Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Last Leg

As Richard stated, "the pumpkin is on the porch" and we are finally back in
Tashkent WITH Joshua's passport! We expected to receive the passport by 9 am
on Tuesday morning, but it seems as though the US government isn't the only
one that likes to play games. After going to the passport office three times
(our coordinator was told to be there at 9 am, when she arrived she was told
to come back at noon and then at noon was told to come back at 4 pm) we
finally received the passport late Tuesday afternoon. Within 15 minutes of
receiving it, we were in the car on the way to Tashkent (obviously we were
very anxious to get out of there)!

Joshua had gotten sicker and we did not feel comfortable waiting until this
morning's medical exam, so we drove straight to the International Clinic
where he was immediately seen by a doctor. He has a lower respiratory
infection, a double ear infection and double eye infection (not to mention
his incredibly high fever and the fact that he is cutting 4 teeth. . .poor
baby). We were given antibiotics and sent on our way with instructions to
call if his fever did not go down within a few hours. Thankfully, after a
few rounds of antibiotics and a good amount of sleep, he is feeling much
better today.

We had our medical examination this morning. The exam was really just a
basic physical, but I was able to ask the doctor some questions about
several of his medical issues and gained a little more insight on his
conditions. Obviously we won't know much more until he has been thoroughly
examined by specialists, but hopefully we will be able to start that process
as soon as we get home.

We have an appointment with the Embassy tomorrow from 2-4 pm. The outcome of
this appointment will determine whether or not I will be boarding the plane
home on Sunday. We are all praying that the Embassy will process everything
quickly and that we will have the visa by Friday (I am hoping that a sick
baby and a scheduled flight home will play on their sympathies). Once I have
the passport and visa in my hand, I think I will finally be able to relax
(for those of you who have gone through this process before, any insight
into how quickly you received your child's passport and visa after your
Embassy appointment would be greatly appreciated . . . obviously it may vary
a bit from country to country and family to family, but it would definitely
help me to feel more confident going into the appointment). Once again, my
stomach is in knots and I am on the edge of my seat wondering what the next
few days will hold, while hoping that, in a few days, I will be on a plane
on the way home to my family. At the same time, I am at peace knowing that
all things happen for a purpose and, whatever happens, it will be Heavenly
Father's will. Hopefully the next leg of this roller coaster will be
heading up!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The pumpkin is on the porch...

***This is Richard***

Val has the passport and they are back in Tashkent.

Val will post more later.

Monday, October 29, 2007

More Setbacks

Unfortunately we were not able to obtain Joshua's passport today as we had hoped, so we are still in Samarkand. While I am disappointed, I keep reminding myself that, less than a week ago, we did not think we would have the passport until late this week, so we are still ahead of the game. While this will set us back another day, there is still a very good chance that we will be able to process through the Embassy this week and go home on Sunday as scheduled. According to the passport officials we should receive the passport between 9-11 am tomorrow morning. Once we have the passport we will drive back to Tashkent. Our coordinator is planning to take all of the documents (which were translated over the weekend to save time) to the Embassy as soon as we arrive to hopefully expedite the process a bit. We will likely arrive too late for Joshua's medical evaluation, so we will have to do that later in the week along with the rest of the Embassy requirements. I am still a bit nervous about the Embassy process (although I am hoping that it will be the smoothest part of this journey) and hope that they will be able to get us through everything we need to do in the short time that we have.

It has been a long day of waiting and wondering. I feel like I was handed a blind fold once we arrived in Uzbekistan, to wear during the roller coaster ride in country. So many ups and downs, but I cannot see when they are coming! Our coordinator has done a wonderful job at keeping us informed of everything that is happening, but I think that she too, is hanging on for dear life as she waits for the next drop or climb to come!

On top of the anxiety that comes with waiting and wondering, my sweet baby has been very sick. He was sick when we picked him up from the Baby House on Friday. He seemed to be feeling a bit better yesterday, but today he woke up absolutely miserable with terrible congestion and a nasty cough. He is also cutting 4 teeth and is obviously in pain. Despite all of this he remains a very happy baby for the most part! It amazes me how, though the misery he must be feeling, he is still able to laugh and smile! Have I mentioned how much I love this baby! He makes every minutes we have spent on this roller coaster of adoption worth it! Nothing makes me happier and nothing makes my worries and stress disappear quite like Joshua's beautiful smile!

So, it has been a bumpy ride today, but I am hopeful that we will have the passport tomorrow and be on our way back to Tashkent to wrap things up! What a crazy adventure this has been!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Holiday in Samarkand!

After a very long and stressful week, we finally had a day off to relax and explore this beautiful, historic city! Our facilitator has suggested we take a "holiday" several days this week, but every time we have set foot outside of our hotel, the phone rings and we are called away to take care of problems that have cropped up unexpectedly (well, not necessarily unexpectedly. . .I have learned that, in Samarkand, you should really expect problems to arise since there are really no hard and fast ways of doing things).

After a slow morning, our driver and translator, Sanat, came to pick us up and we drove to Registan Square, one of the most historic sights in Samarkand. It is a magnificent place. The pictures that I was able to take simply do not do it justice! It is absolutely breathtaking and I am in awe of the condition of the buildings after the many long, hard years they have endured.

In the courtyards of each of the buildings people have set up shops where they sell mostly handcrafted items. Again, I am simply amazed at the beauty of their work and the time that goes into each work of art. While we were touring the square we were also able to watch a silk rug maker work on one of his silk rugs. These rugs are hand made using pure silk and they are beautiful. The large rug that the man was working on was estimated to take 9 months to complete. Painstaking, but beautiful work!

Josh did wonderfully during our excursion. He really is such a happy and content baby. He is generally all smiles (and has the greatest belly laugh) and only cries when he is tired or hungry. He loved taking in all of the sights and sounds around us! I can't wait to tell him all about his birth country as he grows older.

I have posted a handful of pictures from the past week on our family website:

Again, the photos really do not to justice to many of the things that we have seen and experienced here, but I wanted to share with you all a small piece of this beautiful country!

Whew! Thank goodness for holidays!

Introducing the newest member of the Rieben Family!

Joshua Steve Ortyk Rieben is now officially the newest member of the Rieben Family! Unfortunately, when I tried to upload pictures to my blog, a little box popped up on the screen (in Russian of course) and, from what I gathered from what very little Russian I can actually understand, it was a security feature on the computer that would not allow me to upload to my blog. But no worries. . .I have uploaded pictures of my sweetie to our family website which you can link to below:

Joshua is an amazing baby. He is so happy and content and smiles, laughs and babbles all the time! You could say I'm in love! It was hard to sleep on Friday night because, after almost 8 months of looking at his picture and wishing I could hold him, love him and smother him with kisses, I was in awe that all I had to do was roll over and there he was, just inches from me! I laid there for hours just watching him sleep peacefully. It has been such a joy getting to know this sweet little person and I cannot wait to get him home so that everyone else who has been so patiently waiting for him can see what an incredible little boy he is. There is no doubt in my mind that he is destined for great things (I know, I know, all mom's say this about their children, but really, he will do amazing things in his life)!

We are still in Samarkand, but should have the passport and final document from Surkhundarya (I believe this is the correct spelling of his birth place), by Monday morning and will leave by train on Monday evening to return to Tashkent. We have an appointment for Josh's medical evaluation on Tuesday morning and are hoping to meet with the Embassy on Wednesday or Thursday. I must say, I am truly in awe of the goodness of my Heavenly Father. Just a few days ago I was certain that I would be staying an extra week, possibly more, and had all but lost hope that we would be able to return at our scheduled time. Now it looks like we will almost certainly be making our flight next Sunday. My heart is just so full of gratitude towards my Heavenly Father for the many miracles he has wrought in my life. . .especially the miracles we have experienced over the past week.

Thank you for all of your prayers! As you can see, they have been answered in big ways!! Now. . go enjoy my pictures!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hello from Uzbekistan. . .FINALLY!

This is going to be a long one folks, so you’d better pull up a chair!

First, my apologies to the masses for not updating sooner. I have not been able to get a reliable internet connection since we have been here and when I have, it has been difficult to access my blog! So my apologies to my many faithful followers. I would also like to thank Richard for keeping our family website updated (he probably would have updated here, but of course, I forgot to leave him my login information) so that no one is completely in the dark!

This week has truly been one of the most adventurous weeks I have ever had! Talk about a roller coaster! We arrived in Tashkent at 6:30 pm on Monday night and immediately boarded the WRONG bus! Instead of going to customs, we ended up boarding the “departure” bus for those going on to Bangkok! Thankfully, with my shaky Russian and their shaky English we were able to get back on a bus to customs within about 20 minutes. It probably ended up being the best mistake we could have made because, when we arrived, the line for passport/visa checks was dwindling and we were able to get through, grab our baggage and make it through customs in just 30 minutes!

We met our coordinator, drove to the hotel, checked in and went over our plans for the next day. It has been such a long day that, after we went to bed shortly thereafter. I wish I could say that I got a good night’s sleep, but, my body was telling me it was mid-afternoon and after just a few hours of solid sleep, I was unable to return to my slumber!

We were scheduled to leave for Samarkand on Tuesday morning at 8:30 am. At 8:30 our coordinator called to tell us she would be there at 9:00. At 9:30 we were still waiting. She finally showed up and we found out that the car she had reserved had broken down and that when she went back for a new car, it had broken down as well. The third car finally decided it was up for the trip and by 10:00, we were on the road to Samarkand. I will make a separate post about this very subject because I find it so fascinating (and terrifying), but, if you want to compare something to a roller coaster ride, driving in Uzbekistan would make a nice comparison. The drive was wild, but it was amazing to see Uzbekistan beyond Tashkent (and I don’t know that you can really say that you have seen Uzbekistan until you have ventured outside of the city). It is such a different place outside of the city and I was truly humbled to see how many of these people live. I do not think most American’s can even begin to fathom the kind of lives these people live. They are not unhappy lives by any means, in fact, their happiness may actually be more genuine because it is not based on material things, because they do not have much. I do not mean to say that our happiness is fabricated, rather, I think we often take for granted the simple things because we have been blessed with so much.

We arrived in Samarkand around 1:00 pm and met our driver and translator, Sanat. Sanat is a native of Samarkand, but has spent the last 7 years in London, England. When he speaks English, he has a British accent! It has been wonderful to have Sanat. Not simply because he speaks Russian and English and had made our stay a bit easier, but because he knows the history and culture of the city. In a sense, he has been our personal tour guide! After we met Sanat, we checked into our hotel. It is a beautiful, privately owned hotel and it personifies Samarkand very well. I have really enjoyed staying here. The only drawbacks have been the lack of internet (the few times we have been able to use the internet here it has been the owner’s personal computer) and there are no phones in the rooms (there is one phone in reception) so essentially, no contact with the outside world!

After we checked into the hotel we headed for the Hokimiat (mayor’s office) where we were scheduled to meet with the Deputy Mayor. The meeting went well. He asked us some questions about our trip and how we liked Samarkand. He asked me if I had give a lot of thought to adopting our son and if I felt like we could provide a nice life for him. He then asked if I had seen him. At that point I had yet to meet him and the Deputy Mayor felt that, before I could make such a big decision, I needed to meet my child (which is actually required by law now, so I am still unsure as to why we did not do that first). He instructed us to go to the Baby House and meet Joshua and then he would give us the adoption decree.

We hurried over to the Baby House and I quickly met with the Director. A caretaker then brought Joshua to me. I wish those sweet moments had not been so rushed, but the short time that I had with my baby was precious. He is even more beautiful than he is in his pictures and so happy and alert. Within a few minutes we had him laughing and babbling. Unfortunately, because we had to get back to the Hokimiat, our visit was short and after only 5-10 minutes we were being rushed back to the car. When we arrived the decree had been signed and was ready to be copied and translated. Unfortunately, before it could be copied it needed to be registered and the girl in the registration office was gone for dinner (people here do not work 8-5 like we do, it is standard for people to work until 9-10 pm and to work weekends as well). While we waited we discovered another problem!

