Saturday, August 30, 2014

What To Expect When You're Expecting - International Adoption Version - In Country - Last Days

This is for those of you taking the journey of international adoption and for those of you at home supporting them.  This is not a complaint but an attempt at an honest take on this process.  This is not meant to scare you away but give you an opportunity to prepare yourself for this journey.  The mind that is prepared has a 95% better chance at getting through something than one that is not.  

These last days are excruciating.  I woke up this morning after a restless sleep (there are many of those due to hard uncomfortable beds and the stress of what you are doing) and my heart was so heavy.  I could feel the tears behind my eyes trying to come out.  I blink to keep them where they belong.  This isn't that bad, I tell myself.  Things could be so much worse.  I am healthy, my kids are healthy, my family at home is healthy.  It's not working.  So many other people have it so much worse than this.  I have nothing to complain about.

I'm a very positive thinker.  I read books like "What To Say When You Talk To Yourself" and others and I know what it does to your brain to have good self-talk.  I'm a "self-talk" queen and pretty good at it normally.  There is just this heavy weight on my heart right now and those darn tears.  What in the world is wrong with me?

This is international adoption at its finest.  The call first thing in the morning that some paper you desperately need to get home is held up by something.  Maybe an official is off that day, or for some unexplained reason the whole office is closed that day, or any number of reasons.  And you realize that instead of going home on Monday that it will be Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday and your brain can't process past that.

And you miss your family at home more than you can verbalize.  You've been gone 10 weeks and you've missed 10 weeks of hugs and conversations.  Conversations because no matter how nice it is to FaceTime or Skype it's just not the same as cuddling together on the couch or her bed to have a nice long chat about all of the silly little things going on in her life.  Or having your 6'3" tall 15 year old hug on you several times a day.  Or watching the 17 year old that you adopted last year turn into a man this summer.  You watch their faces on the computer and know they want you there but won't say it because they know how important this is.  That is until one day your daughter just bursts into tears because she misses you so much and she can't stop and there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO!  Except after you hang up with her you burst into tears yourself. 

So today you wake up with heavy heart and tears and tell yourself to buck up.  You give yourself the same pep talk you've given to others.  You are stronger than this.  Yahweh is counting on you to see this through and you will.  You have no doubt you will get through all of this.  "Yahweh knows"!!  One day you'll be home and look back with fond memories of this time.  But that is in the future and today is today.  Saturday.  And NOTHING happens on Saturdays, or Sundays, so two days of just waiting.  Home is very far away, both in time and in distance.  

I cannot afford to wallow.  So I pray.  I pray for His strength because mine is long, long gone.  I pray for His patience, too.  I cannot do this alone.  I think of Him and all He has done for me.  It gives me the courage to do today.

I also look at the three teens sleeping on various pieces of furniture in the apartment.  Three less orphans in this world.  Three!!!  Three starfish off that beach and into a future.  That's what this is all about.  His mission for us to look out for the orphan.  To hear him say someday, well done good and faithful servant.  To see them grow up into adults with good lives.  Educated, with a spouses and children of their own.  More grandchildren.  And lives continued.  It helps me re-focus on what is truly important.  

I wonder what Yahshua (Jesus) thought about the day before He went on that cross?  Now, what we go through over here does not compare in the slightest to what He did giving His life, but when life is hard it makes you wonder.  What did He think about?  Did He think about what was going to happen or did He spend those hours thinking about the others He impacted and was going to impact?  Did He think about me and how what He was doing was going to impact me?  He got His strength from Yahweh.  Good lesson for me.

I read the book of JOB last night.  What an inspirational man he was.  No matter what happened to him he held tight to trusting Yahweh.  It was hard.  He lost everything including his children.  His wife and best friends turned their backs on him.  But he trusted, no matter what.  It gave me strength.  I will think on that today.  The strength that JOB had that he received from Yahweh.

I'm a private person.  I don't cry.  I am there for everyone else - always.  This thing I'm writing today, well, it's not easy for me to lay it all out there.  But someone might need it someday.  I hope in someway it helps.

Your adoption journey might be simple.  Others are.  The first time we came here for our Vlad it was simple.  8 days first trip, 22 days second trip.  Smooth as smooth can be.  No delays and we were on that plane home.  I think Yahweh was laughing.  He knew.  He was softening us up for this trip.  I hope your journey is like that.  Be prepared just in case it's not.

This one 11 weeks (at least), more paperwork delays than a person could imagine, a daughter left behind due to a war (which is a whole other reason I could cry at a moments notice), missing out on a business retreat that I need more than anyone can imagine because of the delays and getting the daily update that something else has gone wrong and it will be at least another day or two fixing it.  That is this trip in a nutshell.

The adoption journey for Vlad was a dream vacation compared to this one.  Now, hopefully I haven't scared you away from international adoption.  We have made some amazing memories here this 11 weeks.  My husband and I treated the first 6 weeks or so like a second honeymoon.  We walked and walked and saw amazing things.  We spent great time together.  What a blessing.  I will never forget our walks and discoveries and the long, long talks we had here on these wonderful paths.

