Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Filipino Adoption Process

Boring Alert! Boring Alert! This post is aimed at Americans contemplating adopting from the PI or who are in the process of adopting from the PI.

Now that we're just about at the end of our international adoption journey, we thought it'd be interesting to describe our thoughts about the process of adopting from the Philippines from the United States. I don't have my files in front of me, so I'm not sure if all of this is totally correct, but it should be close to accurate.

In a nutshell, Americans who plan on adopting from the Philippines should expect a really loooonnngggg wait. We started filling out our application over two and half years ago. The home study and application process is very paper intensive. The PI requires medical checkups from the parents and all the children in the home, letters from the children's teachers, income verification, three letters of referral, a letter from the Church, criminal background checks, a letter from a psycho-therapist explaining that we're mentally healthy, autobiographical essays, a lengthy home-study report, etc. You are also asked to fill out a long checklist to indicate if you are willing or unwilling to accept certain characteristics in your adopted child. For example, you are asked if you are willing to accept a child who was the product of rape or incest, whether you are willing to accept a child with a serious medical condition, whether you are willing to accept a sibling group, etc. There are certain factors that could speed up your process and there are certain factors that could delay your process. For example, if you are willing to accept an older child, a sibling group, or a child with medical problems, the wait will be shorter. We, however, only wanted a healthy girl (or 2) between the ages of 0-36 months. When we turned in our dossier, our agency told us to expect an 18-24 month wait just for a match. Surprisingly, we got matched with Camille after just 16 months. I think the fact that we are both full-blooded Filipino helped, but I'm just speculating.

One factor that significantly delayed our process was the change in the Hague rules. Almost a year ago, the international rules of adoption were changed (I suppose to protect against fraud, child trafficking, etc., and to ensure uniformity among participating countries). Our agency advised us not to fill out our application to the Department of Homeland Security (the I-600A Petition) until after our referral because the new Hague rules might change everything. In retrospect, we should have filed our I-600A application much earlier since the "old" forms were still being processed even after the rule changes. The new form, entitled, I-800A, takes long to process (approximately 3 months, if there are no problems). After that is approved, you have to submit an I-800 application, which is much faster to process, but can't be submitted until after you received certain legal documents about your soon-to-be adopted child. It seems silly to me that this process is broken up into two parts: I-800A and I-800. In my opinion, both applications should be submitted simultaneously and reviewed just once.

Processing of the I-800 is fast (a few days or weeks). At this point, however, every day seems like a months since you really, really want to pick up your child. After the I-800 is approved, it gets forwarded to the National Visa Center, which is basically a middle man to the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Once the file is with the U.S. Embassy, you're almost at the end. However, this is where the process gets really really really frustrating. It's frustrating because there really is no timeline or deadline on which to rely. The U.S. Embassy will send something called a "packet 3" to ICAB, which gives ICAB the authority to schedule the child's medical exam and visa interview. The time it takes for the US Embassy to send that packet 3 is any one's guess. We've read that it could takes days or weeks. In our case, it took about a month -- a long, frustrating month. The reason it's so frustrating is because you have no idea if the file is being worked on or if it's sitting on the bottom of some government worker's desk collecting dust. Totally in the dark. At least with the I-800A application, you can call and speak with the person assigned to your case to find out the status of the petition. Getting through to ICAB is also a bit difficult, so we were often left guessing whether or not our file was being processed by ICAB or whether it was sitting in the wrong "to do" box.

Assuming there are no problems with the medical exam or the visa interview, the U.S. Embassy will issue the child's visa and then give ICAB permission to authorize travel. That can take a few days, but seriously, at this point, you want to pull your hair out because you want to travel so badly. I think ICAB should make a much better effort of communicating with the adopting parents about the status of the application/file. I don't think ICAB appreciates how difficult it is to simply "drop everything" and travel to the other side of the world. Our travel plans affected not only us, but also my work, our kids, my parents (who were going to halt their lives to babysit during our trip), my sister-in-law (whose kids are babysat by my mother-in-law who accompanied us on our trip), etc, etc, etc. On top of all that, we needed to purchase tickets and book hotel rooms on the spur of the moment. I don't think ICAB appreciates all that goes into the travel plans, and more open communication would tremendously help to reduce the stress of adopting parents.

