Monday, December 19, 2011

Kids for February 21- 28, 2012 Russia Trip

Drift off to dreamland to the clackety-clack of the wheels as babushkas, cows on leashes, goatherds, and the heart of Russia pass by your train window. The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project's winter trip will take you thirteen spellbinding hours outside Moscow to our region of Russia, where you'll stay with our group at a Russian-style country retreat, meet the orphan of your choosing, and decide whether or not to pursue the child's adoption. Travelers not interested in adoption are welcome to join us, too; it encourages the children! Single boys, girls, and sibling groups are available. The Lighthouse Project arranges transportation in Russia, lodging, activities, and all meals. Sightseeing plans include Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, a stroll along the Volga River, and other culturally-appropriate activities. To seea video of our most recent regional trip, click here. All this happens February 21- 28, 2012, and costs less than you'd think. For more information, contact Becky De Nooy at (616) 245-3216.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Crushed Little Blossom

I honor two self-imposed rules on our Lighthouse Project trips to Moscow. The first mandates I never bring the same child unhosted twice, as I resist breaking a heart with scant chance to find a family. The second dictates I won’t cry at the train when the kids leave, because while I deeply feel for the hosts as they leave “their” children, the train’s departure signals the close of a Herculean effort for one trip, and the commencement of a new push for the next.

Angelina, now 11, grabbed my heart when I met her in October 2009, so trampled in her orphanage, talked over and disrespected by a loudmouth orphanage director (Scared, 12/21/09). Seven Moscow trips later, this gem of a girl, who would blossom with a family’s attention, has garnered more promotion than any other child I’ve met. The passion and frequency of my presentation has not availed her: when I mention she’s a wallflower’s wallflower, callers never request her photo or documents.

On Angelina’s first trip with us, unhosted, one boy from her orphanage monopolized the conversation during our question and answer session. Finally cajoled to speak, Angelina uttered four words before the boy’s mocking silenced her. I broke rule one by bringing her on a second trip, still unhosted, because of a situation where I thought she stood a chance. During a game requiring each participant to share a personal factoid, Angelina collapsed into the couch at her turn; even gentle encouragement provoked tears. Finally hosted on her third trip, I was elated by her opening up when focused on; alas, it was not enough to earn a family. So I brought her again this June, as even unhosted, new circumstances offered her a possible family.

Arriving at the train station, Angelina rushed to give me a hug of remembrance. Day one, she mingled admirably, and seemed drawn to two hosts. Walking the second day, she attached to one mom, delighting me with the premonition that she’d found her family. My joy evaporated, though, when the mom politely asked me to lure Angelina away, as her hovering was off-putting to the child the mom really wanted. When another family echoed those sentiments, I buddied up with Angelina the rest of the trip. Grasping her stiff palm, I held her hand much more than she held mine; when I let go, she returned at once to the others, glancing accusing daggers my direction. Only with my repeated and exaggerated collecting of her hand did she resign herself to the truth that she was specifically rejected, and acquiesce to my more institutional attentions.

Outside Red Square, kids tossing coins over their shoulders made wishes at the medallion marking Russia’s center. Angelina fingered a kopek, but participated only when I dragged her with me to toss our coins in unison. So shocked was I that she went, I neglected to make my wish. In the square, hosts clamored for photos with the children they hoped to adopt; while I would never begrudge anyone this happiness, my heart cried for Angelina, the lone child whose photo was unsolicited. She stood forlornly aside, watching the families to whom she’d latched pointedly ignoring her in their zeal to avoid sending wrong messages to her or the objects of their interest. So I requested her photo, though by trip four I’d been “outed” as a worker, not a family. As I was hardly looking to adopt again, it wasn’t like the real thing, but she derived some solace from not being so conspicuously solo.

As we walked hand in hand, I winced at her shirt bearing a Cosmopolitan-like magazine cover photo, spewing innuendo mercifully in English, and hoped no Angloglot thought I’d dressed her. Perhaps a number of these had been donated to the orphanage, as another child wore this remarkable shirt, in a different color, on a previous trip. While she was surely oblivious to its message, the shirt felt a flashing neon announcement of her alone-ness, and I grieved her privation of anyone to guard her innocence and dignity.

