Monday, December 29, 2008

Coming Home

We got word today that the SDA has refused to give approval for our court hearing until after the Ukrainian holidays are over. Therefore, we are making arrangements to come home. Nancy and I will have to return again at a later date for court. Many American families over here are in the same situation.

We stopped by Orphanage #4 today to say goodbye to Sergey.

Exactly one month ago today we arrived in Odessa. Thanks for following along so far. Unless something changes, this will be the last post for awhile. Peace.

Together at Last

Saturday, we were able to take Sergey out of his orphanage and take him up to Andreyevo to meet Valya. It was snowing in Odessa for the first time we've been here, and we were unsure what the roads would be like on the way to Andreyevo. Other times we have gone it has been fine in Odessa but bad in Andreyevo. This time, however, it became bluer and sunnier the farther north we went, though colder. The cold, clear blue sky in Andreyevo, with the snow covered fields, reminded us of home. It was a nice bit of something familiar for a change.

The roads near Andreyevo, however, are still treacherous. On Friday, our facilitator had summoned our sometimes driver, Sasha, to go up there to get a document for us. He told us yesterday that there was a 3-car accident on the little road to Andreyevo. I posted pictures of this road a couple of days ago. On the way in, I noted that it had not been plowed or sanded at all since the storm a week ago Thursday.

We didn't know until Friday night that we would be going, and we didn't know that we would be taking Sergey. We had talked about wanting Valya and Sergey to meet before court, but had not set anything up specifically. Well our facilitator just said, you will go to Andreyevo tomorrow to see Valya and you will take Sergey with you. Sasha will be there at 9:30 to get you. Well OK then.

Sergey didn't know that we were coming. When we went to get him, we couldn't find him. It took about 1/2 hr. for someone to find him, turned out he was outside somewhere. We told him what was going on, and we were off.

Valya also didn't know that we were coming. When we got to the admin office like we usually do, Valya was summoned. When she came up we gave her a surprise introduction to Sergey. She knew who he was because we had already given her a picture of him. They did a quick hug, then we headed off to the playroom to visit before lunch.

I think it was about 120 sec. after we got in the playroom that Valya whacked Sergey on the head for the first time. Undoubtedly, he deserved it. They were talking in Russian and I suppose he was teasing her about something. And so it has begun. These two are both live wires, Sergey more with teasing, and Valya physically. Anyway it was all in fun and doesn't seem anything beyond what seems normal in these orphanages. At the end of the day, as we were saying goodbyes, I was standing there with Sasha and commented it was hard to believe that they just met, they looked like siblings that had been together all their lives. They were very comfortable around each other. Mark will need to get used to a new level of energy around the house.

Before we left, we got Sasha to translate for us so that we could explain to both of them the adoption situation. We told them that the SDA rejected our papers on Thursday and because of that it was very possible we would not have court next week. We told them that we will be going back to America next week, no matter what happens, but that we or I would be back at the end of January to get them. They were quiet but didn't seem to mind too much. Sergey seems more interested in court than Valya, because his classmate Karina Nasekos had court the week before.

Here are some pictures from the day.

Our driver, Sasha. He has two teenage girls of his own. He is a pastor that recently moved to Odessa with his family and is between jobs. We are working on him to show him the orphanages and the kids. Maybe he can get involved with orphans somehow.

In the dining hall at Valya's orphanage. There are five meal times. They have a 1st breakfast, 2nd breakfast, lunch, late afternoon lunch, and dinner. They served a cabbage soup with porridge (I think), lettuce salad, grechka (buckwheat), dark bread, and compote to drink. It was different than we're used to, I think you could say. A couple of dogs roamed freely, begging for handouts. Sergey and Valya sat at one table, while we sat at another. I caught Valya kicking Sergey under the table. I gave her that parent look like knock it off, and she did. I guess that translates in every language. Afterward, Valya cleared the tables. The dining hall is pleasant and light, with a large plant display and tapestry. There is a coat rack as you enter, and 4 sinks for washing hands.

Outside the dining hall. This dog has a name something like Pasha and he is the orphanage dog. The other ones are strays, I guess.

Valya's room. Four girls sleep in bunkbeads. There is a small table with a couple of chairs. Each girl has a very small closet. The Christmas Tree that you see will be put into their TV room. Each wing on every floor has its own TV room. Some of them already had their trees up and decorated.

We brought Valya a little Christmas gift. It is a diary with a lock and key. It is pink with valentines on it. Valya is the nickname for her full name, Valentina.

At some point Valya grabbed some vampire teeth and goofed around with them. Earlier this year, the kids put on some kind of play and she played the part of a witch.

