By Laura A. Jones
This is the second part of a transcript of the hand-written journal I kept when my husband and I traveled to Russia to adopt our daughter, Makayla. To go to Part 1, click here:
6 April 2000
This morning while we were having breakfast, the phone rang, and it was Victoria from Russian Adoption Facilitation Service. She had heard that our day in court went well, and she just wanted to make sure everything was going alright. Victor picked us up at 9:45, and then we stopped to get Marsha on the way to the orphanage. When you first came downstairs, we gave you some pretzels and juice. We had a short English lesson, and then we taught Marsha how to play Pretty Pretty Princess so that we could play. Daddy was the princess this time. After we played this game, we decided to go outside for awhile. Your teacher and your group were out there. We taught the children Ring Around the Rosies and London Bridges. The teacher and the children taught us how they play Cat and Mouse. A lot of the children came up and gave us hugs. Several times you started walking away from the group looking sad, and we would have to go and get you. After playing outside, we went back in and waited downstairs while they were preparing lunch for your group. You came downstairs to invite us up to see the children eating lunch. As each child finished his soup, he would hand his bowl to you, and you stacked them on the table. Then each child went to a counter to get their second course. As the children finished lunch, they started undressing for their naps, and it was time for us to go.
The children eating their lunch. Makayla is in the center of the picture in the blue and white dress.
The girls often wore those giant hair bows in their hair. Makayla is wearing two of them—one on each side!
Makayla is showing me the room where the children slept. The beds were small, but as you can see, they had nice bedspreads and lace pillow covers.
We went back to the apartment for lunch, and we got a phone call from home. We talked for about ten minutes and then told them to call back in three days. Victor and Tamara picked us up early because we wanted to take ice cream to the children at the orphanage. We wanted to take ice cream to all of the children at the orphanage, but the doctor had told us yesterday that some of the children in the other groups had colds, so we should only bring ice cream for your group. We could take candy for the other groups, which is what we did. As soon as we got to the orphanage, Tamara took the candy we bought to the other groups, and we took the ice cream upstairs to your group. When we suggested that you pass out the ice cream to the children, your eyes lit up. The children were extremely excited. While all of this was going on, the children from another group ran in with their candies to thank us. After you finished your ice cream, you went to wash your face, and then you came downstairs with us.
The children’s bathroom at the orphanage.
We had another English lesson with Tamara, and then we showed you how to play Candy Land, which you won. After Candy Land, I brought out the felt board which you seemed more interested in this time. We still had plenty of time left, and so we asked you if you wanted to play outside. You said, “no.” Tamara asked you why, and you said because the other children would try to play with your Mommy and Daddy. Tamara told you that we could each hold one of your hands, and we could take a walk as a family. You liked this idea, and so you told us you would go get ready to go outside.
The orphanage playground.
While we were outside, we noticed a girl staring at us. I remembered her from the April Fool’s Day celebration. She had a major part in it, and I remember that she was a very good dancer. As she stared at us from a distance, Tamara told us that she has seen this girl at the orphanage several times before, and she wondered why she had not been adopted. While we walked around the building with you, Tamara went to talk to the teachers that were out on the playground. When we met up with Tamara again, she told us something terrible that happened. She had gone over to the teachers to ask why this girl had not been adopted. She didn’t realize that the girl had followed her and was sitting on a nearby bench when the teachers were explaining that her parents rarely visit her but that they have not given up their parental rights. This means that the girl is trapped in the orphanage. The little girl is almost 7 and understood everything that was said. She started crying until the teachers realized this and went over to her and told her what a smart girl she is. This made her feel better. I felt very bad for this little girl.
The April Fool’s Day celebration. The girl in the white dress with the red trim is the one who was crying about being trapped in the orphanage.
After we went outside, we played with you a little longer. Daddy and I learned how to say “kiss” and “hug” in Russian, and every time we used those words, we got what we asked for. We have only known you for 5 days, but we are all very attached to each other. You are a little doll, and we love you very much. We reminded you that tomorrow you will be coming to spend the day with us at the apartment, and then we said “good-bye” to you. We then came home for dinner.
