This is just a quick update to let you know that I will be in Italy Wednesday-Sunday. I am flying (with my roommates, Pearl and Danielle) to Milan this afternoon (3/26) and will be returning to Klaipėda Sunday night. We are going to spend most of our time in Milan, but will be taking a train to Genoa on Saturday to spend the day on the coast. Italy was not originally one of the countries that I hoped to visit this semester, but now I am very excited about it! I wish that I could write more about what has happened the past couple days, but I have to keep moving. This week and last have both been very full, but also very good. However, it is already past 1:30am here and I still have studying to do. Look for my Italy update on Monday!
This past week was packed with things to do. That, combined with my post-Russia fatigue, made for a crazy week. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, even if I did want to fall asleep all the time. Today marks my 79th day away from home…meaning I only have 46 days until I’m home again. The time has gone so much faster than I ever thought it would. For this journal entry, I am going to give a synopsis of my week within the descriptions of a few things that have become some of my favorite things this semester…
My Journals: As one of my roommates puts it, I spend “an absurd amount of time writing.” What can I say? I love expressing myself through creative formations of words. I have one journal that is already full of memories from the first part of this semester. Another is a handmade book that I bought here and just started filling it in place of the one that’s full. Then there is the one in which I write everything I am learning about God and faith. I also have this – my electronic journal – which allows me to compile the writings I do by hand in a form that I can share with all of you. Not to mention the one that holds all of the little visuals that go along with what I write, like ticket stubs and currencies. Writing is so much fun when it’s not in the form of a research paper! So, I spent a lot of this week writing, as I do every week, but I had so much writing to do this week that I still fell behind. I still have some catching up to do. Thus, I am thankful for my other little journal…the Notes app on my phone. It holds all the bullet points of things that I still need to write about in detail in my journal. I guess you could say I live in a world of words.
The Lithuanian Language: This language has become beautiful to my ears. I surprised myself by how thrilled I was to hear Lithuanian again on the train back from Russia. It felt so familiar after a week of being completely immersed in Russian. I wish that I could say I am closer to being fluent at this point in the semester, but I am still so far from conversational. Still, I love learning each new word and phrase. On Thursday, I went through some of the food chart with a couple of the boys at the orphanage. It was exciting to be able to work on a bit of vocabulary with them.
My Camera: “A picture is worth one thousand words.” Even with as much as I write, I think there are still times when this statement is true. My memory isn’t always the best, and, honestly, I have a small fear of forgetting things. I like taking pictures because it feels like I have captured a moment in time so I can return to it later and share it with others. I spent quite a bit of time this week going through photos from Russia and other parts of the semester, editing and choosing which ones to share.
My Bus Pass: At the beginning of the semester, I made a goal to go the entire semester without a bus pass because I enjoyed walking everywhere and appreciated the built-in exercise. However, that was before I knew how far away the Baby House was from campus. This is why my bus pass has become one of my favorite things…because it gets me to my Little Snails three times a week. This week at the orphanage was tough and wonderful at the same time. First, we had some changes in my room. Karolis, the little trouble maker of the group, graduated up to another room. Two of the other little boys were also gone. One of them, Andruis, was very young and full of cuddles. The other, Martynis, had a brace on his leg and was bursting with smiles. I had grown quite fond of both of them, so I was sad to see they were gone. No one told me where they went, but I am hoping this means they were adopted. Now we have two new boys who look like they could be twins. They are around two years old but don’t seem as disconnected as the other children were when I first came. I have not learned their names yet, but I hope to do that tomorrow. Finally, there is my little Domantas. (I realized that I had the spelling of his name incorrect when I last wrote about him.) He continues to make strides and is blossoming into a loving, outgoing, and independent little guy. On Thursday, he called me “mama.” This may sound dramatic, but it’s true…it took my breath away when he said it. This is mainly because it made me sad. In six weeks, I will be boarding a plane to fly thousands of miles away from him…and thinks of me as his mom. I have come to love this little man. It breaks my heart to think about leaving him. I am praying for him…that God provides him with a loving, Christian family who will teach him to grow into the man God made him to be. I would be more than happy to be his “mama” if I could. Legally speaking, I could adopt him. Logically speaking, I am in no place to be a mom right now…God would have to do some crazy orchestration to make that work.
