Sunday, October 31, 2004

Be It Ever So Humble ...

...there's no place like home!  I still can't believe it, but I'm sitting here at MY computer, in MY den, in MY house, and MY husband is out trick-or-treating with the kids.  All of them!  I'm beyond tired, and have picked up a stomach bug that made the trip home oh-so-much-fun.  Melanie did a lot better on the Frankfurt-Charlotte leg than the Almaty-Frankfurt one.  On A-F (which left at 4 a.m.) she kept waking up every ten minutes and crying.  Probably because we were squeezed into the middle row and the *expletive deleted* in the seat in front of us had it jacked all the way back.  We literaly had about four inches clearance.  A little boy behind my mom kept kicking her seat and talking very loudly in Russian.  It was miserable.  Luckily we had two bulkhead seats on the F-C route, and Melanie slept on a pallet on the floor.  She really slept hard for about three hours , then wanted to play!  Mom and I were of course semi-zombies by this time, so we took turns playing with her while the other napped for a while.  We finally gave her about 1/2 a teaspoon of benadryl, because I just couldn't keep my eyes open.  She slept the last 2 hours of the flight ...

One of our bags didn't make it ... there's so much else to write, but chaos reigns in our house, so I need to go put out some fires (figuratively of course!)



Friday, October 29, 2004

My how time flies...

Sorry, but  I still can't send pictures.

Well, what do you say on the last full day of your stay in Kazakhstan? When we first arrived, the days stretched off into the future, into a dark abyss with no bottom. The thought of endless weeks in a tiny apartment in a strange country with hot water only a possibility, with my children mourning my absence at home, was daunting and depressing. However, I compartmentalized my fear and my sadness, and put it away for later. On the conscious level, I went through each early day as a robot, performing the mundane tasks to get ready for the day and driving to the Baby House. It was only when I saw Karina/Melanie that I would let my emotions out, to embrace her, to bond with her, and to allow her to bond with us. Then it was time to close emotional shop again, and back at the apartment, I would, in a sort of self-preservation, "check out", or sleep to while away the hours. Every morning I would find myself doing what I had done the day before, time after time. And before I knew it, I was beginning to enjoy myself! The sights I would see on the route to the Baby House became familiar: the "avtomoyka" or car wash, "magazin" or store (dyken in Kazakh) and the little kafe where you turned left towards the Baby House. Every day became something to look forward to! Our relationship with Aida became closer by the day, and we joked and laughed together like old friends. We recognized her trademark knock on the door ... usually followed by coughing, since she was so sick that one week. We made friends with Corey & Christie, and enjoyed sampling many of the restaurants in TaldyKorgan. We learned about the local culture and history and learned to love our home away from home.

Now it is the day before we fly home! The early days here may have been difficult, but now I feel sad to be leaving. I don't know when I'll be back.

Melanie decided to do the "newborn" routine last night .. she was up every two hours, starting at 1 a.m. So much for my plan to put her naptime back on track. We finally got up for the day at 7, and waited for Charlotte to call. Mom and I started packing our stuff ... and generally relaxed around the apartment all morning. I put Melanie down for a nap at 1 and she went right down. At 3:00 Vitallik arrived and we went to the Sisters' office. We had a final chat with Gulzhan, and then, with three other families, the Gaffneys, the Allens, and the Balmasedas, we walkedacross the street to where the consular section of the US Embassy is. It is in a tall office building, but we had to go through pretty significant security before we were allowed inside. They took out my USAirways headphones, my Ibuprofen, my Purell hand sanitizer, and my drivers' license. Hmmm. A security guard who looked like every Russian stereotypical "comrade" took us up in the elevator. We paid our fees, then were called up to a window to have a little chat with an American consular officer. Then, we were done! We were the only ones there, unlike three years ago when we were adopting Lisa. We had to go through Moscow back then, and there were about 30 people crammed into a small room that day. Overall, this has been a pretty smooth experience.

We took pictures with Gulzhan and Gulnara ... and with Gulbanu. We have known Gulbanu for over three years, and she is practically family. We had brought her some duct tape (I think it's a running gag now) and got a big laugh out of that!

Mom and I decided to celebrate by going to the Hyatt Regency Hotel to have a drink at the bar. Talk about luxury! We listened to an American (Canadian?) businessman negotiating (through an interpreter) with a table of Kazakh men behind us as we sipped on our martini (mom) and Tien Shan beer (me). We enjoyed the atmosphere, complete with brass fixtures and marble fountains. I guess it was worth paying 600 tenge for the International Herald Tribune, just to be there! The best part was when we stepped back outside to leave, and our limo driver, Vitallik, roared up in the van to meet us! We felt quite posh!

Now we are hunkering down having a dinner of roasted chicken and stir-fried potatoes. We're doing one more sweep of TSUM to see if we missed anything, then home to pack for our 12:15 pickup. <groan> Let the torture begin!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Say "AAAHHH"...

 Note from Editor:   Sorry folks, but Liz couldn't get the pictures to load in her email, so I have none to post...however, she did send her latest entry -- Enjoy...David

Go RED SOX!! WOO HOO!! Melanie had another early wake-up call ... 7:00. It doesn't sound all that early, but it doesn't get light here until 8:00, so technically it's still nighttime. She went to bed at 10:30 last night, due to her 2 hour nap yesterday from 3-5. Since we were up, we caught the opening pitch of the World Series, and Damon's 1st inning home run. What a great game! Vitallik came to pick us up right at the beginning of the bottom of the 9th ... what torture. I was pretty secure knowing that they would pull it off, and only a miracle would help the Cardinals come back from a 3 run deficit. Just wish I could have seen the jubilation. But I'm sure they'll be showing it over & over.

Speaking of baseball championships ... did I mention that Christian's team, the Twins, WON THE HYAA COACH PITCH CHAMPIONSHIP last Saturday?? WOO HOO! Way to go, Coach James .. wish I could have been there to see you jumping up & down for those boys. I know you are so proud of them. You have been a wonderful coach and you have made Christian's year! Every time they have called this week, he hasn't wanted to talk to me because he was engrossed in the World Series! I think you have instilled a love for baseball in him that will last him the rest of his life!

Today was Melanie's appointment at the SOS Clinic. The US government requires that a newly adopted child have a certificate that he or she is healthy enough to immigrate to the US, and has no communicable diseases. It is a very nice clinic, by Western standards! A beautiful, new building in a neighborhood setting. The nurse and doctor were both Russian women. We also ran into the Gaffneys and the Allens, both WPA families who have been in Kokshetau for a long time, and their babies Jacob and Grace. There were also two single women with other agencies with their precious new children. It was good to chat and hear names like "Cincinatti" and "Jacksonville". We even found the most recent issue of Time magazine, in English! Melanie was obviously upset to be at the clinic. I don't know if it reminded her of her surgery or what, but she was whiney, wriggly and not happy. Luckily for us, Vitallik was there to sling her around, which she loves. But she fell asleep in the car, and when Vitallik got out at the Ramstore, she jolted awake and cried! Guess he's her replacement Papa for this week. Vitallik told us today that for two years he was on President Nazerbaev's security detail. Wow. I felt safe with him before, but now I know he would have wrestled those Chechens to the ground with one arm tied behind his back. And made them beg for mercy!

Since Melanie was so cranky, I decided to bring her back to the apartment for a nap, and Vitallik has taken mom to the Zolyoni Bazaar. I guess I'll have to miss it; I'm sure I'll get a full report when mom gets home. I'm shopped out and desperately need Melanie to sleep all night, and I think the screwed up nap schedule has got her out of whack.

Getting back to the clinic ... we have another small surprise to add to Melanie's medical file: hip dysplasia! I had noticed that she walked a little awkwardly on her left leg, but the doctor confirmed that she herad some "noise" when she manipulated that hip. <sigh> Poor baby .. but only an x-ray at home with confirm if there is a major concern. I'm not going to worry about it until then. I don't know much about it ... (I know a lot about cleft l&p!!) ... wasn't prepared for this one! Such is the nature of international adoption. Other than that, she appears very healthy and is only behind on one vaccination. They take really good care of these babies!!

Tonight: another wild WPA party at the American Grill. News at 11. And for whomever left the book "The Malaria Capers" in our apartment, THANK YOU ... it is a fascinating read!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

An international incident ...

Today we woke up to rain. For having been here nearly 34 days, we have had only a day or two of inclement weather. It's actually kind of pretty, with the yellow fall leaves everywhere, and the shiny slick streets. Okay, the traffic jams kind of take away from the picturesque flora, but hey, you can't have everything, can you? This morning we were up at the dawn of crack ... Melanie had an early wake-up call, so I think I have committed the first parental taboo: I took her into my bed to go back to sleep. Will she ever sleep in her crib again?! I was semi-comatose when she woke up (had already been roused once by the barking dogs) so I was on auto-pilot. I have no idea what time it was, but it was near to o'dark thirty, and she did go back to sleep. The phone woke me up at 7:30; Charlotte calling. Then it was up for the day!

Dilnoza from the office called, and we had to be there at 11:00 to fill out some paperwork for the US Embassy on Friday. Vitallik drove us there; and then once again, we went to the Ramstore. It's becoming our second home. Vitallik apparently has some kind of discount card that he uses every time. I haven't figured out how much it is. We then paid a visit to the apartment of "Silk Road Sasha" who has started a little business of Kazakh rugs, dream quilts and paintings on silk fabric. Then we set out to a rug dealer. Everyone who has ever spent time in Kazakhstan knows about the great deals you can get on Oriental rugs ... from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and many of the other "stans". We pulled up to the museum of art, where a very nice young guy named Azamat had a store. It was a small shop, but Azamat enthusiastically pulled out rug after rug. So many to choose from! Where do you begin? There were some made of wool, some of camel hair, some of llama. There were rich dark burgundies and greens, rusts and oranges.

While we were looking, a motley group of scary-looking men walked in, bearded and wearing Muslim "caps", felt shoes and long coats. They started asking questions of Azamat, not waiting for us to finish. I figured, well we're just women, to heck with us ... After looking at some rugs, they walked out. A moment later they walked back in. One of them asked Azamat, in Russian, where these women were from. (I can understand Russian a heckofalot better than I speak it!) Being the friendly sort I am, I answered "Amerikanska" but mom said, "Canada!" Behind the Muslim man I could see Vitallik motioning to me not to talk, and making the shush signal. I didn't say any more ... and the men walked out yet again. Vatillik told me that they were Chechens ... you know, from Chechnya? The ones that blow up schools with small children in them? Yikes almighty. And I just told them we were Americans! Good grief, can't I shut up once in a while? Last I heard Americans were not on the Chechen's "friendly" list. We could see them milling around outside the shop, and I was scared to leave.

We made our selections and haggled with Azamat. While we were talking, the men started to come in the shop again, and Azamat told them to wait outside. I was scared to death about leaving the money with Azamat, wondering if the Chechens were going to rob him or something. There was a policewoman sitting at a table in the lobby of the museum, which made me feel a little better. I hoped they weren't lying in wait by our car ... but much to our relief, when we left to leave, they were nowhere in sight.

You read about these things on the news ... about the school in Beslan, the planes going down in Russia; as horrific as those incidents were, they may as well have been on Pluto to us suburban US housewives. Granted, these guys were probably just tourists in Kazakhstan to buy rugs, I don't mean to make hasty generalizations and jump to conclusions. However, when you're up close and personal with Chechens, and reality hits a couple of feet away from you, your blood tends to run just a little cold. And the fact that Vitallik and Azamat were on their guard about them makes me realize that there is an element of "prejudice" against Chechens in Kazakhstan.

So now we're home, having a quiet afternoon on a rainy afternoon. Melanie is down for a nap, and I'm right behind her. I'm washing a few clothes, and otherwise practicing my domestic talents. I am very ready to be home; and sleep in my own bed, and hug my other children, and introduce them to their new sister! This has been a long and difficult trip, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Let the shopping begin...

David here...I made it home yesterday (Monday afternoon) with no problem.  It was so great to see the kids...our being gone was really hard on them.  Both Christian and Lisa did not leave my side from the time I got home (around 3:30 pm) until bedtime...of course that was just fine with me.  The rest is Liz's post that she emailed to, you don't realize how much you miss broadband until you don't have it -- I didn't know pictures could load that fast -- Ha!)  I have also added some pictures to the prior posts we made from Almaty -- Enjoy!  ...David

Liz:  News flash! There is NOTHING left in TSUM (the big department store), my mother has bought it out. History has been made; the officials are bewildered. Seriously ... today we went to TSUM to shop, and we felt so sorry for Vitallik being stuck with two shopaholic women, so we sent him on his way. We took a short break for lunch at "Mammamia's" ... it was VERY good for you WPA'ers coming to Almaty. After catching our breath, we were back at it. Mom's mission was to find a paring knife, since the knives in our apartment couldn't cut melted butter. We came home for a quick rest, then went to a pizza place to meet Cheryl & Brian Nigri, and Corey & Erik Halls. We had a beer & a nice visit before Melanie decided it was time to go home. Mom fixed her famous skillet potatoes and we had fun opening a bottle of wine with her Swiss Army knife. Wish I'd had the video camera for that scene.

Melanie is sitting here at the dinner table telling a story with gestures and expression in her voice, but without saying any words. She'll wave her hands, just like we do when we're talking, and then she'll just die laughing, as if she said something hysterically funny! Too funny. She's doing so well ... eating like a champ, sleeping very well. Usually when I put her down we have a few minutes of tears, while I'm sitting next to the crib telling her, "It's okay, mommy's right here, and patting her tummy. Last night I put her in the bed, and she rolled over and went to sleep without making a peep. I didn't hear anything else from her until 8:00. She is so funny ... she loves to play the "run the opposite way from where mom wants me to go" just like a professional two year old, complete with devilish grin. She wants to touch EVERYTHING ... imagine, she has lived in a room with very little "stuff" in it, and now she's surrounded with things ... things that make noise, and feel interesting to the touch. I have to stay on top of her all the time. She is a true perpetual motion machine.

I was thinking the other day about things I have learned on this trip. Call it my "tip sheet" if you will:

1. Make your child's plane reservation as soon as you arrive in Kazakhstan.
2. In TaldyKorgan, take a shower as early in the day as you can ... later in the morning, the hot water will slow to a trickle, and it's like taking a shower in the rain.
3. Bring a towel AND a washcloth to Taldy.
4. Bring some length of clothesline.
5. Bring an extra small pillow. (I brought one of those u-shaped airplane pillows .. David brought a camping pillow).
6. You can get a lot of the comforts of home in Taldy ... like M&M's, Snickers, Twix, ramen noodles and instant oatmeal. (The apple flavor is delish!)
7. Coke & Pepsi are available. The "Mirinda" orange soda is really good. You can also get Lipton Iced Tea in cans, and it's very good. Not as sweet as in the US. It comes in Lemon & Peach flavors.
8. Some suggestions for Aida: Her daughter, Saida, is 3 years old. Aida likes the US Lipton tea bags (she says they taste better than the Kaz ones). She likes children's tylenol elixir for Saida. She wears silver jewelry, likes green Orbit gum from the US, & peanut butter). She loves old English magazines.
9. The fruit juice and yogurt in Kaz. is wonderful. The "Dada" brand of juice we think tastes the best -- the cherry juice is sooo good. It tastes like eating real cherries, not the artificial "cherry" flavoring that we have in the states. The apple juice is delicious too ...
10. Bring plenty of moisturizer and lotion ... the air is very dry. Melanie's skin is very dry too, and she loves for me to put lotion on her. But you can buy it there, as well as diapers and wipes. (Or wipers & dipes as my mom likes to call it!).
Signing off for now!!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Dasvedanya, David

Last night David left for home. Emil came to pick him up at 1:20 a.m. <blech> I had gone to sleep earlier, and David woke me up to say goodbye. With the central heat on, it is very warm in the apartment, and we have been sleeping with the windows open. (That's how you run the thermostat). Anyway, there are a lot of stray dogs around the apartment, and for some reason, they bark all night long. Yap yap yap, without stopping. I haven't wanted to use earplugs, in case I got an emergency call from Melanie in the night. So I told Emil, if you see those dogs out there, please tell them to SHUT UP! (Actually I made the international sign for a gun and said, "pow pow" but I don't want to get in trouble with the animal rights folks. I do have a dog whom I love dearly). Emil said, "You know, I live over a cafe that is open 24 hours a day, and there are many drunk people there shouting all night long. I think it's better that you have the dogs!" I had an email from David that he made it to Frankfurt. He should be home at 2:30 p.m. EST on Monday.

Today is "Republic Day" in Kazakhstan. Perhaps similar to our July 4? No school today, and no shops are open. All except the Ramstore (Kazakh Wal-Mart) which I believe is open 24 hours 7 days a week. (Heh heh, so why is there a lock on the door, as the old joke goes!) Today we called Vitallik (whom we keep mistakenly calling Vassily ... so we've just started calling him Vassily, much to his amusement!) to take us to the main square, where the festivities were being held. There were vendors selling food, drinks, balloons, you name it. And there were pony and horse rides, and boys playing ping-pong. On each end of the square was a huge hot-air balloon, offering rides up, not very far, and tethered to the ground, for 500 tenge. Mom insisted that I pass, thinking about nightmare scenarios where I'm in a Kazakh hospital with both my arms and legs broken, and she taking care of Melanie, by herself! Instead, I got a wild hair and decided to pay 200 tenge to ride a horse! Had to ride a horse while I was in Kazakhstan! The horse is very much part of the Kazakh culture. Covered in a zillion miles of flatlands, Kazakhstan is home to a version of our cowboy, the nomad. They would move on horseback across the steppe with their herds of sheep or cows, searching for good grazing areas. The horse was transportation and food source (remember I ate "bishparmak" in Taldy?) and fermented mare's milk (koumiss)is known for its curative properties, especially for tuberculosis.