During our discussion session, the chaperone Svetlana, from Angelina’s orphanage, encouraged her. Asked what she liked to do, she had no answer, so Svetlana extolled her as a “good girl” who “liked everything.” Later, in a whisper, Angelina identified her favorite colors, ice skating as a preferred sport, and English and math as best subjects, though she kept mum about her life’s dream.

The last day, I asked Svetlana privately to describe Angelina. From a dog-eared booklet she pointed to the words modest, kind, serious, just, and hardworking. Through the translator, she confided Angelina had never attended school while at home and was not a stellar student, but always tried her best. Svetlana reiterated that she was a good girl, yet without many friends after four years in the orphanage. I ached to ask if she had any at all.

At the train that evening as we said our farewells, Angelina clung to me until I thought my heart would burst. Several new disappointments and rejections to her account, her fourth trip was history, she no closer to a family than when I’d first met her. She bade goodbye to everyone, but kept returning to me, thanking me with a lisped, “Spaceba.” I wished she could know how hard I was trying, though knowledge of my intensive, but failed, efforts would risk making her feel even more inconsequential.

So my search continues, my sinking heart wondering what else to do to find her family, or how to convey to callers how kind and deserving I think she is. As the train stole away that Sunday night, carrying several children rejoicing in their newfound families, and one crushed little blossom, I broke rule two, and cried.

I cried for Angelina, and cried for myself. I should never have brought her when she didn’t stand a chance.


If you are interested in hosting Angelina or another needy waiting child on our August 20-26 trip to the Moscow countryside, please contact Becky via phone at (616) 245-3216, or e-mail at

Monday, May 23, 2011


Whether we're rejoicing with those orphans who find their forever families, or hurting for those who do not, we at the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project want to help as many children as possible. And some people who have God's heart for orphans are not able to adopt.

Tatyana, 14, has lived her entire life in an orphanage, but is not available for adoption. While she is talented and kind, she is at high risk to turn to prostitution within the next few years as she ages out of the orphanage, with few options to support herself. With training in a skill, she might be able to become a productive member of society outside the orphanage.

Slava, too old for a family
Slava, 16, pleaded with his orphanage director, “Please show me to them!” when we visited his orphanage. Though the director knew he was too old to be adopted, she could not bear to refuse his request. Statistics suggest a life of crime awaits Slava when he leaves the orphanage. On the street, his life expectancy will be measured in months, not years. But knowing a trade, he, too, could become productive.

Maria visited America and found her family through the Lighthouse Project when she was 11. Despite her new parents’ best efforts, it took them almost three years to raise the money for her adoption. She arrived home at age 14, after watching kids who’d been on later Lighthouse Project trips leave the orphanage sooner with their adoptive families.

Our new Russian Orphan Lighthouse Fund was birthed to help kids like Tatyana, Slava, and Maria. The Fund, which will receive tax-deductible donations, has two goals: providing apprenticeships, skills training, and equipment, like sewing machines, computers, and woodworking tools, for orphans for whom adoption will never be an option; and reducing our adoptable kids’ wait times by giving grants to their families for international travel.

The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Fund is a new project of Visions Made Viable (VMV), a California-based fiscal sponsor and 501(c)3 charity, which provides non-profit legal status to the Fund. Our relationship with VMV allows us to focus on our mission, ministering to Russia’s orphans, while VMV focuses on the legalities of running a non-profit. The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Fund reaps the benefits of being a non-profit entity, while avoiding the distraction of administering a full-fledged non-profit. Non-adoptable orphans and our struggling adoptive families are the beneficiaries of this arrangement.

Current Projects of the Fund

Children at this orphanage will benefit from a computer lab.

The A. Orphanage Computer Project  The A. Orphanage Computer Project will purchase one dozen computers for orphans to learn typing and computer skills useful in the job market. This project seeks to raise $10,000.

The S. Orphanage Sewing Project  The S. Orphanage Sewing Project will purchase twelve sewing machines and related sewing materials, and will prepare older girls to leave the orphanage with a marketable skill. This project will be fully funded at $6,000. 
Going home, at last
The Adoptive Family Travel Project  The Adoptive Family Travel Project is an ongoing project to provide airline tickets, lodging, train tickets, translation, and other travel-related items to Lighthouse Project families struggling with the costs of adoption. Frequent flier miles may also be donated. This will shorten the time children wait for their new adoptive families to take them home.

