Thursday, July 10, 2008

You can go home again

Professor Li, a Chinese visiting scholar to Babson College and a friend of ours lives here in Hefei and picked us up at the airport. His university is only a few blocks from the Novotell and he once had the main manager as a Grad student so he got us a room upgrade from economy closet to penthouse suite.

He also hired a comfortable van and driver for the two-hour trip to Kira’s orphanage and came along with his 11-year-old daughter to act as interpreter.

Although we had prearranged the visit a week prior to leaving the US and paid the $150 tour fee plus $50 to our adoption agency for delivering the cash to the orphanage, the director still seemed surprised by our mid-morning visit.

He said we could take pictures outside the main gate but had to stow the cameras upon entering the compound. Ten years ago the BBC aired a documentary—“The Dying Rooms”--about the horrors of Chinese orphanages; the proud country became enraged and shut off international adoptions for a while.

Thus they are still distrusting of anyone with a camera. Probably a good thing.

The orphanage is bordered on one side by a graveyard and as we stood at the front gate swarmed over by dozens of children anxiously grabbing the small toys and trinkets we brought a cacophony of booms rang out, like the grand finally at a July 4’th fireworks.

Professor Li was told it emanated from the graveyard—to ward off evil spirits.

As the sun climbed higher in the pale blue sky the concrete/tile structure oozed heat. Combined with oppressive humidity and carrying my new 25-pound daughter who screamed if I even thought about putting her down on the ground, I was once again bathed in sweat.

The compound, about half the size of a football field, consisted of a perfect square made up of four narrow hall-like walls two stories high allowing for a large courtyard inside with an overgrown garden and one small, recent play structure (monkey bars, slide and swing)

Kira’s old room still looked the same: 21 ft by11 ft with one large open window in the center back wall. Three metal cribs on each sidewall with two babies per crib. The room was stifling. An air conditioner mounted on a wall up near the ceiling went unused.

Just as well, because the stench—even with the window wide open-- was overpowering. The white plaster walls, discolored and streaked with a sooty grayness, added to the somber scene.

They use industrial strength brown reusable diapers that look as rough as burlap and then cover them in plastic. Large 10-gallon red clay pots are lined up outside each room as bathrooms. Although we would occasionally see children simply squat in the courtyard and relieve themselves.

The older children helped the caregivers distribute baby bottles with formulae. The toddlers knew enough to lie flat on their backs to receive the bottles. And the nipples had extra large holes so the formulae flowed swiftly.

The second floor had four rooms marked “infant rooms” although only one, with five babies in residence, were what I would describe as infants (under one year old). The other three rooms were at full capacity (one dozen) and they all seemed to be about Jada’s age (18 months) or even older,

While Jada now eats solid food, drinks from a glass and dresses in normal clothes (over diapers) these children were still on the bottle and probably stayed in nothing but diapers the entire time.

The Huainan Children's Welfare Institute currently houses 100 children with responsibility for another 30 outsourced to foster parents in the community.

They have 30 employees. The director was not the same as five-and-a-half years ago when we adopted Kira. He was in his early 30’s and seemed as harried as he was bored.

My batteries died after only 3 or 4 photos out in the unrestricted area. One of the workers who shadowed us the entire time looked mentally challenged, so I’m sure if my camera was working I could have seriptiously snapped a few photos.

The wide-eyed kids with open sores on their face, a child with no hands, an albino boy, and the less than hygienic condition of the kitchen or piles of dirty diapers in the doorways.

But no camera could capture the most stunning assault on the senses: the smell, that awful smell. Smells like…misery.


Anonymous said...

Wow - that's a somber reminder of the shameful conditions much of humanity endures. Thank you for sharing.

Puts a lot of Amherst's self-important 'issues' in perspective.

O'Reilly said...

Did Jada remember living there? Your youngest didn't want to be left behind.

Anonymous said...

You know, while the GOVERNMENT may not want photos of the orphanage coming out, the folks working there might just -- would get them more staff, more money, etc...

Anonymous said...

There but for the grace of God go I... How moving Larry, and thank you for the reminder of how lucky we are to be living in a country in which that would never happen.

Mary E.Carey said...

Wow, this is a really moving account, Larry.