Sunday, December 20, 2015

Of mice and emails

When our visitors, Doug and Lisa Jernigan, left in early November, we had no idea what a crazy month we were about to have. The first incredible thing to happen was when an Ik friend of ours, Kalimapus Joseph, was attacked by a leopard while checking his traps! Seriously? Do we still live in a world and age where people routinely get mauled by predators? Apparently so, at least in Ikland. Joseph bravely fought off the beast until his brother-in-law speared his would-be killer, and Joseph got away with some claw cuts and bites, but fortunately nothing lethal. Here's a photo of Amber treating him:
Things were only going to get weirder: For some time we had been expecting to go to Kampala in early December for an adoption hearing. Because we didn't know when the hearing would be exactly, this prevented us from even planning our Christmastime activities. Then, on November 19th, at 2:02 p.m., we got an email from our lawyer saying the judge wanted to hear our case in a week's time, on Thanksgiving, November 26, at 2:30 p.m! We weren't prepared for this, but the sudden news spurred us into action. We had to make some quick plans that included trying to get the last bits of required paperwork from a stalling government official, and arranging for transporting and accommodating the girls' relatives who needed to come with us to Kampala for the court hearing.

As if that wasn't enough, a CNN reporter from Nairobi showed up on Friday at our house. He was doing a story on the Ik and wanted to interview us. He did his interview but came back again the following Monday to video me working with the Ik men on the dictionary project. Just before they arrived on Monday, we heard a buzzing sound above our heads. We looked up to see a small helicopter drone with a video camera watching us. At first I thought it was the President's advance security team (see below) scouting out any suspicious things before the President's arrival, so I just smiled and waved! But then the CNN folks arrived, and we could see them operating the drone with a remote controller. Odd. Very odd.

That was Monday, and in the evening we still expected to use Tuesday to pack leisurely for our trip to Kampala (on Wednesday). However, this state of relative calm was quickly shattered. We already knew that President Museveni and the First Lady were scheduled to visit Kamion (the Ik people's administrative 'capitol'). Since it was the first visit of the President to Ikland, it was going to be a historic event that we didn't want to miss! Our plan was to pack up Tuesday morning, and then head over to see the President at 4:00 p.m. But then Monday evening we got news that the President changed plans and was going to be in Kamion at 10:00 a.m., and we were advised to be there by 8:00! That meant we suddenly had to pack for a huge trip and two weeks' stay in Kampala right away. We had every reason to be stressed, but I can say that we weren't. We executed the necessary processes of packing up and shutting down our homestead in those few hours before bedtime.

As it turned out, even though we were in Kamion by 8:30 in the morning, the presidential helicopter didn't arrive until 1:30. Yes, that's right: we waited FIVE hours for them. TIA: this is Africa. That's really the only explanation one needs; it covers all unusual and/or inexplicable phenomena. Anyway, they finally came, gave a short campaign speech, and were on their way (they only stayed about 20 minutes total). The cool thing is, though, the President walked over to our tent and shook our and the girls' hands, asked where we were from, and if we were taking care of 'these girls'. Totally worth it!

The pace certainly didn't slow down the next morning. We had to run around town, picking up relatives, getting last-minute documents translated (orally) and signed by the family. Then we had to go to the government official's office and get him to sign a couple more forms. Then we had to drive back into town, get some forms photocopied, and then take them back to the official. By 12:30 p.m., we finally hit the road to Kampala. At 2:00 a.m. the following morning, we fell into bed in Kampala. It was the longest, most grueling drive, but somehow, by the grace of God, we made it. I can't tell you how. It is miserable to drive on Ugandan roads at nighttime. People don't use their high and low beams correctly. If we can coax them to turn off their high beams, they enjoy putting them back on right before we've passed each other on the road and it blinds you. Amazingly, the night of our drive, we had a full moon to help me see the road better. I was exhausted after six hours of driving, but by the half-way mark, I felt God giving me a second wind to make it the remainder of the way to Kampala.

That same morning, Thanksgiving Day, we were to be at the lawyer's office by 10:00 a.m. for the signing of final documents. Then we were to be in court at 2:30. Both the lawyer and his secretary stressed the extreme importance of being at the courthouse early, at 2:00. We did our best to stay on top of things, but still, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam just before 2:00. We started making Plan B: parking the truck somewhere and putting everyone on motorcycle taxis (dangerous but speedy). We could see the turn-off just ahead on the left, but traffic was in a gridlock. We prayed and then at about 1:59, the jam moved a little and we were able to make the turn, putting us at the courthouse at 2:06. We waited a few minutes and then were ushered into the judge. It lasted maybe ten minutes, max. He asked a few basic questions and scribbled furiously. Then, just when we were bracing for his verdict, he nonchalantly told us to come back the following Tuesday for the verdict. A little anti-climactic!

More waiting.