All gifts to VMV are 100% tax deductible, and regardless of amount, are acknowledged with a receipt. Gifts should note their designation toward the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Fund, and may be further designated toward any of the above projects. Non-designated gifts will be used in the area of greatest need. If a gift is designated to an already fully-funded project, the gift will be redirected where needed most.

While you may not be called to adopt an older child yourself, you can help another family adopt, or help teach an unadoptable orphan a skill or trade which could save them from a life, and death, on the streets. To contribute to the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Fund, please click here, or on the sidebar Donate Now button.

On behalf of our children and families, thank you very much!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


With my alarm clock across the room, Friday morning I wake punctually. I’m venturing to the train station again, this time for Melinda, who’s returning from our region having met Evgenia, four. Barrie thoughtfully accompanies me. Eliminating both the tardy departure and the storm breeds a more relaxed jaunt than yesterday’s.

Evgenia, now five, and able to travel with us
When the train lumbers in, several familiar faces alight with Melinda, including six children whose families have finished court. Arriving in Moscow, they’re in the homestretch of their adoptions. Nadia, 15, greets me with an embrace and an English “Thank you!” worth the world to me. Her new brother Nikolai, 11, shadows her. Melinda’s visit was to his orphanage, and she tells me he was so excited to be going home that he donned his coat two hours before leaving for the station. Daria, 15, is joined by her two siblings. Before they boarded this train, 30 kids and teachers from their orphanage, all crying, came to the station to wish them farewell. I hate mornings, but seeing these erstwhile orphans, now sons and daughters, and knowing I had a hand in it, is a shot in the arm even at this hour.

Barrie, Melinda, and I leave the station alone. I am itching to hear about Evgenia, who due to her young age was not allowed to travel with us. Evgenia’s a big girl, Melinda says, ready to learn and affectionate. Adding she had a rough start in life, Melinda found she does not speak. The orphanage provides speech therapy, but can afford only 30 minutes weekly, which they worry is insufficient. I wonder if any family will take a risk with her.

Peter, a very pensive little boy
Back at the hotel, I find little Peter playing on the floor without his slippers. The soles of both his socks sport the hand-sewn characters A3-7. It’s a pragmatic solution for the laundress who mates hundreds of socks in an institution, but the markings distress me anyhow. A mom could match them, but no one at the orphanage can pair Peter’s without the aid of a monogram.

Later in the morning, we talk with the kids. Blonde sprite Maria, six, oozes confidence. Asked to describe herself in one word, she chooses “beautiful” and “smart.” The kids reveal what kind of animal each would most like to be; Artem chimes, “An angel!” It’s entirely apt, from this cherubic lad who remains one of my three favorite Lighthouse Project kids. When the meeting adjourns, the kids tear into their gifts. Maria gets new jeans, which she is soon modeling with evident pride. She fancies the tag, refusing its removal. It’s so comical I grab my camera. She eagerly poses, after turning the tag to reveal its more flattering side.

After the gifts, I repair to my room, only to be interrupted by a frantic knock. I open to Amy, waiting with Sheri grasping Igor’s outstretched hand. “Igor has a staple in his finger,” Amy gushes, “and when I saw it, I said, ‘Becky! Becky’s a veterinarian!’” Theatrical Igor, who even moans with flair, bites his lip hard at the staple buried in the flesh of his thumb, deep enough to pucker the skin. I’ve never treated a human because of my profession, but in Moscow, though woefully underequipped, I smear hydrocortisone over the wound, pinch the finger, and jockey a tweezers under the staple’s bar. As a tear glides down Igor’s cheek, Amy launches insistently into song, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G…” My patient joins her, in English, and dares a little laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Sheri and I start, too, and by “P,” I’ve steeled myself sufficiently to yank out the offending fastener. I trade the staple for a thank you, and seal the deal with a Band-Aid. Hours after, I ask him how he feels. With assurances he’s well, I divulge I’m a veterinarian. He thinks it hilarious to have been saved by a dog doctor.