7 April 2000
This was an exciting day! After we picked up Marsha, the interpreter, we stopped at the post office to make a call home. We have been having trouble trying to call the United States from the apartment. The calls are just not going through. At the post office, there are about 8 phone booths. You first go to the window and write down the number you want to call and how long you want to talk. You pay for the call and then sit down and wait. After a few minutes, a voice comes over the loud speaker announcing, “Call to America in booth #5.” We jumped up and ran over to booth 5. The door was stuck. We pulled and pulled, and it finally opened. The connection was much better than it is in the apartment. There was no delay when speaking, and we could hear much better. We have decided that we will go to the post office to call home now instead of having them call us at the apartment. Not only is the quality of the call better, but we believe it is much less expensive for us to call the U.S. than for them to call us in Russia. At the post office, we paid about $1.00 per minute, whereas our Russian friends, Alex and Lorisa, told us it costs about $60.00 for a ten minute phone call to Russia.
(L-R): Olga, Marsha. Olga is Gaya’s daughter. She would come to the apartment and cook our main meal for us during the day while Gaya was at work. Marsha was a university student who sometimes served as our interpreter when Tamara needed to be at the high school where she taught English. Both of these pictures were taken towards the end of our stay in Birobidzhan when we took everyone out to dinner, but I wanted to include them here so that you could associate their names with their faces.
We left the post office and got to the orphanage right at 10:00. You were in a music class when we got there. You put on your coat and boots and we all went out to the car. You were very quiet as we drove to the apartment. After we got there, you told us it was a very long drive. It was actually only ten minutes. We brought you upstairs, introduced you to Olga, Gaya’s daughter, and then took you into our room. On the bed, were all the toys we have given you so far plus an outfit for you to wear, and one new toy. We told you that you could try on the outfit we brought you from America, but you weren’t really interested in that just yet. You wanted to play Candy Land, which we did. Marsha played with us, and you won again. After Candy Land, you were ready to put on the new clothes. It was a darling little red sweater with black buttons that had roses on them, and some black stretch pants. After you got the clothes on, we asked you if you would like to have your hair curled with the curling iron. You said, “no.” You just wanted to watch me curl my hair. You did want us to put the little red bow in your hair even though you already had a big white bow on. You looked so cute all dressed up like an American girl.
Me showing Makayla some of the videos we had made of her. She is wearing her American clothes for the first time.
After awhile, you noticed the little pink suitcase in our room, and you asked what it was. We told you it was your suitcase and asked you if you wanted to see what was inside. You liked everything in it, but your favorite items were the little butterfly necklace I brought for you, and the Barbie toothbrush and toothpaste. We put the necklace around your neck, and you looked so pretty. You immediately wanted to brush your teeth, so I took you in the bathroom. You loved the taste of the Barbie toothpaste. You carried that tube of toothpaste around for quite awhile, even sucking on it. We decided we better put it away, and you asked again later to brush your teeth again.
We had a very nice lunch that Olga prepared for us. You ate a big lunch, and then Olga brought out a bowl of fruit. It had 3 apples and 2 oranges in it. In the next hour and a half, you ate all 3 apples and 1 orange. You also kept asking for candy. We gave you some, but we didn’t want you to have too much. When it was time for your nap, we brought out your Barbie pajamas. We put them on you, and got you settled in bed. We gave you kisses and told you how much we loved you. You looked so cute in the bed.
Makayla trying to take a nap on her first day at the apartment. She never did go to sleep.
We went out to the living room to play Uno with Marsha while you took your nap. After three games of Uno, Marsha could see that you were still awake. I think that you were so excited that you just couldn’t sleep, but you stayed in the bed until we came to check on you about 45 minutes later. You sat right up with a big smile on your face. When we tried to get you to lie down again, the interpreter told us you were saying, “I don’t want to sleep. . . I want to play.” Marsha had to leave, and so for awhile we didn’t have an interpreter, but Gaya’s daughter, Olga, was able to help us with you. We found out that she knows some English, and we were able to communicate with you. Olga played Pretty Pretty Princess with us, and you won again. At first, we let you win these games, but now you are winning fair and square. At 3:00, Tamara arrived. We played Old Maid, and then we tried several outfits on you. You liked all of the clothes except the jean overalls. They looked cute on you, but you just aren’t used to wearing clothes like that. At the orphanage, they always dress you up in frilly dresses, and you probably thought the overalls made you look like a boy. You loved the swimsuit and you said, “I want to swim.” We told you we would go swimming in Moscow. We tried on your shoes which I think are a little small, but Tamara keeps telling us they are okay, and you tell us they are fine also, so I guess we will wait to get you new ones when we are back in the United States. The little black sparkly boots that I brought for you fit you perfectly, and you wanted to wear those in the apartment until they started to get warm on you.
