residence for the remaining time in Ghana would be the Rain Forest Lodge in Jukwa, Central Region, Ghana. We piled back into the car, now hot and disappointed and hungry, and departed Cape Coast, heading west again. Then a right turn and the sun was to our left. North it was. After about 25 minutes of bumps and dodging other vehicles, we arrived. This time the road led us into thicker and thicker forest with very dense undergrowth, increasingly larger trees, and green everywhere. To the right was a standard Ghanian village which turned out to be Jukwa, we made a quick left turn and there we were, home for next few weeks.

We loved the RFL. It was a complex of buildings surrounding a grassy courtyard. There was  pool, a restaurant, and lots of wild life. It was a great place to just enjoy being a family. One building had five rooms, another had 3, and then there were four separate buildings, each housing two bedrooms, two baths, a living room, and in our case a little "kitchenette". The kitchenette had a sink with no hot water, a counter and cabinets for food storage. You'll notice I didn't say "oven" or "range" as there wasn't one. It was coming, supposedly, which was fine as we still had no food on day four. We two adults were getting hungry as the food we had so far was basic and we couldn't eat fresh vegetables due to water concerns. Everything had to be cooked. We were excited to be cooking again soon.

The courtyard. Across it was the business center and conference room. Our little cottage is to the left off frame.
The restaurant on the left and the business center with the red roof. Jena and Nala are off strolling to touch a tree that caught their eye.
There were some absolutely gorgeous flowers in the courtyard.

The walk went all the way around so we could make it in a circuit. One little walk led to the backyard. It was an arch covered in a passion fruit vine where some weaver birds had made a colony. They were small black and white birds with orange beaks. We liked to go stand under the arch and listen to them.
Mom and Nala looking for the weaver birds.

The hanging passion fruit and one of the weaver nests.

The nests looked very haphazard but there was a neat little circular entrance on each one.
The view form our front porch to the pool and cabana bar which was never in operation.

Yes those are coconut trees. U C M Coconuts?
That night we ate at the restaurant and found we liked the food a lot. Like all places in Ghana it took a long time as everything is completely hand made. We had vegetable noodles and the twins had rice and grilled chicken skewers. We learned this night that they can eat a lot and they love white rice. It was the one thing we could always count on them eating. Problem was, especially for Nala, it was plain white rice. If there was any sauce of any kind that turned the rice any color but rice, Nala would see it on the way in and refuse to eat it. We finished our meal, and went to bed exhausted that night.

We got up the next morning for breakfast, as it was complimentary and we decided to try it. Eggs, bread, and a little ham with grilled veggies. Still nothing for us but the kids loved the toast and eggs (most of the time anyway).

Here's some photos of our first family breakfast out:

Noah, waiting on the food .. we got better at this!

Nala and mama having fun stylin' the bib her auntie Jana got her.
Noah loved the eggs and wanted to share.
One side of the restaurant was the proverbial "ramp" which both enjoyed walking up and down. For Nala this took help from someone as she's not yet walking. We probably went up and down this ramp 100 times each.
Same ramp, same mama, and Noah colliding with them as he came back up the ramp.
Once done eating we started around the courtyard. Over the next 12 days we would this courtyard a lot and we enjoyed it. There were lizards everywhere running across the side walk in front of us, rooster with their little flocks of hens running around, goats, and an occasional dog and some very beautiful birds. Lizard chasing turned out to be a great way to pass the time.

The prey.

The hunters.

Me too!
Lizard hunters on the move:

One thing we noticed right away, the kids were somewhat afraid of grass. It was foreign to them. Jena and I talked a little about it later on, and realized that other than the center of roundabouts we had seen very little grass. There was almost no grass in Accra or Cape Coast at all. Their yard at the fosters is concrete and instead of grass there is simply bare dirt. So Nala, and at times, Noah, didn't want to put their feet in the grass at all. Mama kept trying though:
No way are my feet touching that, Mama!

