I'm still drained from our court date yesterday, so I'll have to do this with a little less spunk and detail.
After so much work, waiting, and wailing, the court date dawned way too early. We were up late the night before doing a dry run of our presentation with our interpreter and facilitator. We had a lot of prep work so it wasn't a big deal. Renee did a great job, but she was dreading it. The judge can pick either parent to speak so we didn't know what she would do.
We got up at 6 a.m. and snapped into gear to get John ready. The cook was coming over to act as a nanny while we would be at court for the planned couple of hours. On the way to court we stopped by and picked up the prosecutor. Don't ask. It's another part of the strange system that is Kazakhstan.
I expected the courthouse to be similar to what we have in America, or at least what I've seen on the Practice on TV. The reality was a little closer to some low rent offices where you would expect to find a credit collection company. The main image is of long dark hallways with low ceilings and people running in and out of various doors. It looked more like a Monty Python skit than the halls of justice.
We crammed ourselves, the interpreter, the prosecutor, the baby house director, the department of education representative, the judge, and secretary into a room smaller than my living room. The largest space was dominated by a cell that I hoped we wouldn't be placed into. At least our ground-floor room had a window view of people coming into the courthouse--mostly men pacing and smoking. Just before the judge arrived, two men walked in the front door handcuffed to each other. Renee was baffled. I tried to explain it was probably a cop and crook. She thought it was stupid. "What if the criminal just starts beating the hell out of him?" I tried to explain that there was probably a weight or threat level that dictated who would be cuffed to who when the judge came in.
Court was a blur. There was a lot of standing and sitting. One of the confusing questions was, "Do you agree with this court?" or "Do you disagree with this court." The officials read several pages of reports about John. Most of it was designed to stress that we would be good parents and that the court should grant immediate execution. We had to tell our names, birthplace, birth-date, and occupation. It was intimidating for the judge to stare at me and say, "Blah blah blah Carroll Jason Brett." I guessed she meant for me to stand.
Renee gave a sigh of relief because the judge called on me to state our case. I was a little thrown because the judge had already read our petition out-loud and that was our case. The interpreter threw me a little curve ball when she said, "Don't read the introduction." Does that also mean that I need to skip my "Hello" section too? My carefully structured outline was already unraveling.
The format we followed for our outline was-- Hello, Introduction, Why We're Adopting, Why we Chose John, His Medical Conditions, Visiting John, Visiting Taldy Korgan, Why We'll Be Good Parents, Immediate Execution, Thank You.
The fate of the adoption should be decided. None of the main characters are against us. We're trying to convince the judge that we don't want him for organ donations and that we will raise him to love Kazakhstan. Seriously. (Renee curses each time I threaten to ask what his blood-type is, or when I joke that I will spank him for speaking Russian.) The main fight is for immediate execution. If we don't make a strong case for why we need to leave in a week, we will be here three more weeks. This has the effect of making it sound like John is on his last legs. After awhile I start to even wonder if we can handle all of his "problems."
I think my speech went well. I paused after each line for the interpreter to do her magic. It was nice because I had a pause to look down at my outline and consider my next line. The downside is that during the longer translations my mind would start to wander. What is she really translating? Would she really translate it if I said, "I plan on raising my son to spend the rest of his life fighting against Kazakhstan"?
When I finished in about fifteen minutes the judge asked a few questions. I was only confused by a couple. "Do you pay the credit?" and "How much holiday did you get to come here?" It was only afterwards that I learned that she was wondering about mortgages and paid-time off.
Renee was spared the majority of the interrogation. Instead she ended up flirting with the prosecutor. He tossed her several easy fluff-balls to bat around. When he found out she was the youngest child, he told her that in his experience the youngest child is loved the most and spoiled. He then asked if she would love Madi less if we had natural birth children later. She did a great job answering all of his questions. He then gave a sweet speech about how he wished that all children could have loving parents like us, and that he hoped that when Madi grew to be a man he could think well of his motherland and possibly help improve relations with Kazakhstan.
