Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Kazakhstan Overload

It has been 2 1/2 months, and I have finally hit a wall.  I am done, I want to go home, and I am on the edge of losing it about every half hour when we are out in public.  I am not proud of this fact at all, and am ashamed to admit it.  I am so profoundly grateful to live in America where everything works right, where life is not so stinking hard to get anything accomplished.
Part of it is not anyone's fault.  There is no great set up here to live with a family of 7 and not have things a little more complicated.  We have to have 2 cars for everything we do, which means 2 taxis sometimes or a taxi and a prepaid driver.  We don't speak the language which is our own darned fault but it makes it terribly frustrating to accomplish the simplest task. 
But I don't know how to explain it well other than to say so much here is archaic and set up to make things harder rather than easier.  I am not the only one who thinks so, everyone who lives here says the same thing but they can't escape it so they just do whatever is required.
For example, yesterday we had a 15 minute argument with a coat check dude at Babylon because Kenny didn't get a tag for his coat when he dropped it off.  They didn't want to give it to us.  Never mind that his two brothers were standing there in the exact same coat, or that the tag was obviously in English or that his name was written on the tag.  So we stood there and stared at this chick who seemed to take great pleasure in ignoring us after telling us with gestures we were not getting Kenny's coat without the tag.  We call over a supervisor who has a walkie talkie and calls someone else who appears by gestures to be eating, then walks away indicating someone would show up eventually who could maybe help us.  We stand there some more, we argue some more, I begin to get a little hot under the collar at the stupidity of the situation and my own personal boiling point almost being reached had me feeling like I wanted to walk behind the counter in all my American arrogance and totally deck this power hungry coat check chick.  We called over the supervisor, Mr. Walkie Talkie, and again he basically waved us off...then Dominick raised his voice and the guy decided Dominick was not someone he wanted to tick off and finally had the girl fling the jacket over the counter at us.
Stupid.  Totally stupid.
I am tired of taking cameras to museums and being charged to take photos so why bother to take it.  Then on top of it all, Dominick dropped our expensive Canon Rebel camera today and broke the auto focus lens which will cost a couple hundred bucks to replace.  It works, sort of, in a grinding, sticking sort of way.  It was an accident but a costly one and one we can't afford to replace anytime soon.  I just hope we don't find the camera itself was damaged too or I will be totally sunk.
Then I fell again today, after having fallen a couple days ago.  That one didn't hurt, this one has ached all day long and was on my bad hip which I hate saying because it makes me sound so darned old but I have arthritis badly in one hip and I slipped on the 5" of ice that is everywhere in the stinking world and slammed that hip onto a curb.  My shoulder hurts too.  There is virtually no where in this entire country that is not covered in thick ice and walking is perilous.
I am frustrated to no end trying to find a simple item but not having a regular store with departments to go to and find it.  You have to wander the acres and acres of 15x15 inch indoor stalls to find what you want as nothing is categorized or organized and if you want to find...say...a spoon...you have to look through hundreds of vendors to find a spoon.
I want to throw my curling iron and hair dryer through the wall every single day because we have to use adapters that make everything fall out of the wall and not remain plugged in...and then when you go to unplug it the outlet comes out of the wall and dangles there, wires exposed.  Every outlet.  Everywhere.
I am extremely fed up with being charged more for every single thing because we are walking American targets with a big "We are from America, that means you think we are rich" sign on my forehead.  Then the Kazakh person walks up next to you and gets charged half the price you were just charged for the same item.  It also makes you angry to get charged for things you should never be charged for at all...like taking your kids ice skating but you get charged $10 yourself just to enter the arena and watch your kid from a seat on the sidelines.
It makes no sense to me at all that every single restaurant has a menu that seems to be arbitrary and you have to make at least 5 selections in order to get one of them, as it seems that whatever is listed on the menu falls more into the category of "we'd love to have this every day, and once in awhile we just might have it but we think it is a lot of fun to watch you order a bunch of different things and we get to hide our laughter as we say we are out of that today".
There are no real sized trash bags in this country.  For 2 months with a family of 5 and now 7 we are using tiny Walmart sized plastic bags for our trash, which is not all that bad I supposed until you realize that many of them are made of far worse material and won't hold anything without it spilling out the bottom on your feet.
