Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sasha's Turn

Alexander, ten, nicknamed Sasha, arrived in Moscow in January for his second trip with the Lighthouse Project. Nobody chose to host him in November, a fate relived in January though I’d promoted him aggressively as my favorite November child. We held hands the first day; as he looked up at me, eyes expectant, I was charmed again by his quiet personality, but rueful of his selection of me, given my family’s lack of adoption ambitions. Day two, Sasha played his hand differently, spending time with a family visiting another child. Day three, in the common room, hosts were occupied with those they’d come to meet. Though I hardly begrudged them this, I grieved Sasha’s desperation as he stood in the middle of the room alone, his glance pinball-like, visually seizing each family in turn with an expression imploring anyone to choose him. While other kids, more flamboyant, had hosts applauding their every move, Sasha was thoughtful, genuine, and unheralded. The last day, when the kids essayed about their trip, presenting their work to their families in a poignant meeting, Sasha’s eyes darted around the room one final frantic time before bringing his paper to me (Precious Jewels, 1/21/10).

Concerned he was unhosted, a kindly soul from America sent a bag of gifts for him, but lost luggage meant he received it only just before his departure. His orphanage photo was tied to the bag’s drawstrings like a pictorial luggage tag. Toting the bag into the hotel stairwell as he trudged to the van for the ride to the train station, he saw my dear friend there. Looking at Elaine, then the photo tag, then Elaine, he tore the photo off, pressed it into her hand, and earned a hug for his gesture.

His yearning to be wanted was evident, but for all his earnestness, Sasha won no hearts besides mine. I fall for many kids, but Sasha was the first child since my own Russian adoption who I envisioned in my home, as my own son. Back in Grand Rapids, I sung his praises to my husband, who’d just spent several days alone caring for our four kids. He felt for Sasha, but felt stronger that his family was elsewhere.

Elsewhere, in Florida, days before Christmas, Tracy wept throughout the Dave Thomas adoption program on television. Finding the Lighthouse Project link on their website, she visited, and liked what she saw. Requesting information on Christmas Day, she was surprised I called the next day, and nervous since her husband Doug had no idea she’d been querying about adoption. Our rapport was swift, though, and I appreciated her insightful questions. When Doug got home from work, she confessed her interest in the Lighthouse Project. “I think it’s a great idea,” he agreed. “Show me the website.” Our January trip only a few days off, they opted to travel in March. When I returned from the January trip, Sasha heavy on my heart, I encouraged them to consider him.

Their son Chris had been asking them to adopt for years; even as a little boy, he’d wanted nothing more than a sibling. When they finally began entertaining thoughts of adoption, brochures and e-mails from adoption agencies appeared, solicited by a teenaged Chris. Into adulthood, he urged his parents to adopt. At work outside the country, he was due back in the United States the same day our group was leaving Moscow. Tracy believed her son’s homecoming trumped our trip, but Chris disagreed, insisting she and Doug go meet Sasha. Still torn when they heard a sermon at church on leaving the comfort zone to follow God’s leading, Tracy exited the service that day in tears. It sealed the deal; walking out, Doug exulted, “We’re going, aren’t we!” For several years, the couple felt something was missing, but a week before departure, Tracy confided even though the same two people and the same dog still lived in the same house, everything felt richer, and full of life.

When they arrived in Moscow, Sasha was waiting at the hotel. I introduced them to him, but my Russian was insufficient to explain why they’d come. On our walk to the zoo that afternoon, Sasha flitted from family to family, understandably playing the field to better his odds. At the zoo, I wasn’t sure he knew yet Doug and Tracy were “his”. In front of the frozen duck pond, I asked him for a photo, and then suggested Doug and Tracy join him. As their arms engulfed him, he recognized them.  I saw it. Inseparable the rest of the week, watching them together brought me more satisfaction than I’d ever experienced in all the other joys with the program. So deserving for so long, every smile I saw him smile, every time I saw he realized he had parents to show some childish treasure, was worth every sleepless night I’ve poured into the Lighthouse Project.

I loved Sasha enough he might have been mine, but God had another family in store. So He blessed me enough to help me find them, then let me watch them fall in love.

It was the next best thing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Update on Zulya and Lora

Zulya and Lora are still in need of a family.   Time is short before Zulya ages out and is unavailable for adoption.  My hope is to have her travel on our June 12-18 trip to Moscow, host or no host.  If no potential family is there to meet her, I hope to mine enough winsome material to better promote her in her waning hours of availability.   I have no intention of surrender before she turns sixteen.

