Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Glimpse of Christian Youth in SPB

It's been several years since I participated in any sort of street evangelism, Christian skits, camp sessions, etc. I look at something like this and think "I'm way too old," but whether that's an issue or not, my eyes fill with tears as I see these Russian believers (young or not) trying to reaching their city for Christ via a flash-mob.






This is a Protestant effort; I would be curious as to what kinds of activities young Orthodox believers are involved in.

On another note, I heard that the government wants schools to implement a new "Patriotism" program.....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tests and a resolution

I don't know why it had to be so hard. Of course, "hard" is relative and it could have been a lot worse. But our recent trip to Estonia felt like it brought test after test. We had days with endless solution-seeking that felt like waves of labor pain (I'm allowed to say that now) with no baby in sight.

David's visa was due to be ready on Friday, and we were planning to leave that very day. We thought out all the possible scenarios. The city where we were staying (Johvi) is just a few hours from the border, but we had to go into Tallinn first for the visa and then go back the same way we had come, toward Russia.

So in order to fit this all into one day, we needed to take the 6:00 am bus again. But we had done this several times already and knew the drill.

That is, until we had the complication that nobody counted on...

A SNOWSTORM???

Those of you in the U.S. that were hit by last year's October snowstorm may be able to relate. But for us this was yet another link in an almost month-long chain of events. I had left Russia during a period of mild autumn weather, with just 1 or 2 changes of clothes. And here we were suddenly heading into winter. Andrei and I both piled on sweaters and David was fine in his snowsuit.

We left the apartment we had been staying in at a little after 5am and prepared to walk to the bus station. We had worked out how to carry everything, but we had a suitcase on wheels and that wasn't so compatible with the snow that had fallen overnight. Luckily, this was Estonia, and they clean things, so once we got on the main road, it was easier going.

I was tired after about 10 minutes (Andrei may have been too but didn't broadcast it), and lo and behold, a city bus pulled up. We hadn't ever caught a bus during our stay, so here we finally got a break. We rode the rest of the way and got to the station 15 minutes early.

As we rode along towards Tallinn, the roads got icier and the snow heavier. Meanwhile, it was gradually starting to get light outside. At one point we were on the highway, and the bus was having a little trouble, and as we looked up ahead there were frightening accident scenes: jackknifed-tractor trailers, cars scattered across the road and in ditches. No one had been prepared for wintry weather and had chosen to travel anyway with their summer tires.


A WINTRY DISASTER?

A few stuck cars sat there with their wheels spinning as their drivers desperately tried to break free. On at least one occasion our driver went outside and fiddled with something. (In these situations, I often remember the train explosions between Moscow and St. Petersburg, when people were left stranded in the countryside in sub-zero temperatures. ) Looking out the window, I thought to myself, "this is a matter of life and death." I let my plans go and prayed, "Lord, thank You that we are ALIVE."

Even though I had let go of my expectations, our plan had been to hit the morning hours at the Consulate from 9-10, and make a 1:45 bus back to St. Petersburg. We were due to arrive in Tallinn at 8:30.

8:30 came and went and we weren't even in Tallinn yet. But as we got into Tallinn, it was a mess with traffic jams everywhere (there were also rumors of rams on the loose due to a Muslim holiday). We sat in traffic, inching along. 9:00 came and went, as well as 9:30. It was nearly 10 am when we pulled into the bus station, and the Consulate was perhaps 30 minutes away. One of us could have hurried and gotten there a little faster, but we had an infant and all our luggage in tow.

Why not take a taxi? Under normal circumstances, this would have been an excellent idea. However, it quickly became clear that taxis were not only few and far between, but that they also were subject to the same traffic jams. We dragged everything over to a corner where one was stopping, and a woman pushed in front of us (not seeing the baby/luggage?) saying "I was first!" But the taxi had another assignment and drove off.