No one is on time, ever.  And not off by a little, but by hours.  You hurry up only to wait an hour or two for them to call you and tell you they will be by in another hour. Central Asian time is it's own Twilight Zone of time.
Laundry for 7, 10" deep washer and no dryer.  Need I say more? And yes, we are wearing things more than one day.  There isn't an open space in the apartment without someone's scivies hanging there and the washer has never stopped other than when we have left the apartment, and we still can not catch up enough to have clothes for the few remaining days of our trip so we don't get overcharged at the hotel laundry to do up a set for everyone/
I like to wear my shoes in the house.  I hate taking them off at the door and tripping over them.  Multiply that by 7 pairs of shoes, plus 7 pairs of snow boots in a tiny apartment hallway.  Then trip over them every single stinking time you walk by.
We have yet to have a bedroom or bathroom door that shuts.  Clothes washers are in the bathroom, but guess what, no outlet is in there so the extremely short cord is run through the doorway and is so tight you can't really easily undo it for fear you will never get it hooked back up.  And our bedroom doors either are not plumb and can't close or have no real door handle hardware and the thingie that sticks out to go into the door jamb so no one has any real privacy as they are changing clothes or showering.
I am so, so, so, so tired of being cold.  I am tired of waiting outside for taxis for 20 minutes when it is 20 below.  I am tired of my body aching because it is so cold.  I am tired of snow gear for every exit of the apartment for all of us....all the gloves, scarves, jackets, snow boots...trying to find them, trying to make sure no one freezes in the terrible cold.  I am sick of the clucking  and muttering of babushkas who let their disapproval be known about the kids not being bundled the way they think they ought to.
Being followed around everywhere we go when in a market or store because they are either watching us like hawks so we don't steal or are totally in awe of 7 of us traipsing around is growing old quickly as well.
And to top it off, we learned that despite our bad experience at the Kazzhol coming in and even our last trip 2 years ago with Kenny, our coordinator still has us staying at Ripoff Inn...Oh...pardon me...The Kazzhol.  So, anyone willing to make a wager on how much it will cost us for 7 people there for the privilege of sleeping on a box spring for 5 nights with my now awfully painful hip???? And no, we did NOT receive the credit we were promised from our 1 night $500 stay there on our way in to Kazakhstan.  Not that we expected them to live up to their word.
Ahhhhhhhh...you have no idea how much better I feel just getting that off my chest.  Now maybe I can get through these last few days without ripping someone's head off.
On the bright side, we have the best kids in the world, you know that?  We all went for hours today without eating after a super light breakfast as the food department is purposely running low here so we don't waste money and leave stuff behind. Not a complaint was heard, they all were real troopers, and we even had a lot of help packing and organizing with everyone taking care of their own backpacks, helping find loose items, and pitching in to clean and make dinner.  We played cards again, and now everyone is in Electronic Heaven as they are watching DVD's behind me on the floor.  We have some remaining clean up to do tomorrow, and Kenny has another quick recheck at the hospital again for his eye, then we are off on a 3:45 PM flight to Almaty and a little warmer climate. 
Angela let me kiss her good night on the cheek last night, so did Olesya.  It's a start.  Joshie crawled in bed and whispered with me awhile this morning.  Always tender and sweet.  The girl's complexions are starting to clear up a little with frequent showers and hair washing, and they smell GOOD these days!  Laughed a ton when the kids all scrambled for the can of Cracks when we got home and were starving to death and most of the can was crumbs.  Stupid Newly Adopted Kid Adjustment Humor has included a ton of physical humor about gas and burps.  I mean lots of it.  Glad to see the kids all bonding over anything.  And yes, the girls burp better than the boys.  No I won't allow it too much in the future but for now potty humor works well. 
And I have had a couple of moms with older kids from the RBS who have been friends for years offer tons of great support via email.  It helps so much to hear of their experiences, to have companionship on this crazy ride, to have good solid suggestions and encouragement and "me too's".
We will try and blog as we can while in Almaty, if the business center is open and the internet is working and it is not 10,000 tenge per minute.
We did have one stroke of good luck in learning an extra flight has been added coming into Montrose and so we come in around 6:45 PM on the 14th instead of dead last at 10:00 PM.  That will be a nice treat for us to get home earlier.
That's about it for now.  We grow weary, we regroup, we take in a very deep breath, we move on to Phase 3.
Almaty, here we come!


