Oprah Winfrey stated “What I know for sure is that there is no strength without challenge, adversity and resistance and often pain. The problems that make you want to throw up your hands and hollah, “mercy!” Will build your tenacity, courage and discipline and determination.” I agree with statement, especially since I was able to overcome many obstacles growing up. The biggest and most worthwhile obstacle in my life was getting adopted. Letting go of all I experienced growing up in the orphanage and learning the meaning of what family is all about was a worthwhile challenge.
My parent’s Nick Nicolakis and Marianna Valsamakis adopted me from Ukraine at the age of ten. They didn’t adopt me because they couldn’t have children of their own. They actually already had three younger children. There were two boys and one girl. The ages at the time were, the oldest boy who was six year old followed by a girl who was four and finally the youngest child was two years old. At the time of my adoption, I was known as the “problem child” as the director of the orphanage stated to my parents when they chose my picture from the thousands that was given to them. Mr. Nicolakis and Mrs. Valsamakis began to do their research before traveling from United States all the way to Ukraine. They actually chose a young girl before finalizing the proper documents needed. Sometime in early November they were finally ready to go and give this young girl a family. The flight from United States into Ukraine was 10 hours long.
Have you ever been on a plane which had Television right in front of you? I believe that when a flight is a certain amount of hours, they do have entertainment. I wonder if Timo Nicolakis, the oldest child they brought, understood what was happening. When they arrived at Kiev the capital of Ukraine, they went straight to their hotel to drop their belongings. They are already aware of where they should go to meet the young little girl they chose. After their arrival at scene they were informed that the little girl they chose has already been adopted. They were furious not because the little girl had found a family but because the people who were in charge of the adoption’s were irresponsible. They were thoughtless because they should have informed Mr. Nicolakis and his wife of the current situation prior them getting on a flight for ten hours.
Nearly 95,000 children of the country’s eight million have been either been abandoned or cast adrift. According to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, There are over 11 thousand children of preschool age in the orphanages of Ukraine, 2.7 thousand of whom are physically or mentally handicapped. In my personal opinion, due to having so many children in need of help the people in charge figured to give this lovely family a different chance to pick the lucky child they would call their own. As disappointed as Mr. Nicolakis and Mrs. Valsamakis were, they weren’t going to turn due the the goal they set for themselves. They promised to each other that they were going there for one purpose, to give one of these helpless children a house they can call home as well as a family. So this kind family swallowed their frustrations and began the process of choosing a child from the beginning. They were brought into a separate room that contained many albums which acquired photos of children who were in an orphanages. Mr. Nicolakis and his wife had some preferences on the child they were interested. They understood that all these defenseless children needed help, but they only could take one lucky child. They were looking for a girl, who also was eight or nine. This made it easier for the people in charge to narrow down their albums. As this family patiently sat for hours glancing through many albums, they came across a minor who didn’t really fit in their preferences. Something really attached this family to this stranger. They didn’t care that she was ten years old, even though they wanted a child who was eight due to all of their children being two years apart.
I still remember the very first time I laid my big hazel eyes on these total strangers. I recall the outfit I was told to put on in order for me to meet this family. We. the orphans, had everyday clothes and “nice” clothes that we only were able to put on for special occasions. In my opinion the “nice” clothes was similar to the everyday clothes. I was wearing a blood red knitted sweater which had black perpendicular stripes with a pair of jeans. I was not aware for the reason I was told to come to the director of the orphanage’s office. As I walked into the office, I saw these three people with a young child smiling at me. I was not completely comprehending why I was meeting these people. I just thought to myself; why are they staring at me. As they introduced themselves in a language I have never heard before, the translator began to speak to me in a similar language. I actually later learned that he was speaking Russian which is similar but not identical to Ukrainian language. I could understand 90% of what this young gentleman was saying, but that was good enough for me especially since I didn’t like meeting new people who were so ecstatic and energized.
In the orphanage, the only home I’d known, we were taught how to stay silent, especially with strangers. In my opinion I believe the director of the facility didn’t want the children saying anything negative about the way they facilitated these minors. Speaking from personal experience, if we did talk about their way for raising us, they would have been shut down, but maybe not because Ukraine was one of the poorest countries. So many of the orphanages did what was expected of them. We the orphans didn’t have any power to speak up for ourselves, and if we did we would get the beating of our lives, which would teach us the lesson to never open our mouth.
