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Saturday, December 20, 2008

As promised, the details of our day in court

We were up and ready early, waiting for Alma to pick us up at 7:30 as planned. When she still hadn't arrived at 7:45, our anxiety level skyrocketed...had something else gone wrong? Yeah, I know, we sound a little twitchy and impatient...but given our past experience with this adoption, it's hard not to be. Anyway, we called Alma and she said they would pick us up in 5 minutes...OK, blood pressure returns to normal and we start to breathe again. We were on the road by 8:00am, heading to Ridder under a snow sky and in the fog. The trip took longer than normal due to the slippery road conditions; our driver, Kolya, was very cautious which is not normally in his nature so that will give you an idea of how slick the roads were. We were packed in the car like sardines, Alma in the front with Kolya and us in the back with our translator, Luba, who would be helping us in court. Luba is a lovely young woman who has an infectious smile and a love of her work; chatting with her helped me to relax and kept my mind occupied during our ride. This was especially helpful since Alma, not exactly a morning person and clearly nervous about our chances in court, was pretty uncommunicative during the whole trip. We arrived in Ridder around 10:30 and went straight to the court...well, actually we parked in front of the court building and waited for a while in the freezing cold. Alma asked me for my precious dossier and I retrieved it from the trunk of the car, handing it over like the Holy Grail. She checked it briefly, reviewed the copy as well, and then left us to give it to the judge. A few minutes later, we saw Aniyar and Madiyar arrive with Koodaibergen Kakenovich, the director of their boarding school orphanage. With that, we all hustled inside the building where we had our first chance to hug our boys. They were dressed in suits and grinning from ear to ear, clearly excited that our big day had finally come. Within a few minutes, we were ushered down a hallway toward a courtroom...oops, until we were called back by a fit-to-be-tied security guard who argued with the court clerk that we had not been properly signed in...ahh, power struggles between court employees, just what we needed. Anyway, we all produced our passports and were duly registered in the guard's book, then we continued to a real courtroom where we took our appointed places. The judge swept in almost immediately, imperious and grand in her teal robes, and ascended to the bench...after all of the past few months of false starts and stops, delays and disappointments, court was finally in session.

The judge's first decree was to remove the boys from the courtroom, admonishing them to sit quietly in the hallway until they were called. Then we got down to business by producing our passports yet again and having our personal information duly recorded by the clerk. Craig and I each stated our name, date and place of birth, and occupation for the record; all the other parties assisting us did the same. Then the judge read aloud our petition to adopt and asked us to make our court speeches. She and the prosecutor asked us detailed questions regarding our petition; with that completed, she began the dossier review...page by page, she identified each and every document for the record, slowly working her way through all 183 pages. Once that process was done, she asked to hear from the boys; the clerk retrieved them from the hall where they had been not so patiently waiting (apparently running around and making a nuisance of themselves, to be precise).The judge spoke with Madiyar first and we all held our breath...did he want to be adopted? He faltered a bit at first, then said that he did in fact want to be adopted by us. She asked him more than once and each time, he became a bit more definite. She asked if he was unsure of his decision and he said he was nervous because it was his first time in court...but yes, he wanted to be adopted. Satisfied, the judge asked to speak to Aniyar and we finally exhaled...Madik had done well and we were confident that Aniyar would happily tell the judge of his enthusiasm for the adoption just as he had related to us every day we saw him. Well...when the judge asked our adorable boy if he wanted to be adopted, he seemed confused. Then when she asked him, “What do you want?”, our Aniyar replied with a sweet smile, “I want...to dance!!” Well, this brought smiles to the faces of everyone, including the judge who told him he could dance later but for now, she needed to know if he wanted to join our family. He said yes but he was clearly nervous and confused by all the questions. Although not totally satisfied with Aniyar's response, the judge excused him anyway and we moved on to the other testimony in our case. The orphanage director made a beautiful speech on our behalf, telling the court that he had observed us with the boys and saw our obvious dedication to them. He gave examples of this, saying we supported Aniyar during his holiday dance performance and recognized Madiyar's athletic ability. His speech was eloquent and very personal; it touched us greatly when he told the court that over the course of our bonding period, he came to believe the boys belonged with us. Natasha, our ministry of education official, spoke next and she also was very kind, telling the court that the boys would be best served by joining our family and stressing the positives of the life we could offer them, not the least of them being our love. The prosecutor asked questions of the director and Natasha, then the judge and the prosecutor asked several times about the boys' birth family and received the same answer each time... no relatives had ever visited or inquired about the boys since they entered the orphanage system six years ago. This sad fact was important to our case; contact with relatives would mean that family members might contest the adoption. (At one point, the judge even asked Madiyar if he had contact with any relatives. He replied, “Yes, I have my brother...he's waiting in the hall.” and we all smiled again since that isn't quite what the judge was looking for...but ironically, his answer summed up the reality of the boys' situation. For the past 6 years, they've had no one but each other to rely on.)

