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
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
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
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
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?