Three days of travel. Three very long days led me to arriving in a city that was surrounded by question marks for 34 years. I never expected to make it back here. I never thought I’d find the courage to do so, but I was now standing on the soil of my birth place.
So, a little bit of backstory: I was adopted at 6 months from Bogotá, Colombia and brought to Michigan. It was never a secret, and instead my parents bragged about how they paid a lot of money and went through a lot of hassle to get my brother and I. That always made me feel special because my biological mother did a selfless thing by giving me up to have a better life and because there was no doubt that my parents wanted me.
Back to my arrival. I was on the edge of losing it when my plane landed in the capital city of Bogotá. I was on a few hours of sleep, grumpy due to having to deal with so many grumpy people along the way, and completely overwhelmed by the fact that I had made it to this place I never dreamed of returning to. The sheer size of the city was hard to process, let alone the idea that this place held answers to questions only a few people possessed and I only had a day and a half before coming face-to-face with a past I knew very little about.
I walked out of the airport to be greeted by the ‘expensive’ taxis. A man greeted me speaking Spanish and I tried to make it clear I wanted an official taxi even though it was more expensive. I had read multiple times to use them from the airport for safety reasons. He wouldn’t give up and after going back and forth very slowly in spanish and english, I got him to agree on a price before leaving…so I at least knew the price of my ride and possible abduction/robbery. My ridiculously heavy bags were loaded into his car and we were off. Looking back on this, it was a dumb move on my part. I was a somewhat obvious tourist even though I was able to communicate that I was born there. If you happen to visit, stick to the official taxis, the taxi queue, and getting a print out of how much the ride will be before leaving the airport. I feel like I got lucky. We talked quite a bit, as we had 45 minutes to get to Usaquén from the airport. We were equally patient with each other and our bilingual abilities. It was good practice before starting Spanish school the next day. I made it to my destination, had a lovely conversation with the host of the hostel I was staying at, and then I crashed. I was exhausted and in need of sleep so I wouldn’t fall asleep in class.
The following morning, I braved the most ridiculous traffic I have ever experienced. It took 45-50 minutes to go 7 or so miles. I arrived to school, met my teacher, my classmate, and my translator who would be accompanying me to the orphanage the next day. I was still so tired following class, and pretty much went straight home after. I gathered the original documents that my mom saved from my adoption, charged my camera batteries, checked that I had a clean memory card, and Netflixed for a while before falling asleep so early it’s embarrassing and I am leaving that detail out to keep my somewhat ‘cool’ reputation in tact.
The next day I woke early. I was so nervous and overwhelmed with emotions. Part of me didn’t want to go because I had no idea what to expect. I had a nice Uber ride, talking in Spanish with the driver and making him laugh with my do’s and don’t of goodbye in Spanish (Hasta la vista, bebé…he laughed so hard at this!). I got out, and Waze (a GPS app used by many down there) must have been a little confused. I wasn’t in a great part of town, but realized the orphanage was just a bit further north and on the other side of the road. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD?!!! Crossing the street is a bit terrifying without a signal, but it had to be done. Everyone does it down there, so what’s one more? The first three lanes to the median were easy. I then stood there for close to 5 minutes before there was a break in traffic. I made it across and saw my translator, Natalia. The iron gates were opened by the guard on duty.
I had become increasingly anxious about this visit as I delved deeper into finding out ways to obtain information, connecting with other adoptees from Colombia and Los Pisingos, and finding out some information that, to put it simply, broke my heart. I had heard from multiple people about adoptions occurring during the 80’s and 90’s being surrounded by scandal. I was told that during those times it was common for adoptions to be happening illegally. Parents would bring their children to these agencies, looking for temporary help with the plan to always come back when they could get back on their feet. Some of these agencies proceeded with adoption without parental consent and families were torn apart for money. I am unsure how much of this is true, and part of me is happy to live in denial that this happened at all and that maybe this was what happened to me. Regardless, it makes me very sad that there’s a possibility of truth to this.
