Welcome to Mak and Jack

This is a journal that irregularly chronicles the crazy life, mishaps and adventures we have had since shortly before we traveled to Chongqing, China in August of 2006 to adopt our daughter (a sister for Jack,) Makena.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mending Hope

To explain why I paused updating some of the China trip for a  short while back was because I was busy cutting together the footage I shot while on the Luoyang Mission for Mending Hope International.  Two of the special needs children that I want to advocate and find families for are in this video. Here is the link.

Isabelle, back to Qianjiang after this.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


(Xisha bridge)
Juana and I are in a zone. We hail a cab and hop in clutching scribbled notes that are meant to lead us to an address where we are told that the head of the Foster mothers from Makena's orphanage lives. My torn and almost illegible piece of paper feels like a promise of gold. I am a pirate in a strange sea of chaos seeking to dig up a treasure. I feel like I could be a candidate for the Amazing Race show right now. Come to think of it, I may audition.

Juana is arguing with my driver. He doesn't recognize the address. We panic. I call Cherrie in Beijing, and miraculously, she answers. I have Cherrie in my ear giving me loose instructions that she is recalling from memory, I shout them out to Juana who then relays them in Chinese to our driver. He argues with her, we are driving in the wrong direction and u-turns are in order. He is extremely annoyed. Apparently, Chinese men do not like to be told what to do. This is a universal dilemma. What to do, what to do...

We tell him to head for the main bridge, Xisha (the finding place for a friend of mine's daughter), and make a left. We have to drive 3 kilometers along a road that follows a river and stop when we get to a fruit market. Ok! We get to the road and about 400 yards down we come upon a market but no fruit is being sold. The driver tells us that we have reached our destination. We argue and he basically kicks us out of the cab like we are a bunch of crazy ass ladies. We are. Slightly freaked out, we head through the market praying he was right and that this is the only market on this road. Yes, people stare so our search for foster lady is not discreet. We are on the hunt for an alley that is barely wide enough for two people to walk through. We will have to follow it until it zigzags left, then right and then come upon a courtyard. We have to enter the courtyard with four buildings and more alleys spidering out, face left and then we will be at the building we are looking for. The apartment is either on the first, second or third floor...

(Firecracker exhaust.)
We have an hour left to find this address and then, hopefully, talk to this mystery woman. No panic, just sheer internal hysteria. We can't find the alley and some pyromaniac is blowing up the neighborhood with an insane fireworks display.

(Talking to strangers.)
We end up weaving our way in and out of buildings, walking along narrow paths with one or two story drops into other courtyards. We accidentally stumble into people's private courtyards, walk past their open doors staring into dark living rooms, avoid buckets of wash water being emptied above our heads, not to mention flying projectiles of spit. People stare at this white person and her interpreter seeking a woman they do not know. Orphans? Foster children? What the heck? Juana is extremely out of her comfort zone asking strangers for information. She whispers that this little adventure is making her braver. She is my action hero. Time means nothing anymore. I am the dog chasing the bone. Tunnel vision. Do not give up. I can't. I won't. We won't.

We have run out of street and practically come to a dead end. We have to backtrack. How could we have missed it. Ugh, I want to scream. We retrace our footsteps and stop and ask anyone and everyone along the way. Until we get back to the now extinguished fire cracking hell spot and notice an alley we never saw because of the choking smoke. Yes it is narrow. Yes, it zigzags claustrophobically left and right and yes it abuts into a smaller than imagined courtyard, if it can in fact be called that. Juana, emboldened from thirty minutes of battle starts screaming out foster lady's name... Once, twice and third time is the charm. A man pokes his head out a third floor balcony and yells down asking why we are looking for his sister. Juana quickly explains and we are suddenly ushered up three flights of steps and now find ourselves in his cavernous living room. A couple of boys are huddled behind a sheeted room divider playing a computer game. Tween life is universal.

(View from the Foster mother's front door.)

