An unanswered question

I had always planned to retire to Hawaii. At one time, a few years ago, this may have come as a surprise to some of the folks I've allowed close to me in my long life.

I'd never been to the islands once during my first 50 years of strolling around the prettier parts of this earth (Sun Valley, Seattle, etc.) But I knew what desires lurked in my secret heart, and I also believed that everything happens for a reason. So I wasn't surprised in  early 2000 when a former editor asked me if I'd like to be his senior reporter - he had just taken over the newsgathering of the only daily published on the island of Kauai, Hawaii's geologically oldest and, many say, prettiest island.

I jumped at the chance.

My two years on Kauai were both good and bad, but the only fact I was certain of when I returned to Seattle in the spring of 2002 was that no place harboring other human beings was paradise. Nor could it be unless we as a species were somehow drastically improved.

But despite my disillusionment, I find I can't quite get Hawaii off my mind. Especially on days like today, deep in June, when the sun I'd finally grown re-accustomed to has once again ducked behind some clouds, and the temperature has dropped 20 degrees in 20 hours.

I find I miss Kauai - where I'm sure, without checking USA Today's weather page, that it is 84 and sunny. That's why I am always following the news out there in the South Pacific on my old paper's Web site.

The times that the Garden Island's front page dovetails with The Seattle Times' front page during an average year can be counted on one hand. But last week Kauai made the front of the Times' B local section.

Lauryn Galindo, 53, of Kauai, built a worldwide reputation operating a Seattle adoption agency featuring Cambodian children. Galindo and her sister and partner, Lynn Devin, of Mercer Island, represented the little tykes to potential parents as orphans. She numbered the rich and famous among her clients, including movie star Angelique Jolie, who adopted an "orphan" through Galindo's business.

Galindo, who lived in an expensive beachfront property on Kauai, in an area of the island overrun by rich haoles, told Seattle media over the years that many of the children's parents had been killed by landmines and other byproducts of the nearly-20-year civil war that has plagued the poor Southeast Asian nation.

Galindo had been quoted as saying, "Every child has his or her own story." Turned out one of the common stories the kids had wasn't told to the press or to potential parents.

Galindo charged prospective parents approximately $11,000 for each adoption, a portion of which she claimed went to the Cambodian government for their alleged help in making orphans available. But Galindo had in many cases bought the children from parents for as little as $100. Both sisters have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

People who have adopted children via Galindo and her sis will not be forced to give them back, according to federal officials.

Kauai, of course, like many small and pretty places reliant on tourism, puts great store in its reputation. Friends of mine back there don't even like to talk about Galindo, her sister and their baby-selling scam. But in a big city like Seattle, Galindo's name and crime pop up, get written about and disappear back into the media murk. The news, in black and white, doesn't leave much room for questions about gray areas.

What Galindo and her sister did, selling misrepresented children for a huge profit, is obviously a crime. They both should do time, despite their attorneys pleas that they are "humanitarians." We all know that lawyers are capable of saying anything. But one can't help wondering how sad it is that there are  parents living so close to starvation and poverty that they would be willing to sell their own flesh and blood for $100.

It is hard for someone living in Seattle, even a poor newspaper columnist, to understand.

I single-parented my two daughters through their teen years. Money was tight. Space was limited; three of us lived in a one-bedroom, Lower Queen Anne apartment. But I wouldn't have been tempted to sell either of my girls for a hell of a lot more than $100. (I was often tempted to give them away, but that's another story.)

Were some of the poor Cambodian parents just happy to give their children a chance at a better life?

In situations like these, reporters on Kauai and in Seattle talk to prosecutors, defense attorneys and the like - folks involved in the crime-and-punishment phase of a callous, money -making scam.

But the real questions behind this story could be answered only by folks too poor, and likely considered too unimportant, even to be considered: the original parents of the human chattel Galindo and her sister sold at great profit for themselves. One wonders what the children - adopted out of a culture that civil war has almost destroyed, to a place (whatever its problems) where even the poor generally have a television and a taste for Big Macs - think about Galindo and her Mercer Island sister.

That's the question haunting me after reading all the articles in both Seattle and Kauai newspapers. There are always going to be people willing to make money off other people's sufferings and then declare their innocence of wrongdoing. But as I get older, those people, the criminals, interest me less and less.

It's the victims I'd like to hear from now, even if, as must be true for some of these children, their lives have been improved, no matter what were the intentions of the adults involved.

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