Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year, and a New Post

We are posting today from the home of Jamie's parents in Monticello, Indiana. It has been about six weeks since our last post, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Levi has enjoyed visits with various friends and family members, which are documented in these photos. Jamie's folks visited him in November, and in December he made trips to Los Angeles to visit Steve's family, and Indiana to visit Jamie's family.

Jamie's folks (Jim and Judy Hunt) meet Levi for the first time. November 25, 2008. Flagstaff.

First of all, Levi is doing well. Jamie and Levi have spent much of their time catching up on three years' worth of his medical care, which has involved over 23 visits to various doctors and therapists. The biggest concerns have had to do with Levi's heart, his hearing and vision, and digestion.

Levi decides to repot a houseplant. November 2008.

Levi's first visit to Red Rock Crossing, where Steve proposed to Jamie. Sedona, AZ. November 30, 2008.

The Ukrainian officials mentioned that he could have a serious heart defect. After arriving in the US, one of our first tasks was to check this out. The pediatric cardiologist stated that it was either going to be very good news, or very bad. Thank God that Levi's heart is completely healthy.

Levi meets Santa in Jamie's classroom. Santa looks a lot like daddy! December 19, 2008.

Levi's hearing test, however, determined that he has a 60% hearing loss. This is likely the result of untreated ear infections. We have scheduled surgery on January 13th to put in tubes, which may restore much of his hearing. However, there may be permanent damage. Please keep him in your prayers. His hearing loss has likely affected his ability to speak, as well as balance.

Levi's first trip to the ocean. December 23, 2008. Laguna Beach, CA.

The G.I. specialist has put Levi on Prevacid to treat acid reflux. She also has instructed us to put him on Pediasure to assist with weight gain. He is also aspirating, which means that, at times, liquid is getting into his lungs. We are working with a feeding specialist to help be more safe and successful in this area.

Christmas Day with Steve's mom (Barbara Yoder). Diamond Bar, CA.

That's the major stuff on the medical front. In other areas, we see Levi making progress on a regular basis, which is very inspiring. Within 24 hours of arriving in the US (actually, at JFK in NYC), he began to feed himself for the first time. He is vocalizing more frequently, with his favorite word being "dada". With the help of some of Jamie's coworkers, Levi has learned how to sign for "more". He is spending more time walking while we hold his hands, and is learning how to play with various toys. Bath time has evolved from a time of terror to a time of joy.

That's all for now. Happy New Year! We hope to post more photos of his holiday travels in the upcoming weeks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


We couldn't include any photos in our last post, so here's a few fun ones before we catch you up on everything. Right before we left Kharkov, Levi Nazar decided to show us that he is getting ready to walk! We are excited to see progress every day.

Leaving Kharkov was one of the biggest adventures of the whole trip. Angelina accompanied us on the overnight train to Kiev. It was a bit stressful, as we had to figure out how to get our six pieces of luggage, and Levi, on the train and into our berth during the short time that it was in the station. With the help of our two drivers we did it, and set off across the Ukrainian steppe.

Overnight trains are the most popular way to travel across Ukraine. Each ticket cost about $40 USD for the 12-hour trip. Angelina was quite the expert on how to do this, as we were clueless about all the traditions associated with this type of travel. She managed to turn her seat into a bed in a matter of seconds, while Jamie and Steve struggled a bit in the cramped quarters that all four of us shared.

Most of the time, four strangers will share this 7' x 7' space, as well as dinner that they bring on board like a potluck. In our travel book, it warned that sometimes thieves will drop sleeping gas into your compartment during the middle of the night to rob you. Angelina laughed and said that that hadn't happened since WWII!

On Friday, we had one last chance to explore Kiev on foot before departing on Saturday morning for America. Jamie took this photo of Steve and Nazar in Independence Square, which is the heart of Kiev and commemorates the country's independence from the Soviet Union.

Our last night was spent packing, and by now we had become experts on how to use all that luggage to create a playpen for Nazar.

OK, now to catch up from where our last post left off. On Saturday morning we headed for the airport, where we had a few nervous moments as the Ukrainian authorities questioned Nazar's passport. They couldn't believe that our little one is three years old! We were pulled aside for about 30 minutes, and had to produce the court decree, Levi Nazar's birth certificate, and adoption documents. Eventually, we were allowed through passport control to board the plane.

