Wow, two weeks from today ... I leave two weeks from today! It hardly seems real yet even though I check and recheck my various lists. Lists of clothing for me and for Elizabeth, lists of dossier documents and other paperwork that I am to bring with me, lists of baby equipment like bottles,nipples, formula, lists of gifts to bring for the people in Siberia who will help make this adoption happen.
Perhaps part of the reason it seems unreal is that is seems like deja vu. It has been just about a year since I made the first adoption travel lists. My husband, Bob, and I are the proud parents of Emma Joy YuanMeng who was adopted in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China on 6/24/96.We are now preparing to bring home a little sister for Emma. Elizabeth Anastasia is waiting in Surgut, Khanty-Mansyiisk, Russia to become part of our family.
There are many things about the two trips that will be the same,and probably just as many that will be different. When I compare what I know at this point I am tempted to say "same process, different country"but already I know that it will seem very different. The most obvious difference is our adoption agency. They have been wonderful about letting us know what to do when and how to go about it. We were among the last of the families allowed to adopt independently in China. There was nobody to ask questions of except other families who had already come home with their children. After talking to some of them and reading everything we could find, we submitted our dossier directly to the Ministry of Justice in Beijing. People are always amazed when I tell them that. The response is invariably, "You just asked the Chinese government for a baby??" I laugh,feeling slightly embarrassed somehow, and say "Yes, we did!"
Traveling in China was quite an adventure done independently. My husband was unable to travel because of recent back surgery, so I went to Asia accompanied by a girlfriend. Two American women landed in Hong Kong,then Guangzhou, and Nanchang, knowing only how to say "Hello" and "Thank you" in Chinese! The people we met during those twelve days were wonderful,almost without exception. If we stood somewhere looking lost or confused,someone would approach us to help. If they spoke no English, they would signal us to wait and soon reappear with someone who did.
I have learned a little more Russian than Chinese. I can greet people appropriately any time of the day, can say "Please", "Thank you",You're Welcome", "Excuse me" and a few other useful phrases. I will travel with a group of five families, two of whom I have talked with both on the telephone and via e-mail, so although Bob will be staying home with Emma, I don't feel as if I am going alone, or with strangers. Because the agency does the travel planning once I arrive in Russia, I know the names of the translators and coordinators who will meet me at the airport in Moscow and make sure I get where I am going and know what to do once I get there. I expect it to be no less of an adventure, just one with fewer uncertainties.
The process to adopt Emma took fifteen months from end to end.Things have progressed much more quickly for Elizabeth's adoption. I willbe home with her in under six months from the time we applied to our agency. As soon as I realized how quickly things were moving I started looking through my file on the China trip, knowing that I had saved my packing list for Emma to have someday along with plane ticket stubs, Cathay Pacific in-flight menus, etc. The first thing that had to change was the clothing to take. Southern China in June is a far cry from Western Siberian mid-April! Shorts and bathing suits quickly became long johns and turtlenecks. I have heard many tales of buildings being overheated during the colder months so I did leave on pair of shorts on the list to be worn while relaxing in our hotel room.
The hotels we stayed in during our China trip rivaled some of the wonderful places I have stayed over the years from Washington D.C. to Hawaii. From what I have read and been told, the hotels I will stay in during my Russia trip will more resemble the boarding houses I have stayed in during weekend camps with our church youth group. Most folks recommend that you expect to be "camping indoors". The water situation is the same in both countries - don't drink anything from the tap and keep your mouth closed in the shower. The water is clear in China which makes it very easy to forget, especially when you are brushing your teeth. In Russia the water is brown so I have purchased a camping water filter. In both countries,bottled water is readily available but in Russia it is frequently salty and carbonated, so I will be filtering and boiling my own while in Siberia. I am also taking a couple of bath towels and rolls of toilet paper to cater to my American tastes in those items!
Food in China was wonderful, especially if you are an adventurous eater. I have lived on the east coast, in the southwest, and in Hawaii, so I have been exposed to the cuisines of many different cultures. I really enjoyed the variety to be found in China. I am looking forward to learning something about Russian cuisine next. Blini, caviar, borscht, what else? I feel woefully uneducated in so many things Russian. As I did for the China trip, I am packing some food to be eaten in the hotel room ... oatmeal and baby rice cereal for those mornings that Elizabeth and I don't feel like facing the world first thing, (coffee bags for me!), granola bars and instant ramen noodles for other times. I hope to see and experiences hopping for food in Russia. It has been described to me as a very limited commodity and it is one of the things I want to be able to tell Elizabeth about when she is older.
I pack in large ziplocs in an effort to keep the suitcase organized. The ziploc of medications I took to China is sitting in the closet in our upstairs bath. I will inventory its contents and replenish them where needed. Many of the things I took to China I never used but wouldn't be willing to go without. I expect the same to be true for Russia.Western medicine is quite a bit different and I am comforted knowing that I can treat most run-of-the-mill illnesses Elizabeth and I are likely to have. My little portable medicine chest does include a few exotic items like Elimite for unwanted itchy hitchhikers, but most of the items are those found in the average family's collection.
Gifts are the hardest things for me to decide upon. Buying for people I have never met and really don't know anything about is difficult.I have read the lists of suggestions compiled by those who have gone before me and am hoping to arrive with items that are appropriate and which the recipient does not already have a closet full of. Last year I traveled with Yankee baseball hats and t-shirts. Little did I know when I bought them in May that the Yanks would go on to win the World Series! I am working even harder at keeping things as light as possible this time since I will have to carry all of the luggage myself. Small and lightweight are the order of the day for my Russian trip.
Just before I departed for China, Bob and I acquired a video camera. Six reels of film were shot for the trip, beginning with the luggage being loaded in the car at home. After our return we kept shooting and just before the holidays I edited some 12 hours of tape down to about two hours and sent our story on video to friends and family who live too far away to be able to see Emma. That tape met rave reviews and I am still duplicating it upon request.
I have agonized over taking that camera to Russia and, thanks to one of the other families I will travel with, have decided reluctantly, to leave it behind. They, having the advantage of four hands,will video tape the whole trip, including anything I request, and make me a copy upon our return to the U.S. I will carry a still camera and record as much as possible that way. It will not be the same, but I just can't see how I can manage Elizabeth (who I know from the latest video does not have good head control) and a video camera too.
There is also the crime issue to consider. Westerners are very safe in China and can be careless with their belongings without too much to fear. That is not the case in Russia and I would not expect to find the camera where I had left it if I didn't carry it along each and every time we left the room. I will miss it most of all for the journal I had planned to keep on video. I found that my good intentions of writing in my journal every day in China soon fell by the wayside and had hoped to keep a better record of thoughts, feelings, and events on tape.
Lists, lists, lists. They are interwoven in my mind with the dreams of my youngest daughter and the mental pictures I always carry of her big sister. So, too, will things Chinese and Russian become a part of our American way of life. We have decided to celebrate "Little Christmas"next year as well as Chinese New Year. We are truly becoming an international family with this journey. I have every hope of coming home as enamored of Russia and its people as I am of China and the Chinese. Both are a very welcome addition to our family life.
© Tonya D. Neuweiler