“The friendship and the intensive guidance…”

Ever since our son Max was about 6 years old he asked us questions about his background and about why and how he was adopted. But we couldn’t help him very well as the only information we had for him were the name of his birth mother and approximately her age. And although Max spent a happy youth with us, only going through the ups and downs that every person experiences when growing up, we sensed that there was this void in his life that we just couldn’t fill. One thing though, we have always promised him: as soon as he would become 18 we would travel to Colombia with the whole family to find his roots.

When his 18th birthday came nearer Max kept asking if we thought we would find his birth mother, and because we didn’t want to give him any false hope we always said “no, we don’t think so, but we are going to try our best”. Of course we had searched the Internet for the name of his Colombian mother and for organizations that could help. We searched in Spanish and in English (since we live in Canada). In vain. We never thought of searching in Dutch. Not until one week before departure we found the website of Colombia Tu Pais, in Dutch! We quickly made contact and Gyna started to do some work for us. But at the same time she worked with an other family, who had booked her services before us, and who were her first priority. Gyna, however, told us not to worry. “If I can’t travel with you my boyfriend will accompany you on your trip, while I do the searching from Bogota. In fact we were a little concerned that her boyfriend would lack the experience that she obviously had (a feeling of which we now are quite ashamed).

Finally, after all these years of waiting, we travelled to Colombia. We would have loved to take both our other son and our daughter (who are not adopted) with us, to learn more about the background of their younger brother, but unfortunately our other son could not take time off from school and work, so we went with the four of us. As soon as we were in Colombia and had met Gyna and her boyfriend Diego we felt a lot better. From the very first meeting we got along very well and we were certain that we would be getting professional help. Although Gyna had not found any information for us we started our journey, with Diego, to all the places of which we knew Max had been there as a baby. Diego and Gyna booked appointments for us, so we wouldn’t find any closed doors. Our first visit was to the CRAN children’s home, where Max had only been one day of his life, to be handed over to us. We were received most friendly and professionally. The psychologist of the home received us in her office and opened a file of which we didn’t know it existed. We strongly hoped that that file would uncover new information, but nothing new was reveiled. The meeting with the psychologist and the tour of the home still made us feel good about this visit. After this event we travelled to Max’s birthplace Villavicencio. We tried to absorb everything: the beauty of this country, the poverty, the friendliness of its people! We sensed that Max was becoming more anxious and we understood what he was going through: somewhere here, between all these people, could be his mother! We stayed a few days in a hotel in Villlavicencio and searched the town every day, while Gyna kept searching from Bogota. We paid a visit to the local children’s welfare centre and the hospital where Max was born. Again we were given all the attention we could hope for, plus a tiny bit of new information: Max’s mother had lived in Acacias, a small town near Villavicencio, but had come to Villavicencio to give birth. And in the hospital a birthfile was opened from which we learned that Max was born by cesarean section on May 16 and not on May 10. Even more importantly we found the exact birthdate of his mother! That was vital information for Gyna.

The absolute highlight of the visit to Villavicencio was the visit that we paid to the foster family that had taken care of Max from his birth until he was 6 months old. Because we had visited them 18 years ago when we had just received Max we could find their house again with some effort. We found the street and after asking around a bit we also found the house. Diego and Max went ahead and knocked on the door. The door was opened by a little old man, who looked up to Max in amazement and exclaimed: “Juan Camilo!” This man had, together with his wife (who had passed away a few years ago), cared for 22 babies in 14 years. Very lovingly as we understood from the fact that they had taken pictures of all the children and the fact that this man still remembered Max. We spent the afternoon with this man and his son, going through the pictures and talking about what they remembered about Max.  Feeling warm inside of all these new impressions we travelled to Acacias the next day, meanwhile agreeing that if Max wouldn’t find his biological family on this trip, we would still be able to look back on a wonderful experience. And that we would come back next year to try again.

If you are on a mission as important as this and you are accompanied by someone as sensible, understanding, tactful, kind and ever friendly as Diego, than you know you are blessed and that whatever is going to happen the overall experience is going to be positive. From the very start Diego was one of us. And the fact that he speaks English fluently and Gyna speaks Dutch fluently helps tremendously of course. Diego was our guide and interpreter from early in the morning until bedtime.