Just before it was time to take you back to the orphanage for dinner, we played “Hide the Kitten” with the soft stuffed kitten we brought for you. We took turns hiding it, and then we would say “Cold, cold, cold,” or “Hot, hot, hot” to indicate if you were getting closer. When it was your turn to hide the kitten, you always hid it in the same place—under the bed. After playing this game, we put your clothes from the orphanage back on you, and took you back there in time for dinner. I forgot to mention that while we were playing today, Daddy gave you some Russian coins. You were delighted with these, and you were even willing to let Tamara teach you how to count them in English. When we got to the orphanage, we hugged you good-bye and then I placed the coins in your hand and said, “Makayla-na Soom-kah” which means “Makayla’s purse” in Russian. You ran off to put them in the purse we had given you.
For dinner, Gaya invited her boyfriend, Peter. The four of us sat down together without an interpreter. I said something to Gaya in English, but she motioned that she didn’t understand. We all sort of laughed and then sat there in silence. I decided to get out our Russian phrasebook, and Daddy and I tried to pronounce some of the phrases from the book. We were all laughing before dinner was over. Gaya also started talking about Ashley and Craig. She said “TV.” She wanted us to show Peter the video we made of Ashley and Craig on our video camera. Peter was very interested in this, and for awhile we thought he would never hand it back to us. I’m sure he has never seen anything like this before. After dinner, I went straight to bed. I was exhausted.
Gaya and her boyfriend, Peter. This picture was taken towards the end of our stay in Birobidzhan when we took everyone out to dinner.
8 April 2000
Today is Saturday, and Tamara and Marsha both had commitments in the morning. Tamara apologized for this and explained that she could be here at the apartment at about 11:15. She felt really bad about this, but we told her it was fine. Victor picked us up at 9:45 a.m., and we got to the orphanage at 10:00. We found you upstairs with your group. We brought you to the car, and we managed to communicate to Victor, without an interpreter, that we wanted to go to the post office to make a telephone call. We told him to tell you what we were going to do, and he said to you, “Call America” in English. I said, “Ruski” because of course you couldn’t understand that English phrase. He told you in Russian, and then I said, “Ashley, Craig, Ba-booshka” and then you understood we would be calling home.
We got to the post office, and then we asked Victor to come inside with us in case we needed any help. He helped us in two ways. He first told us that Daddy was standing in the telegram line instead of the telephone line. Once we got that straightened out, he was able to tell us which booth our call was in when they announced the call to America. Grammie answered the phone, and I told her right away that we had you with us. I told her that I was going to let you talk to each one of them. You first spoke to Grammie, then Ashley, then Craig, and then Grandma Char. As you spoke to each of them, I showed you their picture, and I told you what to say. You said, “Hi, Grammie!”, “I love you!”, “Bye-bye.” It was really cute! We told them we would call back in two days. We got back in the car and came to the apartment. Olga had brought her son, who is almost three, over to play with you. He is a very cute little boy. He galloped all over the apartment with a big smile on his face. We played for awhile and then Gaya served all of us lunch. While we were eating, Tamara explained to you that we were going to take you back to the orphanage for your nap. You told her that you wanted to take your nap here in the apartment. Tamara said, “But yesterday you didn’t go to sleep.” You responded with, “Today I will go to sleep!” I could tell that you were very tired, and I told Daddy that I thought you would fall asleep today. We put you in the bed, kissed you and hugged you, and closed the door. We checked on you about 10 minutes later, and you were fast asleep. This was the first time that we had ever seen you sleeping, and we not only took your picture, we made a short video. Two hours later, you were still asleep when Tamara came back. She thought we should wake you up so that you wouldn’t be awake too late tonight.
We finally got to see Makayla sleeping, and we took her picture.
