Category Archives: Legal Process

Embassy Day Update

We just got back from the US consulate and we are very happy to announce that we are finally coming home!  It’s hard to believe that we are 48 hours (plus the 11 hour time change) away from the end of this entire process!  We now have all of the documents necessary for Anika to become at US citizen — all she has to do is land in the United States.

The whole consulate process was actually interesting.  It turns out that the US consulate is on the 17th floor of a seventeen story office building that is otherwise non-descript (that is, it looks like all of the other high-rise buildings here in Almaty).  Security to get into the building is just as draconian as it is for getting on a flight.  Maybe a little more.  You can only bring one small container of liquid (e.g., a sippy cup), and you can’t bring in any recording devices, cell phones, etc.  We couldn’t bring in any bags whatsoever.  You go through a magnetometer, and have to check in with your passport.  You’re escorted by armed guard everywhere – to the elevator, from the elevator, down the hall.  The door to the waiting room was like a bank vault door, with two guards at the entrance.  All business is conducted through bulletproof glass windows and microphones, all under the pictures of the smirking Bush, the scowling Cheney, and the sinisterly squinting Condi Rice.  Truth be told, I’d rather see another picture of Nazurbaev.  But I digress.

Apparently all of the adoption interviews are conducted at the same time, so when we arrived, we saw about 6 other babies and their newly adoptive parents.  I chatted briefly with a woman had just adopted a little girl from Kyrgyzistan but had to come to Almaty because we don’t have a consulate in that country.

The whole thing took under an hour.  We filled in a one-page adoption survey where we were asked a number of “customer satisfaction” type questions, such as what agency we used, who our Almaty coordinator was, how much the process cost, how much travel cost, how much other expenses cost, did we have complaints or problems along the way, etc.  Then we went to a window and paid our fee for the visa, and waited to be called for our interview.

The interview was very brief – and more of an informational session than anything.  We were told that all of our paperwork was in order and that there weren’t any problems.  We signed a handful of documents: the I-600 petition, a certificate saying that we’d vaccinate her on our arrival home, and her visa application.  We were given Anika’s Kazakhstani passport with her US immigrant visa, her new Kazakhstani birth certificate, and a number of the original documents from her file.  We were also given a large brown sealed envelope that is to be hand-carried to the immigration office at her point of entry to the US.  We were congratulated by the consular officer and then sent on our way!

We made a stop at the KLM office on our way home and managed to change our flight to Friday morning, meaning that we’ll be back home by Friday evening!  Anika is clearly delighted, as we are.

Tomorrow we’ll get wrapped up – some last minute shopping, packing, and early to bed.  More soon!

Embassy Day!

Things continue to go well here in Almaty.  We are anxiously awaiting our interview at the US Consulate this afternoon.  According to our Almaty coordinator, Oleg, everything is OK with the paperwork, meaning that if all goes well, we’ll have our walking papers before too long.  I have decided that if there is enough time to make it to the KLM office this afternoon, I’m actually going to see if it is possible to get onto the Thursday morning flight.  Despite the fact that this would mean rushing to get packed up and off to bed in time to wake up at 4:00 am (not a problem for Anika) tomorrow, it would be entirely worth it to get out of this hotel room and into our home.

Truth be told, for what this is, we’re actually very lucky.  The hotel has a restaurant in the basement and the room service isn’t half bad (although you only get an English speaking person on the line about half the time).  The location is also good: close to restaurants and stores.  Plus we have two queen-sized beds, a bathtub (not Anika’s favorite, yet), and a crib with enough room to be able to walk around.  However, as I mentioned before, the tiny fridge, no microwave or teapot, only sporadic internet access (one-time, one hour connection for 700TT), and the fact that Anika still requires 3 naps/day means that we’re stuck in the room for most of the day.  We’ve been working hard to figure out her routine and her cues.  We’ve definitely learned when she’s hungry, and that we had seriously underestimated how much food she could hold for the first couple of days.  Now we know that she needs a substantial breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and a substantial dinner in order to be happy.  We definitely her good mood emerge once her belly is full.

Sleep-wise, we’ve managed to get her to sleep through the night, with occasional late-night arousals.  Last night we got her to sleep around 7:00 and she stayed mostly asleep until about 6am.  Then, to my surprise, she hung out in bed with us for about 45 minutes more before wanting to eat.  I don’t think that’s so bad given that it’s only our 4th day with her.  Figuring out the nap times when we have different things to do during the day is bit more of a challenge.  For example, as I write this, we’re probably going to have to pack her up and leave in about an hour, but despite an hour’s walk around town and some quiet play, she’s standing in her crib pretending to be Galileo as launches every pacifier and toy over the side of the crib while happily babbling away at us.  We’re hoping that she’ll sleep now so that she doesn’t lose it completely when we are traveling to and from the consulate (not that it isn’t entirely entertaining to listen to, and watch her, do all of these things).  As I said, it would be worth it to get home as soon as possible, just so that we can begin to recover from the jet lag and get her on schedule.

