But on to the awesomeness that was yesterday evening and today.
Yesterday afternoon we had a brief visit with Gabe and his mother. She showed us how he uses a walked and I was quite impressed with how well he does with it, but along with this came a sad story. Gabe doesn't like to use his walked because when he does, other children in the park ask their parents why he uses it... the parents quite often respond that his is "sick" and so he needs the walker. Having learned this sad lesson the hard way he has told his FM in the past that he does not want to be sick anymore so he does not want to use his walker. How's that for unfortunate cultural perspectives and negative stigma? The reality is that he actually uses his walker quite well, but his FM gets quite a workout when she functions as his walker every day when she takes him walking in the park. It makes me happy to know that hopefully in time he will learn to embrace his assistive devices as he sees other children in our home use them for their own benefit.
Following our visit (which of course included swing time) we said our goodbyes a little early so that Gabe could get home. Gabe's FM knows some basic English but as part of her efforts to help Gabe get ready for his transition she has expressed an interest in learning more. One of the ways our church provides service to local populations is by providing no-cost English lessons to all who desire to attend, regardless of religious affiliation. I invited her to attend the lesson in Ruse and we met in the town center which is very close to the church building in Sofia. I sat like a stuffed scarecrow while a room full of pleasant Bulgarians enjoyed their lesson. Afterwards, the sister missionaries took a few minutes to help translate for us since this would be the parting time for us since Gabe's FM had to work on Friday. It was a very touching conversation and at times the emotion was obvious in both of our voices. I attempted to express our gratitude for his FM and all that she had done for him and she expressed her happiness that her prayers had been answered that he was going to join a good family that would continue to love him and help him grow. I assured her that it was not only her prayers that were answered. We said our goodbyes and that was it for the night.
This morning I woke extra early to be sure to have time to pack up and head to the store before I met Yavor for breakfast. After the energizing walk I came back loaded up with the first batch of chocolate I've been commanded to bring home (or else I'm not allowed to come home). A few posts and memory pictures later and we were off to our last meeting with Gabe. His FGM and he were both all smiles and he talked about knowing that this was our last visit but he was happy that we had a good week. We listened to music and took some pictures then Gabe told us it was time to go to the social services office (or course we were early) but first I took him for a walk around the block in his stroller and we talked a bit (my Bulgarian has improved dramatically). Ultimately the social services workers were ready and after a brief conversation about the visits (which I recorded for posterity) Gabe said he wanted to walk me to my car so that's what we did. We arrived at the car and said our goodbyes and gave our kisses and as we pulled out of our spot Gabe said "I'm not going to cry".... and then he started crying. He's an awesome kid, he has experienced trials and challenges, but he has also felt the love and caring touch of his foster family and many friends I met during our walks. I am optimistic that he will continue to thrive and develop his abilities and become the best Gabe that he can be and I'll be proud of him every step of the way.
The road trip.... well let's just say that for anyone who has never ridden in a car in most eastern European country that traffic laws are more like rough suggestions, speed limits are somewhat relative and making dangerous passes is a cultural pastime. Yavor is a wonderful road tripping companion and we had a lot of fun conversations, some of which I'll post in the videos (super-secret-facebook-group) section. It took about three hours to make the drive and we crossed some pretty awesome mountains (hills to you western US folks) that reminded me so much of Buena Vista, where Valerie and I met. Finally after crossing into the valley of the kings (which features countless burial mounds up to 4,000 years old as well as BEAUTIFUL fields of sunflowers (sunflowers are row-crops here) we drove into Stara Zagora and checked into the hotel.
After checking into the hotel we had dinner and I went off "wandering" as I like to call it since I taught Yavor what the English term "wander" means. In this case I wandered myself into the local missionaries (in reality I knew where to find them since we'd been talking) and I hung out with the Elders, Sisters and the RS presidency who was just finishing up a meeting (and saved me a plate of yummy food). The Elders had work to do so I walked with them up to the north side of the city where they said "you need to go up there" - and "there" was a long path/staircase as far as the eye could see - and so they went their way and I went up, and up, and up and up. until I got to a small church at the top. The pictures do not do the climb justice and it was a workout like none I've had since cub scout camp this year. I took lots of pictures at the top and on the way down as well as during my walk through the city (which for those of you who don't know, both Valerie and I have spent time in Stara Zagora before).
And that brings me to now. I'm tires, it's getting late, the Internet isn't very good and I'm hoping some of these pictures come through:
|One Last Picture|
|Valley of the Kings/Sunflower Fields|
|Elders Kingsley (L) and Brown (R)|
|This is From The Top of the Stairs|
|This is an Ancient Stone Path which has been Unearthed In SZ|
|The Regional History Museum|
(Val and I Went Here Several Years Ago)
|This is at the top of the hill|