Braided Lives

From brutality, death, survival, and triumph, a family emerges

Media attention also opened doors. The now-closed Grandendale Pharmacy gave us armloads of scented lotions, toothpaste, deodorants; and many wonderful gifts for Egide's sisters. Creative Kidstuff contributed toys. Friends searched their closets for clothes. My sisters went shopping and brought back their best guesses at shoe sizes for two children on the other side of the world. When Egide left, he carried less than two changes of clothes for himself--and the weight limit for luggage for international travel in gifts and clothes for the family. Egide left November 8, 1994. I remember returning home that night from the airport to stand in our bedroom. Beside our bed stood a pile of clothes as tall as I am for Egide's sisters. Everyone wanted to give something. It turned out there would be a lot more opportunity to help.

Because the United States had closed its borders to Rwandan citizens at the onset of the massacres, we consulted a lawyer, Lesley Guyton, for assistance. She became our guardian angel. I haven't been able to laugh at a lawyer joke since I met her. We wanted to bring over Egide's sisters, Dativa and Beatrice, as well as Ruth and Paul. Egide, as the only surviving male relative, regarded his sisters as his responsibility. Although both sisters were in their twenties, their society would expect them to act on the will of their brother. An independent woman has no status in Rwanda. They needed Egide as much as the children did. There was only one possibility for allowing them quick entry to the States, a provision called humanitarian parole, wherein the State Department grants U.S. entry to foreign nationals in exceptional circumstances of danger and need. Any other route to legal entry would take months or years. Senator Paul Wellstone and Representatives Martin Sabo and Bruce Vento mailed letters supporting our plea for humanitarian parole to the State Department. But our plea was rejected.

Without humanitarian parole, our best choice for bringing the children to us was through adoption, and the quickest route for the sisters would be through refugee status. After arriving in Rwanda, Egide tracked through bombed-out streets for offices and clerks who could process the adoption of the children. It's usually required that a child become a ward of the state--or have an adoption recognized--in their native country before the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service grants a visa.

Egide's sisters did not want to leave as refugees. It would have required them to leave Rwanda immediately, to stay in one of the unstable refugee camps along the border where they would know no one and live in a plastic tent, with their names on an exit waiting list two years long. Better to stay with the devil they knew.

Egide worked to leave them in some comfort. He rebuilt the broken house and put in a working telephone. Before phone service was reinstalled, the telephone company required payment on $700 in long-distance calls made by the thugs who had looted the house. Dativa had found a job cleaning in a hospital. It was arranged for Beatrice to attend school. We still weren't able to acquire visas for the children before Egide returned home after two months in Rwanda.

Because of the progress Egide had made toward adopting the children in Kigali, we expected to finish the required bureaucracy and bring the children home within six months. We were helped by the African-American Adoption Project, and by a social worker with the soul of a mensch, Judy Haines. We completed homestudies, attended child-development classes, got fingerprinted for background checks, and otherwise jumped through all the hoops set up by the INS and the State of Minnesota and Ramsey County in order to bring our children home. Then the process was delayed when the adoption documents from Rwanda could not be found. Egide had left them with a friend to be notarized before he left Kigali. In this chaotic and revolutionary time, the friend and the documents were lost.

We waited. Perhaps too long. Our nerves were stretched taut. Egide demanded I cut up my credit cards and exercise to lose weight; I insisted we attend marriage counseling. We determined Egide must return to Rwanda to trace the adoption documents. A talented and successful musician, Dan Chouinard, offered to put on a benefit concert for us. Friends came forward (from as far away as Montreal, New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles) to help, and my coworkers at Minnesota Public Radio contributed beautiful gifts toward a silent auction and made generous cash contributions. The benefit concert was a true extravaganza at the Cedar Cultural Center. The best names from the Twin Cities' music scene performed: Dennis Spears, Dane Stauffer, and Gwen Matthews, among other greats. Mixed Blood Theater provided an act, as well, and the concert generated $5,000. The fundraising hotshots at Josten's came through too, rallying their churches and digging into their own pockets to give us another $5,000. Egide left in October to bring the children home.

Then one of those small, unaccountable miracles happened. A woman in Minneapolis read in the Star Tribune about our efforts to adopt our niece and nephew. She clipped the article and mailed it to her daughter, Bonnie Harris, who was working for the U.S. State Department in Kigali. She encouraged Bonnie to try to help. This note opened the door of the Embassy to Egide. With Ms. Harris's assistance, Egide was able to reassemble the necessary adoption paperwork for the INS within a couple of weeks. The papers were mailed to me, and I moved to finish the work with the INS. Once we secured INS clearance, the ball would bounce back to the State Department, which would give us visas, and the children would come home.

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