Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Our "STUCK" story

Sometimes a traumatic story has to sit for a while before it is shared and told.  Time dissolves some of the pain, anxiety and fears and healing is able to take place.  Soon enough, it becomes a distant memory.
Life has moved so quickly that Sol and I haven't had a moment to reflect or process through much of our journey but recently I was asked to share...so here it is.
Warning:  its rather long, so grab your favorite drink, get comfortable and watch God turn something so traumatic into something absolutely beautiful.

Some people said " we were at the wrong place at the wrong time.."
Others have said " it was a set up... for money.."
We say... " God knew ALL long what was going to happen... no, He didn't want us to suffer so much trauma... BUT He did allow us to see what it truly meant to "fight" for our children.
We now have a story to remind our children that they will always be "worth the fight ."

June 8th, 2012, Sol, myself and 2 of our boys (Ethan and Isaac) left our comfortable California home, flew over the Atlantic Ocean and headed to Kumasi, Ghana.  All four of us had high anticipation for what was ahead - meeting the 4 new additions to our family.  Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by our Power of Attorney and another adoptive family from our agency. Within less than 24 hours, we were driving on a rugged, red dirt road to our children's foster home. 
" I feel like this is a dream...I can't believe we are actually here! " said our nervous 8 year old son.  He too had journeyed with us through our mountains of paperwork, fingerprinting and home studies.  It was a shock for him on so many levels. 
Our initial meeting with our kids was beautiful. Their poor, confused souls were hidden beneath their sweet smiles and hugs. The instant connection with all 6 of our children was absolutely amazing. In that moment... I breathed my first sigh of relief. 
We were finally together. 


Our second day together in Kumasi

Our court date was set for June 14th at 8:00 a.m.  Our lawyer and important members from our children's extended family met us there to provide witness to the judge for our final adoption order.  At 8:01 a.m., we were given the message that the judge could not meet with us at our appointed time, our court date had been delayed 6 hours. 
Fortunately, we were prepared for this.  In countries, like Ghana - there is no rush... even if it's "important." 
Waiting for our 8:00 court hearing
Our 6 hours of waiting was spent taking our children, their extended family, our Power of Attorney to breakfast and touring through one of Kumasi's cultural museums.  As anxious as we all were, it was a bonding time for all of us. While Sol entertained all 6 children, I asked a lot of questions and took advantage of finding out as much history of our children as possible.  Up until then, we had absolutely no birth, childhood history.  Unfortunately, 6 hours came to soon and we entered into the courthouse. 
The courthouse was filled with people...people everywhere.
A man motioned to us and we were all taken to a small room at the back of the building. Inside the room was 1 desk, a couple chairs and a small worn out sofa. We sat together and waited...
A few words were exchanged between the judge and our lawyer. Within a few minutes... they both stood up, smiled and shook hands. Apparently, our adoption order was
APPROVED!


From there, we parted ways with our children's extended family.  It was a bittersweet moment.  I'm pretty sure we were ALL confused with excitement and anticipation for the unknown " journey" ahead.  
Saturday, June 16th, all 8 of us traveled to Accra with our other adoptive friends and their newly adopted daughter.  It was a new experience for our Ghanaian children.  They had never flown on an airplane before.  " I'm ready to fly to America now! " exclaimed our 13 year old, Stephen. 


Our time in Accra was spent completing our children's medicals and getting our adoption order approved and sealed by the Supreme Court of Justice.
Wednesday, June 20th around 1:30 p.m., we entered the U.S. embassy in Accra and filed our children's I-600/Visas.  With our Power of Attorney, all 9 of us squeezed into a tiny room and handed our papers to the lady behind the window. We were warmly welcomed and she wasted no time filing our papers ...within 15 minutes we were DONE.  All of our paperwork was COMPLETE. 
As we walked out of the building, Sol calmly explained to our children that we would be leaving Ghana soon and the 4 of them would have to wait in Kumasi for at least 3 months while the U.S, embassy reviewed all of our paperwork and prepared their visas. "But as soon as your visas are printed... we will fly back to Ghana and bring you home to California." - Sol said reassuringly.  Stephen wrapped his arms around his new adoptive father and said " Daddy, I have waited 3 years for you, 3 months is nothing."

