Orphanage Day

We caught an early 8AM flight to Pu’Er after a restless night due to the event that happened. We knew it would be an incredibly long day, but the prayers kept us going. The flight was so short that as soon as I got out my Ipad to try to type the blog, it was time to put it away for the descent. When we landed, the new director, a young man in his 30’s, was there to greet us. Our guide, Susan, came too, so we would have an interpreter and help with travel at the airports because basically no one in Pu’Er speaks English. We went in two taxis straight to the orphanage, about a 25 minute drive. It was so neat to see this “small town” rural China (by “small town”, we mean a population of 2.6 million, making it the 4th largest city if it were in America after NYC, L.A., and Chicago!) and the completely different way of life there.

A part of Pu’er, seen from tea Mountain.

Pu’Er from another angle.

We headed up a steep hill to where we recognized the orphanage gate from pictures we’ve seen, and outside the building waiting to greet us were Bo Pin, her daughter and grandbaby, a few of the nannies and a couple of the little toddlers who live there running around. It was a joyous reunion for Chaela as everyone gawked at how tall she has gotten, how “fashionable” she is, how well she is doing.

Chaela was in her element.

Chad was “home”, so he was completely at ease, too. It was great to see him in his element and we were already so glad we decided to make the trip. He is very outgoing and chatty when he’s with “his people”, and we saw the side of his personality that we knew was there, but we’ve seen little of so far. He went inside to get a bowl of fruit, and for a lot of the time there he made sure we were well fed with at least half a dozen peaches and grapes (per person- we knew we would pay for this later!) We spent some time interacting with the nannies outside before heading in with Chad to see his room where he slept. He hates being in pictures and refused sitting on his bed to pose, or at his desk where he does homework, or pretty much anywhere else we wanted him in a picture.

Chaela by her old bed.

Two of Chaela’s academic awards, still on the wall in her old room.

 

The desk Chad did his homework at this past year (after he moved up to the “big boys’ room”)

 

Chad;s bed this past year.

The orphanage building itself was a classic run-down looking government white-walled ‘elementary school building’ style- one that would have been condemned and shut down years ago if it were in America. We went into the dining room where the cook was beginning to prepare lunch for the children. She saw Chaela and Chad and hugged them both and started to cry, thanking us for giving them a family, and said she loved them very much. She had me in tears, and I thought at that point it would be a good stop next (since I was already crying) to go into “the room” that I had heard so much about. 26 children reside at this orphanage (the only one in Pu’Er, if you can believe that!), and 7 of them are severely handicapped. I knew what I would be seeing, and how hard it would be, but you can’t really fully prepare for seeing in person what you’ve seen in a video or heard about from someone else.  Joey snapped one picture before he was told “no pictures” in that room, but even if we had pictures, in this case I think a thousand words says more than a picture. A picture can’t depict how eerily quiet the room was, or the looks in the eyes of each of those precious lives, forgotten by the world, but not forgotten by God. The only noise in the room was the regular, rhythmic intermittent “beep” sound every 3 seconds that one of the children was making as she rocked on her bed, banging her head on the bedpost and biting her hands and arms. I went around to each bed and held each little hand and looked into their eyes and told them that Jesus loves them. Almost all of them smiled back at me. A couple tried to pull me close, and I looked over at Joey with tear-filled eyes and I noticed a little boy who was clung onto Joey’s leg, holding both of his hands trying to walk around the room. Joey was also wiping away tears- it was just so incredibly sad. Most were tied to their beds for their own safety and the safety of others, and one little boy was literally trying to climb up the wall. They had nothing to do, nothing to look at, and Chalea said they never leave the room. A lady was bringing a bowl of rice into the room to scoop into each of their mouths while lying down.

