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Adoption Trip to Russia

Journey to Emily and Amanda

Sunday, October 31, 1999

We were starting our descent into Moscow and I kept my eyes out the window the whole time. I got to watch the sun come up on the horizon…what an amazing sight from an airplane. I’m not sure what I expected it to look like…maybe like another planet, I’m not sure! It looked just like any other place looks from that high in the air… I did see a lot of trees with white bark and a lot of very poor looking residential neighborhoods, and some factories.

Finally we went lower and lower and we landed safely and smoothly! We all gave a big sigh, but it was a sigh of many emotions. What would lay ahead? What is Russia REALLY like? When would we meet the babies? Who will meet us at the airport? We all knew that the Lord had us in the palm of his hand, but you can’t help being nervous when you are in a totally different country where the alphabet and language are different and you are totally dependent on a stranger for everything.

We walked off the plane into the terminal, which looked surprisingly nice. The airport was pretty empty because it was so early in the morning. We just followed the crowd and we had to get our passports stamped. The woman in the booth who stamped our passports would not crack a smile, even though I smiled at her. We ran into a few Americans who had smiles for us, but most of the Russian people we encountered in the airport had stoic expressions.

After our passports had been stamped we had to fill out our claiming papers. You have to claim any money and valuables that you are bringing into the country.

Next it was on to the Baggage Belt. I tried to get us a luggage cart but they only took RUBLES (Russian currency) and there was no exchange point open that early. We ran into a porter who said it would be $20 American Dollars and he would load our bags, get us through customs and take them to our car (wherever that is!). In the US, we would say “RIP OFF” but since we are pretty much helpless and we have a TON of luggage and Donations we are happy to oblige the porter.

We stood in line for Customs and all of our bags went through OK until we got to Dottie’s Red Marlboro Bag. They wanted to know what was in it. They wanted to open it and look. The bag was taped up with duct tape, so we had to rip it all off. That was one of the bags filled with brand new toys and donations for the orphanage. They questioned as to why we were bringing all of these “new” things into the country. We told them it was donations for an orphanage. The lady did not like that answer and went to get her supervisor. We explained to the supervisor that we were adopting 2 little girls from an orphanage in Moscow and we were bringing the donations as humanitarian aid for the orphanage. He passed us right through at that point.

The Porter reloaded all of the bags and then we went through a partition into a more open area. That was where we saw a young man holding a sign that said “ROMANO”. At that point there was another sigh from us…at least there is someone here to meet us!

We walked up to the man with our name and introduced ourselves. He introduced himself as Yefim and he said we would be on our way. We walked outside to find a dreary day, a lot of slushy ice on the ground. Our driver, a young guy too, walked through the parking lot and to a van that looked like it was made in the hippie era.

Our Porter loaded our bags, we got into the van (NO seatbelts) and we were off. Yefim sat with us in the back so he could brief us on what was going on. So far, Moscow looked like any other big city, except poorer.

Yefim told us that there had been a change of plans. We would have to go to a hotel since the woman who was supposed to be our host took ill. We weren’t very happy about the situation, but what could we do?

We drove for about 35 minutes before Yefim made the driver stop. Apparently he had to pay the driver in Rubles and they needed to find a currency exchange. We stopped at about 4 places and they couldn’t find an exchange that was open that early on a Sunday Morning. I was getting car sick in the van, the driver was a bit aggressive in his driving and we were all completely exhausted. It was 1 AM in NY so we would normally be sleeping.

We finally pulled up to a very large pretty building and Yefim said that this was our hotel called the “Leningradskaya”. It looked somewhat fancy to me. A bellman from the hotel came out with a luggage cart and I think he was shocked at the amount of luggage we had. We followed him in with our luggage. We entered a very pretty lobby…it looked like a fancy old world hotel. We found out that the only type of rooms they had were double occupancy or single occupancy. Dottie would have to get her own room.

We checked into the hotel, the woman who checked us in spoke English and was very nice to us. Our rooms were on the 14th floor. We were in one wing and mom was in another. We took an elevator up and found a woman sitting at a desk. You have to get your key from her each time you want to go to your room and turn your key in to her when you leave to go out. Kind of like it was in the old days here in the US.

The hotel kind of reminded us of the Tower of Terror and that became an inside joke throughout the trip. There were LONG hallways and beautiful woodwork throughout. It was very old and I thought it was charming.