Here we are just hanging out later in the week. It was amazing weather and we spent almost all our time outside doing something:

Also inside, after a trip to the pool. They were after mama:

Here in Jukwa we met some great people, had some great food, and most of all started being a family.

More to come...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On African Soil

Catch Up

Yes, we've been and returned and we didn't blog while we were there. There's quite a few reasons for our lack of blog entries. The list includes lack of Internet connections, lack of time, lack of energy, among others but we are back now and we've had a few days to rest which we needed after of six hour time change and handling the twins for two glorious weeks.

But now it's time to catch up with you all and we apologize for waiting until now. We know you are all waiting for photos, answers, and information but it simply wasn't within our ability to do it until now. We've decided instead of a delayed day by day blog or just one massive entry we're going to blog the major events regardless of the days.


We left DFW on the 5th  at 6:30 and flew to Atlanta for a 9:45 arrival. Then on an air plane to Amsterdam, Netherlands leaving at 10:10pm and arriving at 1:05pm on Sunday. That looks like a 13 hour flight but it is actually only 8 hours and 30 minutes because we had to give up 5 hours of time. We had a 3 hour lay over in Schipol but it turns out you have to queue up again and go through security to board and our three hours disappeared rapidly in the queue. Let's start by saying we love KLM. They kept feeding us through the flight and the wine is complimentary. Say no more, it is KLM for us from now on. The last leg took us from Amsterdam at 3:15 pm to Accra's Kotoka airport, arriving at 8:00pm. That's 20.5 hours of travelling!

Kotoka was busy and small. It has a single baggage claim that serves all flights and it was very crowded at the time. We managed to grab our bags and then began looking for Percy, our guide. And we continued looking and finally we texted our agency only to find that our guide thought we were arriving on Monday night and was not at the airport. We really only wanted a comfortable bed and hot shower at the time but we took the news of this extra delay in stride and waited for his arrival.

We did eventually find him after a very quick customs check and we were on our way. As we rode in the cab, a tri-colored Peugot, Percy informed us that the president,John Atta Mills, had died a few weeks earlier and that this week, the week of our adoption court date, was the week they were holding his state funeral on Thursday and Friday. Although Percy wasn't 100% sure, it was most likely the the courts would shut down on Thursday and we would have to try to reschedule the court date the following week.

Our reaction:
Blink... Blink...... Blink, look at each other ... Blink. (repeat several times)


The Mascot

As such Accra was full of people attending the funeral, hotel accommodations weren't so easy to get. Oh and did we mention we weren't expected until tomorrow, as in "right now you have no hotel to stay in". Whoopsie! We were due at the Swan hotel in a few days, but as of that moment we had no bed. Fortunately, Percy was on it and got us a room in the Mascot hotel. Where is it? I'm not entirely sure since it was dark but truthfully that wouldn't have mattered in the least if it was high noon because we made about 100 turns getting there, over down a hill, and there it was. I do know it is in North Kaneshie and by then we were happy to have it.

How was it? Well it was a bed. A big one that was very firm, like a hay bale. There was hot water, sort of, once we figured out how to turn on the on-demand hot water heater, but we couldn't shower because the hose to the shower head leaked and there was no pressure. And we couldn't bathe because there was no way to plug the tub. So as much as we wanted a hot shower or bath, especially Jena, it wasn't going to happen. Internet was out of the question. This is where we would stay for two nights until we transferred to Cape Coast and our first night with the twins would be here as well.

We did have electricity though it didn't make it to all the lights such as the bed side light. But clever engineering had the foresight to rig us a way to turn the overhead light out from the bed. It was a long wire with a rocker switch taped to the ceiling and then down the wall to directly above our beds. A little investigation determined why the bed side lamp didn't work:

That's a tangle of the phone and lamp cord behind the bed side table which ended in no plug but bare wires instead. I'm thinking even Tom Bodett couldn't have left the light on for us here.

