Terrible, Thanks For Asking: Salome's Choice

Salome's Choice - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled “Salome’s Choice.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.

Salome: Oh my goodness, 2011... [laughing]

Nora: I know, who can even remember, but... [laughing] I know we were younger, that's all I know. 

Salome: We were younger. Definitely.

I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible Thanks for Asking.” And this is an episode recorded in my home, where the sound is not great. And it’s recorded in our subject’s home, where the sound is not great. 

Salome: OK. Oh, much better. Much better. 

Nora: OK. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. 

It’s wonderful that it recorde, because at first it didn’t. And I didn’t notice. And you know what? Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. And sometimes, things can be wonderful and also not great all at the same time! That’s foreshadowing.

In 2012, Salome and her husband Isaiah were married and living in Iowa. They were in their 20s, and they had plans. Not even BIG plans. Just regular-sized plans that you tend to make when you’re married and starting out. 

Salome: You know, get jobs. Isaiah would get maybe a teaching job at a university somewhere, and I would get a law attorney job in town, and we would just build our home, save — 401k kind of thing — build that American dream. And, you know, we'll be off to the races, so to speak.

The two of them had just moved back to Salome’s home state of Iowa. They were settling in. They were talking about having kids. Or Salome was talking about kids. Isaiah was talking about a kid.

Salome: I thought two kids would be a good number of kids to have. Isaiah was leaning more toward one kid, and I was in the process of convincing him that that was not a good idea to just have one, unless you can't have any more kids, then obviously you don't have a choice. But if you can have more kids, you should, just because the kid would be lonely. Someday we won't be here, or we will be old, and we'll need taking care of, and do you want all of this responsibility to be just one kid? You know, at least have a sibling who can tag team with you. And on the day when you’re on vacation or something, or can’t do it or they’re taking care of their own family, they would have a sibling they can call and say, “Can you take mom or dad to their appointment?” Like, I don’t know, you need to have just more than one kid.

They were going back and forth about that for a while, weighing the pros and cons of one kid vs. two kids, while also going to work and mowing the lawn and doing general life things.

Isaiah is NOT an only child, by the way. He has siblings, and he’s very close to them. One of them is named Paul. And Paul lives in Nigeria, where Isaiah is from.

Isaiah talked to Paul on a regular basis. One of the things Paul talked to Isaiah about was this family that Paul was helping. The dad had just died, and the mom was struggling to support her two kids.

Salome: Paul was helping with all of that. Occasionally he would drop off some food items, groceries. Occasionally he would provide money for, you know, household things. Those kinds of things. So that… that was his role. And, you know, they hadn't really asked him to do it. He just... he just wanted to help. He saw a need, he wanted to help and he took it on. 

The two kids were named Isaac and Joy, and when Salome and Isaiah speak to Paul, they get semi-regular reports on how Isaac and Joy are doing.

Salome and Isaiah only get to go to Nigeria every two years or so, because it’s an expensive trip! So when they do visit, they stay for weeks at a time. In 2012, they make the journey to visit Paul and his family. 

Paul and his family live on what they refer to as a compound. It’s two houses facing each other across a courtyard with lots of land around it.

Salome: And, you know, we had some chickens running around, you know, free-range chicken, running around. And, you know, in the corner was also the... what I would call a coop for the chicken and goats. In Nigeria, people don't spend a lot of time indoors. People's lives are lived outside. So it was one of those, one of those places where you sit around it's like a... a tree and in, in the middle of the… of the compound and people sit under the tree, um, during the day when it's sunny under the shade. 

Salome and Isaiah get to Paul’s compound and settle into daily life in Nigeria. They ride along with Paul to visit friends and family. And on one of those visits, they actually meet Isaac and Joy, those two little kids Paul is helping to support. They meet the old woman who is taking care of Isaac and Joy, because at this point, their mother just can’t do it. And the grownups just sit and chat, but Isaiah and Salome get distracted.