Package Slips: These are what the post office sends to campus when they have a package for an LCC student. Then, we can go pick up our mail. It is so nice getting these boxes of love from home! I received one this week…and it was a complete surprise! As soon as the man handed me the box, I looked for the return address and smiled a giant grin when I saw that it came from a family that I love so dearly. Inside was a beautiful reminder to continue looking to God and to soar on His strength.
Set Free: This bracelet has gained more meaning this semester. For those of you who don’t know, I have worn this bracelet nearly every day since the beginning of my sophomore year at IWU. My mom hid it in my jewelry box with a note explaining that it is to serve as a reminder of the fact that nothing can take away the freedom that I have in the love of Jesus Christ. He set me free and nothing can change that. Well, this has become even more significant… First of all, I am now one of two people at LCC wearing this bracelet. Laura, my friend that I mentioned in the “Impressed With God” entry, now wears one, too. We are sisters in Christ and remember this fact with the same phrase…”set free”. Second, this week was rEVOLution Week – a week focused on anti-human trafficking. The campus group, Roots of Justice, hosted an event every day to raise awareness. I participated in or attended almost all of them. The final event was the one that had the most impact on me. On Friday morning, I posed as a human statue in the center of our academic building as everyone switched classes. These vignettes were staged during every class change throughout the day, depicting different types of sex trafficking. For fifteen minutes, I was frozen as a girl sold into prostitution, being exploited by a man who was previously my friend. In that time, I allowed my mind to think about what it would feel like if this scenario were real, as it is for thousands of girls around the world. When those few minutes were past, I was me again and Edvardas was back to being my friend, but the effect that I felt while frozen remained. And I realized something…the wrist holding my “set free” bracelet was the one that faced everyone walking by as I hid my face in my arm. My reality is that I am free of this kind of imprisonment. How cool would it be to set other girls free? Sex trafficking happens all over the world in many different forms. I want to help put an end to it. To bring attention to the issue, I am including a link to the website of an anti-human trafficking organization with which I’ve become involved. Please check it out, even if for no other reason than to gain information on how to pray about the issue. (www.TheA21Campaign.org)
So there you have it...just a few of my favorite things and how they each played into this week. :)
And, in keeping with the theme, here is the Lithuanian word for one of my favorite foods: morkos. (carrot)
Три – (tree) Russian for the number 3
So sorry that I kept you waiting an extra day for Part 3…sleep got a hold of me last night before I could type this out.
We left off with switching cities…. I left my Moscow subway surfing behind to traverse the bridges of St. Petersburg’s canals. You often hear about particular cities that are beautiful to see at night – Paris, Las Vegas, etc. – but St. Petersburg isn’t usually one of them. Well, take it from a girl who loves soaking in city lights under starry skies… St. Petersburg is gorgeous at night! Standing on a bridge, looking down a canal sparkling with the reflection of hundreds of yellow lights…ahh! But, lets not get ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of daylight to discuss!
Day 1 in St. Petersburg:
Peterswalk – Most of our day was spent on a walking tour of the city led by guides from a company called Peterswalk. My group’s guide was the founder himself, Peter. He actually grew up in St. Petersburg so he was very knowledgeable about the city. A random fun fact about him is that, even though he is a native Russian, he speaks with an awesome British accent because of how he learned English. We learned a lot from Peter – everything from how to find our way around the city to the dimensions of government-issued housing during the Soviet era. (When he was a boy, his family was only allowed a living space of 45 square meters. That’s 10 for each person plus 5 for a family. Before this, they only allowed 6 square meters per person and no extra for families. Crazy!)
Russian Ballet – Day 1 of St. Petersburg ended with the Russian Ballet’s performance of “Le Parc” in the Mariinsky Theatre. It was fun to get dressed up for this and go see it live in a beautiful, historic theatre. I felt so sophisticated! Then I pulled Margaux out of my bag, complete with her tutu and ballet shoes, to take her picture in front of the stage. And I felt no shame! :) The show was really interesting. It was a combination of modern and classical ballet. I am definitely more a fan of classical ballet, but it was cool to see the contrast of the two in one show.
