Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I do not have online access at our apartment so Tom was able to get my Blackberry working and I am finally receiving all your emails again, thankfully. The good news is I have a very active 2 year old, who is demanding of my full attention. We seem to be busy most days and Veronika has not been taking her afternoon nap so I really do not have time during the day to write but please keep the emails coming.
I have many pictures to post and stories to tell – I will get there again. For now – sorry for the delay.
Hopefully ……more tomorrow.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Tom had the day off (as did our driver) and we took a long walk to see some of the city and neighborhoods, we met John and Gigi for lunch at a pizza place with an internet café for quick check of emails. Then after a quick nap at home had dinner out with a nice Kazakh couple that Tom has met through a business connection. Tom has made it a point to keep us busy socially so I will perhaps not have as much time to think about wanting to be home as much. It does help in ways. We had dinner at Pomodoro, a small Italian restaurant not in any of the guide books owned by Giorgio, a local legend who set up the first Italian restaurant here in 1993, returned to Italy a few years later with his new Kazakh bride, then returned to Almaty three year ago to cure his wife’s homesickness and a widely-reported homesickness here for his cooking. It was a terrific meal and went a little way towards helping us forget we are far from home.
By the way – I keep writing Veronika and I think I should mention now that I have been calling her Nika (“Neeka”) most of the time, it works and she generally responds to it.
She has a few English words so far……..up, down, hello, good bye, all done and she calls me momma and Tom papa. She has a lot to say in Russian and some of it we understand.
She also loves to sing with me my Tumbala song – I hope my mom, bubba and Aidan will appreciate that, it is a lullaby I have always loved. My grandmother and mother of course know all of the words, I sing the same four words over and hum the rest and now Nika does also as does Aidan.
We are now checking out the markets and malls in town and maybe we will actually buy something, up until now we have not made a real purchase of any kind. We also are planning on sight-seeing a bit this afternoon. This city has an amazing backdrop of snow-capped mountains and we plan to take a cable car to the top of one ridge and see what is going on there. What tourist books there are do not give much detail about the sites and city. So we’re going on word of mouth and we will report back in a few days once we have had a chance to explore more.
For now we are together and well, longing for our number one child and home, but thankful that the process will soon be done. We are in the final stretch of waiting for Veronika’s passport and exit visa. On Wednesday, we should have the exact status on when it will go to Astana to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then be sent overnight to Almaty for our two days of US Embassy processing. Fingers crossed all of this will take place in time for us to depart as planned in the early morning hours of November 9th.
I have also been without Internet completely for 6 days, boo hoo. I walk around with Veronika during the day without a cell phone, not speaking the language or able to read even a street sign and not connected by Internet, what a contrast and disconnect to life as I know it. I now know what Tom meant when he told me he felt like he was on one of those Zen silent retreats where there is no one to speak to in English for hours on end.
Tom is working out of Grata Law Firm’s high rise office, relatively connected and meeting people daily that are educated and speak some English so he has made some in-roads at understanding the city and culture.
Thankfully I have our driver Alexandr, again not a word of language understood by either of us yet we figure out how to get Veronika and I to and fro as needed. Being in a completely foreign place is amazing and exhausting all at the same time. V and I met Tom at his office last night for a cocktail party, they were celebrating the next day’s Republic Day Holiday. We got to meet all of his co-workers and hear some toasts, in Russian of course, and laugh along like we understood. The “toast” is ever-present in Kazakhstan, whether it’s an intimate family dinner or office party, and Tom thinks that there is a premium placed on the length of the toast as a sign of respect for the person being toasted, where we often respect bang-for-the buck in a short but well-spoken phrase or two.
Later that evening, Tom wanted to treat me to a nice evening and take us for a sushi dinner. He had been to this particular restaurant last week and thought I would enjoy. Sushi is one of my favorite meals, so I agreed. It wasn’t the most relaxing of meals, but all in all enjoyable. Keep in mind we had a 2year old sitting and waiting for food much longer then anticipated and maybe more restless then we were accustomed to, but she handled herself pretty well despite the late hour and new environment.