She definitely seems to be re-attached to us.  From the way that she’ll sit and stare out our faces as we hold her in the carrier, to the way that she stands at the crib and smiles back at us, and especially the way that she’ll crawl into our arms while we’re playing with her, it seems that she’s truly happy around us.  This doesn’t mean that I think that she’s completely recovered from the separation from the orphanage and her regular caretakers, but I’m a lot less worried about her being comfortable with, and bonded to us as her parents.  As promised, I finally had my hands free enough to get some good pictures of her in all of her glory.

If we don’t leave until Friday, then I’ll go and visit the Almaty Postgraduate Medical Institute tomorrow.  Yesterday I had a fascinating (and unexpectedly long) visit at the Scientific Center of Pediatrics and Children’s Surgery.  The trip was arranged by Dr. Azhar Nugamanova who works for the ZdravPlus project, which is a medical assistance project organized through USAID.  The hospital was outside of Almaty in what looked like a poorer residential district.  I was picked up by a USAID driver and the trip took about 45 minutes.  On arrival, I was greeted by Dr. Alzhan Salpynova, who is one of the hospital’s pediatric gastroenterologists.  She had fairly good command of English, and served as my translator and guide for the trip.  After dropping off my bag and coat in the physician workroom (a very small office with 4 desks and a couple of computers), I was told that the head of the hematology department was busy and was offered a tour of the hospital.  Much to my surprise, the hospital was less modern than I expected, but not surprisingly, I was told that it was “undergoing renovation”, which is what I’ve been told about every other hospital that I’ve visited here.  I was shown a number of wards, including the hematology ward.  In Kazakhstan, the hematologists treat malignancies of the blood and bone marrow (leukemia) as well as non-malignant conditions (aplastic anemia, ITP, hemoglobinopathies, etc.).  This is different than in the US where oncologists treat leukemia.  The ward I was shown was pretty big, and very crowded.  Between the two hematology wards, they had the capability of holding about 40-50 patients – the entire hospital has about 250 beds.  Most of the rooms on the hematology ward were doubles or triples, with beds for the parents along with beds for the children.  There were a small number of laminar-flow isolation rooms.  Interestingly, there was a community dining area, as opposed to the in-room dining that is standard in the US.  I was also shown their activity room which was well-equipped and very crowded.  Outside in the hall I came across a group of boys who were playing with a miniature pool table.  Theirs was the one and only picture that I took (with the boys’ permission) during my time at the hospital since I ended up being busy talking to so many people.

miniature_pool

This hospital is one of two pediatric hematology centers in Kazakhstan that is equipped to treat children with leukemia.  As such, children from all over the country, as well as from nearby countries, will come and stay for the duration of their therapy, which can sometimes be many months time.  This facility sees about 80 new diagnoses of leukemia per year, and about 600 new patients per year (all blood disorders combined).  The government covers the cost of both the hospitalization, the medications, and the transportation.  Parents (usually the patient’s mothers) stay in the hospital with their children.  Kids with leukemia who complete their induction therapy and go on to receive outpatient treatment  can be cared for by pediatric hematologists in the larger towns and cities in their home region (oblast).  I asked about the numbers of pediatric hematologists/oncologists in the smaller cities and towns, and was told that while there weren’t enough, there was some available in the larger regions.  With regard to solid tumor patients, I was told that children with solid tumors are cared for at a different hospital in Almaty.

Kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) here are treated according to the German BFM protocol.  When I enquired about survival rates, they told me that their 5 year survival rates were about 70-75%.  For acute myeloid leukemia (AML), their survival rates are only about 50%, but this rate is higher than I expected given the more intense chemotherapy required, and the fact that AML patients are at much higher risk for relapse.  Right now there is no capability for either autologous or allogeneic stem cell transplantation, but I was told they hope to have this capability in the next year or two.  From what I understood, doctors here will often travel to other countries to learn these techniques – for transplant, they will probably go to Israel to learn.