Our anticipated twenty minute court session stretched to over an hour by the time we concluded. The judge declared that she would take a five minute break before giving us her decision. I figured it was a slam-dunk. Usually a judge has to make a decision based upon two opposing points of view. In our case each side was in agreement. We should be allowed to adopt and receive immediate execution. As I replayed the events the secretary came back in the room and told us it would be an hour. Renee was frustrated and said, "What does she want to do? Eat a sandwich?"
Our facilitator sent us and the interpreter on a errand to buy some paper. I asked why and was told, "So the judge can print her decision on it." I had to clamp my mouth shut before I could ask a rude question. It's another Kazakhstan thing.
We made it back to the courthouse expecting to hear the outcome. Instead we ended up crowding on a wooden bench in that dark hallway and waiting... and waiting... and waiting. The facilitator was furious with her delays. She knew that this was only a power-trip on the judge's part. The pile of paperwork Renee and I had to do in the United States is a wee molehill when compared to what they have to do here in Kazakhstan.
The Soviet Union is gone, but their unholy infatuation with excessive documentation lives on. The problem is that the facilitator has created a well-oiled machine to satisfy the bureaucratic paper-mill, but it depends on things getting done in time. The judge's leisurely approach may cause us to miss getting the proper papers and stamps from the state office, police department, Santa Claus, and god knows who else.
Finally at 1:30 p.m. we were called back into the judge's "chambers." It was more of a dingy office with the only decorations being an obligatory portrait of the president and two neglected cacti on her desk. I wondered if she brought the cacti in herself or if it was a gift? Even more alarming was the question of what kind of woman would desire a hard spiny plant on her desk?
She read the decision and the interpreter dutifully told us that our petitions were accepted and that we could appeal them within ten days if we chose too. I was confused. I thought we got what we wanted, but I couldn't figure why we would then appeal what we asked for. The interpreter told us to shake the judge's hand, but she wasn't in any kind of hand-shaking mode. I knew that Kazak women don't usually shake hands and that I'm not supposed to shake one unless she offers it first. The judge was obviously not making any offers. The interpreter repeated her request and I clumsily shot my hand out hoping she would take it. She laughingly did.
We happily went back outside and I had to ask the interpreter, "Did we get the adoption and immediate execution?" She confirmed that we did. Finally, he's officially our son and we get to leave in just a week. I was ecstatic.
And then we waited again. The facilitator stormed into the office outside the judge's chamber. She slapped through the documents and raised her voice at each page. Renee and I had no idea what was going on, but it didn't look like anyone was happy. The facilitator obviously asked where the judge was and tried to barge into her chambers. At the same time the judge came back into the office carrying her dish with soap after visiting the lady's room. (I know, it's a Kazak thing.) Before she could even get through the door the facilitator had forced her back into her chambers and proceeded to let her have it.
I've heard other adoption horror stories about agencies leaving them high and dry when they are in country. All I can say is if you are going to adopt a child from Kazakhstan you need to work with World Partners. Their in-country people are fantastic, helpful, and always there. I love our interpreter and couldn't have made it with out her. But one key reason for me is for our facilitator. She's attractive, tall, immaculately dressed, and organized. I knew she could be demanding to the other staff. She wants us to get this child home. I know she's great with children. I've heard how hard she fights for them and I've seen her with John. But I didn't know anything until I saw her in full ass-kicking mode.
I would assume that some other facilitators would shrug and say, "Sorry looks like you're hear for another week," How many of them yell at a judge because something isn't going right? After we flew out of the court house in her wake, we were sent on additional errands before we had to meet at the state house for the birth certificate and adoption notice. The office was closed for lunch, which caused Renee to ask, "Who closes from lunch until 2:30 p.m.?" I sat in the car sweating in my suit coat while I watched the people line up outside the door. I was wondering if maybe someone should be standing in line.
Before the office was due to open I could see the facilitator striding around the court-yard on her cell phone. It looked like a movie scene with the hot white sun and her in an all black suit and shades. She motioned us to come forward with the interpreter. As we approached the door it became clear that we were going to have to crowd through the throng in front of the door. The interpreter said, "Don't speak." We held our heads down and physically shouldered the grumbling people out of the way. It didn't seem fair. The interpreter later explained that we had an appointment and that I shouldn't feel bad. But at the same time I briefly felt like a rock star passing by the regular people. And it felt pretty cool.