Kazan Cathedral – This is the Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Remember that word? …Wow… I did not take any pictures of the interior of this cathedral because we actually visited it while a service was taking place. But, it followed the suit of the other cathedrals – an interior covered in colorful paintings. Also, I enjoyed listening to the singing and prayers of the people inside. It was incredibly peaceful.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral – Another amazing Orthodox church. And, as did the others, this one also has a unique characteristic. If you are feeling ambitious (which I was, of course), you can climb 261 steps to the dome and take in a 360-degree view of St. Petersburg. The day was clear and I could see for miles in every direction. It was worth every step!
The Hermitage (Winter Palace) – Let me just get this out of the way…WOW! Did you know there are so many pieces of art in the Hermitage that if you spent ten seconds in front of each one, it would take you seven years to get through the museum? It is huge! I didn’t examine every single piece so I managed to at least peruse almost every room. I stopped whenever I saw something that was particularly interesting to me and looked at it a bit longer. Honestly though, I liked the palace interior itself more than the artwork. It boggles my mind to think that people used to live there! I would get lost in my own house if it were that big! But, we decided that being a palace kid would be pretty cool…we would have the most epic games of hide and seek ever! My favorite room (aside from the ballroom that just made me want to dance) was the library. I dream of having a library in my home! This one wasn’t as large as you might expect to be in a palace, but it was still quite impressive. It had two “layers” with a staircase and balcony. So many books! Something that you probably did not know about the hermitage is that it does have current residents – a group of well-trained, former-stray cats. They are given a home in the Hermitage because they keep the artwork-destroying mice away. Most of the time, they spend the daytime sleeping under furniture and visitors never even see them, but some people are lucky enough to catch one walking through a room. I had the pleasure of meeting one on my way out of the museum. Apparently the Hermitage Cats are too good for Margaux, though...this guy wasn't too thrilled about taking a picture with her...
Pushkin, Russia – I took a train, with several other SA students to Pushkin, a small town about 30 minutes from St. Petersburg. This is where Catherine’s Palace is located (the palace used as the model for the movie Anastasia). First, we explored the extensive gardens behind the palace. This is something that I would love to go back and see in the summer when everything is in bloom, but it was still incredible. The gardens are HUGE! There were tree-lined paths in every direction, two swimming ponds, one larger natural pond, several smaller buildings (possibly pool houses), and quite a few footbridges over little creeks. Then, we had a guided tour of the inside of the palace. We were allowed to take pictures here and I couldn’t put my camera down! The only room we were not allowed to photograph was the Amber Room. It is a room literally made out of amber. The walls are all panels of amber mosaics. Catherine’s Palace was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis in WWII but has been going through restoration since then. It is almost completely restored now, though a few rooms are still unfinished.
New Food – On Nevsky Prospect, the main street in St. Petersburg, there is a little restaurant called The Market Place. It is a natural foods restaurant where you can pick and choose to design your own meal. I got brave and tried all new food: a rabbit burger and buckwheat. Both were super delicious! And buckwheat has become my new favorite food. Now that I’ve made that clear, look forward to the funny story on this topic that will be told on Day 4.
Feel Yourself Russian – This was the name of the show we attended at the end of Day 3. It was put together by the St. Petersburg ethno-cultural department to display traditional Russian song, dance, and food. The music and dancing caused my jaw to hit the floor many times (figuratively, of course). As with the circus, it was amazing to see what the human body can do. One girl sang notes that I didn’t even know were on the scale, and the dancing men looked completely immune to the laws of physics. It was energizing to watch! But, at intermission, my luck with new foods ran out. I tried red caviar for the first time in my life. YUCK! Never again…Never again. I stuck with an apple from the fruit bowl after that.