As we walked pass the gate, I realized just how small the grounds were. A grassy area with a small building and a playground to my left, a tall brick wall to the right, and the main building at the bottom of the hill. We didn’t know where we were supposed to go, so we tried a few entrances looking for the director. We finally found her and she had completely forgotten about our meeting. We waited for her in her office for about 10 minutes. She finally came in and Natalia explained my situation and what I was after. I showed her the documents I brought and she translated what they said. I had thought these were more formal, legal documents, but these actually described the circumstances of my adoption, of my biological mother, and other details. As I write this, I can’t help but cry. The details I discovered were upsetting and completely deflating. I guess I didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else that I had this hope of someday finding family, finding a recognizable face, finding my place after feeling out of place my entire life. Coming to terms with that not being a possibility was hard, and I nearly burst in tears, but held it together. I had these grandiose thoughts that my biological mother knew the right thing to do was give me up for adoption so I could have a chance at life, a better life. Instead, it was that she didn’t want me. She brought me to the orphanage two days after I was born. Her family refused to help her as this was the second child she had out of wedlock. My sister, who was a year older, was with my biological mother’s parents. She brought me to the orphanage, went through physical and psychological examinations, and because she didn’t read or write, the personal information that was provided was only done so as a formality. The names on the paperwork and my birth certificate aren’t real, so I have no way of knowing who I’m looking for. She was also from the countryside. Another detail that makes it difficult to search. I processed my options in my head really quickly. This information was such a blow and I was done. I didn’t want to experience any more of this. They offered to start the process to possibly find the documents on my biological mother’s physical and psychological exams, but again, I was done. She pushed a bit and said she’d forward my information to someone at I.C.B.F., Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (Colombian Institute of Family Welfare). I let her do so, but I knew I’d never follow up.
Following that, she said she wanted to show me something. She went to a cabinet full of folders and pulled out a whit album. She said that all of the adoptive parents wrote messages in it. She opened it up and started to turn the pages. And then I saw it. My mother’s handwriting. It was so beautiful, just as I remembered. I always envied her penmanship. The cursive was so perfect and fluid. She took her time with writing and it always looked lovely. I instantly started to cry. It was such an unexpected gift to feel my parents there in this way. Something they touched that I could see and touch myself was here in this unfamiliar place, in a new city, in a new country. I couldn’t read the message I was crying so hard…yes, ugly cry. The kind of cry where you have no control over the quick inhales, the snot, or the twisted face you’re making. It took more than few moments to get myself back in control of my body. All of the disappointment was worth it to have that moment with my parents.
I then walked around the building with Natalia, going into each room to take a moment, to take a photograph or two. There were a few classrooms, a medical facility that a doctor and psychologist would visit for appointments. There was a playroom decorated with arts and crafts, activity schedule, toys, a ball pit, and a sandbox. We then made our way up the stairs to the second floor. It was now a empty space that was being used for choir rehearsal. The group was practicing as we reached the top and the soloist got shy and their rapping became a lot quieter. We went into the room across the hall. I burned that image into my brain. This was the room I spent the first 6 months of my life in. This is where I slept, where I was fed, where I was taken care of. I stared out the window, taking in the view, and contemplating what life could have been like for me if I hadn’t been adopted. It definitely would have been a harder life. From all of the people I met and talked with, it would have been a continuous struggle to make ends meat, to survive. I am so thankful for my parents and all they did for me. To take in a child, one that has no blood relation is a challenge and it’s not for everyone, but I’m so glad my parents had that capacity in them to love me as their own, to give me everything I could have ever needed or wanted. I miss them every single day and wish they could see me and see how happy I am. I owe everything I have, everything that I am able to be, to them.
After reflecting on this trip from time to time over the last few months, I have no regrets. It was an emotionally draining trip, at times frustrating, and I was paranoid about my safety much of the time, but the moments of warmth, kindness, laughter outweighed any struggles that I faced. Those memories will stay with me forever and they are the things that make me want to return to spend much more time exploring outside of Bogotá. I am sticking with my decision to not continue to search for any more information about my biological mother or adoption. I have enough answers and can finally close that door. Curiosity no longer dwells in my heart. I am, however, curious about looking into dual citizenship since I found out that is an option for me. That could be cool.
As for Colombia, I highly recommend a visit. I will have another post about the things I choose to do while there, a lot of it centered around food (wink).