We changed you back into your clothes from the orphanage, and took you back over. We brought a bag of candy to pass out to the kids in your group, and this made them happy. We went outside and played ball with you for awhile. Daddy tried to teach you how to catch it. After awhile, the kids from your group came outside. We wanted to take your picture with some of your best friends, but you didn’t really like this idea. We had to coax you to smile for the picture, but you finally did.
My husband playing with Makayla on the teeter-totter at the orphanage.
(L-R): Nina, Makayla. Nina was Makayla’s closest friend at the orphanage.
(L-R): Makayla, Vicca. Vicca had been fortunate enough to go to the United States the previous summer to attend a summer camp with American kids. A family that met her was in the process of adopting her. She learned a little bit of English during her stay in the U.S.
Me and my husband with Makayla on the playground at the orphanage.
We decided to go back inside where we played with some dolls for awhile. After this, we wanted to have an English lesson, but you were not the least bit interested, and you just pouted. We told you we would play Old Maid if you worked on English for a little while, and you started to cooperate. Tamara explained to you that you need to learn these words so that when we get to America, you will be able to understand us. After Old Maid, it was time for your dinner, and time for us to go. We told you that in seven more days you will be coming to stay with us in the apartment. You asked where you were going to sleep, and we told you that Gaya would get a bed for you. Then you said, “I will sleep in the middle of Mommy and Daddy so that I won’t fall down.” I thought that was cute! We kissed you and hugged you good-bye, and we told you that we would be back in the morning.
On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at a grocery store to get some more bottled water. We have almost finished the two cases we bought in Khabarosk a week ago. We have to use bottled water to brush our teeth and for drinking so that we don’t get sick. While we were driving in the car, I asked Tamara if she got paid more to be a teacher or an interpreter. She said she made a lot more money as an interpreter than she does as a teacher. She told us we would be shocked if we knew how little she makes as a teacher. She said, “I will tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.” Then she told us—about $50 a month! I asked her how she could even afford to buy clothes, because she always looks nice. She said she bought most of her clothes before the economy went really bad in August of 1998. I wasn’t sure what she was referring to, so I asked Daddy about it when we got to our room. He told me that the Russian stock market crashed back then which caused the ruble to drop in value, and prices went way up. This makes me feel so bad for the people of Russia. They have so little compared to Americans. This trip has made me realize how blessed I am to be an American citizen. I was grateful before, but now I know first hand what it is like to live in Russia. Even when Daddy and I first got married and had very little money, we were better off than Russian doctors are today. I am very tired tonight, but tomorrow I would like to write more about life here in Russia.
9 April 2000
While Dad is in the shower, I would like to write about what it is like to live in Russia. First of all, when you are outside, you see very little color. Everything is a brownish-gray color except for the people walking along the sidewalks and streets. It is April, but there is no sign of spring in terms of green grass or green trees. Everything is brown. The buildings all look very old. The apartment complex where we are staying has about 20 buildings which are 5 stories high. Each apartment has a small balcony, and you always see laundry hanging from the balconies because these people do not have washers and dryers. Dad asked Tamara what happened with the laundry in the wintertime. She said it is not good because it takes a long time to dry, and sometimes it freezes. From the outside, these apartments can only be compared to buildings you would see in the ghettos in a large city like New York or Chicago. The stairwells look very bad. The apartment we are staying in is on the second floor. As we walk up the stairs, I look at all the doors to the different apartments. They are all different. One is covered with dark brown leather. It has decorative nails hammered into the leather to form a pattern. Another door has thin strips of decorative wood on it. The door of our apartment is just a plain steel door with rust on it. There is no handle on the outside—just a keyhole.
Me standing in front of the apartment building we lived in during our stay in Birobidzhan.
Another view of the apartments.
The family that we are staying with consists of a lady named Gaya and her mother. We see very little of Gaya’s mother. She usually stays in the other bedroom. We have not seen her for at least three days, so I am wondering if she is staying somewhere else, but I haven’t asked. Gaya fixes us breakfast in the morning, and then when it is about time for her to leave for work, her daughter, Olga, comes over. Olga is here most of the day, and she fixes lunch for us which is the big meal of the day. One day Olga served us soup, bread, and salad for lunch. We were just about finished and ready to get up when Olga walked in with the main course. We were almost full and so we couldn’t eat much of the main course. That night Gaya asked us through the interpreter if we didn’t like what Olga served for lunch. We explained that we didn’t realize there was more food. Gaya speaks very little English. Her daughter Olga understands a little more from her English classes in high school. We found this out when you were here and we had no interpreter. We were able to manage with Olga.
