Sunday, September 28, 2008

We love you Licenciado Bugs Bunny!!

Yesterday morning at the crack of dawn, Ahmed, Maya and I got up, prepared ourselves with all kinds of equipment (baby gym, front pack, bottles, formula, nappies, breakfast & lunch for us, spare clothes, magazines for the long waits, and untold other bits and pieces) and drove to DIF for our 8am interview with the psychologist. We were ready to draw pictures of ourselves (it's been done before, so we practised beforehand!), had written out all our birthdates and those of all our immediate family and their immediate families, had our one word to describe our daughter ready, had practised the pages of interview questions from other adopting families who've kindly provided them.

The psychologist came out to meet us for our interview and we both breathed huge internal sighs of relief. He was just wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wearing a t-shirt with 'Estar Guars' on it - try saying that with your best Spanish accent to see which film that might relate to. Ahmed was instantly smitten. He basically told us he hardly needed to interview us as he could see we were clearly Maya's parents and ready to be a family. He could see she was so happy with us. No scary pictures to draw or wacky one word answers, thankfully. He was deeply embarrassed and apologetic about the huge delays we'd had up till this point. He ranted for a full five minutes about the crazy bureaucracy we'd had to deal with, and how the development of the baby is obviously best when she's surrounded by both parents, and how could the bureaucrats stopping us not see that? He promised to type like a crazed 'bugs bunny' - his words, not mine - to get the report written and to his supervisor by Tuesday, straight after he'd interviewed the biological mother. We both fell madly, deeply, truly in love with this guy.

We then had our interview with the social worker. Again, a lovely, lovely, sympathetic woman, who had unfortunately lost her voice, so conducted the interview in a whisper. Again, she promised to get the report written as quickly as possible. One wee hitch: her meeting with the biological mother isn't until Wednesday, which means a very tight margin. (Tight margin? Small margin? My collocations are out of whack today)

We had our celebratory coffee and smoothies at the 1/2 Naranja Cafe and felt the beginnings of our perma-grins.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The best case scenario, aka Ahmed & Emma's dream week

I'm taking a leaf from Ahmed's book ('The Secret') and going to create our reality, so here it is. Our week from today:

Saturday, 27th Sept: We are going for the first two of our three DIF interviews, with the psychologist at 8am and the social worker at 11am. They are both going to be super sympathetic about the length of time we've been in this game, and will do everything they can to speed our report through. They'll both agree that we are a fantastic family and will write a glowing report. We'll go out for a celebratory lunch in our favourite cafe in Tijuana: 1/2 Naranja Cafe, and just have an all-round good day.

Sunday, 28th Sept: Relax and catch up on sleep in Playas. Meet Anna, Hector & Yara for a movie in the afternoon and some lunch.

Monday, 29th Sept: We will have the third and final DIF interview, with Lic. Sanchez, the adoption coordinator, who we already know loves Maya, and is doing everything she can to speed our case through. She'll tell us that our report will be ready on Tuesday, as they're going to work like crazy to get it done in time for us to squeeze in the court appearance before Ahmed leaves.
We'll go to Gobernacion to sort out our FM3 visas, which have expired after only 90 days, and they'll agree that it was crazy to make us pay the same for that 3 month visa in Tecate as everyone else has paid for a year-long one in Tijuana, so will extend our visas free-of-charge. Plus they'll refund us the other $700 for the visas we didn't get in Tijuana. Nice...

Tuesday, 30th Sept: Aida the lawyer will call us in the afternoon to say that the DIF report is ready, and she's going to take it to the court and our judge that afternoon. We'll have a relaxing day in Playas and go to the Gymboree music class, so Maya's papa can see her playing the bongo, dancing and shaking her booty to the tunes.

Wednesday, 1st Oct: Aida will call us to say that the judge has reviewed the (glowing) report from DIF, and we can go in for our court hearing on Thursday morning. We will breathe a gigantic sigh of relief and dance like fools around the living room, out in the courtyard and down the street. We won't need to email anyone to tell them, as we'll be celebrating so loudly, they'll hear us in Canada, New Zealand, UAE, etc... We'll go to Gymboree in the afternoon, so Ahmed can see Maya in her new level 2 class, and have lunch with Anna and Yara afterwards, all relaxed & happy.

