Lynelle: Yennifer, I’ve been so excited to hear an update on how your project is going but firstly, let’s start with hearing how you personally experienced your return to homeland. You left Germany to live for an extended period of time in Colombia in order to undertake your project Keine Mutter, kein Kind. How did you experience the first stage of arriving and settling in?
Yennifer: There were quite a few moments of revelation or disclosure. The first one was in the flight, taking off from Germany. I was so moved. My emotions went crazy. I wrote like a crazy person on the bag one is supposed to vomit into. All the oppression I felt through growing up and living in Germany just went. It was a relief and I found all my emotions like anger, sadness and disappointment flowed out of me.
On my flight from Madrid to Medellín, I cried the first 30 minutes out of gratitude and greatness for what lay ahead. I knew the next time I touched the ground, I would be standing on my homeland for the first time! In my city of birth. Re-connected with my Mother earth. I grieved for so many years.
Driving with a local cab to my place that was to be home for a short while, was wicked. The airport in Medellín is on the mountain, so when I arrived, the cab ride gave me the most stunning view over the city. It was in the middle of the night. It was completely dark, the driver already pushed me to speak Spanish, turned his favorite Colombian music on to give me the feeling and when I saw the city for the first time, I knew I was home. Never in my life had I felt home like this. The view, the music, spanish voices, the air. I had heard that this happened to others, but I did not know how it would be. To feel home. To feel returning home. With the excitement of the unknown. It was a heady rush.
Lynelle: You capture the emotions so well! I can feel it as you speak! And what about the practical aspects of finding accomodation, learning the language, immersing yourself in your homeland? And then how did you find your mother and how was the reunion?
Yennifer: I was lucky to find a safe home by renting a room from an art professor working for Universidad de Antioquia. She was amazing! She was interested in my journey, understanding and the greatest role model to share a few months of my life. My contact person Angelica, is an artist from Medellín. She managed my arrival and found me a place to stay. She offered her friendship and the place close to her to live. Within 3 weeks, I had a fully functional social system and some true friends.
The first month, I lived in an English bubble of expatriates and English speaking Colombians. After 2 weeks, I got news that my friend Lina, a fellow Colombian adoptee, would arrive spontaneously. I had teased her long enough and so she came to help me with interviewing the first mothers. She is fluent in Spanish and volunteered to be my journalist and translator. With her at my side, I was not to eager to learn too much Spanish. But when I had the posibility to reunite with my family, I was desperate to talk to them and decided to take the chance and get classes.
It was 30 hours intense one-on-one teaching. I spoke and I’ve never stopped speaking Spanish since then. People were really nice about my project. My Colombian family was amazing. My brother’s adoptive mom gifted me 10 hours of Spanish lessons for Christmas to enable me to speak with them. I took a month off to connect, research and settle in.
At the end of November I met the Engel planen contact person, Alejandra, in Medellín for the first time. I introduced myself and we talked about the project details. Her daughter had also come along and together they shared the possibility to appear on local TV to talk about adoption, my project and my personal search. Alejandra would be my translator on the TV show. I agreed.
The next day I was called by Plan Angel who helped me appear on the show TV IS TODAY. I felt I was not prepared enough but I did it. I was lucky that one family member of my brother had the television running and recognized the name of my mother. Thirty minutes after the program aired, they were already in contact with Plan Angel. Two hours later, Alejandra was talking on the phone with my grandmother to confirm if she really could be my grandmother. All the while, I was stalking my possible sister’s Facebook profile, in shock that my sister had a son who looked like me as a child.
We needed to keep distant but we also wanted to find the hints to confirm whether this was my family for real. Twelve hours later, we met my grandmother to take the DNA test and I saw my first blood relative in my life! She brought pictures of my family – my brother, my sister and my mom. She brought these as a gift and she cried, laughed and cried some more and we hugged. My heart knew this was my family but my brain was being cautious reminding me to step back. But the family resemblance was amazing!
I was happy that I could stay in Colombia because I was in a safe, loving place to live. I was happy I did not need to rush to meet everyone at once in 3 days or a week!
Lynelle: Wow, it is just incredible to hear about your experience and I’m so happy that you have found your family! Please tell us how things have been since reunion given you had time by staying in Colombia, to build a deeper connection.
Yennifer: I had the possibility to celebrate New Year’s eve with my brother’s family and they took me in for a few weeks. They are my family now too! A lost sister to my siblings and a lost granddaughter to my grandmother. I slept in the bed of my brother, I celebrated New Years eve in the street where I was born. It was amazing. And 2 weeks before that, I had known nothing about my Colombian family!
Relationships are difficult. Growing relationships, creating memories, exchanging stories, visiting my grandmother and eating her food, listening to my story. Sitting on a hospital bed, gossiping with my sister over our mom while taking care of her sick son. Going for a swim in the river with my new friends, family and my brother. These were the blessings I soaked in. I could never have imagined sitting with six women of my brother’s family, discussing my adoption problems and finding solutions and possibilities for my reunion with my mom. Never had I experienced so much understanding outside of the community, full of trust and freedom.
Lynelle: And did you end up meeting your mom?
Yennifer: After meeting all the mothers in Medellín who wanted to partipate in my project, we thought it was about time to meet mine before Lina went back to Germany.
It was an amazing day. Surreal. When I saw the people in the homeless shelter, I knew who she was directly. I just felt it.
We also went to the hospital to get my documentation but it had been destroyed. Together with my mom, we went to have lunch and Lina did the translating. Since meeting her, I know why I am and how I am. So too for my brother and my sister.
I learned a lot. We did not have the chance to meet my mom again. Reunions are not just happy. They are hard work, setting boundaries but also seeding trust.
Lynelle: It must have broken your heart to see her in a homeless shelter?
Yennifer: At first it did break my heart. Now I just feel sorry for her. And sadness that not one of us siblings, had the mother we deserve. That she never turned around her life, anger about what she did to her family, again and again and again. I am learning that her pain is not mine and her life choices are not my burden. I am my own person with my own life.
I will never regret knowing the truth about anything that happened even though it was horrible and worse. Getting the chance to know my brother who is a copy of my face, and my grandmother and sister, my nephews and all the others who are now my family – it is worth every fight, every discussion! That’s family life.
Lynelle: It sounds tragic and heartbreaking. But I’m glad you connected closely with others in your immediate family. Are you going to include your mother in your project?
Yennifer: No, she is not part of it. Within my project, I want to empower mothers. I want them to feel they have the right to their own story. And that this is a source of power, strength and hope. In the communication with the mothers and their collaboration, I wanted to establish a same level relationship.
With my mother that was not possible for me. I decided though to include my grandmother. I talked to her about it. I also spoke with Alexandra from Plan Angel who thought it was a great possibility to expand and demonstrate that adoption loss includes more generations of mothers than what we typically consider.
Lynelle: Thank you for explaining. I love your approach and consideration for the experience of the mothers in your project! So tell me, how many mothers in Colombia did you end up meeting for your project? And what are your thoughts?
Yennifer: Eleven in total. My friend Lina said something remarkable that never would have crossed my mind. She said, “Did you recognize that all the stories are connected with sexual violence? Either to the children or to their mothers. They or their children all somehow experienced sexual violence.”
A husband that forbids his wife contraception. A mother forcing the daughter to go and prostitute herself. A child violated by a neighbor while in day care for just a short while, who was so traumatized that the mother could only give him to a foster family. The mother who lost her husband and needed to work full time. She intended to get the boys back but the oldest boy told her they will go into adoption and he will come back to her. To help her bring money home to raise the family. She is still waiting for him but not for the money. She did not move for most her life so that he can find her. He was about to start school the year he left via adoption.
These issues are not only about how men treat women, it is also about how women treat each other. Most times, it was the women of the family pushing the mother to give up their baby at a Mother’s and Baby home, to then be sold via orphanages. It is also about how the government treats the most vulnerable families. It is about how we define family and what makes a “worthy mother” from a priviledged feminist perspective. What is happening with mothers from sending countries is a human rights issue. What is happening in intercountry adoption is against our basic human rights. The government has the obligation to care for their families, mothers and children. Care for those who need assistance via housing, food and education for their children. But countries don’t do this. Instead, they force mothers into homes designed to get rid of the illegitimate child. It is discrimination towards a mother due to her status.
The governments fail because we as a society allow them to fail. Sending countries all have a history of colonialism, war against communism, or a fight for resources. They are corrupt and unstable. The adoptive countries who could force them to to implement childcare, to implement social services and free education are too busy making money from these vulnerable countries but state they are “rescuing the child”. That is the scandal!
The EU does not allow intercountry adoption. Birthrates are going down with strong economies. There is little reason they cannot take care of their own children. What a shame it is. But instead of helping to implement family-like-childcare, to empower foster care or other alternative options, adoptive countries are too busy buying the children off poorer countries.
My opinion after meeting these moms?
We are the crops.
The first world nations come to our birth countries and take the resources, destroy the markets, weaken the government by letting the currency flow. Then they see the poverty they create and have the nerve to say, “They cannot take care of their own children. Look how they suffer!” Then after they leave our ancestors with jobs that cannot pay enough to support their families, with ground that cannot feed their families, with a government that cannot take care of their families, after they buy and rob everything valuable – the food produced, the natural resources, they have the nerve to come and also take the children. And they say it is a favour!
Adopting countries buy and sell us, like they buy and sell petroleum.
But we are not stone. We are not gold, we are not flowers nor corn. Our mothers are not the earth. Our mothers have rights, our mothers have a voice. And we come back as lawyers, artists, journalist, professors, as people who know our rights and demand the rights for our mothers.
We grow up with all the educational possibilities they promised us. We grow up knowing our rights!
When we were taken from our mothers, our sisters, our grandmother’s, our neighbours, our community, they had no-one protecting them. No-one told them their rights when they where denied access to the orphanage. When they were told, “We are here to help your children, not to help you”, or, “You can come back when you have a job and a husband”, or “Your child is already promised to a foreign family”, or “Don’t you see, your child has no prospect in this country other than drugs and war, give them away”; no-one helped them to protect their human rights. But now we adoptees come back. We adoptees know these rights and we will help them find their voice, find their justice. And our justice with them!
Lynelle: Well said Yennifer! Thank you for sharing your experience of meeting your mother and the other mothers of Colombia who we hope, will one day find their voices. It is adoptees like you who will inspire other fellow adoptees to do likewise, to want to know the truth of our families and our countries. Like you, I can’t wait until the day when our families are as loud as we are in speaking our truths! In the meantime, what do you plan to do now?
Yennifer: Now I focus on preparing my first pop-up photo exhibition to share with the world.
I am comfortable being back here in my adoptive country because I appreciate it. I love being able to work for decent pay. In Colombia, some people work for 10 euros for the whole day whereas in Germany, I can earn that in an hour. I love the silence, breathing without contaminated air. I know my privileges, I know how to use them and I am not willing to give them up. But I miss my Colombian life. The streets, the weather, my friends and I no longer having a heartache for my homeland. So I am resting here a while, stabilizing myself, going to work and trying to build the opportunity to go back and take with me the European comforts I am used to. I will be going back and forth between the two countries.
I happened to be in Colombia at the right time for appearing on TV. I know as long as I trust my heart and the calling of my ancestors that I will be where I need to be. Colombia, Germany or any other country. Adoptionland has no borders.
I heard a calling and I pushed it through. There were a lot of people and energy working to put everything in the place to make it happen. Not least, the adoption community, my friends and family, who made this happen through crowd funding. There were a lot of people doing their part that got me to were I am now.
Lynelle: What a great place to end. Thank you again Yennifer for sharing this amazing journey with us and we look forward to viewing your pop-up photo exhibition which will showcase your exploration of Colombian mothers who have lost children via intercountry adoption.
You can follow Yennifer’s progress at Keine Mutter, kein Kind. She will also be writing a paper in German about the Colombian first mothers in the context of international adoption, which will eventually be published.