We awoke on Monday excited because we were going directly to see the kids. Hot showers didn't matter now, it was twin time. We just wanted a good cup of joe to get us started and we were ready to go meet out children. Said coffee arrived, a pot of hot water and Nescafe instant coffee packets. You know, it really didn't matter, nothing could shake us then it was...after all twin time.


The twins were staying with their foster family in Tema which is east of Accra. We piled into the taxi (as our driver wasn't on shift until the night we arrived at the airport which, of course, wasn't until that night, or so he thought) and headed to Tema. Here's quick map for you. This time we hit an express way and went most of the way on it until the very end. This is truly one of those scenes you see with people selling things on the street from a BIG bowl balanced on their head. Mostly gals, and they are talented. They can run to keep up with the car and make change at the same time without dropping the bowl. They carry everything on their heads, propane tanks, peanuts, roasted pig, bags of water, fruit, we even saw one with wooden skooters for the kids balanced up their, about a dozen of them. This is quite typical:

The streets are narrow with the open sewers on both sides which serves as a utility trash can, sewage gutter, and urinal, all at once. Don't worry this was not unexpected that is simply how it is done. You do have to be carefully getting out of the car and make sure you have your bearings before you take that first step.

We suddenly pulled over on one of these very busy narrow streets and Percy announced, "This is it.". We hopped the gutter and followed him to a gate which we opened and there was Noah, our very first glimpse. He was in his little red toy car pushing himself along. It took Jena about 0.01 seconds to reach for him and 0.05 they were both smiling. Nala came out of the house with her foster mom seconds later and we got busy taking pictures and kissing kids.
Jena meets her son for the very first time.
Mama doesn't let him stay in his car more than a fraction of a second before she scoops him up.

And seconds later she knows what it feels like to be a mom, times two.

Little Nala with her dad.
Noah goes a little Hollywood demonstrating his readiness for America.
We stayed for about four hours and Naomi, their foster mother, cooked us an amazing vegetable and rice lunch which we ate with the kids. Wow was it good! It was the first time we ate substantially in Africa and it was one of the best meals we received the whole two weeks. As the afternoon started passing Percy asked us if we wanted to take the kids back with us. There was nothing to discuss, we piled into the cab and headed back to the Mascot arriving shortly before dark.


Our First Night

Once there Percy stayed around a bit to answer a few phone calls and tell us about the plan for tomorrow. He got us set up with breakfast and left. While he was there Noah invented a new game, called "Suitcase Slide". He played it about fifteen minutes with mama increasingly becoming concerned about his bottom. Noah Yow don't care.

Then we played on the bed for a little bit. This was a wooden giraffe puzzle we received as a gift. It had ten pieces that easily fit together to make a giraffe. They had a great time with them throughout our stay.


When supper came along we whipped out our fancy organic food like peaches but it was baby food and these two set the standard right away that they don't eat baby food. With the kitchen closed (and scary anyway) we went to another plan, snack food to tide them over until breakfast. Mama got feeding duties and they loved it. We would soon start to understand their relationship with food. We learned the universal word "Ma" which means "more", "Mom", "Dad", "I want that", "pick me up", "get that over there", "take me there" and many other things all clarified with a pointing finger.

Then at last it was lights out for all of us because though we enjoyed out first day together all four of us were tired. We had one bed, a big one, and they got the right side as we took the left. Even on day one we found that they like to be in contact with one another when they first lay in bed.
Asleep but in contact with each other.

Our first site of them was love. We saw them smile and giggle and laugh. We got to watch Jena change her first ever diaper (we'll try to upload that one but little Nala might not like her naked little self on YouTube when she's eighteen - but we have it and we're happy to show it more private - it's worth it).

