Saturday, December 19, 2009

Russian Hoops and Legalese

Yesterday was long, exhausting, and very productive... we officially, legally got our little girl. All the day yesterday was spent making this happen. Here is a play by play.

I got picked from the hotel at 8. My driver to day was Alex. He doesn't speak a word of english, so the ride into town and all the times waiting in the car for things to happen were completely silent. Weird to spend a day sitting next to a guy and not exchange one thought or idea with him.

We drove into town thirty minutes and parked near the regional courthouse and waited for Oksana to meet us (remind me to write about my observations about the Russian people and winter clothing in general). She came and got in the van with us. I signed a form or two, then she went into the courthouse and gathered the official declaration that stated that our adoption was complete. Yes!! But our work was not done. We had to go get her birth certificate changed, listing Leanna and I as her (now) official parents. This involved another forty five minute drive to the office of vital statistics, another series of forms to be signed, then a wait to get the new birth certificate. It seems like to get anything done here even going out to pick up your cleaning or filling up your gas tank requires a forty five minute drive, submission of some official form, and then a wait for the governmental wheels to turn. I may be exaggerating a little bit here...but remind me to talk about getting around here in winter.

After the office of vital statistics, we were now officially, undeniably, and completely her parents, but the work was not done. The orphanage needed a copy of the official documents for their file, and we owed them for letting us have her early, so we had to drive over there to give them a copy, this took, guess what? Another forty minute drive, then a wait, then we were through with the orphanage. A good feeling to drive away from there knowing all had been completed.

Next was a very important step. She was ours now, but she couldn't go home with us until we got a passport for her. We got her passport photos the day before, but now we had to drop the application into the right hands. yup, you guessed it another trip crisscrossing the city to get to the pass port office. We got there forty five minutes later and found out that the person who normally deals with adoption passports was on vacation. This presents a HUGE problem, because we are scheduled to leave for Moscow Monday afternoon. NO GO. Oksana poured out our story to the receptionist, but she was stern and unrelenting. Nobody ever explained to me why, in a city of several hundred thousand, which is the regional capital for all governmental functions, there is just one individual that is qualified to do this  function. But I am just a foreigner, and I need their help, so I didn't go there. This was eleven Friday morning, and all she could offer us was to come back after two oclock and talk to one of the higher ups. We were frustrated and disappointed, but still had plenty to do.

Now that we had her birth certificate and the court decree, we had to get these documents something called apostilled. Unless you are a diplomat or a lawyer(god forbid), you probably, like me don't know what an apostille is. So I asked, "What the heck is that?" Oksana explained that due to the Hague Convention on adoptions signed by most of the countries of the world, when adoptions occur internationally, the official documents must be further certified as correct, complete and official in order to be accepted in legal systems from one country to another, THAT is what an apostille is. So, this required yet another trip to the courthouse, but what makes this trip special is the wreck that occurred in the middle of the city, tying up traffic in all directions for an hour or more. We literally sat STILL for thirty minutes at a time. To the point that we Alec turned off the van for minutes at a time until we got cold and started the car to run the heater. Remember that it never got out of the teens all day yesterday. We sat in traffic through lunch, so we shared a chocolate bar that Oksana had, sortof like some folks marooned on a desert island, except we were marooned in a sea of cars in a subartcic traffic snarl. That consisted of our nourishment for the entire day.

After we got out of traffic and made it back to the courthouse, Oksana took the papers in to be official-ized, and Alec and I sat silently together in the car once again. This gives me plenty of time to think. I begin to think about Russian hats. That is something that I noticed right away when we landed in Moscow. Everybody, and I mean every body, has a hat. And they are all made out of fur. I even saw a couple of fur covered baseball caps on some tragically hip youngsters posing in the concourse. It's a regular hat parade here in Russia. There are caps, chapeaus, beanies, wraps, turbans, toboggans, and especially that famous Russian hat, the Ushanka. I don't know what the word means, but you've all seen one, those big fur covered hats Russian men wear. Round, flat on top, with big ear-flap thingys that tie on top. Heck, I even own one, made out of rabbit fur. I got it from some one long ago and wore it once on a dare at a ski resort.

