La Despedida (The Farewell)

As I sit in my room surrounded by suitcases mostly packed and bits and pieces of the life I’ve had the joy of living here for the last two months (eval notes, leftover foam, Spanish dictionary), it’s very difficult to put into words what I’m feeling. Six weeks ago, while fighting culture shock, I was counting down the days until I would be home. Four weeks ago, while still counting, I was feeling more comfortable. Three weeks ago, I was counting because I needed more time. Two weeks ago the same. Today, I’ve been fighting tears all day as I think of all that I’m leaving. Tomorrow, as I board my plane back to the U.S., I will be leaving…

40 adorable babies that absolutely have lit up my soul for the last two months. Full of laughter, unconditional love, slobbery kisses, and hilarious antics, they have been my daily joy.

A host family I adore. Angelica and Gabriel have been more like siblings to me than parents during my time here. Evening hours spent at the dinner table discussing music, politics, food, Gabriel’s newest business idea, my Spanish errors – and the list goes on – won’t soon be forgotten. Angelica’s mother is also hands down the most welcoming and cariƱosa person (I can’t translate this in a way that does her justice) that I have ever met. Tears were shed on more than one occasion tonight as we said our goodbyes. They have truly been my Colombian family and I look forward to the day when our paths will cross again.

An institution brimming with love. Yes, there are days when I can’t stop thinking about all of the things I would like to change (given a million years and a giant budget), but the foundation of Chiquitines is love. Those red brick walls that I have come to know so well are a refuge for the abandoned and a home for the most innocent of all. A place where play reigns and smiles abound.
As painful as it is to leave such things, I also know that because of them, I’m leaving Colombia with more knowledge and skills than I had when I first arrived. My time here has taught me to

Value small changes as positive change none-the-less
Let go of everyday anxieties and live with a lighter heart
Understand that just because something is different doesn’t make it better, worse, right or wrong
Value interdependence more than independent me ever thought I could
Appreciate the gift that is a loving family
Rejoice in the resilience of children

As my daily routines change significantly during the next few weeks, I’m not sure how all of this will factor in. How I will use what I have gained here to lead a more altruistic and fulfilling life has yet to be determined. However, until I figure it out, I will rejoice in knowing that I have been changed for the better.


Feel the Magic in the Air

I've been kind of quiet for a while friends.  April Udihuri and I have been very busy getting the word out about the great kids Gongzhan and i met in the JiangXi province. So now i have a special post.  Today was a day where the air was filled with magic.  I was lucky enough to be on the Autumn moon festival cruise with the CCCWA and well over 100 families and children.  My dear friend Erin Martin, and her family were there.  I had the privilege of meeting her youngest daughter twice in China before she came home.  There were so many miracles that I saw on this cruise.  Families who found there children and children who found their families.  During the cruise, we completed some squares for a tribute quilt.  We asked children and families touched by adoption to pay tribute to all the children who still wait for their forever family. They drew a picture, traced their hand or wrote a message on the squares.  I will assemble the squares and we will present this quilt to the CCCWA in the future when Gongzhan and I go to China.

So of course, I had so much fun working with the kids, I got no pictures, except for one of the statue of liberty out the window as everyone was eating lunch.  So if you want to see some shots of this magical day, check out Erin's blog.  I am sure she will post some shots.  (see link below)

Here are a couple of pics of the kids quilt squares.  Although today was really special and magical, there are many children who still wait for that forever family.  Remember, everyone can do something to help these kids find their forever family.  Outreach to friends and thru your online and actual community.  Send prayers, positive energy, remember someone in your community who is waiting, or has just adopted. Reach out with a meal or help them in their fundraiser.  Everyone really can do something.

To see pics visit or visit the site




As my last day in Colombia will be this Wednesday and I expect any blog posts from now until then to detail my work at Chiquitines (which I am so not ready to leave yet), I thought I would take the time to share some things I’ve noted outside of those brick walls in the last two months. The following is my running list of all things Colombia, based on my experience of this wonderful country. Enjoy!
  • Largest fruit selection known to man. Along with avocados the size of cantaloupe, mangos falling from the neighbor’s tree and oranges with three times the amount of juice of “Florida’s finest”, there are so many fruits here that don’t even existin the U.S. On top of that, the fresh produce here is crazy inexpensive since it’s locally grown. No added expense of importing, fewer preservatives for the journey… yes please! 

  • Attempt number one at mango slicing. It’s more complicated than you would think.

