As we close on our first week with Alina, I reflect on the endless directions of stories I could tell. Last Wednesday came to me a girl from a faraway land, not only in geography but in time. The history lessons told through her current day stories are astounding. As we navigate the language barrier and decipher what she means while she stumbles through her own language, we try to convey ideas and messages that she has no reference for. Through all this, the girl whom has been forgotten by the world, is in the spotlight this summer.
Alina came to a house of 5 children. There is always chaos, laughter, and toys strewn about. The sensory input of being in our home is overwhelming for even the most adjusted English speaker. This week has been a glimpse into a world she had only ever dreamed about. A child who wants no pity, has been groomed to have the utmost National pride yet neglected her entire life, has spent the last week in what can only compare to a Freaky Friday type movie. Total immersion is an understatement. She has gone from sharing a room with 3 other girls, and having no attention paid to her, to a world that revolves around what she would like and how to make her comfortable. To be a guest she has no reference. She has never had an adult to tell her to take a shower, or brush her teeth. She never had a mother to tell her to be quiet when the others sleep, or chew with her mouth closed. Despite having never been special to anyone, this girl has the flexibility, the drive, and the tenacity to assimilate to American culture, and looks eagerly for signs of approval. It is a delicate dance to guide her through this process while letting most things go to avoid overload. She’s working so hard, and I’m so proud of her.
Alina comes from a place that knows hunger. She understands the concept of waiting days for a meal. She experiences the concept of “whatever you give me I will eat”. She has never seen inside a real kitchen, she has never prepared food. The lady she loves the most in this world is not her deceased mother, it is the cook in the orphanage kitchen. “The love of my life” she tells me when she points to this woman’s photo. “Her kindness” and gives a thumb up “super” she says. Alina had never been to a restaurant before meeting us. She has no concept of choosing what she eats, or going to the refrigerator and everything is ‘free’. She has eaten bags of apples, almost an entire watermelon, countless eggs, and cases of yogurt smoothies. Moderation is something she has no concept of, because her history tells her once something is gone there is no replacement, it is gone forever. This has created a unique set of challenges for us, to feed 6 kids, one of which eats more than the other 5 combined. This is the time we could use that village to keep her feeling safe with plentiful food. Sending gift cards for groceries would be extremely helpful to us.
The child who has a fire inside her to read all she can, has been so neglected her own education is nearly non-existent. She’s never had an advocate to push her to learn grammar and context. She never had anyone to cheer her on when she learned a new skill. In 7 days of living with us she transformed from a girl rolling her eyes when offered the translation app, loudly reminding us “I SPEAK NO ENGLISH!”, to a girl that came down for breakfast and said “Hi, how are you, good morning!” I cheered and said “YES!! Good English!!” and her face lit up. She grabbed her plate and scurried back to her room to eat and plan her next move. She returned with a huge smile, empty plate, and said “Thank you, it was delicious”. This was nothing I expected or asked for, this was a direct result of the time and love we have invested in her heart. She has the insight and understanding beyond her years, she has felt the feeling of pride in work well done, and this is a feeling she likes very much.
This path isn’t for everyone. It is intense, it’s heart breaking, and it’s exhausting. I can only equate it to my own experiences of laboring and caring for my newborns. The biggest difference is this baby comes with endless stories of brokenness, neglect, self-doubt, fear, and hunger. These are not things that can be overcome in one summer. The girl that is locked behind a wall of survival is hammering at it every day, breaking down brick by brick and letting in the light of love. We will get there, but we need the village to help us.
Her teacher told her in a message today “Only in America can miracles happen for you Alina”. She read the message and smirked.
Trying to figure out how to finance that miracle has left me in tears. Today I’m thankful for the ability to impact a young girls’ future, terrified in wondering if I can pull it off, and restoring my bank of hope as my village cheers us on to start the longest marathon we will ever run. This is the day I also hope for a miracle.
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