WENDY'S CHOICE

SHE WAS PROMISED SHE COULD ADOPT A RUSSIAN BABY IN EXCHANGE FOR HUMANITARIAN AID. IT WASN'T THAT EASY.

Davis had shown up late at the airport in Columbus and she was ominously reserved. The night before, she and her family and Roberta Grimm from Apple had called everyone to tell them that the initial $1,500 they had paid was not enough, and that they needed to ante up another $500 apiece. Some bailed out right there, either out of suspicion or because they had already spent the last of their savings to get that far.

Then Davis explained that because of another screw-up, the boxes and crates of humanitarian aid--the initial impetus for the mission--were not going with them. Davis had apparently assumed that Aeroflot and the U.S. military would graciously pick up the tab for shipping the boxes. Jamie Combs delayed checking his luggage until the last moment, troubled by other ominous details: Davis had promised that doctors and lawyers would accompany them to check the medical and legal status of the children. But, he says, "Everybody I talked to was there to adopt." When he learned that the fare he had paid was not refundable, he suspended his better judgment and he and his wife, Melissa, got on the plane.

Wendy, on the other hand, has a tendency to paint rosy pictures until the evidence to the contrary is insurmountable. "I was Miss Eternal Optimist standing there and saying, 'It'll work, it'll work.'" That evening's TV news captured Wendy bending over to hug a little girl in the airport. "You're so precious," she cooed as the cameras rolled. "I hope I find one just like you."

Once in the air, Davis left her seat in the first-class section of the plane and assured everyone that since she wouldn't be distributing the relief packages, she'd be able to devote her attention full-time to the adoption process.

@rule:
@body:The Aeroflot airliner droned on into the night, stopping early the next morning in Shannon, Ireland. Though it was supposed to be a nonsmoking flight, that restriction was ignored by the Russian passengers who puffed as the other travelers fumed. They landed in Moscow at five o'clock the next afternoon, and if wintery Columbus had been gray, Moscow was "like an outside prison," as Wendy remembers it. There were no officials there to meet the plane as Davis had promised.

But their accommodations at the Kempinski Hotel were sumptuous and comfortable, and so close to Red Square, as Wendy says, "that back in my softball days, I could have hit it with a pitch."

They spent the first day recovering from the flight and adjusting to the time zone. Wendy was still optimistic; she wrote in her journal, "Thoughts about adopting keep me looking at the Russians for future thoughts about how a child may look. Women are beautiful, as well, very glamorous. People look much healthier and happier than I ever dreamed."

Day two passed without any visits to orphanages. Everyone huddled in the hotel, waiting for Davis to take care of everything. There was nothing else to do. "You couldn't even go to the Kremlin," Wendy says, "because it was surrounded by guys with guns and people screaming, having 'manifestations.'" President Yeltsin was fighting for his job and hard-line Communists were demonstrating outside the government buildings. Disenchanted with Russian cuisine, the travelers ordered pizzas from Pizza Hut and ate them in the lobby, then further enraged the German hotel manager by putting their feet up on the elegant furniture. "This is not a youth hostel," he would shout in Colonel Klink tones.

By Wednesday morning, when there was still nothing, the prospective parents started grumbling among themselves. "I think Rebecca is doing a great job and some people are bad-mouthing her," Wendy wrote in her journal. "I won't listen."

Davis' "friend" Ludmilla was nowhere to be found, but Davis forced a meeting with the Minister of Health, one of the officials in the chain of command regarding adoptions. The reporters followed.

Davis had asked Gary Levens, the camera operator for a Chicago production company filming a video about adoption, if he would lend the services of its translator. When they got to the minister's office, the translator turned to Levens in surprise and said, "They didn't know we were coming."

When the minister was tracked down and told he had company, he was civil and courtly. "I don't know what he'd been promised, but she didn't have any of it in hand," says Columbus Dispatch columnist Mike Harden, who also attended the meeting. Harden said he thought the minister was trying to figure out what to make of Davis.

"She put all the stacks of [adoption] applications on the table and never referred to them once during the meeting," says Levens. "The meeting consisted of her trumpeting herself to the minister, what a nice person she was, and how in the future, she expected to do many more nice things, and this is what she did for a living. He just sat there the whole time."
When Levens came back from dinner that night, the parents were milling in the lobby, excited because Davis had told individuals that they had all been approved for adoption, and word had spread. Levens told the prospective parents it wasn't true.

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