Thursday, 2nd Oct: We'll go to court and have our hearing, and then two of our biggest hurdles so far will be over. Our teeth will be visible for weeks afterwards as the grinning just won't stop.

Friday, 3rd Oct: We will still be grinning when we cross the border to take Ahmed back to San Diego airport to fly back to Abu Dhabi. The border guard won't know what to do with two crazy people, so he'll shrug his shoulders and wave us through. Though it will be sad to say goodbye to Ahmed again, we knew we'll be seeing him again so, so soon. Our guess: 6 more weeks.

Flying Via the USA

To get to Tijuana, the quickest, cheapest and most convenient route is to fly into San Diego and then drive over to TJ. The drive back takes about 20 minutes from San Diego airport, a short time by any city's standards.

So Ahmed booked his flights to San Diego, flying American Airlines, arriving at 5.25pm on Friday 26th September. I drove to San Diego to pick him up, via the two hour border queue and Whole Foods to stock up on yummy goodies.

The Dallas/Fort Worth flight arrived, everyone got off the plane, picked up their luggage, but no Ahmed. I sat at the airport crying - this is the end of a super stressful couple of weeks (make that: months), and I couldn't think how he could contact me, and frankly, I couldn't deal with yet another setback. Turns out he was on the following flight, having missed his connection, due to yet another two hour 'Welcome to the USA' interview. Lucky guy gets to have chats with the charming US immigration officials every time he enters that precious country.

Odd how the only two other people being interrogated were from the Middle East. Nothing random in that selection, I believe. No blue-eyed blondies frequenting the secondary inspection office. Ironically part of Ahmed's hold-up was thanks to another blue-eyed blondie. Many months ago, when Ahmed took his parents back to the airport, he offered a lift to a shopping mall across the border to a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian, Nikolai. He and his wife are also in the process of adopting here. In Nikolai's position at a shipping company, he frequently travels to such scary nations as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. With those visas in his passport, their simple trip to the airport/shopping mall turned into a six-hour nightmare of interrogation at the border. The repercussions of that trip are that now Ahmed has to answer questions about Nikolai on his entrance into the USA. Where was he born? What's his job? etc, etc. About a guy who Ahmed has spent maybe one hour with aside from that border crossing.

Moral of the story: don't offer to take people you don't really know to the USA in your car.

We do not intend to visit the USA or fly American Airlines after this adoption, if there is any possible way to avoid it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Meeting the Big Big Boss

We met Licenciado Hugo Castillo, the big big DIF boss of Baja California this evening, and came away with an interview date for Saturday 27th September. As simple as that. Why were we bothering all the people doing the actual day to day work, when really, all it required was a word in the ear of the biggest boss of them all?

In contrast to his subordinate Lic. Solis, Lic Castillo clearly liked babies, and asked Maya's name, age and seemed charmed by her. Who couldn't be, I ask?? He said that once Mr Torres in Dubai sent the details of his home visit, they would review the situation. If everything matched up and made sense, they would confirm our interview dates on Monday 22nd.

Getting an interview date felt like an anticlimax. The past four months of intense struggle, frustration, lack of information, and tears was cleared up in a 20-minute meeting. Why, oh why, could this not have been decided back in May???

Anyhow, it's time to look forward, not back. Ahmed's flight is booked to arrive on Friday, 26th, and he will have a precious week with us.

We start to discuss the possibility of begging our judge to accept us doing our court hearing in that same week. The struggle goes on...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Sluggish System Gets an Oil Change

In the 36 hours it took me to fly from Abu Dhabi to Tijuana (yes, 36 hours!!), the wheels of the bureaucracy machine were slowly turning. Stuff was happening!

All the steps that were taking place:

1. Lic. Solis from DIF Mexicali or Lic. Sanchez from DIF Tijuana wrote to the Mexican consulate in Dubai and made contact with the very efficient and helpful Luis Torres.

2. Mr Torres visited the clinic where we did our home study, wrote a report stating that it was in fact licensed, above board, good to go, and emailed it to DIF.

3. DIF responded that they needed the original copy delivered to them.

4. Mr Torres put his original report in the post. Aida reminded Lic. Solis that she had said she'd accept an email or phone verification of the clinic.

5. DIF responded that they needed Mr Torres to go to our residence in Abu Dhabi (and those of other families from Dubai adopting in Mexico) to confirm that it does in fact really exist. No, we live in a box on the side of the street... Why would we make stuff like this up...? I don't know.

