We were notified on September 28th that we needed to be in Europe on October 7th to meet our daughter. I didn’t have internet access in country, so kept a journal, which I will post to the blog. To say this was an emotional trip is an understatement!
Thursday and Friday, October 4th & 5th
We left for the Spokane airport at 7 AM for our first flight west to Seattle. From there we boarded our second flight, and flew east, across the US and onto Frankfurt, Germany. The flight to Frankfurt, was brutal with Ron and I sandwiched between two other gentlemen who were blessed enough to get the aisle seats. The flight was more than 10 hours and thankfully, we were both able to sleep a little. We arrived in Frankfurt sometime in the morning, and then boarded another flight to our final destination. Three flights and 24 hours later we landed in country where we were met by a taxi driver to take us to our hotel. We (I should say *I*) over packed AGAIN, and our luggage had to be stuffed in the front seat of the cab as well as the trunk. In my defense, there was only half a trunk available for luggage as the car had been modified to run on propane, and the tank was in the trunk.
My experience with foreign drivers has always been wild and crazy, and this was no exception. The driver sped in and out of traffic, getting right up on the bumper of the car ahead of him, and then swinging across to lanes of traffic and back. I was positive we were all going to die! J The driver was quite a character! He had a large JVC MP3 player filled with old rock and roll music from the late ‘50’s to mid ‘60’s. He sang along to Paul Anka, Elvis, the 4 Seasons, Frankie Avalon and many more. Songs from my very early childhood and before. Ron and I joined in the singing, forgetting the near death experiences of the wild ride to the hotel.
Once at the hotel, we were able to finally stretch out and sleep for a bit. We were now in a time zone that was 10 hours ahead, and it was only 2 PM when it should have been midnight, the day before. We should have been sound asleep at this time. We both napped for bit before venturing out to eat dinner and see a little bit of the country we were now visiting.
Our room was very old world décor with heavy draperies around the windows, and a heavy brocade bed spread. There were two sleeping areas and the bathroom, and a small area with a chair. Each little area had a very small balcony with views of the apartment (flats) buildings that were 7 stories high. Each flat had its own balcony where the residents hung their clean laundry was to dry. The buildings were old and crumbling, and looked as if a small earthquake would cause them to crumble down like dominoes.
Across from the hotel was a large mall, where we went to look around and get an idea of prices. Being in the capital city made prices seemed extreme, even to us. Gucci, Prada and expensive Italian clothing stores greeted us, as well as a large toy store. The mall was compact, but four stories high. Just like home, there was a food court with McDonald’s, KFC, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. Burger King couldn’t compete with McDonald’s, and had recently closed. We bought Cara a Minnie Mouse game at the toy store and headed back to the hotel.
Dinner that night was at the hotel, and though good, the food was fancy and more than we wanted. The following night we ate at the food court at the mall. The food was all familiar, pork, eggs, chicken, potatoes and vegetables; just cooked a bit differently. It was very good, and thankfully, the menu was also printed in English. . One of the best things about the food was the FRESH vegetables! The restaurant had home grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, purchased from locals that were amazing! Tomatoes do not taste like that at home! I couldn’t eat enough of them while we were there. There was a huge blue and yellow Macaw in the corner of the restaurant, preening and molting and chattering all through dinner. He was not caged, just out in the open on one of those large tree-like looking branches inside a sand box. We went to bed right after dinner, unable to stay up any longer.
Saturday, October 6th
There are no clocks in the hotel room and we had no cell service, so our only source of telling time was with my computer. We did not have to get up early, but I think the human brain has a need to know the time. Ron and I slept well, but we both checked the time periodically during the night.
We both slept until 8 AM, even on the uncomfortable mattress. The need for sleep was so great I think we could have slept on the floor without too much discomfort. We brought electrical converters for the computer and my hair appliances, making sure we purchased the step down variety to limit the voltage, but still, my hair dryer blew up and filled the little room with smoke. I managed to get my hair somewhat styled and we went downstairs to the restaurant for the breakfast that was included with the room. You must get up early to eat the “free” breakfast! There was a small buffet with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, many varieties of cheese, hard boiled eggs, pastries, and one remaining fried egg congealing in a warming pan with nothing under it to keep it warm. We enjoyed the other items, leaving the lonely egg for another adventurous soul.
