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Letters from Dave and Denise
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Greetings from Kazakhstan!
We arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Sunday April 17th. We spent the night and next day in Almaty, a city of 1.5 million people, before arriving at our final destination, Karaganda, on Monday night. Karaganda is a city of approximately 350,000 people in a flat, arid region noted for coal mining. We were happy to finally arrive after two and a half days of traveling.
The hotel where we are staying is brand new (less than one year old) and has all the conveniences of most hotels in the U.S. (internet, phone, TV, refrigerator, private bath). We were told some scary things about what it would be like over here, but it isn’t too bad. The water isn’t safe to drink, but they sell bottled water everywhere (just like in the U.S) so it’s not too big of a problem. You just have to remember to use the bottled water when you make coffee and brush your teeth. We were warned against drinks with ice in them, but they don’t serve ice in drinks.
We’ve had a few interesting experiences in restaurants. Their diet is quite different than ours. They eat lots of meat, strange meat. Their national dish is horse….yes, horse. Things like tongue also appear on menus here. We ordered something described as “Morning Medley” here at the hotel restaurant and ended up with some strange looking meat (some kind of sausage and other unidentifiable meat) and bread. We were very hungry so we ate the meat, but I don’t think I want it again. They do have good home baked bread though. After our first visit to the orphanage, the translator took us to a supermarket and we were able to buy some things so we could eat breakfast and lunch in our room (canned tuna, oatmeal, water). We also bought a coffee maker so we could make coffee (tea is more widely served here). We spoke with our translator and some of the other American couples we have met here (there are currently 5 other couples besides us that go to the orphanage everyday) and they have told us where they serve food that Americans like. We went with one couple last night and had some really good pizza. The menu wasn’t in English though, so we really weren’t sure what we ordered….we tried to order by pointing to pictures on the menu (you get into some funny conversations trying to do this) hoping not to get any more mysterious meat. Dave was brave and ordered pizza (they serve personal size pizzas) with pepperoni. Thankfully, it turned out to be the kind of pepperoni we are used to.
Enough about what it’s like here, on to the kids and the orphanage. The orphanage houses about 110 children, half of which are temporarily placed either voluntarily or by court order. It’s well maintained, but somewhat understaffed. They keep it extremely clean and the children and their clothes are very clean. The children are kind of skinny (milk is expensive so they don’t get it much), but I was impressed that they brought Andrei cookies and orange slices the first afternoon we were here. When we arrived, at the orphanage we were greeted by a wall of toddlers out for their morning walk around the property (they take the children out twice a day to get some fresh air). The children understand why strangers are there and many of them have learned to greet you with “Ahlo” and “Mama?” or “Popi?”. They run up to you and smile, trying to gain your attention. It’s incredibly cute and sad at the same time. They are, however, pretty happy kids.
We met Andrei first. They told him about a week before we came that his parents were coming to get him. When they brought him in he seemed very scared. He wouldn’t look at us and I was afraid he would cry. We got out a box of Legos and set them in front of him hoping to help him relax. He started building with them and you could tell he was tense the way he gripped the Legos. Dave and I kept handing him pieces to put together and he would take little side glances at us. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. I kept trying to think of something to really break the ice with him and finally I decided I’d hide the Lego pieces behind my back and then ask him to choose which hand they were in. He finally broke into a huge smile and we played our little game for quite a awhile. Andrei is used to helping the staff with the younger children (he is the oldest in the orphanage) and really loves to pick things up and put them away. We chose one toy at a time from the shelf and played with each toy for awhile and then put it away. He refuses to take out another toy without first putting back the one he has (his grandfather will love this). Eventually I invited him to sit on my lap and I hugged him. He returned my hug with a kiss on the cheek. Dave tried to pick him up and he didn’t like it much. It was not until our second visit that he warmed up to Dave.
We didn’t meet Vera until our second visit (we are allowed to go to the orphanage twice a day except Sundays). She is a real sweetie. She is a very busy toddler still learning to walk. She is still at the age where she puts everything in her mouth. She took a shine to Dave right away and likes him to hold her. Mostly she likes to try to walk faster than she is able and falls down a lot. She has a small growth on her upper lip (its called hemoragea) and she will need some surgery when we get back to the U.S. We spoke with her doctor and she is very healthy other than this condition (she was born with it and I suspect it’s the reason she was given up by her mother).
Both of the children have taken to us so fast I find it hard to believe. They are all starved for affection and attention. Please don’t misunderstand, their caregivers are both caring and loving, but they each have 12 children to take care of. When we drive up to the orphanage, Andrei is looking out the window for us, and even Vera, at 18-months, runs (or should I say toddles) across the room to us when we enter.
We had to think of middle names for both children (we could have also changed their first names, but elected not to). After thinking about it for awhile, we have settled on “Andrei Charles” and “Vera Lourene”. “Charles” is Dave’s father’s name and “Lourene” is Dave’s Grandmother’s name.
