Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Only Just Begun

I decided to stop my blog when I returned to the States. I'm now regretting that decision. My journey is not over. Yes, I found my birth mother and most of my family. And yes, I was extremely happy with everything I gained from working in Colombia and finding my birth mother. But, I am not done searching. I thought for awhile that I was. Silly Alicia, you've only just begun....

I have no doubt in my mind that I became a stronger woman while living in Colombia. However, I am still dealing with feelings of insecurity due to an overwhelming fear of abandonment and rejection left over from my adoption 31 years ago. It wasn't until I returned to the States that I realized just how much my adoption played a part in my everyday feelings and subsequent actions. Sadly, the worst of it comes out in my relationships with those whom I love.

My path now includes therapeutic interventions that will jump-start the healing process of treating my deep and long-neglected wounds. I have never really had the opportunity to speak with other adoptees about their feelings surrounding their adoption. There are so many worries, doubts, obsessions, fears, questions, and frustrations that pop up in any adoptees head throughout their lifetime as they experience ...well, life. When you don't have anyone to talk to about those feelings, they get buried deep down inside of you and gnaw at your soul. They lie dormant until something/someone awakens them setting off an explosive, emotional volcano. Yes, I can talk, and have talked, to my friends or family members, but they can't really understand what I'm going through. And for a long time I thought talking to someone to get out my feelings was good enough for me. But, have you ever talked to someone who was going through something you totally related to? Have you ever cried just listening to them spill their emotions and thoughts because you felt like somebody finally could understand what you were going through when no one else did? That happened to me last Friday. Finally.

Last Friday, I attended my first adult adoptee group. I was so nervous about participating in group therapy that I got sick to my stomach and had a mini panic attack in the parking lot outside the building. For 30 years, I've held all of these feelings and thoughts related to my adoption bottled up inside of me. I tried individual therapy, but it paled in comparison to my group experience of actually speaking with other adoptees and hearing their stories. I finally felt like I wasn't alone. I am so excited to have a safe outlet where I can release on all of these troubling feelings. Not only do we talk about the search and reunion with our birth families, we also discuss issues that come up in our daily lives, specifically relationships with family members and partners.

It's amazing how many adoptees feel like they are worthy only of rejection. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy where many adoptees (me included) will set the stage for rejection in order to make it happen before others have the opportunity to hurt them. I read about an adult adoptee who tested women to see if they really liked him. These women always failed his tests, which was his proof that he couldn't be loved. He built up resentments about the failures of the women around him and made them feel guilty for their lack of love for him. Unfortunately, this only resulted in him pushing people away and them gladly leaving. I, myself, am guilty of doing this over and over to people I love. When I recently met someone who I really care about and I noticed my cycle of sabotage toward our relationship, I knew it was time to get control over my self-deprecating behaviors. I've grown tired of hurting myself and hurting others in the process. I look forward to patching up my wounds and moving forward as a healthier, happier, and stronger Alicia (aka Alina Marin ).

So, here I am. Ready to tackle my past and delve into my buried feelings and emotions surrounding my adoption, my youth, my intimate relationships, my search and reunion, and the aftermath of having found a huge part of my birth family. And to all my supportive, loving blog readers, I'm baaackk. :)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Colombia es Pasión!

