Yesterday we awoke at 5 AM…well…that is sort of a joke because 4 of the 5 of us were already awake. Dominick and I awoke at midnight and kept trying to talk each other into going back to sleep, each one giggling and joking about the ridiculous mattress we were attempting to sleep on. Is this a morgue slab? Is this a concrete floor? We attempted to put blankets underneath us and finally gave up and got off the table..uh…I mean got out of bed…and played a computer game together in the dark. One by one Joshua woke up and got out of his crib (this is still funny to all of us!), then Kenny, and only Matthew was left in a deep slumber. I swear, that kid could sleep anywhere! But even he woke up before the alarm, and we are off and running again as we cleaned up the room, showered and repacked everything. I will give the Kazzhol 10 thumbs up for its wonderful shower. Best water pressure I’ve enjoyed in years and quick warm water. I was in 7th Heaven! Or maybe I was just so stinking tired by then that anything would have felt soothing.
Nikolai, our driver (I always feel so decadent saying that!) was at the hotel at 7:30 AM to pick us up, so we had a quick breakfast of the most interesting buffet you might have ever seen. Pasta and ground beef and onions was one selection, cooked cabbage and carrots was another, some mini cocktail weenies floating in something was yet another option. There were these wonderful little pastry pockets filled with lamb or beef (we think, could have been horse I suppose) and onions and I think they were called “Samsas” (correct me if I am wrong, Vegas). There were questionable meatballs of some sort, that tasted OK but I have no clue what kind of meat or what was mixed with them. There were also scrambled eggs and the usual assortment of tomato slices, lunchmeats, cheeses and fantastic small rolls. The bread around here, guys, is seriously a carb lovers dream…many varieties, all fresh and a staple at every meal. Jill, you’d love it!
As we were waiting for our meal, the young woman at the counter who had charged us so much the morning before called Dominick over and apologized, saying she had made a mistake and would like our receipt to credit us back $150 of the room rate. We did not have the receipt as Oleg had asked to keep it so he could go in and speak with the manager on Monday. Hmmm…wonder if the knowledge of this prompted this young lady’s sudden recognition of her “error”. Dominick offered her our credit card to issue the credit but she insisted she didn’t need it but did need the receipt. She said she would contact Oleg herself and correct the error. I’ll believe it when I see it on the credit card statement, but at least there is hope…and maybe she won’t pull this with other families again. Since we have had it happen to us twice there, I have to believe this is occurring on a daily basis with adopting families, and we would not have elected to stay there again if it wouldn’t have been for the fact that Oleg made the arrangements himself and it wasn’t worth making a fuss over. Team LaJoy is as flexible as they come, but being ripped off is not included in that flexibility!
We were off to the airport with 3 little chatterboxes in the back seat. Wow, a little sleep created Talking Monsters! Matthew was goofy and totally animated, Kenny was at his finest and Joshua was raring to go as they played hangman on the steamy interior windows and Matt’s phrase made me smile in the seat in front of them as it was “My mom is nice”. Things go smoothly at the airport with the exception of having our luggage double checked because of aforementioned handcuffs showing up on the screeners computer screen along with suspected bomb making material which turned out to be a couple of tubes of glow stick bracelets from the dollar store that we thought would be fun to bring along and share with the girls. Gotta admit with that combination I would have been suspicious too, as the tubes were similar in size to dynamite. Unfortunately here in Kazakhstan, even though Dominick and I found it sort of funny, no one here will ever outwardly grin at such shenanigans. But maybe they are smiling inside. We went through security screening #2, and there were 3 mom aged women there doing the screening, and they were all fascinated by the boys. I could pick up snippets of their comments which included something about America and Kazakh and understanding their curiosity I pointed at each of the boys and identified where they were from “Aktobe, Bishkek, Uralsk” and they grinned and the one woman said “American now” and I scored huge points and finally got big grins from all the women when I said what I truly feel “Kazakh, Kyrgyz AND American…always!”.
As we stood off the side waiting for our once again delayed flight, the boys were thankfully oblivious to the stares as it seems we were the main attraction in the secured waiting room. It is hilarious to see people, most often women, purposely walk by us so they can get a good look or hear the boys speaking English. It must be a huge curiosity for them! The boys have already adjusted to it, and walk around without feeling the weight of it. While uncomfortable at first, 24 hours of it and you become immune until someone is really going out of their way and being obvious.
