After we got settled in on the plane, the pilot informed the passengers that the flight to Almaty was going to be relatively short, again likely due to the strong tailwind: only 6 hours to travel the 3800 miles. Fortunately, I managed to get several hours of solid and uninterrupted sleep. Unfortunately, Julie didn’t, and this definitely factored into today’s events.
On arrival into Almaty, we herded into the immigration and customs area, were cleared by immigration easily, and went to wait for our bags. Within a few minutes we were approached by an American woman who asked if we were Sam and Julie, and introduced herself as part of a couple returning for their 2nd trip to adopt a child from Almaty. They had read our blog and had recognized us from the airport. We were introduced to another couple who where also here for their 2nd trip (for their second Kazakhstani adoption). While waiting for the bags, we swapped stories and exchanged phone numbers. As opposed to last time, where all of the families that we met were in the very first part of their adoption process and all dealing with the anxieties associated with the legal proceedings, this time it much more relaxing to meet other Americans since we were all further along in the process and as a group had a better understanding of what was going on.
We opted to completely (and legally) ignore customs this time thereby eliminating the horrible harassment that we received on our first trip, and within minutes spotted Nikolai who helped us get through the gauntlet of taxi drivers that lines the only way out of the baggage claim area. By the time we were out of the airport it was about 6am and it was still dark outside. It’s cold here, but no more so than Boston, and here there’s evidence of a recent snow. Because there was absolutely no traffic on the roads, we made it into town in relatively short order. Along the way, Nikolai told us (as best as he could with our limited Russian and his limited English), that there was a lot of snow in Kostanai and as a result, Anika and the head nurse weren’t flying but rather were coming by train. We had heard that the train from Kostanai to Almaty took two days, and so we asked Nikolai when he thought that Anika would arrive. Both of us just about fell over when he told us that she’d be arriving at 9:00 am! We had planned on taking Sunday and most of Monday to recover from the travel, gather up the various supplies that we’d need (diapers, food, stroller, etc.) and be ready to meet her at the airport tomorrow afternoon. Instead, we realized that we had just a few hours to get prepared.
We were at the Hotel Kazzhol by 6:30 and as we were pulling in, so was another van, which just so happened to contain the two other American couples that we had met at the airport. It turns out that not only are all of us staying in the same hotel, but all of us are on the same floor, within 10 doors of each other. We got into our rooms as quickly as possible, unpacked, and cleaned up. Because she had barely slept the entire time we’d been traveling, Julie was desperately in need of a nap, and so I ended up trekking out to the grocery store to stock up on baby items. Despite the gray skies and deserted streets, there was something very comforting about returning to Kazakhstan. It was nice to see familiar sights and feel comfortable in a place that it so obviously foreign to me.
The grocery store was fairly empty making me just about the only customer – this meant that I was asked (in Russian) if I needed help no less than a half-dozen times. Fortunately, I knew enough to be able to make people realize that I could get around just fine. Five thousand tenge later (in diapers, baby wipes, baby food, milk, juice, yogurt, and bottled water), I headed back but was waylaid by the woman making fresh bilinis just outside of the grocery store door. For 200TT, I ended up with a stack of piping hot bilinis just as my empty stomach was starting to make itself heard.
On returning to the hotel, Julie and I made quick work of the bilinis and decided to go out in search of breakfast – we didn’t realize, until we had walked around for 10 minutes – that there was a breakfast buffet included with our room. So we headed downstairs and settled in to enjoy a spread of eggs, various meats, fruit, and of course, instant coffee. I got up to get a second cup of coffee and was returning to the table when I noticed that Julie was no longer there. Not knowing what was going on, I put down my coffee and looked around and wouldn’t you know it – Oleg, Saule (the head nurse) and Anika were standing in the door from the hotel to the restaurant! Hardly the Hallmark-esque reunion scene that I pictured, but who cares!
Anika looked great, if not a little shell-shocked at both of us rushing up to her to say hello. It didn’t take too long for us to realize that she didn’t quite remember us the same way that remembered her. It was quite clear that she was still very attached to the caregivers at the Delphin House (and for good reason). I downed my cup of coffee and stuffed another bilini into my mouth and followed Julie and Saule upstairs. Once back at the the room, we unbundled Anika had a look at her — besides being all hot and sweaty form being bundled – she was also a little fragrant from the long, long train ride. We gave Saule two full suitcases for her return to Kostanai: one containing a bunch of baby clothes for the orphanage, and the other containing a bunch of the medical supplies that we had both gathered over the past month. We’re sending back spinal needles, bone marrow biopsy needles, stethoscopes, another BP cuff, boxes of suture material, children’s vitamins, antibiotics, and assorted surgical supplies. We asked Saule to please give anything that looks like it belongs in an operating room to Dr. Sultan at the Cancer Hospital, while everything else can be kept for the orphanage.
Within about 10 minutes, Saule and Oleg were ready to go. We asked some final questions about her sleeping and feeding schedule, and then it was time to say goodbye. Anika was crying real tears, which made us both appreciate even more the depth of her feelings for the people who have done such a remarkable job of caring for her over the past 8-1/2 months. We have no doubt that she will grieve their loss at the same time that she learns to adjust to us, her new home, and an entirely new environment. It’s quite a challenge for a anyone to have to face, let alone a little baby, but I am confident that she’ll be up to it, and I hope that we’ll do a good job in assisting her.
Once Saule and Oleg left, we realized that all three of us were now completely out of sync, and that it was now time for everyone to start figuring out how to get back on schedule. The day ended up being a blur of very messy feedings, long bouts of consolation, and fragmented sleep. It’s much harder to take care of a baby when you don’t have the comforts of home or even our little apartment in Kostanai. We have no way of boiling water, no microwave, and only a very small refrigerator. Anika had to make the switch from regular hot meals to milk warmed under the hot water tap, and room-temperature baby food. At one point I ended up putting her in the baby carrier (which, by the way, she really seems to enjoy) and walking her around the hotel. I was on my second lap – across the second floor, down the stairs, around the lobby, up the stairs and across the second floor – when I ran into a couple with a little baby also in a baby carrier. It took about two seconds for each of us to realize that we were in the same situation, and before long we were being introduced to Dana and __ and their new baby Tanya. We chatted for a long while, with Anika staring intently at Tanya. it turns out that we saw Dana and her husband on the flight from Almaty to Kostanai way back at the end of September. They ended up adopting from a town outside of Konstanai and had a very, very different experience from ours. They stayed the entire time, meaning that they’ve been here for 9 weeks! Fortunately for them, they didn’t have to endure the separation and then re-orientation, but on the flip side, they sound like they’re really ready to get home.
By 6pm all three of us were fairly exhausted. We broke up the afternoon by taking a walk to a cafe near the supermarket that I visited this morning. Julie’s fatigue got the best of her appetite and so I was left to nibble on her chicken shashlik after filling my stomach with a bowl of lagman and a pot of tea. We also hit the grocery store again for some additional supplies (more bottled water, laundry detergent for hand-washing, and some more juice for Anika). For the most part, Anika was very quiet, watching everything intently as we walked down the streets and walked through the stores.
Once we got home, we decided that it would be best if all of us tried to get some sleep. With some work, we managed to get Anika to sleep in the crib that the hotel provided for the room, and then both of us were asleep by 7:30p. Anika was up once around 10:30p, and then managed to sleep the rest of the night through (if, by “rest of the night through” you mean until 5:30 in the morning).
I apologize for the lack of photos but between everything, my much beloved camera has been relegated to the camera bag in favor of my holding my much beloved little girl.