Monday, April 5, 2010

Rushin' Round

Friday morning I face the metro on my own. Faith plans to meet me outside a McDonald’s across town and worries I’ll get lost, but I’m better with directions than she thinks, and I arrive first. We’re investigating a new hotel for our program. The proprietor shares a numeric code for the front door and a deceptively jaunty “Come on in!” in his correspondence with me. Faith and I find the door easily, but it doesn’t budge as we repeatedly enter “005” as instructed. Via intercom, Faith cajoles a man at another business to let us in, but he adamantly refuses. Seeking pity, I beg in broken Russian, but he disdains even to acknowledge my plea. We are contemplating leaving when someone exits the building, allowing our admittance. The hotel rooms are cramped, malodorous, and reverberating with street noise; the website promises a kitchen, but delivers a sinkless, closet-like space seating four who don’t mind getting cozy. The outfit is wholly inappropriate; touring it, I realize for all the shortcomings of our current digs, how fortuitous our accommodations are.

Walking back, Faith confesses she’s purchased circus tickets, even though I’ve vowed not to attend again. She pacifies me, having asked the ticket vendor if the show “has nakedness”. The puzzled vendor assured her, “No nakedness, just animals.” When Faith complained the competing circus was a “strip show”, and explained we had the morals of orphans to consider, the seller nodded, agreeing solemnly. Feeling mildly dubious, I agree to give the new circus a chance.

Back at the hotel, I pace the hall, awaiting entrance of my host families from the airport. I am giddy to make acquaintance with all who share my mission, and hours on the phone and e-mail later, attaching faces to voices and names is great joy. Our band includes an extremely well-travelled couple from Washington, a single man from Colorado planning a domestic foster care adoption, Iowans called by God to add an older child to their family, a single lady and her mom from New York seeking a little boy, a couple from Florida hosting the boy who is my favorite Lighthouse child ever, and a single Michiganian home in October with a girl she’d hosted on one of my past trips.

The group arrives, predictably bleary-eyed, but after lunch, they opt to sightsee. When I’d adopted my own kids, the five ancient churches of the Kremlin bored them silly; wizened, I’d not brought a child there since. But the kids aren’t with us yet, and as responsible adult travelers it seems a perfect day to check the seat of Russian government off our sightseeing to-do list. We meet Faith in Red Square; all are dazzled by St. Basil’s Cathedral, and it takes effort to goad them from the square and into the Kremlin. The sun joins our excursion, and we see four of the churches, the State Kremlin Palace, a massive cannon, and a bigger bell. While both the cannon and bell are the world’s largest, ironically neither fulfilled their intended purpose even once.

Next morning we rise early to meet the kids. In Moscow after a twelve-hour overnight train ride, they rode in a car with about fifty bunks for sleeping. Dima drops them off earlier than expected, and a few families aren’t ready. We’re preparing breakfast and offer it to the kids, all of whom decline. As the hosts congregate in one corner of the dimly-lit room and the kids mass shyly in another, we’re two teams loathe to mingle. Though I’ve warned the families that the meeting is typically awkward, as our groups stare each other down wordlessly, I hope they’re not lamenting they’ve travelled halfway around the world for this. I know we only need add Faith to the mix and all will be well, but for now, she’s not here. When she comes and flips on the lights with a chipper “Zdrahstveetsa!”, kids who refused nourishment before suddenly become hungry, and much-needed levity is injected into the proceedings.

I abandon the group, headed for the airport with Dima to pick up an adoptive family from the first Moscow trip traveling to pick up their son, another host, and my luggage. He shows me where to claim my bags, then leaves, thinking I’ll clear customs more expeditiously without a Russian speaker in tow. His logic passes muster; x-raying my bags, the monoglot customs agent points to shadows in my suitcase. From his gesticulations, I deduce he’s asking what they are. Providentially, I’m wearing a necklace, and I point to the image on his screen and the beads around my neck. “Beads,” I instruct, wondering how many English words he’s learned this way. Satisfied, he waves me through; Dima is incredulous to see me back so quickly.

After four days in one outfit, new clothes are a breath of fresh air. When I emerge clean and relieved, Faith is in the kitchen, finishing up a lunch she’s cobbled together from things we’d bought for breakfast. While quality and quantity might be impugned, the creativity Faith possesses in spades is on display in all her meal preparations. In my absence, the kids went outside to play. They’ve been flying airplanes and walking with the families, and already all ages are mixing brilliantly. After lunch, we take in the zoo, my first foray there in five trips to Moscow. After the negative reviews I’ve heard, I find the exhibits quite passable, with the exception of a cage housing only a rotund, but deceased, rodent. In the elephant house, a baby frolics in a shallow pool, supervised by two wary adults. As we watch entranced, I wonder if our orphans begrudge the calf the care and protection his parents instinctively lavish on him.

Dinner is at a packed McDonald’s. Even with two floors, there is insufficient seating for our throng of 27. Somehow Faith extracts permission from a churlish manager to use a festive room reserved for birthdays. To ensure equity in menu between the hosted and unhosted, I order for all the kids this time. Piles of cheeseburgers, fries, Cokes, and milkshakes later, we return to our hotel feeling like engorged ticks.

On the streets, unseasonable warmth is melting snow. Inside our hotel, the morning’s icy meeting is a distant memory. The kids have settled in, thrilled to be here. Youthful charges in bed, hosts mingle in the common room. I delight in the dynamic between families considering adoption, the family finishing adoption, and the mom so happy with her new daughter that she’s hosting on six days’ notice to see about adopting again.

I love this trip.