"Deri-bas-ov-skaya, Deri-bas-ov-skaya" the bus driver sang softly through his grinning mouth. Seated on the empty bus, I silently thanked God that he had sent me a driver with a sense of humor. Walking back from the orphanage this evening, I managed to catch the bus at its turn around point before the end of its route and saved myself about a quarter mile walk. Seeing that it was already dark and the temperature was dropping quickly, I was grateful for the timing. The last three people indicated their stop was ahead and then I was left alone. The driver looked at me in the rearview mirror and spun off a line in Russian. I thought how strange it is to have no idea what words a person is saying, but still understand exactly what he means. I knew he was asking where I was getting off seeing the end of the route was just ahead. I waved my hand and said, "Far, far," as if he was supposed to understand what "far" meant. I needed to ride the bus to the opposite end of its route. How would I communicate that? I racked my brain as he glanced from the road ahead of him to me in the rearview mirror. What was the name of the famous street near the other end of the route? "Deribaskaya!" I announced with confidence. He laughed at my misproununication of the street name and prounced it correctly for me in song form until the next passenger flagged us down.
The day started late for me. Although tired, I couldn't fall asleep last night. I twisted and turned in the empty king size bed and flipped the channels on the television until the wee hours of the morning. At some point I fell asleep and was later awakened by the church bells ringing in the big square down the street.It was after 11 and I had missed the opportunity to visit the Presbyterian church. I wandered down to the grocery store and got some staples to put in the kitchen, had lunch, and decided to venture out to the orphanage. The light was already beginning to fade at three o'clock when I made my way to the bus stop. Forgetting how early it gets dark, I immedaitely regretted leaving so late in the day. I found an empty seat on the quickly filling bus and hunkered down for the long ride there. People got on and off the bus, the sweet smell of perfume and the stinging smell of alcohol mingling among the riders. Near the end of the route, I indicated "na prava, kopeka" to the driver who obediently steered the bus to the right and dropped me near the little store. Walking the remaining distance to the orphanage, the dreary surroundings of the neighborhood pressed upon me. Passing through the gates, I noticed the orphanage yard was silent and abandoned. The big front doors were locked, so I made my way to the side door that opened easily when I tugged at the handle. The long dark corridor stretched before me and I reflected on the fact that the building's atmosphere would have frightened me as a little girl. A door at the end of the hall burst open and light flooded from the passage as two children chased each other, screaming and laughing. One of the boys recognized me and the "mama alert" was given. Kristina came bounding down the hall, turned back to rebuke one of the boys who had been teasing her, and then came down to meet me in a relieved embrace. I made my way to the room and found several of the boys from her groupa watching television. They leaped from their places and greeted me with hugs. Even through her happy deamenor, I could sense the relief in her tear filled eyes. Later she would confess to me that she had cried only three times while we were gone. Only three.
We chatted about school and the other children. She directed my attention to her suitcase, packed and standing in the corner. When would I take her from the orphanage, she wanted to know. With several days of adoption work still ahead of us, I anticipated leaving her in school through the week. She wanted to go now. I'm rethinking things.
We put our coats on and wandered around the yard toward the dormitory where the children sleep. Kristina asked the woman on duty if she could show me her room and we were permitted up the stairs and through a locked corridor. "Do you get scared here sometimes?" I asked surveying the pitch black hallway. Unlocking the padlock on the girls' bedroom, she shook her head as if that was a silly question. The springs squealed as she plopped down proudly on her bed. I was happy to see that there were warm blankets, but the only thing between her and the metal springs were two thin pallets. Seeing me examine the drooping bed, she said, "It is not like your bed in America, but it doesn't hurt." A small table at the head of the bed held a shoe box with stockings, a prayer book, and the birthday card we sent her in April. Speaking of which, we found out her birthay is actually in October. Its so strange to think a child doesn't even know their own birthday with accuracy.
We walked across the hall to another room that holds the children's clothes. Kristina unlocked the next door and showed me the boys' room which mirrored the girls' room minus the pink accents. With so many boys in her class, each bed had an owner. "All of the boys sleep here?" I asked. She thoughtfully looked back into the hall and went to one more locked door. The strong smell of urine hit me as I stepped into the empty room. The lace curtains swayed in the open window, but the smell was still overpowering. A solitary bed stood against the wall, the pallets on top stained deep yellow. The sheets and blankets laid in a crumpled pile on the floor. Two empty buckets rolled on their side in the breeze and a used diaper rested in the far corner. Kristina indicated that one of the boys had a problem with bed wetting still and he slept alone in this room. As my eyes took in the sadness of the scene, she picked up the sheets and lovingly spread them on the bed. She arranged the blankets and pillow, lined the cans at the foot of the bed, and placed the diaper in a trash bin. "He will be surprised," she observed looking back over her shoulder at the tidied room.
We walked back to the playroom and found the boys engrossed in a war movie. Darkness had already fallen and my conscieous told me I needed to go before it got much later, but I couldn't force myself to move from the couch. Kristina flitted about the room taking pictures of her cubbie and the caregiver's desk. Although the boys hardly noticed our presence I was content to watch the back of their heads. I know part of not taking Kristina now has to do with them. There is really no reason for me to be at the orphanage once I take custody of her. I'm not ready for that yet. I'm not ready to say goodbye.
Kristina walked me as far as the orphanage gates. "I know my name is Hope," she said. "Yes, Robert and I told you that when we were here before. Kristina Hope Landrum," I replied. She stopped walking and looked up at me. "No, I understand." My furrowed brow indicated that I didn't, so she explained. "If I stay here, I have no family, no future, no place. No hope. In America I will have family, a home. I will have hope. Yes?" "Yes," I replied in wonderment at the depth of her understanding. Eventually I willed myself to go and made my way to the bus driver with a sense of humor. Back at the apartment, I called Robert and was rejuvenated by the sound of his voice. Contemplating what my options were for the rest of the evening, I laid down at the foot of the bed and wrapped the warm comforter around me. I woke up an hour later at 9:00 to my worried facilitator's phone call. I had forgotten to check in and she had grown concerned. Hungry and awake, I strolled down Deribasovskaya Street not sure where I was going or what I would do. In the cold darkness babushka's sat before small folding tables with bags of sunflower seeds and cut flowers for sale. A group of small boys skirted past me, their lit cigarettes glowing orange in their wake. In previous posts I have reflected on the abundant beauty of this city. Indeed it is beautiful, but I am not unaware of the despair that lies just below the surface for so many of its residents. The ailing elderly women begging for coins on the corner and the over 3000 homeless children in this city alone cannot be drowned out by the show of beauty. I have gotten to know one of these children during my time here and am shaken to my core by his struggle. I brushed away the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes and made my way back to the warmth and safety of my little apartment. Its just after midnight here and I think will call home to speak with my family. Thank God I have that, a family and a hope.
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.