…and my daughters from the ends of the earth
April 21, 1994
As the plane soared high above the airport in Seoul, Korea, I stared out the window where the buildings and roads below looked like a child’s matchbox set. I felt alone but excited.
A beautiful three-year-old girl, Manisha, was waiting for me in Nepal. I pulled out my only three pictures of her and clasped them tightly. I tried to imagine the moment I would meet her. After eight long years following a painful divorce, would God finally bless me with a daughter?
As we left Korea and headed toward Bangkok, Thailand, the stewardess prepared the trays for dinner. My eyes became heavy as the muffled noise of the plane engine lulled me into a light sleep. Soon I found myself surrounded by stately dark walls and shadows. One voice pierced my heart.
“I took away her dreams.”
The words echoed through the judge’s chambers carving deep rivets in my soul. The streams of love had long since become a dried riverbed in my husband’s heart. The judge paused, taking in my husband’s lame confession. He had heard it all before. Williams vs. Williams was just one more case on his busy docket. I wished he could assuage my sorrow, but he couldn’t.
As the judge signed the divorce decree, I doubted I would ever be happy again. My husband had left me for another woman who carried his child. My dreams of becoming a mother lay in a discarded heap. Thirty years old, childless, and divorced, I was without hope. Feeling like a failure, could I believe God loved me and would heal my broken heart? Did God even care?
I had hit rock bottom and there was no place else to turn. I thought of what Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep but Christ is deeper still.” It was her ability to forgive the Nazis after World War II that so impressed me. How could she do that? How could she forgive those who had caused her sister and herself so much pain and humiliation? I desperately wanted children and didn’t want to admit that my ex-husband had just taken away my dreams.
Suddenly trays of food jostled by the vibrating of the plane startled me awake. Momentarily forgetting where I was, I glanced around and realized I must have slept.
“Where are we?” I asked the person sitting behind me.
“We are approaching Bangkok.”
Wow, I thought to myself. I really did sleep—like five hours. It would give me needed energy later, but I also missed dinner and my stomach was empty.
The plane set down on the tarmac in the darkness of night. I disembarked and got far more than I bargained for in Bangkok. I handed the taxi driver at the airport a card with the name of the hotel, the Europa Inn.
The driver nodded his head, and after mumbling a few unintelligible words, loaded my suitcases into his cab for what I thought would be a quick trip to the hotel. However, after an extensive tour of downtown Bangkok, my escort pulled up to a motel in what appeared to be the red light district. Neon lights flashed all around me and signs along the streets displayed seductive advertising. Surely the adoption agency wouldn’t have put me up for the night in a seedy hotel.
“This can’t be right,” I kept trying to tell the taxi driver, feeling uneasy.
He spoke no English and wanted his money.
I waved my hands again trying to explain, “I know this is not the right motel.”
He waved his hands back, “No English.”
I didn’t know what to do. As I stood exhausted contemplating my few options, he proceeded to dump my three huge suitcases out of the taxi. They were far too heavy for me to tote around. I wished I hadn’t packed so much, but I knew my problem was far bigger than that.
We had driven for an hour and I needed to be back at the airport in just a few hours. Was I that far away? I looked around to see if I could find someone that spoke English.
I ran into the motel lobby and shouted loudly at the attendant, “Does anybody speak English?” He stared at me blankly. A few raggedly-dressed Thai men were lounging outside the hotel. I hollered to them, “Do you speak English?” They looked at me curiously but didn’t say anything.
I ran back to my taxi driver and pleaded with him again, this time more urgently, “I know this isn’t right. You’ve got to take me to the right place. You’ve brought me to the wrong hotel.”
By this time the other Thai men walked over to see what the problem was. The taxi driver and the men carried on a long exchange.
I could see myself the next morning missing my plane because I stayed at the wrong hotel. I could picture in my head trying to explain to the airlines that I needed to catch a later flight. The adoption agency would be upset with me. My contact person would be at the airport to pick me up and I wouldn’t be on the plane. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
One of the men asked for what I thought was my address. I pulled out my checkbook and gave him a deposit slip. After handing him the slip of paper, I panicked. Why would I give my personal address to somebody that I didn’t know? All they wanted was the address of the motel.
After several minutes, the man grabbed my suitcases and motioned for me to get back into the taxi. We took off and drove around again for another thirty minutes before arriving at the “real” Europa Inn.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was now 1:00 in the morning and my flight would be leaving at 5:30 a.m. Exhausted, I checked into the hotel. The hotel attendant, who spoke English well, assured me I was only a few minutes from the airport.
I finally made it up to my room. After stacking my luggage against the wall, I pulled out a nightgown and headed to the bathroom for a quick shower, but tripped over the uneven ledge. I writhed in pain grasping my toe, agonizing over how I would do the adoption if it was broken.
After a few minutes of a deep massage, I assured myself that it was not broken and a hot shower would fix everything. Later, I tried to imagine what my next day would be like. In just a few hours I would be boarding the plane to fly to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
I closed my eyes and prayed, “Dear Lord, please be with me. Please take away my fear, and keep my dad alive until I return home. Please let nothing happen that could keep me from adopting Manisha.”
I had come too far to have something unforeseen stop me. I fell asleep from exhaustion only to be jarred awake just a few hours later.
“Fasten your seat belts,” the pilot announced. The no-smoking sign flashed on and the plane engines roared. Soon we would be landing in Kathmandu. My eyes teared up and burned from the lack of sleep. I couldn’t believe it was possible to fly so far and still be on the same planet.
After we landed and I exited the plane, I felt as though I had been transported to another world. Huge mountains dotted the countryside. It was a beautiful day, bordering on hot but not unpleasantly so. I took a deep breath as I walked down the tarmac. Cows were lounging between the runways. Old tattered signs marked the entrance to the airport written in a scribble I couldn’t read. I was prompted by a young woman showing us the way to customs. No one spoke English. The airport was noisy, crowded, and sweaty.
I felt humanity pressing against me as the surge of passengers from my plane all headed in the same direction. There was a putrid stench in the air—a mixture of unpleasant odors, like an open dumpster that hadn’t been emptied for several weeks.
After showing my paperwork and having my passport stamped, I joined another long line of people headed to baggage claims. I stood on my tiptoes to peer over the dark heads and mass of ebony-complexioned travelers. My blonde hair and fair skin made me look like an anomaly. A couple of European or American men toting backpacks were in front. Their masculine build and rough clothes marked them as serious mountain climbers.
Nepal lies between India and China. The country has long been known for its majestic, high mountains and waterfalls that cascade over the rugged terrain. Climbers traveled to Nepal from all over the world to undertake one of the most arduous climbs imaginable, risking their lives to stand atop the world’s highest mountain. I hoped to get a picture of Mount Everest as a souvenir.
After I retrieved my bags, I headed toward the front entrance to look for Ankit, my contact person. An Evangelical Christian and pastor in Nepal, he often heard about orphaned children, especially little girls, who had little status in Hindu culture. His desire was to place them in Christian homes in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
People crowded the entrance and I wondered how I would ever find him in the sea of faces. Hastily-written signs shot up everywhere. In the commotion, I looked for a blue and white one that said the name of the adoption agency. I finally saw Ankit and waved my hand. He came over and helped me with my bags, putting them into a waiting taxi. After I was in the taxi, Ankit hopped on his motorcycle and we took off.
As we pulled away from the airport, I was glad to leave behind the discombobulating noise of airplanes, cabs, and travelers. After two days of being airborne, I felt relieved to be on solid ground. We frequently stopped for cows as they stubbornly refused to move and blocked the cab. The countryside was painted in them; most looked emaciated and old. Cows were worshipped and not eaten in Nepal.
The huge mountains surrounding us spoke of unparalleled beauty. Garbage and other debris thrown out of passing cars that reflected in the sunlight were stashed in disheveled piles along the sides of the road. Children in old, torn clothes watched as we drove by. I tried to imagine what Manisha, my daughter-to-be, would look like.
“There is the hospital,” the taxicab driver said in broken English. He pointed out several other buildings as we went along. I could hardly focus on what he was saying as my mind jumped to what lay ahead. My heart was racing, excited to be here.
After endless turns and one-lane roads, we arrived at the hotel where twelve other adoptive families had stayed. The desk worker recognized us when we entered the hotel lobby.
The Bleu was a plain, four-story, tan-colored brick building in the downtown political district of Kathmandu. A black and white TV played in the small foyer. The floor was well worn and the wall had several coats of cracked paint. Ankit translated for me as I checked in and helped me carry my luggage up the three flights of stairs to my room. There was no elevator.
“After you have a chance to get settled in,” he said, “I will meet you downstairs in the lobby in about thirty minutes.” Having studied at a Bible College in the Southeastern United States, he spoke English well. “Bring your documents with you,” he added, as he closed the door behind him.
After checking out my room, I took my six sets of documents back downstairs and waited for him to return. A few minutes later, he arrived on his motorcycle.
“We need to go to the U.S. Embassy to drop off some paperwork.”
I glanced at his motorcycle and stared back at him. I looked down at my new blue skirt and black heels. I didn’t want to picture myself riding on a motorcycle with someone I hardly knew dressed in my Sunday attire. I had ridden on a motorcycle only once before in Bermuda many years earlier. What if I dropped the notebook containing all the adoption papers, or worse, fell off?
Sensing my concern, he said, “We can rent another taxi, but we’ll be doing a lot of traveling in Kathmandu and it will get expensive.”
I reluctantly hopped on the back, maneuvering my skirt so it wouldn’t clog up the engine. I stuck the heavy black binder between us and wrapped my arms around his waist as tightly as I could. He revved up the engine and we took off down the clogged streets of Kathmandu.
Most people rode on bikes, but every conceivable type of wheeled transport could be seen. Many of the roads were dirt or gravel, and the air was thick with dust. The Nepalis wore scarves and face covers over their nostrils to keep from inhaling the dirt. I didn’t have one.
When I arrived back at the Bleu Hotel after our excursion to the U.S. Embassy, my blue skirt was covered in road grime. My skin stung from the debris hurled from the motorcycle and I could taste muck on my lips. The odorous smell of Nepal was now on me. I was repelled and overwhelmed at the same time. I had only been here a few hours and I was already thinking about when I could leave.
One of my suitcases was filled with an assortment of things I had brought to an American family serving as missionaries. The Reeses had been in Kathmandu for quite some time. The mother was a physician, and their children ranged in age from six to twelve. They had called and wanted to know when they could stop by the hotel. The only way they received items from America was when someone brought them. Most mail would not arrive without being pilfered. It had been six months since they had received any packages.
I unloaded my suitcase, wishing I could meet Manisha. Was she in the city? Ankit said we wouldn’t be able to see her until tomorrow.
Scattered among the Reeses’ things were gifts for Manisha, including a pink doll, Play-Doh, blocks, a yellow toy telephone, and a stuffed dog that made noise when I pushed in his nose. I had also brought a few clothes, some big and some small since I didn’t know her size. They were clean and unsoiled by the Nepali air.
The Reeses called and said they would be over in a few minutes. I gathered their things and walked down to the hotel lobby. A short time later they arrived and I was surprised to see three blonde-haired, fair-skinned children show up on bicycles with their father. I wondered how they could seem so American when they lived in such a different culture.
They were excited to receive the gifts. As we sat and chatted in the lobby, an American-looking man walked in with a Nepali girl. I found out he was from Canada and was making plans to return home.
“I got my phone call from India,” he explained. “We waited a week. That was the last thing we needed to finish her adoption. We have been here a month.”
I felt a twinge of jealousy that they were done and I was just starting. I couldn’t imagine being in Nepal for a whole month.
The little girl uttered a few words in Nepali.
“What did she say?” I asked.
The motel attendant said, “She called her father an uncle.”
Everyone laughed and I relaxed a little.
“How old is she?”
“She’s two,” her father said.
I tried to imagine how big Manisha would be compared to her.
“When are you leaving?”
“We are leaving on Tuesday.”
So soon; few people spoke English here so my time in Nepal would be lonely. It was reassuring to see that his adoption went through. I hoped mine would be the same. We visited for a few more minutes until the Reeses had to leave.
“I hope to see you again,” I told them.
“We’ll have you over for an American meal one night,” they promised, “and you won’t have to worry about the food.”
I could look forward to that. I asked them for tips on good restaurants. I had been warned: Don’t eat salads, don’t eat meat, don’t eat vegetables, and don’t eat fruit unless it’s contained in a peel.
As I left the Bleu Hotel and took my first walk in Kathmandu, I tried to take in the world that opened before my eyes. Poor, dirty, spiritually dark, and oppressive for women, it was a place where hope seemed nonexistent. It was hard for me to believe that my daughter would come from here.
Nepal, home to so many children who would never make it to their fifth birthday; who lived in severe poverty and suffered from lack of nutrition and disease; children who had little hope of ever knowing what it would be like to have a full belly at night or a chance to live life to the fullest. Perhaps most dared to not even dream.
In a country thousands of miles away from my home in Gainesville, Florida, most knew nothing of the God I loved and worshipped. Nepal, a world apart and a world within my heart, the two would be linked forever.
Never again would my heart not skip a beat and my ears not perk up when I heard the name Nepal mentioned in the news. Never again would my mind not be drawn back to these days when I walked its darkened streets.
I am offering a special edition signed copy of my adoption memoir, Children of Dreams. To learn how to get a copy visit: http://lorilynroberts.com/donate_christian_books_to_nepal.html