This journey has been full of unexpected twist and turns, and dead ends at bridges I thought I’d have to cross. Like a newborn baby, you prepare for every situation you can think of, and are never completely prepared when they arrive. (Unless you are fluent in Russian, seriously though, start now).
I have been intrigued since the beginning of this journey of exactly what it is like to be a Ukrainian orphan. How to think from her point of view. The most rewarding parts of this last week has been how to see through her eyes, in her narration. We have had so many interesting conversations, butchered by google translate. We found out not only does she hate hiking, when she told us she wanted to see the “American Hills” she didn’t mean Acadia, she meant Funtown/Splashtown.
We have talked about currency, governments, healthcare, and transportation. We talked about mail service, music, fears, hopes, relationships. When you are learning about someone who doesn’t speak your language and the translation is poor, you learn how to carefully ask questions. I’ve learned so much about the way she thinks, why she does things, and what her preferences might be in just a week. It has been exciting, sad, and hilarious at times. Learning which words do not exist, which words are not compatible, and which words are used completely differently has been ‘Ukrainian Hills” (or does that not translate backwards).
I’ve noticed her natural rhythms coming out. I’ve noticed how caffeine affects her behavior. I’ve noticed how she likes to sleep in till almost noon like every other teenager, and is not a morning person. I’ve seen her roll with the punches of being the 6th child, rather than an orphan of 60. She’s bright, she’s very concrete, and she’s very giving. She is starting to have a routine, ask for things, say when she doesn’t understand, and show interest in new things. She started being able to make decisions, and have opinions. She’s blossoming.
I’ve also watched her community. Her friends and teachers who are reaching out to her online. I’ve seen her orphanage director message her directly to see how she’s doing. “How do you rest my dear” she asks. “I’m good, they are very nice and they even gave me a phone!” Alina replies. “I’m so happy for you! Rest well Alina, I love you!” she says. Now I start to realize more about her story. It’s not as easy as you might think to consider moving to a different country, let alone one where you don’t understand anything that is going on, even IF your statistics showed certain death. You might hold out hope you can stay in your familiar place just awhile longer. Imagine reaching an age where the director must send you on, you must leave behind the only building you’ve ever lived in, while you have been neglected due to sheer numbers, it wasn’t that no one ever had said a kind word to you. Alina, I have found is very loved by her orphanage. The woman who has the commitment to her children to reach out to them personally to make sure they’re being cared for during her own summer vacation is amazing. How many principals would call home to check on a student. The desire of her director to want to see her doing well tells me although she’s been an orphan her entire life, the kitchen lady who sneaks her extras, the janitor that gave her a laminated prayer for good luck on her journey, and the director that reaches out to her online all love her very much. As much as I want ease anxiety for Alina, I also want to thank the people who have raised an amazing girl, with so little resources. Every minute I am more grateful for the internet. This tool has allowed her to continue her comfort level remotely through the red string of fate that also connects her to the beloved workers, and in turn relaxed them about our promise to care for her while she’s here. Considering the importance of providing her continued connection to the only community she has ever known, it has engaged me directly in it. The girl friends friend me on facebook, they message me, they comment on my photos of Alina’s beautiful smile.
I ask her “how long has this lady been your director?”. She replies “22 years”, meaning this is the only director she’s ever known. “Is she kind?” I ask her. “Well, she sent me here” and she smiles. While her life isn’t perfect, it is the only one she’s ever known.
All of the kids cope differently with the experience of a family. Some can’t get out of your personal bubble because they crave the physical love, some don’t want to be touched but show they care about you by cooking, or offering foods. Some kids fight the love you give because they want you to ‘earn’ their trust. Reading the book “The Five Love Languages” was one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read. Understanding that people show and receive love in many ways is invaluable to me. I’ve learned that I have the type of love language that feels supported when acts of service are done, like taking out the trash shows me that you care much more than a gift. I have learned the culture that Alina is familiar with is certainly an ‘acts of service’ type place. She force feeds me candy from the depths of her Ukrainian backpack that is sticky to the touch, covered in honey and stuffed with unwrapped cookies that have been stuffed away for later. Candy from right next to the handful of breadcrumbs and pea pods she was sent with. “Please, please” she says as she tries to rip open my clenched jaw. “I’m paleo” some how doesn’t translate? #translationfail should be the hashtag for this summer. Because I can recognize she’s trying to show me thanks, and love, I eat the damn candy, or at least I pretend to until she turns her back and I can spit it out.
This journey is so much more than feeding an extra kid for the summer and taking her to do some cool things. This summer has taught me how to navigate a world I’ve never dreamed existed while I steer a girl through a world she has never stopped dreaming about.
There is never a “good” time to have a baby, buy a house, go back to school, or host an orphan. You can pray and pray and pray, but unless you are out there doing the work to make this a reality the kids are still sitting in orphanage praying themselves for a chance to see what the world is like. The sooner you realize your prayers were already answered by the desire to pray over it, and you should get moving toward the preparation for the next session so you too can change the entire WORLD for a child, the better for the sweet face following their red string. This isn’t fostering a puppy. It isn’t an adoption interview. It’s an opportunity to really MEET a child from a faraway place that has only been dreaming of the opportunities you can offer them easily this summer. Alina’s biggest hopes and dreams included: Cooking in the kitchen with a family, playing mini golf, riding a horse, and seeing the “American Hills” (theme park). We can easily do these things to literally make all of her wildest dreams come true, and while doing this MAYBE we will find our red strings were tied on tighter than we thought. Maybe she will return to Ukraine with a new insight to study harder than ever and attempt to be the slim percentage of orphans that are allowed to attend University. Maybe she will ask to stay and be part of our country. Maybe she won’t decide at all, and in then the clock will decide for her.
Whatever the outcome, it doesn’t matter, what matters is I was given the opportunity to provide resources to a child that saved her life. Dental care, an eye appointment, nutritious endless food, a chance to make a CHOICE, and the feeling of unconditional love. This is what hosting is about. Its about saving a child by doing your absolute best to get to know that child as much as they allow, and having no expectations and realizing we are here to serve THEM. It is ok to fall in love, it is okay to support them through packages and well wishes. Sometimes being the only one they can think to call with good news is all they need. Some want to come here and never leave. Whatever they want always remember to put their needs spoken or unspoken ahead of your heart desires. This is a mission to learn selflessness, to give someone exactly what they need so they can succeed.
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back it was meant to be.