When traveling internationally for adoption, it can be a bit nerve-wracking. As if the language barriers aren’t enough, there is the struggle to explain why you’re traveling home with two (or so) children you didn’t arrive to the country with. Adoptive parents have to be prepared with a stack of extra documents just in case the people at customs don’t accept the minimal.
I arrived to the airport with all of the necessary paperwork- but I was still nervous about the explanations to come. Carlos, Yamilet, and I checked in our baggage with no problems, exchanged our Peruvian money for dollars, and headed for a pre-security treat. I’d easily gone through the security with Peruvian airlines, with a coffee before. But I did have other Peruvians with me, and that makes a difference it seems, because my entire coffee was dumped in the trash. Haha! Security was no problem and we headed to the international customs area.
I got all of my documents prepared and soon was speaking with one of the officers there. The lady looked at my international paper, the one that a person is required to fill out upon entering the country, and asked why my two children did not have that paper. I explained that it was an adoption. She then began speaking in Spanish quickly and I did not know what she was trying to say. I went on to tell her that I only knew a little Spanish, but I had all of our documents there for her to see. She quickly pushed all of the papers back towards me, and basically said, “No Spanish?! I can’t help you!” I could feel my face getting red and I wondered where to go for help. Carlos began explaining to me that they needed the paper that I had received when I got to Lima. I tried explaining to him that I didn’t have that because they didn’t come with me to Lima from America! Carlos is super helpful and likes to problem solve. He asked a lady wearing an airport vest where we could get this form and she brought us two. I still wasn’t convinced that we even needed that form, because it was nearly impossible to answer the questions correctly in a way that they made sense for an adoption. But I tried. Before going back we prayed for a different officer who was friendlier and spoke some English.
We got a man this time who did speak English. God hears! He was also nice! We once again explained our situation and I gave him the papers. He brought the papers to another lady who read and reviewed them and then we were on the way. Woohoo!
I can’t express the feeling of getting through that point. It felt so freeing to walk to the gate knowing that we were about to board for the USA! We waited there for an hour or so before we could get on the plane. Amazingly, we also ended up with super seats! They were at the front of an aisle, so we had lots of legroom. The flight was pretty uneventful, with a little bit of sleep and a couple of movies.
We arrived in Atlanta early the next morning and as we landed Carlos and Yamilet were immediately US citizens. Because the adoption was fully complete in Peru, citizenship becomes immediate when the adoptive children touch US soil.
When adopting from a foreign country, you are given a packet of information for each child at the US Embassy in the child’s birth country. You cannot open those packets at all and they are for customs in the USA. You hand the packets to customs and they look through them to be sure all of the documents are accurate and complete. So we were ready with our two packets and had no problems at all in the customs office upon arriving in Atlanta.
We went to claim our baggage and waited quite some time for one suitcase that seemed to be lost. I finally walked around to look for it or ask what I needed to do, when I saw that there were some police officers and a dog sniffing around our suitcase! Talk about going into freak-out mode!
After telling the officers that the suitcase was mine, they began asking me what I had in there. I couldn’t remember anything questionable in my bag, of course, so they asked me to open it and look through it. There, right on top were four berries. I had forgotten that I had planned to bring these berries home to Danny, and had stuck them down in one of my boots in a bag. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the fruit right now but it is a very common fruit in Peru. It looks much like a grape but is bright yellow and very delicious! I wanted Danny to try it and also was hoping I could save a few seeds and grow it in my yard. But I had totally forgotten that I’d even put them in my suitcase a couple of days before. If you don’t know, it is unacceptable to travel with berries, so I was finding out! Ha! People often travel with raisins and trail mix, and other snack foods like that. But four berries… don’t even try that.
We were brought to a side room where I was questioned by an officer while he looked through my bags. The man had a Jamaican accent.
He asked me, “Do you have any mitt in this bag?”
“Mitt?” I asked. “I am not sure I’m understanding what you’re saying to me.”
“You’ve never heard of mitt?!” He asked.
“Mitt? Um…I don’t think so.”
“MITT!” He began spelling the word… “M-E-E-T!”
I was more confused than ever. Was this street slang for some kind of new drug? “Uh…” Was all I could say. Because he spelled the word “meet” and was saying “mitt”.
Finally a side officer said, “He said meat. Do you have any meat in your bag?”
“Oh!!” I was so relieved that things were making more sense, that my most “country” accent fell out! “Meat?!” (It had at least 3 syllables…) “No sir! No meat here.”
As I waited for the officers to finish looking through my stuff, I watched several other people’s items be inspected as well. There were two Peruvian women on either side of me, both of which had traveled with chicken in their suitcase. The older lady to my left who was traveling with her husband, had put several cooked chickens, amongst other Peruvian foods, in a suitcase. The lady to my right had a raw chicken in her suitcase. (This is real stuff, I’m totally not making it up.) After talking to the lady on my left a bit, I discovered she was traveling to see her children in Cincinnati, and was bringing them lots of Peruvian food. But I had to wonder how fresh it would be after a 6 1/2 hour flight to Atlanta and then her connecting flight to Cincinnati. I’m not sure, but I did discover the rule on chicken while waiting in customs. You can travel with cooked chicken but not raw chicken. And no berries…no berries at all.
We got to our gate as it was boarding, and onto New Orleans we were! I can’t tell you how happy Yamilet and Carlos were to arrive in Louisiana. They were all smiles and were so thrilled to see their daddy, as was I!
All of the firsts the kids have had over the last 24 hours are pretty much off the charts, so I’m going to save them for a future post. But to sum up my heart quickly- I must say, they have been so happy to be home. There has truly been a new level of peace and joy in our home. I can’t believe all of the things that we have seen come to pass and that our two children are finally home with their forever family. God is so faithful!