Mark, I will always love you.

Our first picture all together.

Now for a picture of just the kids. HELLO?!! Can you guys please stand still for one picture?

Saying goodbye, but Valya finds time to torment Sergey one last time by yanking his shirt down under his sweater.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Not in Nottingham

In Disney's Robin Hood movie, there is a lowpoint where things are going bad, and the chicken minstrel sings a song called, Not in Nottingham. The chorus goes,

Sometimes ups, outnumber the downs,
But not in Nottingham.
This phrase is on my mind constantly the last couple of days.

We had good news on Christmas Day. Our facilitator told us that all of the documents we needed had been sent up to the SDA in Kiev for final approval for a court date. She had gone to the courthouse and reserved a date for either Mon. or Tue. of next week. So we were excited about being able to wrap things up for awhile here and come home. Nancy and Mark would stay home while I would come back after the holidays to finish the adoptions and bring the kids home.

But not in Nottingham.

We found out yesterday that the SDA has rejected our papers on technicalities. Under different circumstances that would not really be a problem. In fact, our facilitator has already received corrected documents from both orphanages, and the updated documents will be in Kiev tonight. The problem is, we will very likely not have approval from the SDA before they shut down for the New Year's and Christmas holidays. This means that we will not be able to have court until the 3rd week of January. There is a mandatory 10-day waiting period before the kids can be removed from the orphanages. Valya has some properties issues to deal with. There is a period where we have to get birth certificates and domestic passports. We can't do any of that without court. Another problem is that now Nancy will have to return to Ukraine also because she is required to be present at court. All because of some wording issues on the documents. The SDA is very capricious. The facilitators never know what they will complain about.

There is still room for a miracle, however. The documents will be submitted to the SDA on Monday. If they approve same-day, we might be able to get court on Tuesday. That is very unlikely, but not impossible.

Nancy and Mark both have colds, I've had stomach flu. We have been gone from home 5 weeks, still haven't had court, and the internet here does not work well, and I cannot work remotely. We're supposed to go up to see Valya today, with Sergey, but it is snowing, so I don't know if we'll make it.

People often say you bottom out after 40 days here. That's about where we're at.

We've had some ups here, including the miracle of approval of Valya's separation from her siblings. For that we are grateful. But we're ready to be done.

Please pray for a miracle with the SDA. Peace to you.

Friday, December 26, 2008


There was a big ice storm in the area of Valya's orphange, Andreyevo, and we had not been able to go back there until Wednesday. We were anxious to go because there was one last document we needed for our packet that needed to be sent to the SDA for court approval. Mark has caught a cold, so we decided that Nancy should stay home with Mark.

We left at 9:30, and I was only expecting to spend as much time with Valya as it would take our facilitator to fetch a document from the Inspector in Mikolaevka, about an hour or so. Valya and I practiced English, played Uno and Dutch Blitz, then we got kind of bored and I decided to let her take pictures. By this time, the kids were out of classes so we headed over to her dorm where she came alive. She had a great time with her friends being silly for the camera.

The extra time with Valya came at the expense of trouble for our facilitator. The document she needed to pick up had some mistakes in it that needed fixing, so it needed to be drawn up again. This took quite awhile. And to top it off, the mayor over there decided that she needed to ask me some questions personally, so they raced back to Andreyevo to get me, then we all returned back to Mikolaevka. We sat in the Inspector's office for about 15 minutes, then the mayor changed her mind and just signed it. What a waste of time.

We got back to Odessa as fast as we could. We needed to get these documents on the train to Kiev so that they would arrive the next day. We are trying to get SDA approval for court and time is of the essence.

After I got back home, I wasn't feeling too good. I ended up with the stomach flu and chills. We had been invited to an American family's place for a Christmas Eve party, but we missed it because I was so late arriving and then I got sick. It was a bummer of a way to spend Christmas Eve. Thankfully, I felt fine in the morning.

Here's a few pictures from the day.

The road to Andreyevo. You can see branches on the ground. There were workers busy removing trees that had fallen down across the road. In the second picture, you can see the little valley that Andreyevo is in.

Signing her life away. Valya signs a document in her own hand that states that she agrees to the adoption. Children 12 and older must agree to the adoption.

Pictures from Valya's dorm. She and her friends got very silly. It was fun seeing her be herself. Later, we went up to her classroom to wait for our facilitator to pick me up.

