June 20th, 2016
By Laura A. Jones
This is a transcript of the hand-written journal I kept when my husband and I traveled to Russia to adopt our daughter, Makayla. She was five years old at the time and was living in an orphanage in Birobidzhan. She will be turning 18 next month and agreed to allow me to share our story. Please keep in mind that this record is completely unedited. I realize the journal would benefit from some revisions, but I decided to leave it exactly as I penned it at the time the events were taking place.
The journal that I wrote in during our trip to Russia.
30 March 2000
I can’t believe this day has finally arrived. Dad and I are on a plane on our way to Russia to pick you up. I have watched the videos of you about 100 times, and I can’t wait to meet you. We can tell that you are a very happy little girl because you are always smiling. Your two grandmas are at home taking care of Ashley and Craig while we are in Russia. All of them are so excited to meet you. I have been very busy getting ready for you. I wallpapered your new room, picked out furniture, and bought clothes and toys for you. I hope that you like everything I’ve chosen for you. We packed eight big suitcases to take to Russia. I wanted to bring lots of toys for you to play with. We also brought winter coats and gloves to donate to the other children at the orphanage. I bought Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars to take to the children also. I know that this will be a wonderful trip. We love you very much!
31 March 2000
We are sitting in a hotel room in Moscow. This is the first time I have ever been out of North America. When we arrived at the airport here in Moscow, an interpreter was holding a sign that said “Jones.” She took us to a van which drove us to this hotel where we have been resting for a few hours. We are getting ready to go to the airport to get on another plane which will take us to Khabarosk. From there, we will be driven to Birobidzhan where you are waiting for us. We will probably get to meet you on Sunday, which is the day after tomorrow. We can’t wait!
1 April 2000
Today was the day that we finally got to meet you after waiting so long. It was a wonderful day, but I don’t want to leave anything out, so I’m going to start where I left off. On Friday night in Moscow, the interpreter and the driver picked us up at the hotel right on time and drove us to the airport. The interpreter proved to be invaluable in getting us through all the lines and procedures at the airport. She showed us exactly where to go and what to do. She was a young girl, only about 20, but a very mature 20. She is a student at the university and works part time as an interpreter. She spoke almost perfect English, even better than some Americans. She stayed with us until we were able to get on the plane, and while we were talking, I asked her how things have changed in the last 10 years for her family and for people that she knows. Have things gotten better, or are they getting worse? (I was referring to the end of communism.) She said it is definitely getting better. They have more freedoms and choices now. She told us that before, even if you had money, you couldn’t get things. Now, if you work, and if you have money, you can get anything you need—a house, clothing, you can travel. . . whatever. I asked her about their new president, Vladimir Putin. Did she think he would be good for Russia? She said yes. She thinks it’s good that they have a younger leader now, and she said the fact that more than half of all Russians voted for him in the elections shows that the people are beginning to realize that this new way of life is a better way of life. I was glad to hear all of this coming directly from a Russian citizen. There is a chance we will have this same interpreter when we return to Moscow. I hope so because we really liked her.
Our flight from Moscow to Khabarosk was on Aeroflat, the Russian airline. The dinner that they served was my first taste of Russian food. It was much more formal than the dinners served on American airlines. It was a six-course meal served more like a dinner in a restaurant. We had fancy cloth placemats, and they kept coming back to ask if we wanted more of anything, or if we had any wishes. We were even served sushi as an appetizer. I tasted it for the first time, but Daddy didn’t want his. The only bad part about Aeroflat was the cigarette smoke.
When we arrived in Khabarosk, we were met by another interpreter and two drivers. We paid for a second car and driver to accomodate all of the luggage we brought with us. We have a lot of luggage because of the coats and gloves I bought to donate to the orphanage. The 2½ hour drive from Khabarosk to Birobidzhan was quite scary. It reminded me of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. It was extremely bumpy, and our driver, whose name was Slava, kept driving on the wrong side of the road to pass someone. When another car would be coming in the opposite direction, I would start to get a little tense because we were going very fast. It seemed as though Slava did not feel the same urgency that I did to get back to the right side of the road. He continued driving on the wrong side much longer than he needed to. All of this was compounded by the fact that there were no seat belts for us in the back seat.