(View from the living room.)
We sit in the darkened room. The air is cold. The windows are open. No heat to feel as we all keep our coats on, even our host is dressed warmly. His sister is out running errands but he quickly calls her to tell her that some white lady from the West is sitting in her arm chair and wants to talk to her about a baby she adopted five years ago.  He offers us tea (translation: boiled water that has cooled down to become potable). Juana converses with him but I am not sure what they talk about. Twenty minutes go by...  and the woman walks in the door.  I instantly recognize her, albeit slightly older and more disheveled, as a woman who was sitting in the back of the room when we were handed Makena at the Civil Affairs Bureau in Chongqing. I thrust one of the dozen photographs I have brought with me in her face and quickly explain that I am hoping that she can give me the name of the woman seen holding Makena in one of the photographs we received after our instant cameras were returned to us on adoption day. She takes the image and studies it then says that she was an orphanage worker. An Ai but that she can't remember her name. However, she recognizes Makena because she looked after her, here, in this building.  I am stunned speechless. I know that I am not breathing. I turn and look at Juana trying to make sense of what is being translated. Juana is equally shocked. She peppers the woman with questions. Yes, Li Han was here. One of among a dozen girls she looked after in 2006. 

(Foster Mother.)
Seriously folks, I cam all this way to get the name of the woman in the photograph, never expecting that she was not her main care-giver and that I would be standing face to face with her actual Foster mother.  Juana grabs her phone and calls our minders to tell them that we are going to blow off lunch and meet them back at the hotel in an hour so that she can catch her train. My eyes are welled with tears, I am trying to come up with questions. I should have had a list. I just wanted a name and I have hit the mother-load. More firecrackers errupt in the distance and I suddenly realize how jolting this particular sound must have been for the babies. Sudden sharp noises, doorbells, toilets flushing have always sent Makena into a freakout and I wonder if this is the ground zero of why?

I catch my breath as the woman disappears for a second and then returns hauling two trash bags filled with baby clothes. She explains that these are the clothes that some of the children were found in. She goes on to say that a lot of the babies left at the finding spots in baskets they would have been carried in. Sadly, she did not catalog which clothes belonged to which baby. She shows us cute satiny jackets, explaining that most of the Qianjiang children are from the Tujia minority. A tribe that originated in Northern Thailand (based on my research) and then migrated to the hills above and around Qianjiang and beyond. More than likely, Makena has older siblings since there is no limit on the number of children the Tujia can have.  Abject poverty being an explanation for abandonment and how this might explain (to me) why she was found in old clothes, according to her report.

(Makena, pictured among the clothes.)
We move into the bedroom and she shows me an album. It belongs to friends of mine from our adoption group. She shows me toys. She then explains that the building was used as an annex to the orphanage and that an apartment on the ground floor housed most of the babies, a dozen or so, and that nannies would be sent from the orphanage to help her care for them. Not the warm and fuzzy answer I was hopping for. I get the impression that Makena was housed on the first floor and not one of the two or three babies she personally cared for in this apartment. Nevertheless, a piece of the puzzle has been filled in. I still wish that I knew the Ai's name or how to gain access to the orphanage records in the future. I grab my camera and shoot everything that I can of this place to have a record of it for later. Time is a luxury we can no longer afford and we have to say goodbye. I hand Foster mom a box of chocolates and hug her with heartfelt gratitude. I already know that this is not the last time that I will be seeing her (I hope) and that I will be returning with Makena at some point in the future.

Frustratingly, we can't poke our head in the ground floor apartment as it is now rented to a family so I just stand in the courtyard and try to absorb every detail, the sounds, the smells, the firecracker infused air and slowly walk away thanking the universe for this experience magnificent gift I won't soon forget.

(First floor where girls were housed.)

(Outside the building.)

