SIX Long Days

Sorry for the absence to my legion of 5 devoted readers, but last week me and my trio of cuteness were in survival mode. Daddy was out of town. He left Sunday morning before I usually am even out of bed and didn’t come back until bedtime on Friday night. Throw into the mix that the twins go to school at Daddy’s work which is 45 minutes from our house and Mommy had a long week. There are so many people who volunteered to help, but when they are already cranky because Daddy’s gone, throwing help into the mix just turns out to be more work because it messes up their schedule.
 
I realized at the end of the week when Daddy got back and wanted to know how things went, that the week can be summed up in pictures.
 
Day 1: Happy is not doing well. Imagine her saying, “I miss my Daddy.”

20140414-094310.jpg
 
Day 2: Picture my delight when not only do I get to drive for 90 minutes before I even get to work, but then have to drive 90 minutes after I’ve put in a full day. Imagine the utter delight added to it when the forecast was 100% rain. All Day.

20140414-094302.jpg
 
Day 3: My bright idea to help the girls cope was to let them take turns staying in Mommy’s bed. While they loved it, it meant that Mommy couldn’t really do much until the little one of the night was asleep. On Day 3, it was Cranky and she didn’t kick it until 9:30pm, 2.5 hours past her bedtime. Mommy did not get up after this!

20140414-094255.jpg
 
Day 4: It’s going downhill. Sweet Girl was on repeat on our drive to get the little ones, “But Mama, I’m so thirsty I’m going to die!” So I did what any parent in survival mode would do and sacrificed my Dr. Pepper.

20140414-094247.jpg
 
Day 5: I don’t know where this milk came from or how long it’s been here, but on Day 5, it smells like death. Since I’m in survival mode, it doesn’t make the cut of things to get taken care of on Day 5 (or 6) and instead I just pop a new air freshener in the car.

20140414-094239.jpg
 
Day 6: Someone snuck grape juice upstairs and then didn’t get the cap on tight before swinging the bottle around in a circle. Cleaning this while it was fresh did make the Day 6 cut.

20140414-094233.jpg

Since the airlines knew what was good for them, they allowed Daddy’s flight to be on time and he made it just in time for bedtime on Friday. Did I mention we had 25 people coming over for Sweet Girl’s 6th birthday party on Saturday at 11am?

On a wing and a prayer – Trip 3, Day 3

(posted by him)
:gasp: …that was a sigh of relief! This day has been more challenging than I ever could have imagined. When I said we were cutting it close by having to conduct all business we needed to do today, Friday, I only knew the half of it. I’m still decompressing and shaking as I’m typing this, let me explain…The morning started off normal. Vita called me down at 9:30 like previously planned. She already had the court decree and we were heading off to the ZAGS office. What we needed from them was an adoption certificate and updated birth certificate with our names to apply for the passport. We get there and go straight into to a large office room with modern office furniture. I sit on a couch in the corner of the room while Vita sits at the desk with the lady. They engage in some back and forth conversation for quite a while. I wasn’t sure, but the back and forth-ness seemed not to be a good sign. 40 minutes pass and she starts printing and stamping papers, so my nerves calm, we’ve got this. Though Vita still has not clued me into anything at this point. Then finally, just as we are about done, she turns around and tells me they will only be issuing the adoption certificate and NOT the updated birth certificate. Apparently a new law just went into effect in Sept where updated birth certificates may only be issued by the ZAGS office where the birth mother is registered at. Even though Sweet Girl was born in this city, her mother was from an outlying town and we would have to visit that ZAGS office. Vita isn’t from this area, so she had no idea how far that was away. But she and I had looked up her birth mother’s home town before on Google maps and I knew this was not a good sign. We return to the car and Ilya informs her where we need to go is over 100 km’s away. By this time, its 11:00am. I ask Vita how late the passport office is open, she tell me 4:00pm. I start doing the math in my head, this is not a good sign.

So we take off driving. We exit town over the river across a big bridge that she and I had seen before from standing at the Assumption Cathedral. If I’ve learned anything, I know due to road and traffic conditions, it takes far longer to cover distance than it does in the US. After getting outside of town, we have to stop for gas, but then the road turns into a quiet two lane highway. The country side is quite beautiful and we’re passing big fields, small shack towns, birch forests, and farms. There really isn’t much of anything except the occasional village or train tracks. The road is rough, but thankfully traffic isn’t too much of a concern being we’re in the middle of nowhere. After what seemed close to two hours of driving, a small little town square popped up in the middle of nowhere. Much nicer than anything I witnessed so far. We found the ZAGS office and as we were getting out of the car, Vita warned me it was lunch time. Sure enough, we go up and the door is locked. We return to the car where I play a couple of games of brick breaker on my blackberry and pass 30 mins until its 1:00. We go try again and its open! No one else is there but the counter lady. It takes us about 30 mins and we get the updated birth certificate with her and my names. Vita then informs me we need a “citizenship stamp” before going to the passport office and we would try to do that in this town. We drive to the other end of town square and she tells me to wait in the car and disappears for 30 mins. When she comes back, she says she should have known better, but the stamp must come from Sweet Girl’s town. So wasted 30mins and back we head.

checkpoint 2 – ZAGS office located!

Its 2:00pm by the time we start heading back. Now I know Ilya drove pretty aggressively on the way out because I could feel it in all the bumps in the road, but on the way back he took it to a whole new level. I felt like we were in the grand championship of the world rally federation and we were going for the cup! we were darting out and passing trucks and cars, sometimes 2-3 at a time, all along this wet 2 lane highway. One time I glanced over and his speedometer was touching 170kph, no joke (thats 105mph). We’re in a Ford S-Maxx… which i think amounts to a Focus and man that thing is flying over the rough asphalt, I’m just thinking keep 3 wheels in contact with the ground please. We’re running up on trucks going 30mph and he’s all over the binders, then we dart out into oncoming traffic to pass them. How that little car handles that sort of driving I’ll never know. There was no sleeping on this ride, it was hang on, grip tight! The rally adventure landed us back in town right at 3:30, and we still had to get the stamp before going to the passport office. I ask Vita if she thinks we’ll make it, she doesn’t want to hazard a guess. We pull over at an inconspicuous looking building I’ve passed many times, Vita hops out and tells me to stay put. 15 mins later she returns but I’m thinking, great the passport office must be across town, we’ll never make it. Thankfully, I didn’t know it was just down the muddy back alley a few hundred yards. So we get there and Vita and I jump out, its 3:45 by this time. We climb two flights of stairs and there’s the passport office. There was a hallway with four numbered rooms on it. Two younger people were already waiting outside. I’m thinking to myself, great, now we’re here, but there’s a line and they’ll probably cut us off while we’re standing outside the door! Vita sits down on the bench and organizes her papers, I go ahead and sign the application. One by one they get called in, now its our turn. Vita goes in and tells me to wait outside. 5 minutes later she calls me into the room. An older woman is sitting there going over all her papers, handing some back to her. 5 more minutes, she stamps things and hands Vita a piece of paper with a number on it, Vita says “lets go”. Just as we walk out of the office, Vita and I let out a collective sigh, we’ve done it with no time to spare! As we’re walking down the stairs, I hear Vita talking to herself and moving her hands in front of her… I’m thinking, is she saying a thank you prayer? We get back to the car and fill Ilya in on the good news, I thank him for his excellent driving.

So now is the first time all afternoon I can breathe. I’ve been hours in a car, all over the country side, at breakneck speeds… haven’t eaten a thing all day, haven’t stopped, and all I’ve been thinking in my head is what will be my plan B (change flights, extend stay over the weekend, what? as an FYI, Vita also has another family coming on Sun)… but it doesn’t matter now, we’ve accomplished it. I asked her about the less important bank work with Tatiana, and she said she had called earlier and Tatiana still hadn’t returned from vacation, so that was out anyway. We decided I would try to sign some blank forms for Tatiana in the hopes she could fill in the needed information, so we’ll see.  Then it was back to the hotel were we both celebrated and said our goodbyes. Vita will now be heading back home, she’s arranged for Ilya to pick me up at the hotel at a wonderful 5:30am to get me to the airport for my 11:50am flight. Just one more 3hr car ride in the morning and I’ll be on a plane starting my journey home, with almost everything I needed to get accomplished done.

No business, just play! – Trip 3, Day 2

(posted by him)
Since we had no official business for me to conduct, today would just be about visiting with Sweet Girl. As such, Vita decide we would meet at a later 10:00am to get going. This suited me fine as it gave me a chance to catch up on sleep and normalize my schedule… I think i barely made it to 9pm last night before crashing. When I got downstairs, Vita and Ilya had yet to show up so I waited for them in front of the hotel. They were here quickly and off to the orphanage we went. When we got there, Vita signed in. I’m not sure if we’ve mentioned, but you enter the orphanage through a small door in the back and right where you come in, there is a little desk with video monitors and a log book, always staffed by a strict looking lady. After signing in, Vita went to Sweet Girl’s groupa to get her (consequently her groupa’s entrance is right beside the security check-in desk). Vita quickly came back out and said she wasn’t here, they were out getting her passport photo’s taken and would be back soon. So we proceeded upstairs to wait in the conference room.Soon the social worker (also named Vita) returned with Sweet Girl. I’m not sure where the passport photo place is, but I got the impression they walked because our Vita mentioned something about offering our taxi. Social worker Vita explained Sweet Girl was very upset and crying about having her photo taken. The photo place gave her a picture of a cat that calmed her down (the orphanage has several stray cats that all the kids like), but you can see in her passport photo she was not a happy camper. I’m not sure why this was, if it was because field trips scare her and remind her of the doctor, or what. But she quickly came over and gave me a hug and all was fine.

sad passport photo 😦
the cat photo that made the passport pictures possible (photo courtesy of Sweet Girl herself)

She proceeded to jump into the bag of toys to see what I had brought today. She first got out a puzzle where I had to assume mama’s role in lining up the pieces and pointing to which one goes where. After that, she found a little sponge bob water shooter that i found in my box of cheerio’s this morning. For some reason, she though it was a telephone and kept holding it to her hear saying “ello”. She would then carry it around in the little pocket of her dress. The rest of the toys we burned through maybe giving 5 minutes to each. She found the bubbles, which still remains on of her favorites. She would blow them onto the dining room table where they would leave marks and she would go get a handwipe to clean them up. Then Vita asked me if it was ok for her to leave us alone to which I said sure. Vita said she needed to go to the Organ of Custody to get some paperwork done. After Vita left, Sweet Girl went to retrieving some existing toys off the shelf. One particular wooden ball stringing kit that we played with last time, so we sat on the floor and did that. Then she remembered her interest in the camera, this time learning how to turn it off and on (makes the lens retract) and how to work the zoom.

Sweet Girl’s SpongeBob “phone”

I don’t know how we got started on this, but she discovered if she climbed in papa’s lap, he would toss her up into the air and flip her upside down. This all of a sudden became our most favorite activity… to the point papa was getting a workout. She kept saying something that I believe amounted to “more, more!”. Then she would throw her head back and I would flip her upside down and give her lots of tickles. In my head I was thinking this is a milestone to see her excited and comfortable with so much physical contact. Our first visit, any touch would make her wince away. Second visit, we were getting hello and goodbye hugs, but otherwise still shying away. Now, she’s letting me pick her up and tickle her and asking for more… something I was really happy to see. After my arms were getting tired of tossing and flipping her, I showed her how she could ride on papa’s shoulders. We took some laps around the room, running and bouncing, she really loved it. I wish the weather was more favorable outside because I started to feel couped up doing laps in the room. Then somehow she managed to get the point across to me that she needed to use the bathroom. Vita still wasn’t back, so I let her lead me downstairs and back to her groupa. She waved goodbye and disappeared into her groupa (presumably to use the bathroom). This left me a bit confused… since it was 12:00 and her lunch time, I wasn’t sure if she was coming back. So I decided to head back upstairs and start cleaning up. Then a few seconds later, she found her way back upstairs and came barreling into the room, nope, guess we’re not done! She took a few more laps on daddy’s shoulders before Vita appeared and it was time to go.

riding on papa’s shoulders

Vita said the line at the Organ of Custody was very long, she did not get to conduct any business before leaving and would have to try again after lunch. So she would arrange of Ilya to take me back to the orphanage alone at 3:45 and she would meet me there as soon as possible. If not before 5:00, I was to return Sweet Girl to her groupa and come out and meet Ilya.

During my lunch break, I decided to walk up to the Assumption Cathedral, the town’s most historic site. She and I had been there before and walked all around the outside, but didn’t venture inside as we know head coverings are required for women to enter an Orthodox churches and wasn’t sure the protocol (did they give them out? did we have to go buy one? etc). So I decided to venture in following a large group of guided teenagers. When I got inside, I learned there was an 80 ruble admission (after briefly being confused as part of the group). The cathedral was smaller than I imagined, but quiet magnificent. It was set up in an H sort of configuration with four wings and a very splendid center alter. One wing seemed to be under renovation. Ceilings were quite literally a hundred feet high, very ornate, lots of gold leaf and writings on the walls all the way up.

For a brief bit of history, the Grand Prince used to be crowned here in the 1300’s before moving to Moscow’s Kremlin and the Assumption Cathedral there (which was modeled after this one). It was dimly light and there were these little stations of candles, each with a different number, that the ladies would come blow one out one every now and then… not sure what that signify, but I’m sure it signifies something. As I was leaving, there were lots of beggars lined up outside. From what I understand, its accepted for the old/ill to beg for money, but not the other people. And from my trip inside, I learned its more of a tourist site than a site of active worship, I did see several younger women visiting without head coverings. I think they carry on active worships in addition on the front of the cathedral that I didn’t go in.

After lunch I met Ilya downstairs, no Vita. We drove over the orphanage as planned, but this was the first time I’d be walking in alone. When I saw the lady sitting at the security desk, I said Sweet Girl’s name and pointed at her groupa’s door. She nodded and I proceeded to her groupa. Once you walk in, there is a mud room of sorts where all the kids put on their shoes and keep their coats tucked away. I peered around the corner from there and saw several kids running around in their underwear, clearly just having awoke from their naps not long ago. They saw me and were intrigued by this stranger in their domain. The lady from outside passed around me and went to let her caretakers know i was here (i suppose). Soon Sweet Girl came running out with all her toys in hand. She still had on her same dress and sandals from the past two days, but much to my surprise had nothing in her hair. I think this was the first time I had seen her with no bow. Again, likely because they had just woken up she slipped out without one, but it quite endearing to see her this new way.

We made our way upstairs to our usual play place and she jumped right into the bag of toys. She quickly found her 2nd round of juice box and fruit snacks. This time she wanted to savor them and eat them slower. I tried to show her some stringing beads and shoelaces we thought we be a big hit, but what do you know, they weren’t interesting. Then she found her harmonica, the hit toy of the day. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with it at first, but then papa showed her and she thought it was the best. We even performed some duets with both of us playing back and forth. Then it was time for more tossing, upside down-ness, and riding on papa’s shoulders. She liked the harmonica so much, she was even playing it riding papa’s shoulders. Then I wanted to see how she’d react to the iPad, so I got that out. She and I have been looking for kid friendly games, especially in her language, for the plane ride home, so this would be a trial run. She sorta understood the touch screen, but it was hard to get her to focus on a particular app. She just wanted to swipe, press, and constantly touch the home button as it was the only real button on the thing. We did have mild success and focused on a kid’s counting app (though in English). Despite seeming at times frustrated with it, she didn’t want me to take it away.

Then 5:00 came, still no Vita. So I had to put an end to play and start cleaning up though I’m sure this confused her as it came with no warning. Knowing this would be my last visit, I assembled all her toys into a plastic bag she could take back to her groupa, including her favorite harmonica. She grabbed the bag and her balloons and I lead her downstairs. On the way, we passed the director who said something to me I didn’t understand and pointed at her chest. I nodded and kept walking. Once back in the “mud room” of her groupa, I hugged her, did my best pronunciation of “i love you” and waved goodbye. This was tough, I knew without Vita there I wouldn’t be able to say a proper goodbye, let alone be able to explain I won’t be coming back tomorrow however mama and I will be back in just a few short weeks to finally take you home with us… hang in there little one. Instead, she looked into my face and repeated something back at me several times then said “da” or “nyet”? I wish I knew what she was asking and I hope I had the right answer. A couple more hugs, kisses, and waves goodbye and I walked out the door… hardly the goodbye I wanted. Right outside, I ran into the director again with her coat and purse. Now it made sense, she had asked if we would give her a lift home again (it has been common to make use of our driver). She said “Vita?” and I said “Nyet”… we both hopped in the car and off we went.

I last spoke to Vita before being dropped off for lunch. I have no idea if she accomplished her business at the Organ of Custody or not. Tomorrow is the big day when we’ll hopefully knock out all the important business I’m here for, so cross your fingers. Vita had told me she would run by the court and pickup our decree before coming to the hotel and paging me, that way I wouldn’t have to get up so early. From there, we’d go to the ZAGS office for her birth certificate and then to the passport office, the reason for this trip. With the leftover time, we’ll try to find Tatiana to discuss the handover of her bank account. Hope it all works out because there won’t be any extra days.

Hurry up to wait! – Trip 3, Day 0/1

(posted by him)
Almost 30 hrs ago, I stared my day… my first solo trip to Eastern Europe to visit our Sweet Girl. This trip is just a short formality to apply for her passport and only required one of us to be present. We figured we’d just send one of us and save on money as well as disruption to the twins. Since she has already taken considerable time off within her first year of a new job, we figured it was time to cut them a break and send me, leaving her behind to take care for the girls.The commuter flight from Charlotte to JFK was more interesting than normal. There was horrible weather in Charlotte, so much so a water curtain welcomed our entrance onto the plane and the vents were blowing mist – looking like an odd hollywood special effect. I sat in front of a mother from Turkey traveling alone with her newborn who didn’t speak English (the mother) and also didn’t seem to understand that gate checking her diaper bag meant you can’t keep going into it once the plane leaves the jetway. The excitement culminated in a creepy older guy that kept insisting her could help out by holding her baby. As if the drama and the weather wasn’t bad enough, apparently Vice President Biden has just flown into Charlotte behind schedule and had the runway all tied up. Nothing like hearing the pilot say the tower isn’t being forthcoming as there’s a VIP on the ground and a line of 20 planes in front of us. Between the weather and Biden, we sat on the tarmac for over an hour after our departure time.

I was slightly worried the delay would effect me, but I knew I had close to a 3 hour layover in JFK. In actuality it provided me just enough time to grab lunch before heading to my gate and loading up for the 10 hour flight. Dare I say I’m used to it, because I don’t think you can ever get used to it, but it was pretty uneventful. There seemed to be more time in darkness, but still, I cannot sleep on that flight. We arrived on time and heading through passport control and customs was pretty routine. When I got outside, I immediately saw Vita waiting for me and she called Ilya and we scurried off to the car. Now, here’s where things got a bit different. I’ve never arrived before on a middle of the week weekday, but the traffic was far worse than I could have imagined. What was supposed to be a 3hr car ride to her town turned into 5hrs. I think we literally spent 3hrs crawling out of the city. But the extra time allowed me to catch up on my sleep, so it wasn’t too bothersome.

We arrived at my hotel about 3:00pm for a speedy check-in. I got a room on the 3rd floor (elevator only services up to the 2nd) and in the corner of the rafters. Its not so bad, but wifi is much more sporadic than its ever been. The room has two small double beds and is laid out similar to what I’m familiar with just compressed. Vita quickly summoned me back downstairs and said she had called the adoption center and they hadn’t received the court decree yet so we would get in the car and head over to court to check with the court secretary. We traveled to the same building we had court in last month. Vita told me to wait in the car and she returned very quickly. The secretary had the decree but the judge needed to sign it and he was on vacation til Friday and no other judge could sign it.  Since we had expected to have this today or tomorrow, Vita had made an early 9am appointment at the ZAGS (registry) office to get her birth certificate. She said we would now head over there and make sure it was ok to come as soon as we received the decree rather than 9am. Once again I waited in the car.

ZAGS office

Then she asked if I wanted to go to the orphanage… of course!

We got to the orphanage about 4:00 and went immediately upstairs to the directors office where we were invited in to sit down. Vita and the Director proceeded to have conversation for what must have been 15mins with me awkwardly sitting there not understanding a thing. Then Vita finally filled me in they were discussing the paperwork and signatures needed turn over control of Sweet Girl’s bank account to us, a previous inquiry we had made. See, in Sweet Girl’s county, the government gives a stipend of sorts to every orphan, a “safety net” of sorts for when they age out of the system. This account is controlled by the orphanage director until the child becomes of age. However, what they were discussing is she can’t turn this over even though she manages it, only the city’s Organ of Custody, Tatiana (who we’ve met before), can… but Tatiana is also on vacation until Fri. To our knowledge, no adoptive parent has successfully claimed their child’s account in our region and in many cases, it may not be worth the amount of effort, but we wanted to give it a try. If we were successful, whatever funds could be transferred over to a college fund for her in the US vs being lost back to the government she’s leaving behind.

Thank goodness both Tatiana and the judge are expected back on Friday or I would have to wait here through the weekend until Monday!

After our conversation was over, we went to the conference/play room and Sweet Girl was brought in. She looked like she was doing very well, still a bit hesitant at first, but perhaps less so than last time. I quickly pulled her onto my lap and she said she remembered papa. We did our best to explain mama was at home watching her sisters but wanted to be here and missed her very much. It seems as though the orphanage has been talking to her some and trying to prep for her departure. She still claims she is willing to “leave with mama and papa”. After that, we tore into some toys I had brought… a couple old happy meal toys including an airplane with decal kit and some spring loaded little ball, play dough, and some inflatable punching balloons. So we played for about 40 minutes. When 5:00 hit, she wanted to gather up all 3 balloons and her happy meal toys and take them down to her groupa… it was quite funny seeing her try to carry a big armful of toys downstairs. I asked her if she wanted me to come back and play tomorrow and she said yes!

Papa and his Sweet Girl
She wanted all the punching balloons to herself!

So tomorrow we’ll have our only full length play session in the morning. Then Vita mentioned needing the afternoon to complete a bunch of paperwork, so I’m not sure I’ll get to see her twice. And of course Friday is now completely filled with all the official business we must accomplish on this trip because of everyone’s vacations. But hey, I’m used to things coming down to the wire now!

A rock and a hard place… preparing for Trip 3

(posted by him)
So 10/3 is just right around the corner, the 30-day mark from court when the court’s decree is finalized in writing, which consequently means trip #3 is just around the corner. Before I get into that, I thought it important to fill everyone in with all the happens of the last month as the process hasn’t let up just because we’ve had court.One thing that I should put out there is Sweet Girl’s region is unique among other regions in Eastern Europe as it requires 4 trips, not 3. The extra trip comes about from the passport application process which falls squarely between the courts decision and us being able to bring her home. See, Sweet Girl will travel to the United States as a foreign national and as such requires a passport from her country to travel on. In most regions, the task of applying for a passport can be delegated to your adoption facilitator through power of attorney so they may start the process while you’re in the US and all you have to do is arrive to pick up the passport and your child, then return home. Not so in Sweet Girl’s region, they require one of the parent’s passports to start the application, thus requiring one of the parents to be there. The turn around time for a passport in her region is also much longer than other regions, several weeks instead of several days, making it difficult to wait in country and splitting up what would normally be 3 trips into 3rd and 4th trips.On top of this, there is a secondary complicating factor, and that is visa’s we use to travel on. Up to this point, we have been using 30-day, single entry, tourist visas which are pretty trivial to get through any travel agent, we happen to use one based out of Seattle. In Sweet Girl’s country, visa’s cannot be issued without first an invitation from inside her country, so that’s the primary purpose of the travel agent, to facilitate the invitation from, for example, a foreign hotel, and to process the request through the consulate. However, we knew that in order to pick up her passport, we had to travel on an entirely different style visa, an adoption (aka business) visa. In order to get one of these, the invitation had to come from the adoption ministry in Sweet Girl’s region and the travel agent could not help us here. So knowing all this, after we finished up court last trip, we had asked Vita to formally request our business visa invitation (something thats normally done later). The other thing about business visa’s is they can be issued for multiple-entry across a longer than 30-day span. We had figured, if we got the invitation soon enough, we could travel on a single multiple-entry business visa for trips 3 and 4 and save about $500 over a single tourist for trip 3 and a single business for trip 4.

But there was also an alternative motive for going ahead and requesting our adoption visa invitations… we had full intentions of attempting to work the system, look for a loophole in the process, and combine the 3rd and 4th trips into one take-home trip. If we could get the passport process down to a few days, we could apply for it, wait, and pick it up, then bring her home all in a single trip. So, thanks to the Translate feature of Google Chrome, we spent a lot of time reading the information on the passport office’s website and found a small chink in the armor. A clause that states passports could be expedited within 3-days with a letter from a foreign doctor stating emergency medical treatment in another country is necessary. Because of Sweet Girl’s special needs classification, immediately when we got home, we worked with our pediatrician to craft a letter stating she needed to see our Sweet Girl as soon as possible. We then notarized and apostilled this letter and sent it on to Vita. Now something you should know about the passport offices in her country. Each region is more or less autonomous and is subject to its own interpretations of the laws (just like laws vary between states here). Because of this, we knew it was still a long shot, but it was only avenue to try to get her home sooner. We had discussed this idea with Vita, who agreed to call the passport office and ask so we said we would go ahead and prepare the doctor’s letter for her to have. On the off chance this ploy worked, it was even more important to go ahead and get the visa invitation early so we could travel on the correct adoption visa if we were successful at combining the 3rd and 4th trips.

Now fast forward to the last week or so. Vita had previously called the passport office, but the supervisor was on vacation for several weeks so we had no answers there. As for the visa invitation, Vita had been calling every day and was told it was promised on 9/12, but we were almost two weeks after that date and still no invitations and nobody knew why. So now we were faced with a dilemma, 10/3 was fast approaching, the date we would be ready to apply for her passport, but still had no answers on expediting the passport or getting a business visa. Plane flights were getting more expensive by the hour and we knew we didn’t want to delay trip 3 all all to apply for her passport later unless we were absolutely sure we could combine the trips and bring her home on that trip. All along, we said we wouldn’t make her wait longer than necessary because of money or paperwork, we’d find a way. Also, due to the timing of this work trip and Her work schedule, it was not a great week for her to travel unless we would be picking her up. And since the passport office only requires one parent to apply for the passport, we decided that I would go solo unless we were combining the trips. So we made a judgement call and went ahead and booked my flight for 10/2 – 10/6 with no idea about visa’s or whether the passport office would honor our doctors letter and request to expedite.

Because the travel dates had already been set, this gave us a hard deadline for when we must apply for a visa… even with paying expedite fees, our travel agent in Seattle had to have all information in hand by 9:00am Thurs morning in order to pick up the visa Fri and have it overnighted for Sat delivery back to us. But we still didn’t know what type of visa. So we filled out two applications, one for tourist and one for business and packaged them up along with my passport and mailed them to Seattle with instructions that we would provide at the last possible moment which application to submit to the consulate. Then Wed we received good news, our business invitations had been granted and Vita sent us scanned copies. But along with this came a bit of bad news, the passport office had rejected our request to expedite the passport so there would be no combining the trips, but having me travel on a multiple entry business visa would still save us money and give me the option of remaining in country if for some reason they said the passport would only take a few days when I dropped it off. We thought we were set with the visa. However, the consulate uses an online computer system to look up the invitations, and even though they had been issued, it hadn’t yet appeared in the computer system so we were still without luck… we had til 9:00am the following day to hope the computer system would get updated. We went ahead and started the process to get a tourist invitation as a backup plan. Then Thurs and our 9:00am deadline comes and its still not in the system, we make the call to go with a traditional tourist visa. A couple hours pass and I get a call from our travel agent, there has been a computer glitch and our tourist  invitation is also not in the system, the consulate (in Seattle) won’t be able to have the visa processed until Mon morning (the day before I leave) and its too late to re-process on our business invitation that did end up showing in the computer system about lunch time. :frustrating:

So we’ve come up with the following hail-mary play… I will stick to my original plan of flying out from Charlotte-Douglas airport tomorrow at 11:00am. I will be going solo to apply for our Sweet Girl’s passport while she remains behind to watch the twins and work. My visa should be ready this morning in Seattle where our travel agent will FedEx it priority overnight to the Charlotte-Douglas airport to arrive tomorrow (the day I leave). So I will leave my house tomorrow, heading to the airport with no passport. I need to find the FedEx terminal there, attempt to pick up my priority package held there before heading over to the passenger terminal. If all goes well, I should make it out of the country on time, crisis averted… but we have basically lost all margin for error now.

Since this is a short solo trip, pretty much for the sole purpose of going is to the passport office to apply for her passport before turning around and coming home, I won’t have much opportunity to see our Sweet Girl, though I hope to at least see her once or twice… look for the short blog entries for trip 3 in the coming days. If all goes well, she and I will be returning in late October one last time to pick up our Sweet Girl and bring her home…. for good!

(him)

Da Svidaniya! (Trip 1, Day 7)

(posted by him)
Day 6 -6/23-  Our final day in country before starting the long travel home. We woke up this morning around our usual time to meet Ilya out front of the hotel. But something was different this morning. We had said our goodbye’s to Vita the night before as there were no more trips to the orphanage and no more visits with Sweet Girl. Instead, we would be traveling back to the city where the airport was located in preparation for departure… a day of mild sight seeing in attempts to take in some of Sweet Girl’s culture as the orphanage doesn’t permit visitors over the weekend. It was a somber feeling leaving her hometown, being so close to her knowing that tonight, when we laid our heads down, we’d once again be in different cities and the distance between us growing.
The drive to the airport was 3 hours. We had somehow gotten accustomed to the driving… bumpy, narrow pothole filled roads, aggressive driving, mounds of traffic… but we were in good hands with Ilya, who we have grown to admire.. and the drive went surprisingly fast. Even without Vita present and though Ilya spoke little English, we had reached a comfort level. Before we knew it, we were pulling up at our hotel smack in the city centre and quickly unloaded. We presented Ilya with the gift we had brought him. He seemed genuinely surprised and motioned for us to wait while he ran back to his glovebox. He returned and presented us with two coat pins… propoganda from his nation’s past… muttering in broken english “very old” and “history”.  We were touched by this gesture, he will be missed, and we hope he is our driver in the future.
After saying our goodbyes, we were alone once again. It was noon, but we went to try and check into our hotel anyway. We were pleasantly surprised to find the staff speaking english. We were told no rooms were ready yet, so we asked that our bags be held as we set our on an adventure… a few hours of light sight seeing in the city centre. Our first mission, navigate the local subway system to get there. Luckily, she had done a little research ahead of time and I had a tourism book that already came with a local subway map and translations of the stops. We found a station not far from our hotel and mapped out a route to get there, now to execute. Buying tickets proved far less challenging than initially expected. We found our line, only challenge was to make sure we’re heading in the right direction. We made our choice and hopped on a train. Unlike NYC, the subways lacked any sort of helpful hints for foreign travelers. No maps of the stops, no LED boards showing the next stop, stations were barely marked. The driver would simply come over the intercom and verbally announce the stop. Luckily we were able to correlate with our map, make sure we were on course, and count the number of stops to our destination. When we surfaced from the train, we found ourselves in the middle of a mall, albeit generally where we intended.
The Great Wall surrounding their nation’s “white house”.
Where we surfaced from the subway. Seemed as though some festival/concert was either setting up/tearing down as there was lots of mobile fencing diverting the flow of people and coordinating off certain areas.
We decided to walk around not knowing exactly where we were going. Most of the streets seemed to be closed to traffic. Not sure if this was due the event, normal for the weekend, or what. Pictured on the right turned out to be a very large and extravagant mall we discovered.
One of the most famous Cathedrals in all the world. Of course the crowd control barriers prevented us from approaching at all angles, so we simply had to admire from afar.
The barriers prevented us from entering a square that would be normally teaming with thousands of people, but today was only filled with empty sound stages and crew techs.
The great mall from the front and an empty beautiful square.
To enter the subway, you had to swipe your paper card in front of these scanners. We had only purchased 4 trips, 1 for each of us out and back, so we were careful to make sure to enter the right station/line. We bought ourselves no second chances.
The subway arriving. Not much different than NYC subway in terms of comfort, though I did miss the little LED navigational boards that lit up as the train hit each stop.
Our hotel for one night, a much different experience than the hotel we had been in all week in Sweet Girl’s hometown. This hotel is from their countries history, and is very large, extravagant and somewhat Americanized by comparison to where we came from.
Grand entrance way where we were greeted by multiple English speaking staff.
View of the city from our room on the 9th floor.
As we had such little time here and our thoughts were still with Sweet Girl back in her hometown, we had little time to enjoy it. For tomorrow we would be waking up early to start our journey home. In place of Vita and Ilya, we had Boris and Irina who would be picking us up from the hotel and escorting us to the airport. We had yet to meet them, but they would be our guides in the big city. That night, we recieved a call from Boris to the next morning. We would meet him at 7:00am to head to the airport. Even though we were in the city, the drive to the airport would take 45mins – 1hr due to horrendous traffic. We look forward to returning home and seeing Cranky and Happy, but can’t stop wondering when will we see Sweet Girl again and will she remember us and our short journey. Until then, Sweet Girl….
-Papa