Christmas Eve supper for Nancy and Mark. I was sick and in bed already. We were planning to go to a party but we weren't able to go. I am getting good at saying Gavayskaya bolshaya at the pizza place, which means large Hawaiian.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


We were planning to go up to Andreyevo to see Valya. But our facilitator called in the morning and told us that the roads were still not passable due to ice and trees that had fallen across the road.

So, we decided to go shopping again. On Monday, we went to Privoz, but we were really looking for touristy things, so we went to downtown Odessa where there are sidewalk vendors.

Mark has a head cold so we are letting him sleep alot the last few days.

Here are some pictures from the day.

Here is someone rummaging through the dumpster in front of our apartment. It is sad to see. Often it is old ladies who do that. This fellow had a beer in his hand. Sadly, that too, is not unusual. Open container laws in America restrict public consumption of alcohol, but it is not uncommon to see here, even with teenagers.

Catching the bus to go downtown. You can see how large the apartment buildings are. Yesterday, an apartment building blew up from a natural gas explosion in Crimea Ukraine, which is east and south of Odessa. There is an interesting street sign to the right of Nancy. It looks like people dashing across the road. Not sure really what it is saying, because they do have a pedestrian crossing sign which does not look like this one. A couple of weeks ago, we were coming home from Andreyevo after seeing Valya and we passed a dead man lying in the street. He had been hit by a car and his belongings were scattered all over the road. The authorities hadn't arrived yet. There are new laws in Ukraine now regarding jaywalking, and for cars to yield right-of-way to pedestrians in crosswalks.

At a square at a Russian Orthodox church in downtown Odessa.

There were some musicians playing. It was cold enough with gloves on. I don't know how that guitar player could stand to play. They were out there the whole time we were there.

Men gather here to play chess and dominoes. One of them motioned for me, the Amerikansky, to play chess. I declined. I imagine I would get creamed.

There are many sidewalk vendors here. There are many paintings for sale and other kinds of vendors.

We bought a doll for Valya to remember her Ukrainian heritage. We picked a dark-haired one that reminds us of her.

At the Aphena mall downtown. It is 6 levels with very nice stores.

At another little mall downtown. The architecture is beautiful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Monday marked exactly one month since we left home. We spent it in Odessa.

Every time we go downtown, our bus takes us past a big market called Privoz. We decided to leave Mark at the apartment and headed down there. We had a rare sunny day, so we really wanted to be outside. I am not kidding I think the sun has been out 3 times since we left America.

This market square is very busy. Besides an outdoor market, there is a variety of other stores, as well as an upscale mall. As we have ridden past in the evenings, we have noted that when this place is closed up, it looks like a hurricane went through will all the refuse and empty boxes. Someone must come through every night and clean up the area.

We visited Sergey's orphanage in the afternoon to watch a program that his class put on. The program was about wheat. I guess they are studying it in school.

Wheat is a huge industry in Ukraine. Ukraine has been nicknamed the breadbasket of Europe. I mentioned before that in our travels to the country to visit different places for Valya, every field has been winter wheat. A couple of weeks ago, when we attended church downtown, I was visiting with a missionary from Clear Lake, Iowa. He was telling me about how Ukrainian farmers will come over to America and buy 40 combines at a time. He told me that he knew of some wheat fields that are 110 miles long! One of these days, when we are not in a hurry to fetch documents, I will have our driver stop every once in a while so that I can take pictures. The fields here are large with no fences, usually having only treelines to divide the fields. Back during WWII, the Nazis would ship trainloads of Ukrainian dirt back to Germany.

Anyway, back to the program. The kids had decorated their room with wheat items, including pictures that they had drawn and painted. Most of the kids stood at their desk and recited something from memory. Four boys were spotlighted in the front and made a presentation about the production of wheat. I brought my video camera to record it but oops I forgot to charge it up. It died about 1 min. into the program. Rats this was one-of-a-kind.

After the program, the staff served bread and tea to the adult guests. Besides us Americans, there were other Ukrainians, I assume they were teachers and staff, Grandma Lela, and the orphanage director. The director always seems to show up at these things. The programs don't start until she arrives.

Here's a few pictures from the day.

This is the grocery store that is just across the street from our apartment. We rarely eat out. The fastest way to run out of money on your adoption trip is to eat out for every meal. We cook in our apartment. The sign is the Russian letters for Silvio.

Christmas trees for sale in front of an apartment building. Apartment buildings here are enormous, for the most part. Many of the first floors on the street side of the buildings are full of little markets. Actually, sometimes they are not so little. You may walk into a shop and find that it goes and goes toward the back. You'd never know it from the street.

