Saturday morning

Tara made a good guess earlier. She thinks that the orphanage caretakers are telling Elizabeth that we will be taking her away from the orphange soon. They think they’re doing us a favor, trying to prepare her. But now, every time that we come to visit and they leave the room, she freaks out because she thinks it’s happening now.

I would have preferred that they just pretend that nothing was going to be different for her, until that moment when she simply leaves the orphanage and comes “home” to the hotel with us. See, by then, she might have been comfortable enough with us to let us take her wherever we wanted. But now, she just freaks out whenever she sees us, making this whole thing more difficult than it had to be.

We had a fire drill in the hotel yesterday. A woman knocked on our door and asked us to please go downstairs to the lobby. I told her in Russian that I don’t speak Russian [phonetically, Ya ne gavaryu pa-Russki], so she repeated it in English. She was very polite. When we got to the lobby, of course there was a crowd down there. One of the women from the front desk was very nice, going out of her way to come up to us and say, in English, “Don’t worry. It’s just a drill.” There are some really nice people here, and I try and focus on those. There are quite a few pimp/thug type men around here, too. They’re usually middle-aged men. They walk around with a swagger, just daring you to look them in the eye. People like that have barely evolved, and I just try and avoid them. Let them think they “won” the staring contest, when in fact it is they who are the pathetic losers who are lower than most animals. I’m sorry, was that too harsh? 🙂 I usually do try and focus on the positive, actually. I might speak negatively or sarcastically out loud fairly often, but I’m usually fairly positive. I just don’t always verbalize it. The younger men seem normal.

The other American adoptive couple here, Joel and Nancy, left yesterday. They are great people. They’re adopting boy and girl siblings. Unfortunately for them, their return trip will happen in January or February, the dead of Winter. But they’re from Michigan and Montana originally (though they now live in Phoenix), so they can handle harsh winters. I have added their blog to our “blog roll” on the right.

The day after

Well, we’re much more relaxed now that we’ve gotten past the court appearance. The problem now is getting Elizabeth to like us again. Today, she cried for the first time. She let me hold her, but my Russian words were not much consolation. She calmed down once our interpreter Liena returned to the room. Liena then commented that she was sorry that Elizabeth like her so much over us. I had to burst Liena’s bubble and tell her that Elizabeth prefers anyone who speaks Russian. I’m doing my best to learn the language, but it’s a slow process.

Thanks for your comments here. It’s more fun when it’s interactive like that, though I do wish that some of you would tone down the religious comments.

We like our new room MUCH better. It doesn’t reek of smoke and we’ve got a view of the Volga again, like last time. Just now, the manager, an American named Robert, gave us a discount (not much, but we’ll take it) because we’ll be staying so long. He was surprised that we would be staying the entire time, but we explained that leaving and coming back would be even more expensive. Besides, we need a lot of time to reconnect with Elizabeth. I don’t want her screaming the entire trip back.

One of the most remarkable things I’ve noticed about Russians is their ability to deal with adversity and life’s daily aggravations. Pedestrians crossing the street are barely missed by passing cars, and they don’t say anything. Almost nothing here is done the same way two times in a row, but they don’t get angry. One bureaucrat tells a person to go see another bureaucrat down the hall, only to be told by the second one that today is not their day to work even though they’re in the office, and the customer just laughs it off. People here just never get angry, at least not in public. They probably should, for their own mental health, but they don’t. Anyway, I”m just impressed with how flexible they are.

Well, Tara’s probably wondering where I am (I have to come down to the first or second floor lobby to blog because the wireless signal only goes that high).

Success!

As you probably read below in Tara’s post, our court appearance went very well. Ten days from now we will officially be the proud parents of Elizabeth! And now Vika tells us that we get to visit her not just a few times, but every day except Sunday. I don’t know what Elizabeth has on her schedule for Sundays, but apparently she’s busy. 🙂 To me, being allowed daily visits is HUGE because we need to reestablish that bond with her as much as possible before we travel back home with her.

For the record, the courthouse is on Sovetskaya Street. [UPDATE: This might be it here, on the right..]
The courtroom number was 114; just in case that means anything in numerology. 🙂 In court, of the eight of us, I was the only man. For some reason, that calmed my fears a bit. I guess because I knew that if push came to shove, I could “take ’em.” 🙂 There was no “bailiff” or any sort of security person, which surprised me. I was expecting several unsmiling men with guns, in those iconic red and green Russian army uniforms.

One of the “witnesses,” looking at the photo album before the hearing began, noted how much Elizabeth looks like Tara. I joked that she looks more like me, just because I’m contrary like that.

Once the hearing began, each person except for the judge stood and introduced herself, talked about her hopes and dreams and … OK, not really, but they did state their names and titles. As expected, they started the questioning with me. I talked about how long Tara and I have been married, why we’re adopting, why from Russia, and how much we love Elizabeth. A lot of it is just a blur, but apparently I performed well. They asked each of us about our jobs and finances, and me specifically regarding experience with children, what we would do with Elizabeth if we were divorced, and did we have a prenuptial agreement. That one also surprised us. I said that, in accordance with the pre-nup, we would sell her to the highest bidder on e-bay. 🙂 Actually, I said we would see who she was closest to, and that person would be the one who kept her. Of course, the other spouse would try to get visitation rights, and there was no pre-nup.

At one point, the judge took an unexpected break and left the room. When she returned, she was unable to keep a straight face as she asked, “So, have you changed your mind about this adoption?” I just laughed and said, “No.” After the hearing, Tara and I laughed about that question. “Yeah, we’ve changed our minds. We were just kidding. We never thought we would get this far. I guess we didn’t really think this through.”

At the end of the hearing, she again left the room, this time to make her decision. By the way, every time she came or went, we all had to stand. The same was true whenever we answered one of her questions. It was good exercise.

Anyway, the hardest part is over. Now we just have to worry about the rest of our lives.

After tonight, we will be relocating to a less smoky room on a lower floor. We went and looked at a possible apartment for the rest of our stay, but the neighborhood was just way too broken down, scary, depressing, and isolated. Vika said it was a safe neighborhood, but “you never know.” The apartment itself was OK inside, but we just decided that we had it pretty good at the hotel, after all, so that’s where we will stay.

And the judge says……

She’s ours!

It’s official! Elizabeth is ours. The court hearing went very smooth. It took about an hour and a half. There was a judge, prosecutor, a rep from the Child protective services, and the Minister of Education. They had a lot of questions about our parenting style, our finances and guardianship of her in the event of both our deaths. They asked some questions that really surprised us. Like, “if you divorce, who will get custody of her?” We have to admit, that’s not a question we had considered. But, we managed to come up with an answer that was satisfactory to them.

So, now we start our 10 day waiting period. We will be allowed to see her once a day everyday, except Sunday during the 10 days. We will take her from the orphanage on December 10. Then we have another 5-7 days in Astrakhan to get her passport and translated adoption papers.

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers, I think they worked! But, keep it up, because we’re not outta here yet!

Tara

Showtime!

We leave in an hour for Court. I just got back from breakfast. Tara did not join me because she can’t eat, she’s so nervous. Gotta go get dressed. Wish us luck!

Comments welcome

I set this blog so that you can now add your comments anonymously without logging in. So, comment away! I was afraid that the requirement for a login was keeping people from participating. Now you can go crazy because you’re anonymous. Just watch your language! Elizabeth is reading this, too … some day. 🙂 Email me if you have a problem using the Comments section. Or leave a comment if you can’t comment. Oh, sorry, the Russian bureaucracy is rubbing off on me.

It’s 3:25am here. I went to bed around 9:30, so that’s 6 hours. I would’ve stayed in bed just now, but that room is just disgustingly smoky. I wake up every morning feeling like I’d been smoking heavily the night before. I used to smoke, so I know what that feels like. They don’t understand the concept of smoke-free rooms here. And, I KNOW it will really bother Elizabeth, once we have her. I get the impression she has sensitive skin and eyes. It would be nice to have a lower room, too, because the elevators are so flaky. We usually end up using the stairs. Being on the seventh floor makes for some good exercise, which I personally enjoy (and need), but I know Tara and I doubt Elizabeth will see it the same way.

Yesterday, to kill the time while we waited, Liena (the interpreter) gave me an “assignment.” She’s a teacher. That’s what they do. 🙂 Anyway, she asked me to write an essay on what comes to mind at the mention of the word “diversity.” I said what? Was this some sort of secret adoption agency psychological test? Forgive my paranaoia, but it’s hard to just relax and be yourself when you feel constantly scrutinized. Anyway, I answered that I enjoyed diversity because I’m a people watcher. The more variety, the better. I added some other politically-correct b.s., just in case. Something about people of all cultures living together in perfect harmony, holding hands and singing Koombayah (sp?). 🙂

Eventually, after much prodding, she was satisfied with my answer. It was then my turn to ask a question: What comes to mind when you think of the word “American.” She wrote down “diversity and money.” To make her work a little harder as she did to me, I asked, “That’s all?” She added that America has “beautiful nature” and the people are positive. We eventually tired of that, as you probably did five minutes ago. So, we played “battleship.” You know, both people make a square grid on a separate piece of paper, vertical side with letters, horizontal side with numbers, then call out various squares trying to “hit” their already-marked squares. Yeah, we got tired of that, too, but there was NOTHING else to do as we sat there waiting our turn at Immigration. Good times. 🙂

Our Court appearance is scheduled for 10a.m. this morning. For some reason, the theme of Rocky keeps running through my head. 🙂 I feel like it’s going to be a fight, or I at least need to expect a fight but hope for pleasant civility and a positive ruling. I could’ve been a lawyer. 🙂

Bureaucracy

Oh … my … God. Do not EVER lose that document they have you fill out on the plane before you land! Stapling it to your forehead would be less painful than what Galina, Liena and I went through today. Vika was tending to the other couple, Nancy and Joel today. Anyway, we just spent ALL afternoon standing and sitting in line at the Immigration department. I’m not the one who had to do the hard work, though. I hope CHI pays Galina very well because she jumped through some hoops today, smiling the entire time. She knows how to get things done.

But first, some news about Elizabeth, the whole reason we’re here. We saw her in the orphanage for the first time in two months. She actually looked a little taller, and her hair was a little longer. She immediately let me pick her up and we both kissed her. But then she was suddenly not very friendly. We think she remembered that she was mad at us for leaving her the last time. She WAS very sad that last day last time. She warmed up to us by the end of the visit, though. Tara pushed her around on the three-wheeler as they tried to run me down, just like old times! 🙂 Still, it was tough having her being not terribly friendly with either of us until the end. It didn’t phase Tara. She said it was just a 2-year-old being a 2-year-old.

After the orphanage, we shopped for groceries, then dropped Tara off at the hotel. Liena and I picked up Galina at her apartment and got to the Immigration office just before 2. The office is only open from 2 to 6. We put our name on the list (WAY down the list), and ran some errands such as getting things notarized, etc. We returned to Immigration around 3:30 and spent the rest of the afternoon there. Thank God there’s no smoking allowed. Not that anyone here normally honors those signs elsewhere, they do when there are armed guards nearby, probably happy to shoot anyone who acts up, out of sheer boredom. They did actually escort an irate woman out shortly after we got there.

By the time we finally got in to see the “document minister” (or whatever she’s called) at 5:55, she spoke for about 30 seconds, signed something and sent us down the hall to see some other guy. Galina went in there to see him, only to come out a second later, unhappy. I asked Liena what happened. Galina had just been told by this man that the only days he “accepts visitors” was on Fridays. Today’s Wednesday. Galina marched down the hall to the original woman for a few minutes, returned to the second man’s office, came back out a minute later and went into another office. Liena and I just stayed in the hall, out of the way at this point. Liena guessed that Galina must have made a call to someone important to get this man to agree to see her. She then went in and out of several more offices, trying to talk to people before they left at 6pm SHARP. She finally came out of one office, set all of her things down, and started to go out the front door. What? I asked Liena. Galina was told she had to go make a copy of my passport. Now, you know those people have photocopiers somewhere in those offices, they just wouldn’t let Galina use one. Before she went outside, however, she turned back around and went into another office and talked them into letting her use the copy machine. She then returned to the previous office and came out a few minutes later with a sigh of relief. She set her things down with a smile on her face and handed me the passports. Then she looked up and crossed herself, and we all laughed and got the hell out of there.

I told Liena to tell Galina “please forgive me” for losing that stupid form in the first place. Galina just laughed and acted like it was nothing.

The moral of this story is, don’t ever visit Russia! No, wait, I mean, don’t ever lose your “papers.” After today, the court appearance suddenly doesn’t look so bad in comparison.

Russian adoption consultant

I’ve taken a job here as a Russian adoption consultant. The hours are long, and the pay is in barter, but you gotta do what you gotta do, seein’ as how I can’t leave the country. 🙂

But seriously, the Children’s Hope office in Brentwood, TN has an opening for such a job. The hours are still long, but I’m pretty sure they pay in US dollars. 🙂 If you or anyone you know is interested, email Brenda at Children’s Hope (I stripped out the @ sign in order to confuse “spambots”. Geeky stuff. Never mind.) You’ll figure it out. 🙂

As to my own paperwork problem, I’m told that they just have to request that the form be reissued. I don’t know why, since I’m the one who filled it out in the first place. Why can’t I just fill out another one? But you know how government bureaucracies are. This will give me something exciting to do while we wait those ten days after (assuming) the judge grants us custody of Elizabeth. It’s not a “problem,” it’s an “opportunity!” That’s the corporate way of looking at it, right? You know me, always the corporate sort of guy! 🙂

Back in Astrakhan

We made it to Astrakhan, but I’ve lost my immigration form that goes with the passport and visa. It’s just a little sheet that they have you fill out on the airplane before you land. If I’d known it was so important, I would have stapled it into the passport instead of just sliding it in there. It’s not the end of the world, but I can’t leave the country without it. I’m told we can go to a “visa service” and have it replaced … for who knows how much money. Bummer.

[UPDATE: See Bureaucracy].

On the plus side, we found out that we get to visit Elizabeth tomorrow before the court appearance, after all. So, that’s great.

Tuesday (11/26/07)

Time flies when you lose nine hours. We fly to Astrakhan this afternoon. This morning, we’ll be having the free breakfast that the hotel offers. Then we’ll exchange our dollars for rubles (before the dollar devalues even more). I could’ve done that yesterday, but I … just … didn’t … feel like it. 🙂

They don’t get a lot of daylight here this time of year. Yesterday, when we woke up around 4:30pm from our naps, it was already dark outside. Now this morning at 7:20, it’s STILL dark.

We’re not exactly sure when checkout time is, but our driver told us to be checked out and ready to go to the airport by 1pm. We’ll probably end up killing time in the lobby like last time.