In April 1993, my husband and I had just completed our adoption of Guatemalan-born Marina, and we were settling in as a family. Little did poor Sean know that I was already researching our second adoption! I knew that it would be at least a year before we could get started due to the costs involved in mounting the adventure a second time, but I began researching agencies and programs. This time, I was determined to find a program that would be affordable, i.e., about $10,000 not including travel expenses. Sean and I had a few brief discussions on the subject, and although we decided we wanted a son, and that he should be between the ages of 1 and 2 years, we left the other factors up to fate.
I must have read the I.C.C.C.'s 1994 Report on Foreign Adoptions one hundred times, and called and/or written to 25 agencies by mid-1994. I combed through the information, isolating possible programs and countries that fit what we were looking for. And everything I saw was discouraging.It seemed that it would be at least two more years before we could afford a second adoption. I called and spoke with Hemlata that summer about my frustration, and she told me that Bal Jagat (Chatsworth, CA) was beginning its Romanian program at about the same time I called her. The children were healthy, in the right age frame for us, and the cost was one we could handle. Fate had struck again!
Our home study was completed in November 1994, and we gathered the paperwork that was required by Romania. I was surprised and relieved at how simple the requirements were compared to those of Guatemala. We didn't have to stand in line at the Romanian Embassy here in the U.S., or deal with translations and other problems. We were still gathering our paperwork when we received a call from Barbara Kappos, the local coordinator of the Romanian program. She told us that a young boy was available from one of the three orphanages with which Bal Jagat was working. Were we interested?Of course we were, and we rushed our paperwork to Romania as we awaited a picture from the orphanage. But at Christmas, his mother decided to reclaim him from the orphanage, and he was no longer available for adoption.
Undaunted, we told Barbara to keep looking. And about six weeks later, we had a picture of the child that was to become our son Andrew. We learned what little information was available, and decided almost immediately that the one year old would be ours. A couple more months went by while I waited for word of when I should travel. When that word came, I was so excited. Sean was unable to travel, and I originally planned to travel alone. Three weeks before I was set to leave, my mother-in-law asked if she could accompany me to Romania. I was grateful for her decision, and was happy to share the experience with her. I would be leaving two days before her, and promised her that I would be at the airport with her grandson on the day she was to arrive.
The flight to Romania in late April was long and uneventful. The Delta flight left LAX over two hours late, and I was fearful that I would miss the connecting flight from Frankfort, Germany. There was only one flight per day into Bucharest, Romania, and I was to travel to Brasov to pick up Andrew the day after I was set to arrive. If I missed that connection in Frankfort, it would throw off the entire timetable. To make matters worse, the usual tailwinds to Germany were headwinds, and we arrived even later than expected. Fortunately, the Vienna flight was held for our arrival, and so I landed in Romania as scheduled, about 16 hours after leaving LAX.
I arrived at the Bucharest Otopeni Airport at about 6:00 p.m., and after explaining that I was in the country to visit friends, and would be staying in a private apartment, I was granted permission to enter for ten days. (Americans do not have to pay for a visa to enter the country, so don't stand in the visa line--proceed directly to what is called Passport Control.) The man behind the window who issued permission to enter Romania was unfailingly polite, and spoke Romanian, German, French and English.After dragging my luggage out to the main area of the airport (I had not changed money, so I could not rent a luggage cart) I was greeted by ViviIliescu, her daughter Magda and Dan, our driver. Dan took the luggage and Magda, and I rode into the city with Vivi. I was immediately comfortable with Vivi, a warm and wonderful woman who made my stay there easier than I had ever expected. She watched over us like a mother hen, calling each night to check on us, unfailingly negotiating the Romanian bureaucracy, and making the experience as enjoyable and simple as possible.
I had trouble sleeping that night due to the excitement of the trip, and the knowledge that the next morning we would be traveling to Brasov to meet Andrew. The apartment I was staying in had large french windows overlooking the quiet street, and I opened the windows wide and listened to the wind blowing through the trees.
When I next opened my eyes, it was 7:00 a.m. Vivi and Dan arrived at 10:00 a.m., and we set off for Brasov. It was a long, winding three hour drive in each direction. We left the plains of Bucharest after one hour,and began climbing into the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.Bucharest had been sunny and warm, with the countryside cherry trees in bloom. As we began our climb, the warm sunny conditions were replaced with a chilly breeze and very little green vegetation. Brasov, with its medieval town center surrounded by dreary concrete block-style buildings, was sunny and pleasant. We drove down several narrow, brick-paved alleyways, and parked in front of the orphanage.
As we entered, we were met at the door by an assistant, who escorted us into a small room. We were brought a small pot of Turkish-style coffee, and we waited for the assistant to return. I was shaking from nervousness, although I kept reminding myself that I had done this once before! The assistant returned, paperwork was quickly reviewed by she and Vivi, and then she left again. Finally, she came back into the room holding Andrew. My first thought was "he is so much smaller than we had been told,"and my second thought was "he looks so hungry." And hungry he was. But he was happy and friendly, and after changing him into clothes I had brought with me (which were too big), we left the orphanage. He had his first meal with me at a small country inn restaurant an hour out of Brasov, and he then slept the rest of the way into Bucharest.
That first night was rough. We did not have a crib, (or a car seat or a highchair, and there are none available for rent) and I was afraid to have Andrew sleep in bed with me for fear he would fall. Andrew had been kept in his crib most of his short life, and he spent that first night trying to crawl around the bedroom, rocking and crying himself to sleep,then awakening to struggle, rock and cry some more. If I held him he would stop crying as long as I held him upright, but if I tried to lay him down,he would start the cycle again. I had read about children that had been institutionalized, and knew that rocking was a common calming device. But I was still concerned. The next morning, he was so hungry. He wolfed down whatever I would feed him, and then cry when the bowl was empty. It was heartbreaking, and this kind of behavior lasted for weeks. It was three weeks before the rocking stopped, and another week or so before he slowed down during meals enough to look around while he was eating!
