Our visit with Karen
Updated: Apr 10, 2018
After a wonderful day with Melany in Cartagena, Ward and I headed down to Barranquilla to visit Karen. She's a little newer to the family; we started sponsoring her last May. Our day started at her community center (more on that part of the day in another post). After visiting the center, we got in the van to head to Karen's house. She lives in a neighborhood with dirt streets so small that a couple of times, it didn't seem like the van was going to be able to squeeze through. We eventually made it, though, and Karen was at the door anxiously waiting for us. She had set up a beautiful table for us with lots of decorations, Colombian candy, and messages written on small pieces of poster board for us.
Karen gave both of us huge hugs. She kept telling us how excited she was, and how she couldn't believe we would travel so far just to see her. She opened her gift bag, then pulled us into her room to show us the new bed and wardrobe we provided for her a few months ago. When Ward complimented her room, she told us that it isn't much, but it's what God has given her and she's thankful for it. We also went into the back yard to see the bathroom (which is listed as an open field in her report (we were at least a little relieved to see that the open field in question is essentially her back yard, and there's a curtain around the area for privacy) and what Karen's mom called the kitchen, while laughing. Although the family report says that they have an electric burner for cooking, we were shown the remnants of a fire pit in the back yard. Yolanda (Karen's mom) told us that they were planning to build an actual enclosed room onto the back of the house for their kitchen at some point. We've since inquired with Children International and sent the funds, and their kitchen could be being built at this very moment! (We're also hoping to be able to provide a bathroom for their home in the year before Karen graduates from CI. Want to help? Let me know, or stay tuned for more information down the road!)
The whole time we were at Karen's home, more and more people came in to see us. Many of them were relatives, including a sister we didn't know about! Karen also has nephews and a niece, who we got to meet briefly. Before we left the house, Yolanda opened her gift, an 8x10 photo collage with Karen's CI pictures. I really couldn't even begin to do justice to the reaction to the gift - she was stunned, she cried, everyone in the room gasped... it was really something to see an item so basic to us have such a huge impact. During that same time, Karen ran into her room and came out with a small gift box that she gave to me, with a pair of earrings inside. Each time one of our sponsored families gives us a gift, it is absolutely one of the most humbling experiences of my life, to be presented with a gift from someone who has so little.
After we finished visiting at Karen's home, we headed out for shopping and lunch. Karen sat next to me in the van, and part of the way there, suddenly took off the pair of earrings she was wearing and gave those to me as well, which left me speechless.
Karen was every bit as sweet in person as she has been in her letters. From the minute we got out of the van for shopping, she barely let go of my arm all day. At the mall, we started at one of the standard big box stores, where the family mainly purchased groceries and a fan. We decided to go to the food court for lunch before continuing our shopping expedition (and it really was an expedition - I really have to hand it to Juan, our interpreter, for hanging in there through the marathon that was our visit!). During lunch, we learned that Karen's HOPE scholarship (awarded through Children International) will cover the tuition for her entire cosmetology program, which will likely take about a year and a half - we were so happy to hear that! She wants to become a nail technician, and people from her neighborhood already come to her house to have her do their nails. She started classes at the end of February.
The conversation slowed down while we were eating, but then I looked up and realized that Ward and Karen were busy making goofy faces at each other. Then he started putting his hat on her while she gave him different poses with it - it turns out she's a total goofball! From then on, they were pretty much inseparable, and she spent the rest of the day with one of us on each of her arms. At one point, Karen and Ward even attempted salsa dancing while we were in line at another store! :-)
By the end of the day, we had done the pre-lunch shopping, stopped at a sporting goods store to get her a good soccer ball (which she asked us to sign for her in the van), gone next door for clothes, a new blanket and sandals, and then back to the mall to get tons of nail supplies for her. I think all of our faces hurt by then from so much laughing and smiling. Both Karen and her mom were such wonderful people, and saying goodbye to them was very difficult. We said our goodbyes at the edge of their neighborhood so our driver didn't have to negotiate the tiny streets again, and loaded them and their purchases into a sort of tuk-tuk. As they started to pull away, Ward ran over and dropped his hat onto Karen's head. She gave him a look like she had known all along that he was going to end up giving it to her, almost like really he had been the one borrowing HER hat all day, and then they were gone.
I think it's safe to say that Karen has Ward pretty firmly wrapped around her adorable little finger, and we're already talking about how to fit in another visit before she graduates next year. Having Ward with me for a couple of visits was pretty awesome, since all of our visits so far have been just me. Although he has always been on board and supportive, he's seeing it in a whole new way now that he's experienced all of this firsthand.
And the cherry on top of the whole perfect day? When we got to our hotel for the night, I logged into the CI website and found a new annual photo for Karen. Where her picture from the previous year looked like she was carrying a burden far too heavy for her young age, the girl we spent the day with came shining through in the new one: joyful and a little goofy.