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by Nicole Yang - Founder of Harmony Home


xixiOn the fourteenth day after Xixi was born, I went to pick him up at the Tainan Chimay Hospital where he was being cared for by Dr. Huang of the Pediatrics Department. When I first entered the room, this two-week old baby directly looked at me with his beautiful eyes as I approached him. As we looked at each other, I felt as if we’ve already known each other in my past life. From then on, I deeply fell in love with this baby.

After bringing him to Harmony Home, I took care of him carefully, regularly fed him his antiretroviral (ARV) medicine and brought him for his HIV tests. His first test showed that he was HIV positive. But when he has reached 14 months, his last definitive test showed that he is HIV negative.

False positive HIV test results occur when the mother passes infection-fighting antibodies to the baby while in her womb. Months after babies are born, although they are not infected with HIV, they will have HIV antibodies in their system and will test positive. As babies grow older, the mother’s antibodies will eventually be replaced by the babies’ own antibodies. That is why according to the following test, a 14-month-old baby, originally HIV positive, would test HIV negative. Although Xixi’s life seemed to be doomed in the beginning, he was fortunately saved from the harsh reality of HIV and can grow up happily. The nickname I have given him, Xixi, is very fitting because the Chinese character “喜”means “happy, joyous”.

On November 2007, Xixi was adopted by an American couple and left Taiwan to be with his new family in Missouri. His mother, Marilyn, comes from German and French descent, while his father, Andy, is from English descent. Probably because of their mixed family backgrounds, their thinking is very much open and accepting to people of different races and cultures much different to those who strongly discriminate people because of color. They also have a great love for children. This is the reason why, when their two sons have grown up, they decided to adopt two girls from India, Shabri and Kira, within the period of six years. After a while, the couple decided to adopt one more child. Fortunately, their mental, physical as well as their financial conditions allowed them to have Xixi in their lives. Xixi became their fifth child.

On July 24, 2008, I went to the U.S. to visit Xixi in his new home before going to Mexico to attend the 17th International AIDS conference held that year. I went with Xi-Ma (short for Xixi’s Mama), a 19-year-old undergraduate volunteer who got her nickname because she was so fond of the child. After several times of transferring and long-distance flights, we finally arrived in a small village in Missouri. It was a safe, pleasant village where people follow the traditional simple and pragmatic American values of which family is the top priority. People can leave their doors unlocked while sleeping, even without any security systems installed in their houses. Our hosts own a huge garden which seems to be as large as an entire community in a big city. They grow their own corns, tomatoes, and different kinds of fruits. Driving out of the garden, we would gaze upon a serene scenery—a farm where herds of cows, horses, and sheep wander freely. The night we arrived, they welcomed us with a feast.

Andy, who is a kind and honest man, runs a SOHO business in transporting produce. Marilyn, who was a teacher by profession for 15 years, is now retired and became a full-time housewife and a teacher for her children as they decided to have their children homeschooled. As I observed their attitude towards their children and their success in educating Shabri, who was outgoing, polite, independent, and able to read and tell stories at the age of seven, I knew then that Xixi would one day grow up to be as smart and outgoing just like his sister, Shabri.

On Sunday morning, all seven of us went to the church. On the stage, Andy and Marilyn played the guitar to accompany the choir singing. Their two daughters attended the Bible reading class, and Xixi played puzzles with other children in the Kindergarten classroom. It felt nice to be part of their family Sunday routine. That night, after being with Xixi for days, he seemed to recall his life in Taiwan and who I was to him. I stayed with him in his room, until around two a.m. when he finally fell asleep under my lullaby.

On Monday, Adam, who is a family friend, invited us all to “Camp Barnabas” which was established for individuals who are physically challenged. The founders, a couple whose child is also physically challenged, realized that often times, people with disabilities often times were not given opportunities to participate in general sports or activities. This was why they decided to set up the camp, which is now operated by a Christian church with twelve thousand volunteers.

There was a costume party that night, the theme of which was Egypt and many people dressed themselves as Egyptians. Traditional American food was served at the party. When they played the music, cute Xixi immediately danced to the music the way he usually did when he was in Taiwan. I was pleasantly surprised when he added some guitar-paying moves into his dance. When the music ended and he saw that the stage was empty, he excitedly pulled me up the stage remembering the education campaigns in different schools I brought him to when he was small. He handed me the microphone and wanted me to speak the way he remembered me doing during our campaigns on HIV/AIDS Awareness and Prevention. It seemed that his memories of me, his “Mimi”, included giving performances and speeches on stage.

On Tuesday, Adam invited us to visit his neighbor’s holiday cottage. He enthusiastically passed each of us a life jacket, and then took us on a boat ride from the shore to the center of the lake. Everyone jumped into the lake and played in the water happily. Xi-Ma, who didn’t swim, enjoyed riding the Jet Ski with Adam instead. At first, Xixi was afraid to swim with the rest, but with Marilyn’s gentle coaxing for him to come swim with them, he found the courage to go out of the boat and play with Shabri and Kira in the water. And as I watch how he and everyone enjoyed the cool waters, I also savored my first time to swim in the lake.

On Wednesday morning, Andy took Xixi to the corn fields to harvest corns. At nine o’clock, Marilyn took us to peel hundreds of corns, cut the corn off after boiling them, and after packing them, put them into the freezer. They said that the frozen corns can be stored for winter food. As we prepared the corns, I tasted raw corn for the first time. Its sweetness is unforgettable and even until now, I can still remember how it good it was.

On Thursday, Andy and Marilyn took us to visit Silver Dollar City-- a theme park, somewhat similar to Disneyland. The difference between them was that the former emphasized more on traditional crafts, operation techniques and displays of American Craftsmanship. We were all soaking wet after taking fun rides and playing with water. This helped cool our sun-burnt skin after spending the whole day in the amusement park. But the real satisfaction for us was seeing the radiant smiles of Shabri, Kira and Xixi as they enjoyed themselves with their water adventures.

The next day was my last day to be with Xixi. I was scheduled to fly to New Mexico to visit another child, Xiao-long, whom I also took care of in Harmony Home and was adopted by a good family. That morning, I was alone with Xixi, and several times I had to turn away to hide my tears. Marilyn confided that Xixi is afraid of goodbyes. He would be very upset each time visitors left the house and whenever his brothers left for work. So Andy and Marilyn decided to bring him to the airport with us. On our way to the airport, Xixi kept telling Marilyn, “Mommy, MiMi don’t go back home, MiMi stay home.” in a gloomy and innocent voice. He cried and wished that I could stay here with him. In the airport, after I bought dolls for his sisters and toy cars for him, I stepped to the boarding gate and said farewell to everyone with a hug. Xima distracted Xixi by bringing him to other places so that he would not have to watch me leave and become upset again.

As I left Missouri, I felt how my reluctance to say goodbye to Xixi was just as strong as the time when he left Taiwan for his new home. I convinced myself to let him go and hope that his life would continue to be blessed. And as for Xima, before she left them, she promised that she will send presents to Shabri, Kira, and Xixi on their birthdays every year so that they will remain connected with us, and for Xixi, to remember how much he is loved.