Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Orphanage Visit

Our family in front of the Fuzhou Social Welfare Institute
Yesterday was hard. Really hard. In the long run, I know it was good for Johanna to get the chance to say goodbye, get pictures of where she lived and of her friends and caretakers, and have her show us around. But visiting her orphanage sure made for an emotional and difficult day. 

The day started with some fun playing in the hotel room but then a few tears at breakfast. Then we tried to go “shopping” in Morgan’s room, but the racks of clothes didn’t fool her a bit. She actually just started crying harder. So we nixed that idea, resigned ourselves to another day of her wearing the coat, and headed out with our guide Shirley for the two hour drive to the Fuzhou orphanage.

On the way, Shirley explained to Johanna what we were going to do. She really seemed to understand that she was going to say goodbye, show us around, and that she wasn’t going to stay there. She nodded her head in agreement and the drive was uneventful. Johanna even fell asleep. 

When we got to the orphanage, Johanna was SO excited. She basically leaped out of the car and sprinted to the building! Her foster mother was watching for us out of the window from a few floors up. She and our daughter had a joyous reunion on the steps, and you could really tell these two had a special bond. Johanna calls her Nainai, which is “grandma” in Chinese.

We went up to the third floor, which is where Johanna’s foster family lives. There are (were) seven kids in one apartment-type arrangement. I’m not sure how many foster families are on site, but we heard that this orphanage houses 600 kids. Not all of them are in foster families. We only saw the kids from Johanna’s family and maybe one other foster family milling about as we visited. Several of them had very visible special needs (unrepaired cleft lips, facial deformities, large birthmarks, etc.). 

The living area has a kitchen, a bathroom area, a bedroom for the kids, one for the parents, and a common area with a television and chairs. The floors are cold tile, and the temperature inside was FREEZING. No wonder they all wear three layers of clothing on the top and bottom, with a huge coat over it all! I just wanted to buy them all a heater and a big piece of fluffy carpet. 

Above is the bathroom and kitchen area in Johanna's foster home.
This was her bedroom. She shared the bed in the far corner.

This is Johanna's classroom. She went to "school" with
other kids from the orphanage during the day.

Some final words from Nainai as Johanna's foster brother watches
It was lunchtime, so the foster mom had hardboiled eggs cooking on the stove. She was very generous and had Johanna give Jonas one, along with candy and tangerines. She packed another backpack full of snacks for our girl, and she held her and hugged her and talked to her for a long time. Johanna listened to her so intently; I’d love to know what she said to her! Some of it was in Mandarin, and some of it was in the local Fuzhou dialect. The foster mom had tears streaming down her face as she spoke to her. It was heartbreaking.

We did ask Shirley to have the foster mom tell Johanna that it was okay for her to take off her coat, that we had some nice clothes for her to wear, that she could take a bath, etc. It obviously didn’t work, but we tried! 

It seemed that Johanna really served as a big sister in her foster family. We can see that in how she loves taking care of Jonas, helping with buttoning his shirt, getting his glasses, wanting to shampoo his hair in the bath, etc. It’ll be interesting to see if that dynamic continues, especially since Jonas is so proud that he is the big brother. As she’s currently taller than him, that adds an extra interesting element.

Time to say goodbye
Leaving the orphanage was the worst. It really did feel like a kidnapping. Johanna was screaming and crying and did NOT want to go. She continued screaming and crying inconsolably in the van. Part of the orphanage visit includes going out to lunch with some of the officials. At first we were hesitant about this plan, wondering how this would go with our daughter having a meltdown, but it actually turned out to be the best thing. It served as a distraction, and she calmed down and ate quietly.

The food was not the best at this lunch. It was probably our most authentic meal though! It started with a soup course with some sort of fatty beef knuckle things in it (I just ate the broth). Then, in typical Chinese fashion, plate after plate of food was brought out and put on the rotating table. I wasn’t a fan of most of it, but I’m also admittedly picky. When pigeon heads are staring at you though, I kind of draw the line. I so badly wanted to take a picture, but I just couldn’t do it with the officials there! I mostly ate noodles and rice and got by. 

Johanna sat between Zack and I on the way home, and she was actually very talkative and in good spirits. She was repeating words we said, learned how to pronounce “Dada,” did the motions for songs I taught her, etc. However, when we got back to the hotel and Shirley reminded her that she should go in and take a bath, she started sobbing. We only convinced her to go back inside after she told her she didn’t have to take off her coat.

She played quietly in the hotel room for a bit, but then she had a meltdown like the kind we saw on the very first day…trying to get out the door, screaming and crying, sweating and thrashing about. Poor girl was in hysterics. All we could do was sit near her and let her cry it out. She let me pick her up and hold her briefly before breaking down again, and then she eventually settled down lying on Zack’s chest. 

After that, she seemed okay, but she definitely wasn’t going to take a bath! I had Jonas take one with toys to try to tempt her, and she even played around dumping water on his head and helping me wash his hair, but going in was not an option. We’ll try again tonight, but I’m guessing we won’t have any luck.

Anyway, it was an emotionally exhausting day for all of us. While I know it’s best for Johanna to have a permanent family, educational opportunities, and access to things orphanage life never would have given her, yesterday it felt cruel to rip her away from her loving foster family and friends. Her sweet little foster brother had been asking where she was every day and sobbed when our guide said she was back just to say goodbye. And to see the pain she’s obviously going through with this loss breaks my heart. I just want to make it all better, but I can’t. I know things will get better, but in the meantime, this is so hard.

P.S. I’ve shared a few pictures here to give our readers an idea of orphanage life and how much Johanna’s nainai meant to her (thanks to Morgan for being our wonderful photographer so we can be present in the moment), but most I’m keeping just for Johanna, especially the ones of the other children who live there and some intimate moments with her foster mom.  

Leaving the orphanage forever!

1 comment:

  1. heart wrenching, but someday (soon I hope) she will love her American parents and her brother and realize what a lucky girl she is.