Ana Before Juanito | Translation
► Join Deambulantes. Our membership program help us continue covering Latin America.
►Lupa is our new app for Spanish learners who want to study with Radio Ambulante’s stories. More info at Lupa.app.
Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Today we start with a trip.
[Juanito Jonsson]: Well, look, today my little adventure in South America begins. I am going to catch a flight to La Paz and from there the trip continues. In other words, I’m excited, very excited.
[Daniel]: This is Johannes Jonsson. He is at the Lima airport. It is October 10, 2017 and a few days ago he arrived in Peru from Spain, where he lives. This trip is very important to him; that’s why he tries to record every moment on his cell phone.
[Daniel]: His flight is during the day, and from the plane window you have a clear view of the snow-capped peaks of the Andes and then the huge water mirror that is Lake Titicaca. Finally, after a stopover in Cusco, he lands in La Paz, Bolivia.
[Daniel]: At the airport, Johannes takes a taxi and goes straight to the bus terminal. It will be a long trip of more than 8 hours by road…
[Juanito]: Well, there’s a stop here in Caracollo, I think they said. I hope the bus doesn’t break down here.
[Daniel]: It’s night by the time he reaches his final destination.
As he enters the city, still on the bus, memories come rushing back to him:
[Juanito]: Very soon I’ll be home again, at least my first home.
[Daniel]: Cochabamba, his first home. The city where he spent his childhood and the one that gave him the nickname he would use throughout his life, because no one calls him Johannes. Everyone knows him as Juanito. That is what they began calling him in Bolivia when he arrived, just six months old, from Sweden, his native country.
That night, Juanito sleeps in a rented room. The next day, he goes out to visit La Cancha, a huge open-air market where you can buy everything you can imagine, from basic foods to household appliances.
[Daniel]: The scene is familiar to him because he has a painting of this market hanging in the living room of his house in Spain.
He also goes to his childhood neighborhood and walks through the streets until he stops in front of a two-story house. It has a simple façade, a flat roof and a brick-colored gate in front.
[Juanito]: This is the house my father built, where I grew up and lived the first years of my life. I have so many memories… But everything around it has changed; everything has changed.
[Daniel]: This used to be one of the few houses on the block, but now the neighborhood is much more populated. On one side is a three-story house and on the other side is a tall apartment building.
Juanito knocks on the door of the house. A man answers and he explains why he is there. A company has offices in the house, but the man kindly lets him in.
[Juanito]: Hello, good day…
[House owner]: He lived here; his parents built this.
[Daniel]: They tour the house together.
[Juanito]: My bedroom used to be here.
[House owner]: Was that there?
[Juanito]: No, I don’t think so.
[House owner]: What was that? A balcony?
[Juanito]: Yes, it used to be a balcony…
[Daniel]: Some things, however, are still preserved. The same wooden floors that Juanito remembered so well, and a fig tree in the patio. When heavy downpours fell, he and his brothers took the opportunity to go out and shower right there.
It’s been 38 years since the last time Juanito was here. Being reunited with this place where he had been so happy was something he’d always longed for. And it was wonderful, yes, but also incomplete. This is Juanito today, remembering that trip he made a little over five years ago:
[Juanito]: And I think that starting in 2017 is when the need really becomes clear: there is something missing. And what was missing was Ana.
[Daniel]: Ana Jiménez, the woman who took care of him during those first years of his life while his parents worked. That woman who had renamed him Juanito, whose legs he’d clung to as a child, the one who’d raised him like a son.
Standing there in front of his first house…
[Juanito]: A need arose in me to meet her again, but I didn’t understand why.
[Daniel]: He would end up understanding it quite a while later.
We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Our producer Aneris Casassus picks up the story. Here’s Aneris:
[Aneris Cassasus]: Let’s start at the beginning. Johannes—or rather, Juanito—was born on March 4, 1973 in a small town in Lapland, a region in northern Sweden.
[Juanito]: It is also northern Finland and northern Norway. And it’s where they say Santa Claus lives, next to the polar circle.
