Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day 45 - Disgusted At the Human Race

Look out... time for a little soapbox from yours truly!

Due to some confusion between me & my driver, I was forced to not visit Griffin this morning.  That is now solved, no problems should arise from here on out.

I decided to go to Karavan for lunch.  As I got there, I got a call from the facilitator telling me that my driver needed to come pick me up to go to the train station to get my train tickets for Tuesday evening.  Bummed that I couldn't eat at Mafia like I was wanting, I figured I'd grab a cheeseburger to go from McDonald's.  Let me assure you, after today's experience, I won't be eating at McDonald's until I get some answers from their corporate headquarters!

I forget sometimes that this is not America.  I was standing in line, and to my right was a couple of guys speaking English.  Cool!  They were from New York, on an exchange program.  They were African American guys, and we talked about the utter lack of diversity here.  To be honest, the entire month Maria & I were here together, we saw 2 black guys, and since I have been here on this trip, I have seen exactly 2... these two.  We talked a little bit while we waited for our turns to order in our respective lines.  They got to the counter first and, at least to my ears, they spoke perfect Russian.  The girl behind the counter listened, then began to speak.  I could tell the guys were getting upset.  The manager came over, and YELLED at them, then they turned away from the counter.  I asked what had just happened and they told me that the cashier & the manager both said, "You will not get served here and to leave immediately before they call the police."  They continued, "This restaurant will not serve an inferior person!"  WHAT!!!  I grew up in Mississippi and this DISGUSTED ME!  I immediately got out of line and walked away with the guys.  To their credit, a couple other people, mostly women with children, walked away too.  Wow!  Never in my life did I expect that when I went to Karavan this afternoon.  It shows me how far we have come as America, but yet how far the world as a whole still has to go.  I got back tot he apartment and wrote a letter to McDonald's Corporate Headquarters, condemning the actions of the cashier, the manager, and all the other employees for not having the intestinal fortitude to stand up and do what is right.  Ugh!  Ignorance... okay, off my soapbox.

On a brighter note, as I left Karavan to go out to the car, I made up a song about a girl walking in the mall:

If you're Bedazzled & you know it clap your hands!
If you're Bedazzled & you know it clap your hands!
If you're Bedazzled & you know it,
Your pants, jacket, shirt, socks & shoes should really show it,
If you're Bedazzled & you know it clap your hands!

LOL!  This girl's outfit was COMPLETELY Bedazzled!  Not since Liberace have I seen so many pieces of glass (maybe they were plastic) on one outfit!  I am assuming the entire outfit was denim, as not other fabric could have held up all that weight.  It had to weigh 20 pounds!  There wasn't a spot on her outfit, down to her socks, that was not covered in jewels.  Too funny!  I wish I could have gotten a picture of that.  I would have hate to see her in the sun... blinding!

This evening I got to visit with Griffin.  He has regressed some since we last got to hang out with him, but he seemed to be back to his normal inquisitive self by the end of the visit.  He definitely isn't walking as much as he was.  I walked him holding both his hands, and before, he would walk a good distance.  Today, he gave up after about 25 yards.  Sad, but we'll get him back to where he was, and even more!  I can't wait to see him walk on his own!  That will be a great day!

We left his blue GM (Giraffe Meat) here for him, and the nannies took it away after what appears to possibly have been a struggle between some kids enlarged a hole that had developed in it before our 10 day wait.  Maria whipped him up another one though, for me to bring back.  He REALLY loves his GM!  At first though, he wasn't so sure what had happened.  It miraculously changed colors (and I'm sure flavors)!

The nannies had on size 2T-4T shorts on him!  Oh my word!  I get it, the orphanage system doesn't have enough money here, but for real?  The shorts would not stay on him.  It wasn't plumbers crack, it was bare butt!  Well, diaper butt!  LOL!  I had to roll the top of the shorts over into the waistband of the tights he was wear, which were cording him.  There is no comfortable medium in this place, I tell you.

I remember he was getting tired of being tickled so much right before we left.  I do not think he was tickled at all while we were gone.  He would actually take my hand and put it on his belly when I stopped tickling him.  It was cute, sad that these poor kids don't get that type of affection, but man, it was nice to see him really respond to me.  Unfortunately, I think he's more of a mama's boy than what we had thought!  He kept saying "mamamamama!"  He knew something was different.  I assured him he'd be back with mama after a short (21 hour) flight to the states & another short (19 hour) flight to Germany!  I told him he better be good!  LOL!

All in all, a great visit this evening!

See ya'll tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day 44 - Busted

So, on top of my normal joint pain, I rolled my foot this morning on the way out of the apartment to meet my driver.  It was immediate and intense pain in the top of my foot.  I can feel a sore pulling sensation when I flex my toes back or when I step on a rock or uneven ground.  Great, just what I need.  I pray that it is just strained ligaments/tendons.  When it rains, it pours I guess.

This morning I had an appointment at the state run bank.  Every orphan has an account, well, let me rephrase that, SHOULD have an account, that is setup by the orphanage director that accumulates state provided payments to the "invalids" (pronounced in-vul-ids, not like in-vall-id like something is void or no longer usable).  This system was placed into effect several years ago when they realized that they were not providing for orphans who no longer qualified to live in an orphanage.  Each month the state deposits money in to a bank account for them to help them later in life.  BUT... there's always a but in there somewhere in this country... as the facilitator explained, it is solely up to the orphanage director to initiate this account for the children.  Many do not, she estimated upwards of 80% do not have these accounts.

This is a failed system in my opinion.  See, it puts the orphanage in a catch 22 position.  The government funds the orphanages... however little it is.  So, the orphanage directors can opt to set the account up, but it looks poorly on their record, like they cannot manage the money that the government provides them to run the orphanage.  Not to mention, it is a ton of paperwork, and the government can come at any given time to inspect the bank books that must be kept for each child.  If there is even 1 penny off, the director can be fired and placed in prison, even if the account has all the money in it that it is supposed to have.  At the age of 16, the account ledger is provided to the youth and they can opt to withdraw the money, or leave it there to continue in the orphanage till the age of 18.  Many directors do not tell anyone about the accounts.  If the child dies, the money is provided to the birth parents, if they can be found or if they petition the orphanage (seems odd since they gave the child up and they would have no idea the account even existed in the first place).  I guess it is a pretty painful process to get the bank to pay out the money too.  It involves lots of paperwork that must be completed properly the first time, or fines can be levied for not following the directions properly and causing the government additional work.  Uh... I guess they expect people to not be human, and I also assume the government here NEVER makes mistakes (sarcasm at it's finest there folks!).  From this, you can see that the account is not meant for the kids at all.  They never expect the orphanages to set these accounts up, nor does the government ever expect to have to pay out to these children or a beneficiary.

We had such a small window to complete the transaction this morning.  My appointment was at 8:30 and we were told that all power to the bank was being cut off at 9:00.  Yeah, see, they never expect to have to pay out.  The lady at the bank had literally saved the document a mere seconds before the power was cut off.  Funny, as there were about 40 retirees in line to receive their pension payments. The orphanage director took the money (this is standard for international adoptions... it's a donation to the orphanage to buy medicines and upgrade playground equipment and such) and like that, my paper chase in the region was complete.  I was surprised how much money was in the account for Griffin.  He had never needed a surgery or anything, so none of the money was ever taken out.  It wasn't a grand sum, but I was surprised at the amount that was there.  There was a lot of talk by the facilitator about how poorly this governmental bank stuff is.  She spoke of pensioners waiting months, even years, for one payment.  She summed it up best when she said, "They are not living, they are surviving."  Really opens your eyes as to what we are taking Griffin out of.  More and more everyday, I realize, God placed us here to save this little boy's life, and I am blessed knowing that we are!  If that money helps just one other orphan either get adopted or have a decent experience in this place, it was a donation well worth it!

While I was walking down the few stairs out of the bank, the facilitator mentioned my foot (I had told her about the injury already) and she said it was best not to go for my evening visit today, just to relax and if I need any pain killers or to go to the doctor, to call her and she would get the driver to take me and a translator for me since she was leaving for the capitol.  She was worried about my unsteadiness while walking and didn't want me to fall or drop Griffin.  It hasn't gotten better, but it hasn't gotten worse either.  Hopefully my normal Sulendac will help keep the pain level down and I will be able to begin visits tomorrow.

She provided me with a stack of papers and said I would get the rest, as well as certified English translations, after my embassy appointment in the capitol, where I get our dude's VISA and immigration papers.  As much as I am ready to get through that appointment so we can begin our around the world flight to the US then to Germany, I am not looking forward to the 8-9 hour train ride.  I'll survive!  Hahaha!

I did manage to limp to the grocery store and grab some eggs, bread & mayo for a scrambled egg sandwich this evening... yummy, though it looked no where near as good as the one to the left!  That toast looks pretty close to perfection!  LOL!

See ya'll tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 43 - The Chase Is On!

If there is ever light at the end of the tunnel, I am seeing it now... or maybe that's an oncoming train?  Either way, I'll take it!  Grab a cup of Joe, or Tom, or whomever & relax and read the novel that was today!

Let me preface this with something that I decided to do.  Giving "Gotcha Day" gifts to our son is a tradition that many families do for their adopted little ones.  Each year we will give him something of his home country to help him develop roots.  The night before I left, I watched the movie Courageous.  One line really rang home with me.  Something this important should be done right, it should have ceremony.  So, I made a decision, that every document that I could sign in black ink would be signed with a pen that I will give to him later on in life.  It will literally be the pen that brings my son home!  And here it is!  It is a Parker IM Black CT Ballpoint pen.  Just thought you'd like to know!  :)

Day started pretty early after my harrowing events yesterday.  I had to meet my driver at 7:50 this morning, which admittedly doesn't sound too terribly early, but try sleeping after going through what I talked about on my blog yesterday, then you tell me.  The kicker is I could have been picked up at 9:30 this morning and it would not have been any different.  I sat in the car with our driver for the first two appointments anyway.

My driver took me to our facilitator's apartment... I am glad to see that she lives in an apartment building very similar to the one we have been staying in.  Not where I thought they lived to be completely honest.  Anyway, she immediately started asking if I bought gifts for the people.  I thought that was kind of funny.  Anyway, on the way to the court to pick up the adoption decree, our driver was pulled over!  Yeah... this day's shaping up to be as good as yesterday!  After a very brief run in with the po-po, we were on our way.  I waited in the car while the facilitator ran in and got the court decree.  They we headed out to the social workers office to get a paper signed for my passport appointment.  She again went in by herself and I caught a 30 minute nap in the backseat.  It felt like I logged more hours sitting in a car today than our drive from California to Mississippi!

From there we went to the Office of Vital Statistics.  This is the busiest place in this country.  There was a line out the door.  Because our facilitator is "people who know people" we were able to walk past everyone and right into the office.  It felt like I couldn't do anything right in this lady's office though.  Don't slouch.  Don't put your hands in your pockets.  Don't chew gum.  Don't breathe... that didn't happen, but I was waiting for it.  The lady who worked in this office was relatively new to Americas coming to adopt.  This proved to be troublesome as she did not want to accept our marriage license.  She considered it a religious document since it was signed by the preacher who officiated our ceremony.  Remember my blog on weddings?  Well, weddings are on Friday's & Saturday's here.  ONLY on those days, as every wedding MUST be performed by this woman.  In fact, there is a family in this region who everyone in the family was married on the same date... that means they had to plan marriages YEARS out to ensure the date fell on a Friday or Saturday.  Weird.  Our facilitator finally said we'd pack up our stuff and go to the other Office of Vital Statistics to get Griffin's birth certificate, officially making him Griffin Nathaniel Solomon and would tell the other office to call their supervisor.  The lady did not like this, called the other office and within minutes Griffin's new birth certificate was being printed!  LOL!  While I was waiting for the official copy, every once in awhile a young guy that had been in the office while I was there would come back in with a black bag, place it on the floor, say "spasiba" (Thank You), then leave.  These, I realized, were gifts.  You have to realize that this one person holds the "go/no-go" power over marriages in this area.  These kids were thankful that she approved their wedding applications.  Finally I signed & got Griffin's brand new birth certificate... no longer will he go by his birth name, Finn, or anything else... he's now a Solomon... OFFICIALLY!!!!  On the way out, I snuck a peak in a couple of the bags.  You'd think this lady was a raging alcoholic!  I saw 2 big bottles of Jack Daniels and mini-keg of beer.  That was only 2 of the probably 12-14 bags on her floor!

From there we headed over to the Tax Police Office.  Yes, Tax POLICE!  As we approached their compound (Yes COMPOUND), it was obvious that no one likes the tax man.  This place was surrounded by cops... very well armed cops.  I don't know if this is standard, but it was pretty daunting walking into the place.  Like a thousand eyes were on me.  We walked into the building, which was a relic of the cold war... very industrial, very poorly maintained (falling apart actually), and a smell of carbon paper (for those of you old enough to remember carbon paper.  That's not the only old thing in this place.  The computers that these people are forced to use were ANCIENT... I think Moses may have written the 10 Commandments on these relics.  I felt really bad for one girl... she was load, copying, unloading and shredding a box full of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks... yes kids, there were disks that were actually floppy before pen drives & storing information in the "Cloud".  The "clunk, whirr, clunk" sounds the drive made took me back to my childhood instantly!  Here, we had to get Griffin a new tax number under his new name.  This is what we know as our Social Security Number, and without the new number in the system, a passport cannot be issued.  Well, it was just my luck that the 1970's model dot-matrix printer broke down.  The lady said she'd load it to the system, but we'd have to come back tomorrow for the actual paper.  So, we packed up & headed out.