We walk onto the tarmac to board our plane, and suddenly you are NOT in Kansas anymore. Mom…please stop reading right now, you are scared enough about airplanes! Don’t get me wrong, as we would never step on anything that we felt was unsafe and living where we do we are very used to flying in the little propeller planes so are perhaps less disturbed than others by the sight of those little guys, but this plane was SO dated. I felt a little as if we were thrown back to the 60’s with the décor as I looked up and the ceiling was some sort of mirrored surface the entire length of the plane…sort of like entering what I imagine the Playboy mansion bedrooms to look like and I half expected to see the bunny logo somewhere…hahaha! There were little white curtains over the windows, and the seats all folded fully forward, flopping around . At least there were no chickens or dogs on this flight. Yea, seriously, we’ve had that happen here before. Dominick kindly points out to me that there are no oxygen masks and we have no safety check before we take off, which surprisingly Kenny noticed and commented upon. No duct tape was holding anything together near where I was, but when I got up to go to the bathroom at some point during the 4 hour flight there was a cargo door flapping around banging against the side of the interior and Kenny and I both looked out and there was some sort of door missing off the side of one of the engines.
The flight was very smooth though, and we landed 4 hours later in Petropavlovsk, and thankfully didn’t have to endure our expected 6th flight as we flew on one of the 2 days a week they have a direct flight out of Almaty. FINALLY!! We are here!! We step off the plane and are greeted by a bitter cold the likes of which I have never felt. We later learn it is 4 below 0 here today, and out here on the runway there is a slight breeze which makes it feel as if it is more like 20 below. And yes, working in Gunnison for the past several winters I think I am highly qualified to make that sort of judgment call! Whew! We don’t have our gloves or hats as they are buried deep in one of the suitcases, but luckily it is a short walk to enter the terminal. The boys all have their hoods up so we don’t get yelled at by any Babushka’s for being bad parents, and I think we might be given this grace period for having just arrived from Almaty where it is not all that cold.
As we disembark the aircraft, there is a woman standing there who is wearing a face mask and shooting a thermometer gun at each of us as we get off the plane. When we have barely stepped into the terminal she speaks to us in Russian and tries to indicate something we are not understanding. “Ya ne panamayo” I explain “I don’t understand”, and thankfully we are quickly approached by Irina, our coordinator here who explains we are being asked to go in a backroom and have our temperatures taken as we are international visitors and they are checking carefully for swine flu. While we could have been disturbed by this Team LaJoy just shrugs and trudges along behind her where we are taken to this tiny little office and asked to sit down…5 of us on 3 chairs…and they record our temperatures, our names and birth dates…and Irina explains to the woman about the boys being adopted. All is fine, of course, as we are currently not carriers of the Plague (glad we weren’t visiting this summer!! HAHAHA) and we were released and allowed to go check for our baggage. I stand there making small talk, getting to know Irina a little and what a sweet young woman she is! She is 22, very beautiful, and an English teacher in her off time of working for the agency. She teaches 16-17 year old young men at a sort of “second chance” school and she said they don’t really want to learn and I laughed saying “I bet all they want to do is flirt with you!” and she laughed with me admitting that was the truth! Then we joked about it being a good way to at least keep them in school.
We had two small cars to carry all of us and our 5 big suitcases and backpacks. She actually said she was surprised we didn’t have more and I apologized explaining that with 5 of us and the boys being in school we had more than was usually necessary…one full suitcase held snow gear and boots (which would be exhorbitantly costly here) and another was filled with school materials for 3 boys for 5 weeks or more. She said she thought we did pretty well considering all of that and most Americans would have had more for 5 people this long! HAHA!
We were in a hurry, as she is working with the other family here pulling double duty so we rushed to the Iceburg Store, which is “the” grocery store here and is about the size of the Great Clips haircutting salon across from our Walmart. We needed groceries before we were dropped off so we sped through getting what we could think of quickly to get us through a couple of days. We learned there is another smaller store within easy walking distance to our apartment and we will shop there next when we can take our time and plan out some meals. The boys were so helpful, pushing the cart and being quiet as we tried to figure out what in the world certain things where. Irina helped us find ketchup so we could have it with potatoes and eggs…but there were no potatoes. We grabbed eggs, a tiny carton of milk and some sort of corn flakes, 2 small cartoons of juice, 4 small cups of yogurt, a huge bottle of water, some spaghetti but no sauce (We’ll figure that out later), butter, frozen strawberries, 2 loaves of bread and some cheese…and a cooked rotisserie style chicken. Added to that 6 cans of Coke Lite, and we were ready to go. $6500 tenge later ($37 US) and we were out. Ouch!!
We had been warned prices were steep, but I don’t think we were prepared to find it to be that expensive. I think the chicken was what cost so much, but there was no price on it we could find and we didn’t know what sort of facilities we would have to cook with so needed to just get some food for the hungry boys we were toting along. We brought along 9 packages of beef jerkey, 8 or 10 packages of tuna, 4 packages of cooked chicken, 3 boxes of Rice-a-Roni and some mixes for water to make lemonade, etc. We will be supplementing our groceries we buy with what we brought, and I am quickly wishing we hadn’t ditched so much of the other items we had bought hoping to pack with us. We all may complain about Walmart for various reasons, but once you are in a place like this you begin to understand just how much their buying power and size in terms of dominating the market keep our prices so low. We have become accustomed to rock bottom dollar prices on our groceries and other items, and without that sort of monstrous distribution system and buying power available, the consumer pays through the nose!!