I was subsequently taken to the radiology department where I was introduced to their “CT doctor” and shown the CT scanner (Toshiba).  I was told that in the new hospital building that’s being constructed, they’ll have a new CT scanner (Philips) with a digital imaging system instead of their current film-based system.  They also told me that when this new building opened in 2009, they would also have an MRI machine as well.  From radiology we next went to the neonatal ICU where, pleasantly, conditions were much better than in Kostanai.  There were a number of brand new isolettes and ventilators, and I was told that this hospital had the ability to support premature infants as small as 600 grams.  Surprisingly, I was told that in the near future, Kazakhstan will adhere to WHO guidelines and attempt to resuscitate and save premature infants as young as 22 weeks gestation.  While I didn’t have a chance to see them, the hospital also has wards for gastroenterology, trauma (including burns), general surgery, and two “reanimation” units (ICUs).  Alzhan, my guide, took me to meet her mentor, Dr. Mashkeev, clearly one of the senior doctors in the hospital.  Both doctors are very interested in celiac disease and are looking for any international collaborators to assist with their research and the care of their patients.  They peppered me with questions about celiac disease, which is about as far from pediatric brain tumors as you can go, and as such I felt bad that I had little to tell them about what was available in the US in terms of diagnosis.

Before long, it was time for me to give my talk.  For reasons that remain unclear to me, of the topics that I offered to speak on (based on the previous tumor boards and talks that I’ve given over the past few years), they asked to hear about Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), an uncommon disease that is only somewhat like cancer (it’s an interesting disease where a certain type of immune cell proliferates in bone or skin).  I had a chance to describe the current treatment protocol that we use for treating this disease, and despite the fact that this hospital sees only 3-5 cases per year, they seemed very interested based on the half-hour long question and answer session that followed the talk.  From what I gathered, one of the bigger problems here is the limited laboratory capabilities.  While they have CT and ultrasound imaging, doing cytogenetics and immunohistochemistry is a problem due to lack of access to specialized reagents.  Hopefully, when I get back to the US, I’ll be able to dig around and see if there’s any assistance to be offered by companies that make some of the antibodies used for diagnosing this disease in tissue sections.

After the talk, I had a long visit with Dr. Kulyan Omarovna, who is the director of pediatric hematology.  We spoke at length about the treatment modalities available here, the types of diseases they see, and the directions they want to go in the future.  Then, to my surprise, she ended up presenting me data from three very challenging clinical leukemia cases, seeing my opinion.  One of the patients – a 15 year-old girl from the southern region of Kazakhstan who has been impossible to diagnose over the past month of her hospitalization – sounded to me like like she needed a bone marrow biopsy to make a definitive diagnosis.  You can imagine, then, how shocked I was when Dr. Omarovna asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing the biopsy on the patient myself.  She even went so far as to bring me the needles and the anesthesiologist!  Having been previously told that it was not possible for me to see/treat patients here (not that I would’ve minded doing it), I demurred as best I could, and was ultimately saved by the anesthesiologist who told me that since the patient had already eaten, it wouldn’t be possible to anesthetize her until much later.  I sincerely wish that I had better command of Russian, because there clearly is a great deal of need her for additional expertise and assistance with some of the more difficult cases.  Nevertheless, I told detailed notes on all of the cases and told Dr. Omarovna that I would contact the leukemia experts at my program and see if they had any advice to offer, and then relay that information to her by e-mail.

By the time I got out of there, it was nearly 2:30pm and I still had a long car ride back.  By the time I got to the hotel, I’d been gone for 6 hours, meaning that Julie had been single-handedly taking care of everything for that entire time.  When I got to the room, I could tell that she needed some relief.  She must’ve really had her hands full, because I learned later that after ordering room service she inadvertently gave the waiter a 2000TT tip (about $16) instead of a 200TT tip (about $1.50) for her 1000TT lunch.

For the afternoon, we packed Anika into the carrier and took her for a walk, and then fed her and took the post-meal good mood as an opportunity for us to head down to the restaurant for an early dinner.  It’s amazing how quickly we’ve gone from the dinner-reservations-for-8pm couple to the alone-in-the-restaurant-at-6:00pm family in 4 days.  Nonetheless, Anika was in a great mood during dinner, and we both managed to eat a proper meal and have a much-needed drink.  We were happy to eat in the bar area but were moved by the hostess to the main dining room because the bar area because the bar area could be a little cold and was “not good for baby”.  At dinner, we realized that Anika was beginning to understand the concept of gravity as she began to purposefully launch her toys onto the floor with obvious delight.  Afterwards we decided to try the bottle/book/bath/bed routine, leaving out the bottle and the book for now.  She wasn’t particularly thrilled about the bath, but she tolerated it, and once she was fed, washed and changed, she was feeling good and we enjoyed her playfulness and managed to get her to sleep in short order.

The next installment will hopefully be stories of packing our suitcases, or even better, will come from Schiphol Airport as we begin to make our way home.

Could we be getting out of here soon?

[Author’s note: Because I brought my fancy-shmancy MacBook Pro with me to Almaty, instead of the 4-year-old iBook that we had in Kostanai, I don’t have a modem, which means no in-room dial-up internet for me. There is WiFi in the hotel, but it’s by the hour, and the signal isn’t so great, so I’m posting three days worth of stuff in one magnum opus.]

