Ten years ago, we were in Ukraine. As many of you know, we have a book in the editing process. I wanted to share an excerpt from it here, in honor of Sweetie 3’s 10th anniversary. 🙂
This is a small part of section 3.
The first days of visiting were great. We would get up and Andrew would pick us up around 9:00. We would head to the orphanage to visit for about 2 hours. We would play games and talk with Olga and our translator would translate. At least she would translate some of what was said. Sometimes it was frustrating to hear a conversation going back and forth and we would be asking, “What did she say?”
Now, words went back and forth with laughing and talking and the translation might be something like, “Oh, she likes the color yellow.” Or, “Her favorite food is borscht.”
We would go back to our apartment for a few hours and then Andrew would pick us up again. We would go back to the orphanage for another visit. We would leave around 5:00 p.m and head back to the apartment for dinner and conversation with our translator who was staying with us the first week.
We had so much fun with our translator Olga. She knew so much about the process and Ukrainian History. She took us all over when we weren’t visiting Olga at the orphanage.
She liked us a lot, and began to share funny stories. The funniest one I can remember was a couple who had come to adopt a child asked who the statue was in the big square in Kharkiv.
She said, “That is Lenin”. His reply was, “I didn’t know The Beatles were so popular in Eastern Europe!”
I’m still not sure if she missed a funny joke or if he was serious like she thought he was.
Either way, we all laughed heartily.
We loved trying new foods and she was able to take us to a few places to buy common foods to try. Pelmeni with smitana became a favorite. I loved baking fresh chicken with garlic and pepper, and baking fish. We really enjoyed each other’s company.
It was time to visit Olga again in the morning. It was just 3 days before court. When we arrived, she looked nervous. She wasn’t making eye contact and was visibly shaking.
I thought to myself , “What could have happened to her?” “They better not be abusing her!” I noticed the first day we saw her she had finger marks on her arms where she had been grabbed tightly.
We asked or translator if we could take her for a walk outside and then we could talk to her.
She asked permission and it was granted. We walked over to a different part of the orphanage grounds and put Olga in a swing.
The translator asked her, “What is happening, why are you upset and scared?”
She asked, “Do you promise you will not tell the workers I told you?
Olga spoke quietly that she had been told that Kristina was really dead. She had been told she was dead a long time ago and had been so sad about her friend’s death for a long time.
When she saw the pictures that Kristina was alive, she was happy. But she also knew that we were not the people that came to get Kristina. She remembered them, and we were different people.
She said that the workers told her that we were only there to adopt her and then take her back to the U.S to have her killed and sell her body parts.
We were horrified.
We spoke with her and went through the photo album with her telling her that Kristina was certainly NOT dead and very much looking forward to seeing her again. We told her that she was so smart to remember the other family, and explained to her that they decided not to keep Kristina, but we didn’t know why. We explained all we could, and told her we understood her fear, but we were NOT going to kill her or sell her body parts.
The attorney was going to meet with her the next morning, and she was going to have to give approval for being adopted. She was almost eight years old, and had a say in what happened to her.
The next morning after talking to the attorney, she agree to be adopted by us.
What a brave, brave girl.
It was court day and we were really excited to get to court. We had been told by the NAC, that if we didn’t make it to court before they shut down again, they would send us home with no child. I tried not to think about it, but counted down the days to court, praying that they would not close down.
When we went into the courthouse, we met another American couple from New York that was adopting a 10 year old boy that they had hosted the year before. They had a two year old and she was also pregnant with another baby. They had court just before ours. Before they left and we went in, we agreed to contact each other when we all made it back to Kyiv.
It was our turn to go into court. There were three witnesses, the prosecutor, our translator and the judge. The judges cell phone rang and he had a conversation with his wife about a picnic they were planning for the next day.
When he got finished, he apologized for the interruption explaining that he was getting ready to go on vacation.
I was thinking, “I am so glad we made it to court before he left for vacation!”
He had Mike stand up and asked him his name, address, and what kind of work he did. He asked him if he could take care of Olga and if he wanted to adopt her.
Mike answered all of his questions with a straight face. He was so good at not smiling profusely! I was jealous.
I had been working on not smiling, and seemed to be succeeding.
He asked me to stand up, and then he asked my name, and address.
I answered, and then he asked if I could care for Olga’s needs, and if I wanted to adopt her.
Pictures were being passed around to the witnesses and somebody asked the judge if he wanted to see them. He said he had already seen most of them through emails and reports.
Apparently, every time I wrote to the embassy and sent them pictures of the girls, they forwarded those pictures to the judge. He already knew us in many ways, before court.
After answering yes, to his last question, he said he had one more question.
“Is it hard having so many children?”
He had a smile on his face.
Smiling back, I said, “It is fun. I love having a big family.”
That was it. We went out of the room and waited in the hall. They called us back a few minutes later and approved the adoption of Olga. We were so happy, but did our best to not smile.
The judge said, “Aren’t you happy?”
We both said, “Yes, very happy!”
“Well, why aren’t you smiling?”
“We can smile now? Ok!”
And we smiled…. the judge chuckled.
We all said “Dos vadana.” And court was over.
We had a new daughter!
WE HAD A NEW DAUGHTER!
The Ten Day Wait
After court, we had to wait ten days according to the law before we could take Olga from the orphanage. The director however let us take her to our apartment every day for 9 hours.
We took her all around town and to the zoo and square. We took her into stores and bought her the coveted “mushroom potato chips”. We had so much fun, with her and she looked at all the clothes we brought for her. She carefully looked at each item of clothing and pondered in her heart what was happening, taking in each moment.
Our translator had left us alone after court and went back to Kyiv to see her boyfriend. She said she was confident we would be fine. We were brave and not afraid to explore. I think she had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves. However, we really did cherish the time alone with Olga.
