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Baby Hotel: The Gateway to Guatemalan Adoption

Jacob Wheeler, October 9, 2006

The number of Guatemalans adopted by American families neared 3,800 in 2005 after passing the 3,000 mark just one year earlier. (Photo: Jacob Wheeler)

The Marriott Hotel in Guatemala City's wealthy Zona 9 isn't really Central America. But it isn't the United States either. It's a kind of no man's land between countries, between cultures, sprawled out on the highway dividing rich and poor, where thousands of impoverished Guatemalan children make the final step in their journeys to become adopted by Americans. Most of them don't make a step at all, of course, because they're infants. Instead they are passed from a Guatemalan foster mother, or an attorney, into the trembling arms of a teary-eyed couple from El Norte who has been waiting for this moment, often not so patiently, for months or years.

In Guatemala City, in venues like the Marriott Hotel, or the Radisson, or the Camino Real right next to the American Embassy, this strange if not humorous baby handoff in a busy lobby is now an everyday occurrence. Guatemala holds the distinction of being the only Latin American country — the only country in the whole Western Hemisphere — that doesn't recognize the United Nations Hague treaty of 1989 that pushes for stringent state control over international adoptions. Adoptions here fall under the notary system, which means they are essentially privatized and run by lawyers and judges who have plenty to choose from when it comes to impoverished, malnourished, and sometimes abandoned or stolen babies.

But Guatemala's distinction also makes it the point of departure for a wonderful journey from rags to riches that gives thousands of children every year lives and opportunities they would never have if they weren't expelled from their nests in the early days. Elsewhere in Latin America, since government is synonymous with bureaucracy, countries have largely pulled the plug on foreign adoption, preventing children from enjoying those lives and opportunities, adoption advocates counter.

As more and more American would-be parents find they are unable to have children, or feel a calling, morally or religious, to reach into the third world and add to their families; as globalization and trade break down national borders; and as international adoption grows in popularity and as an industry, American eyes and arms are descending on Guatemala, not just for its coffee or fruit or textiles, but for its children. The number of Guatemalans adopted by American families neared 3,800 in 2005 after passing the 3,000 mark just one year earlier. Guatemala, a small country of only 11.2 million, has passed Korea and is now the third-largest source of foreign adoption for the United States, trailing only the empires of Russia and China, whose governments sanction, and even encourage adoption en masse, especially their girls.

That makes Guatemala, this magnificent land on the Central American isthmus of Mayan Indians, volcanoes, jungles, ancient temples and observatories, and a dark, bloody modern history, the largest source of relinquishing its offspring, per capita, in the whole world.

It makes sense for Americans who want to adopt, but are afraid to do so domestically because they may have heard horror stories of the biological mother showing up three months later with a change of heart. Unlike Moscow, Beijing or Seoul, Guatemala City is a short, three-hour flight from Houston or Miami or Atlanta, and many adopting parents also feel drawn here because of the illusion that their child will retain his or her cultural roots and language because of their proximity to a Spanish-speaking population in the United States. (The reality is that most American middleclass and upper middleclass families don't speak Spanish, and probably don't fraternize with the migrant worker community living on the outskirts of town.)

Strictly in economic terms, babies are not Guatemala's biggest export. The approximately $25,000 that an American family pays to adopt from here does not make or break Guatemala's gross domestic product. But in any suburban shopping mall in our country, it's not the hecho en Guatemala labels on packages of coffee, or bananas, or T-shirts that we consumers recognize: it's the peculiar sight of undersized brown-skinned children with deep, chocolate eyes walking through the food court with their Caucasian parents. It seems almost every community in the United States has one now.

***

Tom, a short and stocky fellow, was dressed in a yellow polo shirt, white khaki shorts, and tennis shoes. If it weren't for the pacifier in his hand and the baby carriage next to him, Tom would have passed for a sun-starved tourist down here to drown himself in Margaritas and Cuban cigars. His wife Ham was more primed for the occasion in a blue sweater and slacks. She looked real nervous though.

Within minutes the team of foster mother, her daughter, attorney and translator arrived and walked though the lobby's automatic glass entry doors to find the young American couple, trying in vain to look patient.

The Reynosos scanned the entourage before them, trying in vain to find their new baby, "Myra." But everyone carried a bundle of something, and the anxious couple was in no mood for a game of hide-and-seek. The attorney had a stack of papers in a manila envelope under her right arm, the daughter carried a bag of clothing, and there, under several layers of blankets the foster mother bore, Ham noticed a tiny head of wavy black hair. Her baby!

I would learn later that they weren't able to have their own children, so this moment must have been the emotional equivalent of her giving birth for the first time, but without the pain, the doctors, and the clenching of teeth. Ham felt overjoyed and could barely hold back the tears, though somewhere in the back of her mind she must have known that she and Tom were in a public place. Instead of a sterile maternity ward, their first encounter was here, in the lobby of a first-class hotel in a third-world city.

The expression to give birth in Spanish is dar luz, quite literally "to give light," and at this moment the dark room in the hearts of the Reynosos must have been taking in rays as fast as the heavens would allow.

Slowly, the foster mother, an older woman of part Mayan Indian, part white Spanish descent who answered to the name abuela, grandmother, peeled off the blankets and passed the 6-month-old child to her new mother, who immediately sat down in the leather couch as if she had just been handed a ton of bricks. Abuela knew she had only minutes left with the baby she had probably taken care of for the better part of those six months, and so her feelings at that moment must have ranged from pride to attachment to longing to utter jealousy. Hers is a dubious job: to make a crib for the baby soon after it is relinquished by its birth mother, to pamper it, spoil it, feed it the right amount of baby formula, and convince it that home is with her, all the while knowing that her oasis is just a point of transit. Each baby will soon pass into the arms of the real mother and, soon after that, forget all about abuela and even Guatemala.

Ham glanced over at Tom to share the moment, but his eyes were on the foster mother, who looked uncomfortable for some reason. The attorney asked the three other Guatemalans to have a seat in the red armchairs that formed a semicircle around the couch, but abuela kept a stiff, upright posture, her knees and her shoulders at a 90-degree angle. She glanced at the baby occasionally, catching those dark olive curious Mayan eyes and quickly looked away. Something's up, Tom thought, he would tell me later. What happened to the stories he had heard of the foster mother and adoptive parents bonding instantly?

Curious, Ham's exploring hands noticed the scar on Myra's right knee just as the attorney began talking. The lawyer was a white Ladina Guatemalan of mostly Spanish descent who was probably just as financially comfortable as the Reynosos and as able to send her children to an Ivy League school. Matching the relinquished child with the longing parents was her job — one that undoubtedly gave her great joy, not to mention plenty of money.

Neither Ham nor Tom understood much Spanish, but something in the attorney's voice was universal. Her words were quick and to the point. She wanted to get out of here.

On cue, the translator jumped in.

"We are very happy that Myra has found a home, and we congratulate you. She's a wonderful baby."

Ham nodded, and Tom forced a smile.

"As you know from the dossier, she was born with a handicap: one of her legs is longer than the other. This is a rare occurrence, and Guatemalan doctors are not prepared to deal with it. Hopefully American doctors can fix the problem."

This was true. They were forewarned. But didn't this introduction seem a little blunt?

"The leg causes her pain, and so you should give her a Tylenol every six hours."

Funny instructions. But the agencies in the States always tell adoptive parents to listen to the Guatemalans. When it comes to their kids, they know best.

Some time after this Tom excused himself to use the restroom down a hallway to the left of the bar. When he returned no more than a minute later, the foster mother and her daughter were gone. Odd, he thought. "I didn't even get to say goodbye to them."

Ham was standing and rocking the baby now. She felt happy, but every bit as perplexed. They walked toward the elevator on the other side of the lobby, past the Jade shops and La Vista restaurant and the American Airlines desk, excited to return to their room and get to know their daughter in private.

***

Naturally, there is a good reason why Americans are able to adopt almost 4,000 kids a year from Guatemala and only a few hundred from the rest of Latin America combined. It's called supply and demand.

As much as 60 percent of the country's population is considered poor by international standards and 20 percent are extremely poor. That means living on less than $1 a day, and usually going hungry. In Guatemala's Mayan Indian western highlands it means praying to the gods that the next corn harvest will be a good one; it means feeding watered-down coffee to babies in lieu of breast milk; it means traveling to faraway regions to find work, usually on the finca of some wealthy landowner; it means high infant mortality rates and little chance of a true education. In worst case scenarios boys sniff glue on the streets to quell their hunger or they join gangs; girls often resort to demeaning domestic work, or prostitution. The Catholic and Evangelical churches rule the day here, and they all but forbid birth control. The average Guatemalan woman has more than 6 children in her lifetime, some 10, or even 20. So the lawyers have an almost unlimited supply to choose from.