Noah is much larger then Nala but many people determine they're twins because of their faces. They are cute and loving and we had a wonderful time with them. It was just the beginning of a whole life together.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Visas, You Can't Leave Home without Them

As things often do, our process to get visas for Ghana took a turn for the worse. We sent off last week for the 72-hour expedited visa service and they arrived in Washington DC on Monday morning. When you send it in, you include a self-addressed return FedEx envelope so they can send it back to you. We've been watching the tracking number all week.... and things were looking grim.  By Thursday, we realized we weren't going to get our visas, but more importantly we wouldn't be getting back our passports either as they must be sent in as part of the visa process. No one was answering the phone at the embassy and we knew they are closed on Fridays.

It looked like we could get a visa in Ghana if we could just get passports, so Friday morning we headed down to the Dallas passport office to get replacements. Complications arose and after three hours we found out that you can't leave the US without a valid visa from Ghana. Fortunately, other attempts were underway.

Friday, as we were in line at the passport office, things began to look up.  Our agency has a courier in DC, and she going to the Ghanian Embassy to see if she could turn things around.  Then it took a call to someone in the Houston Ghanian consulate to work with the DC one to get this taken care of, acting on our behalf. As of Friday at 4pm we didn't have visas, but because we had some very dedicated and compassionate people in Austin, Houston, and DC we received word that our visas were in the mail. A call to our local US post office where they were arriving and a conversation with a very special and sweet postal worker to watch for our package, and we were travel-ready Saturday by 9:30.

We did receive a new photo of the kids with Percy, our guide and facilitator in Ghana. He is a wonderful person that is working very hard to help all of Ghana's children. He started a not-for-profit called Africana Child. A quote from him:

Africana Child "Seeks to enhance the quality of life for sick, abused or neglected children. These children burdened by circumstances outside their control, often live in the most sterile and uninviting environment. By providing their basic needs, we create an enriching and happy atmosphere to encourage their emotional and physical healing and well being".

Percy holding our very precious Nala and Noah

We've been hard at work packing a huge pile of donations for the orphanage, food and clothes for the twins, medicines, gifts, toys, books, and games into backpacks, bags, suitcases, and even pockets! Here's a picture of what we will take:
4 Suitcases, a backpack, a duffel bag, a diaper bag, and a snack bag
Boy does Jena pack heavy! Actually, the largest three are stuff with donations to the orphanage including cloths, toys, games, and books. The backpack is full of things we don't want to be separated with like camera, medications, Steripen, etc. Of all these bags, the smallest -- the black duffel -- has both of our clothes in it. Talk about packing light. Believe me, it took Jena's superhero alter-ego to get her clothes to fit into that bag!  And she's only taking 2 pairs of shoes!

We are so excited that we will meet them on the 7th for the very first time. The next few weeks will be something we remember forever.

Thank you all so much for your prayers, blessings and well-wishes.  We hope to keep you posted during our trip. Thanks to all that helped make this happen!

The Baby Shower

My dear friend, Kim Kemble, hosted a wonderful baby shower for us last Saturday.  My closest friends and family were there, and it was so wonderful to see everyone.  Karen Saunders came all the way from San Antonio, and Kรคren Siwek all the way from Fort Collins!

I want to apologize for not getting out my thank you cards before our trip to Ghana! It's been a crazy week, and as much as I tried, there was just no time to get them done.  So, I will save that for the (20+ hour) plane ride.  

I was overwhelmed with the generous gifts, but most of all I enjoyed having all of us together for such an awesome reason. Thank you all so much!  And, Kim, and extra thank you for making it such a special day!

Here are a few pictures from the day.

Kim and a few elves helped her make these AWESOME decorations!!  Click to see the details, but they're amazing - safari and African themes.

Kelsey, me and Jana

Donna and Kim

Reading a very special card...surrounded by tons of gifts for Nala and Noah.  Oh, and of course little Dash - he was helping me unwrap the present.

Sweet Lori - what a great smile!

Ms. Sara - another great smile!  Stephanie off to her right.

Another great smile from Kelsey!

Hollee, Karen, and Stephanie!

Dad made a guest appearance!

Dad with 2 little monkeys - one for Noah and one for Nala.