Of course, now that we have Camille in our arms, the frustrations seem to fade. However, we truly pray for all you loving families who are awaiting an approval, a referral, or simply "the call" authorizing travel to the PI.

On a positive note, however, I believe adopting from the PI is much cheaper than adopting from other countries. From what I understand, it costs upwards of $30-$40 grand to adopt from some other Asian countries. Perhaps because our adoption agency is a non-profit agency, we paid much less than that (maybe half, not including travel).

Soooooo .... if you're thinking of adopting from this beautiful country, just remember that it's a very long process. The rules are in place, so there isn't too much guesswork. It's just long. But in the end, you'll have a child. And isn't that what it's all about?
Here, Camile says, "But Daddy, look at my cute face. Wasn't I worth the wait?" Answer: YES!!!

More ICAB Photos

In case you care, here are some more pics of ICAB. BTW, it was interesting signing the guestbook at ICAB and seeing some names that we recognized from the adoption blogs.

I really love this last one:

ICAB Meeting

Today, we went to ICAB for our exit meeting. (ICAB is the Inter-Country Adoption Board -- the Filipino governmental agency that oversees all international adoptions). It's located in a small office building in a residential area. The person assigned to our case was Kathy de la Cruz. She was a very nice, young lady. She gave us Camille's her passport and Visa papers, Camille can officially travel with us back to the U.S. Here is her passport photo. How cute!

We were also given gifts to help us teach Camille about her Filipino heritage. Very thoughtful gifts, indeed.

We were also blessed by seeing Deborah at ICAB. She was there to find a family for one of the children from her baby home. She also gave us a wonderful album/scrapbook with nice notes written by Camille's caretakers.

During our stay there, Ms. de la Cruz showed us around and explained why there are what seem to be unnecessary delays in the process. She seemed equally frustrated that adoptions to U.S. families take so long. It seems to me that if the U.S. weren't so strict on its end, then ICAB would be more willing to send children to the U.S. But if ICAB has the option of dealing with, say, Norway or Finland, which have much less restrictive adoption procedures, then it will be more inclined to take the faster and less complicated path by sending the child/children to the non-U.S. country.

I found the experience to be quite positive. For the past two years, communicating with ICAB has been difficult, if not impossible. So it was nice to see ICAB "face-t0-face", and to be able to express our opinions about the entire process.

Camille Update: Camille is adapting well. She still prefers her mommy most of the time, and she didn't whine or hit as much today. She is very curious about everything she sees, and she also quite a really good climber. Oh, she's finally eating more than just rice now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Catching Up (Part 1)

As I sit here relaxing by the pool on the rooftop of our hotel, I realize that I'm four or five days behind on the blog ... and there's no way I could possibly catch up. So, let me summarize what we've done since Thursday. But first, here's a Camille update:

Camille is adjusting fine. She is amazingly good on car rides, especially given the bumpiness of each ride, the length of some of our car trips, and the unbearable heat when we are not in an air-conditioned car. Another thing: she is a GREAT sleeper. By that, I don't mean that she sleeps a lot. I mean that she's super easy to put to sleep, she sleeps through the night, and she doesn't make a sound when she wakes up. I don't know exactly how they treated the children in the baby home, but I could tell you this: to put Camille to sleep, we simply need to give her a bottle, lie her down, and tell her to go to sleep. She'll lay there totally quiet and drink her milk until she falls asleep. Then after a perfectly peaceful sleep, she'll wake up and JUST LIE THERE ... waiting for someone to come and get her. She doesn't whimper or whine or even climb off the bed to come looking for us. She just lays there looking around. Amazing. Finally, she's really good at responding to the word, "no". If she's doing something she's not supposed to do, such as trying to turn off the TV while we're watching, we say "no!". Then .... she just stops what she was doing and moves on. That's it. Weird, huh?