The inside of the apartment looks better than the outside, but it still doesn’t come close to comparing to homes in America. The bathroom has been the hardest to adjust to. It consists of two very small rooms. The toilet is in one and the bathtub is in the other. There is no sink, so when you want to wash your hands or brush your teeth, you have to use the bathtub. Yes, that means spitting your toothpaste into the tub! Since we cannot use the tap water even to brush our teeth, we have to take bottled water and a paper cup in there each time. The shower curtain is paper thin. In fact it is made out of the same plastic that those very cheap disposable tablecloths for birthday parties are made out of—the kind that you use once and then throw away—only this shower curtain is used over and over again. The towel bar is actually a pipe that runs along the wall. The toilet is very crude. The flusher consists of a long piece of macramé that hangs from above. The toilet itself is covered with an old burlap toilet seat cover which is absolutely filthy. You just don’t even want to touch it, but there is no way around it. Every time I look at it, I think of my mother, because I know she would be absolutely disgusted by it. After being here for more than a week, I’ve just gotten used to it.
The bathroom in the apartment we lived in.
The bathtub in the apartment. There was no sink, so we had to use this bathtub to brush our teeth.
The bedroom that we have is decent, but the furniture is poor quality—even Target sells better furniture than this. The bedspread and drapes are made out of pink satin. There are also some white lace curtains. On the floor is a red Persian rug with many colors and designs on it. The kitchen is very small, and the appliances are also. The stove has four burners, but it is only about 2/3 the size of American stoves. The refrigerator is also miniature-sized, and it’s not even in the kitchen—it’s in the hallway. There is no dishwasher at all. When we were at the appliance store last week when I needed to get the curling iron and hairdryer, I noticed that all of the appliances sold in the store (stoves and refrigerators) were very small compared to those in the United States.
The bedroom we used. This was normally Gaya’s bedroom.
The kitchen. The appliances were smaller than the ones typically found in the U.S. There was no dishwasher, and the refrigerator was in the hallway.
This room was a combination living room/dining room and it is where we ate all of our meals.
I am sure that there is no one in this entire city (perhaps even all of Russia) that lives as well as I do. I am beginning to realize that there are probably very few people in the world who live better than I do. The sad part about all of this is that these Russian people are not in this situation because they are lazy. These are hard-working, educated people. Tatyana, who is our adoption coordinator, is a pediatrician, and she coordinates adoptions just to earn some extra money. She lives in these same apartments where we are staying. In America, she would be very well-off as a pediatrician.
One thing that we have noticed about the Russians is that they are always dressed very well. Casual Friday would never work in Russia because the people like to look very nice, and they do. After being here for more than a week, it seems to me that they have nice clothes, but not very many of them. When you see all the people out walking on the streets, it makes for a strange sight because all the people look so nice, but everything around them looks so shabby. There are always many people out walking—probably because most of them don’t have cars. Driving in Russia is very different than in the United States. Cars absolutely have the right of way over pedestrians. Pedestrians have the responsibility to get out of the way when a car is coming because the cars will not slow down for them. When Slava, who drove us from Khabarosk to Birobidzhan, first brought us to the apartment, there were some small children playing in the road. Slava did not slow down one bit even though one of those little children could have darted out in front of the car. There have been many times when our car was very close to a pedestrian, and neither the pedestrian nor our driver seemed concerned about it. So many things about Russia are different!
This morning Victor picked us up at 9:45, and we stopped to pick up Tamara on the way to the orphanage. We went right upstairs and I handed Mama Leda a bag of lollipops for the children in your group. She invited us to come in and sit down. All of the children were eating their lollipops. Many of them came over to us to say “thank you” and to hug us. They call us Mama and Papa. We went downstairs and told you that we had a snack for you after we had an English lesson. Mama Leda came downstairs and you showed her how you have been learning English. She was impressed. I got out a little pink purse that had all sorts of things you could use with paper (stickers, markers, scissors, a ruler, glue, etc). You really liked these things, and you made some pictures for your teachers. After this, we played Hide the Cookie Box. This game always delights you.
