Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Ride- part 1

A note: I am going to tell this in two parts, because it is rather long, but be assured, this is not the end of the story :)
By December 25th, 2010, I had already been on a certain car ride many times. I had made it with just my dad and our driver, I had made it with my dad, our driver, and our facilitator. I had even done it with another adoptive family. But on the way back from our destination on Christmas Day, 2010, I began the journey to a new part of who I am today. 

This year me and my dad spent the American Holiday season (Ukrainian Christmas is 12 days later, on Epiphany) in an area of Ukraine on a rescue mission. A mission to bring home a little girl who my parents had already spent a month fighting for and bonding with in a country where we didn't speak the language, and had to rely on our facilitator's ability to translate our words to the Judge of my sister Julia's district. Julia's case was especially different because of her Down Syndrome. Here in America, Down Syndrome may not be as widely respected as it deserves, but it is considered the ultimate degrading for a child in Eastern Europe. The children are lucky if they ever leave the hospital with their families. In most cases, the facilitator of the nearest orphanage comes to get them. From there, they get 4-6 years in what is known as the Baby House before the Institution. I will not begin to show you the videos, describe in great depth the fact of just how bad these places are. They can be, and most of the time are, a living hell. It can break the brightest. Maim the strongest. Kill the weakest.

The one portal of hope for these kids is adoption. Probably international. As I said, Down Syndrome (or any special need really), is an impediment, a flaw, something that cannot be treated. There are simply no facilities or services for these little gems. But thanks to organizations like Reece's Rainbow  that advocate for these children, there is a chance.

That was how we got involved. Through Reece's Rainbow. Julia had stolen our hearts in July of 2010 and we had pursued her adoption ever since. Now, on December 25th, 2010, the day of Our Lord's birth, she was being rescued. But other things were meant to happen that day as well.

In these orphanages, there are groups known as "Groupas" Each Groupa is normally divided by age, sometimes how affected they are. In Julia's orphanage, there is one room where kids you would take to be no more than 12-month-olds, but can be as old as 6, lie in cribs 24/7 because they are the "imbeciles," the ones most deeply affected. I had never met anyone in Julia's groupa, save one little boy I nicknamed Bruiser (who seemed to lead the group) who had escaped the main room one day and crashed into My Dad and I's visit with Julia. I had heard names, briefly seen pictures, all that great stuff. I had even seen the videos I mentioned before. I had a grip of what went on, but  I had always been a little lukewarm in concerns to the passion with which I fought for the cause. When we went in, Julia was sitting contently in her crib on the other side of the room. I went over and said hello and giggled with her for a second, then the plump little nannies scooped her up out of her crib to get her dressed in the outfit we had been required to bring.

One thing that is universally excepted about Ukrainian orphanage nannies is they are a hoot in the way the run around the room like crazy rattling things off in Ukrainian/Russian trying to keep everything in stark order. That said, I didn't want to enter into the fray of my dad and the Nannies all gathered around Julia trying to dress her and all that. so I went over to my buddy Bruiser. Something tells me Bruiser had just been told he wasn't in control of the place woken up from a nap and wasn't in an amicable mood. Right next to him to the right of me, however, was a little girl who had been jumping at me like crazy. The second I turned around and grinned at her, I swear rays of sunlight beamed from her infectious little Smile. I quickly realized from the combined knowledge of an adoptive mom in the region with us as well as the nannies calling to her that this was Miss Sonya from Reece's Rainbow. I said her name, questioning whether or not I was a complete lunatic for playing a guessing game with a child's name I barely knew. Luckily I was right. Que more rays of sunshine eminating from smile. I played with Sonya over the rail of her crib for a good 5/6 minutes, playing what I call the "cheek popper" game. I would puff my cheeks and then "pop" them with her fists enclosed around my thumbs. Priceless laughter. I realized the nannies were nearing the end of their last dressing of Julia and I waited for Dad to get all the nannies' attention for a photo.

Now one thing you should know about me (if you don't already) is this: I am a complete photography geek. Taking pictures, reading up on the latest gear, making slideshows, you name it, I love it. Shortly before leaving I had been gifted a beginner "pro" camera (i.e. one of those big cameras that isn't something you can fit in your pocket and requires you to have pretty deep pockets) that I had probably taken about 6,000 pictures with already. I motioned with my camera at Sonya and Bruiser and attempted to communicate what I was after to a young nannie who nodded her head yes. My picture of Bruiser came out relatively well, but my shining moment was Sonya's picture. And that began The Ride.

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