We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Bug turns three

The big day isn’t until Tuesday (Super Tuesday in US election-speak), but tomorrow afternoon we’re having a birthday celebration for Bug. He is so excited. Last year I’m not sure he really appreciated what it meant to have a birthday but now, after celebrating for Giggle and other kids, he does. Most importantly, he knows there will be cake! And for weeks he’s been talking about his special guest list of two friends, B from school and our good friend Maya.

So tomorrow we’ll go to a local club we joined recently (more on that in another post). This place has a great playground, and they bake incredible cakes, so it has everything we need for a celebration. It’ll be pretty low-key, actually, just Bug, his two friend, Giggle, and parents. We’re all looking forward to it.

And it’s so hard to believe my little boy is growing so fast! The good news is that he’s still super cuddly and full of sweetness. I love him so much that even his naughtiness makes me laugh. He’s picked up some charming habits of late: sometimes he’ll walk right up to Mr. Four and me and say, “Do you want a kiss?” and kiss us right on the cheek or nose. Or he’ll declare, “Mommy, you are my friend.” And he likes to bring one of his trains over and say, “Say hello to Thomas!” and will wait patiently until we respond, “Hello, Thomas.”

Bug has thrived with a big brother, even though this summer he lost a lot of attention from me as I focused on Giggle. But he loves Giggle, and the two boys have so much fun together–I’m so glad they have each other. And so glad I have them.

So on Friday we start celebrating little Bug getting a bit bigger.

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31 January 2008 Posted by | bug, family, fun | 1 Comment

Egypt internet problems

Apparently much of Egypt’s internet connections run through a cable under the Mediterranean to Italy. And somehow this cable was damaged. I’m amazed I’m even online right now… so here’s a quick update to say I don’t know when I’ll be back–maybe five minutes, maybe five days. This is a hassle for life, but even more so for actual work functions, if you can believe that.

I’ve heard much of the Middle East is offline now. Though of course websites from within the region are fine. I should check the news at Al Jazeera.

So that’s the latest from the land of the broken internets.

Here’s a question for you to mull while I’m gone (and please do comment with your answer):

Would you rather be without internet or without hot water for three days?

31 January 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt, this blog | 5 Comments

Wait, don’t leave!

Yes, you’re in the right place. I’m making a few changes around here, to make the blog a bit easier to read. I’m open to feedback!

29 January 2008 Posted by | this blog | Comments Off on Wait, don’t leave!

No news, but a rumor

Jayme at the blog Ethical Adoptions wrote last week about some sightings in Addis:

…a large fleet of land cruisers carrying numerous adoption and Ethiopian Government officials was dispatched to the offices of a major adoption agency with the purpose of carefully combing through all information pertaining to the relinquishment of children for adoption.

A comment on the blog clarifies that the “fleet” visited a variety of agencies. Jayme speculates that this means that the issue at hand is really relinquishments and how they are handled. I don’t disagree.

Adoptive parents, meanwhile, continue speculating and dissecting the Consul’s letter. There’s not been any new information from the Consul or agency, so far as I know.

29 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | Comments Off on No news, but a rumor

Update from US Consul in Addis

After a day and a half of wild speculation and rumor-mongering on the part of adoptive parents (guilty!), CHSFS, our adoption agency, sent an update to families about the reasons behind cutting off contact between first families and adoptive families.

The issue seems to revolve around the definition of orphan, according to US Immigration laws, and how a legal orphan can have two living birth parents, which is possible, if the child has been abandoned, also defined by US law. The issues becomes particularly complicated if the birth parents who “abandoned” the child meet with the adoptive family, which demonstrates “ongoing parental interest in the child” (I’m quoting the Consul here).

Anyway, I’ll let the Consul speak for itself. Here’s the letter from the US Consul in Addis, as shared with us by CHSFS:

US Consulate Notice

TO: Adoption Agencies in Ethiopia

FROM: Consular Section Chief Paul Cantrell

RE: Ensuring that adoptive children qualify as orphans

The staff of our Consular Section appreciates your effort and cooperation in making inter-country adoptions possible for American citizen parents. I am writing to bring to your attention an issue that is of the greatest importance to successfully concluding inter-country adoptions for American parents. I want to make sure that you and your staff members are fully aware of the requirements that adoptive children truly qualify as orphans.

