‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine
I wish I could go back in time and post something for every day we were here thus far, but no such luck. We've already been here 14 full days and this is the first moment I felt I could write.
The trip started out very rough, because I had no clue that the flight would cause such a flare-up of my Lyme symptoms. I had to spend the first few days mostly in bed. Then I picked up Sasha one too many times and my back gave out. Back to bed.
When I was finally on the mend, we experienced a mini-catastrophe in the form of a flood in Anya's brand new apartment. No time to blog when you are literally hanging on by a thread. Let's just say it was a few days I'd rather forget. I can't bear to see Anya cry (and it is a VERY rare occurrence) so it was a heart-breaking few days. I was mortified to have to reach out online and ask for help once again, but when it comes to Anya and my other Russian kids, I just can't NOT ask. I love them too much to let my pride get in the way. I HATE asking but I LOVE that I have such a supportive group of friends to help. Most of them know I have done or would do the same for them.
So, I guess I'll just share some highlights:
Meeting Sasha was a dream come true. Anya, my friend Polina and little Sasha surprised us at the airport at 5am. Sasha immediately ran to me and wanted me to pick her up. I held her and she snuggled into my neck and said "Baba, Baba.." Sweetest little words. I cried, of course. Seeing Anya again was wonderful too, and it was fantastic to see her walking so much better on her bad foot. Last time I was here she could hardly walk with it - now it's just a limp.
Meeting Anya's next door neighbors was another highlight. They are a brother and sister that share the tiniest apartment you've ever seen. Their names are Katya and Kolya, and katya's 7 year old son Sasha lives there too. The whole place is about 10ft by 10ft, plus a bathroom. They all sleep together on a tiny couch - I have no idea how they do it. Sasha doesn't even have one toy, so of course I gave him a few things.
The building Anya lives in was build specifically for kids who aged out of the orphanage and destitute people who have no home. All the apartments are about the size of a small American bedroom, but they all seem delighted with what they have. The sad part is, this place was really thrown together haphazardly, and already everything is falling apart. Why? It drives me crazy. Anya already has to replace the tub faucet in the bathroom and the door handle as the cheap plastic they used broke after a few days' use. The front door handle is already falling apart - and every single apartment is like that. the part that makes me so mad is that there are dozens of articles in the news about this 'amazing' project and basically how great the local govt is for creating them. I wish those same govt officials had to live in one for a week!
Because of the flood and the size of Anya's place too, we opted to rent a small apt in Kemerovo via Airbnb for half the trip. Matilda and I are staying here (with Sasha half the time) and Anya and Nastia get their 'sister time' at Anya's. It is working out well. The week we spent at Anya's was hard because just our suitcases alone took up half the space. Getting anything done proved impossible. Try sitting on the edge of an air mattress to prepare dinner - on the floor. And no one can move while you do it or things become impossible fast!
Another highlight was meeting the girls' birthmother. I'll try to write more about it at some point, but for now I'll say it was so meaningful to meet her and I really really like her. Poverty destroyed her AND their family. With even a few dollars a month, they could likely have stayed together, but the girls were starving and she was losing her mind over it. What I didn't know was that her first trip to jail was for stealing food for them. I had heard it was their father who did this, but it was Oksana. She truly loves her girls and is trying to make up for what happened 20 years ago. She is funny, bright, intense and very very outgoing. We got along great and talked for hours.
The most recent highlight has been spending quality time with Daniel - the son that Putin took away from me. I don't talk about him much these days because it is honestly too painful, but while I am here with him and happy, I will share. Daniel has not changed (except in stature and maturity) . He is the same sweet, kind, gentle, sensitive boy I first met. He and Matilda get along GREAT and he watches over her like a big brother. He stayed last night and is coming back tomorrow. " I want to spend as much time with you as I can" he said " because maybe I will not see you for three years again.." He acts very grown up out in public and with others around, but once Matilda went to bed, he curled up with his head on my lap just like he used to as a little boy, held my hand and fell asleep. He still needs and wants a mom. He still dreams of coming to America. He still hopes we will be together in one place someday. If only.
Last highlight is that I'm also spending time with my former student and wonderful friend, Olya! Olya was one of my Shakespeare students here back in 2010. We have kept in touch and she came to visit me in the US in summer 2014. It is WONDERFUL to see her again. Matilda is in heaven, bc she ADORES her. Olya translated for us today while Daniel and VAnya were visiting. My hand is cramping so I need to go for now. I'll try to add some photos. More soon, because tomorrow we spend the day at Olya's dacha!