Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Justice's Return Visit to Ghana

We’re back, and I’ve got LOTS to share. First and foremost, I know you are all so curious to hear how Justice handled his first trip back to Ghana, so I am making that my first trip you go:

Justice was a SEA of questions during our day of travel. He was especially interested in the entire process of getting checked in at the airport, and kept saying “I remember this!” On the first flight which was a quick one hour connection to Chicago he and JJ sat together in the row right behind me and Jake. They chattered the entire time, and pretty soon before we were even up in the air I heard a ding coming from their row. In a split second the flight attendant had walked up to them saying, “Yes, did you need something?” Justice has a pretty loud voice so the entire plane heard him respond by saying, “No, I just wanted to see what that button does.” (Yes, he had pressed the button to call the flight attendant). The way he said it sounded so innocent and curious that the ENTIRE plane erupted in laughter, and I myself could not stop giggling.

Here is my journal excerpt from Day 1 of our arrival into Ghana….

The first familiar face we saw in the airport was of course Esi [if you are just joining our blog, Esi is the mother of our first host student from Ghana, Yaw, and she and her husband also kept Justice for us after his visa fiasco from June 2010 until he came to the U.S. in September 2010]. Esi could not stop smiling at Justice and commenting on how much he had grown and how healthy he looked. She kept saying that his face looked different, especially something in his eyes. I know what she is seeing. He has a light in his eyes now that was never there before he was adopted. He always looked so lost and sad before. Now his eyes dance with this mix of health, joy, and well – lightness, that is so easy to see when we compare before and after pictures. I love how God so involved Esi and her husband Nana in the process of Justice’s adoption so that they too could rejoice in what God has done in his life.

Hours later once we had arrived in the village of Asikuma and were walking around I wrote this….

It is such a strange feeling being on the streets, watching the village children and knowing that this is how Justice would have grown up had he not been adopted.

Many of the boys here should be as big as Justice. They are the same age as him, but so tiny and skinny in comparison. By the time nighttime rolls around they are begging to come to dinner with us at the hotel. We are able to pick out a handful of the kids to eat with us at the table. The hotel staff advised us to have two kids share a serving on a plate, because if each of them gets their own plate their stomachs grow over the week we are here. Then when we leave and go back to the U.S. they will be even hungrier because their bodies will have adjusted to more food intake.

I also had noted…

Justice has very quickly forgotten that the way the street children act was also how he used to be. Some of that forgetting is good, but I do hope that he will never forget how God has picked him out and saved him from this life of day by day survival. Jake had to remind Justice a hand full of times tonight that “that was once you”. All the village boys wanted to hold Justice’s hand (very common here – boys hold eachother’s hands while walking as well as girls), hang their arms on his shoulders, etc. There is no personal space here – and it’s very easy to feel smothered if you aren’t used to it. Justice told Jake that he didn’t like how all the kids kept wanting to touch him. Jake gently reminded Justice that he did the same exact thing to us when we first met him. There was also a point tonight when Justice asked me why all the kids love cameras and taking pictures so much! Um, hello dear son do you not remember how you constantly had to take pictures on my camera and play with the settings because you were so excited to hold something electronic in your hands? I’ve got evidence!

Just for giggles, here is Justice experimenting with my camera back in June 2010….

With this being the first night here we are cutting Justice a little slack. We really had no idea of how he would react to being back here. So far we aren’t sure if Justice is pretending that he doesn’t remember these details of his former life, or if he really has pushed it/blocked it all out of his memory. I am so interested to watch his reactions and interactions with the village kids the next few days…

By the next day Justice had fully entered into wanting to help, play with, and interact with the village kids. We had one full day in Asikuma to just be around our little friends, and Justice eagerly settled into a role of leading a lot of the play….

Here is a quick video of all of us just hanging out with the village kids. At the beginning you’ll see Justice and JJ playing American football with the boys. They did this EVERY DAY, no matter what town we were in or what new kids they were playing with. They just threw the football around almost the entire trip!

[That’s Jake picking up little Adjoa when she fell near the middle of the video – I’ll do a separate post on a different day to update you on her and Yaa]

Justice and JJ were both SO EXCITED to meet Yaa and Adjoa in person because we had been praying for them as a family for months. Justice and Adjoa....