 Is - humbled and grateful.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


(Public worker's tricycle)
What I love so far about this magical mystery tour that I am on is that it hasn’t been sugar coated.  I spent a week sleeping in a dorm with nine women, crashed a night at Juana’s lovely condo in Chongqing, traveled on obscure airlines, navigated a chaotic train station and have now spent my first night in Qianjiang in a, three-star, Chinese business traveler’s hotel.  I say first because I will now be staying one additional night in the city, extending my trip to do something completely unplanned nor anticipated because this is the way this adventure is unfolding for me.

(Kids who found me amusing)
I completely failed to mention (in the last couple of posts) that my hosts were hoping that I could talk to some of the students at the school of tourism about my volunteering experiences in China (and elsewhere). Pauline delivered this request to me and Juana at dinner last night. Juana said that I didn’t have to speak and that I could simply return with her to Chongqing this afternoon, but what was I supposed to say? Thank you for the use of a personal driver and car and two guides? Thank you for generously paying for all my meals and footing my hotel bill, thank you for trying to pay for my train ticket. I’ll be off now buh-bye?  So, yeah, I'm staying the extra day. And, yes, I understand clearly that Juana will not remain with me to translate and that I will spend a day pointing and signing my way through Qianjiang (and surrounding areas) until my back-to-school chat tomorrow.

(Young girls near the orphanage)
One of the goals I set for myself on this mission was to try to remain present. I know this sounds corny, but I really wanted to not be scared to explore, feel and appreciate the people, the places, the culture;  be it a shoe shine, eating tripe or eating with chopsticks for two weeks, I kind of felt like an ambassador for Makena and that it was my duty to take it all in for her with my eyes and my heart wide open and then share it with her later when she starts asking questions.  A souvenir installment in her sense of self and to honor her beginnings.

(Tujia doughnuts)
But first things first, it is 8AM and I am in the extra bonus points-round of this journey. When my friend Cherrie (who lives in Beijing) found out that I would be traveling here, she asked me to meet with a young burn victim, Amanda, to photograph her wounds as a favor to her.  (We have given the girl an English name to protect her identity.) Cherrie has secured surgery for Amanda in Australia next February and the surgeon, who is donating his services, has asked for new photographs. So I am scrambling to get dressed and make the room presentable so that we can do this and then dash out to track down a woman who was purported to be the head of the Foster mothers at Makena's old orphanage and who may know the woman who is seen holding Makena in one of the old photographs I have of her.

Amanda shows up at nine o'clock on the dot. She is fourteen years old, painfully shy and about the size of a ten year-old. She is accompanied by her aunt and two cousins.  Juana puts them at ease and explains my role while I try to figure out how to photograph her facial wounds. Thank god for the Luoyang mission that seasoned me not be scared to look at children with deformities.  I look into Amanda's eyes and do my best to keep the session light and easy as I try to pose her in the available light.

(Typical Qianjiang baby Bjorn basket)
Amanda was four months old when the basket she was cradled in (similar to the one pictured) tipped over and her face came to be pressed against the hot stove. Her grandmother heard her cries and dismissed them, initially. When she finally came upon her (I can only imagine what the baby looked like. ), the grandmother had the presence of mind to poke a reed through Amanda's mouth to create an opening as her face blistered and swelled around it. She spent the next dozen years being fed through an opening in her mouth that was the size of a straw.  Her mom and dad left the village they lived in (from the hills above Qianjiang) and moved to Guangzhou to work in factories and earn enough money to pay for surgery. They worked and saved money for years. They finally had enough money to pay for the operation (two years ago) but it was botched. And although she now has lips and a patchwork of skin grafts, none of the scar tissue inside her mouth and was removed. She can still barely open her mouth or swallow and she still needs dental work. So she can't talk or articulate very well and she continues to be bullied and ridiculed at school. In spite of all this, she is an excellent student. And because she has managed to keep her grades high, she benefits from a scholarship that pays for her high school education. Otherwise she could find herself working menial jobs like my friend the shoe shiner. So, yes, I want to help this girl. She is a survivor and she deserves it and I am raising funds to help her get to Australia for surgery. 