The following morning was Andrew's appointment for the U. S.Embassy's required medical exam. The hospital was barren and almost frightening by American standards, but the doctor who examined him and drew blood for testing was caring and considerate. That evening we met my mother-in-law at the airport, and spent the next week or so sightseeing,exploring Bucharest. All the while, Vivi was arguing with the passport authorities, struggling to complete the paperwork and calling us twice a day to make sure we were doing alright. Another medical appointment to pickup the completed paperwork, and another additional wait for the passport,and finally it was time to visit the U.S. Embassy for Andrew's visa. The workers at the Embassy in Bucharest were polite and friendly, and took a genuine interest in Andrew and his background. The interview, including waiting time, was less than 1 hour, unlike the process in Guatemala, which required two visits and an interminable wait each time.
The only problem arose when we discovered, on the day before we were to leave, that we needed a visa for Andrew to land in Germany long enough to change planes. We raced to the German Embassy, and learned that we had just enough time to apply for and receive the visa. The problem: the embassy insisted we pay for the visa in Deutschmarks. But to change Romanian lei or U.S. dollars into Deutschmarks, we needed a Romanian passport. I didn't have one, Vivi's purse had been stolen the week before so she didn't have one, and Andrew's had been left at the German Embassy to complete the entry visa! After visiting four money changing places, and begging and pleading, we finally found someone willing to change the money into Deutschmarks. We rushed back to pick up the visa, and Andrew and I were set to leave.
And leave we did, on a cold, rainy morning at 7:00 a.m. I was sad to leave Vivi and Magda, but I was told they will be visiting the U.S.again soon. Dan is not so lucky, though. As he is unmarried, and only employed part-time, the U.S. government will not issue him a visa to visit,for fear that he might not return to Romania.
When I compare our two adoption experiences, I must conclude that Andrew's Romanian adoption was smoother, involved less of a wait, and was overall easier than our daughter Marina's Guatemalan adoption.Interestingly, I felt more comfortable in Guatemala as I was able to better understand the language, and I knew that if anything went truly wrong, I was only 5 hours away from my husband and parents. In Romania, it would have taken two days to get help if it was needed. But everyone involved in the Romanian adoption process did their jobs correctly and timely, and Vivi was an absolutely perfect host/facilitator. She was friendly, helpful and great company.
Some tips for those of you who will be traveling to Romania. Take jars of baby food and boxes of age-appropriate cereal. Cereal can be purchased, but it is expensive. Jars of baby food, however, are non-existent. We ran out of baby food, and bought vegetables to cook and mash. Milk is readily available, as is juice. I would bring all the diapers and wipes you think you will need. Tissue and nice-quality toilet paper are also great. Things like paper towels, foil and plastic wrap are impossible to find. There are only one or two stores even close to being similar to our supermarkets, but there are many small shops and open-air markets where you can purchase beautiful fresh vegetables, flowers, fruits, meats and bread. The bread is fantastic, and the purple tulips were the most exotic I have ever seen! We stayed in an apartment that had a microwave, a stove and an oven, so we ate many of our meals there.
Try not to travel alone. Ask your spouse, or a friend, or your dad to go with you. It does increase the cost, but it is a relief to have someone there who can help you over the inevitable rocky times, the crying jags, the jet lag, etc. Being alone in a foreign country with a small child can be overwhelming, and the feeling of isolation can be tough. My mother-in-law and I would put Andrew to bed at 7:00 p.m., then watch old movies on TNT, or "C.H.I.P."s re-runs that were broadcast in English on cable TV. And it was reassuring to know that we could be almost halfway around the world and still watch a lousy movie of the week in English!
Generally, the restaurants are disappointing, and tend to serve pizza, pork dishes, and odd sandwiches made with some kind of meat, french fries, mustard, pickles and ketchup rolled in a pita bread. Tasty, but salty! It is hard to find traditional Romanian food, but insist that you be taken to at least one true Romanian restaurant, like Caru Cu Bere. There is also a wonderful Chinese restaurant at a classy hotel, Nan Jing, and Iwas able to continue my quest of eating Chinese food in every foreign country I have visited--three in all at this point. Taxis are everywhere and reasonably affordable. Things to see include the Village and Folk Art Museum (an outdoor museum), Cismigui Gardens, and the area around Piate Revolutiei (Revolutionary Plaza).
We dressed casually most of the time, and comfortable shoes are a must for city exploration. We spent hours each day roaming around the city.We were never harassed, or stared at, and the people tend to be reserved but polite. Most college students and younger Romanians are very friendly,and will stop and engage you in conversation if they hear you speaking English. A good guidebook is invaluable, but don't believe what they say about bringing dollar bills and cigarettes for tips and bribes. I came home with 47 one dollar bills, and left the cigarettes with the apartment owner as a gift! And don't change too much money at any one time. I do not think that we spent more than $15 per day in meals, shopping taxis, etc., and ended up with about $30 dollars worth of lei that could not be exchanged back into dollars. There are many money changing places, some open on Sunday, with varying rates. I advise changing money daily to avoid the problem of having too much lei at the end of your trip.
Andrew has been home with us since early May, and gained 7 pounds in the first 3 months. He began crawling that first day we were together,and walked about 5 weeks later. The circles under his eyes are gone, and he now takes the time to chew before he swallows--of course, the addition of all his teeth has helped! He is a sunny, cheerful little toddler, with blond hair, brown eyes, and a smile that breaks your heart.
© Vanessa R. Comerford