Peace Like A River

It was a wide river, mistakable for a lake or even an ocean unless you'd been wading and knew its current. Somehow I'd crossed it... Now I saw the stream regrouped below, flowing on through what might've been vineyards, pastures, orhards... It flowed between and alongside the rivers of people; from here it was no more than a silver wire winding toward the city. - Leif Enger, Peace Like A River

Monday, March 24, 2003

There's no place like home. There's no place like home. Well, returned last night from Russia. A very loooong, exhausting trip back. When we finally walked in the door, we had been awake for more than 28 hours, and I didn't sleep too well our last night in Moscow anyway, so I was *quite* tired when I returned. Here is an account of our trip.

The trip to Russia was relatively quick and pleasant. Although, on the Lufthansa flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, the seats were rather cramped and not very comfortable. But, at 7.5 hours, it was tolerable, and I dozed a bit. We got to Frankfurt early in the morning, and on to the flight to Moscow. At the Moscow airport, we went through customs in record time (on our last two trips it took forever). The people weren't there to meet us when we came out of customs, so we waited, and they did show up a in a few minutes. They said they were stopped in traffic. But before they arrived, taxi drivers who seemed to hovering looking for victims to pounce on asked if we needed a ride.

We were told we were going to go straight to the region. Which was fine, but it already been a long trip, so wasn't really looking forward to a long drive, but all in all I suppose better than just going to a Moscow hotel, sitting for a night, and having to get packed up and leave the next day. So off we went. And promptly got stuck in traffic. On the road we were on, there was some bridge work going on, and apparently lanes narrowed or were eliminated, so traffic was backed up for several kilometers, and took us probably an hour just to get out of town. Not exactly what I wanted to see since I was already quite tired, but oh well.

Once we got going, it was an interesting ride to Kostroma. It was neat to see the countryside. Still snow on the ground there, and chilly temps. I made the remark to Rhonda that the entire country looks like it was built 50 or 60 years ago, and then just left. Everything looks dilapidated and run down. We went through several villages. Rhonda wondered how they survived. Didn't look like a lot of work available. The buildings were often shabby, fences were shabby. But, the windows facing the road were striking. On all the windows facing the road, and most buildings had 3, although some larger buildings had 4 or 5, the windows had ornate wooden shutters, a very Russian, almost Ukrainian pattern. Quite pretty. Several Orthodox churches along the way, with their characteristic domes. Although some churches were in bad shape, almost looked abandoned.

We stopped to eat at a little roadside place. Nice decorations on the inside, sort of antique. We had some good soup. By the time we got to Kostroma it was dark. We went straight to the hotel and got checked in.

The room looked much like our room at the Mir our first trip to Moscow, or like our room in Astrakhan. It was rather chilly in the hotel (and in Kostroma) so kept our long johns on always, and huddled under our covers. At least the bed was warm. And the water was warm, but it was tiny showerhead.

The next day, had a breakfast of beef tongue and some potatoes/carrots that weren't terribly appetizing. I noticed in the restaurant, and in the hotels we stayed in, and at the orphanage, that there seemed to be way more people working there than were perhaps needed. Maybe it was a Soviet-style jobs program or something like that, jobs are provided, etc... After that breakfast, we headed to the orphanage. We were with three other people. Sergei the driver, a big Russian bear of a guy who seemed to be a bit of a card. Andrew was our facilitator, he's the one who knows the officials and gets signatures, etc... Inna was our translator. (In Astrakhan, Marina was both facilitator and translator.) Inna said that while she was near the front desk that morning waiting for us, the workers there didn't realize she was our translator, and they were talking about what they should say when the KGB asked about us. Maybe should just give our names and passport numbers. Ha! Didn't take the KGB long to check up on us foreigners! We felt like spies.

I think it was in the morning that Inna said she had heard on the news that the war in Iraq was finally underway. It was expected, but it felt strange to be so far from home.

The orphanage looked much like the ones we saw in Astrakhan. Relatively clean, but old. We went to the director's office first. Through the translator, she said that orphanage kids were usually delayed and needed attention and stimulation. Then, they brought in Snezhanna/Hanna! They gave her to Rhonda. I tried to touch her, and touch her hand to my beard, but she didn't like that at all. She started to cry, and I moved back, and Rhonda comforted her, but after that it didn't take her long to cotton to me, especially after I gave her a tasty animal cracker! I was surprised she took to me so quick. I was expecting her to want to avoid me mostly.

There definitely seemed to be a little personality in there somewhere. She was alert and watched us, and liked the little toys we brought. She was able to stack the stacking cups all by herself. That's something that took John awhile to master. We went to another larger room where we played with her there for awhile. It had lots of toys in there. so must be a place they can take the kids. Toward the end of our first meeting, I was holding her (by then we were good friends) and had the blanket Rhonda got around her, and I was gently rocking back and forth, and she fell asleep!

She has a rash all over though, and sometimes scratched at it, poor girl. Can't wait to get her back so we can get that treated.

She made almost no sound in all our visits with here. Just a "nnnh" once in a great while. Rhonda had brought a doll whose eyes open and shut when you move it, and I imitated that, and Hanna, after watching me, blinked her eyes a couple times!

Also, she clearly understood her name. People would say her name and she would look at them, and seemed to respond to when they spoke to her (in Russian.) John never really seemed to do that when we saw him in the orphanage.

After that visit, went back to the hotel and rested for a couple hours. We were still tired and messed up with the time, but the Melatonin really helped us deal with the time change, and it wasn't so bad. We went back for a second visit in the afternoon. Hanna liked to be held, and was quite content while we were holding her, but if we put her down, she also liked to walk around, and would walk in large circles around the room. I would sometimes kiss her forehead rapidly and making mm-mm sounds, and she seemed to like that. After doing that a couple times, she even leaned her head into me so I would do it again!

We were given some info about her background. She's had kind of a rough start. The mother's parental rights were terminated. Apparently the mother was not employed and drank, and wasn't able to care for her. Apparently Hanna was found with strangers who were drinking, and she was hungry. As a result, she was taken to a hospital or something like that, and later to the orphanage, and action was taken against the mother to terminate her rights. Apparently the mother has had two other children, one born in 1997 and one in 1998. No indication if it was the same father. Also, no information on where those two children are now.

Oh yeah, that morning of our first visit, Inna was talking to a lady who turned out to teach music at the orphanage, and she invited all of us to hear her sing at this event commemorating when the Romanovs came to power. Apparently the Romanovs were either from Kostroma, or at least were there when they came to power. I got the impression they (the three Russians with us) didn't really want to go, but it would've been rude to decline, but we sure were interested in going, just to see something different.

When we got their, the mayor was giving some kind of lecture in a smallish room, so we waited outside, The lady, who was in nice clothes and makeup, looked quite different than when we saw her earlier, told us about some of the history of the Romanovs, especially about a famous icon found in a church there, and legend said saved people from several disasters or invasions. Another smiling lady there gave us a little booklet, but it is in Russian, so am not sure what it is about exactly.

Anyway, once the lecture ended, we quickly tramped into this room, must have looked funny to those already sitting in there, and the lady sang a piece from an opera by Glinka about a local hero. My oh my could she sing. Just beautiful, very Russian music. Her voice was powerful in that small room. We were glad to have the chance to have heard that.

It's one of the odd contrasts about Russia. Some immensely gifted people, but also great poverty, and practices and customs that seem to make it very difficult for that country to get itself out of the deep hole it is in.

That evening, we didn't go out to eat, just went to the room, ate some of the food we brought with us. We had a pleasant surprise when Mom called! How nice to hear from her in that faraway place! It was also nice to hear John's voice, as we missed him very much. We're quite grateful that Mom was able to come and take care of him!

Boy, it was a cold night. The wind was howling all night, and coming through a window that wouldn't close tightly, so got rather cold in the room. We later heard that weather in Moscow was particularly bad, and in fact some families in regions couldn't return to Moscow. Two families in Astrakhan even missed going to the Embassy on Friday. That's too bad. I suppose they had to wait till Monday.

The next morning we had breakfast in a different restaurant in the hotel. It looked like some hippie love den from the seventies. The colors in the room were brown and purple and pastel green and pinks. The walls were covered in silk prints. The food was great though. We got some of ravioli. Not tomatoey, but like ravioli wrappers filled with a delicious spiced meat mix. Mmm. Inna said that dish though was not a breakfast dish, but more for lunch or dinner.

We had one more visit with Hanna. We took a number of pictures with our digital camera, and I'll be getting those onto the website soon. Apparently the connection software that comes with the camera doesn't work with Windows NT, which is what I have at home, so I'll have to take it to work and get the pictures off the camera there.

Then, we left town. Oh, we did stop at place with linens, as they wanted to buy some for someone in Moscow. Apparently Kostroma is known for its linens. We also stopped at some kind of post office to call Lufthansa to try and change our tickets to Saturday (no luck). There were about 20 phone booths in there, we had to leave a deposit at a window, then made the call, and then go back and get back our deposit minuss whatever the call cost. There was some woman just angrily chattering away, and Inna said she was probably Georgian, who speak a language very different from Russian.

On the way back stopped at the same restaurant, Had some delicious pork. Drove by some stands selling towels. Inna said people who work in plants in the area make towels and whatnot, but they are paid in the product, not money, so they sell the stuff to make money.

We stayed at Ukraina Hotel, one of the wedding cake buildings. It's used a lot by adoption agencies, but we didn't get to stay there our first time around. We only saw one couple with a baby with them though at breakfast. It was a much nicer place, although also kind of chilly. A nice view from our window, will include those photos on the website. We were right across the river from the Russian White House, the US Embassy, and the Mir Hotel we stayed our first night in Moscow last time around.

Inna said we probably shouldn't be out on the streets, what with Russian opposition to the war. We weren't going to go out anyway, just to be safe. So, we just spent Saturday resting in the hotel.

It is dismaying what the Russian media is saying. They are saying we are conducting this war to get Iraq's oil. Putin has also made some pointed comments lately, and it almost seems like he is trying to create a wedge between Russia and the US. (And today I heard reports that some Russian companies might be providing Iraq with equipment and training that could interfere with US military tactics.) I am just hoping we can get Hanna home before something could happen that would affect adoptions. I have a hard time believing Russia would just up and put an end to adoptions, if only because it brings in so much money, and I'm sure some officials have their hand in that till, that there are plenty of people with an interest in keeping adoptions going. Still, I'm not really looking forward to going back, and will be overjoyed when Hanna is finally home.

It was a punishing trip home. We got up at 3 in the morning, left the hotel about 3:45. Had a drive through very quiet Moscow city streets. Although, Inna pointed out some working girls were still on the street. At 4 on a Sunday morning, in chilly temps? Egads. Anyway, the flight to Vienna left at 5:50 am. We got a delicious breakfast that really hit the spot.

A long 4 hour layover in Vienna, till we left for Washington. The plane was neat. Each seat had a screen in the seat in front of it, and we had a number of entertainment options. We watched the recent Harry Potter movie. Also, they had a separate channel showing the progress of the flight, and, something I hadn't seen before, had two channels with two different cameras showing out the front and below the plane. Out of the front was interesting on takeoff and landing, but the view below let us see what we were flying over. So, as we progressed, I kept track of where we were, and then looked at interesting things.

Like, saw that watery low area south of Amsterdam. Then, watched as we crossed the beach out into the English channel, as we crossed the beach into England. Crossed over northern London. Watched as we crossed the beach in Ireland and out into the North Atlantic. Watched as we crossed the beach into North America somewhere near Goose Bay, north of St. John's.

Another little wait in Dulles, and another little wait in Chicago. All told, we probably spent 8 hours just sitting in airports, which greatly lengthened the trip. That same kind of trip will be the last option when we come back with Hanna, cuz we can't do that again, not with a toddler in tow. Ick.

So, there it is. A trip that didn't seem as enjoyable as our trips to get John. Felt more like work. Lots of traveling. Tiring. But, such fun to see Hanna. Like with John, there does seem to be a spark in there. We'll just have to fan it, and help her grow and develop.


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