We walked back to the mall in the afternoon, to buy areplacement hair dryer. Malls in Europe are very different than the malls here in the states. We are very spoiled being able to go to Wal- Mart or Target and pick up just about anything we need at one store. Most of the shops at this mall were specialty shops; one store for beauty products, another for toys, another for watches, another for clothing, and at least 3 different cell phone stores! I don’t know what possessed me to walk into an electronics store, but that’s where the hair dryers were. This store sold anything with a plug! We were lucky enough to find a young man who spoke a little English and before long we were heading out the door with a new hair dryer/styler and flat iron.
Ron and I were still suffering from the effects of jet lag, so we went back to the hotel and napped.
Sunday October 7th
We both woke up excited and anxious at the same time. We were meeting our translator/attendant, Miglena, at noon and taking the long drive to the orphanage to meet Cara. We had breakfast at the restaurant again, then packed and got ready. As we were struggling with our oversized luggage, we were approached by a very pretty young woman asking “Julie?” She offered her hand, but I gave her a huge hug instead. We were going to be spending the next 6 days together, so there was no reason for such formality.
The ride to the orphanage was a long 4 ½ hours. The countryside was beautiful, and we traveled through many villages on the way. We were all tired when we arrived at the only hotel in the town. There was no elevator, and we had to haul all of our luggage up 3 flights of stairs to get to our room. Did I mention I had over packed? J The room was clean and bright, but very stark. Everything was white, and no pictures on the walls. There was no shower enclosure in the bathroom, just a showerhead hanging on the wall. It made for interesting showers. We had to remove all the towels and toilet paper before showering because showering soaked the entire bathroom! We met Miglena for dinner in the hotel restaurant later that evening, and found the menu and foods were really not much different than food here. Prices were very reasonable now that we were no longer in the capital city. We had a light dinner and went to bed in anticipation of our meeting with Cara at 9 AM the following morning.
Monday, October 7th
The BIG day! Neither of us slept very well that night because we were so anxious about the trip to the orphanage and meeting Cara. We were very excited, yet very nervous at the same time. We didn’t know what to expect at all, and had no idea what she’d been told about us.
After breakfast, we took a cab to the orphanage. The town was small, with more crumbling buildings, built on a hill. The orphanage was at the end of town, tucked out of the way, in a remote location. We arrived at the gate shortly after 9 AM and went inside to meet with the director before being taken to Cara’s group playroom. We learned there were only 12 children remaining in that orphanage, and it was due for closure soon. The remaining children would be moved to foster type homes, or moved to another orphanage sometime over the next year. Cara had been told the week prior that we were coming and each time she saw an airplane, she asked her caregivers if that was our plane, so she was anticipating our visit. When we were finally led to the room where she was sitting with the rest of the children, she turned and ran towards us, stopping a good 5 feet before she got to us. She knew we were “mommy and daddy” but had no concept of what that meant. I was absolutely shocked at her tiny stature. I had seen her medical file, and knew she was small, but until I actually saw her, I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around it. She will be six on November 17th, yet she was the size of the average American two year old. We were led to another private room, a room that used to house another group of children, and now unused. She was very shy and reserved until I pulled out a bottle of purple, glittery nail polish and by hand gestures, offered to polish her fingernails. She smiled and we sat down at a child’s table and chair set and got busy. We had brought a carry on suitcase with clothes, shoes, and some games to share with her, and she was overwhelmed. Miglena translated for us, asking if she wanted to try on some of the pretty clothes we’d brought for her, but she ignored us, just looking at the items. We let it go and got out the Minnie Mouse game we’d purchased at the mall. The game consisted of 4 Minnie Mouse paper dolls, all their clothing and shoes, a pet and purple die. You roll the die, and match the number on the die to a corresponding item of clothing. The person who finishes dressing Minnie completely wins the game. We never got as far as playing the game as she was fascinated with the purple die. She grabbed that off the table and held it tight, refusing to let go. We finally put the rest of the game back in the box, and Miglena showed her how to spin the dice. She wasn’t able to make it spin, so they started rolling it back and forth to each other across the table. After she got comfortable with that, Miglena rolled the dice to Ron and he and Cara played a version of table hockey back and forth for close to an hour. She is able to focus completely on what she finds fun or exciting, with no desire to quit and try something else. So our first morning consisted of rolling a purple die back and forth across the table. At one point when Ron had the dice, I took out the photo book and showed her the photos in the book. She leafed through the book over and over, turning each page methodically as I told her everyone’s names and their relationship to her over and over. She never spoke, just smiled and giggled a lot. At 11:30 the caregivers came to get her for lunch and her nap, and we left to find our own restaurant to have lunch.