I was blown away with the fact that we were ordering sushi for ourselves and trying to get something for Veronika like a rice with cooked chicken and vegetable sort of meal when the server brings over a menu to tell us in Russian – “children’s menu.” What were the two options, you might ask? We had no idea how universal the children’s menu concept is, the options were, not surprisingly, chicken fingers with fries or spaghetti. How amazing, because there is no reference to anything American here in this country, there are almost no fast food chains, yet they serve children the two most American meals available on the children’s menu in any restaurant USA. Talk about a lack of context.
There we were eating Veronika’s fries with ketchup with our chopsticks while we waited on our sushi – it was Veronika’s first chicken fingers and fries – not bad once she figured out what they were. The sushi, which nearly resembled what we thought we’d ordered, wasn’t bad and might just hold us over until we get home.
WOW – what a difference from Arkalyk. I will not say anything bad about being in Arkalyk, it was time for us to move on. I can tell you already Veronika is very happy to be here.
We had a busy 24 hours of travel to get here, we were welcomed by Tom at the airport and taken to our apartment by a driver he has hired for us while we are here. At first I did not understand the need for a driver but already I am glad we have Alexandr to navigate for us.
We actually had dinner plans this evening at the home of Kevin and Marci Kilpatrick and their 5 wonderful children. Marci is the friend of a friend of my cousin Michele in North Carolina, and Kevin was recently posted to the US Embassy here as the State Department Regional Medical Officer for Central Asia. They have a lovely home and we had such a nice evening getting to know them and hearing about their process of settling in for Kevin’s two year assignment. They have traveled the world and made many exotic lands their home while Kevin has worked for various international medical groups and they are an all around amazing family.
It took Veronika about an hour to warm up to everyone and she had a ball. It made me think of how much she will enjoy her cousins and all the family once she gets to meet them.
Day 2 in Almaty
Veronika and I took the car with Tom to work and after we dropped him off at the office we walked around the Central Recreational Park (formerly known as Gorky Park). It was very beautiful, almost as pretty as Central Park. There were many children playing and all speaking Russian, Veronika didn’t seem to want to get involved with them at all. I think she gets very shy and also likes relaxing in her stroller, so I wandered around for a while and then had the driver take me to the RamStor Mall, a want-to-be American style mall with food court and all. No, I did not eat there, but we did get to watch little girls taking ice skating lesions for a while at the miniature rink right in the middle of the mall. Aidan has already told me that she wants an ice skating birthday party next March so I think we will need to get Veronika started on skates as soon as we get home. Veronika is fearless and she already falls all the time so maybe she will do just fine on skates.
Back to the Ramstor, we went food shopping at the real supermarket there. Yes, this was another one of my highlights because there was actually aisles and variety, closer to resembling a supermarket as we know it in the States then anything in Arkalyk, that’s for sure.
I prepared dinner that evening for a couple Tom had met a week earlier. John and Gigi are from Boston and here adopting a one year old girl. They were so nice and fun to be with, and once she warmed up to them Veronika was very taken once again with another male figure, she really likes the men……..it’s all new to her.
I think women may remind her of the caretakers and men are not just new, they’re mostly silly and goofy to her and somehow she got John and the Kilpatrick boys to get on the floor to play and make her laugh. If you notice, women are more serious when it comes to playing – men make faces, noises, etc. Do you agree?
It was a good day, but once again I must admit it is hard for me to say I don’t miss Aidan madly and want so desperately to be with her.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Back to Veronika and I, out in the rain enjoying those brief grey moments when she tripped like every two-year old inevitably does and fell right into the mud. I am talking full frontal mud-ity. She got up, totally startled and upset and started wiping the mud from her hands on which ever parts of her had not been covered. 100% mess, which isn't bad for probably all of 4 minutes of outside fun. I decided to bring her in because surely if anyone saw us they would think I was crazy to have a child outside like that.
In we went and that was the highlight of my day. No pictures – too messy and a moment better remembered than documented.
