Friday, 27 November 2009

A Grand Search

The one thing I told Leo I wanted to do when in Colombia (besides buy a really cool instrument--I've decided that's what I'm going to collect during my travels around the world--one day I will have a singing bowl from Tibet) was spend a day doing family history work. Ever since I can remember, or at least since I was 10 or 11, I was determined that I was going to be "that aunt," the one that is crazy about family history. And I was actually grateful when I married Leo because then I was able to start from scratch. Yes, I know there's still more I could do on my own family lines, but basically it's just checking for mistakes, and several of my families hire professional genealogists to research more. So with Leo's family it just gives me so many opportunities, it's sweet. Leo's parents were very obliging. More than I could possibly ever thank them for. They took us first to Subachoque. It's a fun name to say and a BEAUTIFUL place. Really, I think it was one of my favorite places we visited in Colombia. First of all, it's where they grow all the flowers (70% of the United States imported flowers are from Colombia). There were acres and acres of greenhouses, and the countryside around them, well think Southern California but more green and only an occasional hacienda. These were some of the nicest houses I've seen in Colombia too. I mean the picturesque walled haciendas that look like they came straight from colonial Spain. Martha's (my mother-in-law) father is from that area. Subachoque itself was lovely. It had the Spanish plaza and the church you can see below which was built in 1774. The plaza had been turned into a garden and all the houses were sooo old but so nicely kept up. Such a contrast from Bogota where everything is grimy and graffiti covered. I felt like I should be on a movie set. Well, Martha took me to the little office beside the church where the parish records are kept and within minutes we had copies of her father's baptismal record. All in all, I think we added back 3 generations (not with all the dates, but at least the names give us a place to start from) and we were able to obtain one whole family with all their children. Martha gave me some place names of where I can look for more information too that she had never mentioned before. Unfortunately, one of those, Pacho, is completely unsafe right now, and while it probably has a great deal of family records, there's no way a gringa like me could go there. It wouldn't even be safe for Leo or his parents. Ruff. Stupid guerillas, way to get in the way of family history. This is the house Martha's father, Benito, lived in. Yes, it is a house too, just with shops connected on all sides. I was happy too because Martha seemed really happy to visit there as well. Then we had a long drive to Utica, the very pretty town you see above. I didn't like it quite as much as Subachoque, but in Subachoque it had been in the pleasant 70 degree range and we were dressed appropriately for that. In Utica it was a searing 100 degrees and high humidity and we were NOT dressed appropriately. Plus, it was a LONG, LONG car drive. Think a small 1980's Mazda with room for five, but instead packed with 7 people, no air conditioning, and gravel/dirt roads quite a bit of the way. We passed a lot of people on burros and leading pack horses on that road--ok, we passed even more on motorbikes, but still. Needless to say, we were all a bit tired and grumpy that afternoon. Oh, and did I mention Isabel had been sick and was running a fever the whole time? Once there, Leo took the kids to buy them something to cool down. Oh, that was the other reason I think I liked Utica less, in Subachoque we weren't quite as gawked at. In Utica, it is such a small town and so remote, we were stared at the entire time and not friendly stares. Anyway, Martha and I walked up to the parish record office only to discover it was closed that day. Ouch. However, we knocked and the lady was kind enough to be understanding and helped us find the information anyway. The priest came in too, wearing gym shorts and high-necked white t-shirt. It was all a bit surreal. We were able to get Martha's mother's baptismal record, or at least I scribbled down the info from it--there were no copy machines and an ancient computer. I took the above picture too. In Subachoque, they had the original books too, but they also had it all computerized and they just printed us out a copy