Monday, September 12, 2011

A Closed World

...story continued from here...  here...   here....

On the day after the judge told us we had to wait two more weeks for our next court date, we were in shock.  Two weeks seemed like forever.  We were jet lagged, scared and isolated from family and friends.  We had on again, off again internet service that limited contact with our boys at home. We didn't think things could get much worse.

We were mistaken.

During those two weeks, our twice-a-day visits with Aaron were just about our only pleasure. One of the ways I passed the time during those visits was by taking pictures.  I love my camera;  I love snapping pictures everywhere I go. However, in a suspicious society with a 500-year tradition of secret police, cameras can draw a lot of unwanted attention. I knew enough to avoid taking pictures of military sites, policemen and so on. I wasn't THAT stupid.  But I still got into trouble, several times, for taking unwanted pictures: near a fountain inside a shopping mall (who knew?), near a jewelry display (perhaps they thought we were taking inventory for a later robbery?), at a gas station (??) and at a non-military government building. Rob, who doesn't like cameras anyway, was ready to throw my camera under a truck after a couple of these finger-wagging episodes.

Taking pictures of Aaron was by far my favorite activity.  I wanted to capture every look, every activity.  I wanted to record those moments, both for him and for us, so that we would never forget all of our firsts together. I wanted to record Aaron's firsts just like I recorded Ben's and Elijah's.

The director at Aaron's institution hated my camera.  It seemed to frighten her-- perhaps because she feared what it might expose. At the time, I didn't understand or appreciate her fear. Having lived my life in the free world, I was a bit naive. I didn't know what it was like to live in a closed society, one in which people lived in terror of their own neighbors. Her world forced her to keep her head down and her eyes on the ground.  In her world, people didn't smile at one another, didn't greet one another, and often communicated with growls and yells. In her world, cameras represented spies with evil intentions. I didn't understand her world.

On our second day back with Aaron after our month-long absence, my camera got us into our worst trouble yet.  Aaron was still testing us to be sure that we were really going to stay this time.  He was nervous, and so were we. It wasn't a time for enforcing discipline, so we just went along with whatever he wanted to do.  When he took off down a path, we followed him-- past the boys sitting in their shed, and around the building to another shed that housed the institution's tractor, horse and wagon.

When we reached the shed, Rob picked Aaron up so that he could have a better look at the tractor. It was a perfect Kodak moment. It was the first time Rob had held Aaron since our return, and I wanted to record it. But I had left my camera behind on a bench, so I hurried back up the path to retrieve it. I grabbed my camera and hustled back to get the shot.

I also snapped a picture of the tractor....

and the horse and wagon.....

and the clothes hanging on the line, and the apples spread out on the ground to dry (covered with flies)...  

As we walked back up the path, Aaron stopped to examine some bugs....

So I also snapped a few pictures of some flowers along the path...

Innocent acts by extremely naive people.  These were hardly the pictures a spy would have chosen to take. However, while I was rushing to retrieve my camera from the bench, I must have looked as if I were on some sort of spy mission. All the while I was snapping these harmless pictures, ominous phone calls were taking place.

The caretakers who were watching us from behind curtains, called the director about my questionable behavior, and the director called our facilitator. The director began screaming and cursing at our facilitator, accusing us of taking illegal pictures of her boys and her facilities. Apparently, we had come too close to the center of their secrets. Hidden in those buildings were boys they didn't want us to see. We had no idea that we had walked into a hornets' nest.

The next phone call was from our facilitator to me. To say that she was upset with me would be putting it mildly-- she was beside herself. She had already warned me about the camera, more than once. Now our adoption process was in jeopardy over it. The director was demanding to examine the contents of my camera and threatening to kick us off the grounds. 

We had to take the camera up to the office and show it to her. 

I was shaking like a leaf as I carried that camera up to her office. The director met us outside, accompanied by one of the groundskeepers who knew a tiny bit of English.  He took my camera and went through the pictures. He saw the tractor, the horse, the flowers and so on. He shrugged his shoulders, looked at the director and indicated that all was well.  She nodded her head and marched back into her office.

No explanation. No expressions of regret, misunderstanding or apology.

It isn't their way.

We were left to pick up the pieces of our shredded dignity. No longer were we naive. No longer did we walk those paths in blissful ignorance.  For the rest of our time there, we lived in terror of phone calls and angry directors.  Terror of suspicious caretakers who watched our every move. Now we understood that we were living in a closed society, and we felt it with every step we took.  

Through this episode and others, God was opening our eyes to the plight of the Lost Boys. He was introducing us to their world, with all of its secrets, sorrow and pain. A year later, I still haven't forgotten those episodes of fear. I am grateful that we battled through them. Without those images, experiences, and moments of feeling utterly alone, I might have found it too easy to forget about the boys we left behind.

The closed world of the Lost Boys needs to be opened. Their cries need to be heard. We need to do whatever we can to bring light into their darkness. be continued... 


  1. Good heavens! I only got yelled at once for taking a picture - of a tea shop (selling tea bags) at the Dome market in Donetsk. It was scary, but nothing like what you experienced. I am so thankful to live in the country that we do...

  2. Wow, Julia. I am constantly amazed at how different our experience was compared with that of others. We loved Ukraine, our orphanage director was kind and smiled more than anyone else we ever met there. I dream about going back, we enjoyed it so much and would love to take our whole family. It's amazing how varied different parts of the country are, and different institutions and baby houses, etc. We were in the western part of the country, where everyone spoke Ukrainian (not Russian), and I guess maybe they're just far enough away from that Russian border to have thrown off the yoke sooner? I can just imagine the fear and trembling that y'all experienced. :( Glad you and sweet Aaron are safe here, but I grieve for ALL those left behind.

  3. I agree with Heidi- wow, Julia. Just WOW.

  4. Julia, thank you so much for sharing these things. It keeps me on my knees for these kids. Love you to pieces!

  5. I found your blog in the strangest way..I was looking for a verse to memorize and I wanted it to be from Micah. So I typed it into google and clicked on this..I'm excited to read more!! My family also homeschools :)


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