Monday, May 25, 2009

Headed home

While I was sad to leave, the general consensus was that the bare minimum time in my childs birth country is enough. We has a noon flight out of Moscow, and would arrive in Cincinnati around 7:00pm.

Our driver was coming at 9:00 to get us, but had a track record of being early, so we were ready at 8:30. As expected, he arrived at 8:30, and we packed the van to head out. Since it was a holiday weekend, there was minimal traffic. We wanted to record the drive, just so people would believe the stories we told about traffic, but there was nothing to report.

We arrived at the airport about 9:15 and headed for the green channel through customs - nothing to declare. Best line ever, except that everyone goes through that line, so the wait is about 45 minutes. Fortunately, while in line, I recognized a couple who was on our flight from Atlanta to Moscow the week before. This time, they had a little boy with them. I introduced myself, said how I recognized them, and we struck up a conversation. Turns out the little boy was their son they just adopted...and they couldn't have been more glowing that morning. This was their third trip to Russia. The judge in their region did not waive the 10 day waiting period, and the orphanage told them they would not be able to see their son during that time, so they went back to the US to wait. They actually said it was cheaper to come home than to stay in Russia for those 10 days. We shared stories and experiences while we waited.

At the end of the line for the green channel all of our bags went on a belt to be scanned (security check number one). We then proceeded to a line for the Delta ticket counter. After another 15 minutes in line, we were greeted by a checkpoint that verified our passports, checked our destination, and made sure we understood the regulations of flying an American airline. The couple we met said that at this point we may have our bags searched (security check number two). We then proceeded to the ticket counter. At this point we waived our checked luggage goodbye and hoped we would see in at JFK. After we got our tickets, we waited another half hour in line at passport control. Here we had our visas stamped saying that we officially left the country (security check number three). From there we went on to the traditional airport security - remove the shoes, liquids in a baggie, electronics out, etc (security check number four).

Two hours later, we finally made it to the gate. Fortunately for us, if we had come 15 minutes later, we would have had to enter a random security checkpoint at the gate. Four was enough. We found a seat and began to relax. At this point, we were ready to park ourselves in a seat and fall asleep. Then we hear our names as we are being paged to see the gate agent. The only thought in my head was "what is wrong with our checked luggage." The gate agent wanted to trade our seats for upgrades to business class! *Side note - I travel a lot for work, and have enough status with Delta that I get complementary upgrades and companion upgrades if available.* What? Upgrade? OK! Since I used my miles to pay for the flights, I wasn't supposed to be upgraded, but I wasn't going to complain. 10 hours in coach was not what I called fun.

Our seats weren't next to each other, but the gentleman next to Steve offered to switch. As we got comfortable, Steve looked at me and asked if this was how I lived when I flew. Not even close. On international flights, the seats recline like la-z-boys, you get multiple meals on fine china, noise cancelling headphones, large blankets, down pillows, unlimited video entertainment options on a personal TV, and all the alcohol and snacks you can eat. Steve, how originally was ready to sleep for 10 hours, was now ready to enjoy his in flight experience.

We arrived at JFK on time, and more ready to make a potential sprint as we didn't have very long before our flight to Cincinnati. We got off the plane and navigated the many tunnels to passports control (security check number five). After that it was on the claim our checked luggage. Lucky us, our bags came in on a different carousel than posted. After about a half hour, Steve started looking at the other carousels. By this time, all the bags had been pulled off and were laying on the floor. After the 4th black bag, we found ours and moved on. At JFK, to make a connection from an international flight, you must re-check your luggage, and go through airport security again (security check number six).

We made it through and found our gate, only to learn the flight was delayed, and then the gate was moved to the other side of the airport, and delayed again. We finally made it to Cincinnati around 7:45, and home about 8:30 (made a couple stops). My own bed, and my own shower never felt so good.

Despite the time change, we only slept for about 8 hours. We were up and ready to go to church at 9:30 on Sunday morning. The dogs were really excited to see us, and so were our friends. The weeks since have been a blur, but that is another post for another day. Now the waiting game begins, again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I've lost count of the day, but still in Russia

I'm not sure how many days we were in Russia at this point, but I knew it was May 1. Why you ask? It was a holiday, May Day. To celebrate, we would travel back to Moscow.

