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On Wednesday, after saying good-bye to our trusty team, now our good friends for life, Debi and I, with Jim, set out driving to Kokshetau. Jim and his wife, Cindy, had adopted two babies from the maternity hospital there, and wanted to meet with Natalia, the chief doctor, and tour the hospital. Friends of David’s and mine were there adopting twin girls, so I invited myself to go along with Jim. It was a 2 hour drive to Kokshetau from Petro … in a nice van, but a really nasty driver who yelled at me for slamming the door too hard, and for letting a suitcase lean against the window. I was afraid to touch anything!! Luckily in Kokshetau we changed drivers. After a very brief visit with Dave & Jeannie, our friends, we were off to the hospital. Again, we were told to put on doctors’ coats for the tour … we saw some very tiny babies and older children, in the most grim of circumstances. The hospital was more than adequate, I suppose, but dark and dingy. I saw children as old as 8 or 9 lying on beds, no mothers to be seen anywhere. It was quite depressing, but then I told myself this was all they knew …
We were handed off to another car for the 4 hour jaunt down the road to Astana. The “frontier” of Kaz, as I call it, is just immense, and immense doesn’t seem to be adequate to describe its bigness. Imagine about 10 Kansases lined up side by side … and you get an idea of how flat and infinite it seems. Just grass … forever. Occasionally a forest, but then back to more flat … grass, and maybe some crops growing here & there. Lots of little reamshackle houses and a gas station popped up occasionally. We got to experience a true Kaz. outhouse at a couple of the gas stations, but it couldn’t be helped. Debi and I experienced more squatty potties on this trip … and have the strong thighs to show for it. Having lived in Japan when we were younger, we fear no squatty potty but some of them were more horrendous than others.
The flight to Almaty was a true pleasure. It was quite the polar opposite from the Yak 40 – a beautiful Boeing 737. We even got a hot meal and coffee … no hard candy here! Tired and bruised we fell into bed at the Almaty Hotel, our new abode for the next 36 hours or so. Again, we found the air conditioner, but it was in the living room of our suite, and very little of the air managed to turn the corner into where the beds were. I literally dragged my mattress into the living room and fell into a heap on the floor. I didn’t care … I was cool. My sweat glands were revolting in a big way (and I mean the verb there, not the adjective. Well, I hope so anyway).
Our last day was spent sightseeing in Almaty. Our driver, Vitalik (who had been our driver in 2004) took us around from place to place … to buy an oriental rug, to the national museum, the Ramstore (to look at more amber) and finally Panfilov Park, where there is a behemoth of a war monument … I didn’t think Debi’s trip to Almaty would be complete with a visit to that. It was sooo hot again, that by 3 in the afternoon, we collapsed back in our hotel room. Aida came to meet us for dinner,and we were packed and ready to be picked up for the airport by 11 p.m. Our flight left at 1:45, made a quick stop in Astana(who knew!! We could have stayed there!) then we were off to Frankfurt. We had to dash, OJ Simpson style, to the other end of the earth, er I mean, terminal to catch our flight to Munich. In Munich (which by the way has a beautiful airport, as opposed to that abomination in Frankfurt) we grabbed some breakfast and were able to rest for a while. The flight to Charlotte started out to be sardine city again, but a bunch of kids on a youth tour had been separated from each other, so we happily swapped with two girls who had bulk head seats. We had hit the jackpot … our legs were free!!
And so, dear reader, I come to the end of my little travelogue. It was a trip filled with aching muscles, sweat (did I mention the sweat??) and hard work, but every moment of it was enjoyable, thanks to a great group of people. The smiles on the faces of the children as they played on their new playground were worth a million bucks … Debi can’t wait to go again next year …
*** Post Script ... if anyone has been able to overcome their ADD and read the entire thing, thanks for following along. We got home on Thursday, and left for a week in Florida on Saturday. I am going through "coming back home" transition and am in somewhat of a fog. I should be up & running shortly!