We set our alarm for 3:30 a.m. and awoke, bleary-eyed, to what would be the start of a very long day. A full, luminous moon was the only light in the pitch black sky. Two floors below us, Tumanyan Street, lay silent: no horns blaring, no cacophony of people passing below on the sidewalk. It felt as though all of Yerevan was asleep, except for us.
Big Papa rolled out of bed with a groan. On soft feet, so as not to wake Baby Bird just yet, he padded over to the bathroom. I heard him turn the squeaky handles to the shower, grunt and then, in a loud whisper say: NO water.
During our two week stint in this apartment, we’d experienced water “issues.” We would wake up, one of us would make coffee and the other would saunter to the bathroom only to find there was no hot water. We’d wait a few minutes and try again and then again, until eventually one of us would call our translator and she would call the building management and they would send a man to reset the hot water heater.
This became a daily routine. Every morning we would wait until a respectable hour to make our phone call, and sometime before noon someone would make an appearance and fix it. Once or twice we felt brave or impatient enough to bathe under a bracingly cold stream of water.
But today, on the morning of our departure, before we would spend the next 26 hours traveling 6,336 miles, half way around the world to our destination—home—with an infant, there was no hot water. In fact, it turned out there was no water at all. No water for a shower, even a cold shower, no water coming out of the tap. Thankfully we still had a bit of bottled water left, albeit only a half-bottle, enough to make Baby Bird’s formula and—if we were lucky—enough for one espresso-sized cup of Armenian coffee for each of us. And we really needed that one cup.
We were scheduled to leave for the airport at 4:30 a.m. There wasn’t time to do anything about the shower. I dampened a washcloth with a sprinkling of bottled water and gave myself a sponge bath.
Big Papa made a bottle for Baby Bird and I got her up. I hated waking her and hoped she would sleep once our plane was airborne. Our first flight, which left at 6:30 a.m. from Yerevan to London, was close to five hours long. Then we would have a five hour layover in Heathrow Airport before boarding our final, 10 hour flight to Seattle. After passing through U.S. Customs, we would need to meet with a U.S. Immigration officer and catch a taxi home. We’d figured we’d be home, at our house, around 5:00 p.m., Easter Sunday.
When our agency’s attorney arrived, he handed us a large manila envelope. THE envelope we’d heard so much about during our four year adoption journey, the envelope from the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan containing all the adoption documents U.S. Immigration would need to process our daughter as a new U.S. citizen. We were told do not open this envelope under any circumstances, do not let it out of our hands, and do not let anyone else open it until it is safely in the hands of a U.S. Immigration officer.
We drove to the airport in the darkness, talking about the trips we’d made to Armenia, the emotional upheaval of our failed adoption, our deep appreciation to all the people who helped us along the way, and our elation that we were finally parents. I felt sad watching the lights of Yerevan fade into the distance. As much as I wanted to get home and begin our life as a family, I knew I would always feel a longing for Armenia, the curve of the hills on the road to Gyumri, the rose-colored tuff of the buildings. I would miss the people we came to know, and crave the amazing Armenian food we’d be hard-pressed to find in Seattle. Even though I was certain we would come back one day with our daughter, that day could be years away.
At the airport we checked our luggage and made sure we indeed had seats on our flight, including a “lap seat” for our daughter. Obtaining berth for her on our flights had been no easy matter. Before we left for our court trip, Big Papa and I had reserved two seats, one for each of us, on two different flights, one flight with British Midlands from Yerevan to London and one flight with British Air from London to Seattle. Our travel agent told us we couldn’t reserve a lap seat for Baby Bird until she was legally our daughter, but to simply give her a call when we had her passport and she would be added on to our ticket.
That’s what we did, and though she tried, she was unable to reach British Air. “Go to the British Midlands office in Yerevan and see what they can do.” And so we did, and what they told us was that they could reserve her lap ticket for the first leg of our trip, but not for the second leg with British Air. Apparently British Midlands and British Air ticketing systems were unable to “communicate” with each other because they did not share codes. The ticket agent told us we could try to get her a seat when we arrived in London…but, “if we couldn’t, we’d miss our connecting flight.”
The thought of being stuck in London for more than the five hour layover was unimaginable. Baby Bird only had a visa to enter the U.S. so we couldn’t go through customs and leave the terminal in any other country except the United States of America. Visions of “The Terminal” with Tom Hanks flashed through my mind. In this film, an eastern immigrant finds himself stranded in JFK airport, and must take up temporary residence there.
We didn’t know what to do, but the travel agent said that British Midlands and British Air were merging their ticketing systems, tentatively on Friday March 6, 48 hours before we needed to board our plane. The only thing we could do was cross our fingers and wait.
Friday arrived, and merely hours before our “interview” at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan (where we would receive a visa for Baby Bird) we made another trip to British Midlands. I’m sure the agent could see the worry in our faces. She smiled and said the two airlines had indeed worked out the kinks in their systems, and started sharing codes, which meant we were able to get her a seat on my lap for the first flight and a “cot” on the second flight.
And now here we were the three of us, about to board the first flight of our long journey home. We hugged our attorney, and walked through security, stopping in the duty free shop to buy a much coveted bottle of 20-year Armenian brandy.
“You won’t be able to take this on your flight out of London. It’s a customs’ regulation,” the clerk at the cash register told us.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I replied, feeling annoyed. “We’ve taken brandy home on all our previous flights through Paris.”
“It’s your decision, but you’ll be taking your chances with an expensive bottle of brandy.”
We decided to take our chances. He zipped up our bottle in a duty free puffy plastic bag and we headed for our gate.
Sitting in the hard plastic seats, waiting for our boarding call, I could see Mt. Ararat standing tall in the distance, lit by the rising sun. My stomach was in knots. Two flights, 16 hours flying time, five hour layover, 12 hour time difference, one 11-month old baby. Big Papa later told me how scared he felt, thinking about what we were taking on, the flight alone, never mind parenthood itself.
As our plane pulled away from the gate and we taxied onto the runway, I glanced at Big Papa and Baby Bird, my family, as my eyes brimmed with tears. I squeezed his hand tightly. We were homeward bound!