But no matter where we asked in Acacias, at the baptismal register of the largest church, people in the street and even through a radio broadcast by Diego (!), Max’s family were nowhere to be found. When our stay in Acacias was coming to an end en we were about to give up hope, the unexpected happened. We, father, mother, son Max and daughter were having breakfast when Diego joined us and said: “Brace yourselves! I just talked to Gyna on the phone. She has great news for you. Max, she found your mother.” He wanted to tell us more, but he had to wait for a while. We were too emotional. Tears streamed, we hugged and held each other and we were just speachless. Some people find their family after months of searching. For some it takes years. And a few may never find the ones they are looking for.And Gyna managed to succeed in a bit over two weeks. Carefully Diego told us everything he had heard from Gyna. She had found two women of the same name and age and soon she had discovered that one of them was Max’s birth mother. And she even discovered that Max had a younger sister. Diego could even tell us that the sister’s name was either Mayra or Natalia. We were absolutely speachless, because for years Max had hoped and even sensed that he had a little sister!

During all the preparations for this whole enterprise and during the entire trip we, the adoption parents, had had a torturing fear: “What if we found his mother and she wanted to have nothing to do with Max, what if she lived a life we didn’t want to confront our son with, what if she was no longer alive? But all those fears were quickly taken away. The Colombian mom had, when Gyna told her that her son was looking for her, immediately insisted that she must see him. Gyna must promise her that she would see her son!

From this memorable breakfast we had to act quickly. We travelled back to Bogota and from there to the South, as Max’s relatives live near Cali in the province Valle de Cauca. So many new, and positive impressions overwhelmed us in the days to come. Gyna joined us again in Bogota and told us everything she had discovered. Max did not have one but two younger sisters: Mayra of 14 and Natalia of 8! An uncle, who had raised Max’s mother when she was a child, had travelled to Bogota to meet Max, while his wife travelled 12 hours per bus to Max’s mother. The meeting with the uncle was warm and heartfelt.  Thank goodness we speak a little bit of Spanish and Max manages quite well after 18 months of intensive lessons; we had a lot to ask. And of course Gyna and Diego were there to translate for us. The next day we headed south and stayed the night in a hotel. Not one of us could really sleep. The next day would be the big day. After breakfast, of which Max ate nothing, we got into two taxis and drove to the given address.

To write down our experiences is really impossible, the emotions that ran through us cannot be described. Nor can we describe how we felt. When we arrived at the given address Max and his mother flung themselves into each other’s arms and held each other for minutes, crying and crying. We only looked at them and at first didn’t notice that the house was decorated with banners and balloons. Two aunts and two shy little sisters hugged us and kissed us, while Max and his Colombian mother looked, touched, stroked and cried, cried, cried. It lasted half an hour, maybe an hour until we could finally talk. Poor Diego, who had worked so hard all these days, now again he had to translate long stories from both sides. All the questions that Max had had were finally answered and also his refound mother had a lot of questions to ask. Wasn’t Max angry with her, did we, his new parents really want to see her, didn’t we think she was a bad person?  We were able to make her feel better about all these issues and spent a wonderful relaxed afternoon together. The cake was eaten, presents unwrapped, stories told.

After this great day we only had two more days to spend with these dear people. We met more family: uncles and aunts, and an old grandmother, one full day we spent at the hotel, where Max swam in the pool with his big sister and two little sisters. And one day we spent in the zoo in Cali. We enjoyed every minute of each other’s presence and of all the new impressions. Max wouldn’t leave his refound mom and his little sisters for one second. We made pictures of them and admired their resemblance. And we knew that all this would come to an end. The last day in the South we all felt depressed. But Diego, our personal psychologist, said “No this is not a fare well, you must see this as the beginning of a whole new life.” And of course he was right. After one more day in Bogota to say good-bye to Gyna and Diego we travelled back home.

Our telephone bills prove that Max has stayed in touch. After all there was this gap of 18 years he had to fill. He’s bonding well with his refound family. His Colombian mother is friendly and wise. Her wish is that Max will study hard and be an example for his sisters. And Max loves his sisters. Money needs to be earned and saved and very soon, possibly already this year, Max will go back to Colombia.

Would this adventure have looked much different without Diego and Gyna? We would have visited Colombia, and, since we are adventurous, it would have been quite a trip. We would have visited official institutes, such as the hospital, and we would have found the foster father. But very soon we would have come to a dead end.

However, that they helped us find Max’s relatives is not the only thing we are greatful for, no matter how important. Above all we are greatful to Gyna and Diego for their professionalism, their psychological insight, the friendship and the intensive guidance. These two people give so much. Much more than we would have dared to ask. They offer unpaid aftercare. Diego and Gyna have both kept in touch with Max, have given him advice, showed him they were involved.

We can never thank them enough!