I always wanted a sister. I love my brother Chris, but I've always wondered what it would be like to have a sister. I finally got my wish when I met my half-sister last week for the first time ever. I have to say, I was not disappointed. :)
I decided to make another quick trip to Cali to visit my birth family before leaving for the USA. My half brother's (Medardo's) birthday was a few weeks ago, my birth mother celebrated her birthday on the 28th, my niece (Daniela) is having her quinceañera (15th bday) on May 15th, and my birthday is on the 18th. I figured it'd be a nice present for all of us to be together. I had hoped to make the quinceañera, but I couldn't fit it into what will soon be a busy schedule. While I was nervous to meet back up with everyone, I wasn't nearly as shaken up as when I went to try to find my birth mom for the first time. The scary part is pretty much over; I was just worried about not being able to communicate well, but there was no problem with that as my Spanish has continually improved. I was also worried that I wouldn't get along with my sister. She had seemed nice on the phone, but I was scared of how she might view me.
I feel silly now for all the fear I had. While those feelings are definitely justified, I could definitely feel the similarities we had in our personality. Hanging out with the 2 brothers I had already met (Medardo and Jorge) and my sister (Consuelo) felt so comfortable. They're hilarious, passionate, and super nice, qualities that I hope people see in me. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was there. I can't speak to generally because perhaps my case is rare, but it seems to me that while there are quite a few cultural differences between us, our core personality traits are, in fact, very similar.
I've always wondered about nature versus nurture and how someone's personality traits are shaped throughout their life. I think I may be an example of how it's not one or the other that shapes a person's personality- it's a mixture of both. One thing that nurture definitely played a part in is my height. As you'll see in forthcoming pictures, I tower over my family. I accredit that to vitamins, having the 'luxury' of a daily dosage of calcium and eating healthy fruits and vegetables.
It would be interesting to read more on the subject of adopted siblings and how they compare in terms of personality traits. I would love to know just how much weight is placed on how one is raised in comparison to their genetic composition. I know I would have grown up in an extremely different environment if I was never adopted. My two family backgrounds (in terms of religion, education, political stance, income level, etc) differ greatly, but I still felt something inside that bonded me to my siblings, in particular. It's hard to explain, and I'll try to think of a better way to put it in the book, but I've never had a connection that was so strong to a stranger before.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything. Now that I'm moving back to the States, I'll have more time to really think about all my experiences in Colombia. I've got so many new relatives that I had to make up a cheat sheet just to get all the names and their relationships to me straight. As you know, I have 5 brothers and sisters who all have children, so that in itself is hard to remember. But, just last week I realized that I have 8 aunts and uncles who all have children, too...! I look forward to getting to know all of them one day.
Colombia has been an amazing adventure that I will spend a lifetime thinking about. I wouldn't change my time there for anything. I hope to go back soon because I left a big piece of myself there. My heart was heavy leaving Cartagena because I feel such a strong connection to Colombia. While there were a lot of cultural differences that were hard to get used to, I couldn't deny the feeling of being at "home" and being comfortable in my skin. The paths I followed while there just felt right. I finally followed the right path home and I can't wait to go back someday. Now I know how it feels when following my gut and how the path just opens up naturally when you're going in the right direction. I feel stronger, more confident, fufilled, beautiful, and amazing- like i've been walking on air for the past 7 months.
Colombia definitely es Pasión!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Rainbow Connection

It's impossible to walk around Colombia and not see the bright splashes of color around every corner. When Americans first step foot in Cartagena, one of their first comments is that they love how colorful this city is. The colors of the houses, apartments, administration buildings, busses, and schools span the entire rainbow spectrum. I agree- I wish cities in the States had half the amount of colors Colombian cities have, but this blog is not about the colors of buildings. This blog is about the color diversity of the people living here in Cartagena.

I immediately felt more comfortable in my skin living here in Cartagena. Growing up, I always looked different- not just in the classroom or on the swim team, but also in my family. Our family lived in a white neighborhood. I stood out in everything I did...in school, on the soccer team, taking music lessons, in girl scouts, or just walking around with my family. You get used to looking different, but i loved when my family or friends would go somewhere and they would be in the minority. I didn't feel so different when there were people around who looked like me.

The first time I came to Colombia, I couldn't explain why I felt so comfortable. I felt like it was a 2nd home. Now I understand why I felt that way. I felt comfortable in my skin- it's a hard feeling to explain, but I know most of you have felt the same at one point in your life. I fit in here...at least when it comes to appearance. I love how Colombian's skin color ranges from every color in between white and black- it's beautiful. The lighter colors are a result of the Europeans and Spanish who were here during colonial times (beginning in 1533). There are tons of international ex pats who have moved from all over the world to live in this beautiful country, which just adds to the diversity found here.

Colors make a city beautiful, in my opinion. But it's important how the people who represent those colors are treated. Many who visit may not realize that there is a strict social stratum here, which is assigned via neighborhood. The lower your stratum number - 0, 1- the lower your social status and income. Most of my friends from Colombia fall into stratum 1. Now, stratums don't necessarily denote color, but more often than not, people tend to subconsciously assign your stratum number based on your color. This holds true in many countries, unfortunately, and Colombia is not so different. I feel that the social stratum that the government places on neighborhoods in Colombia works against social integration. While I do feel less racism here than say...a small town in Texas, I still do feel it.

I am clearly not white, but I'm a darker shade of brown (at least while here since I'm constantly getting tons of sun). There have been many times that I have been treated poorly, overlooked, ignored, frowned upon, etc, just because of the stigma attached to my color (here and in the States). It usually occurs when I walk around a fancy hotel, nice restaurant, or upscale store. I hate to admit that while here in Colombia, I have learned to use my background as a weapon against racism toward my skin color. All I have to do to change their opinion on me is speak in English. Immediately, I am brought back up to at least stratum 5 (there are only 6 stratums). It's almost sickening how quickly I'm re-classified. Really, who says it's fair to be treated like an insignificant human being just because of one's color or income (or language for that matter)? In the States, it's sometimes harder for me to distinguish this discrimination because people won't treat me any differently if I speak English or not- that's expected. Being able to speak English here is a mark of wealth.