Crowds in the Moscow metro
At the train this morning, our Russian adoption coordinator Love gave me small flags as gifts for the hosts. Our group numbers 25, making metro travel harrowing at rush hour. I’m forever counting, though I never get that high before the train roars away. Once, early this trip, we disembark so slowly that we cause the separation of a mother and her young daughter. As the door slams shut, stranding the girl, the mother frantically motions the child to get off at the next stop. While I am relieved it isn’t one of our kids, as a mother I feel a vicarious frenzy, mingled with shame, since our disorganization birthed this trouble. Here I vow to co-opt one of Love’s flags myself, and to hold it aloft in the metro as I lead.

Smiling, before strangers started staring
I always seek to blend in, and heretofore enjoyed a measure of anonymity in Moscow in my black coat, even without the dyed hair or spike-heeled boots Muscovite women favor. Now, hoisting the red and gold standard, I explode from my camouflage. Descending the steep escalators into the metro, the wind tunnel effect whips the flag violently. I feign self-possession, but the flapping draws scads of eyes traveling on the ascending escalator. “People are staring at you, Becky!” someone laughs, in case I haven’t noticed. In their heavy Russian coats, I can’t imagine anyone is naked, so I solace myself knowing they have no idea where the flag is from. Amidst the monochromatic masses swarming the subway, the flag does make shepherding the group simpler. After several hosts hail the flag as a lifesaver, I grimly realize it has a future every trip.

Friday, entering Red Square by Resurrection Gate, SpongeBob, a diapered monkey, and a Stalin lookalike loiter. A Lenin impersonator stands with them, leaning on the pole of an old USSR flag. When he spots me, he raises his flag, waving with gusto, and blows a few kisses. I don’t relish the attention, but answer his volley anyway with a half-hearted wave and one kiss blown back. Numerous wedding parties stroll through the square, after the brides have laid red carnations at the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Katya, our translator, is getting married next weekend, though she won’t be home until Monday. We’re astonished she’s traveled with us, so close to the nuptials, but she shrugs it off, saying she’s ready except for choosing the traditional white fox cape winter brides wear with their dresses.

Barrie and Alexandra say goodbye
Barrie’s wife Joyce can’t join us this trip, though she traveled in both June and August. Barrie wants more time with Alexandra, 14, and is missing his 40th anniversary for it, with Joyce’s blessing. She’s sent me an anniversary card, with which Alexandra surprises him on the appointed day. Someone gives her a confetti popper, and she releases it to augment the celebration. Barrie is giddy at the prospect of Alexandra joining his family, and shares his anticipation with everyone. While he never shopped much for their other children, Joyce tells me he is driving the expeditions now. When she laughed once he should have been half this excited years ago when she was pregnant, he retorted, “I was half as excited!”

The kids’ last day, Igor wants to sing for us. Valiantly trying to assemble the entire group in the common area for his performance, he counts repeatedly, never reaching 25 as kids keep coming and going. Finally he gives up and settles for having all the adults. He chooses the Russian National Anthem, and with a powerful voice, occasionally cracking, regales us with a passionate rendition. It’s clear he loves singing, and his country.

After the kids are safely returned to the train, headed to their orphanages, the hosts and I share a Moscow farewell dinner in the basement of a new MuMu. We want to enjoy ourselves, but the kids’ departure is too raw. On the way back, we stop at Eliseevsky’s, my all-time favorite store, for chocolate mousse, my all-time favorite food; I unwind with this reward at the end of every trip. It’s nearing midnight when we get to the hotel, but we’re aching for the kids, so David debuts a 2400-photo slideshow he’s compiled of our time together. My host families, friends with whom I’ve shared deep camaraderie these past few days, gather in my room to watch. Only a few photos in, we’re laughing, crying, and reliving our week. It’s so good, and so cathartic to end this way, I almost forget my mousse. As the last photo fades, all concur this was the perfect finale for our time together. I am energized, and yearn to watch it again, now.

Good Lord willing, I’ll be back. There will be new families, winsome kids, more mousse, and my red and gold flag flapping in the metro breeze.

I can’t wait.

Our November kids

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Real Thing

I am a junkie, though my addiction is socially acceptable. I can drink like a fish, but never compromise lucidity or morality, and I never need a designated driver.

My greatest weakness is 12 fluid ounces, canned in crimson, heavenly just north of icy, and, with “Dynamic Ribbon Device,” has the best logo appellation of any product I know.

