Friday, July 4, 2014

My girls, Part 2 - Meeting Anna

Monday morning we had definite jitters and were so ready to meet Anna. Of course I managed to eat breakfast, unlike Stephanie – I think I tried half the Bulgarian food in the breakfast buffet! But we were quite anxious to meet her – would she like us? What would her orphanage be like? You have to understand that we had next to no information about Anna until we got her medical file a couple days previously. Stephanie only had 3 or 4 pictures and a two minute video that was several years old, in which Anna did pretty much absolutely nothing except for sit on the carpet and stare at her feet, then squeal and wave toward the end. We didn’t know anything at all about her orphanage and not much about her developmental level. Of course we would love her no matter what, but still, a little information would have been nice!

Anna's orphanage

She was perfectly lovely. We went into the director’s office, and waited nervously. The director and staff were very sweet. Finally we heard shuffling little steps, and Anna came around the corner!

They were leading her by the hand, as she is blind and can’t walk very well. They brought her in and had her sing a little song or two, then fed her a cookie, which she didn’t like very much! I don’t think she got a lot of crunchy food. They got her to walk a few steps on her own, basically showing her off for us. It was apparent that they cared a lot about her and she was a favorite.

Anna and the director

We got to meet her baba, who is not her real grandma, but was part of the baba program, which hired older ladies to come in and spend time with the kids and is U.S. funded. Each baba cared for a number of kids (16 I think?) between 8 and 12 am, but it was obvious she cared about Anna and had spent a lot of time with her. Unfortunately, they had discontinued the baba program when Stephanie did her pickup trip. =(

Anna's baba showing her the photo album Stephanie had prepared

Anna had quite a bit of peripheral vision. She could catch a ball, knew her colors, and could even identify some letters if they were big enough. She pokes her left eye a lot. This is the eye she sees out of, and poking it helps her see more, although it isn’t really good for her to poke it.

Anna’s favorite things to do included throwing a beach ball, working on puzzles, going outside, playing music, brushing our hair, and digging through Stephanie’s purse. She was convinced everyone in the room had a runny nose and wiped several of our noses (with the same tissue).

We showed her the photo album that Stephanie prepared, and I got to hear her say “mama” for the first time, and even recorded it. During this whole time I pretty much served as Stephanie’s personal photographer, so that’s why you’ll only see me in a couple of pictures. That way “mama” got lots of pictures, but still spent time with her little girl.

Anna was so sweet. She is very smart and curious. She seemed like she has a few delays, probably from orphanage life, but she's doing so well now that she is home!

She asked lots of questions. The first question she asked Stephanie was “Are you losing your teeth?” Then she found the tattoo on our driver’s arm and asked why there was dirt on his arm. She decided he needed to wash it off and asked him about his methods for doing so. Of course she speaks Bulgarian, not English, so we were thankful for our translator. She was a little cautious about warming up to us, which was a good sign, because it meant she had healthy attachments to her caregivers.

We got to have two visits a day, for an hour and 45 minutes in the morning and for an hour in the afternoon.

Of course we would have preferred to spend all day with her! But that wasn’t protocol, so we spent our afternoons walking, in the city and on the beach, and trying to wash laundry by hand in the hotel bathtub. That wasn’t so bad but drying it was another story! We went shopping, picked up seashells, and tried some Bulgarian food. I had parlenka, a yummy garlic/cheese bread, and even dared to try the fish, after snapping off the heads, removing the backbone, and feeding these non-edible parts to the wandering cats at the seaside restaurant. My philosophy: try everything that looks edible, no matter how strange. Thankfully they don’t eat grubs!

Anna’s orphanage was wonderful, what Stephanie describes as “a 5 star,” as far as orphanages go. They said she wasn’t receiving therapy, but she had obviously received some previously, as she was familiar with the rooms and eager to demonstrate what she could do. They had multiple therapy rooms for music therapy, art therapy, physical therapy, and sensory therapy. They also provided therapy and daycare services for special needs children in the community, which is huge in a country that generally encourages parents to give up their handicapped infants at birth. Including the daycare children, the facility cared for over 200 kids.

Not everything was perfect. The new director had only started working there four years ago, and there were lingering remnants that still needed renovated and changed. Younger children with hydrocephalus were being treated with shunts, but it was too late for the older ones who had suffered for a long time before she arrived. They lay in beds, unable to move their heads that were four or five times the size of a normal head, too advanced for surgery and anything really but pain medication. They will probably not live long. We got to see almost all of the children in the building, although we didn’t really get to spend time with them and were not allowed to take pictures. Believe me when I tell you they are beautiful.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye. We had one morning visit on Friday, and then said goodbye to our sweet girl. The sadness was mitigated only by the knowledge that we would be meeting Sarah on Monday. And we were off, traversing the entire Bulgarian country – again – en route to Sofia, where we would spend the weekend.

Stay tuned for parts 3 and 4. =)

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