Saturday, January 16, 2010

Before Midnight

Back to Russia: Day 1

Last trip to Russia, I fell into bed at 3:00 a.m. the morning of my departure. I vow to do better this time, and technically do when I collapse at 2:45 a.m. Hope tried, unsuccessfully, to extract a promise of sleep every night in Russia by midnight. It's hopeless since Elaine will be there, and I've not seen her since she left Russia in October, though we've talked almost daily. Since our meeting last January, she has sprinted to top minute-user status on her cell phone plan. I tell her the timing is mere coincidence, but she is dubious. She won't be racking up minutes for a few days, though, since we're sharing a room in the hotel. While I expect a festive time together, I can't write until she falls asleep mid-conversation, rendering a midnight bedtime wishful.

Elaine will host fourteen-year-old Nadia, whom we stumbled across in an orphanage visit last October. A demurely smiling wallflower wearing a wooden icthus pendant around her neck, the girl was not on our list of children to visit. Eyeing the necklace on the wistful girl, Elaine asked repeatedly, with a mounting urgency, to meet her. Finally pulling her aside, Faith learned that one day earlier, Nadia had penned a plea to her biological mother, a prisoner,entreating her for a release permitting adoption so she could "have a life." A hardworking student, Nadia harbored aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. My degree in that field took six years to earn, so I wielded a grim certainty she would not achieve this goal without a supportive family. Talking several minutes, her thoughtful musings, gentle smile, and passionate ache for a chance left me ├╝ber-impressed, and I gratefully conceded Elaine was right to insist. Back in the States, Hope told me obtaining such a release from the biological mother would be a longshot, but after several weeks a persuasive orphanage worker wrested the signed document from her, allowing Nadia to travel with us in January.

Morning comes. Randy mercilessly drags me from bed shortly after I lay down. Grousing about mornings and the frigid tile floor, I rise and ready. We stop at the library en route for two Russian travel books I've borrowed enough to deshelve as I whisk by. I depart Detroit, not Grand Rapids, so the ride affords me cramming time on the Pimsleur Russian CDs Hope lent me. My travel books claim Russians will be delighted by attempts at their language; at the end of the three-hour drive, I am prepared to order two beers and decline an unwanted date from a very persistent suitor. As a happily-married teetotaler, I question their utility, but should I need them, my Russian listeners will swoon.

My flight is practically empty, and I silently rejoice when the cabin door is secured and the seat next to me is still vacant. While I avoid unwanted conversation, the extra space and quiet garners me no slumber on the intercontinental flight. My sleepless night belies my exhaustion, and I half-heartedly fret I'll let Hope down. Faith told her I fell asleep at the circus during the tigers' act last trip, and during the midnight bedtime speech, I hear Hope wants me awake this go-round.

I have a seven-hour layover in Frankfurt, where I find piles of snow. I shiver, seeing a harbinger of weather to come in Moscow. I have resisted bringing a heavier coat for this short trip, opting to be cold rather than bulky, but I can't shake the nagging sense I will pay for my vanity. Silence is golden, especially for this writer, but awaiting my flight, I blog amidst conversation that doesn't distract, as I understand almost no German. A balding man approaches my table and wordlessly lays down a clothespin decorated with a plastic flower and ladybug. An accompanying card says he's deaf, and will accept any donation for the trinket. He repeats the procedure at each table, and when he returns, I can't say nein, knowing everyone else will. Cursing the exchange rate, I hand him a two-Euro piece, the only respectable coin in my pocket. As an outspoken proponent of light travel, claiming success only if everything packed gets used at least once, using the kitschy clothespin will challenge my creativity.

When I arrive in Moscow this evening, all but one of my host families will be in the hostel already. It's a bit of a letdown to miss seeing them meet the kids I hope they will love. I solace myself a little, knowing Elaine was there yesterday. I plan to debrief her tonight as I wait for her to fall asleep, mid-conversation.

Before midnight, of course.