The swingset has been released. We said a prayer at the beginning that everything would fall into place, then got to work. We had to hurry because we only had one day to put the whole thing together. Linda and I measured the holes, then triangulated them to make sure they would be square. Some kids joined us to help on the project, so we had them start digging the holes. I was surprised at how easy it was to dig, and the quality of the soil. It was almost black about eight inches down, and there were little to no rocks in the soil—a sharp contrast to the clay, shale and granite composite of Pennsylvania.
While the kids were digging holes, we began assembling the swingset. We went through a bunch of ideas as to how to build it. The original plan called for a five foot step ladder to be used. The only ladder we had available was a rickety old thing that would never hold the entire swingset (This thing is huge!). We eventually decided to build it upside down, lift it up onto a cart, and then rotate it as we dropped it into the holes (lifting it onto the cart would alleviate some of the pressure on the legs as it was turned into the holes. We dragged a very large tractor cart over to the area. It was no mean feat, even with the kids helping. To top things off, it was also the hottest day of the trip—easily in the mid 90s.
So, we’re struggling to put this thing together, and we’re doing it in a way that was, quite obviously, not intended. The paparazzi recorded our every move, and Brad maintained or escalated his sense of humor, as the situation dictated.
We got the legs attached to the main beam and then it was time to transfer the whole thing to the cart. The more we looked at it, though, the less sturdy it seemed, and the less likely it seemed the set would survive the trip. The legs were just too floppy and, as we rotated it off the cart, all of the weight would be placed on three legs. Surely, they would snap. We made an executive (think: battlefield) decision to put on the crossbraces and hope/pray they were a) strong enough to make a difference and b) level. We put the braces on and then opted to pull crossbraces from a second swingset to further strengthen the assembly for the turning over. We put those on as well, which is good because a major storm was rolling in. I learned another new word: гром (Grom)...thunder.
It was time to roll it over into the holes. We said a prayer that everything would (literally) fall into place without breaking. I explained in my Pigeon-Russian to the kid how I wanted them to push up on the swingset. Jon, Brad and I were at the top of the beams, where they met the crossbar. As it went over, our plan was to run around to the other side of the swingset where it was coming down and basically catch it and guide it into the holes. I counted: один, два, три and up we started...
I was reminded of the scene in the Ten Commandments where they raise the obelisk to Seti (it could have been a Monument to the Great Patriotic War!) and it’s jut going up on the strength of the people moving it…and they hope it doesn’t shatter when they drop it in. IT DOESN’T!!! The legs of the swingset drop in to the holes perfectly. Then, Don takes out a bullet level and puts it on the crossbraces and it is dead center. A direct hit! Meanwhile, the others had similar success in putting together the monkey bars.
As we're doing this, the storm has been coming in fast so we have to get the concrete poured. Only, the box cutters to open the buckets are still quarantined with a bunch of other stuff. I took a breaker bar and busted it open the buckets we had and the kids started pouring cement. It is then that Julie realizes we are short four buckets of cement, which we need to finish the project. There was a gruff, severe looking gentleman (in the middle with the blue shuirt) watching the whole project. He was the head maintenance man (I think) at the orphanage. I made a point of saying good morning to him every day. He would grumble back. This morning, though, I was up early, and as he came in I saw him. He actually said good morning to me before I could get it out. In a cynical way I thought about he chose the very last day we were here to make any effort at friendliness.
So he’s watching the process (and probably thinking, “Those silly Americans”) when he takes a bunch of kids and leaves. So now we have a storm roiling, we’re short four buckets of cement, and the maintenance guy has just taken a good portion of our help. Oh yeah, he took the biggest kids, too. Great! About ten minutes later, he came back with the kid, and the buckets of cement! He walks over to me, puts the bucket down, and walks away, cool as a cucumber (with dill!). He never said a word...just dropped the bucket and walked away. The kids that went with him had the rest of the concrete we needed to finish the project. I don’t know how he got into the quarantined area, what moved his heart to even do so (it’s, at the least, a dangerous proposition to do so), or how he got out with it. I was just grateful he did. We poured the concrete then got a bucket brigade for the water, as it started to rain. I was tightening bolts as the lightning arrived, but I couldn’t help but think God wouldn’t take me halfway around the world, let me go through all of this, then strike me with lightning, before it was finished. In retrospect, rationalizing the mind of God might not be such a great idea. And then it was finished. Brad put our sign on the swingset, from John 15:12..."My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
Mom always said, “Put things back where you found them.” I got a bunch of the boys together and we pushed it back to where we found it. These boys are very strong. After everything, it was hard work. That’s okay: Tonight is Disco night!
Little Нина (Nina) asked me to dance with her: very cute. I spent some time with Николай and Миша. The music was really good: Belarussian Techno, which sounds very similar to our own. These kids can dance! It was awesome…and, praise God, no Chicken Polka! Even the tough girls danced with us for a while. Николай and Марина (Blonde Marina) are very good dancers. Николай tried to show me some steps, but my three left feet could not find the rhythm, which amused him to no end. They were all patient in teaching a bunch of clumsy Americans to dance.
The last night is always the hardest. I wanted to give some of my new friends gifts. I gave a Spiderman do-rag to Миша, and my Alaska shirt to Николай. I gave my sunglasses to Рослан . At night, Николай hinge out with us in the room. Other kids were knocking on the door, so I used a falsetto voice of “Olga” to pretend I was a woman and there was no one home. We were laughing as this went on for about 5 minutes, then it abruptly stopped on the other side of the door. There was one more knock and I did the Olga voice again. The voice of Николай the director came through the door…OOPS!!!
We opened the door, but he was busy sending the kids to their respective rooms. He turned and saw our Николай in the room and motioned for him. They had a quick conversation, then he was allowed to stay. It was, in my opinion, the coolest thing the director did the whole time we were there. We hung out with Nikolai (student, not director...I know: it is complicated) for a little while longer, then he went to bed and we talked into the night.
Tomorrow is goodbye.