Because it was the official holiday, there were no classes at the boarding school on Saturday, October 25. (Yes, Max, the kids here have to go to school every Saturday except for holidays like this one...no kidding.) When we arrived, there were kids all over the grounds, just hanging out. Each day, they eye us curiously and many greet us, some in Russian and some in English and today was no exception. We found our way to the director's office where we found him hard at work in spite of the holiday. We chatted briefly with him, using my limited Russian, his limited English and some pantomime. He told us that the school's basketball teams played against another school the night before and had won their games. The boys won by a nice margin but the girls team won 34-4, a real rout. He was obviously proud of the kids' success and we were interested to hear that basketball is a team sport at the orphanage.
Before long, Aniyar and Madiyar appeared and our friend Tatyana joined us. We went up to the Green Room again for our visit; everyone here has decided that it's better for us to meet in a place where the boys can play...and I think as gracious as Koodaibirgin Kakenovich is (that's the director...we've had to practice long and hard to be able to say his name), he's happy to get us out of the office so he can get some work done. As we walked to the Green Room, Madiyar ran ahead of us and Aniyar carefully took us both by the hand, saying, “Madiyar doesn't respect Mama and Papa who do everything for him and bring him gifts.”, then he gave us a sweet smile. We're very familiar with sibling rivalry at our house so the underlying message was clear: I'm the good kid. I had to laugh...
Madiyar wanted to explore the computer and Aniyar wanted to play with a puzzle we gave him and then play videogames for a while. We chatted with Tatyana who is trying her best to teach us all about the history of Ridder in specific and Kazakhstan in general. She's proud of her home and wants us to know that Ridder can claim war heroes and poets as well as the mining engineer the town is named after—Philip Ridder. After a while, Madiyar was ready to play photographer again; he has taken a multitude of pictures of our shoes, the ceiling, the computer, the GameBoys...and even a few actual shots of people. He seems to like photography...maybe cousin Matt in Florida can give him some pointers. Aniyar still likes Super Mario best of all; he's getting better every day at it and when he gets stuck, he asks Craig to help him get to the next level now. Madiyar also asks Craig for help on the computer; he'll play GameBoy but he likes the greater challenge of learning to switch hard drives, boot up the system, and find his way around to the games he likes. He told us that kids his age take computer classes twice a week and he knew some basics but he's already learned a lot more about computers since we've been here. As our visit wound down, the boys did more headstands and backflips for us...they're both very athletic and flexible. Madiyar especially is wiry and strong and has a great smile...I personally think he just might make some hearts flutter among the girls at Salem Academy.
Since the boys had no school, we were allowed to visit from 10-12 and then we were headed back to Ust. Each day as we leave, I tell the boys that we love them...I don't expect a response at this point but I want them to know that's something they can begin to believe. As Aniyar led us down the stairs to the front door after the visit, he paused and said, “I love you.” It's a first...and a great end to our 13th day.