Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last Official Visit

We finished our mandatory 14-day visitation a while ago, which allowed us to apply for a court date. Today we signed in the last space in the baby house log-in book assigned to us. We are going to court tomorrow. Assuming the outcome is positive then we can come back to the baby house until our flights home, but apparently we will not have to sign in any more.

It will be so hard to leave him. I feel like he has really opened up to us in the past couple of days. Today he repeated sounds we made for the first time. He also reached back to us when we returned him to his room for the first time. He moved all over the room today. He still much prefers to crawl on his belly and elbows than crawl for real. I think once he is able to balance better and realizes he can reach for toys while in the crawl position he will be more open to it. At the end of the visit he did not want to get down, or be held, or be given his bottle – I think he was tired but too hyped up to calm down. He did finally calm down as we read him a book, bounced him, and gave him a bottle at the same time. He kept babbling with the bottle in his mouth – not the most efficient way to drink.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby Bits

Can you tell he likes toys?

Nikolai was so cute today. On Saturday when we left, he was holding one of the bigger playroom balls that is blue with white dots. It is somewhat deflated and he can hold it with one hand. When we took it away in order to bring him back to his room, we told him he could play with it again on Monday. And today as soon as we walked in before we even laid out the blanket, he reached toward the blue ball sitting on the shelf. He is so smart. He is going to be a lot like his cousin Alexis in that he loves roller coaster-like movements. He laughed out loud at being dipped upside down and being held on his back and swooped around.

Recently Nik has been in an exploratory mood. I think he just realized that he can get where he wants to go and has decided to check everything out. He went over to the swing, so we let him sit in it for a while. Nik also crawled for real today! He complained the whole time, but did it. I guess he was complaining because I had taken the ball out of his hand in order to get him to use both hands rather than elbows and had rolled it out in front of him. He crawled to go get it, but was not happy about it. He giggled at being bounced in time to music on the little singing caterpillar – much of which was quite fast energetic music. Eventually, he nearly fell asleep doing this, though.
Zhana’s mother cooked us a whole batch of blinchiki since she heard we had been buying them from the store! These are big pancakes, like Swedish pancakes (or Russian I guess), filled with things – usually slightly sweet cheese like a blintz. We were surprised by a caramel-filled one we came across during dinner last night.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Clingy Baby and Sightseeing

At the good restaurant
Kazakh and Astana Flags in the wind
Chris and Zhana in the Model near a Southern Region
Model of Almaty (note - the four buildings in the back are real)
View of the Old City from the Monument to Victims of Opression

During our visit on Saturday there was another couple (from Spain) who was visiting their daughter for the first time. Nikolai was so funny and reacted in an unexpected way (at least we did not expect it). When we first went into the play room he gripped my arm and did not want to get down and play. When he did play, he kept gathering his toys - sort of in bulldozer fashion crawling on his elbows and scooping the toys in front of him. The little girl was playing with the stacking rings and the blow-up tube that jingles, which are communal toys. He kept trying to go over and take her toys – even the stacking rings, which he has had no interest in playing with ever; he would complain cry when we would redirect him. I guess since other than the second day of our visits there has been no one else in the play room, Nikolai had decided everything in sight was his. He only really relaxed when the couple left early and we had the room to ourselves again. Hopefully he will be secure enough to share by the time we go to get his little sister!

The weather on Saturday was beautiful – warmer and sunny. We went for a walk to a park we had seen driving home from the baby house. It has a great sculpture at the entrance that would be perfect for a zoo. There is also an empty building with the outlines of trees around it. The center of the park is paved with flower gardens. The surrounding area has natural winding paths through birch and other trees. We then walked back down to Kshlak for dinner – which is definitely my favorite restaurant here.

Sunday we went to a place with models of the major cities and landscapes of Kazakhstan. It was neat, and would be a lot of fun for kids because several of the models can be climbed or walked through. It was sunny, but there was a constant 30-mile an hour (or so) cold wind that made the trip a little difficult. I felt bad for our interpreter in her nice skirt and fancy boots. I wore wool socks, hiking boots, and kept the hood of my coat up the whole time. She did not try to rush us at all – if I were in her shoes I would have been tempted to ensure we kept moving to get out of the wind sooner. There was no guide available because of the cold, but Zhana did tell us a lot about the buildings in Taraz, where she is from. This was useful because based on the models it appears that Taraz really has the most interesting features as it is one of the oldest cities, having been situated on the Silk Road. It is also at the base of a mountain range. I really want to go to Taraz.

We then walked to the aquarium and paid the fee to get in to the first section (no fish). The aquarium itself was more expensive and I had heard not that interesting so we skipped it. The first section was kind of like a kid’s Vegas, with one-story models of various places including the Statue of Liberty, a tee-pee, the Great Wall, Greco-Roman statues, etc. We had a cup of tea and then went across the street to the Mega Center, which is basically a mall like you would find in the US, except with more hands-on activities for kids.

Murat was not able to pick us up afterward because of family obligations. So we took the bus with Zhana. It was really easy – and just 60 tenge. It would be easy for us to get home on a bus by ourselves as getting us anywhere close to Bayterek will do. I imagine it would be harder to try to take the bus to some other specific place without knowing the routes.

Two more days till court – Ack!