While I was aware that racial discrimination is a world-wide issue, I had hoped that the wide array of colors represented in Cartagena would lessen the occurrence of such a superficial concept. Though it may be less prominent in other cities within Colombia, in Cartagena, where store employees and hotel staff are constantly trying to rope in their preferred clients (stratum 3-6), racism is alive and painful. Even though I'm disappointed in the way I'm treated by certain people, I feel comfortable in my skin here as I'm not in the minority anymore. It is nice to see so many colors represented in Colombia.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Strictly Business

Sorry, but what follows in this blog is a bit of shameless promotion....

Just put up the new website for my business, Tours By Alicia. If you know of anyone coming to Cartagena or Colombia any time soon, please send them this link: http://www.toursbyalicia.com

I give tours of the Old City and sell cheap tickets for activities in and around Cartagena.

If you know of someone who needs a place to stay in Cartagena, send them Casa Sweety's brand new hotel video: http://vimeo.com/10495692

Casa Sweety - Boutique Hotel - Cartagena, Colombia from GetUp&Go Films on Vimeo.

You'll get a glimpse of me giving tours near the end of the video! :) If they need proof of our reliability, send them a link to our Trip Advisor reviews http://tinyurl.com/qcaqpw - here, you'll see reviews on my tours and tour advice, as well.

Thanks for your love and support!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Colombia's Congressional Elections

From the armed military police walking around, you'd think that Colombia was going to war. Instead, they're just defending voters against possible acts of violence by FARC and other paramilitary groups.

Today, Colombian voters will choose 102 Senate seats and 166 representatives in the legislative elections. This election may shed light on the presidential election which is to be held at the end of May.

The infamous FARC (Fuerzas Amardas Revolucionarias de Colombia aka Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) threatened the safety of voters and politicians, as they do nearly every year, so the government stepped up security (armed military officers were at every polling station) and police officers coated the streets. In order to protect it's democratic process, Colombia also placed a temporary halt on the sale of alcohol and motorcycle rental, and even closed its land borders. 

I think I've figured out everything but the sale of alcohol. The motorcycle rental ban is to prevent drive-by shootings, which motorcycles are often used for by these paramilitary groups. Travel is restricted so people can't vote more than once. Alcohol still confuses me. Alcohol obviously can get in the way of making sane decisions, but if you want to cause trouble, you don't need alcohol to do it. Plus, people could always plan ahead and buy alcohol to drink in their own home. I can't seem to figure out the logic, but I do appreciate the safety measures put forth in order to allow Colombians their democratic right to vote. {Picture above from local supermarket aisle says that alcohol consumption and sale is prohibited from 6pm on Friday until 6am on Monday according to the Dry Law in effect throughout all of Colombia}

I hope that FARC and other rebel groups didn't interfere too much in these elections. There's no way drug trafficking didn't influence politics at all in this race. At least 90 legislators are under investigation of being linked to right-wing paramilitary groups. One candidate offered subsidized housing to his potential voters...seems a little suspect to me. This persuasion technique, however, is much less severe than what's been done in previous years.

One of my older friends told me of his recollection of the 1990 presidential election when 4 presidential candidates were murdered before election day. I read today that in an election 8 years ago there were over 200 political kidnappings. I couldn't even fathom the fear Colombians must have gone through during that time. These rebel groups will do (and have done) anything in their power to control the vote. This year in Tolima, where my birth family is from, they set a bus on fire, and in Cali, where most of my birth family lives now, they tried to set off a car bomb.

But their attempts at scaring people away from the polls this year are not working. President Uribe has done an amazing job the past few years (even though many didn't like that he tried to change the constitution so he could run for a third term) fighting FARC and other paramilitary groups, and the significant drop in violence and kidnappings in Colombia is attributed to his tight, fearless security measures. The rebels may have a less obvious way of swaying the vote this year, but when the results come out tomorrow, Colombia should know which direction the country is heading.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mom, Defined.

Someone asked me recently how I define the term "mom." While many people may default to whomever gave birth to them, my answer is a little more complicated.
  • A mom to me is someone who has always loved me since I came into her life. 
  • A mom will support me, even if she doesn't agree with my actions. 
  • Mom will take care of you and try her hardest to keep you healthy and happy. A mom would even sacrifice her happiness for her children's.
  • A mom is someone I can tell anything to, and I'll know she'll never leave my side through good times or bad. 
  • A mom teaches her children everything she knows because she only wants the best for them. 
  • I can always trust my mom. A mom will never lie to me (except that one time when she switched my pet bird out with another and didn't tell my brother and I for at least 5 years! ;) ). 
  • A mom will tell you straight-up if she thinks you're making a bad decision. 
  • A mom will never try to hurt me on purpose, especially physically!  
  • A mom will always make me feel better when I'm sick. She always seems to know the cure.
  • Moms will try to lift you up on those really hard days.
  • A mom always seems to make the best home-made food. 
  • A mom can remember things about their child that even they might forget. 
  • A mom will always want to be your Valentine.
  • A mom will stand up for you even when no one else will.
  • A mom to me will help mold their child's life by introducing them to new food, cultures, religion, sports, music, and educational opportunities, but she'll never try to hold her child back or restrict learning about something new even if it worries her. 
  • Moms will always want to know what's new with their children. 
I guess I don't agree that a "mom" is simply one who gives birth to a child. There is a lot more attached to that word for me. For that reason, I am having difficulty calling my birth mother, "mom." I have dedicated hours of this topic to a few unlucky friends, and I have realized that I just can't do it and there's nothing wrong with that. Yes, Teodora gave birth to me. Yes, she is my birth mom. But she has not had the chance to be my "mom" yet. 

