Tuesday (10/02/07)

Just some random notes this morning

There’s a real stray dog problem in Russian cities; or, at least Moscow and Astrakhan. A lot of people even apparently let their dogs run loose. They’re almost all large dogs. The small ones don’t survive.

There’s a real “man purse” problem, too. Many men have what amounts to a small purse that they carry by hand, not over the shoulder. People probably thought that’s what my camera bag was when I was carrying it through airports.

We were watching television last night, even though there’s absolutely nothing in English. Well, that’s not quite accurate. There was a CSI rerun, but it was voiced-over in Russian. I wonder why they use dubbing instead of subtitles. I could almost watch and hear it normally, ignoring the subtitles, if they used them. Maybe they don’t use subtitles because they don’t want to assume that their audience is literate? I’m not saying that they are illiterate, I’m just guessing that the television stations think they are.

The entire town of Astrakhan is apparently under construction. We thought it was in preparation for next year’s 150th anniversary of the city’s founding, but apparently they’re preparing now for the 450th anniversary that takes place in six years. Next year’s is “only” the 444th anniversary.

Anyway, the Ministry of Education was under construction; to the point that their office inside the building was not even marked, adding just that much more to our experience. Our hotel is under construction, with scaffolding partially blocking our otherwise nice view of the Volga river. If you turn left coming out of the hotel and walk that way, even the riverfront is under construction though mostly finished. They haven’t finished much of the riverfront in front of the hotel yet, but the rock breaker is out there on the levee every morning making sure that no one sleeps in. If you turn right coming out of the hotel and go less than a block, you’re immediately in the slums. There are some scary and depressing neighborhoods between us and “downtown” Astrakhan, but that’s like any big city.

Everyone stares at everyone here. It’s not a stare-down. It’s just that when they look at you, they’re actually looking at you. But only for a second or two. It reminds me of L.A. where everyone checks everyone else out without being creepy or obnoxious. Of course, here in Russia, when they hear us or our interpreter speaking English, they look and listen.

What a day…

Where to begin…

The original plan was for us to go to the Minister of Education and submit our dossier and then formally receive our referral. What really happened:

Galina called the ministry this morning only to find out that they were closed in the morning supposedly because there had been a death within the ministry (I’m assuming a natural death, but after what we’ve been through, it could have been some other adoptive parents that decided to just kill the representative they were working with). They told her to call back in the afternoon because the department head would be in. She told us to be ready to go at 1:30. So, at 1:30 our interpreter, Vika, picked us up and we thought we were going to the Minister of Ed. We were dressed for that. What we didn’t know until it was too late, was that Galina was still waiting to get an appointment for us and had instructed Vika to take us on a walking tour of the city.

I definitely wanted to see Astrakhan and its historical sites, just not in business clothes and dress shoes! We walked around for over an hour waiting to hear from Galina. Finally, Vika called Galina and we were informed that we had an appointment to see the department head’s assistant at 4:00. Now the story was that the department head was sick and out of the office all day. At first we were told that all we would do today was literally walk in and hand over our dossier, they would review and call tomorrow with an appointment time to come back to receive the referral. About 10 minutes before entering the building Vika mentioned that we might be asked some questions by the assistant, but she was not sure and kinda doubted that they would ask us anything. But, at least we had about 10 minutes to think about it.

We got to the office and they quickly ushered us into a small room where the assistant came in and immediately asked to see our passports (everyone wants to see your passport here). She thoroughly reviewed each passport and visa. Still not sure what she was looking for. Then she started asking questions: “Why do you want to adopt?” “Why Russia?” “Are you aware of problems that orphaned children have?” “Are you aware that many kids in Astrakhan have Asian features?” “Would you accept a child with Asian features?” I was so flustered and exhausted from the day’s events that suddenly I could not remember why we wanted to adopt and certainly adopt from Russia! Why would anyone put themselves through this? But, I managed to get out that we were unsuccessful at having biological children and decided to adopt instead of pursuing the more expensive and more invasive fertility treatments (although IVF doesn’t sound so bad right now); that we chose Russia after investigating adoption in the US and found the US to be a very long wait with a high risk of the birth-mom changing her mind.

After that, Bill took over answering the questions and was much more composed than I was. After the questions, she informed us that they would take our dossier and, by law, they have 10 days to review and decide to give us a referral. At some point she told Vika that we could call them at 4:00 tomorrow and they would tell us if they had a chance to review and had any questions. Vika did not tell us that until we got back in the car. Galina went back to the office and did manage to negotiate an earlier time, 11 am.

So, now we wait. Hopefully, we will receive the referral and get to go to the orphanage tomorrow. However, it seems to take twice as long as expected to do everything here. I’m really concerned that we will not get to meet the child until Wednesday or Thursday and then be pressured to make a decision too quickly. We’re supposed to leave Astrakhan on Friday. The most confusing and disconcerting thing about this whole freakin’ goat rope is that the Minister of Ed already knows us, knew we were coming, has already matched us with a child, everything. But we have go through the formality of it and they act like we just walked in off the street.

It’s only Monday?

Monday – 1 Oct 07 – 6:37PM

zzzDRAHST-vueet-ya, DRAHST-ya, BREEV-yet ee DO-bree-dyen from Astrakhan! I just (phonetically) said “Hello, hey, hi and good afternoon” (even though it’s now evening here) in Russian. I couldn’t remember how to say “evening.”

We visited the Ministry of Education today, the people who decide who lives and dies, I mean, if/when we get to adopt a child. The department head we were supposed to speak to today was out sick. Of course. So, we spoke with her assistant, who gave no indication whatsoever that she had ever heard of us or that we had in fact already been given a “referral” for a specific child. It was our “good luck” that because she was filling in for her boss, she covered herself by putting us through a complete interview which they don’t normally do. It was very nerve-wracking for Tara. I just found it interesting to be interviewed by a woman in a tight skirt, no bra and fishnet stockings. I was not going to mention the “no bra” part, but Tara brought it up later. I told her that the only reason I even noticed was because, when someone stands up and says “hello,” it’s only polite to at least acknowledge them. 🙂

Our interpreter, Vika, “held our hand” through it all. Vika, by the way, dresses very modestly; not the usual tight pants, belly shirt and spike heels that most young women here wear. 🙂 She’s a very sweet person. She’s also been a lifesaver because she speaks English and, having recently spent a year in Louisiana going to LSU, knows that it’s rude to look at us like we’re retarded when we don’t understand something, like so many clerks have. Galina, our official agency representative, has helped a lot, too, behind the scenes; but she doesn’t speak English, so we can’t interact with her much.