We arrived in Zhengzhou late our first night and saw our names on a sign and waiting for us was a man and a woman. I wasn’t sure which one was our guide, I assumed it was the stylish looking lady. As we stepped closer to our guides the overwhelming smell of alcohol side slapped both my daughter and myself. I wiggled my eyes back and forth to signal her not to react, trying to mask my own surprised face as well. The van ride was awkward at best. We were trying not to breathe, the man was sitting very close and speaking loud enough to cause hearing damage, and randomly hugging me. The lady, whom I still assumed was our guide, was sitting in the back and smiling kindly if not lopsidedly. Eventually, I asked and figured out that she was “just a friend” and he was in fact our guide for the week.
We just needed to get to our hotel and hopefully this was just a night time habit. If I believed in bad luck I would have been better prepared. But no, I hopelessly clung to optimism. We were dropped off and told we had a free day. We chose to visit a local museum and our guide arrived the next morning, alcohol smell and all. We took a taxi to the museum where we were surprised to find yet another, new beauty “friend” waiting to join us on the trip. I’m pretty sure we paid for her ticket to the museum. We rushed through the museum and I tried desperately to fill in our guides broken English and kindly give him the words he was seeking.
We were dropped off at the hotel again, no printed schedule, no real instructions on what would be happening each day. Each day was like a surprise package. “Tomorrow we go… yes, mmmm.” And I would respond, “How much money do I need to bring?” To which our guide would inevitably state, “Not much I think, mmm, not much.” Well, what does that mean? It made every day a nightmare and I was totally unprepared most days, not having a clue what to bring or how much money was needed for each main event. The only one I knew for sure was the adoption donation on gotcha day. Two days later I brought it up to my guide that I, of course, could not and therefore had not exchanged my U.S. dollars yet. He looked shocked. I tried not to cry.
The morning of gotcha our guide arrived, smelling of alcohol again, and this time he was hobbling. Have mercy. He had fallen down the stairs, and I tried my best to fake being surprised by this revelation. My betraying hand rebelled and reached for him as he stumbled here and there. We had to stop at the bank to exchange the funds. Apparently he did not know he had a limit on how much he could exchange and so we followed his hobbling self all around town to a new bank for the extra, wherein he decided that our van driver could be the second person to use for the exchange.
We were over an hour late to gotcha, but thankfully, so was our daughter. They handed her to us and my poor guide looked at me and asked if I had known how sick she was. He was in shock, utter shock. Her hair was crusty and she smelled like death. I had prepared, but being handed a four year old, who now weighed eleven pounds was still shocking. I was just so thankful she was alive, and my elation clearly surprised him. He didn’t know that up until that point I was always expecting the phone call, the one that said she didn’t make it. Even as we waited for her van to arrive I half expected her not to be on it. But she made it, she was still breathing, and nothing else mattered. The next week or two would see me on my knees begging God to help her take liquid and keep her lungs breathing in and out each moment. It was the beginning of a trip that could not help but leave me changed.
Two days later was passport day. We had to travel to her city to apply for her passport. We had train tickets. They were not for the bullet train. The trip had been so rushed and was during the month of Chinese New Year that there were no tickets for the bullet train. I should have rented a bike, or walked.
At first, we were hopeful. Our guide arrived at 4am and for the first time he did not smell of alcohol! We arrived to the train station and I heard the ground crunch as I stepped all over the littered trash on the ground. We sat down and our guide left us, LEFT US, in the station for a few minutes and eventually came back… smelling of alcohol. Hope cowardly fled. We followed him to the train and literally shoved through the crowds to get to the door of the train where we squeezed through people and walked over and on top of people, I prayed not children, as we went through three train cars and stopped. We had gone the wrong way! Heaven help us. We walked back the same way only for our guide to tell us to wait for him, no reason why. He LEFT us again, standing in the middle of an aisle, slammed against the edge of a seat because there wasn’t enough room to stand up straight. There is mercy left, because a kind man allowed me to sit with my new daughter on his seat while he traded and stood cramped like part of the cattle that the people had become. I held fiercely onto my nine year old’s hand as she was bumped and pulled as people walked by us. I promised her I would not lose her and I wouldn’t.
We waited, not knowing if our guide was returning or if we even had seats for the next three hours or if we would be one of the sad ones to have purchased a ticket for floor space. Floor.Space. I’m not kidding, y’all. Eventually he returned and told us that yet again we had gone to the wrong train car, so off we set through four more train cars, passed the squatty potty that I decidedly promised myself I would not need, to find our seats, taken. The seats were taken! At this point my nine year old told me to try not to lose it. I tried. I really tried. I’m pretty sure no curse words escaped, but one can’t be too certain in times like these. Kindly, mercifully, the seat thieves saw us and allowed us to sit. And then what appeared to be the entire train car of people scrambled for a view of us. They pointed and stared and asked what was wrong with my new daughter. I knew enough Chinese to have a concept of what they were saying and I tried to shield her eyeless face. No, she wasn’t sleeping. Yes, she has no eyes. And so I was ushered into the world of visible special needs.
We arrived in the town only to be shoved through the throngs of people and vomited out into the street from the mouth of the train station. Snowy and cold, I was ready for the car. Alas, there was no car. Apparently, there was a McDonald’s nearby. So, off we set, walking up one sidewalk, turning around and back down the next. We were lost, lost in the middle of an unknown street, freezing cold, with a daughter who couldn’t afford to catch a cold. Eventually, a nice person running a perfectly illegitimate street business, told us of a place where we could rest and get some food. We headed back, slushing through snow. Once there, my guide asked me for close to $100 US dollars, which I didn’t have because yesterday he told me I only needed money for food. Queue the tears.
We couldn’t even afford to eat, because another small tidbit I wasn’t told was that we had to rent a taxi to the passport building and also another taxi when our train brought us back to Zhengzhou. It would take all of my money that I had brought with me. My nine year old tried not to cry as I broke the news and told her that the food in the backpack would have to go to her new sister and that I promised she would not die from one day without food or drink.
The day ended with me nearly using some self-defense moves on my guide, Happy Evan, as he asked to be called. He wrapped his arms around me in a back hug while I stood trying to calm my new daughter through her traumatized meltdown. Friends, my elbow was inches from his nose before I realized who it was. Looking back, I should have finished that move. People were asking by the end of the trip if I was his wife. He is fortunate that I am not his wife.
At the end of every day I would hold my new daughter and I knew that she was worth every crazy, weird story I would take home from my time in China. I have a wicked, awesome sense of humor and I knew that someday, far from that one, I would laugh at this story about being matched with a drunk guide. I think I am almost to that day.
If I could leave you with one piece of wisdom from my complete and utter fiasco, it would be to accept the gift of laughter that God gives to us. Sometimes there is nothing you can do. The world is falling apart at your feet and you cannot even fathom the frustrations you are going through. Find a small piece each day to hold onto and giggle over, to revisit tomorrow when the day repeats itself. Pull back from your memory a time that was joyful and focus on that and trust that God will bring you back to a place of laughter.
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. – Proverbs 31:25
Our guide did bring us a little gift each day that we saw him. I suppose that was very nice. He was also very touched about our adoption. The multiple hugs could have been left out of his emotional outpouring. I don’t think I breathed at all until we arrived at our next destination, Nanchang, where we were greeted by a professional looking woman… who did not smell of alcohol.