Attempt number two. Post-youtube-how-to-slice-a-mango-video watching. Much better.
  • Kites in August.Apparently the winds that cross Colombia just before the rainy season picks back up make it the best time of year to fly kites. Walk by any public green space in August and you’ll see dozens of children and adults testing out their mostly homemade creations. I’m pretty sure whenever I see a kite from now on, I will immediately think of Colombia. 

  • After spending nearly an entire Sunday afternoon helping my host family make a kite, they awarded me an honorary bachelors of kite making degree

  • Panaderia (bakery) on every block. Sometimes on every corner. I’m pretty sure the shop keepers at those closest to my apartment know me as the Gringa who just points through the glass display case to ask for “one of those”. A delicious surprise every time :) 
  • $6 mani/pedi. Enough said.
  • Lulo juice.Yes, this could have easily fit under “largest fruit selection know to man” but it totally deserves a category of its own. Looks like an orange on the outside, green on the inside, mostly sweet, a little tangy and oh so delicious. I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for withdrawals after I leave. 
  • The one and only Lulo.
  • The non-existence of traffic norms. Want to drive in the middle of two lanes? Go ahead. Pretend a stop sign is a yield sign? Everyone else is doing it. Make a left hand turn from the far right lane? Well sure (Gary Pinkel anyone?). Much to the entertainment of my companions, I’ve felt the need to cover my eyes and send up desperate prayers for safety on multiple occasions while riding in cars here.  Terrifying.
  • Uneven sidewalks.Anyone who knows me well knows that I am extremely clumsy. Add in slanting concrete, cobblestones and man holes covers with handles that protrude two inches into my walking space and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. After two months, three bloody toes and one broken flip flop, Colombia: 4, Abby: 0. 
  • I tripped over these stupid things all of two seconds after taking this picture. I wish I was kidding.

  • Two words. Drinkable yogurt.
  • Falling asleep to the neighbor’s blaring salsa music. At first annoying, I’ve grown accustomed to this ritual of sorts. There’s something so seemingly authentic about it that you just can’t replicate in the states. Midnight Elvis music drifting into my bedroom at home? Not the same.
  • Zancudos. The mosquito’s younger sibling (at least in my world), these little guys have been responsible for many fitful nights’ sleep, dozens of bug bites and the perfume of bug spray that I’ve worn daily for nearly two months  now. Love sleeping with the window open, which is a must in the heat here most nights. Hate waking up to giant ankles.
  • Children babbling in Spanish. The sound of children’s laughter is perhaps the best sound in the world – enough to lighten up any dark mood I may be in or make a great day that much better. Intersperse that with lisped Spanish and my heart just melts. From the kids at Chiquitines attempting their first words to the neighbor kids playing policia y ladrones(cops and robbers) in my apartment complex, I just can’t get enough of it. 
  • Blo-que

  • ¡Salsa! Known as the salsa capital of the world, Cali just breathes its musical creation. Check out my efforts to learn the local pastime here
  • World Salsa Festival – Cali, Colombia

  • Swarming ants. Leave a spoon out after dinner with so much as a grain of rice attached and it will be covered in minutes, guaranteed.
  • Mutual love. I realize this is a blaring contrast to my previous point. However, I have found that the two can and do coexist in Colombia. Being an interdependent society, families here are tight knit, as are communities. Children typically live with their parents until they are married, which usually happens around the age of thirty (another reason very single me likes Colombia), and families tend to reside in the same city even after the younger generation has kids of their own. Communities also have a variety of explicit and implicit traditions that tie the people together. Accents, colloquial sayings, local twists on food, music – it all makes each city unique and gives the inhabitants a mutual bond. Speaking of mutual bonds, the love that I’ve seen between spouses here is pretty darn impressive. While not typically a fan of nicknames, I have found those used between couples here to be endearing. No babe (belch!), honey, or sweetheart here. It’s more common to hear someone refer to his or her counterpart as mi amor (my love), mi vida (my life), mi luz (my light) or mi cielo (my heaven). Yes, yes, you can refer to me as your heaven any day. Please and thank you. 
  • Angelica and Gabriel. Host family and pet name extraordinaires.

A Butterfly's Journey

Last week I made my second visit to Fundamor, a local orphanage that cares for children affected by HIV/AIDS, to deliver the gait trainer that Keely so generously brought with her from the U.S. last month. While teaching the physical therapist how to fit the walker to a little guy with cerebral palsy and use it to advance his walking pattern, I had the privilege of learning more about the mission and programs of the wonderful place that is Fundamor. Let me tell you a story (paraphrased and translated, of course) that was told to me by a little girl who resides there.

