Monday, February 25, 2013

A Tour of Vladimir, Russia

So I had the idea of putting together this post now that Callie is home and we can speak more openly about her heritage. I've had many people curious about where she came from and I wanted to put together a little showcase to give you a better understanding of her town and heritage, which we hope we can preserve as an important part of her.




Callie was born in a small town near Vladimir and when she was about 18 months old was transferred to the Vladimir Baby House which is where we found her.

Being the capital, Vladimir is a good size city of around 300,000 (not all that much bigger than where we live in the US).  Though not a common tourist destination, Vladimir is part of the "Golden Ring" of ancient Russian cities, has several ancient cathedrals, and its heritage dates back to 900AD. In fact, the Grand Prince was crowed in Vladimir's Assumption Cathedral up to 1200AD when this was moved to Moscow's Kremlin and the famous Assumption Cathedral there which was loosely modeled after Vladimir's. 


Old bridge of some historical relevance, though I'm not sure what exactly. As seems to be customary in Europe, locals would affix "love padlocks" to the rails of this bridge.


McDonalds, the only familiar sign of western civilization we encountered in Vladimir. Even though most Russian's could understand simple English and use a few broken words, we hardly ever encountered anyone to which we could carry on a conversation with in Vladimir. ATMs that would exchange money were common enough (most only in Russian), but paying with credit cards of any variety was not common and most transitions occurred in cash. This McDonald's was one of the few places we found both credit card machines and an English picture menu.

Assumption Cathedral (1160)
The principle church during Vladimir's reign as political capital of Russia and where the grand prince was crowned before this responsibility shifted to Moscow's Kremlin


Back view of Assumption Cathedral.

Monument to Prince Vladimir I and Fyodor the monk in Pushkin Park.


Building of the Gubernia's Administration (1785) 
Sits between the Assumption Cathedral and St. Demetrius' Cathedral.
Housed local administration during Soviet era. 
Now home to the Art Gallery and Hall of Pre-Revolutionary Estates. Seems as though it was undergoing renovation


St. Demetrius' Cathedral (1197)

View perched atop Vladimir vantage point overlooking the Klyazma River

Muronskaya Bridge and Klyazma River leading to Suzdal I believe.


The Northern Trade rows (aka "the mall").
Located within walking distance of our hotel in downtown Vladimir, this supplied us with a grocery store and all the shopping necessities we needed.

Golden Gates (1163).
Located in the city center, these gates once marked the entrance to the city and were an impenetrable fortress.

More local architecture

Trinity Church (1913)

Vladimir Oblast assembly hall

I believe this is the site where the Tartar-Mongol hordes breached Vladimir's defenses in 1238. The city has struggled to recover since then in the limelight of Moscow.

19th century water tower. Houses the Museum of "Old Vladimir".

View of the Assumption Cathedral and Pushkin Park from afar.

What trip to Russia would be complete without your local Vodka factory?

A typical Vladimir street and city horizon

A Vladimir side street.

View from afar of what I called Vladimir's industrial area we drove past everyday on the way to the orphanage. What you see isn't a nuclear power plant, but rather a thermal one that produced power and steam for the town. Large steam pipes snaked their way above ground all over the town between buildings as the primary source of heat for the winter.

Entrance to Callie's orphanage... down a narrow, rough alley between two high rise apartments adjacent to some sort of military installation. Located about a 10 minute car ride from our hotel in downtown, the orphanage was on the outskirts of town in a noticeable more poverty stricken area than the old world that surrounded us in the city center.
The main gate to Callie's orphanage. This would be locked after 5:00. The entire orphanage grounds was surrounded by a rather creative fence built entirely from rebar.
Once inside "the compound", the building located in the center was 2-story designed in an "H" configuration with a groupa living in each of the 4 quadrants and common area in the middle. Callie's groupa lived in the far quadrant you see pictured above.

The Google earth image shows square "H" style building located in the middle of the high rise apartments. The red line shows the path we took everyday between the two buildings (pictured above) and down the alley to Callie's orphanage. The large complex below the orphanage was some sort of military/police training grounds though I don't know what. Vladimir is home to the 27th Guards Missile Army and the Strategic Rockets Forces, the latter commands the Soviet nuclear fleet. 

The rather square "H" style building was surrounded by 4 playground areas at each of the four corners. The kids would rotate around from play area to play area with the exception of one quadrant that seemed to be overgrown and off limits (see our trip 1 report about the forbidden slide). The vibrant colors seen here were a staple throughout in insides of the orphanage perimeter.

Here is the driveway leading back out of her orphanage to the alleyway. Every morning we would get dropped off here.

View of the high rise apartments that surround the orphanage grounds and tower over them. I often describe the orphanage as an "oasis" in the middle of otherwise run down apartments that would be best described in our culture as projects.

We hope to one day go back here with Callie and let her take it all in. We tried to document our experience through pictures and videos as much as we could since we imagine she won't remember much of it. We are thankful for this place and this staff for doing their best with what they have. Just in talking to them and seeing the grounds, the care and attention they try to give the kids is palpable. But when I see how much Callie has blossomed with just 3 months of love and focused attention, my heart breaks for the 40 other kids we left behind here and the millions of others in less friendly orphanages and on the streets around the world. No matter how great this place was, NOTHING replaces a family for a child.

-Rob and Jessica


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To everyone who's hurting..


