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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…!

Stuck in Sweaty Starii Krai

(Note: This is my fictitious name for a funny, but real place in the south of Russia.)

The Russian Federation is playing hardball with hapless adoptive parents. Only a few months ago, their Supreme Court passed a law whereby all regional courts must enforce the ten-day appeals waiting period for all court decisions. Traditionally, this waiting period was waived for adoption hearings, because there are not a lot of interested parties looking to appeal any ruling on behalf of an orphan. But now judges’ jobs are on the line, and they are more and more enforcing the ten-day wait directive, handed down from Moscow.

That’s how I came to be stuck in Sweaty Starii Krai. Technically, I am the mother of these two wonderful girls. Yet, they continue to live in their tiny village Internat (orphanage boarding school). Each of us dreams of being united, and there is even some talk of them possibly coming to stay with me in my humble hotel after the court decision is typed up. Meanwhile, I’m on my own in a place with spotty internet connection and no tourist appeal whatsoever.

I could come home during the ten days. That’s an option. Many parents are now urged to make three and even four trips to accomplish their adoption. No doubt the Ministry of Tourism smiles kindly upon Supreme Court legislation leading to such desperate measures. But not for me. Much as I long to see my sons and my dogs, I will stay put, while my husband returns home.

My airline ticket cost $1536 to get to this region. It might have been much worse, but we have an excellent travel agent, and I then need to add on $200-something as a change fee and fare increase because I was NOT PLANNING to be here for the ten days and had different dates booked. So that’s about $1800 total in airfare alone in June. Prices will continue to climb throughout the summer. (Sorry to bring up the financial side, but we ARE talking Russian adoption here.)

Here’s how I figure it: staying at my budget accommodations for around $90 a night (double the bed size, room size, and bathroom size as when I was here in February and paid $60), it also includes a breakfast buffet. These cabbage and potato salads, cold pasta, breads, the occasional sausage, blini pancakes folded in quarters–you add the jam or sour cream, some variation of egg souflee, salami and cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes, yogurt, mannaya kasha (sweet, cream of buckwheat porridge–think “condensed milk that’s been further thickened” if that’s possible!), and the choice of coffee, green or black tea, carbonated water, fruit compote, milk or kefir is enough to sufficiently satisfy anyone’s appetite for most of the day. One time there were meatloafy meatballs at the buffet, and today, a type of fish fillet. I make the most of it, testing as many food groups as possible.

“Pahzhal’istah,” (Please, help yourself) the waitresses greet me. Thank you, I will. They stop encouraging me after the third or fourth day. I am like a one-lady horde of locusts descending upon their buffet, holding my own with balding or beefy Russian men. The anorexic Russian young ladies pick at a salad or two and call it a day. But back to the economics of being stuck here….

In terms of food, I pay around three or four dollars (90 or 120 rubles) to buy several cold waters or a diet cola at the local gastronom, along with a sloika (squarish pastry), pirog (football shaped pastry), or pohnchik (a hot, puffy donut), which mirrors what I feel like in this weather: a hot, puffy donut. Some of the savory ones are filled with potato, mushroom, cabbage, or meat mixtures, the sweet ones I prefer with cottage cheese and raisins. I round out this repast with an apple.

So economically, keeping my expenses to under $100/day, if I spend 10 extra days here, it still only comes out to $1,000–much less than if I were to fly back to the US, be jetlagged, have to acclimate to a new time zone, a few days later fly back to Russia, be jetlagged and have to acclimate to yet another time zone, while taking custody of the girls in a foggy state of mind, and paying close to $2,000 in flights alone.

Glutton for punishment that I am, I decide to wait it out in Starii Krai. Did I mention that this is not exactly the tourism capital of the world? After my first day, I’ve exhausted the supermarket, the post office, the only church within walking distance which is under renovation and closed, the war monuments, the open air market, and the two modern shopping malls.

I am drenched with sweat as though being in a sauna all day long. Whatever’s washable goes into the sink each night, wash, suds, rinse, that I hang on my handy-dandy travel clothesline. This ingenious wonder is made from braided rubber with loops on the end that will attach to most any two stationary objects (no suction cups that slip and fall). The three-way braid allows clothing edges to be stuck through, attaching the piece without any clothespins necessary. Things dry much more quickly than if they were simply folded in half over the line.