Salome: Our real focus really was on what they were doing. You know, and the kids were playing. They were — they didn't have any toys or anything like that, but they would make their own toys, which was fascinating to me, things they put together to make toys. So like, tile wheels, for example... like old shoes, could be turned into a toy or made into a car, like the shape of a car, and then you tie a rope to it and just kind of drive it around, pull it around. The whole thing was fascinating to me and the ingenuity of what was going on there. And Isaac was really shy and reserved... kind of in the background kind of kid. But his sister was very outgoing and the leader of the group kind of girl. 

After a few weeks, Isaiah and Salome head back to Iowa. And when they talk to Paul later, they still get updates about Isaac and Joy. Issac and Joy’s mom is still not involved in their lives. Paul is still doing his best to help out however he can financially. And Salome and Isaiah say, Paul? You know what? We want to help. We’ll send money for food, clothing, school. We’ll sponsor these two kids.

And they did. They sent money to help support Isaac and Joy, and Paul sent regular updates about how Isaac and Joy were doing.

Salome: I think the more we spent time thinking about them and being involved in their lives, even though we were far away, we just more and more saw the need there and just fell in love with these little kids, hearing about them mostly through Paul and some of the milestones that we're going through and some of the little stories that Paul would share: “Oh, I went there today and this happened. I went there today and when I gave them the food, you should have seen how happy they were.” So I think we kind of fell in love with them through Paul's stories. 

Isaiah and Salome, meanwhile, are plugging away at their own lives. Working. Shoveling snow. Going for long runs, because they are people who like to go for long runs. 

Salome: When we run... we don't really talk to each other when we're running. We're kind of quiet runners. When we're running, it's more of a time to meditate and think to yourself, you know, thoughts and all of that, quiet time while running. But on this particular day, Isaiah was super chatty, which was actually annoying, like, can we just run? We’ll talk later.

Salome wants to tell her husband to just shut up and run, but she doesn’t. And he just chats about everything and nothing. Every thought in his head comes rolling out, the kind of chatter that doesn’t really mean anything but is just filling space while you figure out what it is you really want to say.

Salome: And then all of a sudden he just blurted out: “Do you think we should adopt Isaac and Joy?” And we both stopped running. We just stopped. And we looked at each other. And I said, “I have been thinking about exactly that same thing.”

We’ll be right back.

And we’re back. Salome and Isaiah have, on a running trail in Iowa, both said out loud the thing they’ve been holding inside: that these two kids they’ve been sponsoring from afar could be theirs. Maybe. Right?

It feels right, to both of them.

Salome: It was just joyful to hear him say it out loud. I thought it was going to take us some time to get to the point where we agree on this thing or come to a consensus about this particular thing. But it just seemed like, “Oh, you're thinking exactly the same thing. We don't really need to talk.”

The two of them finish their run and decide they’ll keep thinking about it. They’ll pray about it. And eventually, they call Paul and tell him what they’ve been talking about because surely he’ll know what to do. 

Salome: He had never been, um, he'd never been involved in any kind of adoption. Neither had we. So he didn't know what that meant or what that would entail legally and, you know, process-wise and distance wise and all of those things, he didn't know what that meant. So he asked questions about that. “You know, if you're gonna do that, what do you have to do? How much is it going to cost? What's the process?” He was just as ignorant about the process and all of those details as we were. So he, he asked a lot of questions when we told him. But his initial reaction was, “That sounds like a great idea. I think these kids are great. They are wonderful kids. You guys would enjoy them. They would enjoy having you as parents.” So he validated our suggestion. And then the next question was: “Now how do we get it done?”

Nobody knows how to do this! Except Google.com, which is where they turn next. And Google.com tells them that Nigeria is a non-Hague country. Which, huh?

Google.com told me that the Hague Convention is an international agreement that safeguards international adoptions. According to the state department website, it’s meant to protect kids, which is great! And it means there is a central authority for adoptions within Hague Convention countries. 

