Category Archives: #orphanage


Dalia is a sweet child who is nine years old, and recently came to live at the orphanage.

Her language Teacher explained to me that she is far behind in her language studies, and asked me to help her with some simple exercises. Basically, I was asked to put 2 letters together and have Dalia pronounce the sound.

La. Ca. Ma.

Su. Tu.

Vo. Lo. Co.

We did fairly well with 2 letters, although when she regressed I went back to one letter before I could resume stacking the second letter onto the first. Over and over again.

I noticed that she would often read the sound backwards, especially when I added a 3rd letter.

Los became “Sol.”

As I leafed through the book looking for simple words to use, I found a page with the words uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, …

And then Dalia took off in flight.

With rapid fire succession, she whipped through the numbers faster than I have ever heard anyone count … Blowing through 100 and beyond … unwilling to stop. She knew this was her strength, and she just kept going.

I let her go for sometime, however at some point I felt that I should call her back to the lesson. Language is her weakness, and I finally got her back on task.

Very interesting … so week in language, yet so strong with numbers.

Dyslexia came to my mind almost immediately, but her Teacher said that they don’t believe she has that condition since she does not mix her numbers. In fact, she is always the first one with the correct answer in Math class. In any case, they have asked the State to do some testing on her, and hopefully she´ll get the prognosis she needs.

Up to this point they have been focused on making sure that her emotional needs are satisfied, and once that process is well established they will develop an educational plan just for her.

She may have had a rough start, but she has landed in a good place, and is now surrounded by very capable people who can help her heal and learn.

Muchos gracias to those of you who asked me to carry a donation to the orphanage, I gave them a check before I left today. They were most grateful, and I am sure the money will be put to good use.

Public Transportation in Mexico

I thought old town Puerto Vallarta woke up earlier in the morning, but when I headed out today at 6:45 A.M. the streets were still dark and not many people were out. I walked about 3 blocks until I found a street where 3 busses sat idling, and then approached the bus drivers standing on the corner. I uttered the magic word “Wal-Mart,” and one of the drivers pointed to his bus and said “Un momento” (one minute).

When you enter the bus you hand your pesos to the driver, there is no fancy coin machine that processes your bus fare. The driver stacks your coins neatly in the wooden box to their right.

The seats are hard plastic, which you really feel bouncing across the cobblestone streets of old town. And if you happen to hit a pothole while sitting in the back of the bus, it’s almost enough to knock a tooth filling out.

This bus is like most of the others in town, it is quite old and does not have any air conditioning. It comes to a screeching halt every time it stops, however I could tell by the sound of the engine, and by the way the driver moved smoothly through the gears, that this bus was well maintained.

I had assumed that this was one of the busses that would take a direct route from old town to Wal-Mart, but when he took off he drove through the tunnel and headed out into the burrows that surround the town. When I had boarded the bus there were 2 of us, but gradually we started picking up more passengers, so I moved over to the window seat. We kept stopping so that more and more people could get on. Then the driver asked those standing in the aisle to scrunch to the back of the bus, and more people got on. We were packed in there like sardines, the aisle was completely full all the way down to the last step with the door open. Then he stopped again and let still more people on … and I was the only gringo. When we finally got to the Wal-Mart I expected the bus to empty, but only a few people got off and then the bus started filling up again. I had to squeeze past my seat-mate, then squeeze down the aisle, and finally squeeze down the steps sideways until I popped out.

So here I was at the Wal-Mart, but I still did not know how to get to the orphanage. Bus maps are hard to read in Spanish, plus I am not at all familiar with this end of town. So I decided that the prudent thing to do was approach the taxi sitting there at the bus stop. I showed the driver the address of my destination, and asked “Cuanto cuesta?” (How much?). He said “50 pesos,” and I jumped in. I thought that was a pretty good deal, for about $4 he took me the rest of the way and dropped me off at the gate of the orphanage.

I arrived at the orphanage around 8:15 A.M., and walked up to the door, where I found a man standing and waiting to get in. I asked him, “Usted trabaja aqui? (Do you work here?). He said “Si,” and then said a bunch more that I did not understand. But he motioned to a door on the other side of the building and said something about “diez horas,” which I understood to mean that I should return at 10:00 A.M.

