Our Journey to Meet Anderson in Cartagena, Colombia

Anderson and Eleanor Meet
Anderson and Eleanor Meet

It took a journey on Island Princess to remind my husband, Ralph, and me just how wonderful it is to take a child out for ice cream.

Ralph and I had taken our respective children (we are on our second marriages) out for ice cream so many times, the experiences have melted into a blur. Same goes for our eight grandkids. But we have another child, one we’d never taken out for anything, let alone ice cream.

His name is Anderson, and he lives in Cartagena, Colombia. We came to know him 10 years ago when I took a leap of faith and sponsored a child through Children International. I knew that I couldn’t change the world, but my hope was to at least change the world for one child.

And I think I have. For the past decade, Ralph and I have seen Anderson grow from seven to seventeen. We send small monthly checks and occasional gifts while receiving letters and photographs in return. He’s told us about his family, his soccer team and school. We’ve told him about our life in the United States, the family dog and the bears we used to see in our backyard when we lived in Pennsylvania.

In no time, we grew to love the child we never met. We put Anderson’s pictures on the wall, alongside our other children, and whipped out his photo from our wallets.

We tried to meet him once before on a previous Panama Canal cruise, but Mother Nature had other ideas and the port was canceled. This time around, we were determined to finally meet him.

Like most international affairs, ours came with tension. We’d arranged that the Children International rep would take Anderson, who was to wear a blue shirt and carry a sign, to where the cruise ship docked. But the port officials wouldn’t let their van through. Then, they prevented us from going to them on foot. Finally, we found an English-speaking officer who took mercy and let Anderson, his father and the Children International interpreter through the gates.

It was chaotic at the docks, so we charged to the van. Only then did we get to stop and look at each other. It was emotional. There was my son, Anderson, more handsome than his pictures, his smile more dazzling. He looked healthy and happy, which made me even happier.

We drove through the city together, through the fabled old town, but our attention was focused inside the van. I was so touched that Anderson asked us about our dog and wanted to know if we saw bears in South Carolina, where we now live, like Pennsylvania.

We asked Anderson where he wanted to go, which is how we ended up at the ice cream shop. This was our time, a decade of fostering him in one sweet moment. We told him to order as much ice cream as he wanted – three scoops. There we sat, all of us eating ice cream, Anderson laughing, with the spills running down his arm.

I cried when we said goodbye, he hugged me so hard and didn’t want to let go. We were in our 70s, and I imagine Anderson was thinking he would never see us again.

That was last year. Even though Anderson will graduate from the Children International program when he turns 18, we intend to stay connected by sponsoring his younger sister if she is accepted in the program.

We’re also planning to take another Princess Cruise through the Panama Canal in 2014, with the port of Cartagena our number-one priority; for Anderson is our son as much as any other.

Eleanor resides in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, and has enjoyed eight Princess cruises.