We walked down the windy roads to the city center, looking for a restaurant Miglena felt comfortable eating in. Ron had traditional meatballs for lunch, I had “chicken in a pot” which I thought would be like a pot pie, and Miglena ordered a salad. We also had their specialty bread, which was incredible! We ordered the meat version and the cheese version and they arrived piping hot, and tasting very much like pizza without sauce. It was so very good! The chicken in pot was very similar to a pot pie, but there was no crust or topping. It was filled with chicken, carrots, peas and mushrooms and arrived in a mini crock perched over a flaming Bunsen burner. Miglena was thrilled to see the flame go out. The meal was delicious!
After lunch we went to the local toy store and bought Cara a baby doll. She had seen one of Hallie’s dolls in the photo book and immediately pointed out the baby. Miglena asked her if she wanted mama to buy her and baby doll, and her little face lit up as she said “DA.” That was the only word we got out of her all morning. So we were on a mission to find that little girl a baby doll. The toy store had several, all interactive! I wanted something very basic, a doll and bottle. The least interactive doll they had was one that laughed, cried, and said mama and dada when you pressed her hands and feet. She also made sucking noises when you put the bottle in her mouth.
We arrived back at the orphanage at 3:15 PM and Cara was brought to us fresh from her nap. She was beyond thrilled with her baby doll. Once we got it out of the box, she immediately put the bottle in the baby’s mouth and gave us a huge smile as she listened to the baby’s sucking sounds. The baby bottle fascinated her. It was one of those bottles that looked as if the milk disappeared when the baby drank, then refilled when you set it down. She would feed the baby, watch the milk refill, feed the baby, watch the milk refill, look at the nipple area to see if she could figure out where the milk went, and then desperately try to take the cap off the bottle to visually see what was inside. She even tried drinking the milk herself. The inquisitive look on her face and need to figure it out was priceless to watch. We then showed her how to make the baby talk, laugh and cry, and we spent the next 2 hours listening to all the sounds as she methodically pressed her hands and feet, over and over, in the same order. Sometime during the afternoon, she decided to choose one of the outfits I’d brought her, and change her clothes. I later tried to distract her from the baby with some broken toys in the corner of the room, and was finally able to get her to come with me to sit on the floor and have a make believe tea party. Her baby doll was never out of touching distance and we listened to the sounds that baby made until we left! Miglena was sure we were all going to dream that night of sucking sounds!
Tuesday, October 8th
We arrived at the orphanage again at 9:15 and waited in the same room while Cara was brought to us from her group. She seemed genuinely pleased to see us, and went immediately into showing us what a great baby she had and the noises it made! I gestured for her to sit in my lap, which she did willingly, and took out her photo book to look through her pictures again. The first photo I’d put in the book was a photo of Ron and I together. As soon as I opened it, she said, “Mommy, Daddy!” The next two photos were one each of Ron and I individually, and she pointed to our faces and identified us as mommy and daddy. As we went through the book, I named everyone, and she repeated everything I said like a little parrot. She didn’t really know what she was saying, but she repeated everything. I was incredibly impressed. There was no accent, just a perfect repetition of inflection and tone. Miglena got it all on video for us. The morning visits were only 2 hours long, and they passed very quickly. Before we were ready a caregiver was leading her off to lunch and a nap.
We hiked back to the city center for our own lunch, stopping once again at the toy store for something different we could entertain her with. We found some very inexpensive sets of play food and dishes, so brought that back with us in the afternoon. Cara was happy with the new toys, but it was still obvious the doll had truly captivated her. We included the doll in our little tea party and she enjoyed learning a new way to play.