Now that this step was done, the facilitator and interpreter ran off to parts unknown to get the rest of the paperwork done. We went back to the apartment to get packed. John was basically pissed at us for leaving. He was playing and acting okay, but we could tell that he wasn't his happy joyful self. Renee reminded me that we had been gone six hours. The longest we had been away. I felt bad for him, but I was in an unemotional robotic more. Must do paperwork. Must pack. Must get ready.
The driver and interpreter came to get us at 5 p.m., just as we were finishing gathering our things. It was sad to say goodbye to our interpreter since she'd been our only lifeline for the past week. I'll have more to say about her later, but I was already missing her.
The drive back to Almaty was long, but successful. We were all so drained, but we were on constant guard to make sure that John wouldn't get sick. Renee was holding him in the back, and I would turn around every five minutes and say, "Is he okay?" She tried to be patient with me. I would promise myself not to look back for the next fifteen minutes, but then I'd hear her rattle the red plastic bag that was stuck under his chin and I would snap my head around to check again.
John went in waves. He talked and talked to our fantastic driver. Then he floated between his normal happy self to a miserable wretch who looked like he was about to spew all over Renee's face. I wanted to yell, "Don't get your face so close to his. Don't you remember what happened last time?" The driver offered him a Chupa Chup which is some kind of Russian Tootsie Roll Pop. I wasn't big on it because we blamed the last car-sickness event on Renee feeding him a Tootise Roll. Fortunately it kept him busy and happy with no ill effects.
Towards twilight I heard him coo "Oooooo" when he saw an approaching car and say something in Russian. The driver laughed and said, "He said it's getting dark." If a friend would have mentioned that I would have said something witty like, "Thank you Captain Obvious." Renee said from the back seat, "You know he's probably never been out of the baby house at night."
After an hour or so John feel asleep against Renee. We didn't know what to do since last time he fell asleep right before he got sick. Or did he cry first then get sick? We couldn't remember. Instead Renee tightly tucked his bag under his chin. That made me worry that she might be accidentally smothering him. Finally she threw the damn thing away and said, "No kid should have to sleep with a grocery bag stuck to his lip." I thought it was brave talk coming from the lady who would catch anything, but it wasn't me in the back seat with him.
He woke up as his usual smiling self just before we reached Almaty. He started singing this infernal song about "machinas... machinas" (cars) that will forever be burned into my brain. What's usually irritating about the song is that all I can repeat is "machina" and "beep beep." But tonight it was so sweet to hear his little voice going through his song over and over and over again. I'd listen to it forever if it kept him happy. The driver hummed along and tried to translate it. No great mystery--it's apparently about cars that beep when children are in them.
We got to the new apartment around 9 p.m., fed John, bathed him, and put him to sleep. I'll go into more detail about the apartment and John later. By the time we sat down it felt like the court date had happened yesterday. It was just too much to process. We drank a beer and tried to talk, but we were wiped out. The last thing Renee said before she went to bed was, "Be careful of the shower it seems to be spitting out a lot of water everywhere."
I was looking forward to my shower. Even though it was midnight I was hoping for some quiet time to reflect on the day's events. Until I discovered that "the shower is having problems" is Renee-speak for "shower hose is completely broken." I guess it's fair payback for all the times I would say, "Someone needs to run a vacuum in here," when I really mean, "Renee needs to run the vacuum in here." I spent several minutes futilely wrapping the hose in duct tape before I gave up. In defeat I started to fill the tub with water for a bath.
I hate bathes and haven't had one in years. As I sat in that cramped tub I realized that I was reduced to the state of a infant. I was chasing the slippery soap in the water and trying to rinse my hair with a child's drinking cup. I didn't know if I was depressed or happy at discovering some lost piece of childhood. I just spent a minute thinking about how John acts in the bath--his giggles and squeals as he pours water from cup to cup for the thousandth time. Such a simple pleasure for him. And for me when I think about my new son.
[Posted from Almaty on Weds 24 March 2004 @ 21:20]