Sunday, January 10, 2010

Alyssa's Video

Please check out my new page for Izak the child trafficker. He is threatening to return Alyssa to her "fake parents" who have promised to sell her to a "trade" is he does.
If you haven't seen Alyssa's video yet, please consider stopping by there first. It is very important to me that her story is about her and not an agency or a country.
Press play, then pause to give it a minute to load. Thank you so much for caring enough to read and watch about my daughter. Her story is posted below the video, titled "Alyssa's Story"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The duck picture

A lot of people have written to me and asked to see the duck in the suitcase picture. It is hard for me to look at, but I will post it here.
I wish
 Alyssa was here to tell her own story, but she is languishing in the Edhi Home in Pakistan. I am sure they are doing their best by her, but there was no Christmas tree with presents under it, those are still in her closet, here in what should have been her home. I am sure there is no one laying beside her at night to rub her back and tell her everything will be alright when she wakes up with one of her nightmares. No car rides to get an ice-cream, no puppy to play with ... no Mommy. I am so filled with grief when I think what must she be thinking. Where did that woman go that I called Momma? That played with me, fed me and told me she loved me a hundred times a day.

Alyssa isn't here because she was trafficked, so I will tell her story for her.

There are so many people involved in this story that I have created a list so you will better understand. Those names with * are not their real names, but this isn't their story and it would be unfair of me to name their real names.

Izak: Pakistan coordinator. I was told to follow his instructions without questioning because he was a male Pakistani who had been doing this for a long time and had my safety and best interest at heart.

Natasha*: My agency's CEO

Dinah*: Director of International Programs: I was told was in charge of the Pakistan Program, who, along with Jane told me what to do and say while I was in Pakistan

Jane*: "Case Worker" who told me she had never heard of "Karen", who along with Dinah did a conference call right before I left to reiterate directions.

Sadeem: Pakistan coordinator.

Qazi: Pakistani lawyer I was told to pay for legal services while in Pakistan.

Anwar: Alyssa's supposed birth father, who I now believe is not related to her in anyway.

Pastor Afzal Bhatti: The pastor who my agency had me write to who would be sending Alyssa's referral to me.

Pastor Kamran John: The second pastor I was given to establish a relationship with who supposedly found Alyssa for me.

Frank Tu: Fraud division chief at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.

FIA: Pakistan's version of the U.S. of our FBI

Karen* woman who was also in Pakistan adopting through another agency

Sandy* : Another single woman with my adoption agency travelling the same time as me to adopt.

Things went really well in the beginning. I met her father and several grandmothers who were all staying at the same guest house as I was until we were finished with our court proceedings. They seemed nice, but Alyssa didn't want to go to them when they held out their arms. Being over the moon with her I attributed this to her quick bonding with me. I sailed through the first court appointment and I had a date a few days later to return to gain permanent custody. That night Anwar came to my room with a friend of his and told me that Izak had not paid him the $10,000 he had promised him. He asked me for the money. I had been warned that the birth family may try to extort money from me so I told him I would need to call Izak. my adoption agency had already sent $1,000 to him for surgery on his injured leg, which probably hadn't helped matters any. (I found out later this is in direct violation of Hague rules). When Izak arrived the men talked alone and then Izak came to me and said Anwar was going to take Alyssa away from me if I didn't pay the money. He told me not to worry because he could replace her within a day. I was shocked! Children are not stereo system...yours breaks, go get a new one!" I went to Anwar with my heart pounding in my chest and tears streaming down my face, and told him that I would not pay him one penny because that was buying a child and I would have no part in that. If he truly could not care for her, and wanted her to be raised in the United States by me, then we would move forward, but I would not be paying him one penny. It seemed like forever for him to answer, my future with my Alyssa hung in the balance.... but he apologized for causing me this stress and yes, he wanted me to adopt her. Now that I know everything I know, I believe Anwar was promised that money by Izak. But, Izak got greedy and didn't want to pay Anwar his cut.

