Friday, August 15, 2014

Ukraine

In short:

We left our house at 8AM Sunday and ran into a series of airline delays and cancellations that eventually landed us in Ukraine around midnight late Monday night.  We got checked into the rental apartment and crashed into sleep.



Tuesday: up at 7, picked up at 8:30 for a meeting at 9.  On the way home from the meeting we stopped to exchange some American dollars for Ukrainian hryvnia and picked up some groceries.  We were dropped off at our apartment by 11 and spent the rest of the day walking around.  We were only one block off of the Maidan where the protests and violence took place last fall and through the winter.  The mood was respectful but relaxed.



We circled around several times, came back for a shower and nap, went to dinner at a touristy place on the Maidan square (delicious food, excellent service: Shato), and then back to sleep.  Sleep was the number one most wonderful treat of the trip, followed by time to actually talk to each other.  Sights and food were amazing, but nothing beats rest and together-time.

Wednesday we slept late into the morning and then met with a tour guide to see more of the city.  The whole trip required flexibility as any and all plans were subject to the issuance of papers, availability of transportation, agreements of social workers and directors and agents...so we had to roll with whatever came up.  Wednesday turned out to be pretty relaxed--we toured a campus of churches and a monastery on the south eastern side of the city, doubled back to the social offices to pick up the completed paperwork from Tuesday morning's meeting, and then had dinner with friends that were in town for their adoption of another girl from the same school as M.  As we chatted with them after dinner, around 10PM, we got a call saying we were booked for a 7AM bus ride the next morning and had to be packed up and moved out of the apartment by 6AM; so we cut the night off at that point and headed to the apartment to shower, pack, and try to rest.
friends!
Monastery and Dnipro river
Monastery and the statue of "MotherLand"

Thursday morning we boarded a large tour-type bus and traveled 4 hours south.  We got off at a gas stop and were greeted by our in-country social worker, her translator, another couple also adopting from the same school, their two potential kids from that school, and M.  M was being shy and hanging out by the van, but we gathered her up with hugs and greeted everyone else.  We all climbed into the van and took about 45 minutes of rough hilly roads to the school's village.  Once there we left the kids by the van and went in to an upper floor for a short meeting with some social workers and case directors.  Lots of speaking in a language we didn't understand, some looking at photos, and pleasant smiling and nodding.  Then we headed down and out to the van, drove about two blocks up a hill, and hopped out to go meet with the director of the school.  The kids joined us and signed their letters of consent.  This was a big emotional moment for them--agreeing to put everything they knew and loved up against the promise of our families.  Some anxiety and cold feet and heartache was expected and understood.  Indeed, anything less would have been strange and alarming.  In the end, everyone signed.  Rob and I met with the director privately (as did the other family) to get more information about school history and then we all headed back out to the van.  We drove back to the bus stop, where the other couple said their goodbyes and caught a north-bound bus back to Kiev as they prepared to fly home the next morning.  Meanwhile, Rob and I traveled with the three kids another two hours south to Odessa where we met with a lawyer to sign and notarize more documents.  We said our goodbyes to the kids at the lawyer's curb; the van driver was to return them to camp and we'd find another way home.  We were put on a "mini-bus" (15 passenger van) at 7:30 and set off into the night for a terrifying ride (I think we spent more time in the on-coming traffic's lane than our own; also an angry possibly intoxicated man started yelling at us in Ukrainian at a rest stop) and we arrived in Kiev around 1 AM.  Our translator/agent/friend picked us up and took us to a new apartment where we showered and collapsed back into bed by 2:30.  There had been no food or drink all day (fear of bathrooms and also being stuck in cars and buses) but we were too tired to care about anything except pillows.

Also: at this point we were done with all of the paperwork and free to leave or stay for a vacation.  We'd originally booked our tickets to return Wednesday the 13th in case paperwork was delayed at some point, but we asked our travel agent to move it up to the weekend if he could.  He got us out on a Saturday morning flight, allowing us to save 4 nights of stay and also get home to our work and family responsibilities faster.


Friday: We slept until almost noon.  We'd hoped to get breakfast at our favorite place, but instead had lunch at another "traditional Ukrainian" place (probably as close to "traditional" as Texas Road House or Denny's is to true American food, but delicious).  We did some sight-seeing on our own, including a walk through the Maidan which had a noticeably more tense feel.  The mayor had initiated clean-up measure the day before which had led to protests and burning tires, so the mood was definitely shifted.

We headed toward a different part of the city for some sightseeing of old cathedrals and souvenirs.  We stopped by the apartment to freshen up and had dinner at an outdoor cafe near our first apartment.  Then home and packing (our suitcase broke at this point, but we managed to MacGyver it back together) and attempts to be tired considering we had a 3AM pick-up for our drive to the airport.  No luck.  The stress of the Maidan only a block away and anxiety about oversleeping combined with being fairly rested from our late morning meant we didn't sleep at all.



Saturday: Picked up at 3AM, airport by 3:30, through security and departure customs and at our gate by 4, plane at 5:45 to Frankfurt.  On our ride we were seated next to a young woman who seemed scared or at least new to flying.  I attempted to help her figure out the vent and flagged down a blanket for her.  As we approached Frankfurt we got to chatting and, long story short, she was a former host kid from a similar program and was graduated out and heading back to the US on the oh-so-rarely-given short-term visa.  She was going to stay with her former host family in Pennsylvania.  She was very sweet and anxious about her connection process.  We were flying out of the same terminal, so we walked with her through the customs and security processes and got her most of the way to her gate.  What a blessing to have the chance to help her!  We then caught the long flight to DC and--after a moderate connection that turned into a long delayed connection--we got home around 9PM (almost 24 hours after we'd left our apartment).  We slept.

Sunday we hoped to make a small date-day out of it but were so exhausted we slept most of the day and then ran some short errands.  Monday we were back to reality and then my parents arrived with the 3 little kids around dinner time.  They left Tuesday and we're back at full-speed chaos.

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