Next we went to the local passport office.  I waited in the car again.  The facilitator came back out after a few minutes and said we had to come back at 3:00pm to meet her contact there.  Great... more trips across the town.  Nothing is co-located here, and mind you, I am paying for mileage & wait time to my driver.  I can see this taxi bill is going to be pretty steep... how much hryvina do I have on hand again?  Gulp!

I guess the facilitator realized she needed another paper signed by the social worker.  So off we went.  This time though, we went to another gated compound, not the social workers normal office.  I looked and saw playground equipment and groupas of kids.  Wait a second, we are in yet another orphanage!  I asked the facilitator and sure enough, it's another orphanage, just steps away from the apartment I am in.  This one is for older kids.  It was pretty nice!  It had a koi pond, brand new playground equipment, huge outdoor seating areas, and not a play shed in sight!  These kids really have it nice here.  Even the building was nice.  It had a bright blue exterior and the surroundings made this place seem like the Taj Mahal compared to Griffin's orphanage.  They did have one what I like to refer to as Cold War Military Training Tools.  It's very industrial looking playground monkey bars, similar to the ones that were all rusted out & coated in lead based paint at Griffin's orphanage.  This place should be the model for the others in this town!  The facilitator said, "I'll be just a second," and took off inside.  45 minutes later, I realized seconds here are a little longer than in America!  Me & the driver walked over and watched the koi fish and relaxed on a bench under a huge oak tree, talking, in broken English, about American traffic violations & the fines assessed for them.

After the 45 minutes, the facilitator came running out and said we had to get to the Tax Police Office immediately, as they got the paper printed and it is ready and the office is about to close for lunch.  My driver broke every traffic law that we had just talked about a few minutes before, including running a red light, cutting off pedestrians in the cross walk, speeding, following too close, jumping a curb, crossing a double line and going the wrong way on a one-way street (in fact, he cut across 4 lanes of traffic to go backwards down the one-way)!  I had the white knuckle death grip on the roof handle in the back seat!  I think it now has finger grooves!  LOL!

After the tax office, the facilitator had the driver take us to Karavan.  I told Maria that I felt like I had cheated on her somehow today.  See, it has been before we were married since I shopped with a female that I was not related to.  That is something my wife & I do together.  Walking into the mall, it seemed like something just wasn't right about the situation.  When I got to talk to Maria, I instantly confessed though, and I think she's okay with it... not that it will EVER happen again!  LOL!  Anyway, we walked into a shop to buy some scarves as gifts.  She picked one off the rack, showed me the price... 200 hryvnia.  She asked if that was okay.  I replied no, and that it was a little out of my price range.  She asked what I was thinking of for prices.  I told her 50 hryvnia or less.  She put the scarf down and said that we needed to go to the grocery store... it's a lot like a Super Wal*Mart if ya'll remember.  We wound up getting the executive types Dove Silky Nourishment Cream for just over 45 hryvnia each.  In hind sight, I should have said 30 or less for my price range!  LOL!  She then showed me exactly what I am to get for gifts for the nannies who have taken care of Griffin over the past years, then we left.

We loaded back up and went to the orphanage.  I signed some papers & handed out some of the gifts.  The people were very grateful, so I guess it was a good purchase.  When I gave one of the ladies, who was actually our orphanage representative in court, her gift, she opened a folder and pulled out a small stack of pictures of Griffin.  She held up one finger and pointed to the pictures, then to me.  Awesome, another pic of my son!  As I flipped through them, I saw his Reece's Rainbow profile picture, then a series of pictures that was on the actually country's adoption website for orphans, then the very last picture floored me!  It was the earliest picture of our little dude!  A sense of pride filled me and I handed her back the stack, minus that picture!  At least we now have a little bit of his younger years!  Not exactly sure how old he is in the shot as there is nothing to denote it on the back but his old name scrawled in blue ink.  I was then told to go get my son!  Yea!  It was awesome holding him again.  He has regressed some over the past 10 days, but I thought I saw a look in his eyes like he should know who I am.  He was dressed to the 9's in a collared shirt under a heavy sweater and overalls.  He has had a haircut, probably today, and they even put cologne on him!  LOL!  It made me sneeze a little, but it has to be the cleanest we have ever seen him.  All the ladies were fawning over him!  A ladies man in the making!  LOL!  I was told to take him to the car.  Puzzled, I asked, "Really?  He's mine now?"  Here I am without my camera!  Grrrr!  No, it was not the case.  The facilitator explained that if it was just the mother or we were together, we could probably take him today, but the nannies here have had bad experiences with dads who didn't really know how to handle children on their own.  Uh... did they just call me a bad dad?  I can provide references!  :)  She assured me that it is the procedure here and not to worry, that I'd have him in my hands soon enough.  She insisted I go ahead and take him to the car and wait for her.  I asked her to get his Giraffe Meat from the nanny, who didn't want to give it up as I guess he tore the hole in the top a little more than it was when we left.  I assured her it would be fine & that I am a trustworthy dad!  What is it today with these women calling my parenting skills in to question!  Hahaha!  When the facilitator got to the car, she said, in a very frank tone, "Chris, give me $500."  "Uhhh, for what?" I asked.  She explained that I had to pay $500 for the passport application and expedited processing fees.  I didn't remember Maria telling me about this one, and I told her that.  She assured me that it was correct.  I gave her the $500 and told her I would check into it.  Sure enough, Maria knew about it and I am sure she probably told me, but I guess I didn't remember.  Just a little shocking for someone to say give me $500... that's even more than his US Passport with overnight processing fees.  Highway robbery here!  LOL!

We took off back to the local passport facility.  The facilitator ran in and grabbed the documents that she had to get and came back out.  Griffin decided it was time to beat up my driver's car.  He was banging on windows, punching & kicking the back of the seat, and I think he actually pulled the driver's hair too!  He's a stinker.  She came back out with another woman who got in the car and off we went.

We next headed to the regional passport facility.  This is different than the one we were just at.  Here we had to get his passport picture taken.  he was less than cooperative.  She actually had two women sweating!  He's a stubborn little guy!  They tried everything to get his picture taken with him looking at the camera.  It didn't help that, like the tax office, this place had antiquated computer equipment, and there was anywhere from a 5-15 second delay (totally random too) from the time the girl clicked the button on the computer, until the camera actually fired.  His passport, unless they require another photo, has him leaning to one side with his mouth open!  Oh my word!

