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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…!

Russian Adoption Delays and Detours

A funny thing happened on our way to adopt twin baby boys, we ended up with four older children. Russian adoption is an imprecise science at best, a disaster on an average day, and a multi-track train wreck whenever we crossed their border. But delays and detours don’t always spell denial.

Maybe I should have been traveling by pohyezd (train) one year ago this week when I met our dear daughters-to-be. My first mistake on the plane flight to Sweaty Starii Krai was to drop off to a bobbing-head, drooling mouth, fitful sleep. I had been flying for many hours, or weeks, or months, I remember not which. Excitement turned to exhaustion. Before I knew it, we were landing.

A small airport, I had never been to this region before. It was late at night and foggy. Walking inside the two-room terminal, many were the travelers flooding the wooden-podium, makeshift taxi stand. It seemed odd. No “Taxi” sign. Nobody had a car or friend coming to get them? Everyone negotiating prices. Long lists of passengers. Anyhow, my driver would be coming to get me, so I focused on finding my bag on the tiny conveyor.

Walking past “security”, an older gentleman in half a uniform, I found mobs of unofficial taxi drivers. These were swarthy men with ancient Ladas, for the most part. They stuck to me like flies on glue. I confidently pushed past them, out into the chilly night, but there was no one else. Not a soul to meet me. Something was amiss.

I could not stand there on the sidewalk, burly men trying to grab, i.e., “help”, me with my bag. Clutching my purse tightly, filled with wads of spanking new US Dollars for The Payoff to our facilitator, I knew I had to get inside the terminal. Of course, I no longer had a ticket, which meant I could only go so far. As in two steps.

I appealed to the outside security guard, a younger man of about 60 or so.

“Eezvehnee’tyeh, pazhal’istah,” I started, explaining that I had a Problem. “My driver is not here and he was to meet me.”

The kind man sized me up, lady on the verge of hysteria, understanding I could not go in, and I could not go out.

“Do you have his phone number?” he asked. “You can call him from my cell.”

“Oh, balshay’ah spasee’bah!” I rummaged through my documents.

“Take your time, it will be okay,” he counseled.

Withdrawing the sheet of paper with contact numbers, I showed him Alex’s number.

“Gdyeh ohn?”  (Where is he?) the guard asked.

“Here in Sweaty Starii Gorod,” I offered.

“You are not in Sweaty Starii Gorod,” he said, as my heart began racing faster than any Trans-Siberian Express.

“Shtoh? Where am I?” I’m starting to panic.

“You are in Sweaty Starii Krai, the region, but your plane was diverted to another city because of toomahn (fog),” he told me. Apparently my long winter’s nap had tuned me out of any emergency announcements onboard. The darkness had blotted out any airport signs.

“How far away am I from my destination?”

“About three hours by car.” No wonder so many of the passengers had crowded the makeshift taxi stand and now half of this city’s men were gathering outside to “assist” the stranded travelers.

My heart was sinking. I had three days to get in, see the girls, and get out. Maybe not here, but in my part of the world, time was money. I could not afford to be diverted, detoured, nor delayed, although our second Russian adoption had taken four years to complete.

“Let’s call Alex,” my new friend suggested, as a crowd gathered and onlookers gaped and stared.

When he answered, the man explained who he was, and where I was, and handed the phone to me. I had never met Alex, but understood that he spoke no English. So there I plunged into rusty Russian to ask what to do.

“You have a driver that will be there in one minute,” his voice crackled. “I will pay him tomorrow. Do not pay him anything. He has worked with us before. You are now in City A. He will take you to City B to stay in a hotel overnight. Tomorrow morning, we will drive three hours to get you, and take you to Sweaty Starii Gorod. Pohnyeemah’eetyeh?”

“Pohn’yahlah,” (Got it) I said, thankful that they were taking care of business. “Sorry for any trouble that the fog caused you.”

“Yeah, we’ve been waiting at the airport for a couple of hours. Your plane circled several times and then had to divert. Neecheevoh, it’s nothing, we’ll see you tomorrow and take you to the orphanage first thing. Be in the lobby.”

As we hung up, there in front of me loomed a very large man with a tiny piece of cardboard with my last name scrawled on it. My driver! I profusely thanked the security guard.

“God bless you!” I patted his arm. He was beaming as the hero of the day. He quizzed my driver, Boris, as to where he was taking me and making sure that everything was in order. With that, we took our leave, and disappeared into the foggy, damp night.

This driver took me through pot-holed, older parts of whatever city we were approaching. It was about 30 minutes away. Boris spoke of the renovations being done to older buildings, something I really enjoyed, though inwardly, I was holding my breath. We had long departed from any highways, this looked nothing like a city, but instead, the roughest part of some inner-city slum. Where was I? Where was my hotel? After all I had been through, I was not about to end up being robbed and left for dead on some back-road alley.