[Aneris]: He was the third child of Gunbritt and Ulf Jonsson, both evangelicals. She was a nurse and he was a pastor. They already had two other children: Maud, a seven-year-old girl, and Peter, two years old. The Jonssons had always dreamed of traveling the world as missionaries. The father had thought about Africa from a very young age:
[Juanito]: He even began studying Swahili, which is one of the languages of Central Africa, the same language that appears in The Lion King. Hakuna Matata? That’s Swahili.
[Aneris]: But then another option opened up: South America. Bolivia, to be precise. They had never been to America before, not even for a visit. And they barely spoke any Spanish. But they did know other Swedish missionaries who were living there.
Swedish missionaries of the Pentecostal movement began going to South America since the 1920s, mainly to northern Argentina and southern Bolivia, to evangelize.
Pentecostals are one of the branches of the evangelical movement derived from the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther more than 500 years ago. They believe that the Holy Spirit manifests in the body as a presence. It causes people to speak in tongues, prophesy, and cure diseases, among other things. Based on these beliefs, it differs from other Christian branches. For example, they do not venerate the Saints or the Virgin Mary. Nor do they have a supreme human authority like the Pope. They also allow any believer to become a pastor. For this reason, evangelicals were not well received by Catholics, who considered them a kind of “heretical” competition. But Catholic opposition did not stop them. Neither did the local resistance from many communities. Quite the opposite: they quickly began moving around the world and in a short time they became active in different countries.
It is estimated that over the years, around three thousand Swedish missionaries went out to the world. Their two main destinations were Tanzania, in Africa, and Bolivia.
By 1961, the so-called Free Swedish Mission in Bolivia had obtained legal status, allowing it to manage educational and health projects financed mainly through Swedish international cooperation. Those contributions, together with the money sent by the different churches in Sweden, were enough to pay for the entire mission. And for the government of Bolivia—which at that time was one of the poorest countries in Latin America—that made the presence of Swedish evangelicals attractive.
The Jonssons had already decided to go to Bolivia when Gunbritt became pregnant with Juanito. Although it was not planned, that was not an impediment for them. When Juanito was six months old, they decided to go ahead with their project.
[Juanito]: So what my father did was sell his car to buy one-way tickets to Bolivia.
[Aneris]: It was quite a drastic decision. Some relatives and friends told them it was completely crazy to go with such a young baby almost 11,000 kilometers away. Back then, in 1973, communications were more difficult and many feared that they would never hear from them again once they got there. But to them, that didn’t seem like a problem. In September of that year, the Jonssons and their three children flew from Sweden to Bolivia without knowing when they would return. They would leave their small town, where the river was frozen for half the year, to settle in Cochabamba, a city 2,600 meters above sea level.
[Aneris]: When they arrived in Cochabamba, the Jonssons went to live next to another family of Swedish missionaries they had contacted before leaving, who lent them a small house that they had on their land.
Juanito likes to repeat a much-commented anecdote in his family:
[Juanito]: My first bed in Bolivia was the same suitcase, made up as a bed. And I usually joke that when I cried a lot they probably just closed the suitcase.
[Aneris]: At the time, there were around a hundred Swedes, including the missionaries and their children, living in Bolivia, but a large percentage of them were concentrated in Cochabamba. A kind of colony was forming in an area that was not very populated. It was there that the father would build the house they would move into less than a year after arriving.
Soon Juanito’s parents began to visit the rural areas. The father traveled to the Andes a lot, with other missionaries, and he would be away for days. The mission had a small plane that allowed them to reach the most inaccessible communities in the mountains. The mother was part of a vaccination program sponsored by a Swedish social aid organization. She vaccinated children against measles, polio and tuberculosis.
Cultural differences did not seem to be a problem for them. The Jonssons had always “traveled light” and adapted easily to different situations. Nor was the language an obstacle. Juanito’s father had made up his mind to give his first sermon in Spanish in three months—and he did.
Juanito’s siblings began attending the Swedish School that had been founded a year earlier for the missionaries’ children. It was also a kind of coordination center for the entire mission in the area and the place for social gatherings. It operated in a large house with eight rooms that were used as classrooms. But Juanito was still too young to go to school.
