Next day was a relaxation day … the men (and Kate – I think they were all hankering for a view of her in a bikini) all went off to Kapshagai, while Debi and I begged off and SLEPT IN. (I mean, Kapshagai is just a lake…seen one, seen ‘em all and believe me, our old arthritic bodies needed a break). In our air conditioned room! We got up around 10 and walked to Ramstore, where we had a very good shishkebab lunch, and did some shopping. Mom had sent us on a quest to find her some amber jewelry (amber being quite common in Kaz). We walked to an internet café (which according to Dave was only a couple of blocks from the hotel; what he neglected to tell us was that one Kaz. Block is equal to about 10 US blocks) and shot off some more messages. Went back to the room and took an AIR CONDITIONED nap after all of our power walking. That night we were invited by the Kaz. staff of World Partners Adoption to eat dinner at an Uzbek restaurant … can’t remember the name (Al Alash?). David and Quentin had been there the previous summer, so I had an idea of what we were in for: belly dancers and Kazakh and Uzbek dancers, all in fancy national dress, and a high wire act. A rock & roll band played after all that, and the patrons of the restaurant began a dance fest on the stage. All of a sudden the music stopped: a poor young lady on the dance floor was having a seizure.
Next morning: Petro! We had to be downstairs and ready to go around 7:00 for our 9:00 flight. It was weird seeing the Almaty airport in the daylight; all arriving and departing international flights pass through in the middle of the night. We made our way through security and boarded a bus which took us to our plane: a Yaklov 40 .. an ancient Soviet plane that looked as if it had been flying since the Revolution in 1917. (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating). We had heard all about this joy ride from adoptive parents who had journeyed north before us. They didn’t call it a “Yak” for nothing, and I’m not talking about the big furry kind with horns. We boarded the plane from under the tail, and they shoved the suitcases in after us. I had a brief flash of a small plane that had crashed once in Charlotte because of the uneven distribution of the luggage. Hmm. Well, all I could do is think, well, if I’m gonna go, better that it be in a dramatic fashion than boring old “die in your bed at 90”. When I say they shoved the bags, they literally shoved them. In fact, the flight attendant had to stand up in the rear the whole time, because they had to shove suitcases into the seats. There wasn’t any more room for Debi’s suitcase. It was left behind, with promises that it would be flown to Petro in two days. Yeah right, Debi thought. Bye bye suitcase, it’s been nice knowing you.
While they were doing all of this luggage gymnastics, the rest of us were sitting on the plane, sweltering, and it wasn’t a nice fancy Swedish sauna either. It was horrible. Good thing I got over that claustrophobia thing. The other folks on the plane, Kazakhs of every shape and size, were probably really curious about us aliens, but they kept their fears to themselves. Finally the pilot got on the plane through a side door in the front, followed by two other crew. Someone passed a basket filled with hard candy (for our ears?) and we were off. We gained altitude verrrry slowly, and I looked at Dave, who is a pilot, for reassurance. The worried look on his face wasn’t very reassuring. I just closed my eyes and prayed. All that luggage weight must be bringing us down … for sure.
But of course you know that we didn’t crash or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it. We made it to Kokshetau, our first stop, without event … I even managed to doze a little bit, only to wake up to the realization that my left arm was frozen solid. (well, not really). Let’s just say that the inside walls of the plane were covered with frost. Quite a switch from the heat we had endured earlier. As soon as we got off the plane a small truck arrived and started pulling the tires off the plane. We thought they looked a little bald. Funny thing was, though, that the new ones were just as bald.
We waited at the (ancient, nondescript, crumbling gray concrete, Soviet) terminal for about an hour, then were herded back outside. An olive-green truck towed the plane to us, and back on we went. The luggage had been rearranged somewhat, so I felt a little better about weight distribution. We landed in Petro, around 3:00 in the afternoon, realizing that we hadn’t eaten lunch, and the Snickers’ bar I had had for breakfast was long gone. (What did I expect, an omelet on the plane? HA!) At our hotel, the Almaty, we sat down to a huge lunch that had been prepared for us, we thought as a ‘welcome’ to all you lovely American humanitarian philanthropists here to Build Our Children a Playground. We came back to earth when they presented us a bill!