Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Saturday, April 12, 2008
DELTA AIRLINES got us home from Kiev relatively quick. Everything went like clockwork. Hearing English spoken amongst the people surrounding us for the first time in weeks was like music to our ears. I also couldn't help but notice that unlike processing us for the international flight that left New York, here in Kiev just the boarding part from the gate to the plane started almost 2 hours early. All passengers were herded into a small room in between gate and aircraft and spent nearly 90 minutes standing there. I guess that is how an American-based airline deals with the consistent tardiness of Eastern Europeans. Anyone arriving late.....tough.
We only had one three hour layover in New York. Just as well. We needed most of those three hours to get through passport control, baggage claim, customs, and then finally we had to make it to the gate for our connecting flight. Thankfully we had just a little spare time for a quick Burger King fix (2 fish sandwiches + 2 diet cokes = $15. WELCOME TO NEW YAWK!). The overall travel time from our apartment in Kiev to our house in Ohio was a little less than 16 hours. Thats quick compared to other slightly less expensive flights where there would have been more stops as well as switching airlines. I never went for that and always preferred to stay with the same airline; switching always seemed to increase the chances of lost luggage. But even though we opted for the fastest route possible, 16 hours is still a long ride. Long rides mean lots of time to think.
Our return was bittersweet. Of course we're happy to be back. We miss the familiarity of home and family. We miss American efficiency. We do NOT miss being misled by a xenophobic, anti-American government. Nor do we miss spending $80-$100/night for apartments which if you do the math, comes out to more money than the monthly rent paid for an apartment in Manhatten. But despite the fact that we're happy to be back, our homecoming was empty and painful. When we got home we were greeted by my inlaws. The second they laid eyes on each other, both Shirley and her Mom burst into tears. We went back to our house, were warmly greeted by our dog, had some belated birthday ice cream cake, and were then left alone to unpack our several suitcases and commence downtime for our emotional recovery.
I can only compare what we're feeling to the mourning associated with a funeral. No the pain isn't nearly equivelant to the loss of a loved one - nothing can equate to that. But just as when mourning a death, the sorrow comes in waves. One minute you're at peace and then next you're crying. I can't count how many times during our flight, I'd glance over to my wife to say something only to see her staring out the window with tears streaming down her face. All of the pondering, the 20/20 hindsight and the "what if's" become obsessive. We were robbed of the dream of coming home with a child. We've been at the airport when others have come home with their children from abroad and have shared their happines. And at the risk of sounding selfish, we were ready for our turn. Not just the homecoming at the airport but all of it. My parents have been given three grandsons by my two sisters and I couldn't wait to visit New Jersey and proudly parade their new granddaughter - my daughter - around the family. I knew that she would have been everyone's Princess. For now though, its still only a dream.
Shirley and I have by no means given up hope for children. We have had discussions with both America World as well as other Agencies concerning adoptions from countries that aren't Ukraine but for the time being we have no desire to look into anything international. We have checked out other options though. Since coming home we've already contacted children's services in different counties across Ohio as well as a few neighboring states. Their workers sounded thrilled and even surprised that we're willing to consider children - other than infants - that need to be placed. Mostly healthy children or children with minor issues; children that we would have gladly accepted had we seen these types of referrals in Ukraine. The children services people are ready to help us with procedures and paperwork. They are very appreciative and encouraging and although we plan to stay in downtime mode for at least the foreseeable future, this is definitely one option that we'll be exploring. I know that I am making the children's services path seem easy; social worker friends of ours have warned us that this road can also get a little bumpy. But compared to the quagmire that we've just been through, anything by comparison will seem like a Church picnic. I am still determined to parade my daugher through our Greek ghetto in New Jersey. That will one day become a reality!
Despite the sad ending to our experience, I still can't help but have a little fun with you all. In case anyone can't tell after the past 6 weeks worth of posts, I am a camera buff. I am always clicking away because I love preserving memories. In fact let me put it this way, when it comes to the camera I am a pest. I've loved the camera since taking my first picture. It was back in 19?? when my Mom was pregnant with my youngest sister who is now age....(ahem...I'd better not say). Anyhow, to those still in Ukraine finalizing their adoptions, I thought that I'd post a few pics of home to remind you of what will be waiting for you after the big homecoming. Here is a pic of the washer and dryer at our house. Yes...A DRYER!! Remember them? To anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, Ukrainians don't believe in dryers. They believe in washing clothes and then hanging the wash out to dry. At this time of the year, there is no place to hang clothes except in the living room. And the low quality spin cycle of most washers there means that your dripping clothes are going to be decorating the living room for quite a while - at least a day. Of course one option is to just not wash clothes. I have a feeling that this is the option many choose to go with. It only took a few days for Shirley to notice that people were wearing the same thing day in and day out. I guess when you think about it, not washing clothes is the economical way to go.
Here are a few other pics of some familiar sites. McDonalds, KFC and Wendy's (Wendy's originated in Ohio, so I had to include that one in the KFC pic). And lets not forget good ole Tim Hortons. The best hot coffee around. Beats the battery acid that we were drinking for 5+ weeks (even I had to put cream in it). And yes, Tim Horton's donuts are always fresh. Not like those week-old buttered rolls that can be thrown through a wall. If you're from a part of the USA that has no Tim Hortons, you could say that they're Ohio's version of Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme. Regardless, its good stuff.
Again, thanks for all of the comments left on the blog. Thanks for all of your compassion. Thanks for the personal emails. Thanks, thanks and thanks. I can't thank you all enough. You've been great with all of the support. And I will continue to post as well as to read the blogs of others.
Be well and God bless...
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I hadn't realized that so many days had passed since my last post; it took a distress call from my mother in law pleading "please write something - our phone is ringing off the hook" that reminded me I was overdue. I apologize for keeping everyone in the dark.
To give you a complete picture of what happened on Monday, I'll actually need to go back to Friday and fill you in on some details. Some of this may seem redundant but I'm just going to tell the whole story. On Friday afternoon our facilitator had a meeting with the SDA who told him that they intended to deny us a 3rd appointment. This was to adhere to some law passed back in October 2007 stating that no foreign family could be granted more than two SDA appointments for an international adoption. Despite the fact that many families have been granted 3rd appointments since October 2007 - the current backlog of those looking for new appointments is now so great that commencing law enforcement on this particular ruling NOW seems like a convenient quick fix for the SDA.
Later on Friday our facilitator came to our apartment (yes, just as we were having cake for my birthday) to fill us in on the SDA decision. He also suggested that we go home, update our dossier and come back "when things got better". Our reaction was immediate; no chance! We made it clear that when we go home, we go home for good. Judging from the expression on his face he obviously didn't expect this to be our answer. He tried convincing us otherwise but we weren't buying it. For one thing we don't believe that "things" will ever get better here; the Ukrainian system is in a self-induced spiral and these people have only themselves to blame. Besides, we've gotten nothing but jerked around by this country from Day #1 and at this point we're sick of being here. The thought of having to actually come back turns our stomaches. He finally gave up with the "go home and come back later" idea and then proposed that we meet with the SDA ourselves. They have open hours on Monday at 11am-1pm. This time slot is for parties with issues or questions.
If you remember from our weekend posts, Shirley and I were at peace with whatever the outcome was going to be. What I never said in the posts was that barring a miracle, our Ukrainian adoption project was now dead in the water. But we also knew that we weren't going down without a fight. So we psyched ourselves up for war on Monday morning.
We arrived at the SDA on Monday and despite getting there 30 minutes before 11am, there were still 4 groups of people in line ahead of us. The meetings got started by about 11:15 which is actually "early" here. The first four groups were in and out of that office in 20 minutes and then came our turn. 30 minutes later we were still in that office arguing our case. That SDA lady wasn't budging on her position but neither were we. Eventually she said something to the effect that "she will look into it further and have a final decision made by the end of the day". In other words, her mind had already been made up and now she was trying to shoo us out of her office and get to the next person in line. But it was still another 15 minutes or so before we left. I guess Ukrainians aren't used to dealing with a stubborn German woman and a stubborn Greek gorilla.
