court was both exactly what i thought it would be and a surprise as well.
we got there early; we were supposed to have our hearing at 9am, but art's mom wanted to be sure and get there first so we ended up sitting there for an extra hour. a nasty, sloppy wet snow was falling in flurries outside and we'd gotten all wet before we found the right building, but once we did we at least had a place to sit while we waited. soon boris, the pastor from central st. pete calvary, came (he'd agreed to be my interpretor in case the legalese was too much for me) and we waited together. finally they called us in.
i walked into the room, which was very nice and clean and well lit--not at all what i expected for a russian courtroom. the judge was a thin, dark-haired woman with a pursed-up mouth that usually indicates a person who doesn't take nonsense from anyone. my stomach started to do some acrobatics inside, and i stepped up to the little podium facing her. art's mom had stated earlier that it would be better if my judge were male. why? i'd asked her. did she think i'd be able to flirt my way out of trouble? we all laughed but now as i stood before this formiddable woman i sort of wished she'd been a guy as well. she rattled off some legalese, reading me my rights apparently, and after we signed some papers (boris that he was my interpretor, and me that i understood my rights and was waiving my right to an attorney) she asked me to explain how i managed to have a visa lapsed for two months. i took a deep breath and explained. she looked at me impassively through the whole story, and my stomach sank. judging from the other reactions i've gotten (anger, disbelief, shock at my stupidity) hers took me completely by surprise. when she found out i had two young boys, she got so mad. she said that to separate me from my family was idiotic, and that those people should have to come to her and give THEIR explanation as to what would make them do such a thing. she said it was "legal" but not "compassionate." i was sort of dumbfounded. she told me i would pay a fine for breaking the law (like $90) and then i'd take her ruling to the visa office and they'd get me a visa within three days. i was not being deported, and i could come back to russia whenever i wanted, so long as i actually paid attention to what was written on my visa next time. ha! praise God.
after some more waiting around, going to the bank to pay the fine, bringing back the reciept and getting everything notarized, we were done. i thanked boris for all his help and he left, and art's mom and i went over to the visa office.
back to that cold, horrible closet of a room where a very hostile and rude lady awaited us. but i didn't care. the judge had spoken! i could go home in a week! i was so light-hearted that the three hours we sat there waiting didn't even bother me. finally we got inside, and miss hostile and rude immediately freaked out. where was my ticket, she demanded? ticket? we looked at each other dumbfounded. how did expect me to have a ticket when i didn't even know when i'd be able to leave? she threw my papers back at me and said that she told us not to show our faces there without a ticket, that she couldn't start making a visa until she knew the exact date of my departure. we tried asking her when i should get a ticket FOR, and when we said that the judge had told us the visa would be ready in three days she had another fit. visas take 10-20 days! she screamed. art's mom nearly lost it. she pointed to the ruling, and said, "the judge said three days. i know it doesn't take long to make a visa, so do it." more apoplexy from our unpleasant friend. finally she said i had to get a ticket and bring it to her the next day if i wanted to leave by next friday. we came home, i called art, and we figure out this was impossible.
the bottom line: i probably won't be coming back till the 31st. i will have to go to st. pete today to pay a fine and get my original ticket switched to the 31st (the first open seat they had available)and then go next monday or tuesday to give that wretched woman my papers. it's not ideal, in fact, it sucks really bad, but there's really nothing else for it. all the tickets are over 2 grand, and that's just a lot of money to waste because i don't want to sit here for an extra ten days.
so that kind of sucks, but i'm just so thankful the hearing went well. and it's really good that i didn't get kicked out for five years. not that i'm overly anxious to come back here, but things change with time and a few years from now i might not feel the same aversion for all things russian.
thank you so much, my friends, for all your prayers and thoughts. you have no idea how much i appreciate it. please continue to pray that i get back safely, and that i don't go crazy in the meantime. and for my husband and kids, too, please. ilya thinks i'm never coming back or something, because, as he put it to art, "mean people don't let my mommy come home cause she doesn't have papers." it breaks my heart to think of them, i want to get home so bad! to think it will be almost a month gone by without them...i hate it. but at the same time it has been an instructive, if not fun, time for me. God has really been teaching me through all this. hopefully i will come out of it a better person.
as art is so fond of saying: "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."