Journey to Judah: Part 13 - The Appointments
May 23, 2018
When we arrived at our hotel in New Delhi, it looked pretty ordinary.....however, it was magical. When you turned on the faucet in the sink or the shower, HOT water came out. After 2.5 weeks of cold water (or maybe cool- if you closed your eyes and concentrated on trying to find the smallest wave of heat in it), hot water seemed like something right out of a dream.
We had several things to check off of our list in New Delhi. All of them surrounded getting the documents we needed to be able to leave India with Judah and allow him to immigrate to the United States. He had legally been declared our son, and yet, we still weren’t allowed to bring him home until these things were complete.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t start any of our exit appointments until the following day, so we headed over to the mall attached to our hotel to look around and grab some dinner. Apparently, we had somehow turned into “mall walkers” in India. We walked around more malls in that country than we had in the last 5 years combined in Kansas City- partly because indoor malls are MIA in KC, and partly because I’m strictly an online shopper. (Even our groceries are ordered online.) Shopping is not my thing, friends, however, one can only spend so much time in a hotel room...even if it does have magical faucets. We also weren’t really looking to venture out into the 110 degree heat, so there we were again - serious mall-walkers, just missing our tennis shoes and sweat bands.
As we were walking the mall, I realized that I hadn’t even thought about what Judah might wear home. We had found out that we were traveling pretty quickly, and we weren’t sure of his size, so I decided to wait until we got to India to buy him an outfit to wear home. I actually could hardly believe that we were close enough to going home that I could even begin thinking about it. It brought back memories of bringing our girls home from the hospital. With Eliza, I had carefully chosen the perfect outfit to dress her in when we left the hospital. It was just the right combination of cute and comfortable. It was warm, soft, practical, came with a hat, and had a tiny ballet skirt attached. I had carefully placed it in the already packed hospital bag 2 months before her due date. Then, there was Hattie. Hattie showed up 3 weeks early...before we had much of anything prepared for her (sorry second-born child, we still love you), and I hadn’t chosen at outfit to bring her home in yet. In the mad-dash of packing a bag for the hospital, I grabbed that same sweet, perfect outfit that I had chosen for Eliza. I love that I have photos of both of them in that same outfit, placed in that same car seat, and driving away from that same hospital to our same home. Those thoughts, though, did nothing but make my heart ache to see our girls and make my heart ache at how much time we had missed with our now 13-month-old son. I was determined, more than ever, to find him the perfect “going home” outfit.
After searching several stores, I didn’t find the perfect thing to go home in, but we did find some traditional clothing to purchase for him. We bought some in different sizes for future celebrations, and then we ate at Hard Rock Café before heading back to the hotel to gear up for our busy day of appointments the next morning. In an attempt to get us out of New Delhi before things closed over the weekend, our agency had scheduled all of our exit appointments for the same day. We were warned that Wednesday would be a really long day so to come prepared. I re-checked our documents to make sure we had everything we needed for our medical appointment, visa appointment, and for our exit permit. I packed our bag with plenty of snacks, water, and distractions for Judah and tried to get some rest.
The next morning, we met Gloria, our in-country guide and advocate for this second phase of our adoption process. After our battles in Hyderabad and Minal’s MUCH needed strong, stubborn, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude, I was shocked that this tiny Indian woman, with a voice as sweet as sugar, was going to help us navigate the New Delhi side of the process. She got right to work, though, rechecking my already triple-checked document files. Then we piled into a hotel car to head to Judah’s medical appointment.
We arrived at the medical building around 10:00. There was already a long line and so many people in the waiting rooms. Upon walking into the building, Judah instantly seemed agitated. It was like he knew that there were doctors here, and he had had enough of those in Hyderabad. It probably didn’t help that I was a little on-edge about this appointment too. This appointment would tell us if we would even have a chance at flying out of New Delhi over the weekend, or if our travel would be pushed back into the next week. This medical clearance was needed in order to get Judah’s visa to enter the United States. For kids under two years old, the protocol is usually pretty simple: height, weight, head circumference, a brief examination, and a signed paper. For kids over two years old, a negative TB test is also necessary in order to get that signature. Because of some inaccurate information in Judah’s already incomplete medical file, there was a chance that, even though he was under two, the doctor would require him to complete a more extensive TB test. That would definitely push our appointments into the following week. Our advocate’s advice was, “Don’t give the doctor any documents unless he specifically asks for them.”
