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Melora's Family Album

Back in the USSR

and the excitement it brings

This trip included Jeff, myself, Emily (our 16 year old) and of course Jeffrey. Here we are someplace in Europe waiting for our next flight. (You can tell I was tired before we even started because I couldn't remember where we were, but I think it's probably Paris).

Flying somewhere over Europe:

And here we are landing in St Petersburg... notice all the fires? The people there burn the fields every year to get rid of debris and overgrown grasses. Makes for lovely air quality.

When you've been traveling for the better part of 24 hours on several different planes, any destination seems a good one. Even Russia. We arrived tired and cranky and ready to go back home.

We were shuffled through customs and Jeffery and I were separated from the others into a different line. Somehow we got through our line very quickly and collected our luggage only to find ourselves sitting with it for quite awhile before the others appeared.

In retrospect, I should have figured something was wrong when we were fast tracked through the line without the usual signing of paperwork. One might ask why I did not mention this to the customs official but wasn't that supposed to be HER job... to make sure I get everything right?

We met up with our driver who was sent from the agency and he drove us to the same hotel we used last trip. As I was checking in, I got the first hint something was wrong. The man at the desk asked why neither Jeffery's nor my passport had the correct form stapled to them and why they were not stamped correctly.

In my travels through Russia I had perfected the clueless blank stare. I used it often. Now seemed like a good time to try it out again.

The man behind the counter said I couldn't even check into the hotel without these things. He called the manager over and there was much discussion in Russian. I continued to practice my new look, with a heaping helping of innocent victim thrown in for good measure. I think I just looked sick. The manager kept looking over at me (maybe he was worried I was gong to throw up) and finally shrugged his shoulders and stamped the passports himself and said "OK no problem".

I'm not sure why people say "no problem" when it's really not true. It gives one a sense of false security.

Unfortunately the false security didn't last very long because when we saw Natalya the next morning and gave her our passports, she flipped out.

"Why don't you have a immigration slip?  Did you lose it? And where is the immigration stamp? Why don't you have an immigration stamp?"

"The lady going through immigration just didn't give me one. The man at the desk stamped my passport though, see right there.. He said OK no problem". I didn't feel I needed my clueless stare this morning because I actually had answers. OK, they weren't the right answers, but at least I had some.

I have come to realize that living in a free country like America your entire life does not prepare you well for going someplace that is not.

Natalya was almost in tears. "You don't understand... they can come and take you out of the country without a slip stapled in your passport showing you went through immigration correctly."

Well isn't that nice.....

Natalya said this is something the immigration people do from time to time. They seem to enjoy the thought of how many poor unsuspecting foreigners were not going to be able to check into their hotels or get harassed by the police because their passports were not processed correctly.

The Russians have a sense of humor after all.

We had to postpone everything we had planned that day to deal with this issue which kept becoming worse and worse as the day progressed.

First we went to the airport and Natalya used a "customer service" phone at one of the counters. Clearly the Russian "customer service" department did not get the memo that when someone uses this line, someone on the other end is supposed to HELP them. A man answered and Natalya explained the situation and asked the man if they could PLEASE stamp my passport correctly .

He laughed and said "Why would we want to do that". (Seriously, that's what he said).

Then he added "If she does not have the right stamp in her passport she has 24 hours to leave the country or be in violation of the law" and hung up.

I felt like I was going to pass out and Natalya started crying. When we got back out to the car, no one needed to ask how things were going.

Our next step was the American Embassy. I had to try to explain to the person behind the counter that No, I did not sneak through immigration, No, I did not lose my paperwork and No, I have no idea why I did not have the right form stapled inside my passport. Honestly people, I am just as clueless and stupid as I sound. Jet lag and humorous immigration officials will do that an otherwise intelligent person.

There was a lot of talking in hushed voices, scowling looks and wandering back and forth by the people behind the counters. Eventually they gave me the correct form, filled out by an official at the embassy. I was warned that since it did not have the immigration stamp that can only be given at the airport someone could get technical about it and have the police come and take me out of the country. But not to worry... no one would probably even notice.

