Visit with Carolina and Lizeth
On Monday I spent the day with Lizeth and Carolina in Quito, Ecuador. Ward and I have sponsored Lizeth for a year and a half, and Carolina for just over a year. The day started at Children International’s administrative office in Quito, since the community centers here are closed on Mondays. Carolina and her mother were running late due to very heavy traffic, so I visited with Lizeth for a little while. We got a short tour of the offices, and I met some of the people who translate my many letters to the girls. (They told me they were very excited to hear that I was coming to visit after seeing so many of my letters come through the office!)
Carolina and her mom made it to the office a little over an hour after we were originally scheduled to meet, and Carolina came right over to me and gave me a big hug. She and Lizeth opened their gifts and seemed very happy with them. They both seemed especially excited about the photo albums and the Strong is the New Pretty books, and Lizeth was very happy with her drawing supplies. The girls’ moms also really enjoyed the photo collages.
From the office, we headed to the cable car (teleferico). The girls and their moms had never been there before, so it was a new experience for everyone except Maria, our CI interpreter. We got our tickets, and then made a quick bathroom stop. While we were waiting for people to come back from the bathroom, I was trying to think of a way to break the ice a little with Lizeth, who was very reserved. Thinking of Ward and Karen in Barranquilla, I took my hat out of my purse and dropped it on her head. She immediately pulled it down to settle it into place and gave me a smile.
The ride up the mountain was very peaceful. It took a little over 15 minutes. The views were amazing. It was very quiet inside the car. Every time we passed through one of the poles, though, there was a bit of a bump and a loud noise, and Carolina in particular was very startled. After the first couple of times, it was pretty funny to see her jump. She sat next to me on the way up and held onto my arm.
Once we got to the top, we got out of the cable car and hiked for a bit. I always forget just how much of an impact high altitude has! We were at about 13,000 feet, and it really hit me hard. The view was amazing, though. We could see all of Quito stretching out below us from one side, and rolling hills on another. Maria pointed out some of the volcanoes (hopefully I don’t bring them the same luck I brought Guatemala in May!), and we all chatted about various things. I learned that like me, neither of the girls can swim. Lizeth, also like me, has no real desire to learn to swim and doesn’t especially like to be in the water, but Carolina would love to learn. (Do I hear a future EG inquiry?)
After a while, it was time to head back to the cable cars and to the van so that we could get some lunch. During lunch, we were able to do a short video chat with Ward so that he could say hi to the girls, which was great! It took a while to figure out how to get a good enough internet connection to make it work, but once we did, they really seemed to enjoy getting to see him for a few minutes. They got a little tongue-tied, but afterwards they were very giggly. I really hope he’s able to come with me next time to meet Carolina – she’s such an affectionate kid, and I think they’d really hit it off. (Lizeth is graduating later this year, so it's pretty unlikely we'd be able to come back in time for him to meet her.)
After lunch, it was time to take Carolina and her mom home. On the way there, I was able to get answers to some of my questions about Lizeth’s schooling. She is essentially in semester zero of university right now, where she is taking all prerequisite classes. If she passes all of them, she will start classes that count toward her actual degree program in the next semester. She will be studying biochemistry and pharmacy because Ecuador does not have a program in forensic medicine, which is what she really wanted to study. She is studying in the largest public university in Quito, and while university attendance is free in Ecuador, there are still costs for books. We hope to be able to help her out with that for her first semester, before she graduates from CI, but won't really be able to do much more than that as things currently stand, since we won't be sponsoring her anymore after the end of this year.
When we arrived at Carolina’s house, there were two kids playing outside, a boy and a girl. They were pounding on rocks with a hammer. It turned out that one of them was Carolina’s 7 year old niece, who lives with her family. Her niece came over to us and gave me a fist bump! We all went inside and sat down, and Carolina’s mom promptly disappeared. We talked for a little while, and another of Carolina’s nieces, Camilla, appeared. She was much younger than the first niece. After a while, Carolina’s mom reappeared, bringing everyone big plates of fruit and whipped cream.
After we had our dessert, it was time to say goodbye. We took some pictures with the whole family, exchanged lots of hugs, and prepared to part ways. But not before Carolina’s family gave me a huge bag of fruit – it had to weigh at least 15 pounds! It was so kind of them. There were tons of bananas, some oranges, and an entire cantaloupe in the bag. (I ended up taking a few things to snack on and leaving the rest with Maria and Jimmy, since I won't be able to bring it through customs into the US.)
We then said our goodbyes, which were difficult, but I’m also confident that I’ll see Carolina again. She’s currently 14 years old, which means we hopefully have 5 more years with her before she graduates from CI, and I’m very hopeful that I’ll make it back to see her again in that time. Carolina is also participating in the Sponsor Connect video exchange program with us, which allows us to exchange short video messages with her through CI every few months. I love that we’re getting so many opportunities to strengthen our bond with her through sponsorship. She was very affectionate and outgoing throughout my visit with her, holding onto my arm for almost the entire day, and it was such a pleasure to be with her.
After saying goodbye to Carolina’s family, we got back in the van to take Lizeth and her mom home. It turned out that Lizeth lives nowhere near Carolina, so we had a pretty long drive to get to the second house. Once we were down to just one family, I was able to get a bit of an update on Lizeth’s health. She has a condition that, while not life-threatening, causes her a lot of pain when not treated properly. She said that her treatment is still working well, although its purpose is to prevent the disease from advancing rather than to cure it. She has to go to the doctor every two weeks for checkups! She seems to be staying very positive, though.
We didn’t have as much time to visit at Lizeth’s house, but I’m very glad I got to see it. Her family lives partway up a very steep hill. A number of extended family members live in the other houses around hers. Her home has more space than a lot of the other CI homes I’ve visited. I was able to meet her entire family, including her father – a rarity on these visits! I also met both of her sisters and her brother. I was given two bouquets of flowers and some hazelnut chocolates that I’m very excited to try, and Lizeth’s mom put out Ritz crackers and orange juice for us. Lizeth had other plans, though, and pulled me back to see her room.
Lizeth was very excited to show me the mini-fridge that she bought with an EG that I sent a few months ago. The family doesn’t have a refrigerator in their home, but her medication has to be kept refrigerated. As a result, she had been keeping it in a neighbor’s house and going next door every time she needed it. Now, she’s able to store it properly in her own bedroom in the mini-fridge, which is used exclusively for that purpose.
While Lizeth was showing me some of my letters and cards that she’s kept, her little brother, Nicolas, kept interrupting to tell us about the many stray puppies he’s brought home. At the moment, they have four! Apparently he has something of a reputation for this in the family. He would fit right in with my family, where we’ve never met a stray animal we didn’t want to take in (frequently regardless of species). Ward and I have a sponsorship family built entirely around girls right now, but something tells me meeting Nicolas may have put us on the path to changing that…
Eventually it was time to say another goodbye. This was one especially difficult not only because it meant getting back down the hill we climbed when we arrived at the home, but also because Lizeth will turn 19 in September, which means that she will graduate from CI’s program around the end of this year. She and I both went into this visit knowing that it would quite possibly be the only time we get to see each other. It made the goodbyes tougher, but overall I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the day with her. She is a bright, determined, focused young woman, and I’m confident she’s going to go on to do great things. She has impressed me from her very first letter a year and a half ago, when she told me that she wanted to study either forensic medicine or mechatronic engineering, forcing me to go online and figure out what mechatronic engineering IS. In the short time that I’ve known her, I’ve seen her pick herself up and overcome disappointment and adversity and keep trying to go after what she wants. I have no doubt that she’ll get there, and I’m looking forward to these last few months of getting to be part of her story as her sponsor.