Kelly and Sne said...

After having lived in Russia for 2 years, I can TOTALLY related to every single item on your list. If it makes you feel better - they are all things that I look back at and laugh about today. Also, I have a theory about the coat check girl as we encountered that attitude a lot in Russia (from waitresses who were "too busy" to bring our food to airline reservation agents who couldn't find an open seat on a half empty plane). I think that communism took away personal power for collective power. But human nature is such that individuals need to feel that they are important. So people - especially service people - flex their personal power muscles to make themselves feel more important than they really are. Many times a little verbal genuflecting that recognizes how special and important they are does the trick (sure beats a bribe!). Hang in there - home is coming soon!

Tammy said...

Soon and very soon it will all be over. Hang in there! Safe travels!

Bill and Cathe: said...

Dear Team LaJoy;

Hang in there! You're entering the Home stretch now!

Still a couple hurdles to go with Embassy and Medical stuff, but they're minor compared to what you have already overcome!

I found that standing a little taller (as if 6'3" wasn't already enough) and speaking a little louder seemed to overcome the challenges. Especially when I tried out some basic Russian phrases. After spending hours observing, I came to the conclusion that is just part of the culture.

We didn't visit Astana on our trip but did see a special on the Discovery Channel about building the city out of nothing. What an adventure you're on! Almaty was very family friendly, with a lot to see and do (as long as the weather cooperates).

Warmest regards!
Bill, Cathe, David and Kate

Mary from TN said...

"...Newly Adopted Kid Adjustment Humor has included a ton of physical humor about gas and burps. I mean lots of it. Glad to see the kids all bonding over anything."

This made me LOL as our newly adopted 15 month old belly laughs when he or anyone else passes gas or burps!

Hang in there! It won't be long til you'll be in Montrose again.

Mary from TN

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh as I read your post - except for the snow, it sounds exactly as I felt when we were close to leaving romania, even though I left my heart there. It maybe hard to believe but one of these days it will not only be funny but a found memory.

Hang in there you, you will be home soon.


Kathy W said...

I can remember when I was in Kaz getting my son the restaurant in our hotel had only one English menu and no English speaking waiters. They'd get a Russian version and count the pages and then count down to see what we wanted. It was sometimes kind of frustrating while we were there but wow do we enjoy the memory now.

Anonymous said...

Hi LaJoy family. I've been following your blog as I am also adopting from Kazakhstan. I just returned from my own adoption adventure in Karaganda.
On my way home, I was introduced to a new hotel in Almaty that is very comfortable and very reasonably priced. Check it out at this link http://www.renion.kz/ if you are looking for an alternative to the Kazzhol.
Happy and safe travels,

Colleen from Canada

Don, Michelle, Zachary, and Alexander said...

We hit that wall for our older son's adoption as well and feel your pain. Just thinking about it brings it all back. While we loved our adoption experience, there is no place like home. We are all thinking of you and wishing you the best of luck in your "home stretch".

wilisons said...

Hotel Alma Ata may work well for you. They have 2-3 room suites. I know several people who stayed there and liked it. It is across from the Opera House.

mom to 2 Kaz kiddos

Anonymous said...

No shame--even on the best of vacations, short ones with no emotional rollercoasters, good weather, good food, etc. there are times when some of us hit the wall, yearn to be home, do some comparison. Speaking personally, I have never been gone as long as you have with as many people in as cold or dark or...glad we could be there for you to clear the air. Delighted you are on your last leg--home--not last good leg or last breath of air.

On the plus side you have myriads of fans awaiting your arrival. Temperatures here are in the 20s-40s. The birds are singing that the sun is lasting longer, and spring will come. Robins have been sighted--early. Calving has begun. You will all be able to play outside when you get home--unless winter clamps down again, which it often does in March.

We'll pray for you--all of you--and for the people in Kazakstan who can't leave and learn to endure.


Anonymous said...

February 14th -- how wonderful for your coming home day -- Hang in there, you just have to tough it out for a few more days -- you all are carried on the wings of so many prayers from around the world, I wonder if you really need the airplane?

Your post brought back so many memories of Aktobe 9 years ago, also in February:

Walking across the icy, windy tarmac carrying our precious babies,

Visiting the city history museum, taking loads of pictures for the kids' photo albums, and then finding out we had to pay per picture,

A three hour delay boarding for the flight to Moscow, with no information whatsoever about when we might leave (wait a minute -- that happens here too!)

The intense cold, and tired of being inside all day

Being frowned at if the children weren't bundled up enough --BUT -- we got home, and I had the kids out in the stroller with light clothes to get sunlight which they needed and guess what? A neighbor stopped to kindly tell me I needed to bundle them up!

Sending you lots of love and prayers,

Peggy and family in Virginia

Kim Adams said...

Ahhh yes, you sit down, finally figure out what to order, begin to salivate and get your heart set on it, manage to clumsily cross the language barrier, only to be told they're out of that food (and find that they're ALWAYS out of that item). I hear "white tax" (or simply foreigner tax) is a fact of life in many places. And being followed around in stores drove me really crazy until finally someone explained that it is what they consider good service here - to be available to answer questions, take anything you've selected to the counter, etc. Not sure if it's the same in Kaz. Hang in there, you're almost home!

Anonymous said...

In Almaty I have experienced most of what you describe and can certainly relate. It makes me crazy to have a crowd gather when I'm in the market. I've had beggars literally pushing up against me with their hands stuck in front of me as I tried to make purchases or just chatted with the vendors. The electrical outlets were so aggravating as I'd suddenly realize that my curling iron was no longer hot because the plug had fallen out. Walking on ice was not fun. The funniest thing was when a young lady in spiked heels took my hand to help me walk across the ice in my snow boots!

Hang in there. You are in the final stretch. And it really is true, "there's no place like home".

Debbie in VA

Anonymous said...

Last night, I went back to read more of your blog, of the very difficult days when you wondered if the girls were wanting to truly come home with you.

I could totally relate to the fear that comes with not knowing your child, though I never had to deal with wondering if they truly would become my child. I can vividly remember that kind of fear. It's not the natural way of things to not know your child, and it is very scary. When we met our second 4yr old son in Guatemala, I was truly afraid of his energy and hilarity. It was hard to get his attention, he was feeling so free to do as he pleased. I wondered if he would listen and learn to obey us. Keeping him safe was a big concern, watching his nearly total lack of self-control those first minutes. Our first son was much quieter and subdued upon meeting us. This one was bouncing off the walls. What was God thinking? He knows me. Why would He ask me to try to handle an out-of-control boy? I can laugh now, but I was frightened enough to ask my husband, "Do you think we can handle him???" Yet knowing it was too late to back out! Hubby, on the other hand was thinking (he told me later) how much fun it was going to be having TWO boys flying at him! Men. We still have a very busy son. He's had his share of "troubles", both with Mom (even Dad) and at school. But he has a sweet heart and is truly repentent when he forgets to first use his head. He is maturing.

You know from your experience how time changes these children brought to us later in their lives. I am so thankful you do, as these young girls deserved the love your family has to offer them. They are so blessed to be in your family, and you already know they will bless you...even as they challenge you to new ways of thinking about love, loss, and commitment. Our agency called us "seasoned parents". Maybe after eight children that is so. Not expert, but experienced. I've made many mistakes, but loving to talk (did you notice) helps us sort through difficulties from many angles, in order to communicate it to our English language learners. You are certainly seasoned, too. Your open, honest communication with your children will be one of the solutions to the girls' adjustment, I am certain. In reading your blog, I've been reminded more than once to ask my children more questions and listen to their hearts more often. In the daily living in a large family, I can become quite the drill sargaent. That's certainly not who I want to be, and not the picture of Christ I want them to have.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Me again. Did I mention I like to chat? This isn't the first time I've been told by a comment page that I've typed in too many characteres. My solution, if editing is too painful, is to make two comments out of one very long one!

In reading your posts, it was amazing to see how quickly your family worked through all those difficult, confusing emotions and came to the place of "family" I'm sure it seemed like many, many long days to your family, but it wasn't many posts later and you were experiencing the boys' beautifully thought out family celebration, complete with candlelight and rings.

God has been at work in all of your hearts at a fast and furious pace! I know He will continue to be your strength, as you deal with the differences and frustrations of life in a foreign country. Just imagine what amazing things the girls are going to encounter in YOUR country! I'm am continually amazed at all these older children can adjust to. It's a testimony to God's working in their hearts and in all of our lives, to help them accept all that is new and challenging in their lives.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and challenges during this great "adventure." Your very thoughtful communications with your sons and daughters during those rough days was inspirational reading. I will pray, as we did for our older girls when they came home, that they will gain language to very quickly communicate their emotions and thoughts to you. In only a few short months, ours were able to express their feelings and concerns, which helped immensely. Our newest daughter told me one day (home maybe a couple months)in exasperation and anger, "You all the time tell me what to do!" God inspired me to look shocked and to ask her, "Didn't (name of director of their orphanage) tell you? That's what a mother does. She tells her children what to do so they learn and can stay safe." She mulled that over in her mind, her eyes large and round with a look of surprise. It was as if a lightbulb went off right then. She was crying, I was crying, and she reached over and hugged me and said, "I love you, Mom." That was a huge breakthrough! She is not a huggy child and still resists hugs, but we do it anyway. She has given me a run for my money, and after two years is finally choosing to give up some of her means of battle. You are so right. It takes love, committment, and time.