Somehow, we all managed to get some sleep Sunday night, but by 5:30am Anika was up and ready to go. The timing was a little unfortunate, because we were told by Nikolai that we had an appointment for her medical exam at 10:00am, which meant that we had only 4 hours to get up, showered, fed, some play time, and then a nap in before we left. We knew that it was going to be a long day, and we really wanted to avoid a total meltdown which likely would’ve happened had she not gotten a morning nap. With some creative shift-work, we managed to accomplish all of this, and by 9:30am we were in Nikolai’s van and on our way.

We made a quick stop at a photo store to get an additional passport-sized picture of Anika for the medical examination form – apparently the passport photos that we struggled to get in Kostanai before we left in November, were too big. This time, Anika was much better in the car – after a 36 hour train ride, I can assume that she’s now used to moving vehicles. As a result, she was also much better with getting her picture taken. As opposed to November’s 25 attempts, this time it only took two quick pictures to get a good one.

From the photo store, we traveled through downtown Almaty to the International S.O.S. clinic. I am now quite familiar with this company – having called a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to help out a sick American Kostanai. They run a fairly modern clinic for tourists, ex-pats, and apparently, international adoptions. While sitting in the waiting area we met an extremely nice father-son pair who were there for their immigration exams. The father is a health economist who works for the CDC and lives in Atlanta, and his son is an extremely handsome, and extremely affable young man who goes to college at the University of Waterloo. It was quite amusing to hear this young Kazakhstani man speak English with a very clear Canadian accent. We chatted for a while while being shuttled between different stations. Anika had to have a quick blood test (a rapid HIV test, apparently required by the US government), vital signs (where she comes in at 72cm in length and 9kg fully clothed), and then a brief exam by a physician. It was a strange place for me to have my first experience of being a pediatrician standing by as he watched his child being examined by another physician. By the time she had her exam, it was nearly noon and Anika had had just about enough. She was completely asleep before we arrived home, which we converted in to her afternoon nap.

While she was asleep, I set out into town to pick up some additional supplies, and also to book Anika’s return flight home. We were told, prior to leaving this trip, that the infant airfare would be substantially cheaper if we bought it in Kazakhstan, and so I was hoping at some point to get to the KLM office to make sure that this was the case. You can imagine my pleasant surprise when I inadvertently came across the KLM office while randomly walking the streets. I ended up booking her flight and was very pleased to find that the fare was not the $800 or so that I was quoted in the US, but a rather fair $140! I also took the opportunity to ask that we be seated in the front bulkhead row, where the airline can provide a bassinet that clips on to the wall, potentially freeing our hands for a bit.

On the way home I stopped by at one of the outdoor food stands and ordered up two doner kebab sandwiches, and a container full of something that turned out to be rice, meat and red peppers, making for a very cheap (800TT) lunch for the two of us. By the time I arrived home, Anika was awake and so Julie and I switched off and she enjoyed her sandwich while I provided entertainment. Before long it was nap-time again – in the hopes of keeping her on the same schedule that she was at while in the baby house. This time it took a little more effort – she fussed for about 30 minutes but was asleep in under 10 minutes once I put her into the carrier and walked her around the room.

Oleg swung by the hotel around 3:30pm to help me fill out all of the paperwork needed for our petition to the US Consulate. None of it was particularly difficult, and we were finished in about 20 minutes. Once were were done, Oleg told me that he expected to file the paperwork today, to hear about our appointment time tomorrow, and that if all was in order, we’d have our consulate interview on Wednesday and at that point we’d receive all of Anika’s immigration documents. I asked him if that was all, and he said that yes, once that was done we were free to leave. I told him that our flight was booked for Sunday because we were told to expect an interview at the consulate on Friday. He was a little surprised by this and suggested that we try to change our flights.

This, of course, sounded like a mighty fine idea to me, and so if things go well on Wednesday, then I’m going to make a beeline for the KLM office and attempt to change our flights to Friday, meaning that we’ll be home two days ahead of schedule. It’s a good thing that we purchased the unrestricted and fully changeable tickets. I hope that there are seats available, because as much as we enjoy being here, we really want to start the work of getting Anika acclimated to life in Boston.

The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful: room service for dinner, a little playtime with Anika followed by a moderately long period of fussiness capped off by falling asleep (once again) in the carrier. I’m going to send a letter to the woman who invented this particular brand of carrier to ask her what the secret is, and also to thank her. Julie’s sleeping even as I finish writing this, and I’m going to spend the next couple of hours in the hotel lobby working on two lectures that I’m giving tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow, since we have no “official business”, I’ll be able to snap some good photos of Anika.

Officially Official!