I love Coca-Cola. Rather, I LOVE Coca-Cola.

Very little soda was imbibed during my childhood, but the few one-liter glass bottles we did drink are recalled with genuine fondness. Away at college, external restraint was nonexistent; indeed, I owe my degree largely to Coke’s caffeine, which rendered me quasi-alert through scores of veterinary school all-nighters. After graduation my habit lived on; any thoughts of consequences of such liberal consumption were fleeting.

In 1999, I met my dear friend Donna. I encouraged her, successfully, to adopt Russian twins; she encouraged me, unsuccessfully, to adopt healthier beverage choices. Occasionally, she would e-mail me links to articles extolling the benefits of a Coke-free life. I appreciated her concern, but continued heeding signs proclaiming, “Enjoy Coca-Cola.” Once, she sent a study claiming researchers had found that women who drank even one soda a day were 83% more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than those who drank soda less than once per month. With my aunt a diabetic and a resultant kidney transplant recipient, Donna stoked my fears, though the effect had a fruit fly’s longevity.

My mom harped, too, and offered me a reward to go a month without Coke, betting I’d break my addiction. I selected February, and after collecting my prize, chilled a Coke in celebration.

Coke was my first thought in any crisis. In Moscow last August, suffering the extreme heat wave and acrid smoke, I woke up several mornings feeling smothered by the mask I’d slept in. In a desperate message to Hope, the Lighthouse Project director, I fretted about the smell, my smoke-induced panic attacks, and how Coke proved more helpful than the masks. Hope had before joined the cacophony of voices cautioning temperance, but now she instructed me to buy a case and to down a can whenever I was ready to “freak out.” I followed her orders religiously, and muddled through the week with Coke in hand, an omnipresent pick-me-up.

In GUM Mall in November, the kids, soon to go home to the orphanages, licked ice cream cones. As David videotaped, an especially divine sip of Coke reminded me of my favorite Coke commercial, which incited my singing it (video below). During my rendition, a Gucci clerk listened at the entrance to his store. Afterward, he approached me, and with outstretched hand introduced himself, over-flattering me with thanks for the “music.” Professing his love for America, he was surprised I enjoyed Moscow sufficiently to visit eight times. He wondered what drew me here, though since Russians are divided on the propriety of international adoption, I remained noncommittal. Returning to his door, he invited me to sing at GUM again soon.

Back in the States, assorted stressors kept me quaffing Coke. When December mornings started with Coke as breakfast, and my immediate instinct upon receipt of troubling news was to head for the refrigerator, I realized I could change volitionally, or have health foist it on me. Past experience proved if I stopped drinking Coke during the middle of the year, I would, on a whim, give up with a hollow promise to restart tomorrow; hence, my success was twinned with beginning January 1. My sister, anxious to provide incentive, pledged money for each consecutive Coke-less day in 2011, with the money to finance an adoption fund to assist the Lighthouse child of my choice. This was dirty pool, as it demanded my success, no matter how difficult.

I've seen these children, whom I could help, staring at us by the orphanage door as we left with our children, off to our own lives. Zulya and Lora still linger, as their family sells cats and oranges in an effort to get them home. Discovered too late, 15-year-old Svetlana signed documents allowing her brothers to be adopted while she remained behind, on the promise the family would return for her, once they could find the money. Others, like cheery Vasily or HIV-positive Artem, don’t even have families wanting them yet. Failure for the sake of an addiction would be unconscionable; children not yet picked from our trips need my strident efforts. Even my own little brood joined in, each making a pledge for every day of “sobriety,” hoping to encourage me and the orphans.

December 31 was a five-Coke day. As I opened the can I knew would be my last, I consciously savored the crack of the tab, the refreshing mist-in-the-face it generated, and the first sip’s assault of carbonation. Coke connoisseurs understand not all vintages taste equally good; this wasn’t a top-flight serving, but finishing at 11:58 p.m., my nostalgia was disproportionate to the quality. Tuning in to the Times Square ball drop with less enthusiasm than most years, I felt immediate panic when “2011” lit up.

The first days were filled with headaches, as several stressful moments shoved me perilously close to snagging one of the two Cokes I spirited away in my refrigerator for comfort, but I never succumbed. Finally last night, I was strong enough to tap my foot along with a Coca-Cola commercial parroting my GUM tune. For the first time, I was not craving Coke as I watched.