After spending couple of hours with these strangers who were affectionate, I was required to make a decision whether I wanted these people to adopt me. With the director of the orphanage watching and listening to my every move, I found it difficult for me to open up and get to know them. Being a ten year old girl, who didn’t really comprehend what exactly was happening, but I was eager girl who was presented with the opportunity to get out of the “hell hole” as I would call it. After making the decision to allow these kindhearted family to adopt me, they began to come on a daily bases to get to know me. I was actually very thankful that there was someone out there who finally showed interest in me, without expecting anything in return.
Returning to my assigned group after meeting this gracious family the first day, I began reminiscing whether I made the right choice because the staff in the orphanage began to tell me horror stories.
“They want to adopt you just to sell you.”
“They will cut you up in pieces!” In this orphanage everyone knew everyone’s life and secrets. Being a ten year old orphan, of course I believed the only people I knew my entire life. The following day I was surprised but thrilled that they came back to see me after classes finished. The second visit they brought me candy, I was overly ecstatic because we didn’t get any opportunities to have any type of sweets besides on our birthday’s. Since it was only the second, I was told to sit in the director’s office again. It made me feel uncomfortable but happy that they brought some candy. When they opened up the bag of candy my automatic question to the translator was, “Can I bring the bag of candy back to my class?” I wanted to share it with the others. as the family smiled at me, the Director counted the amount of candy there was in the bag, and separated exactly the amount of candy needed to give each child one piece of candy, keeping the rest for herself. As the translator repeated Mrs. Valsamakis statement about how the rest of the bag should go to me, she answered with “of course she will get it at the end of the visit”. I didn’t want to wait to return to my group to open MY piece of candy, so I ate it at that moment. That was the very first moment my future family saw my big beautiful smile. Since I save my smile, I’ve been told when I let it go, it’s infectious.
They began to come consistently which was new to me, especially since I have never had that in my life. I began to open up to this family, and when I say open up, I’m talking about communicating more and I began to look up, instead of staring at the floor. I never felt comfortable looking at people’s faces. I believe it has to do with the way I was treated at the orphanage. We the kids were taught the wrong kind of respect. We were taught not to look up when the staff was speaking to us, and being a stubborn and relentless child, I often disobeyed many of the rules. There were many children in that orphanage and the way they divided kids was into categories based on their age and mentality. Actually only one child was placed in a lower grade due to not completing first and second grade at the previous orphanage. This orphanage began with third grade all the way through twelfth grade. Each grade contained about fifteen to twenty pessimistic children. Mr. Nicolakis and Mrs. Valsamakis always tried to ask questions about the type of facility this was, they also asked about many other children. They asked me if I had siblings, I didn’t give a response to that question, just shifted my shoulder’s upward hoping they would understand that I wasn’t comfortable enough to speak about that yet.
Today was a big day for both Mr. Nicolakis and Mrs. Valsamakis but I didn’t grasp why I was missing school that day or why they dressed me even better than the “nice outfit” we had for special actuation. It was the very first time I was able to exit the premises with this family. I later realized we were headed to court, to make the final decision whether this family had the proper documents and proper reasoning for wanting to adopt a child while having three of their own. I remember sitting a row behind my future family. I was glad that the language spoken in court was Ukrainian. I remember these two specific moments in that two hour court session. The first day I met this family, I was taken to a separate room with a lady asking me whether I wanted to be adopted. Well she was the first person the judge asked what my decision was. Then they spoke about other factors I didn’t even understand. The judge shifted his focus to Mr. Nicolakis and Mrs. Valsamakis. The only thing I remember from that moment was the judge asking if they were sure about adopting a child. He looked a piece of paper and asked all puzzled why they were adopting a fourth child. They were beaming as they explained that yes, they wanted me.
Here was the moment that changed my entire heartbroken life. The judge called me to the front, so he could ask me privately.. Nervously holding my hands together in front of me I stated one word “da” which means yes in Ukrainian. He asked me once more in a different manner. Do you allow Mr. Nicolakis and his wife to adopt you into their family? I nodded my head saying yes. As I take a glanced to the back of the room, I saw my new these parents and brother smiling which made me feel very uncomfortable. I began to think about what the staff at the orphanage was telling me about being chopped up into little pieces.
There are going to sell you, They will murder you!!!
While walking back to my seat, I could not manage to pick up my head because I didn’t want them staring at me. This continued until I said goodbye to everyone and my sisters at the orphanage. My nerves didn’t stop me from going with them, though, and the rest of my life began as I stepped onto that ten hour flight to New York City.