I still run details of that meeting through my head. It really was a farce; I suspected the SDA had dug itself into such a deep hole - that their only solution was to try to get as many families like us flushed out of their country as possible. What was somewhat irritating was that a lot of the facts presented by the SDA lady were twisted around to make it look as though everything was our fault. The one part of the meeting that most stands out in my mind is when this woman looked Shirley straight in the eye and told her that she isn't prepared for - nor does she know how to deal with - health issues. Remember, Shirley is an RN (Registered Nurse) with 20 years experience. Who did this lady think she was talking to? Some idiot? For a moment I honestly thought that my normally even-keeled wife was going to blow a fuse. The entire accusation was so ridiculous - it would have been like Shirley telling the SDA official how to be the perfect bureaucrat. It became difficult to take anything that came out of this lady's mouth seriously. If it weren't for how sad this was becoming, the whole scene would have been comical. I'll never forget it for as long as I live.
Unsurprisingly, the "final decision" came late Monday afternoon. As expected, we were denied a 3rd appointment. We actually felt relief; the SDA could no longer play god with our lives. The first thing that I wanted to do was to call DELTA AIR, change our flight reservations and blow Dodge ASAP. Yes - after 5 long, useless weeks in an alien land we were finally going home. But we would also be going home empty handed and childless. 200,000 orphans in Ukraine and we were going home childless. No matter how well we make the best of it, the reality is devastating because we've been robbed of a dream. When Shirley and I bought our home back in June 2005, it came with a backyard swingset (the previous owners had 4 kids). How heartbreaking it is to see that after 3 years, the swingset is still not being used. We are sure that there is a reason for all of this. Although we don't know what it is (and trust me, we've tried to figure it out), there is no choice but to accept His will. Anyway, I am looking foreward to being in my own house, surrounded by honest people. I've had my fill of the political types that believe in their own fiction and excel at talking in circles (Please God - after living through all of this - help me to somehow survive our presidential election).
After setting up some arrangements, we'll be back in our own home by the weekend at the latest. GREAT!! If nothing else, I miss my dog Yukon!!
All those reading this blog that are still slugging it out with their adoptions, we truly wish you all the best. As I've said to several families, I hope to see many pics of your homecomings and raising families over the course of many months and years. We are excited for and want to wish the best of luck to Joe and Tonya (http://eastmanadoption.blogspot.com/) and Ruslan and Inna (http://stolyarov.blogspot.com/) whom we've had the pleasure of connecting with while in Ukraine. There are so many more of you that have made contact with us in one way or another. Mentioning every single name in this blog is impossible; there are simply too many to list here. But you know who you are. If any of you ever find yourselves in Central Ohio, give us a call. Our house is your house. I mean that!!!!!!!
I intend to keep making posts to this blog in the near future. After a little downtime at home, we're going to start exploring other options regarding children and I'll keep everyone updated. In case you're also one of the unlucky families who fared as well as we did in Ukraine, I'll let you know which of these other options can work, and how.
Thanks again for reading. And I again apologize for taking so long to post. Didn't realize the passage of time. Hope to chat with many of you on the sidelines. Bye for now and God bless...
Sunday, April 6, 2008
This has been a quiet weekend. I’ll even go as far as saying that it was pretty stress free. Although we still do not know what is going to transpire during Monday’s meeting with the SDA, Shirley and I are more relaxed and at peace with ourselves than we’ve been in a long time.
The weather was peculiar and Ohio-ish this weekend. It started off sunny, warm and very spring like. For the first time I saw people rollerblading through the streets of Kiev. I even saw what looked like a handful of young sunbathers although I kinda felt sorry for them. As paste-white as their skin was, my guess is that they’d probably be on fire with sunburn by nightfall (that’s OK, I did the same thing during my younger years). Shortly thereafter the thunderheads rolled in. First the rain started and then came the lightning and thunder. In no time the city sounded as if it was being pounded by artillery. We took shelter in our apartment but noticed that despite the weather the natives moved freely about outside. So we opted to venture out as well.