Our flight left at 7:40, so to ensure that we were able to make the flight, we were up and moving about 4:30am, to leave the hotel at 5:30am. After yet another exciting ride, that this time included almost hitting a few pedestrians as they crossed the street, we arrived back at the airport. This time we were smart...we dressed in layers. It was kind of chilly, I would say upper 40's outside, but we knew it would be hot on the plane.

We arrived at the airport, went through the 3 levels of security checks, and waited to be herded like cattle out to the plane. Russians have no real sense of "forming a line" and always seemed to be in a hurry, so we sort of waited at the back until everyone else boarded. We found our seats and immediately took off as many layers as possible. We know what was coming. Most others on the plane remained in coats.

We were very fortunate that at least one flight attendant on each flight spoke some English. We were at least able to communicate food options and the type of drink we wanted. I think we both fell asleep sometime after the meal, maybe midway through the flight. This flight would be almost 5 hours, on an Airbus A319 (a bit smaller than a 737), with no video entertainment. And I think my 4 hour flights a painful.

We woke up from our nap and started shedding clothes. The ride seemed to be hotter than the first flight. Steve opened his portable alarm clock to check the time, and remembered there was a thermometer on it...85 degrees Fahrenheit. YOWSAH! He kept it open for a few minutes. 87...89...91! 91 degree on an airplane! We started noticing that the flight crew had also removed some of the layers they had been wearing. The folks sitting around us seemed unfazed though. Many had on long sleeve shirts, blazers, and coats. We could see the sweat running off faces, but all clothing remained on. Fascinating.

We finally landed in Moscow just before 9:00am Moscow time. Again, the Russians on the flight proceeded to bundle up before heading outside. We didn't put another piece of clothing on all day. We walked off the plane and into the baggage claim area. The airline we traveled on had a strict baggage claim policy. No claim tag, no luggage. Each tag was checked against the luggage tag to ensure the proper bag was leaving with it's rightful owner.

The ride to the hotel was uneventful. Even though it was rush hour on a Friday, it was a holiday, so the ride was only about a half hour. A friend from work recommended we stay in a part of town called Arbat. It's basically known for one street that is all shops and restaurants, theaters, and artists selling paintings, books, crafts, knick knacks, etc. We spent the night there with the other couple traveling with us.

The first thing we did was take a nap, and a long one at that, and them shower. All we, both couple included, really wanted to do was be with our children, and since we couldn't do that, we wanted to go home. About 5:00pm we decided it was time for food. The other couple mentioned there was a Hard Rock Cafe just around the corner, that featured an English menu and staff that spoke English - SOLD! All I really wanted was some American food. I didn't care if it was from a restaurant that I wouldn't consider in the States because every time I've gone the food has been horrible. I wanted a burger, and I wanted someone to speak English to me! The waitress laughed as we all ordered burgers and fries. Best meal I had in Russia.

After dinner we walked along Arbat Street. Since it was a holiday, there were several impromptu parades, live music, and dancers. We stopped in some of the souvenir stores. Steve hadn't gotten anything for himself yet. He ended up with a t-shirt that was totally marketed towards American tourists. It said "I've been to Russia. There are no bears." Both true statements, both funny, both touristy. As we walked back, we found some humorous things. There was a lady with a monkey in a coat. For a small fee anyone could get a photo with the monkey. I think it was the fact that the monkey was wearing a coat that made us laugh. Also, port-a-potties can only be used for a fee. In all instances, there will be one stall with an attendant, and she must be paid before you can enter. The fee totalled about 50 cents, but it was still humorous.

After we got back to the hotel, we talked with the other couple for a while, exchanging photos, stories and experiences. About 10:00pm, we called it quites. At 9:00am the next morning, we would be headed home.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Photos from the last day

In front of the orphanage

Sam being a cling on

More books

I found his ticklish spot

The fam

Rowan petting the tiger (and no, this does not make him a Bengals fan)

Rowan and momma

Rowan and the cups

Sam dragging the toy bag down the hall

He stopped to wave bye

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Novokuznetsk Day 2...and then some

The afternoon of day 2 was a bit bittersweet. We knew it would be the last chance we had to see the boys until we returned, but we also got to spend almost 2 and a half hours with the boys. Steve started playing with Sam and I with Rowan. Not to far into the visit, Rowan got a horrible look on his face. When I looked at him, I discovered he had wet himself, which brought about the potty training question. The children start potty training early. They are training to a schedule - when they get up, before a meal, after a meal, before bed. They don't yet understand the connection between the urge to go, and going in the toilet. Looks like I will need some books on potty training. Rowan was taken away to get changed and was soon back to join us. After that, we decided that it would be good for Steve to spend most of the time with Rowan, to help him get used to Steve, and boy did it pay off.

The other couple that traveled with us took their son into an adjacent room and played with him. I played with Sam in one corner, and Steve played with Rowan in another corner. Quickly, Rowan began to start playing, which was more than we had seen him do in the previous visit. He found some stacking cups and began to pull them apart, stack them in order, and put them back together. Steve hid some cookies in the center cups for Rowan to find. When he opened the last cup, he saw the cookie, and began to put the cup back together. As he was doing that, he realized that was a cookie, pulled the cups back apart. This time, instead of smashing the cookie, he picked it up and started eating it as expected. I think I even caught a smile in there.

Sam was a bit of a cling on during the visit. I'm pretty sure we interrupted nap and snack time. He wanted to be held, but not really. He wanted to play, but not really. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, but couldn't really, because he had to stay in the room. He was fascinated at looking outside. I don't know if it was the rain, or the fact that he could hear other children playing outside, but he wanted to look outside.

He continued to run around like his hair was on fire. One moment with the balls, the next with the bubble, and the following with the books. He was incredibly fascinated by the books, especially the books with textures. He enjoyed flipping the pages, getting to the end and starting over again.

At one point we were playing in the ball pit and he decided that he was done. I knew this because when I tried to play with him, he reached up and smacked my face. I said the only Russian word that fit the moment - NO - except I said it in Russian. The translator saw the event go down, and started verbally disciplining him in Russian. He immediately corrected his actions. And this is how I know he understands Russian.

Steve and Rowan explored textures during some of their play time. He would take Rowan's hand and feel his beard, then would take his hand and feel the soft stuffed animal. After a few times of doing this, Steve said that Rowan could recognize the two were different. Steve said he would make different facial expressions as he touched the different textures.

Before we knew it we got the ten minute warning. It was good to know that the time was ending soon, and that the boys would not just be whisked away as before. We sat with each of the boys and prayed over then, asking God to protect them until we return, for the time to go quickly, and for their continued care by the workers until we return. We took some quick family photos, and surprisingly, everyone was looking at the camera. Soon, the head caregiver came in, and we knew what that meant.

We pulled out the items we brought for the boys - the bunny blankets I knit them, the pictures of momma and poppa, and the bubbles for orphanage to keep. Sam was not interested in the pictures. He wanted to see what all the commotion was about. Rowan was fascinated by the photo. He would look at the photo and then at Steve, and again at the photo and up at Steve. You could tell his little brain recognized the guy in the photo as Steve. We kept saying "poppa" as he would look at Steve, but we know he has no concept of what "poppa" means.

We said our goodbyes and gave hugs and kisses. The Russian word for goodbye is pronounced "da svidanya." Both boys knew what that meant. Once we said it, Rowan headed for the door and was escorted out by another caregiver. Sam lagged behind. The head caregiver had placed all the toys to be left into a plastic shopping bag. Sam was determined that he would carry the bag to its final destination. He would pick up the bag and fall over. He'd get back up and try again, and fall over, and he'd try again. Steve said he already has his mother's stubbornness. It eventually became comical to watch him pick up the bag that weighed as much as he did. After about 5 tries, he decided that dragging the bag was a better idea, but just as comical. We got some photos of him dragging the bag down the hall. As he was halfway down the hall, Steve and I said da svidanya. He stopped, turned, waved bye and said da svidanya back to us. He was smiling from ear to ear, and I think Steve and I were too.

We fought back the tears. It was hard to watch our sons walk away, them not knowing any different, but us knowing we would leave them for a few months. It was apparent, or at least they made it seem, that the boys were cared for. The workers knew their names, they were fed, clothed, had a bed to sleep in and a roof over their heads. They had others to play with, and the boys didn't have a care in the world.

