Friday, May 11, 2007

We had difficulty trying to post a blog last Monday due to an old breaking-down computer system at the internet café in Kiev. Then there were other problems preventing a successful posting on Wednesday. But here is the latest, the first part of which was sent in a letter to family to inform them of our impending arrival in the US.

Monday, 7 April 2007

Good news!! We got the children's visas this morning and have arranged to fly home on Tuesday. The scheduled arrival is 10:19 pm on Delta flight 631. Susan, Natalie and Jennifer went to the embassy after we received a call informing us things were ready for completion there because they had a couple of things to take care of in town and I wanted to remain behind to call Delta to re-schedule our reservations and add the children's. Besides, we had been told last Friday that only one parent needed to pick the visas. When they arrived at the embassy, however, they learned that the signatures of both parents were required. Meanwhile, I had failed to get as far as a Delta agent on the phone. So the boys and I caught a taxi and everything worked out fine at the embassy (amazing!). We left in exultation needing only to work with Delta. We would grab lunch to celebrate and then I would call. Just before we boarded the subway I asked Susan to give me credit card she was carrying so I could use it to pay for the reservations. The subway was packed and I was the last person on. We were to get off at the first stop. Just as the doors opened I realized that my wallet was missing. The perpetrator was out and invisible in the masses. Natalie called the police to report it. We headed for an internet café so I could get the phone numbers to report the two stolen credit cards. I reported them stolen and called Delta to set up reservations. Susan and I had each brought a credit card to use if necessary. Up to that point they had been needed. On the last day, just before their need, they were gone and unusable. We attempted to use another credit card left at home, but if the tickets are paid for within 5 days of departure it is required to present the actual card with identification. We spent the next several hours trying to make arrangements to get money here. It was not working out in time, so I called my dear mother who is bailing us out. Regardless, we are happy and excited to be on our way. We thank all - family and friends for untiring support and prayers. It has not been easy, but it has been good. There have been miracles along the way. We are certain there are more in store. Yet there are many challenges ahead, especially for the children. They are concerned about the language and making friends. We know the people on the other end and feel confident that the children will be in good hands in the family, the ward, and hopefully at school. THANKS AGAIN AND OUR LOVE TO ALL!!!

Tuesday, 8 April 2007

We were picked up by Vladimir and a taxi driver at 7:30 am to go to the airport. The Delta office in the airport was about 4-feet square. The computer system was of about the same vintage as its counterpart in the downtown Kiev office, with an added feature of the printer’s inoperability. After about 45 minutes the agent was still unable to print the tickets. Since yesterday Susan had encouraged me to stop asking what else could go wrong. Nevertheless, I continued to wonder. Finally, another agent escorted us through the initial security gate to the passport check area where tickets could hopefully be printed.

It was at this point that the umbilical cord between Natalie and the children was cut and we could again begin the process of communicating directly with them. Natalie was a well-trained and excellent translator. Whenever she heard English it was immediately translated and passed to the receiver, and the same with Ukrainian. However, she unwittingly became a crutch to the children when she was with us and the bond we had developed earlier as we were forced to communicate with them in some way had deteriorated. Almost immediately, the children sensed the change and began again to try to communicate with us in English.

By the time we got through the line to the passport check, to our tremendous relief our tickets were indeed printed and handed to us. To our amazement we made it through the passport check without a glitch. In fact, all went very smoothly from then on. But, we were nervous at the time and anxious to board the plane and make it to the other side of the Atlantic. Once we got that far, there would be many more options if something went wrong.

As each step was passed there was a collective sigh of relief. We made it through the check of our adoption papers and then through final security. If the plane actually took off we would stand a very good chance of crossing the Atlantic.

We were assigned seats together in one row. Jennifer and Toli had never flown and were nervous about how it would affect them. To our further relief, the plane did take off. After the initial surge upward, Jennifer looked at us and indicated that she had enjoyed that part of the ride. From then on we enjoyed a sense of family and unity. Reality was sinking in for the children and it seemed to be a pleasant one. Toli did admirably well in the eleven hours on the plane, considering his usual apparent inability to stay in one place for more than a few minutes.

