‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Monday, October 04, 2010

Bureaucracy is An Art form Over Here

So, first off -- Anya returned. Although she is unhappy and not talking, at least I know she is safe.

Today Nastia, Svetlana and I spent no less than 7 hours playing the Russian bureaucracy game. Ever tried it? It's incredibly all-consuming. You start by going to one building with a hundred forms and signed papers in hand, and they see how many other buildings and directors and passport agents they can send you to before  you scream "UNCLE!"  Today, the winner was.....RUSSIA again.

We went to the passport office and were there when it opened. Nastia signed a million papers for her "local passport" that miraculously appeared after the national news broadcast. As we go to leave --aha, they have something else up their sleeve! They do not like Nastia's signature! She must sign everything AGAIN!

Then we are off to the "home registration office" which is 40  minutes away by tram, and in a scary little building guarded by giant mud puddles and an angry dog. Svetlana warns us that the people here can be horribly rude. We prepare ourselves. We enter a tiny little room with deep squares in the wall where someone slides a piece of wood to the side to help you. ( Here is where a camera would have come in handy.) When we walk in , there are already no less than three people being yelled at nose to nose by three very unhappy government workers. I spend my time there praying for the toothless elderly woman in a threadbare coat and careworn face. When she finishes at her "square" she looks me straight in the eye and gives me a big toothless grin " Ah, such is life...they cannot help me once again!" she says and laughs her way out of the building. I'm sure her positive attitude is the only reason she has lived this long in this sorry place.

So, finally, it is Svetlana's turn to be yelled at. They cannot possibly help her either, she is told. But they play the game of taking an hour to say this, and have Svetlana fill out a few forms first, and then reject then, and THEN send us on our way. Now we must make our way to the head Police Station in Kemerovo, according to this government worker. " Only they can possibly help you, but I doubt it.." we are told.

Back on the tram for another 40 minute ride, and three changes, while standing out in below freezing weather....We walk a few blocks to what looks like Alcatraz....nope. It is the Police Station. We open the door we are sent to, and Svelana is yelled at and told to wait out in the hall. We wait and wait. Finally, we are yelled at to come in. " Well? What do you want?" the rudest woman in all of Russia barks at her. I'm thinking this woman is an addict of some sort because her hands are shaking and her eyes are red and she looks terrified and enraged at once. I want to take her picture so badly.

Svetlana explains everything and -- surprise surprise! -- we are told we cannot be helped again. A yelling match ensues with sweet little Svetlana getting louder and louder and the meanest woman in Russia trying to match her in tone, and Nastia yelling over both of them in Russian "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" and  "THIS IS RIDICULOUS!"  and "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?"  I just got very zen and enjoyed the whole insane spectacle as best I could. Finally -- TADA! --Russia wins again and we leave without help, and are sent to yet another building.

So, our day went on like this until, out of sheer exhaustion, we gave up. At this point, we are being told that there is NO WAY for Nastia to get a new Russian international passport, UNLESS, Svetlana flies to Holland and gets her older daughter to sign a piece of paper allowing Nastia to be 'registered" at her apartment. Can you believe this? So, tomorrow Svetlana is going to get up her courage and call the Governor of Kemerovo. He called Anya in January and said he would help in any way he can.  Well, we need his help now. Lets hope he's still in a generous mood!

My fingers are tired, so I'll tell you about the rest of our day later tonight. Right now I want to go watch mindless Russian television and eat nutella.


  1. I have experienced that kind of thing in Russia, but to a far lesser degree. I think I would be drinking Vodka by now!!!

  2. Oh my! I'm not pulling out my hair, but I just had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I'm sure you've thought of this already, but can someone else sign this piece of paper, or if not, does Svetlana HAVE to fly to Holland to do this or can you do it with the local equivalents of Fedex and a notary? I'm assuming it has to be someone outside Russia.

    It sounds like you've got an amazing friend in Svetlana. You've just got to admire someone that will get into a shouting match with government officials for someone else's benefit. The world needs more people like her.

  3. Anonymous6:11 AM

    And we think the DMV is bad..

    You have incredible patience!

  4. If Svetlana did not have such a great attitude about everything, I'm sure I would have lost it by now. She is truly one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. I wish I could give her the world...

  5. I am fairly certain my children's origial passports were simply "obtained." That does not mean they were obtained ethically or legally by any means. They were simply "obtained". The beuracracy in Ukraine was equally ridculous. There is a reason I couldn't contain my tears and emotoin when we landed at JFK on the way home!!

  6. Diana, I will be RUNNING, not walking, off the plane at JFK...and lying prostrate to KISS THE GROUND. I kid you not:)

    NO offense to all the WONDERFUL Russian people I count among my friends. It is your country's bureaucracy I hate, not its PEOPLE!

