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Philippine Travel Log: Our Last Day at Shekinah October 5, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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Day 5: Sunday, October 5, 2008
Our Last Day at Shekinah

John-John with Sadiri and Auring, his house parents

John-John with his houseparents, Sadiri and Auring

I guess I was anxious to get back to the world of western food and air conditioning, because I started packing the night before.  With Sunday, our 5th day at Shekinah, packing commenced in earnest.  Throughout the day, John seemed more reserved than usual.  We thought perhaps he was picking up on the connection between packing and leaving, but that seemed like a pretty significant connection to make for a little boy who knows only the orphanage.  Either way, we spent much of the day in fear of the meltdown that would potential delay our flight that evening, etc.

The schedule was pretty simple for the day…

  1. Do laundry
  2. Settle up with Shekinah, which boiled down to very little paperwork
  3. Go to church
  4. Head to the airport and fly back to Manila

We had no idea how John would react to leaving the orphanage.  We didn’t know if he’d freak out from misunderstanding, be really sad, not even notice, or any number of other reactions.  We also didn’t know how he’d react to the airport, the 45 minute flight to Manila, the city (once we arrived), etc.  So, we decided to try to prepare him for some of this ahead of time.

We woke up this morning, and the first thing we did was give John a new toy airplane, and start talking about how we were going to have the grand adventure of flying on an airplane today.  This is also the point at which I first used the term “adventure” with John.  Now, whenever we’re going to do something new, I get him all primed and excited by saying “we’re going on an adventure”.  He eats it up.  I think that started on this day, talking about the adventure of flying on an airplane for the first time.

We also mentioned that we were going to church, and he didn’t seem to like that at all.  When we got to church and discovered that the kids were made to just sit quietly in an adult service, it was clear why.  But we’ll get back to that.

So, after John’s morning routine, which included breakfast delivered to us in our cottage, mom started in on the laundry.  John absolutely *loved* that.  He was mom’s little helper from start to finish.  JoAnne had shown Faith how to use the washer the day before and they had borrowed a big bucket (with which to get water into the washer), so she hit the ground running.  Once through the washer with soap, then spin dry, then back through the washer to rinse (no soap), then spin dry, then hang out on the line to really dry.  There was no dryer.

After the first load, she headed out to the clothes line to hang the clothes to dry.  This was about 8AM, after the sun had come up at about 5:30AM.  The woman who was watching the babies in the next cottage over had beaten her to the punch and had a bunch of clothes already up.  Faith was going to give up, but I pushed her out the door with a “it’s about community” to talk to her.  I thought they could easily share.  But, of course, the generosity of Philippine culture kicked in, and she ended taking most of her clothes down, and moving them to a line all the way on the other side of the compound, so that Faith could have the whole area to herself by our cottage.  Way too generous, but we were grateful.  Three loads later, pretty much everything we had was washed and hanging to dry, along with towels and such which belonged to the orphanage that we had used.

I put off getting my shower until as late in the day as possible, as it was swelteringly hot.  Of course, going to church in the afternoon meant wearing nice clothes too, and I was just imagining the church to be small and confined, therefore additionally hot.  Ugh.  Wasn’t looking forward to that.

I was also concerned because the church supposedly got out at 4:45PM, our flight was at 7:35PM, it takes an hour to get from Shekinah to the airport, we were supposed to be there 90 minutes early (everyone told us that), and we had to drop the kids back at the orphanage, say goodbye, and get John’s dinner between church ending and arriving at the airport.  So, I was making a point to communicate with everyone that we had to move with a purpose.

Brian and family came back over after breakfast.  They were leaving at 11AM to head back to where they live, so we weren’t able to have lunch with them.  They said their goodbyes to John-John without incident.  I was a little concerned that the goodbyes would make a good meltdown point, but none came.  Praise the Lord!

After they were gone, we ate lunch, put John down for his name (without incident), I got my shower, we got the clothes off the line, cleaned, finalized packing, and got ready for church.

We were leaving for church at 2:45PM, so got John up at 2:15, thinking we’d have plenty of time.  And then, pretty much out of nowhere, he lost it.  I think we were trying to get him to go to the bathroom before we left, since it would be a long time until the opportunity presented itself again, but either way he ended up hiding in the corner by the toilet on the ground screaming.  We pulled him out again and tried to hold him again, as with the previous day’s episode.  And similarly, it wasn’t working. Now what do we do?!

Two of the kids from the main building showed up, we think to get us to follow them back to the main building to get in the van to head to church.  We decided at that point that we needed to get John calmed down and ready to fly out, so we’d skip church.  We tried to communicate that to the kids, but they gave us blank stares and ran off.  I’m not sure their English was working enough to really get it.

A few minutes later the van pulled up.  Packed into it (as maniacally as they drive, there is no interest in seat belts at all in the Philippines) was pretty much the entire orphanage.  All the kids, Sadiri, Auring, one of their biological children, all the non-babies in the orphanage, and then room for Faith, John and I.

