From Liz Hulley — On Life in St.Petersburg

A trek visit to the orphanage. Would it be worth it? It seemed like for the past few months I had often shown up at an inopportune time, when the kids were in bad moods or otherwise occupied. But I needed to at least fulfill my commitment, and I also had to get some information from the director, so that was another reason to go.

As I approached the orphanage, I went straight into the school/administrative building, in order to catch anyone that might still be in the office. I decided not to look for the director, because as friendly as he is, I couldn’t picture him sitting down and getting some information for me. I went instead to seek out the slightly intimidating, yet competent social worker.

Room numbers and street names are not always my strong point, and I usually rely on my visual memory. Walk into the building, turn to the left, then into the first door on the right, then a jog to the left.

There was a woman sitting at a desk in between the two offices. Was she a receptionist or had she just not gotten lucky with the choice of rooms? I peeked around her to see if the woman I needed was there. She was.

“May I enter?” I introduced myself and there was a flash of recognition. Yes, we would have seen each other 3-4 years ago, perhaps with my mother. We had had tea and discussed Nastia and Masha’s latest adventures.

“Have a seat.”

I explained that I needed some information for Nastia. The social worker sprang into action, looking up the information and making some phone calls, all while asking me some leading questions, finding out how her former charges were doing.

I left with the address I needed, thanking the social worker. Her eyes twinkled for a second and the corners of her mouth twitched as if she wanted to smile.

Across the street, my group of second-graders was out playing soccer. Easy access! That might sound strange, but I hate having to go through the “security” (babushkas guarding the door) and various other adults to have to get to my pupils. I know they are just protecting them, but I always feel like a criminal. Plus, I don’t understand why they don’t remember me or write down that I come at the same time every week. But on the other hand, I am lucky that I don’t have to have any medical tests or other procedures in order to volunteer there. It’s a mixed blessing.

We kicked a soccer ball around for several minutes, I reliving my youth while at the same time worrying what the adults would think of my muddy clothing and shoes.

After some time, the girls and I went inside and we had a mini-lesson.

No tantrums, no sticker scandals, no tears at all this time. Of course, they may have only remembered one or two words from the lesson, but the relationships were renewed.