Adoption series: Jim & Kristen Weathersby, and adopting from Guatemala

Click below to here just a snippet of the experience the Weathersby family had bringing their daughter Katie into their hearts and home. [audio:|titles=Adoption and Guatemala]

**Please note** This is a rough-cut, sample pilot episode, constructed in a very short period of time, so as to exhibit some sample content for my HIST 7040 final project. This will not be the only piece on the Weathersby family, nor does it begin to cover entirely the many things we discussed in recording their experience. Over the summer, I intend to build more of the components of this project, including its own web site, a working title for the project, and an intro for each podcast episode. Please forgive the brevity of what I have now.


Podcast pilot episode: transcript

Jim and Kristen Weathersby on adopting their daughter Katie

Jim and Kristen Weathersby adopted their daughter Katie from Guatemala in 2008, bringing her home at the ripe age of seven months and one week old. In the case of their international adoption experience, the timing was everything, as, by the time they had invested over a year in the process, a legal complication between the United States and Guatemala immediately halted what had formerly been a popular program for Americans adopting abroad.

The Weathersbys had wanted at least one child and, after a long and morally challenging trek down the fertility path, determined they wanted to adopt. The nature of international adoption appealed to them over the domestic option, and Guatemala offered a short wait time upon submitting an application—about six to twelve months, relative to countries like China—which can run upwards of two years. For Jim and Kristen, their age was also a factor, and Guatemala was one nation that did allowed couples over thirty-eight to adopt infant children, rather than an older child.

The couple began the application process—itself reams and reams of paper, red tape, and bureaucracy—in December of 2006. Katie was born August 23, 2007. A few weeks later, after months of waiting, they got word that they had a daughter.


Kristen: In September, they said OK, we have a child. And they sent us a videotape, and a bunch of pictures of Katie at seven days old.

While the initial U.S. side of the adoption was behind them, they now embarked upon completing the requirements for the Guatemalan end of the process. They soon realized, with events that were taking place on the global stage, that they were about to be caught up in an international event.

Kristen: So the first half was the U.S. side of the adoption. From September on was the Guatemalan side of the adoption. And so at that time, the laws have changed since then, but since that time, there was a whole slew of government agencies that you had to get through and approvals you had to get through. And then they announced, mostly because the United States government insisted, there’s a Hague Treaty that involves our—the United States’ relationship with other countries and adoption, and it has more than adoption, but it also involves adoption. And, we were non-compliant.


Jim: The United States.


Kristen: The United States was non-compliant. Because one of the requirements of the United States, the Hague Treaty is, to do adoptions internationally, you can only do with other countries—with countries that control the adoptions centrally from a government, ok?


Jessie: I see.


Kristen: Now, Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America, and they have an incredibly poor and corrupt government. So to bring a governmental agency into it is, I could talk for days about that. But, at the time that we did it, it was still a private process.

When the Hague Treaty violation rose to the surface of international relations, the long-successful connection between adoptive families in the U.S. and orphan children in Guatemala was abruptly halted. For months after getting those first photos and video footage of their daughter, the Weathersbys did not know if they would be allowed permission to go and get her before the tiny window that remained open was shuttered entirely. As it turns out, they made it through with only days to spare, in the last weeks of 2007.


Kristen: So we got in December sixteenth, they closed on December thirty-first. December fifteenth.


Jim: Yeah. Fifteenth or sixteenth. Yeah but still.


Kristen: They closed on the—we were told at that point in time, that, on December fifteenth-ish, that it may be August, July or August, before we were going to get her, even though it had closed, so we were preparing for that.

I spoke with the Weathersbys about the reaction they received during their two visits to Guatemala, and some of the perceptions of adoption that existed in the country at that time, in 2007 and 2008—partially as a result of very same governmental trouble that had almost left them waiting months, or even years, to bring Katie home.


Jessie: What were some of the responses, did you, I don’t know how long you were in Guatemala, but, um, you [Jim] were kind of saying before that there was this sort of—


Kristen:  Guatemala is a tough country. Um, they aren’t one hundred percent—OK. Guatemala as a culture only has two classes, lower class and upper class [indicated with hands]. And um, lower class typically is the native population, the Mayans, and, uh, the twain don’t meet, very much. So, they don’t adopt. Their culture does not, you will not find a upper-class family adopting a Mayan kid, that doesn’t happen. So, at some point in time, there was, there’s plenty of rhetoric, especially as they were changing the laws and going through the change from—


So I don’t know of we did this, let me back up. So, PGN is the, was the part that you had to get through, to know that you were going to get to adopt.


Jim: The equivalent of their attorney general’s office.


