Saturday, November 21, 2009

We're Back! Here's What Happened........

We left for Guatemala last Saturday at 6:00 a.m., not really knowing what to expect on this very important trip. A birthday party for a 4 year-old and a Court hearing. We were somewhat prepared for one, but felt uncomfortably unprepared for the other.

Our dear translator Mirna, picked up the birthday cake for us and was there waiting at the hotel when we arrived. Olivia and her foster family would be arriving later than planned, so we had time for some lunch and then prepared for the birthday party. They all got to the hotel about 5:00.

There were 14 of us in all including another little girl waiting to come home to the U.S. who is being fostered by Carmen, the sister of Brenda (Olivia's foster mom). Olivia really enjoyed all the fuss. Of all her gifts, she loved the toy Cinderella cell phone the best, she kept taking everybody's "picture" with it! Too cute!

Sunday was Olivia's actual birthday so we went out shopping and of course to Chuck E. Cheese for lunch. The girls had a great time riding the rides and playing games. Olivia was especially enamored with the big animated Chuck E. who sings on stage. I think she really expected him to talk to her when she'd say "Hi, Chuck E. Cheese!" We had a full day of shopping, riding rides and ice cream, it was just such a blessing for us to be able to actually spend Olivia's birthday with her. We missed the last two because we were advised not to visit then.

Well Monday morning came and we were all spiffed up and ready to go to Court when Beyla our attorney picked us up about 8:15. On the 15 minute trip Beyla instructed us as to what to say IF the judge wanted to see us. Before long, we pulled into a very small parking lot. Once we parked, we walked around the corner and down a very narrow street with little store fronts and people selling their wares. We weren't sure where we were headed, because none of the buildings we were seeing looked "Courthouse-like". Sure enough we step into one of these storefront buildings where there was a tiny waiting room. We waited for a few minutes and someone came and asked for our passports. A few minutes later, about 9:00, Beyla, our other attorney, Oscar, Brenda and Olivia went in the back to see the judge. Bryan, Emily, Mirna, Carmen, Brenda's husband and son and I waited. Around 10:00, they all came out and the look on Beyla's face was not a good one. She said that a representative from the PGN had made a surprise appearance announcing that they had had contact with Olivia's birth Grandmother and that she wanted custody of Olivia! (Mind you, she's never seen this child in her life and has only been aware of her existence for the last few months!) Needless to say, our hearts sank. Beyla said we should wait till we leave the Courthouse to discuss the entire hearing.

So we walk back to the parking lot where Beyla told me not to be sad, that this was actually a GOOD thing! Apparently, when Beyla went to the Police a few days before with an order for them to bring in the birth mother, they said they didn't know where she was, but that they had spoken to the birth mother's mother and she told them she hadn't seen her daughter in 6 years and then she contacted PGN and told them she hadn't seen her daughter in 2 months! Basically, the consensus by everyone, is that this woman is not trustworthy, her husband is known to be violent and not of good reputation. They would in no way be good candidates for raising this child.

So, the Judge ruled that the next and FINAL hearing would be on June 9th (Emily's birthday, oddly enough). During the next 6 months, there will be a full investigation of this Grandmother person. (By the way, PGN told her she had to appear at Monday's hearing and she did not.) At the hearing in June, the Judge will rule whether or not she should have custody of Olivia or if we should. Normally, when a family member comes forward to claim a child, the Judge almost always favors them. Not in our case, apparently. Even though the Judge did not ask to physically see us, he knew we were there because he asked to see our passports and that made a big impression. As it turns out, this Judge is actually favoring us, but by law has to exhaust all possibilities, before he gives us the go-ahead to proceed with the adoption.

even though the initial hearing results sounded bad, we have a new hope and an actual deadline that we're shooting for. If indeed the Judge rules in our favor in June, our case will then go to the CNA. Beyla tells us it will take 3 to 5 months from that point to complete the process. It may even go a little quicker than that, due to the time we've put into this process and the fact that Beyla has "very good friends" there. We'll see.

So in a nutshell, it'll be next fall at best when we finally can bring Olivia home. We plan to make another visit trip in the spring, then go again in June for the hearing and hopefully one last time to bring her home. Even though we're having to wait longer than we anticipated, we know this is all God's plan and we're in it for as long as it takes. That little girl is SO worth it!

After the hearing, we took everyone out to lunch at Pollo Campero, went back to the hotel and talked to Brenda and her husband about getting Olivia in school which starts in January. We're still figuring out exactly what we want to do there. I definitely want her to go to school, but we want to make sure she has an English tutor as well.

After everyone left, we went back to our room and changed, (yes, I had to do the "twin" outfits again!) We went shopping and the girls played on all the rides and things they have for kids at the malls.

Tuesday, we went to the Miraflores Museum which is right near our hotel. It has exhibits of artifacts of the Mayan civilization that once inhabited Guatemala and a huge grass-covered mound behind the building that covers an old Mayan temple. The girls ran up and down it and had a blast. We went underground into where the temple was too. A little creepy at first, but very interesting.

Later, after lunch at Chili's the girls and Bryan went swimming in the hotel pool. I bowed out this time to be the full-time photographer.

The hotel had been decorating for Christmas and there were some bakers who were putting together a real gingerbread house in the lobby. Each time we'd go by, they'd be doing something new. At one point they were piping icing between the gingerbread "bricks" and asked Emily & Olivia if they'd like to lick some icing from the big pot they were using. Needless to say, this was a big hit!

Later that evening, I had to start to clean things up and get packed for the next day. Even though we really can't explain what's going on to Olivia, she'd been through it twice before, and knew this meant we were going home. She definitely had a change in behavior and it made me sad to know we're going to have to go through this a few more times before she will
actually get to go on that plane with us.

