Nino Kalandia, 44 years old, Tbilisi
This story happened by an accident.
I was 37 years old and working as a translator at a military base. Once in every six months, American Marines arrived in Georgia, and when one rotation arrived, they decided to go to an orphanage in Tbilisi, to offer some help, be it cutting grass or laying brick. They took me with them. It turned out that the orphanage indeed had a playground, received as a donation, that they were unable to assemble. The soldiers helped assemble it and finally, we asked if we could see the children. There was the director of the orphanage, who was not the right person for his position, and I’m still surprised, how he got this job, and what kind of connection he even had to these children, called the kids’ doctor, who was the brightest thing at the orphanage. He took us to the floor where the children were, sorted according to the age difference. That’s where I saw Ana for the first time, who was seven months old at the time and had red hair like an Iroquois. Then, very soon, I went to Nepal, but I was thinking about Ana all the time, I was dreaming of her every night. I saw many children there, but I was only thinking about Ana and imagining her face. In Nepal, I had already decided that as soon as I’d come back, I had to see this baby again. In Nepal, there were some knitted hats for sale, those hats also had red knitting and when I saw it, I immediately thought, that I had to buy them for her. And it was the first gift I bought for Ana.
The second time I went there, I found out that I couldn’t just go to the orphanage to see a child. There are some procedures to get permission: I had to go to the social services agency and ask for permission. I went through an interview and was allowed to go there as a volunteer some time and that’s how I got the right to go there. I helped babysitters and teachers take care of the children and I want to say that their’s an unappreciated job. The fact that the children there don’t have the proper love and care, is understandable in some ways because, in the group where there are 15 children and 3 nannies, they are barely able to feed, bathe and change them. They absolutely don’t have time to show them love or to walk with them. Of course, there are also those who don’t love children, but fortunately, there are those who can be trusted. First, when I arrived, they looked at me in a weird way. For some reason, they thought I was being sent from someone. Then I made friends with some of them and one of them told me that initially, they looked at me in a weird way, because they thought I was sent by the agency to observe how they worked.
At first, I used to go there three times a week. But after a while I realized, that three times a week was no longer enough for me and then I started going there intensively. I went there for a year and a half, and during that time, Anna has been through three surgeries. I was a newcomer when I found out that the baby had a very large belly. Research has shown that along with Down syndrome, she also had so-called Hirschprung’s disease. This is a congenital pathology of the intestines. When the first surgery was performed, he started gaining weight. The nannies said that they hadn’t seen Ana laugh. The child was finally recovering. Probably, even without me, they would still have her undergo surgery, but the fact is that the child went for seven months without it. The first operation was relatively simple, but the second was a nightmare. This disease has degrees of difficulty, and Ana had a very difficult condition. The surgery lasted five hours and I almost died before it was over. The post-surgery period was a nightmare. After surgeries, she was returning to the orphanage, and I was actually living there. This year and a half, I didn’t go elsewhere and I had lost contact with everyone. After work, I would go there directly and return home at one or two in the morning. After half a year of volunteering, I asked to be given permission to take Ana out on the weekends with me or to take her somewhere to rest for two weeks. I did another interview and I was granted this permission. I would take her on Friday evening and return her on Sunday evening.
When I was given the status, I was automatically assigned a social worker. Ana also had her own social worker. Mine was great and helped me a lot. I can’t say the same about Ana’s social worker, who, instead of helping me, was making everything just harder. I went to the orphanage for a year and a half, and I had never seen this woman earlier. Before Ana’s second surgery, I decided to take the baby to Bakuriani in-between surgeries to rest. I knew that this surgery would be hard and wanted to make her feel rested. Although, I had the right not to inform this woman about the case at all, when we decided to go, I called her and told her that I had already booked a hotel and we were about to leave in two days. This woman told me that I first had to write an application and then the council would review it within ten days. I asked her if she knew at all how difficult surgery was awaiting this child. Then I turned to my social worker and she told me there would be no problem at all. At that time, I also had broken a toe, but we still went and the air of Bakuriani was great for her!
After four months of the second surgery, Ana had to receive the third one. By this time, I had already decided, that I wanted to take care of her. However, I was told, that it wouldn’t be possible to adopt her directly and they registered me as a so-called “Hoster”, the host family. The children are in the host family until someone willing to adopt them come along. As soon as I registered, I warned everyone that I was not going to give this child up to anyone and that it was just the part of the procedure. The status didn’t matter, the main thing was that the baby would be with me day and night. I went through an interview, then they came and checked my living conditions. I had to collect a certain number of points and in that case, I would get the right to take Ana home. I collected these points and after a year and a half, I took her with quite a celebration.
The family and friends
Of my family members, my grandmother was the first one who expressed desire to meet Ana. I had a great relationship with my grandmother, but for some reason, I didn’t tell her about my trips to the orphanage. My sister told her and she called me immediately, asking why she found out about it from someone else than me. She wanted to know the address to come and see the baby. By then I already had the right to take Ana out and I took her to her myself. She went crazy about her. She was a doctor and gave me a lot of good advice on how to take care of the child. She even offered to move to my house, instead of a nanny. My sister also told to my mother. I’m sure she worried a lot but only told me that I was an adult, that I make my own decisions and she wouldn’t make me do anything. My father told me it was exactly what they were expecting from me. My father had blue eyes and I was arguing all my life that I was exactly like him in everything, but didn’t have the same eye color. And he told me, look, this child has my eye color.
My father died sooner than my grandmother. I don’t know, was it a defense mechanism or what, but my grandmother forgot everything in one day at the funeral. She only remembered two things until her last day – that I gained weight and Ana.