A huge cloud lifted off and we breathed another sigh of relief.  All necessary paperwork and appointments were complete.  There was nothing more to be done except to wait and enjoy our children.  We celebrated with our Power of Attorney for all of the work he had done for our family and praised God for His faithfulness and provision.

The next day, our Power of Attorney traveled back to Kumasi, our adoptive friends checked out of our hotel and departed back to America.  Sol and I had plans to spend 6 more days in Ghana with hopes of allowing our family to bond together. We were told that Accra was a safe city and we would have no problems getting around on our own.  We felt quite comfortable at the hotel we were staying at and had no doubt we were in good company. 

Friday morning, June 22nd we woke up excited for the day ahead. We had promised to take the kids swimming,  I had promised to take our 8 year old daughter shopping in the market for a new dress and Sol had promised to take the boys shopping for some soccer jerseys.  We were ALL thrilled to just enjoy a day in Accra without any adoption related appointments.  With a few hiccups of tantrums here and there, all 8 of us made it to breakfast and to the swimming pool. 


As we were walking downstairs towards the pool, our taxi driver caught my attention and asked me what time we would need him to take us to the market.  " Around 1:30..." I replied.

After a few hours at the pool, we headed upstairs to get ready for our afternoon outing. 
The song "Endless Summer" blasted from our room while the kids danced around so we could pack up our belongings for the day ahead.  There was nothing but laughter and joy radiating from our hotel room. 

1:45 p.m. - we piled into our taxi.  Our taxi driver, Obed warmly greeted us and made sure all 8 of us fit comfortably in his average size car.  As soon as he drove out of our hotel, Sol noticed 3 people dressed in civilian clothing flagging at our taxi driver.  " Maybe you should see what they need?" Sol told Obed.  Hesitantly, Obed pulled aside and got out of the car.  Within seconds, he was pinned to his car and the largest man out the 3 jumped behind the steering wheel,  "Everyone out!" Sol yelled frantically. We all followed his lead and all 7 of us literally fell out of the car.  "You're resisting an arrest!!" Yelled the woman who was dressed nothing like a police officer. 
" May I please see your badges?" - Sol replied.  One by one they each pulled out different sized pieces of paper that had their names and what Police department they were from. 
We had no option but to pile back in the taxi and follow the Police to their station. 
After about two and a half long hours of interrogation and reviewing our paperwork, we still had no idea why we were "being arrested." 
" Are all of these children yours?" asked one of the officers.
" Yes, sir." replied my husband.
" Even this one? " - the officer sarcastically asked as she pointed to our 2 year old who had fallen asleep on my back.
I smiled and nodded.  Fear had captured all of my words.
" It seems like even though you have all the necessary paperwork needed for your adoption of these four children, we will still have to take you to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) Headquarters for further investigation by the Anti-Trafficking unit."  replied the officer.

Another officer chimed in, " It's 4:40 and the chief officer with the Anti- Trafficking unit will be leaving his office at 5:00. Due to traffic, it will be impossible to make it there in time with your taxi, instead we will have you ride in our Police Jeep.  There will be two men holding AK-47 rifles, please don't worry. they only want to "protect you. Once you arrive there, Mr. G will review your paperwork and you will be on your way to lunch within 5 minutes.  Everything will be just fine. Don't worry."

We piled our 6 terrified children in the Jeep, with the siren blasting we headed towards the CID Headquarters.  At this point, Sol and I tried to breathe a sigh of relief... since we had all of our paperwork in order, we hoped that soon enough we would be on our way to lunch...
With my cell phone hidden under my backpack, I secretly texted my friends back home and posted Facebook updates seeking urgent prayer. 
" Chris, call the U.S. embassy immediately." Sol whispered to me.
After several failed attempts of calling the U.S. embassy, we reached an operator who told us to call back later. 