Don't get me wrong ... we still have some issues to deal with. For one, she is a total mama's girl. When Reg is around, she almost exclusively insists on being held ... or fed ... or transported ... by her mama. That could be annoying (for Reg at least), and Reg is definitely tired at the end of a long day. But then again, Reg reminded me that all of our kids were like that at Camille's age ... so I guess she'll eventually take a liking to me. :) I also mentioned in a previous post that she has a tendency to whine. She doesn't have words yet, so she just whines whenever she wants or doesn't want something. That's got to change. And finally, we discovered that if someone tries to do something Camille doesn't like, she hits. Yikes! One of the top rules in our household is "No hitting!", so this has definitely got to change. She's cried a bunch of times when we've firmly told her not to hit, but it's a habit that still needs some time to break. Today was better, though. In fact, she tried to hit me only once, but even then, she sort of stopped herself right before she made contact. I think she remembered how sternly I reacted the last time she hit me.

Ahhh ... parenting. Don't you just love it?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Images of the Philippines

Chicken-head-on-a-stick, anyone? How about chicken-feet-on-a-stick?

If that doesn't sound tasty, just go to McDonald's for breakfast and order a Hamdesal meal!

This is an outdoor, wood-burning stove top. Pretty freakin' cool, if you ask me!

Chicharon Espesyal! Mmmmm....

Here's a mall employee sweeping with a walis (Filipino-style broom found in EVERY Filipino home). At closing time, all the employees were bent over sweeping with a walis.

Who knew the word "mall" was a verb?

Pumping water from the ground. Yes, ground water pumps still exist!

The obesity epidemic has definitely missed the PI. I'm not sure if it's because of the heat, but I'd say that for every overweight person, there are 20-25 people who are normal weight or underweight (in the city, at least). Here's an advertisement for WEIGHT GAIN medicine. You won't see that in the U.S.!

The U.S. has Cinnabon. The PI has Binbingka-bon!

Filipino style tsinelas (slippers)!

This sign politely asks people not to pee here.

The Filipino flag flying above -- a sight not seen in the U.S.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why We Adopted

I'm sure many, many people have wondered why on Earth Reg and I would want to adopt. After all, we already have four, healthy children. Our house is quite modest. We are living on a single income, and judging by the size of my kids, I can assure you, there won't be any basketball scholarships coming our way. When people ask us why we've decided to adopt, we usually say something light, such as (1) "Why not?" (That's a creative); (2) "Since we look like Brad and Angelina, we might as well act like Brad and Angelina" (That's my favorite); (3) "We've got to catch up to Octomom so we, too, can make millions!"; or (4) "We need one more to make a basketball team."

In all seriousness, there are many, many reasons why we've chosen to adopt. Below are just a few reasons that come to mind, but they are absolutely in no particular order of importance:

1. We Love Kids: Reg won't admit this, but it's obvious to me that she's quite a natural when it comes to dealing with kids. Some people are good at computers Others are good at networking. Reg is really good with kids. That's why she majored in Child Development, became a preschool teacher, and plans to return to the Child Development field when all our kids are grown up. While I've always loved being around kids (my family says I've never really grown up), I've truly grown to love everything about parenthood. Sure there are tough times -- such as when the autistic boy was "playfully" attacking Kyle at the playground, or when Jason sledded face first into a giant log, or when a 7 year old boy asked my 6 year old Lauren for her phone number and SHE GAVE IT TO HIM (yikes!) -- but in the end, there's nothing better than tickling the kids in bed on a lazy Saturday morning, or watching their creativity flourish as they perform a play in dress-up costumes, or listening to them squeal as they play "let's tackle dad for the 20th time today." Parenthood is not for everyone ... but for us, it's everything.
2. We Really Want Lauren To Have a Sister: As Reg can attest, there is something special about having a close sisterly bond. Reg's sister lives less than 10 minutes away from us. She and Reg talk all the time. They regularly watch (and house) each other's kids. They are Godmothers to each other's kids. And they were each other's Maid/Matron of Honor. No doubt influenced by Reg's close bond with her sister, we really wanted Lauren to have a sister as well.
3. Gabriella's Death; In 2002, Reg gave birth to a full term baby girl who shockingly died approximately 24 hours after her birth. I think it's safe to say that if Gabriella lived, we would never have adopted a baby girl. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we never would have adopted. After all, if Gabriella lived, then Daniel and Kyle wouldn't be here, and we could very well have gone on to have one or two more baby girls. If that were the case, we might have adopted a baby boy to ensure that Jason could have a brother. Who knows? All that I know is this: Although we wish Gabriella had survived, I simply can't imagine my life without Daniel and Kyle. And if it weren't for Gabriella's passing, we would never have had this opportunity to be Camille's parents. Our Lord and our Savior works in mysterious ways, and we don't question for a moment the path He has chosen for us.
4. Four C-Sections Is Enough! We've been told by several doctors that C-sections get riskier and risker after two or three. (The risk is that the mom's stomach can burst open like Aliens because it's been cut open so many times). Reg has had four C-sections (Lauren, Gabriella, Daniel and Kyle). After Kyle was born happy and healthy, we simply didn't want to press our luck and get Reg pregnant again.
5. We Feel that We Have Something to Offer: Although we are not rich by any stretch of the imagination, our house is overflowing with love, fun and happiness. Why not share that with someone less fortunate? Which leads me to ...
6. Helping the Less Fortunate: I know this sounds super corny, but we really do want to help the less fortunate. However, rather than handing the homeless guy in the parking lot a dollar or feeding a group of poor, hungry people on Thanksgiving, how wonderful would it be to completely alter the life of a child who could otherwise end up on the street living a life of poverty? We recognize that adopting Camille is not going to end Filipino poverty, but that shouldn't stop us, right?
7. Helping the Philippines: The amount and extent of poverty in the Philippines is almost unimaginable to those of us living in the States. During our two visits to the PI, we have seen many, many children living on the filthy streets of Manila. We can't adopt them all, but we can remove one of those kids from a life of extreme poverty. It's the least we can do for the country we still refer to as "home". (FYI for all you non-Filipinos: No matter how long a Filipino has lived abroad, he/she still refers to a trip to the PI as "going home to the Philippines"). Moreover, with regard to the poverty here, it is personally quite moving. Yes, I've seen images of the poor on the National Geographic channel. Yes, I've bought chicklets from the beggar children in Tijuana. Yes, I've seen "Slumdog Millionaire." And, yes, I've personally interacted with hundreds of homeless people as a part of my job. But I am a parent now, and I am a proud Filipino. And there is just something about seeing my own peeps in these horrid living conditions that just tugs at this guy's Filipino heart.
8. We've Always Wanted a Big Family: I'm one of 4 and Reg is one of 5. For as long as we've been married, we've always said that we wanted 4 or 5 kids. It's like we predicted the future!
9. Leading by Example: Since we announced our decision to adopt, many, many couples have confided in us their desires to adopt. Maybe, just maybe, our actions will convince those couples to "take the leap."

Again, these are just some of the reasons why we've chosen to adopt. There are others, but these are the main reasons. I frankly can't recall which one of us first brought up the idea of adopting. I do recall, however, that about four years ago, a co-worker of mine was in the process of adopting. She showed me a flier she got at an adoption workshop. The flier was advertising Filipino Adoptions and it advertised a ridiculously low price of well under $10,000 (BTW, that price turned out too good to be true). Knowing that other types of international adoptions can cost upwards of $30,000, I thought the flier was worth showing to Reg. After she saw it, we both agreed to look into it. At the time, Reg was pregnant with Kyle, and we knew that she was going to give birth to another boy. So, I did my research, and about a month after Kyle was born, I requested an application from my adoption agency. The rest, as you can plainly see, is history ...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Boring Alert! Boring Alert!

Aside from our meeting with ICAB on Monday, we'll be spending the rest of the trip visiting relatives here in the PI. I'll start each blog with an update about Camille and her adaptation process, then I'll go on to describe the rest of our day. So for those of you who are reading this blog for insight into the Philippine adoption process, most my future blogs may bore you to death. But if you're related to us, or if you're the type of person that watches reality TV ... knock yourselves out.

Wednesday: Taxis, Street Vendors and Camille

Today we took a trip to Baclaran, where there is a huge church and tons of street vendors. Reg, Camille and I took a taxi there. Reg was warned by her local relative to make sure that we don't seem like tourists so we don't get ripped off. In other words, "Tell Mark to shut the (bleep) up, and you do all the talking." No problem.