Nancy in the Midwest

Allison said...

Sending prayers and good thoughts (mmmmmmmmmmmm) your way and hoping that the few remining days pass quickly and quietly. You've had the strenght and courage to get this far and I'm confident that you will be able to hang on just a little longer. You will all be home soon :)

All my best,

The Robeys said...

Hang in there Cindy! Hopefully they will put you in the new section of Kazzhol. We had a very nice room there this summer, however, we were only a family of 3! I would avoid the hotel internet and use one of the internet cafes nearby. The connection was useless and expensive at the hotel. A few blocks up the street is a big mall with an internet cafe on the top floor in the food court. Good Luck

Mary Sue and Nick said...

I empathize with you, Cindy - we were in KZ for 9 weeks, the last part of our trip spent in Almaty & the Kazzhol. We have a lot of priceless memories, certainly, but we were *so* ready to be back in the good 'ole USA, to be home. I so remember the 1 English menu at restaurants with items they just didn't have, being weary with language/communication, how simple things sometimes took such effort. I also clearly recall my breaking point, sitting in tears in front of a ticket agent trying to arrange for flights out during the '06 world cup (seats not together with a new 1 & 2 yrs olds, splitting us up on different legs of the flight back, etc). When she worked it out finally, I think I hugged her.

Hopefully the weather in Almaty will be beautiful/warmer, the beds will be comfortable, and you will have a chance to meet up with other Americans there (we were fortunate at the Kazzhol on that front).

Thanks again for continuing to share this amazing journey of Team Lajoy.

warm regards,
Mary Sue

Tricia said...

I can totally relate to what you posted (minus 4 kids and the winter weather - we traveled in the summer). Even though I look back fondly on our 3 month experience in Kazakhstan, this reminds of the things that made it tough to live there. I remember feeling those frustrations. They sure make you feel so much more appreciative of the things at home once you get back home and being able to communicate in English again. Congratulations on adopting your girls. I've followed your blog sporadically months apart and just checked in to find that you made it to Kaz. Good luck with the rest of your trip.

Maureen said...

I am so impressed with how long you have been away from home. It is so hard to be away from everything and everyone you know. Just remember this feeling as the girls struggle when you arrive home. I remember that after we got our son, the only thing I wanted to do was go home!!!!! And we didn't have to wait nearly as long as you have (just days).

One thing that I can totally empathize with you on is the language. I felt like we should have learned more Russian too, but it is such a difficult language. It is soooo hard to not be able to communicate with others.

Hopefully you feel better after your venting. :-)

CO.Kolbs said...


I have been following your blog recently. BOY do I REMEMBER those days. I laughed at the memory of the outlets, and the stares of the babushkas!! I thought for one second that hubby and I just had a bad experience, but reading your blog made me understand that its part of the Kazakh life. I remember feeling like we landed in Disneyland when we finally arrived in Almaty! The apartment we had there was so much better than the hotel or the flat in Karaganda! Hang in there!

Julie (Kazakh mommy in Montrose)

CO.Kolbs said...


BOY do I remember those days!! I have been reading your post for afew weeks now. I LOL when I remember those outlets, and the babushka's stares. And the time when our apartment door (the deadbolt) just came off and crashed on the floor, locking us out of our apartment.I remember feeling like we arrived in Disneyland when we got to Almaty! Hang in there!

Julie (another Kazakh mommy in Montrose!)

Anonymous said...

And to think that I was feeling that way after just two weeks in India! You have been a bastion of good sportsmanship on your trip.

Lori said...

Prayers for you to feel some lessened aggravation!!!! You're almost there (or here, rather!!!)

qmiller said...

Time to come HOME!! : )

Kim Adams said...

Nancy's comment about the need to acquire language for feelings reminded me of a book we really enjoyed: "How Are You Peeling?" (Freymann). I'll send it to you.

Kimberly said...

I don't know how you have lasted this long! Sounds exhausting! You must be so excited to come home! Praying for smooth travels!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that you're "human".....you are doing so many things that are "super human" !!!!!!

Carrie DeLille said...

You've all been troopers, my friend. Hang in there....just a little bit longer and while you're on that lengthy plane ride home, re-read this ....it'll make the plane ride feel like a breeze!!

Praying for you :o)