Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Meeting Jonathan in Kinshasa - Part 1

I am so late in writing down all of the things I want to remember from my travel to Kinshasa and from meeting Jonathan. I think a part of me is honestly afraid that I'll never be able to capture the magic and love and sweet perfection of those two weeks, so I think, "Why bother even trying?" But I do so want to record some of the memories for myself, but mostly for Jonathan. While I was in country, Adam said the most perfect thing - he told me that spending that time in Kinshasa was the closest thing we'll ever have to Jonathan's birth story. Every year, we tell our daughters' about their birth stories, and we can never have those memories for Jonathan. But what we can have is a collection of memories, stories, and items from one of the most amazing adventures of my life - my trip to meet him.

So, on February 28th, Adam and I traveled from Charlottesville via car to Washington DC for my flight from Dulles to Brussels. It was a surprisingly stress-free experience. I'd been packing for so long (ummm... like a year?) and had perfect to do lists of what I would need to do prior to leaving, what Adam would need to do while I was gone, etc etc. I got accused by one of my adoptive traveling mama friends of being Type A... I didn't see myself that way, but it was possible that all the way up until my plane wheels were in the air that I actually was incredibly Type A! Once I had Jonathan in my arms, I promise that all changed.

When we got to check-in at Dulles (no line and we got super close parking - easy peasy!), I had so many bags that the agent thought Adam was flying with me. We got all 180 pounds of my luggage checked, scanned and on its way and then we just had to say goodbye. Honestly, we both did really well considering this was going to be the longest time we'd ever been apart since first meeting, but as I was walking to the escalator, I caught a glimpse of Adam walking away and it hit me pretty hard. I cried a bit, but mostly I was just so freaking excited to finally - FINALLY - be on my way. No more to do lists, no more late night Embassy calls, no more crying over emails! It was the shucking of a burden I didn't even quite realize I was bearing.

At the gate, I met my awesome travel partner, Felice, who'd also been my late night Embassy calling partner for weeks prior, so despite meeting her at that moment officially, it felt like we'd been friends for years. We later said that being a part of one another's adoption seriously speeds up the friend quotient. There is no more being acquaintances when you've cried with someone over meeting their child for the first time.

Our plane was on time, our flight to Belgium was completely uneventful (I watched reruns of Downton Abbey  and the movie Clueless, though I later found out that almost every single adoptive parent had watched Argo on the way over... apparently I was done with drama and needed a little levity in my life - thanks, Alicia Silverstone.) We arrived in Brussels and had to make the long hike (and bus ride) out to the far off terminal that had African flights. There we met up with some other adoptive moms who were going to Kinshasa for bonding trips or for community development. It was so great to start to meet some of the adoption community in person, finally. Thank goodness for Facebook profile photos, because we all basically knew one another right away.

The flight from Brussels to Kinshasa was much more comfortable (the flight was not crowded at all and I got a few seats to stretch out on). It was also easy and uneventful. Seriously, all of my travel to Kinshasa was so easy and almost relaxing. I paid for that relaxation on the flights home, but that's a story for later.

Felice and I weren't sitting together, but later we found out that we both cried when we landed in Kinshasa. There is a phenomenon that occurs on some plane rides where people returning home clap and yell in celebration when they land (this has happened a few times to me in the Caribbean and I've heard it always happens on flights into Puerto Rico). When all the Kinois folks on the plane start celebrating, I started crying. After more than 13 months, I was in the same city as my son. I was going to see his home country, meet his people, and learn more about DRC culture than any website or book could provide me. It was such a great feeling. Nothing could've happened at that moment to take away that joy.

Felice and I were both prepared for a crazy airport experience due to reviews from other traveling families. I don't know if we just got lucky (i.e. arriving at a quieter time of day), but our experience was super smooth. After passing Immigration, we found our protocol right away (I would always recommend a protocol - he was very reassuring to have around) and were able to relatively quickly get our bags (all 360 pounds of our luggage made it! Thanks so much Brussels Air - you're awesome.) After that, we were taken outside to meet our agency's coordinator, D. He was welcoming, if a bit reserved. We got loaded up and headed into the city.

We were told to expect at least a 1.5 hour car ride to our guesthouse... it only took 45 or so minutes. Again, everything really fell into place pretty easily for us. It was dark during the drive in so I couldn't see much, except for hundreds and hundreds of trash can fires on the sides of the main road and thousands of people milling about. Some seemed to be walking home but many were just socializing, it seemed like. The ride was a bit scary, but I'd seriously prepared myself for the driving "techniques" in DRC so I wasn't too shocked by the passing-a-car-in-the-oncoming-traffic-lane thing.

We arrived at Sunny Day Guesthouse, I was prepared for some big check-in procedure - not so much. The gate guard staff grabbed our bags, opened a few rooms up, taught us how to cut on the AC and the WiFi passcode and we were set.

So by this point, everyone who knows me well expected I would be immediately jumping the shower (I take two showers each day on most days, and by this point I'd been about 30 hours without one). Well, I didn't. First, I skyped Adam to let him know that I'd arrived. Apparently, he got next to no sleep because he kept checking the flight tracker through an app on his iPad. When we finally spoke, it almost 10pm my time, so they'd all been waiting (anxiously) to hear from me. We were lucky to have a fairly good Internet connection at Sunny Day, for most of the time, so we could use Skype and FaceTime fairly often.

After I spoke with Adam, I was so excited to unpack and organize my room (okay so possibly some of my Type A-ness came to Africa with me). All I could think about was getting the room, food, clothes and toys perfectly organized before I went to sleep, because I didn't want to have to deal with it the next day (bad choice - I had A LOT of time the next day that needed to be filled and I'd already done everything!). Unpacking 180 pounds of luggage was no small task, but I got everything organized and put up and finally got to take a shower (I have a picture of what I looked like at this point, but it's definitely not something to be shared... yuck!). I was in bed by 11.30 or so and even took sleeping medicine... but I was back awake by 4.30am. Not fun and definitely not good considering the next 10 hours would probably be the longest of my life (possibly excluding labor, but that's only because labor includes pain and at least during this wait, I got to put my feet in the pool!)...


  1. I love Adam's quote and I love your special story that you are remembering and will be able to tell Jonathan each year. Can't wait for the other installments!

  2. Love reading your experience! Brings back memories:)

  3. Hi Kristen! Can we be friends? :) My family has recently decided to adopt from DR Congo. We are in the most initial phases of international adoption, literally choosing a country and filling out an application. I would love a friend in this process and you seem wonderful. I promise not to be needy or demanding if you'll have me. :) My name is Allison and my my email is allisonmaze@yahoo.com and my blog is runneth-over.blogspot.com, you can check it out if you want to make sure I'm not too creepy. I found your blog on a website about Congo adoptions.

  4. My husband and I are looking into adopting from the Congo as well! I can't wait to read the rest of your journey - when you have time to write it.