Once we landed in New York, the children began reading aloud signs in English. There was a revival of joviality among us as we made rough attempts at the other’s language. As we were passing through security there like greased pigs I bumped into a friend from work returning from Europe with his wife. We passed pleasantly through immigration where the children became American citizens and then through customs. There was ample time to do what was necessary and make it to the departure gate in time.

The next stop was Atlanta. There would be no further rigor through which we had to pass. All was well. We had a short layover in Atlanta, but made it comfortably to the departure gate there without a rush. We met Justin and Jo Sorenson who had been in our ward. They would be on the same flight to SLC.

The flight arrived in SLC a half hour early. As we approached the escalator to descend to the baggage area we heard shrieks of excitement and claims of sightings from below. Almost of our immediate and extended family in the valley were there, along with Macbeths, Diddles, Dodges and Garretts, who all had adopted within the past year. There were welcome signs, balloons and calls to each of our new children. We were overwhelmed emotionally by the presence of so many. We exchanged hugs and thanked each one. The reunion there lasted probably over an hour. How sweet the feeling of being home!

We drove home, introduced the children to the home, especially their bedrooms, and unpacked. At about 1:30 am we all retired to our soft beds. The children had been worried about adjusting to the 9-hour time difference. After a little undecipherable (to us) discussion among themselves, the children settled down for the night.

Wednesday, 9 April 2007

We all arose fairly early in the morning to our new life together – at home. The children had adjusted to the time shift. Stan was shown how to operate the riding mower. We all worked in the yard, kicked the soccer ball around, and enjoyed getting to know one another through the day. I obtained a new driver’s license. We ate dinner that my sister, Cindi, had prepared. There is almost a sense of normalcy about it all. I will return to work tomorrow.

Already the trials of this forty days’ and forty nights’ adventure have been obscured by the long-awaited return home with these three heaven-sent gifts. In the long road ahead there will undoubtedly be rough spots. We will swerve to miss some and be rattled, jolted and thrown out of alignment by others. But we will make it – together, with the great family and friends around us -- with the Lord’s help.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

We learned Friday evening that the boys' visas had not been issued. So none of us could have left for home on Saturday.

We were very tired after the ordeal of Friday and slept in a bit on Saturday. Late Saturday morning we met the Dodges for a subway ride into the city for souvenir shopping. It was a beautiful day for being outdoors. After a few hours at the street market we all went to a Ukrainian kitchen restaurant and stuffed ourselves, especially the children. It was enjoyable watching them pick out what they wanted. We had no idea Stan and Toli could eat so much. And then they went back for more. Toli had a stomach ache Sunday morning. When we suggested it may have had something to do with the mass quantity he ate yesterday he said no one could get sick from such good food.

On our way home we stopped at a bookstore to let the children buy some books in Russian/Ukrainian. We got the entire set of Harry Potter books for a low price.

The Dodges had a very nice apartment here, including a washing machine. So they invited us over to do our laundry, watch a movie and help them consume their leftover food before they were to leave Sunday morning.

Sunday morning we stopped by to see the Dodges off on our way to church in the city center. It's nice to see somebody actually leave for home. We will check with the embassy in the morning to see if the children's visas are ready. If so, we will immediately make plans for a Tuesday departure. If not, we will have to abandon our Delta tickets and work with other airlines in order to return before the weekend.

Friday, May 4, 2007

We left for Kiev at 3:30 am today with high hopes but a pinch of reality. We arrived first at the medical center in Kiev for examinations of the children. We were first in line and hoped that fast would help us have an advantage at the US Embassy later. It worked to a point. We were first also at the embassy, but as expected things there were typically rough. They were willing to take us on a walk-in basis, but people with appointments had priority. They did review our case in the end and our paperwork was satisfactory. However, a new wrinkle was tossed at us of which no one in our camp was aware. That is, (anyone already cynical about government regulations, prepare to be more so) there is a stipulation that anyone 16 or older appying for a visa be checked for criminal background in the US before being granted a visa. This takes 24-48 hours to accomplish. So, our sweet Jennifer who has never been to the US must undergo this check! We may hear as early as Monday morning that she is clear or it could be Tuesday morning. We must wait for that report. Then we can make firm plans for our return.