So that was my high of the day – my low of the day went like this:
After Veronika took a two hour nap, what a joy, and mommy joined her for the last 45 minutes of snooze time. Yes, I admit it, I too have been napping, what fun. This is a pleasure I have always denied myself out of sheer guilt, there must be a dozen other things I need to do before I could even consider an afternoon rest, right? When she awoke I thought to give her a snack of peach yogurt, she decided she did not want it and began getting very upset. I tried some other alternatives, but she wasn't sure of anything and I started to eat her yogurt trying to get her to have some. I wound up finishing the whole yogurt and she just kept getting extremely agitated and the tantrum began. This continued and I couldn't figure out why and she was so upset I thought to see if Habiba's children next door could help change the scene and help calm her.Instead, Solya (Habiba's aunt) was in the kitchen cooking and Veronika likes her very much, and went directly to her and calmed down within moments. Now, my two year old wanted nothing to do with me for hours, only wanted Solya who was speaking Russian and singing to her. Maybe Veronika doesn't like my songs or understand me but it hurt and made me sad. There, you have the high and low of my day, probably the same for any parent of a two year old, particularly one trying to make sense of a whole new world.
Then came the evening, which was an event full of fun. Habiba arranged a dinner out at the café to commemorate my leaving (no need to say "a" cafe because there's only one). It was the first time I went out for a meal since I arrived and it was really fun. We had a private room in the back and ate some really good food, had many vodka toasts, followed by dancing. It was such a fun time and I truly appreciate Habiba honoring me with a dinner like that, its nice we have a good relationship and bond.
As for my husband, he is alive and well and spending too much time thinking up a theme for his first blog entry on Almaty. He is also suffering today all alone in Almaty with possibly food poisoning. He was out last night at a Kazakh wedding with friends from the law firm he is working with.
Good news about my train ride to Astana – I have Aidar's sister joining me for the long ride. It will be very helpful to have her with us.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I find myself wandering these markets buying 2 bananas or an orange at a time. It is just an excuse to get out, walk around and see what’s going on. There is an outdoor flea market as well, but I can’t seem to find anything to buy except tights or panties for Veronika. I have made friends with another couple that arrived last week from Belgium, so that’s great having some company to take walks and have conversation with. I have spent a lot of time with my coordinator, Habiba and her family and have grown extremely fond of all of them and their lifestyle. Last night I found myself baby sitting for her kids, and had such a fun time dancing to Russian MTV. I broke out the video camera and will have a fun clip to edit of all of us. Yes I am having some wonderful random moments and my days are flying by, caring for Veronika is keeping me extremely busy, I had forgotten how consuming a two year old could be.
On Sunday we will leave Arkalyk. Our adventure will begin at 6pm when we get on the 15-hour train to Astana. Once we arrive we will have Vikka, our local Astana coordinator, meet V and I to take us to the airport. Our flight is two hours and I think we will have a 2-3 hour wait in the airport before take off. We already have dinner plans for that evening with another American family. I will tell you more about them after I have met them.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I am sending a big shout out to say hello and Happy Birthday to my Bubba Esther. Today is her 94th year and I wish I was there celebrating with her. I am in spirit - I love you and hope you are having a wonderful party at Gail's house. Aidan, give Bubba kisses and hugs for me.
This experience of being with Veronika is earth-shattering and humbling in so many ways.
For those that know me, I think you will agree that I have always needed a certain amount of order to the way things flow, and in dealing with Veronika I realize I need to let go, let my guard down and let her "be" for a bit longer.
She is a typical, occasionally-wild 2 year old, who is also so uncertain of her new surroundings and is trying to please her mom by being the adorable child she is, but then she also slips into the child who wants what she wants and is afraid to let go of whatever the object of her affection is. When this happens she gets agitated very quickly and I in turn need to remind myself that there will be times when I need to discipline her and times for indulgence and for now I mostly need to comfort this child, even though it might seem like I am giving in to her temper. I say this because when I see her look of fear and lack of understanding, language or reason there is no consoling her. Her rage and fear needs to be tamed by unconditional love. I think – and I know some will disagree – go for it. It is so trying, and sweet at the same time.
I think Veronika and mommy are learning a lot from one another. I have to remind myself that this is going to take some time and for now we are really doing well. My routine and schedule here is somewhat minimal as compared to what I prefer having, which is more like hectic chaos, so I have time than I'd have if I were going through this at home to think and reflect about all these experiences.
Soon I will be home saying what a wonderful, peaceful time I had in that small village of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan.