Travel Tips

I decided to post some packing tips for anyone who may be travelling soon who has not been here before. The most important thing in travelling is (to quote our agency) go with the flow. Things change constantly and we were often unsure how or when things were going to happen, but it all works out. Even the procedure to follow at the baby house changes daily, perhaps based on who is working, so now I do not feel so bad that we did not know what to do at first.

I think everyone feels self-consious in unfamiliar surroundings. Now that we have been here a while, I am more at ease and have found everyone to be friendly and helpful - even when trying to order food in a restaurant where no English is spoken or on the menu. I have read some blogs where people felt they were stared at a lot and they did not like it - do not let it bother you, just have fun. We mostly have only been stared at by children - after they heard us speak. I have to admit I have done my share of watching people as well. If you are worried about standing out, plan to primarily wear dark colors, such as a nice black coat, and you will blend in more.

Things we are very glad we brought:
A universal power strip (there are few plugs and it is nice to be able to plug the TV, cable box, DSL box, laptops, cell phone charger, etc. into the same power strip despite the various plug types);
A small photo printer to print our date-stamped digital photos for court;
A few zip-lock bags of various sizes;
Blue diaper disposal bags (both for use at the baby house and as liners to the trash cans in our bathrooms);
Travel coffee presses and ground coffee (we have been able to buy ground coffee since we ran out, but it was very expensive);
Sugar, salt, and pepper packs looted from fast-food restaurants (not that I am encouraging looting :);
A long phone cord (would have liked to have had a long computer cable too – but were fine without it);
Granola bars – for quick snacks, especially when we first arrived;
Couple water bottles for our first night in Almaty (bought during layover in Frankfort);
DVDs of our favorite TV show, and a variety of music (on one of our laptops);
Clothes for any weather (it has been between 30 and 88 degrees here in the past couple weeks);
Stacking cups;
Water-proof bibs;
Shoes easy to slip on and off for the baby house visit;
Non-toxic all-purpose wipes (for quick cleanup of the table/ kitchen and for wiping down drooled-on toys)

Things we wish we did not bring:
Diapers (maybe bring 4 or so just so you feel you have some, but mostly I wish we had just bought them here - especially not knowing the size ahead of time);
Power converter (have found no use for it as all of our electronics have their own converters);
Some of the baby clothes (we did not need anything short-sleeved other than under-shirts, and did not need warm sweaters since we will not have custody on this trip – one winter coat for baby was useful, however)

Things we wish we had brought but did not:
At least one bottle (obviously more is needed if you are only making one trip);
A really warm sweater that would fit over a long-sleeved shirt (even if just worn in apartment; the heat still has not been turned on even though it is below freezing every night);
Warmer socks;
A bigger blanket to use in the baby house (I did not expect him to move off of our little blanket so quickly);
A few thin undershirts/ onesies to put on as a bottom layer rather than having to add a sweater to increase layers;
Something spicy, whether it be chili powder, tobasco sauce, taco seasoning or whatever. Food here is never hot spicy (spiced and flavorful yes, but not hot spicy);

Larger/ longer baby socks or tights to ensure no skin gets exposed.

Other random observations:
I like to watch TV (more than I should) and the only English language show we have is Fox news, which I can only tolerate for so long. I have become addicted to Lazy Town and other kids shows where you do not have to understand what is spoken. We have also caught welcomed episodes of Power Puff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Sponge Bob is somewhat disturbing in Russian (or maybe always).

Watching TV in Russian does not lead to being able to understand or speak Russian (I keep thinking I must be absorbing something – but no)

Dora the Explorer here speaks Russian and the Spanish phrases she normally says are in English.

Most entertainment places here seems focused on kids – which is neat. It would be a great place to be if we had a 5-10 year old.

We feel old in Astana. I do not know if it is where we have gone and driven or what, but almost everyone looks like they are under 30 years old.

Everyone only wears black, and stylish black high-healed boots are standard now that it has gotten cool. We feel like we stand out a lot when we wear bright colors, and we are definitely not as well dressed as most. I never have mastered wearing heals; I prefer my hiking boots.

I will miss good juice when we leave. All of the juice here tastes just like the fruit. Cherry is the best. While I dislike most cherry-flavored things in the US (artificial, sweet), in Kazakhstan I love anything cherry – juice, yogurt, etc. (tastes like fresh sour cherries).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nikolai apparently slept better the past couple nights and he was in a good mood for our visits today and yesterday. Yesterday when I first picked him up he giggled, buried his head in my chest, and kicked both legs with excitement. He is definitely getting more snugly, although he still has to face outward if we are moving. I think he likes to see where he is going. He has been saying a variety of different sounds – ba ba, ma ma, bla bla, da da, ah, and of course the excitement screech. Today he crawled using both legs for the first time, rather than just the right leg and left toes. He was carrying two toys at the time, though, so he was down on his elbows.

We were told yesterday that he had been taken to the dentist, and the dentist thinks he will have to have surgery on his upper jaw at some point. Today they said the opposite – that the dentist saw a tiny cleft in his jaw that is not likely to need surgery. I think the difference is in the translation provided to us, not the actual decision. We just need to get him home and see what our American doctors think (and hear the explanation in English!). In looking in his mouth, we cannot see any problem. It is convenient that he opens his mouth so wide when excited – makes it easier to look.