There are five other American couples going through the adoption process as well. Two of the couples were here several years ago to adopt a child. The one couple has a four-year old daughter waiting (also adopted from Kazakhstan) at home. I asked if she was excited to be getting a new brother or sister and her parents told me that she had made it very clear she wanted no part of having a brother. Her parents have chosen a little girl (Anna) to adopt. They asked their other daughter what she thought they should name her and she replied her name should be “Go Away”.
All of the other couples are adopting children under one year. When we go to the orphanage we are allowed to visit our children in a large room that has toys. All the other couples sit on blankets and play with their babies in the same place for the whole two hours. Dave and I spend the two hours chasing kids all over. By the time the two hours is up we are exhausted.
Andrei is showing himself to be quite the comedian. He likes to put things on his head and try to make you laugh. Dave tried to bring him back to the wrong room by mistake one day and when he finally found the right room Andrei pointed to the number on the door as if to say “hey dummie, I’m in room number 8!”
Andrei is well known around the orphanage because he is the oldest child and has lived there all his life. The staff are thrilled he is finally being adopted. Many of the caregivers have come up to us and thanked us for adopting him. I’m sure they will really miss him once we leave!
Happy Labor Day from Kazakhstan! May 2nd, 2005
Today is a holiday here in Kazakhstan. In fact, this week has three holidays. Yesterday was Russian Orthodox Easter, today (Monday) is Labor Day and most people are off of work. Next Monday (I think) is VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), a day to commemorate the end of World War 2. It’s the 60th anniversary this year, so there is a lot on the news about it and they are erecting a statue in town as well. We were told there will also be a parade.
We have now been here for two weeks. We have been to the orphanage everyday except today (it’s closed because of the holiday). The adoption process is progressing. Our court date is scheduled for May 11th. We’ve had to sign a lot of paperwork that we couldn’t read (our translator read it to us) and go to an office to have our signatures notarized. We also had to be interviewed by a social worker (via the translator). The day the social worker came to the orphanage, Andrei decided he was going to test his boundaries. He keeps trying to do things when we’re there to see what he can get away with. While we like indulging him some, we don’t want him to think that parents let you do whatever you want (who knows what he thinks?). While the social worker was sitting in the room, he started trying to scale the storage shelves to reach something that was on top (something he wasn’t supposed to have). I told him to get down and he started to pout. Then he started to run away. I chased him and he thought it was funny. When I brought him back to the visitation room I told him he was in time out (while I know he couldn’t understand what I was saying he understood he was being bad). He kept trying to get up and run away, so I sat next to him and held on to his arm. Then he spit on me. Then he decided he would teach me by removing his clothes. (Remember he is doing all this in front of the social worker). So I grabbed both his hands and made him stop…..then he put his teeth on my arm like he intended to bite me. I told him he better not and he stopped (he understands us just fine). When it was our turn to go over to be interviewed by the social worker, I was sure she would arrest me for child abuse. When we took him back to his room, he wouldn’t kiss me or hug me to say good-bye. The next day Andrei was back to his generally happy disposition. Don’t misunderstand, he’s a great kid….but like any other child he is testing to see what his boundaries are.
Vera is a real sweetheart. She’s kind of a flirt. She gives you these sideways glances as if to say: “look how cute I am!” We learned how to say the word for sister in Russian and we told Andrei that Vera was his sister (“sistra” in Russian). He thought the idea of her being his sister was the funniest thing he ever heard. He seems to be accepting it though. When we drop her off at her room he kisses her to say goodbye. He also kisses her periodically for no apparent reason. Vera just stares at him wondering why he does it. She is fascinated by him though. She loves to watch him and tries to do whatever he does.
Dave took Andrei to the bathroom a couple of days ago. Apparently, in the orphanage they teach all the children to sit on the toilet when they go. Andrei was fascinated that Dave stood when he used the toilet. Now he wants to go to the bathroom every five minutes so he can try it.
We have been enjoying the company of the other American couples we have met here. There are two other couples from the Capital District, so I’m sure we will see them when we get back home. Its great talking to them since they have all been through the same problems as us (infertility, making the decision to adopt, the adoption process). Several of the other couples ended up adopting boys instead of girls. One couple adopted an infant instead of a toddler. One couple wanted a blonde haired, blue eyed boy and nothing else. They are going back home without a child. Kazakhstan is an ethnically mixed country (although not as much as the U.S.). There are Russian children in the orphanage (blond and blue eyed), Kazak children (brown hair, brown eyes) and mixed. We are not sure why (although one can speculate), but the children in the orphanage are separated accordingly. Andrei is in a Kazak room we were told.