[Juanito]: Since my parents worked a lot, they needed help with me, and that’s when Ana came to our lives.
[Aneris]: Ana, a 25-year-old Bolivian girl who worked at the Swedish School just two blocks from the Jonsson’s first house. Ana accepted the job offer and soon moved in with them.
Juanito’s mother had given her clear instructions on how to take care of the baby: the exact time to give him his milk, a cookie at 10. But it wasn’t long before Ana had gained the absolute trust of the family and she also began raising him in her own way.
[Juanito]: Bolivian women carried their children in a sort of package on… on their backs, and that’s how she carried me.
[Aneris]: She never called him Johaness. When she first met him, she started calling him Juanito, and soon the rest of the family, adopted the nickname. Sometimes she called him “my Swedish cholo,” that baby with big blue eyes and blond, almost white hair.
Although the images may be a little blurry, Juanito still remembers how they played hide and seek and or how they turned the chairs at home into a train.
[Juanito]: The memories are mostly of feelings of security, joy and a lot of play.
[Aneris]: He also remembers the trips, crossing the rivers in his father’s Land Rover, and the water festivals where all the neighborhood children played at war using water balloons, hoses and buckets.
[Juanito]: You could never ride with the car windows down, because they would fill it with water, so it was like all of Cochabamba played with each other. And I do remember that very well because it was something fantastic for a child.
[Aneris]: Those were happy years in Cochabamba, until Juanito’s parents decided to return to Sweden.
[Juanito]: They felt that their time there was over. They never had the intention of staying there forever.
[Aneris]: Juanito’s mother told Ana that at some point they would return to their country, but she told her about another missionary family that was arriving in Entre Ríos, in the Tarija department. They needed someone to help and guide them right away. If she wanted, she could contact them to work for them. Ana thought it was a good idea and she accepted. Juanito doesn’t remember the moment when he said goodbye to Ana and saw her for the last time.
But he does remember that, finally, in 1979, he returned to Sweden with his family. He was six years old and he would live there until he was 10.
After a trip to Spain, where he went to teach at a Bible institute, Juanito’s father decided to move there with his family. But Maud, the older sister, had already turned 18 and wanted to stay in Sweden. For this reason, the life of Juanito and his family would alternate between Sweden and Spain for almost a decade. That adolescence going from one place to the other confused him a little sometimes. He once asked his parents whether he was from Sweden or from Spain. And they weren’t sure how to answer.
[Juanito]: I came to the conclusion that I was Scandinavian and Swedish by heritage, but socially I was Spanish.
[Aneris]: He is expressive, he speaks with his hands… Quite affectionate in relating to others. More Spanish or, if you like, also more Latin. In fact, when Juanito shows up somewhere and talks about his life, he never fails to mention his childhood in Cochabamba.
[Juanito]: It is a part of my identity. I grew up in Bolivia. I see it as an honor to have lived there. Bolivia gave me my name, gave me love.
[Aneris]: When he turned 19, Juanito stayed in Spain permanently. He later married and had three children. And he decided to continue in his father’s vocation: to be a pastor and carry on with his church. Today he lives in Fuengirola, a city in Málaga, and runs a church called Next.
It was because of a church trip that he returned to Latin America in 2017 for the first time. He traveled to Lima to participate in a conference and, while there, he felt that Bolivia was too close not to go. Since he had two or three days off, he took a plane to La Paz.
[Aneris]: That’s what we heard at the beginning: from La Paz he traveled more than 8 hours by bus until he reached Cochabamba. And there, standing in front of his childhood home, he felt the need to know what had become of Ana’s life. But he didn’t have the time or any ideas on how to find her. When they left Bolivia, the Jonssons kept in touch with her for a while, but then they lost track and hadn’t heard from her again.
Back home in Spain, Juanito’s idea kept coming back into his head from time to time. And it was not until the confinement of the pandemic that it started to gain more strength. Going through photo albums and remembering the times in Bolivia with his family, he decided that it was time to start the plan to search for her. He had no contacts. He didn’t know where to start. The first thing he did was talk to his mother to see whether she still had any clue of someone in Bolivia who could help them. She called various friends and acquaintances until she finally found a starting point.
[Juanito]: And after a while, she gets her son’s phone number.
[Aneris]: His name was Daniel and he lived in Yacuiba, a city in southern Bolivia, about 900 kilometers from Cochabamba, right on the border with Argentina. Juanito did not want to call him right away. He let a few days go by until he finally made made up his mind and dialed the number. Daniel was in his shoe store when his cell phone rang…
[Daniel Huanca]: It was a strange number because it was not from Bolivia.
[Aneris]: He answered anyway.
[Daniel Huanca]: And when I answer, he says, “Hello, Daniel., I’m Juanito,” he says, right? I didn’t even know who Juanito was.
[Aneris]: But when he told him his last name, that sounded more familiar.
[Daniel Huanca]: So it started coming back to me, and I said in my head, I said, “This must be boy who shows up in the photograph.”
[Aneris]: Who shows up in the photos his mother had shown him many times. An album with pictures from the time she took care of a Swedish baby in Cochabamba, before he and his sister Verónica were born. When Ana learned that she could find people through social media, she had even once asked Daniel for help finding Juanito’s family. She wanted to know what had become of them and say hello. But they had had no luck that time.
[Aneris]: In that call, Daniel told Juanito that his mother also lived in Yacuiba and that she used to sell candy on the street. That at almost 74 years old, she sometimes had a few ailments, but she still wanted to continue living by herself in her house.
With that information, Juanito made the decision he had already thought about: if he found Ana, he would go see her to thank her for everything she had done for him.
[Daniel Huanca]: So Juanito tells me, “I’m coming to Bolivia. And I’m coming to Santa Cruz.”
[Aneris]: Daniel told him that from Santa Cruz it was about eight hours by bus. “Well, I’ll be there, then. In about two weeks.”
[Aneris]: Before hanging up, Juanito asked Daniel to please keep the secret. He wanted to surprise her.
During those two weeks, Daniel resisted the urge to say anything. Since Ana’s house had flooded from the last rain and there were things scattered everywhere, Daniel told Ana that he wanted to help her put everything in order because in a few days a visitor would arrive from Santa Cruz, but he didn’t tell her who it was. Ana had not found it strange because she has many relatives and acquaintances who live there. So she didn’t ask too many questions.
In April 2022, Juanito took a plane from Málaga to Madrid, then another to Lima, and then another to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. He was happy but anxious at the same time:
[Juanito]: It’s like a… I don’t know whether to call it adrenaline, but an expectation of what is about to happen.
[Aneris]: When he arrived in Santa Cruz, he took a bus with three other friends who lived there and who would accompany him on his adventure. They traveled all night to Yacuiba. At 6:30 a.m., Juanito arrived in that city full of lapachos, trees with white, pink, and yellow flowers that bloom in winter. Daniel, as promised, was waiting for him at the terminal. He recognized him as soon as he got off the bus:
[Daniel Huanca]: You realize which is the one coming from another country, because he was tall, white and, well, without hair this time, right?
[Aneris]: Juanito had lost the blond hair that Daniel had seen in the baby pictures his mom had shown him. They greeted each other, hugged and began walking the two blocks that separate the bus terminal from Ana’s house.
[Daniel Huanca]: Juanito asked me, “Did you tell your mom I was coming?“, he says. “No,” I said, “she does not know.” “So what did you tell her?” “I told her that people were coming to see her from Santa Cruz, not from another country.”
[Aneris]: That same morning, before going to the terminal, Daniel had stopped by his mother’s house to tell her that the visitors he’d mentioned a few days ago would arrive shortly. Like Juanito, Daniel was also excited, happy:
[Daniel Huanca]: I knew it was going to be great news at home, that would bring great joy to my mom’s heart.
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Aneris continues the story.
[Aneris]: Daniel, Juanito, and their friends walked those blocks talking all the while, until, in the distance, Juanito saw Ana. Of course, she was no longer the young woman he remembered, but a petite, gray-haired lady who was sweeping in front of her house. More than 40 years had passed since they had last been together. With a small bag hanging from his shoulder, Juanito anxiously advanced the last stretch until he reached Ana.