We were very pleased today to receive word from Zhanat that she has in hand, a fully stamped, certified, and absolutely finalized copy of our court decree. The mandatory 15-day appeal period is now over, and Anika is officially ours. While we were both confident that everything would go smoothly, it was wonderful to see this in writing (or electrons, I suppose, to be more specific). Tomorrow, Zhanat will begin working in earnest on getting Anika her new birth certificate, and then a passport and visa.

From what we understand, everything is still on track for us to leave next Friday. I never imagined that I’d be so happy to return to any place that wasn’t home. Believe it or not, I was so homesick for something Russian that I ended up wandering down to the Russian Village, down in Washington Square. It was an absolute joy to once again browse the aisles of a Russian grocery. I ended up buying a 2-liter bottle of квас (pronounced “kvass”), some breaded and fried headless fish snack, some ikra for Julie, some Russian chocolate, and some good Russian rye bread. I also managed to find карбонат (carbonat: Russian smoked pork), which made me very happy. Plus, hearing Russian spoken again made me feel a lot closer to Kazakhstan than I have in a couple of weeks.

We received our new visas in the mail, and are starting once again to gather up the things that we’re going to pack. We have a bunch of extra baby clothes that we’ll send back to the Delphin Baby House, along with a big stack of medical supplies. This time, we also need to bring clothes for Anika for the week, along with baby supplies.

Provided that nothing exciting happens over the next week, I will be taking a break from the blog until Friday, November 30th, when I’ll start on the last chapter of this adventure in earnest. Until then, I’ll refer you to a wonderful story by Eric Weiner, who writes for Slate Magazine, which details his 2005 trip to Kazakhstan to adopt a little girl.

Day 28: Court Today. And the verdict is …

We had our adoption court hearing today at noon.

The fact that our court date came so quickly after our pre-court meeting came as something of a surprise to us.  We both heard a great deal about the fact that international adoption proceedings here in Kazakhstan are lengthening, including word that the courts are moving towards a process where they will begin to expect 30 days to pass between the day that the adoption petition is filed (day +15, or the day after the 14-day bonding period) and the court date.  Zhanat feels that we were very lucky, and that perhaps due to the fact that they’re re-arranging the office space of the different court divisions, we were given a court date in advance of the move.  Whatever the case, we were very, very pleased.

Yesterday we learned that all of our paperwork had been finalized and that everything appeared to be in order.  With that, Zhanat felt secure in our purchasing our return tickets to Almaty.  Lucky us – another flight on SCAT Airlines.  With that, we realized that our time here in Kostanai was rapidly drawing to a close, meaning that we all of a sudden had a large number of things to wrap up.

We spent part of the afternoon at the “west side” market shopping for some additional gifts for friends and family, as well as some mementos that we’ll give to Anika over the years as she grows up.  We took a break in the mid-afternoon to go bowling (of all things) with two other American couples that we’ve met here.  Both are adopting children from Anika’s group at the DBH, and so we’ve all shared similar experiences.  We certainly hope that they will share our good fortune when it comes to their legal proceedings.

We opted for dinner at the coffee shop across the street from Dolce Vita.  It turns out that this cafe has a full dinner menu including some very tasty pizzas.  I had a pizza with some type of mystery fish, egg and cheese.  It was much, much better than it sounds – trust me.  Julie had a more traditional pizza with tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms.  I also enjoyed a bowl of some type of goulash with potatoes, carrots, and beef that was excellent.  We ended up not drinking because yesterday turned out to be a national “Do Not Drink” day.  Kind of like “The Great American Smokeout”, which, by the way, wouldn’t be a half-bad idea here either.  It was also Halloween here – we saw a couple of people in costume including one grim reaper outside and a woman dressed head-to-toe in leopard print clothing inside of the cafe.  However, we think that this may not have actually been a costume but rather a bold fashion statement, since she was with her child who was not dressed up at all.

The rest of the night was spent in contemplating our court date and making lists of things that we need to do prior to leaving.  I was absolutely exhausted by 10p and went straight to bed.  Both of us were awakened at 3am by a wrong-number phone call, and as a result I was up from 3a – 5a thinking about  court and thinking about our return to the US, but most of all thinking about how in the world we were going to cope with leaving Anika here for a month.  Truth be told, we required a hell of a lot less than 14 days to bond with Anika, and now we’re simply head-over-heels in love with her.  I mentioned to Julie the other night that if someone had brought up the idea of having children to me two or three years ago, my first thoughts would have been, “How in the world am I going to fit a child into my work schedule.”  After my experience over the past month, my thoughts are more along the lines of, “How in the world am I going to fit work into all of the time that I want to spend with Anika?”  While I’m certain that this is not exactly a revelation to those reading this who already have kids, for me, the immediacy of this profound and seemingly involuntary rearrangement of life priorities took my rational half a bit by surprise.  That being said, the readjustment of perspective feels entirely natural and welcome, as if this is one of the answers to life’s important questions that I’ve been seeking for years.