Our First Lesson in Parenthood – May 5th, 2005
As we started our third week, we also started having a lot of problems with Andrei. In the short time we have been visiting him his behavior has changed. The first day we met him he was as well-behaved a child as you would ever meet. Unwittingly, we lost control of him (I’m sure all you experienced parents are shaking your heads). It all started with a piece of candy. During our first visit, Andrei wanted to look in my purse. He found a container of orange candies and I gave him a couple. (He apparently has learned this from other visitors to the orphanage.) He looked at everything else in my purse and then wanted to look through Dave’s backpack. He enjoyed trying on Dave’s sunglasses and looking at all the other items. This all seemed pretty innocent and harmless to us and we didn’t see it leading to problem behavior on his part.
We wanted so much to make him smile we agreed to most of his requests as long as they were not harmful or destructive. He also wanted us to carry him around a lot (there are only two staff for each room and each room has 12 children so the caretakers aren’t able to carry them around). Thinking that carrying him around was harmless and wanting to give our love and attention to him in every way we kept picking him up anytime he asked. The caretakers would yell at Andrei to get down and walk, but we ignored it thinking we were giving him some badly needed attention.
After about 10 days of this, he became unruly and destructive (I still can’t believe it). He became increasingly bold….not only did he want to look in my purse, but he seemed to think he had a right to look in other people’s purses and backpacks. He started throwing things out the window, he started trying to go into offices and he kept running away. He demanded more candy after we told him he’d had enough. If we didn’t want to carry him anymore he would pout and throw a fit. He gave me the middle finger one day when I told him he couldn’t do something (and said something in Russian that I’m sure was not very nice). This perfectly behaved child turned into a monster in under two weeks!! Dave and I were shocked!
We talked about it a lot when we were at the hotel trying to figure what was happening and how we could correct it. We thought perhaps it was just boredom and we tried bringing some new toys to the orphanage, but he only seemed interested in doing the things we didn’t want him to do. Of course, we began to tell him no and he pitched fits. We gave him time outs and had to wrestle him into sitting still. Two days ago we took him back to his room early because we were at our wits end…..this proved to be a bad idea because we think he got the impression we didn’t want him (he cried and screamed!). After that incident, we decided that we had to re-establish ground rules and not give him choices about things (having come from such a structured life I think having choices was too much for him). Of course, none of this went unnoticed at the orphanage, so they decided to speak to us about these problems. They told us we shouldn’t let him do whatever he wants (we really didn’t think we were, but I guess we were wrong). We went through a day and a half of tantrums with him, but our visit this morning went much better. He did not throw any tantrums when told “no”. He seemed back to his pleasant disposition and we hope we are through the worst (for now).
Throughout all these problems with Andrei, Vera has been a bright spot. She is a delightful child. She is content and happy all the time. She loves to be bounced and swing around (she will enjoy roller coaster rides with her Dad). When we go into her room to pick her up she goes crazy, she jumps up and down, hollers and waves her arms (what a great feeling…Dave no longer does this when he sees me now). She really, really loves her Dad. She loves to be carried around by him and have him blow bubbles on her tummy….she just laughs and laughs.
Everyday Life in Kazakhstan – May 9th, 2005
Thanks for all the e-mail, it’s good to hear from home! Many of you have asked questions about what it’s like here…I’ll do my best to try to describe it to you.
Some of you have asked what the music is like here. You are likely to hear just about any kind of music on the radio. The only kind of music I haven’t heard here is Country. I was surprised that Rap (Hip Hop) is popular here. They have MTV (it’s even called MTV). Eminem, Beyonce, and Britney Spears are popular. There are also equivalent homegrown artists (Rap in Russian is pretty interesting). You also hear Classic Rock, Jazz and traditional music….all on the same radio station. The traditional music is sort of like polka…accordions, mandolin-type instruments and odd percussion instruments (we saw a band that used something that looked like a boot as an instrument).
Our driver, Annatoli, loves Classic Rock. He’s very proud of his CDs. He likes the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Chicago. He was showing us his CDs and we asked if he bought them in a store (I asked this because the CDs did not have the band’s names on the labels). He said that he had bought them in a store, so I assume these CDs are pirated (I never had a sense of how big a problem this was until I got outside the U.S.). Dave and I went into a store that sold DVDs and CDs and I think everything in the store was pirated (robbing the artists and recording companies of their royalties). Dave and I bought Annatoli a Santana CD….he really liked it. It’s fun to hear him say "Black Magic Woman" with his Russian accent.
Live music is popular. One of the restaurants we like to eat at has a singer every night (the equivalent of lounge singer). We were in this restaurant a couple of nights ago and a lot of people were dancing and enjoying themselves.
I think we’ve been asked questions about the food more than anything else (this subject is very near and dear to my heart so I can understand that). Meat and potatoes are very popular here, especially shish-kebabs (shashlyk in Russian). The lamb shish-kebabs are terrific. Meat is inexpensive here and vegetables and fruits are expensive (in this arid region things like that don’t grow). We haven’t been getting much fresh fruit or vegetables and we miss them. Some of the restaurants serve "salat" which consists of tomatoes and cucumbers (really fresh ones). They have wonderful cake here….layered with nuts and frosting (very labor intensive to make). They also have great chocolate….the dark kind (it’s delicious).
It’s common to drink fruit juice, soda (Coke & Pepsi are widely available), mineral water or piva (beer) with meals. When you order something to drink, they don’t fool around….if you order Coke, you get an entire liter bottle. Tea is more popular than coffee and the coffee you get is instant (not worth ordering….boy do I miss Starbucks!). Grocery stores sell liquor. In fact, I would say that one-third of the grocery store is liquor…vodka mostly. They sell large bottles of bottled beer, but there is no such thing as a six-pack. Liquor and beer are very inexpensive (a large glass of draft is 57 cents). They have very good locally brewed beer (so they tell me).
Since we can’t read the names of any of the restaurants, we have nicknames for them (except Mario’s Pizza since their sign is in English). There’s the Ali-baba place (they have a little genie guy sitting on top of the entrance), the Uzbec place (ethnic Uzbekistan food), the barbequed chicken place, and Assorti (the sign sort of reads like that). Lots of restaurants have outdoor seating now that the weather has become warmer (it’s been in the seventies most days). For some reason, they charge you less to be served outside…go figure?
Most people have televisions here, but there isn’t all that much to watch (by comparison to the U.S.). There are things like soap operas, MTV, and game shows (a Russian speaking version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"). There are a lot of variety shows (something we don’t have much of anymore) and some old American programs. "Murder She Wrote" and "Baywatch" are aired regularly (with the Russian dubbed in).
There is a news channel, Caspionet, which has some English speaking news (sort of like CNN and the Weather Channel combined). The news is all national (there are no stories about local events) and very repetitive. You see the same stories for quite a few days in a row. The economy seems to be the biggest concern. The economy is growing very fast…according to their news, residential housing construction is up 68% in the last year (by residential I mean apartments that people own….there really aren’t single family homes at all) and inflation is a concern. Gas is very inexpensive though…$1.40 per liter.
There are several large, impressive theaters here, as well as an opera house. American movies are very popular, but I haven’t seen any movie theaters (people mostly rent movies). One thing that surprises me, is they have lots of casinos. They also have a lottery. There is a bowling alley down the street from us (we will have to go there sometime) and the children play cricket in the streets (occasionally you see soccer).
Most people do not own cars here, but there are lots of buses and many businesses run passenger vans to take their employees back and forth to work. People also do a lot of walking which is probably why you don’t see many overweight people. The most common car you see is a Mercedes. There are also lots of Audis, Volkswagons, and various Japanese cars. The models look a lot like the ones you see in the U.S., but the names are different. We have only seen three American cars here: a Jeep, a Lincoln Towncar, and a Ford (the model name was unfamiliar to me). Various Russian made cars are also common.
Riding in a car is exciting….people don’t really drive in lanes. They drive on the right-hand side of the road, but frequently crossover to the other side to avoid potholes (there are lots and lots of potholes). They painted lines for driving lanes on some of the main streets the other day and you could tell the drivers weren’t too pleased. Drivers honk their horns often and cars rather than pedestrians have the right of way (trying to cross the street can be a challenge).
We observed the police doing speed enforcement the other day. They stand along the side of the road with their radar guns and if you are speeding they wave a black and white striped stick at you…they tell me it’s called the "pazhalsta stick" (pazhalsta is "please" in Russian). If they wave at you, you are supposed to pull over to get your ticket (what a concept).
Everywhere we go we stand out because of how we are dressed. People tend to dress-up more here and they wear a lot of black clothes. (We think they wear black because the city is very dirty. There is dust and dirt everywhere and it gets all over your clothes.) Younger people wear very tight jeans and young women wear very high heels with pointy toes (the most uncomfortable shoes I have ever seen). What makes this even stranger is the sidewalks and streets are very torn up and uneven. You really have to watch where you are walking, the sidewalks all need to be repaired…there are open manhole covers and thousands of opportunities to break your ankle on every street. We walk around in our sneakers and people actually point and laugh at us.
The other thing that is very funny to us is that they really bundle up when it gets even a little chilly. They have very harsh winters here (temperatures go as low as -40), so this is surprising. Summers are very hot, but people don’t really wear shorts (or so our translator tells us). When we visit the orphanage we try to take the children out for awhile (its very hot in the orphanage) and if its chilly (say 50-55) they make the children put on two layers at least. They put a snowsuit on Vera when the temperature dropped the other day….the poor child must have been baking!
Letter 5. May 12, 2005.
It’s Official – We’re Parents!
We went to court today and the judge approved our adoption!! What an experience…never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be sitting in a foreign court for any reason. Lena, our translator, went with us so we knew what was going on, but it was kind of surreal. The director of orphanage was there, the children’s doctors, our facilitator, a court reporter (taking down everything by hand), a prosecutor, the social worker who interviewed us, and of course, the judge. We had to answer questions and make a brief speech about why we choose Kazakhstan, why we chose Andrei and Vera, and why we wanted so "large" a family (they think two children is a large family). I was a little nervous, but it wasn’t too bad and only lasted about 20 minutes.