A block ahead were the tram tracks. The wind was cold, but the bus station was under construction and there was nowhere to take shelter, so we started toward the tram. On the way there, we spotted the bus ticket office and decided to see about changing our tickets. In the ticket office, they said they we could cancel our reservations and get 50% of the price back. That seemed like better than nothing, although I wanted to argue about the baby and the weather and maybe get a better deal. We asked them how their buses were running and a sales representative said "on time" in sort of a snippy voice. Then it turned out that they could only return the money in the physical location where we had bought the tickets...in Johvi, from where we had just traveled 4 hours by bus! We thought about having a friend pick up the refunded money for us, maybe give it to the church as humanitarian aid...but something told us not to cancel our tickets just yet, especially if nothing was guaranteed in return!


ONE LAST TRY

We got on the tram headed toward the center, somehow ending up in opposite ends and separated by crowds of people. We kept looking at each other to see which one of us had an inkling of where to get off. Eventually I recognized where we were and gave Andrei the signal to get off.

McDonald's was just down the street! I can't tell you how many times we've taken refuge in McDonald's, oddly enough. I sat down with the baby and all our things and Andrei ran to the Consulate. It was 10:30, half an hour past the time their window closed. I imagined the bars on the doors and windows.

Andrei was back in what seemed like no time. At first he feigned disappointment, but then he reached into his pocket and pulled out an American passport. I realized that it was David's passport, with the visa in it! The Russian Consulate had given us a lot of trouble, but this time they had listened to Andrei's plea and made an exception.

It didn't seem real that we actual had David's visa and were free to leave Estonia!

We took a taxi (now they were plentiful) back to the bus station and boarded our next bus, this time bound for St. Petersburg! Only a mere 6 hour-ride separated us from our own apartment with our own bed.


ANOTHER PRECARIOUS JOURNEY

But the buses were not "on time" as the girl had boasted. Though we left on schedule and the border crossing   was painless (aside from our screaming baby), the roads were snowy and icy and it started to get dark again. A few hours from St. Petersburg, we got into some bad traffic jams. On one "highway," the line of traffic going the other way was at a standstill for several miles. This particular road had just two lanes and there was no breakdown lane. There was no way to turn around and seemingly no way for emergency vehicles to get through. We listened to the sound of spinning wheels. Those people would likely be stuck until morning.

At least our lane was moving ahead, slowly, but surely. We were tired and poor little David had had enough. For the last 30 minutes or so, Andrei and I sang Christmas carols to him to keep him from crying.

We finally arrived about 90 minutes behind schedule, which doesn't seem like much. But it concluded perhaps 12 hours of bus time that day, longer than it takes to fly from the U.S.! And, of course, a few unplanned weeks of sojourn in a strange country.

We learned that there HAD been fatalities, including on a bus like ours. At least for me, the trip was difficult psychologically because we kept encountering so many setbacks. And seeing people in a form of distress as we entered Russia was sobering.

And so, having traveled so far, we are overjoyed to be back.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Good shepherds

This time in Estonia has been a journey of "good news/bad news"!

Good news: they gave David a visa.
Bad news: It's only for 30 days.
Good news: We can apply for another kind.
Bad news: It will take another 2 weeks.
Good news: It will be ready soon.
Bad news: Andrei has to leave Estonia before David's Russian visa is ready.
Good news: The Estonian authorities extended his visa.

The nice thing is, the Good Shepherd has constantly provided us with shepherds who look our for our needs.

-Our pastor in St. Petersburg made sure David and I had a ride for one leg of our trip here
-Missionaries in Tallinn drove us the rest of the way and let us stay with them
-Another missionary friend provided us with a place to stay while waiting out the visa
-The local pastor got us a stroller to borrow while we're here
-Someone gave us a ride home from church on Sunday

These acts of kindness were all unsolicited, just brothers and sisters in Christ responding to our needs!

While taking the bus from Tallinn, we keep seeing rainbows. The first time was a regular rainbow and there was rain hitting just one side of the bus and not the other!

The second time, there was a double rainbow in the sky. I like to think this was another sign of God's mercy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Birth Story

WARNING: Gynecological-related language.

Introduction:

When I was "preparing" for childbirth, the main books that helped me were "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" and "Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds." I read lots of information and changed my mind several times. And of course, there were many aspects of labor that were different from what I had expected.

At first I read a lot about natural childbirth, and it turned me off from the way hospitals handle childbirth. I started to get nervous that my labor would stall as soon as I set foot on hospital grounds, and that I would be subjected to various procedures against my will.

