In October 1996 I traveled to Vladimir, Russia to adopt my daughter, Anya. If I imagine a snapshot of myself at the orphanage, I see a first-time mom sitting nervously with an infant on her lap, someone without a clue. The look on my face teeters between fear and surprise.
No wonder I had that little problem with the diaper rash ointment.(As in, I didn't bring any.) I know. I know. It's an obvious thing to pack when you're adopting a five-month-old baby, right? Anya had a nasty rash. So, there I was in a Moscow pharmacy using hand signals to communicate my needs. The two slack-jawed clerks looked on, as if they didn’t have a clue. First I gestured to Anya's bottom; then I gestured to her red Gap onesie outfit. Next, I madly thumbed the pages of my Russian/English dictionary. My audience of clerks swung into action and I left the pharmacy with diaper rash cream in hand.
In addition to my Russian-English dictionary, I'm glad I packed a copy of What to Expect the First Year despite its considerable weight. I speed-read it on the 10-hour flight over, and it was a marvelous reference. So get a good general advice book geared to your child's age group. Another treasure: granola bars. I scarfed them the night I was stuck in an Intourist hotel room alone with the baby (no room service; no spouse to forage for food). Something I learned the hard way that evening: even Chinese restaurants in Russia have never heard of take-out.