It was time for your lunch, and so we kissed you good-bye and told you we would be back after lunch and your nap. When we left the orphanage, we had to stop at a photography studio to have a picture taken. Tatyana needs it for something that has to do with the adoption. Being in that studio was like going back in time at least 50 or 60 years. The backdrops were just thin pieces of fabric hanging like a shower curtain. After the studio, we went to a store to look for some table cloths for the party we will have at the orphanage for your group on Friday. I was thinking about some bright plastic table cloths, but when we got to the store, I realized I would never find anything like that. Nothing that they had was at all bright. I ended up buying some blue and white checked vinyl. They will be able to use these tablecloths over and over.
We came back to the apartment for lunch, and Tamara stayed to eat with us. At 3:00, we went back to the orphanage to pick you up and bring you to Gaya’s apartment. When we got there, all of the children were still in their beds. The teacher was not in there, so we peeked in the window. Some of the children saw us and got excited. We decided we better sit down and wait. We could hear all the children talking, but they did not come out of the bedroom. Finally, the teacher came in and all of the children got up, got dressed, and had their snack. We brought you back to Gaya’s house, changed you into your American clothes and started to play. We always have a lot of fun with you. Tomorrow we have an appointment at 3:00 for you to get your hair cut. That should be fun. I love you, Makayla!
10 April 2000
After we picked you up at the orphanage, we stopped at the post office to call home. Yesterday we taught you how to say, “How are you?” and “I am fine.” So your conversations to everybody sounded like this: “Hi, Ashley. How are you? I am fine. I love you. Bye bye.” Next we went to the dry cleaners. As soon as we walked in, I noticed that there were only 8 coats waiting to be picked up. In the United States, the dry cleaners always have lots and lots of clothes waiting to be picked up. We put the clothes on the counter, and Marsha told us the lady said that they don’t do shirts—only pants and coats. She explained that there was no place in Birobidzhan that does shirts. She suggested that we wash them by hand. We paid for the pants to be cleaned, and they told us to come back on Friday afternoon to pick them up. After this, we came back to Gaya’s apartment where Olga was waiting for us. We dressed you in a red plaid dress and gave you an English lesson. We worked on colors and numbers today. After your lesson, we gave you some crackers and cheese. You loved it. Then Olga had lunch ready for us. After lunch, you wanted to work with your paper, markers, and crayons. Daddy made you a paper airplane, and I made you a paper fan. Then it was time for your nap. After you fell asleep, we went in and peeked at you. You looked so cute. At about 2:30 you started to wake up. Tamara came, and we started to get you ready so we could take you to get a haircut. At the beauty salon, they put you in the chair, and you had a big smile on your face. The lady cut your hair, shampooed it, and then styled it. It looked just darling.
Makayla standing next to the hairdresser right after getting her haircut.
We headed back home to the orphanage, and when Mama Leda saw your hair, she told you how pretty you looked. We went into the music room, and we played with a punching ball that Dad blew up this morning. After awhile, Tamara and I went upstairs to talk to Mama Leda about the party we are going to have for the children in your group on Friday. We will decorate the room while the children are playing outside. Tamara started telling Mama Leda about the pretty clothes we brought for you. Then she asked me about the dress you are going to wear to the party. She wanted to know if it was nicer than the other dresses we brought that she had already seen. I told her that it was, and I described what it looked like. Then Tamara said, “Oh, Laura, in Russia, we usually have just one dress for our daughters, and you have so many beautiful ones. . . This is our fate.” I said, “I wish I could take you back with me.” They both laughed. I really wish I could take them back with me. I think these people deserve so much more than they have. All of this is the result of a communist government—nobody gets ahead, even if you work hard. Hopefully things will get better for them now. It seems as though things are getting better in Moscow as our interpreter there explained. Maybe it will start trickling down to the smaller cities. Anyway, it was about time for us to leave, so we kissed you good-bye. We sure do love you. Tamara stayed for dinner here at Gaya’s apartment.
To go to Part 3, click here: