Thursday, March 16, 2006

Orphanage visit

Yesterday was long and tiring, but very rewarding. Many don't get the chance to visit their daughter's orphanages, so we were very happy that we were able to do so. It was a three and a half hour trip to get there, so bright and early we loaded onto the bus, being sure to bring enough formula, baby food and snacks to get us through the trip. Halfway there we stopped at a gas station/rest area. Many of us had to "use the facilities", and what facilities they were! I had heard, of course, about the squat toilets here in China, but now was my chance to experience them firsthand. Actually the toilet (i.e. hole in the ground) wasn't so bad, but the smell and the state of the floor were just unreal. There were doors on the stalls, though when I tried to close it it fell off. There were other groups of people travelling on buses, and lots of women were in there brushing their teeth and washing their faces. Apparently it is acceptable here to spit on the floor while brushing your teeth, and the spitting requires a good, loud, lung-clearing hawk. The drive to Guiping was very interesting, lots of countryside and water buffalo "oh, everybody's got a water buffalo-ooooo", some very modern-looking areas, and a lot of very third-world looking conditions.

When we arrived in Guiping we had to walk down a couple of streets to get to the SWI (Social Welfare Institute). We got lots of stares from people as our parade of strollers, diaper bags, adorable babies, and parents loaded with gift bags went past. The assistant director (who is in charge of the orphanage section of the SWI) and some other orphanage workers were standing at the gate waiting for us, and the assistant director came down to greet us. They showed us into the lobby of the nice building (which is only a year old), where there was a bulletin board with pictures of children that parents who have a adopted from there sent. We then went upstairs and into a room with a large table that was loaded with piles of fruit, candy and cookies. They served us some tea, then the assistant director gave us an introduction to the orphanage (translated by guide). She explained that this was a very poor area, and the reasons that babies are abandoned. She said she knew that our babies were going to loving homes, and that made her happy.

We were then shown the baby rooms. We weren't allowed to see any other rooms, where the toddlers, older kids, and special needs kids were. There were two rooms with babies lying in cribs, each with a couple of nannies. It looked like one room was for babies under three months, and the other was for over three months old. One nanny was holding a very young baby, almost a newborn. All the babies were covered in heavy comforters. The rooms were very clean, with sturdy cribs and decorated walls. The thing that really struck us was how quiet the babies were. There were about about a dozen in each room, and they didn't make a sound. We didn't hear any crying or babbling at all. Some were sleeping and some lay there awake, but none made any noise. Some of the nannies waved at Rachel and called her what sounded like "LeiLei". She smiled at them but didn't reach out her arms for them, content to stay with us. We were then taken up to the rooftop to see the new water heater that our group had purchased for the orphanage.

After this we got back on the bus and went to a restaurant for lunch, which the orphanage treated us to. It was delicious, though there was one dish which had a jawbone with teeth prominently perched on top. I don't think anyone tried that one. The nannies were there too, and while we were eating some came over and took the babies from us so that we could eat. They made a big fuss over Rachel, talking to her and tickling her, and calling her "LeiLei".

When we were done eating it was our chance to ask the nannies questions about our babies. One question I had wanted to ask was if she had a nickname, but that had already been answered. We asked who slept in the cribs next to her, and found out that is was Mya and Monica from our group. We asked the guide to tell them thank you for taking such good care of Rachel, that we could tell that she had been well cared for. We asked if there was anything else that she could tell us about Rachel, and the nanny said that she was very smart.

We enjoyed seeing how the nannies fussed over the babies and how happy they were to see them. When they talked to Rachel they would flap their hands in the air the way that she often does and get her to slap their hands. These were things that we had noticed about her, so it was interesting to see that it was obviously her trademark at the orphanage, and she was encouraged to do it. Jamie asked a couple of the nannies to write down their names so that we would have them for Rachel. It was a lot of pressure trying to think of what to ask these ladies and what to say to them when there was so little time and so many others wanting to talk to them.

Visiting the orphanage and seeing the nannies interact with the babies was quite reassuring. Jamie and I felt that although life in an institution is never a good thing for a child, if she had to be in an orphanage, we couldn't have realistically asked for much better conditions. I am looking forward to hearing from the Beihai group today about their experience.

After this we went to see and photograph the babies' finding locations, the places where they were abandoned. Some were at the gates at the orphanage, others at the maternity hospital, others at parks or street corners. Rachel was found at the entrance to the Guiping Sugar Refinery. When I originally heard this I pictured a very dirty, depressing, industrial scene. Instead it was actually like a little park area, very green with trees and benches. It made me feel much better to see that she was left in a pleasant, shady spot. It was also a very busy area, tons of traffic and people everywhere, so she would have been found very quickly. I got teary as we made these stops, and each set of parents got out to see where their sweet babies had been found. At each spot I pictured the helpless little bundle that was left there, waiting for someone with a kind heart to take them where they could be cared for.

We then headed back to the hotel. The ride back seemed much longer. Rachel was overtired and very wound up, bouncing around and going back and forth between us. During the last hour many of the babies were crying, and it was rough going for tired parents and babies alike. Rachel went to bed without a fight, for which I was very grateful.

Today we head back to Beijing at 5:00. Rachel is napping now on Daddy's belly and looks very comfortable. She laid there sucking her thumb until she went to sleep. Daddy is having a snooze too. I need to get our things packed up, not an easy task since everything is strewn around the room as though a tornado has hit!

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