Things may change and it may become easier to one day call her "mom," but based on my definition, I know she'll never replace my mom completely. My mama fits my "mom" description. She's who I based my definition off, so how could she ever be replaced?

Yes, I'm about to quote Tupac. "Ain't a woman alive that could take my mama's place." :)

I know my birth mom wanted the best for me from day 1; she knew she couldn't give me what I needed- food, education, a home. I know now that she still has plenty of love to give me and has never forgotten about me, but does that mean she automatically becomes my "mom?"

The worst part is that I have to somehow tell my birth mom that I feel uncomfortable with calling her "mom." Can you imagine how hard that's going to be?? I know there are a few out there reading this who can relate in some way- with a step parent or birth parent. It gets sticky with birth parents because by dictionary definition, they are your "mom." I'm just worried that she'll be upset. I'm not sure if I should just start calling her Dora or if I should try to explain my feelings and let her know that I'm thankful to have found her, but that this is a lot to take in and that'd I'd like to take things at a slow pace...?

The reason this naming thing is an issue at all is that within the first few days of knowing my birth mom, she started saying that she loved me.... 

Love is another word that deserves its own blog post, but it should be obvious to you by now that this whole situation has caused a lot of confusion. I feel guilty that I could deny my own "mother" her title. Isn't it a birth right? I realize that I'm lucky to have two women who consider me their daughter since there are many people who have lost their mothers, but I can't deny this inner conflict that has arisen. While there's no replacement for my mom, there may be space for two moms someday...but it'll definitely take time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Which Path Are You Following?

I don't have much time to jot down my feelings, but I felt the need to write a quick blog this morning. I know its been awhile since I've written; I've had a lot of feelings to deal with that I'm still not sure I'm ready to share on this blog. It's hard exposing myself to everyone as I go through emotion after emotion. That being said, I hope those who still read my blog aren't disappointed by my recent lack of exposure.

I have to say, I never believed in fate more than I do now. In Colombia, every time I follow my gut, follow my real feelings and desires, I end up exactly where I feel I should be. The past few days I decided to follow a new path, conquer new fears, and do things I've never done before but have always wondered about. My path lead me to a few people and experiences I will not soon forget. While I don't have time to retell everything, I thought one meeting in particular might be interesting to a few (especially those who know my entire adoption search story). 

The end of the new path I took two nights ago, lead me to a bar last night that I had not been to in several months. It was 3am and the group I was with wanted to hear salsa music. I wanted to show my new friend the view from this bar's window on the 2nd floor. I had taken a picture from that same window exactly a year ago when I came to Cartagena for the first time and that view has always been magical to me. There's just something about the smokey lighting that permeates through the Passageway of the Martyrs and finds its way to the Clock Tower entrance to the Old City that gives me a feeling of peace and happiness. I glanced at a woman sitting right where I was hoping to sit. She yelled something to her mate who was inside the bar and caught my eye. I did a double-take. "No, it couldn't be," I thought. "But maybe...?" I immediately turned to this new friend of mine who already knows more about me than you could imagine, and began to tell him that she looked exactly like this woman I had been communicating with about my adoption last year. I didn't get the whole sentence out though before something within me kicked me forward to just say something to this woman. 

She looked at me, noticing that I had been staring at her, and apologized, asking if I wanted to stand in the area she was in. I shook my head, and bent down to where she was sitting. I said, "No, no...it's just that I thought you were this woman named Alina." Her eyes lit up and said, "I AM Alina!!" I couldn't hold back. The same feelings that I had experienced for the first time last month came rushing back and I couldn't help but cry. For those of you who don't know, Alina is who I am named after. My first name, before I was adopted, was Alina Marin. I got Marin from my birth mother and Alina from a woman who worked at Chiquitines, the orphanage I lived in for 3 months of my life. Alina was around 20 years old when I was born and her position was similar to that of an Office Manager. She was the owner's daughter and spoke the most English of anyone at Chiquitines. Alina communicated with my parents via snail mail about me. 