Then I ran across some stories about "home births" gone wrong, and I decided I would feel better being in the medical setting of the hospital, even with its sterile environment. As it turned out, David needed help breathing when he was born, so we did need medical intervention. But then again, who knows if my labor would have been as long as it was in a different environment. In any case, we are all alive and healthy.

Now for the details...
read more/-

Pregnancy:

I had a fairly uncomplicated pregnancy, except for a few weird things they found on ultrasounds, like a bi-cornuate uterus and an umbilical cord cyst. By the time I was in the U.S. at 33 weeks being examined, they couldn't see either of those.

Meanwhile, I found the "dating" system confusing. Ultrasounds, OB/GYN visits, and my own calculations all yielded different results. They kept saying growth was "behind" by 5-6 days, but since it was so consistent, I wasn't worried.

The baby was breech at one point, but then turned head down. However, the doctors seemed unable to tell me what his position was, other than that. And when I felt the baby moving around, I found it very hard to tell what was what!

I also had very few signs that labor was imminent, so I fully expected to go past my "due date" of July 6th. I felt fine and didn't have any contractions.

Due to things I had read, I felt that regular cervix checks were unnecessary and inaccurate in predicting when labor would start, so I refused them a few times, until my 40-wk appointment when I was found to be 1 cm dilated.

I will say that I appreciated not feeling rushed by the OB-GYN practice I used. They didn't force me to accept certain procedures and they didn't mention inducing labor or there being anything wrong with my not having labor symptoms. They mentioned that the baby seemed smallish, but didn't make any comments as to how much weight I had gained, what I should/shouldn't eat, do, etc. There are times when you want more feedback, but it was nice not to feel judged.

Labor:

Friday evening, July 6th: When I went to bed, I was having cramps and it felt like the baby was having a party in there. I couldn't sleep and felt very restless and uncomfortable, all night.

Saturday: The pains got down to 6 minutes apart. Books I had read said to "ignore" early labor, partly to save pain-management techniques for later. Of course I was like a watched pot (so to speak) at this point, so it was hard to act like everything was normal. I went to the grocery store with my mom and of course we ran into tons of people we knew, while I was sort of in the "zone." I think my mom managed to whisper to everyone that something was happening. Of course to other people it was exciting, but to me...yuck.

Saturday evening: I had managed to get through the day sort of "ignoring" symptoms while keeping a vague idea of how regular cramps were happening. I decided to try to sleep.

Sunday morning: Things had slowed down overnight, so I was glad I hadn't gotten my hopes up. Then the cramps slowly started intensifying again. At first I still had a good appetite and felt pretty upbeat. Then a couple things started happening over the course of the day, like losing the mucus plug and going to the bathroom a lot. And then by dinnertime I didn't want to eat anymore and felt pretty nauseous.

Sunday evening: It was looking like I was in labor. The main symptoms were the cramps, but it didn't feel like the baby was dropping at all. And my water hadn't broken. I wanted to stay at home for as long as possible, because I could have a while to go and I didn't want to get to the hospital too early and be "on the clock" and pressured to be induced or whatever.

My sister was calling to see if she should come up from Connecticut. I wasn't able to talk on the phone at that point but decided that I wanted her to come, even if I wasn't really in labor yet. Having a toddler, the childbirth experience was fresh in her mind, and she could help me cope.

Now my birth support team was assembled: my sister, my mom, and Andrei. I tried to remember all the advice I had heard/read. I tried walking around, but my feet hurt too much carrying all that weight. We couldn't figure out the counter-pressure and all I could really do was lie down. I tried to eat to keep my strength up, but wasn't hungry. Contractions were down to 4 minutes apart or so-I don't really remember, but they were regular.

Sunday night: Around 1 am we left for the hospital. I think I was just ready for doctors to assess me, and to get the car ride over with. We headed out to the car, and a skunk had done its nightly spray...yuck.

I was just starting to get pukey at this point, and had to bring a bag with me in the car. When we pulled up at the hospital, I was in the middle of a contraction/vomiting. Fun.