By the evening of the second night, we saw Justice quietly and discreetly taking food out to the kids who lined the street at the edge of our hotel grounds. Like I mentioned above, our hotel would only allow us to invite a handful of the street kids in for dinner, and this spurred Justice’s heart of compassion to really kick in. He could also barely stand the thought of all our donations sitting in the suitcases in our room. He kept asking, “Dad, what can I give away?” He wanted to be the one to get to hand out the donations when it came to be that time.

Of course, the highlight of Justice’s visit to Ghana was to be visiting his hometown of Larteh and his birthfamily for the first time since his adoption completed over a year and a half ago. This was reserved for one of the last days of our trip. Kofi, our in-country case worker who handled Justice’s adoption, drove us up the beautiful mountain once again to the town of Larteh.

As we drove, Kofi tried to jog Justice’s memories, but Justice had a hard time recounting a lot of things. Kofi told us that Justice used to get really car sick on the travels to the various social welfare and Embassy appointments (b/c of all the twists and turns on the mountain road). He said Justice would always throw up every time they traveled in the car. We all giggled at that! At one point we drove past some little kids fetching water out of the rain gutter that lined the road. That spurred Kofi to ask Justice if he remembered where he used to go fetch water from. This time Justice said, “Yes, I remember the way. Can we go there today?” We all answered with a resounding yes and added it to the list of stops in Larteh. Kofi explained that in Larteh the kids fetched water from a stream that came down from the mountain. He said the best time to fetch water was at 4am, and then often the kids would go 6-7 more times per day depending on how much water their family needed. Justice remembered getting up every day, extremely early to go and get water. I started thinking out loud and said, “Can you imagine if I woke JJ up at 4am every morning to go get us water?” This got us all laughing and Justice commented, “That would be very bad!”

During the drive Kofi stopped to buy a coconut, which Justice had also wanted ever since we got to Ghana. So he got to finally have his coconut milk!

Eventually we got to the main road that led into Larteh!

Our first stop was of course to go and visit Justice’s birthmother and little brother. We parked on the side of the road, and Justice led us back to where he used to live. As we walked I started video-recording, and all of a sudden we saw his little brother followed by his birthmother come running up the alley, shouting and so excited! My silly camera ran out of memory space right as Justice and his birthmother embraced (I had another camera waiting in my bag), but hopefully you can catch the pure excitement and emotion of these first moments…

We all exchanged hugs and watched the eyes of Justice’s birthmother absolutely dance with pure joy upon seeing her son again. She excitedly led us through the alley back to her house and she began setting out plastic chairs for us to sit down, as she had the very first time that we met. From there we took a load of pictures, handed out the gifts we had brought for Kwasi (Justice’s little bro) and his birthmother…..

I noticed this written above the door frame of their house - this wasn't there last time...

The whole time Justice’s birthmother kept going to grab her neighbors to bring them to see Justice. Her heart was so filled and excited and she wanted everyone to know that he had come home to visit. Kofi told us that so often communities in Ghana don’t embrace adoption because birthmothers don’t know who their child will end up with, and what will happen to them. They are scared and afraid of the possibility of unknowingly sending their child into the hands of evil people. Us bringing Justice back to his home village is a huge way that we were able to take part in educating this community on the positive outcome of international adoption.

After we took pictures and exchanged gifts Justice’s birthmother began setting up a little table. Kofi translated for us that she had prepared Justice his favorite Ghanaian dish – fu fu! Is that not the perfect example of a mother’s love or what?

Justice told us later that at this point he got nervous and would have eaten more but everyone was staring at him and watching him! :) As he talked with his birthfamily, we noticed that he understood what they said in the language he grew up with (an eatern-region dialect called ‘larteh’) but that he was not comfortable speaking it back.