Sadiri and Auring got out of the van, started talking to John in Ilocano, and (with a bit of roughness I wouldn’t have used), finished getting him ready to get out the door.  It was clear that we were going to church no matter who didn’t like it.  And the weird thing was that John pretty much got a grip and went with it.  A couple minutes later, we were in the van on our way, and ended up being quite on time for church.  And John-John’s attitude wasn’t really even the worse for wear.

The church was roomy, had a lot of windows, and even more fans.  Also, God was good to me, and a cooler front was moving more rain in, so the temp was starting to back off its high of 125 or whatever craziness it was that day.  The service was like the TV and radio, a mixture of English and (I assume) Ilocano.  So, we had no idea what was going on at all.  The songs were all familiar, but that was it.  John clung to me the whole service, and was quite disinterested, which doesn’t surprise me.  The service was not at all setup for children.

At one point, the pastor, who clearly knew John-John and Shekinah Home well, had Faith, John and I stand up, and introduced us.  That was the only part of the 90 minute service that John found interesting.  When the pastor said his name (over the sound system no less), he sat bold upright and looked around trying to figure out where that came from.  It was pretty cute.

The message itself was extremely hard to follow.  Schizophrenic use of language aside, the sermon must have consisted of no less than 50 topics.  Before he really got rolling, he had a PowerPoint presentation that listed each book of the Bible and who Jesus was, as portrayed in that book.  So, for example, in Genesis, He is Creator.  In Exodus, He is Deliverer.  Etc.  He read through these and gave quick recaps most of the way through the old testament.

At first I thought this was awesome.  I was imagining that each of these books was its own sermon, and that he’d been working on / going through them for months.  I was all excited to see which book we’d talk about today.  But as it turned out, he was doing more like a dozen books per week, so this was only the 3-4 message in the series.  He covered a bunch of minor prophets at the end of the Old Testament, through the gospels, and stopped I think at Acts in the New Testament.  I was dizzy by the time he was done.  How could anybody actually walk away from that much information with practical application?!  Very interesting.

After the service, a number of people greeted us and congratulated us or expressed gratitude that we were taking John-John back with us.  It seemed like the whole community was excited about his adoption.  I wasn’t really expecting that, nor was I expecting to be introduced.  I also kicked myself for forgetting to bring the camera with us.  It would have been nice to get pictures of some of these people for John so that he’d have them when he got older and started asking questions about his past.

We only socialized for a few minutes, and then took off back for Shekinah.  I guess Sadiri had heard me loud and clear when I said that we would be in a hurry.  That was good. And the church, in downtown Dingras, was only a few minutes away from the orphanage, so we got back there in record time.

Upon returning to the compound, he drove right past the main building to our cottage.  Everyone hopped out of the van and started saying goodbyes.  I realized I didn’t have the camera, so I ran in to get it.  I took pictures of all the orphanage children, mama, papa and Mary Jane.  In case you’re wondering, she had jumped in the van and joined us in Dingras after church, because Brian had instructed her to go to the airport with us.  He was afraid that since John didn’t have his passport yet that he wouldn’t be able to travel, and wanted Mary Jane there to handle any related issues … which we greatly appreciated.

John said goodbye, for the most part, but wasn’t very animated … and certainly didn’t throw a fit.  The adults were far more emotional than he was.  While they were hugging and kissing him, I grabbed our bags and threw them in the van, and before we knew it, Faith, John, Sadiri, Mary Jane, Sadiri’s daughter, and I were off to the Laoag City airport.

Philippine Travel Log: Meeting John-John October 1, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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1 comment so far

We barely slept the night before meeting John.  I was up even more than Faith was, racking up a total of 3.5 hours of sleep that night.  I slept from 9PM-12:30AM, and that was pretty much it.  The rest of the night was filled with journaling, prayer, reading Scripture, studying up on my Ilocano (what litle I know), and watching TV.  Faith did a little better than me (scoring 6 hours of sleep), but we were both running pretty much on adrenaline by the time we got to breakfast.

We showered (I hated that shower) and packed early, so we could have breakfast, check out of the hotel, and have nothing else to do but wait for John after breakfast.  We were meeting Jackie at 8AM for breakfast, and the van from the orphanage was supposed to be there about 9:30AM to retrieve us.  We had so much leftover time pre-breakfast, that I got an hour’s quiet time in the restaurant before Jackie met us.  As is often her custom, Faith met with God out in nature – which meant the pool area, since there was no leaving the hotel (compound) for us foreigners by ourselves.

Jackie had told us that John had woken up early the previous morning talking about how his parents were coming tomorrow.  We spent a lot of time wondering how that morning was for him.  Was he anxious? nervous? scared? still excited? all of the above?  We were.  I had long imagined (and prepared myself emotionally) that his initial reaction to us might be pretty bad.  Having heard Jackie talk about how excited John was, it was tempting to let my guard down there, but I was trying to maintain a very realistic perspective.

We had the exact same breakfast as the day before:  Longanisa, rice, eggs, fruit, and juice.  Jackie talked to the orphanage right after breakfast to confirm schedule, etc, and they confirmed that John was indeed going to come with them to pick us up and that he was excited.  That’s when the minutes started to drag.  We checked out, piled our bags at the door, sat in the lobby and waited.  I couldn’t help but fidget with the two matchbox cars I had in my pocket, ready to engage him with toys if he was nervous or scared when we met him.