There is a wide alley, probably about 30 yards wide by 100 yards long, which leads from the street to the orphanage compound. And within that alley there is a makeshift “restaurant” (there are lots of those in PV), with a plastic canopy overhead and plastic chairs at card tables. I sat down and the chef immediately wiped off my table, and then placed several plastic bowls on the table before covering them with a towel. There’s no menu, but I figured out that we were having meat tacos for breakfast. A few other patrons showed up, and we waited together for the “carne” (meat) to cook. When she brought my meat taco to the table, she removed the towel that was covering the plastic bowls … each bowl had something different in it, pico de gallo, spicy carrots, marinated cucumbers, hot sauce, etc. All that for a mere 9 pesos (about 75 cents), so after I ate I gave her a 20 peso bill and said “gracias” before walking down the street to find something to do for the next hour and a half.

When I returned at 10:00 AM the door I expected to be open was still closed, and all the other doors were closed as well. I was a little surprised by that since many people in PV leave both their doors and windows open … you can be walking down the sidewalk in old town and practically be in the living room of some of the residents who are sitting just inside. I finally found a doorbell, and was greeted by a Spanish-speaking member of the kitchen staff. I could not pull any Spanish out of me that made sense to her, so I showed her a copy of the email I received from a specific person on staff. She recognized the name, and walked me through the kitchen and led me to Aurora.

When I entered the room, Aurora was surrounded by about 5 kids standing next to her looking over her shoulder. Another 5 were sitting at the table watching what she was writing on the pad, and about 10 more kids were sitting at tables working on their lessons. She said “Hola,” but did not remember that I had (1) corresponded with her, or (2) planned to be there that day. She asked me to wait for a bit (the second time that day I heard “un momento”), and so I just kind of milled around the room for awhile. Then the kitchen staff person brought me a phone and said something about “Hablas Ingles” (speak English), and I felt relieved to be able to explain why I was there. I spoke with a very nice lady who asked if I could return tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. and spend at least 2 hours visiting. I told her I would be happy to return.

Then I started the long journey back to old town, this time all the way by bus. When I finally got back to my room around Noon, I felt like I had been beat up. It was good for me to experience firsthand what many of the working class in PV experience on a daily basis, the daily commute on public transportation to support the tourism industry.


I have never raised a child, and I’m pretty sure I never will. But my heart aches today as if my only child was killed before my very eyes.

Hamzat Alexandrov was born April 17, 1998, God knows where in Europe. It could have been Russia, it could have been in some nearby country. His mother was a travelling gypsy who does not know the identity of the father. After raising him for several years in the travelling gypsy clan, one day she decided that she no longer wanted to be a mother … and she dropped Hamzat off somewhere.

I don’t know where she left him.

Several months later the Russian Government tracked her down and asked her if she wanted Hamzat back.

She said no.

I hope she did not just abandon him because she wanted the freedom to party. I sincerely hope that in her heart-of-hearts she believed that he would be better off being raised by others.

He ended up at the Yurievets Boarding School in the Ivanova Region of Russia, about 8 years old at the time and with no formal education to that point. He was way behind in school, but fortunately landed in a place where people love him.

I met Hamzat through a picture of him on a table in the foyer of church. A Christian organization had established roots in Russian orphanages, and he was one of many Russian orphans who needed a sponsor.

My wife Sheri liked his salute in the picture, thought he looked like a real character, and suggested that we pick him. I agreed, and I am so thankful we picked Hamzat.

Last June we had the good fortunate to be able to travel to Russia with a group of others to spend a week in Yurievets, and it was one of the most difficult yet rewarding weeks of my life. Getting to know Hamzat and the other kids at the orphanage was a special blessing that I will always cherish.

Since returning from our trip, we have written to him regularly … and periodically we have received updates about all the benefits that the sponsorship program provides the kids, including a personal note from Hamzat.

Until now.

Incredulously, the Russian Government has decided to end this particular sponsorship program. This means that we can no longer sponsor Hamzat financially, we can no longer send letters to him, and we can no longer receive updates about him and from him.

I don’t know whether to sob or scream … I keep bouncing back and forth.

I feel like someone has killed my only child right before my very eyes.