After long wait, finally, a family

Together: Months after being adopted by a Mayo couple, 9-year-old Baruch Chea - now Talbott - makes the trip from Liberia to his new home.

October 14, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

As David and Naomi Talbott tried to cut through government red tape to bring their newly adopted son from Liberia to Anne Arundel County, they often stared at a photo of young Baruch Chea - full-faced with healthy limbs and a big smile.

But when David Talbott flew to Africa to pick up Baruch, he almost didn't recognize him. The boy's face was thin, and he was holding up his pants with one hand.

"The smile was the same, though," Talbott added.

Two months after The Sun reported on the Talbotts' difficulty in bringing Baruch to the United States, he is now a part of their family - playing soccer, answering the phone, attending fourth grade at nearby Mayo Elementary School. The Talbotts learned in late August that Baruch would be receiving a visa, and he arrived here Sept. 3.

Now the Talbotts are trying to create a sense of normality for the 9-year-old, who lost his parents and survived a civil war. The family is taking it one day at a time.

"He's seen so much, but he hasn't said anything about it," David Talbott said.

As the Talbotts go through the long and trying process of making Baruch part of their family - his new name is Baruch Andrew Talbott - they acknowledge how lucky they are. Baruch is one of nearly 30 Liberian children adopted recently by American families - but one of only a handful who have made it to their new homes.

Baruch's arrival early last month was the result of nearly 10 months of work by the Mayo couple. They adopted him in January through the agency Plan Loving Adoptions Now Inc., signing him up for school and a soccer league, but their efforts were stalled by fighting in Liberia, a country in West Africa torn by a 14-year-old civil war.

State Department officials said they had a hard time processing the children's visas because of the fighting. Workers could not do field work such as investigating visa applications to verify that the children were truly orphans, said Kelly Shannon, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington.

Patti Anglin, president of Acres of Hope, a nonprofit adoption advocacy group based in Minneapolis, flew with Talbott to adopt her own son.

"It was devastating," she said.

Her son, Walakeh-won, is 11 months old, but he looks like he's 4 months, Anglin said. "No child should have to suffer what these kids have endured."

Anglin said many of the children she saw had tufts of red in their hair, a sign of malnutrition. Others had cuts that were badly infected; most had diseases such as malaria.

When it was time for Talbott and Anglin to leave for the United States with their adopted children, they bought the remaining children cases of food and vitamins.

Many of the children were adopted more than a year ago, and their parents are still working to bring them over.

"It's hard to rest when you know there are still so many children there," said David Talbott, who had pushed to adopt Baruch after two of the couple's grown biological children had moved out.

Baruch - pronounced Baroo - has had a hard life even by Liberian standards.

His father was shot by rebels when he was an infant; and later, his mother disappeared when she went to search for food. He lived in an orphanage with nearly 350 other children, and when troops took over the building this year, he and the others had to walk for several days to escape. He rarely got enough to eat.

Even now, Baruch's limbs are like twigs. A soccer jersey hangs off him, almost past his shorts.

The Talbotts are doing their best to put some weight on Baruch, feeding him rice, eggs and beef - his favorite foods. Baruch also likes Chinese-style fried rice, which the Talbotts order in.

Baruch speaks some English, but "he hasn't really said very much yet," said Naomi Talbott.

When he plays soccer, Baruch glances at his coaches when they shout directions but rarely answers them. He generally nods and shakes his head when asked questions. Even when he curiously approaches a piano, he will only tap a few of the keys before moving away.

The Talbotts are trying to make sure he doesn't feel alone. For now, he sleeps in the same room as their 11-year-old daughter, Kelly.

Said David Talbott, "He'll get his own room later, but we want him to be comfortable first."

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