We arrived at the airport on Thursday morning after a quick visit at the orphanage so Angela and Olesya could each pick up some letters they had left behind. Then it was off to the airport where we caught up with Yael and Jean-Christophe who sadly were leaving on a bittersweet note not having been able to accept the referral of an infant as they had long hoped for. All is not lost though as they hope to return soon.
It was hard for us to say goodbye to Irina and Alexander whom we have come to care about and who were so kind to us. On our last day there Alexander brought us a gift bag with Kazakhstan chocolate bars and Irina has known of our desire to find Kazakh items for the boys and happened upon 3 little ties with the Kazakhstan flag on it and gave them to the boys as a going away gift. We have been blessed so often to work with really wonderful people on each of our adoptions, but this time being here 2 months it felt almost like we had settled in for the duration, and we felt we were leaving part of our family. What makes it harder is that you get to know people so well during a very intimate and powerful time in your life, and you know it is likely you will never see them again. Irina and Alexander both were terrific, and we will never forget them.
It was funny boarding the plane with all of us, figuring out what seats were ours, grouping us all up as we went through security and had passports scrutinized. It is less like traveling as a family and more like traveling with a tour group!!
The girls were not at all afraid, Angela asked to sit next to Matthew and that seemed to reassure her enough not to worry about her first flight. Olesya's face was fill of awe as she felt the plane take off and watched the landing gear fold in. It was a short flight though, and before we knew it, we were landing in Astana where new adventures...and the Oborn's...awaited us! It was so funny being halfway across the world and seeing familiar faces as we came out from getting our luggage. We just seem to be following them across Kazakhstan!
When we arrived at our apartment we were pleased with the amount of space and the set up we had. It is working well for us, the kids are all sleeping on the floor on mattresses similar to the ones Aigula is making in Kyrgyzstan for John Wright, and we have enough glasses and plates for everyone here :-) We also have high speed internet now, which is stunning to me after being on dial up for so long.
We were met by Zhanara later in the afternoon, and she wasted no time in helping us learn more about the city. First stop was a grocery store so we could get food for the evening. Eating out here is a lot more expensive than in Petropavlovsk and although there is a nice variety of places to go we will not be partaking of many of them. Maybe it is buying meals for 7 too that makes it feel that much more expensive.
So we grocery shopped, and again someone was surprised at how much we bought. Simply buying a few days of groceries is far more than most here can do, so buying for 7 for 5 or 6 days was a little overwhelming for her! Plus I think many who come do eat out more because it is easier to find recognizable foods, etc, So off we went with our 6 bags of groceries and our 3 jugs of water. We did the 5 minute drop off and Zhanara was quite impressed with how we did it all so quickly and efficiently with no complaint from any of the kids about helping.
Then it was off to Baiterek Tower, which is a beautiful tower here that is 97 meters high to commemorate the year Astana became the new capital of Kazakhstan in 1997. It is really beautiful inside and out, very unique and we had a fun visit. It is the one place where I think I felt our connection to this country the strongest. At the very top of the tower is a platform where there is a hand print in bronze on a pedestal of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's hand.
For those of you who do not know it, Kazakhstan has had only one President since independence from the Soviet Union, and he is generally beloved as he has done a lot for his country. The first 10 years or so many were not so sure as it tales a lot to pull a country out of being a former soviet republic to being an independent nation...that is a process years in the making. But now the sentiment is strong from anyone we have asked that he is a good President and has done much for Kazakhstan. Changes are coming, people are now seeing the results and are a little worried about who will eventually follow him and if it will be someone who has a vision for all their country can be.
Standing in the top of the tower with the golden late afternoon sun streaming in, seeing my children who come from this amazing country, I couldn't help but feel a sense of tremendous gratitude for the person who was their first father in many ways, President Nazarbayev. It may sound silly, but this man allowed us to have a wonderful family, he made sure to the best of his ability at the time that they were fed and clothed, that they were given an education, and that they were given the chance to become part of a loving family. While I hope that one day Kazakhstan's orphanages are empty relics of a day long past, Dominick and I both will be forever indebted to this great nation.
When our tour guide, who spoke English, was helping us and learned of our somewhat confusing family history, she arranged for them to stop playing the background muzak and play a song of national pride with words written by President Nazarbayev as each child placed their hand in his handprint. I had heard in the past that they did such a thing but they were not doing this on the day we visited with others, so it was sort of special.
And I couldn't help but think that Kazakhstan has not lost any of it's children, instead it has sent off it's best and brightest who were hidden from their countrymen to go off and make their mark in the world and represent this country in amazing ways. Each and every adopted child from here is a gift not only to their parents, but to the community of which they become a part. They are far better ambassadors for Kazakhstan than the very fictionalized version most American's saw in the movie "Borat".
We then took a quick tour of the city via car where we saw some of the most amazing architecture I have ever seen. Extremely modern and risky design concepts were used throughout the city with new construction, giving it an almost Vegasy feel but with a bit more class. After being to Aktobe, Uralsk, Petropavlovsk, Bishkek and even Almaty, Astana has just the "feel" I had hoped it would. One of great promise. It is modern, it is vibrant, it is alive with hope. It was so important for us to leave here with the images of this place etched on our hearts, for we can see the Kazakhstan of tomorrow. I realized the impact it really made in at least of one our kids when just a few minutes ago, as he was drifting off to sleep on the couch behind me Matthew said "Mommy, I am going to miss Kazakhstan." and I asked "Why is that, Matt?" and he softly whispered his answer "Because I will miss being where I fit in, I will miss my birth country because it is beautiful even in Petropavlovsk and I know I will not be coming back.".
We ended the day gathered around the kitchen table eating a simple meal of ramen noodles and bread after having had late afternoon snacks. Our second night together and frankly, we felt pretty darned comfortable with one another. Oh sure, there was the awkwardness of showers and where we all changed clothing. There are the old habits of washing out your own underwear in the shower then handing it dripping to Mama who tried to explain that we have a machine to do that. There was the moment I handed them each a stick of deodorant and asked that they use it and they didn't quite understand what I was getting at.
But there has already been a ton of laughter as well as we played Blackjack for Tenge on the floor here in the apartment. There has been learning new words of English including "stinky" and burping exhibitions, there have been giggles as...of course...we have had doors opened accidentally on boys in underwear and girls changing into jammies, and Angela's "Oy!" cracks us all up.
All in all, I don't think our first days together could be going any better if we had planned it. The kids are all growing closer, no one is being left out, everyone is being patient and compassionate with one another, and there is a playfulness in the air much of the time that I had not expected. The boys have done a phenomenal job setting a good example, as we had explained just how much the girls would be looking to them for cues, and they have made a big point of immediately doing whatever we ask, settling down quickly if things get too chaotic, and if we have had to correct Angela or Olesya on anything, even gently, they all 3 are saying to the girls "Nyet Angela, Nyet Olesya, listen to Mommy and Daddy." It makes all the difference in the world to have the social pressure of fitting in with the family rather than having the boys take advantage of the situation themselves and try and see what they can get away with.
I am still a couple of days behind but am exhausted and need to get to bed, Thank you for your prayers for us, it has made all the difference in the world.