Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Ukrainian Graduation and 17th birthday

Words.  I wish I had them.

When we were starting the adoption, Maryna had many concerns and worries.  We tried to discuss each one with her.  One was that she would miss her high school graduation in the spring of 2015.  We talked about it a lot.  The Ukrainian government provides a modest monthly budget to orphan kids and Maryna's caretakers had been very protective of that money and kept it all safely in a bank account, so she came home with enough money to pay for a trip to Ukraine in full.  We told her it was her money and she could use it toward a car or plane ticket or whatever.  We said that as long as she was doing well in school and the country was not at war, we would do our best to make this weekend happened if that's what she wanted.  She opted for plane tickets for this weekend, and we made it happen.

As it turns out, graduation weekend coincided with her 17th birthday on Friday.  We had been scheduled to arrive Thursday afternoon, but a storm in the eastern US threw off our travel by about 24 hours.  Instead, we flew to NYC on Thursday morning, spent 8 hours there (including a 2 hour trip down to Manhattan for a quick visit to Times Square and some lunch off-off-Broadway at a taco joint), 

then the overnight to Amsterdam (hate that airport) and then Kiev, then 4 hours in the car, and almost directly into her birthday party organized by her gym teacher / class head teacher, VV.

Friday night was a sleepy night.

Saturday started early with the prom-style dresses and motorcycles.  The school hires a group of professional motorcycle drivers from the major city 2 hours south.  Each kid rides on a motorcycle as it does a few laps around the village, then they head out to a park or something.  The teachers follow in a bus.  There's some sort of ceremony there; parents were not invited.  We ate a long slow lunch and talked a lot.

After they returned, we headed to a big auditorium where each student processed in through a banner-tunnel.  There was about 2 hours of singing and dancing, speeches to thank the teachers (Maryna did a 90 second one to her teacher) and diplomas.  The kids were given luggage and bedding from a local organization--a traditional HS graduation gift but somehow a stark reminder of their reality.

The kids then processed out through the banners with their name being called.  Graduated!!


After the diploma ceremony, most kids changed into cooler clothes.  Then we went to the other side of the auditorium building where there was a huge feast laid out--multiple types of cold salads, holodetz, cheeses, salamis, cucumbers, tomatoes, toast with spreads and anchovies, fruit, various cold pickled fish, and more.  I sat with 3 other American families and we ate until we were ready to burst.  Then we went back to the auditorium for some folk dancing.  We danced and ran and danced for an hour. 

We seemed to be heading back to the dining room for what I assumed was drinks and maybe the cake.  Nope!  Main course! What!?  We'd all stuffed ourselves already!  Beef and potatoes, cabbage rolls, fried chicken, kutlets, chicken with a mayo and caramelized onion cover, several breaded things, and so much more.  Food food food.  The teachers kept pouring vodka for the parents (awkward) and food was continuously put in front of us.  Then more dancing.  Repeat several more times.

Around 10, I gave Maryna a pack of 80 glow bracelets we had brought from America.  She passed them out and the kids raved in the dark dance room for awhile.  Someone figured out that they could crack open and splatter the glow paint on clothes and bodies and within 10 minutes the entire floor, walls, chairs, and every person looked like the night sky.  

I headed to bed.  At 11:30 someone banged on my door (another post: sleeping and living in a rural Ukrainian orphanage) and I opened it to find Katya saying Maryna needed me.  I threw on my shoes and ran.  Turns out she just didn't want me to miss the final midnight moment: sending sky lanterns up.  I was so touched that she wanted me there.

 I'm glad I didn't miss it.  Any of it.  What an amazing life experience.

Sunday we woke late.  Maryna spent the day with her friends that had not already left to start life (her two closest friends had left the night before).  I spent the day with the other American family that was still there.  We walked to the bazaar (outdoor flea market).  We took another family's former host daughter shopping with some money they'd sent with me.  We sat and watched a bird for a solid 2 hours.  We talked Maryna and her friend and the 3 boys of the other American family into walking down to a restaurant for a final dinner together.  It was very relaxed.  All day long we saw kids wheeling out of the dormitory with their new suitcase presumably packed with everything they owned, heading off to who knows where.  Every single one would stop the Americans in their conversation--holding our breath, praying, imagining--and they'd turn and walk down the road without a goodbye.  Reality.

Monday we woke early for a 7AM pickup by VV and her husband.  We drove the 4 hours to the airport and said our (grumpy, sad, tearful) goodbyes. Kiev to Amsterdam (still hate that airport) to JFK where, once again, a storm in the eastern US canceled our flights.  Thankfully our airline put us up for free overnight in a very nice Radisson (Yay KLM!) and paid for our taxi to and from the airport.  They couldn't get us on another flight until 10AM so we gladly ate, showered, and then slept long hard sleeps from 9PM to about 7:30 AM.  We got home around lunchtime on Tuesday.  Maryna had Tuesday off school anyhow, so we were more than happy to get to bed earlier on Monday night and start re-setting our sleep rhythms.

So much to be said, but for now, sleep.

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