The flight to New York was over 11 hours, and Levi Nazar was a trooper. He just sat in his seat between the two of us and enjoyed his new toys. He slept for a few hours, and only was fussy (as were all of us) during the final hour that we kept circling JFK because of weather.After a restful night at a hotel in NYC, we boarded our final flight to Phoenix. Again, Levi Nazar was a trooper.

We finally arrived home just as the sun was setting on Sunday evening, and discovered that our friends had showered the inside and outside of our home with all sorts of welcome signs, gifts, and food. We all appreciated this welcome, including Levi Nazar, who was only half-awake after the long journey to his new home in America. Arthur was happy to see us, and gave his new "brother" a curious sniff or two.

We are so thankful for all of the support from folks that have made this possible. In particular, we'd like to thank Andrea Roberts of Reece's Rainbow, Victoria Kats of About a Child, our facilitators Olga and Angelina, our drivers Vladim and Sasha, all of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who supported us with your encouraging comments, and to our parents, who we can't wait to introduce to Levi Nazar Yoder.

This will not be our last entry to this blog. In the next week or so, we plan to post more of our favorite photos, and in the future we plan to keep you updated on Levi's progress. Thank you all! Now the real journey begins.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Our Final Days in Ukraine

We arrived in Kiev at 6:30 AM on Wednesday in time to quickly shower at our new apartment before heading to the clinic. This was for Levi Nazar's physical exam, needed for his embassy paperwork. The clinic was very crowded with people. The doctor was extremely abrupt and negative about him, and just as she was telling us all that he would not be able to do, he decided to take a stand - literally. He grabbed the doctor by her stethoscope and, as she pulled back, he stood up and just looked at her. She then stated, "well, I guess he is strong!"

We next went to the United States Embassy where Steve filed the needed paperwork to receive Levi's visa. On Thurday, we returned to the embassy and were able to finalize all the paperwork in order for us to fly back. We were in the embassy with five other families also adopting from the United States. As a group we took an oath that all the paperwork was filled out truthfully and accurately. Then we were seen one at a time to sign paperwork. After waiting for another hour, we were given a packet to give to the immigration officers in New York City. When we step off the plane in New York, Levi Nazar will become an American citizen. As we left the embassy, Jamie took a few photos of Levi and Steve. When walking back to our driver, Jamie was stopped by an embassy security guard and had to delete all the photos.

Today we were able to do some sightseeing and pack. Tomorrow (Saturday) we are being picked up at 9:30 AM with our flight leaving Kiev at noon. We will spend tomorrow night in New York City. Our flight leaves Sunday morning at 9:30 to Phoenix. We will post more photos of our final week once we are home, as we aren't able to do so at this location.

See you in America!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Goodbye to Kharkov

In an hour we leave for the overnight train to Kiev. When the train arrives at the capitol at 6:30 AM, we will head to the US Embassy for Nazar's appointment with the embassy doctor at 8 AM. We don't know if we will have Internet service while we are in Kiev, so you may not hear from us until we return to the US--hopefully by this weekend.

This has been our fifth day with Levi Nazar Yoder, and our hearts are filled with joy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Views from Green Forest

We wanted to share some views of Nazar's home for the past three years. Green Forest Orphanage is home to approximately 130 children, ages birth to seven. Children that live at this orphanage can be typically developing or have various disabilities. These special needs could include crossed eyes, cleft palate, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. There is also a building for children born with HIV/Aids.
When you drive down the long, pot-hole-laden road to get to the orphanage, you notice from a distance that the entire compound is surrounded by this colorful fence.
There are five buildings housing children. There is also an administration building, kitchen house, and a laundry building. Levi Nazar lived in the largest two-story building, pictured in the first photo with the fence.

The building next to where he lived was being
prepared for some much-needed repairs as seen to the right.