In order to get Joshua’s birth certificate, I needed to travel to the region where he was born which was 5-6 hours away and near the boarder of Afghanistan. There are many check points along the road and, as you near the boarder, security is increased. The coordinator and another government worker were concerned that I would not be able to pass through without several documents (in addition to my passport), one of which was a valid Power of Attorney from Richard (because in this culture it is not acceptable for women to make these decisions without their husbands and I needed to be able to show that my husband had authorized this trip). Unfortunately, because Uzbekistan is not part of the Hague Convention, in order for a document to be legally recognized, it must be legalized (for us that means a document must be signed, notarized, county certified, state certified, authenticated by the US Department of State and legalized by the Embassy of Uzbekistan in DC), and unfortunately, our Power of Attorney had only been signed and notarized which meant that it would not be recognized. Even though this seemed like a problem on Tuesday evening, our coordinator felt like it was something that we could work around and so be tried not to worry too much (little did we know at the time how big this problem was about to become).

On Wednesday morning the coordinator continued to plug away on paperwork and my step-dad and I went with Sanat to tour Samarkand. We visited the tomb of Amir Temur (Tamerlane) and it was magnificent. We also visited an old building that had been turned into a marketplace. We saw some incredible handcrafted fabrics and were about to enjoy lunch with some of the local people when we received a panicked call from our coordinator. We rushed to meet her and learned that, without a legalized Power of Attorney we would be unable to obtain Joshua’s passport. At that point we had two options, we could get the Power of Attorney legalized or Richard would have to fly to Uzbekistan. The second option would be almost impossible (Richard would have to get a visa, book a flight, arrange for the kids to be cared for 24-7 while he is gone, and miss a major office move that he is responsible for), so we began to formulate a plan for acquiring the POA. We went as quickly as we could to an internet cafĂ© where I was able to contact Richard via Skype and e-mail and explained the situation (it was roughly 6 am when I called and while Richard lay dreaming, I don’t think he could have ever imagined what the day would hold for him). Richard printed out two copies of the form, filled them out and took them to be signed and notarized. He then took the forms to the Greene County Courthouse to be county certified after which he drove to Columbus to have them certified by the Secretary of State. Between notarizations and certifications he contacted Caring Hands, the adoption courier service in Washington, DC that we used for our adoption paperwork, and explained the situation to Colleen (who is one of the most fantastic people I have ever worked with). Together, she and Richard discussed how to get the document done as quickly as possible in DC and on it’s way to Tashkent. In the meantime, I had also e-mailed Victoria, the director of our agency, to explain what was going on and asked her to contact me via the coordinator’s cell phone as soon as possible. To make a very long story much shorter, Richard, Victoria and Colleen were able to get everything worked out and the documents should arrive via FedEx (gotta love FedEx) on Monday! I cannot express my gratitude for such an amazing “team” in the US! Although I asked a lot of my husband, he did what needed to be done without a moments hesitation or complaint. Is there really any question as to why I love this man so much! From halfway across the world I felt peace because I knew that Richard and Victoria would take care of things and I knew that they were being directed from above!

Yesterday was another long day! I traveled with the coordinator and a woman from the Hokim’s office to Suhandaria, the region where Joshua was born. It was a 5 hour drive through a very poor region of Uzbekistan. It was fascinating and humbling to see this part of the country. As we neared the boarder of Afghanistan, security increased and, at every check point I held my breath in hopes that I would be able to pass through. If I was unable to pass, I would have to stay at the checkpoint while the others went on and brought back the necessary documents (and government officials) for me to sign. Let’s just say that I was a little intimidated by that prospect. The Lord was smiling on me because we had no problems (they just looked at my passport and the coordinator and driver explained where we were going and why and that was that). When we arrived we quickly took care of the birth certificate which named Richard and I as Joshua’s parents and he officially became ours!! WAHOO! We were in Suhandaria for most of the day taking care of a few other documents and we set out for "home" around 6:00pm arriving back in Samarkand around 11:45 pm. Let's just say, my backside was a little sore for all of that sitting!

Our coordinator submitted the paperwork for Joshua's passport to the passport office this morning (minus the Power of Attorney) and we are hoping that they will process the passport now so that all we will need to do once we receive the POA is exchange documents. . .the POA for the passport. We hope to get the completed passport on Tuesday and travel back to Samarkand the same day. I am unsure as to whether or not we will be able to take care of all of the required tasks at the US Embassy in Tashkent before we are scheduled to fly home next weekend, so I am preparing for the extra week but hoping and praying that we will make it home on time. The Embassy only does medical exams and visa processing on specifics days and times throughout the week and we may miss that window due to our delays with the POA, BUT maybe we will be able to play on their sympathies and get everything processed in time!