I take a couple of dozen photographs and thank the Aunt for bringing Amanda and try to say goodbye but she won't leave. The girls take off and the aunt is insisting on taking us to breakfast. It is the least she can do, she says, to thank us for coming all this way to help her niece. Juana is monitoring the time. If we can manage to get breakfast over by 10 AM, this will leave us two hours to hunt down the Foster mother lady and get back to the hotel to meet up with our minders. Hmm... We're off with the aunt, leading us who knows where down side-streets to a little restaurant she knows where we can have a bowl of noodles for breakfast. Yes, my dining experiences are becoming increasingly spectacular. My stomach has been screaming at me since lunch, yesterday, and here I am sitting on a bench slurping (yes, slurping) some beef noodles with a guy next to me smoking like a chimney.  Oh, and yeah, my rock star status has not diminished. People stop in front of the restaurant to stare at me, openly. I wave and slurp.

(Crossing street at my own risk)
Ok, now we are really pressed for time and auntie wants me to get a hair cut. It turns out she owns a small salon a few block away and thinks that I should get my mop cut and colored. I realize that I am sporting a low maintenance style and that it is not blown dry so I try to keep as straight a face as possible and thank her and tell her that I might take this into consideration the next time I travel to the city (gulp) but that I am really pressed for time. We try to leave but she insists that she needs a photograph of us. I whip out my camera to take one but this is not acceptable. Juana is freaking out as we are now seriously late in our quest for Makena info. The next thing I know, I am risking my life (again) crossing the street and being led into a photo studio.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am now in a Sears type photo studio. I swear, I am not making this up and if I were to write this in a script, no one would believe me. In any case, time ticks away like sand through the hour glass as Auntie takes her time selecting backdrops. She settles on a stone arch with peonies in the background.

(Juana, me and Auntie in photo studio)
We pose, we smile, we are given our laminated copy, we hug goodbye with promises of returning and then Juana and I dart off into the street in search of a cab... We have an hour and fifteen minutes to get answers...

Is on the hunt

Monday, November 28, 2011

Love your Life

We are staying at the Tianlong Grand Hotel, a three star establishment on a busy avenue. I can't give you an address because all the pamphlets are in Mandarin, the clerks don't speak English and guests sitting in the lobby are openly staring at me while smoking their cigarettes.  Juana tells me that I am probably the first white person they have ever come across - other than those they have seen on TV.  Qianjiang has a population of a hundred and twenty-thousand people. The director of the school of Tourism thought the hotel's location would be more practical for me so that I could just walk about town. 

We are assigned room 5650.  We head up to the fifth floor and walk down the corridor. I notice that if I reach my hand and hop, that I can touch the ceiling. I'm 5'4.''  A quick swipe of the key card and, surprise, we stumble upon a pair of Chinese men. You guessed it, smoking. Thankfully, clothed. They gasp. We gasp and quickly retreat into the hall wondering what has just happened. I am just grateful that the situation was not reversed and that I am the one who shocked them.  So we return to the lobby and attempt to extract an explanation from the front desk lady. She looks at us as if we are stupid, I can tell this by her tone and I don't need to understand Mandarin because her condescension is so not subtle. 56507 = sixth floor, room 507. Ok, we aren't so bright. Our mistake. But how does this explain the fact that we were able to enter the wrong room, one floor below us?

Spacious, decorated in earth tones and olive colored lame, with the prerequisite kettle in the bathroom to boil the water, yes! Wherever you go in the country, this is the key to your health while traveling. Boil all water that crosses your lips, even when brushing your teeth. Thankfully, although the view is of the conference center parking lot, it is more quiet than had we been fronted on the main drag. And it's free!

Our guide, Pauline, will meet us and take us out to dinner. I am really beginning to feel watched over as plans materialize for us before we can think them through and the clock is ticking on the time I have left in the city.  Juana and I plot our last day in Qianjiang which will consists of tracking down the supposed "head of the foster mothers" from Mak's orphanage and finding out if she recognizes the woman pictured with my baby a few weeks before we adopted her.  I know that this is a no-no. I fully understand the risks the Center for Adoptions is trying to avoid by having adoptive parents come in contact with former nannies or foster moms. I get it. I am not planning on giving anyone any monetary gifts - other than some chocolates and my undying gratitude. I just want a name for the woman. I want the tiniest bit of information so that I can fill my mommy tank with answers for my curious daughter when the questions start coming.

Cherry is calling and texting me from Beijing with an address she has pulled from her files and she is dictating directions to this person's home based on memory. Cross the main bridge and take the first left along the river, or is it the second... go three kilometers down the road until you come to a fruit market... follow the market until you come to an alley... zigzag left, zigzag right... look for a courtyard... and so on.  I transcribe the instructions trying to visualize what she is saying. Juana keeps repeating the Chinese address in Mandarin and thinks the grammar is off. The clerks have never heard of the street... Meanwhile, we have to set up the appointment to take photographs of a young burn victim so that Cherry can send pictures to the surgeon in Australia but we can't get a hold of her she has no telephone. We find another number to call in case of emergency and it is that of the girl's father who is working in Guangzhou with her mother. He excitedly takes our call and promises to have his daughter in our lobby by 9am the next morning.  Which, if all works acording to plan, will leave me two hours plus to get to the Foster mother's place (assuming directions are correct.) We are not sure this is going to happen. What is certain though is that we don't want the babysitters around when we are documenting the burns and I don't want them with me when I go looking for the foster mother lady. We hatch a plan to have our guides pick us up at noon to take us to lunch and then the train station for a return back to Chongqing.

Pauline meets us on a street corner a few blocks from the hotel. The streets are filled with people and children. Groups of them, clearly belonging to one family. I am confused about this. Is there not a one child policy in effect?  Pauline explains that the Tujia minority (originally from Thailand or thereabout, I believe) are allowed as many as three children. She leads us down restaurant row - which mostly consists of outdoor kitchens with tarps spread overhead to shield diners from the elements. My olfactory sense is on overdrive. I swear that my nostrils are numb from trying to decipher and identify the perfume of smoke, sludge and Sichuan peppers, or is it Qianjiang bacon?  We snake our way past carnival type games spread out over the sidewalk and past rows of shoe shiners.

We look to Pauline for dining guidance but she is at a loss since she never goes out to eat, preferring her own cooking to anything else she might want. We settle on the most formal of settings, a restaurant with actual walls and a lot of steam billowing out of it. I like it because of the promise of beer. At this point I feel like a leaf carried by a stream headed for some rapids. I have no clue as to how much dining luck I have left . I know that I just need my stomach to hold out for another seventy-two hours and then I can explode when I get back to Los Angeles. At least, I'll be home.

I gently beg not to be served food that is too spicy. The Sichuan pepper has a taste all to its own and usually makes my tongue thick and numb. I am told that this pepper leaches the moisture out of the body. Translation: it has some arthritis combatting properties that these mountain folks appreciate. The dishes are all sealed in thick plastic wrap and they serve me water tea. Translation: hot water. Good for digestion. The meal is delicious. As much as I profess to be nervous about the dining conditions, the noodle dishes and breaded ribs and mystery soup are memorable. Everyone else loses weight when they travel here but not me, no sir. Those extra five pounds I won't be able to shake when I get home will be my lasting souvenir. That is, if my stomach holds out. What a dilemma.

Don't ask me what this is. It was spicy and delicious. 

