Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Flashback Adoption: August 6th Ukraine

From time to time you'll find a flashback article.  These are things I've written that either have not been published or were published to our super secret members only Facebook group.  Now that we are home safe and sound they will slowly but surely be making it to the blog for more to enjoy, learn from our mistakes and just have a good laugh.  

Wednesday August 6, 2014 Zaporozhye, Ukraine

THIS is the long and never-ending day. Grab yourself a cup of something yummy and enjoy our ride!   We spent most of the day either waiting or driving and we were up for 22+ hours!  We were in Zaporozhye region, Ukraine, the day after picking Anna and Daniel up from their orphanage which is a nearby teeny, tiny village filled with goats and chickens and gardens.

We woke up at 5:55 to go to the kids’ room to wake them up for breakfast. Knocked on the door and before I could put my key in the lock Daniel opened the door. They had gotten up at 5, ironed their clothes, gotten dressed, made the beds (they didn’t know maids would be doing that), and were sitting on the beds waiting for me to get there. Wow!

We all met downstairs for the breakfast buffet at 6:30 and out the door by 7 to drive to the orphanage to meet with the director and the lawyer for the orphanage who was hopefully going to help us straighten out this mess we were in.  As some of you know we had a major issue with Anna's birth certificate not listing her DOB as the same as on the court decree.  Everything must match exactly and the official date was July 7th.  Court documents listed it as June 7th.  Later we found paperwork that also listed September 7th.  Craziness.  She has no idea and over the years has celebrated on all three dates.  Her official date from now on is July 7th. 

We got to the orphanage at 7:30 and Dima (our amazing translator) said wait here in the foyer where there are a couple of benches.  (VERY hard benches).

Daniel pulled out an English/Russian dictionary that has seen better days and he opened it up and started saying words to himself. I realized it’s something he does a lot. He has been teaching himself English, long before he knew we would adopt him and long after his chance of being adopted had passed. 

Who was this kid who was teaching himself a language from a country he would have little chance at ever visiting let alone live in? At 17 he had almost zero chance of ever being adopted and visa’s to the U.S.A. from Ukraine for orphans just do not happen. Why was he putting so much effort in? Because he had faith. Like the scene in “Facing the Giants” plant the field and Yahweh will provide the water. Build it and they will come. Daniel was planting the seeds despite the odds that were against him. I looked at him and thought, this boy is something very special. A nugget of gold that everyone passed over time and time again because of his age, his tiny stutter, his face. I wanted to just hug him and cry at that point because I realized what we had been given. And so happy that he was going to be able to fulfill the potential that Yahweh had given him. It will be fun to watch him grow into a man.

I held my hand out for the book and he handed it to me. I pointed at a word and he said it, then if he pronounced it correctly I nodded. If not, I said it then he said it. We did that for about a half hour. 

There are no other children here. They are all at camp. There are a few workers but that’s it. An empty orphanage. We sit and Dima goes off to meet with the lawyer and director. And we sit, and sit and sit. And sit some more. The minutes then hours tick by. It’s now 4 hours later, 11:30 a.m., and we are all antsy. There is nothing to do. We’ve walked around the orphanage but already took pictures the first time we were here and most rooms are all locked up. Finally I decide to go see if I can find out anything so I take Anna with me to go find Dima. He is there with the lawyer in a tiny, hot room with one little fan blowing. He is sweating profusely. He looks up and me and shakes his head. Ugh, not good.

They are having trouble getting everyone together and agreeing to have a special court to fix this. I remind him we need to check out of the hotel by 2 and need 45 minutes to get there and get our stuff out before that. He remembers but shrugs his shoulders like I don’t know if we can do that. This is most important. So Anna and I go back downstairs to wait more. 

Then I remember I have a pack of UNO cards in the car. Tom goes out to get them. Daniel finds 2 little chairs and we sit, the 4 of us, playing UNO on the bench. They start learning their colors in English and numbers, too. We have a lot of fun and laugh a lot. We realize that these two not only get along well with each other but they are very quick to laugh. I wonder, how can someone who has had their life laugh so easily? I think why don’t I? I’m a pretty serious girl (which is why Yahweh gave me a husband who makes me laugh) but these kids… would think they would be sad and serious but they aren’t. They are happy and smile easily. They are an absolute joy to be around.

At 12:30 we ask Daniel if there is a store around within walking distance. We are all getting hungry and there is no food anywhere. We find out that 1 km away is a little market so we all jump up, happy to have something to do. We walk along the dirt road and past the darling little houses with massive gardens and think, what a wonderful way to live. They have no grass yards here like we do at home. Manicured to the nth degree. Here they fill their yards with fruit trees, flowers, tomatoes, peppers and more. At first they look just wild and unkempt but then after you really look you realize they have little pathways, benches, and there is a method to them. In a word, they are functional, and beautiful at the same time. To walk out of your door and pick your vegetables and herbs, to pick a few pears from your tree and go inside and stand by a huge window to make your dinner. How peaceful it all seems. I wonder why we need grass lawns with a steady stream of pesticides and fertilizers to keep them “beautiful”. Then pay for gasoline for lawn mowers to keep them a certain height. 

Chickens run everywhere and goats are by the side of the road, Ukraine’s natural weed eaters. A few cows here and there. There is one word that comes to my mind over and over again – peace. 

Showing off her dried fish before she ate it
So we get to the little market and go inside. We end up buying 4 large bottles of water, no gas. Water here comes 3 ways, carbonated (gas), extra-carbonated and no carbonation. I’ve made the mistake a few times of getting gas. Tom is a fan of it.  I'm not.

There isn’t much else except candy bars, alcohol, sausages, dried fish and ice cream. We opt for 4 ice cream bars.  Anna gets some dried fish. Then we go out to the little area they had outside with a picnic table. It gives me the chance to people watch. The market was the town “place to be” and there was a constant stream of people in and out of it. A very large man rode his bike with his little daughter in front of him to buy some things. Three little ones no older than 6 came together down the road, holding hands and little sacks. They went into the market and out again a few minutes later with things in their sacks. A woman in a beautiful dress and heels, yes, I said heels (5" heels), rode her bike to the market and then left with a bag tied to her bike. A man walked up and into the market then out again with a piece of bread, sausage and cup of beer. He sat down at the next table and ate his lunch. I'm having fun watching everyone and wonder how these women ride bikes all over in dresses and heels.

Outside the orphanage.  My new shirt that Anna, the pastors wife, gave to me.
Standing outside the orphanage
That point in the process could have been very stressful but it wasn't.  The day before, riding in the car back from the registry office, I had given it all over to Yahweh. This process belonged to Him and I was here to enjoy my kids and enjoy this peaceful environment that He had given to us. After we finished we walked slowly back to the orphanage. I asked Tom to take pictures of the little kid’s play garden. They had made all of these animal and plants out of used soda pop bottles. Very creative. The gardens in the orphanage were just beautiful. This director was very special. Every time we’ve seen her she has been dressed in the same outfit. She does not spend money on herself. She had people painting and gardening and cleaning. There were murals painted on the walls and you get a sense of pride about this place. Daniel and Anna were blessed to be put here. If they had to be in an orphanage, this is the one. 

We got back inside and before long Dima comes walking fast down the hall. He goes everywhere fast. Always in a hurry. We like that about him. He doesn’t mess around. He walks by us saying, “Let’s go”. We grab our stuff and follow him out to the car. He tells me they have finally got the court to agree to a special session at 3 p.m. It’s now 1:15 so we have to get to the hotel, get our stuff, get checked out and back to town  for court by 3. It’s going to be tight. And he tells me they still haven’t located the two jurors who are on the case. 
We drive to the hotel, past the checkpoint, which is now becoming no big deal we are so used to it. They stop us (which they haven’t done before) and ask where we’ve come from. Dima says Matveevka. They ask us to pull over. Ugh, not now. We don’t have time for this. Dima sighs and shakes his head. The police comes up to his window and asks what we are doing. Dima explains we just came from Matveevka and are going to our hotel in Zap. The police says OH! Seems there is a town in Donetsk region that sounds very much like Matveevka and he thought Dima has said that. Donetsk region is just a few kilometers away and that is one of the two regions who are war right now. The checkpoints are to keep trouble out of other regions. The police officer waived us on. Whew!

We get to the hotel, grab our stuff, check out and drive back through the checkpoint to the court. We now no longer have to look at maps to find our way through this city.  That is good but just tells us we have been here too many times.

We get to court at 5 minutes to 3 and Dima says to get out and wait for him. He has to drive and pick up the social worker and prosecutor. We walk over to some shade, where it’s still 95 degrees and wait for them. We decide to people watch, a very fun thing to do here in Ukraine. I’m still astounded how the women here walk in 5 inch stilettos on these cobblestones. Tom and I had actually seen two girls on a hiking trail in the woods in heels a few days earlier. Seriously??????? I have trouble in my tennis shoes. 

Then you have the babushka’s carrying their grocery sacks and they are NOT wearing heels. They are the grandmothers who wear their scarves tied around their heads. Babushkas. Most are hunched over from years of hard labor. Sweeping, gardening and the like. They shuffle along on their daily walks to and from the market and fruit and vegetable stands. I wonder why someone hasn't made brooms that have longer handles so they don't have to sweep all bent over?

Dima arrives back with the prosecutor. The social worker, a cute girl that wears her skirts so short you hope she is wearing panties, had walked up a few minutes earlier, of course, wearing stilettos. By the way, they walk as fast as I do in tennis shoes. I have no idea how they can do that. ????

We go up 3 stories to the court. There are no elevators. I don’t know what they do if someone is handicapped. Someone must carry them upstairs. We get into the courtroom and finally at 3:15 the judge and same two jurors we had at the original court hearing come in. We go through the, now normal, getting to know everyone and everyone agreeing on who everyone is and that they are qualified to be here. Then the judge reads the request. She asks if anyone has any objections and we all nod no. She asks the social worker some questions, mostly about how did this happen, which the social worker had no control over at all, it was the registry office who made the mistake. Then she made the decision in our favor. 

Dima asked to waive the 5-day waiting period and she would not. Someone might come forward and object to the change in birth date. Really?????? This 5-day wait will cost us $1,000. 

Yesterday we should have picked up the birth certificate, changed the Tax ID and even applied for their national passports. Then today finished up with those and applied for their international passports then gone back to Kiev, never to return to the region again. We got none of that done. We have the birth certificates, which are now correct, but none of the other stuff. So we will come back here again next week for two days to finish up. Travel, hotel – UGH! 

So we wait in the hallway while papers are being drawn up and then leave. 

Now the fun really begins. 

It’s almost 5 p.m. by the time we leave the courthouse. Dima has his wife and baby son (5 months) in Crimea spending the summer with her parents. He hasn’t seen them in weeks because of so many adoptive families coming. He has a 5-day break so he is going to go there and pick them up to take them back to Kiev. We are in the rental car so he plans to drive with us back to Kiev and then take a train to Crimea. I look at him and say “are you crazy? You are so close to Crimea here in Zap. Can you take a train or bus from here”? He said, “yes, but how will you get to Kiev”. I look at Tom and we laugh. “We’ll drive the car”. Dima looks shocked, “by yourself?????? No way”.  We said, “yes way”. After quite some debate we convinced him. So we drove him to the train station to be sure he could get a ticket. He came out with it in his hand. 

By now we are all starving. Dima’s train leaves at 9 p.m. and we have no schedule but need to get going as fast as possible. We have a very long drive ahead of us and we are on our own. Most of those hours will be after dark. There is a McDonald’s in town about 8 km away so we decide to go there. Yes, I am eating McDonald’s. The choice between street food made from horse or dog or McDonald’s – well, I go with McDonald’s. 

At least here in Ukraine it’s non-GMO. AND they have great bathrooms, something special here in Ukraine! A big plus! Tom somehow finds it on a map and guides Dima driving there. Tom is amazing when it comes to maps. We get to McDonald’s, use the bathroom, then order and get in the car. The plan is for Tom and I to eat in the car while Dima drives back to the train station, then Dima can eat his while waiting for his train. It takes us 20 minutes to get back to the train station with the traffic because by now people are off work and going home. Crazy lights, trolley buses, trolleys on tracks, regular buses, oh my! Navigating around all of them while trying to eat in the back seat of a car is quite a feat.

We stop for a quick gas up and Dima gives us instructions on getting gas. They are all full serve here to we have to know how to tell the attendant what kind of gas and how much. I go inside to pay and get us all water bottles then come out to find everyone all in the car waiting. The windshield is filthy so I pick up the brush to clean it. Both men thought it was funny, hence the picture. Ha!

Finally we get to the train station, Dima hops out and is all concerned. “Are you sure? I can still go with you.” We are fine! Go! He takes his bag and walks off. We are confident but this is still a pretty huge thing. We look at the map and it’s 514 km (319 miles) and should take 7 hours. OK! 6 p.m. now we should get in around 1 a.m. HA HA HA! I don’t think Google maps takes into consideration Ukraine roads. We ended up getting in at 4 a.m. But that’s getting ahead of our story.

I drive for 2 hours then we stop for bathroom and more water at a really nice gas station. Then Tom took over driving. Here the speed limits, unless posted otherwise are 60 km/hr inside a town or city limit and 90 km/hr outside. You have a 19 km/hr leeway so really you can drive 109 km/hr without worry of being stopped. I had been driving between 80 and 110 depending on the roads, sometimes slower if the roads were really bad. So Tom gets in and immediately starts driving 110. Within 5 minutes he is flagged down by a police officer to pull over. Great! We are two American’s with two Ukraine teens in the back. Dima had given us their papers, the court documents and we had our passports so hopefully everything would be fine.

We pull over and Tom rolls down his window. I lean over and with a huge smile say, I’m sorry we are American’s. The police officer was wonderful. He smiles and tries to tell us what we were doing wrong. I say, we don’t know what you’re saying, but they do and I point to the back seat. He starts talking with Daniel. Then he looks at me and I point up and ask, “too fast”? He said nodded his head. I said, “we will go slower” and point my finger down. He nodded again. All with a big smile on his face. Then he steps back and waived his baton to move along. Whew! Wish we would have gotten out and taken a picture with him. After we pulled away we were wondering why he wasn’t more curious as to why two American’s were driving in Ukraine with two Ukraine teens in the back seat. Oh well. 

This was our view for more than 6 hours
The rest of the night we took turns switching drivers every hour. We expected to get in by 1 a.m. but as midnight got closer we realized it was taking us a lot longer because of the roads. And as I mentioned earlier the lights on our car were in the very dim mode (we had no clue there were different levels of low beam lighting) so that made things even more challenging. We stopped a few more times for bathroom breaks. Seriously we were VERY blessed to be driving from Zap to Kiev. It was a more major road than most, had more open gas stations and some signs saying this way to Kiev. And we had two map programs on our phones, Google maps which showed us a map of where we wanted to go and which would use satellite to pinpoint where we were. Between the two we could figure out our route, as long as we didn't run out of battery.

We rolled into the outskirts of Kiev around 3:45 and decided to fill up one last time so we could turn the car in full and not have to look for a station near us in the morning. Once we filled up, pros now at it, we got back on a “real” highway into Kiev. Things started looking familiar. Up ahead we saw the walking bridge to the island. A landmark we recognized. And for those of you here in Kiev a little something. The walking bridge is lit up beautifully at night. Just gorgeous! 

All that walking we’ve done has come in handy. Not only do we know where we are but we know exactly how to get down in the middle of the city to our apartment. We drive down past the bridge, get off the highway onto the street that goes right down where we walk all of the time. I have to go around a weird traffic circle but we’ve walked around it so much I know exactly what to do. Then we drive to the bottom of St. Andrew’s descent, a very steep cobblestone street at the bottom of St. Andrews church. We’ve walked up it many, many times but always during the day when it’s filled with street vendors. At 4 a.m. it is completely empty. The car works hard to get up the steep hill. I come to a spot where it says no entry – ugh. We never realized it was a one-way street coming down from there. “Wait a minute, we see cars going up here all the time, I’m going to keep going”. So off I go to the top, then take the road to the right then around a few more streets, then we are home! YAY!

The kids are so happy to get out of the car and so are we. We all go upstairs and wash up and crawl into bed. 4:30 a.m. but safe and sound back in Kiev with our kids. Now to rest up before we have to travel back to Zap again to finish up everything we didn’t get done.
That was one day of international adoption in Ukraine. 

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