As I've said in previous posts, my mom saved almost every single letter and piece of information she could from my adoption. Last year at Christmas she gave me a booklet of everything she had saved- pictures, letters, documents, case statements, etc. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I'd ever gotten. :) I started picking through the details and decided to try to find Alina Hleap by Googling her. I found out through Google that she is a movie producer and I even found her email address. I emailed her, hoping it was the same Alina Hleap, and I lucked out. We almost met a year ago because she was in Cartagena for the International Film Festival (an annual Festival that's in Cartagena now) while I was visiting for the first time. We never did find a moment to meet, which was disappointing at the time, but maybe it was for a reason. 

Alina, as she herself told me last night, held me in her arms the first 3 months of my life. She explained to my friend that she felt like she had been my mother those 3 months. Finding her meant a lot to me. I couldn't stop thanking her for all that she did for me as a baby. Without a place like Chiquitines, I don't know where I'd be or if I'd even be alive. Meeting her was like meeting my birth mom again. It was very emotional for both of us. She kept asking how I knew it was her. While I've seen her main Facebook photo, I really didn't know her face well. I don't know how to explain it, but it was the same feeling I got when I saw my birth mother for the first time- I just knew. 

The night couldn't have ended any better. Things just keep coming in full circles. I don't know where this path started or where it might end, but I'm fully enjoying this journey and I hope I continue to really listen to myself since it seems that I'm finding my way.
(Pic above of yellow brick road from Wizard of Oz) 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Together Again

As soon as we heard that they had found my birth mom, I rushed to Raul's wife to thank and hug her for all her help. George, the taxi driver, had already started the car, and Monica and I hopped in before we realized we hadn't paid our internet bill. We jumped out to pay them the $3,000 COP ($1.50 US), which I don't think they were expecting, and piled back in the car. Raul and another man, who seemed to come out of nowhere, hopped on a motorcycle to lead us up the insanely steep hill to my mom. Within the first few minutes, their motorcycle stopped and Raul talked briefly to a woman who had been walking briskly down the hill in our direction. The motorcycle continued up the hill, but this lady waved us to stop. George, again, asked the question of the day, "Do you know Teodora Marin Cabezas?" And for the first time, we received a positive response. "Yeah, she lives up the street...but who's looking," she asked as she peered in our cab? She was holding a cell phone, and I had a strong feeling she had my birth mom on the phone at that moment. Monica was sitting in the seat nearest her, so she quickly replied, "a family member."

As we continued our ascent up the rocky, dirt road, my heart was racing, and I was trying every means possible to calm myself down. I fought the fear and I fought the urge to cry, but I welcomed the excitement. For those 5 minutes it took the climb the hill, our cab's wheels worked as hard as they could to grip the road below, and I worked as hard as I could to remember what I was going to say to her. It seemed as if everything I had thought of before had slipped out of my memory; I couldn't remember anything. I decided to focus on the first sentence I'd say to her and how to say it without crying.

The motorcycle finally parked on the curve of the road at what seemed to be the top of the hill. I looked out the window and saw a woman walking down stone stairs. Even though she was quite far away, I knew it was my birth mom. I didn't have a clear view of her face, but I could just sense it. I felt the tears pushing their hardest, trying to be set free, but I wouldn't let them out. I kept repeating the first sentence in my head, but it was getting harder and harder to concentrate.

Finally, my birth mom was right in front of me and without a second's delay, I blurted out (while crying-doh!), "Hi,myname'sAlicia,Iwasborn28yearsagoandwasadoptedfromanorphanagenamedChiquitines.IthinkI'myyourdaughter!" She looked at me with a bewildered expression, but placed her hand on my arm me as if trying to comfort a stranger. Soooo...didn't go quite the way I had imagined. Trying to stop from crying seemed impossible, so I turned to Monica, who only had a few tears in her eyes, for help. Monica asked her, "Did you give a child up for adoption 28 years ago?" Looking around at the people who were with me, she immediately replied, "Come up to my house so I can tell you my story, and you can tell me yours." Monica mumbled that maybe we had the wrong person, but I was certain that we didn't. My birth mom, Monica, and I walked up several stone steps, out of sight from the others, and she turned around and asked, "Now, tell me again what you said?" This time I was able to get it all out clearly. She hesitated, and Monica asked her again if she had given up a child 28 years ago. She finally nodded that yes, she had and turned to look me in the eyes. Then, as if it suddenly hit her, she grabbed me and hugged me saying something like, "Oh, my dear child..." I felt like I didn't want to let go. I really couldn't believe that I had finally found her. She asked me to come up to her house so she could explain her side of the story and tell me about my family.

My mom lives on a steep mountain-side in San Agustín, a neighborhood next to La Sirena. She owns a good chunk of land, but says her health has kept her from taking good care of it. I invited George to come up with us as I knew we might be there for awhile. George had to catch his breath from the walk up to her house. It's quite steep and my mom is 63, yet had no problem striding up the steps. She's living quite poorly, but is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Her yard is full of fruit trees and tropical and exotic plants. She has plátano, coffee, and guanábana trees (an exotic fruit- one of my personal favorites), and there were several chickens and two dogs around the side of her house. There are only three rooms- she has a large bedroom with two beds, a cozy kitchen, and a storage area along back of the house. My brother, apparently, built half of her house.