A nurse called us back to get Judah’s measurements: 13 months old, weight – 16 lbs., height 25 3/8 inches. Judah had already gained half a pound since we left the hospital in Hyderabad…probably from all those snacks we had been feeding him to keep him busy at our appointments. By the time we saw the doctor 30 minutes later, I had pretty much convinced myself that he would ask for those inaccurate files and that we would have to do the extensive TB test and that we weren’t going home for another week. It seemed that everyone in the online India Adoption group lately had said, “Make sure you bring your MER to the medical appointment.”
“Oh, please don’t let him ask for that file,” I prayed. I knew we had proof that it was inaccurate information, but I just didn’t feel like I was capable of fighting one more battle in India. I was weary. I desperately wanted to get home to our girls, but even more than that, I did not want my baby boy subjected to any more unnecessary medical trauma. He’d had enough, which was obviously the root of his current agitated state. I sat there with knots in my stomach, while the doctor looked at Judah sitting on the table. He just one more doctor who clapped to see if Judah could hear. I might have laughed at that if it hadn’t been for our previous hospital experiences in India. He started to listen to Judah’s heart, which made Judah scream, so the doctor backed off. Then the doctor read Judah’s measurements and asked for his latest lab results. He signed our paper without asking to see anything else, and we were out of his office within about 5 minutes. I breathed a sigh of relief and said a prayer of thanksgiving as I collected the medical packet and placed it in our accordion file to hand over at the next appointment. Wow. Maybe things would be smoother in New Delhi after all. Maybe we would be going home this weekend. Should I even dare to hope?
We walked back out of the office to find Gloria. She had been double-booked that day, so she needed to wait on another adoptive family to arrive at the medical office. We opted to wait in the car in order to help Judah relax a little bit. Our hotel had packed us some sweetbreads and muffins to take with us on our busy day, and they were a nice treat in the car. Judah especially loved the banana bread, and he would clap after every single bite!
After about 30 minutes in the car, I was a little anxious to get going. Where was Gloria? Judah’s visa appointment at the U.S. Embassy had been scheduled for 9:30 that morning, and it was nearing 11:00. We were told that the appointment time really just meant that we needed to arrive at the Embassy sometime that morning. I knew the U.S. Embassy was at least 30 minutes away, but I wasn’t sure about traffic or when they would take a break for lunch. Now that we had received our medical clearance, I didn’t want anything to get in the way of flying home on Friday. Judah was an Indian citizen and, therefore, had an Indian passport. We needed that visa in his passport, which would allow him into the United States once we arrived, making him a U.S. citizen.
Gloria came to the car around 11:15. The other family had gotten stuck in traffic on the way back from the Embassy. Apparently there was some sort of event in New Delhi that was causing quite a bit of traffic in that area of New Delhi. Gloria let our driver know that we needed to get there as soon as possible because of our appointment window. This did nothing to ease my nerves. Neither did sitting in stand-still traffic on the way to the Embassy. I tried to sit back and take in the sites. New Delhi looked very different than Hyderabad, even though they were both big cities. Things were much more “westernized” in this city- not as much traditional clothing, not as many animals wandering the streets...although I did see a goat waiting at a bus stop, and I laughed as I wondered where he was trying to go.
That 9:30 appointment was long gone by the time we arrived at the U.S. Embassy around 12:30. We weren’t allowed to bring anything inside other than our documents, passports, and a bag of what we needed for Judah. Absolutely no electronics could be brought into the Embassy either, so we left Marcus’s backpack and our phones in the car with Gloria. Because she was not a U.S. Citizen and she did not have an appointment, Gloria could not go with us into the U.S. Embassy. No cars could be parked outside either, so she let us know that her and the driver would circle back around every so often.