So there I was, riding across the square on my trusty silver steed, named "Sobyet" (a communist horse?) and as we approached a carriage being pulled by another horse, I had a vision of him bolting and running away, depositing me ceremoniously on the concrete ground. I thought, "Maybe I should have ridden in the balloon! It might have been safer!" However, I don't think Sobyet would have broken into a slow trot if his tail had been on fire. He pretty much just loped around the square, and came back to the same spot that we left. His handler, a boy of about 14, never left his side, so I'm sure it was all safe and risk-free. I didn't let on that just the other day I had feasted on his cousin in TaldyKorgan. We got the requisite photo op taken care of, then wandered back to the main staging area, where several hundred school children were assembled, dressed in every type of national costume imaginable. Some were in the Kazakh dress, some in Ukranian, Korean, Russian, Polish, you name it. Probably representative of all the ethnic groups that live in Kazakhstan. It was quite beautiful, and they all had a small bouqet of flowers that they would wave over their heads in time to the music. A man on the stage (think of a big outdoor concert with mega wattage of speakers stacked on top of each other) would read poems and shout instructions to the kids as they danced. Color and motion captured the eye. We decided we had seen enough, so we repaired to the Dublin Pub, which we had seen on the way to the square. We had a nice lunch of smoked salmon, goat cheese, and Shepherd's Pie (which Melanie and I shared), and listened to "City of New Orleans" in Russian. (Hint .. places that cater to foreigners tend to be a little pricey).  We stopped at the Ramstore for water and eggs, and of course left with 45 other things too. We all crashed pretty hard for two hours, and feel better for it after yesterday's marathon.

Tonight we went to eat Indian food at Govinda's. Both David and my dad despise Indian food, so when mom and I are together, we always take advantage and gorge ourselves on Tandoori chicken and naan and whatever else we can get our hands on. Govinda's is a vegetarian restaurant, (no chicken tonight) and the "Complex Lunch" gives you a sample of all types of different dishes. One with cheese, one with "aubergine" (much nice to say than eggplant), a soup with green beans,some kind of dough with a cucumber-yogurt sauce, chutney, and these light puffs of pastry. Plus dessert .. .which was sort of like rice pudding, only with cream of wheat. It tasted very nutty. Aida joined us, as did Vittalik, but they didn't eat .. they just had tea & dessert.

All in all a very nice day; tomorrow we're going to TSUM to get some souvenirs.


Sunday, October 24, 2004

A Bizarre Bazaar

Yesterday was "getting acquainted with Almaty" day. David had several errands to run in the morning; go to Lufthansa to tussle with them about his ticket and Melanie's. He and Vitallik, our driver, ran out to do that, and to buy an I-Card (phone card for the internet and long distance -- no other long distance cards will work here: not MCI, not ATT, no one. Can you say, 'monopoly'?) When he got back he took Melanie to have her picture made: 2 5x5 shots of her for the embassy. David walked around the neighborhood to get acclimated. Mom and I literally stayed in our jammies until way after noon. That felt really good! After Melanie's nap Vitallik arrived and we did a quick walk-through of Panfilov park, where there are several large (huge) sculptures glorifying the heroes of the Great Patriotic War (WWII). It was a beautiful Saturday, and there were quite a few wedding parties around having their pictures made, and laying their bouquets at the eternal flame. We meandered down through the park to the cathedral (need to look up the name of it ... you know, the big gold one). It was just our luck that there was a mass going on at that time, and we stood and listened to the beautiful choir singing and chanting, and watching the priests and other golden-robed men walk out of the altar and circle around, swinging the incense. Several of the ladies were crossing themselves and bowing deeply. I felt a little like an intruder, but no one seemed to mind.

We then drove to the "Arba" restaurant, which serves authentic Kazakh food. David and I chuckled when we drove up to the restaurant (we didn't know where we would be going) because we have been there before! On our last trip to Almaty, to adopt Lisa Asel, we ate at the same restaurant with several other WPA families. Our driver at the time, Sasha Ponytail (for those of you reading this who are WPA vets) told us that he would call the restaurant after we ate and see if we were done, and then come pick us up.  We all finished eating and wandered out to the front to wait for our drivers. Everyone else's driver came and they left, and then it was only us, and our travel partner, Donna. We waited. And waited. We were in a fix because we had no idea what the address of our apartment was, or how to tell a taxi how to get there.  We had left our bags with all of of our information in them, in Sasha's car, since he said "no problem, I'll pick you up".  We stood there, not knowing what to do, as the children got tired and cranky. The waitresses didn't know what to do with us either, but finally an older lady, the cook at the restaurant, came out and told us, by sign language, that she was going to drive us home. We drove and drove, looking for a familiar landmark, until suddenly I remembered a childrens' store down the street from our apartment, "Detsky Mir" (Childrens' World). I leaned forward and started yelling, "DETSKY MIR! DETSKY MIR!" and she nodded enthusiastically. In minutes we were home. Turns out that Sasha had called the restaurant, and since we were out in front, the staff told him that we had left! He was sooo embarrassed! He couldn't have apologized more ... but it made a good story.

So there we were, again at the scene of the crime. We had a great dinner of shashlik and plov and other great Kazakh dishes. We came home and crashed pretty early; mom was feeling the jet lag big time.

This morning Melanie slept until nearly 8:00! Meanwhile the kids had called from home to say hello at 7:30, so the timing was perfect. Aida is in town for a couple of weeks, so she agreed to take us to a bazaar today, "Baraxoka". Her sister, Alia, agreed to babysit for Melanie for the afternoon. The bazaar was a literal maze of stalls and shops with everything imaginable for sale. We were looking for a stroller for Melanie (Frankfurt's airport is huge) and perhaps find a deal on a leather jacket? I swear I will never go shopping without Aida again. She is a ruthless haggler, and I walked away with a beautiful Turkish leather jacket. Poor mom's tongue was dragging on the ground (her stamina ain't what it used to be!) and we set out for the mountains south of Almaty. "Medeo" is a national preserve .. forests and walking trails and picnic areas. Winding up the mountain at a 12% grade you arrive at the Medeo skating rink, a huge outdoor rink where the Kazakh speed skaters train for the winter Olympics. On up even further is a ski resort, Chimbulak. Today was Sunday, so there were gobs of people milling about, and I heard a virtual UN of languages around me. We ate lunch at a restaurant down a bit from Chimbulak, called "The Kazakh Aul". The restaurant is all in yurts, the collapsible round tents that the original Kazakh nomads lived in. The walls are covered in colorful embroidered fabrics, and the ceiling goes up into a point at the top. There were musical instruments on the walls too. Again, we had shashlik and I had "monte" which are small noodle dumplings filled with meat.

While we were eating, we casually mentioned the fact that we had been "stranded" at the Arba restaurant on our last trip, and suddenly Vitallik started laughing.  He had heard the story from Sasha, and he was cracking up that he was now our driver.   We're famous.

A quick stop at the Ramstore, and then home. David and I walked to a grocery store for some provisions ... and he leaves tonight for home. He will be picked up at 1:30 in the morning for his 4:00 flight. Mom and I will be doing the same thing this Saturday. What torture.

Tomorrow is a national holiday, Republic Day, so there will be a lot going on in the streets. All the stores will be closed, so I guess mom and I will stay close to home. Maybe a driving tour of the city? I think we will be meeting up with some other WPA families in the evening. In the meantime ... happy trails to David. While I know it's good that he is going home, I will feel a little strange without him. He always takes care of the piddly details like the money, the cell phone, the credit cards and such, so now I have to step up. Oh well, we will be fine. I think our medical appointment is this Thursday, and we will visit the US Embassy on Friday. Then off to points West on Saturday. (Didn't I already say that? I must be looking forward to going home!)

For some reason the pictures are not loading here in Almaty. I'm planning to just email my journal and pictures to David the rest of this week, and he can update the blog from home. The internet connections here are s-l-o-w and sometimes finicky. Until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Catching our Breath...

Friday morning we were up with the chickens (theoretically only, because I don't believe there are any chickens in TaldyKorgan. Everytime we tried to order chicken for dinner, we were told "no chicken, lamb") The alarm did its thing at 6:30, and I was up and dressed before Melanie woke up. I was even able to tweak my speech a little before I hear her announcing that she was awake. David dressed and we ate hardly any breakfast (which we would regret later). Inna came to babysit for Melanie, and Aida arrived to pick us up. We went straight to the courthouse, where there was a bit of waiting around in the hallways before we finally went downstairs to the courtroom. It was tiny; only big enough for the judge on her bench, the prosecutor on one side, and a small table on the other side for the Director of the Baby House and the lady from the Ministry of Education. Then we were wedged into the rear of the room with Aida. On our right was a small cage with two benches in it; no doubt for the criminal cases heard there.

