Hello from Daugavpils, Latvia,
DAINA & the CITY
The day began with Daina, our facilitator and attorney, just appearing out of nowhere in the hotel lobby. Or perhaps I was too jet lagged to see her entrance. Whatever the case may be, you knew exactly who she was despite never having laid eyes on her. She's not a big woman, but she has PRESENCE. She confirmed our identities, grabbed me in a bear hug, then tossed us into the car driven by her son and off we went.
The drive to Daugavpils was very telling of Latvia's economical situation....minutes within leaving Riga, you are on a loooooong highway, flanked by dense trees and punctuated with farmhouses with steeply pitched roofs and obligatory clotheslines. Throw in some cows here and there and many fields with rolling hills, and that pretty much sums up the drive to Daugavpils. We did see a fox, though.
Daina is a hoot. You cannot help but like her. I admired her no nonsense attitude, but she was also friendly and very knowledgable of her duties. She kept us giggling the entire trip with stories of her family, dogs, former adoptions, etc.
Daugavpils is the second largest city in Daugavpils, but it honestly does not feel very large. It;s 9:30ish now and from my hotel window the entire town is virtually shut down. The town is odd to me because in some ways it reminds me of feudal times...the old farmhouses, barns that sag from years of heavy snows, plots of neatly tended land, cathedrals spiraling towards the heavens, stoic Soviet architecture.....Yet in other ways, everywhere you look you are bombarded with the trappings of a modern society--Apple dealers, Iphones, BMW, Dolce and Gabanna ads, slick Scandinavian grocery stores, and Italian clothing ads. One gets the distinct feeling that the city hasn't quite shaken it's memory of Russian occupation (which really wan't that long ago). People seem to be friendly and kind but they also seem fatigued by life in general. I feel like things are hard for them here.
Under Daina's protective wing, we were driven to a very post-modern looking building that serves as both the "Orphan Court" and the office where one acquires birth certificates. After a few flights of stairs, we noticed two little munchkins, who are no longer munchkins, seated anxiously in the hallway. Dima and Natalija HAVE GROWN! Dima is as tall as I am--5'4" and Natalija is hot on his tail. Her shoe size is now an 8.5, which means soon she will be nearly as tall as my mom!
The whole court thing was a bit strange and easy and awkward and even fun, all rolled into one. We finally met both foster moms, Gertruda (Natalija's) and Marija (Dima's mom who regularly hangs up on me due our inability to communicate.) The ladies were awesome. You could tell they were genuinely concerned about "their" kids' well being. We alll piled into an old Soviet style office and the session began. We were asked basic questions about how we decided to host them adn then adopt them. The children were asked if they wanted to come with us for the "bonding period." It was really very brief. Daina stayed in the office to complete paperwork, then Marija was able to have some "chat time" with us, courtesy of Dima, who translated.
She was so sweet and actually cried, telling us he deserved a good family. His foster dad said he was happy that now he would be able to attend high school! Michael assured him he would attend high school and more. Then Marija started making some plans. Now, if you have ever met this woman, you know you DO NOT say no. (not that we would have!) But she was very generous in her invitation (demand??) that we visit some local museums and site with her and so we grabbed a date book and wrote it down. I wouldn't dare defy Marija--I can't think many who know her would!!!
Dima and NAtalija were asked if they wanted to change their names to American ones. Natalija initially said she likes her nickname "Natasha" and later casually mentioned "Emma is a nice name." Dima contemplated and said, "Dad, which you like better, Johnny or Steve?" Now Steve is my Dad's name and so I asked him where he came up with Johnny, which is my Dad's older brother. He grinned and said cheekily, "Johnny Test!!" As in the cartoon! Silly kid.
So now have walked all over Daugavpils, purchased new tennis shoes for Natalija, eaten pizza, searched for band aids, had NAtalija try on clothes, looked at a church, fussed at Baltic Air, pleaded with the desk clerk for luggage, and held our breath every time we dashed through the smoke filled lobby. Our luggage was delivered (9:15pm) after I nearly had Chick fit #1 after being with out proper clothing for 3 full days.
Dima is in 7th heaven and just told us, happy grin on his face, that this is COOL and it is the first time he stayed in a hotel. He is 13! THe two of them have shown us every little class picture they have, old report cards, and are finally settling down. They are happy, little kid style, blissed out happy..... As we settled in for the evening, fireworks went off in the distance.......for the kids, perhaps?