Bit observations, Day One:
Saturday found most of the Lighthouse Project kids at Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center to cheer on the women’s basketball team, coached by birthday boy Vladimir’s host dad. The ORU Golden Eagles rolled out the red carpet for us, gifting us fifty-five comp tickets, welcoming the kids to center court during halftime for introductions, and inviting Vladimir and Eduard to the floor to participate in a time-out game of catching thrown rubber chickens in a bucket. While a victory would have been icing on the cake, we enjoyed the spectacle nonetheless. The game whetted the kids’ appetites for shooting hoops, which we sated in the practice gym while awaiting the arrival of the Tulsa World reporter covering our story. After interviews and a brief photo shoot the group dispersed and Vladimir was off to likely his first birthday party, thrown in honor of his ninth. Parties and chickens, both thrown for Vladimir in a single day…
I tried some Russian on Eduard at the game, but his English answers were proficient enough that I fought an urge to hide that my knowledge of his mother tongue was not. When volunteers were sought for the chicken game, he leaped from his seat with a gusto that ensured he’d be picked. Eduard caught eleven chickens in thirty seconds.
On the way to an outing Saturday happy Alexei of red helium balloon fame burst into tears. His host family, who’d endured two extra months of waiting to host him when his orphanage was stricken with the dysentery quarantine before the November trip, tried to console him but couldn’t understand the mercurial change. During their translator home visit, they found out the poor boy’s distress stemmed from his fear that he was being returned to the airport for not being good enough. His hosts’ “babushka” jumped to her feet and embraced him, and the family reassured him how they loved having him in their home. I wondered if it would comfort him to know how distraught they were when I had to tell them the day before the November trip departure he was unable to travel, and they’d have to wait until January.
When I called Ekaterina’s host mom in the morning for an update, she enthused, “She’s precious!” Ekaterina noticed carrots being peeled in the kitchen, reached for the knife, and polished off the job herself. After the game the translator and chaperone visited her hosts’ home; I went along as a hanger-on. Ekaterina told us her best friend at the orphanage is a “home girl”, so-called because her biological mother visits her occasionally. Ekaterina exuded a reflected glory in being in good with a home girl, as those with even minimal parental involvement are classified in the higher echelons of orphanage social strata. I found this revelation especially sobering, that a child could ache for a family so sorely that mere association with another child whose own mother visits a few times yearly would offer solace.
So ends Day One lacking enough fodder for a cohesive blog entry, but providing sufficient material to give incentive for one thousand more Lighthouse Project trips.