As we drove along, I asked the interpreter, whose name is Tamara, the same question I asked the interpreter in Moscow: How had things changed for her in the last ten years? She told me that she was very grateful for the new freedoms that she now has, but in her case, as well as Slava’s, their economic situation is not as good as it was then. Both Tamara and Slava have regular jobs, and they do the driving and interpreting for Americans to earn a little extra money. She said they are not living, they are surviving. Tamara is a high school English teacher, and she also speaks beautiful English. I asked Tamara to tell me what freedoms she has now that she didn’t have before. She first told me that she no longer has to be afraid to say whatever she wants. She is also very grateful that newspapers can now tell the whole story, and they can now get books that were previously not allowed. She loves to read and to learn, and she has read books that told about the terrible things that Lenin and Stalin did. Before, she heard only good things about them and was taught that they were great men. She now realizes that all of that was wrong.
We finally arrived in Birobidzhan. Tamara told us we would be going to the orphanage this afternoon to meet you. I explained to her that I wanted to fix my hair before we went. Our electrical adapters did not work in Moscow, and I was not able to dry or curl my hair. The driver brought us to the host family’s apartment to drop off our luggage, and then they took us to an appliance store to buy a hairdryer and a curling iron. We brought them home, I got ready, and we were driven to the orphanage.
When we got out of the car, we could see all the children playing on the playground. We could hear them yell, “Tanya, Tanya.” The teacher yelled to the interpreter that you were inside. We walked in, quickly met the director, who motioned for us to go into her office. I walked in first, and there you were sitting on the sofa. I immediately walked over to you, put my arm around you and said “Hello, sweetheart” in Russian. You sat very still and were very quiet. Everyone walked into the room (Daddy, the interpreter, the director of the orphanage, and the driver.) Daddy asked Slava to make a video, and we started talking. After a few minutes, I whispered to you in Russian that we brought you a present. I reached into my big black purse and pulled out the Barbie doll we brought for you. You were obviously very excited to get her because your eyes lit up, and you started talking up a storm. The Barbie was dressed in a long red velvet dress, and she had on a white fur hat. The interpreter explained to us that you were saying that she looks like the snow maiden. Tamara went on to explain that in Russia, New Year’s is the big holiday because for so many years you were not permitted to have Christmas. She said that the snow maiden is part of the New Year’s celebration in Russia.
My husband with Makayla on the day we met her.
We let you play with the Barbie for awhile, and then we showed you the pictures in the little photo album that we put together for you. You were able to say Ashley’s name right away, but you had a little trouble pronouncing Craig’s. You especially liked your new bedroom, and the interpreter told me you saw the Barbies on the shelf in the picture, and you said, “I already have 2 or 3 Barbies!” After awhile, I got out the case which was holding several outfits for Barbie. This was also very exciting to you. After we opened the case, I noticed that you were very meticulous with all of Barbie’s accessories and clothing. You were very careful to put each pair of shoes back into the drawers they were in. You hung up the articles of clothing when you were finished with them. You even told Daddy to be careful when he started flying Barbie around the room. You were afraid the shoes would fall off and get lost. This reminded me of myself because when I was a child, I was always careful with my Barbies, too.
(L to R): Tamara (our interpreter), me hugging Makayla
After you played with Barbie for awhile, I got out the purse I brought for you. I had spent a couple of months looking for little things to put in that purse for you. It had perfume, two necklaces, two bracelets, barretts, a mirror, a nail file, a pretty ring, a notebook, a pen, some colored pencils, an eraser, some stationery, a brush, a comb, and some pictures of our family. When I brought out the purse, I said “soom-kah” which is purse in Russian. Without the interpreter’s help, I could tell what you were asking me. You wanted to know if it was my purse or your purse. I said “Tanyana soom-kah,” and you were very excited. We opened it up, and you got even more excited when you saw all of the little things I put in there for you. I also had a pink Pez candy dispenser in there for you. You liked the candies very much. Before we had to leave, I asked the interpreter to ask you if you knew we had chosen an American name for you. You said, “yes.” I asked if you knew what it was. You said, “no.” We told you that we named you Makayla Tatyana, and that we wanted to know if you would like to go by Makayla, or if you would like to continue to go by Tatyana. You said that you liked the name we chose for you and you wanted to go by that name. It was time for us to leave, and we told you we would come back in the morning. You surprised us by saying “bye-bye” in English without being prompted. We came home and went to bed. We were completely exhausted.
