Monday, December 21, 2009


Before my journey to Russia, Hope prepped me for visiting the orphanages. She cautioned me the emotionally grueling visits would exhaust, eye-to-eye with the orphans, their needs, and the realization of our impotence to aid more than a fraction of them. On what to expect from kids, she mentioned some would be desperate to meet us, and others desperate to avoid us. Warned by misguided caretakers that Americans adopt children for their body parts, these sorry souls would come shaking, convinced we were sizing them up with nefarious intent. Thankfully, our visits thrilled most kids; some went through heart-rending extents to be noticed.

Angelina, nine, goaded into the interview room, was more prominent for her reticence. Slightly rotund, her shaggy yellow sweater exacerbated the effect. Barely darkening the door, she had to be coaxed the rest of the way. Sidling by Elaine and me, her furtive glances left little doubt she perceived us as threats.

Faith’s brilliant manner with children encouraged her to open up a little, though her voice stayed thin and unsure. I raged inwardly when an insensitive worker in the room, with no personal stake in Angelina’s future, spoke incessantly and raucously into her phone. While there had been no interruptions of the more self-assured children, the loud discourse would have fazed anyone trying to put a best foot forward. Even knowing the child’s timid manner, a banal conversation still outweighed her need to excel in an interview that might save her life. I yearned to press the “mute” button on the worker, hug Angelina, and assure her we would help her, but none of these were feasible.

Between loud interjections and guffaws in the din behind her, we learned Angelina is a third grader, likes school, and loves math and Russian. Asked if she cooks, she nodded, since she brews tea. Reciting a poem about a rainy autumn, she almost proudly told us memorization comes easily. She builds houses for her dolls, adding she teaches them to keep order in their homes. Angelina shares with her best friend, and carefully guards their secrets. I doubted she’d heard the phrase “starving artist” when she admitted she’s not good at drawing, but still plans a career in art, since “it’s a very good job.” At the end, Faith asked her to smile; the strained result exposed the effort cooperating cost.

Afterward left unheralded until the waning hours of my January trip promotions, shy Angelina is easily overlooked, and lacking the confidence to ever self-promote. If the orphanage workers prioritize socializing over helping her succeed, and if I remember only the flashy, outgoing kids, it’s a cinch Angelina will linger, unloved, unnoticed, and wondering if she’s really as insignificant as everyone else acts.