And even though this week is harder than I could have imagined there are still blessings to be seen.  Three teens so excited about going to a football (soccer) game tonight at the Olympic stadium that they are bouncing off the walls is a blessing.  Seeing Maidan all cleaned up and being here for the Independence Day parade - a blessing.  Memories being made with my husband and best friend - a blessing.  

If you are a friend or family member of someone adopting over here the best advice I can give is this.  Pray for their journey.  Pray for their strength and patience.  Pray for protection over them and their family.  Prayer works - I've seen it up close and personal.    And jump in and do whatever you can to help them at home.  Love on their family left behind because it matters more than you can imagine.  Be there to take pictures of things going on at home.  Give those left behind some love.  Because by doing so you are doing your part to help those orphans.  

And send them messages of support.  I will remember and cherish each message I received over here, from the friend I've never actually met except online who told me that her daughter's entire summer camp group was praying for us and couldn't wait for the updates to the person who told me that we were in their family prayers every day.  I will cherish everyone who posted on one of my Facebook postings.  Just knowing there were people back home CARING got me through so much.

If you are contemplating international adoption just know that if Yahweh brought you to this then He will bring you through it.  This journey, more than anything I've ever done, has brought me closer to Him.  I talk to Him constantly.  He is my companion.  That is the biggest blessing of this entire journey and the funny thing is that the harder it is, the closer you are to Him.  

So today I embrace the hardness knowing that He is close by.  That the harder it is the closer He is to me.  And that each day I am closer to going home.  Home, sweet home! 

Now it's time for some Katie Perry, ROAR!  And going out for another walk in this beautiful city, Kiev.  As hard as this is and as much as I want to be home I will miss it here.  The hilly paths that make for great walking and that has gotten me in the best shape in years, the views over the river and the history.  A city many thousands of years old.  A beautiful city in so many ways.  A gorgeous country even in the midst of war.

Thank you for listening. 


Friday, August 22, 2014

Transportation in Ukraine - An Adoption Journey Post

August 21 Romny, Ukraine. 
Sitting in my rental car waiting for our next appointment. 
(You can't be surprised that I'm waiting - again!) 
We've now been here a full two months. In that time we've taken planes, trains, automobiles, taxis with drivers, buses and the metro/subway.  Here are some tips for anyone traveling in Ukraine.
Small prop planes are fine but not much fun.  They are loud and the most expensive way to travel between Kiev and region.  However, if your translator, like mine, is afraid of flying it does give you an opportunity to give him a hard time about it and take funny pictures.  It is my least recommended mode of transport, unless you need to lighten your translator up a bit. 

My husband can make anyone laugh, even if they are fearful

If you're not flying to region then you have three other options; train, driver or your own rental car.  I'll address these one by one.  OH that is unless you want to take the #1 form of transportation in most regions, the bicycle.  OK, probably not. 
Train. Inexpensive and comfy if you are blessed enough to be in a region where you have one of the very nice, brand new express trains.  These were purchased from Asia for the World Cup in 2012 so they are gorgeous.  You can travel in comfort with real bathrooms, plugs for your devices and even food service.   First class runs about $45 per person one way. Second class will save you about $5 per person.  In second class there will be three seats to a row instead of two and plugs for devices are every other row instead of at each seat.  Each seat will have it's own table, just like in a plane.  The nice thing about a train is you can take your own food and drink right on and get up and walk around as much as you want.  It really is a fantastic way to travel and see the country.
Riding in comfy style on the train

You can relax and play games on your phone

Fun and comfortable

One night we took the express from Zap to Kiev, 7 hours, and bought 5 window seats in second class. Usually no one wants the aisle or middle so we all got our own row to sleep with 3 seats each  Check to see how full your train is before attempting this or you might be surprised to find yourself squeezed in with a large man watching loud Ukraine movies with no ear buds all night.   

You can check online for all the information you need. I was also able to book our seats online and pay via credit card.  The website can be changed to English.  It's a little challenging when getting to the payment section but if you've shopped online at all you should be able to figure it out.  (You know you have so own up!  You can do this!)  If not, your translator should be able to talk you through it over the phone.  Mine did the first time just so I wouldn't mess it up.  He is getting more confident in my abilities as this journey progresses.   
I can't speak to the other trains but friends have taken regular overnight trains and they are still alive although I saw them when they arrived back in Kiev and can say with some authority that it took its toll. Trying to sleep on a "bed" on a bumpy train or getting up in the night to go potty and getting thrown around is not anyone's idea of a good time but it's a cheap and efficient way to travel to those regions too far away for a driver and without the option of an express train. 

Now let's talk about drivers.  Some translators have their standard drivers they use whenever going to or in a particular region.  My advice? Question everything, especially if you have limited funds like we do. If you are wealthy, just ignore what I'm saying and do your best to help the Ukraine economy. 