So we are settled in our apartment on the left bank of the Dnipro River. It's convenient to the market, transportation and the internet. It has three rooms and sleeps six. Natalie also will be staying with us for the duration.

When I returned from the local Delta office frustrated at trying to look into options for travel next week, Jennifer had made delicious omelets for everyone. She's a gem.

We plan to relax and make the best of being here. It is considerably warmer that Sumy. We plan to do souvenir shopping tomorrow and find some activiy for the children - perhaps the circus.

We miss home, family and friends.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Thursday, Part B:

The children have their passports. We are leaving for Kiev at 3:30 am Friday and hope to complete everything there in one day. While it is possible, a lot of cooperation is required. Everybody is expected to cooperate except, ironically, the US Embassy. They are notoriously the most difficult; but it may work. Stay tuned. Jennifer is very excited. The boys are surely excited, but apparently less so than Jennifer. Susan and I are homesick and anxious to start our new life.
We received word Wednesday afternoon that Vladimir had successfully completed the business of obtaining new birth certificates for Dasha and Toli in Russia and was on his way back to Sumy, which is about a 17-hour drive. We now know that the children are ours, they all have new names that end in Peckham, and we will soon be traveling home together. Exactly when that will be is yet unknown. We are so relieved and grateful. Prayers have been answered all along the way. We are grateful for the tremendous support from family and friends.

On Wednesday the children shopped for cards for their group parents and the music teacher who all meant a great deal to them. We visited the school in the early evening hoping to catch the children’s friends who were to return from the 5-day holiday. Some were there; others had not yet returned. The children delivered the cards and gifts to their group parents. With Natalie’s help Susan and I visited with Valentina, Dasha’s and Stan’s group Mom, about the children’s strengths and weaknesses.

We have felt that our children here have been watched over by Heavenly Father and that part of that was their being placed in the group led by Valentina and Alexander, her husband. This couple has been through two cycles, each of which consists of taking a group of children from 6th through 9th grades. Stan and Dasha had been assigned to their group four years ago when they arrived at the school. We learned that Dasha had naturally been assigned to a higher grade at that time, but Stan cried and cried over being separated from Dasha. So Dasha consented to stay back with him in the lower grade. Had Dasha stayed in the older group she would have moved on from the school a year ago.

Valentina and Alexander had truly cared for the children in their group. They had taught them right from wrong, helped them through personal challenges, advised them on relationships, and taught them by precept and example of the need to abstain from alcohol and tobacco. Not all group parents do all of these things.

Valentina gave us insight into the children’s character, attitudes and behavior, many of which we had already observed and some which clarified or explained other things we had not fully understood. She talked of the type of strong bond among these three children, which is uncommon among sibling groups at boarding schools. When the children stayed with Grandma Nina in the village during the summer, their friends there were surprised that these children from a boarding school were so uncharacteristically well-mannered and that they did not smoke or swear.

Dasha had told Natalie earlier in the day of how in her second year at the school she had
noticed other children being adopted. She had then begun praying that she and her siblings would be adopted. Of course, it didn’t happen until the fourth year, but she had continued to pray for it all that time.

We bid farewell to the Dodges as they were leaving for Kiev at 4 am Thursday. We have enjoyed getting to know them and their new daughters. We are happy for them that they are on their way home. We are anxious to see what Vladimir has to say later today about the plans and possibilities for us.

