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Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes: Part 2

Our 11-day trip to Peru will soon be over, and it’s officially the only long trip I have ever taken where I wished I could stay. Emma and I have fallen madly in love with 34 little brown children. We just went to church with them, where some of the girls were wearing Emma and Libby’s old dresses, which delighted Em. I have seen my daughter learn and grow in a profound way (her Spanish has  improved in a quantum way because she’s so motivated to express herself to the orphans). Today we visit babies in a hospital in Cusco and give them the donations we brought.  Babies go home wrapped in newspapers there, because the families are so poor.

One thing I won’t miss: the kids all call me Shakira, and I have had to respond to demands to ¡CANTA! and ¡BAILA! oh, I don’t know, 200 times? After singing Hips Don’t Lie and Underneath Your Clothes a few times, and doing Shakira’s hip-shakin’ thing, I decided that Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba would be more appropriate to sing. The kids vastly prefer my dancing to my singing. The adults called me Barbie (including random strangers when I went running every morning, ” ¡Hola Barbie!”). Apparently the only two people the orphans and even most of the adults have been exposed to, who have long blonde hair, are Shakira and Barbie? At first the kids would take my long hair and drape it over their heads to pretend it was their hair, and they’d surreptitiously pull out a strand of my hair to keep. Then after a while they got bold and would beg me to cut off a lock of my hair. (That’s where I draw the line.)

On New Year’s Eve we had a huge party for the kids at the orphanage, with live music, crafts, fireworks like I have never seen before, and a traditional feast the expedition volunteers paid for. The younger ones could barely prop their eyes open at the end of the night but, when asked to go to bed, pleaded, ” ¡Por favor, no!”

I met the most gorgeous 4 y.o. boy, Marco, who has cerebral palsy, and I held him and danced with the others for a couple of hours to give his mother a rest. His mother Kynet had apparently been told what I do in the U.S. and asked me, shyly: Will you help me with nutrition, for Marco? She was the cook at the orphanage until carrying Marco on her back tied with a shawl (all the women here do that) became too much for her.

Yesterday I had a meeting with her, with my friend Van translating, as my Spanish is adequate but I don’t have the sophisticated vocabulary for everything I wanted to say.

Kynet is very poor and has no education, but she is one of the most motivated, intelligent, loving mothers I have ever met. She talked about how Marco’s father (her common-law husband) said, “I will never smile again until my son is well.”

Kynet juices carrots and beets for her tiny boy, who is the size my children were at 15 months. She then adds the pulp to rice–brilliant!–rather than throwing it away. She didn’t know that brown rice is much more nutritious than white rice, and the grama of the orphanage, Eunice, told her where to buy it. We discussed high calorie and high nutrition foods such as avocado and banana to feed Marco more of. I taught her how to sprout seeds and raw nuts, and I emphasized the importance of raw foods. Kynet uses a cheap blender, because Marco cannot masticate food so she blends most of it. I am going to talk to BlendTec: between us we will get a Total Blender to Kynet. I told her she is a wonderful mother, smart and attentive, the mother God chose very specifically for Marco.

Marco has winces with pain when he eats anything slightly cold or hot because of impacted teeth needing extraction. The anaesthesia used by locals could put Marco in a coma, so a pediatric oral surgeon is needed, and one does not exist in the entire state of Cusco. My friend Van and I talked for a minute about how to get such a doctor to fly to Lima, and pay for Kynet and Marco to go to Lima. Kynet looked us both in the eyes, back and forth, and whispered in Spanish,

“I plead with you.”

The love of a mother. It is profound. It made tears well up in my eyes, in Van’s, and in Kynet’s, and I have the same reaction writing this. As difficult as life will be for Marco, a severely handicapped boy in a third world country, whose father makes $200/month, his eyes shine from all the love he’s given daily. The 34 children of the Sunflower Orphanage break my heart even more.

I have had much to reflect on during many hours of physical labor at the orphanage.   We planted a vegetable garden, ploughed and planted a wheat field, painted dorms, hauled rocks, built a swing set, built an outdoor sink. And played with the children, read to them, did arts and crafts with them, loved them up. If only you could love and touch and physically give enough to a child in a week to shore up a lifetime. It takes $30K and 2 years to get a child out of a Peruvian orphanage, only if you’re lucky.

Primary among my reflections has been how significant parents are. I cannot really describe for you the effect on me–and more importantly, on my daughter–of spending an intensive week serving and loving children who have no mothers, no fathers. The children are fascinated by parents and grandparents and grilled me endlessly about mine: How old are they? Where do they live? Do you live with them?

I will post a photo of my meeting with Kynet, Van, and Marco when I get home. Give your children, if you’re blessed to have them, an extra hug from the GSG readers who are here. All the children of the world deserve parents.

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