  7. I am so glad Anya is home with you. I will continue praying that "home" will soon be here in the States.

    Mary in TX

  8. Keri, if I send you a donation specifically for chocolates and champagne for all of those government workers, will you take it to them? I'm serious. That's what helped when I got my daughter's paperwork done when I adopted her in Saratov.

    Another adoptive mom of a Russian child recommended a book to me that was hilarious (while you're not in the middle of living through the bureaucratic nightmare) called "The Fire Escape Is Locked for Your Safety: On the Road in the Former Soviet Union" by Lisa Jacyszyn. Another good one is "All the Clean Ones are Married: and Other Everyday Calamities in Moscow" by Lori Cidylo.

    I was away from the internet for the weekend, and I'm glad to hear that Anya returned. You have some very wise friends who have given you some good perspective on Anya's behavior as being both teen-related, younger-child-emotionally-related, RAD, and being unwilling/unable at this point to accept authority. And I think she also must be shaking in her boots to see your level of commitment to her, and especially frightened she HAS opened up so much to you. It's very hard for someone with Anya's background to trust someone. Hang in there.

    My prayers are with you, as always.

  9. Somehow I had more patience in Russia, because I was prepared for bureaucracy, perhaps. Somehow your little square window story reminded me of my attempts to get a SS card for Ilya here in the US. To begin with it too two trips and my printing out the Child Citizen Act from the internet before they'd even think of giving him a SS card! (Now, this strikes me as absurd - there are a LOT of foreign adoptions; how could they ALL be so ignorant? (All counter people and untold levels of supervisors.)

    Then, when I got that far, unfortunately, it turns out that his birth certificate and his passport have different birthdates. His adoption paperwork, and his REAL (original birth certificate) and his new birth certificate all have the correct date, but because his Russian passport has a typo (Dec. 7 rather than Dec. 6) they said that this is the date that MUST be listed on his Social Security card. I spent an afternoon going through increasingly narrow hallways, and into increasingly tiny, windowless rooms with the little squares (that reminded me of a confessional), only to be told that this is the way it must be. I was laughed at and told to go back to Russia to get it fixed. Then laughed at and told "Ha, ha! Fat chance them letting him in with bad ID!" Now, he is stuck with an SS card with the wrong birthdate.

    Why do I think that will come back to bite us?

  10. Though I did think it funny/ironic that the listed blog above yours, by my friend seeking permanent residency in St. Petersburg was titled, "Bureaucratic Phone Calls".

  11. I am so relieved to know that Anya has come back to you, and I am praying for a path through this bureaucracy. If anyone can outlast these bureaucrats, Keri, I am sure it is you!

  12. Oh Keri! I remember that it is a game you have to play. I hated it, but at the same time marveled how my (then) young husband did the "dance." He knew when to flatter, when to throw out a name, a promise. He knew when to use the "American" card and when to be a strong Russian Patriot. I would say 80% of Russian Bureaucracy is whether or not the person DESIRES to help you. As sad as that sounds.
    I understand about having to have your name on a piece of real estate in order to get your passport. A hold over from soviet times when you are who you are by where you live and you live where your place of employment "owns" homes. Crazy little story; we pursued adoption as a Russian couple thinking it would be easier, and cheaper. We were told we would have to find the orphanage that was in the district of our registration. It is all connected...

    Try hard not to fight it, as tough as that is to say. Imagine you are one of them living the way they are required and then you will understand that they use what ever power they have to give them what ever self esteem they can muster. I know you know this. (many are learning through you!)

    Praying for you! I KNOW God has a way. Perhaps He needs you there for a bit longer. Hindsight will be clearer. Keep pressing on, and hold tight to Jesus!

  13. About mindless Russian tv - I was just remembering the hours and hours of Russian MTV we listened to back in 2003 when I adopted my daughter & was sharing a hotel room with first my grown nieces and then with another American adoptive mom. There was one song that I still think of once in a while that had a chorus that was something like "I'll dance at your wedding."

    Hope y'all are doing ok.

  14. Keep the faith, you have so many people praying that your time there will be less and less as each day passes...you have incredible strength. I would love to meet you some day :)

    Cathy Seely

  15. What a nightmare!!!! Whatever do people do?!!! I guess learn humor and resignation, like the elderly woman. Oh, I am praying God moves people to intervene, and things get going for your good!

    But so glad to hear about Anya being home. And what wise readers you have--what a logical idea one presented, to remember that Anya is maturity-wise really a young child. I hope that makes your heart easier on some things, and also helps you make choices more easily down the road.

    And also the reader who reminded you that you would still have the same problems inter-personally (between you three) as you do there if you could be home--but, oh, to be dealing with the pain on one's own turf, with tangible, concrete support available!

    Someway, somehow it is going to happen.

  16. Thinking of you and your girls.

  17. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Maybe what you really need for donations is some bribery money? Is that the way they want to do things there? I mean, I'm serious. Some countries are like that. Is this one?


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