Thursday, Part A:

Things are moving fast and furiously and we are not certain when we will have our next opportunity to post a blog. Vladimir returned from Russia late last night and wanted us to be to the notary at 10:30 this morning to start the passport process for the children. There is a real possiblity that we will be traveling to Kiev early Friday. There is a very best case scenario that has our Kiev business (medical center, interview, visas) completed tomorrow and we fly home as scheduled on Saturday, IF we can get the children scheduled on the same flight. The probability seems remote to me, but stranger things have happened here. We'll keep all informed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Spring has sprung in Sumy. Until a couple of days ago the exposed corroded pipes and mineral deposits in the city fountains yielded the appearance of the many other neglected structures of the city. Three weeks ago the surrounding garden areas appeared barren and the trees lining the streets and rivers dormant. Now the fountains are flowing, the gardens have sprung up in tulips, the birches are releasing their foliage, and the chestnut trees are about to blossom. They probably already have in Kiev. We hope to see them there in a few days.

Through the cold and snowy weather of today springs hope of warmer times in the not too distant future. We ventured out in between blizzards to buy provisions at the outdoor market which was surprisingly active.

While Susan and I were at the internet café this morning Dasha made an omelet for the boys and had everything cleaned up by the time we returned. If Susan would let her she would probably run the kitchen. The two are very comfortable together and communicate quite well in that territory. We have only four chairs so one person must stand or sit elsewhere. Dasha is insistent that it be she. Susan and I are usually the last to finish eating. Before we are done the others’ dishes have been washed and by the time we stand up ours are done. We want it very clear to Edward and Richard that this will not relieve them of their regular responsibilities for dishes.

Stan has taken it on himself to take the garbage out when he sees the need. An ironing board arrived today. Each of the children could be seen pressing our clothes today; and they do it well.

Toli wanted to go to the amusement park but it was just not realistic to expect that to be a pleasant activity. We spent most of the day eating, watching soccer on the television, and wrestling (we boys, that is). Susan and I managed to get out early this evening for an hour’s walk eastward along Xarkhiv Boulevard, admiring a few majestic rebuilt homes, as well as rustic, older buildings just oozing with character and mystery from within their walls.

Wednesday is a big day for us with Vladimir taking care of business in Russia. Our focus and prayers will be on him.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sunday 29 April

As the internet café is on the way to the church we took the children with us and took care of the daily business there. We enjoyed a good sacrament meeting and again watched a session of General Conference dubbed in Russian. This time it was the Saturday afternoon session which we had watched in Kiev. It had an even greater impact on me than it did the first time; and again tears welled up at Elder McConkie’s final testimony and at the closing song, “The Spirit of God.” Dasha prepared some peelmenni for a snack after church.

After some relaxation and reading we met at the Dodges’ apartment for dinner with the missionaries. Before dessert the missionaries gave a lesson. Anny Tyutyunnyk took a turn teaching and bore fervent, emotional testimony several times. Stan had been suffering from a stomach problem since morning. Susan and he returned to the apartment while the rest of us further discussed the lesson and had dessert. Dasha called her father’s brother, Valeri, in Krolevets and talked to his wife, Olga, to see if we could visit Grandma in the nearby village tomorrow. Olga urged us to take the earliest bus and they would be waiting for us.

When we had all returned to our apartment we found that Stan was doing no better, in spite of his having taken several of the usual stomach medications through the day. Pharmacies were closed and we had no translator anyway, so I asked Paul to come over and help me give Stan a priesthood blessing. The blessing started with “Jeremy Stanislav Peckham, … .”

Monday April 30

Lacking an alarm clock Susan and I spent much of the night checking our watches and dreaming about getting up early. At one point I was having considerable difficulty trying to find my way out of Trolley Square (we never go there!) because I needed to be at the bus stop in Sumy at 6:10 am. It seemed improbable that I could make it so I consciously pulled out of that dream.

I reality we caught our scheduled taxi at 6 am and met Natalie at the bus terminal at 6:10 to buy tickets. We expected the 6:40 bus to get us to Krolevets in about two hours. We were not aware of the circuitous route it would take and the long stops along the way. We got off the bus close to 11:30 and were told by Dasha that we were in front of her uncle’s apartment building. It looked much like ours and every other in this part of the country.