Soon enough, we arrived at the CID Headquarters.
" Don't worry Mr. and Mrs. Moghadam, within just a few minutes you and your family will be off to lunch. Please follow me up the stairs to Mr. G's office." replied one of the officers.

Six flights of stairs with six hungry, thirsty and terrified children was no easy task. I continued to text my friends back at home and finally made contact with our Power of Attorney in Ghana. 

We reached the office and in walked Mr. G and his assistant.
With a couple handshakes and good-byes, our 2 Police officers that escorted us handed Mr. G our stack of paperwork and parted ways.  I felt a pit in my stomach.  For some reason, I knew we weren't in good hands.  I nearly ran out of the room after the Police officers to plead them to stay until we were released.  I couldn't.  What would they do?  Even though their demeanor had instantly changed from rude and mean to kind and gentle, who's to say they would be on our side?

" Please have a seat..." said Mr. G
Without a glance at our paperwork or even taking a statement, he began interrogating us. 
Sol and I were confused.
Would someone PLEASE give us an explanation??
" Our attorney and two other lawyers are on their way, can you please wait for them?" we asked.

3 more hours of interrogation.
Hungry. Thirsty. Exhausted.
We Were Scared. 

Mr. G did not believe anything we said and refused to look at our paperwork.
"Your passports are forged. How can these two (referring to Ethan and Isaac) be your biological children?  You must have trafficked them too."  He said with a smirk on his face.
Unfortunately, he only chose to think and believe the worst of us. 

Suddenly, 2 officers came into the room, ripped Sol's backpack from behind him and began searching through it.  Diapers, wipes, old crackers, cameras etc.  "Terrorist! He IS a Terrorist" - yelled Mr. G with another smirk.
Sol smiled and replied, " because my passport states that my birth country is Iran? I am only here to help, not hurt." 
"TAKE HIM!" - screamed Mr. G 
Two police officers and their AK-47 rifles grabbed my husband's belt and started pulling him towards the door.
"NOOOO!!!!"  Stephen and I screamed.
We grabbed Sol's arms and pulled him towards us.  With all the strength we had, they managed to let go of my husband and the three of us flew to the other end of the room.  I pinned my husband to the wall, Stephen stood in front of me and the rest of the kids lined up one by one in front of us to block their mom and dad from the officers. 

" Since your attorneys have not arrived yet, how do we know that you are not lying to us? I have called 6 more Police officers with AK-47 rifles if you do not come with us. Don't worry, I will take all six of your children to a safe place to sleep and make sure they have food to eat. " said Mr. G.

That was enough.  I was NOT going to let them take our children away. 
" Take only me!" Sol pleaded. " You can do whatever you want with me, but please leave my wife and my children alone." 

I reached for my cell phone... it had several texts and facebook messages.  The word was rapidly spreading.  Friends and family were reaching out to help us. 
I desperately called the U.S. embassy again and to my relief... someone picked up.
" I am fully aware of your case ma'am but unfortunately we cannot do anything until Monday. "
My heart sank.
" Monday?? It's Friday, we cannot wait until Monday! Ma'am we are sending out a distressed signal, they are threatening the lives of our 2 biological children who are minor U.S. citizens! Please, Please, PLEASE help us!"
She hung up the phone.

I could feel the weight of Sol's hand on my shoulder.
"Chris, we have 8 officers in the room. 6 of them are holding AK-47s.  We are literally at their mercy and cannot allow our children to see or experience anything more traumatic than this.  Please, Chris... we can do this.  God hasn't left us. "  Sol tried to comfort me.

I looked over at Isaac - " Can we just go home now, mommy? I'm hungry."
My sweet little boy had no idea what was awaiting him. 

" Can I please tell you a story? " pleaded Ethan as he walked over to one of the officers.
He began talking about his Ninjago lego sets back at home... - " Please, don't arrest my mommy and daddy! Please! Please! Please!" - he began sobbing. 

I couldn't take it any longer.
My strength was fading.
Our attorneys were stuck in traffic. They didn't make it.
I fell back on my husband and just followed his lead.

"Okay, sir.  We are ready to go." replied Sol.