If you have any desire to travel with us in June to meet any of our kids, please contact me immediately.  There may be financial assistance available to a qualified family wanting to host Zulya and Lora.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Teetering at the Precipice

Zulya could go either way. Fifteen and fewer than four months from a birthday which will preclude her adoption, a frantic family watches the clock and works in faith to get her home to Michigan in time.

Failure means Zulya might walk the streets of Russia, prostituting herself in a heart-rending effort to eke out a living, maybe spawning the next generation of Russian orphans in the process. Outside the orphanage, without a family’s guidance her few remaining formative years, she is as likely to commit suicide as to become a productive member of society. Lora, her eleven-year-old aunt raised as her sister, probably will not agree to adoption alone; thus, the fates of two children are precariously entwined as Zulya’s sixteenth looms.

Success gains Zulya several siblings adopted domestically and a family committed to her regardless of the issues she brings. M. and R., hopefully Mom and Dad, are experienced parents who have opened their hearts and home repeatedly to the children in greatest need. In our first contact with R., she professed desire to adopt a child in urgent want, one other families would refuse, explaining, “God is calling us to help.” Many orphans linger on my list, but none with needs excelling the two girls with just months to find a family, allowing them to keep the one thing they treasure: each other.

Compounding the difficulty, several circumstances made the girls’ availability for adoption uncertain; while I’d mentioned them to others, no one asked questions after hearing the vagaries. In desperation, I penned a blog post I believed was winsome featuring the girls, but elicited no response (Her Lora, 4/9/10). Linking it to our Facebook page, it garnered only one “like”, and one comment I had to solicit from my sister. No inquiries followed. None, except from M. and R.

M. and R. don’t come close to earning annually the king’s ransom such an adoption costs. For now, a small percentage of the needed funding has trickled in; short time before Zulya ages out means their efforts are focused on completing the requisite paperwork and traveling to meet the girls, rather than fundraising. But as the adoption uncertainties are chiseled away, the door of hope stays cracked; surrendering now would be anathema to them. R. perseveres with little encouragement, believing the God who has led them this far will not abandon them with nothing beyond an all-encompassing desire.

So as a Goliath-hearted family stands anxious to welcome girls with exceptional needs home, Zulya teeters at the precipice, staring down a sordid future less than four months off. Without Heaven moving other hearts toward generosity, Zulya’s as likely a prostitute as a daughter, as likely a suicide candidate as a sister.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Little Journey: Photos

Our metro stop, on Tuesday morning

Honoring the lost

In Red Square, in front of the State Historical Museum

The domes of St. Basil's Cathedral

Pay toilets, outside Red Square

Vera, 15, helping with the cake

Our first trip, bottom, left and second from right

Yuliana, 5; Yana, 7; and Erik, 4

At the train station, saying goodbye to Elena and Lidia for now

In the metro

Story below

Birthday videos on our Facebook Page

Little Journey

Red Square, the most Russian of sights, is on the docket for Tuesday. While our group is anxious to go, a few express reservations learning Faith intends to use the metro to get there. It’s a ten-minute walk from hotel to station. The number of pedestrians bearing flowers swells as we approach. Outside, TV cameramen and police with dogs scan the masses; yesterday’s tragedy has bolstered today’s crowds. I’d feel like a gawker, were this not our station. Eyes welling with tears and knot rising in throat, I am shocked by the violation I feel as I enter.

Just inside the doors, a table holds bouquets in front of a placard decrying the heinous act. A small group rings the display, some praying, others crossing themselves thrice, Orthodox fashion. An elderly woman croaks a mournful song, candles flickering at her feet.

Our group flows down the elevators; no one says much. In the crush to board the train, I momentarily shed my angst, but once aboard, I survey those surrounding me, hoping their only interest is getting to their stop. I feel a private and ashamed relief when we disembark outside the Kremlin.

On my first sojourn with our new trip last November, we visited the Lenin Mausoleum. To my chagrin, questionnaires I collected post-travel heaped scorn on Moscow’s quirkiest sight, one of my favorites. Nixed for January, several travelers express interest this time. Lenin takes Mondays and Fridays off to soak in a secret-recipe chemical preservative bath, but he receives visitors today. Some in our group prefer to mill about in Red Square, feeding potato chips to the youngest children who stay behind. The rest of us desk-check our bags and pass through metal detectors, an exercise taking far longer than the minute or two we’re allowed inside the mausoleum. Having visited twice before, I am more captivated by the reactions of my comrades than by Lenin. One boy uses a laser pointer, earning a stiff rebuke from a guard beside the glass case enclosing communism’s poster child. The ceiling is denuded in places where plaster has crumbled, and I doubt such disrepair would have been countenanced in Soviet days. On exit, the adults have muted reactions, and the children appreciate the spectacle more for its macabre value than its historicity.