After awhile it became time for us to head to a celebration that Kofi had planned with the other orphans in Larteh that he has just started to identify and begin helping. Sadly, in Larteh there are 24 orphans who have lost both parents either to death or abandonment, and there are many more considered extremely needy who have one surviving parent. We all hopped back into the car and went to the center of the town where the orphans of Larteh and many people in the community awaited our arrival. Justice was the honored guest, and he was asked (with no time to prepare) to speak to the orphans, encourage them, explain adoption, and talk about his new life. He was very, very nervous, and quite honestly was really put on the spot, but we were so proud that he displayed such courage and didn’t back down. He answered questions, explained his life in the U.S. compared to Ghana, defined adoption, and the segway that he chose for each new topic was “…and God will start changing your life…”

One of the last questions that he answered from an adult in the crowd was “Are you happy to stay here in Ghana or go back to the United States?” He answered right away, “I am happy to go back to the United States.” I wasn’t sure what the reaction of the crowd would be to his answer but they all started laughing and clapping and nodding their heads yes.

From there we served a meal to the orphans…

Played – with bubbles of course!

And then our last stop in Larteh was to visit the place where Justice used to go and fetch water. He led us to the pathway through housing and some open rocky areas….

And then we reached the stream…

There was also a bore hole/well that had been put in along the stream where many were lowering their buckets into the water…..this was such an interesting glimpse into a tiny piece of Justice’s former life….

And that was our time in Larteh!

One of the questions we’ve been asked a lot is why Justice’s little brother was not also put up for adoption? People wonder what the situation is in why he is still living with the birthmother. The answer is two-fold. Justice’s birthfather is deceased. Kwasi’s birthfather is not. In addition, the two biggest factors that played into Justice’s adoption were #1 – The family’s poverty, which resulted in Justice’s severe malnutrition. #2 – Justice’s condition of albinism. He was rejected by the Ghanaian society because of his red hair and lighter shade of skin. Although our trip to Justice’s hometown was full of joy, there were also many points where Jake and I were confronted with the reality of Justice’s rejection. Every neighbor, relative, and person that saw him called him ‘obruni’, and they did not use it as a term of endearment. ‘Obruni’ is the Ghanaian word for ‘foreigner/white person’. This is what the Ghanaians call us - the Americans - and they tease Justice by labeling him ‘white man’ and calling him this word. This was something that sickened me on our first trip to Larteh back in 2009 when we first met Justice and Kofi explained to us his nickname in the community. It was as if his fellow Ghanaians wanted him to know – ‘You are not one of us.’ In some African countries, like Tanzania, an albino’s life is even in danger as they believe that albinos have magical properties in their limbs (and will therefore kill an albino in order to sell their limbs). Thankfully they don’t practice this in Ghana, but albinos are still mistreated. In America, with our rainbow of beautiful shades and colors of skin, eyes, and hair, nobody would ever notice this or see Justice as unfit to be a part of society. In Ghana it’s different. Although on the outside Justice may not look traditionally Ghanaian, on the inside his heritage remains, and we will continue to rejoice in the rich country that he comes from, and know that God has given us a very compassionate, intelligent, joyful, son who fits into our family perfectly.

Tonight, back at home, as we read from the Bible and were about to say our prayers I asked my kids as I always do if there was anything specific that they wanted to pray for. Justice said, “I want to pray for my little brother in Ghana, that he gets to know Jesus.” This trip has done a lot in our lives, and for Justice I know that his heart has become even heavier for Kwasi. Justice has now been confronted with the stark contrast of his new life compared to that of his little brother left in Ghana. I pray that God will use the heaviness in his heart for good as only He can. I am convinced now more than ever that keeping Justice connected to his birthcountry and birthfamily will allow him to make a huge impact for the gospel in so many lives and in so many ways.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. ~1 Samuel 16:7~


Christy said...

Oh, TEARS!!! What tremendous gifts you have given to Justice: adoption, the gospel, and now this opportunity to return to his roots. I just have a feeling that he is going to do great things for the kingdom of God in the world of adoption. I can't get over the difference between his before and after pictures. His joy is evident!! Looking forward to the rest of these posts. So thankful for you guys!

Jason Hacker said...

I hope you don't mind. I am a friend of Adam and Kendra Haluska and subscribe to their blog which is where I stumbled upon yours. I am a loyal Cyclone and certainly know who Jake is so thought I would check it out. What an amazing story and journey you and your family have and continue to take. I look forward to continued reading.

Jason from Carroll

Derek, Becky, Ainsley, Jantzen & Emery said...

I too stumbled on your blog from another ISU friend and love your courage and commitment to helping others! AMAZING!!

Becky from Waverly