A Journey to Remember

Today I am bound and determined to write a post with pictures of our trip to Ukraine.  I want to introduce you to our new children as well.  It is relatively quiet at this moment in the Herr household.  Maybe that is because seven of the members are away at work and the seven youngest are outside shooting a movie.  That leaves three of us here in the house.  Blessed quietness!  Please, rain, stay away for the next hour!

Leaving New York for Ukraine.  First time flying since 1988.

Leaving New York for Ukraine. First time flying since 1988.

View from our apartment in Kiev.

View from our apartment in Kiev.

A better view!  Jim in the kitchen of the apartment.

A better view! Jim in the kitchen of the apartment.

After receiving the referral for our sibling group, we traveled via car to Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky, which is located in Odessa region.  Traveling the roads in Ukraine was quite the experience.  We were amazed at the skill of the drivers in dodging potholes in the dark at high rates of speed.  Incredibly, we only experienced 2 flat tires in our travels by car. The first 9 days we stayed in an apartment close to the orphanage, after which we moved to the Christian medical clinic where we remained for the duration of our time in B-D.

Front door of our apartment in Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky.  Note the decorative use of old tires.

Front door of our apartment in Belgorod-Dnevstrovsky. Note the decorative use of old tires.

Back of the apartment.  The shed was an addition to the apartment.

Back of the apartment. The shed was an addition to the apartment.

The road in front of the apartment which we walked to get to the orphanage.

The road in front of the apartment which we walked to get to the orphanage.

Another view of the road we walked to the orphanage.

Another view of the road we walked to the orphanage.

The orphanage where our children lived for three years.

The orphanage where our children lived for three years.

The road leading to the Christian Medical Clinic.  Typical of many roads in the area.

The road leading to the Christian Medical Clinic. Typical of many roads in the area.

The Christian Medical Clinic.

The Christian Medical Clinic.

We spent quite a bit of time every day walking to and from the orphanage or the supermarket.  Visits with the children were from 4-6 p.m. on weekdays and from 10-12 a.m. and from 4-6 p.m. on the weekends.  Some of the first words the children spoke to us in English were, “Tomorrow, four?”  Initially, we had our visits in a small room which contained a bed and a small desk and a couple of chairs.  I believe it was part of the infirmary.  We were happy when we graduated to a larger room and then to the playground.

Our first day outside, the children ran and climbed onto an old piece of machinery that was sitting in the yard.  I wondered if this was allowed, but they seemed so confident that we just followed along taking pictures as they played.  We soon learned that it was forbidden, as one of the orphanage workers came and told them to get down.  We couldn’t understand most of what she said, but the tone of her voice spoke volumes.  We did understand one word she spoke to us, “CRAZY!”  Boy, did we feel like terrible parents!  But, how were we supposed to know?  It’s something our biological kids would have attempted, too.  After that experience, we limited their play to climbing a tree in the yard.  I don’t know if that was allowed or not, but no one was around to say anything.  Most of the time the children entertained themselves and us on the playground equipment.

Posing for a picture on the infamous wagon!  From top to bottom:  Bella, Jessica, and Dima.

Posing for a picture on the infamous wagon! From top to bottom: Bella, Jessica, and Dima.

Dima and Jim climbing the tree.

Dima and Jim climbing the tree.

Jessica

Jessica

Bella

Bella

Luda

Luda

Dima

Dima

One of the favorite pasttimes of the children in the orphanage was fishing for “tarantulas”.  (That is their word for spider.  No, they were not actually tarantulas as we know them.)  They would run around the yard looking for little round holes in the ground.  Then they would put a small piece of clay onto the end of a string and would lower the string into the hole.  When they felt a little tug, they would quickly pull the string out of the hole.  If they didn’t get a spider the first time, they would check the clay for little bite marks, which assured them that a spider was really down the hole.  One afternoon the children collected over 25 spiders.  Now I am not very excited about spiders, but the process of capturing them was pretty ingenious.  Dima was especially excited about teaching me how to catch them.  Sad to say, I never got one.  I guess I just didn’t have the right technique.  I was actually kind of glad because no one ever knew where they would land when pulled out of the hole.  I liked them better hidden underground.  What did they do with all the spiders?  They attempted to force a few of them back down the holes.  Others were stepped on, while the majority were dropped down the manhole in the driveway.

Dima, Bella, and Luda are searching for spiders.

Dima, Bella, and Luda are searching for spiders.

Jessica, Bella, and Luda checking out the spider holes.

Jessica, Bella, and Luda checking out the spider holes.

 

Dima is absorbed in fishing for spiders.

Dima is absorbed in fishing for spiders.

Dima breaks his concentration to smile at me.

Dima breaks his concentration to smile at me.

Trying my hand at catching spiders.  Dima looks happy, doesn't he?

Trying my hand at catching spiders. Dima looks happy, doesn’t he?

One-third of the day's catch.  Aren't they lovely?!

One-third of the day’s catch. Aren’t they lovely?!

Since it was spring, the children in the orphanage were put to work cleaning up the flower beds.  Luda seemed to enjoy working.  There were few garden tools, so many of the leaves were gathered by hand or swept up with little brooms the children made out of sticks.

Luda pauses her work for me to snap a picture.

Luda pauses her work for me to snap a picture

After six weeks of visiting the children, we were finally free to leave the orphanage and head to Odessa where we applied for passports.  It felt strange realizing that these children were actually ours and we were responsible for them, even though we couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand us.  We were left on our own with them in the center of the city while our facilitator ran around gathering paperwork.  They were wide-eyed with wonder at all the new sights.  They chased pigeons and climbed on a statue in a park.  I don’t know if that was allowed, but we were thankful that it kept them from running into the streets after the birds.

Experiencing their newly found freedom.

Experiencing their newly found freedom.

In Odessa, Jim and Dima boarded a bus for the journey to Kiev.  The girls and I traveled by car with our facilitator.  We arrived in Kiev after 10:00 p..m. and were taken to the apartment where we would stay for the remainder of our time in Ukraine.  It was the same apartment we had stayed in at the beginning of our trip.  We were thankful that we were somewhat familiar with the area.  It made finding food and exchanging money much less stressful.  We spent most of our time inside the apartment because they didn’t listen and obey very well when out.  It didn’t take long to feel cooped up with four energetic and loud children.  Jim tried taking them to the playground one afternoon, but the adventure was cut short because they were constantly arguing with each other.  We considered it a major accomplishment to get them all settled into bed each night.

Jessica

Jessica

Bella

Bella

Luda and Dima

Luda and Dima

Our final week in Kiev included trips to the medical clinic and the U.S. embassy.  Once we received passports and visas, we were free to head home.  We were ready.  We had been away from home for seven and a half weeks.  We missed our children at home and were ready to get back to familiar territory.  Our time in Ukraine was over, but the real work had begun.

Alive and Well

It’s been so long since I sat down to post anything on this blog.  I’m sure some people have wondered if we fell off the face of the earth.  We’re still here, but life has become much busier.  There isn’t much uninterrupted time.  Even now I am sitting here and getting questioned about twice per sentence.  My thoughts for writing don’t flow very well when I can’t complete a sentence.  I didn’t want to start writing about our time since coming home until I wrote about our time in Ukraine, but that seemed like a formidable task.  It meant going through my journal entries and my letters to the family.  Now I’ve reached the conclusion that I’ll just have to give a quick summary of our trip and leave it at that if I hope to ever write about our new children and the adjustment period.  So here goes.

We traveled to Ukraine by way of New York City with another couple who was also adopting from Ukraine.  They had lived in Russia for 6 years and knew some of the language, which was a huge help to us.  We shared an apartment with them for the first few days we were in Ukraine, enjoying their fellowship.  We anticipated traveling with them to Donetsk region via train, but all that changed when we found out we would not be adopting the girls we had originally intended.  We ended up adopting a sibling group of 4 from Odessa region.