[Aneris]: As Ana continued sweeping, she saw that her son Daniel was arriving with someone else. She went into the house for a moment to leave the broom and returned to the door. Juanito approached her:
[Juanito]: Hello, Ana!
[Ana Jiménez]: Welcome!
[Juanito]: I don’t know whether you recognize me. I am Juanito.
[Ana]: The little one?
[Juanito]: The little one.
[Ana]: The one that used to say “Ana, Ana?”
[Juanito]: The one who used to say “Ana…”
[Aneris]: As she says this, Ana bends down and stretches out her arms, as if imitating the gesture of a child who wants to grab an adult’s legs. She then raises her hands to heaven, as a sign of gratitude, and she hugs Juanito, who is already a man, almost two heads taller, and who bends down to receive that long-awaited hug…
[Juanito]: You see, we found you.
[Ana]: I remember you. Come in!
[Juanito]: Yes, yes, yes.
[Aneris]: Ana invites them into her house. They enter the room that is full of boxes and things stacked everywhere. It is a small house, made of cement and bricks.
While Ana passes around coffee, Juanito pulls out of his bag a gift he has brought for Ana. It is an album with several photos.
[Juanito]: Look. It’s for you to see.
[Ana]: Oh, dear…
[Juanito]: This is you and…
[Aneris]: Juanito wants to tell her that it’s the two of them, more than 40 years ago, but he can’t finish the sentence because Ana breaks down in tears and hugs him. She immediately starts sharing her memories:
[Ana]: We used to go for walks, or on the bicycle… And he would throw his hat down on the street. “My nana, my nana!”
[Juanito]: My mana, of course, you were my nana.
[Ana]: That’s what you called me.
[Juanito]: You were my nana.
[Aneris]: Ana goes on to tell him that she’d had a saddle made for her bike so that she could take him out to visit a relative or to do the shopping. That she used to put a hat on him but every so often he would take it off and throw it in the middle of the street. It was a sign of happiness, a kind of code they had between the two of them.
Juanito shows her photos of his family, how they are now:
[Juanito]: This is our entire family at my son’s wedding. This is Maud and Peter and me, and these are my parents.
[Aneris]: Ana is moved. She never expected the person who would come to visit that April morning was Juanito, her Swedish cholo.
[Ana]: I am very happy. For me it’s a long time dream after so many years since the last time. You were so young.
[Juanito]: And look, we all turned out all right.
[Ana]: It was, it was him… always…
[Aneris]: Nor did she imagine that her own son, Daniel, had been a part of that surprise with a white lie:
[Ana]: Now I’m going to smack his head because he didn’t tell me who it was…
[Juanito]: Of course, you didn’t know.
[Daniel Huanca]: He told me not to tell you.
[Ana]: I thought my relatives were the ones visiting.
[Aneris]: When I spoke with Ana—six months after Juanito’s visit—she was still excited by that meeting. She told me it was a huge surprise to see again that child she had raised. I asked her whether she had recognized him easily.
[Ana]: How could I, if he is already married, with children? My poor Juanito was not a bald man.
[Aneris]: Juanito, for his part, was surprised to see Ana’s lucidity. Despite all the years that had passed, she clearly remembered everything she had experienced with him: how he used to tug at her skirt, or the scolding she had to give him when he was mischievous, like when he started squeezing the tube of toothpaste.
Juanito had never known much about Ana’s life, but when he started looking for her, he found out a few things about what her life had been like before she came to his house.
Ana was born in Oruro, a city in the western part of Bolivia, but she went to Cochabamba as a child. She lived with her parents and her six siblings. But when she was 13, her mother died.
[Ana]: And my family fell apart. Some went to Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz, so we have grown apart.
[Aneris]: She went to school up to the sixth grade and then went to work cleaning houses. Her mother had raised her in the Baptist Church, another branch of the evangelicals, and she had always been very devout. One day, at the church she was going to, she met a boy who played the guitar there. They soon fell in love and got married. Ana had not yet turned 20. A year later, they had her first daughter, Sara, and almost two years later their second, Pamela. But one day, Ana received the worst news. Her husband had died in an accident at the electric company where he worked. From then on, Ana’s life began to collapse.