We had lunch at the coffee house across the street today. The coffee was really good and strong. We each had a slice of pizza, which was served cold with soft cheese and pepperoni, tomatoes, and parsley. It was good, but not really very pizza-like. Chris was still hungry and ordered a second piece. This one came out hot! Very funny. The coffee place is also a bar. It has a nice atmosphere and I would like to get a drink there some night - as soon as I get over this cold. I know I probably should not be visiting the baby with a cold, but I am fairly certain I caught it from him and I am careful to clean my hands beforehand.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Court Preparation

When we received our LOI, our agency thought we would not be able to get a court date on our first trip. So we planned to have the pre-court interview and then come home for an undetermined amount of time before returning for court, the 15 day waiting period, and all of the other paperwork to bring our son home. Since we have arrived, our adoption facilitator, who is also a lawyer, (Saule) has been working to try to get us a court date on this trip. We will be the first family with our agency to go through the new juvenile court system in Astana rather than the general court system. Therefore everyone is a little on edge because they do not know what to expect.

This morning Saule came over to our apartment with an interpreter (not our normal interpreter) to prep us for the pre-court interview and court. We discussed all of our answers to the questions we can expect and what to include in our speech. Apparently we BOTH have to give a speech. I hate speaking in public even when I can read what I am going to say. How am I going to present a memorized speech in court that will determine the fate of our family forever? Saule said “it only has to be about 5 minutes”…5 minutes! That is a long time! They also reviewed our gifts again and determined exactly who will receive which gifts. We were told to dress professionally for pre-court and court. I only brought one nice outfit, so I was thinking I would have to wear it for both events.

After they left, we had pizza for lunch and got ready for the baby visit. At first we were told that the visit would have to be cut short in order for Saule to submit our paperwork to the judge to request the pre-court interview. But half-way through our visit, Saule called and said that instead we would be picked up a half hour late because she had gotten an appointment with the judge. When she picked us up, she said that there would be no separate pre-court and that our final court date may be as much as a week-and-a-half earlier than expected! We will know for sure later. We suddenly feel like our time here is limited and we need to do everything quickly. We will still have to change our original tickets to come home later, but by much less than we expected.

When we arrived at the baby house today, there was a news crew there. We were quickly ushered upstairs to wait for Nikolai to be brought to us. We watched the news interview from the window, but I do not know what it was about. All I saw was a very well-dressed woman holding a baby girl all in pink getting interviewed. She then drove away in a fancy Mercedes with black windows.

Nik was very unhappy today and the aunties said he had not slept. He actually cried just out of tiredness for the first time that we have seen. Plus they gave us a bottle that just poured out liquid, which made him cry because he could not just chew or suck on it without it spilling all over (and me taking it away to make sure he did not drown). He fell asleep about 20 minutes before the end of the visit. There were some brief moments of crazy laughter today as well – especially while we swung him in front of the mirror. He loves looking at himself in the mirror and it usually makes him giggle just to catch sight of himself.

The weather is slightly warmer today, so we decided to walk down to the fountain where we had found the good restaurant before (Kyshlak). There are four or five restaurants at this location (which is called “round square”). We decided to try one that looked Japanese. Despite specifically saying we would not have Sushi in a land-locked country like Kazakhstan, we had sushi! We also had the best miso soup, vegetable tempura, and sake. It was strange to order Japanese food in Russian from a menu written in Kazakh and English. The restaurant was expensive, but it was a really nice change from the food we have been making in the apartment.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 12 to 14

I got distracted by a deadline for work and have not written recently. Our visit Saturday was a lot of fun. Nikolai was in a great mood and wanted to play. He can screech really loud when he gets excited, which should be interesting as he gets more comfortable with us. After the visit on Saturday we went to the Eurasia Market to get a few souvenirs, including a “national outfit” for Nikolai and some classic Russian fairytales. The only outfit they had is for an older boy, but he will grow into it. We would love to just take our time walking around the market, but we do not know how we can get there without our driver and do not want to be rude and tell our translator we do not want her to come. I tried to keep track of how we drove home thinking we could try to walk back there some time, but after the fourth turn and many miles I gave up.

Saturday was “subbotnik” which literally means a Saturday when everyone works. It is a day when everyone goes out into the streets to clean and do maintenance projects. We passed a group of teenagers who were obviously supposed to be cleaning their section of the road side. As Chris said, they could have been the church youth or any other group of American teenagers. Most were standing around in big groups, with one person sort of sweeping the same spot over and over. One was climbing a concrete road barrier. And a few were working hard picking up trash and sweeping the sidewalk. Our driver told us that all of the schools and colleges take part in subbotnik. Our translator asked us what they call it in America when everyone cleans the streets on a Saturday :-).

Sunday we went to the Pyramid of Peace, which is basically President Nazarbayev’s vision of a utopian society where all people and all religions live in peace. If the people in Astana did not take the idea and the building so seriously it would be quite silly. The bottom section is all in dark tones, representing the past. The middle levels are white, representing the present, and the top is blue representing the future. The stained glass at the top includes doves, each representing one of the nationalities that live peacefully within Kazakhstan. From the air, the stained glass appears as the sun on the Kazakh flag. To reach the top you walk up suspended staircases through a hanging garden. At the top is a circular table with a circular halo above it where President Nazarbayev envisions the world’s religious leaders meeting regularly in a peaceful conference. The first conference, unfortunately, was attended largely by political leaders. There is a beautiful opera house in the very bottom of the pyramid; if possible, we hope to see a concert there while we are here; it would be walkable from our apartment, although they constantly tell us not to go outside at night. We will have to see how much tickets cost. The elevators in the pyramid move diagonally up the side so as to leave the interior space unbroken.