Salome: But for us specifically, what that meant was: If you're going to adopt a kid from Nigeria, you would have this bifurcated process where you would do the adoption in the Nigerian legal system. And then after that's all done, you go to the U.S. immigration side and do that process separately. Typically, those processes are integrated and a little more intertwined with each other and not quite so bifurcated. So that's what that meant, was that it was going to be a little bit more complicated. Not that any international adoption is easy — I haven't heard of one. I don't think there's one. But, you know, this had an extra layer of complication to it because of the fact that Nigeria is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.

But Salome and Isaiah are undeterred. Okay, so it’s going to be a little bit harder. Isaac and Joy have had hard lives, and if Salome and Isaiah have to work a little harder to give them good lives? They’re gonna do it. It’s going to take longer, and it’s going to be more expensive, but they’re aren’t in a rush. They want to do this right. 

Joy is 2 years old. Isaac is 4. It’s the summer of 2012, and Salome is on it. She’s gathered all the necessary documents to get the process started on the Nigerian side. And she and Isaiah head over to Nigeria for their first court date. They stay at Paul’s compound, and they go and see the kids as often as they can while they wait for their court date. 

The kids’ birth mom has agreed to the adoption, and has told the kids about it. She’s not their primary caregiver in Nigeria, but she does sees them from time to time.

When they’re with the kids, Isaiah and Salome try to explain the adoption as simply as possible. Which is hard, because it’s not simple.

Salome: What we told them was basically that, you know, they were coming home… eventually, they would come home with us now. Because they were two and four, Joy didn't really have that much vocabulary to talk about this necessarily. Isaac had a little bit more understanding of, of, of this concept, I think, than, than, than she did. But, you know, we talk about... So we started with questions asking them how would they like it if they came to live with us? And at first, they didn't know where we live. So we told them we lived in America, and then Isaac would ask questions like, “Where is America?” And then we would explain, “Well, it's across the ocean. It's very far away. You get on a plane.” Oh, and we had brought some model planes, um, to show them. So we were telling him about how you get on a plane and a plane takes you into the air and we go to the U.S., and then eventually we go to our house. So we explain it that way. And we asked him if he would like that. And he said yes. And of course, whatever he said yes to his sister would say yes to, too. [laughing] So, we explained it that way. And we said, “But you know what? Every now and then we would come back to visit and you guys can see your mom,” and that kind of thing. “But it will probably be a long time before we see her. But you can get to talk to her on the phone, but you won't be able to see her.” So we, we try to explain as much as we could.

Sometimes, on this visit, Joy and Isaac get to stay with Salome and Isaiah in the compound, and they all get to practice being a family.  

Salome: It was kind of fun to teach them, you know, how to color in between the lines and how this particular puzzle works, and, you know, playing ABC games, trying to figure out which letter comes after C. You know, those kinds of things. So yeah, it was very… it was very exciting. It was feeling like, wow, things are happening. And we're building a relationship here. We're bonding. We're laughing. You know, we're eating together. We're doing, we're doing the, you know, normal things families do together.

Salome’s expectations for the Nigerian legal system are low. From what she’s heard, a lot of it isn’t computerized yet, and she’d heard that it’s not uncommon to show up and be told, “Sorry, that hearing got bumped to another day,” maybe because the judge just isn’t there or got tied up in something else.  But for Salome and Isaiah...

Salome: Every day we showed up, the judge was there. She was very pleasant. She did what she was supposed to do, what she said she would do. And we went on our way. But because I think we also showed up expecting it to be difficult, when things went smoothly, it actually was a pleasant surprise.

It’s smooth, but it’s not fast. They’re in Nigeria for weeks and weeks… and every step they take, they do get more excited about the future. It starts to feel more real.

Salome: So, you know, we started to talk about OK, once we get back home, what do we do? Do we want to put these kids in public school or do we want to put them in private school? We have a Christian school in town that we really like. And other kids at our church also go to the school. Should we put them in that? And, you know, who should we introduce them to first, as far as friends and other kids who could potentially become friends. So we were starting to make long-term plans.