While filling me in on why she gave me up for adoption (will have to save most of these conversations for another blog...or maybe, the book??), she began telling me about the other children she already had at the time of my birth- my brothers and sisters. Turns out, I still have 5 half-brothers and sisters. Last year during my visit to the orphanage, the director had told my mom and I that as of 28 years ago, I had 5 half-brothers and sisters, but I didn't know if they were still alive. My birth mom confirmed that they were all alive. Three live in Cali (2 brothers and 1 sister), one sister lives in the Canary Islands, and my other brother lives in Tolima.

Within the first 10 minutes of being at my mom's place, my sister just happened to call from the Canary Islands. While on the phone, my mom interrupted her and said, "I have a huge surprise to tell you. Do you remember the daughter I told you about who i had to give up for adoption?" She broke down in tears and added, "Well, she's here at my side." I was able to talk to my sister for the first time and we were both so excited that we kept interrupting each other with questions. After I got off the phone with her, my mom pulled out a bunch photos of all my brothers and sisters. One of my sisters and I look a lot alike (see girl on left side of pic)- it's so crazy seeing people who have similar body types and facial features. I had a hard time focusing on everything that was being said because I felt like I was absorbing everything around me, so it was hard to keep up. I was super lucky to have George with us because he speaks English fluently. He was able to translate if I got lost, and trust me, it happened a lot.

About 30 minutes after being there, I heard children's voices coming from down the hill. I looked up to catch the eyes of a male version of me! It was my brother, Medardo, and his children. Turns out my sister from the Canary Islands had called all of my brothers and my sister and told them that I was at our mom's house. I had an instant connection with Medardo and he was all smiles my entire stay. He introduced me to his children and it quickly dawned on me that I'm an aunt!  ...To ELEVEN nephews and nieces! And you thought you had a lot of Christmas presents to buy! ha! ;) I'm the youngest of 6, and I make our family even- 3 boys and now 3 girls. Medardo is 40 now and was 12 years old when I was born. He remembers my mom being pregnant and has always held a little resentment toward her for giving me up (will talk more about this in another blog). Needless to say, he was extremely happy to see me last weekend and has called several times since I've left. His children are adorable and so beautiful.

A little while later, my youngest brother Jorge came to my mom's house with his son and daughters. He's taller, like me, but has a different father than the rest of our siblings. He and I may have the same father (again, will need to save details for another blog), but that's up for debate right now. Unfortunately, my mom could not give me much information on my father. I'm not sure how upset I am about that. From what I know, it seems that he left my mom after hearing she got pregnant in the first 3 months of their dating. I'm lucky to have a fantastic, loving dad already who has been there for me since day 1. Jorge and I also got along really well. His ex-girlfriend, believe it or not, was the one who heard the loudspeaker message in San Agustín and pointed us up the hill to my mom. There's a connection between my brothers and I that I can honestly say I've never felt before with a complete stranger. I can't wait to learn more about them and their girlfriends/wives. That night, even though I was feeling extremely sick, Monica and I went out to celebrate in Cali. I felt like I was walking on air.

The next day, we went to Medardo's house for lunch and I got to hang out with 5 of my nephews and nieces. I'll spare you the details on how I threw up over their balcony- I was pretty sick by then even though I worked as hard as I could to fight it. There, I also got to meet Medardo's wife and his youngest son who I hadn't met the day before. I really enjoyed getting to know a little bit about everyone and I can't wait for another family reunion! My oldest niece, Daniela, is turning 15 on May 13th, 5 days before my b-day, so I may try to come back to Cali for her quinceañera (we also look alike! hehe). 

My new family has welcomed me with open arms and hearts. Every one of them has called me since I left Cali last Monday...several times.  I've been so happy and stress-free since I found them. I can't wait to share more about my family, but I know the last few blogs have been extremely long. I'm seriously contemplating writing a book about this journey because one of my favorite things to do now is convince other adoptees to search for their families. I can't tell you how blessed I feel to have two loving families now. This may just be the beginning of what I see as a happy ending. :o) 
{Below, i've posted more pics from Cali of my brother's ex girlfriend who heard the loudspeaker message in San Agustín, my brothers Jorge and Medardo, Medardo's wife, and my new nieces and nephews. I also posted a pic of me at the ER just for fun- 1st IV I've ever had! wahoo...}

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Toma Aliento (Deep Breath)

Things dont always turn out quite the way you expect. This past weekend may take awhile to retell, so please bear with me.