We met our children on Friday morning, February 28.  We were completely astounded by their positive and loving reaction toward us.  It was almost as though they had expected us.  Our facilitator was in the middle of translating something for us when they came into the room.  Later I remembered that he had said something about a dream.  When we called him about it, he said that the night before we arrived, Jessica had a dream that her parents were coming.  We are still waiting for the time when we can understand each other well enough to ask her about that dream.

Each day we visited the children for 2 hours in the afternoon.  On weekends we had visits twice a day.  It was an interesting experience trying to communicate with the children when we didn’t know each other’s language.  We did a lot of pantomiming and played innumerable games of UNO.  Two hours seemed like a long time every day.  We usually went home feeling pretty drained.  Once we were able to play outside, the time seemed to go more quickly, and we went home feeling tired from running around like crazy.

The first week in Belgorod-Dnevstrosky, we stayed in an apartment close to the orphanage.  We thought we were paying $20/night for our stay there, but after 9 days we learned that it was $20/night/person.  We asked to be moved to the Christian medical clinic where the cost was much less.  We had further to walk each day, but that was actually a blessing because of the exercise.  Because of that move, we met a pastor’s family and were able to visit in their home.  They were a big encouragement to us during our stay in Ukraine.

We waited for 3-1/2 weeks before getting our court date.  That waiting time was so long!  It felt like we were going to be in Ukraine forever.  When we did arrive at court on Friday, March 21, the electricity in the building went off, so we had to postpone court until Monday, March 24.  We were so grateful to pass court without a lot of questions.  There is a 10-day wait period after court before the adoption is final.  We had originally planned on returning home for those 10 days, but instead decided to wait it out in Ukraine.  We didn’t know if the unrest in Ukraine would escalate to the point that we wouldn’t be able to get back into the country.  Also, our children at home were in a routine, and we thought it would be much harder for them if we returned and then left again.

After the 10-day wait, we left the orphanage,  traveled to Odessa where we applied for passports for the children, and then continued on to Kiev where we remained for another 8 days.  We had the best facilitators through our whole adoption.  They made the process as smooth as possible.  We couldn’t have done it without them.

Our week in Kiev was challenging, to say the least.  We stayed in the same apartment we had stayed in at the beginning of the trip.  The children were pretty wild, loud, and uncontrollable at times.  They got upset with each other pretty often, and since we couldn’t understand Russian, we had a hard time figuring out the problems.  We stuck pretty much to home unless we needed to go out for medicals or the embassy appointments.  We worked a lot on table manners which were basically non-existant.  We began with holding hands and praying before meals.  The hand-holding was more to keep them from grabbing food than anything else.  It only took a couple of days before they were reminding each other not to eat until we prayed.  They generally liked very short prayers like, “Thank you, Father, for the food.  Amen.”  They usually said, “Amen,” before Jim had finished praying, so to stop it, we kept adding on phrases for as long as it took for them to be quiet.  The first time was really quite funny.  Jim:  Thank you, Father, for the food.  One child:  Amen.  Jim:  And thank you for bringing us to Ukraine.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  And thank you for each of these children.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  Help us today to please you.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  Thank you for being a great God.  Child:  Amen.  Jim:  Please help us to love each other.  Child:  Amen.   Jim:  And please help the children to be quiet so we can eat before the food gets cold.  Amen.  You get the idea.  By the end, they were telling each other to hush.  I am happy to say that they are doing very well with being quiet during prayer time now.

We left Ukraine on Tuesday, April 15, and arrived home early Wednesday morning, April 16.  On our way to Ukraine, we flew with a Russian airlines and didn’t understand anything the whole way there.  We decided that we needed the language advantage on the way home, so we flew British Airways.  A friend from church had booked a rental car for us, so we drove home from New York City, arriving around 3:15 a.m.  It was a wonderful reunion with our children at home.  We were so happy to see them all and introduce them in person to their new siblings.  We had been away for 7-1/2 weeks, a couple of weeks longer than we had anticipated.

This is a brief summary of our trip.  In my next post I will introduce you to our children and post some pictures of our time in Ukraine.