Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ukranian Egg Fight?!

Zenon just found this article...I wish I brought eggs to court that one day! And one big smoke bomb. Next time....

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100427/ap_on_re_eu/eu_ukraine_russia_fleet

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Volcano


Seriously, how did we miss this?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Long Trip Home

Wednesday morning wasn’t unlike some of the others. He refused basically everything I asked of him. He even tried slamming his bedroom door and locking me out. Unfortunately this didn’t work out for him because the other day when he disassembled and reassembled the door knob he broke it (I had asked him not to but he didn’t listen ;-)). I needed to check email so I decided not to dig in. We were at the internet cafĂ© by 9.

Vitaly called at around 10 am. The passport was ready. Yay! We were in a cab headed for the train station to buy train tickets for that night by 10:30. I made an error in judgment in hindsight. I agreed with Vitaly that we could take a bus to Zaparozhe to get the passport to save some $$. Unfortunately I was stressing the entire day. We were on the bus by 11 am but needed to get the passport, fax it into Kiev, and be back to Melitopol for our 7 pm train. Not to mention finish packing and pay the apartment owner. Considering the trip to Zaparozhe was 2 hours alone it wasn’t worth the stress (worry about cab to passport agency from bus stop, and finding a bus back to Melitopol in time) to save what amounted to $20 when taking a cab would have been reassuring. …but for once everything went off without a hitch (except the part where Ruslan got mad at me for not buying him a pepsi. You see, I started to explain to him that if he was good all day that he could have a pepsi later. Since I was explaining this to him in the cab he told me to stop talking because he was embarrassed about my Russian. He missed the part about all day and expected the pepsi when we got to Zap).

I decided on taking 2 beds in a 4-bed sleeper room on the train gambling that we would have tolerable roommates. It was not a good sign when drunken sailors poured out of the train and started yelling when we went to board. It turns out that one of our roommates was a passed out sailor and 3 others were using our room as the drinking room. They continued after we arrived, drinking and yelling and offering us homemade wine, even though Ruslan, me and our other roommate (a nice lady who just wanted them to leave) were resting on our beds. They just sat on the edges of our beds and kept on like it was normal. One of the sailors gave Ruslan a bullet from his gun as a souvenir. (Ruslan wasn’t about to let me have it so I had to ask Dima the next day to have Ruslan give it up. Dima just threw it onto the lawn at the medical office!) The sailors left at about midnight and we got some sleep before our 7 am arrival in Kiev.

The apartment owner, Constantine, was waiting outside of the train and drove us to the apartment which was just a stone’s throw from Independence square for $50 per night. It figures that the best apartment with the best price and location was found on the last night and without time to take advantage of it! Dima met us 30 minutes later and we spent the next 8 hours completing the medical exam and acquiring the passport at the US embassy. Ruslan was tired. I am sure the finality of the situation was sinking in. 5 minutes before our interview at the embassy Ruslan says “I’m leaving”. What? He says I don’t want to wait anymore, just take me back to the orphanage and won’t stop walking towards the exit. Wow. What do I do? So I stand in front of him and explain that he is our son now, there is no going back, and if we miss our interview then we may be in Kiev for another few more days waiting instead of a few more hours. He doesn’t care and continues to walk outside. I see Dima out there and quickly explain what is going on. I ask Dima to bribe Ruslan that we will go skating afterwards, we just need to finish. We it seemed to work because Ruslan came back in and we finished our interview. Crisis averted. I felt for him. The past 48 hours were nothing but traveling, waiting, paperwork, and examinations with little sleep. We walked out of the embassy with the last piece of the puzzle at about 4 pm.

Dima sent us to a mall with indoor skating, arcades, trampolines, etc, and Ruslan blew off some steam for a few hours. We made it back to the apartment for a few hours of sleep and headed off to the airport for our 5:30 am flight. It all over and we are going home! Not so fast. The Lufthansa agent told us to step aside as he was printing our tickets. No explanation, he just said that he needed to talk with his supervisor. 20 minutes later we are still standing there watching everyone else walk away with their boarding passes. Finally he explains that we need to leave the secure area and go back outside to talk with the Lufthansa agents. Of course I am waiting for the next letdown. Fortunately the agent over there explained that the system was not processing the ticket properly but she had a fix. We were on our way. This was just Ukraine’s way of saying goodbye to us. It was a fitting end to our long adventure.

I am pretty sure that it was more of a relief to leave Ukraine than it was to arrive in the US. Our entire trip was long, probably 24 hours, but Ruslan was great the entire trip. In fact, on our last 1.5 hr leg from San Fran to San Diego he was practically jumping out of his seat. Every 5 minutes he would ask “Is that San Diego” from the moment we got in the air.

Cindy and Voss met us in San Diego at 7pm. It was great to see them. It’s now Friday and I am back at work. I left this morning and everyone was in good spirits. Baba is here, she just got in on Tuesday, and it’s great to see her as well.

Just for the record Cindy made chicken Osso Buco for dinner last night. We traded in the bread for Tortillas and made burritos. It's good to be back!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

GREAT NEWS!!

Yes! Zenon got the passport and they left immediately on the train to Kiev!!! They are finally on their way home! They are on the 10 hour ride on the train (overnight), will go to get the medical done, get the Visa in the American Embassy and take off on Thursday morning. We can hardly believe that they will be home in just two sleeps (Voss's way of counting the time until he gets to see his dad and new brother.) I almost don't want to relax yet. I mean, the Embassy could always blow up or somethi...OK, I won't even finish that sentence.

I think it is almost over. I think we are picking them up at the airport on Thursday. I forgot to ask the time they come in. Marty came into town today and we have already begun to plan the welcome home dinner and it WILL NOT be ANYTHING Ukranian!!

Anyone have any suggestions?

I wonder if he ever got to return the power cord?(ha)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that we searched some more, with the help of Ruslan's friend Artom (whom he met at the internet cafe), and found a power supply for my laptop. This was saturday. I was excited to have the internet back at home and get some work done. The bad news is that it was the wrong model of power supply and I could not use it.

OK, so there is more bad news. The guy at the store promised that I could return it, no questions asked, if it did not work. It was $30. I tried to return yesterday and he asked me for my passport. Um, ok, yes I just walk around with a pasport. He also said that they did not have any money in the register to refund me if I did have a passport. Sounds promising!

Ok, so there is more bad news. We are still in Ukraine. It turns out that the passport authority in Kiev decided not to issue any passports last week. Good thing we paid the expediting fee! Actually, from what I understand the expediting fee is just so that it does not take 1 month.

OK, not finished. The passport authority is not issuing passports again today (Monday). For a week now we have been told tomorrow, tomorrow. Well, we have been told again tomorrow (tuesday). We were hopefull to have been home last Saturday but at this point we are in danger of missing our primary flight date on Thursday.

....oh ya, Ruslan spent 10 minutes swearing at me this morning. He didn't like that I ask him to brush his teeth and make his bed.

Other than that, and the weather being 50 degrees again, we are doing well ;-)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Internet Cafe

....is our 2nd home. 3 hours on Monday. 3 hours yesterday. Almost at 3 hours today. At least we are getting out of the apartment!

I have to give Ruslan credit, he has been great since he let me have it. Everything I say registers with him. Almost always he immediately refuses to do as I ask but it almost like a routine where he will do it when i turn my back.

Saturday after everything happened and the internet cafe I received a call from Tamara and Nikolai, our friends from the last trip. They came and picked us up and the plan was to go for pizza (or so I thought). They drove us out to "Stone Grave" (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/18496941) and told us all about it. Ruslan had a blast and spent an hour climbing all over the site. Afterwards we went to gorky park to meet their 1 yr old daughter who was there with Tamara's mom. We spent a better part of an hour looking for the 2 squirrels that inhabit gorky park (really? 2 squirrels?). Not surprising that we did not see them since the park is about 2 square miles big! They dropped us off at home soon after at which point we scrambled to find something to eat since we did not go for dinner.

Yesterday Henry picked us up and we went for the sports equipment. The selection wasn't great but we bought some good sports equipment and games. I have a few extra dollars remaining so I bought a bunch or socks for the boys and hair accessories for the girls.

We arrived at the orphanage and it looked like a ghost town. Within minutes the parking lot was buzzing with kids who were excited about their new equipment. After a few group shots with about 50 kids (I was told that the orphanage currently has 110 kids) Valerie ushered me into his office and said sit. Henry came following a few minutes later which was great because the two of them were able to talk for the next 2 hours. Valerie ordered the 3 of us a filling lunch of boiled chicken legs, mashed potatoes, and beet salad. The chaser was homemade wine, lesser of all evils (I adamantlt declined any alcohol, but after refusing cognac, vodka, and beer Valerie finally talked me into his wine). It was a nice lunch, Valerie has been one of most hospitable people I have ever met. I think he really does good by the kids at Nova Nikolaiev.

I spent the last half hour with Ruslan and his friends watching them skateboard andthen the final goodbyes. It was very anticlimactic. Ruslan just gave a few handshakes and a few hugs and we were off.

Henry droppped us off and had plenty to say when I gave him a platform on the video camera. I swear it was a 10 minute monologue! When I called him for a ride I was reading for whatever price he threw at me, it would just be nice to say bye and thank. Henry only charged half his normal rate which was a nice gesture.

Like I was saying we have filled the rest of our time with the internet cafe and television with a few breaks to eat. Ruslan is happy. I am happy, nothing to complain about.

We were hoping to travel to Zaparozhe today but it did not happen. Looks like tomorrow we will travel there which means we will have to travel home next week. What's a few extra days at this point?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Blowup

Today has been tough. I have been fairly lax on Ruslan and decided I needed to take a stand on at least one issue. I had asked that he use sheets on the bed to sleep last night and he declined. I gave him the option of sheets and tv tomorrow, or no sheets and no tv. He decided no sheets.

Monday morning we wake up and he goes straight for the tv. I ask that he turn it off and he declined. I turn it off myself. Battle lines are drawn. Ruslan digs in. For the next 2 hours he locks himslef in his room. I realize after a while that he has the tv back on. I pursuade him to unlock his door. He does. I take the television out of his room. As he closes the door I say please dont close. He tells me not to worry because he wont lock it. I decide ok. Guess what, he locks it!

The response I wanted to say "fine, no internet for the rest of the day". Instead I take a different road and ask him to talk. After a half hour he comes out and says fine. We act like nothing happenned, but later I tell him that we need to listen to each other, etc,etc.

We needed to go downtown, exchange some money, and pay for the computer and internet for the orphanage (Part of the gift from people who donated!). Ruslan was impatient the entire time, complaining that his knees hurt (but he was jumping all over things) and saying we need to take a taxi. After paying for the computer stuff we hit the sports store for some other things for the orphanage. The situation was getting worse and Ruslan was very impatient. He hit his tipping point when I declined to buy him something. Let's just say that he has a lot on his mind and maybe a little nervous/apprehensive/confused/mad/sad/etc,etc about everything. He is in a very tough spot right now and I need to work hard not to let him get closer to the edge. It's been tough. At this point a better strategy maybe just to get him home to california then put my foot down.

Wish me luck.

Easter Sunday

Saturday was a fun day for us. Since Vitaly left Ruslan and I in Zaparozhe and went home to Nikolaiev from there, this was our first day on own. We had laid the groundwork earlier and went to the orphanage to pick up Adol, Ruslan's friend. It was a quick trip and Henry droppped us off near the skating rink. I was hoping that Henry wouldn't overcharge like he seems to be doing but he did, asking for 250 grivna. I paid and made a mental note.

We went skating for a few hours then onto City Cafe for pizza. Now Ruslan hates pizza, so he says, so I finally made him eat some for dinner. City cafe pizza isn't half bad. Ruslan ate half the pizza all the while saying it wasn't good. I think we have a new pizza lover ;-). ALong those same lines I have discovered that Ruslan's standard answer to every question and comment is either 1 of 2 things: "I know" or "no". This can be frustrating.

When we were all finished I decided to ask a different cab what he woul charge for the trip back. 100 grivna = 12 bucks. Henry was waiting for my call and was surprised when I called him back from the orphanage saying that we didn't need a ride. He asked why and I quickly said I didn't know how to explain but I would tell him tomorrow. This was especially aukward because the plan was for him to pick us up at 9 am to go to church with his family for easter sunday.

The next Morning Henry arrived to pick us up. He quickly asked Ruslan how we got to the orphanage and Ruslan said by taxi. That was the end of the story. Henry didn't seem to care. I like Henry very much as a friend but think his taxi is far too expensive.

We walked to church from Henry's apartment. People were lined up outside where the priest was blessing the easter baskets. We stepped inside the church for 10 minutes, lit some candles, and were on our way. I like this Ukrainian church, only 10 minutes compared to the 2 hour Ukrainian church I remember!

Back at Henry's apartment his wife made us a nice spread including plenty of different fish (none of which I could stomach) and a bunch of other things like eggs, pork, mashed potatoes, and salads. We polished a bottle of Ukrainian wine (between Henry, Olga, and myself) while Ruslan and Melisa had juice. After a few hours Henry told me he couldn't drive and we had to take the bus home.

The rest of the afternoon Ruslan and I played basketball and watched tv. Unfortunately we cannot use the computer since the power supply broke. This has been heartbreaking for both of us!

Picking Ruslan Up - For the Final Time

After applying for the tax id in Melitopol, which went super smooth, we had to pick up Svetlana for the final paperwork in Nova Nikoliev. Henry let us out and Valerie ushered Vitaly, Svetlana and me into his office. He quickly assembled an assortment of pickled tomatoes, fish and cream cheese, cookies, mayonaisse pizza, liverworst, coffee, tea, beer, vodka, juice, and of course cognac. I wondered who the heck was going to eat all of this.

Yanna jioned us in the office and everyone made quick work of the food. You'd be surprised how much you can eat after a few vodka shots. I decided to take my poison today so that I would not have to do it on our last visit to the orphanage next week. I had promised Valerie 3 more shots before I leave.

The next morning we arose early to catch a bus to Zaparozhe. I very much appreciate the concious effort Vitaly has made to do everything quickly and cheaply. We had the option to take a cab but Vitaly recommended the bus - really no difference expect at least $100 dollars savings. I enjoy the bus experience. It's like being part of a group where everyone is in it together. I notice people are always helping others with their bags, with their kids, etc. It's great.

We arrived in Zaparozhe and applied for the passport with absolutely no problems. What's going on? It was straight back to Melitopol for 2 hours on the bus. Ruslan did good as well with hardly any complaints. The entire day took 8 hours.

This was great news that we were able to execute the birth certificate, the tax id, and the passport all within 2 days and finish on Friday. If we had to wait for the weekend, with Monday being a holiday, then this could have set us back almost a week!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sasha

There wasn’t enough time to finish off the story with Sasha. Ever wonder if things happen for a reason? Do you think there is a chance that Ruslan may have never seen Sasha again?

Ruslan just dropped the news on me. I was dumbfounded. On one hand this was amazing, on the other hand it was disturbing to me. Although we were granted pending legal status by the court nothing was finalized until after the 10 day waiting period and the paperwork was in hand. What that really meant was that there was an opportunity for someone to petition to the court against the finalized adoption.

Ruslan continued to say that he made plans to meet up with Sasha later in the day at Gorky Park where we had just finished skating. I said “Ruslan, are you sure you know what you are doing? I don’t feel comfortable with this.” I never at any point want to burden Ruslan with any of the pressure or understanding of the gravity of every single step but in this case I felt it was important. “Ruslan, you know that there is still the possibility someone could petition the courts. I would rather we wait until after Tuesday to meet up with Sasha.” Ruslan actually had a good answer. He said Sasha already gave his written consent so there was nothing to worry about. I agreed to think about it and let him know my decision.

After a consultation with Vitaly we agreed that it shouldn’t be something I need to worry about. With that we waited until 6 and went back to gorky park to meet up with Sasha. I don’t want to get into the details but I will say that things went great. They skated together and we left our contact info for Sasha so we can hopefully stay in touch (Sasha did not have any contact info to share).

There was a question as to if we already met Sasha. It was actually Andrei, the oldest brother that we met initially in December.

The next day Henry drove us back to the orphanage. Ruslan disappeared into the woodwork with his friends after I told him I would be back after Sumi. I don’t think he even waited for me to finish.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Amazing Race

We boarded the train at 5. I was curious about our roommates since we were only able to get the top 2 bunks in the 4 person compartment. Good news was that we only had one roommate. The bad news: He was Bellarussian, 300 lbs, and had the smell of something I never want to encounter again. Seriously, Vitaly scrunched up his face and opened the window without saying hello. We were joined by another passenger a few stops later. Since we had the top 2 bunks we did not have access to the table in between the bottom 2 bunks. No problem, when Vitaly ordered a few coffees he just made the new passenger get up off his bunk while we sat there and had our drinks. Smelly Bellarussian just slept the whole time while his belly hung out from his undershirt and sagged off the bed.

We arrived in Sumi at 2 a.m.. Lucky for us there was a room at the makeshift train hotel where we could rest and wait for morning. Unlucky for Vitaly there was only 1 bed. He is always making sure I am comfortable which is nice. He slept on the chair.

We were up and on the move at 8 a.m., arriving in the Sumi city office soon after because Vitaly was told we required authorization from Sumi offices to visit Lebedyn offices (a town in the Sumi district). All we got at the Sumi office was a blank stare and told that there was nothing they needed to do. OK, so onto Lebedyn and hope for the best?

We caught a taxi and showed him a map. He drove us the hour to Lebedyn. After talking with approx 10 pedestrians, and walking into a few different unmarked buildings, we finally located the office in question. We were actually met with a smile from the lone lady working in the office, a good sign of things to come, right? She gave us a few simple directions, go pay the small fee and go get a paper notarized, and she could update the birth records and issue a new birth certificate. Easy! So far so good. We left her office at 10 a.m.. We were both in good spirits. This was about the time I joked and said to Vitaly that it felt like we were participants in the amazing race. I should know better by now!

The first bank was closed and we could not pay the bill there. The notary was there. He took 1 look at the paper, smiled, and said I cannot notarize this without a tax id#. You need to go back to Sumi and apply for one. This is when Vitaly’s demeanor changed, he said let’s find another notary who will do this. We got back in the cab and found another bank where we could pay the bill. 1 out of 2 down. Now to just find another notary in this town. Easier said than done. Apparently there was another notary. His building was even harder to find then the city office but we finally found it at about 11. He actually spent more than a minute looking at the document. Unfortunately his answer was the same, we need a tax id #.

Vitaly decides that we can track down the local authority and apply for a tax id there. After 15 minutes of searching we arrive at the office. In applications the secretary shows a chart of how it takes 1 week to process a tax id #. At this point I get that sick feeling again. It was at this point that I crossed the line of tolerating Ukraine to understanding why people here are so unhopeful.

We get in the cab and drive the hour back to Sumi. We find another notary. Great news, she signs the documents and we are back on the road to Lebedyn at 1:00. An extra week avoided! I start to get the wind back in my sails and think we may even get the paperwork and make it back to Sumi for the 3:00 pm train back to Melitopol! Unfortunately I shared this with Vitaly and he set me straight – this is Ukraine.

We made it back to the office in plenty of time. The woman sat us down and said Vitaly, Zenon, you are the first to arrive. Just kidding. She actually said her grandparents used to live in Salt Lake City, and that they were famous. Half an hour later after we were finally issues the new birth certificate Vitaly said “ya sure your grandparents were famous. Just give me the paperwork”. It was really funny.

There was a bus station next to the office. Unfortunately no buses went from there to anywhere helpful. The new plan was to make it to Kharkov, a main “regional center” where the train options should be plenty. It was 3 pm so our kamikaze taxi driver floored it south to Akhtyrka. The drive was about an hour. Not joke, we pulled into the bus station just as a bus was leaving. Vitaly made it stop, asked where it was going, andthen grabbed me out of the cab and threw me on the bus.

The going was slow. Our plan the whole time, come hell or high water, was to make it back to Melitopol to apply for Ruslan’s tax id # on Thursday which we need to apply for the passport. There is a 1 day waiting for the tax id, and applying for the passport on Friday could say a lot of time especially since Monday is a holiday. The bus seemed to stop for every pothole and there were plenty of potholes. At this point it was 4:00 and all we had eaten all day was a bun early in the morning. Vitaly was tired and hungry and not in the best of moods. That is why the bus pulled over with an apparently mechanical failure Vitaly started complaining and pacing. Our slow bus had taken 2 hours to get us where we were, but not that close yet. “we need to do something” he said. I said “no problem. Let’s just walk down the road a little and ask a local to call a cab for us”. Again, Vitaly laughed and said “this is Ukraine, people don’t just call cabs for people”. With that he walked outside and flagged down the second car he waved at. I saw him talk with the driver andthen quickly start walking back to the bus. I knew it was on so I grabbed the bags and got ready to jump into my first ever hitchhike.

It was strange. There wasn’t much conversation. Actually it was dead silent and the driver drove like a maniac. Vitaly thought nothing of it. He was actually happy because we made it to the train station in about 30 minutes from there. He tipped the driver 50 grivna. I asked Vitaly if hitch hiking was normal here. He said sure.

So it’s just before 7 and we are at a major train station and everything will be fine, right? Sold out. Both trains leaving that night are sold out. ….but we were able to put our names in on the wait list for 3rd class. Luckily some beds opened up and we made it on the 11 pm train. Phew. With that we had a chance to grab a big Ukrainian dinner and relax for a bit.

3rd class turned out to be better than 2nd class. Although the smell was bad, and you are crammed into a train car sleeping amongst strangers, I was so tired that I fell asleep in no time. We made it back to Melitopol at 5 am. To this point it all proved worthwhile because we received the tax id # today without a hitch. In fact it has been the easiest thing we have done so far, 5 minutes in and out. Did I just let down my guard again? Wish us luck with the passport tomorrow!