Long before the earthquake crumbled the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Brigitte Collier dreamed of adopting her younger sisters, Myka and Judi, and bringing them to live with her in Ceres.
The earthquake, though, made the girls' living conditions more dire and Collier's dream more difficult. She and husband Darrick are caught in a numbers game that works against them in just about every respect.
Myka is 11. She lives in Port-au-Prince in an orphanage that was damaged by the quake. Judi is 13 and lives with her father in a small town in the Haitian countryside.
Collier, 30, is a regulatory analyst for the E.&J. Gallo Winery in Modesto. Darrick is 34 and an operations manager at Evergreen Beverage Packaging in Turlock.
Here's where the numbers hurt:
• The Haitian government requires that adopting parents be at least 35. Darrick turns 35 in May. But if one of the couple is younger than 35, they need to be married for at least 10 years before they can adopt.
The Colliers have been married six years, meaning they have to four to go.
• The average time needed to complete an adoption is three to four years, Brigitte said, because the parents have to navigate the U.S. and Haitian systems, which often don't work well together.
Haitian children cannot be adopted after turning 16, she said. At 13, Judi likely would be too old to adopt by the time the Colliers qualify and work through the systems.
Myka would be 14 or 15. Also too old if the Colliers encounter longer-than-normal delays.
It doesn't seem to matter that she and the girls are sisters, Brigitte said.
"They're my blood," she said. "I can prove that (through DNA). It should be a simple process, but it's not."
So the clock -- or at least the calendar -- is working against them.
Also, the Haitian government requires every adoption document be translated into French and certified or notarized before it will be accepted.
Meanwhile, as thousands of orphans languish in squalid conditions, international adoption groups have urged Haiti to freeze adoptions until the country's situation stabilizes.
It's frustrating for the Colliers, who watched recent news reports showing a group of about 50 Haitian orphans arriving in the United States last week, meeting their new parents. Another group of 106 Haitian children was flown to the Netherlands and Luxembourg to be adopted or placed in foster homes.
These children, in most cases, were far along in the adoption process and had major adoption agencies working on their behalf.
The U.S. government has waived visa requirements for them, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Haitians will reciprocate.
Having lived in Haiti and stayed in touch with her three brothers there, Brigitte knows opportunists lurk at every turn within the country's notoriously corrupt government.
"Unless you have someone out there fighting for you, you're basically left to the sharks," she said.
Brigitte was born in Haiti in 1979. Her parents never married, and her father emigrated to the United States, moving to Lexington, Ky., before she was born.
"I met my dad for the first time when I was 6," Brigitte said. "The next time I saw him, he was taking me to a strange land (the United States)."
Her mother, Mary, went on to have five other children before she was killed in an auto accident when Myka was only 14 months old. The baby went to live in an orphanage. Two years older, Judi went to live with her father who, Brigitte said, now wants her to go to the United States to live with the Colliers.
Brothers Eli, Pierre Nick and Kenole are all well beyond adoption age.
Brigitte attended Sullivan University in Kentucky. She met Darrick, a graduate of that university, and they have two children, 9-year-old daughter Alexus and 2-year-old son Blake.
She moved to the valley five years ago, when she began working at Gallo.
She and Darrick hope something will break in their favor and they'll be able to adopt both sisters. Realistically, though, they know they'll be fortunate to get just the younger Myka.
"I just want to be there for her," Brigitte said.
But time, as the Colliers so thoroughly understand, is anything but an ally.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org