After several months, their long-term plans start to feel like short term plans. They’ve wrapped up the Nigerian side of the adoption, which means…

Salome: We submitted all of our documentation. So they’re saying that we're officially now Isaac and Joy's mom and dad. 

They’re parents! As far as Nigeria is concerned, Joy and Isaac are officially adopted. Isaiah heads back to Iowa to go back to work, and Salome stays on the compound with Isaac and Joy and Paul and Paul’s family, waiting for the U.S. process to kick into gear. And that is frustrating, because they don’t hear anything for a long, long time.

But when the phone does ring, it looks like a spam call, so Salome ignores it. Over and over. Because someone needs to invent some kind of caller ID that indicates when a call is truly life-changing! 

Salome: And Isaiah called me and said, “Oh, they are trying to call you.” And that's the point where I figured out it was them, and I picked up the call. So of course, I picked up the call and it was amazing! I mean, they gave us a date for an interview, and that's what we'd been waiting for. An interview basically, it's the final day, they go up and usually you bring your passport and children's passport, and they stamp it with the visa and all that. So an interview date was the whole thing we've been waiting for. So they called and somebody from the consulate told me that, yeah, they had a date for us. And I think the date was supposed to be at the end, of the very end of February. This was 2013. So when I hung up, hung up, it was such, such, such a celebration. I told Paul about it, and Paul told everybody else who had been with us, who had been walking with us through that journey. And of course, I called Isaiah to confirm that yea, I talked to them and gave us a date and we were like, “Yes! We have a date!”

THEY HAVE A DATE! A DATE! TO GO HOME TO IOWA WITH THEIR KIDS! Isaiah, all the way in Iowa, celebrates by buying tickets to bring his family home. And Paul and Salome and Isaac and Joy, they celebrate at the compound. The call comes on a Tuesday, and by Friday, they’re still celebrating. Friends and family have been coming and going all week, driving up the long road that leads to the courtyard, where there is food and music, and Isaac and Joy are running around with chickens and with their new official cousins. 

This is the kind of home where people stop in unannounced, which I love. Where you may not even know the person personally, but you recognize their vehicle.

Salome: You know that, “Oh, um, this person has... drives this green car or this person has a motorcycle. A black motorcycle.” So you, you, even if you like, at dusk, if you can't see their face, um, you can identify them by the vehicle they're driving or, you know, that kind of thing. So people came in and out all the time. Sometimes even perfect strangers came in. Like sometimes people were walking by and they'll be thirsty and they'll, you know, stop in and ask for a glass of water and they'll be given a glass of water and they'll go on their way. So it wasn't unusual for strangers to come in and out. 

And that’s what happens on this Friday night. Paul is at church, just up the road, but Salome and Paul’s wife and some other ladies are all hanging out in the courtyard while their kids play inside. 

And then a car pulls up.

Salome: At that point, I had known everybody who came to visit and what they were driving. So it was, it was strange to see a car I didn't recognize, but not necessarily totally out of…  I don't know everybody who lives in this place. And some of those people were actually Paul's friends, they were not necessarily coming to visit me. And so I figured it might be somebody who was coming to, I don't know, Paul's friend who was coming to visit. Something like that. And when they pulled up, it was, it was starting to get dark, but it wasn't completely dark yet. Probably maybe around 6:30, 7:00 p.m. ish when it's... yeah, it's dusk, but not completely dark yet. So... we could, we could, I could see that, um, the folks in the, in the vehicle looked a little bit strange in the way they dressed. People had… it looked like somebody had a mask on, which looks strange to me. And so, you know, I was fixated on the car and trying to see who would come out of it.

And so a guy came out and asked for me, which was strange because I didn't recognize him. And at this point, we're kind of looking at each other without trying to turn our faces, like, you know, how you try to look at somebody sitting to your right without actually turning your body or your head? Everybody is fixed in their seat, not moving at all, but fully aware of what's going on. 

Salome refuses to identify herself, and the man gets more and more irritated. And then, three other men jump out of the car.

