Wednesday, October 24, 2012

HOOPS, part 3

Yesterday we received wonderful news and that news came in the form of a tracking number from DHL! After over a week of wrangling and logistics, finally, proof that our package has been picked up and is on its way to the states. As I'm writing this, our package was last scanned in Germany and is probably traveling over the Atlantic this very moment. Even though we are no strangers to these sort of problems, I'm continually amazed at how difficult seemingly simple tasks become once you spread them across multiple countries, governments, and cultures. I have to tip my hat to DHL and supervisor Michael for really working the problem for us, staying on top of things, and DHL for ultimately agreeing to use their corporate account to get this package moving. Who could have thought it would have been so difficult to get foreign shipment prepaid from the US... but thats now behind us. We expect to receive the package by the end of the week where I will promptly pick it up and place it in another shipper's envelop to overnight it to Seattle where our travel agent can finally present it to the embassy. If you recall, all this was caused by a fat finger typo in the electronic visa invitation system that caused the consulate to say they would not issue my visa unless they had the original invitation in hand! But pray this is the last hangup and once they see the original, they'll go forward will issuing my business visa without problem.

As if that hasn't been bothersome enough, what occupy's more of our thoughts at the moment is preparing travel arrangements for our final trip. We initially thought about traveling this week, but for many reasons (visa trouble now being one of those), it worked out best that we didn't. With Jessica having unavoidable work travel on 11/4-11/6, our next opportunity to consider is 11/10. Even though we have not heard from Vita that Sweet Girl's passport is confirmed ready for pickup (its been almost 3 weeks now since I applied for it),   we're completely confident it will be by 11/10. So you may ask, whats the problem then? Can't the adoption company provide you with a travel itinerary knowing everything will be ready by 11/10? Afterall, thats what a travel agent would do if you were planning a vacation and those cost far less money than adoption agency. I wish it were that simple, but its not. Unfortunately, one of our biggest headaches right now is trying to decide how long we'll need on the final trip, thus deciding when the return portion of our flights should be. Let me try to explain...

Our final trip will be broken into two portions, time we need to spend in Sweet Girl's town making final preparations and time we must spend in "the capital" awaiting our clearance to enter the US. In Sweet Girl's town, we must pick up her passport (which only may be done on a Tues), attempt to cash out her bank account, get final questions answered from her caretakers regarding keeping her daily schedule consistent  and then spending enough time with her so she's comfortable enough leaving the orphanage with us for good. Once we walk out of the orphanage that final time, all three of us, we will immediately travel 3 hrs by car to "the capital" city to an apartment there. Here we will remain for what is explained to us as a 5 business day program that includes paperwork, getting Sweet Girl evaluated by doctors practicing US standards of medicine, having an in-person interview at the US embassy, and finally, Sweet Girl being issued a US visa to enter our country. Part of the challenge here is our adoption agency will only commit to this being officially a 5 business day program. Though in actuality, many of the adoptive parents we've spoken to who have gone through the exact same thing swear up and down it only takes 3 days and is never know to take the full 5 days.

So here is where our headache comes. We would like to fly out Sun, arrive in Sweet Girl's town Mon afternoon, conduct our business there Mon afternoon and Tues, then leave with Sweet Girl Tues late, use Wed, Thurs, Fri in "the capital" doing her visa, and be on a plane home Sat. There are a couple of problems with this, can we get down all our business in her town in 1.5 days (mainly close our her bank account)? And  can we get her visa done in 3 days when the adoption agent tells us we need 5? In this day and age, changing airline tickets can be done, but its neither easy or cheap (with change fees + fair differences, etc). But at the same time, staying 3 extra days in country that we don't have to isn't cheap with extra hotel fees and food plus delays Sweet Girl getting home and returning to the normalcy of a schedule (what will bring her the most comfort during this time). What to do? Either way, it could be a costly decision in terms of money in excess of $1000 and time/discomfort for Sweet Girl, not to mention being apart from the twins. And we will be forced to make this decision with incomplete information and without the guidance of our adoption agency... I sometimes feel Vegas would give you better odds! Hopefully reading this gives a little glimpse into the stress involved and how its not just a hurry up and wait process. The other advice I would give those considering international adoption is, despite the money you pay them, don't expect your agency to stay on top of your schedule, get involved, get educated, and push the boundaries for your kids. This will undoubtedly remain stressful until we step off that plane onto US soil for the first time with her.

