How We Got Started


OK - So people often ask me -- how did this program get started??

Well, to make a long story short, I am your basic single woman, never got married (too fussy) and was quite happy for many years as a commercial photographer - especially when I traveled a lot to other countries shooting for clients - that part was GREAT !!!

But there came a time when all the traveling got old, and the business was more pressure than fun, and I decided I was ready for a change, and, I was ready to have my own family. So I decided to adopt. And I chose Guatemala to adopt from. I had never been there, but was guided to it by a social worker with a local adoption agency.

I also think the greatest leap of faith in the world, is to see a picture of a child and say - yes - I will take this child as my own. The whole thing made me nervous - and that part made me even MORE nervous. I wanted to make a connection with a child before I said yes. So I bought a ticket to Guatemala - and spent time there simply putting the word out that I wanted to adopt. I made friends and went back whenever my shooting schedule allowed.

Eventually - I heard about a child - met the family and said yes before that baby was even born. So much for my whole idea about bonding with a child before committing to a lifetime together!!!

Because I was lucky enough to be a self-employed shooter, I was able to live in Guatemala with my daughter for the seven months it took to finish the adoption papers. I flew home a few times to shoot just enough jobs to support us. They all seemed to come in bunches - help from above I assume.

At any rate, I fell in love with Guatemala - as many people do - and wanted to create a way for me and my family to live there part time. And, I must admit I was ready to make a change from shooting. It is VERY stressful (like running this program isn't??) but also very time deadline oriented. Everybody in the creative industry needs it NOW!!! And being a shooter is not conducive to single-motherhood

One of the things I love about Guatemala (first are the people) is the visuals - the art - the buildings - the ruins - the cobblestone streets - the cool old colonial homes built around gardens - the color - the flowers - the warm weather ALL THE TIME (I'm from Minnesota, remember??)

There were lots of artists, art galleries - but NOTHING in art education. So I decided to fill the void. If anyone would have told me when I started that after five years I would have worked so hard for so little money, I NEVER would have done it.

But, here we are - and I love providing life-changing experiences for people - and I love introducing folks to Guatemala - and I love providing work for local Guatemalans - and I love that we live there half the year. I also love that we really make friends with the folks that come down. And that there is a wonderful sense of community with folks - so many keep coming back !!

So, that is it in a nutshell.

Here are some things I wrote (if you are interested and have the spare time) about my adoption experiences -- along with some pics of my kids -- and also each of the annual letters I've written to our participants.

This is the announcement I sent out to friends just before we came back to USA.

Jessenia Elizabeth Mejia - born 6 March 94 - 4 lb 10 oz to Floridalma Casco Mejia in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. Gifted to Liza Fourré shortly thereafter.

As you may or may not have heard by now, I have a little girl. Her name is Jessenia Elizabeth Fourré - but I call her Joey - a combination/compromise of Josephine Marie, the name I had chosen for her before she was born, and wanting the keep the name her Guatemalan family had given her.

I first arrived in Guatemala August of l993. I had decided to adopt about a year earlier and first spent time in Brazil (for obvious reasons - I lived there) and Paraguay (thanks to Mark Hathaway) looking for possiblities. I found out, however, that both of those countries were either very difficult or very expensive to adopt from.

So with some guidance from Margie Miller at Children's Home Society in St Paul, I chose Guatemala. It was closer to home, reasonably inexpensive and worked with single parents. Those of you who know me won't be surprised to know that instead of going on a list and waiting, I decided to locate a child myself.

I bought a ticket and headed for Guatemala, accompanied only by the idea that if I volunteered at orphanages I'd find a child who needed a home, we'd bond, I'd adopt him/her and all would be bliss.

Well, it's not all that simple. But meanwhile, I fell in love with the country, met lots of nice people -- all of whom walked away from encounters with me with my business card, a note scribbled on the back, 'lady who wants to adopt - call me collect'.

Finally, in February, my friend Linda had a friend Gil who bought a piece of land on the Rio Dulce near Livingston. While there, a woman asked him if he wanted a baby. Her 12 year old daughter was pregnant and they wanted to find it another home.

Gil drew me a map -- "you take the bus to Puerto Barrios, then get a boat to Livingston, ask for Neri at the docks -- he'll know who Bartola is -- and can take you there by boat. They live further down the river, about a half an hour. If you pass a green church on the right, you've gone too far. Good luck!!"

No last name, no address, and as it turned out no running water, no electricity, no phone, no outhouse - no nothing. I thought, this could be a wild goose chase - but it's what I'm here for. So off I went.

From the minute I walked into their thatched roof hut on the river, they assumed the baby would be mine. It was never a question of whether I wanted this baby or not, it was how would we make all the arrangements. Bartola obviously was in charge. I said -- wait a minute -- I want to ask Floridalma, looking pretty pregnant, what she wants. "Flori, que quieres? Quieres regalarme su bebe??" Floridalma is an incredible 12 year old. Very serene, very mature for her age. Yes, she replied. I want you to have my baby.

