Day “I don’t know” through Day “I’ve lost count” – Sunday, 10 January, 2010 through Saturday 16 January, 2010
If I’m being honest, I have to say that the second trip was rough. Seriously hard. After a week of “regular life” which included blowing nearly half of my working hours fighting with payroll over the paycheck they failed to issue while I was on leave, I boarded a 7:30 AM flight to JFK, with a 10-hour layover and then a 10-hour direct flight to Kyiv on Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines. I truly believe I was the only person on that airplane that did not speak Russian or Ukrainian. Thankfully, airline safety announcements are the same in any language, and I know my way around a Boeing safety card. Unfortunately, of the six lavatories adjacent to the rear cabin, only two were working. Night 1 accommodations: airplane seat.
I did learn the value of packing super-light and carrying on all my luggage…they can’t lose your luggage if they don’t have it. After landing on Monday morning and taking a quick shot through immigration and customs, I met my driver and headed straight into Kyiv to the train station, arriving just in time to make the overnight train to Mariupol. Night 2 accommodations: bumpy train.
The next day was a whirlwind. They tell me it was a Tuesday. Again, our proceedings were shared with the other family that adopted with us…I met up with the father shortly after our train arrived, and our translator began the highly choreographed dance through the various offices to collect the required documents in the proper order. In the typical Ukrainian way, there were a couple of challenges and delays. One of them resulted in me waiting patiently in the lobby of a local government records office for nearly two hours before Lena’s revised birth certificate could be issued.
All the delays meant that our departure from the Children’s Home was a bit quicker and more abrupt than we had hoped, and that yet again, we were not able to attend the program that had been prepared for us. But we had a passport office to visit! We were blessed with a quick stop there just before closing time, and then finally a bit of time to breathe, catch a bite to eat and buy some snacks before boarding the return train to Kyiv. Night 3 accommodations: a different bumpy train bench. (note, there has been no mention of legitimate accommodations that might include a sit-down toilet or shower facilities…)
The train pulled into Kyiv station on Wednesday morning, and we ambled across the parking lot for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s. We had about an hour to kill before the medical clinic opened; checkups at the clinic are required to obtain exit visas at the US Consulate…our second stop.
With those two appointments out of the way, our driver stopped at a grocery store to stock up for the next couple of days, and then dropped us at our apartment. I don’t think I can find words that can truly express my joy at that hot shower. Better than the shower you take after shoveling mulch all afternoon. Better than the shower following a 4-day camping trip. Lena and I both cleaned up and then just crashed.
During our visit at the US Consulate, we learned that the kind souls there would actually be able to prepare Lena’s visa paperwork for pickup the next afternoon, which was much quicker than we had planned. We had been led to believe that the Consulate was running slower, and we had booked our return flight for Sunday afternoon. After a quick nap, I called Mark and he began the complicated maneuverings to reschedule our travel arrangements and get us home early (side note: it is possible to reschedule a hotel reservation booked through Priceline.com)!
We spent Thursday morning trying to eat the three days’ food we had just purchased, thinking we were staying over the weekend. Our driver appeared mid-morning and delivered us to the Chernobyl Museum, where our translator had arranged a guided tour in English. The small, unassuming building honors the memories of countless individuals who were affected by this incredible tragedy; we learned a lot about how and why the Russian government handled the accident, and how many lives were needlessly lost.
Following the museum, we returned downtown to the Consulate to pick up Lena’s immigrant visa and paperwork, and then headed back to the apartment, with a stop for cappuccino, and then the Mall to get some last minute books and DVDs in Russian for Lena. We spent the rest of the evening packing up and devouring more groceries, as well as watching a bit of SpongeBob Squarepants in Russian.
Even though our flight left in the afternoon, neither Lena nor I slept very well that night. The stress of the week’s travels, and the anticipation shot us both full of more adrenaline than either of us could sleep through. Lena also had managed to develop a full-blown head-cold during the evening; sneezing and nose-blowing are not conducive to a good night’s sleep, nor to a 10-hour flight at 37,000 feet!
We arrived at the airport mid-Friday morning with plenty of time to spare, and even stopped at a little pharmacy to pick up some nose drops for Lena to help her through the flight. We overcame a little difficulty checking in for the flight…the Aerosvit agent at the counter really wanted to know why Lena’s father wasn’t with us. Lena got her first job as a translator trying to explain that he was back in America and it really was just the two of us. Thankfully, I still had a signed, notorized, and apostilled Power of Attorney form from Mark, so I gleefully produced that and a copy of his US Passport, and they relaxed and handed over our boarding passes. Whew! Immigration plus two security checks later (remember, this was just a couple weeks after the underwear bomber), and we were finally through the gate and on our way to New York.
Due to the timing of flight connections, we had scheduled an overnight in New York, and then on to Fort Wayne (via Detroit) on Saturday afternoon. I have never slept in a more comfortable bed than the big fluffy, pillowtopped dream that was the JFK Courtyard! Upon landing (and firing up the Crackberry for the first time in a week) Lena and I made a couple of phone calls and crashed hard…we didn’t even eat!
Of course, jet lag was still strong, and we both sprung awake around 4AM. We freshened up, read a little bit, and patiently waited for 7:00, when the hotel restaurant opened for breakfast. I think the concept of an “all-you-can-eat” breakfast buffet was a little new to Lena, but once I explained that she could have whatever she wanted and as much as she wanted, she piled her plate high with eggs and bacon and fruit and yogurt and hash browns. She topped it all off with a beautiful, fresh bagel, the likes of which you only find in New York. All was wonderful with the world until………she spread ketchup on the bagel. Seriously. Best bagel I’d had in a year. She put KETCHUP on it! But hey, these are the times that you choose how you react. You can either be horrified, or you can pick up the camera and take a picture. Which one do you think I did????
The rest of the day whirled by with a shuttle back to JFK, the flight to Detroit, the connection to Ft. Wayne, and an amazing welcome committee of family and special friends. Just after 4:00 on the 16th, Lena and I were reunited with Mark and Masha, and we finally became a family of four.