Within the lower levels of the pyramid there are models of Astana as well as planned buildings including a huge entertainment center that will open next year and become the tallest structure in the city. The center will house a theater, golf course, sand beach and wave pool, gardens, restaurants, etc. A development is also planned with 12 apartment buildings, two office buildings, and a central building whose purpose I cannot remember. Within this development, there will be no cars, but everyone will get around in gondolas. A huge resort area is planned on a lake. It was sad, the tour guide kept saying that the lake is currently the “pearl of Kazakhstan” but soon it will have a big development.

We had a morning visit with Nikolai today so that Saule could submit all of our documents to court this afternoon. He was really excited for the first 30 minutes and then got tired and grumpy. While we were first dressing him, one of the doctors came by as asked to listen to his chest. I guess she was listening to his heart, because I am sure that his breathing did not sound too good with his bronchitis, but she listened and then let us take him to go play. Everyone in the baby house (including Saule) seemed really stressed today. When we had first arrived in Almaty the partners had said that it would be difficult to get an appointment with the Ministry of Education since we would be arriving on a Monday, which are always more busy. I guess they were right – everyone seems to move at double-time on Mondays.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Day 11

Our Apartment from Bayterek (closest building) and our grocery store (round building)

Curved wall between living room and kitchen.


I cannot believe we only have three more days of official bonding. The time goes so fast! Nikolai was very cute again today. We sort of have a routine going now where we play on the blanket for about 20 minutes and he practices crawling and sitting. At some point he gets fussy and from then on all playing, etc. must be done while being held. A new game we played today was “pass the baby” where we pass him back and forth between us. Each time he greets the new person with a big smile. It has been too cold to go outside for walks, but near the end of the visit he only wants to be carried around with occasional trips in the ball pit.

I have become fairly adjusted to life here, although I do not do any of the paying or talking. I think I would be more brave if I had to, but why use gestures when you are with someone who can actually speak Russian? I have learned to pick my feet up when I go between rooms and no longer stub my toes on the raised ledge between each room. I also generally remember that all light switches are on the outside of the rooms. Neither of us has tripped over the curved wall between the living room and kitchen and I now step over it without thinking. I am very amused at the dichotomy of having the most high-tech shower I have ever seen where water can come from the normal shower head, the ceiling, or the sides and yet living in a location where people regularly lose hot water or water completely. We have not had hot water for three days now. I could not face another cold shower today and heated some water on the stove and took a camping-style shower. We learned today that one of our neighbors has a key to the stairs, so if the power goes out we are to contact them. I think our landlady may also be trying to get a copy made. It was sunny today!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 10

It has stopped raining here, although I wore a sweater and my winter coat today. It is hard to believe that I was hot in short sleeves just a few days ago. I think it is supposed to get up to the 60s again next week, but we have some cold 40-degree weather ahead of us for a while. The drastic changes in the weather fascinate me. Every day the wind and clouds move in from a different direction.

We had another good visit with Nikolai. He sat by himself today! He can move from sitting to “crawling” too, although he sometimes gets frustrated when his foot gets caught. It is funny, when he first leans forward from sitting he ends up in a perfect crawl position, and then he straightens his left leg, plops his belly down, and gets down on his elbows before he starts moving – whatever works I guess. He also pulled himself up to a stand using my knees today. We tried to get him to do it again, but his hand slipped and he got frustrated.

It is getting hard to take pictures now because he really wants the camera and every time he sees it and we don’t give it to him he starts to cry – not the full out cry, more of a complaining cry but still, we like to keep him happy. Peek-a-boo makes him giggle out loud every time! About 15 minutes before the end of the visit he fell sound asleep. We have been told not to let him sleep. They try to keep all of the babies on the same schedule, which makes sense when you have so many to take care of. So we were a little worried about bringing him back to his room asleep and tried to wake him up, but that did not work at all. So we brought him back asleep prepared to be scolded – but instead they were very sweet and said he had not slept well for two days and that he just needed his parents in order to fall asleep.

Day 8 and 9, I Think

It has poured for the past two days here. It was in the 80s last week and now it is in the 40s and they are talking snow!

When we got to Nikolai’s room yesterday the nannies were saying he had been calling for his papa for the past half hour (saying bababa). Since he has said that since the second day we met him, we do not think he is saying papa but it was sweet of the nannies to say so. They also told us he knows when it is getting close to the time for the visit and starts getting excited. He is definitely the most excited when we first get there and wants to jump around, and unfortunately the first thing we do every day is change his diaper and clothes. This task is now complicated by the fact that we do so in his normal changing room, which has a high changing table with a slippery cover. It is all we can do to have one person try to at least keep him on the changing table if not still and the other try to quickly remove clothes, change the diaper (which luckily so far has only been wet), and add new clothes. We do not attempt socks in that room but wait until he is more distracted in the play room and his feet are a little more still. Saule asked us today if we both plan on returning for the second trip or only one of us, which made me laugh as we can barely change his clothes with two of us I cannot imagine trying to do it alone.

One of the head nurses was in the room today visiting all of the babies. She told us that Nikolai has made a lot of advances since we started visiting, which was nice to hear. Since Nik was so active and vocal from the day we met him, it is harder for us to notice a big change. The one area we definitely see improvement physically is in his attempts at sitting. When we first met him he would be doubled over forward whenever we tried to get him to sit. Now he sits up straight, unless reaching for a toy. He still cannot balance, but is getting better. His version of crawling has gotten pretty good too and he can move quickly, albeit in a fairly unconventional way that generally results in his pants falling down.

We saw Nikolai really cry for the first time yesterday; other times he has just protested or sort of cried without much resignation. He was sitting on my lap and suddenly lunged forward, presumably to get a stacking cup and I did not quite catch him in time. I do not know if he hit his nose on the cups or just got scared but he started crying. I stood up with him and walked around a bit and he quickly calmed down, which was nice to see. He suddenly lunged two more times (once forward and once backward) so I guess he must not have been too scared by the event. We successfully caught him the other two times :-).

At the end of the visit he fell asleep as I was giving him a bottle - so cute.

Other Musings:

We had an elevator adventure yesterday. When we got back from our visit, we got in the elevator and it started to move up then suddenly lurched, dropped a little, and the lights went out. I thought it was going to drop all the way to the ground. Luckily it instead gently went back down to the first floor and the doors opened. I have a bit of a fear of elevators as it is, so I was not about to get back into it after that. We walked up the seven flights of stairs, only to find the doors to the seventh floor locked again! So we went to the sixth floor and had to ride the elevator, which had started working again although the lights were still out, up one floor to get home. I am not worried about getting out in an emergency as the locked door is pretty flimsy and would be easy to break through, but I still want the option to take the stairs on any day that the elevator is too scary (like when the lights are out).

Today the guy came to install the internet, but we were missing a disk so he had to come back in the evening. Despite being halfway across the world, he so reminded me of our IT guys at work. I now have high-speed internet rather than the hourly dial-up (which incidentally ran out the day before yesterday). Because the internet guy was coming, the landlady called us to check if he had come so we were able to ask her if she had a key to the stairwell on our floor. She came over to try the key she had, but it also did not work. She said she is going to get the correct key – so now someone else is working on that. Since the weather is changing, the heat in the city is starting to be turned on, and today was our first day without hot water.

We have been washing our fruits and vegetables in cheap vodka, which is significantly cheaper than drinking water and likely more effective at killing bacteria. We had read that suggestion on someone’s blog and highly recommend it!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 6 or 7

We are still unsure exactly which day we started the official bonding. Today the caregivers let us actually go into his room to pick him up, and we could change him in their changing room. They gave us the bottle that we had bought, which although it is high flow it does not just pour out the liquid. As soon as Nikolai saw it he wanted to drink. Since he had to actually suck it took him a little longer to get through the bottle and there was no mess! He almost fell asleep at one point, but woke up quick when we took the bottle away.

Nik has decided he wants the camera; apparently it is the last interesting toy that we have not yet let him play with. He will “crawl” over to whoever is taking a picture and try to grab the camera. We will have to bring a new toy again tomorrow – although I already feel silly with all of the toys we bring. He went over to Zhana today as she was sitting on the floor nearby and patted her hands as if to see why she was not also paying full attention to him – so cute.

Our coordinator reviewed our gifts, photo album, and photos we have been taking at the baby house. We need to buy one more high-end gift but otherwise are ok. We will also buy some chocolates to add to all of the bags. I know that our coordinator does know yet if all of the paperwork from the maternity hospital will be in order for us to go to court on this trip, but it is encouraging that she appears to be planning for the possibility!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

No Baby Visit :-(

There are no baby visits on Sundays, so this morning we went to the culture museum, where we met Zhana. There were no English-speaking guides available, so we had a guide give us a tour in Russian and Zhana translated. She did a really good job, and the guide was patient, waiting for each statement to be translated. The museum was free as was the guide – or at least we did not pay anyone. It added so much to get information in English since we could not read the exhibit signs. I loved the museum – it is well laid out and the exhibits are visually appealing. (I am sure the fact that I am an archaeologist had nothing to do with it :). There is an ethnographic display on the first floor that includes examples of how the nomadic people lived in the 19th and 20th centuries (and possibly presently). There is a yurt that looks just like the piñata Jen made for the party. The examples of clothing, tools, rugs, and adornments were amazing. Zhana said when she visited her grandmother that she lived in a yurt. She said it was very comfortable – warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The rest of the exhibits summarized the history of Kazakhstan, including the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Sachs (sp?) era, Turks era, Hun period, Russian, Soviet, and post independence periods. We need to find a book that summarizes the history as it was a lot to try to memorize and there was no bookstore or gift store at the museum.

After getting back from the museum, we decided to walk down the gardens to the west of Bayterek to see if we could find what Zhana had called an entertainment center (did not find it). There are bronze-like statues all over this side of the gardens. The architecture is so interesting, so I have included some pictures of the city. There were not many people out and it kind of felt like walking around a closed amusement park.

At the western end we found a great restaurant with beautiful décor and good food. I had chicken cooked in paprika, garlic, and scallions and Chris had lamb shashlik. We were exhausted by the time we got back and just relaxed. For dinner we watched a couple episodes of Arrested Development and ate fruit, bread, and cheese with Georgian wine. We have become spoiled here, not having to be anywhere before 10 am and having someone drive us where we need to go. Today is our last day of relaxation, however, as I have to start actually doing some work. I do not want to use all of my vacation on this trip so I can save some for when we get home. I can’t wait to see Nikolai tomorrow!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday Visit

Today was Saturday, so our visit was in the morning. It was relatively cold and windy this morning, so we decided to not take Nik outside. Plus the coordinator does not join us on Saturdays and Zhana could care less what we do, so we were a little more at ease. We met a family from Boston visiting their daughter this morning. Since our visits are normally in the afternoons, we have not had the opportunity to talk to them before. They have finished their bonding and are to take custody of their little girl on Tuesday! So they filled us in on some of the process that has confused us – like how to get a bottle, what to do with dirty diapers, and how many clothes to bring each day. Their daughter is also in Nikolai’s room.

We played for a while on the blanket and then Chris went back to Nik’s room to get a bottle. We had left the bottle we bought yesterday, but the one they gave us was a different one. It does not matter, but we were so proud to have found the bottle, which required us recognizing the word for pharmacy and going to three different locations before we found one. The bottle the caregivers gave us does not require sucking, but instead the tea comes out if the bottle is just turned upside down. Nikolai was very excited and wanted it immediately. He, however, is not very good at drinking from the bottle and tea was spilled all over his front. We kept taking the bottle out of his mouth to ensure he was not drowning, but eventually he apparently got annoyed at this and held on to the nipple with one hand and the hand and nipple went into his mouth together. I do not know if all bottles in Kaz are this way – just pouring out the liquid – or if his is left over from before his surgery and therefore before he could suck. Despite the mess, Nik managed to drink most of the bottle and seemed much happier for it. We did change his clothes afterward and will bring a water-proof bib on Monday rather than the now-saturated cloth bib we had today.

Nikolai was nearly crawling today. He moves quickly, but only his right leg is bent to the point of using his knee, while he still uses his toes on his left leg. If he were ever to drop the stacking cups from his hands, it would simplify the process since both hands always have a stacking cup he supports himself on his elbows. His feet are so cute, always in motion, and seem big! While the onesies all seem a little big on him, none of the socks seem quite big enough.

After the visit, Zhana took us to the Bayterek. Although it is next to where we are staying, we were more comfortable going inside with our translator. I really like Zhana. I do not think she is a very good translator as she often neglects to translate anything and often gets words wrong, causing confusion. But she is really sweet and I think our personalities are really similar. We had fun taking silly pictures in the gardens outside of Bayterek, which include animal, human, and yurt topiaries as well as giant Kazakh rings. While we certainly could have figured out how to go up to the top of Bayterek ourselves, it was nice to have someone tell us about the various buildings.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Picture Day

When we arrived at the baby house this morning we were told to go get Nikolai and that we were leaving immediately to get his passport picture taken. The class was running a little late on its normal schedule and none of the babies had eaten yet. So one of Nik's favorite caregiver fed him really quick while everyone else quickly dished out food for the rest of the babies – most of whom were crying by this point. I cannot believe how hard the caregivers work and how calm they stay despite the insistent little ones all around.

The car ride to the photo place was an adventure. I am not sure if he has been in a car that he can remember. He was not really worried but watched everything, turning his head quickly as if trying to follow the things as they went by; I am surprised he did not get car sick. In the passport photo, the baby is supposed to have their mouth closed – which took several tries to get, once we got him to stop staring at the mirrored ceiling.

Back at the baby house we went for a walk since he was already dressed for outside. By the time we got inside to play, Nikolai was exhausted. He just wanted to be carried around, with occasional banging of the cups together and watching the singing caterpillar. His cold/ bronchitis is so bad that it seemed he could barely breathe. I really hope he is ok. He does not feel warm or seem to have a fever, so that is good at least.

Life in Astana
The landlady called yesterday morning to tell us the cable installer would be here either before or after 12 – we did not quite catch which. I cannot imagine not speaking any Russian here and trying to do things like this. When I picked up the phone the landlady spoke Russian and I quickly handed the phone to Chris, who could at least determine the reason for the call and the person calling.

We have gone for lots of walks, shopped at the grocery store, and bought pizza at the place down the street (very good pizza!) but otherwise we have not really ventured out much. We have only seen one small café nearby and are mostly cooking at home, which is fine. Since the grocery store does not have much produce we had asked earlier in the week to go somewhere to buy vegetables. They said this kind of trip had to be planned, and they would take us to the bazaar on Friday. So today we went to buy fruits and vegetables in a big building that has lots of little stands inside, each one of which is like a farmer’s produce stand. We got some great tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, scallions, garlic, grapes, and apples. We definitely will have to go back to this market in the coming weeks.

Last night one of our neighbors stopped us in the hall to ask if we had a key to the stairs. Apparently we were not the only ones worried about the stairwell being locked. If we ever lost power we would not be able to go visit our baby as we would be stuck on the 7th floor! I was hoping one of the neighbors would contact someone to unlock the door since it seemed to be a task best handled by someone who can actually speak Russian. And this morning the doors were unlocked! There are actually three doors with key locks between us and the stairwell. Currently the doors are open and the keys are there – I hope it stays that way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 2 or 3?

Nikolai was in a very happy mood when we first brought him into the play room. He tried to grasp our faces – including my eyes, which was a little unfortunate, but still cute. He then played on his belly for a while. At one point I read him a book – the one with all of the baby faces, which he seemed to really like. He had to hit his hand in the middle of each baby’s face (watch out baby Snow). We also showed him the photo album my sister made for him and introduced him to his family and cousins. After the initial playtime on the mat, he would not let us lay him down and would cry instantly if we tried. We are still not adept add adding or taking off clothes, especially since he cannot sit so we laid him down to put his coat on and then to take it off again after a walk outside. Both times there was much protest. Even after two days we are starting to see more of his personality and to see him exerting his will.

He discovered that he could go from sitting on my lap to standing just by holding on to my fingers – this elicited much excitement. He does not really giggle, but more yells and opens his whole mouth when excited. His legs are so strong and always kicking or pushing against something. His middle is less strong, preventing him from sitting up as yet. When he started to fuss a little we sat down in front of the mirror, which was good until he realized how close we were to the ball pit and he had to get in it. He loved kicking the balls and reaching for them but would become a little overwhelmed once he managed to get all the way in.

We went for a walk outside again. It is much cooler and less windy today – absolutely a beautiful autumn day. He still looked a little worried and was really quiet outside, but actually looked around a little more. He carried the little red stacking cup around the whole time we were outside. I think he may be the type of baby to get attached to security items, which at the moment are stacking cups. At the end of the visit he got really tired. His face is so expressive and looks SO sad when he is unhappy. His whole forehead wrinkles up. To calm himself down he blows raspberries and says bababa (well the Kazakh version – it is more like bwa bwa bwa). We are supposed to bring a bottle tomorrow, which seems like a good idea since we are so thirsty by the end of the visit I am sure he is too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We're Here!

Our “packing” six hours before we were to leave for the airport
(note that clothes had not yet entered the mix).

Packed – with 10 minutes to spare.

It took us a while to figure out how to get on the internet. Apparently at some point we will get DSL in the apartment, but for now we are relying on I cards. So this post is long, to catch up to today.

We Arrived!

We left DC during torrential rains from the remnants of Hannah. Since our packing was so last minute, we likely packed too much and ended up checking two 46 lb bags (under 50!) and one smaller bag and carrying on a roller suitcase and two backpacks. We arrived in Almaty the next day (or was it two days later?) and were greeted by our driver, Dima, who took us to the apartment for the night. We tried to get all of our bags into the apartment without waking the whole neighborhood – a difficult feat when you have heavy suitcases, are wearing hiking boots, and the apartment is five flights up narrow concrete and tile stairs. The apartment was nice, and it was fun to see evidence of its use by other families in the recent past. Thank you to whoever left the Garnier shampoo in the bathroom; since we arrived so late and were only staying one night we did not want to try to unpack or locate anything like shampoo. We did unpack our travel French presses and coffee, however – we do have priorities. We were picked up outside the apartment at 8 am the next day and taken to the partners’ law office to go over details of the trip and our paperwork. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and seemed to have everything under control. We then went to the Ramstore to change money, have a cup of instant coffee (apparently this is a requirement of the process – the sisters and the driver insisted we have a cup of coffee despite our being a little late leaving the office for the airport), and headed back to the airport for our flight to Astana.

In Astana, we were greeted by Zhana (our interpreter), Saule (our facilitator), and Murat (our driver). We arrived too late to go to the Ministry of Education for an interview, so they took us to our apartment. This apartment is really nice; everything is brand new, which is why internet and cable are not yet hooked up. We can see the Bayterek tower from our back window. There is a grocery store across the street (and next door to the MFA!). The store, though, is more like the Trader Joes of Kazakhstan. It has a lot of prepared foods and not as much in the way of food to cook; it is especially lacking in produce.


We have started visiting a little baby boy we plan to call Nikolai, but we are unsure if the official bonding period has begun or not. We were told that we are very lucky as there are no other baby boys available. I am not sure if we got the wrong translation or what the purpose of this statement was, as after waiting for two hours before our meeting with the baby house director, we had already seen a lot of baby boys pass by in the hall. At one point a group of young toddlers came in from outside. After pausing chaotically to take off their shoes, they filed past us. Several of the kids made faces and tried to get our attention. One was crying. They are all so cute – I cannot imagine why they are not yet adopted; I guess there is a lot of process involved in making babies eligible for adoption, especially international adoption.

When they brought Nikolai in to us for the first time, I walked up to him and he smiled. I took him from the caregiver, and he instantly turned and wanted to go back, which was cute and reassuring that he had bonded with her. He then looked around at the other people. He was really alert and definitely interested in seeing everything, although he looked a little anxious. The director then asked if we liked him, and we said YES. So we made an appointment to come back after the babies’ naps to play.

Day 1

This bonding session was all about the toys. Nikolai did not want to be held – only to play. When we put the toys at one end of the blanket, he pushed with his toes and pulled on the blanket with his arms to efficiently scoot himself towards the toys! He kicks his legs with excitement. He will be crawling in no time, although he is not yet able to sit up. Nikolai is a very active little guy. He rolls and wants to crawl. He loves banging things together and was amused by the different sounds, trying out banging a stacking cup on lots of different things – the crinkly book was the best. He is funny when he loses track of one of us, he violently twists his whole body around to the point that he nearly rolls over.

They told us we could put our own diaper and clothes on him if we wanted. We changed his clothes – with much drama as we are not good at it. We did not change his diaper, because his was not wet, but I think we were probably supposed to change him anyway. We did not hand over the diapers either – this part of the process still eludes us. Hopefully tomorrow we can figure out exactly what to do. He made a variety of funny sounds, which was a good sign. He growls, says Aaah, mmm, la, and once said ma. He also makes raspberry sounds, which neither Chris nor I can imitate unfortunately. He responds to his name, which has made us hesitant to start using the name we have chosen for him. We will have to see how that goes. The time went fast, and the caregiver came to get him. He had a hold of the big purple stacking cup and phone rattle, and took them back with him.

We were able to ask the doctor a couple questions after we played. Our main question was whether or not he has a cleft palate, as he has a repaired cleft lip. After a bit of misinterpretations/ translations we were finally able to understand that he does not have a cleft palate! This is a relief – while we are fully committed to this little boy, we were not looking forward to several surgeries. We also are only approved for non-special needs according to our US paperwork, so it would have been complicated getting the needed additional paperwork.

In the evening we went for a walk around where we are living. We walked to the Bayterek and then down the street to the Presidential Palace, which we could see from a wonderful fountain that included an arch to walk under. The architecture in the area is amazing. I have never seen anything like it. It is sort of like the set of a sci-fi movie.

Day 2

Today when we got in the elevator to go downstairs, the lights were out. Our trip down seven floors was in pitch darkness, but luckily the elevator stopped at the bottom floor as we had hoped. We were not able to take the stairs as the door to the stairs on the seventh floor was locked. God forbid there is ever a fire, between having to use a key to unlock two doors to exit the apartment and then the locked staircase. The apartment is funny in that all doors have locks – from the outside. So you can lock someone in the bedroom or bathroom, but not keep someone out. Some of the doors even have keys. There is an enclosed balcony-like area that I think is common in most apartments in this region. The balcony is lined with windows, but the landlord told us we could only open one window at a time. We are not sure what the reason is, but I am envisioning the building falling over like a file cabinet when more than one drawer is opened.

When I went in to get Nikolai, he greeted me with a big smile! We changed his diaper and clothes. We put a size 4 diaper on him, although we really think he should be wearing 3s, but they told us to use 4s. Changing went better since we brought easier clothes to put on him. We got yesterday’s clothes back, except the onesie and socks. We definitely need more short-sleeved undershirts/ onesies.

It was really warm out today so we asked if we could take him for a walk. They said they had to ask the doctor. The doctor approved it, but only if we had warm clothes for him. We had brought a short-sleeved onesie, a warm, long-sleeved one-piece outfit, a hat, and his winter coat. They had us so paranoid that we put all of the clothes on him since it was very windy (I think it is always windy in Astana since it is surrounded by miles of steppe). I was hot in my long sleeves but did not want to get in trouble for not putting enough clothes on him. Of course they came out and said he was too hot and to take off the coat. He looked a little worried since I am not sure he had been outside before. He liked looking up at the trees, but when a group of pigeons took off, I think that was too much for him. We went back inside to play after a fairly short trip outside.

Nikolai seemed like he was not feeling well today. He has a chest cold and is teething really bad. He chews on everything. While he did play a little, mostly he cried if we tried to put him down on his belly or back. He wanted to be held and jump or bounce (always while chewing on something). We would love to use a little oragel on those painful gums, but do not think it would be allowed. Another woman was visiting her little girl today, who is a bit older than Nikolai and was crawling all over. At one point she crawled over and tried to take the stacking cup out of Nikolai’s hand and the resulting struggle caused both babies to cry. It was very cute to see him so possessive since he does not seem to care if we take the toys from him. The little girl is in his class, so perhaps she is always stealing his toys.

The woman was supposed to go to court today, but there is a new system in place and the new judge requested additional documentation. Our coordinator explained to us that they do not know what will be required for our court process and that she will do what she can. That worried us a bit, although hopefully it means just an extended process rather than denial of the adoption. The additional documents are required of the maternity hospital.

At the end of the visit, Nikolai started rubbing his eyes and just wanted to sit. He did smile at the caregiver when we brought him back, but I do not think this was his favorite care giver since the reaction he had yesterday was much more animated. They told us to bring a whole stack of diapers tomorrow. I think they also want us to leave several changes of clothes there and they will dress him. I am not certain of this, though – it is all a bit confusing. As we were leaving they asked if we wanted to sign today and we said yes. All we had to sign, though, was a log book documenting the fact that we had visited today. While we were in the doctor’s office signing the log book, they showed us two pictures of Nikolai – one from before his surgery to repair his lip and one after. They asked if we wanted them so we could show our doctor. Of course we do – we now have a picture of him from when he was a newborn!! It is interesting that it seems they have so much information that never gets passed on to the adoptive parents (unless maybe at a later date they give you a copy of the file?). Every detail is so important though.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Kids' "Yurt"
Our Niece Trying to Hit the Yurt-Shaped Pinata

With all of the chaos, we never got a chance to post about the baby shower my sister and parents threw for us. It was so much fun. I have read other posts of people whose families did not fully support inter-country adoption and had trouble embracing another culture. I guess my family is the opposite, as they threw a Kazakh-themed party with an imitation of a yurt for a shelter, maps of Kazakhstan for place mats, Kazakh flags for decoration, and various Kazakh foods. My sister even found a cookie cutter in the shape of Kazakhstan and made cookies with a sprinkle marking Astana. We are grateful for all of the support of our families and friends. Many people have contacted us asking if they can do anything - we REALLY appreciate it; knowing we could call on you if we got overwhelmed has helped keep us calm. Unfortunately, we have been too disorganized to really ask for help!