Wednesday, November 18, 2009


In Russia: Day 11

Wednesday dawns with more dread than anticipation, since today is good-bye. When we get to the kids’ area, they’re not awake, so our breakfast is overly peaceful. Driver Dima comes and the kids get up; we gather in the common room for a tearful farewell. Love, our Russian coordinator, revered by our adoptive families, makes an emotional speech about how we have encouraged the kids this week, and given them reason for hope. I concur silently; it’s what keeps me coming back. Love adds that she hopes we’ll come again. I’m thinking I’ll be back in January for our next Moscow Lighthouse Project trip, but she really hopes to see the families, when they return to claim their kids. Forever.

Hugging each child, all express gratefulness in charmingly accented English. The oldest boy, one whom I wondered much of the week if would agree to adoption, gives me hope with his teary eyes as Love shares. Yulya hugs me tightly, but pins a heart-shaped plastic brooch with the word “Love” on Amy’s coat. Clinging to Amy, Yulya flips a switch and lights on the brooch flash. Another girl, Larisa, hangs from Amy and insists the gift is also from her. It’s at once tacky, sweet, and pitiful.

Todd and Ellen hug their two kids; one is Denis, my favorite child from my March Grand Rapids trip, whom they’ve planned since then to adopt. They’ve come now to visit an eight-year-old girl, a possible sister for Denis. I swiftly realized the four were a family. As they leave, they turn to look again at the kids. I feel for them; letting your kids return to an orphanage is one of the hardest things in the world to do. I’ve done it before, and don’t envy them.

I exit the hostel with Jamie. She’s saying she’ll travel in January so her husband can meet Dmitry, one of my favorite kids this trip. Wives don’t usually drag husbands halfway round the world to meet orphans, so for Dmitry, who confided earlier, “I hope someone will take me,” I am blissfully encouraged.

Larry and Ahna leave conflicted, unsure of which child they’ll adopt. They’re already adopting a boy I loved from my January Tulsa trip, and they’re after a brother for him this trip. While I’m not sure who their new son will be, I know another older boy has a family, so I enjoy a generalized delight.

As we pile into Dima’s van, Love wishes us well, blowing kisses. She’s still waving as we drive away and round the corner. Once she’s out of sight, I’m already missing her. A few minutes in, Dima tells us it’s a new Russian holiday today, Family Day, just initiated a year or two ago. It seems fitting that as we leave on a day set apart for Russian families to visit loved ones, each of my host families silently mulls whether to add a child they’ve just visited to their family. Down Moscow’s wide avenues, I see place after place with significance for me. Some are special from this trip, while others are sacred from my trip to adopt my own kids. Moscow isn’t home, but I have as many happy memories here as anywhere outside the Great Lake State.

At the airport, we walk through another dusting of snow. Inside, an agent advises our flight to New York City is delayed. Seeing the others’ dismay, I’m ashamed that I’m tickled pink. I was to arrive in Grand Rapids at 9:30 tonight, and leave at 3:00 a.m. tomorrow for an 870-mile drive to Tulsa. I had cursed my inopportune planning repeatedly; now the delay solves what my organizational skills couldn’t. I ask the agent to reroute me to Tulsa, rather than landing me in Grand Rapids at noon. With flexibility stateside airline agents should emulate, she cheerfully gives me several options as she rearranges my flights. I’ll overnight in New York and fly tomorrow to Tulsa, where I’ll meet my long-suffering husband and four angels after their drive.

When we finally depart Moscow, I eat dinner, then fall into a deep slumber. I never sleep more than a few minutes on planes, but this flight comes at the end of an almost sleepless eleven days. The trip is over in no time, and I awaken to a flight attendant’s welcome to JFK. Clearing customs and immigration with bleary eyes, I am saddened by the imminence of my farewell to my host families. Bidding adieu, my heart swells for these friends who will help the orphans so close to my heart.

At the hotel, I play insomniac. I talk to Elaine two hours, as she debriefs me on the Lighthouse portion of my trip. She is hungry for details, since she left just as the families arrived. I hear my husband’s voice for the first time since I left; it’s better than e-mail. When I finally nod off, it’s with thoughts of a repeat in just over two months. I can’t contain myself; I’m excited already.

In morning’s wee hours, a taxi speeds me toward the airport. I should be thinking profound thoughts of some eloquent way to close my series on the Lighthouse Project’s first trip to Moscow, but I think only about how strangely glorious it feels, tearing through a strange city in a taxi, buckled in a working seatbelt.

Until next time, “Pah kah” from Russia.

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