We took a walk to the nearby St. Vladimir Church (notice the black sky in the background). Our guide book indicated that the Church held daily services at 8am and 5pm. We got there right around the start of the afternoon service. The Church itself is beautiful on the outside and very spacious on the inside. The Church interior is splashed with Orthodox iconography; on all walls as well as the ceilings high above. Orthodox iconography is beautiful and plays a dual purpose. In addition to being decorative artwork they also have a story to tell, usually passages from Scripture. During the majority of Christian history, laypeople were illiterate and unable to read or write. Seeing a highly detailed icon of a Scriptural passage (The Good Samaritan, Jesus’ Baptism, The Resurrection, etc) would be like reading the details of the Bible passage itself. Since today virtually all of us can read and write, we can’t really relate to the early Christian experience. In ancient times, the only methods of Bible Study were either to have an educated somebody read to them, or else to study Christian icons on the walls of the early Churches. The latter was by far more common.
As we approached the St. Vladimir Church, a procession of Church Hierarchs walked by while chanting hymns. It made me think that we chose to go to the Church during some kind of a visitation; possibly a Ukrainian Bishop. The Clerics in the procession were dressed to kill. I was doubtful that the vestments that I saw them wearing were the same ones they'd wear for a normal Church service. The interior was full of people. I tried to get a picture inside the Church but it was pretty dark in there; the interior was mostly lit only by candle light. We lit our candles and stayed for a good part of the Church service. It was very relaxing and refocusing; its always a good thing to step back on occasion and refocus our priorities.
On our way home we walked through the nearby Botanical Gardens. At this time of the year it looked more or less dead and devoid of life although green is beginning to return at ground level. I am sure that come summertime there will be green everywhere. You can see the walkways and paths through the entire area. The Botanical Garden is huge - larger than Shevchenko Park which is just up the street. I’d recommend The Botanical Gardens as another place to bring kids when their legs need stretching. Or if you want a nice peaceful walk on your own.
As may of you know, we will be attending a meeting tomorrow where we’ll be discussing our situation with the SDA. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we don’t know what is going to happen but regardless of the outcome Shirley and I have decided to be at peace with the result. Saturday marked our fifth week here in Ukraine and we are still no closer to completing an adoption than we were when we arrived in Kiev on March 1. It has been an eye-opening experience and not one that I would recommend. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate the USA; that big, beautiful country that my Greek peasant family came to call home nearly a century ago. I have been abroad several times and no matter where I travel, I always appreciate "home" that much more when come back. Ours is the best country in the world!! Granted it is not perfect -no kingdom on Earth is - and any earthly kingdom that professes to be perfect should be avoided. But show me anyplace better than America! Lets put it this way, you may think you're SHOWING me a better place, but you'll never convince me of it.
Thanks again to everyone for reading our blog. Thanks for posting comments and sending emails. Thanks for the phone calls. Not sure when I'll be able to post again but keep checking in and I'll get something out here eventually. God bless......
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Yesterday at about 7pm our facilitator came to our apartment to fill us in on an earlier meeting that he had with the SDA. He also added that on Monday at about noon we're to go to the SDA for a meeting regarding our case. Please note that this is NOT an appointment, only a meeting. There will therefore be no news to report until Monday afternoon at the earliest regarding an appointment. Possibly longer, depending on how quickly the SDA moves.
For whom it may concern - my birthday pizza dinner was nice last night. We found a small pizzeria near the apartment. We had eaten at this particular pizza chain before back when we were in Khmelnytsky around March 21st for our 2nd appointment. So we knew that they had decent pizza and were very reasonable priced. We couldn't decide if we wanted pizza with salami or pizza with "fungh" (mushrooms). So we opted for one of each. It cost about $7 for both. There was no way that Shirley and I could eat both pizzas. Of course that meant plenty of leftovers. Looks like we will be eating my birthday dinner throughout the weekend, or at least through today.
As chaotic as the traffic is in Kiev, it becomes exponentially worse during rush hour which is when we headed home from dinner. The main streets are so clogged; they become essentially parking lots. And don't even try getting out of a side street onto a main street because even when the lights change, there is still traffic blocking the intersection. I simply had to post a couple of pics from Kievian rush hour. When the green "walk" light is lit, it is still neccesary to step around cars blocking the intersection. If you look at the 2nd pic and find the green walk light, just above it you will see a number that I think said 36 (you may have to click on the pic to blow it up). That number is your countdown; you have that many seconds to cross the street. And when that green number gets to zero, you'd better be clear or you may wind up with tire tracks across your feet!
