On the Road Again
Day 5 – Thursday, 17 December
I have discovered the key to our formerly successful anti-jetlag strategy: prescription drugs. In the past, we have employed tactics that included deliberately not sleeping on the plane and pushing hard through the first day to ensure exhaustion and a solid first night’s sleep. In the past, our first morning in the new place, we have awoken pretty much refreshed and ready to rock. In the past, we’ve supplemented sleep for the first few nights with Ambien. Please note the correlation. This time, we didn’t get around to calling the doctor for a new prescription. Those of you following us…don’t skip this step!!!! We have yet to see a good night’s sleep.
On a typical day, we have two tasks to accomplish. Today’s tasks: pack up the apartment and catch a train. Seems simple enough, right? Perhaps that’s slightly oversimplified; as the morning geared up, we found a couple more things that needed to be done. A phone call with our translator also identified one more critical path task: Unlike last time, we were now required to pick up our documents from the SDA personally. Without these, we cannot move on to our next step in-region.
We learned that our driver would pick us up a little after 3, drive us to the SDA to retrieve the documents around 4:30, and then take us on to the station to catch a 7:20 train. As we began to pack up, we checked the charge on our supply of camera batteries…we have four, but they were all dead.
Mark: “Where’s the charger?”
Christine: “Uh…still plugged into the wall at home?”
Mark: “Uh oh. Will the camera on the iPhone do for the rest of the trip?” (Note: this is the iPhone that is still in the possession of our driver….)
Christine: “Uh, no.”
Good thing a mall is just a few blocks away. Off goes Mark to find a new, inexpensive digital camera while I pack. Today’s to-do-list has grown to four items. This is a terrible omen. Any time a Ukrainian to-do list contains more than two items, you can be assured of not fully completing the list.
I pack and clean the apartment at a leisurely pace, and my anxiety subsides as I finish with time to eat a snack, get started on a new book, and watch the light snowfall that had begun earlier in the day. Mark made it back with a camera and some more snacks for the train, so we were feeling really good about the day’s progress.
At 3:30, our driver appeared and we hauled all of our luggage out to his car. In quick order, he produced Mark’s iPhone and iPod, confirmed we had our passports (and everything else), and we were on our way to the SDA. So far, so good.
We encountered heavy traffic on the way into town, but arrived at the SDA right on time. Our translator was there to greet us, and ushered us onto the lobby stairs to await our paperwork. As more and more couples arrived with their translators, the wide stairway became crowded to the point that building occupants could not pass. After quite a while, a representative appeared and gave a short speech, which was translated to us as “we must go out.”
Turns out that too many people were waiting in the main lobby, so they opened up another area for us to wait, but we had to go outside and enter the building through another door. So we joined a herd of other prospective adoptive parents, shuffling to the other door and packing like sardines into a small hallway. Our translator explained to us also that the Director of the SDA was in a late meeting, and she would sign all the documentation when the meeting was over, but no one could tell us how long that would be. We began looking at our watches more and more frequently, continually calculating the countdown and getting more nervous with each passing minute. I kept reminding myself that on this trip, it’s our translator’s job to worry, not mine!
Finally, at about 6:00, a young woman shoved her way through and into a side room with an armload of documents. The herd anxiously pushed into the room behind her, and she began to call out names. After several more minutes, we finally signed for our set of paperwork, and our translator shot out of the door like a bullet, with us trailing closely behind. As soon as we were outside, she began jogging up the snow-covered cobblestone street toward God-Knows-Where. We broke into a jog and followed closely behind.
A couple uphill blocks later, she spun around and announced “Wait here!” and dodged into a coffee shop on a busy streetcorner. Now, I’m not one to stand outside in windy, snowy, 4-degree weather when there’s coffee less than 50 feet away from me. But we were told to wait, so wait we did, as we speculated why she was running down the street like we were late, but was then stopping off for a cup of coffee? A couple minutes later, she emerged, and started running across the street, waving us to follow.
Across the intersection, we spotted our driver waving frantically at us. We leapt into the van, and another couple hopped in after us, greeting us with a hearty “Hi, guys!” Having no idea that other people were behind us, this took us aback a bit, but we quickly exchanged introductions with another couple who are also adopting from the same orphanage as we are! Turns out they had been waiting in the coffee shop while we “popped into” the SDA for our documents.
Excited as we were to meet them, we hoped our encounter would be short; we looked at our watches and realized we had less than an hour before our train was scheduled to depart. Kyiv was blanketed in a light dusting of snow, but the drivers were behaving as it if it was a foot. Our driver nosed into traffic, only to continue just a few inches at a time in the gridlock.
Remember when I said that four things on a to-do list for the day was pushing our luck? Well, we had three of them done. While we all remained hopeful, it soon became clear that we were unlikely to catch our train. Our translator began to frantically work the phones to make alternate arrangements. 7:20 came and went, and we remained sitting still in snowy Kyiv rush-hour traffic.
Our translator managed to get us booked on a 10:55 train to some city that even she had never visited, but that was a 2-hour drive from our final destination. She told us that we would be met by our driver, who would take us the rest of the way. We would still be able to do the documents and paperwork we needed to see Lena and keep the process moving.
We finally arrived at the train station at about 8:00. We had learned during our 1.5 hour, 1-mile ride that the other couple hadn’t gotten a real meal since their flight a couple days prior, so we descended upon a Ukrainian cafeteria-style restaurant and piled our plates high. Our translator helped identify all the foods for us, and made some wonderful recommendations!
Finally, around 9:00, we bid the other family goodbye, and we made our way into the train station to find a spot to wait out the next couple of hours until our new train departed. We quickly learned that train station waiting areas are low on the list of areas to be heated; even in the center of a very busy building, we could still see our breath. We eventually found a slightly warmer area to wait near the ticket counter, but we stayed bundled in our coats and scarves! Finally, at about 10:30, they called our train, and we gathered our massive collection of luggage and traipsed toward our train platform.
Now is the time that we remember what we said last time but failed to heed…PACK LIGHTER! Seriously. To those following us….no more than one large rolling duffel and one backpack each. I mean that. NO MORE THAN THAT! We have two large rolling duffels, one regular rollaboard, one regular duffel, a backpack with Mark’s laptop, and a big purse with my laptop. Seriously. DO NOT BRING THIS MUCH CRAP! Really. Don’t. You’ll regret it. Really.
OK, on with the story…We finally managed to pile ALL of our crap into the train and find our compartment. Which says a lot since it was DARK. Yes, friends, the lights were out. There was just enough light creeping in through the windows from the dimly lit platform to stow all of our luggage away from the overnight trip and settle in. We learned that the electricity was out on our car («??e?????????? ?? ????????,» ????!), but that they were working on it, and they hoped that once we got underway, they could get the lights on.
Thankfully, the train was really warm, so we shed layers, and waited patiently and chatted a bit until it became clear a bit after midnight that we weren’t getting any lights tonight. We fired up a laptop, made up our bunks by its light, and bid each other a good night.
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I am a writer, a project manager, and a corporate refugee with a heart for orphans around the world. My two daughters were adopted from Ukraine at ages 12 and 14. I post about writing, chasing dreams, and making a difference in the world, and sometimes I share fun snippets of fiction in-progress.