Spilt Blood Church – This is the cathedral that was built over the place where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated. It fits the other Orthodox cathedral characteristics with its onion domes and artwork-covered interior, but its artwork demands a closer look. The entire interior is made of mosaics. I just stood and took it all in. The amount of work that went in to laying every small stone is beyond my comprehension.
The rest of Day 4 was mostly spent relaxing and catching up on my journaling. One of my friends got sick at Spilt Blood Church so I stayed in the hostel with her for most of the afternoon. This was actually nice because I had already gone to see pretty much all of the places I was hoping for and I needed the time of quiet and rest. Also, the weather decided to give us a random day of winter and it snowed heavily most of the day. I got soaked just from being outside for about ten minutes since the snow was thick and wet. Since I was staying in, I decided to take the opportunity to learn how to cook buckwheat in the hostel kitchen. Enter the previously mentioned funny story… Kristen, the LCC Study Abroad Recruiter, was with me at The Market Place on Day 3. When she came back to the hostel mid-afternoon, I enthusiastically told her that I had successfully made buckwheat for myself for lunch. Then, I asked, “Oh my goodness! Do they have buckwheat in Lithuania??” She laughs and says, “Yes! They have tons of it! It’s everywhere! It’s poor people’s food. All the LCC students eat it…” And another girl says, “We have it in the US, too…” Me: “Well, I am going to join with all the other poor LCC students and buy buckwheat when we get back to Lithuania. And when I get home, I am going to put buckwheat on my mom’s grocery list.” So, when I went grocery shopping after returning on Sunday, I got buckwheat. (There is in fact a plethora of it in the grocery store.) Mom, I know you are reading this…be prepared. ;)
That basically wraps up my Russian adventures. We had another overnight train ride that was just as good, if not better, than the one that started our trip – lots of deep conversations, challenging questions, and experiencing God’s presence. From the very first bus ride to the moment I collapsed on my bed Sunday night, it was a full and beautiful week.
Два – (dvă) Russian for the number 2
I know. I know…you have all been waiting in great anticipation for this second entry. Well, here we go…
Our second day in Moscow:
More Metros, Surfing the Stations – Moscow metro stations are beautiful! Not only are they some of the deepest subway stations in the world (the longest escalators I’ve ever imagined!) but they are also artistically designed. Some have stained glass artwork, most are made of marble and other gorgeous stone, and several have sculpture art. The metro is a reason in itself to visit Moscow!
(This is in one of the metro stations. The stained glass was taken from Christ the Savior Cathedral before the Soviets demolished it.)
Старый Арбат (Old Arbat Street) – This is basically the Americanized street of Moscow. It was the first merchant street in the city but is now the street lined with McDonalds, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, and many other American chains, though it has kept its characteristic open-air art market. I am proud to say that I did not eat any American food while in Russia. Even on this street, I had lunch from Tepemok – Russia’s version of fast food (pankaces).
St. Basil’s Cathedral – We got to see the inside today…every inch is covered in colorful paintings. Guess what word came to my mind! Yup, “Wow!” I can’t imagine being the person to paint all of those intricate details. Also, we were able to look out from the arches on the second floor of the cathedral and get a new perspective on Red Square. All the history in this place just felt so surreal!
Christ the Savior Cathedral – This is a large white cathedral with gold onion domes. It was destroyed by the Soviets but completely rebuilt in only two years. I was not allowed to take pictures on the inside of this one, but if you Google it, you will have a visual of why it was so incredible that this was all accomplished in a couple years. As you will see, interiors completely covered in artwork are a typical characteristic of Easter Orthodox cathedrals. This cathedral was no exception! It was probably one of the most beautiful cathedrals I saw during my time in Russia, right below the Church on Spilt Blood (which you will read about later).