Leave it to my beautiful wife to surprise me with a birthday cake when we got back to the apartment. It was a delicious whipped cream walnut/almond combination - next to ice cream cake anything with nuts reigns supreme! It was a good thing that I had a decent amount of pizza for dinner. Even though I don't have a sweet-tooth, I am a nut for nuts and could have easily eaten the whole dessert by myself. What I loved even more was the price. The cost of the cake was about 8 hrivnas; about $1.60 for the whole thing (less than a cost of a slice of cake at this internet cafe). At first Shirl was embarassed to tell me how much (or should I say, how little) the cake cost but she keeps forgetting that when it comes to money I am a cheapskate's cheapskate. The small cost of that cake made it all the better. Here are a couple of cake pics including the cutter doing a taste-test. And there are cake leftovers too. Guess we don't need to go anywhere else for food this weekend.
Since its the weekend we'll probably take it easy. Not entirely sure what we'll be doing but whatever it is, I'll be posting about it.
As always thanks for the morale support. God bless..
Friday, April 4, 2008
Currenty the local time is about 3:30pm and our facilitator has yet to check in. We weren't expecting to hear anything about an appointment for this afternoon although knowing that we'd have something lined up for next week would have been nice. At this moment Shirley is carrying our phone and is elsewhere so its always possible that she's gotten a phone call that I am not aware of. But in all likelihood it looks as though we're going to be starting another week not knowing what direction we're headed.
When we are finally called in for our appointment, our intention is to be courteous but firm with the SDA. We certainly don't want to be rude but on the other hand we've been given a greater than average run around. Having accomplished nothing after being here for an entire month is a little difficult to stomach, especially when none of it is through any fault of our own. We have simply come too far to quit now without at least a fighting chance of taking home a little girl. I know that the SDA has good files and they know that they have good files. I also know that Shirley was meant to be a Mom.
As if playing the SDA guessing game isn't enough hassle, this being without internet is really for the birds. Not only do we use the net for blog and email but also for other personal "business". We're limited to 1-2 hours online per day at a Cafe. Personal business easily takes up most of that.
Well I suppose the cat is out of the bag. Yes today is Steve's birthday. We didn't do any sightseeing or touring today so there are no interesting pictures to post. Shirley wants to take me out for a nice birthday dinner and I opted for....you guessed it....pizza. A slice of ice cream cake would have been nice for afterwards but I've noticed that ice cream in general seems to be a rare commodity here. Maybe it has to do with the fact that these people do enough freezing during their winter. Thats OK. I'll just settle for an extra slice of pizza.
Hope everyone is doing well back home. Shirley and I are hanging in there. We appreciate all of the comments and personal emails. Keep 'em coming - its great for morale.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
I apologize for not posting since Monday. Yesterday our internet wireless modem died on us without cause or warning. Our facilitator promised that either yesterday afternoon or today he would have the modem fixed or replaced and returned to us. It is now nearly dinnertime and still no modem, so Shirley and I opted to find an internet café for dinner and while at it, check email and post to the blog. We found this particular one fairly close; it was empty when we got here and now its jammed. At least for right now we have limited internet access until we get our wireless modem back.
No word yet about a new appointment. Our facilitator said that today the SDA was very busy with meetings. He even said that the SDA employees were spread so thin, he couldn't see how anyone could have had an appointment today. Needless to say he was unfortunately unable to do any of his daily pestering. But as Scarlett O'Hara once said, "tomorrow is another day".
Yesterday we were moved out of our apartment by our facilitator before noon. Our new apartment is fairly close to our last one – maybe a mile or so away - but in a much quieter corner of town. We are actually closer to the Shevchenko park and the “Pok n Pop” (Rock N Roll) café that I wrote about in my last post. We feel that this apartment is in a better spot. We like being in a much smaller, quieter area without having to defy death everytime we cross the street. On the other hand we only need to walk a half block in either direction to get to one of two major thoroughfares. A grocery store is right on the corner and there are restaurants all over the place if we opt to go out. Our apartment itself is fairly spacious and has two beds compared to the one bed that we’ve had in all of our previous apartments. Interestingly, the spare bed is in the kitchen. Now when it comes to interior decorating I’ve always thought of myself as the clueless type; the right side of my brain has never been the dominant half. Yet even to a fashion invalid like me, having a bed in the kitchen seems to be a little off. On the other hand there is a practical side to this. Anyone for breakfast in bed??