Friday, Monica and i arrived in Cali and did a little sight-seeing. I had felt a little sick on Wednesday night and was steadily getting worse so we couldn't do much. While we were heading to a Salsateca, I decided to ask our random taxi driver if he knew the neighborhood La Sirena and if he thought it was dangerous. He hesitated for a moment, glanced through his rearview mirror, and said "more or less¨ in a guarded manner. I laughed and said, ¨So, yes.¨ I had expected that answer as everyone had been saying the same thing. He then said there are guerillas in the area...now that got my attention. I immediately told Monica that she didn't need to go with me if she was scared. She laughed and told me she was more worried about me. She told me not to say a word while we were looking around the neighborhood so people wouldn't hear my accent. Fine by me!

Saturday morning, our faithful cab driver, George, took us into La Sirena. When I came to Cali the first time with my mom, we had the pleasure of meeting George through our hotel. He was so nice, helpful, and trustworthy that my mom suggested I call him and ask him to take us to La Sirena. This neighborhood really didn't look bad- it didn't seem any worse than neighborhoods I had been to around Cartagena.We drove in a bit up this rocky road and soon saw the street name that we were looking for. The only problem was that the street numbers were not matching up. Instead of the houses having two numbers -like i had for my birth mom's house (12-26), there was only one number. So, we started with number 26. Nope, they had never heard of her, but they told us to try number 12, which was around the circular block. We arived at a cute house and got the attention of an elderly woman living there. She said she had been the landlord at that house for 32 years and had never heard of a Teodora Marin Cabezas. I immediately thought of the letter i had sent and we asked if she had gotten any mail recently. She shook her head apologetically and said that there were addresses at the top of the hill that often get confused with her's.

Although we didn't quite understand what she meant, we drove further up the hill to ask a few more people if they knew my birth mom or any family members with the same last name. No, no, and no. One man said he knew of a family that ran a hair cuttery with the last name Cabezas. We drove to his address and asked if anyone knew a José Cabezas. The lively chatter at his shop stopped suddenly as if i had cut the salsa music playing in the background off. The man cutting hair asked, ¨who's looking?¨ George explained what we were doing and the same man replied that he was, in fact, José, but he had never heard of a Teodora Marin Cabezas. A few of these men suggested we ask the water control office since just about everyone in the neighborhood had running water and they'd probably have her address, but we soon learned it was closed for the day. While driving, George explained to us that many people in small neighborhoods like this one are terrified of guerillas and are hesitant to give their names or family's whereabouts to strangers.

Next, George stopped at an elderly person's home to ask the landowner there if he knew a Teodora. While he didn't, he suggested we ask a man named Raul. ¨Raul knows everything about La Sirena¨ he said, convincingly. Raul and his family are in charge of the cable for La Sirena. We stopped at Raul's house, which looked like an old plantation house surrounded by lush trees and plants and was significantly bigger and nicer than the other houses in the area, but his daughter told us that he wasn't home.

George asked me what I wanted to do. ¨Let's try the police station,¨ I shrugged. George warned me that the police wouldn't do anything for me, but i argued that I wanted to try anyway because I was running out of options. At first we couldn't even get through the front gate, but we finally convinced the guards to let Monica and I talk to a few more guards closer to the entrance of the building; George had to stay put. Monica and I pleaded with them to let us talk to a few officers to see if they could help us. After 10 minutes of arguing back and forth (them telling me that i should go on the radio or TV to announce that i was looking for my mom and me telling them I only had one day left in Cali and another police officer in Cartagena had gotten me an address, so it should be easier for them), one of these guards said he knew a few officers who may be able to help. He led us to a windowless office with two computers sharing the same desk pushed up against one of the 4 white walls. The officers we were talking to were detectives who specialized in homocides. The three officers began to search online for information, but this I soon realized, was nothing different than i had done in Cartagena a few months ago. Their internet dropped and one of the officers told me to come back in 2 hours. The other officer, who may have had a small crush on Monica, took us aside and said he may be able to help us, but we'd have to go to another building. Off we went to another police building. This one looked more like a normal office with cubicles and windows. The officers in this building specialized in kidnapping and extortion cases. Our friendly detective began asking his co-workers for their help, but everything was done quietly behind cubicle walls. Monica and I waited and waited for an answer of some sort. The detective finally came back and said he had good and bad news. They had matched Teodora's cedula number to her name, but they had found out that she didn't own any property, didn't have a car, and didn't own a landline nor cell phone. These are all things I knew or could've guessed, but I thanked them for their time and help. The detective told me he'd be in contact if he found out any more info and suggested I go back to La Sirena to ask as many people as possible if they knew her.