I could still enjoy Coca-Cola, I’ll admit, but I feel a burgeoning sense of power. I could take one from my refrigerator. Now, I don’t have to. This time, it’s the real thing.


I have 28 days Coke-free days down, with 337 to go in 2011, and after that, hopefully, a lifetime of extreme moderation. If you would like to help me kick my habit, and help a deserving Lighthouse child in the process, please contact me at to make your per diem pledge. Flat donations can also be made; checks should be written to “Beyond the Cross Adoption Fund” and mailed to First Assembly of God, 1608 N. Oak Street, Rolla, MO 65401. Please write “Coca-Cola” in the memo line.  All donations are tax deductible, and will be used to support the adoption of Russian children.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I burn the midnight oil Wednesday. Testing my new alarm clock before slipping off to sleep, I find it in working order. When I awaken to the ping of rain on the metal roof outside my window, it’s still dark. I love rain and lay reveling in the stormy symphony, surprised my alarm hasn’t sounded yet. Tired, I plan to rest a few more minutes before checking the time.

I am not done thinking these thoughts when a sharp knock jolts me from recumbency. Cracking the door, I am horrified to see Roberta. “It’s 5:40!” she says. Throwing on clothes and brushing my teeth doesn’t take long, but as I run into the common area, everyone is waiting. Departing ten minutes late, the downpour accentuates our urgency. When we’re almost to the main street, I realize I don’t have my phone. So flustered that I fling fear of the dark aside, I sprint back to the hotel alone. Glancing round my room, I remember I’d readied everything last night, and had the phone in my bag with me. I can’t bother with my umbrella as I tear back to the group; I’ve sloshed through ankle-deep puddles and already look dreadful. As the only one who knows where we’re going, I have to reach the group before they reach the metro. Gasping, legs shaky from oxygen debt, I catch up, beneficiary of their fortuitous delay at a crosswalk whose leisurely cycles I curse at every other encounter.

We rush into our metro stop in time to watch the train pull away. Metro trains typically arrive every 90 seconds, but this early, it’s a stress-compounding five minutes. When another finally screams to a halt, it’s empty and I collapse, frazzled, in a seat, thankful we have no line changes. The kids’ train is due at 6:37 a.m. When we emerge from the metro into the railway station, it’s 6:34 a.m. I can scarcely believe we made it. All other trips, I pass the wait with tortured pacing, praying the families deem the kids worthy of their efforts to traverse the globe. Now though, relief is a lonely emotion; I’m quite void of the energy worry and pacing extract.

While David is telling my video camera that he’s anxious and nervous, the train lumbers in. Before we get to the back, where the kids traveled, they’re standing outside the car watching for us, with Katya, age twenty, our translator. Katya’s mom, Irina, translated our last two trips, but as our first-call court translator, her services are required for a family adopting two children today. Before the trip, Irina shared with me Katya’s apprehension. As we meet, I encourage her, expecting she’ll do a great job. “Thank you,” she beams, “that’s very pleasant!”

Rudimentary introductions over, kids, chaperone, and two hosts board a minibus to the hotel. The rest of us take a less hectic return trip via the metro. When we get back, the hosts are serving the kids Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereal I brought from home.

After breakfast, we commandeer the common area as games spill out and hosts begin to interact with the kids. The hotel owner stops by, congenial, but shocked we have so many children this time. When the rain relents, we visit a playground behind the hotel. Sheri distributes Pixy Stix; when one child shows us his blue tongue, the others crowd around to display theirs, too. Nine-year-old Andrea is here hosting with her parents. Metal equipment like that long ago banished from U.S. playgrounds outfits this park, planted in hard-packed earth. While the playground is likely far more austere than anywhere the Arkansas girl has played previously, she is having the time of her life with the kids. “This is the best playground ever!” she shouts at me, before darting off to rejoin the others.

Lunchtime takes us to the Golden Arches. Our trips feature repeated meals at the kid-pleasing chain, which the hosts good-naturedly tolerate both for its familiarity and popularity with the children. I ask the kids what they’d like to eat. Given the choice of one or two cheeseburgers, all the older kids clamor for two, seemingly amazed their preferences have clout. As they pick their drinks, prior experience warns me I’ll have to get lucky for them to remember what they ordered when I return. It never fails; the last child served feels slighted when the remaining beverage is not what they requested. Maria, six, refuses food; I order anyway. She ultimately drinks her Sprite, and eats one or two fries when goaded by an adult.