(title is the first line of the lyrics of "Hold Fast", the song this blog was named after)

My secret confession is that I dreamed that in 3 years Rob and I would get on a plane and make the long flight to Vladimir again. I dreamed of Vita and Ilya picking us up at the airport and driving all the way to that sweet hilltop town that gave me my daughter. I dreamed that we'd perhaps go to the baby house she spent her first 18 months at and find the last piece of our puzzle. I imagine him having dark hair and big dark eyes - maybe a little Roma in him since his own country would reject him for that. His eyes would hold the same despair with the same hint of sparkle that Callie's did. I had selfish hopes that he'd be very young, 12 months or so. I tossed around names for him -  imagining what his Russian name might be. Would he be a Max? Or a Sasha? We have been so blessed with how well Callie has adapted to being loved and to being in a family that my heart ached to show this love to another child. To have the last missing piece of our hearts in our arms. 

Then, on January 1, 2013, the unspeakable happened. Russia has banned US adoptions. For over 6 weeks I have cried with my friends who were in process, and those who already had little Ruski's home about the tragedy of this decision. All those sad little eyes in all those pictures are now lost. Some of these mommies and daddies met these babies and held them in their arms. They whispered prayers for easy transitions and whispered love and hope into those little faces. They cried ugly tears at having to leaving knowing a court date could be months away. These families are now grieving the child they have lost while simultaneously praying for a miracle.

For other mommies and daddies it's a different kind of pain. The looked into the eyes of a picture and dropped everything to gather the paperwork and raise the money. Some were days away from finally getting to hold these sweet babies in their arms. Now, they are left with pictures of a child they never got to meet.  I mourn for them. I mourn that they won't get to see the light glisten in their little Russian's eyes when they know they are loved. 

My dream was so far off that it almost seemed selfish to think about it when for so many others the pain was so current, so now, so fierce. I am mourning the loss of a dream, they are mourning the loss of a child. So, for 6 weeks people have said to me, "I'm so thankful you got her out because look what happened now!" I instantly imagine my brave little Russian trusting these two strangers with her whole heart. I imagine her climbing into that car with us and driving off into the dark night while the only family she's ever known lay sleeping in their rows of beds. I still don't know what to say. I usually mumble something about being very blessed while also mentioning the thousands of children left behind. It is impossible to celebrate her getting out while not also imaging the little faces who won't. 

I don't even know how to advocate anymore for orphans. I know there are millions of them around the world in other countries, but my heart is still in Russia. I can't show you pictures of these little faces and ask for help with their ransoms. I can't encourage my friends to start this journey. I can't scour the blogs new families travelling to our region and relive it through them. I can't even think about the other lives affected without losing it. Our sweet Vita now has no job. Our trusty Ilya is left looking for other work rather than ferry American families around Vladimir. The people at the agencies, the people at the embassy's, the social workers - there are so many lives and families affected. 

So please don't tell me how lucky we are. We have a sweet little red headed light who brings us so much joy, but we are grieving and mourning all the other little faces that might never come home. My friends, my sisters, are grieving the loss of their children. I am grieving the loss of the dream of my little boy. Nothing about this is lucky. Nothing about this is fair. Nothing about this feels like God's plan.  

Once you have seen, you cannot unsee. 

These are pictures of some of the babies my friends are mourning right now. Please keep these families in your prayers. There are hundreds of other babies who don't have families fighting for them either who are now lost.








 
and this sweet little one shares a Russian name with our sweet girl :)
 




To address some comments I'm likely to get.
- We are still fervently praying that Russia will reverse the ban. This will not be enough for the children who will die from lack of care in orphanages and age out of the system due to the time we have lost. There are also hoards of people giving up on these kids and giving up on Russia who might never go back for them
- I know there are plenty of other kids available for adoption. Once you have adopted one, then you can tell me or them to just pick another kid. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

3 months home









Callie has been home officially 3 months now - we can hardly believe it! Seems like it has been much longer, not only from our perspective of adjusting to being a new parent again, but she has been picking up things at a phenomenal pace and I forgot just how little time she's spent here. Jessica got the same stickers we used to chronicle the girls first 12 months of life to chronicle Callie's first 12 months home. Unfortunately, life has been so busy, blogging Callie's progress has been difficult to say the least. I don't know if we'll ever catch up, but we hope to do better in filling everyone in. You might even see a few posts I started from a month or two ago pop up out of chronological order.

Now 3 months home, Callie is understanding almost 100% of our instructions in English. She is speaking a version of Rusglish.. Russian with English nouns and adjectives scattered in. Its sometimes difficult to decipher whether she's speaking English or Russian. She is learning more and more everyday and it often only takes her a single time hearing something before she's repeating it again. She is completely comfortable in our house and with the twins. She continually wants to help with her sisters, whether its with bath time, unbuckling them from their car seats, or giving them food. She sometimes tries to take on a disciplinarian role with them which we try not to encourage. 

Words she's saying in English include:
i love you
jesus
more
all done
mama
papa
Audrey
Harper
Teacher
school
Lollyhop (bunny at school)
french fries
soup
chicken
macaroni and cheese
apple
orange
banana
yogurt
chocolate
ipad
water
juice
milk
please
thank you
car
bath
shampoo
monkey
doggie
kitty cat
shirt
pants
shoes
jammies
icky
oops
mess
baby/babies
hit
house
next
careful
dangerous
one
two
three
four
five (and counts them)
she can spell the letters of her name
and tons more I'm sure I'll remember later!

She's doing an excellent job of stringing things together including "lollyhop school" and "more apple please". And when it relates to tattling on her sisters she's excellent at "mama babies no please" and "papa audrey no callies room"

In the interest of getting the update out, heres some random pics with no organization! Most are of her first day at school!