Thursday morning brought a beautiful blue dawn.  Sunrise here is much later than we’re used to: the sun isn’t up until 8:40am.  We, however, were both up and ready for coffee.  Sadly, Julie fell off the wagon after only 3 days and ordered up a cup of full-strength joe while only half-awake.  Thursday also brought us a third day without cold water.  We discovered yesterday that it is not only the building that is affected, but parts of the city.  One of the couples that we know from the DBH told us yesterday that they too are lacking hot water.  We took the morning to finalize our list of things to do for the day, and gather everything that we need for court.  Zhanat told us that we should wear the exact same clothes for luck, so that we’ll have the exact same good outcome that we had at pre-court on Tuesday.  Little does she realize that with a limited wardrobe and no ability to do laundry, we’d be wearing the exact same clothes regardless of her instructions!

We were picked up at 11:40a and taken back to the court building where Dr. Irina and Jana were waiting for us.  At noon we were called back into the judge’s office where he was now dressed in a maroon robe.  The prosecutor was also there, dressed in a uniform, and the judge’s secretary was present to record the proceedings.  The court hearing was much more formal.  Once again, the judge introduced the parties who were present.  This time, the main difference was that Jana, the Ministry of Education representative, read the report of the findings of the MOE with regard to our petition for adoption.  Afterwards, we each had to stand and state specifically what we were asking the court for: to grant us our request to adopt this child, and to change her name officially to Anika Irina Blackman.  The entire hearing was, for both of us, very emotional, rivaling our wedding ceremony for the sense of importance that we experienced.  Maybe even a little more intense because unlike our wedding, we were not 100% certain of the outcome.  In addition, while our wedding was pure celebration, this proceeding had a very serious and almost bittersweet air to it.  While we’re both thrilled that Anika will be our child and come to live with us in the United States, we were also acutely aware of how deeply important children are to the people of Kazakhstan, and how much it pains them that they are unable to care for all of their orphaned children at this time.  Kazakhstan is a country still in recovery from decades of Soviet oppression and need their children now more than ever.  We hope that we left the judge with the impression that we do not take the generosity of the people of Kazakhstan for granted in any way, shape or form, and how much we both are in awe of the dedication they show for these children.

Towards the end of the proceeding, we were very pleased to hear Dr. Irina, Jana, and the state prosecutor all state that they felt that the adoption was solely in Anika’s best interest and that there were no objections to any aspect of our petition.  We were told by the judge that the final decision would come at 3pm and that we were to return at that time.

Zhanat hurried us home to change clothes and we quickly made our way over to the DBH to visit Anika, feed her lunch, and then bundle her up to take her to get photos taken for all of her immigration documents, her passport, and her visa.  We had no idea how she’d react to leaving the baby house by car and going out in the world.  From what we understand, she’s only been out of the baby house once – and that was to go for a medical exam a couple of weeks ago.  Well, it took about 30 seconds for us to find out.  She was scared, plain and simple.  Every aspect of the car trip was very upsetting to her and we were only partly able to console and distract her.  Once we arrived in the city center and exited the car, she settled down because we were outside, but once inside the photo studio, she was once again very upset.  Of course the photographer wanted her photos to be of her with her mouth closed – a nearly impossible feat given that she was either crying or sticking out her tongue!  It took about 20 attempts, but we finally got a picture of her with her mouth closed.  I feel bad that this will be her passport photo for the next 10 years, but what are you going to do?

After the photos were done, we bundled her up, ran back to the DBH and dropped her off, and then headed home again to get changed back into our dress clothes in order to be at court for the 3pm decision.

We were escorted back into the judge’s office where it was just me, Julie and Zhanat.  The judge had excused Jana and Dr. Irina so that they could return to work.  The decision was a 3 page document that the judge read aloud and in its entirety.  He reviewed our petition, the findings of the court, the relevant Kazakhstani law, and at the end stated that the court found in favor of our petition and that this child’s birth certificate will be change to indicate that her mother is Julie Denise McNeill and her father is Samuel Charles Blackman, and that the child’s name will become Anika Irina Blackman.  We were given copies of the judge’s decision and told that it will become finalized 15 days from tomorrow (November 17th).

Afterwards, in personal comments to us, the judge stated that he also felt that Anika would also be much better off with a family and parents than left in the orphanage, and that the adoption was truly in her best interest, but that he felt the weight of this process and knew that her future was on his shoulders.  We reassured him that he would not be disappointed.  Afterwards, he congratulated us and we said farewell.  Zhanat recommended that a picture of Anika happy, thriving and back in the United States would be a fitting token of appreciation for the judge, and I can’t agree more.

