Visiting friends

I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful this trip has been. There is a bit of a fear factor of being so far away from home is a seemingly treacherous place alone, but underneath it all it is very safe and welcoming. You just have to get past the fact that it is not customary for Russian people to smile. Although, I’ll write about that more later.

I am not sure how much or where I have spoken about how I came to know the woman I am working with. So let me start from the beginning and by beginning I’m going to go to her beginning of the story. It may end up being on the long side, but it is well worth the read.

Galina Potopova is the woman I am spending my time with. During the Soviet Union Galina worked with the Russian Peace Foundation. In fact she was the president of the branch for the Khabarovsk Territory. She did this job for 40 years. In that time she had the opportunity to travel all over the world and work with various governments to further the mission of the foundation. The Soviet Union was not all that bad. However, after perestroika and after the fall of the Soviet Union the Peace Foundation closed and Galina and her colleagues found themselves in a whole new world. Prior to that, Galina visited the United States in the late 1980s. While she was here she met a number of people and one such person was named Bobbi.

Bobbi was a business woman in the Olympia, WA area and the two of them developed a friendship. After the fall of communism and travel between the new Russian Federation and the United States was permitted, Bobbi visited Galina in Khabarovsk. Bobbi saw firsthand what life was like for the people undergoing a change unlike anything the world had ever seen. She came back to the United States and began telling everyone she could about her journey. She was invited to speak at a luncheon and this is where I come in.

My late mother-in-law, Bev, was very good friends with Bobbi. Bev asked me if I would like to attend this luncheon with her. I agreed and I sat there captivated by the stories of what life was like in a place I had only ever heard about on the news. Those who remember the Cold War know that Russia was the enemy and they were not to be trusted. Bobbi showed photos of the grocery store, Galina’s flat, Galina’s dacha and other bits of day-to-day post-soviet life. I was hooked, but I was only 16 years old at the time.

Bev began working with Bobbi in a new non-profit organization called To Russia With Love. While Bobbi and Bev were creating To Russia With Love, Galina was in Khabarovsk creating the Slavyanka Women’s Society. To Russia With Love and Slavyanka arranged exchanges between the two cities. Business women from Olympia traveled to Khabarovsk to teach their counterparts things as simple as advertising. During the Soviet Union there was no such thing. Russian business women came to the US to see their new skills in action.

Soon thereafter the two organizations arranged for a group of doctors to visit hospitals in the Seattle area. One such doctor was named Evelina. Evelina was a founding member of Slavyanka and the head doctor of the Children’s Hospital in Khabarovsk. She also happened to stay in Bev’s home while she visited the US. I had the opportunity to meet the Russian doctors while Derek and I came home from college over a weekend. My time with them was brief, but it is one that I will always remember.

Later, the two organizations arranged an exchange of a different sort. Galina knew a woman named Tamara. Tamara was the director of a musical group called Mlada. The Mlada choir traveled to the US and performed all over the South Sound area, and even at the top of the Space Needle. Tamara and her son Anatoly stayed in Bev’s home. I was fortunate enough that I was deemed the group’s videographer and I traveled around to various performances and recorded the concerts. The intoxicating music is something that I will never forget.

The exchanges eventually stopped, but my memories of those events never faded. Bev kept in occasional contact with Galina and when Derek and I began the process to adopt Oleg it was almost as fate had stepped in when we learned our agency worked primarily in Khabarovsk. It was almost a dream come true that I would be traveling to a place I had only dreamed about. In fact, the whole time we were in Khabarovsk the first time we were in a daze. It may have been the reason we were there, but I know there was something bigger.

Derek and I visited with Galina, Tamara and Evelina on that first trip. We saw Galina and Evelina on our second trip. As the focus of Sweet Hope shifted to assisting the orphanages directly, I again contacted Galina for her assistance. She was more than happy to help us. In 2008 Sweet Hope picked up where To Russia With Love left off. Only this time a younger generation was at the helm (on the American side) and our focus was slightly different.

Now we come to the present day. I am once again in Russia. This time my purpose is so very different than the last. I am not preoccupied with the rigors of an international adoption. I am here to see these women, to further the mission of the organization I’ve created and to meet new friends.

On Tuesday I was able to visit with Evelina. Galina told her all about our encounters in Khor. We sat around our lunch table and toasted to our wonderful, amazing, dearly beloved Bev. We know that she was right there with us.

Today, I visited with Tamara. I saw photos of the now grown Anatoly. We talked again about my travels to Khor. Tamara came up with a brilliant idea. However, I’m not going to share that one with you quite yet. It’s big. But as we ate our lunch we once again toasted Bev and honored such a fine woman.

My last stop of the day was to the building where Mlada practices. I was toured around the building (which is a cultural center for this part of the territory). I learned about the former Amur Navy. I learned about the artwork that is taught in the building and given wonderful little gifts. And last, but certainly not least I was able to watch a little bit of a Mlada rehearsal. Right before we were supposed to leave I asked the girls to each say their name and help me with something a little special. I hope you like it.

I hope you will take a moment to help Sweet Hope this season.

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