There once was a little butterfly who loved to fly. She lived on a farm overlooking the countryside and spent her days exploring the gardens and the trees and the mountains. One day while exploring, a cat scratched the little butterfly with its paw, damaging its wings and making it impossible to fly anymore. The butterfly was very sad she was injured and had to leave the beautiful farm to go to the hospital. When she arrived, she was afraid of the doctors and nurses and there were many other creatures she didn’t know. However, much to her surprise she soon began to like the hospital. The doctors were very kind, everyone took care of her hurt wing and she eventually found good friends in the ants, who were also patients at the hospital. The little butterfly grew happier and happier as she grew healthier every day and she eventually was able to fly again, a little at a time. While she couldn’t fly back to the farm because of the dangerous cat, she learned to think of the hospital as her new home, full of love and care. Everyone once in a while the little butterfly does gets sad thinking of the farm she loved so much, but she comforts herself with the dream that one day, not so far away, she could find have a new home with a family that loves her just as much as all the wonderful people at the hospital do.

The teller of this story recently won a UNICEF writing contest with her tale and as she revealed to me after sharing it, she is the butterfly. She came to Fundamor after a blood test necessitated by a deep cat scratch, much like the butterfly’s, showed that she had HIV. Since her arrival, she has grown to appreciate more than just the medical care provided at Fundamor, which would not be available to her where she resided previously. She now sees Fundamor as a school, a gathering place for friends and a refuge from the cruel cat that changed her life forever. After the afternoon I spent at Fundamor, I too see it as a refuge. A safe haven where the pains of this world are nursed by a group of wonderful caregivers, teachers, doctors and therapists. A place where disability takes a back seat to ability and above all, a home where kids can grow with the knowledge that they are loved and valued.

What a wonderful place to be a butterfly.


The Battle

As I have mentioned previously, a lot of what I do at Chiquitines is related to feeding. After starting to work with the little ones, it didn’t take me long to realize that there were major delays in oral motor and self help skills related to feeding. It did, however, take me a while to figure out just how complex the problem is. Every day I feel like I see another piece to the puzzle. Lack of time, lack of staff, learned aversion, prematurity, neurological complications, respiratory issues, cultural norms… the list goes on. And yet, after spending nearly two months here, I still don’t know how to solve the puzzle. There are days when I feel like I am making progress and days where I feel like nothing will ever change, which would be a giant disservice to the kids here. Last night Angelica helped put things in perspective for me though.

As I was talking to her about feeding issues, she told me I shouldn’t expect things to change overnight. Not the consolation I was hoping for, right? “Todo en tiempo” (all in time), she said. “Poco a poco” (little by little).

As I worked with the kids today, I tried to keep that in mind. Maybe it was that after that conversation I felt hope in that I am planting the seed that may eventually lead to the change these kids needs. Maybe I just chose to see the world with more love than yesterday. Either way, today I felt like I was winning the battle.

On Wednesday, I met with the nutritionist, caregivers, doctor and head nurse to discuss feeding issues. Together we decided it would be best for the kids and the caregivers if the volunteers could work with the kids with the most feeding issues, since they are not under the same time restraints as the caregivers are. Operating under the theory that practice makes perfect, we generated a list of the most difficult children to feed and chose two toddlers and two infants the volunteers would try to work with everyday for two consecutive weeks. As I explained the new system to this morning’s volunteers, they fully endorsed the idea, singling out those four kids to patiently work on tolerating new textures and being more independent with self-feeding. As they devoted their attention and time to those little ones, I showed them some simple techniques involving positioning and spoon/hand placement. Bonus: one of the caregivers voluntarily fed a little one in an upright position using the new positioning pads I was able to purchase for that specific purpose using the generous donations of friends and family. AND she pointed out their usefulness to one of the volunteers before I could even get around to it! Post-lunch, the volunteers were happy they were helping, the caregivers were happy they didn’t feel as rushed, they kids were happy that feeding was less of a traumatic experience and I was happy the kids were safer and developing the skills they need for proper nutrition and development.

The unstaged, hilarious yet oh-so-bad-for-feeding alternative to the positioning pads…

Thirty minutes later, tired, covered in food, but happy

New positioning pads in action. I have yet to tackle the giant spoon issue…

Who knows how I will feel about the feeding battle come Monday or how many changes will continue after I leave next week but today – if only for today – I’m claiming a victory.