We got in the cab and I thought I'd instantly given away our cover by instinctively trying to put on the never-ever-used seatbelt. Oh no! When I realized my mistake, I slowwwwly put the seatbelt away, hoping the taxi driver didn't notice. When the driver said he was going to take a shortcut to avoid traffic, we became immediately suspicious. But he must have thought we were locals because (1) the fare was half of what we were told to expect from the hotel staff; and (2) he dropped us off a block away from our destination, telling us to cut through a dirty, off-the-beaten-path road filled with heart-breakingly poor people and the run down, tiny shacks which they call home.
When we got to the church, we needed to track down Reg's mom who had spent the night in her hometown of Pajo. After an hour of playing a real life version of Where's Waldo (see other post), we finally found her. The weather was brutal. We've been eating like baboys (pigs) since we got here, but since we sweat so much, we haven't gain any weight (at least according to the scale we borrowed to measure the weight of our luggage).

Had it not been for the brutal weather and Camille's (understandable) crankiness, Reg would have spent a fortune from the rows upon rows of street vendors. She ended up buying some super cheap pajamas, tank tops and short for the kids. Her mom, on the other hand, acted like Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman, shopping and haggling to her heart's delight.

After shopping, we took another cab home. The ride was pretty brutal. The A/C wasn't working, and the traffic was, well, typical Manila traffic.

We got back to the hotel and immediately went to the rooftop pool. Within minutes, it started to drizzle and it was quite fun swimming in the rain. I'm not sure how many times Camille has swam before, but she was having the greatest time of her life. She'll fit right in back in the States because our other kids also love to swim.
Camille Update: Camille has become quite the mama's girl. She'll volunteer to be carried by me or by her grandma or by her aunts, but today she almost exclusively wanted to be carried by her mama. The only problem this presents is that it gets in the way of Regina's shopping. (Oh no!) Other than that, it's been a smoooooooth transititon. Thank you, God.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where's Waldo - Live in the Philippines

Yesterday, I described how crossing the streets in the PI was like playing Frogger in real life. Well, today, I had to find my mother-in-law in a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of Filipinos. It was like playing Where's Waldo in real life, but with constantly moving images. We went to Baclaran, where there is a huge church and rows and rows of street vendors selling everything from fruits to underwear to giant crucifixes to knock-off Raybans. Reg and I took a taxi there (more on that later), with the plan to meet Reg's mom in front of the church. No problem, we thought.

Wrong. First of all, when we got there, it was hotter than a summer day in the Sahara Desert. Second, there was a billion people there. Third, we had no cell phone number to call to find her. Fourth, Camille was totally restless. So here we were trying to find a grandma-aged Filipino woman, about 5'1", medium build and short dark hair. Hmmmm. That describes just about every single grandma-aged woman in the Philippines, so finding her wasn't easy. Ang hirap naman!

Don't worry though. We found eachother ... after about an hour of playing real-life Where's Waldo. Miserable ... but at the end of the day, we got some good deals shopping. :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reg and Piolo

Reg loooooovvvvvvvves this Filipino actor -- Piolo Pascual. She's been stalking him since we got here.

Day Five: Movin' on the City

Today was not very eventful. We lazily hung out at the hotel because the person who was going to pick us up was going to be three or four hours late. So we just ate, napped, walked around the lush hotel grounds, put our feet in the pool, and packed all our stuff. The hotel's internet server was down, so I couldn't email, blog, Skype, Facebook, nothing!

The nice slow pace of the morning was actually nice because previous couple days had been pretty hectic. It's nice to recharge every once in a while. It also lent itself to some quality bonding time with Camille.

Right after lunch, Regina's godfather and his driver showed up to pick us up. As we left the town, we all said goodbye to the only place that Camille has called home. She has no idea just how different her life will be away from this place. I hope we can be back in less than five years so that all my kids, including Camille, can see where she was born.

We ended at our hotel in Quezon City. Whereas our first hotel was surrounding by lush trees and nature, this one was in the middle of a concrete jungle. It's surrounded by buildings, large an small. There lots of cars, people and SMOG! Yuck. The hotel room is nice. Not five star. Not even four star. But it was cheap and we had to accommodate 5 adults and a child. So that's why we chose it.

Reg, Camille and I were dropped off at the hotel, while Reg's mother and her aunts went off to visit relatives. They'll spend the night in a different city, so Reg, Camille and I will get to explore Quezon City alone.

