Our Adoption Trip To St. Petersburg

Auntie Dee's Adoption Trip To Russia

     I went to Russia not really knowing completely what to expect.  My brother had been there before, so we had talked about some things.  However, that did not completely help ease fears.  I mean all of my childhood I was taught that the Russians were our enemies.  Here I was going off into "enemy territory".  I can tell you that I came back with friends not enemies.  Actually, I gained more acquaintances than expected.   (I wish I had some way to keep in touch with some of the Russian people that I met.)

      For anyone that has not traveled to another country... It is an overwhelming experience to find yourself surrounded by people you can not talk to.  It was fascinating, scary, and fun.

      On to specifics...

     We arrived in Moscow Sunday, Feb. 1 after hours of airline travel.  (Did I mention I hate to fly!)  My brother, Dan, and I ended up not sitting together on our plane from New York to Moscow.  I was sitting by a man that did not speak any English.  It was a very long flight and I was too excited to sleep.

      After going through customs and stuff, we were met by a representative of the adoption agency and a driver.  The driver had our stuff in the car before we knew it and we were off to the train station.  (Of course our gloves and snow boots were in our luggage still.)  I waited in the car while Dan and our interpreter went in to get tickets for us.  Unfortunately, the afternoon train did not have any compartments left, so we got tickets for the 11:00 PM train.  Since we had about 5 hours to kill, we got a hotel room nearby to get some sleep and showers (in water that I am not sure I got clean in) before taking the train.

      Dan and I had fun on the train.  Neither of us had ever really traveled by train before.  The facility on the train left something to be desired, but I have been in some here in the US that were worse.  We did think it was kind of weird that you have to pay an additional bedding / laundry fee after purchasing tickets for a sleeping compartment.  It takes about 8 hours to travel from Moscow to St. Petersburg by train.  So, we arrived in St. Petersburg about 7:00 AM.  It was really cold that morning!  Luckily, a driver was there to meet us.  He took us to the hotel and we spent a while getting settled and unpacked.  We had to rearrange stuff to separate and repack the things we had brought to take to the orphanage (clothes, games, toys and gifts for the staff).  Olga (the woman who handles the arrangements in St. Petersburg) phoned and let us know that we would go to the orphanage that afternoon and we would get to bring Nadia back to the hotel with us.  So, we ate breakfast and Dan tried to take a nap.  I was way too excited to sleep even though I found it very exhausting to experience new things every minute of the day.

 We had an hour's drive to the orphanage.  The orphanage is out in the country and in a very pretty setting.  I was glad to see that Nadia at least got to spend some time there.  When we got to the orphanage, we were so excited it was hard to really look around much, but I did try to remember some things.  It was an old building, but was clean.  They took us straight to the director's office which is standard procedure.  I have heard of adoptions where the new parents only get to see the director's office.

      It was nap time when we arrived, so we talked with the assistant director a little while the caregivers went to wake up Nadia.  They took her new clothes that we brought to dress her in.  However, she could not wait.  They brought her to meet us first.  We were all nervous!  Dan gave Nadia her gift from Sandy (a Becky doll and a watch).  She got very teary eyed and asked Dan how did he know that she dreamed of having her own watch.  We visited a little, then they took her to get her changed.

 When she got back, we gave her the wheelchair we had brought for her.  She adjusted to it very quickly after using one that was too big for her to push effectively herself.  Dan also brought her some of those one use cameras.  She took at least one whole roll at the orphanage while we toured the ward where she lived.  She definitely loves to take photographs.  We met her "roommates" and I gave them the gifts Sandy had prepared for them.  The kids were excited and liked the candy and stickers.  Nadia was definitely the highest functioning child out of those on her ward.   We took some photos and got to see all of the ward which included a play / therapy room, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a little living room / TV area.  Happily, it was nicer than what I had expected.  Then, we went back to the directors office.  I gave the bag of little gifts to the asst. director, so she could pass the extras out to the other wards.  However, she showed me  to another  ward to pass some out.  I felt kind of privileged that they would let me see more of the orphanage.  We have heard of families that are only allowed into the directors office at some orphanages.

      We took Nadia back to the hotel with us and started getting to know each other after Nadia looked over every inch of the room.  She is so inquisitive!  She learns things very quickly.  The first night, I could not believe we had only known her a day.  If we did not have a language barrier, no one would have believed we had not been a family forever.  That night we were cracking up because she just went to the phone and called someone.  We think it must have been to the orphanage to tell them about her day.

 Our biggest problem with language ended up being getting Nadia to eat.  She was not used to eating in a restaurant and we did not know what she liked, so she did not eat much the first few days we had her.

      That day we also met the 3 other American families that were staying at the same hotel as us.  They also were adopting kids through Nightlight (the adoption agency).