Salome: And immediately they attack, they attack me and they grab me. And it's chaotic in all of that. And of course, there is screaming and yeah, they're screaming and yelling. And while all of that is going and screaming and yelling is going on, the kids come out of the house to investigate what was going on. And at that point, it wasn't just Isaac and Joy with us. Paul also has three kids. So his kids were home as well. And they, they also had another girl who was living with them, another relative’s, another relative's daughter who was living with them. So we've got a fair number of kids in the house and they all came out to investigate. 

A chaotic situation gets even more chaotic because the kids just walked outside to see four men attacking Salome. There is screaming. There is fighting. And then, the car speeds away. It takes a moment for Salome to realize that Isaac and Joy are inside that car. They’re gone.

We’re back. Salome and Isaiah have just adopted Isaac and Joy. And four masked men have just kidnapped Isaac and Joy from their uncle’s house in Nigeria. Uncle Paul runs back from church and calls the police. Salome is injured. She’s bruised and bleeding. But she doesn’t even notice.

Salome: My immediate thought was our kids. Are we going to get them back? And if they do, are they going to be, what shape are they going to be in once we do get them back?

The police start to investigate. It’s obviously a kidnapping. But why? Why Isaac and Joy? And what do these kidnappers want? A picture starts to come together:

Salome: Adoptions, particularly in this part of Nigeria, are not a frequent thing. They're not... they're very unusual. I would  just say that. So, once word got out — because we had been living there for months — once word got out that I was there to adopt these kids and it was from the U.S. and all that, this was an opportunity for somebody to make a quick buck. The original scheme was that, well, it's some rich Americans. Well, in some parts of the world, every American is rich. Rich Americans, we’re going to devise this plan to get money out of us. And that's what it was going to be. Just they, just, they just thought we had money and they were going to get a piece of that. 

It sounds simple. They want money, they take your kids. You pay the money! But it’s not simple. If you’re a parent right now, maybe you’re already imagining this scenario. Maybe you’re imagining how fast you would run to the bank, withdraw your whole 401k, grab a steel briefcase, drive it to an abandoned factory, where you would slide it across the floor AFTER and ONLY AFTER the kidnappers let your children run into your arms. Maybe you’re actually imagining a sick revenge fantasy where you also know martial arts and you kick everyone’s ass and get that briefcase back and nobody gets paid for stealing your kids! And you know what? Same.

There’s this very very overused phrase in the English language. It’s called a Sophie’s Choice. Sometimes we say it when we’re trying to decide between menu items or a movie to watch. It’s a flip, funny way of saying, “Man, hmmm. Tough call.”

BUT — puts on my English major glasses — it’s a reference to the William Styron novel of the same name. A novel where — spoilers are coming right now and if you don’t want to know the ENTIRE POINT of this book and maybe the origin of a phrase you’ve been throwing around ironically — fast forward ten or thirty seconds.

Sophie’s choice was that in the Holocaust she had to choose which of her two children would live or die. She sent her daughter to the gas chamber and her son to labor camp. And she never saw either of them again. So maybe don’t say that about burritos vs. nachos. Or do. I’m not here to police your sense of humor but like, it’s such a lazy joke!

And maybe you’re like, where are you even going with this? Well, there is a choice to be made. And it isn’t “pay the ransom and get your kids back or don’t pay it and don’t get them back.” There are bigger implications to this kind of extortion.

If Salome and Isaiah pay this ransom, they’re setting a precedent. They’re sending a message that children can essentially be bought and sold. If Salome and Isaiah pay for Isaac and Joy, there is no guarantee that the kidnappers will return them. Because the kidnappers aren’t working alone. They’re working with Isaac and Joy’s birth mother.

Salome: The deal with these guys was that they would do this and a portion of that money would go to her. Now, I don't know if they approached her and said, “We understand your kids are being adopted by this American family. And if we do this, they will pay money and we will give you a cut of it, so tell us where they are,” kind of thing. 

The fact that the birth mother is involved does offer a little comfort to Salome and Isaiah. They’re at least sure that the kids aren’t going to be killed.