After paying & signing the applications, and a form to allow the driver to pick up the passport when it is ready so it can be sent to us in the capitol city, we went back to the local passport office... yeah, how many trips to this place am I gonna make in one day?  We dropped off the lady, who didn't even go into the main office, and some documents.  Now the waiting begins for the passport.  The facilitator is estimating Monday (but it is a religious holiday) or Tuesday.  My money is on Tuesday though.  I thought the Germans had a ton of holidays, but this place has them beat hands down!

We returned Griffin to the orphanage, all too soon in my opinion, and they dropped me off at the Karavan to grab some dinner.  This city has 5 bridges that cross the main river that cuts the city in half.  I crossed them all I think, twice!  It was a long day, but I am glad the chase is almost over.  I have an appointment at the bank tomorrow, then it will be back to daily visits with Griffin till it is time to go to the capitol city.

I got back to the apartment and called Maria... she & Little G got back today to Germany.  Half the family is united... just waiting on me... as usual!  LOL!  She said to pass along that they are doing good... lots of hugs & kisses going around with all the girls being reunited.  She said she will blog, hopefully tomorrow, depends on the jet lag.

See ya'll tomorrow!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 42 - Part Deux or How to Nearly Lose it on an Airplane

Yeah... to call my air travels today an adventure is an understatement!

I got to Frankfurt, was already feeling kind of blah with a headache, so you can guess I wasn't in the right mood to fly and have to deal with folks today.  Had a great chat with my boy Evan though... thanks for taking me to the airport bro!  I grabbed a Coke Zero and found a nice secluded spot to relax at my gate.  It was like, Africa hot in the airport though, and kind of muggy.  Weird for an airport.

For those of ya'll who have never flown in Europe, there are some things that you kind of always think will happen.  It is fortunate that the main one has never happened to me... until today!  I got seated next to Stinky McStinkerton.  There are two types of Europeans, those who employ nasal terrorism (overload of perfume or cologne) and then there are the dirty bombers (those who don't wear smell good, or deodorant, or wash before they travel, but instead go run a marathon then get on the plane).  I got the dirty bomber.  Luckily there were seats between everyone on the flight to Vienna.  Even still, I was assaulted by the body-funk.  It's bad when even the Europeans were rubbing their noses cause something was smelling ripe!  I literally watched the pain peel off the seat & could hear the fabric of the seat cry out in agony!  It was ferocious... luckily it was the short leg.

I got to Vienna, 25 minutes early (a shortcut is what the pilot said, but I know better, it was optimum vectors) but I still had to get to my gate pretty quickly... no breakfast for Chris.  I get to the gate and it is packed.  Really?  All these people are going to the po-dunk town I am going to?  Yep, but at least everyone smelled okay.

I get seated and there is a little boy across the aisle who is already throwing a fit.  So, it's going to be one of those flights, huh?  We take off and immediately the boy starts throwing toys at his mother, hitting her in the face, kicking the seat of the poor gentleman in front of him, you name it.  Every bad behavior you could think of a kid doing on a plane, he was doing it.  The flight goes on like this, all hour and 55 minutes of it.  As we begin our descent, the boy is sitting on the floor, still throwing toys at his mother, when the flight attendant comes to her and says he needs to get in his seat and put on his seat belt.  For about 20 minutes the boy is screaming bloody murder.  Everyone was cutting nasty looks at the little boy & his mom.  After some turns in holding (basically the pilot had to turn circles in the sky till the 2 flight attendants, co-pilot, and his mother had to restrain the kid) they finally got him buckled as tightly as possible in the seat and we were able to continue our approach into the airport (a very poorly maintained airport at that).  This is when the rodeo began!

Everyone was still frustrated with the little boy & I didn't have to understand the language they were speaking to get this message loud & clear!  As we touched down, there was a loud bang and the sound of metal... oh goodness I thought.  I'm about to orphan this poor child twice.  The pilot keyed up and said, pretty calmly I might add, "Hold on."  I grabbed the seat back in front of me and pushed my self backwards as hard as possible, preparing for the worst.  The plane shuddered, the oxygen masks fell and we finally came to a stop.  I could smell burning rubber really strong in the cabin.  From my years of working in the tower, it was easy to realize that we had blown a tire.  40 minutes later, we were limping to parking on what is called a skate, a device that goes under a wheel to move a disabled aircraft.  It took us another 20 minutes to get to parking due to the speed we were required to be towed at.  When I got off the plane, I looked and sure enough, blown tire... in fact, both of the tired on the "driver's side" of the plane had blown.  The rim was all chewed up and I could see guys out walking on the runway, throwing strips of rubber into the bed of truck.  Horrifying, yes, blessed that I came through it okay, ABSOLUTELY!  In 17 years of flying, I have never been involved in an emergency.  Please, Lord, let this be my only one!

I got to the apartment, paid the driver, got the keys, emailed Maria, and went to Karavan to get some dinner.  It wasn't the same without my bride with me... I miss my family.  Tomorrow starts the paper chase.  Hopefully it will go by quickly & I can get out of here & get our lives started with our new normal!

See ya'll tomorrow!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day 42 - Here We Go Again!

Today can have a lot of names:

Travel day... stress day... reunification day... homecoming... but more than that, it's Memorial Day.  A day we stop to honor those who have and who are serving our country VOLUNTARILY!  Yes, we get paid, a meager salary for what we are asked to do, but it's not about the pay check.  It's definitely like the old adage says, if you can read this thank a teacher, if you are reading this in English, thank a Veteran.  Please stop today, put down your beer & bar-b-que, and remember that some gave up their abilities to enjoy these luxuries so that EVERYONE, sometimes not even our own people, can have these opportunities.

So, I am about to board a plane to go get our little dude from the baby house.  Not really looking forward to the flight, it's always a hassle you know.  Maria leaves today heading back to Germany to reunite Big G & Little G... family is almost complete.  I will be back on blog duty for the foreseeable future... at least until the whole family is back together.  The next few weeks will be a whirlwind, and I'm sure totally frustrating at times.  I will try to be honest in everything that happens so you all can see what we are going through.  Plus I will try to sprinkle in some of the cultural stuff you have become accustomed to from me.

Please follow along again & say a prayer for safe-travels for my family... the end is in sight!

See ya'll tomorrow!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 35-Busy, Busy!!!

We have been SOOOOO busy since we got home on Saturday!  We were greeted at the airport by our Big G on her birthday!!!  She was so excited to see us and snuggled with me all the way home.  We have been trying to catch up on lost time with our oldest and I have also been dealing with a clogged duct in my eye... I had an ER visit for that last night and a doctor's appt today.  No relief at all and pretty uncomfortable.  However, I am flying to MS tomorrow to bring Little G home!  I will stay until Monday so that I can visit with family/friends and to allow  Little G to warm back up to me, just in case!  I'm so excited!

We are STILL dealing with legal office issues. <sigh> It never ends!  Since I am not returning with Chris to get Griffin, I have to have a paper notarized, basically on the form they just want my signature notarized.  However, the legal office wanted the form completely filled out and that's not possible because all of the information is on the court decree that we don't have that yet!  Today was my only day to get this form done because I'm flying home!  So Chris got to work on calling the embassy and sending emails and thankfully everyone was quick to respond and moved a mountain for us.  We were able to fill out every blank so that they would notarize my signature.  It only took 5 hours at the legal office.  Only.5.hours. <sigh>  Maybe this was our last hurdle?  Maybe???

And as for our Middle G, mercy, we miss him!  He's definitely a huge part of our family now and we can't wait to get him home!  We have been trying to gather the things that he needs.  We have had friends to step up and offer us clothing which helps so much!  I know all of you are so anxious to meet him and we can't wait to introduce him to you!!  Our children are a blessing to us.  Such a blessing.

So please continue to pray for us!  Please pray for Big G because I am going to have to leave her again... Please pray for my eye, it's so painful!!!...Please pray for safe travels for us...And please continue to pray for our little dude! 

Hopefully the next time I write, I'll be in MS! :-) 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 32-We Passed Court!!!

Maria's View-

PRAISE GOD!  We passed court!!!  I am so thankful that we have this behind us! 

Today has been a long day.  We decided to end our visits last night and concentrate only on court today... We spent the day reviewing everything and praying.  The day seemed to creep by.

We got dressed up and headed out to our driver.  Our facilitator was with him and we headed to the courthouse a full hour early.  We stood outside for the most part of it, next to a paddy-wagon, yep, it's a criminal court, as well...and we silently prayed to ourselves.  About 20 minutes until court, our fac. took us upstairs to sit on a bench and she reviewed questions and procedures with us.  My nerves and brain were not cooperating with me at all!  

She went through the rules... Do not cross your legs, Do not put your hands in your pocket, Do not break eye contact with the judge even when I am translating, Do not look at anyone except for the judge.  Stand when you speak, Address her as Your Honor,  Don't answer with just a 'Yes' or a 'No'.
Ummmm yeah, when I get nervous, I fidget, I cross my legs, I would probably put my hands in my pockets but I had a dress on today, I don't make eye contact when I'm nervous, etc. I was a nervous wreck.  I'm also the type person if you tell me to not do something, I'll probably do it accidentally because my brain makes me do it.  ANYWAY.

She also went through all of the possible questions that the judge and prosecutor will ask us.  

So, all of a sudden, the social worker and orphanage representative were right next to us, laughing and motioning to us... and our facilitator translated that we dressed up nicely and they almost didn't recognize us!  Yeah, I really don't like to wear dresses so all they have ever seen me in is jeans... Chris, too.  Chris was lookin' all handsome. :-)  Also, we were kind of thrown off a bit by who was representing us for the orphanage because we have never had any dealings with her.  strange.

Time to go in.  I was expecting a court type setting but I was so wrong.  We were ushered into a medium sized office.  To the left of the entrance were 2 desks.  The judge's desk was arranged so that it was facing the right side of the room, the secretary's desk was T'ed to her desk.  To the right of the entrance was 2 small desks where the social worker and orphanage director sat at one, and the prosecutor sat at the other.  Our chairs sat facing the judge, directly in front of these 2 small desks, so that the prosecutor, social worker and director were behind us.  Our fac. sat next to us, and to the side sat two witnesses. 

Time to get started.  The judge went over our home study to the court and finally it was time for us to introduce ourselves by stating our name, date of birth, and state of birth.  Then she asked Chris what our purpose was and he did a great job in stating exactly what the judge needed to hear.  She questioned him basically on the logistics of everything, military status, medical coverage, immigration, what this country expects as far as yearly reports go, etc.  Then it was my turn.  Let me just say, she GRILLED me.  I stood before her, strangely calm, although still pretty nervous.  I could feel the tension creeping up into my neck and head.  She asked me all of the obvious things...

"Why do you want to adopt a child with Ds when you have two perfectly healthy children?"
-I feel that this is my calling in life.  We have been blessed with two healthy children and because they are so healthy, I feel that I will have even more time to be able to help a child with special needs.

"Do your children understand how this child will affect your family?"  My girls...I began to choke up with just thinking about their sweet little selves.
-Our oldest daughter goes to public school with children with Down syndrome.  She knows and understands the best that she can what will be involved in raising this child.  Our youngest will grow up with him and will never know any difference.   He will just always be in her life!

The prosecutor asked, "Why now?  Why not wait until your youngest is older?"
-I strongly feel that our time is now.  I'm already teaching my youngest everything she needs to know and so he will just learn right along with her. 

She asks, "But how will you MANAGE?  How will you care for him when you are feeding her, or while you are getting your oldest daughter off to school?"
-I'll manage by feeding him during the same time as I feed the rest of my kids! (I really almost wanted to laugh.)  As for when I take my daughter to the bus stop in the morning, I have a double stroller now and I will put him in it right along side my youngest daughter!

"Do you have family to help you with appointments?"  This prosecutor was really turning up the heat.  I really didn't know how to answer this question properly because I didn't want them to think that I didn't feel capable of juggling the needs of 3 kids so I stated that I do not have family in Germany. 

Then the judge jumped in, "it's impossible for you to make so many appointments and have a child like this.  There is no way that you can handle it all."

Our facilitator slipped in while she was translating for us that they need to know that I have help if I need it... whew!  So I spoke up and said, I have so many people in Germany who are willing to help me watch my children.  As a matter of fact, our friends have been keeping our daughter for us so that we can be here for the past month!

That satisfied her.  There were a few other questions but it seemed to get a bit better.

At one point, while the judge seemed to be going off on a rant (remember, this language always comes across as heated, no matter if it's heated or not), our facilitator took a quick moment to throw in that we are doing fine and it's going well.  I relaxed a bit.

The social worker had her say next.  She made it clear that she believes he is a great fit for our family.

The orphanage representative said that she can tell how much he is thriving in just this month alone.  He is much happier since we started visiting and has never seemed this happy in his life.  She also added that there was an excellent bond happening, especially between father and son.  Yes, he's definitely a Papa's boy.

The judge started summarizing everything with a long speech and as she was talking, I noticed the secretary flipping through our photo books that we brought along.  Every now and then, I would catch a glimpse of my sweet girl's faces.

We were told to stand again and she said that it was the ruling of the court that it's in the child's best interest to allow us to adopt him.  And that was that!

Our fac. looked at us and smiled, congratulated us, and then the witnesses came by and said that they were so thankful that there are people in the world like us who love children like this.  She went on and on about how blessed Griffin will be and I just stood there saying, "spaseeba" (thank you) over and over again.  The social worker and director came over and gave us the biggest smiles and made a thumbs up to us.  We were told to go outside and wait as our fac. finished up the final paperwork. 

The cool air was much welcomed.  I bent over, with my hands on my knees and was mentally exhausted.  Chris said, "Wow, they really roasted you!" 

The social worker, orphanage director, and our facilitator walked with us to our car.  They were all laughing and giggling and our facilitator translated that as they were standing behind me, they noticed how small I was in court, and even the prosecutor was concerned that I was too small to handle such a child.  They continued to congratulate us and we said our goodbyes.

Then I realized that we didn't even give our gifts to the judge and secretary.   I guess our facilitator didn't feel that they were needed. 

But anyway, it's so good to be done with this.  He is ours!  We will give him the life that he deserves.  Yes, we know it won't be easy.  We know that there will be many difficult days ahead but there are difficult days with every child.  He is going to be no different to me than my own girls.  He's ours.  Praise GOD, he is finally ours!

Chris will return on the 28th to start paper chasing and will get him out of the orphanage.  He will probably be in country for about 10 days or so.  Once he is done here, he will go to the US with him and immigrate him/get his new passport.  Once that is done, he will fly him home to Germany.  Expedia really messed us up with our tickets.  They refused to let us move our tickets up, even though Chris is certain that the fine print said that we could change them for a fee.  They wouldn't budge on it.  So for another $1000 we had to buy more tickets to Germany and it was cheaper to just do round trip tickets for both of us, even though I won't be coming back.  Our flight expense has just about killed our budget... but he's worth it.  God will provide.  Next week, I will try to Space A home to get Little G.  I miss my girls so much!  I will get to see Big G tomorrow night, on her b'day! 

Thank you so much for your prayers!!!  We truly could not have done this without your love, encouragement, support, and prayers.  We will continue to blog because we would love for all of you to see how much this child is going to thrive once he is home with us! 

We may not have a blog update for tomorrow night because it will be late when we get home!  But soon!!  I promise!

Chris's View:

Court day has arrived, and tomorrow we will be on our way back to our Big G, then Maria will be heading back to get our Little G before I have to come back & snatch Middle G from the orphanage!

Today, let's discuss driving in this country.

As I said before, we have a main road in front of our apartment, and we take this main road to the road the orphanage is on.  The main road is similar to the main streets of Paris where they have no lines marking official lanes.  It is truly a "get in where you fit in" mentality.  I have seen this road with as many as 6 cars abreast in one direction.  That means the cars on the outside lanes had half of their vehicle up on the curbs.  It is crazy & they drive crazy too.

Case in point, we have nearly hit an old lady (she was probably 60+ years old and not in the best shape, and she had to run to avoid being hit) to which our driver just honked his horn without slowing down.  We have nearly (and frequently) hit other vehicles.  I am sure rear-enders happen here all too often with the way these folks drive, yet I haven't seen too many busted up vehicles.  Our driver has, on MANY occasions, passed a vehicle stopped at a red light to take position in front of them to wait for the light to change.  I am sorry, this would have really ticked me off.  I used to have road rage, but I have calmed down a whole lot.  That would drive me right to the point of getting out and going to address the person who pulled a stunt like that!

The roads are not good, so if you do not know the roads, you are probably going to either bust a tire or rear end the person in front of you who does know the roads well.  They have a nasty habit of stopping really quickly in front of pot holes or train tracks or speed bumps.  If you are following with the flow of traffic, you cannot see the road hazards and are forced to lock up your breaks.  It would be rough learning to drive here.

Learner drivers have a yield sign sticker with a "y" in it on their windows.  These learner vehicles are rarely on the main roads from what I have seen, but I see them frequently in a large paved lot near the orphanage.  I have seen one learner driver on the road by the Karavan, and she looked scared to death!  Poor lady had the flop sweats!  LOL!  She looked like she was older, maybe late 20's early 30's, but the sheer look of terror on her face was priceless.  I do not envy driving instructors here... man, how do teach the unpredictable to someone?  It's hard for me to fathom driving here and I have been behind the wheel for years and have driven in all sorts of crazy circumstances... I could not imagine having to learn in a place like this!

Lastly, while we have felt somewhat safe in the vehicles we have had to ride in, the biggest complaint we have had is the lack of seat belts.  They are simply removed from the back seats.  The front seats have them, and one of the taxi drivers we had actually used his, but the rest of them just ignored the seat belts.  We discussed this with our usual driver one day and he said they are required, but the law is not enforced.  He seemed shocked when we told him of the $250 fine in the states for not having a seat belt on.  He acknowledged that the Americans he has driven have all asked about seat belts.  Like I said, at least we have felt somewhat safe.

See ya'll tomorrow... if I get a chance to blog due to flying home!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 31-Last Vist before Court

Maria's View-

We woke up to a rainy, dreary day and I'm so thankful that we haven't had to deal with many of these days.  Griffin is definitely an outside kind of guy.  We had to go upstairs to the indoor play area.  However, there were a few groupas practicing a performance on the carpet.  So we pulled up some chairs and watched them perform.  It was so adorable!  The different groupas had their own singing and dancing parts...some had speaking parts.  Even the nannies were involved in some way or form.  One of the songs appeared to have a gorilla (a nanny) and a baby gorilla (one of the cutest girls I have ever seen) and they stomped around and sang.  We really enjoyed it but Griffin was kind of out of it today.  He was pleasant, just not active.  We gave him Giraffe Meat and he sat in our laps content on just chewing on it.  After the groupas were finished with rehearsal, we were able to put him on the carpet and let him play.  All he really wanted to do was chew on G.M.  So we just had a relaxed visit with him.

The nanny surprised us with a glass of juice.  She tried to get him to drink it and he did drink a bit but then started chewing on the glass.  It is so obvious that he does not drink like this and that he uses a bottle.  I am so thankful that he takes our sippy cup without a problem!  She didn't force him to drink, she just kind of gave up, so I was actually thankful for that. 

Afterwards, we decided to go to the grocery store and bought his groupa some animal crackers and bananas for a whopping $4.00.  Hopefully, the children will actually get to enjoy these items. :-)  We also bought another pack of Pampers, just in case.  We are going to attempt to leave G.M. with him, along with a picture of us so that he can hopefully remember who we are and not quickly forget!

For the evening visit, we translated that "today is our last day to visit and that we have court tomorrow.  We have to go back home but will return after the 10 day waiting period.  May we please leave this photograph and toy for him to play with?"  She nodded yes and took all of the items from us and that was that.  I REALLY hope they will let the children have their treats!  And I really hope they will show our picture to Griffin every day.