A nurse from labor/delivery came down to meet us. On the way up, she was asking some questions and I was sort of aware that I was being assessed as to my demeanor, etc. I don't think I actually had any contractions on the way up there, of course that always seems to be the case.

I got put on the monitors right away. I had planned on sort of avoiding the monitoring as much as possible. But now that we were at the hospital, I didn't care. I think in many cases it's best to just do what you're told so that the medical staff can be calm and in turn help you stay calm. But the monitors did get annoying later on.

The monitors showed that my contractions were very regular, but when the doctor checked me, I was only 3 cm dilated. She was completely unemotional and said, "You've got another 10-12 more hours." I could see my mother and sister reacting sympathetically.

Coping with the pain

Well, who needs to look at the clock anyway? I tried to avoid doing so myself. The first method to try was the birthing tub. We got it all filled up and I climbed in, but to be honest it really didn't help with anything.

Every 90 minutes or so I got hooked up to the monitors again.

I tried to walk around, but it was too painful. I tried sitting on a birthing ball...nope.

I tried to keep drinking liquids so I could avoid an IV. However, I got to the point where I was throwing up during/after each contraction. I was really thirsty, but just couldn't drink enough to stay hydrated. So eventually I had to get the IV, which obviously restricted my movements....

Here I had come to the point which they warn you about in the natural birthing literature. Once you get hooked up to an IV, you can't move around, labor doesn't progress...blah blah blah. Well, that may have been true, but my thinking was that I wanted to still have energy to push my baby out. I hadn't planned on throwing up so much during labor and it prevented me from staying energized without medical interventions.

A few more hours went by; it had probably been 8-9 more hours by this point. The doctor came by to check me before her shift ended, but I refused a cervical check. She said the baby was still really high and definitely posterior. Thanks.

Failure to progress?

Eventually another doctor started his shift and checked me to find that I was only at about a 5. At this point the talks of inducing labor began, except that they don't call it that, of course. He said he could break my water, or maybe start me on some Pitocin. I was torn as to what to do, and he said he could give us 30 minutes to think.

Now if the doctor gives you time to think, you know that you're not in an emergency situation. I thought that on the one hand, I could go on laboring without intervention for several more hours, and let nature take its course.

On the other hand, the IV fluids didn't seem to be helping much. I felt really thirsty and weak, and when I thought about several more hours of contractions PLUS pushing, I felt that I needed some help.

Also, I can't remember when, but something was going on with the fetal monitor and sometimes the nurses would rush into the room to check. I didn't want to end up with an emergency C-section because the baby was in distress. I have heard that the readings can change due to contractions or the mother's position, but there is still a risk of something happening that many hours into labor.

I decided to go ahead with the doctor breaking my water. Meanwhile, he had warned that contractions would pick up after the amniotomy, but they had ALREADY been intense for 10 hours or so. Therefore I agreed to some painkillers via IV.

Crazy medical staff

It really is how they describe it...the nurses are in your face too much and the doctors are elusive when you're giving birth.

In the wee hours of morning there was a shift change and we got a new nurse. For some reason the night nurse didn't do registration and the morning nurse did, so now that my contractions were worse and I didn't feel like talking to anyone, I had to answer a barrage of questions. The first round included questions that I had written on the forms. I couldn't understand why the nurse couldn't just get my information from there. Then there was a round of very odd questions such as "what is your learning style?" This was in the MIDDLE of contractions. I basically would ignore the nurse and shoot a look at one of my support people to help out, or answer "No," when the nurse asked, "Can you tell me....?". According to hospital protocol, medical staff should regularly ask the patient for his full name/birthdate. I suppose it can confirm lucidity and also confirm that medication is being given to the right patient, etc. But it is not something you ask of a woman in labor! There was a point there when I did not want to be answering questions, and I didn't want anyone else in the room to be discussing anything, either!

Too much pain!

I thought I had heard that having the doctor break your water was no big deal. Well, I found it fairly uncomfortable. Afterwards, they kept turning me from my back to my side and back again and changing the pads under me as everything got soaked. Very messy! I heard the doctor saying that there was meconium in the waters, and that the baby would need to be checked when he was born.