When the van finally arrived (like a half hour late), it was just Sadiri, who was John’s house father and official orphanage driver.  No John-John.  I was immediately disappointed, including because now I had to spend yet another 35-40 minutes (the time it takes to get from Laoag to the orphanage) in anxious waiting before I met John.  But just a few seconds later, John and Mary Jane (his social worker at the orphanage) walked up the hotel sidewalk to the door.  It was weird that he arrived not in the van (were they trying to surprise us?), but we were really glad to see them.  This was the moment we had prayed and waited and prepared for for years.

He immediately demonstrated fear.  He clung to Mary Jane and wanted very little to do with us.  After shaking hands with the adults, I immediately squatted down so that I wouldn’t be such a giant in his eyes.  Sadiri and Mary Jane tried to encourage him to go to us, but it was obvious immediately that this isn’t how his personality works.  The more they pushed, the less he wanted to do with us.

Faith and I spoke softly to him.  I gave him one of the cars, which he took without hesitation, but immediately separated from me.  Pretty much conveyed, “I’m all about the car, but you keep your distance.”

We told his caregivers that we were okay with his being shy, and that we should just head back to the orphanage.  So we piled in the van, and headed out of town.  We gave him his 2nd teddy bear (I’ll explain in a second) in the van, which he also took readily and held the entire trip, but it didn’t warm him up to us at all.

What’s with the bear?  Well, we were advised by a book we read to do the following to help reduce your child’s fear in meeting you…  Long before traveling to pick up the child, you buy two identical stuffed animals.  You send the first one over in a care package, as far ahead of traveling there as is reasonable.  The second animal you keep with you.  When you go, take the second one with you.  The child will have (theoretically) fallen in love with the stuffed toy by the time you get there, and your showing up with an identical one will essentially confirm your identity to the child.  He’ll recognize the bear as familiar, even if he doesn’t recognize you as familiar.  Then, when you leave the orphanage, take the one that’s been there the longest with you.  The new one can be left behind so that the orphanage will experience a net gain of one more toy, and your child will have a familiar toy with him/her that smells and feels like the home he knows.

I found all of this to be a genius idea.  Where it unraveled was in the reality that John doesn’t particularly like / care about stuffed animals.  :-)

Like I said, the orphanage was a ways from Laoag.  More than that though, it was in a pretty remote area in general – out in the country.  John clung to Mary Jane and paid very little attention to us (despite our occasional efforts to connect) the entire ride.

When we got to Shekinah (John’s orphanage), he lit up and called out to the other children.  Not only do I think he loved to play with them and is generally pretty social once he warms up to you, but looking back on it and knowing him a little better now, I think he was also showing off that he had something they didn’t – parents.

We filed into the small building (view pictures of Shekinah Home on Facebook) and met Auring, Sadiri’s wife, who was the last adult to meet until the orphanage director and his family showed up the following Saturday.  The kids all called Sadiri and Auring “papa and mama”, and the orphanage director and his wife “grandpa and grandma”.  I’ll share more about them later.

After a very brief chat with the adults, we turned our attention back to John, who was now playing on the floor with his new car.  The bear had pretty much gotten discarded.  I was in dress clothes (dockers and a nice button up), and Faith was in a skirt and nice blouse.  We had been advised that it is culturally-approriate to dress up when meeting someone in this context, so there we were.  Blazing sun, high humidity, 90ish degrees out, and of course the dog jumped on me with muddy paws the second I stepped out of the van.  It was clear that whoever started the dress up in the Philippines rule should be drug out in the street and beaten.

But in a way it was a blessing.  By the time I got to the moment where John was on the floor ignoring us at the orphanage, I was dripping sweat and had paw prints all over my nice tan pants.  So, the decision was easy.  I remember having the conscious thought that even if I had to throw these clothes away, I’d get on John’s level.  So, I prostrated myself on the floor belly-down, facing John a few feet away.  I rolled the second car to him, which doubled his toy quota.  He was thrilled (not with me, but with the car).  There was also a pair of rubberbands from somewhere; not even sure where they came from.  John had one, and I guess I had the other.  He took the 2nd car, and began to try to use the rubberband to attach it to the first car.  I inched closer and offered help.  It took about 15-20 minutes, but eventually we were playing together, dragging rubberbanded cars around the floor together.

And the rest is history.  He kept warming up until ultimately we were playing and laughing, holding him, swapping sunglasses, throwing him up in the air, and swinging him around.  We took some awesome pictures of all the fun.  Here are a couple of my favorites…

The moments he smiled for the first time and let us pick him up for the first time were huge.  The first real hug happened that day too. After all we’d read about attachment disorder, we were prepared for it to take months for him to bond with us and consider us to be special adults who could be trusted.  As it turns out, God gave us the gift of having all that take place in a couple hours.  How amazing!

Ultimately we ate together, and finally headed back to the cottage where we were to stay as a family that night on the premises.  I’ll tell you more about our accomodations and the next several days of just getting to know John-John soon.

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