February 26th - Day 16: And the pieces fit - Sierra meets Emil for the first time!  Zhas Dauren

I don't know what to say nor how to say it so I'll just start writing ... the day began with Sierra and Emil meeting for the first time!  Sierra was beside herself with anticipation and excitement this morning.  She has waited longer than any of us to meet Emil and, I might add, more patiently than any of us would have in her shoes.  Once we arrived at the baby house, we waited in the music room for the caregivers to bring Emil to us.  The look on Sierra's face when he came in was incredible ... such absolute, complete and pure joy and love!  She ran right over to him and, well, Dave and I might as well have been invisible.  From the moment Emil saw Sierra, she was all he wanted to look at!  He reached right out, touched her hair and smiled, and before you knew it, he had her headband in his hands.  ("Just like Tyler!" said Sierra.  Tyler is our next door neighbor.)  Just as we predicted, he wanted to follow her everywhere.  At times, he would just be content to sit and watch her as she ran around the room.  He was transfixed.  And Sierra immediately assumed the role of big sister, picking him up, trying to carry him, handing him things to play with, keeping a hand on him as he cruised along the chairs, even wiping his nose!  (He doesn't like it any better when she does it.)  Every now and then, Dave and I would just look at either, smile, and say, "Wow, this is our family and these are our children!"  What a feeling!  The pieces fit!

As we were leaving the baby house for lunch back at the apartment, there were several children looking out one of the first floor windows.  They were probably just a little older than Emil and were smiling and "waving" at us (banging on the window).  All at the same time I thought, "wow, they're so tiny, they're so cute, and oh my gosh, they're staying here."  It was cute to see and sad to see all at the same time.

This afternoon, Emil got to have all of us together, including Robin and Sierra.  You would have thought that he would have been overwhelmed but he wasn't.  He still seemed most interested in Sierra although there was a long time at the end where he just sat on my lap and watched everyone.  We found a big Mr. Potato Head that we got down and Sierra and Emil enjoyed playing with it side by side.  So cute! 

After our afternoon visit, we left directly for Zhas Dauren, the orphanage for children 7 to 18 years old.  In Kazakhstan, the youngest orphans, from birth to 3 or 4 years old, live in what they call baby houses.  After that, they go to a preschool orphanage (ages 4 to 6).  Then, once they turn 7, they go to an orphanage like Zhas Dauren.  It's really like a campus with a separate building for eating, a gymnasium, classrooms, a dormitory, and some smaller "cottages" also for sleeping.  There are more than 400 kids altogether, 150 of which are sponsored by families through World Partners Adoption.  

Before leaving the States, Jim Harding (of WPA) asked if we could bring over letters from the sponsor families.  Today, we went to deliver the letters.  When we arrived at the orphanage, the kids that were outside the building quickly realized who we were and spread the word.  Before we knew it, there were a ton of kids crowded in front of the building greeting us.  Sierra was overwhelmed with the attention so I picked her up to carry her.  Once inside, Robin took Sierra and Masha, John, and I started handing out the letters.  We would call out the name on the envelope and that person would reach in and claim it.  The anticipation and hope on the kids' faces was heart warming at best, heart wrenching at worst, especially at the end when I realized that some of them had not received any correspondence.  I really got the sense of how much these kids look forward to hearing from their "families."  And, they do consider their sponsors to be their families.  One girl said that her family lives in New Jersey; another said that her family lives in New York.  Some of them could speak a little English and seemed appreciative of any words we could muster in Russian.  One 18 year old spoke quite fluently and said that she would like to be an interpreter.  There was one girl, 14 years old, who just stayed by our side the whole time.  She was enthralled with Sierra but much more gentle in expressing it than some of the other kids.  She was just the sweetest girl and I found myself wondering what it would be like to suddenly have a 14 year old daughter.  One of the boys played for us on his trumpet as his biological brother proudly stood by.

I don't know how long we were there, maybe 45 minutes to an hour.  I don't know if the impression will ever leave me.  It's well past midnight and I can't sleep.  I wonder about the children and their futures, I wonder about the rest of the children in the orphanage (who don't have sponsors), I think about our foster care system in the States and am grateful for friends who are taking in our (U.S.) orphans, and, as we left this afternoon it occurred to me ... Emil will never know what it's like to be 15 years old and living in an orphanage.  The emotions are overwhelming, especially because I am grateful for the blessing of Sierra and Emil and I want every child to have a family, a forever family.  I wonder, could all the world's problems be solved by assuring each and every child a family to love them?  

I'm also realizing that our time in Uralsk is drawing to a close and that makes me sad.  I fear that I will have regrets about things that I didn't get to do or see or learn or experience.  We've been here a little over two weeks and there's just so much that I want to soak in.  I don't want to forget this.  Adoptive families that have come before us have warned that it goes by quickly and to cherish each moment.  There have been times that I have thought "cherish what?!" and, yet, now I sense what they meant.  I'm sure that Dave would jump on the next plane home if he could.  His digestive system is still funky (he started antibiotics today to see if that helps) and I can't imagine anything worse than trying to carry on in a foreign land with everything we're doing when he's feeling so crumby.  I know Sierra misses her friends and her routine at home and, while Robin has been such a huge help and great travel companion, I think he's ready to be home as well and especially to see Dana.  I don't want the part of Emil that is Kazakh to fade and I guess I feel a responsibility to soak it in so that I can nurture his relationship with his ethnic heritage.  

So, it's been quite the day ... to all of our family and friends, please know that we are thinking about you and pray that you are well.  We love you and we miss you! 


            Brother and sister meet for the first time                                                    Sierra's guiding hands


                                Sierra playing                                                                        Helping the little equestrian


                            The kids at the Zhas Dauren                                                            


                                                                                                                                        Leaving Zhas Dauren


                Some good 'ole "Alaskan Mac and Cheese"