Monday, October 22, 2012

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!





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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 Rob’s 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 Gorrells will pay for DHL. For that the Gorrell family 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 Gorrells.

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 Rob can go pick it up (DHL is about 30 minutes away, between our house and Robs 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?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The only known in adoption is the unknown...

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 appearence 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. Jessica'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 Jessica'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). Jessica's 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.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Friends wanted!


How can you put into words what this journey has done for us? It’s made me stronger than I ever knew possible while making me fall to my knees in weakness. It’s broken my heart and my soul for every child that I can’t save. It’s made tears fall from my eyes when I watch my sweet Audrey and Harper play because I know there are so many millions of children who will never know what it’s like.


I tell myself, “Can I stop with just Sweet Girl?” Can I tell God that we don’t have enough money or enough room at the table?

Here is Sweet Girl being a sweet girl, playing her harmonica, drinking her juice box and looking at pictures of HER family. (This is the "non-brushed" hair day Rob talked about in his post. Also, her hair looks blond here, I think it's the camera, because you can clearly see that in the picture of her on the wall behind her, it's red and very curly.)

 There is so much evil in the world. Even within my small adoptive community, I see satan attacking at every turn. Sometimes it’s obvious – sweet precious children pass away while they wait for their mama and papa to come, crises with jobs or houses while parents try to fight to bring home their kids, kids who wait YEARS AND YEARS for their family to find them. Other times it’s not obvious – something another adoptive mom does annoys you and puts a bitterness in your heart or I choose to buy a fancy lunch out when I know what $10 would mean for these kids.

Today, I read a post about a lady who was culling her friends list. She said something like if you read this and don’t plan on praying for orphans, adopting orphans or donating to orphans, then delete me as your friend. At first, I was inclined to agree and shout, “Yes, this is SO IMPORTANT! If you aren’t with me, then you must be against me and if you are against me then I don’t want to be your friend!” But I quickly realized I didn’t mean that.

Do I think that this journey has been so awesome and the reward so great that I think everyone should do it? Yes! But don’t all “new parents” say that? Once you had your first or third child, didn’t you try to tell all your friends that they need to stop waiting and just have kids or another kid now! We all meant it with the best of hearts though. But do I truly judge my friends who choose not to have kids? No, not at all. That is their journey and their choice. I just want to support them on whatever decisions they make and watch God work in their lives. I know that sometimes this means that I will cry with them and be heartbroken with them.

Back to adoption.. so even though I encourage everyone to adopt now, do I truly think it’s for everyone? No, I don’t! Do I think donating to families/children waiting for adoption is for everyone? Nope! I’d hope that you could at least pray for them, but will I really unfriend people who aren’t believers because they don’t believe in prayer? That’s ridiculous. What I do want my friends to do is search their souls and look around them to see where they can help and HELP SOMEHOW. I do think that everyone needs to follow the Bible when God tells us to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, but if that means that you support meal programs for orphans or a work assistance program for widows, then I am so excited for you! And it’s exciting to know that where I’m not called to help specifically, God has called others to help! We are all working towards the same goal!

It’s such a rewarding experience to follow what I think God has called us to do. I get wrapped up in the details of life and get frustrated by it all too, but the reward at the end of this journey wrapped up in a little red headed ball of fire is my light. She makes this worth doing.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t care if God leads you down a different path or if you don’t think God leads you at all – you are still my friend and I cherish our relationship.

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I was going to stop this here, but throughout this whole post, the theme of redemption has been front and center in my mind. I can't find an eloquent way to bring the two topics together, but just pretend that a great writer whisked his or her way in here and added a paragraph that combines these two topics.

There is a quote from a man, Derek Loux (http://louxfamilyblog.com/), about Redemption. He wrote this in his blog regarding the adoption of his boys from EE:
On the drive home that night, the Lord whispered in my ear, “This is Redemption. Derek, do you know how far I travelled to get you and bring you back? I had to be separated from my Son, in order to get you, just like you are separated from your children in order to get these boys. Do you know how expensive it was for Me to purchase you? It cost me everything. Do you know how broken, sick, damaged, twisted, dirty, smelly, and hopeless you were? And at the end of it all, you had nothing to give me or add to me. I did it for you. I emptied myself and became nothing so that you could have it all. This is redemption.
My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him. And when He redeems us, we can’t even really appreciate or comprehend it, just like Dimitri will never comprehend or fully appreciate what is about to happen to him … but … he will live in the fruit of it. As his Daddy, I will never expect him to understand all of this or even to thank me. I just want to watch him live in the benefits of my love and experience the joys of being an heir in my family. This is how our heavenly “Papa” feels towards us.
Today, settle your busy heart down and rest in the benefits of redemption. Enjoy the fruits of His goodness, and stop trying to “pay Him back”. You’ll never get close you goofy little kid.
Derek went to be with Jesus a year after he wrote that which makes it even more powerful. It makes me realize that my blessing is that I don't have to be strong and I don't have to do it all, I just need to do the best I can. God has already redeemed me and Sweet Girl, I don't need to do it again. But I do want to watch her "live with the benefit of my love and experience the joys of being an heir in my family".

We think we get to go get our sweet sweet baby mine in two weeks :)


Friday, October 5, 2012

On a wing and a prayer - Trip 3, Day 3

: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 Jessica 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 Jessica 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 Jessica 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.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

No business, just play! - Trip 3, Day 2

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. Jessica 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. Jessica 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.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hurry up to wait! - Trip 3, Day 0/1

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 Jessica 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 Jessica behind to take care of 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 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!

Monday, October 1, 2012

A rock and a hard place... preparing for Trip 3

So 10/3 is just right around the corner, the 30-day mark from court when the court's decree is finalized in writing, which consequently means trip #3 is just around the corner. Before I get into that, I thought it important to fill everyone in with all the happens of the last month as the process hasn't let up just because we've had court.

One thing that I should put out there is Sweet Girl's region is unique among other regions in Eastern Europe as it requires 4 trips, not 3. The extra trip comes about from the passport application process which falls squarely between the courts decision and us being able to bring her home. See, Sweet Girl will travel to the United States as a foreign national and as such requires a passport from her country to travel on. In most regions, the task of applying for a passport can be delegated to your adoption facilitator through power of attorney so they may start the process while you're in the US and all you have to do is arrive to pick up the passport and your child, then return home. Not so in Sweet Girl's region, they require one of the parent's passports to start the application, thus requiring one of the parents to be there. The turn around time for a passport in her region is also much longer than other regions, several weeks instead of several days, making it difficult to wait in country and splitting up what would normally be 3 trips into 3rd and 4th trips.

On top of this, there is a secondary complicating factor, and that is visa's we use to travel on. Up to this point, we have been using 30-day, single entry, tourist visas which are pretty trivial to get through any travel agent, we happen to use one based out of Seattle. In Sweet Girl's country, visa's cannot be issued without first an invitation from inside her country, so that's the primary purpose of the travel agent, to facilitate the invitation from, for example, a foreign hotel, and to process the request through the consulate. However, we knew that in order to pick up her passport, we had to travel on an entirely different style visa, an adoption (aka business) visa. In order to get one of these, the invitation had to come from the adoption ministry in Sweet Girl's region and the travel agent could not help us here. So knowing all this, after we finished up court last trip, we had asked Vita to formally request our business visa invitation (something thats normally done later). The other thing about business visa's is they can be issued for multiple-entry across a longer than 30-day span. We had figured, if we got the invitation soon enough, we could travel on a single multiple-entry business visa for trips 3 and 4 and save about $500 over a single tourist for trip 3 and a single business for trip 4.

But there was also an alternative motive for going ahead and requesting our adoption visa invitations... we had full intentions of attempting to work the system, look for a loophole in the process, and combine the 3rd and 4th trips into one take-home trip. If we could get the passport process down to a few days, we could apply for it, wait, and pick it up, then bring her home all in a single trip. So, thanks to the Translate feature of Google Chrome, we spent a lot of time reading the information on the passport office's website and found a small chink in the armor. A clause that states passports could be expedited within 3-days with a letter from a foreign doctor stating emergency medical treatment in another country is necessary. Because of Sweet Girl's special needs classification, immediately when we got home, we worked with our pediatrician to craft a letter stating she needed to see our Sweet Girl as soon as possible. We then notarized and apostilled this letter and sent it on to Vita. Now something you should know about the passport offices in her country. Each region is more or less autonomous and is subject to its own interpretations of the laws (just like laws vary between states here). Because of this, we knew it was still a long shot, but it was only avenue to try to get her home sooner. We had discussed this idea with Vita, who agreed to call the passport office and ask so we said we would go ahead and prepare the doctor's letter for her to have. On the off chance this ploy worked, it was even more important to go ahead and get the visa invitation early so we could travel on the correct adoption visa if we were successful at combining the 3rd and 4th trips.

Now fast forward to the last week or so. Vita had previously called the passport office, but the supervisor was on vacation for several weeks so we had no answers there. As for the visa invitation, Vita had been calling every day and was told it was promised on 9/12, but we were almost two weeks after that date and still no invitations and nobody knew why. So now we were faced with a dilemma, 10/3 was fast approaching, the date we would be ready to apply for her passport, but still had no answers on expediting the passport or getting a business visa. Plane flights were getting more expensive by the hour and we knew we didn't want to delay trip 3 all all to apply for her passport later unless we were absolutely sure we could combine the trips and bring her home on that trip. All along, we said we wouldn't make her wait longer than necessary because of money or paperwork, we'd find a way. Also, due to the timing of this work trip and Jessica's work schedule, it was not a great week for her to travel unless we would be picking her up. And since the passport office only requires one parent to apply for the passport, we decided that I would go solo unless we were combining the trips. So we made a judgement call and went ahead and booked my flight for 10/2 - 10/6 with no idea about visa's or whether the passport office would honor our doctors letter and request to expedite.

Because the travel dates had already been set, this gave us a hard deadline for when we must apply for a visa... even with paying expedite fees, our travel agent in Seattle had to have all information in hand by 9:00am Thurs morning in order to pick up the visa Fri and have it overnighted for Sat delivery back to us. But we still didn't know what type of visa. So we filled out two applications, one for tourist and one for business and packaged them up along with my passport and mailed them to Seattle with instructions that we would provide at the last possible moment which application to submit to the consulate. Then Wed we received good news, our business invitations had been granted and Vita sent us scanned copies. But along with this came a bit of bad news, the passport office had rejected our request to expedite the passport so there would be no combining the trips, but having me travel on a multiple entry business visa would still save us money and give me the option of remaining in country if for some reason they said the passport would only take a few days when I dropped it off. We thought we were set with the visa. However, the consulate uses an online computer system to look up the invitations, and even though they had been issued, it hadn't yet appeared in the computer system so we were still without luck... we had til 9:00am the following day to hope the computer system would get updated. We went ahead and started the process to get a tourist invitation as a backup plan. Then Thurs and our 9:00am deadline comes and its still not in the system, we make the call to go with a traditional tourist visa. A couple hours pass and I get a call from our travel agent, there has been a computer glitch and our tourist  invitation is also not in the system, the consulate (in Seattle) won't be able to have the visa processed until Mon morning (the day before I leave) and its too late to re-process on our business invitation that did end up showing in the computer system about lunch time. :frustrating:

So we've come up with the following hail-mary play... I will stick to my original plan of flying out from Charlotte-Douglas airport tomorrow at 11:00am. I will be going solo to apply for our Sweet Girl's passport while Jessica remains behind to watch the twins and work. My visa should be ready this morning in Seattle where our travel agent will FedEx it priority overnight to the Charlotte-Douglas airport to arrive tomorrow (the day I leave). So I will leave my house tomorrow, heading to the airport with no passport. I need to find the FedEx terminal there, attempt to pick up my priority package held there before heading over to the passenger terminal. If all goes well, I should make it out of the country on time, crisis averted... but we have basically lost all margin for error now.

Since this is a short solo trip, pretty much for the sole purpose of going is to the passport office to apply for her passport before turning around and coming home, I won't have much opportunity to see our Sweet Girl, though I hope to at least see her once or twice... look for the short blog entries for trip 3 in the coming days. If all goes well, Jessica and I will be returning in late October one last time to pick up our Sweet Girl and bring her home.... for good!

(Rob)