The doors at Kennedy International Airport automatically opened and closed as hundreds of passengers from a 747 jet from Lebanon streamed through. Waiting in the terminal, Doris and Jimmy Kazoun and eleven of their friends and relatives anxiously scanned the arrivals, waving and shouting, Have you seen a man with a baby?
When a smiling man appeared carrying a large wicker basket, the guard could not hold back the excited group. Doris climbed under the rail, ran to the door, grabbed the basket and peered inside. Then, for the first time, she scooped up and hugged her five-month-old daughter Christina.
When I looked into the basket I saw this tiny face looking up at us, said Doris. I had thought she would be so huge. After a twelve-hour flight, a 5700-mile journey, months of paper work in Lebanon and the United States, and weeks of constantly changing travel arrangements, Christina had arrived.
Jimmy and I had always talked about the possibility of adopting, said Doris. When they had been married three years they began to consider it seriously. But when they called local agencies, they found long waiting lists and few babies for adoption.
Then a new idea took hold of them: why not adopt a baby from Lebanon, where Jimmy Kazoun had been born? Friends of theirs had done it. An article in the Lebanese American Journal fired Doris into action. She called the newspaper and was in their New York office the very next day, filling out an application. It took her only one hectic day to put together the health forms, marriage certificates, testimonies, references, and pictures (used to match a baby to the parents) needed for the adoption in Lebanon.
As matters turned out, the adoption was from an orphanage in Beirut. It was arranged through two sisters who were members of the congregation staffing the institution. Doris and Jimmy traveled to Brooklyn for their personal interview with the sisters, who were visiting relatives in the United States.
That was August, 1976. More than a year later, on the day after Thanksgiving, 1977, Doris and Jimmy got a call. There was a baby for them, a little girl just two weeks old. The nun described Christinas bright dark eyes and her curly black hair. Now the waiting would be harder. Three steps remained to adopt Christina by proxy in Lebanon, to make the necessary arrangements with United States Immigration, and to bring her here.
By the end of January, 1978, the adoption process in Lebanon was completed. Doris and Jimmy gathered the documents and references for the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to file a Petition to Classify an Orphan as Immediate Relative. There were many questions to answer and statements to give. What kind of future do you plan for your child? asked one of the questions. Doris and Jimmy wrote simply, The very best we can give her.
Throughout the early spring, as trouble continued in Lebanon, Doris would sit up nights waiting for special reports on the radio. She called Lebanon to find out how Christina was. She called Immigration and pleaded, My baby, get my baby out of there.
By the end of March, U.S. Immigration processing was complete and all necessary documents were cabled to the Embassy in Beirut. Christina could enter the United States as a relative of the Kazouns.
Arrangements were made for her to leave, but at first no one was available to travel out of the country with her. Another date was set, but Christina got sick and the doctor would not permit her to go. As tension and fighting mounted in Lebanon, it became more and more difficult to find anyone willing to carry out a baby. Doris and Jimmy grew more anxious each day.
Then, at 4 oclock in the morning on April 25, 1978, they got a call: The baby is coming on Thursday. They asked, Are you sure? Doris remembers, Everytime we were ready to get her over, something happened.
But this time Christina came. Beside her in the wicker basket were her few belongings: a little stack of diapers and some clothes. Three layers of clothing and a jacket were wrapped around her like a cocoon, and she was suffering from eczema, allergies and sniffles. But in spite of her discomfort, Christina beamed and smiled. On the way home from the airport she did not sleep, but instead sat up and watched the lights of the cars.
What is it like to adopt a child from an orphanage? Doris describes their first days with Christina. She made very little noise. She had never been carried much and she didnt know how to sit. She didnt like too many people around. Shed hold a toy and hug it with her arms folded. Shed fall asleep that way, licking her arm.
At the orphanage, the busy staff could not devote a great deal of time to each individual child. So Christina was used to eating and going right back to sleep. Gradually, as the Kazouns spent time holding her and playing with her, Christina began to stay awake longer. She learned to sit, to crawl and to splash. She would not drink water from a bottle, but laughed delightedly when her mother squirted it into her open mouth with a plastic fish toy.
Christina is now one year old and livelier than ever. It is easy to coax a smile from the little girl with the enormous brown eyes.
Would the Kazouns adopt again? Yes, and from Lebanon.
Of course its difficult, says Doris. We went through so much just to get her here. All the waiting and worrying. And then having a child means raising her the right way. Sitting with her during the day, being up at night when she cries. But you give the child your love, and the rest comes naturally. She and Jimmy smile as they look at Christina.
I cant wait till Christmas, says Doris softly.
Mary Mullowney, a freelance writer, is a graduate of St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey.