Monday, April 23, 2012

Braving Kherson Alone

Here I am in Kherson all by myself with Leo.  Well, I would by lying if I said I was totally by myself.  We've been traveling with Jake and Judi from day 1, and Jason who is here for trip #2 to pick up his daughter,  and arrived in Kiev the day we boarded the train to Kherson.  We have all been hanging out, commiserating together ever since.  Jake has a blog which is very entertaining to read.  If you want to follow along, go HERE.

Sunday was another good day.  For the sake of the children some things are better left unsaid, but all in all it was a good day.  I spent some more quality time with Anya.  She is such a sweetie, and I am so proud of her attempts at speaking English.  I can already see a big difference in her in just a few short days.  Every night she sends me a text before heading to bed.  2 nights ago it was "Good night mama, your the best.  Thank you for everything." (translated from Russian of course).  Last night it was, "Good night mama, when will I see you tomorrow? miss."

 It's a totally different experience for me visiting with Anya than Jake and Judi with their new son Vova.  He is younger and into sports, games, friends etc.  So they always appear to be having a blast.  Anya is more low key.  She has just one friend, Suzanna, that she has introduced me to, and her boyfriend Sasha.  I spend a lot of time hanging out with her in her bedroom.  Her bed is incredibly uncomfortable,  I know so because I took a nap on it yesterday with Leo.

Dinner at the John Howard Irish Pub has become routine to us.  The food is good and cheap!  I can't complain, however the vegetarian selections are slim.  Last night I ordered a pasta dish with chicken in it, and I tried to tell her "nyet masa" which means no meat.  And she said in english, "excuse me?".  Apparently being a vegetarian isn't so common around here, nor is altering the menu to have it your way!

Today we move again to another apartment, one where we can all be closer together.  It is brand new, so hopefully it will be clean and I'm praying for a washer.  I have no clean clothes left, and my slumlord took my laundry 3 days ago and has yet to return it.

Today is Monday, and our plan is to approach the director again today to request his signature on our documents so we can get this show on the road!  Pray for us all here in Kherson!

Todd made it home safe and sound!  Being here without him leaves me in charge of the money, which I'm sure has him worried sick.  He would be proud of me though.  Yesterday I exchanged $200 us dollars for 1600 Ukrainian grevna's.  (8 grevna's = $1).  So you have tons of grevna's but they aren't worth much.  All day I felt like I was going through money fast, but after counting my grevna's last night I did pretty good.  I had lunch for 2, dinner for 1, bought 15 ice cream bars, a bag of oranges and banana's for Anya and Suzanna from the market, 3 bottles of water, a few groceries for my apartment and taxi fare all for $50.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kherson day 3

Kherson day 3 -  Yesterday (Saturday) was Todd's last day to spend here with Anya before flying home.  He was originally supposed to fly home Saturday morning, but after only 2 short visits with Anya, he decided he came all this way and would like just one more day.  We were supposed to be picked up Saturday morning at 11:30, eat lunch and head to orphanage.  We have quickly figured out that whatever time they tell you something will happen, you can plan on several hours later.  We arrived at the orphanage at 2:30pm.  We were greeted with a worker who told our facilitator/translator that the director/principal had called and requested that we not mingle with other children at the orphanage, and we were put in a room with no windows and a bunch of hard chairs.  Not exactly a welcoming environment!  It just keeps getting better and better here in Kherson!   So the 3 American families here were stuck in this room with our kids.  After about 30 minutes we were already stir crazy and felt the need to get out of there, it was stuffy and hot among other things.  So we said we were going outside.  We were outside less than 5 minutes and had about 20 kids hanging around us.  We are all walking on eggshells around here trying to find the balance between being perfect americans who do as they are told so the director will give us his blessing on the adoption and sign the papers sooner than later, and saying enough is enough, we have done nothing wrong or illegal.  We are not sure if either stance will get us what we want (his signature), but we have decided for the sake of the children we are going the obedient route as much as possible.  Yet somehow one thing led to another and before long we were all going to the circus!  It was a little rinky dink circus, but the acrobats were highly impressive, and if the acrobats alone were not impressive enough, the costumes provided quite an impressive show as well.  Just ask the guys!

We took Anya's roommate, Suzanna, along with us to the circus, and those girls are not only roommates but best friends.  I can already see the heartbreak we will cause by separating these two.  The orphanage has over 200 kids, but they are divided into groups where they spend most of their time.  Anya's group has 14 boys and 3 girls.  One girl is in the hospital (mental illness) and the other girl is Suzanna.  So when Anya leaves, Suzanna will be alone.  I can't even express in words how it feels to be here in Ukraine.  The emotions you feel for these kids are like nothing you could ever experience without actually being here.

 Outside the orphanage before heading to the circus.  Anya loves holding Leo.  I always try to take him from her because I don't want her to think I expect her to help me with him, but she truly seems to enjoy him.

Anya and Suzanna waving out the window to Todd (top window, 4th from the left) as he was leaving for the airport.

Last night I called Tony and Bella.  They seem to be doing better than I ever expected them to.  They are still loving the attention from Grandma and Grandpa which makes it easy on me as well.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's happening in Kherson

Kherson Day 1 we were picked up from the train station at 10 am and taken directly to the inspectors office to meet with them for permission to proceed to orphanage.  We looked a bit rough after traveling all night on the train, but we were just really happy that we were getting right to business after all the waiting around we did in Kiev.  After that we went right to the orphanage and sat in an office for nearly 2 hours waiting to meet with the director.  You must meet with the director before you can see the child.  So we waited and waited.  Finally it was our turn to go meet with him.  It was a bit stressful to say the least, and after much questioning we were given permission to see Anya, but nothing was mentioned about the papers that he must sign before requesting a court date.  We didn't expect him to sign on the first day though, so we were okay with that.  Our plan was to spend time with Anya, then approach Director on Friday morning, and ask him to sign so that I could travel home with Todd.

Spending time with Anya was actually a bit painful.  We were there with the Jacobson's who are also there getting their son and to see them interacting was so sweet, and their boy was so obviously overjoyed that they were there.  They were playing games and having a great time.   Todd and Anya and I just sort of sat on the couch and stared at each other.  It was a reminder to me how painful our first few days with her was when we hosted her last summer when she didn't eat, drink or speak for 24 hours.  I tried talking to her with my few russian words I knew and some charades, but she acted as if she had no clue what I was saying.  It was so frustrating, because when you act out eating, everyone knows what you mean!!  She would just shrug her shoulders at everything I said.  Thankfully I had Leo to break the ice and I just played with him and kept trying to break down her wall of shyness.  I was so relieved it was a short visit and we got to go back to our apartment for the evening.

Kherson Day 2 we were hoping to meet with the director again and ask for him to sign documents needed in order for me to go home this weekend.  He was unavailable to meet with us.  So we were dissapointed, but it was somewhat expected, so not a total surprise.  However we had a VERY good day with Anya.  I came prepared today!  I had my russian translator book in hand, bags full of candy, gum, toys, games, iPad loaded with games, and laptop (in hopes of internet access that would allow use of google translate).  Anya was all smiles, showed Todd and I her room, and was very talkative and interactive with us and with Leo.  What a relief!  This was more like the Anya we said goodbye to last August.  I got to meet her boyfriend who happens to be a very nice young boy.  He is quite athletic and showed us some of his talent on the playground.  You can see video's of it on my Facebook page.  Under normal circumstances Todd and I would not be excited about our 14 year old daughter having a 18 year old boyfriend, but watching them interact all day they seem to be just young kids enjoying each others company, and with her moving to the USA in a few weeks, we see no reason to rock any boats on the issue.  But just to be on the safe side, Todd was sure to let him know that he has lots of guns and knives.  He was joking of course and we all had a good laugh about it, even the boyfriend.

Todd was able to postpone his trip for one more day, so instead of taking a 7 hour taxi tonight into Kiev, he is here in Kherson for one more day!  I am so glad for this experience of being in Kherson, it is life changing and it is heartbreaking to see all these kids that are starved for attention and love.  They flock around us the moment we arrive at the orphanage and they remember our names and they try to speak to us in English when they say hello.  I am sad that Todd is leaving and I have to stay behind by myself (with Leo), but I am looking forward to spending more time with Anya and the kids at the orphanage and praying for some good things to happen early next week so that I can come home!

PS, Leo is being a really good baby!  He travels well.  At 5 months all you really need is attention, food and sleep, and he gets all of those things at the moment he demands it.  The only time he is not being held is when he is sleeping, and often times he's held then too.  So he really has no excuse to NOT be a good baby!

PSS, We were told today when we were at the Notary office signing some documents (since Todd is leaving early) that we needed to tell them what Anya's legal name would be in America.  Since we hadn't really discussed it, we were very much at a loss.  We had already agreed way back that we would keep her first name Anna (Anya is just a nickname), but the middle name had not been decided or even discussed.  I liked the names Juliet and Gabriella, but Todd was not keen on either of them.  I asked him for his suggestion and he said Marie.  So we decided to call Anya and let her pick.  She picked Juliet, (my first choice), but when she was still on the phone with the translator, Todd asked her to please let it be Marie, so she said, Okay, Anna Marie.  (poor girl was probably like, why did you even ask me if you weren't going to give me a choice).  So Anna Marie it is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Update on Us!

Yesterday was our SDA appointment with the Ukraine adoption officials.  Basically we met with them, told them we are interested in adopting Anya, they pulled the file (with an attached adorable photo of Anya at age 12 when she entered the orphanage).  We reviewed it, they then asked why we want to adopt her, and to tell them a little bit about our family.  That was done in about 4-5 sentences, and then they asked if we still want to proceed, we said yes, they say "are you interested in seeing any other files on other children?",  I say no, and Todd shrugs his shoulders as if to say, "maybe".  (He later told me he thought he was supposed to do that, because Ukraine does not allow preselection of children, only blind adoptions.)  And that was it!  We left and had the rest of the day to explore Kiev.  We waited for the Jacobson's to have their SDA appt, and then we all went to eat lunch at Mafia Pizza!  (with english subtitles on the menu).