These Ushankas are made out of every manner and species of animal fur, some black, probably mink or rabbit , some curly, like lambswool, and some ridiculously huge furry concoctions that look like a Mulamute decided it would be a good place to curl up and lie down. But I know why they wear them. Its because its COLD. A cold that is hard to describe to someone raised in the south. Unless you've traveled out of our region a long ways, and stayed there for a prolonged time you have no idea about the cold here. Read a Jack London novel, naked, in a deep freezer, and you begin to get an idea....So these hats everyone wears make sense.

I also understand mink coats now. They are warm. VERY warm, and offer some measure of comfort to women in this incredibly cold climate. You see them every where on the streets here, all styles and colors, hooded, or not, waist length, thigh length, or full length. All manner and classes of women have them. Some old ladies, some very young hip girls. All wrapped resolutely against the cold in some sort of dead animal. You know what the weird thing was? I didn't feel the least bit sorry for the minks, or the foxes, or the lambs that gave their lives for the coats. No more than I feel sorry for the beast or foul who was raised with a fate to rest upon my dinner plate. Its COLD here folks, and if a few animals have to die so that we might live and inhabit the earth, so be it. Let the PETA people try to stage a rally here and see what happens. They'd freeze their little cotton wearing patooties off. That's what would happen. Fur is not a statement here, not a status symbol, its a necessity.

Oksana got back to the van after a while, and we set off for the pass port office again, since it was now after two. Another drive across town, and through intersection after intersection of snarled traffic. We got there in one piece, frazzled and hungry, and went back to the surly gatekeeper at the passport place. She called in her superior, and Oksana plead our case. She reluctantly took us in, then made us wait for all the Russian nationals to pass through, before she would handle our application. I sat at the desk and signed my name again for the umpteenth time, and sat some more while Oksana talked. Later she told me that the official had scolded us for coming late in the day, and said we could not get the passport til Monday evening. Oksana said again how we were scheduled to leave that after noon and was there any way we could get it in the morning, then she threw in a little explanation of our trip over here and the delays and layovers,etc., and could she please, let us get it early in the morning. The pass port officer looked at me and said in Russian, "he looks so sad, why don't you go feed that man!". Then she said to come back at ten Monday morning, when the official comes in, and we will be in line to get our forms processed. I didn't realize that I looked so pitiful, but if that was the sum of my contribution for the day, then I guess I served my purpose.

So, it was three o'clock and mission accomplished. We drove back through town, dropped Oksana off at her car, then headed back to the supermarket to pick up milk, diapers, and baby food. I managed that mission all by myself, paid and then sat silent once more as Alec drove us towards the hotel. We encountered one more traffic snarl and was stopped still bumper to bumper in one last parting shot at the tail end of a long and exhausting day. I got to the hotel lobby at quarter to five that evening, starved, tired, but the proud new owner of a genuine little Russian bundle of Joy!


  1. Congratulations! I think y'all won the award for the best Christmas gift ever! BTW, my sister devoted a whole blog post to the way Russians dress complete with photos when she adopted in 2008. Pretty hilarious!

  2. This was the best story! I have laugh and cried. When that guy said you looked said I just broke down then he said to feed you I just laugh. I can't wait to hear that ALL of you are on a plane coming back to ALABAMA!

    It was good to see you yesterday and meet Anya.
    xoxoxo SEE YA SOON

  3. Scott, I've seen that look before and it's pretty effective. I hope it did the trick for you so that you all could get out to Moscow on time. We are in solidarity with your coldness here in DC as we are in the midst of our own blizzard this weekend - the most snowfall ever recorded for a December in DC!


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