At the end of the meal a shoe shiner approaches me for a shoe shine. Juana and Pauline quickly waive her off but I ask her to stay. My boots are disgusting. They are covered in mud, construction dust (the air is thick with it) and who knows what else. In any case my friends groan when she plants herself in front of me and starts to clean them.  I defend myself. I tell Juana that here is a woman who is trying to survive and the skill she has to put food on the table is to shine my shoes. This isn't about a superior-inferior complex, this is about me needing the service and her being able to provide it. She is not begging. She isn't asking for something for nothing.  Juana thanks me for my perspective. The shoe shiner looks up at me and smiles. I smile back at her and thank her in Mandarin, to which she responds, "Love your life." "Excuse, me?" She repeats it. "Love your life!" You speak English? She nods. "Love your life, love yourself." I am stunned. Juana is stunned. Pauline is stunned. We go on to find out that she loved studying English in high school until her parents could no longer afford to pay for her schooling and she was forced to go to work to help support her family.  She conjugates a few verbs for us, sharing what she remembers of the language, always smiling and laughing and proud while diners have gathered around us to listen to her. She points to my boots showing me that she is done. They look fantastic. I feel like a kid with a new pair of shoes who can't stop looking at them. She asks for four yuen. I give her six. She gives me two back. I tell her to keep it. The job was worth 3 yuen a boot, at least. She laughs and heads off in search of her next client. Juana looks at me and smiles. What a trip. This almost feels like and old "Touched by an Angel" episode.

How could my shoe shiner possibly know that "Love your life, love yourself," has been my mantra for the last two years and that I try to wake up every day with the goal of being conscious and grateful for the things that I have, for my kids, for my friends, for my life, for this amazing trip.

Is - loving it all

Saturday, November 26, 2011


So, I'm squished into the window seat of a Sichuan Air flight from Beijing to Chongqing trying to crack the mystery of the contents of a lunch box that has been placed before me. My eyes are red and tired as I squeezed the last of my tears out after saying goodbye to the kids in the morning.  I don't know if this is why people stare at me.  I have taken the quick Caucasian head count and we are two aboard the plane, except that I am way cooler because I don't have an interpreter with me and I only speak six words of Mandarin.  I glance to my right and observe that most passengers are placing pickles inside the bread and eating the whole as a sandwich. So I stuff my pungent spread inside the bun, shovel it in my mouth and order my Lu Cha (green tea) to wash it down.

Juana is waiting for me when I come out of the baggage claim area and I am SOOOOO relieved because even though I thought I was hot shit for spending the better part of a day without linguistic assistance, I would have been really wigged out if she wasn't there grinning at me upon arrival.

How was I ever to imagine that a trip to Singapore a year and a half ago to visit Dominique would have me meet and get to know one of her closest friends there, Juana. And what would the likelihood be that Juana used to live in Chongqing and was originally from Fuling? (Which is a stop on the way to Qianjiang.) Or that subsequently she would end up divorcing her husband and moving back to China? Or that she had no clue that children were being abandoned and that SWI were filled to capacity?

I quickly brought Juana up to speed and gave her the 411 on my adoption journey and shared my dreams to someday to travel back to China to check out Qianjiang, the city from which Makena was purportedly from. She was fascinated and quickly offered to be my guide should this dream materialize. And fast forward to November 11, here we are.
(First class, soft sleeper, cabin: 139 yuen, one way. Book all for seats in case you don't want to share with a stranger and make sure it is non-smoking.)
(Chongqing rail station at 7AM)
FYI: Even though I had my friend with me, figuring out how to get to the right track in the correct departure hall and going through security was intense so I recommend extremely light packing for the train ride.

One of the rivers that feeds the Three Gorges Dam and the expressway that now links Qianjiang to the big times.
I always tell myself when I meet people for the first time and find a strong connection to them that there is always a reason. That is the case for Juana who essentially gave up two days of her weekend to embark on an adventure with me to a town she had never visited even though it is a couple of hours away by train. Thanks to her college connections and for wanting me to get as much out of the trip as possible, she called on friends to help us find a guide and a driver so that we could trip around town.

(My guides, courtesy of the school of tourism.)
(Footage of the drive through town on a Saturday morning.)