The downtrodden populations of nearby Honduras and El Salvador, and much of South America, are just as poor, of course, but their governments, and others all over the world, clamped down on the exodus of their flesh and blood when they signed the Hague treaty. It's still possible to adopt from elsewhere in Central or South America, but it often requires the adopting parent to live for months in that country to confront the bureaucratic system head-on, to prove directly to that government that he or she is fit to raise the child, and ultimately, unlike most staying in the Marriott Hotel, to learn Spanish. Most countries shy away from promoting foreign adoption en masse because they regard it as a national embarrassment when their most popular export is perceived to be their own children. But in Guatemala, of course, it is the profit-driven lawyers who all but run the show.

The lawyers are well aware of the rising demand in the United States for foreign babies, and they know their clients can pay upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 per kid, sometimes more — an amount unimaginable to Guatemalan peasants. They also recognize that most Americans work full-time jobs and don't have the time to spend six months in this country while the paperwork moves through the Guatemalan equivalent of the attorney general's office. Time is money for the wealthy. So the objective of the lawyers is to make the process as quick and simple as possible for the adoptive parents: advertise photos of your cutest babies on the Internet; facilitate the process over e-mail; speak the language of your clients; don't make them wait any longer than they have to (because longing for your child is torture); and once they arrive in Guatemala City, hand them their baby in the lobby with enough instructions to get them through the next few days, escort them to the nearby United States embassy to finalize the child's visa; above all, make them feel welcome in their sheltered hotel community.

***

At La Vista restaurant near the Marriott pool, Lisa and Steve Hinz-Johnson from rural southeastern Michigan picked a table near the five-man marimba band playing in the far corner so they could capture the scene in their camcorder. Always courteous and wary of committing a faux pas in a foreign country, Lisa asked the lead marimba player, an older dark-skinned man with white hair and a distinguished, grandfatherly face, if recording them was OK. He smiled and nodded, as he probably does a dozen times every week.

Resting on Steve's shoulder was their adopted daughter, Ava Emilia, who was absolutely tiny for a 2-month-old baby. She was so small and delicate, in fact, that blue veins were visible through portions of her skin. The Johnsons were in love with her, but not everyone felt that way. The first American who had the opportunity to adopt Ava asked his agency in disgust, "What the hell is that?" after he looked at the photo they sent him. And so her file was passed on to the next family.

Ava probably would have died shortly after her premature birth had her biological mother, Marcelina, not put her up for adoption, at least that's what the dossier said. Marcelina had four other kids for whom she probably had enough problems finding food. Ava's father, Diego, wasn't around. When he found out he had impregnated Marcelina, he got pissed off and tried to hack off one of her feet with a dull machete. Then he left.

The marimba band took a break and Francisco Ruin Iñera Juarez, whom Lisa later compared to Morgan Freeman in the way he carried himself, set down his marshmallow stick vaquetas on the xylophone and sauntered over to the family, which was paying more attention to the traditional Mayan highland music than anyone else in the restaurant. His colleague at the viola, or contrabajo, behind the xylophone stood up slowly and acknowledged Steve's clapping with a "para servirle," to serve you, before lighting a cigarette.

I could tell that Francisco loved the marimba when I sought out the musician during my time at the Marriott. He told me that he joined the military at an early age to learn the instrument along with the trumpet. The highlight of his career was playing at the World's Fair in Queens, New York, right in front of the big globe at the U.S. Open, in 1964. And he was happy to meet the Johnsons. Many are the tourists who record him on video, but few are those who sit close enough to engage in conversation.

Lisa made it known that she spoke Spanish, but Francisco had already laid eyes on Ava, whose name means "bird" in Greek, and at this moment she was as delicate as one. He asked how old she was. Two months.

"She had a twin sister who died at birth," Lisa added.

The old man's eyes grew moist.

"She weighed only two pounds when she was born, but now she seems to be eating and doing well."

Francisco just stared. Then he inched a little closer, slowly, like he was about to touch a wounded bird, and placed his hand on her head, on her mass of dark hair. Ava opened her tiny eyes and gazed up at him. "Dios va a cuidar a esa niñeta," he blessed her in a soft voice. God will look after this little girl.