As we got out of the car, Gloria reminded us to tell the people in the Embassy that we would wait for the visa in person so that we could take it with us that day. In her beautiful accent, she said, “I will see you in 2-3 hours.” We shut the car doors and watched them drive away as we walked toward the security check-in. We showed the guard our appointment information and were let inside. At the next security checkpoint, we were scanned, and so was the diaper bag. I had forgotten that one of the thumb drives that held all of our important adoption documents (yeah we brought all the hard copies, extra copies of the hard copies, a thumb drive, and a backup thumb drive- just in case, don’t judge) was in the diaper bag. Apparently those are against the rules in the U.S. Embassy too. Marcus had to take the thumb drive out of the Embassy and off the premises to a little hut across the street. He paid a few rupees to store it there and got a poker chip in return, so we could pick it back up. Once he finally made it back through security, we were able to go into the U.S. Embassy for Judah’s visa appointment.
Because we were so late, I could feel the knots return to my stomach. Hopefully it didn’t matter, and we could still walk out of there with this visa today. The officers directed us to the very last kiosk, which was where immigration visas for adoption were processed. After waiting for about 20 minutes, a man called us over to the window. He asked for our medical packet, Judah’s passport, passport photos (you know I was still giggling about those photos), and a few other documents. After we paid, he had us move to another window so he could conduct Judah’s visa “interview.” We had him all dressed up for the 10 minute occasion. Because he was so young, we spoke for him. We were asked questions about the adoption process and if ethics were adhered to during the process. We also answered a few questions about things like whether or not our 13-month-old had ties to terrorism or trafficing. All in all, everything was smooth and easy....until we told the man that we wanted to wait at the Embassy until Judah’s visa was ready.
It’s like Marcus and I had acquired some sort of superpower since arriving in India. All we had to do was walk into a building, and things stopped working: lights, printers, computer systems. In this case, it was the visa system in the U.S., which gave final approval for the visa. The system in the UNITED STATES!? Apparently our superpower was even more far reaching than we thought. We had come to expect things on India’s side to go wrong, but I was caught off-guard by this news.
“There is nothing we can do from here,” the man at the window said.
I didn’t even have words. I just stared at him blankly, hoping he’d tell us more.
“You won’t be able to get the visa today. We will keep his passport and your files, and you can come back tomorrow to see if it’s working by then.”
I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I’m glad Marcus spoke up. “What time should we come back? We were really hoping to fly out on Friday. Do you think that will be possible?”
“It might be. Usually this issue is resolved in a day or two. Come back tomorrow before lunch, and we will hope it’s ready by then.”
I could tell the man felt bad, but there was nothing he could do for us. He gave us a phone number to call, and he let us know that he would call us if the system - by some miracle- was back up that day.
Feeling defeated, we headed back out into the blazing heat. We weren’t allowed wait outside the Embassy, so walked across the street to where our thumb drive was waiting for us. After trading the poker chip to get it back, we sat down on some benches and wondered what to do next. Gloria had said she’d see us in 2-3 hours, and we had been inside for less than an hour. We wanted to call her....but our phones were in the car with her. We should have traded our phones for a poker chip too, but who could have predicted this outcome? Maybe we should have written Gloria’s phone number down somewhere as well...
There were a lot of benches in this area, and they were all situated in direct sunlight. I would have given anything for some shade from the noonday sun in this high heat. I assumed this area was where non-U.S. citizens waited if they didn’t have an appointment at the Embassy. We sat there alongside them, getting some interesting stares and inquisitive looks and trying to keep Judah cool. I instantly wished that I would have put more water in the diaper bag...instead of in our backpack in the car. I also wished that I wasn’t covered neck to ankles in fabric in order to be sensitive to the culture. I didn’t ask him, but I’m sure Marcus felt the same way in his khakis and button-up shirt.
We weren’t sure what to do. The guards would probably let us back into the Embassy, but if we went back inside, there was no way to watch for our car to come back. If we missed Gloria when she circled back around, when would she circle back again? How long would we have to wait here? We were somehow trapped outside in the open air and Indian sun, anxiously watching and waiting for a white car.
After what seemed like hours (without a watch), I was convinced that almost every car in India was white, but all of them left us disappointed and longing for our new friend Gloria. We had stripped Judah down to his collared onesie and kept offering him water. He was happily eating snacks and waving at all the cars that drove by, which were NOT carrying Gloria. Finally, when Judah’s cheeks were pretty red and sweat was dripping from his curly hair, we decided that I would take him inside and Marcus would wait for Gloria alone. I hated to leave Marcus out in the heat by himself, but I didn’t know what else to do. As we stood up to walk back across the street, I heard Marcus exclaim, “Wait! There she is!”
We hurried to the car and climbed inside, thankful that the A/C was already blasting on high. Gloria looked puzzled to see us in our soaking wet state. We explained the visa situation, and Gloria was so upset that we had sat outside waiting for her for an hour. We were just thankful to see her and some bottled water in the cool car. Judah fell asleep almost instantly, as we drove away from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, mission incomplete, and headed to our next appointment for the day.
We now needed to apply for our Exit Permit, which would allow us to take Judah out of India. This seemed to be the unpredictable step that caused issues for most people. “God, go before us,” was all I could pray as we pulled up to KEM Travel. To save us a trip to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), Gloria took us to a travel agency to apply for our Exit Permit. Just weeks before, India had created a way to apply for the FRRO Exit Permit online, but there were still glitches and people were having issues with the system. Because we needed our Exit Permit in less than 2 days if we were going make it out before the weekend, Gloria didn’t want to risk any issues with the new system, so we headed into KEM Travel.
As we walked into the building, I was surprised at its size. It was the tiniest office building I’ve ever seen. There was just enough room for a desk and a couple of chairs. Two employees sat at the tiny desk, ready to help us. Gloria took our documents and got right to work, filling out our FRRO application. We had each document he asked for....except our flight confirmation and a copy of Judah’s visa.
We had a flight confirmation for 6 days from then, which we had scheduled before we left for India using our best estimate of the adoption process time frame. That would have put us in India for 25 days, and we originally weren’t even sure if that would be enough time. On our first day in Hyderabad, I had told Kady our return flight dates, and she looked at me and said, “Whoa! That would mean you’d be leaving India before I do. That would be a miracle, but I hope you get finished that fast.” Now, here we were, hoping to leave 4 days sooner than that scheduled flight.
The only problem was....we hadn’t changed our flights yet because we weren’t sure, and still currently weren’t sure, whether or not we could get everything wrapped up before the weekend. It was a problem because FRRO needed our return flights in order to issue us an Exit Permit. They could use the flight confirmation we had, but it may not create the sense of urgency we needed to be able to fly out in 2 days. Our only choice was to upload that confirmation and hope for the best. We also had to hope that FRRO would issue our permit without proof of Judah’s visa.
Gloria handled all of the paperwork while Judah pointed at all the Indian tourist attractions posted on the wall. I sincerely hoped that we’d be able to take our son to visit all of those places someday. I had that feeling in my stomach again, the one I’d had on the plane from Hyderabad to New Delhi: mixed emotions of gratitude and sadness at the beauty and brokenness of adoption. Here we were, working so hard to take this amazing little boy out of his home country...but here we were also, working so hard to bring him to his HOME. Was there a balance there? I wondered if there would ever come a day where some tiny form of guilt didn’t gnaw at me about removing him from his culture. No matter how much I try to preserve his first culture, there’s no way around the fact that we live in the middle of the United States and not in India. I firmly believed that God had brought us to this point and that God would redeem all parts of this story. I silently prayed that Judah would understand just how much we love him, and I hoped and prayed that God would provide ways for us to keep Judah Mahesh’s heritage alive.
In the middle of my thoughts and the middle of our upload process, the man who was helping us got a phone call. He was noticeably upset. Gloria spoke to him in Hindi, but we weren’t sure what was happening. After several minutes and several conversations between the travel agent and Gloria, the man picked up his keys and left. Gloria explained to us that he had received an upsetting phone call about his daughter. She had eaten some old food that had been left in her lunch bag since before a holiday, and he was afraid she’d get sick: signs of a father’s deep love for his daughter. His worries were causing him to make multiple errors on our application, so Gloria had told him to go home. Our Exit Permit application was now left in the hands of someone fairly new to the job. Gloria helped her fill everything out, and we left KEM Travel, hoping and praying that no mistakes were made and that we’d have that Exit Permit in less than 48 hours.
On the way back to the hotel, Marcus asked Gloria if we should go ahead and change our flights. Because we didn’t have Judah’s visa and the timeline of our Exit Permit was still up in the air, she couldn’t give us a confident answer. Instead, she said, “You could change them and hope everything comes through in time to leave Friday night.”
So that’s exactly what we did: re-book, hope, and pray.