Sunday, November 6, 2011

Last Day in Latvia

It's hard to believe I'm finally writing about this is true that the longer you wait the harder it is to remember. But thankfully I took ridiculous amounts of photos and have the young minds of my kids to help me remember.  I find myself in a VERY rare moment of having no one in the house but my little one fast asleep so thought I would try to knock out this post...and then all there is left is traveling home, which is a long post in and of itself.

The last day in Latvia posed a few challenges for us...there was much to be done and only one day left to do it in.  We had really tried to make a vacation and enjoy ourselves and suddenly we found ourselves needing to go back to Spriditis for the rest of J's things, say goodbye to the orphan director there, pick up Visas at the Embassy, get our painting shipped and meet up with the daughter of our friends who we were escorting back to America for them.  And to make things really interesting we slept a little late too!  Shocker I know!

Oh, and I forgot that I had promised to get a cell phone for our friends who would be traveling soon and go ahead and get it to their daughter in Riga so they could contact her.  I was up at a decent hour and quickly got my shower.  Gary decided to finish up what was in the fridge and thought a good breakfast of our last bit of traveling bacon (sounds like a follow up to the traveling pants), eggs, potatoes and toast would be in order for our last day here.  While he was cooking (remember we can only use one unit at a time so it took forever for the potatoes to fry) I decided to run on out to buy the cell phone and get started on the many things to be done. 

I remember it was a beautiful morning..crisp and cooler but sunny.  I went to the first suggested spot and they said to go across the street.  At the Narvesson (where they sent me) I could get the Goldfish for the phone but couldn't get the actually phone...they sent me a bit further to the Tele2 store.  As with everything in Latvia, you take a number and wait.  All the little tags telling you which number to pull from were in Latvian so I took my best guess and pulled a number and waited.  I had no book, no smart phone, nothing to occupy my time but people watching!  So that's what I did...there were about 20 of us waiting and I began to wonder about each of them and their story.  The young woman who looked so very "put together," the older woman who was obviously a businesswoman in her suit and smart looking jacket, the old couple - he needing a shave and she with her cute dress and tennis shoes on - wondering what their lives had been like over the past many years of occupations and war and changes. 

After about 45 minutes, my number came up on the little screen and I hurried up to the desk and quickly asked if she spoke English. The answer?  "of course!!"  In short order, I asked for the right phone, gave her my Goldfish.  She activated it and I told her I needed it to be able to accept incoming International calls...she pushed lots of buttons and said ok..all set.  I paid and hurried out and back to the apartment. 

I miss Riga...I can still remember the way the sun felt glaring that morning as I realized it was after 10am and we needed to get on our way, yet taking the time to enjoy the views around me.  The flower market as I walked back, the grouping of students on the corner doing a small version of a flash mob and the not so good views too...of the beggars on the Russian Orthodox church steps. 

When I got  back, breakfast was ready.  We ate and everyone got ready and we tried to map out the day.  The dilemna?  Kemeri was a 1 hour train ride outside the city...the train left a 11:30am and we were definitely not going to make it.  I needed to be at the Embassy no later than 3pm because we were meeting our friend's daughter no later than 4pm. And that meant I needed to catch the 2:15pm train back to Riga from Kemeri (remember that 1 hour train ride?).  So, you do the math...there was no time for me to go...yet I couldn't leave Latvia without saying goodbye to the friends at Spriditis! 

We quickly got ready and called our cab driver from before to see if we could get a ride to Kemeri.  He was happy to oblige as we were a pretty decent cab fare...and I was looking forward to the children getting to see the road trip version out there...and in the cab, it was only about 40 minutes.  He picked us up and off we went.  We arrived to Spriditis and J took off...he wanted to go over to the school and say goodbye to all his teachers and friends there.  It was a little weird since  he didn't really want us to come along...but he's 15...and isn't that normal?  I often embarrass the ones I've had for much longer ;-)

E ran off with M&M to play on the playground and Gary and I went in to find our wonderful Orphan Director and visit for a moment.  We had a few more gifts to give out as well so once we found them we started with hugs, pictures, tears and gratitude for sticking with us and working so hard to help us get both of our boys.  And she had a gift for me!  A photo book of Latvia and a book of Old Riga...wonderful memories of our amazing trip.  They are truly amazing people at Spriditis!  The hour passed so quickly and we had to hurry off to the train.  I gave final hugs and promised we'd be back in November or so.  We all walked to the playground together and took more photos of all of them with E.  Then the we had to practically run to the train station to make sure we made the 2:15pm train. 