Today was a cold, drizzly day which I am told is typical of Ukraine in the Spring. We went to the The Russian Art Museum that we wanted to go to on Monday but found that it was closed. Our guide book described this Art Museum as being full of art from both Russia and Ukraine. In fact we found only a small fraction of the works of art to be from either of those countries. The admission price was a little higher than the guide book said, probably because they have a special Asian art exhibit showing from March 26th through April 27th. Cost of admission was 16 hrivnas – about $3.20. Not exactly bank busting and well worth the afternoon out of the apartment. Fortunately the Museum had handouts in English describing most of the art. The Asian art exhibit seemed to be pretty heavily patrolled by both ushers and security. First of all we were not permitted to wear our overcoats; we had to check them in at the front. Then during our walk through the exhibit we were always being watched by at least one person. Sometimes more. Shirley noticed that security seemed to focus on only us. I don’t know if the Museum people were paranoid about theft but it would have been pretty tough sneaking a huge vase or a huge rug out of there even if I had my overcoat. Once we got to the regular Museum displays, the “patrols” seem to lighten up (or maybe the Museum people realized how harmless we were). There was a lot of Indian and European Renaissance stuff. There was also a huge selection of art from the Islamic parts of the world. For my own reasons I tend to avoid Muslim anything but even I will admit that the paintings, the Turkish pottery and especially the handmade Persian prayer rugs were all very ornate and beautiful.
Within half a block of the Museum is that Rock and Roll Café that I wrote about in Monday’s post. Since I already posted a picture before, no need to do it again. Shirley and I couldn’t resist checking it out and walked over there just for the sake of going in. The moment we stepped into the place, we were assaulted by Rolling Stones music. In fact that was all we heard overhead during our entire 45 minute stay. Now to an old Stones fan like myself, I didn't mind a bit - and anyone else in Kiev who likes the Stones would love it here. The music included some live versions of classic stones as well as some Russian/Ukrainian remakes; I didn't realize it at first until I heard a female singer saying how "dzumping dzack flash" is a gas gas gassss. The Cafe itself was very Applebee’s-like, not bad but somewhat trendy and definitely pricier than your typical Ukrainian places to eat. Two coffees and two plates of French fries cost about $13 including tip; kinda comparable to prices at a restaurant in the States but if you compare it to two full dinners at a Ukrainian Cafeteria-like place for about $9 total, then its obvious that being trendy is a costly hobby here in Ukraine.
We cruised by a University which was pretty active with students crisscrossing between the buildings (if you can figure out the name of the University, let me know). We figured that a place like a University would b a perfect place to look for an internet café so we began keeping our eyes peeled for anything with a WIFI sign in the window or the word “INTERNET” in Russian (at least we can read that word). Surprisingly we never did see an internet café anywhere near the University. However we did spot an interesting looking nightclub called “MEMPHIS” right by the campus. It was complete with Egyptian graphics outside of the building. We were surprised at the good deal of traffic going in and out of MEMPHIS and all of the “traffic” looked like college students, or at least people around the age of 20. I know that college kids will always be college kids; back home we also frequented the Philadelphia hot spots during my college years. Thing is, even we usually didn’t start THIS early (or at least those of us who graduated didn’t). We saved all of that fun stuff for the weekends which usually started on a Thursday night. Here – it was 3pm on a Thursday afternoon – and these kids were already getting cranked up. Who knows, maybe they’re the ones who have their priorities right and it was us college kids back in The States that had our heads screwed on backwards!
We’ll certainly keep everyone posted with our progress with the SDA and referrals. Our last wait for an appointment took a little over two weeks. Looks like that’s about what it will take this time around too.
Thanks again for reading the blog. God bless….