In February 1985 special contributor Gary Smith traveled to Bolivia with his wife, Sally, to interview a BYU football player serving a Mormon mission. The Smiths had recently married, and the trip doubled as a honeymoon. The Smiths ultimately decided to live for a time in Bolivia, and last summer the two Delaware natives put aside their regular lives and moved to the Andean city of Cochabamba (pop .305,000). Sally took a job as a volunteer in the pediatric ward of a local hospital, while Gary taught English to teenagers at the Cuidad del Ni‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±o orphanage. "In so many ways Bolivia is the flip side of America," says Gary. "It's so completely different. That's what we wanted to experience."
The Smiths' stay in Bolivia unexpectedly changed their lives. One day at the hospital where Sally worked, a six-month-old Quechua Indian girl named Gabriela was admitted for treatment of anemia, third-degree malnutrition and parasites. Her parents had abandoned her. As Sally fed her mashed bananas, hard-boiled eggs and milk, Gabri's health improved quickly. But she was kept in a crib 24 hours a day and was rarely held or talked to. "It was as if she had been sitting in a vacuum," says Sally. "She didn't know how to respond to human contact. She had no curiosity. She just sat in the crib with her shoulders slumped forward. I had to hold her up so she would stand."
After six months, no one had claimed Gabri. Says Gary, "We'd planned on waiting to have children, but we just looked at the situation and said, 'Here it is. Let's go for it.' "
The Smiths went through the necessary steps and became Gabri's legal guardians in March. The baby was still withdrawn when the couple brought her home to their one-bedroom cottage in Cochabamba. "She was 14 months old and didn't even know how to crawl," says Sally. "But after a week or two, it was incredible how quickly her personality started to come out."
June 7, 1987
Two months ago, the Smiths returned to the U.S. They are living in Charleston, S.C., and waiting for the adoption to become final. Gary is writing for us again—his profile of Gerry Cooney begins on page 76—and Sally has entered the Medical University of South Carolina. Gabri, who will be two on Sept. 15, won't be an only child for long: Sally is expecting in October.
"It's going to be a little crazy around here," says Gary, adjusting quickly to the role of Mr. Mom. "One of the reasons we went to Bolivia is that we didn't want things planned. We enjoy things happening spontaneously. I guess that's what we got."