Just one funny thought I had about this tiny village – all the young kids walk by me and are so pleased to say "Hello, how are you?" They are learning English and surprisingly they know I speak it (the rumor is out....she's American-- the only one for miles), and I am seen walking everyday – I think I may pass the same kids or it is just so obvious who I am. Anyway, they are afraid to be seen talking to me, they just want to quickly say hello and run away. What a shame, it would be nice to know more about them.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Then it took me 3 tries to please her with breakfast. I thought maybe a raisin bun with a lot of butter would be a fun alternative to what she has been used to, but she did not like that at all. So I made a scrambled egg, that seemed to amuse her, but I saw she was still looking for something. I had the ingredients for the oatmeal-sugar-milk concoction they call porridge here and that is what she loves and wanted. After a big bowl she was satisfied.
Onto our next activity – OK, I won’t bore you with every detail of the day, just the highlights. We took a long walk on a beautiful day, the leaves are all golden and the air is brisk. We found a swing and Veronika loved sitting on my lap, swinging back and forth and singing songs. We both had our own song to sing and neither of us understood each other’s words but we spent a long time just enjoying the moment.
I think she has also become more trusting of me, because the nap and sleep thing is not as difficult as I worried about. Last week Tom and I had some difficult times trying to get her to nap. What am I worried about, right? I am already a mom and feel like a pro at it. Either that or I am going to be blessed with another angel.
All in all she had fun just roaming around the apartment doing what ever she wanted and we got along just fine.
This evening I entertained a Belgian couple who arrived today and it was really nice to sit with other English speaking people and have conversation.
Tomorrow evening will be another one of Khabiba’s dinner parties.
My days are full with Veronika and I keep telling myself we are almost there, so close.
I can hardly wait to be back home with Aidan, Tom and Veronika.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Today was Veronika’s last day at the orphanage. We kept referring to it as Party Day, but it really
did not feel like a party at all. It was hardly festive. I arrived with cakes for all the caretakers and for all the kids juice boxes and Kinder chocolate eggs. The kids sat at their tables eating, without a word amongst them. A few minutes later I was told it was time to get Veronika dressed in her new clothes in the hallway, outside the room. Once she was dressed I tried to bring her back in the room but she resisted, more like wouldn’t budge. So we stayed in the doorway and the kids all ran up to her to say goodbye and some wanted to give her hugs, she didn’t seem to want any of it. Then I watched the two caretakers say their goodbyes and I got so emotional. I gave them hugs and thanked them for all the care they gave her and we left. It all happened so quickly it barely existed.
That is all I feel like saying about the day. It was more emotional then I had realized it would be.
This picture of Veronika was from this morning and will be her last portrait from the yard of the Arkalyk orphanage.
I will report more tomorrow from our first day together.........I will say she enjoyed her bath this evening, freaked out over her pajamas, then finally gave up trying to take them off and fell asleep like an angel.
Albina, the director of the orphanage (picture -woman with white hair) was kind enough to allow us to bring Veronika's bed from the orphanage to the apartment to use while we remain here in Arkalyk.
The trip here was very smooth, other than the first fifteen minutes of the train ride from Arkalyk to Astana. I wrote this a few hours later during the train ride although it’s taken me a few days to post it…
The train care has compartments along most of one side of the car and a long corridor down the other side, with windows all along the corridor with a railing to stand at for some fresh air (until you start to smoke, if you’re from Kazakhstan. I was standing at a window a few doors down from the door to my compartment as the train pulled out of Arkalyk, watching the town fade in the distance. I should explain that the compartment has four long seats, two on either side as you enter, one about five feet above the other. These seats double as beds to sleep on and are intended to be used by four people, although it seems that some a couple of compartments had 8 or 10 people in them.
As I was about to go back to my compartment and get settled in I saw a man go into my compartment and sit down. Older guy, salt and pepper moustache. He looks at me, points around the cabin and says cheteeree? (four?) [ed. note: I’m using transliterations throughout this entry, apologies to the Russian language]. I say "da, cheteeree" (yes, four). He says "cheteree?” again. I say "da, cheteree billets" (yes, I have four tickets). All friendly but it's clear he wants to sit in my car, which I might have been OK with in the States for a while but I lack the Russian skills to tell him that’s it’s only temporary until I want to go to sleep. He starts talking, fast and I break into a good couple of "ya ne pineemiyus" (I don’t understand) and he gets it and leaves.
Then, not two minutes later the conductor comes around to collect tickets and she says "cheteeree?" Here we go again with the four thing. I say "da" (yes) and she says "da" but resignedly but gives me my four ticket stubs and then five seconds later she comes around with the sheets to use when it’s bedtime in bags and wants to give me 4. Here’s where it all goes wrong. I put up one finger and say "adin" (one). She says "cheteree, nyet?" (four, no?) with the raised eyebrows and everything. I say, "ok, dva" (ok, two) thinking maybe I want an extra blanket. But she says "cheteeree" very definitively” and I say "ok" like maybe I'm supposed to just take the four to avoid it becoming an issue but then she takes two back and leaves.
Two minutes later I hear her speaking with another conductor as I was about to open the door to get some fresh air. She's talking to the older, beefy male conductor whose got the starched uniform with the stars on his epaulets. I say, really friendly in English "OK, I'll take cheteeree if it’s easier" and she hands the two extra sets of bedding to me and closes the door. Two minutes later big cheese conductor is back knocking on the door to the compartment. He enters and puts his hand out to shake mine, which I do, and he says "kahk dee la?" (how’s it going?) I blank for a second then say "karashow, spahseeba" (fine, thanks) and he says "da." Then he points to the stars on the epaulets and says something I don't understand but I presume he's telling me he's the big cheese conductor because he points to either end of the train a couple of times. Then he says "cheteeree?" “Again with the Cheteeree” I thought and couldn’t help smiling.
[As they say in Kazakhstan, I shall explain to you. This whole thing brought to mind a very funny Saturday Night Live skit from many years ago. Don Rickles was the host and in a skit very early on in the program in which he and Dan Ackroyd were supposed to play slap each other a couple of times but I think that Rickles hit Ackroyd a little too hard on the last one because Dan looked like he was about to get mad and then blew it off. It turns out that they were both in another skit later in the program and in a middle of the dialogue out of nowhere Ackroyd reaches out and slaps Rickles really hard. It was a complete non-equator but Rickles tried to be a real pro, he never blinked, looked right at Ackroyd and said “Again with the slaps? You didn’t learn your lesson the first time? At which point they both lost it and the director cut to a commercial. Now, every time something comes back around that I thought was concluded I think to myself “Again with the slaps?” and try not to laugh.]
Anyway, he says “cheteeree” again and I laugh and pantomime that I'm going to sleep with one arm on each top bunk and one foot on each bottom bunk. He laughs and points to the epaulets with the stars again. I'm thinking, does he want a little extra something "for some chocolate"? But I give him the "I'm just a dumb foreigner look" and he looks down and sees that I have my camera in my hands so he points to himself and says "photo, da?". And I say "da" and then he buttons his top button and I take his picture and then he points to the two extra sets of bedding and then to the blue denim bag the other conductor had been pulling the sets from earlier and he looks up and down the corridor and points to the bag and now I'm really confused. Does this mean that I'm supposed to put the extra sets in the bag now? Later after the corridor is clear so no one knows I don’t have four people in here? Have I disturbed the order of the universe? Anyway, he sweeps his arm across the window opposite my compartment door and says, proudly- "Kazakhstan". I say "da" he says "devai" (cheers) and pantomimes that I should take pictures and walks away. I saw the most amazing sunset as I wrote this and thankfully didn’t hear the word “cheteeree” for the rest of the night.
On a final note, I just wanted to send my wife a shout out in Arkalyk, it’s a huge day for our family and I’m really proud of her and of Aidan for being such a good, happy girl while we’re gone. It’s impossible to say thank you too many times to our family and friends for all the help love and support you’ve all shown to get us to this day. We’re almost home.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Monday I had Veronika for most of the day and she really seems to like this new apartment. I give her free reign to run around all the rooms and there is something for her to be amused by in every corner. When we are in the kitchen, there are magnets to move from one side of the fridge to the other. She is absolutely taken with the flush of the toilet and loves to wash her hands at the sink and drink the water. The family that we have rented this flat from for the next few weeks has a little girl so they left toys behind and we don't know what to play with first.
I went with Khabiba and assorted family members to the Muslim Cemetery on Monday afternoon to visit the gravesites of her mother and brother. Her mother was a teacher and it was a teacher's holiday so she wanted to leave roses by her side. In the Muslim tradition they bury the person with a tombstone and then surround a fairly large area with either a brick structure or fencing, depending on how elaborate the family wants to be.
We then went to get Khabiba's daughter from school, which was a treat to see all the school kids in the yard, jumping rope and generally having fun.
Today we ran around, shopping the various markets for food and then went and get Veronika for a few hours. She had her first official play date with 2 children not from the orphanage here at our apartment. I returned her early today because we needed to go to the health clinic to have Khabiba's young daughter checked out. She seemed perfectly fine to me – but I was told she had a cough when she awoke and they needed to confirm her health. Then off to the Bauxite company's medical building where Khabiba and I had 30 minute massages each. (Price approx: $3.00) It was the most painful experience I can recall, very hard hands, but I do feel good right now, actually I take that back (ha)– my shoulders were fine going in and now they are very sore. We were told we both need some work and we are scheduled for 30 minutes each for the next few days. It was my idea so I can hardly complain.
I also went shopping for Veronika today because tomorrow will be her last day at the orphanage and I wanted her to leave with a new jacket, hat (yes hat) and shoes. I am planning a party in the afternoon for all the kids in Veronika's group and caretakers. I really look forward to seeing this day happen and the start of our life together. Veronika is getting less needy and more trusting, today was the first day I was able to walk her back to the orphanage without picking her up or strolling her, she was happy to walk holding hands, just like how Aidan and I do it.
Party pictures tomorrow!
Sunday, October 7, 2007
I think they are so sweet and it is unbelievable how they are all trained to go at certain times with, as I am told, no accidents in between.
I will say that when we have Veronika with us we do give her a sippy cup filled with juice and water (warm, of course, they believe that, we should only put warmth into our bodies). Veronika is so thrilled to have her own cup with the freedom to enjoy juice at all times, we also now have the issue of needing the potty all the time. File this one under good problems to have.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Aunt Baccha left our flat today after she served us lunch and returned some time after to deliver a jacket she’d picked up at the market from a friend who has a coat stall to see if I wanted to buy it. She has heard my cough, which really doesn’t sound very good and knows how cold it is and will continue to get in the next few weeks.
What do you think? I love it and love the fact that she was so thoughtful and caring to do this and I’ve quickly come to learn that she is right about most things here.
Of course, I bought it before I read the label, which is worth hearing verbatim:
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Environmentalistic and Healthy All the raw materials and subsidiary materials of RED OCEAN strictly accord with international standards, among which, filler products and fur are specially processed with antibiotics, and tested by authoritave department, which ensure RED OCEAN products safe and environmentalistic. The PH of the material for making the outside and the lining accords with the sanitary standard of human skin the content of heavy metal is lower than that in human drinking water the content of formaldehyde doesn’t exceed the standard of cosmetics textiles are forbidden AZO – colorants.
WOW – that’s all kind of scary – I much prefer to hear, natural fibers, or 100% Polyester fill or OK I’ll admit it - 100% Down would be my choice but what’s a girl to do.
Reading this label makes me laugh, but wait, there’s more…………
WASH & PRESERVE Cleaning: Clean the dirt with the plain white cloth dipped in pure gasoline or detergent. Miscellaneous: Read carefully the instructions on the tag before you wash. Otherwise you’ll have to answer for the damage caused by carelessness.
There you have it – I’m glad I read the label and hope I do not need to clean this thing or answer for any consequences, and dare not think too much about its contents, for now I’ll just focus on its warmth and good looks.
Thanks Aunt Baccha!!
This story begins with first knowing how territorial Tom and I are about our laptops and that we keep buying clothes we didn’t pack but managed to bring two laptops so we could each use one. Tom and I are both Mac people but he’s been working on a firm loaner PC and I’ve been using the MacBook.
On day 2 here, after settling in we were ready to sign in using the telephone line when we realized that Apple has done away with its internal telephone modem and the Mac needs to use an external modem. What did Apple think – that dial-up is a thing of the past? I hated that I screwed up like that, but nonetheless it was over looked. So in hindsight it was good that we had two computers and when Tom has not been using it I was able to blog and email.
When Tom decided that he would work out of an office in Almaty, leaving this Sunday -- I almost panicked to think I wouldn’t be able to go online for a whole three weeks. I should mention that he did offer to switch with me because where he is going he will have high speed and I could work from his PC, but as you all know I am a snob about my Mac so we needed to find the Apple USB modem, which could be bought in any BestBuy in America for forty bucks. Tom did what he does and phoned one of his contacts in Almaty who found the one store there that had the modem. Of course, cash and carry only, which then made delivery an issue (KazPost could have gotten it to Arkalyk in three weeks).
So here’s how you get precious cargo from Almaty to Arkalyk in 2007: follow the bouncing ball: We asked Khabiba, who informed us that Aunt Baccha has a son who goes to school in Almaty who occasionally helps in these circumstances. We gave Baccha the money for the modem, plus money for the conductors of the trains between Almaty and Arkalyk. She deposited the money into her bank account and transferred it to him in Almaty, which he would use to make the purchase and send it along. He was going to give it to the conductor of the train from Almaty to Astana, who would give it to the conductor of the Astana-Arkalyk train for delivery here. Instead of doing that, he found a passenger on the train going the whole distance and paid her slightly less than the conductors’ fees for her assistance and it was on its way. Four days later Khabiba was scheduled to be at the Arkalyk station at 7:30 am for the train’s arrival and find this woman and retrieve my Mac modem. Anyway the hand-off did not happen as planned, but luckily Khabiba knew this woman and knew she would be at the stall she owned in the market when it opened at 10am and found her there. Of course, the woman wanted a little extra money “for some chocolate” which made up for the discount from the conductors’ fees but believe me, for this small plastic box she could have all the chocolate she wanted. So the story goes – I now have my external modem and will happily be working from my Apple Mac book – Yahoo! here I come.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Speaking of Bacha, we may not have mentioned that in addition to being a great cook and a nurse at the hospital she is also one of the town fortune tellers. We felt some additional confidence going into the hearing because right before we left to go to Court she called us into the living room and showed us that she’d read the piles of peanuts she’d spread over the table and they showed her a successful outcome for the hearing.
Thanks for all the good luck messages in the past few days, we’ll be back with a longer entry tomorrow.
Monday, October 1, 2007
From day one here we have had the pleasure of Aunt Baccha’s cooking. She is a dear woman who does not speak any English but we get by with the resources we have.
I have lost, temporarily, the choice of what and when I eat and for that reason the thrill we normally experience with eating a meal is gone. I do not want to diminish how delicious it all is, but our enjoyment has started to feel like pure gluttony at this point.
We are served 3 meals a day. Big meals. Let me elaborate ………
Begins with a huge, hot bowl of mush-- either oatmeal, pastina, wheatina, purina, rice, corn, or barley. All made with boiled milk and sugar.
Then there is always bread & butter, sometimes a big plate of sliced salami and cheese on the table or 6-8 pieces of French toast instead, made from day old bread.
We have had fried eggs a few times as well.
Chai (tea) at every meal.
Usually a hot bowl of soup with cabbage, potatoes, or barley and either chicken or beef thrown in. Then always another meat dish served over pasta, rice or barley. Each of us given a steaming plate that could easily serve both of us, with leftovers, and yet we usually finish our own plates because it’s so good.
A big plate of the tomatoes that Tom described yesterday at every meal, sliced with parsley, dill and salt.
Bread, again, a full plate.
Is a continuation of lunch, usually a new dish of the same quantity as lunch, with additional elements like meat dumplings or fried Kazakh breads stuffed with potatoes or egg salad with herbs. All very delicious.
A lot of onions are used in everything and the most popular dish is a brown rice dish with shredded carrots, oil and meat – called “
For all the other epicurians out there –I am just amazed at how many different dishes and tastes are created with the same simple ingredients. Foodies in the US are always searching for new elements to add to enhance flavor – where here it is almost always the same: Cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, eggplant, potato, pasta, barley, meat. The use of oil as essential. Fresh breads bought daily, and dough made every few days for the specialty dumplings and stuffed breads. A few versions of what they call fresh salad and we would call a "slaw," each of which starts with shredded cabbage and then different ingredients are added to make the different varieties.