Slowly, we all walked out of the room and headed down the six flights of stairs.
" Where are they taking us?" whispered Isaac
" Will we ever see you again?" Ethan said frantically
Our other four were completely silent.  They had no words or tears left to cry.

As we headed towards the jail cell, we could see over 200 shirtless men yelling and pointing at us behind the bars.  I hugged and kissed each one of my children. 
" Everything will be okay... God hasn't left us." - I told them attempting to hide my own tears. 

That was it.
All six of our children were removed from us.  Just like that.  Would I ever see them again? Ever?
They were hungry... where were these officers taking my children?

The door slammed.
Sol and I were forced in the jail cell. 
We emptied our pockets, our bags etc. 
Just then, my cell phone buzzed.  A text came in from my mom. 
" Uncle _____ is on his way."  Two dear family friends who were Ghanaian had been notified and were on their way to check on us. 
I looked at the clock...
" Please Lord... don't let us get locked in until our friends and our attorneys arrive."
The jailer and his friend started counting our money.
After the first attempt of miscounting, I started praying that they would miscount until our friends arrived.  If we handed over all of our money, cell phones and others belongings to the jailer, chances were we would never see it again.  Second attempt. Third attempt.  Fourth attempt....- to our advantage, no one in the jail cell knew had to count money.

In walked our friends.  We had never personally met them but because my mom had texted me, we knew it had to be them.
Hugs, smiles and laughter were exchanged between the four of us. 
" Please, let us take their belongings for them." replied our friend.
God answered.

Our dear friends brought us water and food.  Even in that moment of desperateness and hopelessness, God still met our needs. 

"Can my wife and I please stay together tonight?" Sol begged to the Jailer.
" I'm sorry sir, she has to go in the back room with the other women. You will see her tomorrow."

The iron door slammed and I walked into a windowless, mosquito infested room with 5 other women sleeping on a 1 inch thin mattress that was laid out on the dusty concrete floor. 
" Hi lady, this is your place. We made a bed for you." replied an inmate from Nigeria. 
" What is your story ma'am," asked another inmate. 

I will never forget that night. 
Through the small holes in our iron door, I managed to see Sol's feet.  That entire night, I kept my eyes on his feet and prayed for protection over all my six children.  That was all I could think about.  My kids.  " They can do whatever they want to me." I thought. 
"Jesus, just please don't let them harm my children." 

The next morning, I woke up to my husband's voice. 
" Sir, can you please tell me how long we will be here?"
Then I heard a voice yelling from behind the bars. " I am here for Sol and Christine Moghadam!"
It was our attorney. 

7 a.m. our iron door opened and I was welcome to join my husband.
As I looked out through the bars, I could see a few Americans, our Ghanaian friends and our attorneys waiting outside.   I breathed a sigh of relief.  We were not alone.  Our voice had been heard. 

An American lady peered between the bars and started yelling to get our attention.
"Christine! Sol!! - over here!"
" Sorry but you must pay 20 cedis to go talk to your friend." - the jailer stopped us.
" 20 cedis?" We were told to give up all of our money!"
Thankfully, our friend stepped in and squeezed 20 cedis through the bars.
" Please allow me to talk with my friends." she pleaded.

"Chris and Sol, I stayed up all night on the phone with the Embassy, your family and friends back at home. Your children are at Osu Children's Home/Orphanage. My job is to advocate for Ethan and Isaac...your biological children. I will fight until they are released into your care or at least into my care. What happened to you guys was a huge mistake." - she replied.
We smiled and thanked her. She was an angel and turned out to be one of our dearest friends.

8:30 a.m. came and our faithful Ghanaian friends stopped by to give us more water and some breakfast. Although our appetite was gone, we forced a few bites in and shared the rest with some of the inmates in our cell.

9:30 came and our attorney stopped by - " Don't worry, we will get you out by the end of today. You have been assigned a personal detective who is handling your case. At 12;00 p.m., you will be taken upstairs to give your statements."

Minutes seemed longer than hours. The clock didn't seem like it was moving. Sol and I sat on the dusty concrete floor of the 12 x 12 cell.. waiting with other inmates. Some inmates had been sitting there for 3 months and some for 8 years. I had never felt such compassion towards prisoners than that moment.  Suddenly my perspective changed... at least we had attorneys, strangers, friends advocating for us. What about them?
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Sol when he nudged me to pray... I was once again reminded of my kids. 
" I can't stay here one more minute... I just want to see the kids." I told Sol. We couldn't go anywhere. WE were "stuck." Our kids were "stuck."

12:00 p.m. came - A kind and gentle man named Isaac came and introduced himself as our assigned detective. He led us out of the jail cell and struck up a friendly conversation as we climbed 5 flights of stairs. I never felt so free walking out of the cell. " Please, God - I don't think I can go back in there...please don't make me!"

12:30 p.m. - our friends and attorneys joined us in the room to provide support and comfort while we gave our statements.
"It's 12:30 already..." said our American friend. " We don't have much time to get Ethan and Isaac released from the orphanage. If we don't move quickly, they will have to spend another night there.  Where is the U.S. Embassy?"
1:00 p.m. - 2 officers from the Embassy finally arrived. Sol and I breathed a sigh of relief. FINALLY!!  They interviewed us and told us they were working on our behalf to release Ethan and Isaac.

2:00 came and we were escorted back to the jail cell.
My heart sank...again.
What now?

3:30 -  Our Power of attorney approached the cell and motioned us to come closer to hear the good news.  " Chris and Sol!! your friends have offered to provide their houses as your bail bond until you return on Monday for a hearing. Chances are, you could be released by 6:30 p.m."

Once again, there was hope.

Seconds, minutes passed by. The clock seemed like it was broken. Time wasn't moving. There was nothing for Sol and I to do except pray, chat with each other and the other inmates. Space wasn't much. We could hardly spread our legs and stretch.

3:45, 4:00, 4:15....
Finally 6:00 came...
and then 6:30.

nothing.

Sol and I looked at each other. There was a silent exchange of words between the both of us..." we knew we couldn't stay one more night."

7:00 came- our weary hearts were about to lose hope when suddenly a familiar face peered from between the bars and yelled out our name. All of the inmates started yelling out our name. " You will be going now, please don't ever forget our faces," replied one of the friendly inmates.
" May God bless you and your children!" yelled another.
" Here is some of the cedis you left with us," said the Jailer.
My husband handed the 28 cedis over to one of the inmates that had been kind to us.
Their faces will forever be engraved in our memory.  Who was going to come and bail them out?

Sol and I were finally escorted out of the cell and led outside. The crisp evening air never felt so good. WE were RELEASED... but what about our kids?
" An officer has gone to pick up Ethan and Isaac from Osu Children's Home. He will be arriving here with them in about 30 minutes. Your other four children will have to remain there until your entire case has been closed."
Bittersweet.
We were thrilled that 2 of our children would be reunited with us, but we still couldn't relax. Our other four where still "stuck."

There are no words to describe the amount of emotions that filled the room when Ethan and Isaac walked in. We grabbed our boys and held them tightly whispering into their ears. " Are you okay? How are the rest of your siblings? Are they okay?"
"Mommy and Daddy are here..." I whispered over and over again.

"Thank you" wasn't enough for our dear friends in Ghana as well as special friends and family from home that worked around the clock on our behalf.
Our friends checked us into a guesthouse that was tucked away where no one could find us. The owners of the guesthouse were well informed of our situation and promised to withhold information to any stranger that approached them.  We weren't fully released yet. Our passports were still being held at the CID headquarters until our four children were released.

Monday arrived. We headed towards the headquarters for our hearing, ready to have our passports released. It was a 6 hours process. (Some of the details of this process will remain untold...unfortunately, certain highly respected individuals were arrested for illegally involving themselves in our case without our permission). 
" Sir, we are having problems with our printer...your passports may not be ready until tomorrow." replied our officer.
Without any hesitation, Sol jumped right in to fix it. There was quite an applause and we were handed our passports.
"Unfortunately, your other four children will not be released until tomorrow." replied the officer. "But at least you have your biological children and your U.S. passports returned to you." chimed in another officer.
I smiled, " They are ALL my children, we will not rest until they are all released and safe with us."

