We took Bella out of the orphanage for over seven hours yesterday! We had to take a two hour drive to the capital of this region in order to process her passport application, and her presence there was required. I was really curious about how the trip would go, given her current living situation. She has existed within the confines of the same room in the same orphanage for the last 4.5 years. As far as we know she's only been outside once during this time, to go to the hospital two years ago. Bella spends almost all of her time lying in a bed. It's easy to see how she could become overwhelmed by car travel - the sounds, motion, change of routine, etc. could be enough to traumatize her or make her physically ill. I had very low expectations for the day, and viewed this as sort of a test run for the long trip home we have to make next week.
But guess what - that's not what happened at all. This kid was a FANTASTIC traveler! Our driver took the middle bench seat out of his van, making room for a small mattress on the floor for Bella to lay on. The caregivers bundled her up orphanage style (think layers and layers of clothes) and carried her downstairs to the waiting van, where they then put a thick comforter over her. She was grinning from ear to ear! The rest of us settled in - Ira up front with the driver, the orphanage caregiver and I on the back seat looking down at Bella.
The roads here are just awful, really in disrepair. Add to that the driving, which can best be described as treacherous, and I sometimes feel a little carsick. Bella took it all in stride though, talking to all of us, listening to music on my phone, looking at books, and just laying there being content. I am not kidding when I say she smiled for the entire two hour drive! Her only complaint was that she was hot. In addition to the layers of clothing and the comforter, she was also wearing a heavy jacket and an orange knit hat. I felt so bad for her, because the car was warm and I had to take my jacket off to be comfortable. She tried to remove her hat and pull down the comforter a couple of times, but the caregiver stopped her, tucking her hands back under the covers and pulling the hat down low on her head. Even then, her mood was not dampened.
She was looking a a little "Bitty Bear" book I'd brought when she began talking to Ira. Ira then translated for me, saying that Bella was reciting a poem about bears in the forest. She went on to say that Bella knows many poems and proverbs, and has a great memory. Ira wanted to know how she learned those things, since children at this orphanage do not receive any education. I told her that she must have learned it from Natasha, an orphanage visitor who I will devote a whole post to later!
Once we arrived at the regional passport office we learned that the person we needed to see would not be back for another hour, so we just had to hang out in the car and wait. We ate the lunch we'd brought and then Bella played with some toy cars for awhile (her eyes closed every time I tried to get a pic and the flash went off, but you get the idea!).
Finally, we were able to take her in for the passport photo. We had to carry her stiff little body up five flights of stairs (there are very few elevators here). Nothing but tights covered her withered legs and once we were inside, I was keenly aware of the stares that followed us as we passed through. People in this culture generally aren't confronted with disability, especially in children, because those who are born less than "perfect" are hidden away. Some of them made no effort to hide their disgust. Others turned away, as if looking at her would cause them harm. If I hadn't been so preoccupied with worry about how we were going to get this photo, I probably would have cried.
Getting the photo was hard on Bella. She is not able to tolerate sitting up at all right now - that's because her muscles have completely atrophied due to malnutrition and laying down all day. She was so brave though. They took three photos before they got one that was acceptable, and twice when they positioned her on the caregiver's lap she cried out in pain. She had tears in her eyes, but each time they asked her to look at the camera she gave them a tiny smile. I was so proud of her and heartbroken for her at the same time. When we were done, she quietly said "Paka" (bye) to the three office ladies, and then gave them a more formal "Dasvidanya" as we walked out. Tears began to fall from the eyes of the older lady. I don't know why she cried - maybe it was because Bella was so sweet on the way out, even after being in pain, or maybe it was being confronted with disability as I mentioned before.
I gave her several kisses on the forehead and told her "Good job" and "I love you" many times in Russian. In turn she gave me the big smile. We were both sweating when we left - her from the effort and me from stress! When we returned to the car she was exhausted and it took her a few minutes to recover. But she once again enjoyed the ride home, even after it got dark. She stayed awake for the entire trip and whenever we asked her if she was getting tired she would shake her head "No" and smile!
Bella, if you read this one day I want you to know that my heart was bursting with pride yesterday as I watched you being so courageous even when you were scared and hurting! I wish I could have said more to you than just "Good job" and "I love you" in your language, but one day soon when we are able to communicate better, I will tell you how impressed I was - you have an incredible spirit!