We crossed the street to go the mall. If you haven't been to the PI, crossing the street is like a life-like version of Frogger. People just cross the street whereever and whenever they feel like it. Crossing lanes? Don't be silly. Here, the pedestrians, the cars, motorcyles, and the jeepneys all interact like a dance. The pedestrians actually understand that cars are bigger than people, so they let the cars go by before scurrying across the lane. But the window to cross is brief and crossing between two speeding vehicles is the norm. It really is like Frogger in real life.

Before we crossed, I checked all directions. Reg, who was carrying Camille, was right behind me. When the coast was clear, I signaled to her to follow me, and I took off -- the human Frogger. I got across no problemo. It reminded me of Berkeley. But when I turned around, Reg was still on the other side of the street with a big smile on her face. She hadn't crossed a Filipino street since our last visit to the PI fifteen years ago, and this was first time crossing the street with a baby in had. So understandably, she was a little gun shy. But with a smile on her face, she crossed no problem. Yes, she's still a TRUE FILIPINA! (BTW, the secret to crossing the street is just to follow the guy next to you. They all know what they're doing).

The mall was really cool. We wanted to explore all afternoon long. Other than getting money and finding an internet cafe, we were free to roam. We ate some of the snacks from the food carts (empenada at Yumpenada ... waffle sticks filled with cheese ... fruit shakes). Unfortunately, we couldn't stay at the mall long because Camille was having a mini-meltdown. She was really sleepy, and couldn't really sit still in our arms. So we left the mall after about an hour. We crossed the street like pros.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing at the hotel. It was really quite relaxing, except for the hum of traffic below (we're on the 11th floor). We ordered in food service and put Camille to bed at about 7. Reg watched some TV, I read a book, and ... just like in the States, I fell asleep after less than 10 pages of reading. I guess things don't change when you go to the other side of the world.

Camille Update: Camille's adapting fine, but there are obviously going to be hiccups here and there. She's definitely comfortable with us. I think being able to speak to her in Tagalog makes a big difference. And she was given pictures of us months and months ago. I'm sure that helped as well. Again, given some of the adaptation horror stories we've read, we feel really blessed.

The problem is that her schedule is totally off. At the baby home, she was on a very, very rigid schedule. Wake up at this time. Eat at that time. Then vitamin time, play time, nap time, then lunch time, etc. Because we're out and about all the time, her schedule is totally out of whack. Poor Camille.

Interestingly though, she is totally testing us with some old-fashioned whining. If she doesn't get something she wants, she'll open her mouth wide and pretend cry. (She's actually kind of adorable when she does it). The problem with Camille's whining game (from Camille's point of view, at least) is that Reg and I have played the whining game about 467 million times in the last ten years. We know every counter-whining move in the book. In fact, WE could write the book on how to deal with whiners. After four kids and two dozen of nephews and neices, we're professionals at the whining game, for goodness sake!

So far, it plays out like this: Camille will want something. We say no. She'll whine as described above. We'll explain to her why she can't get what she wants. She'll whine some more, then we'll repeat what we told her and not give in. After a few minutes, she realizes that her whining isn't working, so she'll reach to mommy for a hug, and guess what ... the whining stops. It's as predictable as the sun rising in the West and setting in the East. Huh? Yes, it's going to unpredictable. She'll probably throw a full on tantrum today or tomorrow. We'll see. That's what parenting is all about, right? So far, everything's working out (although we are DREADING the 15 hour plane ride home). Lesson learned: the whining game is played the same whereever you go, whatever baby talk language you speak.

She's also became quite attached to one of Reg's Aunt (Tita Imelda). Maybe we can take Tita Imelda home? Hmmmm ....

No Internet? ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

For the last 48 hours, I haven't been able to access the internet. At our first hotel, the server was down. Frustrating, but not a big problem since I knew we'd be moving on to the next hotel the next day. Then we get to the second hotel, and I learned that the server was down there too. Now, I'm really frustrated. No email, no Facebook, no Skyping, no sports updates, no blogging. I felt totally naked.

Fortunately, I was briefly able to sneak away into a little internet cafe. It was located in the mall across the street from our second hotel. There were several internet cafes, and I stupidly chose the cheapest one. The reason it was the cheapest one was because their computers sucked and their internet access was super slow. So, I simply checked our email for important messages and briefly scanned Facebook because, well, we love Facebook.