The judge strode into the room, resplendent in her purple velvet robe with gold trimming. She looked like a 19 year old college coed! But she was very serious, and we were underway. She read a considerable amount of stuff about the court docket number and the law of this, and according to that. Then she asked if we had anything to say. David stood first to make his speech, and I think he did a tremendous job. The prosecutor had some questions for David about our medical insurance covering Melanie's surgery, and whether or not the government paid us "by the child" -- a not so subtle question about why we wanted such a large family. David answered each question without missing a beat; that we had always wanted a large family since we were married, and that we loved children; that we were unable to have any more biologically, etc. Then it was my turn. I think I did okay ... I did throw in the fact that my poor mother-in-law was taking care of our children AND her sick husband, and the prosecutor spoke in favor of immediate execution. He said, "The grandmother is burning two fires". Well said! The Director of the Baby House spoke, then the lady from the Ministry of Education. The end ... the judge walked out and everyone left. We sat and waited in the courtroom ... until two women and a men walked in. The man immediately walked into the cage and locked the door behind him. The ladies sat on the benches. Must have been a criminal case coming up right behind us. David muttered something to me about how that reminded him of how Otis Campbell, on the Andy Griffith Show, would get drunk, walk into the jail and lock the door behind him, hanging the keys on the nail in the wall. (Can you tell that there's an Andy Griffith theme going on here??) We skedaddled from the courtroom and retired upstairs to the judge's office. There was momentary panic when the computer wouldn't print the judge's decision, and we ended up sitting on a bench in the hall for about 2 hours. We felt like we were at a tennis match, watching Aida and Gulnara scurrying from one end of the hall to the other, looking for who know what? A stamp here ... a signature there. We also did a lot of people watching ... there was some mention of the "witches'" shoes that the women (and sometimes men) in Kazakhstan like to wear. The points do curl up and look like jesters' shoes. Back and forth they would walk, "clop clop clop" down the concrete hall slash echo chamber. And boy do they like to wear their jeans tight here! A girl could sit on a dime and be able to tell if it was heads or tails! (or so David says...)

David has lost about 40 pounds since June, and neglected to check to see if his suit still fit. It was literally hanging off him! We snickered all morning about how his jacket, once pretty snug, could now be re-tailored to be double vested. He looked like a little kid in his dad's clothes! Too funny.

Finally everything was printed; we signed some documents, (David's name in Russian is "Debug" he he). We were escorted into the judge's office, where she read the entire decision -- all 5 pages, single spaced -- aloud. By this time, it's way past lunch time, and we're both feeling a little punchy. We thought about making a break for the shishkebab lady, but thought they might frown on that. We shake hands with the judge, and we're off! To the apartment? To lunch? NOOOO!! To the State Office . At least there they had a couch, and we both sat there with our heads back, eyes closed. Every time someone would walk by we'd sit up, looking alert, until they passed. Then, we would put our heads back again. Then, blessedly, Aida and Gulnara appeared, saying, "We're finished!!" At the apartment, Inna had made some yummy borscht and noodle wraps. We put them away pretty quick.

Emil showed up around three to drive us back to Almaty. We packed up the car and after a quick good-bye to Aida (we'll see her on Sunday in Almaty) we were off. Melanie didn't sleep at all on the three-hour drive, but she puttered around the back seat of the car, pulled on my nose, and jumped on my stomach. Then we did some "let's hit mom in the chest with my head" exercises. I was black & blue when we got there. Five minutes away from the apartment, she fell asleep. Naturally.

Our new apartment is huge ... 3 bedrooms, a nice crib, spacious kitchen. WITH A MICROWAVE! AND A SHOWER! It's amazing how many things we take for granted in our cushy lives, and how we never realize how little we really need to survive. People live in TaldyKorgan in 100 sq. ft. apartments and never know how good we Americans have it. I will never take anything for granted again. We are so fortunate.

Mom arrived around midnight, and David and Emil collected her from the airport. She had a smooth trip ... she wore a Kerry button the whole time, and got nothing but enthusiastic "Thumbs Up!" comments from all the Europeans she met. Even a few Americans. Bush is certainly persona-non-grata in this part of the world.

We're having a lazy day today ... David went and got all the plane tickets taken care of, and an I-Card for the internet, and pictures taken of Melanie for the Embassy. Mom is recuperating from her trip, and I have been doing laundry!! Bliss. Never thought I'd be excited about a washing machine. Sure beats washing out clothes in a bath tub.

This is way long ... will check back tomorrow!! Liz

Friday, October 22, 2004

..And the Rest, as they say, is History

Court went well, no hitches.  Immediate execution was granted due to Melanie's condition.  The judge was an awfully young-looking girl!  We are packing furiously, getting ready to hit the road to ... I mean, Almaty.  We are so happy to be done; but we will miss Aida, and Inna, our chef, and the Baby House ladies.  What a special place!

We'll give more details when we get to Almaty ... US

Thursday, October 21, 2004

'Twas the Night Before Court....

...and not a creature was sleeping, not even our "mouse".  I guess Melanie's decided the honeymoon is over.  She has given up on sleeping.  This afternoon it took almost an hour & a half to get her down for her nap, and she was up less than an hour later.  Tonight we are going on an hour & a half to get her to go to sleep.  Figures she would save her drama for the night before we have court, when we need our nerves to be settled. 

Corey & Christie came over with Sam again this morning for their visit.  Most of the morning was spent on the phone with Lufthansa trying to get Melanie a seat.  A word to the wise:  you might want to call Lufthansa to get your child's ticket booked as soon as you arrive in Kazakhstan.  We were told that the flight was completely booked.  We considered packing her with the luggage (hey, a little Benadryl, a little water, no problem!) but thought better of it.  David went back & forth between Lufthansa and USAirways (at great long-distance expense).  Right at a crucial moment, he ran out of time on his cell phone!!  Jeepers!  When Murphy talked about things going wrong, he wasn't kidding!!  We are pretty sure she now has a seat.  Phew.  I guess we'll rest easier when we actually have the paper ticket in our hot little hands in Almaty.

David went out running around with Aida while Melanie had her "cat nap".  They went to buy some souvenirs and groceries.  When they got back, they took Melanie and me with them to shop a little more .. and we stopped by to visit Corey & Christie one last time at their hotel.

Tonight Gulnara, our facilitator, came by to go over our "speeches" for court tomorrow.  I feel like we have everything under control.  She also had some paperwork for David to sign for the Embassy, in order for him to leave early.  After a quick supper of spaghetti (again) we are packing, getting ready to make a jack rabbit start to Almaty after court.  We have a 6:30 wake up call, since we are being picked up at 8:30.  Kinda hard for two lazy bums who are used to sleeping in until 8 every morning and not having to be anywhere until 10.  Need to break that habit pretty quick!  Court is at 9:00 Kazakhstan time.  I can't even begin to explain how many hours ahead or behind we are, so you do the math!

Oh .. and speaking of rabbits, I finished "Red Rabbit".  Finally.  Very good book. 

Now, if Melanie would just go to sleep, we could hit the hay ourselves ... wait ... what's that?  Silence!  Could it be?  Yes!  She's asleep!  Wahoo! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Seeing the Light at the end of the Tunnel...

Last night we had Corey and Christie over for dinner. We put together some spaghetti sauce and pasta, which didn't taste half bad! It was nice to have some visit time with them, as we're leaving on Friday.

Another good nights' sleep for Melanie. She didn't wake up at all. Mom's happy. She makes some "nyum nyum" noises with her mouth; it's almost like she's sucking her tongue. I woke up a couple of times when she started doing that in her sleep.

I'm anxiously trying to finish "Red Rabbit" by Tom Clancy. It's a real page turner, but it takes so long for anything to happen! I'm dying here, let's get on with it already! It's a fictionalized account of the attempt on the Pope's life in the early 80's, with lots of KGB and CIA stuff in the background. I pick it up to read every time I get a few minutes.

Corey came over with Sam this morning ... Christie wasn't feeling well and stayed at their hotel. Melanie's first "play date"! She is so shy around them! Guess that's just stranger anxiety for ya!

After lunch I put Melanie down for a nap and got a few pages of my book read. After our nap, we went to the Baby House to take some measurements for the playground. We paid one last visit to Melanie's groupa, and there were two new babies in the room! They fill up the spaces pretty quickly. One of the new little boy was being dog-piled by a bunch of the little boys and he was just laughing and laughing. One of Melanie's caregivers, Gulistan, followed us down the stairs, kissing Melanie, and wishing us a good life. I don't think she wanted to let her go.

We went to an internet cafe to print out our speeches for court. No problem. Then we came back home and I had a tutorial from David about how to manage our digital pictures. Since he's leaving Sunday night, I have to take over the technical duties. Hah ... good luck! Maybe I will be able to do it without blowing up the computer, who knows?

Tonight: We took Aida to dinner for a "farewell" celebration. We were able to get a "kabinyet" or private room so Melanie could run around. We had "lagman" one more time. We so enjoy her company and will miss her terribly. She is going to Almaty the day after we do, so we're hoping we can hook up with her there.

Tomorrow: rehearsal for court! For some reason I'm not nervous about court; I suppose having been through it before, although it sounds like things are a lot more formal here than they were in Uralsk. Maybe I should be nervous!

Colin & Quentin: The first  photo is especially for you. We thought you would get a kick out of it!! If anyone asks what your parents brought you from Kazakhstan, you can say, "Barf!" It's dishwashing liquid from Iran ... where the Farsi word for snow is "braf". I don't know why they didn't just leave it "braf"?? Don't they tell people how words can translate into other languages funny ... like the Chevy Nova in Mexico: "No va" means "won't go". So much for good international marketing, huh?

Night for now ... Us

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Thank Heavens for Family and Friends!!

Another good night's sleep for Melanie ... she did wake up once, but just for a minute. A little pat on the tummy and readjusting of the covers and she was back in dreamland. I slept a little better too, although I was on the couch (but frankly the couch is more comfortable than our bed, which c-r-e-a-k-s! every time you roll over. It's in serious need of some WD-40). She was up early, though, at about 6:00, and I laid her on my stomach where she dozed for another half hour or so. Then we decided it was time for Dad to get up too! She started going, "uhm uhm? uhm uhm?" as if to say, "Time to eat!!" so we all stumbled into the kitchen to get breakfast started. She chowed down on a banana and some cheerios while I scrambled some eggs and Dad made kasha. I think Melanie is in the "I have to shove everything in my mouth at once" mode, which is pretty typical of post institutionalized kids. When she sees that food will always be available, that will slack off.

At 10:00 we went by the Baby House to do a quick errand, and I was wondering how Melanie would react. She ran right into the room! David needed to take a picture of the radiators in the sleeping room, (don't ask me why?) and Melanie took off running into the room. She ran straight for her bed, followed by all of her groupmates. It was like a party ... they were all screaming with joy, as if to welcome her back to the fold! They ran and laughed and hid between the cribs. It was hilarious! Melanie didn't stop smiling the whole time ... she actually missed her buddies! It was a little bittersweet for me, to think that she may never see any of these little people again. Maybe the ones who will be adopted through WPA, but they probably won't remember each other. I wanted to freeze the moment in time ... but I guess I'm just terminally sappy and sentimental. We're going to go back again tomorrow to do some measuring in the courtyard; maybe she can spend a little time with her groupa again.

Aida took us to the photo store to have pictures developed. We have had to take a family shot for every day that we visited with Melanie, to show the court that we did, in fact, visit her for the two-week bonding period. We also took pictures of Melanie with each of her caregivers to give them as a remembrance. All these pics. we have digitally stored, so David had burned them onto a CD to take to the photo place.

We also did a little shopping for a Kazakh national costume for Melanie. Lisa has one that (I think) still fits, so that will make a cute picture when we get home. We also stopped at a little stand for some "samsa" which is like a flaky croissant-type pastry filled with meat or cheese. They were delicious!! It is very cold today, (probably in the 30's?) and the samsa were just out of the oven. Perfect to warm us up.

Meanwhile, Melanie, whom Aida bundled up within an inch of her life, in a turtleneck, sweatshirt & pants, tights, socks, fleece jacket AND a fur/leather coat, fell asleep in the car. And I mean out like a light. I carried her into the apartment and laid her in her crib just like she was, coats and all, and she proceeded to sleep for 2 hours! She missed lunch, of course, so was ravenous when she woke up.

Things are not good at home. Last Sunday David's dad fell at our house and fractured a vertebra. He has been in the hospital ever since, and my poor mother-in-law has been running ragged keeping up with all the kids and driving downtown to the hospital to be with D.R. This is the nightmare scenario that we all dreaded would happen while we were in Kazakhstan. Thank goodness, David's brother, "Uncle Bill" was able to clear his schedule and fly down from Maryland to help out for a while. The kids are crazy about him, so I'm sure it was a special treat. We feel terrible that this happened while we were on the other side of the planet, and are pretty much trapped here until after our court date. Today David got on the phone with Lufthansa and changed his ticket home; he'll fly out early this coming Monday morning (4 am flight) and be home Monday afternoon. I'm sure everyone will be relieved. My mom flies in to Almaty this Friday, so she and I will be able to hold down the fort and take care of getting Melanie's physical exam, and taking her to the American Embassy. Of course, as a woman, I am hard-wired to feel guilty about everything and I am really taking it on the chin with this one. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Anne for being there for us, and to Bill ... and to all our friends and neighbors who all chipped in to help. Especially the Orrs, who have been taking Christian to cub scouts, and to the Creels who have driven him to baseball practices and games. I'm sure there are many others that I don't know about, but I will be able to thank you all in person very soon!!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Holding Pattern....

As things dwindle down to our court date this Friday, our activities have dwindled as well. We have a lot of "down" time in the apartment with Melanie. She is really good at puttering by herself, picking up spoons & forks and putting them in a bag, then dumping them out again. She also loves lugging around empty water jugs. We buy the 5 liter size, and have a pretty good collection of empty ones. She likes to stack them on top of each other and bang them together. She also loves tummy raspberries and being tickled. This morning when I was on the phone, she picked up an empty tin box of mints and put it up to her ear, imitating me. Too cute! Last night she slept pretty much all night, except for one cry. I just laid her back down again, and she slept on until about 7:30. I, on the other hand, did not sleep a wink, waiting through the night for any peeps or sounds. I ended up sleeping on the couch next to her crib. We're having a small problem with her hitting us in the face with hard objects, which we are addressing. Nip it in the bud, Barney Fife always said. Well, we're doing some "bud nipping" over here in Kazakhstan, although it's hard to be stern with her when she's so darn cute.

Aida was late picking us up this morning. We had plans to go to the baby house to present our gifts to the staff. We are trying to get as much out of the way early in the week, as court day is going to be busy, and our facilitator, Gulnara, wants us on the road to get to Almaty before dark. (It's a 3 hour drive). So we had a ceremony of sorts in the Director's office, where Madame Director made some speeches, and all the doctors, nurses, caregivers and "medical nurses" gathered around to pay their respects, I suppose. We also presented our donations to the baby house. The director said she was so happy that Karina (Melanie) was being adopted, and that she can get the medical attention in the US which is not available here in Kazakhstan.

Then it was time for David's private meeting with the director. There are plans underway for a team from World Partners Adoption to travel back to TaldyKorgan next June to put up a playground at the baby house here. David went to Uralsk in August of 2003 to build a similar playground at Lisa's baby house, so he has been unofficially tapped to present the Director with our plans for next summer. He put together a Power Point presentation and had some brochures of examples of what they could build in the courtyard of the BH. While David met with her, I took Melanie upstairs to eat lunch with her group. After lunch they went to the potty (en masse, of course!) and then got ready for their naps. I think Melanie was a little worried when the kids started going to their cribs, but at that point David was finished with his meeting, and we left to come back to the apartment. I put her down for her nap at the scheduled time. She played "stand up in the crib" a couple of times after I laid her down, but in no time at all she was sawing logs. She slept for a good 2 hours, 15 minutes. So did I!

In the afternoon we took Melanie to get her passport picture taken. She did very well. Then we went to the store to buy some supplies, and to our favorite shishkebab vendor for a take-home dinner. Melanie had some soup left over from lunch, with meat & potatoes. Now we're sitting around staring at each other, waiting for 9:00 to roll around (bed time for Bonzo). David beat me 2 games to 1 at Gin Rummy (he always does). I gave Melanie a good bath tonight, even washed her hair to get that "baby house " smell out of it. She was NOT a happy camper. I can't imagine what they did in the baby house to make her so fearful, unless they bathed them with cold water? We saw a picture in the baby house of someone dumping a pail of cold water over a toddler ... and were told that it makes the babies strong. Hmmm.

I think we will have to stop using the internet in the apartment as of tomorrow, in order for the internet provider to settle our account. We will make a point to go to the Internet Cafe to try and update the blog. It's going to be hard not to be able to surf in the apartment ... that's our main source of entertainment!! At any rate ... until tomorrow ...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

SSSHHH ... Melanie's sleeping!

