Day 4: Blagoevgrad and Hotel Park
Before we drove back to the hotel after supper Tuesday night, I asked Denis what a “banitsa” was. I had heard that this was a “must try” Bulgarian food, and I wanted to try one so I can someday recreate it at home. He got a huge grin on his face and said, “We will meet 30 minutes earlier in the morning. I will take you to get a banitsa and yogurt drink.” I had told him about my experience with the yogurt drink on my last trip to Bulgaria. It was the one thing I just couldn’t choke down. But, I was willing to give it another try.
We met in the lobby and he drove us to town and found a small street-side bakery, ordered 3 hot banitsas (which are a filo pastry with Bulgarian cheese) and ayrans (a traditional cold yogurt drink mixed with salt). It was a good way to start the morning, for sure……well, minus the ayran. :)
After grabbing breakfast we went to the village, where we were received with smiles and laughing again (our favorite moments of the trip!). We headed back to the Social Service office in Blagoevgrad. After meeting here everyday, we knew that Isus was growing to despise the small rooms , and it was harder and harder to keep him from trying to escape and scream “ouside!” We blew up a huge balloon (thanks White County Ford!), and tossed it around the room. Of course, he was happiest just carrying it around in his mouth. While we continued to wait, I broke out the Puffs for the first time. He hadn’t been a huge fan of the applesauce squeeze-snacks we tried earlier, but he took right to the Puffs! He loved eating them, sharing them, shaking them, and especially loved putting the lid on and off. “Puffs” weren’t a snack they were familiar with, so before long, everyone in the room was eating toddler snacks.
After leaving the office, Zoosy caught a ride on Andy’s shoulders to a new playground. This one was the perfect size for Isus. It had a small balloon room, stairs that went up to a pillow room, a playhouse with blocks inside, gymnastics mats to roll around on, and lots of stuffed animals. He is all about stairs, so I had fun walking up and down them with him, and then tossing him on the pillows and tickling him at the top. Andy played peek-a-boo with him in the playhouse, and we felt like we got to see more of his true personality as he sat down and zoned in on blocks. Alina told us at home he is very happy just to sit and play with something like this.
It was a great morning visit. In the car, on the way back to Alina’s house he sat on my lap for a moment, and when I went to hug him, he snuggled his head on my chest for a short, but breathtaking moment. When we took him to Alina’s house, as I tried to hand him to her, her held on to me and said, “Gushi!” This was something I had hoped I would hear the whole trip. It means “Hold me or take me!” It was bittersweet for Alina, but a good confirmation that he is happy with us.
We left the village so Isus could eat and take a nap, and we returned with Denis to the Water Wheel Restaurant, where we had more amazing food. I went for grilled trout, which, as always, was presented so beautifully. The highlight of the meal for Andy was sharing a chocolate pancake (crepe) dessert with Denis at the end of the meal. This also coincided with the moment that we realized a large group of horses were just wandering around the perimeter of the restaurant. Not something we see everyday.
The weather was becoming a little chillier, so it was suggested that we pick up Alina and Isus, and return to the indoor play room at our hotel. When we tried to double-check these arrangements at the hotel, we were told that the play room was being used to store luggage and wasn’t accessible. However, the owner of the hotel happened to overhear us at the front desk and came over. As our translator explained why we were wanting the room, a smile spread across her face. After a few moments of conversation we didn’t understand, she smiled, nodded, and walked away. Denis then informed us that she adopted a little girl 7 years prior, and that she would clear room out for us in the private conference room to play. (Sweet balm.)
We drove to pick them up (with many more smiles), and returned to our hotel to find that–not only had they cleared some room for us– but the owner had brought in a large area rug and all the toys from the play room. I was overwhelmed with her kindness.
At this meeting, we were able to Skype with our kids at home. It was one of the most remarkable experiences of the whole trip. Miraculously ALL 4 kids sat still long enough to talk to each other! To hear Addy, Abe, and Cora saying “hello” to Zoosy in Bulgarian, and to hear him respond by saying all of their names and saying “hello” in English will be a moment I cherish the rest of my life. It was this quick glimpse–a snapshot– of our new family. A new child, the embrace of a culture halfway around the world, hope for a future, a moment of feeling God’s love wrap around us.
Shortly after this, we exchanged some gifts with Isus and Alina. I had written a letter for Alina at home, and had a dear, dear Bulgarian friend translate it for me. She appreciated the gift, but when she saw that the letter was already translated into Bulgarian, she began to weep. She said the gifts were lovely, but having this letter–in her own language–would be a treasure she would keep forever. (This was another reminder that God sent me to Bulgaria 14 years ago for reasons I could have never forseen and to meet people who would help me on this journey.) The gifts and the letter led to a rush of emotions from all of us, as we cried over the transition Isus (and all of us) are about to embark on. I won’t lie….this is the hardest part of it for me right now. My head understands that this foster-arrangement is temporary; that is doesn’t solve the problem that he doesn’t have a mom and dad. But, Alina is truly an angel. Andy and I both feel that she saved his life, and has given of herself this past year to help him in ways that we could have NEVER got back. Without her help, we are certain that he couldn’t have got that time/ development/ love back. This makes it so very difficult on her. She has devoted herself to him this past year, and I know it will grieve her heart immensely to see him go. I respect her grief, and we tried to be so sensitive to how hard this is for her. We promised her that we will never let him forget about her, and that she is now a part of our family as much as he is.
After we dried our tears, Denis and Alina went outside to give us 5 minutes alone with Isus. This was really the first and only time during the entire trip that we didn’t have eyes on us with him. We (or maybe just me?) were finally able to let down our guard, be silly, speak English without feeling ignorant, and love on him. The moment was short-lived, but I was thankful.
Because of how emotional the night had been, we decided it would be best for Denis to take Alina and Isus home, and we would stay behind at the hotel. After they left, Andy and I sat outside under the awning of the hotel watching the rain pour down on the surrounding mountains. The weather seemed to emulate the emotions we felt as the week came to a close. It had been a hard week. So, so, so good, and so, so hard. We never went into adoption thinking it would be easy, but we understand, too, that we couldn’t prepare ourselves for the moment of meeting our child– who comes to us from another mother and father. It is all new….. and it is A LOT. I feel honored that God is growing our family in this unique way. He has taught me, stretched me, challenged me, refined me, and loved me more through this experience than I could have ever dreamed.
As Denis returned, we met for our last meal in the hotel. The beautiful and kind owner, came to us and asked how our visit went, and brought her daughter over for us to meet. We were able to express our gratitude for her kindness. Even Denis commented how surprised he was that she went out of her way to help us… he didn’t feel like this was common for business-owners to be so friendly to their customers. We had a wonderful meal, and we all ended the night with tears of laughter. So many tears on this trip, for so many reasons.
We finally said our good-nights around 10:00 PM and tried to get some sleep and prepare for our last morning with Isus before returning home.