And there’s another precedent that Isaiah and Salome have to consider. They’re worried about their family. Paul. His wife. His children. Their whole extended family are all still in Nigeria. 

Salome: Say that, if we pay money for Isaac and Joy, tomorrow maybe it'll be Paul's kid. Maybe Paul's kid would be kidnaped and another amount would be demanded from there. And then if we pay that the next day, who knows? You know, this could go on forever. If the police go get the kids by force, then he is directly in the line of fire, and him and his family and everybody else who is friends with us, and who these guys know is friends with us, all of those people are... and they become, you know, are put in an awkward situation, being in the line of fire.

So what do they choose? They make the choice to not pay the ransom. To not buy back their children. To not endanger their family and friends.

And they make another choice. To not send the police after the birth mother and the kidnappers to get their children back. 

Salome: The main reason is we haven't given them permission to just go and get them by force. Isaiah keeps going back to um… he keeps going back to this point. And I agree with him. We came in peace, and we are going to leave in peace, no matter how much we leave. So we, we want… if these guys call the police one day and say, “We want to have a conversation,” or, “We want to return the kids,” we would be more than happy to step in. But Isaiah early on said we're not going to engage in battles, whether that's legal battles or battles that involve police taking people by force or taking Isaac and Joy by force. They know where we stand, if they're willing to work with us, we are happy to jump in anytime. But it was… we started us off in peace and Isaiah says we're going to end it in peace no matter how it ends. So that's the main reason they haven't gone in and taken them back by force, essentially.

To go back to Sophie’s Choice… Sophie never sees either of her children again, and it drives her mad with grief and guilt. The choice Salome is faced with isn’t just about her children but about all children in Nigeria. Not just about her children but about the safety and wellbeing of her entire family. There is not a choice that she and Isaiah could make that would not come with a huge human cost to it.

In those years since, they’ve heard that the kids are okay. They’ve heard about sightings, about the kids being enrolled in school. But it has still been 9 years since that night when the unfamiliar car pulled up to the courtyard. Nine years since Salome saw Isaac and Joy. 

Salome: I always say that on the day that our kids... or the worst thing happened to us... the world didn't stop. You know, turn off the lights or the clock didn’t stop, and everybody came home from work and were like, “Oh, my goodness Isaiah and Salome lost their kids today so we need to pause and rem” — no, nobody did that. We were doing that. But in the meantime, everybody else went ahead and went to work and did what they did every other day. And it was just a normal day for them. 

They’re in this world, fully and completely and broken-heartedly. Salome and Isaiah have moved to Maryland — about 30 miles outside of D.C. They’ve still kept up with their trips to Nigeria.

Salome: The first time we went back, I looked around, and it seemed so empty and so quiet, but it still seems so full of all of these memories of the places we'd walked with Isaac and Joy and the places we'd visited together, and the folks whose homes we were in it with them, and that kind of thing. So it seemed like they were everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

They’ve had two children — who are 2 and 4 on the day that Salome and I speak. The ages that Joy and Isaac were when they were taken.

Salome: And so looking at them, there are many days when we say, “Oh, you know, this is exactly the age that Joy was when we met. And at 2, Joy was doing this.” Or they say something that reminds us of Isaac and Joy, you know. So they're a constant reminder. So like two weeks ago, when it was Isaac's birthday, Isaiah was talking about how he would've been an eighth-grader. And I wonder what kind of an eighth-grader he would have been. The kind that wants you to drop him off like two blocks away so his friends don't know that you’re his dad?

They’ve walked that line so many of us have walked — with gratitude for what they have and grief for what they lost. Trying to raise two children in America who will grow up and know about the siblings they still haven’t met.

Salome: They do know that Isaac and Joy are their brother and sister, and they will talk about them in terms of their brother and sister. What's strange is sometimes they ask, “Why don't we see our brother and sister?” We don't, we don't live next door to their grandparents, but they understand that what they need to talk to Nana and Papa, all we need to do is pick up the phone and dial into a video conference with them or call them on the phone. They can hear their voice, and they don't understand why we can't do that with Isaac and Joy. So we've explained that, you know, they live in Nigeria. They are not able to come here right now. And there are people — there are some people who are preventing them from coming in and living with us. But maybe someday those people will let them go and they'll come live with us.