of all the records we asked for, plus they could search easily for other related family members. Not so in Utica. She wanted the exact names and dates, and so the only thing else we were able to obtain was Martha's parents' marriage record. But that did give us several generations back of names (without dates) that we hadn't had before. The clerk found for us the record of Martha's grandfather's baptismal record, or at least she found where it should have been. Yeah, that's the book, in the picture above. It had been eaten through by something, and some pages were so completely faded the text was indiscernible. She went through page by page, but never found his actual record. Ruff. And then, like I said, she wanted exact names and dates, and since we didn't have anything else (why oh why didn't I take the list of siblings???!?!?) that was all we could get. But again, at least it gave us more to go on. Here are some more pictures from around Utica. One day I need to go back there without kids for a week and just search through each and every book they have. It made me almost want to cry to see that one book in such decrepit condition--I guess the librarian/historian in me is fairly pronounced. Really, I just wanted to offer to recopy or microfiche or something their records for them. How would that be, me begging, "Please! Let me save your records before it's too late!!!!" Hee. Hee. The priest said they only had the records till 1800 though, before that they were all sent to a center in Bogota. Which led me to look online on, and sure enough, there are several census records and what not from the departmentos (states/provinces/whatever you want to compare it too) that Martha's family is from. So maybe I'll just be searching through those page by page instead. It will still leave a gap, but it's at least another lead to explore. (You know, this is kind of like archaeology in a way--I love it!) So all in all, not a bad day.Then surprise, surprise, I asked Leo's dad to ask his mom for some information. She is not a very forthcoming lady from all I've been told. Her parents had never been married and an aunt had raised her, and she never ever spoke about her parents to anyone. I had been told that, so I had just wrote down some general questions about her for more of a "history" of her (likes/dislikes, favorite games as a child, that sort of thing) rather than to obtain info on her parents or anything else. Well, guess who turned out to be quite the storyteller. Yep. It was great! She is quite a funny lady. For instance, she described herself as spoiled rotten and consequently quite stuck up and mean to all the other girls in town. Hee. Hee. And once she ate 18 soft-boiled eggs (her favorite food) all in one sitting. AND for the first time that Orlando (Leo's dad) had ever heard in his life, she gave us the name of her father, and told us all about him, and the names of his brothers and sisters. Also I found out that she had a brother, which I didn't know before either. Apparently her mother died when she was really young, and then having the two kids was too much for her father and while he stayed involved, he left them to his sister to raise. Her parents had simply never married because they were too poor. That's her (Leo's grandmother) in the picture above, at 18 yrs. old. You can definitely see where Leo and Isabel get their curly hair. Unfortunately, it's just a picture of a photocopied picture, so it's not that clear. But better than nothing, right? This is my last mystery. This is Leo's paternal grandfather. He left the family when Leo's dad was quite young, and while he's been back since then, it was never a good experience. Nobody is willing to even try to get information from him, if they even know where he is anymore. Plus, I don't know if he has any brothers or sisters we could contact instead of him. Crazy. So that line is pretty much at a halt right now. Ruff. Anyway, Leo's Uncle Henry had quite a few photos and I tried to photograph this one with my camera, but as you can see, the results aren't that great. He was nice enough to walk Leo and I to a photocopy place around the corner and photocopy the rest of the pictures too, but this picture that I took is probably better quality. It wasn't the nicest place to go, that's for sure. I also tried to convince Uncle Henry that he should just give the pictures to me, but he just laughed really hard, and commented that my Spanish was really good to Leo. Sigh.