The contractions did get more painful, and there was this confusion with the doctor being in a C-section and needing to be tracked down to approve the order for painkillers. The nurse had promised to put the order in, but I never really felt relief. Meanwhile, they had supposedly given me morphine and I didn't remember what the effects of it were supposed to be and I didn't have time to find out. I suppose it may have made me sleepy between contractions, but I'm not sure.

My support people were taking turns napping one at a time while the other two would help me breathe through contractions. It seemed like everyone had his own rhythm, though! Also, the contractions on the monitor didn't necessarily correspond to what I was feeling. Sometimes one of my support people would start doing the breathing before I felt the contraction! Or I would hear "here comes a big one," uh oh!

The pain really felt unbearable at this point. I can't remember if I was still vomiting, but I started to raise my voice more, and I had a sore throat for several days afterward. I didn't want people touching me except in certain ways (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean). The nurse usually violated these orders and would sometimes do something like press on my abdomen in the middle of a contraction. I remember yelling, "my stomach!" However, there was no swearing or yelling at my husband that I hated him.

Pushing

After a few more hours, I was fully dilated! Of course it was good news, but I didn't have any urge to push, whatsoever. But the good part about pushing is that you have something to do during the contraction, other than just survive it.

Here again I was hoping to try an alternative method, something more intuitive, less painful, more effective, whatever.

But I didn't have any inklings as to what would be best! The doctor actually said I could do whatever was comfortable, and I started out on all fours. After some practice pushing, he said it wasn't a good position.

So I asked the doctor for his opinion as to a good position, considering the baby was posterior. I thought I had heard something about a squatting bar, but somehow that never made an appearance. I ended up...you guessed it, on my back with the stirrups. The doctor claimed that it would help gravity do its work. Really? Okay.

I pushed for about 90 minutes. I really gave it my all because I was so ready to be done! Some people like it quiet at this stage, but all the encouragement of my support people was really helpful. We had just gotten a new nurse and she was standing up by my head looking into my eyes and saying I was doing a great job. And I believed her! But I REALLY couldn't have done it without my husband. Whenever I felt like I was pushing my hardest, he would tell me to push just a little harder, and we would make progress.

It was a little disappointing each time I pushed because I kept hoping this would be it, and then it wasn't. Over and over again. But everyone's encouragement helped me keep going.

The room was bustling with people prepping the room for delivery. I think the pediatrics team even came and introduced themselves.

Finally one of the pushes was "the one," and there was this huge fountain of poop-tainted fluid that splashed all over everyone! Then David was whisked away, where his dad and aunt watched the doctors work on him and my mom stayed with me. I've already written about that here.

David was 8 lbs 2 oz, and I have to admit I was a little proud for carrying that around, especially after my doctors had kept saying he was on the small side.

They brought him over to me all swaddled and all I got to do was give him a little kiss before they carried him off.

Meanwhile, the doctor was still working on me. I heard him tell them to add more painkillers to the IV as he worked on fixing me up. The placenta was detached or something and he had to go in there and remove it manually, pretty unpleasant, but successful.

When it was all over I just lay there and the nurse would come periodically and change the pads under me.

My mom called my dad to come meet his namesake. Arrangements were being made for David to be transferred to a NICU in another hospital. They explained that they can't usually arrange for the parents to stay there too. We could have tried to work something out, but decided to just spend the night in our hospital.



When David was all hooked up to a machine and ready to go in the ambulance, they brought him in so I could say "goodbye." It wasn't as upsetting as it could have been because I was pretty out of it. Andrei later showed me a little video of David lying there crying in the nursery, and that was sort of upsetting considering I couldn't be there with him, but I guess you could say our bonding was just delayed a little.

Eventually everyone left and things quieted down and some friends came by to congratulate us, and then we had our hospital dinner and went to our room.

Oh, David was born at 3:35 pm and we had gotten to the hospital at 1 am.

Maybe I will write the postpartum story later. For now, at least I've gotten this far!

Monday, October 15, 2012

How I left for 10 days and stayed a month

It has been quite a week!

Last Tuesday, we learned (at the end of the business day) that David was approved for a 30-day tourist visa instead of a 3-year. Slight difference there! The woman at the visa agency had not done a good job of checking our documents, and we had thought we were one week into a 15-day processing time, only to find out that we were ineligible.