We went back to the hotel both happy and sad. We met our sons, the boys who would be ours, but we had to leave them. That night we completed the formal petition to adopt the boys, including giving them their new names (hope I spelled them right). We would fly back to Moscow in the morning, 7:40 to be exact, happy to head home, but knowing a part of our heart would be left behind.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More photos from Day 1

Walking up to the orphanage

Showing Sam how to draw

Rowan, finally not crying around Steve

Reading books with Sam

The two on the left are the other husband who went with us, and their son, Benjamin

Rowan getting comfortable with Steve

Sam still fascinated by the camera

Monday, May 11, 2009

More adventures

Yes, it's true. I was looking the other direction as a giant orange dump truck came towards us. I really think I was watching all the other cars to our right enter the roundabout as we waited for the "perfect" moment.

We did have quite a few laughable moments. After we left the orphanage the first day we returned to the hotel. Our translator told us there was a restaurant in the hotel, which featured good food, and an English menu (Praise Jesus, and English menu!). We (Steve, myself, and the other couple traveling with us) headed to the restaurant about 5:45. We were greeted by an older Russian woman who spoke sternly in Russian. The gist - we aren't open.

We returned to the rooms, and gave it a half hour. About 6:15, we went back downstairs. This time, no lights, no answer. The place was empty. And then we remembered to corner market. That morning our translator took us to the store just behind the hotel to get some water. The four of us remembered the electric tea pot in the room (I told you it would be gold later). Surely there would be something that we could cook with boiled water?

We hightailed it back to the room for coat and umbrellas (it never really did stop raining while there), and headed to the store. When we walked in, we were spotted as Americans, and followed around the store. Most of what was in the store was fresh food...and then we found it. Pre-packaged boxes with pictures of what looked like noodles. All the words were in Russian, so we had no idea what flavor we were getting, or if it even was roman noodles. We also located an array of Lay's potato chips. We were intrigued by such flavors are crab, mushroom, and ham and cheese. I found the standard cheddar, while Steve located the sour cream and onion. A few bottles of water finished the trip.

Russians also have a thing for exact change. Few take credit cards. Our total came to 386 rubles, just over $10 American. Steve handed the cashier 500 rubles. She gave Steve a funny look, and said what we took to translate to "do you have exact change." Steve gave her a funny look and said what she took to translate as "I dunno." She quickly realized the language barrier and gave us our change.

We headed back to the room, boiled the water in the awesome tea pot, and had roman noodles and potato chips, and watched ESPN dubbed over in Russian.

The next morning, we couldn't go to the orphanage, so we headed out for some authentic Russian souvenirs...Matryoshka dolls. Our translator took us to one of the shops. We presumed she knew the owner. We primarily were wanting toys for the nieces and nephew...traditional toys of Russia. The cool thing about this shop was that you could see the shop workers making the toys and the dolls in the back, so you knew they were the real deal. I got a hand painted scarf. These are very popular amongst the Russian women. As I was paying for the scarf, the shop owner showed me the signature of the artist, and asked if I would like to meet her, and watch her paint. Before I could say sure, the motioned for me to follow her. We walked into a small room in the back where a woman was painting another scarf. The shop owner told her I had purchased one of her scarves, and she asked me if I wanted to paint. She picked up a brush, handed it to me, pointed to the color she wanted, and the location on the scarf. I felt a bit like I was on the Amazing Race. Here I was, halfway around the world, painting a scarf. Who does those things?!?

After we left the shop, we drove through the downtown area, on our way to the roundabout. Good thing we ate after, of lunch might have repaid a visit! Lunch was at a local restaurant. We had fried chicken breast, and cubed potatoes with cheese. The cheese looked almost like butter, but tasted so good. We had Russian hot chocolate for dessert. It's not like American hot chocolate. This is more of a pudding that a drink. According to this recipe, it's 2 parts dark chocolate, 1 part white chocolate, and one part chocolate ice cream, melted together. It was very rich, and even the dark chocolate lover Steve couldn't finish it.

Our lunch conversation was interesting. We learned more about our translator. We discussed the current climate of international adoptions in Russia (it is not favorable of Americans). We talked about what to expect during our court session with the judge.

After lunch we headed back for a quick nap. The afternoon would bring the last chance to see the boys before we left.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


So we are back from Russia and have had a little time to calm down and look back at all of the funny things that happened like almost dying. Now before the trip our agency had prepared us for a number of things one of those being traffic patterns in Russia. After hearing their description I had taken a deep breath and resigned myself to getting in an accident. People in Russia drive like they stole it with a truck full of drugs and are currently in a high speed chase with LA's finest right on their tail! And that was just leaving the airport we hadn't even gotten to any real traffic. The main roads were marked as 5 lanes wide however at any given moment it may widen to 6 or 7 depending on what someone felt like doing. I saw people make NASCAR like moves on the highway that would get you shot in some major cities in the US. In Russia however it's just part of the commute.
When we got to the city that our children are in I thought the worst might be over...I was wrong. Our driver in this city was old...I mean old. Man is not supposed to be able to live past 120 years and I don't think this guy will be there on our second trip. To make matters even worse he was driving a right hand driver vehicle. If you don't know what that means next time you are in your car imagine driving from the passenger seat. Now imagine doiing all of the things you normally do but from the wrong side of the car. It made for some hair raising moments, but so far so good...
And then it happened our driver pulled out into a round about (think circle in the US or London) right in front of a truck. Now in Russia their trucks are a little bit bigger than ours. To give you an idea here are a couple of pictures:

And just so you get some perspective here are a couple of more:
These trucks are everywhere and they are massive. I'm sure you noticed in the last picture there are 8 missile rocket things being hauled on the back of them. This is what our driver decided would be a good idea to pull out in front of.
I'm not sure why he thought this would be a good idea. My guess is he simply didn't see it. This is what I'm telling myself so I can sleep at night because we have to go back there to pick up my children. However, unlike the pictures above the truck in my story was painted bright orange. I mean bright. If there had been a solar ecplise this thing would have glowed in the dark. Everyone in the mini van, but two people got very scared. The driver, who is approaching death anyway so was probably looking for an escape, and my wife, who was completely oblivious to the oncoming Russian death truck. The rest of us which included out translator, another couple adopting and myself all were glad we had put on clean underewear that morning. Mine were no longer clean as all I could see out of my window was the headlight of the truck, and I was in the very back seat.
At this point I would like to give kudos to the Russian engineers that designed this truck depsite its size it is also quite nimble. It managed to miss us inspite of our driver. At the last possible second it made a lane change cutting off a car causing some horn honking and no accident. The fond memories always stay with me though for trip number two in 3-4 months. Can't wait maybe next time we'll almost get hit by a Russian tank.

Happy Victory Day!

May 9th is a rather big deal in Russia. This day marks the day the Russian Army marched into Berlin, and the German's surrendered to Russia at the end of World War II.

Victory Day is celebrated in Russia like we celebrate July 4th in the US. There will be parades, fireworks, festivals, and military remembrance. The orphanage was already starting to prepare for the holiday with decorations when we were there on the 29th.

By now, the holiday is over for the boys, but I hope it was fun for them!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Novokuznetsk Day 1 Afternoon

We left the orphanage around noon and went back to the hotel to sleep. It was the first real sleep we'd gotten in 31 hours. As we fell asleep we talked about the boys - how they were exactly what we expected.

We primarily discussed the medical information. We expected that there would be some developmental delays, both speech and motor skills. After talking with the doctor, and putting pieces together, here is what we know about the medical conditions of the boys.

Sam has some significant motor development delays of the right side of his body. We noticed this the second he walk into the room. He has a slight limp on the right side, and reached for things with his left hand. He uses the right hand, but it's not as strong. The doctor said that initially he did not use his right side, arm or leg, at all, but he has made vast improvements, and she expects that to continue.

The doctor said that Rowan has some motor development delays, but nothing significant that we could see by the end of the visit. He is walking well, and using both arms and hand equally and as expected. He does have some significant speech delays. He did not talk at any time during the visit.

Both boys were born with syphilis. The doctor said that when the boys were taken from their mother, they were taken to a special hospital to treat syphilis. Both boys have been treated. Syphilis is a bacteria that, if left untreated, can cause delays in development in children. While it is not know, our best guess is that the boys were not treated until they were taken from their home, which is probably why Sam has more significant delays that Rowan.