I went to court several days later and I was truly Alyssa's "Momma" as she liked to call me. That night Alyssa and I were taken to a house in a very remote area to meet the rest of Alyssa's family, celebrate the custody hearing and say good bye. I was told by Izak that we could only stay a very short time since Alyssa would be getting tired. This was odd since he had insisted we both attend Sandy's court party which lasted until very late at night. When we finally reached the tiny house at the end of a very rutted dirt road we met three grandmothers, several aunts, Anwar, several cousins, two sisters and a brother. They seemed very pleased to meet me. I felt so terrible thinking that these people were saying goodbye to such a sweet little girl that I cried. They all said not to cry, that they were happy she was going with me. The entire time we were there Alyssa cried whenever one of them tried to pick her up or held out their arms to her. It made me grieve for them at the time, but now I know why. I now know why not one of them shed a tear when we said goodbye, yet I was crying on their behalf. I now know why she never even turned her head when they called out "Romisia" (her name as listed on her birth certificate), yet she learned the name Alyssa within a day of being with me. I now know why she wanted nothing to do with any of them. She didn't know any of them! They were not in any way related to Alyssa. But that knowledge didn't come until much later.

We spent most of our time inside our guest house room. Ordering food from downstairs and eating it on the coffee table. There were days when being cooped up really got to both of us and Alyssa would go to the door and pound on it to get out, but for the most part I was just thrilled to be there with her. I watched her go from barely being able to crawl to walking. She learned English words very quickly and could say "up", "Momma" , "love" and "bottle" very early on. We spent our days making up stories. I took her on a trip to my mother's pool, and we had a pretend Christmas with a few things I wrapped up and snowballs made up of crumpled paper. We sang and danced and read books but mostly I just loved on her and she came to trust and love me. One of our favorite things to do was to roughhouse on the bed, tickling and bouncing around, with frequent stops for one of her incredible hugs. She would just throw herself on me, hug and say "love". It was the best!

Sometimes we had company. Pastor Kamran John would come by, alone or with his family. One of the drivers came frequently and once even brought this wife and daughter who was smaller than Alyssa but only a month younger. I fell in love with his whole family. They were wonderful! One evening his wife and daughter came with him and we spent the evening together. I realized they didn't have much so I gave them all Alyssa's clothing that didn't fit her, formula, diapers and several of her toys. The two girls fell asleep in bed together and we visited all evening. I told them that if they ever wanted to live in the U.S. they could stay with me until they got their feet under them. They were just those sort of people. They were kind and sweet, loved one another and their daughter.... or so I thought. About a month after I returned to the US I was sent a newsletter that had come from my adoption agency out while I was gone. There were several pictures of children "up for adoption" from Pakistan. There was the little sweetie who had fallen asleep with Alyssa in my bed! She wasn't really their daughter! The woman had just been one of Izak's nanny's! The sense of betrayal that was already overwhelming me was almost more than I could stand. But back to what was going on in Pakistan....

A friend back in the U.S. told me they had read on a blog about another woman in Pakistan from the U.S. that was in Islamabad adopting a child. I was so excited! Maybe she could come to the guest house for a visit. By this time any contact with someone else from the U.S. would be huge to me! I wrote on Karen's* blog and gave her my email address. She wrote back that she was leaving Pakistan in a few minutes but would email me once she got home. I was so jealous! She was going home with her baby and I still had a couple of weeks to go! The next day I read her newest blog entry and she wrote a letter to me. My stomach went cold. She had come here, just like me, through a U.S. agency. She had a coordinator, just like me, but his name was Sadeem. She had actually used the same pastor as I had named Pastor Afzal Bhatti. She had gained custody of her daughter, just like me. But when she went to get her visa, she was told the death certificate of the mother, and her daughter's birth certificate were forged. Just like me??!! While I mourned with her, her loss. I was terrified Alyssa and I would follow in her steps. I contacted Izak and he came to the guest house. I showed him Karen's story and he freaked out and contacted my adoption agency. I don't know what was said, I can only imagine. He came back into my room and ordered me to delete everything on my computer. All emails and documents. At first I refused, but then he told me that Sadeem had been arrested and was being tortured to tell everything he knew. I asked Izak if that had anything to do with me. he said it didn't but, the pastor Karen and I had both been told to contact had been arrested also and it would be best not to have ties to this man who had been child trafficking. He told me that Pastor Kamran John had actually been the one that Alyssa was brought to by her father and that Pastor Bhatti really had nothing to do with my case, so not to worry. Well, I was worried! But after many hours of trying to reach my adoption agency and them finally returning my call I was assured that they didn't know Karen, didn't know Sadeem and my adoption was legit, Izak was legit, all my documents were legit. I spoke with the lawyer who had taken our case in court and he said Alyssa's papers were "110% correct and authentic". He said we should go to the embassy and apply for Alyssa's visa the next day and then head home. That sounded great to me! We had already lived through an earth quake, several suicide bombers nearby and I was anxious to leave.

One day Alyssa and I woke up extremely ill. We had very high fevers, every piece of my body hurt from my hair to my toes and Alyssa was lethargic except when she was throwing up or filling her pants with a sickish yellow mess that I soon realized I had too. I asked Izak to get us to a clinic. He said he couldn't until very late that night. I was very worried about both of us and I asked if a driver could take us earlier. He said no. We finally got to go at 10PM that night. The doctor was a sweet woman who was very concerned. Our stomachs and intestines were very infected by something we had eaten. I will spare you most of the details, but will say we didn't eat it knowing what it was. We were given antibiotics and it took several days to even start to feel better.

Because of a very difficult situation with Sandy who was living in the room next door, Izak and the people at my adoption agency forcing me to decide if she could keep her baby, plus the food followed by our sickness, I decided I needed to move Alyssa to a different guest house. I called Izak and he arranged for me to move the next morning. Alyssa and I packed up our things and putting them in the hallway only to discover Sandy was doing the same thing! Izak had called her and she was moving to the same guest house along with me. I chalked it up to miscommunication until he arrived and it became clear he was moving all of us. I found out later that too many people had seen us with him in the area where the first guest house was so it was no longer safe for him there.

Little did I know that would be the last time I saw Izak, any of the drivers, or anyone I had come to know, like and trust, except my lawyer Qazi, and Pastor Kamran John.

Several days later Qazi and Pastor Kamran came by to talk. We discussed Izak, Karen's case, Sadeem and child trafficking. Kamran was extremely nervous, wearing dark glasses and literally wringing his hands the whole time. I asked him if he had done anything illegal, he said no. I asked him if Alyssa was trafficked. He said no. Then I told him he had nothing to worry about and should stop fretting. Qazi told me that I should go get Alyssa's visa the next day so I could return to the U.S.

I went to the Embassy paid the $400 and was taken to a room where I met Frank Tu. He gently explained about Karen and what had happened to her and her baby. I didn't let on that I already knew anything about it. He asked a bunch of questions, took my papers for verification and told me he would know within a week if Alyssa's papers were forged or not. I began to panic. Frank sounded like there was something more he wasn't telling me.

When I got back to the guesthouse Sandy and I attempted all day and night to contact Natasha, Dinah, Jane or anyone at my adoption agency but they weren't answering there emergency number. I also tried over and over to contact Izak, but his phone had been disconnected. None of the drivers answered their phones either. Suddenly I felt very deserted and very scared. The next day we were able to connect with my adoption agency. I asked them what they knew about Karen's case and Sadeem. They again denied they knew anything about any of it. (I later found out Sadeem actually used to be one of their coordinators and that Karen used to be a client of theirs. they had actually sent her a sympathy note 3 days before!) I needed to know if my Alyssa was in any way a part of this child trafficking ring of Sadeem's I had been hearing about. If so, we were in more danger than I had realized. But, they denied ever knowing anything about them. I told them about the meeting at the embassy. They reminded me that I was not to mention their name to anyone. I said I had understood that to mean the Pakistanis, not the US government officials. They said "No! remember you are not allowed to mention our name!" I said, "If a US federal official (which Frank Tu is) asks me I most certainly will not lie to him!" Their reply..."Well remember, we do not have a Pakistan adoption program, we just helped you put together your dossier for a private adoption!". I was astonished by that statement! That simply wasn't the truth. I suddenly realized they was stranding me in the middle of this situation they had place me in. They had convinced me was "safe", stable" "wonderful". I didn't have any words left to reply to their statement and so I just hung up, picked Alyssa up and sat holding her for the longest time, praying, while I tried to figure out what to do. I called Frank at the embassy and told him all about the people at my agency, Izak, the drivers, everyone I could think of. I told him that if Alyssa's documents had been forged, or her mother wasn't truly dead, or she had been taken from her real mother as much as it would kill me, she would need to be returned to her. Frank said he was still investigating and that my papers might be legit, just to give him time to finishing checking everything out. Once again I was feeling hopeful. Alyssa and I spent a couple more wonderful days together. There was a small plot of grass outside the guesthouse where we would go and we could play and laugh. She learned more English words and I began to relax.

My visa was close to running out so I made the trip to have it renewed. They kept my passport and said I could pick it up in two days.

Karen's baby had been taken to the Muslim orphanage the Edhi Home, and in writing back and forth to one another I had offered to go and visit her, hold her and sing a list of songs to her that Karen had sent to me that she had once sung to her when they were in Pakistan together. After dropping off my passport I returned to the guesthouse to change Alyssa and pick up a spare bottle before heading over to the orphanage. We drove into the driveway and Qazi was standing there looking very upset. This man who had been so confidant all this time now looked panicked. I could barely breath when I got out of the car and asked him if it was good news or bad. He only said "All's well that ends well". I was in no mood for any more rhetoric, and insisted he tell me what was going on, but then suddenly I didn't want to...couldn't hear what he had to say. I took Alyssa upstairs for a minute to buy myself just one more moment before my world would crash down around me. I changed, hugged and loved on her for a short while before my phone rang. It was Frank from the Embassy. He was terribly sorry, and obviously very upset, but he could not issue Alyssa a visa because she was part of a very large child trafficking ring. I will never forget the feelings I had at that moment. But wait!! Alyssa was my daughter! We had plans! She had a room waiting for her back in the U.S. with toys and books and stuffed animals!

I walked downstairs completely numb to see what the lawyer had to say about any of it. He continued to repeat that the documents were still good...blah blah blah. I wasn't up for listening to any more lies.

I called Frank back to find out how long I had left to be Alyssa's mother. He said it would be a day or two because Hillary Clinton was visiting and the Embassy was in lock down. No one could come in or leave. I spent that last night wide awake watching my daughter sleep. Rubbing her back when she stirred from a bad dream and just memorizing her every feature. It was torture. The next day Frank called and told me that the FIA would be arriving sometime that afternoon to pick her up and question me about my involvement and knowledge of what happened. Frank wished very much he could be there but he wasn't allowed to leave the Embassy due to the lock down. I had heard stories of their corruption and torture. I was not looking forward to this one bit. I later learned Hillary had been told everything that was happening. I don't know if she couldn't or chose not to help, but the end result was the same. There would be nothing our government could do.

All day I tried so hard not to think "this is the last bath you will give Alyssa", the last silly dancing and singing. She was very confused. Momma was playing like always, but the tears kept coming.

I waited until she took her nap to pack. All her things went into cardboard boxes, mine into the open suitcases. She woke up before I finished and tried to help. Somehow she knew which container were hers and which were mine. One of the last things to get packed was the yellow rubber duck we played with when she took her bath. She picked it up, looked right at me and put it into my suitcase. I had wanted to keep everything we had ever played with and she had ever worn. I was desperate to cling to anything that would tie me to her, but more than that I loved her and wanted her to have toys to play with so I had kept very few of her things. But, somehow she knew, and wanted me to have that duck! I actually snapped a picture of her putting that duck into my suitcase, but it is almost too much for me to bear to look at it.

Frank called around 5 and said the FIA would be arriving anytime now. Then my phone started ringing and ringing. It was Pastor Kamran. he wanted to know what I was going to say to the FIA about him. How did he know they were coming? ! How, when he was supposedly 5 hours away did he find this information out so fast? I later found out that one of the houseboys had been watching me and listening to everything I said and reporting it to Izak and Pastor Kamran. I told him I was only going to tell the truth and hung up. I got 5-6 more phone calls from he and his family. Each one more urgent, more threatening. They called from many different numbers and I never knew if it was them or the embassy so I answered each call.

Those last few hours with Alyssa are all a blur now. A lot of hugs, a lot of "I love you's" a letter written to whoever would be taking her, telling them all about her, and how much I loved her. My mother had knit a beautiful soft pink sweater for her. They would never meet one another, Alyssa would never swim in her pool or call her Nana, but somehow that sweater would tie them together.