Yeah right...

When my passport was going to be inspected by how many people in the next few days as we tried to complete this adoption?

My head was swimming, but at this point there was nothing to do but keep moving forward and hope for the best.

Oh yeah, and prepare for the worst.

After all that nonsense, we needed a break. So we drove the 2 hours out to Kingisepp to visit Katherine for the first time in 2 months.

We brought bubbles which were a huge hit.

Dig that fancy bow!

They would not let us see any part of the orphanage other than the entrance hallway and directors office until we had the adoption papers in hand. Here is Jeffrey near the front door.

As we were leaving, kids from Katherine's group were peeking out at us from their day room window. In the second picture you can see a few of them with their hands up by the eyes making circles, asking us to take pictures of them. It was rather heartbreaking knowing they had to stay and I couldn't take them all home with me.

So back at the hotel and trying to talk myself into the feeling that everything would be OK, we watched some very exciting Russian television. Of course I can only guess that it was exciting since I couldn't understand a word of it. I never did understand why one of the more fancy hotels in St Pete did not have any English programming on their TVs.

I was preparing for court the next day when Natalya called.

She was very sorry. Really it wasn't her fault. Really Really she was sorry! (That is never a good thing to hear before you even know what is coming).

Court had been postponed from Friday to Monday. The judge wanted to look over the paperwork again.

Honestly, how interesting can these documents be? The need to read them 20 times over seems to be a good excuse to make the parents sweat and wait. and wait. and wait. and spend more money on hotel rooms and food.

So instead of going through court and bringing Katherine home the next day, we had 3 days to do absolutely nothing, except wait and worry.

On Saturday we figured we might as well go out and explore since there is only so much Russian language TV you can watch. Since we were in walking distance of the Hermitage we decided to go for a visit.

The area was filled with beautiful buildings and statues.

I wish I had taken more pictures.

We even saw a man who had a baby bear walking on a leash.

You don't see that everyday!

We went inside, paid for our tickets and had to leave all of our belongings at a coat check. I could have paid to bring my camera along but didn't find that out until later.

It was breath-taking. I loved the Egyptian section and Emily loved the galleries of art from the Renaissance. Jeffery on the other hand loved all the fancy padded chairs they had in each room for the docents to sit on. He loved the chairs so much he tried to climb in each one of them that didn't have a docent sitting in it. He did this by putting the sole of his shoe on the fabric to give himself a leg up. This caused the docent to have a Russian melt-down... it wasn't pretty.

We made our way through the museum, leaving a wake of disgruntled museum employees in our wake. We cut our visit shorter than we would have liked, but to be fair to the 4 year old, we were asking him to behave himself in a boring old museum in the middle of his night.

He fell asleep on Jeff's shoulder as we were walking back to the hotel.

We spent the rest of the weekend watching television which included Homer Simpson having a bad day in Russian which was funny even if you couldn't understand it.

We ate a lot of room service and spent time browsing the mini market next door trying to figure out what was in each package. It was hit or miss as to what you might get. There were packages of stinky cheese that were cleverly disguised as sweet fancy desserts . We learned to figure those out pretty quick. Every time we went into the store,  the lady behind the counter spent most of her time staring at us, craning her neck as went out of view and whispering behind her hand to the other employee.

We also spent some time sitting on our window seat looking out over the city. Here is the view from our bedroom window.

We also ventured out a bit to the local McDonald's. I had to guess at what we wanted and I'm not sure that I got what I ordered in the first place.

The walk to and from the hotel was impressive.

This was outside our hotel.

You can just see the mini Market with the Coke sign next door.

When we got back to our street there had been a car accident. I am surprised I didn't see more of this with they drive here.

Soon enough the weekend was over and Court Monday dawned early and cold. My stomach was in knots and I was not sure I was going to be able to make it through the day.