(If you are just joining click here to go to Part 1, or click on the links in my sidebar to catch up)
April 16, 2005
We arrived in Siberia to find bitter cold winds and poverty the likes of which we had never seen before. There were houses made from tin and stacked side by side, many without glass in the windows to protect them from the frigid air. As we neared our apartment my husband was relieved to see that we would be housed right beside the “police station” which had what seemed to be fully decked out soldiers on guard wearing machine guns and, in my opinion, excessive amounts of ammunition strapped to them. My husband mentioned his relief to our guide who quickly responded “NO! Do not look at them, keep your eyes down, they are not your friend!”
We were warned to never look directly at the "police" or speak to them. We were also told that if they took our passports they would demand money to get them back, and we would have no choice but to pay. Those were definitely not comforting words to hear and showed such a great contrast to our own country. Fear settled a bit in the pit of my stomach as I tried to absorb my first impressions of our little girls country.
We pulled up in front of an apartment building that was to be our "home" while we were here in Irkutsk. As we made our way up the dark interior wooden stairway, it was hard to believe that this was all real. Paint peeled from the dark green walls, the heavy doors contained multiple locks on them and bits of Russian conversation drifted through the hallway. Once inside the tiny, shabby and sparsely furnished apartment we were left on our own for the night. We stood there unmoving and staring at each other as we both fought back our own emotions that were threatening to take over.
I studied the surroundings outside our window and noticed the complete absence of color. Everything was gray – the sky, the houses, the icy ground, it looked so sad. An old women walked by carrying a small bag of groceries, she was wearing a heavy scarf over her head and a cane in her hand. I pondered what her life must be like as she slowly made her way across the ice covered parking lot to one of the rickety houses with no windows. The sound of laughter interrupts my thoughts and I turn to look the other way. I see several small children playing on a playground. The playground has what looks like a rusty old teeter totter, a slide and some squeaky swings. The children are playing and chasing each other. I look around for the parents, but don’t see anyone.
As we prepared for bed I was preoccupied with my thoughts and my anticipation about meeting our child. Tomorrow we would purchase tickets and get on another flight that would take us to the city where the orphanage was. I slowly drifted off to sleep but was startled awake by a thumping sound. As I became more aware I could tell that it is coming from inside of our tiny two room apartment. I asked my husband what he was doing. “I can’t sleep worrying about every little sound” he said as he continued piling our bags in front of the door. I told him that I did not think there was anything to worry about and blocking the door probably wasn’t really necessary. I didn’t think we were necessarily in a dangerous area - “the bad side of town” - but that this just WAS the town. There were kids playing outside unsupervised, people walking alone – not dangerous just barren, poor, colorless and sad.
Sunday we flew to the city of Bratsk. As we made our way out of the airport we were swarmed by a group of men fighting to get our attention and carry our bags. We said "no" which apparently meant "yes", but our guide quickly stepped in and rescued us. Most of the men carried brown bag wrapped bottles in their hands and most had a cigarette dangling from their lips.
Our guide got us safely through the crowd and took us to the hotel where we would stay for the week. We settled in to our new room, with our two single rock hard beds, for another restless night of strange noises and barking dogs.
Tomorrow we would meet Anastasia (known as Nastya by the orphanage staff). Questions swirled through my mind as I tried to force myself to rest. Would she come to us... or be scared? I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
To be continued...