I couldn't play around on the internet long because Camille was giving Regina a really hard time while they waited. Camille was really sleepy, so she was getting cranky and restless. I ended up spending just thirty minutes at the computer, but most of that time was spent waiting because the freakin' internet was so slow. Total charge: 10 pesos, which is less than a quarter.

Day Four: Shopping and the Despedida (Part 2)

The Despedida (going away party): After the mall, we rested a bit at the hotel and then made our way to the baby home (a.k.a., orphanage) for Camille's despedida . We had given Deborah and Darren some money and told them to throw a big bash. And boy did they succeed. There were at least thirty people there, and there was more than enough food for everyone: spaghetti and chicken from Jollibee, lots of pizzas, platters and platters of fruits and mangos. They also had lots of deserts and some brewed coffee (which was a refreshing change from the instant coffee they typically drink). Notice how there was no authentic Filipino food?

But best of all, we had our very own (drumroll, please) ........ mamang sorbetero (Ice Cream Man)! He brought his cart right into the patio area and served ube, cheese and mango flavored ice cream. It was a blast, and both the kids and adults thoroughly enjoy the ice cream on this hot, humid day. I got particularly happy when I saw the mamang sorbetero passing out free ice cream to all the neighborhood kids who were peeking through the gates in envy.Before we ate, Reg passed out little bags of gifts to each of the women who work at the baby home. It wasn't much, but they seemed pleasantly surprised to get individualized gifts. After Deborah said grace, everyone had an opportunity to say something about Camille.

I went first, and I had so much to say. I wanted to say how grateful we are and how blessed we feel to have Camille in our lives. I wanted to tell them that even though people tell us that Camille is the luckiest kid in the world, we truly are the lucky ones. Not lucky actually, but blessed. I wanted to individually thank each of the special people at the baby home -- Deborah, Darren, Joy, and all the care workers who have basically mothered Camille all these months. I wanted to remind them that TLC is a special place and that by working with these abandoned and surrendered children for the very little money they get paid, they are truly doing God's special work. I wanted to tell them that they are all angels on earth. I wanted to promise them all that we'd take great care of Camille, that she'd be raised in a loving home and that she one day, she'll graduate from college (Berkeley seems like a good fit). I wanted to tell them that although we've dreamed of this week for two years, it's turned out to be even better than we'd ever imagined. Finally, I wanted to assure them that we'd do our best to keep in touch over the years.

I wanted to say all this, but frankly, all I could get out more than three to four unintelligent sentences before I started to choke up. This was odd because I never get choked up ... ever! In fact, I've literally only cried about two (maaaaybe three times) in my entire adulthood. Funerals -- no tears. Sad, weepy movies -- dry eyes. Depressing news stories about terrorist attacks and hurricanes -- nada. Tears of joy -- what are those? Reg thinks something is wrong with me. I say, I'm a manly man. But today, there was no manly man in me because after just a few seconds of speaking, I got choked up and really couldn't continue. No tears, just choked up. (Maybe I should see a doctor).

After my ultra-abbreviated speech, Reg spoke (in Tagalog, of course). Here is a woman who cries watching the Ellen DeGeneres Show, yet she wasn't teary eyed one bit! She made me look like a big, fat wussy. It was the same on our wedding day -- which was one of the other few times that I actually cried. Reg walked down the aisle with a big (and beautiful) smile on her face, while I sobbed like like an Irishman who had just lost his beer money. It seems that on the biggest stages, my wife likes to make me look like a big softie.

Reg says she's not a public speaker, but she did a wonderful job thanking everyone. She made sure to point out that this must be a very special occasion, since I was actually "crying". (First of all, Reg, I wasn't crying; I was choked up. And secondly, did you really have to highlight my wussiness for all to see?). Reg assured everyone that even though Camille was moving to the States, she would be surrounded Filipinos in a very Filipino household, with lots of siblings, cousins and even Filipino TV (just kidding, she didn't say the part about TFC).

After Reg spoke, each of the caregivers said something as well. Many were teary-eyed, and one or two were flat out bawling. They all said basically the same thing -- that they will really miss Camille because of her wonderful personality and her love for singing. (One said that she'll look for Camille on "American Idol" one day). They said that they were happy for us and that we seemed like a good family. Another woman from the birthing home next door told us that she was present during Camille's birth and that she was both sad and happy to see her go.