An electric tram is an alternative to taking the bus. They are cheaper, and faster because they do not get stuck in traffic. But they are more limited in the places they go, and the people really get stuffed in there like sardines. Sometimes we'll be traveling in a bus and suddenly it will stop because a tram is crossing the road. There are no crossing gates. It's a wonder they never collide with traffic. We haven't been in one yet.

At the Privoz market. Imagine a Wal-Mart that was divided up into litle 10-foot stalls and you would pretty much picture it. You can get every household item here - clothing, food, pet supplies, decorations, toys, paintings, and more. One of the stalls had cardboard boxes full of new brasierres. I commented to Nancy that I can't imasgine rummaging through them looking for one. But I guess they do. In this picture, there is a white building on the right in the far distance. It is a 4 or 5 story mall. It provides an interesting contrast with the bustling market outside. As usual, like everywhere else in Ukraine, there are stray dogs everywhere.

This is the street that the market is on. The yellow sign in the foreground is a sign indicating a money exchange shop. They are everywhere. You can always trade dollars for grivna, but it is impossible to get dollars back. The billboard in the distance is advertising cigarettes, something you'd never see in the US. Something else you'd never see is all of the sexuality portrayed in marketing here. It is at a level beyond America. The mall I was telling you about here had nudity in some of the store displays. Also, it is not unusual to see scantily clad models in provacative poses in advertising, even where children go.

FoxMart is one of the few stores that has any signage in English. It is full of electronics and home appliances, kind of like a Sears without the clothing.

Produce at the Privoz market is superior to what you will find in the supermarkets.

Here's a lady selling dried mushrooms.

Cranberries and tomatoes for sale. You can find a vendor with little carts of produce all over town, not just here. They'll just be sitting there on a street corner with a stool. Sometimes they'll have a TV tray looking thing with their wares on it. Talk about a small businessman. We've been warned never to buy food on the street because these people aren't licensed and the food could be bad.

Nancy at a garland booth. This booth literally had only long strands of garland for sale.

This picture gives you an idea of the size of the stalls.

The meat market at Privoz. They have every kind of meat. It is chopped right in front of you. Can't get much fresher than that.

This stray dog found a quiet sunny spot for a nap.

A couple of pictures of the mall next door. The prices are very average for America, but for here must be out of reach for many people. If you sold all of your assets in America and moved here, you could probably live like a king.

After shopping, we went to Orphanage #4 to see Sergey's program. Grisha greeted us downstairs and escorted us up to the room where it was held. The kids wear uniforms for school, like Grisha's. The girls wear a white blouse, black cardigan, black skirt, and dark stockings or nylons.

All of the students had some part in the program. Most stood at their desk, facing the rear where the adults were seated, and recited something.

Four of the students had special parts. It was all spoken in Ukrainian, but I believe they were describing how wheat is grown, harvested, then used in the making of bread. Sergey is the one on the far left in the chef costume.

The director of Orphanage #4 came. After the program, she gave a short talk about how we shouldn't waste food, and that when they have families of their own they should teach their children the value of food. Or something like that.

After the program, they chased the kids out and served tea and sweet bread to the adults. The kids changed clothes and were invited back after a little while to also have the treats.

Nancy visiting with Sheila Nasekos. Jay and Martha Sweeney were also there. They are adopting another boy from #4. The Nasekos' are adopting Karina from Sergey's class.

A table decoration.

Some of the artwork that the children made.

This is Sergey's 6th grade class. There are 15 but three of them are missing in this picture.

This is Tatiana. She is one of the class's supervisors. She is a kind young Christian woman.

We gave the camera to Sergey so that he could take some pictures. It isn't as awkward for him to take a bunch as it is for us.

This is Sergey's classmate Yuri. He missed the program because he was at the hospital having skin grafts. He showed up afterward. Grandma Lela's mission is providing him with medical care for his burns. It is not the kind of thing that the orphanage does. We found out a little about his past. He was a street kid (there are about 900 in Odessa). One night he was sleeping in some kind of container, like a barrel or something, when some other kids set him on fire. He couldn't get out and someone else pulled him out. How he ended up in this orphanage I don't know. His hands are disfigured from the injuries. He has some scarring on his face but has more on other parts of his body. Lela says that the doctors care for him so much. When they treat other people they scream in pain, but he just looks at them and smiles.

After the program the kids took things down and put things away. They are very efficient, like an army (OK maybe a bad analogy for those of you in the Army). Anyway, they get things done licketysplit.

I wanted to include this picture because other times we have visited the orphanage the gymnasium has been locked up. There were kids in here playing during the program. There was a coach in there with a whistle so it must have been PE or something.