It’s 2:50am on Sunday morning and sleep is fleeting. The steady beat of the train tracks drums up through the sleeper car. Some families by themselves in a berth with two sets of bunk beds, some sharing berths and the few travelers on their own have become part of someone’s family. After a few hours sleep on the plane to Moscow it’s nice to sleep horizontally. We have a spare bed in our berth so there’s a lot of extra luggage piled on it. Our oldest daughter is off at college and could not join us this year, but we all wish she was here. But it feels like she’s with us, she was with us on the Spring 2010 trip to Slobodskoy, and I feel her prayers for us right now. We prayed as a family before this trip that our bonds would grow stronger. They have. And the other families, some also missing a family member or two on this journey, also grow their bonds tighter.
This is a strange place for us, with a difficult language and a culture we barely understand but appreciate more each day. Every moment is another lesson. We stand out in shocking contract to the rest of the citizens. We look different, there are a lot of us and I’m sure we appear vulnerable. Moscow is a large city and has its dangers, just like our large cities in America. We met three old friends yesterday when we arrived at the airport, another bond that we felt tighten as soon as we felt their warm embraces and stern instructions. We must be like a large litter of puppies to them, sticking tightly together for safety and comfort, playful but serious, thinking we know better but don’t, and growing more each day. I hope at least we’re cute.
A year had dulled my appreciation for Katya, Sveta, little Sveta, and Masha. I now remember how much we all love them for their leadership, knowledge, wisdom, safety, and supervision. We are like children and the odds certainly would not be in our favor without them. But they care very much about us, and for what we are doing and what we represent. Their job is to get us safely from Moscow to Slobodskoy, and they do it with love. Sveta will stay with us in Slobodskoy and be the lead interpreters, the rest will meet us upon our return to Moscow.
Our transformation is beginning. I forgot how strong each of these travelers can be and am proud of the new travelers with us. We have to watch each other’s backs, watch our luggage and supplies for the orphanage, motivate each other, provide entertainment, provide comfort, plan and re-plan the days ahead. I forgot how much I love all of them. It’s not about getting ahead now – it’s about leveling the playing field. We’re tired, a little scared, worried about the unknown, not as prepared as we thought, and unpleasant surprises happen every day. Tours of Red Square, churches, downtown, a 200-ton bell and a 40-ton cannon – both of which never used. There’s a lesson in there for us. We’re on edge. It’s happening just like it’s supposed to happen and we’re almost ready for the next step.
In four hours we pull into the Kirov train station and will be overwhelmed with joy as our numbers increase, maybe Misha and Masha the disciplers will be there to greet us, maybe some of the interpreters. The bonds will grow tighter, old friends and much loved, all one family and careening toward the orphanage, all with similar and different feelings in our hearts but very much the sum of one.
It will be a special breakfast together and one that we’ll need to prepare for our arrival at the orphanage later today. Sharing a meal, heartfelt, the anticipation of what is to come for this big and growing family, maybe grilled chicken and fries for breakfast. It was good last spring and we still talk about it as a highlight. Then more familiar faces, how many lives will be touched, and then a small hotel that we will almost completely fill and where we will sleep for a week. But it will not be our home … that comes next.