After all the testimony, speeches, and the dossier review, we were hopeful that a decision was near but the judge wasn't quite done yet. She said she wanted to talk to the boys without us in the room...so we trooped out into the hall and she questioned them one at a time about whether or not they wanted to be adopted. Madiyar was unwavering at this point and he took only a minute or two to convince the judge of his desire to join our family. Then it was Aniyar's turn...he was in the room for several minutes but he still couldn't quite answer the judge's and the prosecutor's questions about his own feelings. Again we moved on to other required steps in the process and we thought we were done...the judge asked the prosecutor if she had any more questions for us or for the boys and she said no. The judge thought a moment and said she still wasn't confident that Aniyar wanted to be adopted or understood what that would mean for him. She questioned him a third time...and this time, she was quite stern, pressuring him pretty heavily. She asked him if anyone had coerced him to say he wanted to be adopted, if anyone had promised him gifts, if the director had prepared him and told him what to say...and finally, she asked him if he understood that being adopted meant he would leave Kazakhstan forever and never return. The poor kid didn't understand half of what she said and the director told the judge that, protesting that the boy was overwhelmed and confused by her questions. The director rephrased the questions for Aniyar...and then the judge asked us if we were willing to bring the boys back to Kazakhstan for visits. I told her I was willing to vow in open court that we would return to Kazakhstan for visits just as we had done already with Tanya and Max...and if they wanted to return to Kazakhstan to live after they turned 18, we vowed to help them do that as well. The judge said to Aniyar, “So do you understand that if you are adopted, you will go to America and you will only come to Kazakhstan for visits every year or so?” but at this point, Aniyar had turned to look at us and he was all smiles again...and Aniyar said, “I want to go to America!”. “Are you sure?” This was met with another big smile and “Da!” The judge looked at the prosecutor and asked if she wanted to question Aniyar again; she said no, she had no more questions. Aniyar took his seat and the judge asked the prosecutor to make her recommendation...would she support or contest the adoption? The prosecutor rose solemnly and said she would support our petition to adopt the boys...and Luba translated those words with a smile in her voice. As I looked around the room, I could see the relief on everyone's faces; now the only thing left was for the judge to deliberate and announce her decision. She swept from the room to deliberate in private but wasn't gone long...when she returned, she announced her decision to grant our adoption and we all finally exhaled. We offered our thanks and the judge left the courtroom again. There were hugs all around and even a few tears (mine, of course); the director shook the prosecutor's hand and the previously stern faced woman smiled warmly and offered to have her picture taken with us. Alma sent Luba to the car for our camera and we posed arm in arm with Madame Prosecutor and our new sons...and when she asked for a copy of the photo with our signatures on it, we realized that she was a bit proud of her role in this adoption! As for the judge, she didn't stick around for the photo op and she certainly put us through the ringer getting the job done. Did she hate the idea of international adoption or was she just trying to follow the letter of the law by being so very strict? We'll never know for sure...but she gave us the one precious gift we all wanted and for that, we'll always be grateful.

With our hearing complete, there was nothing more to do than pass out the little gifts we had brought to the boys. Standing in the freezing cold in front of the court building, we gave our new sons robot bugs that Madiyar declared very cool, also some small games to pass the time until they can leave the orphanage. Tanya, Aniyar was delighted with the little yellow duck you sent to him...he really was excited to know you wanted to share it with him! Kate, Madiyar was equally thrilled with your gift...Juma now has a new crowd of kids to entertain with his blinking eyes and funny noises and Madik couldn't wait to show him to his friends!

Under Kazakh law, there is a 15 day waiting period before the adoption will be finalized and we'll all have to just wait that time out before the boys can come home with us. Madiyar had already counted up the days and knew just when the time would be up...we told him that there would a few extra days for the final paperwork to be processed (new birth certificates, visas, etc.) and we explained that we would be returning to America to get things ready for their arrival. Aniyar asked me about the remote control car he had requested for his New Year gift and I assured him that gifts would be waiting for both of the boys in America. There were more hugs and then the boys headed back to the orphanage without a single look of sadness...they know that it's only a matter of a few weeks until they'll be on a plane to America. We can't think of a better way to start the new year.

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