So that was my Grand Search for Family History in Colombia and I couldn't be happier with the results!! Now, I just have so many more questions.....

Second Thoughts

Since I’m still in Colombia and have quite a bit of free time—not as much as you would think though, since Isabel’s been sick and clingy, and before that I had to follow her every move to keep her out of Leo’s aunt’s things—I decided I better write and give some second impressions of Colombia.
Some crazy translations.
First off, a lot of things have cleared up about my husband that I didn’t quite get before. Number One of these was how he always lifted up both the lid AND the seat of the toilet when using the bathroom. I always found this rather weird. Now having been in Colombia several weeks, I understand. MOST toilets here don’t have a lid or a seat, so that would explain why he’s used to that. Second, he insists you need only two squares of toilet paper. Again, I thought this a bit stingy. Why only two? Again, most places in Colombia don’t provide toilet paper or you have to buy it, if not paying to use the toilet all together. Hence, the rationing makes since if you’re only using the sole tissues in your pocket. For the record, I did read an article once that compared the amount of toilet paper Americans use vs. Europeans, and we use quite a bit more on average, (I think it was 5-6 squares vs. 3). I think the study was something to do with conserving resources, if you were wondering.
Also, I’ve noticed in Colombia that the diets here are all carbs and meats. Literally, dinner will be rice, potatoes, meat and arepas (a corn meal thick tortilla). Not a vegetable in sight. However, they do eat a lot of fruits. Leo and I were both craving vegetables by the second week. Yes, even Leo found it a difficult adjustment. They also eat tons of soups, even if it’s extremely hot outside (that would be when we were in Cartagena). Really, if it’s 95 to 100 degrees with extremely high humidity, I don’t want to be eating hot soup. Nor do I want a huge, heavy meal—which is all they make with all the carbs and meat. I don’t want to sound so complaining, and really the food DOES taste good, it’s just a salad seems unheard of here.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that my kids and I are the center of attention wherever we go. The blonde hair more than gives us away as gringas. J And tourists aren’t so common here that people are used to it. At least not in some of the places we’ve been. Leo mocked me every time a car honked when we out walking (which was frequent). Ruff. I’m six months pregnant—it’s ridiculous. And my girls are oohed and ahhed over by everyone. Although I have to admit, I think they’re pretty cute too. It’s also interesting to see the military presence. When leaving Leo’s grandmother’s house one night, the car Cesar (Leo’s brother) was in with some friends was stopped by a couple guys from the military and they were all asked to show their IDs and military IDs. (In Colombia, every male is required to serve in the military for 1 year when 18 yrs old and carry a military ID afterwards stating what branch they served in and other info. You can buy your way out of it, or if you have good connections, be put in a cushier area, otherwise it’s by lottery where you serve, and a certain number get sent to basically be guerilla fodder. Leo’s parents bribed his way out, but he has an ID.) If you don’t have the proper IDs they put you on a truck (it was sitting right in front of their car) and enlist you. Cesar didn’t have anything, plus he never served in the military here, having lived in the States since he was a teen, but luckily they believed him when he said he was living in Arizona and they let him go. Leo’s mother was hyperventilating by that time though.

Some weird looking birds.

Another time, driving back from Santa Marta to Cartagena on a tour bus, our bus was randomly stopped for security checks. They had every male leave the bus and they were all patted down. I thought it a bit silly, because it’s not like they watched them as they left the bus so any one of them would have had time to stash something, and they didn’t search the bus or the women, so again, anything could have been hidden easily. It was kind of funny though because Elena had vomited all over Leo just as the bus was pulling over. He was the last one to leave the bus because we were trying to clean him and Elena up. Anyway, when the guard went to pat him down, he quickly changed his mind and just let him go. I think Leo would have preferred being patted down to the vomit however.

And then during our last day in Cartagena, the president was coming, so there were soldiers everywhere! It’s rather strange to be playing at the beach with soldiers with AK47s strolling by. But then, Presidente Uribe has had the most assassination attempts on his life than any other current president anywhere in the world. Just FYI.

Oh, which reminds me, it is also weird to see a huge billboard of Hugo Chavez as a monkey when driving down the road. Can’t really say I disagree much with that one though.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to post tales of my Grand Search for Family History. Unless someone can tell me where I can read another book online—yes, yesterday I read Midnight Sun online. I swore I’d never touch the Twilight series, but I was desperate for reading material, and my older sister had forced me to watch Twilight with her a couple weeks ago, so it was on my mind. Ruff. I have to say honestly, I have less of a desire to read the rest of the books now and I really don’t care if she finishes Midnight Sun. But I still read it mostly in one sitting, at least as much as possible with Isabel being so sick. She just laid next to me most of the day. Enjoy all those Thanksgiving leftovers for me.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Our flight from Colombia was delayed. Not the airplane. Just OUR flight. When we went through immigration they wouldn't allow us through with Ana. Yeah. Apparently, the States and Colombia do not share reciprocity of laws--so our adoption in the United States of Ana has effectively never happened in Colombia. D.A.S. (the Department of Security--basically the equivelent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) informed us that we would have to get an S4, basically verification by the Supreme Court here that the adoption was actually legal and they said it should take 2 days. So after spending an hour or so waiting for our baggage to be returned, which luckily it was, we were back at Leo's Uncle Omar's house. This was on Sunday so there wasn't much we could do the rest of the day.

The next day Leo called the Supreme Court and they told him and S4 had to be filed by a lawyer and would take 1 year. So then we took the kids to his Aunt Claudia's and following his Uncle Eduardo's advice we went here. The US embassy. Both Leo and I were laughing because we felt it should be like in a movie, running for the gates of the embassy. It wasn't nearly that exciting. However, the lady that helped us was from Mt. Prospect, where we used to live in Illinois. Ironic, eh? She was really nice, and confirmed what DAS had told us. She suggested we get the court adoption order apostille (a way to have legal documents mutually recognized by other countries) and a copy of Ana's foreign born birth certificate (this would be her new birth certificate with our names on it as her parents) and then try to leave with that. We had had her Colombian passport and court adoption order. Or try to get the notary here to change her birth certificate. She even called Vital Records for us in Illinois to see when her birth certificate would be mailed since it was already in process. Amazingly enough it had been mailed to our adoption lawyer, Sheila, last Thursday, and so should have arrived today or by tomorrow. This would all supposedly take 1 week. So then we decided to confirm what she had told us here. At the DAS building in Bogotá. Think of it as the Pentagon in the United States. This is the same building back in 1989 when it was bombed by some revolutionary forces. You can't drive cars down the streets by it anymore--it was a car bomb. Anyway, we sat just inside the entrance and they had some one come down and talk to us. The guy told us that everything the embassy had said was wrong and that none of that would verify the adoption by Colombian law because there isn't reciprocity and that we needed to file an S4. So then we caught a bus to here. Well near there. Actually, two or three blocks down the street that you can see in the picture on the right-hand side. We were lucky again that we caught Ramiro, a lawyer that had helped us with the adoption in Illinios, just before he left for a hearing. He told us to come back in an hour and half. So we went here.The campus of the Universidad de los Andes, where we ate pizza at the place Leo ate at almost every day when he went there for one semester. It wasn't the greatest (which Leo had said before we went) but it certainly was huge pieces and filling and inexpensive, which was what we wanted. Then we hiked back down to the lawyer's office. When we told him what was going on, he looked like he wanted to beat his head against the desk. He said first off that we were in a world of hurt and why did we not call him before we came?!?! (In my defence, I had looked up what we would need to enter and leave Colombia and the US, and the Colombian passport and Ana's permanent resident card and the adoption court order was supposedly enough.) He said that filing an S4 would be the worst thing we could do and it would probably take 2 years. He suggested instead that we get a copy of Ana's foreign born birth certificate and take it to the embassy here and get her US passport. (FYI: By US law, as soon as the adoption of a foreign child is completed that child automatically becomes a US citizen after filing an N-600, and of course, paying a large chunk of money. I had already done that, but we hadn't received a receipt of the filing in time to get her a US passport before we came, nor had we received her new birth certificate.) Then we should have Sheila, our lawyer in Illinois, take another copy of her birth certificate to the Colombian consul in Chicago and have it verified there. Then she could send it to us, and Ramiro would then take that to some ministry here that would translate and apostille it. Then with the passport and apostille we might be able to leave Colombia with Ana. Maybe. This would all probably take 2 weeks. After that if it didn't work, he suggested we file a small claims or something like that against DAS because they should have told us when we entered the country with Ana that we wouldn't be able to leave with her. Sounds a bit iffy to me, but I guess if he thinks it might work. That would take another 2 weeks. Otherwise if that didn't work, he said the best course would be to start from scratch with a new adoption here in Colombia. That would be considerable less time and expense then the S4. But still, upwards 1 year. He also said we need to be really carefully because DAS could charge us with child trafficking. Great. Then he told us we could cross the border into Venezuela or Ecuador and leave no problem but then we really would have a case against us for child trafficking and we would never be able to come back to Colombia. He wasn't suggesting we do that, he was just explaining. Since Ana really IS adopted legally, and we entered legally and we haven't done anything wrong, he suggested we continue that way. Good point. I wasn't really considering anything different.
Well, we decided to try his first suggestion, and Leo flew back to the States to work this morning and I'm here indefinitely with the kids. Leo's uncle and aunt whom we are staying are really nice, but still it's weird to be stuck at someone else's house. They're both gone to work all day, and I can only go so far from the house as Elena can walk, because I don't know the bus system very well, or the money system for that matter. Plus, it's not that safe--a teenager I met today at the park was telling me to be careful, like I didn't know. And cooking is a whole other matter. I hate cooking in other people's kitchens, not to mention all the spices are different (nobody has pepper here), etc. And did I mention I don't really speak Spanish and they definitely don't speak English? But that's enough whining.
The one thing I am worried about is the time factor. I'm not supposed to travel after 7 months pregnant (that's one good thing of not showing--who would guess?) and Leo's quitting his job the end of December to start full time school and there goes our flight benefits. Plus Ana's been out of school for 5 weeks already. So wish us luck that all this goes through quickly, against all Colombian odds.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

