We have completed the first round of documents, court appointments, judges, stacks of paperwork, stamps, stamps, and did I mention stamps? Ukraine has a special affection with stamps; they really do make everything look official. I might ask to buy one for a souvenir! Our expedition, thus far, has exceeded our expectations and blown away our fears, and we thought future travelers might benefit from our lessons learned. Here’s what we brought on the trip to bring our child home:
- A copy of the Ukraine Travel Guide. This guide will be made available to MLJ Adoptions’ client families when they receive their travel dates. It is helpful to be able to read about the details of the process as you experience it. Refer to it often as you pack, or risk having to run to a Ukrainian department store to get your husband a tie!
- This is the first time in my many travels that I have carried a half-donut pillow. They have always seemed a cumbersome load, but my older, well-traveled daughter talked me into it. We did pass it around on the airplane, and it proved quite helpful in the first apartment, when we were short one pillow. Make sure to get one with a loop to hook onto your backpack.
- Speaking of backpacks! I am done lugging big tote bags around an airport. I invested in a good backpack with room for my computer, and it has saved my shoulders and back. It also makes airline security simple; sling the backpack on the conveyor belt along with your “easy slip-off” shoes.
- An unlocked Apple cellphone: ours happens to be a 4 that we found at the local pawn shop. After arriving here, we were able to purchase a SIM card for about $5 with unlimited talk, text, and a fair amount of data, so we can easily communicate with our in-country attorney. We also downloaded Viber on our phones to communicate with our family in the US for free when we have access to Wi-Fi, which we’ve had almost the entire time.
- We did not bring many snacks, as food is very inexpensive in Ukraine, but you may want to bring a few granola bars or peanut butter crackers for the first few days, when you are attempting to get over jet lag. We also brought some Starbucks Via instant coffee, which my 14 year-old daughter enjoys, and each living quarter has had hot water pots that boil water in 60 seconds. Unlike my other adoption-related trips, I am quite sure I will not lose weight on this one!
- Several converters; our favorite is the GeekPro, which charges several tech items at once.
- A flashlight, which proved necessary when the electricity went off and on for two days (not to worry, it was only in our section of town, and not a normal occurrence.)
- Laundry soap, as every accommodation has had a washing machine. We brought a small container of laundry soap pods, and easily found more at the store when those ran out. It seems that dryers are nonexistent here, but, again, every accommodation has clotheslines or racks. Do plan on wearing clothes for several days. I may adopt this policy when I return home. Schuiteman kids, be prepared!
- A roll of paper towels, to get you through the first few days. We heard a rumor that toilet paper is in short supply in Ukraine, but that hasn’t been our experience.
- The first aid kit: very useful as I did a “stupid” and had an injury the first night.
- The sewing kit: very useful when I found a hole in an obvious place.
- Games, books, and a DVD series: very useful in turning evening down time into giggle time.
- Small 5” scissors, Scotch tape, and a few gift bags: very useful when meeting special people along the way who deserve a sincere, American “Thank You & We Couldn’t Have Done This Without You” gift. The small gifts we threw in at the last minute were scarves, bracelets, wool socks, individual size flavored coffee, gum, specialty candy like Frittle (a peanut brittle/fudge concoction made next door to MLJ!) journals, ice cream scoops (I read a blog that suggested you bring rubber spatulas or any kitchen item), and a stack of thank you cards. After one week in-country, we are confident that we will give away every item, and each one will be greatly appreciated. If I had to do it over again, I would add more gender-neutral gifts and skip the ice cream scoop, opting for a less weighty item. I would also bring a few more small gifts for our child, even simple dollar store finds like stickers or a notepad, so that we could bring her something on each orphanage visit.
- Lastly, carry a pen, a small notebook, and a pocket calendar at all times. They make it easy to keep track of appointments, addresses, phone numbers, and necessary Ukrainian and Russian vocabulary – especially when you need to tell the cab driver your address, and are still getting used to Ukrainian pronunciations!
Being in a foreign country is never easy, but the difficulties have always been manageable, and everything feels better after enjoying some Roshen candy (in honor of the Ukrainian President), hot green tea, and a good night’s sleep. Nadobranich!