Create Your Own
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I'm glad we went to Olivia's town and saw her orphanage, but at least in the short term, it wasn't as momentous or impacting as I thought it might be. I'd had some apprehension about the visit, wondering how Olivia (or I) would react. Would she be scared, thinking we were returning her...or would she be happy to be back "home" and want to stay? In the end, she seemed to have neither reaction and for the most part seemed content to be securely held in her baby carrier on my hip. I was kind of surprised by how nonchalant she was during the visit and we were relieved that, at least for us, it wasn't the emotional turmoil we'd tried to prepare for.
We had gotten permission to visit the town, but were not be allowed inside the SWI (Social Welfare Institute--hers is home for both orphans and the elderly). Shortly after Mandy called to alert the SWI that we'd arrived in town, quite to our surprise, the man from the SWI that we'd met on Gotcha Day just happened to be standing right outside our van as we drove through a busy street! After a brief word with Mandy and the driver, he hopped in his truck and led our van through town straight to where Olivia and Jack had lived! Our driver wasn't familiar with the area at all, so it was nice to have a guided tour!
It was interesting to see where Olivia lived for over three years, but it was hard to get a real feel for what life there is like since we couldn't see inside and never saw any residents. I did note however that we didn't see any play equipment or toys outside, though there was a basketball court. There were no indications that kids lived there at all, but Mandy, who has seen other SWIs said it seemed like a pretty good place.
In spite of visits being officially prohibited, the staff was very gracious and offered to lead our van to the town's famous temple. There we said our good-byes and thought we wouldn't see the staff again, but they kept popping up again and again, so I guess they weren't really ready to see us off! While we were at the temple, two ladies from the orphanage even delivered a bag of bakery goods and milk boxes because they knew we hadn't had lunch yet! It was such a humbling thing to see how generous they were to us "rich" Americans when they have so little!
Around the temple area there was a park that Olivia didn't seem familiar with, but Jack clearly was as he led his parents around. There were some elderly people that obviously knew Jack and were calling him by name and they found out that his foster family lives near the park and he was a frequent visitor! The short term effect of the visit was much more traumatic for Caroline, Craig & Jack than us (he cried and wanted to go to some of the people who called out to him), but I think they'll be glad to have that extra knowledge of his former life. They also got to go away with memories and pictures with them all together in Jack's park. When we left the temple area several elderly people he knew crowded around our van to say some teary-eyed good byes to Jack and wish him well.
After leaving the park all sweaty, we loaded up to head out of town only to have our the SWI director stop at another important spot in town, a governmental building. We all piled out again for another photo op (and another good-bye) in front of the building while all the passersby gawked, surprised to see westerners and doubly surprised to see us carrying Chinese kids! Here, the staff took note of our girls' bare arms and pointed to their own long sleeves and sweaters! They were being good natured about it, but I felt like I was busted AGAIN for not dressing our new daughter warmly enough! Oh well. In one of the pictures you'll see the director trying to warm Emily up because she was surely cold in the 70+ weather :)
Overall my impression was that the staff was happy to see us and that they really care about our kids. One of the ladies kept getting choked up around Olivia, even though Mandy said none of them were direct care givers. It was hard to watch her get teary eyed, but it was comforting to know that there was enough connection there to even get choked up. I've only heard good things about this place from other adoptive families so I wasn't surprised to see such caring staff. Before we left the SWI, one of the staff ladies went to the garden to get some rocks for the kids to keep. I appreciate her thoughtfulness and hope the two stones will mean something to Olivia someday.
From the staff we learned that RongXian has about a million people--not the small town I once thought!! Still not sure if something was lost in the translation though?? They thanked us for our orphanage donation, saying it will help to cover future surgeries &/or hospital transportation for other special needs kids, just as previous adoption donations had been used to help ours. Some of it also might just go to help them make ends meet since they said that the government only gives them 135 RMB (about $20) per child per month. That's not much to work with, but they somehow seem to to a good job. Olivia is a pretty happy kid and that surely didn't just start a week ago when we met her. We will be forever grateful that she had such good care.
I'm sure the visit would have been harder if she weren't such a carefree, happy kid or if she hadn't already started attaching to us. But, fortunately, she seems happy to be with us and often wails for me if I go out of her sight. As we were standing around with the orphanage staff, the ladies were obviously discussing us as she imitated Olivia's "mama...ma....ma..." as they chuckled, taking note (I think) that Olivia definitely knows who her Mama is!