|Olinda, Joanna and Carolina, Lima April 1991|
|Loring, Max, and Carolina, Beverly May 1991|
We are going to Peru next week, our first trip there in about fifteen years. I’ve been there six times previously,once on a vacation, twice to adopt Max and Carolina, once on a vacation to Machu Picchu when the kids were pretty young, once to do some volunteer work with street kids in Ayacucho (where the family joined me afterwards and we traveled north to Cajamarca and other places) another time to visit, buy handicrafts, etc. All of the trips have been special, but this one promises to be much more significant than the others, with the exceptions of the month I spent each time for the adoptions.
I have never written at length in this blog in anticipation of a trip, only once I have arrived. But this journey has much more significance and needs some more background information. Travelling together, at least for the first part of our trip, will be Carolina, her husband Franz, Loring, and me.
Just over 28 years ago, on Mother's Day in May 1991, I walked the streets of Miraflores, in Lima Peru, my infant daughter strapped to my chest. Numerous times, someone smiled at me and wished me a happy Mother’s Day. I realized then that the holiday was celebrated in Peru, too.
Max and Loring had been with us the first two weeks, and I remained in Lima with baby Carolina for the duration of the adoption process. The birth mother, under Peruvian law, has 45 days in case she decides to change her decision to relinquish her child. I wasn’t worried, nor was I anxious to go home. I was thoroughly enjoying my time in Peru, as I had nearly three years before when we’d adopted Max.
We’d met Olinda the day we got Carolina, the morning after we arrived. This was quite a surprise. Three years prior our lawyer, Raul, had hemmed and hawed when we asked merely for a picture of Max’s birth mother. He eventually said he would get us one, but he never did. Now, he picked us up at our apartment, brought us to the foster mothers ( a mother and daughter) where Carolina had spent her first month, and then, brought us to Olinda with Carolina in our arms. It was emotional, of course, but Olinda seemed, as much as one could tell, comfortable with her decision. She already had one child, a boy, and in the adoption papers said she wasn’t able to care for a second one.
Olinda had given the baby her own name, Olinda. We had already named her Carolina, (Max hadn't been named, we gave him his name and it went on his original birth certificate)We felt terrible not keeping the name, really the only thing Olinda could give her. So we named the baby Carolina Olinda Liss Merrow, which, when she was a bit older, she delighted in reciting.
A couple of months ago, Carolina received a startling message on facebook. It was a young man, Tito, who told her he was her younger brother. Tito said he’d been looking for her for a number of years, and finally tracked her down via our lawyer, which led him to me, and then to Carolina.
She was elated, and we were excited too. Carolina found out that there was not only 24 year old Tito, but 18 year old Renzo, and 15 year old Emita. Plus Tito had a partner and a young daughter. So Carolina suddenly had a whole new family, including a niece! They all lived with Olinda, in a small shack- like house in Tamshiyacu, the same town where Olinda had lived when we adopted Carolina. We skyped with them and saw them all, including Olinda, who is in a wheelchair, and not in good health. She is in her fifties now.
I’d met Olinda twice, when we received Carolina at five weeks old, and a year or two later, when Max and I were visiting Lima. Raul had brought Olinda back to Lima with her one year old daughter, Erika. Erika had a malformed foot, and Raul had arranged for her to have surgery. He had also hoped to find an adoptive family for Erika, but that never happened.
When we recently learned about Olinda and the siblings in Tamshiyacu, I asked about Erika. There had apparently been a rift between Olinda and Erika at some point. She had left Tamshiyacu and now lives in Lima and has a small daughter. (another niece!) We contacted her on fb, and it seems as though she has now had some contact with Olinda and the other siblings. We will hopefully learn more when we are there, and possibly meet her in Lima.
Before the recent contact, when we learned about the younger siblings, we had last heard, through Raul, at least a decade ago, that Olinda had been bitten by a snake and was paralyzed. We sent some money, but never heard back. We knew nothing more, not even if Olinda was still alive.
This trip we will start off in Iquitos, the closet place to fly in, and also the largest city in the world with no road access to other places. We will spend five days there, probably go to Tamshiyacu to visit, and then Loring and I will spend five days in a jungle lodge while Carolina and Franz stay in Iquitos to visit further with her “new” family. Tamshiyacu is only reachable by boat, about an hour from Iquitos in the “fast” boat.
We are staying at two lodges run by Amazonia Expeditions, run by America jungle explorer Paul Beaver.I had researched two companies, this one and Explorama tours, both of which have been there since the early 1980’s. Now there are many more, ranging from rustic to deluxe.
Our first trip to Peru was prompted by a question from Loring’s sister Sherry, in 1985. She had decided to visit the Amazonian jungle and asked if we would like to join her. I said no, thinking of how much mosquitoes like me, and how much I do not like them. Sherry went on her trip, but I remained intrigued by Peru, just not the jungle. And so, I planned a trip for Loring and me, to Lima, Machu Picchu, Arequipa, Paracas, and Nazca (home of the famous ancient lines in the desert.) It was a great trip.
(Coincidentally, when I recently asked Sherry if she remembered which company she went with to the jungle, it was one of the two we had been considering. She immediately contacted Dr. Beaver, only to be told that he had already heard from us. So of course that was the outfit we decided to go with, although the other had sounded equally appealing.)
Two years later, when we had decided to adopt a baby from abroad, we went to an informational meeting at a large adoption agency, Wide Horizons. The director went alphabetically down the list of countries and agencies they worked with, in about 20 countries. Each agency had its own set of prerequisites. Some had an upper age limit, others accepted only couples, others dealt only with folks of a certain religion. I set with bated breath, wondering what would preclude us from Peru. (we’d already decided that was our first choice.) When she got to Peru, the policies were very liberal, the major requirement was that at least one parent had to spend at least a month, probably two, in Lima for the duration of the adoption process.
I was thrilled, nearly jumping out of my seat in the room of at least a hundred prospective parents. A man raised his hand to question why anyone would choose to adopt from Peru. I was incredulous, but not as much as when the agency director responded that she wondered that too.
I understand that not everyone could or would want to spend an amount of time abroad, but for us it was perfect. I was planning to leave my job, and for us the idea of spending time in the country of our child’s birth was a big plus. The agency director’s response (I don’t remember the rest of what she said, but think it had to do with that being the only choice for some people) still stays with me some 30 years later.
I will stop here, and pick up again once we are in Peru. There are a lot of unknowns, including how our relationship with Carolina’s birth family will develop, and also what we will find in our jungle excursion. Hopefully not more mosquitoes or biting ants than I can handle. Paul Beaver wrote a book a couple of decades back, describing in great detail the many kinds of creatures he has been bitten by. (he says, seriously I guess, that it’s required reading for the trip. ) I am almost finished reading it. I do have my head to toe mosquito netting outfit, which I will hopefully not be teased too much about, and more importantly, hopefully will do some good, along with the strong chemical repellent we will bring.
Stay tuned for more, starting next week. We depart on July 4th.