After the death of her husband, Ana was left homeless because she no longer had enough to pay the rent. She went with her daughters to a children’s boarding school. She worked preparing food, but soon came down with severe pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. At the hospital they also found that she was undernourished and that she had a heart murmur. Her health prognosis was very poor. The doctor told her that it was hopeless, she had no chance of surviving. Ana could think of only one thing: What would her girls do if she was gone?
[Ana]: And the nerves. The children, the worry.
[Aneris]: They had no one else. They would be left alone in the boarding school, without her to protect them in a place that could be very hostile. She also did not place a lot of trust in some people who, in theory, offered to help her.
[Ana]: And Bolivians came and, “I’m going to take Sara,” “I’m going to take Pamela,” and I know how they treat them. They will never say, “This is my daughter” if someone asks. “No, she’s my little maid, she’s my foundling.” That stung inside and made me cry.
[Aneris]: It was then that she received a proposition from some Swedish missionaries who were in Cochabamba:
[Ana]: “Look, we don’t have children,” he said.
[Aneris]: They told her they wanted to adopt the girls and that it would all be legal. Something inside her made her trust that Swedish couple and, with immense pain…
[Ana]: My heart said, “Yes.” I accepted.
[Aneris]: Sara was three and a half years old and Pamela almost two.
[Ana]: I no longer had my husband, I was losing my children, I was about to lose my life. But in my heart there was an inner peace.
[Aneris]: She felt that that would be the best future she could give her daughters if she died, and so they started all the adoption procedures. We couldn’t confirm exactly how the process went. Back then, the laws were not framed from the point of view of children’s rights, and the authorities had a certain margin of freedom when making decisions.
Ana still has a very clear memory of what Sara, her oldest daughter, told her while they were being fingerprinted at the police station.
[Ana]: “Mommy, Pamela should stay, she pees and poops, mommy.” So I told her, “Look, darling, I’m ill, I’m sick, I can’t take care of you. You are going to be a good girl, darling, and you are going to take care of her.”
[Aneris]: After doing the paperwork at the police station, Ana returned to the hospital. Once all the papers were ready and the adoption was approved, the Swedish couple left with Pamela and Sara for the airport to fly home to Sweden. Ana did not want to accompany them, but she sat under the shade of a tree and looked at the sky. He remembers that day perfectly.
[Ana]: And the planes came down, went up, down, up. Which one were they on? I don’t know.
[Aneris]: Sick and without her daughters, Ana had a very hard time at first. She spent her time thinking about them. What are they doing? Will they be taking good care of them? Will they be happy? Will they remember her? Will they miss her?
But one day, she received something that gave her peace of mind. The Swedish couple had sent a package for her. It was a photo album of the girls.
[Ana]: There she is, happy with her father. She is skiing. She is at the racetrack. Everywhere playing with him. She had it all, a mother, a granny, a father.
[Aneris]: They had the family that she couldn’t give them. The girls kept their names—only their family name had changed—and apparently had a happy childhood. And that was the only thing that mattered to Ana.
Against all medical odds, a few months after giving her daughters up for adoption, Ana’s health began to improve. When she was fully recovered, she began to look for a job. Since she had always been very active in different evangelical churches, and since she knew several missionaries, she got a job at the Swedish school in Cochabamba. And there she got an offer to work with Juanito’s family.
[Ana]: So they asked me, “Don’t you want to work with a new family that comes from Sweden? They have a baby,” they told me. And I said, “All right.”
[Aneris]: They got along well from the beginning. Although she found them colder and more distant than the Bolivian people, she was used to working with other Swedes and she liked that they were orderly and strict.
The family eagerly savored the food that Ana prepared for them: the meatballs, the banana cake… And if Ana ever cooked something they didn’t like, she used those same ingredients the next day and prepared a different dish they could not resist. Ana did not throw away anything; she used everything.