The orphanage nurse came in during our tea party to give us a copy of Cara’s daily schedule, the current week’s menu that included daily nutritional information, and some medical information. She could not find any information that indicated Cara had an official diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis, and said the only medication she was taking was an over the counter digestive enzyme during her 3 biggest meals. We were encouraged with that information, thinking she must have a very mild case.
We left a little earlier that evening. Cara seemed tired and a little over stimulated, so we left early so she could play with her friends and tell the caregivers all about her day.
Wednesday, October 10th
Today we were taking Cara for her visa photo. We arrived at the orphanage, and Miglena told her we were going to take her to the town center to get her photo taken for her trip to America in a few months. We put her in the dress we’d brought, combed her hair, and put her jacket on. Cara was acting a bit nervous, so Miglena was trying to calm her and explain that after the pictures we were coming back and she would have lunch with her friends. I don’t think she fully understood. She continued to act a bit distressed, made sure to grab her doll and bottle, and followed us to the cab but you could see she was not happy. The director went with us, so she got in the cab, but when we stopped downtown at the photo place, she literally freaked out. She started crying and didn’t want to get out of the car. I don’t know what she was thinking, but I am guessing she thought we were taking her off to America, and not back to the orphanage. It took me awhile to calm her, but her visa photo is ANYTHING but happy! She has this huge pout on her face, and absolutely refused to smile. We had a little time before lunch, so we walked a few blocks with her after the photo shoot, and found another toy store. Suddenly her fears were pushed aside as we went inside. We took her over to the shoes, and let her pick out a new pair. We found a puzzle we thought she’d enjoy, a hair dressing play set that included those plastic high heel shoes the girls love, medium sized bouncy balls to take back to the other kids, and Cara also chose some bubbles.
When we returned to the orphanage, the other children were outside playing, and Cara proudly announced to them “We brought balls for you!” We had purchased 7 balls, 6 to share with the children, and one special one for her. She was excited to share this with them, carefully giving out the balls and hanging onto hers. Everything went downhill from there. The other children wanted her ball, and that made her angry. She wanted to show them her bubbles, but they took over, spilling the bubble solution. That also made her angry. The more upset she got, the wilder the rest of the kids got. My heart ached for all those little faces! They had never had anything special just for them, and they wanted some of the action. Cara was willing to share, but only if they looked with the eyes. It was really more bragging, than sharing! We finally hustled her inside to put her things away, leaving the other children playing happily with the new balls.
We opened the play set for her, and she put on the heart shaped glasses and high heels immediately. Ron showed her how to use the pretend hair dryer, mirror, hair spray, etc. She loved the glasses and high heels, but showed minimal interest in the comb and hair styling items. Before long, she was led away for lunch and her nap.
Our afternoon visit was quiet. We introduced her to puzzles, which she resisted in the beginning. Miglena thought it was because it looked too hard, but once Ron showed her how to lock the pieces together, she started helping. He would find a matching piece and show her where it went, allowing her to snap it into the other piece. Before long there was a finished puzzle and she was happy with her success. She and I started a little sticker book with the stickers I’d brought along, and she really enjoyed that, loving the finished product. We left when they came to get her for dinner, and she asked if we were coming back again in the morning. Once reassured we would be back, she would waive, say “ciao-ciao” and head happily off to dinner.
Thursday, October 11th
We again arrived at 9:15, and waited in the separate room for Cara to be brought to us. She was willing to change her clothes, having worn the same outfit for 3 days, and then brought out the food set, preparing a nice tea party for us all. We played ball with her, and I touched up her fingernail polish, adding little flowers to decorate the top of her nails. All too soon she was led off again for lunch and her nap.