Every day like clockwork Andrew would pick us up and every day drop us off. One day, he brought his beautiful teenaged daughter with him in the evening. He took us to a larger store and she went into the store with us and translated everything for us. She wanted to practice her English, and she was quite good!
Emancipation day finally came. It was time to go and get our daughter. We had her outfit picked out. She had a soft blue sailor dress with leggings and a french beret. She was adorable.
We presented our gifts to all of the workers and gave toys to the two groups in her building.
After pictures, we left. If she could have run, she would have. We got her into the van and all the children lined the fence saying “Paca! Paca!”
Olga had a family. Us.
We headed back to the apartment but on the way back, Andrew stopped at a bakery and purchased several pastries to celebrate. What a sweet man.
He was now Andrushka!
When we got back to the apartment, we relaxed a little bit and had a nice meal. Olga thought that it must be Christmas because she had never tasted such good food.
She watched me cook and was shocked that she had a mama who could cook!
That night, before bedtime, we decided to let Olga get her first bath. It was literally her FIRST BATH.
We took her clothes off and when we were getting ready to remove her braces she started to cry. She must have been terrified, poor dear.
She had on the same stockings and underwear from the orphanage They didn’t make us remove them, because of her braces.
We waited a few minutes and showed her the bath water. She felt it, and then we pointed to her braces. She let us take them off.
When we got to the stockings and underwear, there was a bigger problem. Her stockings were actually STUCK to sores on her legs and feet.
We decided to put her into the bath with them on, and then literally soak them off.
She had little tears when we put her into the bath, and then, this look of “Ahhhh!” came over her face and she couldn’t stop smiling.
I think she LOVED her first bath.
We were shocked at how damaged her feet and lower legs were. She was covered in deep, deep sores and numerous scars from surgeries.
I thought about how Sarah went through her surgery and I was right there, and how our son Tim went through his surgeries and I was right there with him.
Who was there for Olga? Who comforted her when she cried out in pain?
Trying to fathom the depth of aloneness in the world is hard. Orphans are completely alone.
There is no family. Nobody.
But this little one was no longer alone. She was no longer an orphan. And she just had her very first bath.
Who says that by adopting an older child you will miss all their “firsts”?
There were plenty of “firsts” that we did not miss.
By the time Olga was ready for bed, she was a clean little girl! I also cleaned her ears while she said, “Papa!” Like, make her stop already!
Back To Kyiv
We had all of our paperwork ready to go back to Kyiv. We told the lady who rented her apartment to us good bye. We went to the local store where we bought our food and told the lady who wouldn’t smile, good bye.
She actually smiled and said, “Bye-Bye”.
I still don’t know if she was smiling to be nice, or if it was because we were finally leaving and she didn’t have to listen to me butcher Russian anymore.
Uncle Dima took us to the train station and together with our translator and Olga, we headed back to Kyiv. There were still a few more things to do in Kyiv. We had an appointment at the American Medical Center and an American Embassy Appointment.
It was Thursday and we had until Tuesday before our appointments started. We were supposed to leave on Tuesday, but there was no way we were going to make that date and needed to change our flights.
We headed over to the large building where the Internet Cafe’ was located. It was near Independence Square. We needed to update our family on our adventure and check emails. The bottom part of the building was a bank and then the upstairs was the Internet Cafe’. Since Olga was in a wheelchair, and there was no elevator, we left her wheelchair down stairs and then carried her upstairs.
There is no way a person can get around Ukraine in a wheelchair. Handicapped access doesn’t really exist in any usable way. We had been carrying that wheel chair down to the metro and back up the other side, and carrying up steps to get into stores and down steps to get out of stores. It was very sweet of the orphanage director to let us take the chair to Kyiv. When we were ready to leave, our translator would take it back to him.
We were in the cafe’ and had just sat down to the computer when Olga said the one word we all understood! Toilet! She had this look on her face like, she really had to go bad!
I took her over to the bathroom and unfortunately, it was a hole in the floor.
Now, she doesn’t really bend at the hip, and she doesn’t bend her legs. She had braces that went up to her upper thigh and I was holding her.
How could we figure this out?
I tried holding her over the hole, but her braces were getting in the way. She let out another more urgent “Toilet!” And I did what I had to do.
I got her dressed and gave her a reassuring look like I knew what I was doing!
We dashed down the stairs of the Internet Cafe’ to head to the McDonalds that is about a football field away. I was walking as fast as I could and her voice was more urgent!
We ran up the stairs of the McDonalds and then down the flight of stairs to the bathroom only to find a locked door and the words in English. You have to purchase something to use the bathroom. So we ran up the stairs and the manager must have seen the frazzled and desperate look on my face as Olga once again said, “Toilet!”
The manager motioned for me and we ran back down the stairs.
She entered a code and I thanked her profusely. “Spaciba! Spaciba!”
The bathroom was FULL of beautiful young ladies all trying to get near the mirror. They saw us and it was like the waters of the Red Sea parting! There was the wonderful, American style, white, throne of relief! The Toilet!
I hurriedly got her undressed so she could sit on the toilet and then I turned around.
“Tinkle, tinkle, tink….”
That was it! That was IT?
I looked at her and thought, “Surely you can produce more than that!”
“Nyet”…. she was finished.
I was exhausted.
We cleaned up, washed our hands and went back up that flight of stairs.
We sat down on the steps outside, as I couldn’t get my breath very well. I was feeling dizzy and faint. We waited about fifteen minutes and then I carried her back to the Internet Cafe’.
We climbed that last flight of stairs and went over to meet Mike who was completely oblivious to my toilet ordeal.
He said, “Where’d you go?”
“To the toilet at McDonalds.”
“Oh, don’t they have one here?”