As the little kids get older, they’ll ask themselves the questions Salome asked herself. 

Questions you may be asking right now. Are you sure you made the right decision?

Are you SURE?

Salome: They're still very near and dear to our hearts and our days, we wonder if there will be a time when something will happen. We'll be surprised, and we'll be able to get them back, and maybe we'll pick up where we left off. And in the meantime, we would have missed all these years and all of these milestones in between, like the day he became a teenager. You can't get that back once you lose it. But I think fundamentally, going back to the question you asked, I think not paying the money was the right thing to do. Legally, It was the right thing to do. I think emotionally it was the right thing to do. And in the interest of Isaiah's other family members, who would also be in harm's way, it was the right thing to do. So for all of those reasons, it still is the right thing to do.

It is the right thing to do, and it still hurts. Sometimes you can make a choice — the right choice — and it still hurts.

There’s this idea of parenting, of motherhood, that you would do anything for your kids. Show me the hot coals and I WILL WALK OVER THEM! But sometimes that “anything” — that walk over the hot coals — means not doing something. 

Those are the hot coals that Salome and Isaiah are still walking on. They still wonder what Isaac and Joy would be like — a teen and a tween in suburban Maryland. They still wonder how they are, what they look like, what their little voices sound like now.

They still hope to see them again. They still hear things through the grapevine that let them know Isaac and Joy are alive and safe. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it helps to know they are alive. That they’re okay. 

Salome: We decided that as a memorial to them, we would build a well in this community to provide clean water to people. Clean water is an issue. So we did that, and to us, it was just going to be one well. And then once we did that, we started getting all these requests from other people in neighboring villages and communities to do the same thing there. And it became this process of spending money to build a well here and a well there and that kind of thing. And eventually, it grew to be a lot. We decided to turn it into a nonprofit. And now we've gotten into health care, providing health care services and then a school.

David Kessler, who actually co-wrote the Elizabeth Kubler Ross “Five Stages of Grief,” published a book introducing an official sixth step for grief: finding meaning. Not in an Everything Happens For A Reason kind of thing, but recognizing that there is a natural sort of alchemy that happens with grief, where the pain has to turn into something. And Salome and Isaiah turned theirs into help for kids like Isaac and Joy.

They are building this organization in honor of them but also as a lighthouse for them. Proof that their love has not waned in the intervening years. That their refusal to pay is not proof of their indifference but actually the exact opposite. That they love their kids enough to suffer without them, and to pour their own pain into alleviating the pain of other kids. 

Because they can’t pay that ransom. And they can’t adopt every kid.

Salome: But perhaps what we can do is we can bring help to them. And that's what Impact Missions is, is bringing help to all of those other kids and families who may be in the same situation. And every time we go back, um, to do a project or to just be present or to look at the progress of work and that kind of thing, it kind of seems like every time I turn around, it seems like, oh, maybe that might be them, or I see a boy about Isaac’s age and I think I wonder if that's him. Or, I see a girl you know, it seems like they're everywhere and nowhere at the same time every time we go back. But that's the... that's the beauty of it. You know, when this school is up and running, maybe someday they'll walk through the doors of it and ask about us. Maybe not. But it doesn't really matter whether they do or not. I think the thousands of kids who will get an opportunity to go to school or the many moms who have a clean place to give birth or, you know, when we finally have the hospital up and running, all of those people, I'm sure, will be grateful for those opportunities. And we will know that if it wasn't for Isaac and Joy, none of those people would ever get that opportunity. And I think that's enough. That's plenty for us. 


Nora McInerny

Marcel Malekebu 

Hannah Meacock Ross

Jordan Turgeon

Geoffrey Lamar Wilson

Phyllis Fletcher

Tracy Mumford

Jeyca Maldonado-Medina

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