Without J with us, I muddled through buying tickets there and accidentally bought one too many.  She thought five of us were heading back and there were only four.  It was very emotional getting on the train from Kemeri station one last time...I know we'll be back twice more, but it was very odd to be there and be leaving three of my family there while me, the girls and E headed back.  Something about the finality of it just seemed weird.

We didn't realize about the extra ticket til we'd made the train and the ticket person came around...she asked me where the fifth pantomime of course.  I held onto the ticket...and then at one stop, realized someone had jumped on the train and was sitting on the steps and not coming in.  It dawned on me, this person was most likely either homeless or just couldn't afford to pay to ride the train.  When the ticket lady came around again, I gave her my ticket and asked her if she could just delight someone during the day who needed to buy a ticket...give them one for free.  She looked at me like I was crazy...and I said "gift...make someone happy?"  She laughed sweetly, thanked me and said "I try!"

That is something I notice continually about the people of Latvia...they are very kind, wonderfully sweet people.  But they aren't used to getting something with no strings attached.  Things that are kindnesses "just because"...these are foreign to them.  Yet it is truly delightful to be the one on the giving end of these interactions.

As we neared Riga, I began to get anxious and felt as if we were on the Amazing Race.  We deboarded the train and made our way to find a cab since it was already after 3pm.  We had switched our time to meet our friend's daughter to 4:30 or so.  We found a cab and made sure he knew where the new Embassy was and then conveyed we needed to go there and he needed to wait please.  It was supposed to be a quick run in and pick them up visit.  And it kind of was except it took nearly half an hour inside.  When I was in there it was so cool to be present when another Latvian family I'd met on FB was in there picking up her daughter's final packet declaring her a US was wonderful to get to see that happening!  Tears and happiness just all the way around.

After our number finally came up, I hurried back out and found a very antsy cab driver waiting there...but wait he did!  He hurried us back to Elizabetes iela and we quickly grabbed our painting to try and find the post office.  As we walked back towards Freedom Monument I was thinking we just didn't have time to handle this before meeting our friend's daughter.  We did finally find the PO and waited briefly...then we gave up and ran to meet her by Cili Pica (our hangout).  She's adoreable!  And she immediately hits it off with our girls.  She gives quick hugs and goodbyes to her foster mom and then she has to run.

We quickly head back to the PO and wait again.  They get to us pretty quickly and they seem shocked that I want to mail this painting.  The clerk (thanks to Em and her translating skills) tells me it will be 27 lats...and yes that's expensive but it's better than leaving the painting behind and it's also a lot cheaper than it cost to ship the other direction!  We wait and wait while she packages and wraps the painting...and I say a little prayer to please let it get home safely.  Finally we are done and we head on to the next errand!

We take our additional girl's things back to the apartment, get everyone a sweatshirt since it is getting cooler and then run out again.  I wanted to get over to Old Town as there were a few quick things I had wanted to  pick up for home.  After renting everyone bikes again, we headed quickly to Old Town...picked up some pottery, a matching bag like my daughters' got and hurried to the souvenir shop where I had seen these cute dangling rings...I got one for each of the girls.  From there it felt like we could breathe...and it was getting late.

We rode bikes back to the canal and I sat on the banks while they rode around a bit more.  It was starting to rain so we headed back, turned in our bikes and walked back over to the apartment.  I started packing right away because it then dawned on me, "we're leaving in less than 24 hours!"

Dinner was whatever was left in the apartment...which wasn't a whole lot...but enough to fill our bellies and save a dollar.  The boys finally made it back rather late and had enjoyed a really nice afternoon.  They had wrapped things up at Spriditis and taken the bus to Kauguri where J's grandfather lives.  Gary got to look at old photos, visit with grandfather, take more photos and J got to say goodbye.  Then they took the train to Majori and the boys enjoyed the coffee shop with the little Russian lady before heading back to us.

After settling in, getting everyone some dinner, we had Circle Time to help us refocus for the next day...the day we would actually leave.  We were ready to come home...but we knew too how hard it all was for J.  And honestly, I've said it before, I love Latvia.  Thinking back on that night, I remember feeling bittersweet.  Soooooo ready to get home to our family, both immediate and church, our pets, our food!! and Diet Mountain Dew LOL...but knowing I would miss this place. 

Prayers and bedtime and then on to travel day...which takes a post all on it's own.

I wrap up this post on Sunday, November 6...which is National Orphan Sunday.  I am so grateful God opened our eyes to how He wanted us to serve Him in serving orphans.  We had a great day today worshipping and sharing in church...and I urge all of you to find the way you can get involved.  Yes, it is 147million kids strong of an issue...and how do we fix it?  One child at a time.  Find where He wants you to be...but above all, do SOMETHING.  Don't just sit by with pity...that isn't what they need and that won't help the situation. 

And as I shared this morning that God just laid on my heart in the middle of church today...God showed us how to get involved and our family was meant to adopt.  But to be very clear, orphans do not live in our home.  Our children live here; our kids have come home.  Once we answered the call for Him, our sons became orphans no more. 

And I challenge all of you, please be ready to say yes.  Your child may be out there somewhere, waiting for you to get out of your comfort zone and find him or her.  You wouldn't leave your biological child waiting.  So if you feel even slightly that God is calling you to take that step, please don't hesitate. 

If it is meant to be, He will make the way.  And if it isn't meant to be, He'll shut the door.  But that's His call isn't it? 

Friday, November 4, 2011

September 13...Visas

Tuesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week.  And how fitting that today, on a Tuesday, I'll be writing about a Tuesday nearly a month ago.  Tuesdays are now my Saturdays and I start my day early by choice.  I get to make breakfast for all five of my kids, pack lunches for four of them and my hubby and then spend my day getting things done and playing school with J.  I laughed when I told him I used to LOVE to play school when I was a kid...and he was a much better student than my stuffed animals!

But today, on this Tuesday, I'll share about THAT Tuesday...

Embassy interviews for Visas are required for adoptive families...we weren't sure what to expect but our appointment was at 11am and we had seven to get to the Embassy which was a little distance away.  Thanks to a friend on Facebook, we'd been given the advice to head to one of the bigger hotels and we would find a minivan kind of taxi.  So after being up a little early, getting everyone ready, we headed over to the Radisson Blu in search of a taxi. 

We found one straightaway and asked if he could take us to the US Embassy...important to note it had moved since March and we needed to be certain he understood where exactly the new location was.  I asked if he spoke English...yes we had J with us but often I wondered if he got tired of being our translator - Moms and Dads are supposed to make these arrangements, you know?  He did (he said) and said he understood.  I told him we needed to be there at 11am and he said ok ok, I pick you up there.  And pointed to the sidewalk.  10:30am came...and 10:35am and I began to get worried maybe he thought I said we needed to LEAVE at I sent Gary and J off to find him and make sure he understood.  No he had not!  Thankfully he was willing and able to load us up quickly and shoot off to the Embassy.

We arrived just in time, paid him and asked for his number to have him come back and get us.  Daina, our attorney, was waiting for us outside the security entrance.  She's like a security see her and all is right with the world!  This was old hat for Gary and me but the first time for all the kids.  As we went in, it's very cool to realize you are entering US Territory...ahhhhhh, home sweet home! 

I related the story to the kids when I was in college and went on my study tour to France.  I remember we visited the cemetery at Normandy where the French gave the US land to bury our dead there..our professor called out as we pulled into the area "Ladies and gentlemen you are now on US soil!" and one smart aleck student said "Great!  Can you run by my house and pick up my socks!  I'm cold!!"

So back to security you have to leave cameras, cell phones and anything with software like flash drives etc.  Gary had asked me to put his phone in my bag to make sure it didn't get hurt going through the xray.  As we got to the other side, I gave them the Latvian phone and my phone and camera...and we passed on through.  The grounds there are really pretty.  From the outside and on the street, it is a very non-descript building, yellowish in color and not very stately.  The streets leading up to it make you feel like you're going somewhere way off the beaten path.  But once you get through security, there's lovely plants and sitting areas and the guards are very very nice.  J commented as we walked through that a boy in Kemeri had helped with the landscaping there.  These kids are taught at an early age the importance of working and of doing a job well.

Passing through one more area of security and metal detection, we were directed to our waiting area where American TV and magazines were prolific.  It was a good bit larger than the last Embassy with four windows of interviewers.  It's very interesting that there isn't a private room or any place to "step away" simply walk up to the window.  After a relatively short wait, we were called up.  We were expecting a little more questioning and such but the only thing she wanted to be certain we understood was that J could not under any circumstances attend school while on this Visa.

I of course wanted to debate this a bit as it has been a point of contention among many of us.  How many people attend school illegally and yet, we are bringing them home legally and they can't go?  I also gave full disclosure about E's school to be sure there were no challenges there.  Thankfully since his is considered rehabilitative then he is fine.  She didn't appreciate the debating too much and simply continued smiling kindly and said, you understand about J right?  We waited and waited and then she said we were approved and we could pick everything up the next day.

As we headed out to security to pick up our things, Daina and I lagged behind chatting.  Gary and the kids had walked on ahead.  We got there and Gary was asking about his phone, insisting I had turned it in for him.  It was nowhere to be I looked in my bag and yep, we had broken a pretty big rule and smuggled a cell into the Embassy...oops!  The guards were very kind and I promised to behave.

We were pretty excited as we headed out and when we got well outside and headed toward where we would wait for our taxi, I wanted to take a photo...well wouldn't you know a very stern guard came out of nowhere and fussed at me in Latvian and then said "Photo...NO!"  I apologized and we quickly moved as far away as we could to wait for our cab. 

Daina had asked us to go to see the ladies at the Welfare Ministry...we had met them over the summer when they were in the States but they had also worked very hard and been hoping for a family for little they really wanted to see us while we were there.  We had our cab take us over and marched all seven of us up to the very top floor to have tea, coffee and sweets together.  We met these three women who are responsible for organizing the referrals for all our kids...three women who make it all happen for families all over the place!  What a wonderful time together as we visited, sipped tea, talked about E and J and how things were going, learned about their very refined ;-)  We spent about an hour with them and snapped some quick photos.

We realized as we left that we weren't that far from our apartment so we simply walked back to finally get changed and relax for a bit.  But only for a minute!  We'd been made aware that J had forgotten to sign one document when we were at Orphan Court the day before.  Gary was still fighting a head cold so, realizing we really had no other time to do so, we decided that J and I and anyone else who wanted to go would head out to Dubulti on the train and get that handled and then stop by the little kiosk I had wanted to buy soaps from before heading back. 

Typing this now, it sounds like oh so much!  We really were busy all the time...our choice of course.  A little more of the disease I deal with daily of not being able to just sit around. 

So, hop the train we did!  Marleigh and Mae wanted to go along and Zach and Dad stayed back with E.  We decided we should get off at Majori, rent more bikes and ride them to Dubulti.  That's exactly what we was chilly and overcast and starting to mist a bit.  But it sure felt nice!  Riding bikes that far, at least a mile or more to the court house, it felt like something we'd been doing our whole lives.  We all waited outside while J ran in to sign his papers and then we took off and headed back to Majori. 

We found our soap lady and bought one of each flavor!  The challenge is going to be deciding what to give away and what to keep!  I had planned that we would be back there before Christmas so this was meant to be just one part of our Christmas presents for friends and it might be all they get!

After our soaps, we continued down the cobblestones, stopping and shopping at a few more places along the way.  I wanted to see the sea one more time so we rode up there and just sat for a little while.  On the way back, we stopped in a Russian antique shop...wish I'd bought something there!  We had a train to catch though, so we hurried back and checked our bikes back in.  There was still a bit of time, so we went into the coffee shop located inside the train station there. 

This was our spot when we were there in March...Gary really liked the coffee from the Russian lady there.  J wanted to buy some sweets and a pastry or two and the girls wanted an ice cream. I got a coffee and a Honey Cake and again, it just felt so we were there just yesterday.  I remembered how when we were there in March, it was so bitterly cold and now, chilly but not so cold...and yet, warmed the soul just the same.  I remembered sitting there and chatting with J about hurrying home and now, here we were just two days away from going home...all of us together!

Finally the train came and we boarded and headed back.  It had been so chilly and it felt so good to get settled in and just enjoy the ride.  Funny, this was one excursion they convinced me not to take my camera with me and I told them there was definitely going to be a moment where we wished we had it.  Thankfully I did have my iPhone so I snapped a few with that, including a beautiful shot of the sun breaking through the low hanging clouds.

Once we got back to the apartment, we ate what was there, and got ready for bed.  It had been a long day and we were realizing we had a lot to accomplish in our last full day of Latvia. 

Another glimpse as to how crazy our lives are now...not crazy in a bad way, but busy!  I started this entry about three weeks ago and now here I am on a Friday night at 11:20pm finishing it.  And the sad part is that there is SOOO much I could and should have shared on all that has transpired over the past 1 1/2 months home. 

As I posted a few weeks ago, it just gets better every day.  I love the talks, the learning, the growing by ALL of us...melding us into a family.  I can't wait to get all the rest of the paperwork done and REALLY settle in...but for now, it's nice to try and simply live.  Every day, getting more and more settled.

Last day in Latvia...coming soon!