We pile back into the 2 cars and head off to find our new home for the next few weeks. We drive to the end of town near the Regional Boarding School, where the girls reside, and up ahead I see some fairly new apartments I recognized. Irina informs me that this is where we will be staying! We are literally 5 minutes from the orphanage which is on the outskirts of town, so we are not really within walking distance to anything, but it is convenient for other reasons. We step out of the car and walk up to the 2nd floor where our apartment is, and WOW! We scored a beautiful apartment!
We are paying $70 per day which is SO much less expensive than the Skiff Hotel here (well over $200 a day) and we have an incredible amount of space, considering our previous apartment stays here or compared to a hotel room. It has one nice sized bedroom, 1 bathroom with a tub/shower and sink where the tiny washing machine resides, and another tiny little cubicle where the toilet and another sink is. There is a big living room with a chair, a love seat and a couch which all pull out to make 3 cute little beds. There is a TV with a DVD player which works on US videos, and even a little stereo! There is a large foyer which creates a feeling of spaciousness. The kitchen counter and stove are small and about the size we are used to in these apartments, but the room itself is much larger and there is a small booth style table with bench seats which will fit all of us nicely. We have a couple of pots to cook in, some dishes and silverware, a microwave and a small fridge. Perfect! Dominick and I both said that this feels far less like “indoor camping” than we have felt in the past. We actually have hot water and it doesn’t come out brown out of the faucet! No boiling water for baths!! No being afraid of washing our clothes for fear of permanently damaging them! This place will definitely feel like home for us and already does.
The only down side at all is that we have The. Slowest.Dialup.Internet. Connection.Ever. At least we can post, and we’ll try to send a picture or two at night when it might be a bit faster. But it is better than having no internet at all as in trips past!
We set to unpacking everything, finding places for things to live for awhile, and store the suitcases out of the way on the enclosed balcony outside the living room. School books are stacked up, a load of laundry has been started and will be hung up on the drying rack and placed over the hot water pipes to dry, and we lay out our first meal here in our Petropavlovsk home. Chicken and bread, with cold milk and a well deserved Coke Light for Dominick and I.
We made it!!! We all say a hungry prayer of Thanksgiving for our safe arrival, for being settled, and for the special day we look forward to tomorrow. Everyone eats with gusto, and then we all settle in to watch a movie or read. I try to make it until 8:00 PM to help break the jet lag, but end up rolling into bed at about 8:00 PM. And here I sit writing this at 3:00 AM in the morning after taking over the computer from Dominick after HE was up! Tag…you’re it…my turn…and he drifts on back to bed to see if he can manage to get another couple hours of sleep. I will head there myself as soon as I finish this.
And later today is it. Irina will set up a meeting with the office of the Ministry of Education for our interview, and then it is off to the orphanage. I asked Dominick how he was feeling about everything and he said it all feels like exactly what we are supposed to do, that this was intended for us for a very long time. I am supremely calm about it all, and very much where I have always been at this stage which is very reassuring. That alone is an indicator to me that this is right for us, that there are no last minute jitters, no over the top anxiety OR excitement.
Instead I am reminded exactly of how I felt the day of our wedding. We had dated so long before our Big Day finally arrived, and had known literally from our 1st date that we were one day going to be man and wife, that the marriage ceremony itself was sort of an afterthought. We had made the commitment to one another years ago, and were already married in our hearts long before ever saying “I do”.
Without quite being able to express it, that is how this feels. I have been their mother in my heart for years, as they have been our daughters in their hearts as well. We all know it, we all have patiently gone through the motions to get to this day. But nothing would ever have taken away what we all know to be true…that we are meant to be connected for life, that they were born to someone else, but are ours. Always have been, always will be. No judge can change that, no distance has changed that. And as I sit here writing these very words, I realize that this gift of certainty is the greatest gift I have ever been given…it has come into play with every step of building our family. All is perfect in God’s timing, and the years of delays perhaps only strengthened this resolve.
As I sit here in our quiet little home-away-from-home anticipating another “biggest day of my life”, I am stunned at how calm I am, how very normal this all seems. No giddiness, no jumping-up-and-down with excitement, no skittishness. What I am waiting for, what emotion I am hoping sweeps over me sometime in the next day or two is…”rightness”. 2 ½ years ago I wrote a post about our first face-to-face encounter titled “The Rightness and Wrongness of Life”. In it I poured out my anguish and heartsickness about walking away from children who unexpectedly (Or maybe not…I half expected that gut level response but was hoping to prove myself wrong) revealed themselves to be ours.
I have spent 2 ½ years since then agonizing over that lack of “rightness” in our lives, over the “something is missing”. I have spent holidays wishing for their presence, birthdays far away, and learned of their tears over our delays while being out of reach to comfort.
Today…finally...that all ends.
And the beginning of “rightness” begins.
Thanks be to God, peace is at hand.