The Second Trip to Russia

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            We managed to get most of our packing done this time in a fairly orderly fashion, the only initial hassle was that I had forgotten to get my scriptures so I just tossed them on top of the bags and figured I would put them in my carry-on when we got to the airport. While we were driving they slid off onto the floor of the car and got left in Teddy Minorís car who was giving us our ride to the airport. In a way it was symbolic of the whole trip, little things that suddenly become a hassle. Now we had no scriptures except some on audio CD that we had packed.

            We got to Seattle with no real hassle and hooked up with Dan, Evís younger brother and his wife and a couple of their friends and went out to pizza. It was a nice visit. Our bags were checked through to Russia so we had time and a nice visit. The flight to Moscow was actually fairly nice. I slept for about 4 of the 11 hours and we were a long way from the smoking section.

            We arrived in Moscow and it was then in the afternoon there. It was very hot in the 90's and humid. I had been carrying my leather jacket with me because the weather in Salekhard was still cool, Moscow wasnít. While I was filling out the customs declaration form I set down my Jacket. When I collected all the bags and went through the customs line I left the jacket behind. I realized the error as soon as I sent the bags through and went back to the table to get it, but it was gone. I spent about 10 useless minutes looking but someone had seen it and taken off with it. The loss of my nice leather jacket was a pain, but that was not the worst of it. In its pocket was my one book I had brought for recreational reading. I knew that until we had the kids with us there would be a lot of down time and I was right. Over the course of the trip I felt the loss of the book much more than I did the jacket since I had another light wind breaker with me.

            We got into our hotel and then tried to sleep. I exchanged some money and we ate a little but we were 10 hour out of synch and our room had no air conditioning so it was tough. The next day things got tricky fast. This being the high season for travel in Russia everyone was going everywhere. Normally getting tickets to Salekhard is no big deal, but now we found that there were no seats. We had to fly standby, which in Russia is not the standard affair that it is in the states. We also had no room at all for not getting on the flight because our court was scheduled for the next day and there is only one flight to Salekhard a day. We had a very harrowing time but finally did get on the flight and it was actually somewhat annoying because there were several open seats but no one had been able to confirm any prior to departure.

            We arrived in Salekhard and then went and saw the boys at the orphanage. It was weird because they acted almost like we had not been away for four months. They were happy to see us but not overjoyed. It was obvious that they had grown, especially Peter. We had a good visit and then went back to our Hotel where we had nothing to do after eating. We both felt like going to bed at 5pm local time but knew this would be a bad deal in the long run. I had nothing to read so I ended up watching Russian TV a lot.

            Monday was our court date. We went and visited the boys in the morning as our court appointment was in the afternoon. The court was about two hours long. We had a judge for who this was his first international adoption. The regular judge, like everyone else, was out on vacation. There was a lot of reading of all of the various documents that we had gathered. There were presentations by the government prosecutor, our social worker, the orphanage director, and also questions to us. They were fairly straight forward questions. The interesting thing was that many people were genuinely puzzled that we would want to adopt three boys, especially when one of them wasnít a sibling. In Russia it is normal to have only one child, and two is considered a lot. More than two children is considered to be a very big family. They actually have a problem right now with negative population growth, but their orphanages are bursting with kids. The idea of a family with five or six kids is almost unthinkable to many Russians. For this reason they really were puzzled by what we were doing.

            It was a little tense, but in the end court went fine. The judge accepted us and waived the possible ten day waiting period. On Tuesday we visited the kids and then went around to do paperwork. In between this we were mostly left to sit in our hotel. We did walk around town a little, but without a guide or interpreter we were painfully aware of our inadequate language skills. We found out that since Sam was born with club feet he was considered disabled and had an account in his name which we received once we were officially awarded custody. This amounted to around 15000 rubles which was about $500 which ended up being a very good thing to defray our costs.

            The problem we ran into was that we had planned to all fly to Tyumen to get the boyís passports and then fly to Moscow for the embassy paperwork. But, there were no tickets. After three days of finagling the best they could do was for Peter and I to fly to Tyumen and then Ev and Sam and Eric to fly to Moscow. They flew out Thursday morning and Peter and I flew out Thursday afternoon. Or at least is was supposed to be afternoon. We had a three hour delay in the airport before we could leave so that we didnít get into Tyumen till quite late. Not only that but the normal Tyumen coordinator was on vacation. Her father who was a nice enough guy was there to meet us, and I found that he spoke less English than I spoke Russian. His name was Boris.

            Boris got us to our Hotel in Tyumen and Peter watched all he did as he checked all the paperwork for the new Russian passports. After Boris left we both went to bed. The next morning he was back early to get some additional information which hadnít been filled in. We had to wait in the hotel room because he needed us handy. This turned out to be good because he came back two more times needing something signed which hadnít been. This was Friday. We had originally been told that if the paperwork was submitted on Friday that the passports wouldnít be complete till Monday. This turned out to not be the case. For whatever reason, due to his hustle or whatever Boris got them to get them done with same day service. This was good and we then looked at getting tickets back to Moscow. He originally wanted to get us on a flight that night, but they were booked but there was a flight early the next morning which had plenty of room so we got that, then things started to come apart. We went in the afternoon to pick up the passports and they demanded the original birth certificates for each of the boys. This was a problem. In order for the boys to fly they had to have a birth certificate with them, so I had Peterís and Ev had Sam and Ericís certificates. All three passports were done, sitting on the table, but unless I could produce original birth certificates I couldnít get Sam and Ericís. We argued with the official, but there was no budging her, so we took Peterís passport and left the other two.

            At this point there was a lot of unhappiness on Borisí part. He blamed Tatiana for not having known this and for not having gotten the paperwork straight. In truth this wasnít her fault, but the fault of not being able to not get tickets for all of us to Tyumen. Even had she known this would happen I still donít know how it could have been done differently. At any rate after several frantic phone calls Boris didnít know what to do. It was obvious to me what we had to do so I volunteered to go with Peter back to Moscow, get the certificates and then fly back to Tyumen to get the passports and then fly back to Moscow. It was not what I wanted to do, but it was the only solution for the time constraints we had.

            Saturday morning we got up very early so that we could be to the airport on time. Our flight was supposed to leave at 7:30am so we had to be there by 6:30am. Boris helped me clear the first security checkpoint and then he left. I had Peter with me and we went to the waiting area. While we were there several other flights were called but not ours. While we were waiting, and while I tried to keep Peter entertained I noticed that there was another American there. When yet another flight was called before ours I asked him to make sure that I hadnít missed the flight. He said that there had been an hour delay announced. This pattern continued, every hour another hour delay was announced till finally we left at after 1pm. Peter did quite well waiting mostly because after a while he hooked up with a couple of other boys and they pretty much played and kept themselves entertained. I spent time talking the other American and his new Russian wife. She was not happy to see Peter being adopted by Americans which was an interesting attitude considering she had just married an American and no other Russians wanted him or his brothers.

            When our flight arrived in Moscow there was no sign of our facilitator or driver. I waited for over 40 minutes hoping that they would show, but not knowing if they would since we were so delayed. Finally, I gave in to a taxi driver who had been badgering me the whole time and let him drive us to our hotel. It turns out that the driver and facilitator did show up, probably within 5 minutes after we left. She was not amused, but then neither was I.

            When I got to the hotel Ev was very happy to see me. She had been having a very difficult time with the boys. Eric, who we thought would be the easiest of the three to handle had turned out to be quite the opposite when outside of the orphanage. She had had a very tough time of it being on her own, trying to keep two very active boys contained in a hotel room which had no air conditioning in the middle of a Moscow heat wave, and I had to go back Sunday night.

            We had originally planned on being in Tyumen on Sunday and going to church there. Now we were all in Moscow, but Ev thought that our facilitator would be moving us to a new hotel right at about the time church was held in Moscow. I called the contact numbers I had, but I didnít get any live people and didnít leave any messages, which turned out to be a mistake. In any event, even though we had a miscommunication on when we were moving to the new hotel, we didnít end up going to church and I had to leave at around 3:30pm to go to the airport to fly back to Tyumen. This airport is their newest and the only one that looked at all like an airport in the states. We arrived early and had over two hours wait before my flight. The flight did go on time and I did arrive in Tyumen on time. Boris picked me up and took me to the Hotel.

            The next morning we went to the OVIR office and picked up the remaining two passports. Now that I had the birth certificates it was no problem. On the way in to the office I passed a couple of missionaries and shocked the American Elder when I said hi to him. I unfortunately didnít have any chance to stop and talk to them. Boris took me back to my hotel for the rest of the day where I ate and then watched Russian TV. We then went to the airport and I flew back to Moscow. Everything went well this time and I arrived to check out our new place at the Marriott Grand hotel. It was a very nice VERY expensive hotel but it had air conditioning and a swimming pool, things that we needed very badly.

            It was now Monday night and we were scheduled to have our Embassy interview the next day and fly out on Wednesday. It was then that things yet again took another turn for the worse. It seems that we were missing originals of Sam and Peterís old birth certificates and one other document and Tatiana our social worker in Salekhard couldnít be reached. The fact that this was only discovered now when Ev had had all the documents with her in Moscow since Thursday was more than a little irritating to me. We were in trouble, and we had not much of anything we could do about it. We were out of time and it was up to our facilitators to fix things.

            We were left largely in the dark as to what happened next except that documents were shifted and created on a temporary basis till the originals could be found. Tatiana turned out to be in Moscow too and couldnít get originals from Salekhard, but all that was fixed when they said there was a new problem, that having to do with the fact that the Embassy claimed that we werenít necessarily approved for three boys if they werenít biological siblings.

            The sum total of this is that we couldnít get to the Embassy on Tuesday, which meant that we couldnít fly on Wednesday and so had to reschedule our flights to Friday. On Wednesday we did go to the Embassy with a faxed document from the social worker who did our home study claiming that we were indeed approved for three related or unrelated boys.

            The actual embassy interview itself was anticlimactic. We came in, submitted our papers, swore to their truth and were handed back our huge visa packets with all the necessary documents. We had cleared the last hurdle that would keep us in Russia.

            The next day we did our registration with the Russian consulate. We were originally going to do it after we got home but it was cheaper to do it in Russia and we had the time to complete it so we did. We went out to eat that night at a chicken restaurant which was loosely modeled after a mix of Chuck-E-Cheese and KFC. The boys loved it.

            When it all started to come apart on Monday I had called out for help. I tried all my numbers for church members but hadnít gotten anything but machines, this time I left a message and it was a good thing. Greg Hulka was the branch president of the international branch in Moscow and while he didnít help at all on the paperwork he did help us not crumble under the pressure. He came and visited us at the hotel Monday night. It was good to have him there. It also turned out that if Iíd left a message he could have gotten us to church on Sunday. He was actually just about to be transferred to the Ukrainian embassy and was very interested in maintaining contact. I still have to get back to him.

            The Marriott had a pool and we visited it every day we were there. We had quite the adjustment time with the boys. They were in a totally new environment and it was tough for them and for us. We had started right off using ďholdingĒ both as therapy and punishment. It really did work well for us, but it was not at all easy trying to keep them occupied in only a hotel room.

            Friday finally came and we actually got out of the airport pretty much without incident. We had a good layout of seats on the plane and the boys did pretty well on the flight. They were tired but didnít sleep the entire flight from Moscow to Seattle, over 10 hours. We arrived in Seattle and the boysí internal clocks were convinced it was 1am. We got through customs and immigration with only a little fuss, then we went to wait for our evening flight. Again, Dan and his new wife Tara met us, they got us some food and hung out for an hour or two. We were right by a big set of windows where we could watch planes taking off and a construction crew working with big earth moving equipment. We had about four hours to wait and the boys were fading fast when the plane finally was ready.

            All three boys immediately fell asleep once we were in the air, the only problem was that we had to get them sitting upright to land. This was a problem. All three had now been up about 24 hours and couldnít stand it. Poor Sam screamed the entire landing and wet his seat. They were all in very poor spirits when we got off the plane to be greeted by Wayne Hammer who was going to drive us home and Ruth, Evís sister and her Husband Jim and their two boys. They had some presents which Brayden, Ruthís older boy delighted in giving our boys. This partially mollified the boys but they were all so tired. As soon as we were on the road home with Wayne they again fell asleep.

            We got home to find that our house had been cleaned while we were gone and that some basic groceries had been bought for us. The boys woke up and were sort of awake but really wanted to sleep but didnít know it. We had a least one meltdown before they were all in bed, but happily they slept as we did till about 5:30am the next morning, which was pretty good, all things considered. We were home.

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