A birthday celebration for 4-year-old Emmanuella “Wella” Wilson Oct. 14 included a small gathering of grateful family members.
James and Kaylee Wilson, now residents of John Day, flew to Accra, Ghana, in November 2016 to adopt Wella.
It was a process that took much longer than expected. When the Eagle last reported on the family in February, they were still waiting for their daughter’s immigration documents to be approved.
The trio finally landed on U.S. soil on June 23 this year, a total of 590 days since first arriving in the African country.
“It’s fun to see her blossom and thrive,” Kaylee said of Wella.
When James and Kaylee first met their daughter, she was a malnourished 2-year-old, stricken with malaria, the parents said.
In order to adopt, the couple was required to take 12 hours of parenting classes and read several books with topics that included adopting children with attachment issues.
“Those were things we prepared for, which we didn’t have to deal with,” James said, adding their daughter bonded well with them.
Wella is now thousands of miles away from her birth country, but Kaylee said, “In her world, nothing has changed — she’s with mommy and daddy.”
Although their daughter has adapted well to her new surroundings, James and Kaylee said they had some adjusting to do.
“In Ghana, we were kind of hunkered down,” James said. “We were in survival mode.”
The couple said one of the hardest parts of living in Accra was the feeling of isolation from anything familiar.
“We were together, but we were alone,” James said.
There’s no 911 operator to help if something goes wrong, he said.
“We were surviving on faith,” Kaylee said.
A rewarding part of living in Ghana was being together 24/7, Kaylee said. James agreed, and said the three of them developed an intense bond, and were it not for that experience, they may not be as close as a family.
While overseas, they also grew their roasted coffee bean business called Level Grounds Xpresso, which has now gone nationwide.
Upon arriving back in the states, the culture shock was “intense,” the couple said.
Entering an air-conditioned grocery store, with a wide selection of food options, was overwhelming, they said.
Being around crowds of people was also difficult, and they had to relearn how to communicate with people.
“Interactions in Ghana versus interactions in the U.S. are completely different,” James said.
“Americans are interested in small talk and not offending each other,” Kaylee said.
“— Diplomacy and tact,” James added.
He said that even a simple taxi ride was a confrontational experience in Ghana.
“You have to speak plain and brash at times to get what you need,” Kaylee explained, adding Ghanaians don’t see it as brash.
They had become so accustomed to a blunt way of communicating that it took effort to relearn the “American way” of interacting with people, they said.
Managing The Corner Cup coffee house in John Day since August has helped them readjust, James said.
Young Wella played with her toys — a doll and a small rocking horse were among the assortment in her toy box — as her parents took turns tending to customers Oct. 10 at the coffee shop.
“She’s definitely spoiled but appreciates it, because she knows what it’s like to have nothing,” Kaylee said, adding that in Ghana, her “toys” included sticks and empty toilet paper rolls and cans.
Wella also enjoys dressing up with an apron and pretending to cook.
“We have healthy lotions, and she’ll play pretend hair and skin care,” James said. “She has a really active imagination.”
Kaylee said Wella understood the village language of Ewe but did not start speaking until they came into her life.
“Now she’s speaking nonstop,” Kaylee said.
The 4-year-old also enjoys playing with friends, including her cousins, and being with grandparents Kirk and Kim Ausland of John Day and Kent and Kathy Wilson of Portland, she said.
While Wella is James and Kaylee’s first child, they hope to see their family grow, down the road.
“We would like to adopt HIV children from as many different countries as possible,” Kaylee said.
The couple said they’ve felt called to help children with this specific “special need.”
They hope to adopt a little one from India in a couple years.
“We will walk through whatever door God opens for us,” Kaylee said.
James said his advice to anyone with the heart to adopt a child is to overcome fear.
“If you can take care of a kid, do it,” he said.
“If you can’t adopt, then help someone else who is adopting,” Kaylee added. “This has been the hardest thing we’ve gone through, but also the most fulfilling. We’d do it all again for her.”