Friday: our fourth trip to Gyumri and final visit with Baby Bird. On this morning, before heading north, the plan was to stop at the Ministry of Justice Office and sign papers to register Baby Bird. Registering signaled our intent to adopt Baby Bird.
Our taxi driver for the day bore an uncanny resemblance to Sean Connery, right down to his square jaw, grizzled complexion, distinctive full mustache, and arched eyebrows. He was the spitting image of the actor save the lack of front teeth which I noticed the minute he lifted his chin toward the rear view mirror and parted his lips.
As we headed up the hill to the ministry office we could see Mt. Ararat, the famous mountain where—according to legend– Noah’s ark landed. In the four trips I’d made to Armenia, I’d never seen this much of the mountain. Ararat is a dead ringer for Mt. Rainier, the mountain I knew and loved in my own home state, right down to its shoulder mountain, Little Ararat. Seeing Ararat beneath clear blue skies in all its glory, reminded me of sunny summer days in Seattle when people say “the mountain is out.”
Squeezing into the pint-sized elevator (barely big enough to hold the three of us: our translator, Big Papa and me), we slowly made our way to the top floor, where we would wait to meet with Mr. Stepanyan, the Deputy Head of the Civil Acts Agency for Armenia. His office acts as the Central Authority for inter-country adoption. From the corner windows outside his office, all of Yerevan was laid out before us with Mt. Ararat floating above a field of gray blocky Soviet-style buildings.
When we entered Mr. Stepanyan’s office, he shook our hands, first Big Papa and then me. I searched for recognition in his eyes. We’d met him on two previous trips. In fact this was my third visit and Big Papa’s second visit to his office.
Our translator spoke to Mr. Stepanyan in Armenian. His eyes faced downward toward his desk, until she said our last name, Shepherd, at which point he looked up, seriousness in his eyes.
“Oh, Shepherd,” he intoned deeply, stretching out the “Oh.” He remembered.
He remembered the suspension of our previous adoption attempt, and he told us how sorry he was for our heartache. I believed him. His eyes looked warm and sincere, his voice was soft.
Mr. Stepanyan motioned for us to sit in the two (now familiar) chairs in front of his desk.
“So, what have you done this week?” he asked. I wanted to laugh because he knew exactly what we’d done.
“We spent the past three days traveling to and from Gyumri where we went each day to visit Baby Bird at the children’s home. We enjoyed our time with her, and we want to adopt her.”
Big Papa shared a few stories from the days we spent getting to know Baby Bird. Then Mr. Stepanyan handed us a piece of paper, with three hand-written lines and two spaces for our signatures. Our translator told us the document stated we had met Baby Bird, and wished to formally accept our referral and express our intent to adopt her.
We signed the paper and shook hands again. That was it. She was registered to us. After all we’d endured over the past few years leading up to this trip, there was only one word to describe this moment: surreal.
We took the rickety elevator back to the first floor and left the building. Sean Connery was waiting for us just outside the gates. After climbing into the taxi, we made our way through Friday morning Yerevan city traffic and headed for the highway. As soon as we were 100 feet clear of the on-ramp, Sean dropped his foot on the gas pedal. He was a solidly built man and I could feel the thud of his foot reverberating in the back seat. For the next two hours, he didn’t let up on the gas, not for a minute. Behind Sean Connery’s toothless smirk lay the heart of James Bond with a hefty dose of Mario Andretti thrown in for good measure. I could see him tuck his chin and narrow his eyelids like a downhill ski racer as we jetted down the open road.
Our two-lane highway became a three-lane highway, if you counted the center line as a lane. We dodged and weaved like nobody’s business, zooming up the white line at the speed of light only to duck, at the last moment, into the infinitesimal space between a petrol truck and a car carrying a full load of flour sacks. I imagined Sean’s completely confident philosophy: Never yield until you see the white of their eyes.
Big Papa and I have been in the back of a lot of taxis. Taxis in Beijing where the traffic was twenty lanes thick and speed limits were the merest of suggestions, taxis on serpentine mountain roads at 16,000 feet of elevation in the Himalayas, speeding blind around corners where the steep drop-off was thousands of feet, passing in a two-lane pitch black tunnel, traveling in the lane of oncoming traffic. But nothing we’d experienced, to date, compared to the taxi rides we took over the four days we spent traveling to and from Gyumri.
I closed my eyes again and again, wincing. Please let us get to Gyumri in one piece. Occasionally I looked at Big Papa whose expression alternated between deer-in-the-headlights shock to utter amusement.
We arrived in at the blue gates of the children’s home with all our limbs attached, fully awake, blood pumping ferociously through our veins. Considering our taxi rides over the previous three days, this ride was a veritable taxi success. I flung the door of the taxi open, leapt from my seat and practically ran toward the greeter dog.