Whew! We are finally here! Things are going well so far, and I need to catch you all up. We had no internet access yesterday and we still can't get our laptop configured correctly, but our new hotel here has access in the lobby so I can at least blog. I'll try and upload photos in a bit. Here are some highlights thus far:
1) We had a harrowing time at the passport control in Kazakhstan as they pulled us aside and questioned Matthew's Kazakhstani passport. It had expired, but we had received an extension from their embassy in the US, so it had a special stamp in it reflecting that. Well, there we are stnading off by ourselves at Passport Control with an agent who speaks no English, and she then leaves her booth to get her Supervisor. Meanwhile, every other passenger has cleared and we are concerned about our driver from the hotel thinking we had not arrived on the flight after all and leaving us behind. So we wait...and wait...and wait...and finally the Supervisor comes out and brings an interpreter and says that Kazakhstan does not allow dual citizenship and questions why we have two passports for him. Well, on this I am quite clear we are correct, but I wonder how in the world we are going to clear this up with him, as ultimately he is the Boss at the moment. We keep our cool and wordlessly Dominick and I both seem to agree that an attitude of nonchalance at this point is the best route to take, so we both feign slight indifference about the whole thing...all the while our hearts are beating 900 beats per minute thinking to ourselves "What are we going to do hear?". Smiling I explain that adopted children from Kazakhstan retain dual citizenship until 18, when they can renounce one or the other, which he did not know, obviously. I also quickly thought to point out that we had already entered and exited the country using Matt's Kazakhstani passport once before when adopting Matthew...and he then quickly turned to the other pages in his passport to verify what I had said, and thankfully that resolved it..after about 20 minutes of sweating bullets! If we hadn't been able to show a previous visit, I have a feeling we might have had a looooong night ahead of us as guests of Passport Control!
2) We had not even boarded the plane in Frankfurt when it already started....the stares. I had forgotten how intense the scrutiny was on our family when we went to adopt Josh and brought Matthew along...the stares EVERYWHERE were a bit unnerving, and this time is no exception as we are watched everywhere we go when either of them opens their mouth and fluent English tumbles out. Matthew is very aware of it this time, and although I tried to prepare him for it he felt a bit uncomfortable at first, but 2 days in and we all seem to be once again growing immune. It is not the same as in America, where we are still not exactly anonymous but at least there are smiles accompanying the stares. Here NO ONE smiles until you get to know them, and then they are actually very warm and friendly, but life is so difficult here that there really isn't much for them to smile about so it is seldom seen.
3) Almaty has changed a lot from our last visist amd it is obvious things are improving there, but as we drove out of Almaty this morning to cross the boarder from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan it was also obvious that things haven't changed really all that much...it is a veneer of prosperity but there are still millions of people living well below the poverty line, hauling water in large talks to their homes, old woman hawking their meager wares on street corners trying to make enough money for that days loaf of bread. It is heartbreaking to see that even here, the rich will get richer and the poor seem trapped in poverty...a level of which is virtually unknown to the average American.
4) I no longer feel like a stranger in a strange land. Upon arriving in Almaty and walking down the streets, we felt very comfortable (if you take away the "stare factor" about the Kazakh kids with us who can't speak a lick of Russian!) and strangely it has become to feel somewhat normal to be surrounded by people here whose lives are very different than ours, whose language we don't understand.
5) Kyrgyzstan, and particularly the area of Bishkek we are in, is almost identicle to Kazakhstan except Dominick and I both noticed the enormous amount of trash everywhere we walked today. Bishkek doesn't feel at all like Almaty, but in fact feels more like Aktobe or Uralsk, the far outlaying cities that Matthew and Joshua are from.
6)The boys...wow...have they been incredible travelers! I overheard a woman adopting from Kaz who was on our plane speaking with her coordinator at our hotel in Almaty, and she was saying she was amazed at how well behaved "those two little Kazakh boys" were, that she hardly knew they were on the plane. They have done so well with all of this, even though Matthew and I are suffering badly from jetlag that hasn't yet improved...we are both up at 2:00 AM this morning, snuggled on the couch watching a movie as Joshua and Dominick slept like rocks, gee...go figure that one :-) We never did go back to sleep, so you can imagine how tired we really are and it isn't yet improving. Also, I have caught some sort of bronchial thing and feel pretty lousy at the moment so I am hoping it clears up quickly and doesn't get worse...I can hardly speak right now!
7) The Hotel Kazzhol in Almaty....hmmmm...what can I say about a place that messed up our reservations, charged us $230 a night instead of the $150 we had been promised...and then, get this...we sleep on box springs...only...no mattress...and every bed in the hotel is like that! Dominick declared that he now knows what it is like to lay out on a morgue table, this was ridiculous and the floor would have been better! I don't get how they think the box spring is the "real" mattress, but needless to say we wouldn't recommend staying there to anyone else even though the food in their restaurant was recognizable and actually fairly good. The rooms were very nice, but can't really get past the beds.
8) Saule, our Coordinator - She met us as we arrived at the hotel, and what a warm and kind woman she is! Love her already! It was so obvious she felt she already knew the boys, and actually does from representing us in court and knowing all of our paperwork backwards and forwards. Although residing in Kyrgyzstan, she too is Kazakh and I think felt an instant affinity for the boys...she could hardly stand it and after about 2 minutes bent over to give each one a warm hug and kiss, and kept grinning at everything they said and did.
So, on to the Big Show tomorrow!! I admit I am feeling butterflies a bit as we are now this close to enveloping Toktogul into our family forever. This is such a huge step for all of us, and regardless of how strongly we feel he is ours the nerves are jangling a bit :-) We leave at 7:30 AM tomorrow for his orphanage and have a full day seeing 2 of his orphanages, getting paperwork done...and staring at one another as we all try and figure each other out. How quickly will the ice be broken? How stilted will this feel? How ready is he for this...and how ready are we? As exhausted as I already am from jetlag and morgue sleeping, I doubt that will improve much tonight. They put a fold out couch and small single bed in our room for the boys along with our double bed and already Matthew said he is sleeping in the bigger bed and that Toktogul gets to sleep with him....so I guess he is ready for this!
Please think of us all tomorrow as we begin this last leg of our "pregnancy". I guess the time has come to yell "Push...push..."!!!