The best news of all is that we will be picking Joshua up from the Baby House this afternoon! I cannot wait! Unfortunately, I do not have time to post pictures from our adventures thus far at the moment (I am in an internet cafe and our driver just returned from Mosque to take us to meet our coordinator at the notary office), but we moved to a new hotel this morning with internet access, so maybe I will be able to hop back on and upload pictures after Josh is asleep this evening.

It has been an incredible week in so many different ways, but even with all of these ups, downs and in betweens, I am so grateful to be here in this beautiful country, adopting my beautiful son! The hand of the Lord is definitely guiding this process and I as always, I stand all amazed at the places He has taken me and the miracles that have been performed.

Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to work through this process! And please pray for my family as well who are working through struggles of their own (sickness, broken down vehicles, stressful work, and no wife and mama) as well!

I hope to check in again soon, so stay posted! Never a dull moment here!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Quick update from New York

We made it to New York safe and sound this evening! Everything has gone smoothly thus far (flights on schedule, no lost luggage, easy check-in at the hotel, etc.) and I am hoping that they will continue to do so. We leave for Uzbekistan tomorrow evening. I have to say, I am really looking forward to getting a good night's sleep and even sleeping in in the morning!

It was hard to say goodbye to my family this afternoon. I already miss them so much! But I know that they are in good hands and that they will be watched over while I am gone. Of course, I brought lots of pictures and some of our homemade dvd's for those really tough times when I just don't think I can live without them for another minute.

We also received news that we might be able to make it through this process in two weeks like we had hoped. This news just made my day. We will still be pushing it, and there is still a chance I could be there for three weeks, but my hope has been renewed! For those of you who have been praying for us. . .your prayers were heard (so keep them coming)!

After all of the stresses and worries of the past few weeks, I feel like I am finally able to relax a bit and just go with the flow. Obviously we still have many adventures (and stresses and worries) to come, but I am really looking forward to this experience and want to enjoy every minute of it.

Flying into New York tonight, watching the sun set over the ocean, I felt so much gratitude towards my Heavenly Father for the opportunity to have this experience and to bring this precious baby into our family! Time and time again we have seen the Lord's hand guiding this process and I know that He will continue to do so. What an amazing adventure this has been!

I hope to check back in once we arrive in Uzbekistan (Monday), but if you don't hear from me, take it as a sign that things are going well! Wish us luck!

Friday, October 19, 2007

I refuse to come undone. . .

I cannot believe that, in less than 24 hours, I will be on my way to Uzbekistan to bring my baby boy home! My step-father and I are leaving for New York tomorrow afternoon where we will stay the night before departing for Uzbekistan on Sunday evening. The past few weeks have flown by. When I received word that I would be traveling soon, this day felt like an eternity away. Now I feel like I have barely had time to blink!

At this point it seems almost inevitable that I will be in Uzbekistan for three weeks rather than the two I had been hoping for. At first, the thought of being away from my family for another week was devastating, but now that the dust has settled a bit, I have come to accept that this will likely be the case. We were thrilled in the beginning when we were told that we would be able to accomplish all that we needed to in just two weeks (we assumed that it would be three from the start). We knew we would be pushing it, but felt that it could be done. So essentially, we are just returning to the time line we began with. While the thought of being away from my family for so long is still very difficult, I know that I will enjoy the extra week to bond with my sweet baby and I am looking forward to those precious moments that just he and I will share (because heaven knows we won't have many of them once we get home)!

Adoption (no matter where you are adopting from) is a very unpredictable, ever shifting, ever changing process. We knew that when we began this journey. We trust our facilitator and know that she is working very hard to ensure that this process is a smooth one. Unfortunately there are some things that are simply out of our control. Rather than coming undone, I choose to roll with the punches. There are still many unknowns, but the hand of the Lord has guided this process from day one and I know that the He will continue to do so. I am leaving this in His hands and I know, I KNOW, that all will work together according to His will. Sure there are times when my stomach is in knots and my heart feels like it is going to pound right out of my chest (and I am sure that there will be many more of those moments to come), but in the midst of the storm, I feel totally at peace. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for that!