After lunch, one family, the chaperone, and the youngest kids return to the hotel, while the rest of us see the Cosmonaut Museum, joined by Dima, our driver. Once there, the kids flit between exhibits, more interested in taking photos than taking in Moscow’s best-produced museum. Witnessing this, Dima decries their indifference to the displays themselves. He tries, with modest success, to corner some kids for discussion of a few artifacts, but eventually gives up. I’d like them to glean something educational, too, but they’re enjoying themselves; with children’s tickets less than $1 apiece, fun alone is adequate recompense.

Afterward, we take a spin on Moscow-850, the 23-story Ferris wheel constructed in 1997 to honor Moscow’s 850th anniversary. The saleswoman distrusts my Russian as I ask for 15 tickets. She thrusts her finger at me and insists, “One,” with an air of finality. We go back and forth, until I trump her by saying, “Groupa!” This finally extracts the required tickets, albeit delivered with a hint of reluctance. The wheel makes a complete revolution in seven minutes, never stopping. Passengers board the moving wheel; to move slowly invites being jerked by the arm and stuffed into the car as it breezes by. The ride itself is silent and tranquil, the antithesis of the boarding procedure. Dima rides with me; he claims on a clear day like today, he can see Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral. I’m not knowledgeable enough to argue, but I never spot either.

After the Ferris wheel ride and disembarkation as harried as boarding, we return to the hotel. It’s a very long metro ride, and I lack the gumption to venture out to another restaurant. We end up cooking pelmini at the hotel. The kids love it, all except Maria, who eats only a slice of tomato. After dinner, several kids play Twister, Andrea among them. Though she has a family and doesn’t speak Russian, the orphans accept her as one of their own. This interaction is one of my favorite developments during the week.

While I prepare the food, Igor asks Katya to inquire of me when the rest of the families are coming. He’s counted hosts, and notes with dismay that the kids far outnumber families. I am shocked by the query, and realize too late I should have instructed Katya not to translate such questions. After my artless dodging at dinner, Igor asks later in the evening if anyone is coming to meet him. There are two other kids with him who aren’t likely to get families this time, and Sheri has travelled over 7000 miles to tell him herself that she wants him. Giving a lame, noncommittal answer, I slink off to my room before he can ask anything else.

I have work in spades anyway. During my end-of-day accounting, I discover with sinking heart that, after the ticket seller’s runaround earlier, I left the Ferris wheel bereft of 1250 rubles change. At bedtime, I check my alarm again, and find it was properly set today. I obviously turned it off unaware this morning, in an overtired stupor. I banish it from the nightstand and set it far from the bed; henceforth I’ll have to rise to quiet it.

If all goes well, I’ll pick Melinda up at the train station at 6:37 a.m. tomorrow after her trip to our region to meet Evgenia. I’ll be ready at 5:45 a.m.

On the button.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Wednesday my families arrive. Three have traveled previously, and want to visit kids they’re waiting for. Sheri hopes to adopt Igor, but he doesn’t know it yet. She wants to see his face when he finds out, so she has traveled to tell him personally. Barrie worries Alexandra will lose hope as the adoption process drags on, so he is here to encourage her. Amy aches to see Yulya again; she’s been waiting a year, through no fault of Amy’s. David is traveling to see Zulya and Lora; his wife met them last trip, and they’re planning to adopt, but he's anxious to meet them himself. Mike and Roberta are coming, along with their daughter, and Stefanee is visiting, just four weeks after a cross-country move with her husband and young children. Melinda is already in our region to meet a child too young for the trip. It’s her second trip with us, and she’ll join us for the weekend to spend time with the rest of the children.

Dima calls me when he leaves the airport with four of the families; the others are arriving at another airport later today. I expect them in an hour, but it’s closer to two, as traffic is punishing. When they walk into the hotel, it feels like a reunion of sorts, even with those I’ve not previously met. They’re kindred spirits in my mission, and we’ve spoken so often. Meeting the hosts is almost as big a thrill as meeting the kids.

Before we all left home, I offered them the options of resting upon arrival or sightseeing. All good-naturedly choose the Armory Museum over a nap.  Armory tickets come with an entrance time, and a 90-minute window to view the exhibits. The museum is within the Kremlin’s walls; entrance requires an expensive ticket, passage through a metal detector, and a half-hearted inspection of purses. Bags are not allowed inside, though it’s still a mystery to me how Russians differentiate between bags and purses. Calling my bag a purse, an attendant rebuffs my attempt to leave it at the bag check room.

The doors open at precisely 2:30. The Armory is my favorite Russian museum; I like everything about it. The museum is intimate, the restrooms are the cleanest I’ve seen here, and there’s a time limit. We start at the end, as the best exhibits are there. Catherine the Great’s wasp-waisted coronation gown; Peter the Great’s boots, like eighteenth-century hip waders; and Ivan the Terrible’s very straight-backed ivory throne are preserved in these final rooms. My favorite exhibits are the gaudy carriages of Russia’s tsars and tsarinas. Signs in Russian and English bid viewers not to touch, but the carriages are so alluring our group never manages strict compliance. A guard in a green sport coat shadows a more exuberant member of our band, but his requests to refrain from touching are issued in Russian, and fall on deaf ears. When an arm comes too close to a carriage, red lights flash, and a loud multi-lingual recording rebukes the unwitting miscreant. While it’s embarrassing if I’m in close proximity, it’s good for a chuckle at a distance.

After the Armory, dusk is descending, so we wander next door to Red Square to see St. Basil’s by night, when it’s even more magical than by day. Once there, it’s still not quite dark, so we end up in GUM Mall for a snack. I order a Coca-Cola, my go-to beverage. Barrie adores it, too, I learned on the August trip. Now I  feel selfish imbibing in front of him when he says he and his wife have forsworn it until they get Alexandra home. Seeking a way to relate to her inability to enjoy the “finer things in life,” they’ve vowed to forego soda in a Lenten-like exercise of self-denial. As I sheepishly quaff my drink, Barrie graciously salves my conscience by confiding he’s finally beyond the point of temptation when in the presence of someone enjoying a Coke.

Back in Red Square, the Kremlin bell tower is striking five, the red stars above its towers are aglow, St. Basil’s domes shine, and GUM is completely outlined in white lights. The scene is glorious; I want to stretch out my arms and twirl around to take it all in. While the photographers in our group finish their photos, I ask everyone if they’re punctual. We’re meeting the kids at the train station tomorrow, and need to leave the hotel by 5:45 a.m. I don’t know if I should tell them that time, or earlier. All of them claim they’re prompt, so we set 5:45 for our departure.

After Red Square, we return to the hotel to find Mike, Roberta, and David waiting. We’re hungry, it’s been months since I’ve eaten at MuMu, and I have a hankering for pelmini, so our destination is obvious. MuMu’s atmosphere is cozy and the food uniformly delicious, but its quirks seem Soviet. The restaurant is cafeteria-style, and the line staffed by Central Asians with infinitesimal patience. To hesitate even a moment when ordering is to invite certain rolled-eyed censure. Each item ordered is meticulously weighed, and any overage painstakingly removed. As I watch a worker reclaim a half-bite of coleslaw from a plate overzealously served, I can’t help but think the cost of the time exceeds the value of the few strands of salvaged cabbage, unless Russia’s minimum wage is much lower than I imagine. At checkout, each paying customer receives a sugar-crusted caramel candy most of my travelers find irresistible. But no matter how many diners are on a single order, only one candy is presented: one receipt, one caramel, no exceptions. No amount of protest or gesticulation at the vastness of our party ever wrests additional candy from the cashier. In Russia, the customer is never right.

Back at the hotel, Sheri, Roberta, and Stefanee exhibit the extra things they’ve brought to send back to the orphanages as donations. While sorting all their gifts and candy feels festive, I am moved by their generosity and creativity, as I sense the compassion that drove their selections. This was not required of them, yet they yearn to brighten the kids’ hardscrabble existence. The kinship I feel with those who care enough to travel with me never grows old.

As I anticipate tomorrow, I hope my hosts, my friends, will find what they’ve come here looking for.