There were also some minor findings that are considered normal. Overall, all the medical conditions are treatable. Thankfully, I know a guy who happens to work at a children's hospital. The other thing we kept in mind is that these are the boys God picked just for us, and he knew their medical conditions before we did.

At 3:45, we headed back to the orphanage for the afternoon visit. This time Rowan didn't cry when he saw Steve. Steve spent most of this visit sitting with Rowan, getting him used to being around a man. They mostly sat by themselves and played with the bunny, the trucks and the balls. Eventually, Rowan allowed Steve to pick him up and hold him. Steve took him off to the side, away from all the hustle and bustle of the room. He said that immediately he was much more focused and less timid. Our theory is that Rowan is an overstimulated child. Often, children in orphanages experience so much that their little brains can't process it all, leading to over excited reactions, or shutdown reactions. When in all the chaos, Rowan shuts down. When by himself, he becames more able to function.

Sam continued to be his fun loving, active self. He went from playing with the balls, to playing with the bubbles, to reading books, to trying to climb all over me, to looking outside, to kicking the big balls, giving hugs throughout. At one point, he became suddenly fascinated by Steve's beard. He reached over and gently stroked the hair on his chin, and started laughing. He was please with his new find.

During one of the book reading sessions with Sam, I was drawn to the back of his head. While his hair looks black in the photos, it is actually black with quite a bit of red mixed throughout. Just over a year ago, when we decided we were going to adopt from Russia, I had a dream. In the dream, God clearly told me that the oldest boy would be named Samuel, that he would be 3 years old, and he would have red hair. In that moment, while holding my son, I realized that by the time Sam comes home, he will be 3, and he has read hair. One day, I'll write down all the "God things" that have happened throughout the adoption.

At one point in time, the "head caregiver" came in to play with the boys, and meet mom and dad. Sam understands Russian pretty well. He speaks Russian jabber really well, and has the basic words. The caregiver looked as Sam, and asked the equivalent of who is poppa. She pointed at Steve and said poppa, which ironically enough, is Russian for dad. After repeating this a couple times, Sam looked at Steve and said "poppa." I cried. Sam called Steve poppa. Whether or not he really understands the concept is a different matter. He called Steve poppa, and my heart melted. She also pointed at me and said momma to Sam. Sam repeated the word, but wasn't really looking at me when he said it. Such is life.

Soon after it was time to say goodbye for the evening. We would have a few more hours the next day with them.

We headed back to the hotel, and then out for the great Roman adventure...but I'll let Steve tell that story. More pictures in another post.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


This post is a break from the activities of last week, but it's something that has been pressing on me.

Steve and I are asking for prayers that the 10 day waiting period prior to finalizing the adoption be waived.

Russian law requires a 10 day waiting period before parents can legally take custody of adopted children. The option to waive the waiting period is up to the judge in each region. Until recently, the waiting period was being waived quite frequently.

Due to recent actions, which you can read about here, the waiting period is not being waived. So what does this mean?

  1. For the 10 days following the court date, adopted children must remain in the orphanage. Additionally, the orphanage retains the power to regulate how often the adoptive parents see the children, which includes the possibility of not at all.
  2. The waiting period prolongs the time before the children get access to more advanced and specialized medical care, which some children may require.

This also adds to the expense of adoption as it would require more time in country.

Americans adopting Russian children are not looked upon very kindly by Russians because of the situation mentioned in the above linked article.

We are asking you to pray that the 10 day waiting period be waived, not just in our adoptions, but for all adoptions of Russian children. Please join us in prayer, and help not only us, but other families bring their babies home sooner.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More photos from our visit.

Blogger does not like here are some additional photos....

Sam playing with stacking cups

Rowan playing with the balls

Momma and the boys

Sam was fascinated by the camera. Here is he trying to look up the lense to see me

Blowing bubbles with poppa

Novokuznetsk Day 1 - The First Orphanage Visit

At 9:30am, with little sleep or food, we headed off to the orphanage. The time in the hotel leading up to that was nerve racking. I honestly felt like I was about to give birth. I was meeting my sons. I was nervous and anxious...would the take to me, what would they really be like, would they understand who I was, would the orphanage workers think I would be a good mother? I was nauseous. I paced around the room. We prayed for peace, for the nervousness to go away, because we both knew God made this possible, and we needed to pull it together for the boys. So, at 9:30 we loaded the van to drive the half mile to the orphanage.