So there you have it.  Nine months to the day that we filed our initial application to start the adoption process, we are now parents of a beautiful, healthy, and wonderful little girl.  Despite the thousands of words written on this blog, it is not possible to fully express the full weight of this process or it’s full emotional impact on Julie and me.  We truly thought that we had our fill of truly incredible, life-altering events.  Little did we realize that at our ages, not only would we have the chance to experience one of the best events life has to offer, but also that we both will have subscribed to an entirely new series of such events as we embark on this new journey as a family.  We feel, today, at this very moment in time, as alive as we have ever felt.  In fact, we feel truly reborn as an entirely new people, with every aspect of ourselves recast in an entirely new light.  We suppose that it is this feeling that is part of the true essence of being human – that there is rejuvenation and renewal in children, and a sense of hope and possibility that makes the seemingly impossible, possible.

Finally, it is also not possible to describe the hundreds of acts, and hundreds of people who all played role in this process over the past 9 months.  We have been supported by so many wonderful people: the Boston- and Portland-based staff of MAPS International, to their staff in Almaty, Astana and Kostanai; our friends and families; those who have cared for our home and pets (Pam, Scott, Lara and Grayson), and our patients (Jessica and Christy); our co-workers at Faulkner Hospital, New England Baptist Hospital, the Dana-Farber, and Children’s Hospital Boston; our employers who have been so wonderfully flexible and generous to us (especially the people at AAM, OPRS, DFCI, and CMR); the innumerable US agencies (state and federal); the innumerable Kazakhstani agencies (city, state and national).  Most importantly, we are forever indebted to Zhanat who has guided us every step of the way for the past 5 weeks and who has been a remarkably strong shoulder for both of us to lean on, and finally everyone at the Delphin Baby House who loved, cared for, raised, and nurtured Anika until we had the remarkable fortune to find her and make her ours.  Julie and I are both incredibly humbled by all of this, and are grateful to everyone who played a role.  No matter how big or small, every part was essential to making this remarkable day possible for us, and for this we are both so very thankful.

For tonight, we will go to a restaurant called ‘444′ to celebrate.  I have bent to Zhanat’s will and will partake in the ceremonial “lizard vodka”.  We were also told that the camel’s milk that we keep seeing in the grocery store is a good hangover cure, so who knows, I may be partaking in that as well tomorrow.  We will post something tomorrow after our final visit with Anika, and then probably something from Almaty and from Amsterdam as we make our way back to Boston.

Day 26: Pre-Court

It’s been a long 48 hours here at the Blackman/McNeill South Siberian Outpost.  Waiting for our pre-court hearing was interminable, and made worse by the fact that Julie was sick as a dog yesterday.  We’ve known a couple of other people who’ve had a horrible GI bug that causes fever, severe epigastric pain, nausea and malaise, and it looks like that’s exactly what Julie had.

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As a result, Monday I played doctor, nurse, and parent.  Julie was too ill to make it to visit with Anika, and so she and I went it alone.  She was fine, but I’m pretty sure that she noticed Julie’s absence.  By the end of our visit, she let out a huge “I’m clearly bored with you now” yawn.  Monday night was spent in, reading, taking in a movie (Billy Wilder’s 1950s classic Sunset Boulevard) and waiting for time to pass until our meeting today.

This morning, Julie looked considerably better: her fever broke during the night and her stomach pain subsided.  She was unable to have coffee, which as far as I’m concerned, means that she was pretty darn sick.  We spent some time preparing for the types of questions that might be asked at court (we were given a list in advance), and by 10am it was time to get showered and dressed.  Or perhaps I should more accurately say, scalded and dressed.  For reasons far beyond our comprehension, and on what is clearly the most inconvenient day of our trip, the town of Kostanai appears to have run out of cold water.  Plenty of 160-degree hot water.  Not a drop of cold water.  I’m still not sure which is a worse fate: a freezing cold shower or a scalding hot shower.  I hope to not have the opportunity to reconsider the question tomorrow.

Given that the toilets, of course, are filled from the cold water spout, the absence of cold water meant that the toilet tank wouldn’t fill.  Fortunately, our shower head is on a hose – a hose that is just long enough to reach the toilet tank.  Nothing like a tankful of steaming hot, dark brown water to make you just want to give up hope.

