HOOPS, the FINALE! Approved for takeoff!

Yesterday, our long awaited business visa’s arrived in the mail, a full 3 days ahead of when we actually need them (as opposed to last time when they arrived day of)! They were supposed to be good for 90 days, but with all the trouble we’ve only got 30 days left! Thankfully we are leaving this weekend and won’t need them after that, but it took a month to get the invite, and then another month to sort out the simple typo in the electronic system, and we’re left with a month to travel… crazy how much more difficult the business visas are to deal with than the tourist ones.The visa’s completes the last critical piece of the puzzle… we have permission to enter the country, we have flights for us and her return, we have hotels and apartments, and we’ve confirmed her passport is ready for pickup. Now we just need our daughter!

We will be spending the remaining 3 days we have left is a panic of suitcase packing and baggage weighing. We have more stuff than ever for this trip when you add in we’ll be taking more clothes for the 1.5 week stay and heavier/warmer clothes for the colder weather, not to mention adding in enough clothes and entertainment to keep Sweet Girl occupied for the week in the capital and the plane trip home. All this must fit into two checked bags not weighing more than 50 lbs each and two smaller carry-ons… space bags have become our friends. Also factor in assorted electronics, photography gear, food and snacks, gifts, orphanage donations and a stroller… we’ve got quiet the load. And of course, on top of that, we have the usual preparations needed for the little ones to spend a week and a half with Annie – grocery shopping, laundry, food prep, scheduling, and more!

Please also keep friends of ours in your prayers. They are walking a concurrent adoption with us and they have hit some roadblocks. We know firsthand how stressful that is, but their situation is even more complicated. I’m sure they are feeling discouraged and frustrated and helpless and my heart breaks for them.

 

HOOPS, part 2

I was hoping to be able to post this last Friday, but as is the case, there was no news.Michael at DHL is in contact with DHL (region). Now the hold up seems to be that the adoption center either doesn’t have the package ready for pickup or won’t call DHL (region) to pick it up.

I requested Vita call again to day to tell them to give it to DHL (region) asap, but I have yet to hear if she did. It’s a little ridiculous that emails have to go through 5 people before they get to the right person!

HOOPS, part 3 to HOPEFULLY come soon 🙂

I looked at flights early this am and it’s looking pretty fantastic (like miracle territory) if we can book soon. We might go ahead and book flights before we have confirmation the visa invitation is on it’s way. It’s slightly risky, but the alternative is that flights go up and we pay more. It’s not just a little more either, it’s like thousands more.

But also, before we book, we need confirmation from Vita whether she wants us to be in region Sunday afternoon so we are ready to go early on Monday or Monday afternoon so we have a shorter day.

Anyway, here’s some pictures of the cutest 20 month olds around!

Hoops

I know lots of times, you hear about all the hoops adoptive families have to jump through. You look at me with sideways eyes when I tell you that it took me 28+ hours to get a package shipped. You can’t imagine the amount of red tape and bureaucracy, much less time zone hopping that has to be done to just mail a letter.
So, while I’m still in the emotional throws of it, I wanted to share what my last 28+ hours have looked like.
I think last you heard, we were having an issue with His visa invitation. We have a scan of the invitation and the FMS service inputted the visa into the ‘system’. This took 24 days to accomplish. But, there was a typo in the inputting process. The number on the bottom of the scan doesn’t match the number in the system. Our travel agent said, you have two choices 1. Correct the system 2. Get the original.
We have requested #1, but since it took 24 days the first time, we are also pursuing #2. You would think this would be easy. They scanned me the original, so now they need to put it in a Fed-ex envelope and ship it to me. They even have my fed-ex number.
Cast of Characters:
Judy – Adoption Agency contact – US side
Vita – Adoption Agency contact – Sweet Girl side
Michael – DHL, US
Svetlana – DHL (region)
Here’s where it went downhill:
Tuesday, 10:30am
Judy – “(Region) has (only) DHL direct service.  They told Vita that they would send you corrected original documents by DHL. What they would like you to do is visit or call your local DHL office and ask them to send confirmation that you would pay for the DHL from (region).  Evidently this is something they have done successfully before.”
Tuesday, 12:00pm
Me – I tried to call the DHL 800 number. The person didn’t speak English well. He told me that he couldn’t give me the number to the local DHL office. I tried to see if they would send confirmation to (region). He said he couldn’t do that. I asked if they could send it COD, he said (country) is an at risk country and COD, prepay, and recipient services aren’t available there. He wants me to contact the shipper and give them my account number. I told him I didn’t have one and could I create an account. He said I couldn’t have an account to ship internationally if I wasn’t a business.
Tuesday 12:10pm
Me – Try DHL online chat services. They are of no help.
Tuesday, 12:15pm
Me – Fire off emails: 1. Whitney asking if she has DHL. She doesn’t, but she’s trying to get a DHL account started so we can us. 2. Judy and ask for alternatives including asking if they can mail it to Vita and she can DHL it to me.
Tuesday, 12:45pm
Vita – I think it’ll be much faster if Adoption Center will ship the invitation through DHL. But for that they and DHL office in (Region) asked to confirm that the we will pay for DHL. For that we should contact any DHL office in their area and inform them that they are expecting the package from (Address) and they are ready to pay for that package. The contact person in (region) is Zotova Lubov, phone number is (xxxx) 32-38-61
I was told that as soon as DHL office in USA contact DHL office in Vladimir (their email is:  XXX@vinfo.ru) they’ll pick up the documents and send them to family.
Tuesday, 2:00pm
Me – I try the online chat again. I get a guy who is willing to look for the shipment in the system and see if there is a hold on it. He can’t find the shipment and tells me he can’t help until it’s in the system. We proceed with a circus of me asking what else I can do and him saying he cannot help for what feels like forever.
Tuesday, 3:30pm
Me- Using my sleuth skills, I find what I think is a local DHL number. Call and Michael answers the phone. Explain situation to Michael and he tells me to forward him the email and he’ll see what he can do.
Overnight
Me- Freaking out wondering if I messed up his email and dreading the morning when I’m going to have to call back and ask if he found out anything.
Wednesday 6:44am
Michael – “I was able to contact DHL (region), they advised the below information:
(Svetlana at DHL (region) emailed: As I understand, there is a consignee in the USA who needs to get an invitation from (country).So, there are two ways: 1. Shipper calls DHL (region) and pays for sending. We will p/up it and send to the consignee. Or 2. The consignee calls the nearest office DHL and makes Transport Collect, if he wants to pay.)
We do not offer the transport collect option in the US, are you able to have the shipper use there DHL shipping information to send this to the US and send you the bill? We could try to have an account set up in your name but we would still need to get your account number to the shipper to process the shipment. If you would like to create an account customer service would be able to assist.”
Wednesday 7:25am
Me – After evaluating the risk and alternatives, I emailed Svetlana my credit card information including security code thinking this would satisfy her #1 since she was DHL (region).
Wednesday 7:35am
Svetlana – “You should call the nearest DHL office and make a request for delivery from (country) to USA. You will pay there. Our colleagues will send your request to our office and then we will make pick-up.”
Wednesday 7:55am
Me – I attempt to beg Svetlana through email to just charge my card. I also email Judy again and ask if Vita can just pay for it. I also email Michael and ask for other ideas.
Wednesday 9:10am
Svetlana – “I’m sorry, but we can’t use your card. The procedure says that your local DHL office should send the request to (country).”
Wednesday 9:42am
Michael calls. We brainstorm some options. None sound great to either of us. He says he’s going to go look into some things.
Wednesday 11:05am
Whitney is still trying to set up an account, but DHL is slower than molasses.
Wednesday 11:57am
Got a call voicemail (because I’m attempting to work in between all this!!) from Michael – says to call him.
Wednesday 12:55pm
Call Michael back. He says it’s ridiculous that we have to jump through these hoops. He’s going to contact DHL (region) and just use his DHL corporate number. He says he’s going to handle all the details and try to get it out tomorrow. I tell him as soon as it gets there He can go pick it up (DHL is about 30 minutes away, between our house and His work) and will pay for it. He says that we aren’t allowed to pay for it and he’s so sorry for all that we’ve had to go through just to ship a piece of paper and it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.
I’m a sobbing mess.
We know there are no guarantees that he can get it here, but just the fact that I’m not fighting alone anymore was so great to me.
Part two to come later! Do you think we’ll get it shipped?

The only known in adoption is the unknown…

(posted by him)
So in an earlier post, I gave you a little preview into the “fun” it is applying for visa’s to enter Sweet Girl’s country. In her country, you must be invited to come via a formal invitation. This invitation allows you to get a visa from the local consulate. And there are two types of visas (though law is currently changing this as we speak), a tourist visa, good for a double or single entry in a 30 day window, and a business visa, that can be gotten for multiple entries over a long period of time. Up to this point, we have been traveling on tourist visa’s as they are easy and simple to get (your invitation can come from any travel agency or hotel abroad). The business visa, in our case for adoption, must include an invitation from the adoption ministry… much harder to obtain. Since our court appearance over a month ago, we have been working to obtain this invitation. We wanted me to travel on a multiple entry business visa recently for trip #3, but the invitation arrived a day late and dollar short, so I traveled on another tourist visa. Why so important? Well, first off, a multiple entry business visa would have saved us money over multiple single entry tourist ones, but that’s not the main point. The main point is the passport office in Sweet Girl’s hometown requires that we be traveling on a business visa when we come to pick up her passport during the final trip. Without it, we may not be allowed to get her passport and thus not be able to bring her home.So, whats the quarrel? Well, first a little background. We had asked about our business invitations when we were there for court, end of August, and a few days later were told they would be ready by Sept 12th. Well, Sept 12th came and went, and Vita called everyday, but the invitations where still not ready and no one knew the problem. Well, this turned into the situation I wrote about preparing for trip #3…the long and short of it is, the invitation was ready on Sept 24th, but not in enough time for me to turn it around into a visa in time for trip #3. Vita had sent us a scanned copy of the invitation, and we noticed something odd while looking at them. Her’s appeared to have been dated Sept 12th, as originally promised, but mine appeared to be filled out differently/at a different time and was dated Sept 24th. We concluded that there was some breakdown in communication and they had only issued Her’s and forgot mine, and then had to scramble to add mine when we started calling everyday. But we thought the worst of it was behind us.Well, when I returned from trip #3, we knew trip #4 was imminent, and wanted to go ahead and apply for our business visa since they are good for 90-days (instead of 30 like the tourist). So we once again sent off our passports to our travel agent in Seattle to apply for them, this time not needing to pay for as much extra rush processing. But then I get a call last night, there is a problem with my visa application, the consulate has rejected it. When any agency in Sweet Girl’s country issues a visa invitation, they record it in a computer system the consulate uses to look up the invitation. This saves us from having to pay the $150 in shipping to get the one piece of paper here physically. But, the adoption ministry in Sweet Girl’s home town that issued me my invitation, miskeyed a number into the online system so there is a mismatch between the actual invitation and the electronic registration. Now the consulate is saying they won’t issue my visa without either a.) the original copy of the invitation (which we hope Vita physically has) or b.) the office that issued the invitation can correct the typo in the online system. Either way, its gonna take at least a week to sort out and I may not get my visa with enough time to travel the 3rd week of October (the soonest Sweet Girl’s passport would be ready). Her invitation, the one issued on the original promised date,  is of course fine, she’ll get her visa.

Once again, what we thought surely would be simple and we had plenty of time for has turned into a debacle and will probably push things right to the edge again. It might not be possible to go get her the third week of October (10 days!) like we want/plan. It’s possible that the passport wouldn’t even be ready then. But it’s pushing us to push the pickup trip date out to the 2nd week in November. This would ensure that we’d have time to deal with the visa and ensure the passport would be ready. It sounds sensible, but it means our Sweet Girl would be without her family a few extra days that she doesn’t absolutely have to be… something we’ve tried to avoid all along.

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!