That night, my cell phone was ringing off the hook. Facebook messages, text messages and phone calls from back home.  I opened up my blog and suddenly noticed the entire world had heard our story.  Hundreds, thousands of people had been praying We had never felt so loved and cared for. It was 3 a.m. that night when I finally fell asleep.

6:00 a.m. - my phone rang.  It was my mom.
" Chris, the media has gotten a hold of your story. Please shut your blog down and keep as quiet as possible." We need to get you out of Ghana ASAP. News is spreading. The wrong news. Your safety is being jeopardized."

9:30 a.m. - Sol, myself and the boys headed back to the CID headquarters to reunite with our children. As we entered the office, we were warmly greeted by the same officer that interrogated us the previous Friday night. The woman officer that beat our eldest son, approached us attempting to give us a hug.  Ethan and Isaac were just as confused as we were.

12:30 p.m. - we heard our children coming up the stairs. " Mommy!! Daddy!! Mommy!! Daddy!!"
Their voices echoed through the hallway as they came running down towards us. Arms opened wide, we embraced each other.

Reunited with our six children along with our attorney
and our assigned detective
Although the fight wasn't over, all six of our children were released.
We were finally back together.


"Chris and Sol, I think it's wise that you send your four children  back to Kumasi tomorrow night and the rest of you leave Accra immediately after.  The media in Ghana has gotten a hold of your story and we don't want you to be bombarded by them and the public." our Ghanaian friend said.
Although it tore my heart apart to think we'd have to say good-bye to our children so quickly, Sol and I knew this was the best decision we had to make for our family.

Friends escorted our children home and an officer from the U.S. Embassy arrived at the airport to be our personal escort. It was a bittersweet good-bye.
Although we were all released, our case was still left "open." The question returned...
" Would I ever see my children again?"

2 months later, our investigation was closed and the U.S. Embassy found favor on our case. Our children's visas were expedited and they arrived home safely on September 14th. 
As a family, we will never forget the journey we shared together in Accra. With God's strength and faithfulness, we fought hard to be a family.


We were each left with different scars. Some scars have taken longer than others to heal.
As hard as it is to parent children that come from such hard places, Sol and I ALWAYS tell our children, " It was worth the fight..."

Right now, somewhere in the world... there is a child sitting on a street corner, in an orphanage or even in the midst of garbage pile... wondering if he/she is worth being loved let alone "worth being fought for.."


5 comments:

  1. Incredible story! I remember praying for your family when the story hit U.S. blogs & FB. Enjoy hearing how all your children are doing and reading your faith witness. God's blessings on your family!

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  2. Oh Christine, thank you for putting this out there. I can't even imagine. We were in Ghana three years ago this month to adopt two children. This could have been us, it could have been anyone. It shouldn't have been, but it certainly wasn't that God chose YOU for this. He did, however, see you through it. Your family is truly a miracle.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Becky. Your family is just as much of a miracle as ours! Blessings to you and all of your beautiful children!

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  3. We were part of our own stuck story, one that involved us having to leave our son in Uganda for six months(after living in Uganda with him for ten weeks) while a hateful orphanage director threatened to give him to another family. We spent a total of two and a half years trying to adopt him.

    And when he finally came home I fell down in front of God and acknowledged that I would never understand why this had happened to us but that I would give it all back to Him because I couldn't carry the anger and hurt for the rest of my life. Not if I was going to love my son the way he needed to be healed from his side of the ordeal.

    Your story has been a reminder to me that our God is a God of miracles, even when we don't understand what He's doing. I'm so glad you're all home now and hopefully the healing process will come steadily to all of you.

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  4. Christine,
    Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being willing to do the hard. I remember storming heaven for you. Praying that God will continue to carry your family through the highs and lows and may He only receive glory from all this. He alone can turn ashes into beauty. Love you much dear bloggy friend.

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