A few days ago I read in our daily newspaper that the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania had had a radiation leak forcing the evacuation of 150 workers the previous weekend. There was no explanation why the disclosure had been delayed, only that management felt the levels of radiation were not considered harmful.....
In April 1986, the world's worst nuclear disaster occurred at Chernobyl.......No exact figures are known for the number of workers killed as a direct result of this meltdown.....or the number of people who died from the fallout..... A code of silence existed. The contamination spread across countries, affecting crops and livestock, poisoning the soil for further plantings. But what was even worse was the knowledge that future generations of Russian children could be genetically damaged.......In 1993 two children affected by this disaster came to live with us and be part of our family for nearly two months.....and this is their story
Through our Lions International Club my husband & I had said "yes", when families were asked to host one, but preferably two children from the contaminated areas. We were told that some were unwell, most had eye problems, some needed dental work..... but they were well enough to travel to a country with clean fresh air, sunshine and uncontaminated food, in the hopes that their recovery would be hastened.
From the list we chose two little girls...one 8 years old, and one almost 9. I prepared their room...twin beds in an upstairs bedroom...with a larger bedroom/sitting room adjacent, with TV and Stereo (This had been my younger daughter's domain before she left for Melbourne and the bright city lights!).... neighbours gave me the most beautiful dolls for them ...then we waited....and waited....
Finally we had a date of arrival and we couldn't wait to collect our two little girls when the bus arrived. Imagine our shock when we were told that illness had prevented their travel and would we take Alexandra (aged 13), and Alexander (aged 10). Of course we would....but what about the dolls...and the twin beds! Plan B needed to be put into operation!
They were tired and hungry...had not met before boarding the bus at the airport.....Alexandra spoke few words of English......Alexander didn't speak at all....nothing....but they seemed happy to be with us if not a little wary. I had tears in my eyes as I unpacked the young boys clothes...threadbare... and the soles of his runners were worn through in places, but Alexandra was quite the young lady.... with a good dress, casual clothes, and some jewelery. I wondered how I would manage as my husband left for work the next morning with the words..."Good Luck"
I could write pages and pages......about the time we had getting to know each other....gaining their confidence....taking them shopping for new clothes.... "Are always these many clothes in shops" Sasha asked of me. ( Between us we had decided on short names... Sasha for Alexandra, and Alex for Alexander, as it was quite confusing....as it was for them also... as Sasha is also a boy's name and short for Alexander).
Alex finally spoke some Russian and then he learned some English words...and we in turn learned some Russian!
The joy they brought to our home was unbelievable....they made friends with the neighbours. Alex could play soccer and was snapped up for a local team.....Sasha went to a local college a couple of days a week with a neighbour who was the Deputy Principal....they washed cars....watered the garden.... ("May we wash flowers?" ) Sasha would ask. Alex made cakes....Sasha learned to cook Spaghetti Bolognese...and excitedly told her parents on the phone. They went to the beach....and on picnics. And they ate....and ate...(.bananas up to 3kgs per day!) ...they gained weight and their cheeks were pink....laughter filled the house.
At the beach in Winter...brrr
(why no people swim?....THEY did!)
Alex loved to be with my husband....(apart from his mother, he had a big brother....an older sister and younger twin sisters . He would only have been about 3 when his father died from the fallout)...and so this relationship blossomed. He would come downstairs every morning and sit in the chair next to my husband while he read the paper, and would be there again at night beside him watching TV. At one time Boris Yeltsin appeared on a news bulletin. He pointed to him...."Bad"....he said.
We celebrated Alex's 10th birthday with a party at MacDonalds. He had made lots of friends....and the manager presented him with a watch....not one of those toy ones, but a beautiful gold plated one with a leather band.(I think he would have preferred one with Ronald on the dial!)
Too soon it was time to go. We packed up their bags...new ones had been bought to cater for all the extras they were taking home. Sasha had a tennis racquet..(and balls)...for her father... they had photos....new clothes and gifts from neighbours. Alex was presented with the soccer club's uniform and a team photo...they were happy....they were excited........we were sad
The neighbours gathered in the early hours before dawn to farewell them...there were kisses and hugs....and tears. We were on our way to the airport in Brisbane where they would board the British Airways Jet that would take them home.
We didn't say much on the way back. It was a long drive and we'd been up since before dawn. We needed a coffee and a good sleep. It wasn't until the next morning when we woke to an empty house that we realised they were really truly gone....just Alex's fingerprints left there on the lowered ceiling as he used to bound down the stairs then reach up to touch the sky......