 Interior hallway of the orphanage.
The hardest girl to see there was a 14 year old girl who had the most severe case of hydrocephalus I have ever seen. She was the size of a 6 year old, but her head was the size of a basketball, and she had bedsores all over her head from the constant back and forth motion she made to keep herself busy. I went around to the side of the bed after Chaela greeted her, and I knelt down by her face. It is a moment that will be seared in my memory forever. The skin was pulled taught due to the extreme swelling of her head, and her eyes were so far apart because of the size of her skull. There was a light in her eyes that made me know she heard me, she is alive in there, and she gave a weak smile in return. I wanted to scream in horror at her condition, but no one else there seems alarmed because she has laid there like this for 14 years. Her chance for corrective surgery is well past. If she would have had a $2,500 surgery as a baby, she would be normal. This didn’t have to happen! So much for a universal health care system.
I went into the bathroom where Joey met me and we were both looking for tissues to wipe our faces and pull ourselves together before heading out of the area and back with the group. Chaela showed us her room next, which was just through and past “the room”, and there were also several cribs in the room, three with little babies sleeping in them. I went over to each crib to peek in, and noticed one very tiny little baby with Down’s syndrome sucking on a bottle that was propped up, and two other babies who are ‘pretty and normal’, and will likely be adopted locally, we were told. All of the teens were gone at school, so we didn’t get to meet any of them, but we did see the room that housed them all. We walked around to the common area and noticed there are no toys at all. No activities, no stimulation, nothing at all to do except a bookshelf full of books to read. All I could think of while we were here was that I couldn’t believe that my children spent 11 and 12 years of their lives here. This is no home! I made a quick trip back to the bathroom on my way out and noticed that there were three squatty potties with no privacy, no shower (Chaela said they wash in the sink), and the one more private stall was crawling with ants. As bad as the actual building was, I think the staff try to keep it clean, they truly care about the children, and they do the best they can with the limited resources they have. For an orphanage life, I would say this is as ideal as you can get in China. Comparing it to our visit to Carrigan’s orphanage, which was a much cleaner, nicer and better maintained building, but the children were starved for attention and food and not treated well at all, they are obviously doing something right to produce children like Chaela and Chad.

The sole bathroom.

 

Our family and the orphanage family.

 

I had intended to try to talk to the director and guide about advocating for the kids in “the room” to try to find families, but after seeing them, I felt downcast and discouraged. Maybe the staff is right that “no one would want them”. They used to have that mindset about all the children there, even the ones with mild disabilities, but some of the teachers who visit have encouraged the staff that the children’s lives are valuable and people would want them. Now, all of the children who had files made there have found families. There are hundreds of thousands of orphans in China with files already made for them, waiting for families- children like Chad and Chaela, babies like the ones in the cribs with bottles propped up, and children like the ones tied up in “the room” in multiple cities in each province all throughout the country. Children whose only hope is International adoption…but there aren’t enough willing families. Only a small fraction of them will ever find a family. Most will age out of the system because ‘the field is ripe for the harvest, but the workers are few’. The cost and time to prepare a child’s file, the medical appointments and testing the children have to go through to have that file made, only to sit and wait on the shared list system and still not get chosen, isn’t a risk the orphanage is wanting to take at this time, and I hesitated after going in there to try to do any convincing myself. Seeing how adoptions are changing throughout China, orphanage partnerships are being dissolved, foreign influence and support is being stopped, and rules are tightening that say who is and is not qualified to adopt, means there will be even less children finding families than before. My heart is heavy for these innocent kids caught in a system that is unjust, victims broken by the sins of adults in their lives.
I do not say these things to toot my own horn or in prideful arrogance say “you should do what we do” to any one person individually. That’s not my job- it’s the Holy Spirit’s. It is my calling, and it might not be yours. But, at the same time, I think it is the calling of a lot more people than are actually doing the adopting and fostering. It’s only my job to tell about the things I have seen and care for the children God has called me to. It is so easy to get caught up in the easy, American lifestyle and be more concerned about what snack to bring to the next Little League game than to give a second thought to an orphan tied up to her bed halfway around the world. But, I hope today you will give them a second thought, and prayerfully consider if the Lord might be calling you to open your home to one of them. This could be our last China adoption. Families with 10 or more children in the home are being looked at much more closely, and many are being turned away from adopting now. I have seen that big families are often the ones who have not been afraid to bring in more children with significant needs- it’s not a huge leap for us because our lifestyle is already stretched. But China, and many other countries, are saying “no” to us now. This is a shout-out to those smaller families to consider- do you have room for one more?

Jong Jing will be the final adoption from Pu’Er this fall.

