Another Day in Kenya – Chapter 16
In the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and come short again; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievements; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” Teddy Roosevelt
The Karaus walked closely with us and shared every hope and heartache. They wracked their brains for anything that might help us. They thought of their nephew, Mwenda, a lawyer. In a culture where relational networks possess the power to circumvent corrupt bureaucracy, many Kenyans with whom I shared our story referred us to relatives who might be able to influence the legal process. I felt profoundly grateful for their advocacy on our behalf; but even with these connections, we remained thoroughly stuck in the system. So I didn’t go into meeting Mwenda with a lot of hope.
The Karaus, Mwenda, and I settled at the roughly constructed wood table in the common area of the student hostel. Yet again, I related the details of our saga. Mwenda listened keenly. In his eyes and responsive questions and comments, I saw genuine concern. He freely admitted he had never handled an international adoption case; but his brilliance, motivation, and compassion were obvious. He was on my side. At that point, on March 19, we were still waiting for the court date and verdict from Kakamega, but Mwenda gave me advice and encouragement.
Immediately after I heard from Kakamega in late April, I contacted Mwenda.
By that time, Lily had been in foster care with me for three months, the time period required for a full adoption. Even though Mwenda would be forging into unexplored waters, I sensed he was God’s provision. David trusted my judgment. We hired Mwenda to advocate our third case.
On May 25, Mwenda filed our Adoption Application documents in the High Court of Nairobi.
A flurry of legal processes unfolded. Reports were requested from various entities, including the Child Welfare Society who would conduct a “home visit,” which seemed strange to me considering we possessed a full and complete home study from the US and I was living temporarily in part of a borrowed flat in Kenya without my husband and one of my children. Nevertheless, I was prepared to jump through any necessary hoops. The most terrifying news came, though, when a judge ordered Mwenda to secure a relinquishment from Lily’s birth mother. She had filled out one form when Lily was born, but Kenyan law required a second when the child reached age two. My heart sank deeper than my feet, down into a chasm of fear. Lily had been in my care five months. I knew that with one word, Lily would be returned to her birth mother.
At the same time, Lily’s attachment process fell apart. As is common in adoption of older babies and children, after the initial bumpy period during which her medical issues were treated and she transitioned into my care, we enjoyed a “honeymoon” season. But then the tide turned. According to my adoptive parent training, realizing she could have a mother after already losing one launched her into a period of fighting attachment so she would never have to risk losing love again. It was normal.
It didn’t feel normal. Alone with a screaming toddler in a foreign country, under constant surveillance and worried others would hear her cries and decide I didn’t know how to parent a Kenyan baby, I felt helpless to comfort her. I emailed our adoption agency for advice and held her through extended crying jags. She responded by hitting and biting me. She wailed incessantly. I struggled with what felt to me like rejection, even as I knew she would never even be mine if her birth mother refused to sign the document.
The rats seemed to embody my misery. Fear tormented me relentlessly like their tireless efforts to get to our food. We didn’t have cabinets, so we stored non-perishables in the living room inside plastic bags, tied-up tight at night. I listened to them while I fell asleep, trying to penetrate the plastic. I asked the staff in the compound how to get rid of them. They recommended poison. Every night, I put out a plate for them under the refrigerator in the living room. One evening I sat on a plastic chair reading after the kids fell asleep. I pulled another plastic chair over to use as a foot rest. I heard a rustling and looked down to see a couple rats scurrying under my chairs and over to the refrigerator. Every morning the plate was empty, night after night.
Not long after, they started finding rotting rats behind the stove in the kitchen. They placed a board across the bottom of the kitchen door, and that was the end of the rat parties.
In many ways, I felt the evil coming against me to be a monster much larger than my own situation. It felt like retaliation for embodying God’s passion for orphans in general. I personally and intensely felt the agony of the battle – evil’s intentions to steal, lie, and destroy defenseless orphans so dear to the Father’s heart.
Attacked from within and without, I was exhausted. At my lowest point, too weary and broken even for tears, I penned this prayer in my journal on June 28, 2005: I am brought low – discouraged, furious, bitter, depressed. I just want to give up. Is there any hope for me? I want your promises to be true in my life, but I lack the strength to even claim them. I am imprisoned by forces so insidious and unknown that I don’t know how to even begin to fight them. I am left vulnerable to their attack. My persecutors are too strong for me. Please just send me home now. It’s too much for me Jesus! Surely you are breaking my heart. Just when I think it’s as bad as it can get, it gets worse. It just feels like every step will go wrong until at last I give up.
And then, just a few days later on July 1, came Mwenda’s call. He and Sister Cletty were to appear before the judge that morning, a mere formality, a short hearing for which we were not needed. It was the first of three court dates in the adoption process. When the office staff called me to come to the phone, I could tell immediately by Mwenda’s tone the news was not good and he wished he didn’t have report it to me. He said the appearance did not happen. He and Sr Cletty were not able to find one another at the courthouse, so the hearing was re-scheduled in two weeks. It seemed I was no closer to bringing Lily home than the day I set foot in Kenya five months prior.
The news shattered me, literally, into the red soil. Numb with shock, my weak reply floated on wisps of dust as I sank to the ground, “Mwenda, that’s it. I’m done. I’m going home.”
I hung up the phone and the accumulated tears of five months broke through the dam. There, in the open space of a dirt volleyball court on the edge of Nairobi, with my head between my knees, I wept inconsolably.