The FIA arrived at 7PM. Armed men filled my room. The FIA director breezed into my room and his opening question was said with a huge smirk, "So how are you enjoying your stay in our wonderful country?" Something inside me snapped. "It sucks" was my reply, which didn't please them any. For three hours they questioned me while Alyssa sat on my lap, somehow knowing there was something very serious happening. Frank called every half hour to make certain I was still ok. That they hadn't arrested or harmed me. The questions were everything from "Why are you crying over that girl. She is a nobody!?" to "Who is this girl in this picture? Is she your other daughter?" "Give us her information, her address, place of work" The mother bear in me roared to life at that point. I was an emotional wreck, scared to death, grieving for the loss of the daughter who for just a few more minutes was in my arms. And I refused to give them Jen's information. She had nothing to do with any of this. As they searched through all my things the questions and comments kept coming from them. They read that I had been divorced and said it was obvious I don't know how "to have good sex or that wouldn't have happened". At one point the director blamed me that he was not home with his son on his birthday. I realized I needed to win these people over, so sympathetically I said, "Oh you should be home with your son on his birthday." He was outraged by this "Don't you ever tell me where I should be!" I quickly explained that I was feeling sorry for him. He yelled at me "You stupid American women and your sarcasm!!!"

After about 2 1/2 hours of this kind of questioning I was getting panicked to leave, but leaving meant leaving Alyssa. It is hard to explain, but both emotions were so strong. "LEAVE this is getting very dangerous." " STAY as long as you can to be holding Alyssa." Then the phone rang. It was Frank. Enough was enough and the FIA needed to let me go and Frank was sending a car to pick me up. He gave me a description of the car and the drivers name and orders to make certain it was him before getting into the car. The driver would call him and he would call me when he reached the gate at the house. I got another call 15 minutes later. Frank said the driver had called him to tell him that Pastor Kamran and a gang were outside the guest house, waiting for me to come out. He would call back when it was safe, but for now do not leave. One of the more trustworthy guesthouse boys came into the room and whispered to me that the men outside were armed. I told him when it was clear to leave I needed him to grab my bags and put them in the car.

I had just been given a few more minutes with my daughter, and I wasn't going to waste any more time answering questions. Thankfully the FIA seemed to have run out of steam. I smelled her hair, kissed her cheek and asked the FIA to please take good care of her. Frank called and it was safe. Somehow they had gotten rid of the men outside. I was to leave immediately. The houseboy grabbed my bags and suddenly I was free. I wanted to run, but I never wanted to leave my daughter. I prayed "Please don't let her cry. If her cries are the last thing I hear I know they will echo in my head and heart forever". Somehow she didn't. It is amazing! I held her, kissed her and said two things to her. "I swear to you Alyssa, Mommy will do what I can to make sure this doesn't happen to any other little girls or boys" and "I love you and always will". I then had to hand her over to the FIA and ran out the door. As I was leaving the director called after me. "Stupid woman, said she loved her daughter but see how fast she leaves her?" I am so glad Alyssa had no way of knowing what he had just said.

The rest is a blur... meeting with Frank who was finally able to leave the embassy. He actually had tears in his eyes as I told him the story. He stayed with me for hours in the safe place I had been taken to. My flight left at 4 that morning. I have almost no memories of the long flights home, just a deep sense of sadness and loss. I remember openly crying as I walked through the airports and not caring one bit. I also remember doing math over and over figuring out what time it was for Alyssa and wondering how she was doing. Imagining her calling "Momma" in that insistent little way she had when she wanted my attention.

I am home now. My family was kind enough to take all Alyssa's things and put them in her room and shut the door so I wouldn't face that pain until I was ready. Two months later, and I am still not ready. I still do the math, wanting to always imagine what she might be doing. I have called the orphanage to check on her, but communication is difficult. I am sent pictures of her occasionally, but they are painful depictions of her life the way it is now.

Some of those involved in Pakistan have been arrested and will stand trial. Those who did wrong here in the US continue to do what they have always done. When I heard they had actually signed another client up for their Pakistan program while I was in the airplane on my way home I was horrified!

Justice? I don't know. Alyssa is still in the orphanage, her future in the hands of the FIA. There is talk about DNA to verify her "real" parents, but then there is talk that she will remain there "indefinitely". It has been since learned that her real parents sold her and if she were returned to them, what would prevent them from doing that again? Her Christmas presents are still in her closet. My mother just finished knitting her another sweater, but my heart knows she will probably never wear it. It feels like someone has kidnapped my daughter, I know where she is, but I can't get to her. I still love her and I still cry every night for my daughter who is half way around the world wondering whatever happened?