It might sound strange, but it was more difficult in the case of friends. When I started going to Ana intensively and they called me to go out somewhere, I was always busy and they realized that it was getting serious. They started coming home in delegations, arguing with me. In their opinion, they were taking care of me. One of them even told me, that she had an acquaintance in the social service and would do everything, to make sure I didn’t get the chance to take the child with me. Some of them told me to adopt a child who would take care of me when I got older. One told me that she would find a great child for me and to forget about this one. I kicked her out of my house… These people couldn’t understand, that I wanted this particular child. I didn’t have an idea fix to be a mother. I just wanted Ana. I was aware of everything. Down syndrome wasn’t a problem for me at all. In that year and a half, I learned all her health problems, I had three surgeries with her. We went through nightmares together and I knew everything very well.
Fortunately, there were those who supported me from the first day and encouraged me morally. Until then, I didn’t realize how important it was to have someone by your side at such a time. Most of my friends turned out to be like that and today, they are Ana’s friends.
The State Services
When Ana moved in with me, I suddenly lost my job and was left unemployed with this child. I had to sell the house and rent one in another district and move there. The most ridiculous thing was that, due to the change of the residence and the new location, a new social worker was attached to me. A new social worker was the one, with whom I previously had problems. The only thing the state gives to such children is a voucher from the Early Development Center and Ana used that voucher too. This is a one-year voucher, that allows you not to pay for this service. I knew from the previous social worker, that when the voucher expires, I had to apply in April to extend the term – a very simple procedure. In April nobody called me, so I decided to take care of it myself and asked the new social worker, what I had to do. She told me, that I had to write a statement in May and bring the documentation. I did exactly as she told me and as it turned out, I was late and Ana no longer had a voucher. Since I was unemployed during this time, I couldn’t pay this amount of money. Ana got a lot of benefits from this and I didn’t want her to miss even one month because of this woman’s mistake. I started calling, explaining that their co-worker had misled me and maybe they could fix it and give the child her voucher. They told me, that I was not the only one who needed this voucher. I couldn’t do anything, but to write a post on Facebook and tell my story. The news reached high-ranking people in the Social Service and they invited me to a meeting in a few days. I thought they were calling me because they wanted to give me the voucher. There I met a woman who is now on a higher position, some other women, and my social worker, because of whom we had this situation. This woman started yelling at me, wondering who I thought I was to talk so rudely about the agency. The rude word I used was ‘’a system rotten to the roots’’. I answered that they just proved me right with their behavior. At the end, this woman told me, that a child couldn’t be kept in such a family and they may take her back. I felt like the ground slipped from under my feet, I almost went crazy. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t stop myself and started crying. I told them to go ahead and see who would be left without a child and who – without a position. The woman realized that I wouldn’t stop at this and would tell the story to everyone. Finally, she told me that it was not necessary to take such measures because I had a good character history. She also realized that there was a real danger from me and that I was all about for a child’s safety and well-being. She agreed. When I came out, every part of me was shaking. I hardly calm down. They still didn’t give us the voucher and she missed it for several months. I still regret today that I didn’t sue them. Back then, I could not do that – neither financially, nor emotionally. My head was spinning to get the money to feed the baby and pay the rent. This was the most terrible period for me.
The New Life
I never thought about getting married and having a baby. Until I was 37 years old I lived at my leisure. I had a house, many friends and had fun every day. After Ana’s appearance, my life changed completely. I started looking at many things differently.
To this day, I hear people use the word ‘’Down’’ as an insult. When I hear this, I try my best to stay calm. How could people be still like that?! Maybe years ago everyone had used this word unknowingly, but a lot has changed since then. There are so many ways to get information. When I know that this word is in a person’s vocabulary and I have contact with that person, I feel awkward, expecting this person will suddenly say that word.
It also often happens, that people on the street ask inappropriate questions. Once, we were in Vera Park and Ana was playing with a dog. She loves dogs very much. She is hugging every dog she meets in the street. Some random woman came to me and asked if Ana even realized with whom she was playing, with a person or with a dog. At such times, I try to be calm and said, yes. The woman turned to me again and asked, ‘’really though?’’. I answered her, that Ana actually realized more than she did. Then this woman scolded me and told me that I was rude. It also annoys me when people pay special attention to it, treating with privilege. For example, when we stand in line, they let us go first. Positive discrimination is not less irritating. Calling them ‘’children of the sun’’ is also not good. We should leave celestial bodies alone. These people have their own parents and their parents have them as their children. Ana for me is the sun, the moon, and all the stars taken together, but this also is positive discrimination and inadvertently creates stigma.
Before the pandemic started, Ana had a very busy schedule. She was going to the center twice a week. Then we found the studio of the inclusive theater – ‘’The garden of Azdaki’’. The people there are so great that in a normal country they would probably be given medals. She went there three times a week to dance, do yoga, and learn acting and music. Ana is painting and this was discovered by her teacher in the center two years ago. Painting is a good therapy and a lot of kids out here do it. It turned out that she liked the process very much and this is where Ana’s passion for painting began. She also had her first exhibition at the Public Library. When she got a few paintings already, while I had no idea, my friends started thinking about doing an exhibition. There were a lot of strangers at the exhibition and Ana was just so happy! We went there with forty paintings and came back with ten. The rest were sold. She is not only painting on canvas, but also on shoes. She painted mine and my friend’s shoes, her clothes as well…
Ana has brought nothing but happiness to my life. There were a lot of hard days, a lot of health problems, sleepless nights, but all of this was worth her well-being. I don’t know who Ana’s biological parents are. Her birth certificate only states her name and surname. I don’t judge them and would tell them nothing else but thank-you for leaving her because otherwise, I wouldn’t meet her. I’m often told how lucky Ana was to meet me, but I think it’s the opposite. It was me who was lucky to meet her.
Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili