Saturday, October 20, 2007


This morning Emmanuel and I woke up at Manhattan Suites, my new home for the week, and got ready for the day. I have to admit, I'm getting pretty good at taking care of him. I've got the whole bath, teeth brushing, dressing him thing down to about fifteen minutes.

There's one thing I didn't mention yesterday. As soon as I got off of the plane, Benedict, one of the founders of CHILDREN'S HOPE, informed me that the Passport for Ephrahim, whom I was to escort to the US, had the wrong birth date on it. It read that he was 2 1/2 instead of 1 1/2 and the corrected passport wouldn't be in our hands until Tuesday. This meant extending my trip from Sunday to Wednesday which was fine but means we have to go to the Airport and change the ticket and also buy Ephrahim a "lap child" ticket. See, if the kid is under two, the ticket costs about $400 and if they're over two, it's the same price as mine which was about $2,000. Thus, the corrected birth date is very important as cash is tight, not to mention that it's a little sketchy traveling internationally with a child who has incorrect info on his passport. More about this later...
Now, Emmanuel and I went up to the restaurant on the roof of Manhattan Suites for breakfast and met up with Benedict and Rhene and some of the other guys from Children's Hope. These guys are great. Turns out they will be with me every waking moment that I'm in Abidjan, taking me everywhere and showing me everything. Rhene speaks perfect English and will be my faithful translator for the duration. These guys are saints and I will forever be endebted to them for guiding me through this trip.
Once we were done with breakfast, we all jumped in the hotels' caravan with our driver to take Emmanuel to his new family. The car was packed with myself, Emmanuel, the Children's Hope team and the reporter and cameraman from the TV station.

As we start driving, I am informed that we have to make a few stops before dropping Emmanuel off. This is something that I will soon come to expect in West Africa; there's a plan for the day and I'm never completely informed of it...

The first stop was at a church near an enormous outdoor market of vendors in small shantys selling produce, meats, etc. We're there to drop off mail or something to someone. Again, I'm not totally in the loop. The interesting thing about this stop was that it was my first introduction to something that will be a constant theme during my trip. I am the only white person, seemingly in the entire country. People stare and treat me like I just stepped out of a UFO, primarily when we go to the more populated and poverty stricken shanty towns. This is not to say that people are unfriendly. To the contrary, everyone I met greeted me with wonder, amazement and complete hospitality. Ivorians realize that the international media has historically depicted Africa as either being completely primitive with everyone running around "the bush" or as a war torn combat zone. They want to dispel this myth so, when they meet Americans, it's important to them that we know what the real story is; that while there is extreme poverty, people are happy and have a true lust for life. Ivorian culture is dominated by hard work, hospitality, great food, music and dancing...everywhere.

Our next stop was at another church to check in with a beautiful and happy family whose daughter had gone to the US through Children's Hope and the Next Right Thing for an operation and is now doing beautifully. This is when I realized that not only am I here as an escort for these children but also as a publicity tool for Children's Hope. For the rest of the trip I will have photo-ops with anyone and everyone and be presented to everyone as "American TV and film actor, Todd Grinnell" which, while not being particularly exciting in LA, is met with great interest in Abidjan and brings alot of attention and credibility to Children's Hope. I took ALOT of pictures and shook ALOT of hands. I felt like I was running for President...which I enjoyed.

Our next stop was in a really over populated and poverty stricken section of town called, "Adjame". Abidjan is divided into suburbs around a city with highrises that from a distance, kind of resembles Boston. These suburbs have varying degrees of economic status. I was staying in "Cocody", the home of one of my favorite Reggae singers, Alpha Blondy, which is the more affluent district where there is the big University, TV station and offices for Children's Hope. The downton city area is called "Plateau" and the other big districts are "Treichville", "Adjame", "Abobo" and "Yopougong", which are all very overrun with people, black markets, and poverty.

In Adjame, we met a family whose six year old son, Liman, was born with his intestine growing on the outside of his stomach. He is definitely on the top of the list to come to the US through the Next Right Thing.
After a few more stops to visit families, we returned to the Orphanage that we had visited the night before to meet Emmanuel's new host family.
When we got there, the host family had not arrived yet so Emmanuel and I played in the yard along with the Children's Hope guys and the TV crew. Benedict went inside to talk to the lady who ran the orphanage.
What's interesting here is that at a certain point in playing around with Emmanuel, his face just dropped and he became really sad. I asked him what was wrong and I heard Benedict's voice behind me, "He's sad. He's knows whats happening". I turned to him and said "What is happening". Apparently, when Benedict talked to the woman from the orphanage, she told him that Emmanuel's host family was late and wouldn't be able to pick him up until later that afternoon as they were coming from Basam, a beach town an hour away. We would have to leave Emmanuel at the orphanage until they showed up. Now, I don't know if Emmanuel just intuitively felt it, but before anyone ever told him, he knew we were separating even before I did.
At that point, I looked down at him and his face was stoic as tears streamed down his face. It killed me. I started to well up and picked him up and explained the situation to him which I had been doing periodically on our trip; that he was going to live with a new family in Abidjan and they were going to love him and take care of him. he couldn't even look at me as I held him. Tears just kept streaming down his face as he stared off.
I brought him into the orphanage and put him down. He looked up at me as I was saying goodbye to him and finally burst into tears and cried, "I want to go with you". I lost it, knelt down and hugged him. I looked over my shoulder to see all of the Children's Hope guys and the TV crew start crying and turn away.
I gave Emmanuel one last hug and told him that I would be back someday to visit him and walked out the door. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I never thought I could get so attached to a kid in such a short amount of time and I felt horrible just leaving him, especially without meeting the family who'd be taking him in. You could have heard a pin drop the entire ride back to the hotel. A van full of grown men, staring out the windows trying not to cry...I guess we all got kind of attached to Emmanuel.

In the afternoon, the guys took me to the airport to change my ticket so I could stay until Wednesday to wait for Ephrahim's Passport to be changed. I could only change my ticket there and it was a pain in the ass, but after two hours, a complicated "discussion" with Air France and a long overseas call to Delta, my ticket was changed.
In the evening, Benedict, Rhene and Trabi took me to a typical Ivorian place for dinner. Great food, outdoors, music and dancing...


Sunday, October 14, 2007


It's just past 10pm in Cote D'Ivoire and I'm sitting in my hotel room after three 6-7 hour flights between three continents, an unexpected 26 hour layover, a wonderful overnight stay at the one star JFK INN, a 6 hour layover, and playing single dad to a beautiful boy named Emmanuel.

I flew to JFK from LAX on Thursday morning expecting to meet Emmanuel when he flew in from Columbus, Ohio with a JetBlue escort but unfortunately, his flight was grounded due to crappy weather.

Our first flight to Paris was scheduled to leave JFK at 8:45 but we missed that one. The next, and last flight of the day to Paris, was scheduled to leave at 10:55, which...we also missed. Thus, Emmanuel and I took a shuttle to the JFK INN which I'm pretty sure was full of two parts hookers and junkies, and one part grounded and bewildered travelers.

As I said, this was an unexpected overnight and I didn't have the bag I checked with my clothes and toiletries but thankfully, I planned for this kind of setback and came equipped with a change of clothes for myself, baby wipes(my new favorite modern convenience), and most importantly, a mini-DVD player and plenty of animated movies for a five year old.

Now, when I met Emmanuel he was toting a miniature, rolling suitcase full of toys and he refused to be helped with it. This would have been pretty normal for five year old but in this case, Emmanuel who was born deaf and partially blind, has the verbal skills of a year and half old and he was also born with hip displacia so he walks VERY slowly with a limp. So, when I met him, he didn't say a word. He simply smiled from ear to ear, dropped his suitcase handle, limped over to me and threw his arms around me for a big hug. I was immediately won over by this little kid...

For the next 24 hours, we had a great time, in economy, watching movies, laughing and going "potty" alot. I never realized how much taking someone to the bathroom and occasionally wiping their butt bonds one another. However, I wouldn't recommend this as a regular technique in "breaking the ice" with people.

Even though we couldn't really talk to eachother, we could communicate basic needs and the majority of the time I would end up laughing at him or smiling and winking at him to let him know that I was there for him. I don't think anyone has ever winked at him because he thought it was hilarious and eventually started winking back which was hillariously cute and made me laugh...

Finally, we landed in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire and were greeted by about ten people including the "Children's Hope" team of twenty-something men who find children in Abidjan in need of our help, a reporter and camerman from the nations largest TV station, who were filming, and the Minister of Family Services. Now, I had been traveling with this kid for about 36 hours with VERY little sleep and even less attention to personal hygiene. I just wanted to go to sleep but instead, I gave interviews, schmoozed with alot of people, took a tour of the city and visited the orphanage where Emmanuel came from, all the while tending to him. When I was finally being dropped at my hotel, I was informed that Emmanuel's host family in Abidjan, who are caring for him during a pending adoption process, couldn't pick him up tonight and that he'd be staying with me for another night. Another night in a hotel with Emmanuel watching "Happy Feet" and saying "baby" whenever the baby penguin comes on and trying to pinch it on the screen.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to Emmanuel and tour the city to meet other children who need our help. I think it's going to be hard to say goodbye to this kid...