September 21, 1998 we traveled to Schiphol national airport to start the most memorable journey of our life. While waiting for our flight we met the other couples of our travel group. Still strangers now, but changing into some sort of family members in only a few days. First we had a very short flight to Frankfurt and then a long one to Beijing. During the flight someone took away the night (at 0.30 it was suddenly 6.30) and with it took away our sleep. I had a terrible cold, which wasn’t helping very much to feel happy and rested when we finally arrived in Beijing.

In the arrival hall we found a woman holding a ‘child and future’ sign, and who did a wonderful job in welcoming us in China, helping out with luggage and putting us all in a bus to bring us to a hotel. The visit to the hotel however, was not for sleeping (sigh....) but for changing money, paying the local organizer and for having lunch. Everybody was tired and tense, but we all tried to make the most of it. One couple said goodbye to us to travel by themselves by train to find there new daughter in Shijiazhuang.

Back to the airport to catch our flight to Hangzhou at 2.10 pm. Because all the bags were still on the pavement outside the airport (instead of already checked-in as grouptour luggage), we had to hurry to catch the flight. For me this flight felt terrible, because of the cramped seating conditions, oppressive air and the pain in my ears because of my cold. But of course I made it to Hangzhou. In Hangzhou we were met by Joe, our facilitator. Someone who made a very slow start (never done adoption procedures) but grew out to be a helpful and trusted partner.

We stayed in the five star Wuhan hotel. I was so tired and ill that I skipped dinner and went straight to bed. In our room we found a crib, already made up. So strange....

The next morning, september 23, was the day we would meet Ajiet. Waking up with this knowledge can’t be described properly. We dressed (formally as we were instructed) and went down for breakfast. Our group of nine couples was matched with children from two different orphanages. The three children from Lanxi orphanage were already brought to the hotel last night. Imagine these couples becoming parents after some 30 hours of travel! Like all the not-yet-parents we were enthralled by the sight of these 3 beautiful girls, looking quite content in their strange new surroundings. Finally the bus arrived, that would bring us to the Civil Affairs bureau, where we would meet Ajiet. At the Civil Affairs bureau we had to walk a few stairs. It is on these stairs that tears ran down my face: I realized the moment had finally come. We were led into a room where 6 little children were on a couch, accompanied by orphanage workers. I did not see our Ajiet until she was given to me, but on the photo I made (automatically), you can see her sitting on the far left. It was quite chaotic in this room, with nine couples, nine screaming children, people from both orphanages and a couple of officials. Like everyone, Erik and I started to talk excitedly: is she the blue one, the white one??? One by one the names of the children were read, and the parents came forward. As the Chinese names of our children were much alike, it was difficult to recognize ours, but Joe was helping out by calling out the parent’s names.

We were called....I gave Erik the camera.....The director of the orphanage had a huge child in her arms (the only time she looked huge to me, in comparison with the other babies) with pink ribbons in her hair. The director wanted us to pose with her for an orphanage camera woman, before handing over the girl. I remember my tears were gone, I only wanted to comfort my little girl. Then she was handed to me, she cried, she screamed, she was very strong. Oh, how awful it must have been for her to be given to a total stranger. I just stood there holding her, looking at her, she was also an absolute stranger to me. This was my daughter, everything would be all right...

She was beautiful, much older than on her referral picture, and we were getting to know each other. We talked to her, she was crying her head off. Several orphanage ‘aunties’ took her back for comfort. She clung to them, that was hard for me. But I guess, she benefited by being reassured by her aunties that this was OK. Finally I took her back, for we had to go through these hard times. I remember that I wasn’t surprised or unhappy because of her resistance, it all seemed so logical to me. The orphanage director handed a photo of the orphanage to all new parents. I could see she was proud of the place and happy to show it.

Things quieted down after awhile (I honestly had no idea of time here) and Ajiet calmed down a bit. There was a little balcony on which we watched the traffic on the road, that fascinated her. I looked around me and gave a first look at the other children, and at the proud parents making pictures and videos. Then the paper business began. Every couple split up into two organizational units, one cared for the baby, one for the papers.Time passed with careful translation, sometimes partners were called from their baby talk to sign a paper.Its was more quiet now, and there was enough time to work accurately, to photograph and to soak up these moments.

A pervasive smell called for our parental skills, and I grabbed my bag with diapers. Out on the balcony I changed my first very dirty diaper. It is an intimate act to undress your child for the first time. I had wished for the quiet and privacy of our hotel room, but this was an emergency.
I quickly got back in because of our interview with a civil servant in which we promised never to abandon and mistreat the child. A fingerprint was needed and the first document was finished.

We went back to the hotel at 1 pm. The babies all desperately needed milk powder (the agency had advised us to buy in China and bring nothing) Someone from the hotel was sent out to buy it. Our room was not yet cleaned, so we called room service (to guarantee that Ajiet could sleep after lunch) and waited outside. Ajiet acted withdrawn and she looked around without any reaction towards us. We ordered some fried rice for ourselves and for Ajiet, although we had no idea what she would eat. Then all the milk powder was brought to our room, so Erik went around to deliver, just when the food arrived and the room was cleaned. So don’t get the impression we retreated to our room quietly. But finally we were alone. We undressed her and put on her pyjamas. We laid her clothes in the crib for a familiar smell. She cried for being left alone, so we let her fall asleep on my stomach and then put her back in the crib. We couldn't get enough of looking at her.
At 3 o’clock the phone rings... Joe told us to be downstairs in five minutes... change of plans. Quickly we dressed again and tried to wake Ajiet, which was not easy. We put on her dress and went downstairs, where we found our group of somewhat startled parents.

We had to visit the notary office. We were welcomed and treated in a pleasant way. They needed some of our paperwork now to start the legalizations. Back home we had made a portfolio with labeled compartments for all paperwork and more space for paperwork yet to come. It was a life saver.

The orphanage ladies were also at the notary office and traveled with us to the hotel. We were all given a chance to talk to them in our rooms with Joe as a translator. I had all questions prepared on paper (also thanks to APC) and we had a pleasant conversation, although not much information was given. The director asked me to send some pictures of Ajiet in the following years. Of course I will. Ajiet sat on the lap of her apparently favorite auntie. When the orphanage delegation left the room, Ajiet cried a little but wasn’t very upset. I realized she probably had shielded herself from her surroundings as a kind of survival tactic. It was time for Erik to send out his first of many e-mails. How to find words for so many emotions??

While behind the computer we saw her walk for the first time. Some families got together to have dinner on the other side of the street, a restaurant we would visit all week. The meal was very nice, the waitresses were delighted with the kids, the parents were happy, the kids seemed to like it too. Ajiet sent us her first smile. While playing with her in our room she smiled more! Oh happy day...
We planned not to bathe her the first day to preserve for her her familiar smell, but after some impressive diapers we changed plans. Carefully we put her in the bath with daddy, she liked it! We played with her, dried her and laid her down to sleep. She slept immediately.

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