We ascended the stairs to the 5th floor and were warmly greeted, introduced and welcomed by Valeri, Olga and their two children. Their one-bedroom apartment was nicely decorated, especially the living room where a make-shift table had been set for the ten of us. Olga and her daughter brought freshly-fried eggs to complete the offering of sausage, bread, hashed potatoes, their version of a chili sauce, home-made cherry compote juice, sliced oranges and lemons, and cookies.

We enjoyed the meal very much and even more so the company. We became acquainted with them, and they with us, around the table. Valeri is a warehouse worker and Olga teaches kindergarten. Their daughter, Anya, had just completed professional training as a cook and confectioner, with a specialty of cakes.

Some of us then gathered as Anya took us through several large albums of family pictures. Those involving our children, their parents or their grandma were pulled out so I could film them.

We had brought a pedigree chart and a family group sheet which Olga consented to fill out to the best of her and Valeri’s knowledge. While we were thus engaged, Grandma called and wanted to talk to the children. She began crying while talking to Stan. We offered to have a taxi bring her to Valeri’s place but she said she would just cry. I said that she could cry there or cry here; it didn’t matter. We knew the children needed to see her and say good-bye, so we piled into and taxi and Valeri’s car and traveled the 12 kilometers to her home in Buyvalovo village.

When we entered the fenced yard there appeared Grandma Nina in her dress, sweater, wool stockings and her brightly colored head scarf. Susan and I were a little apprehensive about what she would think of us and the adoption. But she took us on a tour of her humble home and property, including the pigs, chickens and turkeys. There were apple trees, cherry trees and a kitchen garden, in addition to large field in which other things are planted. Of course, she had only outdoor plumbing.

She welcomed us into her living room. She stood less than five feet short. Her face and hands were weathered and worn by decades of maintaining a farm. Although she is only about fifty-eight years old we could see that life is hard here for the common people and the struggles have caused her to appear much older. In her eyes, though, was a sparkle amidst the light blue we’ve come to love in her grandchildren’s eyes. Her smile cut through what I imagined to be some sorrow at losses endured over the years to display some gold.

She showed us many of the pictures she had of the family, which I filmed, and added more information to the genealogy records. She then slipped outside and we followed her to her cellar where she emerged with a bag of large white chunks of what was identified as lard (maybe saltpork in our lexicon) which she prepared for us to take with us. Before she was done we also had a couple of dozen eggs from her chickens.

It was time for us to leave for the bus. After Grandma hugged each of the children good-bye we exchanged well-wishes with her. She was very excited that the children would learn to speak English like our interpreter, Natalie. We thanked her for her influence and blessing in our children’s lives. She clasped my head in her hand and as she shed tears she kissed my cheek maybe ten times in rapid succession. Then she did the same with Susan which brought tears to her eyes, as well. She told us what hard workers the children were, how much they had helped her and how much time they had spent with her. Then she kissed us the same way again, and then at least once more. I was incredulous at what I was feeling for these people after such a short time – two hours with Valeri’s family and one hour with Grandma Nina. She and I walked through the gate with our arms around each other. We hugged and kissed some more. She invited us all to please come back sometime.

At the bus station we took more pictures of Valeri’s family with us. Olga gave us two huge jars of her cherry compote, along with four jars of homemade jam. We arranged to take them to lunch while they are in Sumy on Friday to see what sex Anya’s baby will be, and then bid them a loving farewell.

All along the way on the ride back to Sumy we saw in the fields people from all towns and villages with shovels planting their annual crop of potatoes. This is the time when the staple of this country is planted. One of the issues noted in the court decree removing the rights of the children’s parents was the fact that the children were left with nothing to eat while the parents had failed to cultivate their land. Valeri and his family had put their planting off a day to host us.

A day or two ago I had expressed a sensation to Susan, which she echoed, of feeling as though we had been through years compressed into weeks. The depth and breadth of today’s unexpected experiences and emotions crossed years, if not generations, in a matter of three hours. We emerged from the wringer with a few tears dripping from the rollers.