***

What do Guatemalans think of international adoption? What do they think when they see gringos arriving in the capital by the planeload to stay a few days, visit the colorful indigenous markets by day and drink piña coladas poolside by night before leaving with another one of their poor, destitute children? Do they think the United States is draining Guatemala of its pure natural resources, like the coffee and fruit before it? Or are they grateful for the opportunities these kids will enjoy. The temptation of these opportunities sends many Central Americans on the expensive and perilous journey with coyote, human traffickers, up through the Mexican desert and across the Rio Grande, dodging the watchful eyes of U.S. border guards and vigilantes, only to find backbreaking work in a society that doesn't understand them and treats them like mules. Babies adopted from Guatemala will never experience this treachery, of course, because the moment their mother lays them down in a crib in their brand new bedroom and sings a lullaby in English, their Americanization has already begun. By the time they begin school, if not for the color of their skin, they will have forgotten all about their homeland.

The lawyers love adoption, of course, because this is their livelihood: they make as much as $15,000 per child. Part of this often goes to the women they pay to recruit mothers to give up their children, and sometimes the mothers themselves, though it's unclear how many Guatemalan mothers are actually paid to relinquish their children. Key players on both sides of the adoption debate admitted to me that birth mothers being paid, or given gifts, in exchange for their child is probably the norm, though certainly not true of all cases, maybe not even a majority.

The only thing that could stop this lucrative trade is legislation currently bogged down in the national congress that seeks to ratify the Hague treaty and wrestle control over adoption away from the private sector. Guatemalan President Oscar Berger's wife Wendy is pulling for this, as are plenty of influential politicians, journalists and, it seems, much of the national identity. But the power and lobbying influence of these lawyers and judges, not to mention the thousands of Americans waiting to adopt with the backing of their embassy, is vast.

A precious few organizations are working to shed light on the adoption industry, that is, how the lawyers get the babies they eventually sell to Americans. UNICEF has spoken out in favor of the state regulating adoption and encouraged Guatemalans to adopt these children so they don't have to leave the country. But economic disparity (not many Guatemalans can pay $25,000 for a child) and centuries of ugly racism (those with money tend to be white, while the babies available for adoption are half- or full-blooded Mayan Indian) have made this a nearly impossible goal.

As the most open and vocal critic of international adoption from Guatemala, UNICEF has come under an inferno of fire from adoption-advocacy groups, social workers, attorneys and adoptive parents, both in Guatemala and the United States. If you shut down the lifeline between impoverished Guatemala and families in the United States who are unable to have children, they claim, you deprive these kids of their inalienable rights to a home, loving parents, food and nurture and the support they need to thrive in life. These kids aren't the property of Guatemala, adoption advocates told me. If the state can't provide for them and guarantee that they won't die as infants or grow up to abuse, prostitution and sniffing glue in the city streets, then the state should welcome outside help.

Some in this camp even go as far as calling UNICEF an arrogant and self-serving organization that benefits from pictures of starving kids on the streets of a developing country like Guatemala. This is big business, UNICEF's bread and butter, more than one American adoption advocate told me, because every striking photo of a child suffering means more money for them.

Adoption advocates claim that if the Guatemalan government reverses the tide and eliminates attorney-controlled, privatized adoption, they may prove a point and win their moral victory, but the concrete result will be thousands of children rotting in private orphanages who would otherwise be on their way to happy homes in the United States. That is what has happened in other Latin American countries that have all but eliminated adoption.

Meanwhile, an organization named Casa Alianza has investigated and documented cases of babies being stolen from their mother's arms or illegally put in orphanages under the premise that their parents abandoned them. In some instances the organization has actually returned babies to their nests before they can be adopted. Sadly, Casa Alianza learned the depths to which those who depend on the adoption industry will go, when one of its investigative lawyers was gunned down by unknown perpetrators on his way to work in early September 2005 — just days before I returned to the country to write this book.

With the fate of the attorney Harold Rafael Pérez Gallardo in mind, I reminded myself every day that extrajudicial killings are the norm in Guatemala, bullets are cheap, and I needed to be careful who I talked to and what questions I asked. This scarred country's brutal 36-year civil war started largely as a result of post-World War II neocolonial American influence and the C.I.A.-executed coup d'état in 1954, and was followed by the American military training Guatemalan death squads to wipe out entire indigenous villages in the 1980's. The United Nations-brokered Peace Accords were signed in 1996, but the violence never truly ended. The stakes only changed and the fronts moved to urban areas.

Of course, it's not just urban gangsters and human traffickers who have murdered over the subject of adoption. Stories abound of foreigners venturing into rural villages and staring too long at a child or saying the wrong thing in broken Spanish to a frightened highland mother. Daniel Wilkinson writes in "Silence on the Mountain" that a western woman was attacked by Mayan women wielding machetes during the waning days of the civil war for saying "Quiero tu hijo" ("I want your child," whereas she probably meant to say "I like your child"). The villagers probably heard the rumors that Guatemalan babies were being sold to foreigners to be chopped up for their organs. Wilkinson adds that the military may have spread these rumors in the highlands to scare the locals away from foreigners who were arriving in the 1980's and 90's to document the military massacres committed against the Mayan Indians. To this day, the belief that children are sold to the United States for their organs is widespread among rural and uninformed Guatemalans, though there is no hard evidence to back it up, and not even UNICEF claims that the horrible rumor bares any legitimacy.

But for Guatemalans who are not involved in the baby trade and face no pressure to relinquish their own, the exodus of their brothers and sisters through adoption is merely a sad reality that reflects the grinding poverty of their country and the glittering temptation to leave for El Norte, like thousands of their countrymen do every year, mojado (wetbacks, as if they have to swim across the Rio Grande). Even members of the country's wealthy elite pursue American college educations for their lucky children. Guatemalans with degrees from Harvard are not unheard of.

Like the abuela foster mother who hands over the precious baby after taking care of it for months, workers in the Marriott Hotel who watch the exodus on a daily basis must feel torn between humiliation for their patria, their people, and joy for the children who will soon forget all about these trying, confusing days and grow up comfortably in the richest country on earth.

***

"It was incredible, man. We chatted with those people for four-and-a-half hours without speaking a lick of Spanish." Derrick from Arkansas might have been a little tipsy. There were four or five empty Gallo beer bottles and a smothered butt of a Cohiba cigar in the ashtray on the table in front of him. Or he was just giddy because the mission had been accomplished and he and his wife got to fly home with their healthy, beautiful baby the following morning after three weeks locked up in the Marriott Hotel.

"I mean, our foster family didn't speak any English either, but we made it work with body language."

"It's amazing what you can convey with your hands," his petite wife Laura cued in.

"What did you talk about the whole time?" asked Tom Reynoso, wishing to God he could relate.

"I mean, they starting pulling out all the coins and bills they had in their pockets and telling us about each of their presidents." Derrick had become animated now. They would leave the hotel at 0500 hours and he couldn't wait to get on that plane. "So, of course, I showed them some greenbacks and told them about Washington and Lincoln and all of ours. They got most of what I was saying."

"I even had an English-Spanish dictionary that I would pass around the table whenever we got stuck on a word." Laura wouldn't miss her chance to comment.

"Didn't you feel scared? Out in the city without a translator or guide?" asked Ham Reynoso. After what she and Tom had been through in the last three days, she couldn't imagine trying to enjoy a meal with Spanish-speaking strangers.

"Naw, we just hung in there and went with the flow." Derrick had learned to feel confident among foreigners from his many years in the military overseas. "I made sure they were feeding us bottled water. Other than that the food was pretty darn good."

"Where in Guatemala City were you?"

"Some area called Mixco. It was cool."

Had the waiter in the Marriott lounge walked by at that moment and understood what Derrick said, he probably would have shaken his head and maybe even warned the optimist, if not naïve couple. Every day now the Prensa Libre runs gruesome photos of mutilated bodies found in the Mixco neighborhood. The Guatemalan government claims that most of the murders are gang-related. But almost nobody believes the government anymore. Even teenage girls are ending up in trash disposals and down back alleys — allegedly the sweethearts of the hell-raisers. Some say the government is executing a clandestine "social cleansing" campaign to rid the capital of the delinquents or any impoverished youth baring tattoos of the rival Mara Salvatrucha or 18 gangs who honed their skills in the barrios of Los Angeles before they were deported back to Central America.

"What about your time here, Tom, how has it gone? Did the doctors figure out what was wrong with Myra's leg?" Derrick had no idea what was to follow.

A long pause as Tom took a slug of his beer.

"They beat her … They beat our baby."

Laura looked at Ham, who was rocking Myra slowly and squeezing the milk bottle to see if it was empty, but the grieving mother showed no emotion. She had nothing left.

"Who did?" Derrick's blood rose in his face.

"We don't know," Tom replied as calm as ever. "The foster family, we think. Maybe the birth mother too. In the least, the people who just took a lot of our money did nothing to help her, and now she might never walk again.

"They told me here in the lobby on Monday that she was born like that, with one leg longer than the other. What kind of bull is that? Do I look stupid to you?"

"They told us to give her Tylenol every six hours … A baby … Tylenol!" Tom's voice rose an octave. "What is that doing to her little liver?"

Ham summoned the waitress. "Leeee-chaay, por favor," she muttered in incomprehensible Spanish.

"Cómo? No entiendo, señora." I don't understand.

"Leeee-chaay!" Near exasperation.

"Milk, she needs milk," Laura said in English.

Confused, the waitress went to fetch a menu, then pivoted and saw Ham holding up the bottle, upside down. She understood.

Tom continued: "We went to see the doctor at the U.S. Embassy, but the attorney was there with us, talking to him in Spanish, fast, so I wouldn't get what she was saying. She would hold up Myra's leg for him, and I know she wanted him to tell us that it was fine.

"Doc knew what was going on. He told me to take her to the emergency room immediately, and referred me to his friend there. But halfway there the translator took a call on her cell phone and pulled the car over on the side of the road, telling us the doctor had called and his friend wasn't available.

"I tell you, I just about lost it right there. Ham was crying. Myra was crying. And I told them if they didn't get us to the hospital and then leave us, I was going to call the police and get them both locked up!"

"What did the hospital tell you?" Derrick and Laura finished their drinks and sat in their armchairs, paralyzed.

"The ER doctor took x-rays and told us she had injured her leg as an infant, and a bunch of scar tissue accumulated up by her left hip. But somehow she kept breaking it over and over again. It's hard to say exactly how."

"They took more x-rays, and finally one of her scalp, to see exactly where her pain is coming from … I mean, she cries like hell whenever you put her down. I'd say that's more than just a detachment disorder.

"They discovered a fracture in her left knee. Repeatedly abused, they say."

"What did the attorney say to that," Derrick interjected.

"Oh she was long gone by then. She knew she was in hot water."

A string quartet had begun playing in the lounge right next to the table where the four parents were sitting, and a sad violin solo echoed across the now dimly lit lobby and off the automatic sliding entry doors where the Reynosos met their baby girl for the first time just three days before.

"And then get this, the doctor asks me 'What do you want to do?' and I'm thinking 'naw, we'll operate once we get back to the States tomorrow'. Until I realize that's not what he's asking at all. He wants to know … he actually wants to know whether we're going to keep her!"

Derrick shook his head, and the beautiful music may as well have stopped because it was doubtful that anyone could hear it right now.

Tom looked over at Ham who was holding Myra, fast asleep and crusted milk all over her mouth. "Keep her? That's our baby! She's not a product on the shelf of a store. That's our baby."

"So this Guatemalan doctor apologizes for the question and tears well up in his eyes. And right there in the emergency room he gives me a hug, and then pulls pictures of his own 11-year-old son out of his wallet and starts telling me about him. We exchange photos.

"'Of course she's your daughter,' he repeats to me."

"I'm so sorry," Laura emerged from her coma. "I'm truly sorry."

But Tom wasn't listening. Derrick had gotten the violinist's attention and requested a happy song: Guantanamera, the Cuban folk ballad, and Tom had picked up their sleeping baby and was waltzing around the lounge, with a mixture of pain and joy on his face. Everybody in the place could see him dancing, and it made them joyous, Guatemalans and Americans alike, even though they didn't know Myra's whole story.

The singer crooned, "Yo soy un hombre sincero, de donde crecen las palmas, y antes de morirme, quiero contar mis versos de alma." I am a sincere man from where the palm trees grow, and before I die, I'd like to recount the verses of my soul.

Tom returned to his seat, and he couldn't hide the fact that, at this moment, he was the happiest man on the face of the earth.

"You take what you get in life, Derrick. Someone once asked me when I was young if I blamed God for being deaf in one ear. But what the heck does God have to do with that?"

And with that Tom, Ham and Myra Reynoso packed up their things and headed for the elevator for one last night of sleep before going home. Their journey with Myra was just beginning.

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