Makayla playing with the pen and notebook that she found inside her new purse.
2 April 2000
This morning we woke up and tried to get our room and luggage organized. After we got showered and dressed, Gaya, whose home we are staying in, made a huge breakfast for us. At 10:00, the adoption coordinator, whose name is Tatyana, came over with the interpreter. Tatyana is a doctor in the children’s hospital, and she works as the adoption coordinator on the side. Through the interpreter, Tatyana explained what will be happening in the next few days before we go to court on Wednesday. She also told us that it is very important for us to tell the judge that we arrived in Birobidzhan on Friday instead of Saturday. Apparently there is a law in Russia that says the adoptive parents must be here 5 days before the court date or the judge will have to postpone our court hearing, and there are not any more days available until May. She explained that everyone involved, including the representative from the orphanage will support our story. This sounded a little scary to me, but Tatyana told us that in Russia things are just done differently than in the United States. Tatyana also told us that we should not hope to have the 10-day waiting period waived, because this just never happens.
(L to R): Gaya, Tatyana. We lived with Gaya in her apartment during our stay in Birobidzhan. She worked as a bookkeeper, but in order to earn extra money, she provided room and board to Americans who were there to adopt. She and her adult daughter cooked all of our meals for us. Tatyana was a pediatrician, and she worked as an adoption coordinator on the side to earn extra money. Both of these pictures were taken a couple of weeks later when we took everyone out to dinner, but I wanted to include them here so that you could associate their names with their faces.
After this meeting, we were taken to the orphanage to see you again. They had us wait in the music room while they were getting you ready. When you came in, you immediately came to each of us and gave us big long hugs. We spoke to you for a few minutes, and I asked you questions through the interpreter. Then, in Russian, I told you that we brought you a present. I first showed you the picture of your bedroom, and I pointed to the doll on your bed. Then I reached into my bag and pulled out that doll. You were very excited, and the interpreter told me that you said, “I was just saying yesterday what a pretty doll that is.” I got out the diaper bag and told you we were going to feed the baby. I handed you the bib and a bottle of milk. You were so adorable feeding the little doll. Then I told you we needed to get her ready for bed. I showed you the pajamas, and you started taking her dress off. We put on her diaper and her pajamas, and then Daddy brought out the doll bed. You just loved it. You put her in bed and covered her with the blanket. We had to leave at lunchtime, but we told you we would come back in the afternoon.
(L to R): Tamara (in the background), Makayla with her new doll, me.
Makayla pretending to feed her doll.
At 3:30 we were back at the orphanage. We took the coats this time. The assistant director told us they were very much needed. After this, we headed down to the music room to spend time with you. Your teacher came to meet us, and I immediately recognized her from the video that we have of you. I had the translator tell her that I wanted to thank her for all that she does for the children. The teacher brought us a scrapbook that had some of your artwork in it. She explained each assignment and showed us how you had made progress since arriving at the orphanage.
Makayla with Mama Leda (her teacher at the orphanage).
Shortly after this, we got out some pudding and juice that we had brought for you. It was so cute watching you eat that pudding that Daddy video-taped it. You told us you had never had it before, but you said it was delicious. You asked Daddy if he wanted some, and then you fed it to him with your spoon.
Makayla eating the pudding.
After your snack, we decided to take you outside for a little while. They got you all dressed up in boots, hat, and a coat. You came downstairs, and while we were waiting for the interpreter, you were holding both my hand and Daddy’s hand. A little boy came in the door and reached for Daddy’s other hand. This made you upset, and you told the boy that this was your daddy and that he should not hold his hand. The other kids all started coming downstairs, and we all went outside. Your teacher had some different games for all of you to play. In one of the games, you were in the middle of the circle as the wolf. The other children said a little chant as they circled you, and then they all started running, and you had to tag them. After this game, many of the children came up to me and to Daddy to give us hugs. I spoke to your teacher for a few minutes. The children call her Mama Leda. I asked her who your friends are. She called out to the children, “Which of you are Tanya’s friends?” They all came running over with their hands raised. I said, “Oh, they are all her friends!” The teacher said, “Yes, but Nina was a very good friend of yours.” I recognized Nina as one of the little girls in the video we received of you. I wondered why she hadn’t been adopted, so I asked the interpreter to ask your teacher. The teacher told us that she is not available for adoption and that her mother will be picking her up at a later date.
The children playing outside the orphanage. Makayla is the “wolf” in the middle of the circle.
After we went back inside, we showed you the video we made of Ashley and Craig. You laughed while you watched it. Then the video we had made of you came on. When you saw yourself on the screen, you let out a little scream of excitement. You clapped your hands and covered your eyes in disbelief. Then you saw me on the video. You excitedly told Tamara that Mama and Papa were on the screen, and that she was on the screen, too. You watched for several minutes, and then it was time for us to go. You gave each of us a hug, and as you walked away, you said to us in English, “I love you!”
3 April 2000
Today is Monday, and our regular interpreter has to teach school this morning, so we will have a university student as our interpreter. Her name is Marsha. Our driver picked us up at 9:45 a.m., and then we stopped to pick up Marsha on the way to the orphanage. We brought some M&M’s to give to your teacher for the children in your group. I also brought a felt board for you to play with, but you just played with it for a short time. You said that you wanted to play Barbies instead. You also wanted Daddy to give you more pony rides, and Marsha taught you to say “pony ride” in English so you could ask for them by name. While we were playing, the children in your group came running up to the door on their way outside. They were eating the M&M’s and each one said to us, “Spa-SEE-ba” which means “thank you” in Russian. You were still very interested in the video camera, and Daddy asked you if you wanted to make a movie. He helped you to film me and Marsha waving to you, and then we let you watch it. This was very exciting to you. I told you that we would be bringing a game this afternoon called Pretty, Pretty Princess. You liked the sound of the game, but when we told you we wanted to teach you how to count to four in English so you could play the game, you told us that you did not want to count and so you would just watch. You also picked up our English/Russian dictionary which has a picture of the Kremlin and Red Square on the cover. You held the book open and started to talk as if you were telling us a story. Marsha said that you were talking about Moscow and that you were telling us it is a big city. We told you that we will soon be going to Moscow and that you will be coming with us. You must have thought we were mistaken because you said, “no.” We explained that we will be flying on an airplane and that we will be on the plane for a long time—that you would be eating and sleeping on the plane. Then you said, “When are we going?” At 12:00 we had to leave so you could have lunch. We came back to the apartment for lunch and we finally got a call from our mothers. They had been trying to call us but were not able to get through to us.
Makayla playing with her new Barbie doll.
With the children at the orphanage. Back row (L to R): me, Mama Leda, Marsha (the university student who sometimes served as our interpreter).
In the afternoon, we went back to the orphanage. The children were having an April Fool’s Day celebration. It was really cute, and we made some videos of it. You played the part of a lion. After the celebration, we went to another room, and I got out the Pretty Pretty Princess game. You were delighted with this game. You laughed when Daddy had to put on earrings. The first time we played, you were the princess, and the second time Tamara was the princess. For your snack, we brought you some Cheetos. This was a new food not only to you but also to Tamara. You liked them. The doctor came in to discuss your health history with us. You played alone while we talked with her, and then you started putting all of the jewelry from the Pretty Pretty Princess game on me and Daddy. The doctor saw you doing this and commented to us through the interpreter that she had never seen you like this before. The doctor felt that you had warmed up to us so quickly. Soon after this, we had to leave, and so we said good-bye to you and you went upstairs. Just before we left, Tamara had to go upstairs for something. She found you crying in the corner and asked you what was wrong. You were sad because we were leaving, so Tamara brought you downstairs to give us one more hug. After this, we came back to the apartment for dinner.
The April Fool’s Day Celebration at the orphanage.
Makayla as the lion.
Playing the “Pretty, Pretty, Princess” game.
Makayla eating the Cheetos and drinking the juice that we brought from the U.S.
4 April 2000
This morning we picked up Marsha on the way to the orphanage. When we got there, we were told that you weren’t there. Some of the children were taken somewhere to have their picture taken, and you were part of this group. We were taken to a small room with a table to wait for you. Daddy and I talked with Marsha about Russia and about her experience in the United States. She spent one year going to school in Nebraska. We started talking about hats. Almost all Russians that you see walking on the streets are wearing hats—mostly fur hats, but there are other kinds of hats, too. Marsha was not wearing a hat, so I asked her if she had one of those fur hats. She said that she did but that she didn’t wear it as often after going to the United States. I asked her why so many Russians are still wearing these hats in April when it really isn’t that cold outside. She told me that she thought it was unusual that people in the United States wear coats but don’t cover the head and feet by wearing a hat or boots. I showed her how I was wearing shoes without any socks. She said, “If I hadn’t been to the United States, I never would have believed it.” After we had been talking for an hour, the assistant director of the orphanage came running in. She was apologizing because you had been back for awhile but she forgot that we were there. A few minutes later, you came in. I told you that I had a new food for you to try. I got out a fruit roll-up. You liked it, and you ate most of it. I also got out a Barbie sticker book. It had stickers that you scratch and smell. You thought these were a lot of fun.
Me with Makayla while she eats her fruit roll-up.
For lunch today, we had made plans to take you out to a restaurant. Tamara’s sister is the director of one of the two hotels in Birobidzhan. Tamara had called her to arrange for us to have a special room for this lunch. Before we left for lunch, we went upstairs to take your Barbie things to the room where your group plays. While we were up there, your teacher got you ready to go outside. I watched in amazement at all of the clothing they put on you. They first told you to take off your white tights. You quickly took off your shoes and tights and put them in your locker. The teacher handed you a thicker pair of tights which you managed to put on in a hurry. She then handed you a second pair of thick tights to put over the first pair. They went on just as quickly because they were a little baggy. Next, you were handed some snow boots for your feet. The teacher helped you to put a long-sleeved sweater over the dress you were wearing which also had long sleeves. Next came a knitted cap which covered your entire head and neck except for a small hole for your face. On top of all of this went the coat. I was thinking that if I had gotten you ready myself, I would have only put one of those articles of clothing on you—the coat. It was not that cold outside, and Dad and I had only coats. I was not even wearing socks with my shoes.
On the way to the restaurant, I told Marsha that fortunately I brought all of those warm clothes for you (thick tights, a sweater, boots, a warm hat, and a coat) because I was expecting it to be much colder. When we pick you up at the orphanage on the last day, I don’t want them to think I am not dressing you properly. I will even be one step ahead because I brought you some mittens and gloves. We have never seen any of the children wearing mittens or gloves when they go outside. In America, we would wear mittens to keep our hands warm before we would put all of those other items on.
As we got closer to the restaurant, Daddy told you that if you eat all of your lunch, we will have ice cream for dessert. You said, “I will eat everything!” Little did we know how true this would be. When we got to the hotel, they took us to a very nice private room. It had a long table in it, and there were four places set in the middle of it with nice tomato and cucumber salads waiting for us. We sat down to eat our salads, and after taking one bite, you said, “Mmm.” This was a good-sized salad, and you ate every bit of it. We also each had a plate of bread. They brought us bowls of soup next. You ate all of the soup and all of the bread. While you were eating, you also drank a lot of juice and mineral water. Next, they brought out the main dish, which was a very tasty meat dish with pasta on the side. You ate everything. You continued drinking more juice—6 glasses in all. Finally, they brought each of us a large bowl of ice cream. You ate all of yours. I was not able to eat all of my ice cream, and this concerned you. You said, “Mama, one who doesn’t eat, never grows up!” We laughed at this. Then you said, “Papa, Mama is going to get smaller!” As soon as you finished, you said, “I am very tired. Let’s go. . . Mama, please get up!” It was almost time for your nap, and we wanted to get you back to the orphanage.
Makayla at the restaurant. She wasn’t kidding when she said, “I will eat everything!”
At 2:00, Tatyana, the adoption coordinator came to the apartment with Tamara, our interpreter. Tatyana needed to prepare us to go to the court hearing tomorrow. I was not at all nervous about this court hearing until Tatyana told us that we will need to be prepared to tell the judge some things that are not exactly true in order for it to appear as though our case was handled according to Russian legislation. Apparently the problem lies in the fact that our agency is only supposed to have a very minor role in the adoption. We need to tell the judge that we did not receive your video until October (even though we got it in September). We need to tell her that we made a personal call to the Educational Board in Birobidzhan requesting to adopt you and that the paperwork was brought to us in the United States by a family that was here to adopt before us, and that we contacted Tatyana asking her to be our coordinator by e-mail back in September. It’s difficult for me to understand why all of these details are so important when they have nothing to do with what kind of parents we will be, but since it is necessary for us to cooperate in this manner in order to have the adoption approved, we will do it. After discussing all of these things for 2½ hours, it was time for us to go back to the orphanage. Since you liked the Pretty Pretty Princess game so much, we took that with us, and you got to be the princess again. For your snack, we brought you some pink and white animal cookies and juice. We just brought you a few cookies because we didn’t want you to get sick after eating such a big lunch. I also brought you some paper and some rubber stamps to play with. We got out a book I bought which has pictures in it, and we worked on teaching you the English words for different kinds of foods. We asked you to tell us what your favorite food is of all the foods in the book. You chose the fruit salad over cookies and cake. After we left the orphanage, we came back to the apartment for dinner, and then we tried to prepare for court tomorrow.
5 April 2000
Today was our court hearing, and we were very excited when the judge approved our petition to adopt you. We were given some tough questions by the prosecutor. I’m not sure “prosecutor” is the correct term for this person, but it is the term our interpreter uses for her. Anyway, the judge asked some questions that weren’t too difficult, but the lady prosecutor was downright nasty. She spoke with an angry tone in her voice when she asked Daddy why we hadn’t just adopted a child in the United States. When it was my turn to answer questions, she wanted me to explain the background of the Mormon Church. After two hours of questions, the judge announced that she wanted to read her decision before lunch instead of having us return in the afternoon. Tamara and Tatyana told us this is the first time they have heard of the decision being made so quickly. About 30 minutes later, the judge returned, and she read her decision to approve the adoption. Of course all of us were so happy, and everybody hugged us.
We returned to the apartment for lunch, and Tamara and Tatyana joined us. Tatyana told us that on the 15th of April, we could take you out of the orphanage to stay with us in the apartment until we leave for Moscow on April 19th. She also said that Friday, the 14th would be the best day for us to have the party for your group at the orphanage. It will also be alright for us to take you out of the orphanage for an entire day every once in awhile, bringing you back to the orphanage in time for dinner. We are planning to do this on Friday. We also asked Tatyana if she could change our airline tickets to Moscow on Aeroflat from Business Class to First Class. She told us she would take care of it.
In the afternoon, we were able to go to the orphanage at about 4:00. I took a little bear house that has furniture and a family of four bears. We also brought back your baby doll, her diaper bag, and her bed. You fed her, put her to bed, and changed her. We also spent a little bit of time working on learning English words, but we could tell that you were tired, and we didn’t want to push you. Tamara is such a wonderful interpreter. She is a teacher, and she works so well with you. You like to give her hugs, too. For your snack, we brought dried apples, which you loved, of course.
Makayla playing with the bear house while Tamara and I watch.
After we left the orphanage, we came back to the apartment. Through our interpreter, Daddy asked about our laundry—How could we wash it, and where we could hang it? Gaya said we could hang it in the bathroom over the shower or outside her balcony. Daddy said, “I just can’t picture my underwear hanging out there!” When Tamara heard this, she started laughing, and then she translated it into Russian. Then we were all laughing. After dinner, I was very tired, and I fell asleep at about 8:00. I think the court hearing wiped me out.
To go to Part 2, click here: