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….

Bitter and Sweet (Trip 1, Day 6)

This morning Vita was supposed to pick us up at 9:45. She was a few minutes late and when she got us  she told us that she had successfully presented our approval to adopt to the Department of Education. Once they get a paper back from the capital and get it to Vita we can present our court stuff to the judge. Yay!
When we got to the orphanage, Sweet Girl bounded out of her groupa to us. Lots of giggles and smiles today. We went upstairs and took out her new surprise of the day, painting suncatchers. We underestimated the mess possible with a paintbrush and 4 colors.

She tried to pick the paint up to show Vita and oops, spilled it all over herself. We managed to only get a little blob on her dress, but that was the second new outfit we ruined. Sorry nice orphanage. We’ll bring tons more back when we come!

The we changed tactics. Paper and one color at a time with Papa holding on to the container. I showed her how to rinse the brush in the water bottle and that became more fun than painting.

She had to use the restoom and while she was gone we took the paint. No need to have her be punished over making a mess when it was our fault.
When she came back we played with stickers and colored for a few minutes. I think this is something she gets to do pretty often so she wasn’t interested for long.

Soon enough she found and remembered her favorite toy from yesterday, our camera. Today we were smart enough to bring the big camera too to capture her sweet face when she saw us all in the viewfinder.

All too fast our visit was over. Here’s Vita and I walking back out the gates to the car.

It is very evident that the director and caretakers really try to make the place feel bright and cheerful. Lots of flowers are planted around and lots of colors for the kids.

While on break today he and I went to McDonald’s and got lunch. So far our ordering has been close to accurate. Today my attempt at “Da Ketchup and nyet the rest” translated to no ketchup. Oops. It’s what I get for being picky on my burger. Or not just ordering nuggets like him.

We came back to the room for some decent downtime and researched a few things. Then we got to skype with Cranky and Happy. When it’s mid afternoon for us it’s very early morning for them so they are still sleepy. This morning they were very sweet. They make it about 10 minutes and then Happy usually gets a little upset so we let them be. Makes me happy to see them even if it’s just a few minutes though.

3:30 took us back to Sweet Girl. She had pigtails this time. Very adorable. She went right for the camera.

“Who do you see?” I would ask.  “Papa!” she’d always reply.

She needed a quick reminder where to put her hands so they weren’t in front of the lens.

The battery died and to avoid trouble we redirected her outside. We convinced her to walk her laps backwards. More cat chasing, more bubbles. This time, Ilya was parked inside the gates so everytime we passed him she’d give him weird looks and he’d wave. Then we convinced her to try to play in one of the quadrants in the back (there are 4 little separate play spaces) that didn’t have other kids near. She reluctantly agreed. She found a favorite trike and let me push her. Fast and slow around and around. Chasing Papa, being chased by Papa. Much fun.

Papa got a turn pushing, but Mama was taking a rest so no pictures.

We had tried the sandbox Tuesday and she wasn’t interested, but today she initiated.

Throwing sand. I was telling her “Nyet, we don’t throw sand,” here.

This is her “Papa, Mama told me Nyet” face.

It was almost time to go so we convinced her to go back inside. One quick family picture in front of the doors. I can’t wait until we walk out and don’t walk back in.

I wanted to have time in the quiet to talk to her. We told her that Mama and Papa had to go away for a few weeks, but we’d come back and see her again. We told her to be a good girl while we were gone. We showed her the pictures again of our family and said if you miss us look at our pictures. We gave her a little security blanket we got for her and told her she could keep it in her bed with her (hopefully the caretakers will show her the pictures and let her keep the blanket. We think she understood what was going on because she started stalling. She went over to a puzzle we brought her and showed her every day. She hadn’t ever been interested before but today she had to put it together. Mama would tell her where the pieces went and she’d rotate them and put them in.

Finally it was time. One last picture on the way down the stairs. She’s holding the bag of toys we left to donate to her Groupa. She’s still got the necklace she beaded on. I hope they let her keep it.

I always knew it would be hard to see her and then leave her. Part of me wants the system to be different so we didn’t have to leave so much. I am afraid since we will leave her 2 more times before we get her for good that she won’t understand when it’s the forever time. Vita asked her today, “Do you want Mama and Papa to come back?” “Da!” she said. “Will you miss Mama and Papa?” “Da!” When Mama and Papa come to take you home will you go with them?” “Da!”
And as hard as it is to leave her, I’m an adult. I understand. I underestimated how hard it would be on her for us to leave. I thought we’d just be visitors, playmates to her, but I think she gets it. She knows what Mama and Papa means. She had it for a week. Now she doesn’t know if she should trust that we’re coming back. So heartbreaking.
Counting the days Sweet Baby Girl….

Bubbles and Beads (Trip 1, Day 5)

Vita and Ilya picked us up at 9am this morning and we went straight to last doctor we had to see. We got our sheet signed with no problem. We went back to another doctor’s office and picked up the results of a test. Last signature on the sheet! Vita then took our completed medicals (8 different doctors in 6 different state run hospital type buildings) to the main doctor in town. He then signed off on the whole sheet – Medicals done!!We did all that in record time and made it to the orphanage right around 10am. This time we stopped and picked up Sweet Girl from her groupa on the way in. Vita can walk in and get her, but it doesn’t seem like we are allowed to so we wait in the hall. She came bounding out to us very excited and with hugs. She practically ran up the stairs to the room we hang out in. She went straight for the bag of toys and picked out the new item, a beading set. Stubborn miss didn’t want me to tie a knot in the end of the string. Soon enough she agreed to a knot 🙂 She strung an entire string all by herself from one end to the very other. She was very good at this! Better than we expected!

Wearing the necklace Mama made for her.

In the middle of all this Vita presented us with the paper for the orphanage to keep that stated that after meeting her, we still desired to adopt her. Vita asked if we were sure. YES!

Soon you’ll be all ours sweet girl!

She kept asking to go outside, but Vita has to come with us and she was doing paperwork so we distracted sweet girl with another new toy. A glider. I’m a big happy meal girl and I’ve been saving all my happy meal toys for months now. When Sweet Girl points and says “Airplane” at them I knew this one would be a winner. Let me clarify. She says something that sounds like gibberish. Vita promises it’s airplane.

As soon as we got outside, Mama spotted a bug. Sweet Girl has been all about squashing the ants so I was curious what she’d do to a big beetle thing. She smashed it with her foot and it was still moving so she smashed it again. Then she told us “I broke it!”. He might have a house full of girls, but I have someone else to call for spiders now!

The orphanage has some stray cats that hang around. I guess the kids and the cats aren’t friends. Sweet Girl says that she wants to catch them and then when they run away she says “Shoo cat, get away!”

She had no interest in actually flying the glider so we went back on laps and bubbles. We are usually outside when the other kids are and Sweet Girl wants them to see her with us, but she doesn’t like to stop at them or let us talk to them. So we walk around the orphanage, over and over, in circles and blow bubbles the whole way. Papa is her bubble blowing buddy.

We had to go back in so she could get lunch and snack. Another family picture! I can’t wait until she comes home and we can get one with all 5 of us.

While on our break, we took some of the paperwork Vita did to the internet cafe to print. Then we took it to the notary. Very interesting. While at the notary we met a babushka who has 2 children. One lives in Boulder, CO so she moved there 2 years ago to help with her children – triplet boys! The other lives in this town so she was back to visit. Very neat to find someone else who sort of spoke english.

After this, we took a trip to the other side of town and saw a local “landmark” – the Globus store. It’s larger than walmart, but is the same concept. Everything you could need all in one place.

They had like 50-60 check out lanes. I’m standing in about the middle here.

Back to the orphanage and Sweet Girl got a snack. Now that she saw us open her juice box, we’re not allowed to do it anymore. Now she has to do it on her own. And don’t you dare touch or help or get to close.

Sweet Girl got brave after snack and picked up the camera. It took her a minute to figure out how to not cover the lens, but after that she took about 100 pictures. Lots of Papa. She’d giggle the cutest giggle every time he made faces and she saw him in the digital screen.

Here’s Vita for everyone who was curious 🙂 Couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do this without her. This sweet woman sacrifices every week away from her 2 girls to help other people bring their children home. (Sweet Girl took the picture)

No pictures of this cause she had the camera.
Back outside. More laps. More bubbles. These pictures start to look the same since we kept her clean yesterday and she’s in the same outfit, but notice her bow. It changes every am and pm. Slay me 🙂

Already dreading tomorrow. Only two more visits with this sweet face. I am dreading the minute when she says “When are you coming back?”, and instead of saying in a few hours or in the morning we will have to say several weeks. We are going as fast as we can to bring you home sweet baby girl!

How sweet the sound (Trip 1, Day 4)

June 20 – Day 4Vita and Ilya picked us up at the hotel at 9:09am. Which is interesting because neither he or I could remember if she was coming at 9 or 9:15. She said tonight see you at 9am tomorrow again so I guess we were early and she was late for a change.

I thought we were going to the notary, but we went straight to the orphanage. We waited in the same room about 5 minutes and a caretaker brought her up. She gave Papa a hug when asked, but refused to give me a hug. That’s okay Sweet Girl, Mama has a whole lifetime with you ahead of us. She seemed sad again so I quickly brought out her bag of toys. It was the same bag of toys except I added the play-doh. She immediately went for that. It’s a set where there is a barber chair that sits on a screw base. These little heads with chia-pet like holes slide into the base so when you crank it, the hair “grows”. I only brought 2 colors of play-doh. She didn’t notice.

Once we showed her how it worked and gave her the scissors she cut all the hair off over and over again. She used both hands (left and right equally) to use the scissors and knew how to hold them and how to make them work. We screwed more hair out for her a couple of times, but after that she wanted to do it herself with no help. She is VERY independent and stubborn.

After about an hour she wanted to go outside. She hadn’t brought her ball up with her, but on the way out, she asked to go to her room to get her ball. She brought it to us with a big smile on her face. We also took her a surprise we picked up at the toy store Tuesday night.. bubbles!!

She was very excited by bubbles and knew just what to do. Sweet Girl and mama blew bubbles and Sweet Girl and Papa blew bubbles and Sweet Girl blew more bubbles.

She asked to go inside after while. Once we got back up to the room, we found out she needed to to use the restroom. We were very excited that at barely 4 she can give up playing to go to the restroom on her own. Once she was done and back up in the room, we gave her the juice box we had brought for her.

Then, we went back outside. This time her groupa was out playing. They kept trying to get her to play with them and she kept saying, “No, leave me alone!”. Some of them came over to us and tried to see her toys and she wasn’t happy about that at all so she directed us inside. Soon enough it was time for lunch so we returned her to her groupa with “paka”‘s for everyone.

During our break we went and got more doctor’s visits done. Again, if you’re in my region and want to do your medical in town, I’ve got notes on this so just let me know. Also, if you are in my region and want notes on our hotel (which we like) let me know.

Here’s a hall in the medical building. Each door is a different doctor’s “office”. You knock on the door and open it to see if they are with someone and if so you wait out in the hall on this little bench until the person comes out and then you go in. I have no clue how they know what doctor is in what room but I think the “specialty” is on the door. This looks not so bad – looks are deceiving. You can’t see the exposed wires, cracks in the walls, floors, doors or the general 1940’s and not updated since then feel.

This afternoon we had a little break at the hotel so we FINALLY got to skype with the girls. Happy was very excited to see us and towards the end got a little upset so we cut the call short. It took Cranky awhile to warm up to us on a computer, but they were both very sweet and very happy.

We went back to see Sweet Girl this afternoon.  Vita went to get her so we took the chance to take a pic of the room we visit in.

We played with more play-doh.

She had had enough cutting all the hair off from the 15 times she did it this morning so this time she used the scissors and cut up little pieces and shapes we made. Papa made her giggle lots by making masks and necklaces out of the play-doh. Vita also brought her a little treat from the market – some frosted animal crackers.

It was a big bag of them and she shared with Papa and tried to share with Mama. Mama didn’t want any. I was very proud of her that she stopped after 4-5 cookies. She also drank 2 juice boxes – one Vita brought and when she finished that we brought out another that we had brought her. She sucks those things dry. She knows how to take the straw out and put it in the hole all by herself. She also when she was done took the straw out of the box and successfully put it back in the plastic. When she does something she’s very determined and doesn’t want any help. Like someone I know.. ahem…

After snack, it was back outside. When she hears the other kids outside, she wants to go outside, but once we get out there, she doesn’t want to see them. This time, we walked a circle around the building while her and Papa blew bubbles at the same time. Whenever the kids would try to stop her she’d say “Let’s go, this way” and lead us away. We also heard “Come this way” a lot when we weren’t following close enough of fast enough. On our circles we had a couple of diversions of trying to wave through the gates to Ilya, trying to catch the birds and trying to shoo the cats away.

5:00 came all too soon and we said goodbye. We got good hugs that didn’t seem forced this time, and we got to speak to her nighttime caretaker about her. She said:

– she is a very good girl, but she’s very stubborn (we noticed)
– she usually gets people to give her what she wants (we noticed)
– she likes to color, draw and watch cartoons, but doesn’t like sports and dancing.
– she doesn’t like large groups of kids and instead prefers to be off to the side with just a couple kids
– she doesn’t like to play games
– she has one best friend and a couple of other good friends
– if she doesn’t like you, she ignores you until you go away
We hope to talk to more caretakers tomorrow or Friday and get more insights into our girl.
Vita and Ilya dropped us back off at the hotel and we made the plan for tomorrow. He and I attempted to go to this place called Globus which is like a German Walmart/Ikea concept. Completely random for where we are. I googled it and the directions said it was just a few blocks away. When we got there though, there was nothing there. Come to find out, it’s on the other side of town, definitely not walking distance. We’ll ask Vita and Ilya to let us go there tomorrow when we have a ride. We then hiked the other direction to the mall which has a food court and had sbarro pizza. Yum. We also found a little souvenior shop and picked up a couple little things to give to Sweet Girl as she gets older. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the market and picked up a couple little things for tomorrow. Feels like we’re getting the hang of this.

Bliss (Trip 1, Day 3)

June 19 – Day 3We woke up on Tuesday morning before 6am. That’s what we get for going to bed at 8pm. Time change is killer. I woke up feeling mostly better. By the time I was fully awake and moving, I was still very nauseous, but held it together. We went downstairs around 7:15 for breakfast. We thought it was 6:30-10am, but it didn’t start until 7:30am. We managed to communicate in broken English with the wait staff who said something like 10 more minutes. We decided to get some fresh air and walked around outside. The night before he had been to a little market down the street with Vita to get more water for me. We walked down to that to check out their breakfast options, but they were only open 10a-10p. We walked back to the hotel and by then I was feeling crummy. We got let into “breakfast”. The hotel dining room was set up, but it looked like the free breakfast was in this backroom. We were given the choice of omelet or sausage. We got one of each. First we were served bread, jam, cheese, salami and yogurt. I managed to eat a little of the yogurt, but was very nauseous by the smells of the rest. We were back up in our room by 8. Since we still had 2 hours before Vita was to pick us up, I took a nap. I think He slept too. When I got up I was doing a little better.We met Vita downstairs at 10am and drove to pick up Tatiana, the child advocate for court. We then went straight to the baby house and signed in. We went to the directors office and then moved to a larger conference room with toys and a conference table. The director went to get the doctor and Tatiana asked us several questions about our history. Why we want to adopt, why from this country, why we want to adopt an older child, what were our thoughts on adopting out of birth order. What did we do, how much do we make and are we aware of the post placement requirements.
When the director and the doctor came back, Sweet Girl’s caretaker brought her in right after. She seemed very scared and didn’t want to be there. The director sat her on her lap and Sweet Girl started to cry and asked to go back to her groupa. They gave her a piece of chocolate which she ate through her tears. We decided to let her go back to her groupa while we went through her history. After we went through her entire social and medical history and asked lots of questions, they brought her back in. She still seemed scared. I tried to show her the markers and coloring book, but she wasn’t interested. We gave her a little my little pony and she didn’t seem to care. Then I brought out the beach ball. It did the trick and we played catch for an hour in the visiting room. She also liked to kick the ball and thought it was hilarious when we missed catching it.

The director and other people finally left us alone so we got a couple of pictures with her. She’s still very cautious around us.

Ignore what my hand is doing here. I don’t think I knew what to do with it.

We had to leave and come back after she ate lunch and took a nap.

During our break, we started our 8 doctor physical. If you want details on this let me know and I’ll send you the write up of it, otherwise, just imagine state run health care in crappy 1950’s buildings. This took several hours and then we went back to the orphanage. They quickly brought Sweet Girl in. She was carrying her ball. She told us lunch was good and that she had a good rest. Oh and earlier we asked her favorite food and she said “soup”. She also likes potatoes and carrots.

Sweet Girl then decided she wanted to go outside. We also found out that part of the reason she was so upset earlier is that her groupa was playing and she wanted to go too.

She wanted to go to this part of the yard that apparently isn’t used anymore. They don’t mow the grass at least. She had Papa help her up the slide, and then he lifted her through the grass to the stairs over and over again.

We got in trouble later because we got her clean white pants dirty. The orphanage changes their clothes and shoes before they go outside, but since she was with us, she didn’t change her clothes so her nice clothes got dirty. Oops. I might need to bring them a replacement outfit next time.

She had to use the bathroom so we came back inside and tried to color again. I brought her a color wonder coloring book, but she didn’t like the big markers, she only wanted to use the small markers in the room but they were either dead or didn’t work well on color wonder paper. So this only lasted a couple of minutes.

No pictures of it, but we have a cute video I can’t upload from here. But next we showed her the photo album we brought for her with no prompting at all, she went through it and pointed out “Mama”, “Papa”, “Babies” and “Dog”(in her language of course). She went back and forth through the pages several times. It was adorable. We then had to say goodbye.

Last night He and I ventured out into town and found a McDonalds. It wasn’t quite like home, but the real meal was very welcome at this point!

I think we finally are used to the time change because we slept 10:30p-6:30a just fine. It was still light out when we went to bed too and definitely still light this morning.

The Calm and The Storm (Trip 1, Day 1/2)

6/17 – Father’s Day:5:30am – The alarm goes off. He is up an at em before I even decipher that the noise is the alarm. That’s every morning though. I didn’t think I would sleep, but I feel surprisingly well rested. Then I notice the pounding headache. I close my eyes and pretend it’s not 5:30 am yet. This doesn’t last long. We were dressed and ready by 5:55. We went upstairs to kiss the girls goodbye. I had hoped to just rub their heads and pass on kisses. Cranky had other plans. I was choking back tears and all my fears of leaving them and in her slumber she must have sensed it because as soon as I reached the door to her room to leave, her head popped up and she started crying. Eventually we got her up so she wouldn’t wake Happy. Some bonus cuddles never hurt. And she got to give her Papa a Father’s Day kiss.The trip to Charlotte was uneventful. We arrived in plenty of time. Even though we have to switch airlines in JFK, we’re stoked that they checked our baggage all the way though. We think this means that we can just walk to the other terminal and get on our plane. Once through security which was a breeze, we grabbed some breakfast and waited at our gate.Once in JFK we realized that even though our bags were checked through, we ourselves would have to leave security, take the Air Train to Terminal 1, wait in the Aeroflot line (long), wait again to go through security (double long) and finally we reached out gate.

We had about 30 minutes before we boarded.

On the Aeroflot flight, we had personal entertainment systems.

The movies were good, but the TV shows were lacking. 30 minutes after take off we got a beverage service: juices, soft drinks, water and wine. Then about 30 minutes later, we got dinner. It was the choice of beef or fish. We picked beef. It was a green bean/tuna fish salad, beef tips with veggies and mashed potatoes and a chocolate mouse for desert. Overall, it was very good.

I read a book and he watched a movie and then we tried to sleep. It was only about 7pm our time, but we were flying in to the darkness. It was rough, half sleep on the plane before it was time for “breakfast”. We weren’t tired at this point since it was still only about 10pm at home.

6/18 – Monday

For breakfast we were given the choice of sausage omelet or sandwich. We both picked sandwich and we were served a cold salad with carrots and a slice of deli turkey and a hot bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. We also got juices. About 30 minutes after breakfast, there was a tea and coffee service.

Flying into the capital was very pretty. I have flown into lots of cities, but this one was different. Winding rivers, lush farm land, green trees and little villages. Soon we meet Vita.. nervous and excited.

We got off the plane and went to passport control. There are 3 lines, “Diplomat”, “Russian Passport”, and other. The first 2 lines were translated into english. The 3rd line had no translation. We were the 2nd row on the plane so there weren’t too many people ahead of us. We didn’t know which line to pick. We guessed 3 by process of elimination. We were right. Only one person can enter the line at time or the person gets cranky and makes the other person leave. The person scans your passport and visa, and stamps a piece of paper and then you sign it. They keep half and you keep half.

Then you proceed to baggage claim and wait for your bags. The last rows were arriving when the baggage started coming – much faster than in US, but still a wait.  Once you have your bags, go out through the green customs declaration line (meaning you have nothing to declare). He was stopped to run his bags through the x-ray machine, but they didn’t say anything to me so I kept walking.

Vita was waiting for us right outside this door. She had a sign with our name on it. She gave us hugs and asked if we had to use the restroom. We said no, but asked if we could exchange money to get a drink. She said it was a bad exchange rate and just paid for 2 cokes. It was about $5 for two cokes.

We went outside and waited for our driver. His name is Ilya and he drives a Silver Ford Hatchback thing. We were told our drive to Sweet Girl’s region would be about 3 hours. We stayed awake about 15 minutes before both dozing off. I woke up for awhile and watched the surroundings. It seemed very rural and very poor for most of the drive. Also, we hit a lot of traffic outside the airport and it ended up taking us about an extra hour to get to town.

Once in town, we went to the money exchange. They rejected about 30% of our money even though we brought the nicest bills we could. We exchanged what we could and decided to pull out of the ATM for the rest if needed. We also found out it is illegal to enter or exit the country with their currency.

Vita took us to our hotel and checked us in, we agreed to meet in 30 minutes.

Once in the room I started feeling horrible. I thought it was because we hadn’t really slept or eaten, but soon I started feeling very nauseous and threw up. I pulled myself together enough to meet Vita downstairs. I told her I wasn’t feeling well and she asked if I wanted to go see the doctor. I said no, and we went off to the education department head to officially accept our referral of Sweet Girl. Usually, this would have been something we’d have done in the US and had notarized and apostilled there, but the department head was on vacation the week before so we couldn’t do that. While at the office I made use of their restroom several times. We were supposed to head to the notary’s, but Vita could tell I felt horrible and the driver took us straight back to the hotel At the hotel a couple hours went by and I was MISERABLE. She made me promise to call if I wanted to go see a doctor. When Vita called at about 6pm to tell us the itinerary for the next day she asked again if I wanted to see a doctor. This time no fear of spending the night in an eastern european hospital could scare me and off we went. Ilya looked terrified I was going to throw up in his car. I didn’t. We went to something that Vita said was private health clinic. It seemed to me like urgent care. There, the “doctor”, heck she might have been a nurse, asked my symptoms, took my temp and blood pressure and gave Vita 3 prescriptions for me. Vita and He went next door to buy them and I sat in the car. The whole thing took less than an hour. I came back and took all the drugs. One was a powder that was to be mixed in water. It tasted like you put a teaspoon of vanilla milkshake in a cup of gritty water. Blech. We were still exhausted and hadn’t slept in 36 hours so we crashed at 8pm.

To be continued….