 

After being more than done touring the building, we headed out on a walk to see the children’s school. One of the American teachers who visits regularly to work with the children in “the room” came with us. It was wonderful to get to meet her and talk to her about the two years she’s spent living in Pu’Er and developing a relationship with the children and staff. It was so neat to get to “walk the walk” that Chaela and Chad made everyday, twice a day, on their way to and from school. It was lunchtime, so the children were getting out of school mid-day to come back for lunch and rest before heading back for afternoon school. We met them at the gate of the school so they could walk back with us. There are actually only two elementary school boys left there- and Jon Jing, whose family is coming for him in the fall, is one of them. He was very shy and like Chad, was not happy about being in any pictures with us, but he complied.   We waited around a while for the other boy to exit, but he never came, so we headed back to the orphanage to wait for him instead. No one is in a hurry around this part of China. It drove Joey nuts all day how the group of ladies did so much aimless meandering, stalling, waiting (he’s very ‘type A’, and this is not a lifestyle he appreciates!), but we had no choice.

One of the neighborhoods the kids walk through on their way to school.

 

Showing Corin how to navigate the way to school.

 

Pu’Er from the route to school.

 

Crossing the highway.

 

Chad’s classroom (center)

 

Approaching the school. Coming down was easy…

 

A little shop the kids commonly stopped at when they had money to buy candy.

 

About the halfway point up the hill from school, headed back, looking down…

…and looking up.

Finally the boy showed up at the orphanage (Chaela had wanted to see him) and he walked right past all of us, without a glance even in our direction. He went into the lunchroom with Jon Jing and we all stood open-mouthed that after all that waiting, he didn’t even so much as notice Chad and Chaela sitting on the stoop waiting for his arrival. We were told later that he is sad about Chad leaving, and soon Jon Jing, too. He will be there all alone, and all of his friends will be gone. He is not eligible for adoption, and the short story from what we understand, is that his mother is in prison in Burma, and hasn’t released her rights. It’s a really sad situation and my heart goes out to him as he grieves, too.
Two vehicles were waiting outside the orphanage gate to take us to lunch, and we piled in and were told we were eating at a very good local restaurant in the “old town Pu’Er”…an hour away. There are no seatbelts or car seats, and Chaela, Chad and the baby and I rode with the director’s daughter and her baby. She is a very outgoing young girl whom Chaela and Chad have a close, fun-loving relationship with, and the entire ride they spent laughing and chatting with her as Chaela conveyed necessary information about their conversation back to me in “Chinglish” as she kept getting both languages mixed together. Seeing how animated and happy she was on this ride was heartwarming- she is usually car sick on windy roads like the one we were on, but she said “talking is so much better than watching movies, and I don’t have to wear a seatbelt so I feel good!” It was a crazy ride driving in both lanes to pass vehicles on a beautiful mountain road overlooking millions of tea plants for which Pu’Er is famous. We arrived at the “restaurant” which seems like it was basically someone’s house and courtyard, and seeing what was going to be our lunch in a few minutes had my stomach churning already. The baby was a huge hit, as she has been everywhere- none of these people have probably ever seen a white baby. We walked around the ancient old town, enjoying the sights and beauty of surroundings.

Corin looking local.

 

They found a mill, and attempted to break it.

 

Arranged marriage?

View from the restaurant window.

Bo Pin’s husband got in on the paparazzi action.

Random Chinese women adoring Gwendolin.

Some lunch vittles are ready for cooking! (the green net is full of small frogs)

Sharing what we thought was a huge (and strange) meal with Bo Pin’s family. Little did we know what was to come…

Placing our engraved heart-shaped locks on the old Pu Er “Bridge of Forever Love”, or something.

 

Much love. So romance. Very reproducing.

 

Scary bridge in picturesque creek.

 

Love this girl.

We piled back into the van and headed to “tea mountain”, marveling at how gorgeous this part of China is.

Triad gang members love the baby.

 

“White people, you will never be as beautiful or popular as you are in China.”

Tea Mountain & Pu’Er

Summit of Tea Mountain. By the way, the English words “terraced”, “tourist” and “terrorist” sound exactly the same when spoken by a Chinese speaker.

The most beautiful part of Pu’Er we get to keep with us!

Chaela looking fabulous at Tea Mountain. Also, the same day we are posting this, we found some “glamour shots” taken by Grace of the girls back home on our Google photos – they are in synch across the world!

She said, “strike a pose”, so I had to throw them up for my homies.

I knew what was coming next, and I had mixed emotions about what we were about to go do- we were going to Chad and Chaela’s “finding spots” before heading back towards the airport. The newspaper “finding ad” is in each of their files, detailing the day they were found- where and when, and with what. We drove to a busy highway and stopped at a toll booth and turned in to a government building lot and parked by a grassy field. We were told Chad was found there as a newborn- probably a day old. His ad described a “deformed baby” found by police, and we noticed the police station just across the street. He was left where he would be found easily by authorities.

Chad’s finding spot.

 

Chaela’s finding spot.

 

Our children are old enough that they understand all the implications associated with this, so I hesitated to even go at all. But, on the other hand, it’s not like they don’t know. For 12 years they have watched as babies have been found (Chaela said they even found a baby dead once) and brought to the orphanage. I wanted to help Chaela with this difficult idea that she has talked about before. She once said to me that “the mom she doesn’t want her baby, so she throw it on the ground and the people find it” and “the kids with the problems so nobody wants them”…including her. It’s an incredibly difficult discussion that I knew would come up again going here, but it’s a good thing to continually reinforce that her misconceptions about this unimaginably painful decision is not as she imagines. When we went to her finding spot, she was comfortable conversing with me about it. She said, “the lady…you know, the mother, why she?…oh yeah, because this…(pointing to her scar on her heart)” I told her that the mother who had her in her belly loved her and put her somewhere that she would be found. I pointed to the police station across the street there, too. She said, “how do you know?’ (That she loved me, she meant). I told her every mother who carries a baby and births a baby loves and has a connection to that baby, and she did, too. I told her we don’t know why she couldn’t keep her, but that it was not an easy decision, and that it could be that she didn’t have a family to support or help her, didn’t have money for a surgery she knew was needed, and she thought that someone else could better get her what was needed. She asked about if the lady had a husband (knowing that meant she also had a biological father), and I said probably not. I told her the father may have left and not even known the mother was pregnant. The fact is, all we can do is speculate, but we want to do that in the most positive light that is possible. It’s a tough conversation that we’ll have many times over the years together as we work through the grief of that experience together…and it’s one we’ll do four times with Charlotte, Carrigan and Chad, too, someday. I think this was helpful for her to talk about, and I don’t ever want her to think she was thrown on the ground and ‘not wanted’ as if it were done flippantly and callously. I can only imagine, as a mother holding Gwennie, who is the age that Carrigan was at his abandonment, how that would rip my heart out forever. I am sure not a day goes by that these mothers don’t think of that day, and wish it could have been different, and wonder how they are.
After this heart-gripping couple of stops, we thought we were heading to the airport, but we then realized we were being dropped off at a restaurant (again, an open, outdoor courtyard that wouldn’t exactly be called a “restaurant” by American standards) with both directors and some of their families. We were still queasy after the adventurous lunch we had a few hours ago, but it didn’t even hold a candle to the spread that was set before us in the feast that was dinner. Poor Corin- we brought along our most picky eater for our most exotic eating experiences in all our trips to China. He was a good sport to try a few things that even I wouldn’t try, but he’s barely eaten enough to stay alive (but, he’s also the only one not suffering from near-dysentery, so it’s worked out pretty well for him.) Before we knew it, four more ladies walked in and joined us at the table, which was now full. We were told they all worked at the civil affairs office, and they wanted to join us to celebrate the feast. The notary who helped with our paperwork, and even the dean of Civil Affairs was there- apparently these adoptions are a pretty big deal in these parts. Chaela was the first American adoption and only second International adoption ever in the entire city of Pu’Er, and likely one of the first or only U.S. Citizens who have come from here. They all wanted to marvel at her U.S. Passport, talking about how wonderful that the same family could adopt two of the children from the same orphanage. It was a memorable ending to a day we will never forget.

The scariest eating experiences aren’t when you don’t know what you are eating, but when you do.

 

“I love the head!!!”

 

Corin tried to be a good sport.

 

We are total celebrities in Pu’Er.

 

Baby hijacking was non stop.

 

After dinner, we all walked over to the airport. Lower your idea of what you expect an airport to be…then lower it again. This is the tiniest airport I have ever seen- one terminal, one plane, one runway, one security line- Pu’Er is not an international destination, and the per capita income here means that not a lot of people are traveling out of Pu’Er, or even a whole lot of domestic flights coming in, either. There are a few flights a day in and out of here, and that’s it. We all waited around outside before we had to say our final goodbyes. We waited an extra long time for Joey, who was in the bathroom (again), and finally we tearfully hugged the director and comforted Chad as he cried, making his farewells. He had pulled himself together as we headed through security with Susan, but then we ran into a big problem. Chad’s only form of I.D. Is an adoption certificate- he didn’t yet have a Passport like the rest of us, so we didn’t have an “acceptable” form of I.D. To get through security without putting up a fight. We met with a guard who was NOT bending at all. Joey and Chad got pulled into the interrogation room where Joey was told he could go, but Chad had to stay behind, but Joey wouldn’t leave him. Our guide, who is a boisterous lady who hasn’t met a stranger and walks into every place like she owns it, couldn’t even get through to this no-nonsense guard. Bo Pin had to come back into the airport and talk to the guard, then they both made several phone calls which finally resulted in them letting us through. It also resulted in yet another meltdown as Chad again had to say goodbye to Bo Pin.
As we headed onto the airplane, we noticed a crowd of people at the fence right next to the airplane. I’ve never seen an airport where the general public can just walk right up to a fence next to the runway to watch the planes take off and land. Several children were running around the field there playing and watching, too. It’s apparently a leisure activity here to walk over to the airport and watch the planes. We then noticed that Bo Pin and her husband, and her daughter and baby and her husband, and some of the ladies form the civil affairs office were all watching at the fence, too, as we walked up the steps to get on the plane. The long goodbye was now made even longer as we waved and boarded. We took our seats, Chad’s right next to the window where he had clear view of Bo Pin waving to him, and we’re pretty sure they could see us, too. He was sobbing uncontrollably at this point, and I was rubbing his back. He looked at me and asked me to stop- he didn’t want to be touched, which is understandable. It’s a fine line of knowing when to draw close, and when to back away and give him space. At this point, Chaela was crying, too, as we started to taxi from the “gate” and pull away to take off. I wish I could say I am overly dramatizing this- but it really was like a scene from a depressing movie where you would think to yourself, “it doesn’t really happen like this in real life”…but, here we were. It was happening. Both of my babies were in tears, flying away from everything they have ever known, the small world that was their home for a dozen years, to enter a life that is so entirely different, there is just no comparison. The only thing they had and have in both places is love. Bo Pin loved them. Her family loved them. She is a wonderful lady with a heart of gold and I am so thankful that she loved my children so well all those years when I could not.

They made a difference in the lives of our children from which we reap the rewards.

That wasn’t the end of our airport mishaps. It was quite an adventure just getting home. Just before taxiing from the gate in Pu’Er, we realized we had left the diaper bag in the security area with all the commotion of the ID situation. Joey was able to run off the plane and go get it (where else can you do that?!), and we then realized he didn’t have his cell phone, either (we found that, too) and at one point I even questioned where we put the baby (Corin had her). It was such an emotional time we were having trouble thinking clearly! Once we landed back in Kunming and we were heading for the van, Chaela had her turn with one of our “oh my gosh, where’s the bathroom?!” Episodes which were becoming all too often for the three of us. She stopped dead in her tracks and started yelling: “I poop my pants! I poop my pants! Oh no!! I forgot!!” (Translated: I thought it was just going to be a toot) I tied a baby blanket around her waist and we ran to the closest bathroom where she and I were laughing as I told her about my own experience with that when I was her age at a baseball game. I told her it was a good thing no one here speaks English, because she was making quite a scene. However, her potty dance and hand-cupping her bottom as she yelled was a dead giveaway in any language. I am so glad we could all laugh about it, and she was a good sport. It’s a story we will all laugh about for years to come, and at least this emotionally difficult day could end in laughter- it really is the best medicine!