Kristen: Under the old laws. And you had until December 31st [2007]. If you made it through PGN by December 31st, you would officially have adopted your child and you could—otherwise you had to start all over again, your adoption, and all that process that you’d gone through for the last year meant nothing. And you had to go restart under the new laws. Well they, after that, they closed for a whole year. So even the restarting process, you couldn’t do for a whole year, because they had to figure out how to have the infrastructure of an adoption program—


Jim: From nothing—


Kristen: From nothing. With no money. Zero money. And a corrupt government. So, part of the rhetoric during this whole process was that Americans were stealing babies. That rich Americans came down and they stole all the children. So there was this assumption, um, that everyone was down there stealing babies. It’s already—one of my, my former head of security was with the secret service, and he was stationed in Guatemala for seven years—it’s already, like adoption, no adoption—it’s a gun state. You have any money down there, you have a bodyguard. Locals have a bodyguard. We stayed in the nicest section of Guatemala city, and the restaurant next to our hotel had been sprayed with gunfire. Um, because there had been an attempted robbery, right there. The Intercontinental Hotel, there were armed—like rifle-armed—armed guards posted all the way across the sidewalk. You know, we, because we were adopting, were taught, kind of, to fear. Now I have friends who go to Guatemala on vacation and they’re not afraid, and that’s not—but, there was this kind of, culture of—


Jessie: With the connotation.


Jim: They told us not to leave the hotel, basically.


Kristen: Mm-hmm. And when we did leave—


Jessie: That was because of the changing... ?


Kristen: Well one thing, you’re assumed as Americans to have a lot of money.


Jessie: That’s true.


Kristen: You’re assumed to be stealing a baby. So, we had armed guards pretty much with us at all times.

Katie’s adoption story, and the experience with international politics within that story, highlights one of the many complications involved in adopting across national borders.  Cultural perceptions affect the host country’s citizens’ willingness to adopt, which means some cultures, like Guatemala’s, are left with larger numbers of orphaned children who will not be adopted in their country of origin. For Jim and Kristen, this opened up the world to them, as their daughter is the admitted light of their lives.

Jim: You know, I mean, it was a long process, but in the end, and I’m not, I’m not the first one to say this, because I’ve heard several people do this already who did the same thing—it’s well worth it. I mean, it definitely well worth it. Um, she, you know, she’s just the light of our life.


Things you didn't know about Wikipedia

Lately, I've been learning a lot about the world's languages and the way language and words mingle throughout cultural relations and our modern lives. It all comes out in the weekly podcast "The World in Words," available free from the same people who do "The World" broadcast on NPR. The half-hour show is filled with trivia on languages, odd words, untranslatable phrases, political jargon, and other points of interest. The last two weeks I've learned some random interesting things about Wikipedia. While the English Wikipedia has over 2.8 million entries, the next-largest is the German Wiki, which lags far behind that in size. However, host Patrick Cox points out that it is no less thorough in its encyclopedic knowledge. What the German version is lacking that accounts for the massive size difference is the thousands upon thousands of "stubs" and entries explaining very tiny elements of American or English pop culture. Stubs themselves are incomplete articles that might eventually be deleted, defining very trivial parts of culture. And the other, more extensive but equally as trivial entries might be credited to people who are experts on very specific things-- say, for instance, if I wrote a whole huge entry on every detail of the Home Alone movie series. The distinction between German-language Wiki and English-language Wiki is this stringent weeding out of trivial knowledge. The German focus is to make Wikipedia the same caliber as any printed, published academia-based encyclopedia. The English-language one is, therefore, much larger, and filled with much more specific detail. This is not a bad thing-- plenty of times I have needed a random factoid answered that has been a bother in my head, and have eased my mind with Wiki. It's just quite an interesting cultural thing to consider.

It also baffled me to learn of the barriers that some language systems have overcome to streamline their own Wikipedias. Chinese language, for example, has two writing systems-- traditional characters and simplified characters (the latter has been pushed and taught since the mid-20th century). Some articles were being written in simplified, some in traditional, and the characters are different enough to cause a problem for readers who can't read both systems. Chinese programmers hastily developed a way to duplicate the articles into both, solving the issue. The predicament only gets tougher for Kazakh speakers, though: they have three writing systems. This is an element of global language barriers that I have never thought of before-- that one language when spoken could have three possible translations into writing. The language in Kazakhstan can be written in the Cyrillic alphabet (like Russian), the Roman/Latin alphabet (like English), and in the Arabic right-to-left format. Adapting a system this complicated to modern world is breathtaking.

And one more trivial bit of knowledge lies in the Spanish-language Wiki. Drama erupted in 2002 after a mere mention of putting advertising on Wiki article pages enraged a group of contributors; they split from Wiki and began their own user-written encyclopedia Web site, Enciclopedia Libre. Eventually things were mended (because it had been literally just an online conversation that contained the thought of advertising), but the remarkable thing is the power of the individual in something as big as Wiki, on something so big as the Internet.

I am, after all, just one person, putting my thoughts here. :)