FOOD  So far I have not had any trouble finding things to eat. Before we got out of the car, our facilitator Alex taught me how to say vegetarian in Russian, but to my surprise, both restaurants we ate at had English subtitles, however I stuck with safe, and ordered a margarita pizza both times.  They have very unusual things on the menu, Lard and Pig Ears for appetizers.  The gas stations here are pretty cool, they have nice pastries and fresh made espresso available.  (Not like the cappuccino vending machines and hostess cupcakes I'm used to seeing in American gas stations.)

TOURISM We shopped and wandered around Kiev yesterday.  Fashion in Europe is very different from home.  Now I understand why Anya was so picky about the clothes when I took her shopping last summer.  I think before we head home on our final trip, I will take her shopping here in Kiev and get her some clothes that she likes.  My sister Rachael's son Nick, who has been home just a couple months is still wearing the 1 pair of jeans she bought him in Ukraine before coming home.  He wears them almost every day.  I have been asked to buy him a new pair while here, so yesterday I was shopping for him and taking pictures to send back to Rachael to get Nick's approval.  I was surprised to see quite a bit of English words and English speaking retail shop workers.  I don't think we will be that lucky once we venture on to Kherson.  Some guy with birds put a bird on my shoulder and insisted he take a picture on my phone for me.  Then he asked for 100 grevna ($12.50), We were annoyed, but Todd handed him a 200 grevna bill and asked for change, then the guy changed his mind, he wanted 200 grevna ($25) because there were 2 birds, 100 each he said!  I was really annoyed, asked Todd if he didn't have any smaller bills, he pulled out 70 grevna, and I took the 200 back from the guy and handed him the 70 and walked away!  I was mad, he was mad, and Todd was mad.  (lesson learned for all of us that day!  ha ha)  Today Nastya (our facilitator) has arranged a tour guide of the city.  Then at 4pm we pick up our papers from the SDA office and head to Kherson via overnight train ride.  10-12 hours, I've heard.  But we are booking first class and getting the whole cabin, which we were told is not that expensive and well worth it!

SLEEP Not really getting much of that.  We brought Ambien, but I can't really take it because of Leo.  Which is why I am up at 4am blogging.  Leo has been so good, slept off and on all day yesterday, but come night time, he was wide awake!  Finally got him down around 2am (and now at 4 I am awake.)  UGH!!!

PICTURES  I didn't bring my camera.  (one less thing to lug around).  Using my iPhone.  Will upload later.  Leo is waking as I type, so logging off.  Will add pics later.

Bye for now.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guess What?

We've been keeping a little bit of a secret.  Not from everyone, but from most people.  We will be adding to our family very soon.  Anya, the girl from Ukraine who visited us last summer through an orphan hosting program, is going to very soon become a member of our family.
Todd and I leave for Ukraine on Sunday for trip #1.  I'm a little bit (okay a lot) anxious.  Todd and I are both leaving behind two of our most valuable treasures in our life.  Tony and Bella.  I am super sad to leave them, but I know they are going to be well taken care of by their grandma and grandpa. When they are at grandma's I never have to worry!  It helps that they are so excited for us to leave that they ask me several times a day when we are leaving to go get Anya because they can't wait to stay overnight at Grandma's.
We will be taking Leo with us.  I know it will be hard traveling with a baby, but having him with me will make it easier to leave the other 2 behind, because at least I have one baby to snuggle with and kiss whenever I want.

Want to know how this all came about?  It's kinda crazy for us to be adopting a 14 almost 15 year old girl when we have 3 kids ages 4, 3 and 4 months.  Even I can admit that.  I was 20 years old when Anya was born, Todd was 18.  Both of us were still in college.  Anya was not an orphan all her life. Anya moved into an orphanage on May 25, 2010 (my birthday) when she was 13 years old because her mother was sick and unable to care for her.  4 months later her mother died.  10 months later she came to America to stay with us for 5 weeks.  We were NOT planning on adopting, just hosting.  Just giving her a summer to remember!  In fact we had selected a different child to host (that was not eligible for adoption, just so there would be no temptation to adopt), however after the plans were made and the money was paid, we got a call that the girl we selected was no longer available for hosting, and we would have to select another child.  Just 4 weeks away from hosting, there were no more "host only" kids.  So we picked Anya, because her bio said she likes pickles, and we grow pickles.  But I promised myself and Todd that we were just hosting.  God obviously had other plans, because here we are 9 months later getting on a plane and heading to Ukraine...   We leave in 2 days.  

If you want to read about our hosting experience, just scroll back, there hasn't been a whole lot a blogging since she left last summer.  I've been kinda busy, I had a baby since then, and my life just doesn't leave much room for blogging like it used to.  However, when I'm in Ukraine, I'm guessing there will be some downtime.... so maybe, I can keep it up!