We spent all day Wednesday making phone calls and discussing various options. Going back and forth between the visa agency and the Embassy who keep giving us different answers. We are staying 2.5 hours away in another city, and the Russian Embassy is only open from 9-10 a.m....

Pick-up slip #2
On Thursday Andrei and David and I set out at 5 a.m. to catch a 6:00 bus to Tallinn. We brought with us a new invitation, for a guest visa. First we had to go to the visa agency and cancel David's tourist visa in person in order to get his passport back to start a new visa application. We didn't get any money back for the 30-day tourist visa we hadn't wanted in the first place (although, prior to the new visa rules that would have been the only option for a 3-month old).

The visa agency put in an inquiry to the Consulate and we waited all day (from about 10am-5pm) for an answer. Turned out the Consul was on vacation and no one wanted to make decisions without him!

We decided to spend the night in Tallinn, so we phoned some friends who helped us find accommodations (might I add, we don't drive...this was mainly on foot or public transportation).

Friday: This time we went straight to the Consulate, where they tried to redirect us to the visa agency again, NO THANK YOU! Andrei explained everything and got them to look at our invitation, which was almost perfect. But...no decisions without the Consul. Wait until Monday.

Monday: David has now been approved for a 3-year homestay, so he'll be able to come and go during that three-year period, with no stay on Russian territory exceeding 6 months.

Of course I am disappointed once again by Russian bureaucracy and its inability to provide the right information in a timely manner! It was truly a wild goose-chase. We started out 2 weeks ago at the Consulate, where they sent us to the visa agency...and here we are, having applied for and paid for two visas, and hoping the second one will truly work out...once it is ready after another 11 days.

The homestay visa is more appropriate for David anyway, though we could have added some more touristy activities to his schedule. ;)

Might I add: we will likely get David's visa on the exact day that Andrei's Estonian visa runs out. Believe me, we didn't plan for things to happen this way!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Quick break from bureaucracy: bilingual parenting

Back before we were expecting David...let's see, that was actually when we were engaged-I downloaded a book to read called "Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or More!) Languages," by Virginie Raguenaud.

Reading it on my Kindle made it harder to flip through and mark my favorite sections and take notes. I regret never having written that book review, because I really enjoyed the book.

The author writes from her own experience. She grew up speaking 3 languages and is raising her twins in French and English. I loved reading about her childhood memories, as she did her homework in one language and then would check her answers with her parents in another language.

I think the book's title (Bilingual by CHOICE) is key. Any family could promote bilingualism in their children, but it takes planning and intention. Although kids are resilient and learn fast, they can lose a language just as easily if they aren't given a chance or a reason to use it.

At the end of the book is a lengthy list of language-promoting activities to do with kids: things like going to the zoo or even observing a construction site and learning all the associated vocabulary.

The book contains a lot of good ideas, though there is no guarantee that what worked for the author would work for others as well.

I would love to hear how Virginie Raguenaud's children are doing now with their two (or more?) languages. I want to go back and read the book again, as well as the other one I liked, "Raising a Bilingual Child.." (read my review).


Thursday, October 4, 2012

My little Russian

I think David looks like his American side of the family in the previous post, but when I put this little hat on him, he turns into a Russian baby!

This little hat has squirrels on it!

I can't stop taking photos of him while he's sleeping because it's just SO cute!

When the hands are up, he's definitely asleep!
Andrei is joining us in Estonia on Saturday and we will be a complete family once again!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

David's visa journey

Introduction

The changing Russian visa laws over the past several years have required missionaries to make tough decisions about continuing their work in Russia. Whether choosing to live in Russia only part of the time, leave for good, or get a different type of document, it all changes the way we do ministry.

For me, choosing to pursue a residency permit has been a long journey that has left me unable to spend so much time doing the same things I did before. It's affected me physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and has taken hours and hours of time. But for me, fighting to stay in Russia was what seemed right.

Now, we've come full circle as visa laws are being "relaxed" once again. Will missionaries start to come back? Is there work for full-time missionaries in Russia, or is that era ending?

