I will have to play catch up on this blog! We arrived in Isabella’s country on Tuesday night and stayed in the capital city for a couple of days. We spent a little time doing paperwork, but most of the day Wednesday and Thursday we were free to roam around and explore the area. We also met five other adopting families, which was very cool! I have many photos I’d like to post, but most of them will have to wait until we get back home.
On Thursday evening we boarded an overnight train that would take us from the capital city to Isabella’s region. After arriving there at about 6am on Friday morning, we were taken directly to our apartment. It is on the ninth floor and is located within a cluster of dilapidated Soviet-era buildings. We were greeted warmly by Ola, the apartment owner, who obviously takes great care of this two bedroom home – it is warm, clean, and very nice by Eastern European standards.
The downside of the apartment (a HUGE downside for us!) is that there is no internet, and none is available despite our facilitator’s best efforts to get it for us. So for now, I will be typing this in Word and copying to my blog whenever we make it back down to the restaurant that has internet access!
We also had our first visit with Isabella on Friday morning. As the driver pulled into the orphanage I noticed how much nicer the grounds look to me in the bright fall weather than they did under the cover of grey snow last February. We walked up the steps and into the reception area, where we were greeted by the same warm, smiling woman I have written about before. A small crowd quickly gathered, speaking Russian amongst themselves and gesturing. In addition to the three of us, there was our facilitator, a city inspector, psychologist, several caregivers, and the receptionist. Our facilitator translated a little bit of the conversation for us: a couple of the caregivers remembered me from February and everyone was excited that we came back to adopt Isabella. I looked at them and they were smiling – big, genuine smiles J. That was a good sign, right?
They ALL followed us into a room where Isabella was waiting, and as we approached I could hear those same little shrieks of joy from her that I heard months ago. We walked in and there she was, laying on her right side on the bed, looking up at us with a big grin on her face. I noticed the grin first, and then her legs. They were covered when I visited before, but today she was wearing nothing but tights under her dress, and they clung to what were the skinniest little thighs I have ever seen. I was in disbelief even though I was well aware of how malnourished she is.
We said hello, and I sat down on the bed beside her while the psychologist began to discuss the details of her file and the facilitator translated. Honestly, I heard maybe half of it. My husband (who is a surgeon) listened intently while Grace and I played with Isabella. I knew I could trust him to relay the info to me later, and I also knew that whatever her file told us, it would have no bearing on our decision to adopt her at this point. We were committed. Isabella is so observant – she also listened the entire time to what the team was saying about her.
I was somewhat surprised by the positive things the psychologist had to say about Isabella. In this culture, the overwhelming belief (even among health care professionals) seems to be that special needs children can accomplish little, if anything, in life and are best kept institutionalized. However, it seemed to be important to the psychologist that we understand that she feels Isabella is smart, observant, and has a good memory. She spoke about all the things Isabella knows in spite of the fact that she has never received any education, and that when we “get her home and give her lessons she will learn so much”. Now of course we know that Isabella has great delays to overcome due to eight years without a family and appropriate intervention, but it was so encouraging to hear this woman who knows hers speak about her in this way!
The medical and social history we received does not match exactly with the info we were previously given, and I don’t want to elaborate any further right now. We will wait until she gets home and is assessed by our pediatrician. She also suffers from chronic malnutrition. More importantly, she is a happy, smiling little girl who finds joy in everyday life, even when it is hard for us to understand how there is anything worthy of rejoicing in. She seeks out eye contact and touch (she loves to hold hands!) from us, and her laugh is awesome! Isabella and Bou took to each other right away. We have been preparing Bou for what Isabella would be like when she meets her, but still she is only six, and we wondered if she would be afraid when we got there. Not at all!! She already has such a heart for orphans and was so excited to meet her new sister. They both did great together and I am SO proud of them. Want to see?
Here they are!