Big day today ... Melanie is now at the apartment with us. We got a crib brought here today, and borrowed a blanket from the baby house. She ate a good supper: takeaway from the Hessen Pub. She ate a pile of mashed potatoes and a hamburger steak, with some bread and banana. We gave her a bath ... which she does NOT like (we had been told that the kids didn't like to take baths, but three years ago Lisa jumped in and didn't want to get out!) This was the first time I think I really heard her cry. I did it as quickly as possible, then we did the baby lotion massage, and the tears stopped. She has been puttering around the apartment all evening, playing with her water jugs and plastic forks & spoons that I brought. She is happy and cheerful, but I'm wary about how bedtime will go. A friend of mine recommended some "Sleepy Time" herbal tea that helped her kids sleep, so I have some steeping in the kitchen. It smells wonderful ... like chamomile and herbs; maybe we'll start a bedtime tradition!

This morning was our usual visit. As the weather was not too cold , we walked around outside with Corey and Christie, then came home for lunch and a nap. About 3:00 Aida came to go over the main points we need to put into our speeches for court. That will be our task for the week. We went to the neighbor's house for the crib (it is Aida's but had been on loan to a lady in the same building).

It was strange leaving the baby house. The caregiver on duty, Marzhan, said (through Aida of course) that it is good for the children to be adopted, to have a family. It has been a rewarding and fascinating journey for us, to get to know all the children in Melanie's groupa and their various personalities. Most of them are not available for adoption; we have seen mothers and dads and brothers come to visit on the weekends. While it's nice to see that, Aida says that it's really not a good thing that the parents keep promising that they will come someday to take them out of the baby house, but that they rarely do. At least if they are "refused" by the parents, they have a chance to be adopted. As long as a parent visits, they can't be adopted. One morning a few days ago, we saw an older lady (grandmother perhaps?) with a large quilted bundle arrive on the steps of the baby house. She was going to "refuse" the baby, or deliver it to the baby house. The lady was all dressed up with a sparkly scarf on her head, and the "bundle" was bright red and covered with animals. It was an incredibly sad thing to witness.

David and I had our favorites in Melanie's group .. one little girl Jasmine, is quiet and somber, but hardly ever makes a peep. She is a tiny thing; but she runs to David everytime we come into the room to visit Melanie, and he used to hold and cuddle her. Her mother is only 16 or 17 and still in school, but she and the grandmother came to visit every weekend. One little boy, Sukhail, was "Uzbek boy" (as the caregiver said) and was new to the group. He was the one who cried so much when he first came to the group. He usually just laid on the floor sucking his fingers; I so worried about him and always tried to speak to and play with him. Aigerim was another beautiful little Kazakh girl who is going to be adopted by a local family. Same goes for a cutie named Alisher with curly brown hair. Miras was another Kazakh boy whose mother visited every weekend; and Aibek, who looked like a tiny little sumo wrestler. He never made much noise, just sat happily and watched the other kids. His mother and older brother visited him. Madi was a cutie who was always smiling. Damir, of course, I've already mentioned, really attached to David, as did Nursultan who is ALL BOY, pushing the furniture around. I think he was the oldest in the group. Oxana  left for Spain the other day, and then there's Aida. She is another cleft-affected little girl who had her lip revision surgery done at the same time as Melanie. Her cleft looks a little more serious than Melanie's. Poor Aida is the attention craver; she always latched herself on to my legs and wouldn't let go. She always had a huge smile on her face, but was pretty "high maintenance". David called her the "drama queen", as she was always "throwing" herself on the floor and crying when something happened that she didn't like...only to stop about 5 seconds later! David wants to pack several of them in his suitcase and bring them home...but alas, it is not to be. We love each and every one of these kids, and only hope that their futures are as bright as they can be, as we will definitely be leaving a piece of our hearts here in TaldyKorgan when we leave.

Post Script ... Melanie had a little trouble going to sleep, but finally eased off only 45 minutes past her scheduled bedtime. Now we'll see how the night goes!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Running Short of Humorous Titles

For today's visit we brought Melanie back to the apartment. We had fun putting things out of her reach as she would get into them; she FAST! We tried out the portable high chair and it's a dream! I'm so glad I brought it. I even took her clothes off to try on her pajamas, and she has FEET!! And ten little baby toes. All this time, I have never seen her feet; she has always had on tights AND four pairs of socks. Her poor little skin was so dry that I pulled out the Johnsons' baby lotion and gave her a little massage. She loved it; she just lay in my lap and let me rub her legs. Pure joy on my part. There is no pleasure on earth like the feel of baby skin smelling like baby lotion. Aida is getting a crib this afternoon, and tomorrow, Melanie comes to stay with us at the apartment full-time! We are off this afternoon to buy tights, a potty, and other paraphernalia that we'll need to have her here.

We brought Melanie back to the apartment again for our afternoon visit (it's so much better than sitting in a little room at the baby house, staring at each other!) She learned to brush our hair, to eat a piece of bread in her high chair, how to take things off the shelf one by one and hand them to me, then put them back on the shelf again, one by one. She's a genius! She also found some china on a shelf, the silverware on a tray in the kitchen, and the sharp knives. We put all of those up where she couldn't get to them. We also learned that she is NOT, in fact, potty trained. So we wasted money on the potty. The caregivers in the baby house were always telling us that she NEVER needs to wear a diaper, never. So explain why she "christened" the rug in the apartment the minute she walked in the door, huh? On with the diapers! Oh, and for all the expensive toys we brought, what did Melanie end up playing with? The empty water jugs and a hairbrush. Take our advice: save your money on the toys!

Tonight we ate dinner at the "Almaty Hotel" with Christie and Corey. Aida came in with us to help us order from the menu. At one point, I directly asked the waitress, "Morozhenoy yest?" (Do you have ice cream?) and Aida turned to the girl, and asked her, IN ENGLISH, "Do you have ice cream?" Talk about throwing her off! We were the only ones in the entire restaurant, but the service was excellent. Unfortunately, Corey had a dish called "Lamb Gristle and Vegetables" so for future reference ... skip that one. But the "Lamb Tashkent" was quite good, with french fries, and a "greek" salad. We had a nice visit ... our last as just the two of us! Melanie sleeps with us tomorrow night. I'm so ready to have her here!

This entry is completely short, I know, but we didn't have a very newsworthy day. It's still very cold, although all of the snow has melted. We can't believe that we are in the home stretch towards court. The time truly does go by quickly when each day is much like the last. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 15, 2004

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Go figure … yesterday I was wearing a tee shirt and we were at the Aqua Park, and the water looked quite tempting!  This morning we woke up to SNOW!  It has been snowing all day today, and everything is coated with a pristine layer of white.  As I was going to sleep last night, I heard the “hiss” of the radiators starting to heat up, so I suspected that something was up.  Sure enough, “sneg idyot” (it’s snowing).  Even though the town officials had decreed that there would be no central heat until three days of below 0 weather, they must have reconsidered when they saw Willard Scott’s forecast.


Another exciting surprise was that David woke up fever free!  He had decided to take another pain pill at midnight, but woke up at 5 a.m., having slept straight through.  The fever has officially broken.  He is a completely new man today, it’s amazing.  Maybe the pickle juice and vodka did the trick after all!  Or could it be the Cipro that he finally took?  We may never know.


It was interesting to see in the news that a Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome yesterday.  Seems like I did hear a slight sonic boom early in the morning … (yes, Liz, that would be like you hearing something going off from Cape Canaveral while you were in Charlotte).  Still it’s neat to be here knowing that something that newsworthy was going on not far to the west.


Today is Saida’s third birthday.  When Aida came to pick us up, Saida was dressed in her Sunday best, and had her hair in two enormous white bows.  We had brought her a Nutcracker Barbie, which she opened in the car.  She was so happy to have it!  Aida brought a cake to the Baby House, and we celebrated with the older kids’ groupa.  We all held hands and walked around in a circle around Saida, singing the Kazakh “Happy Birthday” song.  Then David and I sang her the American version.  All the kids in the groupa had a piece of cake, as did Melanie.  She lapped it up.


After the party we went back to Melanie’s groupa and spent the remainder of the visit with the kids.  Back at home, we had another delicious lunch prepared by Inna, and collapsed for our afternoon siesta.  I think we are going to bring Melanie to the apartment in the next day or two, so our lazy days are coming to an end.  Suits me just fine!  I can’t wait to give her a bath, and get used to her routine. 


This afternoon we missed the “going away” party for our Spanish friends, as they showed up an hour earlier than our visit time.  We were disappointed, but apparently they were in a hurry so had to dash in and dash out.  I think they were driving to Almaty this evening, and the roads were probably bad.  We have their address and email anyway .. we’re already planning a family vacation to Barcelona in the future.  Way off in the very distant future.  Way off.


We had a nice, uneventful visit this afternoon.  We have reclaimed the little playroom that the Spaniards always used, so we could spend time alone with Melanie, and not with 10 other little kids climbing all over us.  Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s fun, but a little “alone” time is nice too.  It seems that we always get them riled up anyway, when we come and go.  David’s little friend Damir just cries and cries when we leave.  Melanie is so “two” it’s not funny … we have a little spitfire on our hands.  Put it this way: the only toys we take on the plane with be very soft ones. 