Вернисаж (Vernishazh Market) – This is a large, long-standing, outdoor market of handmade Russian souvenirs. I got to practice my bargaining skills to convince vendors to lower their prices. Actually, this was a time when my indecision worked well in my favor! For example, a man would ask for 1,000 rubles for a matryoshka doll and I would offer 500. He would counter with 900. I would counter with 600. He would counter with 750. I would hesitate and prepare to walk away to check another booth and he would say, “Okay, okay. 600.” And I would think, “Mwahaha! Success!” It was fun. But then, there was Mikial. (I have no idea if that’s actually how it is spelled but it is pronounced “Mik-ee-al”) Yes, my friends, this is where the “kisses from a gold-toothed old man in the market” comes in. Let me first give you some relief by mentioning that I was not in fact the recipient of said kisses…Keren, another IWU girl who was in my Comrade Group (CG), was the unfortunate victim. I was held captive at a hat stand by a man who would not stop putting Russian fur hats on my head when I heard Keren yell, “Katie! Help!” I look over to see her shove her hand up between her cheek and his face, push his head away, and shout, “Mikial, NET!” (Net is Russian for “no”.) Then, she ran away, looking back at me with an expression of “YIKES!” as I stood stunned with some giant hat on my head. Mikial then says nonchalantly to the man at the hat stand, “She beautiful, no?” As I started to recover from the shock, the hat man asks, “You have no boyfriend?” I mumbled something that wasn’t even real words, Russian or English, and got out of there as fast as I could! When I got back to my CG, Keren says, “Katie! Why didn’t you do something?” I apologized and explained that I was in shock, like I was in one of those bad dreams where my feet are glued to the cement. She continued to tell me the whole story, including the part where Mikial managed to get three slobbery kisses on her cheek before she escaped. Wow…was I sure glad it wasn’t me! Turns out I ended up being one of two in my CG group who made it back to Lithuania without being kissed by a random Russian man. Thank heaven!
Gorky Park – Gorky Park is basically Moscow’s Central Park. It is quite extensive and beautiful, located right next to the river. While sitting on the cement wall at the edge of the river, my CG met some new friends. There was a group of Russian college students standing just a little ways from us attempting to sing the theme song from Titanic. We decided to help them out by joining in. This led them to come over and introduce themselves. We played a get-to-know-you game with them and enjoyed making spontaneous international acquaintances.
Day three in Moscow:
Mausoleum – How would you feel about visiting a man who died in 1924? Not just that, but a man who died in 1924 and is guarded by 13+ Russian police officers? Yeah, I wasn’t so sure about this either. Maybe you don’t know this, but Vladimir Lenin was never buried. His body was preserved (basically mummified) and continues to be represerved on an annual basis, and is on display in the Mausoleum in Red Square. He even receives an occasional change of his suit. Hundreds of people visit him each year, and on March 11th, I was one of them. Ya know, he doesn’t look too bad seeing as how he has been dead for 90 years and all…
Kolomenskoe selo – This is the old imperial estate in Moscow. It is now a national park that still contains some of the remains of wooden structures built by many Russian Tsars. It is also located on the river and was a beautiful place to walk through on this sunny day.
Then, we loaded up on Train No. 162 AA, Car No. 8 and made our way, at 200km per hour, to St. Petersburg….
- TO BE CONTINUED –
Still to come in Part 3: dancing, palaces, new foods, and canals for miles!
Один – (ăh-dēn) Russian for the number 1
Alright, here’s the plan: I am going to use three segments (over the course of three days) to recount my time in Russia. I’m sure this surprises all of you, but I have a lot to write about after ten days traveling Russia…okay, so it’s no surprise at all. But, on the train ride from Russia to Lithuania, I kept thinking about how in the world I could accurately describe my experience in one blog post, and decided it was impossible. A series seemed like the best plan. Besides, it will be fun…like a TV series that ends with “To Be Continued”…twice! :)
Let me begin by saying this: Life is beautiful and God is beyond brilliant. You may be thinking, “Wait…I thought we were talking about Russia…” Well, hold your horses. It all starts with the 4-hour bus ride from Klaipėda to Riga, and the over 15-hour train ride from Riga to Moscow. We made a side trip as we traveled to Riga last Saturday and stopped at Kryžių Kalnas (The Hill of Crosses) in Šiauliai, Lithuania. This place is a primary example of the resiliency of Lithuania. People began putting crosses there in remembrance of loved ones, but when the Soviets took control of Lithuania, it was bulldozed. However, people put up new crosses. Even after several attempts to destroy it, the number of crosses kept growing. Now, people from all over the world place crosses on the hill. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of crosses now in place. It is an awe-inspiring atmosphere. I walked among the crosses in silence and solitude, taking in the sounds and sights around me. There were many small crosses hanging from larger ones and they sounded like wind chimes when the wind blew threw them. It was such a beautiful sound of hope, courage, faith, and peace. Thanks to some influence from my mom, I have always thought of wind chimes as whispers of love from heaven. Though this Hill of Crosses is completely symbolic, it provoked thoughts in my mind about what it means to be in Christ…even though the world tries time and time again to tear us down, nothing can take away our hope in Christ. His cross gave me purpose. His love is stronger than any destroying force.
Fast-forward a few hours to the train. Picture this: a sleeper car with 54 beds full of study abroad students and staff. To some, this may sound TERRIBLE. But I loved it! It was so much fun to go to different cabins and talk with different people. I had some incredible conversations and forged deeper friendships with a few people. It was wonderful to see God using this opportunity to bring us together. What could have been an awfully uncomfortable environment provided the perfect setting for testimonies, laughter, smiles, and life to be shared.
Sunday morning, March 9th, we stepped off the train, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, onto Moscow soil (actually, cobblestone). Thus began our exploration of Russia and my subway surfing career. (It’s true…I found my new talent. I’ll explain more in a few minutes.) And before I knew it, I was standing in Red Square staring up at Saint Basil’s Cathedral’s brightly colored onion domes. This was just one of the hundreds of times that the word “wow” came out of my mouth over the course of the week. We started with a tour of the Kremlin Armory. We got to see all kinds of articles that belonged to royal Russians…everything from underwear, shoes, wedding gowns, and crowns, to thrones, dinnerware, giant carriages, and the horses’ bejeweled saddles. All I can say is that I now have a dream to ride in an old-school horse drawn carriage. That will probably never happen but a girl can dream, right? We polished off Sunday with the Russian circus performance of “Емоции” (Emotions). Once again… “Wow….” This is definitely one of my favorite things from the entire trip. Unfortunately, I got yelled at for taking pictures (because I couldn’t understand the announcement in Russian of “No photography during the show”) so I won’t have very many pictures to share. But, they didn’t confiscate my camera and delete the ones I did take, so I have a few. They had all different kinds of acts: every form of acrobatics you can imagine (and probably some you can’t imagine), extreme juggling, gymnastics off the backs of galloping horses, ribbon dancing (Google this one…it’s not what you think of as “dancing”), lions and tigers jumping through hoops, backflips off human-sized hamster wheels 40 feet in the air, and so much more. I was thoroughly amazed at these performances of what the human body can be trained to do.
Back to my new hobby (that will be completely useless in Bryan, Ohio): Subway Surfing. Basically, this means riding the Metro without holding on to anything. The Moscow Metro trains go extremely fast. It’s quite a challenge to stay standing when they burst into full speed from a dead stop. I discovered that I really like the challenge of maintaining my balance and moving with the train around curves and through stops and starts. My group leader, Tomas, dared me to try it during our first Metro ride and I never went back. According to him, I am surprisingly good at it. We had a contest to see who could stand the longest during an eight-stop ride (about 30 minutes)…neither of us fell or touched anything. He didn’t believe me when I said I had never surfed before coming to Moscow. I think he was secretly embarrassed that I was as good as him. :)
Still to come in Part 2: more Moscow adventures, kisses from a gold-toothed old man in the market (the suspense!), a visit with a dead man, and so much more!
- TO BE CONTINUED -
This is just a quick journal to inform you all that I, along with the entire Study Abroad group, am headed to Russia tomorrow morning. We will be there until Sunday, March 16th. So there will not be another journal post from until then. I do ask that you please keep our entire group in your prayers during this time of travel. No one has a complete understanding of conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, and Russia and the USA. We are being told to proceed with caution. There is not currently much concern for our safety, but we have received a few warnings. We are being told to keep our eyes open for any political demonstrations and leave the area if we notice anything of the sorts. Other than this, our leaders will continue to make sure our current travel plans are safe, and redirect us should a threat arise. All prayers are appreciated!
Спасиьо! (pronounced spa-see-boh – “Thank you” in Russian)
This week is midterm week. Thankfully, I only had one exam – which was actually last Friday – but I have had several papers and a project to do this week. In fact, I still have one to do yet tonight. But, despite the load of schoolwork, my week has been centered on my Little Snails. It has been a week of improvement and discoveries.
First we have Domintas – my little scared puppy dog boy. Let me start by giving a bit of background on him. I call him my scared puppy dog boy because of the way he behaved when I first started working at the Baby House. He would keep to himself most of the time, entertaining himself by mumbling baby talk (random syllables) as he wandered aimlessly around the room. His face always held a sad, wide-eyed expression. Often times I would see him hiding in a toy cubbyhole, under the nurse’s desk, or in a corner underneath a chair. One of his favorite places to be was in the corner where a mirror is mounted low on the wall. He would stare at himself in the mirror, seemingly unaware that he was seeing himself in the reflection. He never wanted to play with me and wouldn’t even return a smile. If I came too close, he would whimper and cry. At the beginning of last week, I saw the first signs of progress. While sitting at a table with two other boys, he observed me shake hands with Karolis, the little troublemaker of the group. When I let go of Karolis’s hand, Domintas reached out to me. But, when I moved my hand near his, he quickly withdrew it before I could shake it. He did this three or four times. A little while later, he was standing on the opposite side of the room from me and, again, stretched his hand out in my direction, making eye contact with me. I walked toward him with my hand out, but when I got about three feet way, he quickly put his hand down, lowered his head, backed away, and began whimpering. It gave me the mental image of a puppy dog with his tail between his legs, crouching down in fear. I moved away and let him continue on his own. This exchange also occurred more than once. Near the end of my time that same day, I was sitting on the floor playing with a few other children. Domintas approached me from behind and ran his hand down my braided hair. I turned my head just enough to see him out of the corner of my eye and smile at him, but did not make any attempt to return contact. He backed away again and looked at the ground. This happened two times in a row. I left that day with a smile on my face, knowing that he was immerging from his shell of seclusion. We still had a long way to go before I could say that he had successfully formed a normal attachment, but after the way he acknowledged me on this day, I knew it could happen.
What I did not expect was that it could happen so soon. Yesterday was Domintas’s breakthrough day. While I was holding Andrukis (the smallest one) and walking slowly around the room, Domintas approached me, reached his hand up, and touched my leg, looking at me expectantly. I lowered my hand to him. Without hesitation, he took hold of my pinky finger and began walking with Andrukis and me around the room. This was a huge step for him! He held on for quite a while until an interesting toy averted his attention and he let go to play with it. However, after a few minutes with the toy, he returned to me and eagerly took my hand to continue walking with us. He was specific about making sure he held only my pinky finger. At one point I had to giggle because he actually reached up with his other hand to separate all my other fingers, one by one, so he could easily grasp only my pinky. Domintas and I completed many laps around the room last night, often times with a toy turtle – dragged by a string – in tow behind him, as I held Andrukis or one of the other younger children. However, his progress did not stop there. Domintas let me hold him…more than once! During one of the brief moments when another baby was not currently in my arms, he stood in front of me and reached his little hands up to me as if to say, “Yes! It’s my turn!” I swooped him up and into the air before bringing him down on my hip, and he looked at me with an open-mouthed smile of joy. As I held him, we bounced up and down, he “flew” in the air, I turned him upside down and “rescued” him many times, and he giggled and smiled. I was so proud of my little man. By his own initiative, we accomplished hand-to-hand touch, return of expressions, feelings of security with me, a desire to be held, and contentedness while being held all in the same day! When I returned today, we did all of these same things again. I think it’s safe to say that an attachment has been made.
While Andrukis is making progress in leaps and bounds, I have also come to a sad realization. Many of the children have a few facial similarities that stand out to me. It has come to my mind more than once that it would be possible for these children to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), but I hadn’t thought much more about it until tonight. As I made closer observations of Andrukis’s sweet face, I became almost 100% sure that he is an FAS baby. He has nearly every facial feature caused by FAS. Then I looked closer at the other children and determined that several of them have FAS characteristics. It made my heart sad to admit that these little ones are victims of their mothers’ carelessness. No, I do not know any of their mothers, and it would be wrong of me to pass judgment on them, but I am being honest about my feelings. FAS occurs in different severities, so it is difficult to determine at this point how much it will affect each child, but it is a compounding factor in our attempts to overcome the delays caused by Failure to Thrive and attachment disorder. It is my goal to research all three conditions so I can sort out which behaviors and developmental delays are caused by FAS and which are caused by lack of attachments. With the help of our Creator, we will conquer as many of these struggles as we can, no matter what caused them!
With each day that goes by, I think more and more about how each one of these little orphans is a beautiful child of God, dearly loved, with hope and a future. It breaks my heart to see their struggles, but I know they are in the hands of an incredible, loving God. I pray that He provides godly mentors for each of them to help them grow and live up to their potential.
PS: I know some of you were hoping for pictures from the orphanage. This did not come as much of a surprise to me, but I am not allowed to take pictures of the children.
Before I begin the main body of my journal for today, I want to address a subject that I know many people have been concerned about. Yes, the situation in Ukraine has grown even more unstable. The citizens won in the disputes against the government that have been occurring over the past couple months, but it looks like Russia is taking advantage of Ukraine’s vulnerable political position. Russia now has troops occupying Crimea and there are rumors of impending war, however, no shots have been fired by either side. For those of you who do not know, I will be traveling in Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next week. With the tension and threats between Ukraine and Russia, there is concern that it may not be safe for us in Russia. Our Study Abroad Directors are currently in communication with the US Embassies both in Lithuania and Russia. They are staying up to date on the situation and will do everything they can to keep us safe, even if that means changing our travel plans. They have already started looking for options should it become dangerous while we are there. For now, no one needs to worry about us. In fact, no one ever needs to worry about us…this whole globe is in our God’s hands. But, please send up your prayers on behalf of this side of the sphere. Some specifics would be: peace in Ukraine and Russia, safety for the entire study abroad group as we travel, and a peaceful resolution to the situation.
This past weekend I traveled down to Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, for the Užgavėnės festival. This is Lithuania’s way of kicking winter to the curb and beckoning spring to come. The actual holiday is “Shrove Tuesday”, the day before Lent begins, but Užgavėnės always takes place the weekend before. Most communities in Lithuania hold their own weekend celebration, just like communities in the US hold fireworks shows for the Fourth of July. Vilnius, being the capital, hosted a very large festival over the course of Saturday and Sunday. I took a bus to Vilnius on Friday evening, along with several other SA girls, and stayed in a hostel for the weekend. We spent all of Saturday enjoying the traditional singing, dancing, eating, and shopping on Gedimino Street. Vendors work all year preparing handicrafts to sell at their tents that line the street. Many people don traditional Lithuanian dress and take part in their customary dances. Children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for pancakes or money. Several small parades of people in scary animal masks and other silly costumes march up and down the street periodically throught the day. As the sun begins to set, a procession of people forms and walks to the witch burning site. As the tradition goes, an ugly woman (or witch) is constructed for the purpose of being burned at Užgavėnės. This is to symbolize Lithuania telling winter that she is not welcome anymore.
I had a blast at the festival! It was an incredible experience of cultural immersion. I tried a traditional Lithuanian potato dish called “Cepelinai”, joined one of the dances in the square, chanted along at the witch burning, and enjoyed every ounce of the weekend. We laughed a lot, ate too much, walked it all off, took tons of pictures, and got reduced prices on handmade socks thanks to our indecision. I don’t think I will ever forget this farewell to winter. ... And I’m thinking maybe the US needs to give Užgavėnės a try this year. ;)
This is a word we heard a lot on Saturday: šokame! (It means, “We dance!”)
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!