Spring is coming at last to this land. Today was the first mostly sunny day we have seen. We have only seen the sun a few times in this country - it will come out for a few hours then is veiled by clouds again. We are starting to see light wisps of grass. There are some crocuses in bloom at the orphanage. When we first arrived in ThisCountry, we knew in our heads that we had arrived at the ugliest time of the year, but that didn't help our initial impressions of the place. Grey skies, ugly grey buildings, bare trees, not a blade of grass or unbare tree to be seen, nothing but mud and dirt and smog. Our first thoughts on landing in the capital were: "this is one <expletive> ugly place".
The longer we stay here the better we understand these people. It is a poor country in many ways - poor in resources, poor in training, poor in spirit - but they must do the best with what they have. Our translator said of the people in this region "everybody here works very hard - it is mostly surviving and not much living". The police officers here, for instance, make $125 per month. We spoke with a woman today who said "under communism nobody had any things. Now that it is gone, everyone is preoccupied with getting more stuff/things, no one is concerned with people." On the one hand, we can point out the harsh conditions that people with disabilities face in these countries. "How dare they treat them thus", we may think. However, on the other hand, we must be mindful that America had asylums and institutions for the disabled 100 years ago every bit as bad as things here.
Our opinion of this country is changing as we stay here longer. We see the bare trees everywhere, and know that they will someday soon begin to leaf and flower. In many ways we see this as a metaphor for the country as a whole. The infrastructure is rusting and crumbling. The buildings (the older buildings especially) are as ugly as only Soviet buildings can be. There are buildings and architecture that is newer that is very pretty, and new buildings are being built. Renovation is happening. The people who live here are hardworking and friendly. It is not an uncommon sight to see store owners sweeping the sidewalk in front of their stores. There are small flower gardens planted throughout the city in otherwise wasted space. These are examples of the heart of the people. They have been dealt a very bad hand, but they are doing what steps they can to make it prettier and to make the city cleaner and neater. It will be a long and difficult time before the damage that has been done - to the city, to the land, and to the people - by decades of socialism is erased, but they are on the right track. Spring is slowly coming to this people after decades of winter.
Today we rode the bus to and from the orphanage. We managed it with no hassles. It is crowded - if you have personal space issues you need to take the taxi. The bus line is so much cheaper than riding the taxi, though. Now that we know where to get on and off, we will ride it exclusively from here on out. We had lunch at another cafeteria. The food (especially the blini) was very good.
After lunch, we went to the big open-air market for this city.
Imagine everything you could ever want to buy. Toys. Bikes. Bread. Power tools. Drapes. Pomegranates. Yarn. Fabric. Nuts. Knives. Apricots. Lawn mower parts. Plumbing supplies. Cheese. Secondhand clothes. Very fresh fish (still breathing). Clothing. Blank DVDs. Sausages. Pirated movie DVDs. Toilets. Office supplies. Strollers. Questionable meat-on-a-stick. Guns. Cell phones. Nail polish. Purses. Fried food. TVs. Telephones. Doors. Sinks. Fresh unrefrigerated meat. Candy. Purses. Bottled water. Lingerie. Wallets. Carburetors. VCR and DVD players. Shoes. Pizza. Religious bling. Cigarettes. Magazines. Kittens.
For our American readers, imagine all the merchandise of Wal-Mart, Lowes, Bed Bath & Beyond, a supermarket, a decent shopping mall, and a huge craft fair rolled up into one bazaar. This market is spread out over about two or three city blocks and very densely packed, both with booths and with customers and the occasional stray animal.
The best part is that there is no order and certainly no directory. Shopping malls in the US have a directory, and stores are grouped by category (e.g. "Electronics", "Womens' clothes", "Jewelry", etc.). Here, very generally (exceptions abound) the things are grouped by category. The power tools are near the lawnmower parts which is near the plumbing supplies which is near the person selling kitchen sinks. Specifically, though, everything is randomized. There may be a meat-on-a-stick place squeezed in between a cigarette booth and a booth selling children's clothing. Across the aisle is a guy selling track lighting, a woman selling fur hats, and a booth selling refrigerator magnets / bikinis. The place is a labyrinth - it is very easy to get turned around and then not be able to find your way out again. You could spend days in here and not even see it all. Since it is all individual owners, you can haggle the price if you wanted.
I bought a knife because the knives in the apartment (to cook with) are abysmal - they are falling apart and frightfully dull, to the point of having difficulty with cutting butter even after sharpening. I have nearly cut myself multiple times while making dinner. Some have the handles literally falling apart. I figure the cost of a half-decent knife from the market ($6) will be cheaper than the bandages to put a finger back on from one of the apartment knives.
We had learned that "Aurora" was missing her mid-morning snack because she was with us. We fed her a purred blend of raspberries, blueberries, and peaches from the baby-food section of the store. We fed her with a baby spoon, not the ladle-disguised-as-a-spoon that they use in her room. She figured the food out very quickly. We tried "Leigha" on a bite of the same stuff (curious if she knew how to eat from a spoon). She didn't react to the spoon, but did stick her tongue out to taste the food. She wasn't getting any except on the tip of her tongue, so we put some in her mouth. Apparently just blueberries and raspberries are much more tart than anything she has ever eaten. She puckered up her little face tight, but she did like her taste of it (sorry, no pictures this time). We took the girls outside today. "Leigha" promptly went to sleep. We put "Aurora" in a walker so she could scoot around.
What? Oh yes. Enough rambling. Pictures of the babies.