And then, just as quickly as our descent into darkness had begun, we came to some paved streets. Going through a guard booth, we entered a brightly-shining parking lot, and up a winding drive to a resort hotel. Here Boris carried my bag, walking me to reception, and making sure I was okay. Another Russian gentleman. I spent the night, stuffing and preparing gift bags to give to our girls, and nursing my laryngitis that was developing by leaps and bounds. I had no idea how this was a resort, nor what were the attractions to see, but it was a nice hotel in the middle of nowhere and I got a good night’s sleep.

After the next several days of adventure, it came time to return to Moscow and then home. I had planned to spend the weekend in Moscow at leisure. The flights were such that I could only arrive from Sweaty Starii Krai in the morning, after the morning flights had departed from Moscow for abroad. So stay I would. After all, the agency was charging me for a driver since I had “chosen” to overnight in Moscow-??? Might as well make it two nights instead of one.

Smart move. This time I stayed awake, though I had to leave my hotel in early morning darkness. The fog was so thick, I wondered if there would be any flights at all today.

“Please, God,” I prayed.

“No problem,” said my tried and true regular driver (or make that tired and true). “We are used to fog,” said Igor. These guys were troopers, getting up at the crack of dawn and often working late into the night.

Sweaty Starii Krai’s airport was even smaller than my diverted one. Two ramshackle rooms, one flight in, and one flight out each day. They weighed my suitcase, my carry-on, and were about to weigh me-! Guess they didn’t want to break the scale. We all flocked into the one waiting room and watched Popeye cartoons in Russian. Not another foreigner in sight.

Then the dreaded announcement came: half an hour delay due to fog. Yep. Then another hour delay. It all added up to about two hours’ delay as we at last hiked out on the tarmac to the solitary waiting plane.

I trusted that Vlad, my driver in Moscow, would know of the delay. I had no way to contact him, not one to use my cell much in the US, much less carry it abroad. That was Benedetto’s thing, and unfortunately, he was not with me.

We approached for landing in Moscow’s Sheremyetyevo Airport, then I heard the engines gunning. Back up we went. Circling a few times, an announcement was made, some kind of rapid-fire regrets. Everyone moaned and groaned and got on their cell phones. I turned to my seat-mate and asked what was happening.

“Nizhniy Novgorod,” he confirmed in Russian. “We cannot land here.”

I explained that I had no way to tell my people what was happening and he said to use his cellphone. I asked if we were responsible to get our own transportation back to Moscow.

“Nyet, we will get back on this same plane. They will not remove our luggage at all. But,” he added. “do NOT go with any drivers.”

“How far is Moscow by car?” I asked, looking down at the forest below and small figures of cross-country skiers traversing the terrain.

“About six hours. And maybe slower because of the snow. They will charge anything.”

That’s when we were walking into the terminal and I heard the ruble price being bantered about. Quickly calculating in my head, it came to $500! Who knew if these private entrepreneurs would even get me to Moscow?

“Will we need to spend the night here?” I wondered.

“Nobody knows,” he shrugged. “Look, I’m going out for a smoke. Sit with my briefcase and we will take turns walking around. I will call your people and let them know that you’re delayed.”

And thus began my day-long friendship with Sergei, the engineer. He had been in Sweaty Starii Krai on business, now going back home to Moscow. Here it was, Valentine’s Day, and he had to call his wife and tell her that he, also, had been detoured.

I thought about the whole adoption process being metaphorically depicted before me: delay, after detour, after delay. For all of the problems that we had experienced in earlier adoptions, this one was speeding along. There were the normal bumps in the road, or okay, more like ski jumps off the mountain in a blinding blizzard, but time-wise, we were moving right along. The adoption would be completed in six months’ time from start to finish. Now the delays were in the travel itself.

The hours clicked by, as more and more planes diverted from Moscow. The terminal filled up. I ate my granola bar, apple, and Diet Coke, happily brought from my last city. No need to buy inflated airport snacks. Sergei sent and received multiple text-messages from my people in Moscow. He was a saint.

Six hours later, we were summoned to board. My seat-mate insisted on carrying my bag, as we took the bus through heavily-falling snow. Back onboard, I breathed a sigh of relief.

We landed in Moscow, and there Sergei waited with me for my big suitcase. He made sure that Vlad found me, and vice-versa. Both men thanked the other and I could have kissed them both. Vlad had shuttled back and forth between two airports as they kept changing our arrival destination, in addition to time.

I arrived in the city and got into the apartment around 8:30 pm, talked with Benedetto, who once again had no idea in what city his wife was landing, ran to the 24-hour gastronom and bought a few food supplies, then hit Moo-Moo Restaurant for a late-night Valentine’s Dinner for myself.

Friends, delay is not denial. If you’re in the middle of a detour, enjoy the view, make new friends, but keep pressing for your intended destination. Together with God’s help and the intervention of kind strangers, you will get there.

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