I walked into town to see Pope Francis on Saturday and got my wallet stolen.
On Monday, we sent the girls' mother Alice, aunt Primina, and uncle Zachary back to Kaabong on an airplane. It was the first time any of them had been on a flight, let alone near an actual aircraft. Putting them on the airplane was one of the funnest things we've ever done. Later we could tell they loved the experience!
Tuesday afternoon rolled around. We drove the long way across town back to the courthouse to get our verdict. We told the girls that no matter what the judge said, they'd stay with us, that we'd remain a family regardless. It only had to do with paperwork issues. We must've waited for almost an hour. During that time we met some lovely people from Michigan who were adopting a Ugandan child and were getting their verdict at that time as well. Their names were Aaron and Gwen. At one point their lawyer came out and handed them a draft of their favorable adoption ruling. Moments later ours came out too. He handed us the document and said, "It's finished." Really? That's all? That's all. That adoption had been granted!
We decided to stay in Kampala a little while longer, both to attend uncle Hillary's graduation (see below) and to see if we could go ahead and apply for the girls' US visas. We've been told that process could take 6-12 months, so we definitely wanted to get it started before going back to Timu for three months. Hillary graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration that Thursday. It was a real privilege for us to be there along with his dear wife Lily to celebrate the occasion:
By the end of that week, we were growing discouraged because we had not been able to find out the info we needed about how to apply for the visas in our special circumstances. In particular, emails to certain Embassy officials had gone unacknowledged for ten days. In resignation, we decided to just go home to Timu on Monday morning and let the chips fall where they may. Though our faint hearts could hardly hope to believe it, God was at work under the surface of our disappointments. And He chose to use the most humble and often despised of instruments.

Saturday evening, when I was out running an errand, the AC in our truck suddenly went out. It has been working flawlessly for months, but I heard a sucking sound, and then the sound of some junk filling the fan and clogging it, preventing it from blowing much air at all. I quickly called the mechanic to see if they worked on Sundays, but they did not. So, after consulting with Amber, we decided to postpone our trip from Monday to Tuesday, to give us a chance to fix the air conditioner. Fine. Sunday evening we did what we should've been doing all week: we prayed together. This is where it gets good.

Monday morning, the mechanic fixes the AC for free, since it only involved removing the mouse's nest from the fan compartment under the glovebox. (My friend Robert Lane did it once for us, as did uncle Calvin Schrock; I am a linguist and prefer to leave such technical issues with the experts!) So I guess this was at least the third mouse's nest to be removed from there! Anyway, that afternoon, we finally got an email from both the immigration office in Nairobi AND the US Embassy in Kampala. The Kampala embassy informed us that there was to be an adoption Q&A meeting the following day at 2:00 p.m. So we postponed our trip home from Tuesday to Wednesday!

Our friend Adam Leach, who was waiting to come back to Kaabong with us, graciously agreed to watch the girls as we went to the adoption meeting. (I should add that in the hour before the meeting, I made some critical navigational errors that got us stuck on a mountain, in front of the gate of an abandoned mansion, with absolutely nowhere to turn around. We had to go in reverse for several hundred yards, up a slope so steep and slippery I had to use 4x4 low to get up. I laughed at the absurdity of our lives, while Amber quietly tried to cope with her rising pulse and blood pressure). In the end, we made it to the embassy right on time...and were greeted at the security desk with a notice that the meeting had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, and that no further meeting had been scheduled. Apologies for any inconveniences. Indeed. You know, I'm pretty sure I didn't even read the whole notice because I instinctively knew something like that would happen. It's the poetic nature of life's absurdity. Of course! The meeting we had delayed our trip home for, to get answers we've waited ten days for, was canceled with no explanation. Of course! Why didn't I think of that?  TIA.

Half in shock, half not, we kind of looked around stupidly at the people in the waiting area. Then a familiar face jumped out: Gwen! The women we had met the week before at the courthouse. So, having nothing better to do, we wander over to her and her friend, sit down, and commiserate about how terribly the US Embassy in Kampala treats US citizens. Gwen only needed a form, the 'blue form'. After maybe twenty minutes, she and her friend decide to go over to the reception, where the male receptionist is safely ensconced behind inches of greenish bulletproof glass. We watched Gwen talk, plead, wait, smile, wait some more, and then get let into Fort Knox! This gave us courage, so we moseyed on over and asked the guy if we could just speak to someone from the adoption unit. He said 'no', the meeting has been canceled. We don't leave. We stall. We explain that we just have a few questions, that we waited for this meeting, and now we have to go back home to Karamoja. Very far. Upon hearing the word 'Karamoja', he picks up his phone, calls someone, and then hands the phone to us under the glass. I foist the phone into Amber's hands, as she tends to be the one that doesn't forget important details. The Ugandan lady on the other end fully and politely answers all the questions which we were going to ask in the meeting. Could this really be happening?

We find out enough to realize we could put together the visa application packet and mail it (to Chicago!) before leaving for Timu the next day. So we go back to the guest house, fill out forms, double check them, triple check them. And then Adam and I head out to face Kampala's traffic, to print out forms, photocopy forms, buy an envelope, and take the packet to Gwen who had agreed over Facebook to take the applications back home with her to the States. Around 8:00 or so, the envelope finally makes it into Gwen's hands. Adam and I battle traffic to get back home. And then we leave the next morning at 4:30 am and drive all that long way back to Kaabong. Mission accomplished: Since leaving home two weeks earlier, the President's hand got shook, Mercy and Mumu's adoption got granted, the relatives got sent home by airplane, uncle Hillary got graduated, and the visas got applied for.

If that little Timu mouse hadn't built a nest in the AC system, if that nest had been sucked down into the AC fan mere hours earlier, we would've driven back to Karamoja all day Monday and wouldn't have seen those emails until nighttime. If we hadn't seen those emails, we wouldn't have known to stay a day longer for the adoption meeting. If we hadn't gone to the adoption meeting--even though we had to get answers elsewhere--we wouldn't have known how to start the application process. And if we hadn't met Gwen (and Aaron) at the courthouse, our application would've been consigned to the less secure international postal system. God had been working to weave this web of significant events together all along. Neglecting prayer, we tried to take things into our own hands and just got frustrated and discouraged. Now all we can do is thank God for mice and emails. Underneath whatever chaos you may be experiencing in your life right now, the Creator and Upholder of the universe is working to accomplish His will, which includes what's best for you and those you love. Trust Him.