Ask if you can you get a different driver for a better price.  Ask.  It doesn't cost you anything to ask.  Remember your Bible, ask and you shall receive.  You get nothing if you don't ask.  Get some other options. Many times if your driver comes from the region he will charge less than one who comes from Kiev.  I had my translator call around to get some different estimates.  I also talked to other people who had traveled to those regions. 
We know of one driver who charges $350 for a round trip to a particular city.  He is the standard driver for one translator. Another person questioned it and found a driver for $275. We found one for $200.  So shop around.  $150 savings is pretty huge when you're on a strict adoption budget.  Remember this is your adoption, your money and your budget. You have the right to make the decisions on how it is spent.  You have the right to question how money is spent.
If air conditioning is important, considering most summer days here it is a sweltering 95 degrees, be sure your driver has it and more importantly is willing to turn it on.  Sitting in the back seat bouncing along Ukraine roads getting your neck and back out of whack is bad enough without a hot and humid wind blowing at you from the open windows.  By the way, shocks in cars here must be an optional feature that most opt out of for some reason.  I'm still researching the reason on this.
Excellent driver as long as you don't mind the lack of air conditioning.  While waiting he turned on his favorite (very loud) Ukraine sitcom.  This day was a sweltering 95 degrees and humid.  We were all pretty smelly by the end of the day.

OK, now let's talk about renting a car. Before coming to Ukraine I asked about renting a car on various Ukraine adoption sites online. I was blasted with scary stories. Don't do it, you won't be able to read the signs and you'll get horribly lost.  You'll get stopped by corrupt police and made to pay exorbitant fines. There are checkpoints and remember the country is at war.  You'll get stopped and they will take everything you own.  You won't be able to drive on the roads because they are the worst in the world. Much worse than in America.  It's dangerous (with no particular reason why).  Person after person telling me every reason not to rent a car.  
Some of these are valid concerns. This country is at war but we who are here adopting are not allowed into those regions anyway.  Yes, there are checkpoints and we've been through many without any issues. Yes, the roads are bad but if you've ever played Mario Cart you've got it!  And yes, we got lost a few times.  It just adds to the adventure.  Especially when it's 2 a.m., pitch dark, no road signs, the lights on your car aren't working properly, you're out in the middle of nowhere, you've left your translator behind so he can visit his family and you have no GPS.  But you laugh your way through it and it becomes a favorite memory.
Talking with my translator he said check prices and let him know. We could certainly drive.  I checked and with the cost of gas it was about $100 per day. That means a one day trip to region would cost $100 instead of $200 or more. Sounded good to me. 
Now it's several weeks and trips later.  Tom and I have driven all over on roads good, bad and downright ugly, city and country, daytime and at night.  Tom is back home now and I navigated getting back from the airport by myself at 4 a.m.  I can drive around potholes like a native Ukraine. 

2 a.m., somewhere between Zap and Kiev on some road with potholes bigger than your car and no GPS

The funniest part is seeing the look on crowd of men when they see a woman driving.  It's just not done here.  Women take the metro, ride the bus, a bicycle or even grandmothers ride mopeds around.  But never drive a car.  And yes, I have seen more grandmothers (and I'm talking OLD grandmothers) - in dresses - on bikes and mopeds than I can count.  Darn it, my bike is coming out when I get home because even though I'm a grandmother I'm not that old and if they can do it, so can I.
I'm a fight the fear and do it anyway sort of girl so this driving thing had to be overcome. And I'm a better person, and more confident, because I didn't listen to the naysayers and our bank account is much happier.   My advice, get a car and give it a shot. It's fun once you get a used to it.  I can even drive in rush hour Kiev traffic now, weaving around buses and trolley cars without a problem. And it's fun not to be bouncing around the backseat.  Yesterday driving back from region I took a wrong turn and said, I've got this.  I just drove until I saw a familiar landmark and voila, just drove in that direction.  Like I said, it's an adventure.
By the way here is a little hint. If you are riding in the backseat take a pillow.  Trying to nap on long rides is impossible. You will end up with a concussion if you try to rest your head on the headrest or seat. And sleeping sitting straight up will have you looking like one of those bobble dolls and give you a neck that only your chiropractor will love. 
Lastly, jump right into taking the metro and city buses around the city.   They are simple and so cheap.  Kiev metro is 2 Grivna or 16 cents.  The trolley buses are 1.5 Grivna or 12 cents. Can't beat it.  Most nice hotels have free maps of the city and metro system. From Independence Square metro station you can connect with all of the other trains and even the main train and bus station.   It has saved us hundreds of dollars on taxis and drivers.   More importantly, we have gotten out to see more of the city.  We've found farmers markets, gardens and historical places. And had much more fun than we ever expected.  

Taking the escalator down to the metro stop

Riding the metro with good friends - priceless
Trolley Bus - cost 1.50 Grivna

On the trolley bus.  Riding it to the end, wherever that takes us

We've taken the metro to the last stop on the line just to see what was there.  Bus line, too.  It gave us a great sense of direction when we were in our rental car.  We see different landmarks and know exactly where we are and how to get back to our apartment because we've walked it or ridden the metro or bus.
So jump right in and experience Ukraine.  However you travel make the most of your time here.  Be not afraid.  There will always be those who are negative and want to hold you back because of their own fears. Tom and I have hundreds of great memories from our two months here together, traveling around the city and country.  There is so much waiting to be done in an adoption journey.  Spend that time seeking and finding treasured memories.

And that is ... Simply My Opinion!