When we returned for our afternoon visit, we played with the puzzle, had another tea party, and added the last of the stickers to her sticker book. Shortly thereafter, she heard the children go outside to play, and indicated she wanted to go play with them. We had her change out of the high heel shoes, and had Miglena ask her to put her things in a bag for safe keeping while we went out. She put everything in the bag except her sticker book. I hand gestured for her to put the book in the bag, knowing the other children would grab it from her and tear it apart. It was just a little 3 x 5 spiral note book that we’d pasted all the stickers on and it was not going to survive 11 sets of hands grabbing for it. She held it close to her chest, telling me no, and Miglena explained we would not go outside with the book. If she wanted to keep the book we’d stay in, but if she wanted to go out the book had to stay inside. Welcome to the dark side! LOL! It became obvious this little girl was not used to being told “no” and very used to having things her way. She went straight into melt down mode, crying and screaming, and stomping her feet. Miglena tried to calm her as Ron and I sat across the room, watching this whole thing play out. We’ve raised 6 children between us, and this was nothing we had not seen before. Miglena talked, Cara screamed, we chuckled, admiring her spirit, but knowing if we relented, it would just get worse when we brought her home. So we continued to wait, she continued to scream and as expected, one of the caregivers came running to make sure we weren’t beating her. She saw us across the room from Cara and Miglena, ran to Cara and immediately started to coddle and coo to soothe her. Once Miglena explained what she was upset about, and knew we weren’t mistreating her, she talked Cara out of the sticker book and took her outside. Cara was not happy with us at all at that point. Ron and I played with the other children while she stuck close to Madeira, the caregiver that rescued her. Miglena suggested I paint the girls fingernails, but the boys were not going to be left out! So all the children, boys included, went to dinner with deep purple, glitter fingernail polish! Cara came over briefly to have me touch up her nails, but was pretty much done with us for the day.
Friday, October 12th
This morning we had to get up very early in order to make it to the notary office to have our acceptance papers notarized. There was only one notary in town, and it is not as simple as it is here in the states. Notaries in this country are highly educated, almost to the status of attorney. The process is long and boring. We were the first ones there, and it took an hour and a half to get three documents notarized. I was truly dismayed as it cut deeply into the last short hours we had to spend with our daughter before heading back to the capital city that afternoon.
We didn’t arrive at the orphanage until a few minutes after 10 AM. As we walked in, Cara was with Madeira heading out. She took one look at us, started screaming, pulled away from Madeira, and tried to run in the opposite direction. The visit disintegrated from there. Madeira took her by the hand and led her back into the room we’ve been using for the visits all week. Cara cried and cried, hanging onto Madeira as if her life depended on it. She refused to come anywhere near us, or look at us. Miglena tried to get her to tell her what she was upset about, but she wouldn’t answer. If I got close enough to touch her she cringed and cried “NE!” (no) She did tell Madeira she wanted to go with the children to collect leaves. It seems they went on a walk to collect leaves for a project. She was angry about that. We all offered to take her to get her own leaves, and she continued to cry. Holding desperately to Madeira, we went outside to the yard to find pretty leaves. We left her alone, although I did capture some of the distress on video. Madeira continued talking to her, trying to soothe her, but she was having none of it. Miglena, Ron and I wandered in the opposite direction looking for leaves to give her. I found some beautiful small maple leaves turning red and orange as well as some purple leaves. I also saw a weed that had stalks of pretty purple flowers blooming. I picked those for her too. Cara had finally stopped crying when we got far enough away. We followed her and Madeira back to the orphanage room, and I set the leaves on the table next to Madeira’s and offered her the flowers. She refused to take them, refusing to even look at me. Miglena asked her if she wanted to show Madeira how well she was doing with her puzzle, and she agreed to that. Daddy is the one that works the puzzle with her, so he got it out and they started to put the pieces together. About 20 minutes into the puzzle, another caregiver came and got Madeira to help get lunch ready for the children. As soon as she got up to leave, Cara again melted down. She ran furiously towards the door to run after Madeira, but Miglena stopped her. She tried to calm her again, but got frustrated as Cara’s hysterics increased. I told her we needed to let her go, that obviously she was too distressed, and she needed the comfort of those she was most familiar with. We forced ourselves on her long enough to kiss her good-bye, and Miglena led her off to the lunch room.
I can only surmise that Cara was fearful we were going to take her with us on Friday and she was not yet prepared to leave the orphanage yet. I felt so bad for her and the fear she was facing. We had considered waiving our visit trip and just going later to pick her up, but I am so glad now that we did go, giving her time to get to know us a little, and also time for the staff to prepare her for the day she actually will leave. The thought of her distress still brings tears to my eyes, but we know she will adjust with time and love. Difficult as it may be to remove her from what she knows, we both know it will be better for her in the long run.
We should return to pick her up sometime in February. Until that time we can write to her through the two agencies and send her photos. Hopefully, this will also help her comes to terms with leaving the orphanage and embracing her new family.