American citizens coming to Ethiopia to adopt children will in most cases come to the Embassy to apply for an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa for the child. In order for a child to qualify for either an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa, the child must qualify as an “orphan” as defined by section 101(b)(1)(F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

As part of the inter-country adoption process, it is the responsibility of the consular officer to review the circumstances by which the child became available for adoption and to confirm that the child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined by section 101(b)(1)(F). This step in the process is accomplished when the consular officer approves the I-600 Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative and is confirmed through the officer’s completion of Form I-604, Request for and Report on Overseas Orphan Investigation.

If the child does not qualify as an “orphan” as defined in the INA, the officer cannot approve the I-600 petition and an immigrant visa for the child cannot be approved.

For this reason it is absolutely essential that all adoption agencies that are coordinating adoptions for American citizen parents be fully aware of the definition of “orphan” as stipulated in the INA. Agencies must be absolutely certain that a child qualifies as an “orphan” according to the INA before matching that child with American adoptive parents. If agencies are unsure whether a child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined by the INA, they should not assign that child to American adoptive parents until it can be confirmed that the child does qualify. A consular officer does not have the authority to approve an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa for an adopted child unless the child qualifies as an “orphan,” as defined by the INA. If agencies have questions about this concept or about an individual case, they are welcome to contact the Consular Section for assistance.

Agencies are urged to review the following information, which is provided as clarification of how a child may qualify as an “orphan” according to the INA.

According to U.S. immigration law, a child may qualify as an orphan because either:

(a) The child has no parents because of the death or disappearance, abandonment, or desertion by, or separation from or loss of both parents (9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-4 and 9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-5); or

(b) The child’s sole or surviving parent is incapable of providing proper care and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption (9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-4 and 9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-6).

Of particular interest here is (a): “the child has no parents.” U.S. immigration law recognizes six ways in which a child might lose his/her parents and qualify as an “orphan.” An orphan may have no parents due to any combination of the following six reasons: death, disappearance, abandonment, desertion, separation or loss.

Of these six reasons, the one that appears to cause the most confusion among adoptions in Ethiopia is “abandonment.” According to U.S. immigration law, “abandonment” means that the parents have willfully forsaken all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, as well as all control over and possession of the child, without intending to transfer, or without transferring, these rights to any specific person(s).

Abandonment must include not only the intention to surrender all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, and control over and possession of the child, but also the actual act of surrendering such rights, obligations, claims, control, and possession. A child who is placed temporarily in an orphanage should not be considered to be abandoned if the parents express an intention to retrieve the child, are contributing or attempting to contribute to the support of the child, or otherwise exhibit ongoing parental interest in the child.

Further, U.S. immigration law clarifies that a relinquishment or release by the parent(s) to the prospective adoptive parents or for a specific adoption does not constitute “abandonment.” Similarly, the relinquishment or release of the child by the parent to a third party for custodial care in anticipation of, or preparation for, adoption does not constitute “abandonment” unless the third party (such as a governmental agency, a court of competent jurisdiction, an adoption agency, or an orphanage) is authorized under the child welfare laws of the foreign-sending country to act in such a capacity. A child released to a government-authorized third party, however, could be considered to have been abandoned even if the parent(s) knew at the time that the child would probably be adopted by a specific person or persons, so long as the relinquishment was not contingent upon adoption by a specific person or persons.

I have emphasized the items above in italics to remind agencies that the Embassy cannot approve IR-3 and IR-4 immigrant visas for children adopted from intact families who have given up their children because of, or contingent upon, some expectation that:

the adoptive parents will provide some financial support to the natural parents
the adoptive parents will be willing to provide information about the child to the natural parents
the child will be of some benefits to the natural parents at some point in the future
Recently, some agencies have indicated that they routinely attempt to arrange meetings between adoptive parents and a child’s natural parents. While such meetings might provide certain advantages, agencies should be aware that meetings with the natural parents may in some cases be interpreted as evidence of the natural parents’ “ongoing parental interest in the child,” and as such may invite additional scrutiny by consular officers when reviewing the I-600 petition on behalf of such a child.

To avoid confusion and ensure that agencies are fully aware of all requirements of U.S. immigration law, consular officers will be arranging to meet individually with adoption agencies in the coming weeks. We are most interested in learning how agencies acquire the children who are matched with American adoptive parents and in helping agencies avoid matching any children who would not qualify as “orphans” according to the INA.

I appreciate your cooperation in the endeavor and invite your questions, comments, and suggestions about how we can work together to improve the integrity of the inter-country adoptions process.

Regards,

Paul Cantrell

Consular Section Chief

U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa

———————————————-

Scott Driskel

Vice Consul

U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa

(For the record, my kids were both legal orphans.)

So the issue at hand seems not to be contact between families, but specifically contact between families if the first family has two living parents.

When we first started looking into adoption, less than three years ago, I was in la-la land. Ethiopia had a huge orphan crisis, with millions of kids without parents, and we wanted to raise a child. It seemed perfectly simple and simply perfect.

Of course, the reality of adoption is not pretty or simple or easy, for anyone.

25 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | 9 Comments

Major upheaval in Ethiopian adoption programs

The possibility of having on-going contact with children’s first families is a huge appeal of Ethiopian adoption programs, not just for us, but for many people. Sometimes this contact has led to problems, as when adoptive families have learned things from first families that conflict with the official paperwork (indeed, that happened with us). I have no idea if that’s what led to this recent change, but one of the big agencies, Children’s Home Society and Family Services, just released a statement with a major policy change:

Effective immediately, CHSFS is suspending any birth family meetings and all ongoing contact between adoptive and birth families (including Post Adoption Intermediary Services). This is in direct response to statements made recently by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa citing the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1989; regarding orphan status, irrevocable relinquishment and termination of birth family rights.

The statement goes on to say that, “this is seen as an issue between the Consular Section of the Department of State and any inter-country adoption program” and that CHSFS is sending people to Addis to deal with this immediately. I haven’t heard if other agencies are enacting similar policies.

This is particularly distressing because the change seems to be coming from the US Embassy in Ethiopia, who should be looking out for the best interests of Americans, including kids born in Ethiopia and adopted by Americans.

It’s hard for me to understand how this could possibly be in the best interest of our kids.

I’ll share more as I learn more.

24 January 2008 Posted by | adoption, ethiopia | 5 Comments

Rainy days

Back in the olden days, I worked for an outdoor recreation company and spend my free time whitewater kayaking on beautiful mountain rivers. To a paddler, rain is always welcome. Even years after I’ve last sat in a kayak, I still love rain, and I find any kind of river current fascinating.

As I’ve mentioned, earlier this week, it rained on and off for a few days here. The skies were cloudy, the streets damp.

But rain in Egypt is unlike rain I’ve experienced elsewhere. As an acquaintance said, “Even the rain here is dirty!” And it’s true: when the rain drips down off the dusty trees, it can be quite, well, dirty. And nothing is built for rain–not the buildings, not the streets, nothing. Even a light rain means puddles that last for days, as there are no slopes for them to rush down, or drains to empty them. The water gushes over steps like a Class IV river. Rain here doesn’t clean.

And yet… I love the rain. Perhaps because, like the wool sweaters I’ve been wearing, it’s quite unexpected.

23 January 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | 1 Comment

Brrrr…

I thought I was being a bit overeager yesterday morning when I pulled out my heavy wool turtleneck sweater. It was a rainy morning, and perhaps a bit cool, but the wool seemed like overkill, like I was wearing it only because I had it.

Nope! It was cold out! And, the thing about Cairo is that heat isn’t always the best. Air conditioning, that’s important. But my office at work can be pretty chilly.

So, for all you who thought Egypt was a warm, dry, sunny place, I offer you yesterday, when wool sweaters and rain boots were ubiquitous.

23 January 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | Comments Off on Brrrr…

That river, whatsits name

Last week, Mr. Four, the boys, and I took a trip that had us driving along the Nile for a while. I said, “Look at the river. What’s the name of that river?”

Giggle looked at me, a bit confused, and then said, “From Ethiopia!” Bug nodded in agreement.

Indeed, the Nile River has its headwaters in Ethiopia, in the form of the Blue Nile, and in Uganda, as the White Nile. The two rivers meet in Khartoum, Sudan, and then flow north into Egypt and eventually into the Mediterranean.

However, it appears I have perhaps overemphasized the Ethiopia part of the equation.

22 January 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | 1 Comment

Sound surprises

Cars driving down wet roads. I never knew this was a lovely sound until I moved to Egypt.

21 January 2008 Posted by | our life in egypt | 1 Comment