Over and over again, getting certain documents processed has caused a chain of events that send me on wild goose chases, trying and trying and trying and trying until something works. Usually the solution ends up being the least convenient/practical. For example: we could only get a tourist visa for David and then just a few weeks later, the visa laws changed. Lack of organization, or just Murphy's Law working against us? I prefer to see it as God sending us through His refining fire.

We could have given birth in Russia, or gotten David's Russian citizenship in the U.S., or waited a few weeks  to get one of the new visas to Russia so he could be there longer without needing to exit. But we had our reasons, and God had His reasons, that it worked out this way.

Getting around Tallinn

I'm not staying in Old Town like last time, but the public transportation is pretty easy to navigate, as long as you can have someone point out where to get off. As a mother and child, we get to ride for free. Some countries will let an infant ride for free, but it's nice to feel taken care of as a mother, too.

Despite having so much forest area, things here are very hi-tech in terms of Internet and cellular service. You pay for things like parking with your cell phone. Lots of malls and shopping centers.

Consulate Hours (please note: Americans do not need to go here, you need to process your visa at a different location, see below)

The Russian Consulate is different from how I remember it. You walk in (to the visa section, not the Consular section for citizens) on the first floor, and the windows are all right there. There is a "kassa" where you pay and then there are a few other windows. I talked to one man who motioned at me through the glass...you DO still need to talk to them using a telephone receiver, but I'm more confident of my Russian, 5 years later!

I asked a few questions and he sent me to the Lady who checks visa applications. Maybe she's the same one from last time, I don't quite remember.

The answer is: Americans shouldn't show up in person anymore at the Consulate but should use a third party (like the Russian Consulates in the U.S.). The one appointed for Estonia is called the "Russian Visa Center" (Российский Визовый Центр).

At the center, I glanced at the girl's nametag and saw that she had a Russian name, so I asked if Russian or English were more comfortable for her. I don't speak Estonian and many people here have Russian roots, but it's probably better not to assume. She said Russian was okay.

They accepted everything with no problem after checking to make sure we could apply for one of the new 3-yr visas. Once again we got some information "too late": David could have gotten a homestay visa since the invitations are totally low-key now. I had searched for this information online but hadn't found it...turns out a link from a link on the Russian Embassy site (in Russian) will get you there. Oh well, hopefully he'll enjoy his 3-yr tourist status!

We paid there and got the receipt that we'll use to pick up the visa, at the same location. No need to set foot in the Consulate.

3-yr visas

Here is the Russian version: http://www.kdmid.ru/docs.aspx?lst=country_wiki&it=/Nota_%E2%84%96_46197kd_081111.aspx

If you go to the English site of the Russian Embassy in the U.S., click on Consular Section, and choose your type of visa, then you will see the updated requirements. For example, a homestay visa: http://www.russianembassy.org/Embassy_eng/Consulate/Homestay_visa.html

Main differences:
-good for three years
-holder can stay for six months at a time, but can reenter after exiting
-more expensive (currently $180)
-takes longer (up to 15 calendar days)
-still need an invitation, but might be more casual (check your visa type)
-the Consulates claim they have the right to ask for additional information like bank statements; not sure if that will be enforced at all


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blogging from Estonia (on a visa run)/The new Russia/U.S. visa agreement

David and I are in Tallinn!

I was reading a blog entry I wrote after the last time I got a visa in Tallinn. I'm really glad I have that record, but a lot of that information is outdated now!

So I'll be writing a new set of instructions this time around, and it might help someone in the near future, although it could change again very soon.

If you have Russian connections you might have heard that there is a new visa agreement between the U.S. and Russia. Though I haven't spoken with any Russians applying for visas to the U.S., this certainly can affect travel plans from both sides, hopefully in a good way!

David might not get Russian citizenship for 6 months or more, and up until now I could only get a 30-day tourist visa for him, so we're talking several months back-to-back of traveling and renewing visas. However, the new 3-yr visas have just become available, so we were able to apply for one for him.

The length of stay with the new visas is 6 months (maximum) in a row. We're not sure exactly how that works, but even having to exit for a few days would be easier than constantly applying for new visas.

More to come!