But her priority was Juanito. As soon as she met him, she felt something special. He was such a sweet and loving baby to her. She felt happy being with him; he helped her forget her sadness.
[Ana]: He filled what I had lost in my heart. So beautiful.
[Aneris]: After working for the Jonssons, Ana went to Entre Ríos to work with the Swedish family that Juanito’s mother had recommended. I asked her what she felt when saying goodbye to them.
[Ana]: Emptiness again in my heart.
[Aneris]: Although she was very devout, sometimes she even got angry with God:
[Ana]: “You have taken my husband from me, you have taken two children from me. Now again, what you had given me… Why, why?” That’s how I felt.
[Aneris]: But life would give her a new opportunity. After some time in Entre Ríos, Ana moved to Yacuiba. She fell in love, remarried, and had two more children, Verónica and Daniel, whom we already met. Some time later, her second husband abandoned her. Ana never hid from her children the story about their half-sisters, who were given up for adoption and who lived in Sweden. She couldn’t have, either. The pain was always with her.
Here‘s Daniel again:
[Daniel Huanca]: I think that moment has been very, very difficult for her, right? Because when she talks about it, she looks very sad. She always remembers that.
[Aneris]: Once, Sara, the oldest, returned to Bolivia and wanted to be reunited with her mother. Ana had dreamed of that moment many times, of seeing her daughter grown up, hugging her after so many years. When she greeted her…
[Ana]: She didn’t know a word of Spanish.
[Aneris]: She spoke Swedish. A friend served as translator so they could chat a bit.
[Ana]: When she has come, she has been calm, perhaps because of what she has suffered, she is quieter, more closed.
[Aneris]: Ana has not been able to forget that request her daughter made of her at the police station when she was little: that her sister Pamela should stay because she was still too young to be separated.
Sara had brought her pictures of Pamela’s wedding. And when she saw them, Ana, with the intuition of a mother, got a clear image of her personality:
[Ana]: From the photo she has shown me, she has the same character as I do. Doing things fast. That’s how she looks.
[Aneris]: Along with the photos, Pamela had sent her a letter.
[Ana]: She writes me a few paragraphs. “I love you, mommy.” Not like that, with love.
Then Pamela said, “I have many letters from you.” I sent her things, I embroidered things, typical things like that. I always sent them to her.
[Aneris]: Sara’s trip was the only time, so far, that she would see one of her two oldest daughters again. Ana doesn’t want to pressure them. She knows that if they want to see her or talk, they know where they can find her.
When Juanito learned all this story, he finally understood why he, even though he was so young, remembered Ana in such a unique way. And why now, as an adult, he needed to find her to thank her for everything.
[Juanito]: Now that I know the story, I understand better, because there was a connection between her and me, which was not normal.
And when we say that she took care of me as if I were her son, for her it really was so. The strange feeling I have is that I have received the love that they would have received.
[Aneris]: Juanito spent just a total of one day in Yacuiba, enough to reconnect with Ana. He had to return to Santa Cruz that very evening to return to Spain. Ana accompanied him to the bus terminal. They walked those few blocks and Juanito, just like when he was a child, took her hand and didn’t let go until he got on the bus.
[Daniel]: During the bus ride, Juanito edited the videos his friends recorded of the meeting to send them to his family. And then, once at the airport, he uploaded them to TikTok. To his surprise, his post went viral, with more than 2 million views in a few hours, and within days it reached more than 3 and a half million views. For a brief time, Ana was famous.
Ana and Juanito keep in touch, speaking from time to time. And Juanito has promised to visit her again in the future.
Aneris Casassus is a producer for Radio Ambulante and lives in Buenos Aires. This episode was edited by Camila Segura and me. The fact-checking was done by Bruno Scelza. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Rémy Lozano, Ana Tuirán and Andrés.
Special thanks to Jan-Åke Alvarsson, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University in Sweden, and author of the book “The Story of the Free Swedish Mission in Bolivia,” whom we also interviewed for this episode.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Diego Corzo, José Díaz, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Melisa Rabanales, Laura Rojas Aponte, Natalia Sánchez Loayza, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.