For dinner, Aida took us to the “Astana” restaurant, where I decided to do as the Romans do, and tried the “Five Fingers” national dish, “Bishparmak” that is made out of … well, Mr. Ed would be shocked to hear that they eat his relatives here.  One little shot of vodka along with it helped ease the guilt a little.  (Suddenly after we finished I had this urge to answer David’s questions by beating my hoof on the floor).  Actually it tasted a little like lamb to me; quite delicious.  I didn’t need for Aida to tell me after dinner that they also eat “dog” here … the Korean population seems to think it’s a delicacy.  We won’t go there.  <woof!> 


Next week will be busy:  passport pictures to take, speeches to write, “rehearsal” for court.  Bring it on.




P.S...David here -- we apologize for any technical difficulties that we had regarding our posting our blog last night...boy do we miss our DSL!!!  Hopefully, we have corrected those problems to your satisfaction.  For complaints, please call our help line -- 555-GoJumpinaLake!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Kerosene Cucumbers and Other Folk Remedies

Last night both David and I slept fitfully.  I with visions – not of sugarplums – but of them

hauling David off to a Kazakh hospital and trying to do Lord knows what to him.  Aida

swooped into his room this morning and started shouting orders: “You must eat pickles (dill – of course)!  You must drink pickle juice!  Tea with raspberry and blackberry!  No sugar!  My mother is making something that you will put up your nose!  Tonight you will have vodka with red peppers, then sweat under the covers.”  David just sat there looking pitiful. 


When Aida walked out of the room I quickly ate the pickles, because David doesn’t like them even under the best of circumstances.  (Maybe after a few shots of vodka.)  Then I ate a piece of gum lest Aida smell the pickles on my breath!  David said it all reminded him of an episode of Andy Griffith where Aunt Bee makes these gosh-awful pickles, and Andy nicknames them “kerosene cucumbers”.  He and Barney swap them with store-bought pickles so they can eat them, and she is so thrilled that they like “her” pickles that she makes a double batch.  In the end they have to knuckle down and eat the “kerosene cucumbers”.  I was doubled over laughing.


I went to the baby house alone today (with Aida and Saida, of course).  We took the girls to the main square (ploschad) where we strolled around.  We wandered behind the main administration building, where there was a nice shady park.  Suddenly a policeman or security guard (hard to tell - just some guy in a big hat!) jumped out and started yelling at Aida that “this territory is only for the mayor and simple people are not allowed to walk there!”  Aida jumped all over him, asking him “Where does it say that?  Show me the paper where it says that!  I walk here all the time!  You’re a fool!  That’s impossible!  That’s ridiculous!”  I just stood there, expecting them to haul her off at any moment.  The guard went in to get another guy, and then the three of them stood there arguing.  Finally Aida motioned to me and we went off walking in the “mayor’s territory” anyway.  I kept asking her if it was okay, and she said, “Of course!  I told them from now on I was going to walk here two times a day!”  She told me that they accused her of being a “Tatar Girl” (known for their tempers) and she said to me with a chuckle, “In fact, my grandmother was a Tatar!” 


Tomorrow the Spanish family has court.  It will be their last day in the baby house.  It has been difficult to communicate with them, but I have really grown fond of them.  We have their address so we can exchange Christmas cards.


Last night on the way home from the store, Aida was driving me back to the apartment. 

A very drunk man staggered in front of the car.  I don’t think Aida hit him, but he

bumped into the front bumper and down he went.  Aida was frantic!!  He didn’t get up for the longest time, and she jumped out, yelling at him.  He finally got up, but was way beyond inebriated.  They started screaming at each other, and I was scared he was going to hurt her.  She told me to go inside, though.  A minute later she came back inside, and watched through the window until he went away.  


Like I said … never a dull moment.


This afternoon Aida, Saida, Melanie and I went back to the Aqua Park (as it is so warm today) and we sat and had tea in the restaurant.  (Jenice, she told me about the funny thing that happened to you there!)  Saida thinks I’m very funny trying to pronounce Russian words.  It is so warm, that the city made an announcement that they won't turn on the central heating until there are 3 days below zero (celcius).  I don't care, just as long as they keep the hot water coming!


David is still “ailing” this evening, but the Ibuprofen enabled me to drag his carcass off the bed long enough to get some pictures up for me.  Have to keep our coordinator happy, you know!!  I am very hopeful that tomorrow he will be his old self again.  I did buy a small bottle of vodka at the store for him (medicinal purposes, of course).


Lisa, Christian, Quentin and Colin ... we love you and miss you like crazy.  Keep on being good kids for Grandmama!


“Tatar” for now!!  Liz 


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

In the Grip of the Grippe

Bad news ... today no pictures because the picture expert is in bed with the Taldy virus that has been going around.  David never gets sick, so I knew that when he started looking very pale and decided to go to bed, he was definitely sick.  I pulled out the SpongeBob thermometer that we brought (for Melanie) and yup ... fever city.  Aida and I went out to buy him some lemons for tea (which they swear help this kind of thing), some 7-Up, and some chicken bouillon.  She took me to a "chemist" where we bought some kind of capsules for influenza.  No telling what's in them, but they were made in Germany, so we figured they couldn't hurt!  Tonight we pull out the big guns ... 800 mg. Ibuprofen that I had from when I was sick before we left.  That should put him into la-la land pretty quick.

This morning when we picked up Melanie we brought her back to the apartment.  Aida helped us sort through our gifts to tell us what would be appropriate for whom.  My friend Jill is a Mary Kay representative in the states, and was quite generous with some donations of samples.  Apparently Mary Kay is like gold here; Aida was excited to see it all, and said that the ladies we gave it to would be very happy!  Meanwhile, Melanie puttered around the apartment, playing very well by herself.  Maybe when we bring her here for good, she'll feel right at home.

Before we went to the baby house, we dropped off a pile of laundry at a "laundry salon" right across the street from our apartment.  The total bill: $2.00.  Man, I wish I could bring that babushka home with me.  We received the clothes back wet, so now we have clothes hanging all around the apartment, but do they ever smell good!   David and I also walked to the grocery store, and boy did I feel like a Martian who had just landed on earth, with all the stares we got.  We are living in a very residential area, and we're quite a spectacle, I'm sure.  Right now I'm listening to the women outside beating their rugs.  There are these metal bars in the shape of a triangle in the courtyard that they hang them on, specifically for this purpose.  Children are still outside playing, even though it's dark. 

Our afternoon visit was a trip to the park, with the rusty ferris wheel.  That was when I noticed David just wilting away, and I knew things didn't look good.  We had planned on having Christie and Corey over for dinner, but we took a rain check.  I'm sure they understand. 

That's about all the news from here; I hope tomorrow we'll have good news about David, and that this grippe doesn't last too long.  (What worries me is that I'm next!  <gulp!>)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Visit with Lenin

Happy Columbus Day!  Funny, but they didn’t have a festival in the main square to celebrate the day for us.  Harumph.  Today was another pleasant day in the hamlet of TaldyKorgan.  After our breakfast of boiled eggs, kasha(oatmeal) with apples, and yogurt, we picked up Melanie at the BH.  We had an appointment to meet with the lady from the Ministry of Education, just to see how things were going.  David and I waited across the street from her building, near the war monument, while Aida went inside to fetch the official.  Shortly, she came out and met us in the park, and we had an informal discussion right there.  How many times have we visited?  How are things?  I can see you are well attached to her.  I wish you well.  Aida commented how I had studied Russian and Russian literature in college; don’t know if that got us any bonus points.  I did rave about how much I had enjoyed the Ilias Dzhansugurov museum. 


Aida’s daughter Saida was with us again, and she pushed Melanie around in the stroller for a while in the park.   We brought Melanie back to the BH, and came home for a long rest.  I am suffering a little from Delhi Belly, as we affectionately call it in my family, so I’m a little under the weather.  David ventured out to the grocery store again … I think he is on a first name basis with the ladies there now.


This afternoon we took Melanie to the Lenin Park.  It is way out on the outskirts of town; guess that sums up how they all feel about old Vladimir Ilyich these days.  The park itself was pretty run-down, even though it’s called “Heroes Park"  The enormous statue of Lenin used to be in the main square, before perestroika, but now he’s been relegated to virtual obscurity in a weedy, litter-strewn park.  And yet, Aida was telling us, they consider him a genius, in that he was able to change so much for the Russian people who were suffering so much under the czars.  It wasn’t his fault, after all, that the people who came after him ran the country into the ground.  A matter of good planning, poor implementation.


We stopped by and bought Melanie a new pair of boots (tufli) to wear if it ever gets cold here!  All we brought was tennis shoes.