It had stopped raining outside so we were able to play outdoors this evening.  Griffin was not his normal self and was a bit sluggish.  Right at the very end, his nose started running, so I'm assuming he isn't feeling well.  We tried to get him to walk and slide at the train and he just didn't feel up to it.  So we headed to an empty play shed.  The nanny walked by right as I stood Griffin up against the railing of the play shed and motioned that they had been painting.  OOPS.  I looked at our hands and we both had yellow paint on our palms.  The nanny laughed, got a cloth and paint thinner,  yes, paint thinner, and cleaned our hands off.  Griffin giggled as she was wiping his hands, I guess it was tickling him.  Too cute!  The nanny got tickled too as he kept laughing.  You can't help but laugh when Griffin laughs.  It's contagious!

So once our visit was through, it pained me to have to take him back to the room for the last time.  I really wish we didn't have to leave him but there's nothing we can do about that.  We left Giraffe Meat with him and hopefully the nanny will let him have it to sleep with at night. 

Please pray that Griffin remembers us and that the wait will go by so quickly!  Also, please pray that we do well in court and that we say exactly what they want to hear!  I'll let you know how it goes!  Court is at 4:00pm our time and we are about 8 hours ahead of central time.   Thank you!

Chris's View:

Today's blog is about a practice here in the adoption process that I don't fully agree with, but I feel we need to comply and just shut up & go with the flow.  It's the process of gifting.  The gifts go a long way in 1, thanking people, and 2, getting things done.  THEY ARE NOT BRIBES, and they are totally optional to give.  Everyone gives the gifts though.

There are several people involved in the process outside of our facilitation team.  There is the orphanage director, the head doctor, head nurse, judge, social worker, secretary & 4 nannies.  Each of these people are expecting a gift since they "invested" time into our little dude or the adoption process.  The kicker is that the whole time we were here, they said not to worry about the gifts and that our facilitator would help us out, and kind of show us what to get... yeah, then our facilitator leaves the region for an extended period of time and now we have court tomorrow... oh, she gets back in the morning, so no time to shop.  It's all on us.  I talked with her and we got the nannies worked out.  The only advice she offered for the "executives" is that the item CANNOT look cheap.  Um... that's a little subjective, huh?  I mean, to me, cargo shorts & a Southern Miss t-shirt with leather sandals is actually acceptable for church, so my interpretation of cheap, I feel, is a little different than what theirs might me... in fact, my wife surely thinks I should not wear that outfit to church!  LOL!

The nannies were easy, since the facilitator actually told us what to get for them.  They prefer chocolate and champagne... which makes me wonder... are they drinking the champagne on the job?  I could see them getting sloshed and having to take care of a room full of children!  Ugh!  Actually, if you remember from an earlier blog of mine, adults here take drinking to a whole new level, and it is not uncommon for them to drink 5-6 bottles of Vodka in a sitting.  A glass or two of champagne will do nothing to a constitution like that.  The chocolates are Esfero.  I have never heard of them, but they kind of look like Ferrero Rocher, which I have seen.  I think Maria actually has had the Ferrero Rocher and liked them.  The chocolates run about $6.25 per box.  Not too bad.  I think champagne runs about half that.  Look, I ain't buying Dom Perignon... it took me 15 years of military service & getting a line to Master Sergent before I was gifted a bottle of Dom!  They'll have to settle for the cheap stuff!  LOL!

We think we figured out what to get the "executives" involved though... hopefully it will be acceptable.  They have these nice writing pens at a center kiosk at the Karavan mall.  They say they are Mont Blanc, which are pretty nice pens from what I gather.  I cannot say if they are real or fake though.  That kind of concerns me.  I mean, I have to come back and get paperwork that is prepared by the judge, social worker & secretary, so I definitely DO NOT want that stuff delayed.  I need them to be happy and satisfied with the item we give them.  IT IS NOT A BRIBE!  It is a gift... but I am sure they work harder for those that give nice gifts than those who opt not to give a gift at all.  Slightly different from America where "It's the thought that counts."  One more thing for me to stress out about I guess... I'll just have to heap that one on to the pile of stress we are already carrying!  LOL!

See ya'll tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 30-The Little Things...

Maria's view-

Dude was so happy this morning.  He kept a constant pleasant little smile on his face for our entire visit.  We found a swing and claimed it because all of the groupas were outside today.  It was near to Griffin's old play shed and we enjoyed watching all of the children in his old groupa.  Griffin seems to recognize them and enjoyed watching them as well.  Do you remember the adorable twins that I told you about?  I believe they must be orphanage favorites because they were allowed to roam about while the others had to stay in the play shed.  They would come over to Griffin and talk to him, Griffin would smile and wave.  It was so adorable. 

In this groupa, there is a blond headed, beautiful girl with Down syndrome that is not listed on RR.  I would never know that she has Down syndrome if it weren't for her facial characteristics.  She is a typical toddler, playful, active, verbal, and would make a wonderful daughter for someone.  I am going to see if there is any way for her to be listed if she is available for adoption.  She is so beautiful.  She would wave to us when she would see us looking, she would throw her toys out of the play shed in hopes that we would pick them up, yell at us to get our attention, and I love her to pieces!

Ollie from RR (Click HERE) was in the other play shed next to this one.  This little guy is so strong!  His profile says that he has a heart condition but it does not slow him down at all.  The nanny put him in a walker and then dumped out a bucket of toys in the middle of the play shed.  Well, he wanted one so he crawled out of the walker, landed on his head, and grabbed the toy he wanted!  Then he continued to play.  He was able to get back up into a seated position all by himself.  Again, he's so strong and very capable.  What an angel!

While we pushed Griffin in the swing, I pulled Giraffe Meat out of a grocery bag and handed it to him.  Well, he wanted G.M. and the bag.  He played with the bag as if it were a brand new toy.  His smile was huge as the wind would make it fly up in front of his face.  Then he would crinkle it all up, then shake it back out... He would also put G.M. in the bag, then shake him out into the dirt, of course. :-)  It is always the craziest kinds of stuff that kids love to play with the very most!  My 6 year old and 18 month old LOVES to play with a plain cardboard box that is sitting in the middle of our living room.  A BOX.  And Griffin enjoys shopping bags better than a toy.  It's the little things. :-)

Our visit went by pretty quickly because of everything going on around us.  It was very enjoyable to be surrounded by all of these cuties and I loved watching how happy Griffin was.  I hope he has this much fun with his sisters at HOME. :-)

So, we got the call today that we are to have court at 4:00 on Friday.  We will fly back to Germany on Saturday and I will get to see my Big G!  So excited!! Please start praying that court will go well!  Thank you!!

Chris's View:

Yeah, I am totally at a loss today.  What shall I blog about?  I guess I need to start taking requests LOL!

Let's do 9 Fun Facts about this place.  Yeah, I could have went 10, but I guess I am getting lazy!

