Today I am bound and determined to write a post with pictures of our trip to Ukraine. I want to introduce you to our new children as well. It is relatively quiet at this moment in the Herr household. Maybe that is because seven of the members are away at work and the seven youngest are outside shooting a movie. That leaves three of us here in the house. Blessed quietness! Please, rain, stay away for the next hour!
After receiving the referral for our sibling group, we traveled via car to Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky, which is located in Odessa region. Traveling the roads in Ukraine was quite the experience. We were amazed at the skill of the drivers in dodging potholes in the dark at high rates of speed. Incredibly, we only experienced 2 flat tires in our travels by car. The first 9 days we stayed in an apartment close to the orphanage, after which we moved to the Christian medical clinic where we remained for the duration of our time in B-D.
We spent quite a bit of time every day walking to and from the orphanage or the supermarket. Visits with the children were from 4-6 p.m. on weekdays and from 10-12 a.m. and from 4-6 p.m. on the weekends. Some of the first words the children spoke to us in English were, “Tomorrow, four?” Initially, we had our visits in a small room which contained a bed and a small desk and a couple of chairs. I believe it was part of the infirmary. We were happy when we graduated to a larger room and then to the playground.
Our first day outside, the children ran and climbed onto an old piece of machinery that was sitting in the yard. I wondered if this was allowed, but they seemed so confident that we just followed along taking pictures as they played. We soon learned that it was forbidden, as one of the orphanage workers came and told them to get down. We couldn’t understand most of what she said, but the tone of her voice spoke volumes. We did understand one word she spoke to us, “CRAZY!” Boy, did we feel like terrible parents! But, how were we supposed to know? It’s something our biological kids would have attempted, too. After that experience, we limited their play to climbing a tree in the yard. I don’t know if that was allowed or not, but no one was around to say anything. Most of the time the children entertained themselves and us on the playground equipment.
One of the favorite pasttimes of the children in the orphanage was fishing for “tarantulas”. (That is their word for spider. No, they were not actually tarantulas as we know them.) They would run around the yard looking for little round holes in the ground. Then they would put a small piece of clay onto the end of a string and would lower the string into the hole. When they felt a little tug, they would quickly pull the string out of the hole. If they didn’t get a spider the first time, they would check the clay for little bite marks, which assured them that a spider was really down the hole. One afternoon the children collected over 25 spiders. Now I am not very excited about spiders, but the process of capturing them was pretty ingenious. Dima was especially excited about teaching me how to catch them. Sad to say, I never got one. I guess I just didn’t have the right technique. I was actually kind of glad because no one ever knew where they would land when pulled out of the hole. I liked them better hidden underground. What did they do with all the spiders? They attempted to force a few of them back down the holes. Others were stepped on, while the majority were dropped down the manhole in the driveway.
Since it was spring, the children in the orphanage were put to work cleaning up the flower beds. Luda seemed to enjoy working. There were few garden tools, so many of the leaves were gathered by hand or swept up with little brooms the children made out of sticks.
After six weeks of visiting the children, we were finally free to leave the orphanage and head to Odessa where we applied for passports. It felt strange realizing that these children were actually ours and we were responsible for them, even though we couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand us. We were left on our own with them in the center of the city while our facilitator ran around gathering paperwork. They were wide-eyed with wonder at all the new sights. They chased pigeons and climbed on a statue in a park. I don’t know if that was allowed, but we were thankful that it kept them from running into the streets after the birds.
In Odessa, Jim and Dima boarded a bus for the journey to Kiev. The girls and I traveled by car with our facilitator. We arrived in Kiev after 10:00 p..m. and were taken to the apartment where we would stay for the remainder of our time in Ukraine. It was the same apartment we had stayed in at the beginning of our trip. We were thankful that we were somewhat familiar with the area. It made finding food and exchanging money much less stressful. We spent most of our time inside the apartment because they didn’t listen and obey very well when out. It didn’t take long to feel cooped up with four energetic and loud children. Jim tried taking them to the playground one afternoon, but the adventure was cut short because they were constantly arguing with each other. We considered it a major accomplishment to get them all settled into bed each night.
Our final week in Kiev included trips to the medical clinic and the U.S. embassy. Once we received passports and visas, we were free to head home. We were ready. We had been away from home for seven and a half weeks. We missed our children at home and were ready to get back to familiar territory. Our time in Ukraine was over, but the real work had begun.