I have no idea what adventures the next few weeks will hold, but I am so grateful to be here and know that, with the help of my Heavenly Father, I will have the strength to overcome any obstacles that may come into my path!

I may not have a chance to update my blog again before I leave tomorrow, but I PROMISE to post updates and pictures while I am in Uzbekistan. I appreciate so much, all of the love, support and friendship that so many of you have offered us on this journey. It has been priceless and has helped me through many difficult times throughout this process! I can't wait to share my joy with all of you when I finally have my sweet Joshua!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I think I am going to be sick. . .

The adoption journey is often compared to a roller-coaster ride. I, myself, have referred to it this way many times. Until recently I believed the comparison to be limited to the ups and downs one experiences throughout the process. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized that the analogy could be taken a step further by the constant urge to vomit as one experiences those ups and downs!

Many, many times over the past few weeks I have experienced elation and relief as I accomplished many of the vital tasks on my "list" only to learn later that those things might need to be redone or discarded altogether because something had changed. Adoption in Uzbekistan is a constantly evolving process at the moment because it is so new. Because of this, things are always shifting and changing and the constant movement is starting to make my stomach turn. We are essentially the "guinea pig family" for our agency (although thankfully not for our facilitator who has been at this for quite a while), so I expected that there would be many ups and downs as we all pioneered this process together. I'd like to think myself a pioneering spirit, but I have to be honest, I will be so glad when this adventure comes to a close. I just don't know how many more ups and downs my stomach can take (but know that there are many, many more to come before this is over).

We are hoping to be in and out of Uzbekistan in two weeks, but over the past few days that time frame seems to be resting precariously upon a shifting foundation. Several times over the past few days we have learned of things that may put this time frame in jeopardy. While we have found solutions or ways around some of those things, it seems as though things just keep popping up. If our trip exceeds two weeks, I will have to stay behind with Joshua for an extra week while my step-father goes home. I know that I will be just fine if this is the case, but I am hoping and praying that we can accomplish everything we need to in the two weeks we are planning on. If those of your who are reading this could send up some extra prayers for us that all will go smoothly I would greatly appreciate it!

Now where did I put that puke sack. . . .

Friday, October 12, 2007

Coming up for Air

Whew! The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind to say the least and I don't think things will be slowing down anytime soon (although, given the circumstances, I certainly don't mind). I thought I would take a moment to breathe and give a short (believe me, you want the Reader's Digest version) update to all of my faithful followers!

We moved into our new home a week ago today and are almost settled in (well, okay, the garage is still full of boxes, but the inside of our house is coming together quite nicely). The kids have adjusted well, thank goodness, and we are working on getting back into a solid routine before I take off and leave them for two weeks which will really rock their world. My brother-in-law, Rob, and his wife, Mariette, will be helping Richard with the kids for the first week that I am gone and then Rob and my good friend Stacey will split the next week. I am so grateful to have such wonderful friends and family who are so willing to step in and help us out. Knowing that my kids will be in such good hands makes me feel so much better about leaving them for so long (although it will still be incredibly difficult to leave them). I am working on putting together a video of me reading their bedtime stories and we will be going to Build-A-Bear on Monday evening so that they can each make "Mama Bears" for them to hold onto while I am gone (thanks to Shelley for the Build-A-Bear idea). I know that a video and a few bears definitely won't take my place, but I am hoping that it helps makes my absence a little easier on the kids (who have never been away from me for more than a few days. . .although I am thinking they might actually enjoy a nice break from me!).

Our plane tickets are booked and are safely in my possession and we received our visas a few days ago. We are now working on gathering all of the paperwork that Richard needs to sign and notarize in order for us to complete this adoption without him actually being there. On top of all of our travel preparations I am also trying to get our other home ready for tenants who will be moving in on November 4th (the day I return from Uzbekistan). Fortunately the house is in good shape and just needs a good cleaning, some spackling and some paint here and there and I am hoping to knock most of that out this weekend.

I still cannot believe that we are at this point in our journey already. In some ways it feels like we have been at this for an eternity and in others it seems like the time has just flown by. It is just hard to grasp that, in less than two weeks, I will be holding Joshua for the first time! This precious child that we have talked about, dreamed about and grown to love will actually be ours forever in just a matter of weeks. I just cannot wait!