The orphanage was a 3 story, gray brick building, shaped like a large U. In the yard areas on each side of the main entrance were typical playground equipment - swings, a slide, a jungle gym - all of which looked worn.

One of the social workers at the orphanage greeted us as we entered. We were then escorted to her office, that we affectionately dubbed "the principal's office." As we entered the building, and before we left, we sat on the couch in the office.

First we learned "social" history about the boys. Here is what we know:

  • Mom was 18 when she had Sam, and Rowan followed 11 months later
  • Nothing is known about the fathers, of which are different
  • The boys were removed from the home, and taken to a hospital for treatment
  • The mother was deprived of her legal rights to the children
  • Sam arrived at the orphanage in January 2008, and Rowan in December 2007

We were then escorted to the "play room." This room was on the second floor of the building. I noticed the stairwell was brightly painted with cartoon like images. It seemed to be welcoming and cheerful. We were greeted by a Russian woman in a white coat. She was the physician that would review the medical information with us. I had my notebook out, ready to take careful notes and ask questions. Before she could start talking, I heard jabber coming from the hall...and in walked the 2 most beautiful boys I'd ever seen, one on each side of the social worker, holding her hand.

They were beautiful. They were just like the photos. They were my sons.

I heard nothing the doctor said after that. Steve walked over to say hello to the boys...and Rowan started crying. The boys had never seen men, and Steve is a bit intimidating. All of the orphanage workers are female. All of them. I immediately put my notebook down and went to comfort him. He cried large tears for a good half hour, and I didn't have anything to wipe them. I eventually snagged a tissue and wiped away his tears. Sam came over to say hello as Steve finished taking notes about the health status of the boys.

I knitted little blankets with bunny heads for each of them. I gave each boy his bunny, and both seems kind of excited. I grabbed some graham cracker that we packed, and gave one to each boy. Sam quickly ate his and in Russian asked for another (at least I think that's what he wanted). Rowan held tightly to his cracker, one in each hand. Rowan sat in my lap for a while, not doing much of anything.

We brought bubbles for the boys to play with, because who doesn't like bubbles? I showed Sam how to dip the stick in the solution and blow the bubbles. He nor Rowan were impressed with the actual bubbles, but Sam wanted to do it himself. After me showing him once, he grabbed the stick, dipped it in the solution, and held it up to his mouth to blow. His mouth was mid-stick, but he got the concept - dip and blow. Once Steve was done with the doctor, he came over and continued blowing bubbles with Sam. For the hour we were there in the morning, Sam would blow bubbles, asking to hold the bottle himself. He tried to take it from Steve once, and most of it ended up on him. Sam also gave lots of hugs.

Rowan kept quiet and still. He eventually ate his crackers, but not before there were smashed to crumbs. Near the end of our time, Rowan and I started to play with the balls from the ball pit, but he did not speak, and he did not show much emotion.

Before we knew it, lunch time had arrived, and the boys were whisked away. We would be able to return later that afternoon.

Here are some photos from the morning of our visit.

Rowan and momma...the green stuff is ointment for mosquito bites.

Sam, kind of unsure.

Moscow Day 3 - Novokuznetsk Day 1 Morning

These two days ran together, literally. By the time it was all said and done, we were up for 31 hours with sporadic 30 minute naps.

The third day in Moscow was not that exciting. We had to check out at noon, but our driver was not coming until 5:00pm. We slept in as long as possible, and then hung out in the lounge for the afternoon eating the complementary snacks - it became clear we were unsure when our next meal would be.

Traffic in Moscow is horrible as mentioned. We asked our driver about the typical "rush hour." He replied from about 6am to 10am, and again from 3pm to 8pm. And we thought Cincinnati was bad. The airport was 46km from the hotel (about 28 miles), which is about how far the Cincinnati airport is from my house. The drive took over 2 hours, and there were no accidents, no rain, just traffic.

We arrived at the airport and checked in with plenty of time to spare. Fortunately, all the airport signs were in English so it was easy to locate the gate and restrooms. Unfortunately, none of the menus at any of the cafes were in English, and few employees spoke English, so we settled for some bottled waters, coca-cola, and Russian chocolate from one of the shops.