 The next day we went sight seeing.  We went to the Winter Palace section of the Hermitage Museum.  It was incredible.  I don't think I can really explain how beautiful the palaces and some of the churches are in St. Petersburg.  The Hermitage Museum has Russian historical artifacts and famous works of art from all over the world.  We only had a few hours to spend there.  It really is a place that you would need a few days to see everything.  Well, I would.  I enjoyed watching Nadia, she is like her Auntie Dee, she likes to feel different textures, like the marble pillars.  We almost got in trouble though when she snuck over to feel a curtain.  Nadia definitely has good, yet expensive, taste.  There was a Faberge exhibit and she saw some hair clips on display.  She made sure that Dan saw them and new how much she liked them.    Our guide, Irena, wanted to make sure we saw some of the sections of famous artists.  Nadia was not too sure about Picasso.   She was fascinated by a piece that was by Gouguan (sp?).  It was from a series from Tahiti.  I think part of the intrigue was due to the fact you do not see many people with dark skin in Russia.

 Irena told us that St. Petersburg is full of museums, art schools, music schools, and ballet schools.  So, it is often referred to Russia's capital of culture.

 After we dropped David and Karol (one of the couples) off at the hotel we went to a cafe for lunch.  It was a favorite of Irena and other locals.  It was neat to enjoy local atmosphere.  Then, we did a little shopping.  The store where we went had a cafe/bar next to it.  So, when you come in out of the cold, they give you a shot of vodka to warm you up.  We also had to stop to get passport and visa photos done for Nadia and Nikolas (one of the other kids being adopted).   Before going back to the hotel we stopped at an open air (COLD) market and got some matruska (stacking) dolls.  I found a set of Winnie-the-Pooh characters.  We had to find a second set before we left Russia though, because both Nadia and I wanted them.

 On the way back to the hotel, I had the opportunity to see something that most Americans will never see.  Nadia had to use the bathroom so bad she started to cry so we stopped and Irena and I took her into a cafe, but it did not have a facility because it was only for take out.  Irena asked the guy if there was one nearby and he said that the place next door often lets him use theirs.  So, we went into this factory place.  They were kind enough to let Nadia use their toilet.  Now I know why they are called water closets in some places.  This was literally in a closet and the wash basin was in a different closet next to it.  On our way out, I looked around a little and we were in what I can only describe as a sweat shop.  There were Russian women wearing hanky hats sitting around huge industrial sewing machines.  There were only about 20 machines.  The place was not that big.  However, it is an image I will not forget. They seemed as curious about the American woman and the disabled girl as I was of them.

 That night I had to give Nadia a bath/shower - Ah, the things Auntie Dee lives for.  She was apprehensive and procrastinated!  She did seem impressed with our idea of putting a plastic bag over her cast with rubber bands to protect it.  She was very independent in the tub, but did not like getting her hair washed.   She did very well having a shower until the realities of Russian hotels hit.  The water pressure and temperature never stays constant.

 After her shower, I got her new toothbrush and toothpaste.  Well, she was so excited about the fact that her toothbrush came with stickers for it and that her toothpaste was sparkly neon green, she had to go show Dan.  I don't think she really brushed her teeth before... she kind of knew how, but not really.  She is very independent and did not want help.  So, I got my toothbrush and brushed my teeth.  Then, she did better because she copied what I did.

 Then, it was time for another new and exciting experience for Nadia.  She got to use my blow dryer.  She knew what it was, but had never used one.  She loved it.

 Wed., Feb. 4 was court day.  We all (all 4 American families) dressed up and piled into the two vans and went to the courthouse.  Nightlight had things so organized the times were all in a row and we were in and out for all four families within 45 minutes.  I did not go in with the judge, since I was not the one adopting Nadia.  I stayed out in the hall with her.

 Then, we went to a records office of some sort for everyone to sign some papers to make everything official.  Nadia and I waited in the van, since it was yet another inaccessible building. (I was missing America's ADA laws more and more!)  It took them much longer than expected, so Nadia and I played with my Elmo and the driver's hat.  She also did some writing in the journal I was keeping of the trip.  The driver moved the van while we were waiting.  Nadia was afraid that he was leaving and she made it clear that we were not going anywhere without her new Papa!

 Finally, the two families that were adopting "babies" could go get their kids.  I was looking forward to meeting them.  The families had been able to see them, but were not allowed to take them until it was official.  We were lucky that we were able to get Nadia right away.  So, they went off in one van.  We piled in the other with the Taylors (because they already had Nikolas too)  to go get some lunch.  We went to a Carroll's (an American burger joint).  The kids all had a problem about eating meat.  They just weren't used to it.  So, we still had trouble getting Nadia to eat anything.

 That afternoon we hung out at the hotel, watched TV, and relaxed.  Some of the TV was Russian, some was American.  I was able to see Russian Sesame Street.  Grover speaking Russian!  It had some of the old Sesame stuffed translated to Russian and also had some stuff with Russian characters.   Some of the shows were dubbed over, but just had Russian over the English, so you could still here the English quietly.

 That evening we hosted a party to celebrate the new additions to our families.  We had pizza (Yeah! Pizza Hut) and champagne.  Nadia kind of hung back at the party, but she did eventually try to play with the other kids a little.  The festivities did not go too late since everyone was feeling relieved exhaustion.

 Thurs., Feb. 5 we went to Catherine's palace at Pushkin.  It was gorgeous!  Dan and I were especially fascinated by the floors.  Each one was a different design of inlaid wood.  (Our family spent hours gluing scraps of wood in the entry hall at our parents house to create an inlaid wood floor.  We could not even imagine the work involved to create these masterpieces.  Nadia could not quite understand why we wanted photos of some of the floors.)  The palace was in the process of being restored from damage when it was burned.   Nadia was pretty much our official photographer that day. She did a pretty good job.  She really loves taking pictures and it helped her from being too grumpy.

 Nadia was being very moody all day and I had to give her a time out from her new cassette tape when we got back to the hotel.  It was hard to really have to discipline her, but it was going to happen sooner or later.

 That evening, Dan and Kevin (one of the other adoptive Dads) had to go to another hotel to find a money exchange.  We had to have cash for the clinic in the morning.  While they were gone, Nadia and I ran around the hotel.  We visited the other families and took some photos.  Nadia also discovered the beauty shop.  She was fascinated and stood in the door and watched a woman getting her hair dyed for a long time.   Finally, she peeked in and took a photo.

 That night, we were on the train again.  It was really fun when we first got on the train.  All four families were on the same train car in cabins next to each other.

 The adoption agency had all the details down so well.  They had four drivers waiting for us.  We went straight from the train station to the medical clinic very early Friday morning.   We had to get physicals for all the kids before they could get their visas.  The doctor spoke with Nadia in Russian quite a bit.  He even discussed the possibility of removing her cast.  He said he thought it had been on long enough, but he would not do it himself without an x-ray.  I was pretty impressed with the way the clinic cranked through physicals that morning.

 From there we went to the Embassy to get visas.  I would have had to wait in the lobby there since I was not a parent, so I hung out with the drivers instead.  They all ended up all jammed in a little room, so I was glad I could not go in.  I enjoyed seeing locals walking around on the street since it was morning and people were going to work.  I liked seeing the locals.

 Then, we went to the hotel to check in and have lunch.  We stayed at the Proton Hotel which did not have much business since it is not downtown Moscow.  It was great.  The kids could run around the hotel with each other and play in the halls without disturbing other guests.  I am sure the hotel staff thought we were nuts - "those crazy Americans".

 The fathers had to go back to the embassy to pick up their kids visas, so they picked up McDonalds for dinner.  It was not quite the same and warm sodas were getting pretty old.

 Saturday, Feb. 7, we went to Red Square.  We took photos there and shopped in the mall.  I bought a Russian Monopoly game - now I need to find someone to translate the cards.
 Then, we went up to Lenin Hill.  It has a great view and lots of street venders, so we shopped for gifts.  It was very interesting to see a local custom.  Wedding parties go to Lenin Hill to take photos.  We saw at least ten different groups there for photos in the hour we were there.

 That afternoon, we packed up our stuff.  Dan and Kevin went back to Lenin Hill for a few more gifts, so Nadia and I cruised the hotel.  That evening Nadia saw Nikolas having his bath and having a great time, so she finally decided baths could be OK.  So, I gave her bath that night and got one in return.  It was one of those moments I live for as Auntie Dee.

 Sunday morning it was off to the airport.  Everything went smoothly there even though there was an error on one of Nadia's documents.  The only problem we had was due to a little flashlight in Nadia's carry on.  It kept setting off the metal detector thing.

 Nadia was a little frightened as the plane took off, but she was more excited than anything.  The only real difficulty we had with her was when she finally figured out that our one more hour to New York and America did not mean Momma and brothers would be there.  She cried for a long time when she found out we still had two more planes.

 We got through customs pretty quick.  Dan and Nadia had to do some extra stuff, so I went ahead and picked up our luggage.  It is weird to pick up your luggage, take it 200 feet and put it back on another conveyor belt.  Nadia slept  most of the way on the plane from New York to Cincinnati.

 We went our separate ways there and I had to rush to catch my flight to San Diego.  I wish I could have gone home with them to see her reactions to meeting Sandy, Steven and Kyle.   I finally slept on my last flight - all but the last 40 minutes or so.

 When I first got home, it was really weird.  Some things have not seemed as important.  Some things just are different - or I am viewing them different.

 It took me a few months to get this all on paper.  I guess that means it is officially in the past.

 Thanks to all the people that helped make this experience possible.  Especially for helping to make Nadia a part of my family.  We are all grateful more than words on a piece of paper can express.

  Dee Roberts Baraw

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