After the speeches, everyone pigged out. Everyone seemed really, really happy. It was worth every penny. A big, genuine smile was plastered on my sweaty, wussy face.

During the entire party, Camille was being held by the various women from the baby home. When she was given to Reg before we left, Camille totally freaked out. People tried to comfort us, but we were totally fine. We understood and expected Camille to have some detachment issues. That's natural. When Camille wouldn't stop crying at the top of her lungs for ten minutes, Reg suggested that we take her out for a walk. Sure enough, she stopped less than 20 yards from the baby home. (Maternal instinct at work, I suppose).

We also received a "Life Book", which is basically a detailed scrapbook of the first 18 months of Camille's life. It was lovingly made by Camille's social worker, Joy, a college educated young lady who assists Deborah and Darren with the administrative part of the baby home. From what we've been told and from what we've seen, Joy and Camille seem to have a very special bond. Reg has made scrapbooks for each of our other kids, and now Camille has one too. It's so very beautiful. Joy clearly put a lot of work into making it. Thanks, Joy! Here's a picture of Reg reading the Life Book back at the hotel:
After the despedida, we had a quiet dinner at the Deborah's mother's home. Deborah's sister was there too. She is a big part in the adoption placement process because she is member of the small committee that reviews adoption applications and matches children with parents. She told me that she specifically recalled reading our file and choosing us as Camille's forever family.

When dinner ended, we said our goodbyes. I finally got a picture who Darren, who is quite skilled at avoiding cameras. C'mon, Darren, you live in the PI ... ham it up!

We went back to the hotel and relaxed. Another long day. Tomorrow, we leave Taytay and head off the the urban jungle.

Day Four: Shopping and the Despedida (Part 1)

Today was divided into two parts: Shopping and Camille's "Going Away" party at the baby home.

Shopping: Since we had a free morning, we decided to venture off the local mall. We started off at Starbucks because I wanted to compare it to Starbucks in the States. The coffee tastes exactly the same, but it's a little bit cheaper. The biggest difference was the intimidating, armed security guard who'd open and close the door for every guest.

Most of the time was spent in one department/grocery store. I noticed that there were about five times too many employees there. I literally saw about 4-5 employees for every customer. These employees kept the store in the utmost perfect condition: spotless floors and not one misplaced or crooked product. That's evidence of just how cheap labor is in this country.

Reg loved the grocery store. It had tons of local fruits already, peeled, cut up and ready to devour. They sold different types dried fish in self-serve basins, like they do with nuts or hard candies back in the States. (My kids would have taken the whole tuyo bin home with them). The ice cream and bola-bola displays in the frozen food area looked so good, we just had to take some pictures ... until we were told that picture taking was forbidden. What the ...?
Then we ate an early lunch. Mmmmmm ... good. Two plates of delicious, fried dumplings (drenched in a tasty, but fatty sauce) with rice and a coconut drink for just over two bucks. It was so affordable that Reg splurged and got a fruity dessert: a variety of fruit on top of crushed ice and coconut, served in her very own coconut! Delicious and barely over a buck itself. If they sold these in the States at this price, Reg would buy one everyday of the week and twice on Sundays. I could tell Reg liked it by the smile on her face as she devoured every last drop ... literally. She looked like a starving person on a deserted island who had just cracked open his first coconut.
One wonderful thing happened this morning: Camille finally allowed Reg's mom and aunts to carry her. Somehow, something just clicked, and now Camille has five adults here to lug her around. It's neat to see whole adaptation process unfolding before our eyes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shopping in the PI

Just got back from shopping at the mall. It turns out that shopping on this side of the Earth is EXAAAACCCTTLLLYYYY the same as back at home: I stand around for an hour while the women shop.

While driving home, I saw a motorcycle carrying a couple. They had a young child in between them and another child in front of the daddy driver. That four people on one motorcyle. And, of course, no one was wearing a helmet.

Filipinos! Don't you just love us?

The Human Carseat

Here is a picture of a Filipino carseat. Get it? There is none! I don't even know if there is a word in Tagalog for carseat.Camille's carseat is very pretty, don't you think?

Wanna Adopt?

These kids all need a family ...

Actually, adopting parents can't "pre-select" children, but there are thousands more like these throughout the Philippines.