Wednesday morning, I gave Olivia another small photo album of pictures from our time together, as well as a book I found at the Hallmark store that you can record your voice reading the story. It was called "Bright and Beautiful a Child's Blessing". She really seemed to like it and I thought it was a neat way for her to hear my voice even if she couldn't understand everything I was saying. Mirna came around 8:30 a.m. to translate and Brenda's husband and their oldest daughter Grace came to pick up Olivia. We chatted for a while, gave them a bag of Christmas presents for Olivia and then they had to go. We said our good-byes, but told Olivia that we'd be back to see her again soon.

We flew out of Guatemala City around 2:30 p.m. their time and arrived home and finally collapsed in bed about 1:00 a.m. Thursday.

What started out as an extremely stressful trip, ended with a closer relationship with our little girl and new hope that she will come home. We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Enjoy some of the over 500 pictures we took!

Olivia cutting her cake.

She loved that toy phone!

The locket I made for Olivia.

Pacaya volcano seen from our hotel roof.

Up close and personal with Chuck E. Cheese!

Riding the ferris wheel.

Olivia was a little nervous at first.

The Court house is the gray building that people are standing in front of.

The waiting room. The lady in the black top in front is Brenda, Beyla is the blonde
and Mirna is standing talking to me.

Lunch at Pollo Campero. Left side: Olivia, Emily, me, Carmen & Beyla.
On the right side: Aland, Kenneth, Brenda & Mirna.

Wearing Daddy's shirt!

They had a train that rode through the mall. Olivia HAD to go on it!
It was just a bit cramped for us adult folk!

That's about a $665.00 toy car to you and me!


The Miraflores Museum.

A view of the hotel from the museum grounds.

Emily was showing something to Olivia, I had to get this shot.....adorable!

Bryan took the glass top off this table to clean it.
The girls decided it would be a great photo op!

The "talking" storybook.

Just before she had to go home.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back From Our Trip!

We had a WONDERFUL visit with Olivia last week! She is such a special little girl and we just love her to pieces!

We arrived in Guatemala at 11:30 Saturday morning, got to the hotel around 12:30 and found that our room wouldn't be ready until 3:00. We were expecting Olivia and her foster family to arrive around 2:00. We went to get some lunch and then waited in the lobby till about 2:30 when Olivia arrived. Once again, when she saw me she ran full-boar towards me and gave me the biggest hug! She held on for the longest time, then it was Bryan's turn. We finally got into our room, talked to the foster folks for a bit and then they left. Olivia gave Brenda, her foster Mom a hug and said adios!

To our surprise, Olivia has been working on her English! Her first words to us were "thank you", later she proceeded to point to each of us and tell us who we were in English. "Mommy, Daddy, Emily and then she'd point to herself and proclaim loudly and matter-of-factly, OLIVIA!" Brenda said since our last visit, Olivia has wanted to know what the English word is for everything! We worked with her on that during our visit through flashcards, memory matching games and lots of repetition. She is VERY bright and catches on very quickly.

We had wanted to make this trip a productive one by hopefully speaking to someone about the status of our case. Our attorney, Beyla was trying to arrange for us to meet with the Officer of the Court in charge of our case on Tuesday, but unfortunately, he was tied up pretty much the whole day. However, we did get the opportunity to sit down and talk with Beyla for about 2 hours and she was able to fill us in on where things stand at this point.

The last we knew, we were waiting for the police to bring in M. (Olivia's birth mom) under the Court order that our judge issued at the hearing in June. Apparently, as we suspected, M. has made herself scarce once again. The judge has given the police a timeframe that ends this Friday to give him their report on their findings. I'm not sure what he will do if they come up empty. Beyla is hoping he might declare Olivia as abandoned at that point, but the likelyhood of that is pretty slim. Meanwhile, Beyla and our translator Mirna, have come up with a plan to try to "lure" M. to come out of hiding. They explained it to us and it COULD work, but we're not betting the farm on it. We'll wait and see what happens.

As we have mentioned before, our judge is not friendly nor compassionate for these children and parents. He is not in favor of adoptions, period. That said, he has allowed three things to happen in our case that are pretty much unprecidented for him and other cases similar to ours. First, last February, he allowed Olivia to stay with her foster family, where he has removed other children and sent them to orphanages. (We're so thankful for the miracle of chicken pox!) Secondly, he allowed Beyla to come in and be our mandatory (primary) attorney, apparently at the recommendation of the judge's own son. And thirdly, he has allowed Bryan & I to be part of the case, which essentially means, we can be present at the hearings and be heard by him. He has not allowed other families that privilge.

We will be going down again in November for Olivia's 4th birthday on the 15th and for the next hearing on the 17th. What we understand at this point is that if M. hasn't come forward and submitted to the DNA by that time, the judge can do one of two things. He can declare her "abandoned" (adoptable) and our case would then go to the CNA to actually begin the adoption process, (this is the second best scenario for us, obviously we'd love to have a positive DNA, it would make things much easier all the way around). The other thing he could do, and has been known to do, is to draw out the search and set another hearing date months more down the road. This is definitly NOT the decision we want him to make.

We're praying for more "out-of-character" decisions by our judge. Not just for our case, but for the other cases that are languishing in his court. Unfortunately, we're not the only family from our agency that is being affected by this man. Please pray for them as well.

We took lots of pictures of our time together for you to enjoy. As you'll see, Olivia is so happy and so full of life. She and Emily play together so well and she is just a joy to be with! She is an absolute doll!