As for snacks – there is always a bowl left on the table with dried fruits, nuts and chocolates. I think fresh fruit is more of a treat and specialty. We have had oranges, apples and pears. At a party we had the other night the neighbors brought a watermelon which was a treat and devoured by all.
By the way………Veronika loves raisins and bananas but could care less about cookies. Takes one bite and puts it down. When I told that to Aidan – her reaction was simply—after a long pause-- “whoa.” It was if she was shocked at the very thought. Let’s see how long this lasts.
We have prepared our petition for the Arkalyk court and have been prepped for the proceedings and suddenly I feel nervous. We really don’t think we have reason for concern, but I don’t think we’ll sleep well until it is over.
Our time here has gone by rather quickly and I hope to feel the same way in a few weeks from now when I am still here in Arkalyk waiting to go to the big city, Almaty. Who knows, perhaps the whole process can be a few days shorter and we can be home by the beginning of November.
Every day gets better with Veronika, we have a rhythm and it works. She is really cute and her personality comes out more and more every day. She is finally vocal and is babbling on in Russian with maybe even some words and baby talk in English mixed in. “V” is definitely starting to understand what I say to her in English and has begun testing me to get my attention.
Thankfully, we are getting out more to wander around and explore which makes me happy. There is not much to do when we go out to walk (much of which is along unpaved paths and dirt roads) but I am always the voyeur and curious about all the people we see. Unfortunately I have not really photographed the people out of respect for their privacy, I hope that when I am walking around with Veronika and Khabiba in a few weeks maybe some of the people will let me take their pictures.
The children go to school in uniforms, the girls’ look like little French maids with white doily lace aprons covering little black dresses and the boys all seem to wear shiny blue suits. There are many babushkas out shopping in the classic garb of house dress and head scarf you would imagine.
Then there are the teenagers, all of them stylish with the girls in designer jeans and high heel pumps despite the dirt roads. All of the women take pride in their wardrobe, they wear a lot of black, and are stylish in a dressed-up way that is such a contrast to the simple life that is led here. There is a definite pride that people take in knowing they can dress well, have a family car, put meat on the table and entertain and host friends and family--the simple necessities and pleasures that should not be underestimated.
All in all we are well, happy and excited for all that has happened here thus far. Any attempts to grasp what our life will be like at home with Veronika seem surreal while we’re still in Arkalyk. We can’t wait to get home and introduce Veronika and Aidan and watch that relationship develop—this has been my dream and thrill, for the two girls to bond and be sister soul-mates.
10/22/07 Left Arkalyk for Almaty
10/03/07 Court Day - Petition for Adoption Accepted!
9/15/07 First day in Arkalyk at orphanage, met Veronika
9/12/07 Departing NYC on route to Kazakhstan
9/04/07 LOI - arrived today!
8/24/07 Heard from Agency with information about children, region and some details about trip. (1 week to gather info while caseworker on vacation)
7/27/07 Began process of updating FBI clearance and medical forms
7/03/07 Dossier arrived in Astana, Kazakhstan at the MFA
6/27/07 Approved by Kaz Embassy in DC and shipped to
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Astana, Kazakhstan (MFA is the 1st ministry to review dossier)
6/22/07 Dossier shipped to Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington, DC
6/01/07 Dossier fully translated and awaiting to be sent to Kaz Embassy.
5/21/07 Agency submitted dossier for translation.
5/15/07 Dossier complete / sent to adoption agency
5/09/07 I-171H Approval letter forwarded by INS to US Embassy in Almaty, Kazakhstan
5/01/07 Notarize, Authenticate, Apostille and copy of all documents
4/24/07 INS fingerprinting
4/08/07 Paper work hell...........working to gather all that is needed to complete dossier
3/12/07 Received notice of FBI clearance from US Department of Justice
3/11/07 Second home study visit
3/04/07 First home study visit
3/02/07 Had fingerprints taken for FBI clearance
2/28/07 I600A - Application filed with BCIS (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services ) for I-171H
2/21/07 Applied for home study review and began collecting documents for dossier
2/20/07 Signed with Adoption Agency - Adoption Ark