Thursday, November 6, 2008


It's school vacation week. It doesn't affect life that much, but the kids from the orphanages have been parceled out to different locations: some to camp, some to relatives. And a few are still in the orphanage.

I wanted to do something fun with the remaining kids, like we had done in the past. I'm working with a different counselor now though, so when I suggested going into the city for bowling or a movie, she didn't seem very enthusiastic. "I'll only have two kids here," she said. "The rest of them are going to relatives." I thought that was all the more reason to help the remaining kids have a fun vacation. Then the counselor suggested that we go to the movie theater near the orphanage, so I agreed. I wasn't sure it would be the fun excursion that I envisioned, but better than nothing. Maybe the counselor just didn't want to go to the trouble of getting permission to take the kids out and make the trip to the city.

On the day I was supposed to go, the counselor called and said, "I've only got two kids here. You don't have to come, you can have a day off. It's your choice. " Hmmm. Now what did that mean? I was already dressed. Did she mean she felt sorry for me and wanted me to rest? Or that the kids didn't want me to come? It was so tempting to stay home, and not go anywhere, and not have to deal with the depressing atmosphere of the orphanage. But I could picture the faces of lonely (or at least bored) children in my head. Maybe they were content to lie around and watch tv, but surely that would get old. I changed my mind several times and then decided to go. I grabbed Uno, Phase 10, Yahtzee, and Set. I also grabbed an English textbook in case anyone was feeling ambitious.

As I walked into the orphanage, I decided that I would spend time with the first lonely child I encountered. I stopped by the floor we usually visit. No first-graders came running. It would have been easy enough to play with the little ones, but they didn't seem to be around. The group that I had wanted to take to the movies also didn't seem to be around. I headed up to the next floor. On the way there, I met Roma. "Are you here for a lesson?" he asked. "No, I just brought some games," I said. "Okay, let's play."

Roma is the most friendly and the most difficult. He is sweet and helpful one moment and the next he is swearing profusely and laughing in my face. I managed to put off Uno and try to teach him Phase 10. But his attention span wasn't quite long enough and he eyed the Uno cards. Then some other boys came and joined us. I remembered why I hate playing Uno in the orphanage: All the American (Australian, etc.) teams that come teach different rules. There's Killer Uno, Crazy Uno, etc. I am really strict about card game rules and refuse to play if there's a rule dispute. Here the kids had learned new rules, like if there's a zero you switch hands or if you play a certain number, you can lay down all your cards with that number at the same time. I didn't want to play with those rules. I wanted to play with the classic rules, which were written on paper.

Roma went into a frenzy of playing numerous illegal combinations of cards and then shouting "It's my turn! It's my turn again!" When I protested, he swore at me, or spoke in some kind of "tongue" he had made up. He was either mocking me by pretending to speak English, or pretending to speak Russian so it would seem like I didn't know Russian. The other boys laughed.

Roma, however, is a success story when it comes to English. He remembers everything that was taught and also memorizes what I say, and then puts together sentences. I only taught his group for one year last year and that was infrequent. He doesn't have English in school, but somehow he converses.

At one point, a counselor came in to check on the kids. I wondered what she would think of my cards and dice. I waited for her to yell an instruction to me or the kids, but at that moment, Roma said something to me in English. A smile broke across the counselor's face. She seemed satisfied and left the room. I guess it looked like I was doing something educational.

After I confiscated the Uno cards, I managed to convince Roma and another boy to try Yahtzee, and we played a full round. Then it was time to leave. I walked by a room of boys, glued to a computer game. The corridors were quiet and empty as I left.


  1. I'm glad things worked out. I ended up learning how to bake traditional Russian apple cake since all the sights were closed for the holiday.

  2. Well, you added some life, anyway. My Ilya adores card games. You crack me up - I think you have the same slightly "controlling" nature I do. I cannot STAND rule variations or changes. Makes me crazy.

  3. Mary, you should have baked your cake in the morning and brought some to share. ;)

    Yeah, I'm controlling. My youngest brother and I can't even progress past dealing the cards because we argue over where the discard pile should be placed (he thinks the middle of the table, I think closest to the person who's shorter). The last time I played Scrabble I think I cried because there was some rule I didn't know about and therefore I thought the game should be void.


Just added word verification to reduce spam. Nothing personal!

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...