A bellman was going to take Dottie to her room and Yefim would take us to ours. We got to our room and went in. Come to find out there were 2 single beds! I should have expected it since I know in Europe that is usually the case, but I didn’t. The beds were very low to the ground. The room looked and smelled clean, and at that point we just wanted a place to flop! Yefim told us that we would meet Eugene, our coordinator later that evening and that we should get some rest. We would not be meeting the girls until the next day.

Yefim still had not found a Currency exchange, so he and John went across the street to one of the Metro stations and ended up getting the money changed at a strip club. John was very embarrassed, but he survived. Yefim said good bye for the day and told us if we needed someone we could call Eugene.

Dottie knocked on our door and started laughing and asked if we took a look at the bathroom yet. We hadn’t. Well, it had a tub that you have to be a giant to get your foot over to get into it, the toilet had a flusher on TOP of the toilet tank that you pull up. It really wasn’t all that strange, it was just different. At least we didn’t have to go to the outhouse!

We all hung out in our room for a little while just trying to get over the culture shock we had already experienced. We were all very tired so Dottie went back to her room. Our phone rang. It was Eugene introducing himself and telling us that he would be by to meet us later that evening.

John and I laid down on our prospective beds and did actually fall asleep. Only to be startled an hour and a half later by the phone. It was Eugene on his cel saying that he was outside our room! YIKES! My hair was a mess, we had just been woken out of a deep sleep. The beds were unmade. Oh well, I guess there was no time like the present. I hurriedly fixed my hair and opened the door to find a gentleman who looked to be in his late twenties/early thirties.

Eugene came into our room and introduced himself and started to give us a run down on what would be happening that week. Tomorrow (Monday) we would go to the Krasnaya Polyana baby Orphanage to meet the girls as well as go there on Tuesday, Weds, and Thursday to spend time bonding with them. Friday was court.

We were told to prepare for 2 trips to Russia because the court does not waive the 10 day waiting period, so we prayed and prayed that it would be waived but anticipated having to make 2 trips. I gave Eugene the paperwork he needed from us and off he went. John and I decided to just go back to sleep since it was only around 2:30 PM.

At around 4:30 the phone rang again. I literally JUMPED out of bed startled, not knowing where I was and then I came to. It was Dottie wanting to know if we were up. She came down to our room and we realized that we were Hungry! We hadn’t had anything to eat since the plane trip.

We knew that there was a restaurant in the main floor of the hotel but we were a little leery about trying it. We decided to go down and talk to the lady who checked us in to see if there was anything within walking distance. It turned out that we were only a block down the street from a SBARRO pizza restaurant. We were actually very happy to hear that there was some “normal” food around.

The hotel was located in the section of Moscow called Station Square. There were 3 Metro (Subway) stations all within a block of each other and there were a lot of malls and such. There wasn’t a crossing light to be found so we crossed the street at our own risk. Their was also electric busses that ran on wires above (like in the 1950’s in the US) to look out for.

That one block walk to the SBARRO’s was one of the most interesting walks in my life. We actually got to witness some interesting scenarios of Russian life. There were some Army guys walking (more like staggering) down the street in a very drunken state. We saw a few prostitutes. We also so lots of people long fur coats and hats.

We made it to Sbarro’s in one piece, which was a triumph for all of us. OK, now we were in an Italian Pizzeria in Russia not knowing the language. This is where we learned to be very good at charades and sign language. We each pointed and signed at each thing we wanted and we pointed at the drinks we wanted and proceeded to the cashier. We were trying to “Blend In” as much as possible when Dottie decides to spill a whole 32 oz. Cup of soda all over the floor. We were all about ready to crawl under a rock. They graciously gave us another soda. Next we had our first lesson in Rubles. We had to figure out how many Rubles we needed to pay the bill. It came out to like 250 Rubles which was like $10 in the US. Pretty cheap! We went to sit down and we ended up sitting down in the “Disney” section of the restaurant…which made us feel a little more comfortable. The people at the table across from us were also speaking English, so we didn’t feel so out of place. The food was very good and didn’t taste much different from what we get here in the US

The walk back to the Hotel was just as interesting as the walk to dinner. There were all kinds of different street vendors out selling various items from shopping bags to leather jackets.

We made it back to the hotel and went up to our room. We hung out awhile and John sat down with us and tried to explain how the Currency exchange works. The exchange rate while we were there was 26 rubles for 1 American dollar. A Ruble is a Russian Dollar.

We all decided that we were pretty exhausted and jet lagged so we would try to get some sleep. The next day was the day we had been waiting for! We would finally meet our daughters for the very first time!(more...)

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