When we walked on the dirt path to go visit Nazar, we passed this shed full of old windows, boards, and building supplies.
This is the trail to Nazar.
The gray building in the background appeared to be the laundry facility.
The path, although nice for us to walk on, did not seem to take into account the needs of many of the non-ambulatory children that live on the premises.
At various locations on the orphanage grounds there are small vegetable plots with crops like lettuce, beets, and amaranth. This plot was adjacent to his building.
Right outside Nazar's building is this playground. Children enjoyed it on the weekends. Since it is cooler out, Nazar's groupa was not allowed outside to use it, for fear of the children getting sick.

This is the hallway that led to Nazar. Even though we know there are many children living in this building, on most visits we did not see or hear any children. To enter where his groupa is, you take the first door on the left. Inside is a small eating room, playroom, restroom, and bedroom. The bedroom consisted of seven cribs/beds lining the walls.

At meal times the caretakers walk from the kitchen to the various groupas, carrying the food in these cloth bags. Inside each is a metal pot typically filled with porridge in the morning and soup and bread for lunch.

One day, there was a lot of unusual action. We were invited to watch a "dress rehearsal" of a program some children at the orphanage were preparing for upcoming visitors. They were very proud of their performance!

During some of our visits we would see children raking leaves or helping to care for the orphanage donkey.

We took this photo just before leaving the orphanage on Friday. It was bittersweet to know that we were finally taking him home with us and that we may never again visit the children and the people who work here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Check-Out

Yesterday was a day that we never thought would come. We were able to check Levi Nazar Yoder out of the orphanage. It was a day filled with emotion.

First, we quickly went upstairs to Levi's groupa, where the children were getting ready to have lunch in the meal room (can you find him in the photo?). We gave gifts to the women who have cared for our son for the first three years of his life. We also gave gifts to the children we have grown to care about.

We then handed Levi's clothing to the caretakers, as instructed by our interpreter Angelina, so they could have him ready when we returned from our next errand. Then we were off to a local government office to check out his "social money".

Back at the orphanage, we gave the money to the director to help care for other children at Green Forest.

We then signed some papers and were able to say good-bye to the caretakers and bring Levi home. It is hard to come up with the right words to thank the women who are paid practically nothing to take care of the orphaned children in Ukraine. Even though everything may not be done the way we would like to see it, and it feels like you are stepping back several generations in time, these women truly care for the children. They seemed very happy for "Nazari", as they call him.

Next, we stopped to get one last picture of Nazar on the "visiting couch". This is the couch where we met him and where we were instructed to spend our earlier visits with him. He is in his new snow suit that we purchased so that he would actually be allowed to leave with us. He's also wearing his new hat that our driver, Sasha, gave to him as a gift. It was a simple, yet kind gesture that we appreciated very much.

Finally, we were on our way to leave the orphanage. What is the first thing Levi Nazar did with his new family? He fell asleep within two minutes of heading out of the orphanage gates.

We had one last official stop. We needed to sign some papers with the local social worker. We stopped at his office, and then headed to our apartment. We will be picking up Levi Nazar's passport on Monday or Tuesday, with the tentative plan to take the overnight train to Kiev Tuesday night. We have the weekend to work on being together, before adding trains and planes to the mix! One last photo. Levi Nazar was so happily stimulated with all the changes in his life that he decided none of us needed much sleep on our first night!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quick Update

We have spent the past few days splitting our time between visiting the orphanage and doing paperwork in Kharkov. We have been able to get his new birth certificate, Ukrainian social security number for passport, visa photos, passport application and photo. This has involved many hours driving around Kharkov to various places. It has seemed, at times, to be endless, however, we are getting close to our time in Kharkov ending...and then on to Kiev.

In the above photo, Levi Nazar had just awakened from his nap after we arrived. Iliana on the left, and Maria on the right, are two of the caregivers in his groupa. We could barely communicate with them, but we think they wanted to know if we had voted for Obama or McCain and how we felt about the elections. Before waking up Nazar, we had a chance to show them the photo album we brought from home. They were very interested and asked many questions through passing our Russian book back and forth and all of us acting things out.

After getting Levi Nazar dressed, they sat him at a table for us to spend time with him. This is the room where the children eat their meals.

We took the time to get our first "official" family portrait.

Finally, we'll end this post with a photo from yesterday, when Levi Nazar enjoyed his first piggy-back ride with his new dad.