1. They wear their wedding ring on the ring finger of their right hand instead of their left hand.

This might be mistaken by some people in America, as I found out by looking on an Ehow page HERE.  It is such a subtle difference, but it is one that Americans could place an entire different meaning on if they saw it.  Anything from widowhood to sexual preference could be signified by a ring on the right hand ring finger in America.  While trying to find pictures of this for the blog, it was interesting that I found a picture of every category that was on the Ehow listing.  I decided to go with the one that I am referring to in my fact above.
2. On the train the toilet dumps on the tracks. Kind of weird to flush the toilet and see the ground below.
We experienced this first hand on our train ride from the capitol city to the region we are in.  We were on an overnight train, and the last thing our driver who took us to the train told us was to use the bathroom before we got too close to the city, as it becomes a sterile zone.  It is nasty when you think about it.  Many people travel along train tracks to get to civilization (well, at least that's what Bear Grylls says!).  I guess it saves a lot of money on having to service the train and things like that.  While we are on the subject, the toilet on the train was pretty odd too.  It had a foot lever to press to flush... at least I didn't have to touch anything in that nasty place with my hands... yes, it was GROSS!  This is not the toilet from our train in the picture... ours was stainless steel all over the bathroom, I guess so they could just hose down the entire room without having to put any effort into scrubbing it.  I guess it could be worse, it could have been the one in the picture, where it looks like they don't clean at all!  LOL!
3. They speak two languages, and it is not uncommon to hear a single conversation where one person is speaking 1 language and the other person is speaking the other language.
They have an official language here, but being part of the former Soviet Union, there are many people here who have retained the Russian language.  The two languages are pretty similar from what I understand, but they are still different nonetheless.  Here's a little cheat sheet I found for Russian Cyrillic... or you can paste this whole blog into Google Translate and have a blast trying to learn the language!  The national language is one of the most melodic in the world apparently.  From personal experience, it doesn't sound that melodic while they are speaking it, especially when they seem to be yelling at each other when they speak.  It is hard to even think in our driver's car when he or our facilitator is on the phone... it's like they are yelling at the party on the other side, like they just did something insanely wrong, like drown a puppy or something!
4. Christians are forbidden from playing cards, it's considered gambling.
Not a shocker here until you think that under Communist rule, religion was seen as a problem to the leadership, so they abolished most religious places & events in the Soviet Union.  Many churches were destroyed by the Communists, their valuables sold or melted down to support the regime.  It has made an amazing comeback since this country got it's freedom.  Russian Orthodox is the main religion, and everyone has icons of patron Saints with them.  I wonder though, if they play cards with these religious ones could it be considered religious training?  Maria brought up a good point... even Solitaire is could be viewed as "playing cards".  LOL!  It is pretty interesting that I have been in so many different countries and seen their religious across the years I have served in the military, and while there are some that don't, most take their religions way more serious than Americans do... unfortunately, this also means I have seen my share of fundamentalists, but those were mainly when I deployed to hot, sandy environments!

5. You have to pay to use the restroom in public places, but at least there is toilet paper, thanks in part to McDonald's teaching people that it is better to be sanitary and bring in slightly less money.
Thank you McDonald's!  LOL!  I have shown pictures of the "squatty potties", but could you imagine the nastiness if there was no toilet paper?  McDonald's was the main reason for this change.  After years of study, and many years of proper toilet training, the owners of the company determined that people don't get sick as often if they wash the poopka off their hands before consuming their meals (big shocker there, huh?)!  They lobbied the government to make toilet paper readily available to all people to help cut down the instances of dysentery & Hepatitis A.  It worked, and now you can buy a 4 pack of TP at most stores for around $1.00... look at America... Westernizing the world 1 bathroom at a time!
6. Bread and mayonnaise are consumed at about every meal.
I read a blog that this place is in what is called the cult of bread.  Bread holds a sacred part of worship and rituals in this culture.  I did not understand at the time, but when we were in the capitol looking around, we kept seeing magnets that had a loaf of bread, some salt & what looked like a piece of bacon on it.  It is this exact thing that is offered to people when they come to a home for dinner here in this country, prior to the meal.  It is a symbolic welcome and blessing on the guests.  Mayonnaise though, is a different story.  I don't understand that one, but what I can say is that the Karavan has a Wall-o-Mayo!  LOL!  By the way, yes, that is a loaf of bread here, though we have not seen anything near that elaborate... I'd like to though, it looks delicious!
7. Commas are used as decimal points instead of periods.
This is not unique here, but it is different from the US.  The comma is used as a numerical place separator in many European cultures.  Just a subtle nuance.  You can actually change many Microsoft products to do this if you just really want to see what it looks like... or, you can just look here.....  $4,99 = $4.99... see, I told you it was subtle.
8. You have to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store.
I discussed this briefly in yesterday's blog.  Many places in Europe are doing this now.  I think there may be a couple places in the states doing this, but it really hasn't caught on.  As Americans, we like the convenience.  If a place starts charging for plastic bags, it just might drive away business.  It's a heck of a lot better for the environment though.  The fee is nominal to the US traveler, but I can imagine that to the people here that make wage, remember, it's about $350 per month for the average salary, it could add up quite a bit.  We saw a young boy walking home with an unwrapped loaf of bread yesterday, and it was shoved up in his armpit... no bag or nothing! Yeah, I can imagine that dinner... bread & underarm cheese!  Yummmmmmm!  Sign me up!  LOL!  Also different, since we are talking groceries, in Europe, the rear wheels of your shopping cart are not set, the caster around just like the front wheels.  Makes for some fun rides for the kiddos!
9. People don't smile at you or say Hello when you pass them on the street; they keep a very straight face.

This is something that we dealt with when we first got to Germany, but it is not nearly as bad here.  I think it is taught here, where in Germany, the locals soften up once they get to know you or see that you are genuinely friendly.  It's not all Germans, but it seems like it is ALL the people here.  The younger people don't even seem to acknowledge your existence on the street, while the older people seem to almost glare at you... I guess to see if you are going to pay respects to your elders or something.

Okay, so you talked me into it...

10.  The rate of alcohol use by teenagers is higher here than anywhere else in the world.

Ummm... maybe the word teenager is thrown around too much in this country.  Everything I have found, kids, yes children, can drink here starting at 10 years old.  They can legally purchase alcohol as CHILDREN... wow, what a difference from the US, where teens, yes teens, have to go to the county line gas stations to have a remote chance anymore of getting boozed.  It is estimated that 70% of kids get their first drink from their parents, and that 60% of child poisonings are alcohol related.  This is partly due to there being no differentiation between low-dose & high-dose alcohol like in many other European countries where teens are allowed to drink.

Hope ya'll enjoyed it... see ya'll tomorrow!