I had come all this way, I was not about to give up easily. One of the first people we talked to back in La Sirena suggested we ask the water plant owner (whose office had been closed earlier) and was able to give us her home address. Her daughter told us she was sleeping, but once she heard why we were asking, she went into her mother's bedroom and came out with a negative response- they had never heard of my birth mother. Her family suggested we speak with Raul, the cable owner. We drove back to Raul's and although he still wasn't home, his wife was. She invited us to their office around the side of their house and called her husband to tell him to come home. We explained who we were looking for and why, and Raul replied that he didn't recognize the name, but knew of a few Marin's in the neighborhood. While Raul went to ask a few neighbors in the area, his wife got out their cable records and began calling all the Marin's and Cabezas in La Sirena. Raul's wife also called the people who run the loudspeaker, which is audible throughout the entire neighborhood, and had Raul run a message asking if anyone knew a Teodora Marin Cabezas. She even got permission to make the announcement over the loudspeakers in the adjoining neighborhood, San Agustin. I couldn't help but smile when I heard Teodora's name radiate throughout the streets. A few minutes later, several people came to Raul's house and I rose with excitement thinking they may know something about my birth mom, but, of course, they were just coming to pay their cable bill.

As I sat on this kind family's paved backyard watching Raul and his wife play with her newborn girl while calling at least 30 people, a wave of fear and disappointment came over me. What if my parents were right? Should I have waited until I confirmed her address? It had already been 4 hours since we first came to La Sirena and my optimism was deflating as time passed. I took out this little Peruvian angel figure that a good family friend had given me for luck and safety only a a few weeks before and even though I tried to hold back, I couldn't help but shed a few tears. I was overcome with frustration and couldn't believe I was going to go back to Cartagena with nothing. I kept thinking that I had followed all the signs and took all the risks I could to be right here, in this moment, and I just couldn't believe that this long road that I had journeyed along led to nothing. Monica told me later that day that she had seen me holding the angel and had felt a pain in her chest, so she closed her eyes and began to pray for answers.

George called for me to come inside to where he was searching the internet because he said he had found Teodora's Ficha number (a number I had already found, but i had forgotten that the webpage wasn't working in the past so we were unable to do anything with it before). This number can link you to family members and their cedula numbers. While we were scambling to do that, I heard a lot of commotion outside and Raul's wife was shouting my name...I dropped everything and looked out the door. She shouted, ¨Les encontramos (we found them)!!!¨ I looked at Monica in disbelief asking with my eyes to repeat what they had said, and she confirmed it...they had found my birth mom.

{As this entry is super long, I'll save the next entry for how it went... My computer charger gave out on me over the weekend, so I apologize for the delay!}

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lost and Found in Thought

Time has passed quickly since I've been back in Cartagena. We had a busy, full house for several days and I've been unable to pass thoughts onto paper. As the weeks roll by, so do my emotions. I'm only now slowly becoming able to wrap my head around what exactly is about to take place.

I'm going to Cali January 22nd for three and a half days with my good friend, Monica, from Casa Sweety. We're both excited to have a mini-vacation in a big city. We've got our hotel booked (Jardín Azul Casa) and we've looked up lots of things to do in the area such as hand gliding, museum-wandering, restaurant-hopping, and salsa dancing at the hottest clubs (it is the Salsa capital of the world). I'm filling up the days and nights surrounding the visit with my birth mom because if things go badly (she's not there, she doesn't want to see me, etc), I'll have other things to occupy my mind and body with.

The logistics are set-up: got the plane ticket, the hotel reservation, a friend for support, a taxi driver who I can trust to take me to Teodora's house, and a few pictures of me growing up to bring along. I also sent a letter to let her know I was coming (although I didn't mention when out of fear she might leave) and it should have arrived last week. Never knew that I could feel jealousy toward a letter! My letter, while full of emotion and feeling, experienced no fear nor doubt and has probably made it into the hands of my birth mom before me. :/ Now that the logistics are set, all I need to focus on is me. If I could just prepare my soul, I'd be all set.... But how do you prepare for something like this?

The past few weeks, people have asked me how I'm feeling about finally going to Cali, but I've had a hard time replying. I say that I'm a little of everything- a little nervous, a little excited, a little scared, a little apprehensive, a little emotional, a little stressed, a little skeptical, a little optimistic, and a little unsure. I tell them that I have no idea how it'll go, so I don't want to expect too much, nor too little.

Interestingly enough, the young, friendly, easy-going woman who has been staying at Casa Sweety the past few days, and will continue to for the next 3 weeks, is a psychologist. Things have had a weird way of just falling into place for me the last few months. Anyway, this woman has been helpful in provoking me to delve into my thoughts more deeply. This past month, I've only allowed myself to explore my shallow feelings and emotions because if I stay afloat, barely skimming the surface, then I don't feel too scared, too excited, too emotional, too stressed, etc.... This, however, has prevented me from getting to my heart and soul...and is probably why I've been unable to explain just how I'm feeling at the moment.

Now that I've found my problem, I can begin to work toward solving it. I hope to be as prepared as possible for all outcomes, positive, neutral, and negative by listening to what the whispers lost deep inside my core have to say.