Back at the BH, we watched some older children play a Kazakh version of “ring around the rosy” (and David joined in too!)  I was trying really hard to get a photo of Melanie and Oxana, the little girl going to Spain, but it was a wasted effort.  Neither one would sit still for more than a nanosecond.


Tonight we’re hunkered down close to home.  Maybe we’ll watch another Western.  No more girly movies, shucks.  As they say in Catalonia, “Adeo!”  (I’m learning so much from our friends Joan and Lourdes!!  And it’s pronounced ‘zho-an’)

Monday, October 11, 2004

Bars Do Not a Prison Make

Hidey Ho from Kazakhstan.  We are now well protected from nocturnal projectiles.  Yesterday afternoon they installed metal bars over the windows of our apartment.  We were seranaded by the sound of a jack hammer and welding torch during our afternoon "rest time".  If there is a fire here, we're toast.  There's no getting past these babies, either in or out!


For yesterday afternoon's visit we drove out to the bustling TaldyKorgan airport to see the airplanes.  It was closed.  And there was only one airplane.  Okay, off in the distance there were two camouflaged military jets.  But only one commercial jetliner, parked way off to the side.  We let Melanie run around a bit, until a gruff looking man walked up and basically kicked us out.  I guess we were parked in the white zone and would be towed if we didn't move our vehicle.  We were the ONLY vehicle at the whole place.  Oh well, when in Rome ...


It was another beautiful day here today.  They keep saying the nice weather will end any day now; I’m half expecting to wake up tomorrow to a layer of snow.  Strange since we were peeling off the layers today with a high of 18 C.  (Translation: pretty warm.)  You’ve never seen such a blue sky … or such a bright sun.  I think David half fell asleep on a park bench this morning as Aida and I paraded around with Melanie and Aida’s daughter Saida.  David had to sit and watch all our crap while we got to do the fun stuff with the kids … ha ha.


After lunch today we went shopping on Arbat Street (apparently every Russian city has an Arbat Street which is a shopping mecca) and looked at some nice …er … stuff.  Can’t give too much away.  We bought some “merozhenoi” – ice cream.  We picked up Melanie at 4, and Saida (Aida’s daughter, almost 3) had to go home to change her clothes, so we ended up staying at Aida’s apartment for the afternoon.  We had some nice tea and chocolates, and the kids watched “Little Stuart” in Russian.  It was hilarious.  I think that was Melanie’s first time in an apartment; she looked somewhat bewildered.


Dinner tonight was again at the Hessen Pub with Corey & Christie  (I’ve been spelling their names wrong all along, but they have forgiven me!).  Hessen really has the best food in town.  Last night we tried a restaurant called “Alim” supposedly known for its Lagman.  We discovered, too late, that it’s part restaurant and part disco, and we were sitting right underneath the speakers.  We asked the waitress to turn it down, but some little boy kept coming up and turning it back up.  Several teenaged girls were on the dance floor shaking their stuff to a song whose refrain was “I Like Girls … I Like Girls … HOOWEE!  I Like Girls!” … so I told the waitress we would be having our tea outside.  (Aida later told me that I had told her in my sketchy Russian that we wanted to sit “open” instead of “outside”.  No wonder she looked at me so funny!)  Aida came to pick us up and check our bill to make sure that it wasn’t “exaggerated” for the foreigners.  She is taking very good care of us!!


Stay tuned for the next exciting installment from TaldyKorgan! 

Sunday, October 10, 2004

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

No bumps in the night last night.  We stayed up too late watching “The Magnificent Seven” and then “The Making of the Magnificent Seven”.  It was a little cheesy, but a classic.   Our next feature:  “The Quick and the Dead”.  Do you see a “western” theme going on here?  That’s okay, we already watched the chick movie that I brought, “In Love and War”.  (I snuck it in by telling him it was a war movie … snicker, snicker!)


Yesterday afternoon we took Melanie to the main square, where there are two huge fountains, each representing the “Seven Rivers” of this area.  Melanie walked and walked (or should I say ran) and we saw four wedding parties arrive to have their pictures made in front of the fountains.  The brides were beautiful and the grooms shell-shocked.  I guess things are the same around the world in that regard.  (David’s job, he said, at our wedding was to smile and say, “Isn’t she lovely?”  That’s it.)


On the way back to the baby house we bought some more “shashlik” (shishkebab) from our favorite street vendor.  We brought it home, and made some noodles and had a nice quiet dinner.  Then we went to the movies, and to bed.


We did our usual visit this morning, and we’ve started joining Cory & Christy at the park with their son, just to stroll around and be outside.  The weather continues to be just perfect … I can’t believe they ever have bad weather here.  Aida says it’s because we’re here, ha ha.  When we brought Melanie back to the baby house, the kiddies were already sitting at their tables waiting for lunch.  Melanie was scrambling to get down and we couldn’t get her coat off fast enough!  I think I know what the highlight of their day is!


This afternoon we’re planning on shopping for more gifts (this time for the folks back home, so I won’t go into any details) and tonight we’re going to eat Lagman (traditional Kazakh spicy noodles) with Cory & Christy. 


We’re still holding up okay.  I’m trying not to count the days; that would be too depressing.  Leave it to say that we’re under the 2 week mark until court.  Aida hinted that we may bring Melanie to the apartment on Wednesday … so life will change slightly then!  She continues to amaze us with her perky personality and curiosity about the big wide world out there.  She is definitely two … she loves to run away and turn around to check if we’re going to chase her.  I’ve noticed that when she gets sleepy she starts to sing to herself and suck on her tongue. 


That’s all for now …

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Wow, where do we begin?  We have had an exciting couple of days, and no time to write about it!  Let’s see … yesterday we had two nice visits, one in the morning, which consisted of a short trip to a water park, (closed for the winter of course but nice to see anyway) then back for the usual laps around the baby house with Melanie’s groupa.  At lunch time we came home where I slept off a migraine headache.  David got adventurous and went shopping for a few groceries by himself.  At 3 Aida picked us up and we went shopping for some gifts: chocolates and tea for the secretaries of the court.  It was very interesting: we went first to a wholesale grocery office, where we made our selections and were given a receipt.  Then we set out to find the warehouse to pick up our order.  Aida wasn’t sure where the warehouse was, and we made a few wrong turns on some dirt roads before we found it.  You would never have known it was there, it was quite camouflaged in a neighborhood of houses.


In the afternoon, we stayed inside the baby house and played with the children.  They were in rare form!  One little boy has really attached himself to David; he cries whenever it’s time for us to leave.  The Spanish couple was there, too, and one of the caregivers commented how nice it was to have TWO families there, that she could relax while we took care of the children!


After our visit we went to the Hessen Pub for the big “presentation” of the new beer that the German brewmaster had been preparing for two weeks.  It was quite an occasion … there was a small combo playing jazz music, and Herr Brewmaster made a speech.  He was speaking German, with a lady next to him translating into Russian, and Aida was then translating it for us into English.  We again had a delicious dinner, and sampled the beer (the first round was on the house!)  We were with our new friends Cory and Christy, the other American family.  There was also a group of American Peace Corps volunteers, and we had a nice time chatting with them and hearing about their lives here.  They all seemed a bit jaded by their experiences, not quite the idealist, optimistic “save the world” type people I would have expected.  Oh well, it was nice to visit with them anyway.


We got home very late, and just wanted to fall into bed, so the weblog didn’t get updated, sorry!  We were snoozing away at 5 a.m., when suddenly an enormous CRASH!  BUMP! woke us up.  We lay there for a minute, wondering if we had dreamed it and saying “What the heck was THAT?”  David got up to investigate, and found that someone had hurled an enormous rock (about the size of a brick) through the front window of our apartment!  The kitchen window was completely smashed in (and it is a double-paned window) and the rock had gone all the way through the kitchen and into the hall.  I was, needless to say, scared out of my wits, and said, “Call Aida!!  Call Aida!”  Poor Aida was over in a flash, and we cleaned up the mess, covered the window with cardboard and duct tape (don’t leave home without it!)  She reassured us that it was probably just a drunk with nothing better to do, and that we weren’t being targeted for being Americans!  I wondered if we should call the police, but she said they would probably just blow it off.  Yep, we’re not in the US any more!  Aida went home, and I was able to get back to sleep for a while, but I think David was in defense mode, and didn’t sleep.


For our visit this morning we took Melanie and Cory & Christy’s baby boy, Sam, to the park.  It was nice to just stroll around and chat.  Apparently today is a national holiday, “Health Day” and there was a festival of sorts going on in the town square.  All the girls were dressed up in their national costumes, and there was a demonstration of martial arts.  Very interesting!


Now we are home for lunch and a man is fixing the window.  Fast service, eh?  In the states, they would probably say, “We’ll be there on Monday, between 12 and 4 .. we may or may not show up” … So, that is all for now; don’t know if we’ll update again tonight, unless something else monumental happens.  Let’s see, flat tire … rock through the window.  Who knows what will happen next?