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Smiths travel to Romania, return with a daughter

June 22, 2001|By ANTHONY LONGORIA, Staff Writer

It is June 2 and the weather is typical of Romania's temperamental climate this time of year.

The hard rain and overcast skies accentuate the approaching green hills specked with tiny houses.

A speeding car jets past a small wooden sign that reads: POMIRLA.

The village is a wide-open space devoid of most of the materialistic staples that nourish American lifestyles.

Horse-drawn carts and cattle on leashes dodge the seemingly anachronistic car as it darts down the gravel road that leads into the remote village.

As the car stops, two Americans step out, shaken and stiff from their two-hour bumpy car ride. There had been a nine-hour train ride from Bucharest from which they were still recovering.


A quick exchange of words with the driver — something about driving too fast (which he takes as a compliment) — and the couple are off to business.

The couple, Brawley residents Greg and Michele Smith, traveled to Romania to bring their newly adopted daughter, Elena, back to the United States.

Elena, 8, was an orphan who never really knew stability, having lived with several foster parents in recent years.

Her mother died when she was 3 and her father proved incapable of caring for her.

When the Smiths arrived, Elena was living with a career foster mother in a small three-bedroom flat in southern Pomirla.

It was National Children's Day in Romania and Elena's school group was giving a small presentation. The Smiths got an opportunity to meet Elena before the presentation, a moment Michele said she'd never forget.

"We were sitting in with a couple of people from the orphanage waiting for her and I remember the door opened and I thought ‘There she is.' She immediately came over and hugged us," Michele Smith said.

After the presentation, Elena was eager to show off her new parents to her classmates.

The following day, Elena left Pomirla in an emotional ceremony of tears and good-byes. A Ziploc bag full of pictures and a new set of clothes (her foster mother reclaimed Elena's clothes) was all she left with.

And it was still raining.


The entire process began in May 2000 when Michele casually began to search the Internet for information on adoption.

Greg, 48, is a partner at Smith-Kandal Insurance and Real Estate in Brawley. Michele, 49, is a teacher.

The couple has three other birth children: Caitlin, 14, Connor, 13, and Ian, 9.

After finding a few adoption agencies, the Smiths decided on international adoption.

"I've wanted to do it for a long time," Michele said.

By September she was filling out paperwork to begin the adoption process. The numerous formalities she underwent during the following months included a home study that evaluated the Smith family and living conditions in their home.

The Smiths said they didn't like domestic adoption and thought the process was too long.

"Time was an issue and we didn't want foster parenting and the whole process of domestic adoption," Greg Smith said. "It's not that we don't like American kids or that we sought out a Romanian kid, just time."


This time last month Elena didn't know what a videocassette was. Ditto for a Sony Playstation, with which she's particularly been fascinated.

The last two weeks have seen progress in her adjustment to her new environment, new family and new citizenship.

And pizza, too.

She waltzes about her new home, a spry pixie dressed in an aqua blue shirt. She changes her clothes often, indulging in the unfamiliarity of having more than two changes of clothes. She wears a pair of gaudy clip-on earrings and a shiny headband as she takes inventory of her new belongings.

Elena has found all sorts of crayons, markers, paper and other supplies and spread them over the family's dining table.

"She's dug out everything," Michele joked.

One of the most trying partitions between the Smiths and their new daughter is language. Elena speaks only Romanian, but with the fervor with which she speaks "No!" her proficiency at the new language seems promising.

She begins the second grade this fall at Witter Elementary in Brawley.

Elena had prepared for her trek to the U.S. long before the Smiths arrived in Romania. They sent her a family album and letter months before introducing themselves. Likewise, they'd received a photo of Elena prior to departure.

Both Smiths said they feel a responsibility to keep Elena's Romanian heritage alive in her. Michele keeps a scrapbook of Elena's pictures and things from Romania.

"If, when she's older, she wants to go back to Romania, I don't have a problem with that," Greg Smith said.


For Romanians, the "American dream" that inspired things like Ellis Island still exists, mostly perpetuated by the infiltration of Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

"People there wish for their children to go to America," Michele said.

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