Thursday, February 24, 2011

From Ethiopia - Post 11 - Tuesday - Let the Chaos Begin

Not surprisingly, as I checked my pictures to see if I had any for this day, I did not.  This was the day when the trip went from planned to complete chaos.  It was supposed to be the day that we all went for our scheduled appointments at the U.S. Embassy.  It was supposed to be the day that the children were legally declared to be ours by the U.S. government and granted IR-3 visas so that they would also become United States citizens upon entering the United States.  It was supposed to be the day, but it was not.

Instead, we got up as planned and got ready for the day.  We had the morning free to play at the guest house with the kids.  For the most part, we all played out in the courtyard area.  The kids played with bubbles, with balls, with those little dogs that you drag around.  We ordered our lunches in advance because we had to be ready to leave at 12:30 pm.  We all packed up our gear for the embassy -- paperwork, toys, snacks, drinks.  Then, we went down to the dining room to eat.  While we were eating, Dr. Fikru and Robin from Holt showed up at the guest house.  They requested that we all finish eating as soon as possible and meet in the family room on the second floor.

When we all gathered there, Robin started, "well, as you all can imagine, if we are calling an emergency meeting like this with you all, it is probably not good news...."   As all of our hearts began to race, blood pressures began to rise, hands began to sweat, and stomachs began to churn, she explained that, without notice to them, the United States Embassy had changed their procedures and 5 of the 8 families there were being affected.  Prior to our travel, the embassy had sent notice that they were completing additional investigations on all cases.  However, previously, if they had questions on cases, they would send them to Holt within 2 days of submission (which had occurred 2 weeks prior).  With our cases, they had requested additional information THAT morning.  They refused to grant interviews to any cases where they needed additional information.  She told the 3 families who had been cleared that they were fine, that they would be going to the embassy that afternoon as originally scheduled.  The rest of us, she told that we could not go.

She explained that they did not want to lie to us, that some of the documents and "proof" that the embassy was requesting were things that not only had they never asked for before, but also were things that did not exist.  Other cases, she said were easy, but that they just needed time to get the documents to the embassy and to get the embassy to grant the interviews.   She explained that what they wanted to do was talk to each family privately to explain what the embassy was requesting in their particular case.

Thankfully, although we were not amongst the families who had been cleared to go, we were amongst the families that they anticipated to be an "easy" fix.  Basically, the embassy was questioning a lot of custody/relinquishment issues.  They wanted to know if Markos' father was remarried.  Because if he had, then I assume they would have wanted to ensure that the new mother also wanted to relinquish.  Markos' father had not remarried, so it was not an issue, they just needed a statement to that effect.  Robin told us that they currently had staff driving all through Wolayta and Durame on motorcycles looking for birth families to get documents and information; they had already been in contact with judges in the different districts to get court statements and letters from judges, etc.  She was hopeful that they would get the document to the embassy either that day or the next, but could not tell us when the embassy would clear us for an interview and if we would be able to make our flight out on Thursday night.

Other families' cases were not as easy.  It was very frightening.  Two families were basically told that they had no idea if what they were attempting to get was even going to satisfy the embassy's demands.  And, that if not, they did not have any idea how long it was going to take or what they would do next.

The 3 cleared families had to leave to go to the embassy.  Dr. Fikru and Robin were going with them and planned to spend the entire day there, working on the other cases.  It was very bittersweet for those families.  Hard to be happy and relieved when dear, new friends were devastated and terrified.  The same applied to the mood at the guest house for the next few days.  We all laughed and played with the kids and enjoyed one another's company, but there was always that air of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety lingering over everyone's heads.  I had that feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach - unsure if I was going to lose my breath or get sick - for pretty much the rest of our trip.  And I trust that I was not alone.

When the first three families returned, Eric and I had already changed our clothes and were hanging around when one of the drivers ran in and said, "Stark family - come now!"  Turned out that Holt was able to get our documents and get them to the embassy so they were rushing us there for our appointment.  We rushed around and changed our clothes again, grabbed some toys for Markos and ran off to the embassy.

The driver and the Holt staff person drove us to the embassy as fast as possible (scary!).  However, the excitement quickly ended when we arrived at the embassy, waited in the first security line to get into the building, were getting ready to go through the second security point and metal detectors, and were met by Dr. Fikru and Robin.  They apologized and said that there had been a lag in emails crossing and that the embassy was refusing to see us.  That they did have our document and that they had cleared us, but that they refused to interview us unless an appointment had been confirmed via email from the Holt office!

Oh. My. Gosh.  Seriously?!  You want to talk about beaurocratic idiocracy!  We saw the letter that was sent by the embassy to Holt.  Apparently, because they were THERE, they had told the embassy that they wanted them to see us that day, but since it wasn't emailed, the embassy wouldn't accept that.  It makes me furious now, especially hearing about continued difficulties with the U.S. Embassy with other families even now, but at the time, we were just SO relieved that we had been cleared, that we didn't even care.  We said fine - we'll come back tomorrow.   And, we all turned back around and headed back to the guest house.  Our sweet friends smiled and gave us the thumbs up as we pulled in the drive, but we shook our heads no, and explained what had happened. 

So, at the end of the day, only three families had been granted visas for their children and five families continued to wait.  At 7:00 that evening, Dr. Fikru and Robin came back to the guest house to update us on the days' outcomes.  They were still working on cases.  Some documents had been secured and were either in route to the embassy or had already been delivered to the embassy.  Other documents were still being worked on.

We had seen the embassy's email with a tentative appointment and it was 9:00 am.  We asked if that was when we would go, and they told us that once they emailed the embassy accepting the appointment, then they had to wait for the embassy to email back confirmation of the appointment so they would call us in the morning and let us know.

It was not a good night to sleep.  We were all exhausted, stressed, sad, disappointed, worried, and just generally upset.  It should have been a night of celebration.  A night when all the "work" of the trip was complete and we could all just sit back and enjoy the rest of the trip, but alas, it was not.

1 comment:

  1. I'm certain my feelings about this day are not as intense as the feelings you have when you remember it back (same for the other families), but I still get this sick, scared, worried feeling just reading about it...I remember just dropping to my knees... obviously He provided what we hoped and prayed for, but that was a worrisome couple of days. Now, look at the happy pictures of Markos with his sweet Stark family!!!! God is good...