I awoke off and on all night, scared that we would oversleep and miss our flight. When we finally got up, the temperature was noticeably lower and it was raining. I had packed the apartment the night before so there wasn't much to do but wait for the taxi. When he arrived, we loaded our luggage and took our last video game car ride through town toward the airport. Robert and I have joked that riding in taxis is a lot like being in one of those racing video games with no control of the joystick. We arrived at the airport and were told a different fee for the trip than we had been quoted the night before. We called our source and learned that luggage is extra. Would have been good to know that.
We made our way into the cold, vacant terminal and found seats off to one side. I went upstairs to the Aerosvit counter and got our paper tickets for the international leg of our flights. With taxes, our trip from Odessa (connecting in Kiev) into JFK in New York was only $550 with taxes per person. We were able to purchase the tickets straight from the Aerosvit website. The price of tickets doesn't waver much even with only 24hrs notice. I was glad we had purchased one way tickets as I didn't feel pressure to fly out on a particular day. We had nearly two hours before our flight left, so we read, chatted, and watched a stray dog that wandered in and out of the terminal. Only in Odessa. Eventually the international departure doors opened and we headed through the line. We put our bags through the scanners, went through security, and were assigned our seats. When it was time to board, we walked out onto the tarmac and climbed steps into a small plane. Robert, already nervous about flying, was not thrilled about the smaller plane that would take us to the Borispol Airport in Kiev. He didn't like that the rivets were visible in the ceiling of the plane. He didn't like that he could smell jet fuel as he boarded.
Our flight into Kiev went quickly and we gathered our bags to transfer them to the next flight. We entered the terminal and I waited with the baggage as Robert walked the perimeter looking for something to eat. In the sea of fellow travelers, a beautiful African American woman stood out to me. We have seen very few African Americans during our time in Ukraine, so she caught my eye immediately. I scanned the terminal trying to locate Robert and when I turned back around the woman was standing before me. "English?" she asked with shoulders shrugged. "Is it that apparent?" I asked her in return. Two strangers with only our homeland in common, we stood and chatted about what we were doing so far from home. She is an international basketball player headed to Mauripol for an exhibition game. We shared we had been in country to complete an adoption, but were going home. "Wait, You're headed back to the states?" she asked. When I confirmed, she let us know we were in the wrong terminal. We had no clue there is more than one terminal in Kiev. We were in terminal A and needed to be in terminal B. I was sure she must be an angel. We grabbed our luggage and rushed off to the international terminal.
Changing terminals meant we had to venture outside. Melted snow remained in the crevices of the concrete sidewalk. I made a mental note to pack warmer clothes for my return trip. We weaved through taxi drivers offering their services and entered terminal B. There in the entry way was Jeri! We thought she and Vitalik had already left the country. Unfortunately, her travel agent had requested the wrong departure date and their tickets were not valid until the next day. I felt terrible for her! She had been in Ukraine alone without her husband for weeks and was longing to return home to their children. She pointed us to where we needed to go (far end of the terminal to the right) and we headed off again. I wasn't sure which line we should be in; the red customs line (something to declare), the green customs line (nothing to declare), or the departure line. We took a chance and got in the departure line and went right through. On the other side we checked in at the Aerosvit counter and redeposited our luggage. The flight was already loading, so we rushed to our gate on the next floor. We stood in the line forever. Forty five minutes past take off time, we were still standing in the security line at our gate. I was glad that I had booked our connecting flight in New York three hours after our estimated arrival time. The flight was long and cramped. Aerosvit is definitely a budget airline, but it was a necessity for us. We tried to sleep off and on to limit jet lag, but we were so thankful when the flight was over.
We arrived at JFK an hour later than anticipated and then went through immigration and customs. At baggage claim, we waited for nearly an hour for the luggage to be delivered. Reburdened with our suitcases, we figured out that we were once again in the wrong terminal. We located the JetBlue check in counter in the next terminal and retrieved our tickets for the last leg of our journey with just enough time to board. We quickly called home to let family know we were back on American soil and to make arrangement to be picked up in Orlando.
It suddenly struck us that we were back among the familiar. The sounds and smells flooded our senses and we realized how sensory deprived we have felt in the last few weeks. The sounds of extended English conversations, the ability to read signs, the smell of familiar food coming from kiosks in the terminal oddly comforted us. I made a mental note of this. We would need to be particularly sensitive to Kristina as she experiences the absence of language, familiar sights, and smells in a few weeks.
I was so happy to see my dad when we landed in Orlando. Torn between telling him everything and sleeping, I nodded off between snippets of conversation on the drive home. The children had fallen asleep by the time we got in, but we found our home in good order thanks to my mom. The cats buzzed around Robert's feet and purred unashamedly at his attention. He actually bought cat food in Ukraine and keep small portions in a ziplock bag in his pocket to feed the many strays that crossed our path in Odessa.
This entire trip wouldn't have been possible without my parents sacrificial care of our kids in our absence. We're so grateful that we had peace of mind knowing they were in good hands. We learned friends had stepped in as well, taking Hannah for a manicure (thanks, K) and the boys swimming at their house (thanks, J). And my Uncle Keith and his family are already helping us with arrangements for my return trip. So many people made this possible; thank you to everyone.
We fell into bed near midnight (ah, the comfort of my own bed!) and rose early the next morning to get the kids off to school and head for work. Early Friday morning, it was apparent that our systems weren't going to allow us to bounce back into our regular routine. Jet lag sapped our energy the following days and I came down with a bug last night. I am so thankful to have been home when it hit though! I'm trying to take it easy and ease back into our routine, but I've been confined to bed most of today. I promise to get to my email this weekend and reply to all of you who have written in the last few days. Hopefully I will be well enough to attend church tomorrow.
We're so excited to follow the journeys of friends who have just arrived in Ukraine. We are praying for all of you! I will be traveling back to get Kristina in about two weeks. Pray for me as I make preparations and pray for Kristina's transition.