Adopted ID: My Journey Home
By: Judith Craig Morency
Chapter One: The Return
H opeful heartbreak
A bandoned, amazing
I nvigorating, inspiring
T errifying, tantilizing
I ntriguing, indefinite
As the plane touched down on the tarmac I began to feel giddy with excitement, they opened the door and the humid Haitian air overwhelmed me. As I walked out of the airplane and took my first steps onto Haitian soil I realized “I’ve made it home”!! It was such a surreal feeling, I was amazed by the beauty that encircled me. There were mountains to our left and Touissant L’Overture Airport on the right. I immediately started taking pictures of all that surrounded me including the Haitian welcome band that played joyfully as we entered the airport. Before arriving I thought this moment would have caused me to burst into tears, but instead I had a simple feeling of contentment. My lifelong dream of coming home had been realized. My filmmaker friend Sonia and I had 27 days to make connections that would lead me to meeting members of my birth family. We were as prepared as we could be as we had no way of knowing where this journey of a lifetime would take us, who we would meet and what outcomes would surface. With each step I took on Haitian soil I walked further into the unknown.
As we passed through security to retrieve our bags we were “mobbed” by the airport porters, it was extremely overwhelming as there were so many of them and they just began grabbing our bags. We had to assert ourselves as we moved through the crowd to look for our assigned porter from St. Joseph’s Home for the Boys our first guest house on our trip. During our drive there, we got our first glimpse of Port-au-Prince. It was captivating, there were bright colourful tap- taps (mini buses), street vendors’ and people walking between the cars, which I felt was risky as everyone appeared to drive according to their own rules. The Palm Trees were beautiful but misleading as the poverty was very evident as there were people begging on street corners. The grey dirty shantytowns built on top of each other with rows of clothing lines didn’t look suitable for anyone to live in. The contrast within the streets was surprising; one side had rows of shanty houses and the other side there were newly built brightly coloured homes. I was fascinated by both extremes and I although poverty is not glamourous, I felt the need to experience these contrasts since I do not know which ‘side of the tracks’ I came from. I want to embrace all of Haiti in order to obtain the most well rounded perspective possible.
Upon arrival to St. Joseph’s we were met with a much needed cold glass of water by Michael the Founder and Bill the Director who proceeded to giving us a tour of the home. Michael was a White American middle aged man who was very jovial and welcoming. Bill was a twenty-something year old Haitian man who grew up in the home himself. He was very physically fit and handsome and was very friendly. St. Joseph’s was a charity residence for boys who didn’t have family who could care for them. Michael and the staff provided care for the boys in the home, they received free formal education and were expected to contribute by helping to manage the guest home. We were able meet some of the boys and the chef Dadey who hails from Cap Haitien. We were excited to experience our first taste of authentic Haitian cuisine. After we had a chance to briefly settle into our room two of the media contacts Sonia had made arrived. Jeremie was a journalist who would act as media liaison and translator. He was a slender Haitian man of average height with locs in his hair that had little pieces of string poking out, I hadn’t seen this style with locs before and I made a note to ask him about it when I got to know him better. He was very friendly and outgoing. Pushent was our driver and cameraman; he was taller than Jeremie but also a slender Haitian man also with locs (but no strings) and he was much quieter, although I contributed this more to his limited English, he was pleasant and smiled shyly at us. We reviewed our schedule over the next few days and it was packed full. Jeremie informed us that he had arranged interviews with various media outlets for us beginning the next morning. I knew it would be an intense experience and that we’d be moving quickly so I needed to ensure that I got a goodnight’s sleep. After our meeting we were able to enjoy our first Haitian dinner that Chef Dadey had prepared for us and it was delicious! The fresh fish which we had watched Dadey prepare earlier simply melted in our mouths and has since inspired me to learn how to cook Haitian food. Following dinner we were invited to watch the St. Joseph’s boys’ Dance and Drumming Troupe rehearse. They were very talented and appeared to take the rehearsal very seriously. Walnus the Assistant Director at St. Joe’s and the Director of the dance troupe led the boys in warm-up activities and informed us that he had high expectations on them since the dance troupe travels worldwide. After the rehearsal, we retired for the evening, to get a good night’s rest in preparation for our 6am wake up call.
Waking up the next morning wasn’t fun but after ‘bucket’ bathing (using a sponge and bucket in an enclosed area in the bathroom) we were greeted with a luscious breakfast of fresh fruit, watermelon, grapefruit, papaya and a delicious egg and cheese omelette. Initially I thought to myself “Oh my lands, I don’t even like omelettes” but it was amazing! Jeremie and Pushent collected us at 7:30am and we travelled through Port-au-Prince to Topik Radio station for the morning radio show.
I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of this visit until we arrived at Topik and were live on Haitian radio, all across the capital, Port-au-Prince. Initially my nerves overtook me but the host was very welcoming and appeared intrigued by my story which helped me to embrace the experience. I was able to use the opportunity to share my story and ask for help in locating my birth family. The popularity and effectiveness of this radio station became evident, as the first calls started coming in almost immediately. My stomach flipped and flopped when the first call came in. It hit me in that instant, that I had just opened myself up to a ‘journey and experience’ that was far bigger than I could have imagined. Could I really do this? My birth family could be listening and actually come forward to claim ME! Was I ready for that? And if I was, was I prepared enough? Could I ever be? Before I arrived in Haiti I had five sessions of adoption counseling in London. My counselor and I examined some of the possibilities I could encounter on my journey. Some of the scenarios we discussed were as follows, 1) I could find my family and be embraced warmly but what expectations would they place on me and how would I deal with that? 2) My birth mother could be deceased and that may be all that I would get to find out about her and nothing more about who she was or I might meet some of her family. If that happened, would I be satisfied? Did I have a choice? 3) I could search and not find anyone. The counseling revealed that the possibilities were endless and I wasn’t sure exactly how I would react if any of the scenarios we discussed occurred. With all of this flooding through my mind, I convinced myself, when the calls of support and encouragement started coming in at the radio station, that I could manage it. With the determination I had mastered to come on this journey and strength it had taken me to follow through with this conviction, I just knew that I had done as much preparation as I possibly could and would just have to deal with whatever came out of this.
We left an advertisement CD with a synopsis of my story and our contact details, for them to continue airing the appeal over the coming weeks. We said our goodbyes to the host and his team and we moved on to our second appointment of the day. We arrived at a large TV station Teleguine which is very popular. They committed a one-hour segment for my story. I felt so humbled by that. They soon had me in the dressing room where a professional make-up artist gave me a makeover that made me feel like a star. It was so surreal. The set was prepared and when I walked into the studio I was warmly welcomed by a very sweet looking host, who looked like a cuddly bear. He interviewed me in Kreyol and Jeremie, who joined us on stage, translated. I had to remember to deliver bite size chunks of information. The host challenged me to be the ‘Guardian’ for Haiti’s orphaned children and was happy that I expressed the desire to return and work in Haiti. At the end of the interview we gave our Haitian contact details, phone number and email which kept Jeremie very busy on the phone.
Later that day, Jeremie introduced us to Guy Delva a very accomplished fellow journalist with the BBC Caribbean. Guy also hosted his own radio show and was the Director of The Society of Journalists, a network which promotes social justice and better working conditions for journalists in Haiti. He was therefore very influential in the media world and was able to ‘fast track’ much of our work. The next day Guy interviewed me on his radio show and then took us over to another well-known station Caribes, where Guy had a word with the Station Director and we were graciously provided with an interview. The two DJ’s who interviewed me were very jovial and although I didn’t understand all of the jokes I quickly became aware that they were interested in my personal life. They queried why at almost 28 years old I wasn’t married and had no children. They asked me what I was looking for in a man and informed me it was best to learn Kreyol so I could get myself a good Haitian man. It was so embarrassing but I played along. I said I preferred a Haitian man who spoke partial English, with no children, who likes to travel and is committed. After I made this statement they asked Guy to describe what I looked like. He said I was pretty and sweet, which I thought was very nice but I found the whole experience extremely embarrassing. Suddenly the phones started ringing, men were calling in offering to date/marry me!! It was unbelievable but at least my story was out there being told through multiple outlets. On this day I learned new skills about managing awkward questions and overcoming some anxiety about sharing my story.
After completing all of our interviews for the day we visited an education initiative SODA (Sosyete Dyol Ansanm Lekol Altenativ) that Jeremie and other members in his community founded. The program provided free education to local children and took place in a vacant, run down building. The program was provided exclusively to children who could not afford to attend school. The children did not wear uniforms, and they had to share school books. Despite these challenges the children were extraordinary and incredibly eager to learn. The teachers all volunteered their time. It was so inspiring for us to see what they had done and how essential education is in order for these children to have a better future. This is an initiative that both Sonia and I definitely want to assist with long term.[i]We had a chance to observe their lessons, play with the children and engage in a joint English/Kreyol lesson. It was beautiful. They loved learning, and posing for pictures. I felt bad that we didn’t bring them any treats but Jeremie said they were just so happy to have us there that we agreed to visit again later in our trip. I was deeply moved by this visit.
After leaving SODA we went to get something to eat at a local restaurant so that we could catch up on telephone messages we had received over the past few days. Amongst all of the messages one woman’s call stood out and sounded interesting. She said she came from Carrefour a very poor area in Port-au-Prince, which is filled with dumps, large potholes and watery roads. We agreed for Jeremie to return her call to obtain some additional information. I sat anxiously as Jeremie made the call and asked her some direct questions about where she had lived at the time of her baby’s birth, what her circumstances had been and when her pregnancy had occurred. Once he hung up and translated the information to us we all agreed that the initial details she had provided sounded conceivable and that after we ate we would drive to Carrefour to obtain further information and of course see what she looked like. This had always been an important element to me. Since I was a child I was desperate to physically resemble someone (and although my adopted brother was also from Haiti we were not biologically related so didn’t share any major physical similarities). I always prayed that when I searched for my birth family there would be an obvious physical similarity. I had seen this within my adoptive family as comparisons were made between my parent’s biological children, themselves and other relatives about who resembled who the most. I always felt left out of those discussions and I longed to find who I looked like in the world. As I got older I became aware that not all parents and children do look like each other and this troubled me greatly. How would I find my birth family if I didn’t physically resemble them? As these many thoughts went through my head our meal arrived and although I was incredibly hungry eating was very difficult as I wrestled with the reality that this woman could potentially be my birth mother. Could it really have happened so quickly? It was only the 3rd day of our trip. Was it someone trying to take advantage of me? Or was it a woman who had truly lost her baby girl 28 years ago and hoped beyond hope that I was that lost baby, returning home. The emotions I was experiencing were overwhelming so I went into my Social Work mode and tried to remove all personal feeling from the situation. I decided we needed a plan of action and I elected Jeremie and Pushent to act as my intermediaries and make initial contact. I felt this was an appropriate way to safeguard myself in the event that her story was not credible.
As we drove the short distance to Carrefour I tried to settle my nerves with deep breathing and taking pictures of the passing scenery. We pulled into a gas station to finalize our plan and located an internet café across the street. We decided that Sonia and I would wait there as it was a public place which was well lit and still open. I don’t recall exactly what was said as Jeremie and Pushent made their way down the street but I knew waiting would test my patience like nothing I had ever experienced before. The couple who ran the internet café were very pleasant and Sonia explained to them what we were doing and they invited us to wait in their store. I started verbalizing all of the thoughts going through my head at this point and trying to weigh up each potential outcome with Sonia as my sounding board. Here I was moments from potentially meeting my birth mother, something I had desired my entire life. What was I supposed to feel like? I realized that no amount of counselling prepared me for such a moment so I tried to recall all of the personal accounts I had read or been told by fellow adoptees. Why was it that none of their words of wisdom were coming to memory at that crucial moment? I felt very vulnerable and scared of what potentially was going to occur in a matter of moments. I was also growing impatient as it felt as if we had been sitting in the café for hours. In reality it had just been about 45 minutes when the phone call came. Jeremie rang and confirmed that her story sounded plausible and also that there was a physical resemblance to me. WHAT? How close a resemblance was my first question, it was hard for them to describe so they agreed to take some photos of her and meet us at the internet café so we could assess the photographs. Again it felt like hours went by until the guys finally reached us. As they reached for the camera I inhaled sharply, was I about to see a picture of my birth mother? What would I do if I stared into a face that mirrored mine? Would I cry? Laugh with joy? I wasn’t certain so I took a deep breath and looked at the pictures. I felt disappointed as I didn’t see much resemblance but the rest of the team felt there was. They specifically thought the upper facial region of her face was like mine so I tried to remind myself that not every child and parent will be mirror images of each other and listen to what other information they had gathered. Jeremie shared her story with us. He said she had told them that many years ago she had met a man in Port-au-Prince and they began dating. He was originally from Cap-Haitien and wanted to return there so she agreed to go with him leaving her friends and family behind in Port-au-Prince. They built a life together in Cap-Haitien over a five year period and then she found herself pregnant. Their relationship wasn’t healthy as the man became abusive to her and finally left her. She became mentally ill to the extent that when she gave birth to her baby girl, she abandoned her somewhere in Cap-Haitien. Several days later, she realized she had left her baby and went back to get her but couldn’t find her. All these years she had been living with this guilt and desperately wanted to let her baby girl know she loved her and had wanted her. She recalled giving birth on September 11th 1979, which was a month earlier than my estimated birth date, but we felt it was plausible as dates are not always recorded in Haiti and the year and season was correct.
I had Goosebumps and knots in my stomach after they relayed the story. This story could be MY story, this could be MY birth mother. I felt nauseous and anxious and had to make a decision. Jeremie and Pushent wanted me to go to the house Jaqueline resided in with her current husband and their son and daughter who are in their 20’s and who are all aware of her situation. I returned to my Social Work mode and made the decision that I didn’t feel that was appropriate to go to their home at this stage so I asked them to bring her to the internet café we were at. As I waited nervously I stared again at the picture of this woman who could be my birth mother. It was the most surreal feeling, to think within moments I could be meeting my birth mother. “Oh my lands is this really happening? What do I say? Will I feel a connection immediately? Will I cry?” I didn’t have long to wait. I turned around and found myself looking into Jacqueline’s eyes… and felt a wave of nervousness, as she looked searchingly back in my face……
[i] Unfortunately we learned after leaving Haiti that one of the non-Haitian founding members had stolen funds from the school and it had become defunct. Jeremie was no longer involved and we decided to look at another avenue to support.