(A young woman rehydrating seaweed which is used in all soups.)
I really felt like I had stepped off the reservation when my entourage took me to lunch in a nondescript hole in the wall. To date, all my dining experiences in China in trips past and present were in cavernous glittery five star culinary extravaganzas. Here, I was being led into a windowless cinderblock room with a big round table at the center of which stood a bowl of steaming hot soup. I was being hosted at a farmer's restaurant where all veggies served were straight off his farm and everything was fresh. 
As an aside, I had until that very moment been a vegetarian for the last three years. Juana, pretty much told me that those days were over and that I needed to try everything. You pretty much can't pass on the pork when the poor pig was slaughtered in honor of your arrival. Times like these are usually when  I start praying silently to my digestive gods hoping that Montezuma is seeking vengeance on some other continent. So I took the tiniest bite of it,  almost gagged over the tripe, tasted a sliver of something beefy looking and took a mouthful of something that looked like squid. When I inquired as to the provenance of said protein, no one would or could tell me. The best surprise though were the potatoes that made an appearance halfway through the meal. Qianjiang is a mountainous region and many varieties are grown here. They even fry them up and serve them mixed in with the rice. I do have to fess up that once I got over the visuals and the scent of spices I had never smelled before, that the food was really delicious. I even impressed my hosts by moving a chicken talon aside in the bowl and plucking some yam noodles out with my chopsticks. They were seriously stunned that I could eat with them.
My first and immediate goal was to get to Makena's finding place. I had combed Brian Stuy's  website for pictures of it but never found one and I was really concerned that, as time went by, the city would change due to the massive construction push all over the country. I wasn't wrong.
(We stopped in a store so that I could purchase some tape for a poster of Makena's life that I intended to leave at the finding site.)
(As expected, and after three different attempts made to locate the Bojiawan gas station, we finally found it. At least, what was left of it. A primary school now stood in its place.)
It took my breath away, I was really emotional and conscious that everyone was watching me. Strangers curious about this white woman who really needed to get a picture of a gas station. I had to try to make them understand that one day my daughter would ask me questions about her beginnings and that I wouldn't really have any answers for her other than what I was able to gather for her now. In the very least she would know that mom moved heaven and earth to go in search of some facts to weave into the fabric of her life before the trail grew cold.
(This wall was part of the original gas station complex. I leaned there for a long time. I felt like this was my great wall and that it stood between me and Makena's past. Prettier shot than a gas pump.)

I put together a poster letting whoever know that in November of 2005 a little girl was found here and that she was later adopted by an American family, that she was bright and beautiful and very much loved by all who knew her. My guide translated everything into Mandarin while my driver shot a lot of pictures. I'm fairly certain that although he never said two words to me, that he spoke fluent English and reported everything back to higher up.  So much for keeping a low profile in Qianjiang.
(We left the poster at the entrance to the school along with an email address to contact us with any info about Makena.)

Just before we were to leave, a woman showed up at the school. She was the new director of the Qianjiang SWI that was being constructed. The director of the school of tourism had called her and told her where I was and basically ordered her to hightail over to me and give me a tour of the old orphanage. So our group left in a convoy of automobiles and drove up into the hills to a pink building overlooking the city. It had been closed since September and all the remaining children were now relocated to Chongqing. As hard as she tried, the director could not unlock the door so we went up the back stairwell and poked around with limited access. 
(View from the rooftop.)
(The empty kitchen.)
(A peek through the bars and I caught a glimpse of the profiles of the last of the children who were there before moving to Chongqing.)
According to the director, the new SWI will house retirees as wells as children but she was not clear on when the new facility would open. We bid farewell with the promise of staying in touch and then headed back to the hotel where I soon found out that the bill had been taken care of by the school of tourism. I was officially their guest. And although I insisted and waived my credit card around, Juana just told me let things be. That this was the Chinese way and that protesting too much would be insulting. So I backed off, thanked all present for their hospitality and headed up to my room for a well-needed rest until dinner. I still had a lot of to-do's I needed to check off my list before leaving the next day; namely get a name for the woman who was pictured holding Makena in her arms in early photos of her and take photographs of a young burn victim who my friend Cherry from Beijing had lined up surgery for in Australia. And so far, so good, my stomach was still holding up.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I came, I saw, I'm back.

Men at work?
In front of one of the Long men caves in Luoyang (UNESCO world heritage site.)

I just realized that if you don't want to age then you should always try to cross the date line the day before your birthday and land the day after. I plan on doing so again next year, and the year after, and the year after that and remaining forty-something, forever!

-The Mending Crew-
So many emotions factored into getting ready for this trip. One, I would be leaving my six-year old for almost two weeks when the last time I was going to China was to bring her home. Two, I would be spending a week in a hospital-like care facility with over a hundred and forty orphans most of whom had physical disabilities and, three, the Mending Kids coordinator was asking me to document the mission - which was okay technically since I am a grad of the American Film Institute but as a director, not a cinematographer. I felt a lot of pressure building up on many fronts. Here we were, fifteen volunteers traveling to China: two surgeons, an anesthesiologist, two scrub nurses, three pre-op/post-op nurses, three MKI staff and four moms with varying degrees of volunteering skills and experiences. Seriously, I thought that I would be burping kids and singing songs and rolling around on the floor with them.

I didn't realize that I would end up in  the operating theater filming the surgeries without passing out or throwing up for hours on end. On another more profound level, I was scared at what my reaction might be to these kids with special needs. Could I connect with them? Would they interact with me?  I, and most everyone of my friends have been blessed with healthy kids (knock on wood) who have no reallyapparent physical disabilities. I've seen kids with disabilities, we all have, but in the past I would be careful not to stare. I'd shoot a quick glance and avert my gaze. Aware but detached. And I know this reads horribly but the truth is I really hadn't spent any quantifiable time trying to get to know anyone and I had no clue about how to behave.

All of this changed over the course of a lightening emotion-in check packed week. I met three kids in particular who touched me profoundly, whose personalities bore a hole into my heart and whose faces and laughter remain there since I had to say goodbye.  This isn't to say that there weren't other babies and toddlers I had to get a daily hug or snuggle with - like Seth who we all fought over to hold and carry and who came off the train from Xian late in the week with a travel buddy who was in dire need of life-saving surgery, or Theo, a little boy who would never walk, who scooted around the room following me and insisting that I carry on with him.

Seth's travel buddy recovering from surgery.
Three little girls: Jaelynn, Jessica and Fallon are the ones whose faces still shine bright when I close my eyes. All any of these children wanted was to be seen and to be heard and to be understood for who they were and not what their bodies were misleading. I'm embarrassed to say that it really wasn't hard at all to get down on the floor and hold their hands and laugh and play. These little ambassadors made me realize that I could have the emotional strength to parent a special needs' child. And don't think that I didn't come home wanting to fast-track them into my life, permanently. The reality is that I just can't right now. I have to get back on my feet and help provide for the two kids that make up the rest of my heart and soul and unless the adoption laws change in China soon, I would have to be married for five years at least and, oh yeah, this future imaginary husband would have to also want to do the same and,oh yeah, I am not so sure that I want to ever walk down that road again. Certainly not after having a taste of what having taking control of the remote like. I'm selfish that way.

The only alternative I have in the short run is to become an advocate for two of these girls (see blog links below.)  So if you read posts on the Chinese family groups advocating for a girl with spinabifida or another one with CP, you will know that it comes from yours truly.

Also, part of my other tasks as an MKI volunteer was to blog about our experiences. We did this by sending an email to the PR person in L.A. who then transcribed/edited and posted them into the blog. The links are posted below. I am trying not to repeat myself, which I find almost impossible but in any case, the links also give you access to some of the pictures that I took and sent off. Some of which may also be repeated in this post.

You lose a sense of time when you are present and involved, but time did in deed move forward and at the end of the week, thanks to Mending Kids and the surgeons, doctors and nurses of Cedars Sinai, Los Angeles,  eleven surgeries had been performed (10 boys, 1 girl) and all those children will now become eligible for adoption and hopefully be matched to families somewhere in the world, soon.


unexpected visitors

How do you say goodbye?

Is onto the next mission...

My new Facebook ID