• Jess

Final (official) visit with Melany

The main reason for this trip to Cartagena—my second in 2018—was to see Melany one last time before she graduates from CI. (And when I say before, I mean RIGHT before, because apparently CI flipped that switch about 10 minutes after I checked out of my hotel.) She and her family have been so special to us for the past couple of years, and I suddenly realized, right before the cutoff to request the visit, that I really wasn’t okay with letting the opportunity pass.

Carolay and I met Melany and her mom at the community center this morning for just long enough to exchange gifts. Melany and Carlina gave me a cute keychain in the shape of a cat, a lighter holder, a pretty picture with flowers on it, a balloon, and a gorgeous matching plate and bowl. I brought framed 5x7 prints of two of my favorite CI pictures of Melany for her mom, and some books, a necklace with matching earrings, and a couple of mosaics that I made for Melany.

From the community center, we went to do a short home visit. I’ve been to their home once before, but since then Ward and I have done a couple of bigger EGs to fund projects that I was excited to be able to see in person. I was able to see their new washing machine and a special sewing machine that Carlina can use for her home-based business as a seamstress. I haven’t gotten the EG report back yet on the sewing machine, so I was especially happy to get to see it in person.

After the home visit (which also gave Melany and Carlina an opportunity to drop off their gifts), we headed back downtown to the walled city to walk around. We started out at a bookstore and café, Abaco, which I highly recommend to anyone who happens to find themselves in Cartagena. My main activity request was to take Melany book shopping, which was really our graduation gift to her. She ended up with quite a haul! The first time she asked me how many books she could get, I just shrugged (I’m not great with setting a budget, and even less when it comes to books). The second time she asked me, I counted how many she was already holding, then added three. She ultimately ended up three over that number and was choosing which ones to put back, and when she did, I realized that she was putting back all books that she had chosen, but keeping everything I had suggested. Well, then I started to worry that she felt like she had to keep the ones I suggested… so you guessed it, we got them all. Go big or go home, right? And it was our last hurrah – she’s only going to graduate once!

From the bookstore, we headed over to lunch. We ended up at a place that Ward and I found on our last trip to Cartagena. We talked a little, but mostly focused on the food. (Side note: if you go to Colombia, I don't care how hot it is outside, you MUST try the ajiaco soup. It’s worth risking heat stroke.) Melany updated me on her English classes, which have been going well. She also recently got her technical certificate from business school, which is a pretty big accomplishment – we’re very proud of our college girl!

After lunch, we went next door to the chocolate museum. We sampled a few things in the store, then went upstairs to look at the museum. I think the highlight was the pile of what looked like dirty pencil shavings, sitting next to a sign instructing us not to eat them. I know I’ve always found pencil shavings pretty enticing, so it was tough to resist, but somehow I managed…

We walked around a little more and eventually found ourselves sitting down for gelato. And oh my, what gelato it was. Ward and I sampled a few different places last time we were there, because believe me, when you’re in a place that’s routinely hotter than the surface of the sun, you have a LOT of options for frozen treats, but none of them compared to this. I had a strawberry cone, and if I could have taken a bath in that stuff, I would have seriously considered it. No offense to our favorite place in our neighborhood, but this was hands down the best I’ve ever had.

…and then it was time to say goodbye. It was such a hard one. I was very hopeful, confident even, that Melany would want to stay in touch post-graduation. And yet I know that things will also be different. I can’t wave my magic wand for her the way I’ve been able to until now. Somehow I’m going to have to make the shift from sponsor to friend and mentor. We said a very, very emotional goodbye in the gelato shop. I tried to sum up, in three minutes or less, what a fantastic young woman I think Melany is, how much we have loved being her sponsors, and how fortunate we thing she is to have such a great, dedicated, supportive mom. When I finished, her mom reached across the table, took both of my hands, and just looked at me with tears in her eyes for a couple of minutes. Then she thanked me for my involvement with Melany, and for caring so much about her and for everything over the past couple of years. Melany also said her thank you and farewell, and we parted ways.

And then, my friends, to tell you everything… I went back to my hotel and had a good cry. I love all of our sponsored girls so much, but there are a few who have a really special place in my heart, and Melany is definitely one of them.

P.S. The next day, I packed up to head home. I logged into my CI account from the airport during my layover in Panama and discovered that Melany had already been removed, which I was expecting soon, although maybe not quite THAT quickly. But then, lo and behold, I signed into my Facebook account… and there was a friend request from her! And so I am very, very happy to share that I am now able to be in touch with Melany as much as she and I would like to chat, thanks to the magic of Facebook and Google Translate. It will definitely take a little time to get used to not being her sponsor, but I hope that this is only the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

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