I spent a few days with them, and luckily, we really liked each other. They are a wonderful family, and lots of fun. I left, and planned to return when she was due the end of March. As it turned out, Jessenia Elizabeth (named for me) was born 6 March 94, two weeks early. She was a healthy 7 lbs. The doctor, though, told them she'd get bigger and stronger if they also fed her formula. An incredibly stupid thing to tell a family with no running water. So 24 hours after I arrived, she was a little 4 lb grey, ashen thing, close to death.

I still think this portion of the story is a made for TV movie. Eggs in her diapers to ward off the evil eye, an axe under Flori's bed to cut the pain, visits to the curandera - a little shriveled up black lady - racing across the water hoping she'd survive the trip to a hospital, traveling to Guatemala City by public bus the day after an American woman was attacked by a mob for allegedly stealing a Guatemalan child.

Guatemala was in an anti-gringa hysteria. And it was all about American women alledgedly stealing their children for body parts. I couldn't have been doing all this at a worse time. I didn't dare go out on the streets with my daughter. After she got out of the hospital, I ended up in another hospital - this time in Antigua - with cholera. Flori lived with us for more than two weeks. I cried when she returned to the river. She was like a little sister to me. 'Mamacita' I called her. "Que suerte tenga Jessenia a tener dos mamas y dos familias. Una en los estados y una aqui en Guatemala."

Things have settled down since then. Joey's six months tomorrow - a chubby, healthy 14 lbs. And absolutely the best, cutest kid in the world. Honestly, everybody says so. We are normally greeted by "Que chula su bebe!!". She just needs some hair so people will quit thinking she's a boy. I figure if she's this cute with no hair, just imagine how darling she'll be with some!

We'll be back in Minneapolis soon. I don't really know which is home anymore, Minneapolis or Guatemala. I have few years to figure that out. And I don't know what the future will bring for us. The only thing I know for sure is that it will be different, but I also know it will be better.

I worried that I'd have doubts - lifelong commitment is not my strong suit. But I don't. Not a one. Our financial future is a bit scary. But no matter what it brings, we'll weather it together. I know my dad is keeping a special eye on us and that is reassuring. I'm learning to worry less and trust in the future more.

So that's our story. Thanks for your help along the way, whether it was time talking to me, passing on information, another name to contact, another letter to write, or simply good thoughts and support. (Yes it's a lot of work, but if anybody can do it you can - was the best thing I heard.) It all was part of the journey that got us where we are right now.

Til next time,

Well, 5 years later, there was a next time......

Daniel Tomas Casco Mejia Fourré - born 17 February 99 - 6 lb to Tomasa Casco Mejia (tightly holding Liza's hand) in Hospital Hermano Pedro in La Antigua Guatemala.

Well, I did it again. Joey's been bugging me for a little sister (she was adamant about that - but from the minute she knew Tommy would be a boy - she's wanted a brother) for over a year now. Most all of her friends have a sibling -- and not only a mom, but a dad, too. So I think our family didn't quite feel complete for her. We got the cat -- Brocoli -- and a number of fish (currently Belle) and that helped. But somehow, it wasn't quite the same.

I've always felt children are better off with siblings. I have a wide variety of my own. And as a single mom by choice - and not a spring chicken any more I must add - I've always been concerned about leaving Joey alone someday. What a drag to be left all alone !!!!

But my life is quite full -- and I don't know if I would have gotten around to another child if Joey hadn't been quite so insistent. So about a year ago, when our classes ended spring of '98, I started putting the word out here in Guatemala. That means, in general conversations with local indigenous Guatemalans, we let them know that Jessenia wants 'una hermanita o hermanito'. And if any of them know of a baby who needs a family, to please let us know.

I had some doubts about whether our family should grow or not, and so decided this time around to do a little groundwork and leave the rest up to help from above. To me, it couldn't be much clearer that Tommy belongs in our family than to have Joey's grand mother call and say: Tomasa (13 yrs old and Joey's birth mom's sister) is pregnant. Would you take her - so that no one here knows she's pregnant - and then adopt the baby??

I thought long and hard about it over the holidays and decided we would, and it was a wonderful experience all around. Tomasa and Flori (Joey's birth mom) arrived in Antigua the day after we did in January and the day before our first classes began. My niece Danielle came to visit right after Tommy was born - and we moved houses after three years - and still had classes going on - and so really helped during a hectic transition time for us.

Tomasa stayed with us an additional month, and then decided to head back to Rio Dulce. Joey got all the advantages homegrown siblings have. - living with Tomasa while she was pregnant, feeling the baby kick inside her stomach, going to the hospitial with us at 4 am.

Mom - how did the baby get in Tomasa's tummy?? Mom - how is the baby going to get out?? Mom - Tommy's got a fountain!! Mom - I'm going to eat lots of candy so I can get fat and have a baby, too !! (Ok, so maybe I didn't answer that first question all so well.)

Jessenia adores her brother. Every day for months she said to me -- oh mom thank you so much -- at least five times a day. When we come in the house, she wants to see him first. When she wakes up -- she wants to see him first. I've already taken second place.

And it's amazing - but at six months (his 6 month birthday is today) he knows and adores her, too. She can make him laugh more easily than anyone else, and he tolerates her bonking him on the head etc..... There is a bond there already -- and I'm thrilled about it.

I'm not ready to knock off yet. But when I do -- at least they'll have each other.

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