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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Bumps at Border Crossings

It was a normal day at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Up before the crack of dawn, through ticketing, security, and customs, we presented ourselves at Passport Control.

“Dokumenti,” demanded the bored, matronly guard.

We were adopting our first son’s friend. It took us four years of official red tape, adoption agency scams, governmental denials, and regional shutdowns. In a matter of an hour or two, he would at last be exiting off of Russian soil.

Not so fast.

“Adoption decree and court papers,” the border guard insisted, eying our family of four, noting that only the two kids had Russian Passports.

This was a new one. Why not just the passport? I slid the packet under the plate glass window, upon which she settled down to a long morning’s read.

Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes passed. She, no doubt, enjoyed the more sordid parts of such a horrific history, chronicled for the sake of court testimony, not the prurient interests of a bored border guard.

“Eezvehnite, pazhalista,” I interrupted her concentration. “Yest problema?” Is there a problem?

“Nyet,” she went back to her reading.

I felt my blood boiling as the preteen boys shifted from foot to foot. Her coworker in the next booth asked her why the slow-mo treatment of the tourists. She shrugged her off, as well.

At forty minutes standing before the little glass booth, I’d had enough.

“Excuse me, please, but why are you reading his court papers?”

She looks up, obviously irritated at my interruption. The sleeping bear awakened.

“Ohn russki grahzdanen,” (He is a Russian citizen) she testily explained. “I must make sure that his documents are in order.”

So I figure if we’re ever going to get out of this holding pattern and make it to the Golden Land of Duty Free, I needed to insert my two rubles.

“Da, and here is his Russian Passport… and it’s in order.”

She goes back to reading.

I go back to talking.

“I mean, let’s think this thing through, ‘Doomahyete,'” I encourage, feeling as though I’m instructing Dorothy in her ruby slippers to concentrate. “What’s the likelihood of us finding a child on the street with the same last name, having all of the paperwork to obtain a passport, and making him agree to come to America with us???”

“We have to be sure,” she sneers, not amused, not impressed, not in a hurry.

About an hour later, she comes up for air and asks for our first son’s court papers.

“Nyetoo,” (He has none) I affirm. “He’s been our son for over five years. You already have his Russian Passport and here is his other one.” I considered calling for a supervisor, but that struck me as less than a positive Russian chess move. Might cause us more problems to make too much of a stink. If she had missed the “Service With a Smile” seminar, there was not much I could do about it now.

She glances at the dual passports, while meanwhile, I can picture Petya passing out in a cold sweat as he understands every word spoken. Perhaps one day he would come back to study in Russia, but for the present, he wanted to go home. Pasha had never been home, but even he knew that it was better than this. At last, the stern woman, who was probably younger than me, but appearing and acting much older, slowly slides the stack back to us.

“Horoshoh,” (Alright) she waves us through, an indelibly harsh reminder to our sons that you don’t mess with Mother Russia. Escaping her clutches, we make a mad dash for the plane.

Which reminds me of the time I was heading to Israel, a regular shuttle I traveled for some years. A sting operation was underway for diamond dealers.

I boarded the transatlantic flight in New York, and there on the jetway, leading to the plane, were Federal Agents stopping most every Hassidic man, right next to the stacks of Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv newspapers. I put mine back in the pile and reached for the Herald Tribune, instead.

“Do you have any diamonds or large sums of money to declare?” the agents inquired.

The men tried to brush by, mumbling something in Yiddish.

“Yiddish?” the agents pursued them. “No problem. Read this,” they said, presenting a printed card with all of the laws stated in their own language.

I strolled past, pockets bulging with rare stones and stacks of foreign currency.

Alright, maybe in my dreams….

But I should have known the bubble security cameras were in full operation. It wasn’t until exiting the country that they nabbed me.

Once again at Passport Control, this time in Tel Aviv, a guard examined my passport front to back, or I should say, back to front, Hebrew style. Flipping it closed, the young twentysomething female soldier met me eye to eye.

“Go to the police, please,” she said, as though this were an everyday exchange.

“Ha’mishtarah?!” (The police?!)  “Why? Where? What?” I wanted to know.

“The police. In the corner room.”

And thus I made my way to the Border Police, like one of the old fashioned “Alt!” border gates had just lowered in front of me. Could family dogs visit incarcerated persons? was uppermost in my thoughts.

“Shalom,” I introduced myself to the chainsmoking blond in charge.

“Darkon, b’vahkahshah,” (Passport, please) she smiled.

Hmmm… everyone so interested in the small document stating very little and with a less than ideal photo prominently featured.

“You come and go a lot,” she noted in Hebrew.

“Ken….” (Yes….)

“And do you have an Israeli Passport?”


“Are you sure?”


She checked back in her computer and tried a different tack.

“Think back, maybe a long time ago…. Did you ever declare citizenship here?”


“Maybe you forgot,” she tried to help, at which I burst out laughing.

“I think I’d remember something like that….  Is there a problem?”

“No, no problem.”

Gee, I’d heard that before. Maybe this was some joke being played on me by my Israeli lawyer. With my demographic, I couldn’t imagine that they’d want to draft me for the Israeli Army. I mean, they didn’t even offer high-heeled infantry boots, plus, entering the paratroopers would result in too much windblown hair during the jumps. The navy might make me seasick. They would have to make me… a border guard!

No, their interest could not be the draft. The only thing I could think of was tax evasion of some sort. I wondered if they served felafel balls in prison. I could survive.

At last, the policewoman decided to take my sweet face at face value and believe my story that I didn’t play fast and loose with my citizenship, spreading it here, there, and everywhere at will.

“Okay, look, I’ll let you go, and I’ll mark that all is okay,” she reassured me.

I assumed she was entering our Important and Enlightening Conversation into her computer. Again, I was missing out on sampling the fine eau de parfums of Duty Free.

She returned my passport, wishing me a nice trip and I hightailed it to the bank to exchange my remaining shekels.

Taking the currency and my passport, the clerk gave a small gasp and turned to look me up and down.

“What happened?” he inquired. “I’ve never seen such a thing!”

“Mah zeh?” (What is it?) I asked.

“FREE TO DEPART BY ORDER OF THE MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR,” he read the stamp and handwritten permission penned in Hebrew all around its edges. “Did you do something?” he laughed.

“Not that I know of!”

I took the money and ran for the plane, a recurring theme in my life. The only comfort I received in these inconvenient airport interrogations was that, while being detained, at least I was staying out of any more trouble. I didn’t need additional International Incidents. With all of our international travel, there were bound to be bumps. Yet with a fast-paced lifestyle, the small bumps could develop into major speed bumps, resulting in one big careening crash of a learning curve.

No time for that. We had places to go, things to do, people to see. Best to fly below the radar and leave the big bags of diamonds at home for now.



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