6. Mr Torres got the names of two of our friends and neighbours who could vouch for us.

7. Aida the lawyer discovered that Lic. Hugo Castillo, the big, big boss from DIF Mexicali (bigger even than Lic. Solis) would be in town on Thursday 19th September, and arranged a meeting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Maya's room

One of our projects for the six days I'm back in Abu Dhabi was to turn our spare bedroom into Maya's bedroom. So we blithely set about moving the spare bed into the study, the bookcase from the hallway to the study and the sofa from the study to Maya's room. At 1am. We suddenly realized that moving heavy furniture around in the middle of the night was probably not endearing us to the people living in the apartment below us. So went to sleep with books, pillows, bits of sofa, bed and shelves strewn between all our rooms.
One trip to Ikea later, and of course lots of help from Pickles the cat, here's what Maya's room looks like:

A wonderful paint job done by Tia Dawn and Tio Shawn too, by the way.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Modes of transport

On Monday 8th September, Guadalupe the babysitter moved into our house to stay with Maya for ten nights.

I gave her a cuddle and understood what Ahmed must feel every time he's left Maya. Very sad!

One Way of Getting from Tijuana to Abu Dhabi (not recommended, too long):

Car #1:
Drove to the San Ysidro border.
Foot: Walked across to the other side (El otro lado - in Spanish. It took me several weeks of hearing people refer to 'el otro lado', before I realized they meant San Diego. Makes it sound very alluring...which it is).
Trolley: (No, not a shopping trolley, a tram for us non-Americans) to San Diego centre.
Train #1: San Diego to Oceanside. Amazing views along the way of the coast, and at times, the train was practically on the beach. Beautiful with the sun setting.
Train #2: Caught another commuter train to Los Angeles centre. Incidentally, a Metrolink train, which three days later had a horrific crash, killing more than 25 people.
Bus: Airport shuttle to LAX.
Plane #1:Los Angeles to Toronto. Sat in the lounge for four hours, because all those connections were so amazingly efficient. The flight before mine was an Air New Zealand to Auckland, so sat eavesdropping on all these strong keewee accents. Wishing that Maya and I were taking the same plane.
Plane #2: Toronto to Abu Dhabi.
Car #2: Ahmed came to pick me up!
Bed: Not a mode of transport, but very welcome at the end of all those planes, trains and automobiles. Literally.

I think the only modes of transport missing there are horse, hot air balloon and spaceship.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Going home sans bébé

The emotional meltdown didn't happen this time. Ahmed went back to Abu Dhabi and I kept it together. Knowing that DIF is finally doing something to move our case forward definitely helps to keep the despair at bay. Also, I have to go back to Abu Dhabi next week. The consequences of letting my residence visa expire and applying for a new one are potentially just too complicated for even us bureaucracy old-hands to consider. Even though I'm feeling horribly guilty and sad about leaving Maya behind with the babysitter for a week, the prospect of having a break back in our real life (ha ha) feels good.
Back in March, when the end of the process was an unguessable date, I plucked 9th September out of thin air to return to Abu Dhabi. I thought I was being generous, and would most likely be bringing that date forward to August, or even July, if lucky. Another sarcastic ha ha.
I decided to keep that original flight (plus side: don't have to pay for changing dates - always look on the bright side of life). But now I have to book return flights back from Abu Dhabi - Mexico City, which is where Maya and I will end this odyssey (at least in Mexico) when we finally get to the point of applying for her passport. So I jumped online to my favourite flight booking website: travelocity or yahoo travel and proceeded to book my flights. Piece of cake. Another sarcastic ha ha. Nine hours, ten automatically cancelled bookings, three heated arguments with several automatons from off-shore call centres, about $100 in phone calls to same call centres, one frustrated argument with Ahmed over Skype, and hopefully not thousands and thousands of dollars of credit bills later...we finally get the flights booked. Actually Ahmed did, bless his patient, resilient socks, as I gave up in anger and frustration and finally went to bed at about 2am.
I would still, however, recommend that website for booking flights. Hint: make sure your billing address is 100% correct, the phone number you put has someone at the end to contact, and you include a ZIP code. UAE doesn't have ZIP codes. Hence our downfall on the ten cancelled bookings... 0000 didn't work. Neither did 90210.