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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!
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