We remained in Delhi for about a week. It was an unusual time. While I was goofy in love with my new daughter, I was also overcome by the reality that we still had some hurdles to cross before we could leave.
First order of business, we had to take Angel to a medical facility to get tested for clearance to come to the U.S. This is standard procedure for international adoption, but extremely stressful for several reasons. First of all, Angel was terrified of whatever was going to happen to her; secondly, I was terrified of whatever was going to happen to her; and thirdly, the outcome could delay her release from the country… a frightening possibility I was unable to shut out of my mind.
Again, thank God I wasn’t alone. I had the support of my sister by my side and we had our guide, Anu, who was sent to us through the adoption placement agency and by this time, a few days into the trip, already felt like a close friend. As an experienced escort for new, adoptive families, Anu provided us with guidance through the process and much needed explanation when things frequently got lost in translation, not to mention, her nearly constant, comforting presence.
Poor Angel ended up having to get a few vaccinations and medical tests. Nothing serious, but I literally had to hold her down as she screamed and kicked when she saw the needles…not the task I wanted to have as her newfound mom.
After her trip to the doctor, we laid low, as Angel wasn’t feeling too well. The visit was on a Thursday and it was a long wait until Saturday to get the results of her tuberculosis test. I must’ve checked her arm a million times to make sure there was no visible reaction, as any mark, even a false positive, would mean she would have to return to her orphanage in Mumbai instead of coming home with me. These medical results were required before we could move on to the next step. It was a tense two days with not much to do.
In addition to Anu, Aunt Laura and I made a few other new friends during our stay in India. Since we spent so much time on the grounds of our hotel, we got to know the staff pretty well. We fell into a pattern of hitting the same restaurant for breakfast daily and then the same “Italian” restaurant on the grounds of the resort for dinner.
We were enjoying the Indian food, but carefully heeded all the warnings not to drink the tap water. One time I forgot to use bottled water when brushing my teeth and within hours felt nauseas. Fortunately, neither one of us ever got really sick.
At dinner, we were greeted by the same, friendly waiter each night. We called him “CP,” because we failed miserably at articulating his real, multisyllabic name. He always had a big smile on his face, and a high five or kind word ready for Angel. Within a couple of days, he knew us well enough to have a bottle of red and a kiddie cocktail waiting for us before we even sat down. Clearly, we are predictable.
It got to the point that we looked forward to seeing him every night. I asked him all about Indian cultures. His face lit up when he talked about Diwali and he showed us pictures of the celebrations. On our last day in India, he brought us pins with a symbol of the Indian flag to take home. It felt a little sad to say goodbye to him.
That was also the way we felt about Anu. During the course of the trip, we had the pleasure of meeting Anu’s lovely, college-age daughter. Part of the guidance Anu gave to me was based on her experience and her knowledge of the country of course, but there was also another part of herself that she shared — the seasoned mom who was holding my hand through this entire process in a foreign land.
Aunt Laura also thought she became “friends” with the Indian merchants in the shops at the hotel. There was one she visited so often, he would hug her when she walked in the door. This guy saw my sweet, trusting sister coming from a mile away. He sold her multiple souvenirs, including scarves “marked down just for you, Laura.” I was a little more guarded with this charming salesman. At one point, Anu scolded us for buying anything out of her presence. She took us to a street market and tried to do all our bargaining for us, for which we were very grateful.
On one other occasion, we found ourselves venturing out alone and missing Anu very badly. That following Monday we had our first appointment at U.S. Embassy. The medical tests came back clear and I was thrilled to have that paperwork in hand to present as proof. But about an hour before Anu planned to pick us up, I found out we needed something else to bring to the embassy that I didn’t already have: passport size photos of Angel for her travel visa to come home. My new daughter wouldn’t technically be a U.S. citizen until more paperwork was processed several months later. For now, she needed a visa and in order to get one, we needed her photo.
The bellhop pointed us in the general direction of a photo shop. It wasn’t until we were well out of range from the hotel that we realized we had no idea where we were going. Nothing resembled a photo shop and the characters we encountered did not appear helpful. We asked one man and perhaps he didn’t understand us, but he simply pointed us in a new direction. We walked for a couple hundred yards, found nothing and then asked another person, who seemed to point us in the opposite direction. This was a stretch where there were no clear sidewalks, just huge buildings on top of very busy streets. We were walking behind and on the sides of various buildings, none of which had a lot of outdoor space.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Angel always wanted to be carried everywhere we went. This was one of those occasions when my tired arms started to tremble, but I wouldn’t put her down. Not only did I love holding her, I was also a little nervous about our safety.
Then, the vicious barking started.
Wild dogs. The area was rampant with canines that were clearly not domesticated pets. They were probably just afraid of us and wanted to scare us away. It worked! Our heart rates soared. I held Angel tightly. We kept our distance and they didn’t attack.
Eventually, we stumbled upon a seedy-looking storefront where someone directed us to a back alley for passport photos. I had mixed feelings about going farther, but we were desperate to get those photos for her travel visa. The appointment had been set up weeks before we ever arrived in India and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything. Thankfully, even though it looked suspicious, the photo shop turned out to be legit. Somehow, we managed to find our way back to the hotel and catch our ride … in the nick of time.
Anyone who’s been to India knows how insane the traffic is. There are too many vehicles crammed into too little space and seldom do you come across clearly defined lanes. It’s a fight to get anywhere. On the drive to the embassy, our car was brought to a standstill multiple times. Immediately, panhandlers surrounded us, pounding on the windows.
One little girl, not much older than Angel, started doing cartwheels in the middle of the street to impress us. She then held out her hand to us. It was heart breaking. My sister reached in her purse before I reminded her that we were warned not to do that. Problem is, the visitors who give money typically get followed by the recipients pushing for more, and more, and more. And sadly, the money doesn’t often go to the person you give it to. Anu explained these poor kids are sent out on the street to collect money for some scammer who’s pocketing it all behind the scenes. It’s infuriating to realize these beautiful children, all of whom I wanted to rescue, were being used as pawns.
The worst image I saw that stays with me to this day was that of a little boy, probably three or four years old, with no pants on, just hanging out under a viaduct. His eyes were sweet and innocent. He looked like he didn’t have much to eat and desperately needed a bath. He walked around as if it were totally normal to be partially naked outside. This was his reality.
He wasn’t alone either. There were probably two dozen homeless people beside him. All ages. They weren’t begging for money. They were simply living underneath the viaduct. I had no clue if they were all members of one family, or if they had any connection at all. There wasn’t any conversation that appeared underway among any of them.
It saddened me deeply. I kept staring at this little boy and wanted to know his story. I thought about all the wonderful prospective parents I had met during my adoption journey who were struggling and longing to take care of a child. Then I looked at my daughter seated beside me. My arm was around her and my heart grew warm. It took me two long years to get here.
This could’ve been her reality.
I was immediately grateful for all the caretakers at her orphanage who provided for her until I was allowed to come get her. I also felt indebted to her biological family. Although I wasn’t told anything about them — in fact, I don’t even know if her biological parents are alive — but I do know that someone wanted her to have a better life and brought her to the right place to make that happen. That is an incredible act of love.
My sister and I were dumbstruck at the sheer volume of homeless children we encountered during our travels. The need is great and yet there are so many prospective parents who want a child. I wish I could fix the system to make it easier for more of these children to find loving families and safe homes.
All I could think about was bringing my daughter home. It felt like the weight of the world was still on my shoulders. I fantasized about our arrival back in Chicago and how wonderful it would feel to start our new lives together.
We were so close…but not there yet.
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