Now the 15 day "waiting period" begins. I didn’t understand what this was before we came. There is a law that says all court decisions are subject to appeal for a period of 15 days. Despite this law (which really means the adoption is not final until it’s expired), the orphanage will release the children to us. The hotel where we are staying, however, will not allow children…..so our facilitator is looking for an apartment for us. Until she finds one, we will continue to go to the orphanage on the same schedule to visit the children (we have all dubbed this daily routine "ground hog’s day" after the Bill Murray movie because it’s the same thing over and over).
After the court proceeding, it’s traditional to hold a "tea party" for the staff of the orphanage. So, we had to go shopping for cakes, cookies, juice, wine, and of course, tea. Since the doctors and higher lever staff won’t mix with the caregivers, we had to hold one tea party for the doctors and the orphanage director and another for the caregivers in Vera and Andrei’s room. The parties were very nice…our translator attended so we could talk to the staff. We asked them questions about the children and their own families. We also wanted to learn their names and take their pictures, after all they were our children’s first parents. We want to be able to tell Andrei and Vera about them.
Andrei and Vera were allowed to attend the parties. Andrei was in awe of all the different food. He just sat there looking at everything and pointing to ask if he could have this or that. He ate two pieces of cake (yep, he’s my son alright!), cheese, cookies, bread, juice and whatever else we put in front of him. When I put the things on his plate I thought there was no way he would eat it all….but, he did. The doctors told us this is a common problem for older children who have lived in orphanages…they learn to eat all that is given to them (because there won’t be anymore until the next meal) rather than eating when they are hungry. They have a starvation mentality, they think what they are getting might be their last meal. The doctors said it takes the children a few weeks to get over this after they leave the orphanage and to be careful because they will eat until they make themselves sick.
We took Andrei to the circus this past weekend. He liked it, but I think it was overwhelming to him. As soon as they turned off the lights, he jumped into my lap! He enjoyed it, especially the clowns. During the intermission he was able to shake hands with one of the clowns….he liked that!
Monday was a holiday (VE Day) so the orphanage was closed. We went to watch the big parade they had here….it was interesting. All the veterans were wearing their medals around, including many women. Women are treated as equals (which is surprising considering the country is half Muslim) and many served in WW 2 and were honored with medals. We were surprised this holiday was such a big deal here, but it was fought on their soil so it was a lot different for them than Americans.
I would like to thank everyone for all the advice we received about Andrei….everyone seemed moved to send an e-mail….we don’t mind though, we need all the help we can get! He really is a sweet kid….we try to remember how hard this is for us, so it must be much, much harder for him. Several people cautioned us about making Andrei jealous of Vera. Thankfully, he shows no signs of that at all…after competing his entire life with other kids for adult attention he seems to have no concept of jealousy. In fact, one pleasant surprise is the children seem to genuinely like each other. Andrei kisses Vera and wants to share his treats with her. Vera is fascinated with Andrei (most little kids love to watch bigger kids)…she reacts to him the same way she does to us when she first sees him…she starts hollering and squealing with delight!
Andrei seems happy to be part of a family. One day I drew four little stick figures on a piece of paper and I told him one was Mama, one was Papa, one was Andrei and one was Vera…and that we were a family. I kept the paper because he likes to take it out and look at it over and over….he points to each of the stick figures and asks who they are and then he smiles.
Andrei is picking up a lot of English words. Thanks to Jan and Carol at my office for the Richard Scarry Word Book. Andrei looks at the pictures and wants me to say the words. He can say "shoes", "cat", and "dog". Of course he’s learned "no" and "stop" from me.
Only 28 more days until we can go home….while things are fine, we really miss home. We miss eating at Castello’s and our friends there. We miss our mattress. You wouldn’t believe the mattress in this hotel or should I say the lack of a mattress. There is only a box spring and no mattress. One of the American couples told us they almost went down to the front desk to complain they didn’t have a mattress on their bed the first night…we’re not really sure if this is normal. We’ve all just asked for extra comforters to sleep on…..hey, you make due.
Again, I want to express our appreciation for all your e-mails and prayers….it really means a lot! I can’t wait for you all to see Andrei and Vera!
Only 23 Days Until We Go Home - May 16th
Yes, we are starting to count the days. The longer we are gone the more I miss home. We continue to visit the orphanage twice a day. Going with the other couples makes it fun. We will hear about whether we will be getting an apartment today (we hope).
One of the really great things you see at the orphanage is the change in the babies once their parents start spending time with them…it’s quite remarkable. There is one British couple who is adopting two infants (a boy and a girl). The first couple of days they brought the babies into the visitation room they were like little zombies. They were stiff and stared into space…now they are moving around, interested in everything and talking baby talk. We have witnessed a miraculous change in their behavior! The attention and stimulation they receive from their parents makes a world of difference!
We’re not sure if Andrei and Vera have undergone the same conversion since they are older, although both their doctors say they have seen improvement. Andrei’s behavior has been mostly good on our recent visits. His tantrums don’t last as long and he has had fewer of them. One couple that is here brought their 4-year old son with them. Andrei has seen his parents giving him (the four-year old) bananas to eat. So, of course, he wanted a banana. We bought him one and he was thrilled!! I had to take it away from him when he had it half eaten because I was afraid he would choke himself…both his cheeks were full and he kept shoveling it in. As soon as he finished it he wanted another.
Vera has gotten very accustomed to being held and seems happy to be in our arms. She fell asleep in mine yesterday….what a great feeling!
Dave has been spending his leisure time doing word puzzles in this book he found among the items left by previous couples. Our adoption agency, Children at Heart, has this duffle bag (a cache so to speak) that gets passed from couple to couple which contains supplies and unwanted items left behind like books, videos, can openers, assorted dishes, a microwave, and a hot plate among other things. Dave found this book with word puzzles. Now he’s on a mission to complete all 76 puzzles before we go home (I think he said he’s done 57 of them so far).
On our daily visits to the orphanage we see the other children living there and we always stop to talk to them. We have given some of them nicknames. There is one kid that we call "Dennis the Menace". He always runs up to us and looks at us with this screwed up expression. Then he usually grabs either Dave’s or my hand and starts playing with Dave’s or my watch. There’s another child we call "Mr. Jolly" because he is not. I keep trying to get him to smile, but he won’t. He is the saddest looking child I have ever seen. I keep telling him someone might adopt him if he would smile, but he continues to scowl anyway.
Andrei is using a lot more and using more English words. He will repeat full sentences that he hears from Dave or I, although I’m not sure he completely understands their meaning. He can count up to six pretty well. He seems to like learning things. I don’t think he will have any trouble learning English.
We visited a museum last Friday. It was pretty interesting except we couldn’t read any of the little explanations they put under the displays. There was a picture of one American in the museum….Hilary Clinton (can you believe it?). She apparently visited here when she was First Lady. Kazakhstan has a pretty interesting history. The current President has been in office for a long time. In fact, he was President (or some other title) when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. He is in his last year as President (they serve 7 year terms and are limited to two terms) as an election will be held next year. Kazakhstan is one of the most stable countries in this region and has the strongest economy.
I will try to keep doing letters for the web site, but once we have the children full-time it will be more difficult (still not sure when that will be). We appreciate the e-mail, as well as your thoughts and prayers!
Our First Four Days with the Kids – May 21st
As you might have gathered from the slow down in photos and e-mails, we now have the children with us full-time. We were promised an apartment would be available for us this past Tuesday or Wednesday, but for some reason that never came to pass. When we showed up at the orphanage on Tuesday, they told us they had spoken to the hotel and that they would permit us to bring the children to stay with us in our room (explanations and rules seem to be fluid here and we are at the mercy of those who are paid to help us). They told us an apartment would be available soon.
We received no notice that the children would be released to us on Tuesday, so we were somewhat unprepared. We had bought clothes and shoes for them since the clothes belong to the orphanage, but we didn’t think they would be coming to stay with us in the hotel room so we didn’t have an opportunity to child proof the room or buy groceries.
The children’s departure was less dramatic than I expected it would be. I’m not sure the caregivers in Vera’s room knew she was leaving for good. Andrei was outside playing when we went to get him and all the other children and his caretakers waved good-bye. I felt kind of sad for him because while I knew he was really excited, I also knew he was leaving behind the only home he had ever known.
Andrei had ridden in cars before and was so pleased to be able to ride away in the same van he had seen us come and go in everyday. I’m not sure Vera had ever been in a car more than once (the trip from the hospital to the orphanage) and she just stared out the window and looked confused. When we arrived in our room it was mass confusion. As soon as the children set foot in the room they started checking everything out. Within two minutes Vera had pulled the plug to the coffeemaker out of the wall along with the outlet itself. Andrei was playing with the TV and looking in all the drawers. Both Dave and I were just following them around trying to keep them from destroying things…..mass confusion for sure!
In addition, it was one hour before lunch and we had nothing to feed them (we had decided to hold off shopping until we moved into the apartment). We had no choice but to take the children out to a restaurant. We had no idea how they would behave, but we had to eat. The hotel is a little distance from most of the restaurants we eat at, so we had to walk for about 20 minutes to get there. Andrei was sooo scared. He was afraid of all the people and kept giving me these pained expressions. Every store front we passed he pointed at wondering if it was our destination. I’m not sure he even understood whether we were taking him to get food. Once we got inside he calmed down. Thankfully, he was very well behaved and ate like he was starved. We ordered some mashed potatoes for Vera and she also ate like she couldn’t get enough.
They learn to eat large quantities in a very short time frame at the orphanage and trying to get them to eat slower is a challenge. If you could see the spoons they use to feed the babies (large serving spoons) you wouldn’t believe it. They literally pour the food (mostly cereal and mashed potatoes) down their throats. They have so many children to feed they can’t spend a lot of time doing it, so meal time is very fast and there are no second helpings.
We have been working on training Vera to eat from a baby size spoon. We have had to work to get her to open her mouth rather than just sip from the tip of the spoon. If you pause to let her breath while you’re feeding her she starts to cry. We can feed her a lot of food in less than ten minutes. We have also been reintroducing a bottle to Vera (this is important for bonding). At 18-months, she drinks (with assistance) from a cup.
With Andrei we have had to work on only eating until he is full (he has no concept of this). He won’t leave any food on the table. He has actually eaten so much he has made himself sick. After the first two days they both down their eating and Andrei now leaves food on his plate.
The first night in our room was tough. They (the orphanage, not the hotel) gave us a small bed, pillow, linens, and blankets which were supposed to be for Vera. An 18-month old as mobile as Vera cannot stay in a bed (they told us there were no cribs available), so we decided Andrei would sleep in the bed and Vera would sleep between us on the rock hard bed. Vera was easy to get to sleep, but Andrei wanted to sleep in the bed with us. Not only was there not room for the four of us, but our pediatrician warned us not to do this. The poor little guy was so upset and so scared. We both felt sad for him, but also knew we had to be strict about this or we would never get him in is own bed. We put his bed right next to ours and Dave laid on our bed and put his hand on Andrei’s stomach. If Dave tried to move his hand Andrei jumped up. We also had to leave the light on. He did eventually go to sleep. Neither Dave nor I slept much, but both the children did sleep straight through the night.
The second night we followed the same routine for both children (bath, read books and then to sleep) and he went to bed without any trouble. Andrei recites where all of us are to sleep each night now and points to the little bed and says it’s his. He needs some routine to begin to feel safe again.
Andrei really likes the new clothes we bought him. He has a Spiderman shirt and a Harry Potter shirt. He seemed to like our slippers, so we bought him some of his own. It’s quite a feeling for him to actually have things that belong to him. He likes to open up the dresser drawer and point to his clothes and say “Andrei’s” and then point to his sister’s clothes and say “Vera’s”. I actually cried when I bought them their first clothes. Whenever I think about the fact that Andrei is 6-years old and has never had anything that is actually his I feel so sad.
These children have the best personalities….Vera is so happy all the time it’s hard to believe. She sings and plays and entertains herself. There is a full length mirror in our hotel room and she loves to stand in front of it and dance around, singing to herself. She also loves the big bed. She seems to think it exists solely for her to roll around on. Everytime you put her down on it she giggles. She is just a delightful child. She seems to just go with the flow and not get too upset about anything. We’ve had no problems or concerns with her what so ever.
Andrei is also a delightful child. He is very friendly and says hi and waves at almost everyone. He is also a ladies’ man. He loves women. I’m not sure how, but he manages to get women to kiss him and hold him everywhere we go. He is a little timid around men as there weren’t very many at the orphanage, but certain men he will approach and shake their hands.
I took Andrei shopping with me today while Dave stayed with Vera while she napped. I’m not sure he had ever seen a mannequin before. He kept approaching them and saying hello and waving. It was soo cute!
We hope we will be able to get into an apartment soon. It’s a little difficult trying to live in a hotel room with these two children. We have to prepare some of our meals here, wash dishes, and do our laundry in the bathtub (using the laundry service is very expensive)….at least we have two rooms (a bedroom and a sitting room….with two really uncomfortable chairs). We are managing, but counting the days until we can go home (we will really appreciate out washing machine!).
The court decision about the adoption will be final this Wednesday, May 25th (the end of the 15 day appeal period) and then our facilitator will file all of the final court paperwork; new birth certificates will be issued; and everything will be translated into English (from what I can see this is all done by writing things out longhand….no one seems to have copy machines). All the paperwork will have to be hand-delivered to Astana (the capital) which is a three hour drive each way. This all takes about three to six business days.
Once all the documents are in order, we will travel back to Almaty where the U.S. Embassy is located. The children have to be examined at the SOS clinic and given approval by their doctors before they are allowed to enter the U.S. (this is mainly a check for infectious diseases). We also have to go to the Embassy to complete some paperwork and be interviewed. This all takes about two days. We could possibly leave as early as June 4th if we can get our court paperwork through in less than six days. There are only two flights a week from Almaty to Frankfurt, so if we don’t get our Embassy paperwork completed by Friday, June 3rd we won’t be able to fly out of Almaty until Wednesday, June 8th as originally scheduled.
Thanks again for all your e-mails and prayers! We feel truly blessed that you have shared this experience with us!
Finally, the Last Week - May 30th
Today they told us we would be leaving for Almaty on Sunday, June 5th. This means we will be heading home on Wednesday, June 8th as originally scheduled. We were disappointed it wouldn’t be sooner, but at least we know the date now. We will e-mail our travel agent in NYC and have her purchase plane tickets for the children (it’s cheaper to do it this way). Andrei has been asking us a hundred times a day when we will be leaving…he doesn’t exactly ask, he puts his arms out like a plane’s wings and says "America?" We keep telling him one week, but I’m not sure he understands.
Andrei has been learning English pretty quickly. He can now count to ten and he says several phrases. His first full sentence was "don’t do that"…I’m sure you can understand why. He and I have been doing a lot of shopping which he pronounces "schloping". He likes to ask: "Mama, Andrei schloping?" His favorite word is "tomorrow". I think because every time his asks to do something we say we’ll do it tomorrow……we are going to be very busy "tomorrow".
He spoke to his Grandmother on the phone a couple of days ago. He was so excited. He had previously asked me about his "babushka" (the Russian word for grandmother) before he spoke with her and I told him his babushkas were in America. When he got on the phone with Dave’s Mom he said "ahlo babushka!" Now every time we pass a telephone or the phone in our room rings he yells "ahlo babushka!"
During a couple of our shopping excursions, he asked if I would buy him a video cassette (cassita in Russian). Since we have a TV/VCR combo in our room, I bought him one (he won’t watch any of the English DVDs we brought for him). He selected "The Lion King". He loves it and its given Dave and I a break from having to constantly entertain him in the hotel room (not that I’m unhappy he doesn’t care much for TV). We have since purchased several others and I will bring them home with us. When I get back to the U.S., I’ll buy the same movies in English which should be helpful with learning the language.
We have had to be creative in finding ways to keep the children entertained in the hotel. Once a day (usually in the afternoon sometime) we let them run up and down the corridor outside our room (it’s really long)…the children think this is a riot and they scream while they do it (which is why they aren’t permitted to do it often). They also like to hide in the closet and peak out at us. Andrei likes to play dress-up with our clothes…he’s quite the little actor. He dresses himself in several items of our clothing and stands in front of the mirror and dances around. Vera can entertain herself for a good 20 minutes playing with our shoes.
We do try to get them outside two to three times a day and would love to take them to a decent playground, but the playgrounds are dreadful. There are lots of them, but you wouldn’t believe how much broken glass and equipment are on these playgrounds. One of the playgrounds actually has an old car with broken windows as part of the playground equipment. We still take them, but we cringe all the while we are there for their safety.
For some reason, people here are very disrespectful of their public spaces. The parks and sidewalks would be so much nicer if there wasn’t trash all over the place. The apartment complexes have large uncovered trash bins and animals drag trash everywhere. We are constantly scolding Andrei about picking up things on the street which is how he learned the word "yucky".
The other children we meet at the playgrounds are really nice though. They try talking to us and when I tell them we don’t understand Russian they just keeping talking anyway. This one little boy that Andrei made friends with was chattering on and on about something and every once and awhile he would say "Spiderman". He really didn’t care if we understood him.
The children have both changed some in the two weeks since they left the orphanage. They seem more relaxed now. They both had this franticness about them the first week. It was as though the fun would end at any minute and they were trying desperately to do everything. Maybe this comes from living on a very strict schedule for their whole lives.
Vera is starting to cry when she doesn’t get what she wants. (Crying didn’t yield any results at the orphanage.) Her disposition is still generally pleasant, but she is trying to make the crying work to her advantage. Maybe we didn’t see it at the orphanage, but we believe this is new behavior for her.
Andrei is well-behaved and pleasant most of the time. He has a couple of temper tantrums each day, but he seems to be listening better. We are trying to teach him how to interact with the other Americans who are here with us. We have been trying to teach him people’s names so he can call them by name instead of hitting them on the arm when he wants their attention. He has learned the word "somebody" (I think because when he hears a noise outside our room I tell him it’s "just somebody"). When we asked him what our friends’ names were and pointed to each of them he called every one of them "somebody". For some reason he thinks my name is "Dave". I’ve been trying to explain to him that’s his father’s name, but he’s not getting it.
It won’t be long and you will all get to meet the children yourselves. I can’t begin to tell you how much we want to come home! I can understand why people kiss the ground when they arrive home.
This will probably be the last letter I send. I’m grateful for all the support everyone has given us throughout this process. We deeply appreciate the help many of you provided to enable us to be away from home for so long. We especially want to thank Chris Jones for posting our letters and pictures to the St. Stephen’s web site. Being able to see the pictures provided a lot of reassurance to our family and friends.
Thanks also to Susan Townsend for getting the car seats, to Sheri & Paul Kisiel for watching our house, to my Dad and Betty for tending to our bills and mail, and to Rich Hunter for picking us up at the airport.
Your e-mails were a great comfort to us. They helped us feel less homesick. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to answer all the e-mails. Some I answered and suspect they didn’t go through (especially through the extremely secure DCJS firewalls).
Please understand how grateful we are for keeping our family in your prayers while God answered ours. See you soon!
Dave, Denise, Andrei & Vera Crates
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