But I’m not keeping up. Each day I’m washing more and more, not able to wear 30% of the clothing that I was happy to have when it was just 40 degrees earlier in the month in Moscow.

Hot as it is, I actually try on a few lightweight, chiffony tops at a trendy shop at the mall, which offers the equivalent of sizes zero or two. Given that I’m a few sizes above those, this is how I come to be wrestling in a Russian dressing room, arms and shoulders squeezed like a sausage (or let’s make that a pohnchik) into a pullover dress that I cannot get off of me. I pull, I tug, I wonder what will legally happen to me if we need to cut it off. Then I think Houdini-like thoughts: relax, exhale, hold it. At last the chiffon number shimmies off of me.

My more daring side would love to make a foray into the fancy cosmetics store and spray myself all over with a quick shot or two of Chanel, but by virtue of the fact that I am the only one in town not teetering in four-inch stilettos, I have a feeling that the security guards may recognize me day after day, and haul me away for overusing the testers.

Not much else to do. I have been reduced to chatting with children painting flowers for art class in the village square. All that remains is to visit a spa in the distant mountains, or to enroll in the local university. It doesn’t help that I happened to read a travel advisory on the US State Department web site that NO Americans should be anywhere near this region or its dangerous environs, known for gangs, terrorists, and kidnappings of foreigners. Yikes.

As the days slowly grind by, I keep my terrorist radar on, while throwing all caution to the wind at times, in order to escape my hotel room. I go out for an early-morning walk, before the sun is high and hot, finding a park bench in the forest where I do some writing until noon. I emerge again from my room around the time the sun begins its descent, to get some more exercise and fresh–well, let’s just say, get some air, before it becomes dark. I also start to brush my teeth with the local water. Not to mention eating dairy products sitting on top of the unrefrigerated buffet. Talk about living dangerously.

Today, my security system breaks down even further. Ever vigilant to lock my extra zillions of rubles in the suitcase in my hotel room, and carry my purse and cameras on my person in two separate bags at all times, the protective firewall suddenly slides into crash and burn mode.

All day long, my computer will not connect with the internet. Naturally, I have a lot of very important details to tend to, concerning work, concerning the adoption and updated flight itineraries, concerning 101 other things that have to do with the internet. So I head down to the front lobby reception to ask if the computer guy is anywhere around. He had shown my husband a couple of tricks to connect. Today is a holiday, so he’s not in.

The clerk offers to open the business center for me, said to be open 24 hours a day.

“It’s dark,” I tell her, peering through the glass door across the lobby.

“No, you can use the computer there right now. Half an hour, or one hour?”

“Right now? Um, I have to put my laptop back up in my room, and get some money,” I stall, thinking of my unlocked suitcase, with purse and camera bag laying out, exposed naked, on my bed. What if a maid came by?

“No, it’s no problem, I will open right now….”  She is the only one on duty due to the holiday and probably wants to take care of me a.s.a.p. The young lady rushes across the lobby and whisks open the door, flicks on the lights, and turns on the computer.

Great. At least I’m online in Sweaty Starii Krai.

There I am, in the horrifically hot “Business Center”, comprised of two tables, a chair, and yes, the computer in question. I sit at said computer, using my hour to the max, putting out fires all around the world, and inwardly panicking about my room upstairs. But all is well when I return an hour later. The security has not been breached, but then I haven’t counted my money, either.

What to do tomorrow? Chat with the babushkas selling sehm’etchkee (sunflower seeds) on the street? Paint my toenails?

Walk in the morning, walk at night. I scour the map for any possible excursions. Nyeh’too, nothing. I take photos of puppies out on their morning constitutional. I visit the park where there are ancient kiddie amusement rides, adults and children alike singing karaoke plugged into a sidewalk TV, and where senior citizens ballroom dance on Sunday nights, out in the open for all to see and admire.

Okay, I admit, quirky as it is, the place is growing on me. It’s my girls’ home.

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