Light, in the Heart of Darkness

Article excerpt

Byline: Rhona Murphy

Machine Guns, thieving cabbies, and a sweet baby girl: welcome to adoption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I knew that adopting a child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo would not be easy. But I never expected to be stuck on a pitch-dark road in the middle of the night, somewhere outside the city of Kinshasa, wondering if I was about to become another grim statistic in this troubled country.

It all started back in early 2009, when I had applied via an agency in the U.S. to adopt a child. Having fallen in love with Africa on various visits--the people, the land, and the endless skies--adopting from there was especially appealing. International adoption is a roller-coaster process, however; after a long year in which nothing seemed to be happening, I heard of a new option in the form of a pilot program in Congo. I was intrigued. I was also wary. More than 5 million people have died there since 1998 from poverty, war, and disease, half of them children. But I couldn't stop thinking about it.

And so, in the summer of 2010, with swirling thoughts of Joseph Conrad and his dark colonial tales, I applied.

On March 17 this year, I got the much-anticipated referral phone call from my agency. A few hours later, I was looking at a photo of a beautiful baby girl named Anna. Was this really my future daughter? It was hard to think about anything else. In June, I was finally able to travel to Bukavu in eastern Congo to meet her. An orphaned child, she was living with a foster family. It was unclear when I would be able to take her home; my agency recognized the great need in Congo, but was still sorting out all the details of the new program.

My boyfriend, David, and I landed in Kigali, Rwanda, late on a Saturday night. We spent the entire next day being driven to the Congolese border. When we got there, a simple wooden bridge separated these two war-torn nations. Soldiers stood around with Kalashnikovs.

A couple of hours later, we walked into a modest home, where an 11-month-old sat on a woman's knee, staring at me with the most enormous brown eyes: Anna. I think my first feeling was relief. It was really, truly her. We gazed at each other, and then the woman put her on my knee. By the time I said goodbye on that bridge two days later, I was entirely smitten. …