Red Square is sunny, and for the first time ever in Russia, I shed my gloves. After our requisite group photos in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral, we find the gate open to the church. In five trips to the motherland encompassing at least fifteen square visits, I’ve never ventured in. Guide books deem the interior of Moscow’s most iconic structure anticlimactic, and rather than rob it of its mystery, I’ve chosen to just appreciate the exterior. Passing through the gate, we circle the building, though no one asks to actually go inside. Filling my memory card with stunning close-ups of domes decked in geometric shapes, I love the walk, and vow it won’t be the last. The only pock is the dumpster behind, ill-placed beside the resplendent church.

Lunch is in GUM Mall, at a cafeteria so perkily painted I find it irresistible. The food is inexpensive and Russian, but of sufficient variety that even American palates find something pleasing. Space is scarce, but Faith works her brassy magic, asking diners at several tables if members of our party can join them. I chuckle from a distance, until she points me to the table she’s solicited for us. Two strangers sit there; one serves me a withering glare as I sidle reluctantly to the table’s far end. By the time Faith joins me, my unwelcoming companions have excused themselves. I ask her if sharing tables is socially acceptable, or desperate, within Russia. She seems amused I find it discomfiting, and assures me it’s fine style, if  given permission.

GUM offers western, clean, and free restrooms, a rare Russian trifecta; savvy travelers use such facilities when available, needed or not. Outside Red Square, a row of portable toilets, lacking sinks, cost almost seventy cents for single admission. A dignified attendant, looking Maytag bored, awaits customers, ensconced in a converted outhouse office.

All week, Vera, fifteen, has hung from Ed, a single man traveling with us just to encourage children who otherwise might have been hostless, and left behind. On our excursions, kids have a walking partner, and Vera is quick to claim him. As our week winds down, she pulls Faith aside and confides she wants Ed to adopt her and brother Sasha (Her Brother's Keeper, 1/2/10). When Faith tells her it’s impossible, since single men may not adopt from Russia, Vera’s face drops. “Can he get married?” she implores.

After our outing, the metro whisks us back to our station. Near the accident site, a somber throng surrounds a mushrooming floral mountain. Faith starts toward it, glances at the children, then leads us home instead. Walking to the hotel, swarms of mourners carrying bouquets stream past.

We transform the common room of our hotel into a festive birthday celebration for the kids. With all the rooms we’ve rented on three trips and more booked for June, we are popular with management. They let us hang streamers and scores of balloons; I derive a proud thrill taping balloons by framed photos of our first trip gracing the common room walls. After an English “Happy Birthday”, the kids blow out the candles on count of three. Faith humors me when I command a repeat performance for video. Afterward, we eat bird’s milk cake, a confection somewhat better than its name suggests.

After our party, we gather toys, candy, and trinkets for orphanage donations. Kids pack their new belongings, and goodbyes begin. Two adoptive families and all our group’s voluminous luggage fills much of Dima’s Nissan, allowing only the chaperone and youngest kids to ride to the train station. Dima astounds me with his packing prowess, squeezing eleven people into a van he’s wrung over 200,000 miles from. Three hosts ride the metro to the train station with eight kids and me, where we’ll meet the others for the twelve-hour trek back to the region. As Faith leaves with Dima, I wonder if she worries we’ll get lost, but we arrive before those who fought Moscow’s traffic in the Nissan.

At the train, an accommodating conductor lets me board to say my goodbyes. It’s a third class platzcar, with about fifty bunks in one mostly open space. Kids sit on beds, at tiny tables picking at leftovers we packed for them. Several hug and thank me as I bid them farewell. When I’m ushered out, the hosts are waving and snapping pictures through the windows. Fifteen- and twelve-year-old sisters Elena and Lidia see their host, and future dad, and poignantly put their hands to the window to meet his.

Back at our metro station, we stop to see the burgeoning mounds of flowers. It’s eerily silent, except for the screech of trains arriving every minute. A righteous indignation flares as I stand there, solemnly honoring the victims whose tragic deaths seem a personal loss. These souls were once countrymen of my own daughter and son, and the countrymen of so many of our Lighthouse families’ dear children, and I share the sense of betrayal and grief.

In the night, I mull the dichotomy of this evening. At one station, such sadness permeates. The lost cannot return, their lives snuffed out by hatred and wicked misunderstanding. At the other station, our temporary loss expects joyful reunion, and rebirth into families. My host families, my friends, have pain in the forecast before that happens. But at the close of our little journey, we have hope for the future, and a confidence that, however wending our paths, they’ll merge together again.

Photos above

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