Apart from chocolate cake, I don’t miss much in the way of food from home. On the other hand, I’ll definitely miss some things when I leave here. The tomatoes are incredible. Juicy and sweet – not the acidic tasteless things we buy at home. In fact all the produce is delicious and easily available from stands on the street. Everything is smaller and less perfect looking and much much tastier. We eat exceptionally good salads, except there is no lettuce.
In terms of the number of hours we have spent with the children it’s just over two full days now. (When we got together after our court dates someone mentioned that we hadn’t yet spent the equivalent of two full days with our children.) It’s amazing what has happened during those two-hour-a-day visits, though. We all have the sense that the kids now know who we are and look forward to our visits. They are all changing every day … smiling more, cuddling more, looking to us for comfort occasionally or just at us. Everything we look for in them is informed by the theory of attachment that we’d all read a lot about before coming here. We want them to follow us with their eyes, to be friendly but more with us than anyone else (indiscrimate friendliness is considered a worrying sign), to trust that we can meet all their basic needs (which is why feeding is so important.) In short, we are seeking to create a total dependency from which we can then begin the task of turning them into independent beings. One of my friends wondered a few nights ago whether this is a narcissistic project. And someone else answered that maybe this is necessary – that the way they make us feel when they smile at us is what makes putting up with the hard stuff bearable. Critical stance on attachment theory aside, we’ve certainly all been transformed into parents despite the severe limitations on what we get to do with our children. Little Kiana-Maria has just this week discovered that she has a voice and can use it to make noise – loud screeching noise. It is the sweetest music to my ears.
It is sometimes easy to idealize the baby house. It is without question one of the best in the country. The kids do not look malnourished, they are in clothes not rags, and their structured activities seem to involve adequate supervision. Their basic needs are definitely being met. And yet there’s something missing. Angie, who visits at the same time as me, and I got swarmed by a group of three-year-olds today. We’d been denied access to the playroom and told to go outside. So we found a place to sit on the grass, cuddling our precious babies with our knapsacks by our sides. We’ve come to know the three-year-olds who play outside by sight at least but we were unprepared for their attention. Little hands opening every zipper of our knapsacks, touching us and the babies, talking to us in Russian, fighting over our stuff. It hasn’t rained in a while and the play area is very dusty and so were the children. It was hot and they were just in underpants. Some of them had rashes, some had scabs from having fallen down. Some are obviously “special needs” kids. It was overwhelming. We snatched our things from their hands and retreated to the baby house. We were embarrassed at ourselves. There was some sort of raw need emanating from them that shocked us.
I don’t think I could work at an orphanage. Not without detaching completely from the kids. When I was first here another American asked one of the translators whether working at the baby house was a “prestige” job in Kazakhstan. It made me wonder for a moment whether there is any place in the world where child care is or has ever been a “prestige” job. Her answer was obviously no, despite my hoping it would be otherwise.