Russia has a very loose open container policy, in that if you can open it, you can drink it. One of our guide books actually said that Russians love their beer as much as they love their vodka. It's true. We especially enjoyed the airport vending machine that dispensed the canned beer along with the coca-cola. We didn't get a picture of it, but laughed none the less.

There are 3 major airports in Moscow. One handles primarily international flights and is the major hub for Aeroflot, the Russian airline. Delta flies into this airport. One we didn't see, and the other handles primarily domestic and some international flights. This airport was very unique in that it had gates for planes to park, but didn't use them. All the plane parked on the tarmac, and passengers were shuttled to and from. Russia has similar airline policies as the US, including to stay in your seat until the plane is parked and the captain turns off the fasten seat belt sign. Well, since Russians are used to the plane just stopping and parking in any location, 95 percent of passengers are up, in the aisle, ready to deplane as soon as the wheel hit the runway.

So we start boarding at 10pm. We walk out the door onto a bus, which takes us out to the tarmac, up the staircase (I felt a bit important at that point), and onto the plane. The planes were the same larger aircraft you would expect to see in the US. We left at 10:30 for a 4 hour flight that would get us to Novokuznetsk at 6:30am (or 2:30am if we are still talking Moscow time). This particular airline served a full meal about an hour into the flight. The Russian "red eye" is not the same as the American counterpart. The flight attendants spoke enough English to know that I didn't speak Russian, and to tell me my choices were chicken, beef or fish. I went with chicken. The food was airline food, nothing spectacular.

Russians like their airplanes hot. About halfway through the flight Steve and I could no longer sleep and were shedding as many extra clothes as possible. All those around us seem to be completely ok with the temperature. We finally arrive at our destination and welcomed the cold Siberian air. All others on the plane had heavy coats and hats on before the plane landed.

Novokuznetsk is an industrial town of about 700,000 located in the Kemerovo region of Siberia. This area is tucked in between Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Our translator would tell us that the town is one of the largest steel and coal producing towns in Russia, but since the global economic downturn, the jobs and the industry are drying up.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was about a half hour. The countryside reminded us a bit of Montana mixed with West Virginia...wide open spaced, rolling landscapes, mountain in the distance, small houses that by American standard would be considered dirty and dilapidated. The city itself is what I imagine Pittsburgh must have looked like just after the height of it's steel hayday. There was nothing that stood out about the city, no fancy buildings, no bright signs. Most buildings were high rise apartment buildings that reminded me of the southside of Chicago. To be honest, it was a bit sad. Very few cars were on the roads as public transportation or walking are the preferred methods.

We arrived at the hotel at 7:30am, and by the time we got checked in it was almost 8:00. The orphanage was expecting us at 10:00, so we needed to leave at 9:30. We had an hour and a half to prepare ourselves for the days adventures.

The hotel room was nice. It was a suite, by American standards, two rooms, bed in one, couch and tv in the other, fridge, tea pot (would prove to be gold later), bathroom. The showers in Russia were very small, at all the hotels. Russians do not have traditional tubs like in American, and the shower often is located in a corner, and is the size of a matchbox. One wrong move of the elbow while washing the hair and you could get freezing or scalding water. For those who don't know Steve, he is a larger man...6 foot, 270. I'm pretty sure that when he stood on the diagonal, he touched both the door and the shower control knob. For those of you who know Steve, you just realized how small this shower really is. Needless to say, I heard many joyous shouts from the bathroom.

Ok, there really is too much here for one post. There is so much that happened at the orphanage that I want to capture is all. Stay tuned...I promise the photos are coming!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Back from the USSR

Well, it's not quite the USSR, but there were some Lenin and Stalin sightings.

We are home. Landed in the good old US of A on Saturday evening. Surprisingly, the transition from time zones has been relatively smooth (thank you Jesus). My plan for the week is to blog about each day in Russia, so you will have to wait for all the pictures (or friend me on Facebook). Honestly, there was so much that went on that it's way too much for one post. Hang with me, I promise it will be worth it.

In the mean time, here are some photos from Moscow.

The museum at one end of Red Square

The Presidential Residence at the Kremlin

St. Basil's Cathedral

Red Square

Two crazy American tourists.