First Impressions

Yes, I am in Colombia!!! Bogota actually. I don´t have any pictures to post yet because really I´m lazy and don´t want to load them, but hey, I need to go to bed soon anyway. But here´s my first impressions.

1. 8,000 elevation plus pregnancy does make you feel lightheaded and dizzy the first day.

2. There´s a lot of graffiti here, but most of it is political.

3. People drive like maniacs, especially the guys on motorbikes that not only go between cars in the two lanes but in front and between cars when they´re stopped at the rare traffic light.

4. Never judge a house by the outward appearances, the inside might be very, VERY nice. Although the gated community is a good bet that it will be nicer.

5. You can´t flush toilet paper, it goes in the wastebasket due to low pressure.

6. It´s a bit surreal seeing military personal with AK47s every so often on the streets.

7. The keyboards type different things than is what is actually on the keys. That´s why some of this is a bit off.

8. I ate at one of the best restuarants I have ever eaten at in my entire life today. It´s called Crepes and Waffles. I had a Serrano crepe with Serrano ham, arugula (sp?), mozarella cheese, and sundried red peppers and onions in this most delicioso sauce. Oh, my goodness!!! It was heavenly. Leo had a crepe with ham and mozarella cheese and mushrooms in another delicioso sauce. Anyway, you get the picture. I almost had their salmon crepe, and I was curious about there lobster Marco Polo crepe too. But really, their speciality is the desserts. Ahhhhh..... here´s the link, there´s no words to describe.

9. I really need to learn more Spanish.

10. I liked the street by the main cemetary. Outside the walls of the cemetary were little shops where you could buy a headstone and then tons of fresh flower. Lots of the streets are like that, where one particular type of store dominates but there´s about 8 little ones.

11. I tried a lot of fruit today that I´ve never had before. One was like a cross between a pear and an avacado, and one was all grey and ugly lookng on the inside. That one tasted alright, but I think I´d have to eat a couple before I am used to the looks. I think it was called a grenadine, but when I looked that up I saw a fruit that was totally different. I´ll have to take a picture. I´ve had two other kinds too that I lack words for descriptions right now.

12. Having your car sniffed out by a dog and your bag checked as you enter and leave a store, really isn´t that bad.

13. I am absolutely loving every minute!!!!!!!