Our appointment was for 11am. We were picked up in the city at 10am because the driver also had to bring a couple other officials needed for the adoption hearing to the courthouse. As we sped out of the city at around 65-70 miles per hour, a policeman on the side of the road motions for us to pull over. The driver nearly locks up the brakes on the highway, slides off the pavement and through a few potholes. We start wondering if this whole altercation is going to make us miss our court appointment. We find out later it was a dispute over speed limits, and they claim we were at least 10 kilometers per hour under the published speed limit and the police are just harassing them. That was heart attack number one.
The courthouse is a long two story brick building in the middle of the countryside. There are always cars and people swarming all around it like you would not believe. In all prior visits, we have never been allowed inside. As we enter the building there is a metal detector active that you have to walk through and a security guard standing by. Everyone sets it off, but no one is stopped or examined. Interesting.
We are led to a waiting area in the upstairs hallway. All doors on the hallway are shut at all times, but people come in and out of each door about once every 30 seconds. It all appears quite comical when you can't read any of the signs and have no idea what is going on. We wait for a while and the facilitator briefs us on some questions we may get and how the hearing will proceed. Shortly all our party has arrived but we have not been called yet. It's about noon when our name is eventually called. We enter the courtroom, but still no judge. We wait for another 10-15 minutes and then he appears. He reads the introductory papers on the case, and then calls a five minute recess. Hmmm. The interpreter politely tells us "no one knows what is going on". Ok - that clarifies things. Eventually the judge returns and proceeds to read through a number of documents and recommendations regarding this adoption from the orphanage, local administration and state department. Everyone is giving us a green light. We are called to answer some basic questions - name, date of birth, address, occupation and why we are adopting this child. The judge calls a fifteen minute recess to issue a decision in the case.
Snow is falling heavily outside the window as we wait for the judge and his two assistants/witnesses to return. Everyone makes small talk about the weather and what it is like where we come from. We actually get to talk to our facilitator more then we have since we have been here about her adoption work and the orphanage in general. Then the three men return and begin to read their official decision. No big deal, right? This is when heart attack number two begins.
As the judge reads the first couple paragraphs our facilitator's jaw drops, she sighs loudly and shakes her head. We look at her eyes for some sign this is going to be ok. Nothing but a look of fear and confusion. In a few minutes that felt like a few years I start playing back in my head. "What could we have possibly done to cause this judge to deny or delay this adoption?" No answers come. He continues to read and the courtroom is dead silent.
Then our facilitator's face begins to relax. She translates - "Child's new name will be Julia Mary,... this petition is approved,...". A wave of relief washes over us. We're done. Julia will be our daughter if nothing adverse happens during the ten day waiting period.
What was the fear and confusion about? Communication problems. The judge is speaking Ukrainian. Our facilitator's primary language is Russian. She is struggling to convey it all in English for us. She thought he was saying no to our adoption petition, but he was speaking about something else. The joys of international adoption.
Sorry for the long story, but it demonstrates what international adoption is really like. It is long, complex and confusing, and at every moment it hangs on many people doing the right thing. Any misstep or miscommunication along the way can halt things temporarily or permanently. In that moment everything hung on that judge believing that it was in this little girl's best interest to move across the sea to a new life with a new family in a foreign culture. Thank God he did. The administration even said we are "very good people".
The courtroom was strictly business. No teary pictures with the judge or anything. A couple quick hand shakes and congratulations. Here are some smiles outside the courtroom afterward.
So another major step is behind us. We got to spend the evening with Julia and celebrate this little moment.
See her big smile at the end? We think that is because she knows court is over. ;-)
Stay tuned for the trip home and the beginning of Trip 2 to bring Julia back to America.