Archive for July, 2011

Back from Guatemala

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

On the plane ride home from Guatemala, Mateo and I sat next to an American business school professor who has consulted on growing businesses in Guatemala for the past 30 years. It didn’t take long for “Professor M” to figure out that I was what he called a “do-gooder”—that is, someone who believes that my small efforts to help a country I love might actually yield a result. Then when Professor M learned I lived in San Francisco! Well, that sealed the deal. M could categorize me as a person with my head in the clouds, you know the type.

Nevertheless, over 30 years, Professor M has, like me, developed a great love for Guatemala. His affection was clear as he spoke about the good work by many in the Guatemalan business community—their efforts to create jobs and income streams, their support of young people in the middle class to become educated and move up the career ladder. At the same time, the professor voiced deep frustration. According to him, the political system is so corrupt that it discourages talented, honest people from getting involved. Violence runs rampant. Drug traffickers have destroyed communities. “They’re recruiting kids as young as your boy,” M said, pointing to six-year-old Mateo. We both shook our heads.

By the time we touched down in Houston, the professor and I realized we held opinions more alike than different. Guatemala had captivated each of us. In our own ways, we do what we can.

That’s why I’ve posted the photo above, taken during my most recent trip. The picture shows a woman named “Dona G,” standing in front of a house built by Common Hope, an organization headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, and based in Antigua, Guatemala. Contributions to Common Hope funded the house. Dona G earned it by putting in the required hours of sweat equity. Finally, Dona G and her family are living between walls that won’t collapse. During the torrential downpours of the rainy season, her new cement floor won’t turn to mud.

No one person can change the world. But in ways large and small, we can try to make our particular corner of it better.


In Guatemala

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

For anyone who is wondering where I´ve been lately, I´m in Guatemala with Mateo and my sister, Patrice. We´ve been here the past week, after our visit to San Diego.

At the moment, I have limited computer access, which is why I´ve been posting less than usual. But we´re having a great time!

Also, traveling with a very active six year old boy (I know that construction requires hyphens, but I can´t find them on the keyboard) leaves little time for writing, or doing much else except having fun.

But this week we visited Common Hope, an outstanding organization we support that I will write about when I return home, and met with my good friend, Leceta Chisholm Guibault, founder of Service Trips with Leceta (which I will also write about), and her gorgeous daughter, Kahleah.

I´m on one of the two computers in our hotel, in the nook next to the breakfast room where a lovely group of travelers is speaking German.

¡Hasta pronto!


A day in the life

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The kids and I have been in San Diego for the past few weeks, with many of our days spent tromping happily through the vast acreage of Sea World San Diego. The highlight for the kids, always, is Blue Horizons. To visualize, think Broadway spectacular crossed with Cirque de Soleil,  and throw in a cast of peppy dolphins and an array of trained birds.  Cue the music.  Add flags. That’s Blue Horizons.

I admit it. I also love the show.  

But for my purposes here, I’ll tell you what happened right after our latest foray. The kids and I were browsing in the gift shop—of course–when a little girl about Olivia’s age walked up and began this conversation.

Little girl: “Are you their mother?”

Me: “Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

Little girl: ”Because you don’t look like them.”

Me: “You’re right. We don’t look alike. But I’m their mother.”

The little girl stared at me.  Olivia picked at her fingernails. Mateo wandered away. Then, because I always feel an obligation to educate people, especially children who approach me with curiosity, I said, “I’m their mother through adoption. They were born in Guatemala.”

“Oh,” said the little girl. “Are they really brother and sister?”

“They are now,” I answered. And I took my kids’ hands and steered them toward the Forbidden Reef.

I have to tell you, as an adoptive mother, I always forget my children are adopted. And then, what do you know—someone comes up and reminds me.


Why I wrote Mamalita

Monday, July 11th, 2011

During public readings from Mamalita, I’ve met many people who harbor strong opinions on the subject of adoption, pro and con. Now, before I read from the book, I talk about why I was compelled to write it. I’d like to share those thoughts here.

Eight years ago, I was living in Antigua, Guatemala with my then-fifteen-month old daughter, Olivia, whom my husband and I were trying to adopt. We had been enmeshed in the process for more than a year, ever since I first saw a photo of Olivia on an adoption website and had fallen in love.

I wasn’t the only American would-be mother living in Guatemala who was trying to sort out a stalled adoption. We were a group of eight, with nothing in common except our overwhelming desire to become mothers and the belief that our bureaucratic nightmares should not be allowed to happen to anyone else. That year, more than 3,000 Americans adopted children from Guatemala. Each one of those families had a story, no two the same.

Soon after I returned home with Olivia in January 2004, international adoption became headline news, none of it good. The private adoption system in Guatemala was singled out as particularly corrupt. Front-page stories described payments made to birth mothers, coercion of women to become pregnant, and the trawling of countrysides by “finders” to trick young girls into relinquishing their newborns. Adoptive parents like me were depicted as privileged Americans who swooped in to snatch kidnapped infants. Even UNICEF pronounced that it was better for a child to remain in his country of origin than it was to be adopted by foreign parents. The news got so bad it was impossible not to feel under attack.

But that was only a part of the story. The story I experienced was that of adoptive parents who felt great love for their children, pushing back against a system that seemed designed to manipulate emotions at every turn.

When I lived in Antigua, the others mothers used to say, “Somebody needs to write a book about this.” My entire life I’d been searching for the one story I had to tell. Even as I was living the experience, I knew Olivia’s adoption saga was it.


From Ireland to NYC, Jools Gilson’s “Los Preciosos” wins award

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Back in March of this year, I posted a link to a radio documentary titled Los Preciosos, written and produced for Irish radio by adoptive mother Jools Gilson, who lives with her husband and two Guatemalan-born children in County Cork.

On June 20, Los Preciosos won a Gold Award for Best Narration at the New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Gala. That’s Jools in the photos above, accepting the trophy.

An award for every adoption-related story is a victory for all of us. Congratulations, Jools!

Here’s the original post. In case you didn’t have a chance to listen before, please do so now. You’ll see why the piece earned Gold.

From County Cork in Ireland, adoptive mother Jools Gilson sent me the link to a radio broadcast she made for RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland – Documentary on One – the home of Irish radio documentaries. Los Preciosos tells the story of Gilson’s family: an English mother, an Italian father, and two Guatemalan children, all living in rural East Cork. Here’s the description:

“Los Preciosos means ‘the precious ones,’ and this documentary follows the story of years of assessment by domestic social workers, monumental bureaucracy in Ireland, England and Guatemala, and eventually traveling to bring the child home. And then there is another child…”

What I love about this broadcast is the warmth, perception, and honesty of the voices–Jools’s and her husband Vittorio’s–and the laughter of their children. In all the debate and controversy about international adoption, what often gets lost is that adoption is about family, and love, and a place to call home. Listening to this broadcast reminded me of how adoption transforms lives. We cherish our children, whether we live in County Cork or California.


A short hiatus

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Dear Friends:

I’ve decided to take a short hiatus from my blog for the next week or so, in order to be more present with my family during the Fourth of July holiday and the days following. Knowing myself as I do, I may post a few pictures, but otherwise I’m going to walk on the beach; eat hot dogs; watch fireworks; and spend time with my mom and dad, sisters and brother, and my own immediate family; without once simultaneously thinking of how I can write about the experience.

Of course, if all the cases of the waiting Guatemala900 are released, or adoptions reopen in Guatemala, I’ll dance with joy and inform you at once. Otherwise, please check my Facebook page, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, for links to interesting articles and short comments by yours truly. (more…)