By 11:40 we had managed to get ready and dressed, and were out the door.  When we pulled up to the court building, I recognized it immediately.  It’s the hot pink building where we had previously seen a cat feasting on a pigeon one afternoon.  A guard at the front door asked for our passports and then commented how interested he was in seeing them since he’d never seen an American passport before.  We made our way up to the 3rd floor and sat on a row of chairs in the hallway to await our appointment with the judge.  After a few minutes, Jana, who is apparently a mover and shaker over at the Ministry of Education (MOE), arrived, and a few minutes after that, so did Dr. Irina.  We didn’t know that the pre-court meeting involved the MOE, the baby house, and the prosecutor.  Nevertheless, it was reassuring to see Dr. Irina’s friendly face.

Around noon we were called into the judge’s office.  He got right to business, making introductions all around.  The first order of business was for the judge to state that he had reviewed all of our paperwork and found it to be in order.  Then he asked Jana if she, representing the Ministry of Education, had any questions for us.  We were asked why we were adopting from Kazakhstan specifically, and why it was that we didn’t decided to adopt a child from the United States.  We were asked how long we were married and if this was the first marriage for each of us.  We were also asked how we planned on taking care of Anika given both of our jobs.  Jana wanted to know whether or not we’d treat Anika with the same rights as we would a biological child, and also what we’d do if we ended up having a biological child.  She also asked us if we were aware of the requirement to file annual reports with the consulate Anika’s progress (she’s still considered a Kazakh citizen by the government until she’s 18 years old – she’ll actually have dual nationality).

After these questions, the judge asked Dr. Irina to present her observations, and from the parts that we caught from Zhanat, it sounds like she gave a very favorable report.  At that point, the prosecutor was given the opportunity to ask questions.  She wanted to know whether or not we were aware of the medical issues reported by the doctors here, and whether or not we felt that she was “treatable” and what we would do.  We told her that we had already sent data on Anika back to the US to be evaluated by several international adoption physicians and that she’d have a full medical evaluation and any necessary treatment immediately on return to the US.  Finally, she asked an additional question regarding one document, which we’re working on trying to get resolved today or tomorrow.

After the proceedings, we were asked to sign a paper acknowledging our pre-court meeting.  If the one document issue gets resolved and court goes smoothly, then we’ll be on track to leave Kostanai.  Sadly, Anika will have to stay here for a little bit longer.  For every court decision there is a mandatory 15-day “appeal period” during which no other action can take place.  If nothing else comes up, at the end of the appeal period she’d officially be our daughter.  At that point, Zhanat can begin the process of getting her a new birth certificate, passport, and other papers so that she can leave the country.  We’re told that this can take 2-3 weeks.  Once this is complete, we’ll be informed that she’s ready to depart.  We’ll both fly back to Almaty, and an escort will fly Anika from Kostanai to Almaty to meet us.  We’ll have several days of paperwork and medical exams and then will return home.  Once Anika lands in the US she will automatically become a US citizen and this process will be essentially over (there is a “re-adoption” hearing in the US that will allow her to get a US-issued birth certificate, but that’s hopefully not that big of a deal).

With pre-court completed, we ran home, changed clothes, and then headed over to the DBH to enjoy Anika’s company, and then home to unwind.  There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we look forward to keeping you updated on events as they unfold in the next few days.

Days 22-24: Forward Movement

First, I have to say that it absolutely killing me that we’ve missed the entire ALCS and World Series.  It looks like the Red Sox are headed for another clean sweep.  Any more seasons like this and we’ll need to go back to rooting for the Chicago Cubs given that they are the last true underdog left in professional sports.

We’ve not written in three days because we’ve been working hard to distract ourselves from the uncertainty associated with our legal proceedings.  Blogging, while a wonderful way to communicate and pass the time, is by definition, introspective.  That last thing that we needed during the long holiday period, was to be more introspective about how stressed we’ve been.  Today, however, I’m happy to give the weekend update and finally report some forward movement.

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Friday was a beautiful day here — clearly the last gasp of autumn.  We awoke to bright sunshine and once we got to the baby house, we took advantage of the weather and bundled Anika up for a trip outside.  She was in fine spirits.  We looked for saboka (dog) and koshka (cat), who got some of the leftovers from Thursday night’s roast chicken – they were lounging against a wall in the bright sunshine.  We tried to find leaves for Anika to crinkle up in her hands but they’ve all since fallen.  We weren’t too keen on letting her mush up the berries clinging to the trees for fear of the mess.  Instead, we played on a tired-looking see-saw, which she enjoyed thoroughly.

To pass the evening, we opted to go out to dinner.  On the way out, we couldn’t help but notice a very bright full moon rising over the Blue Mosque.  It was a truly beautiful sight and I ran back to the apartment to grab the camera in hopes of making a nice picture to give to Zhanat, as this is the mosque that she and her family attend.  Unfortunately, while I was gone, Julie had encountered a stumbling drunk gentleman who was interested in making her acquaintance.  He was a little scary but ended up being harmless.  We ended up grabbing a pizza at Dolce Vita and as we were headed out of the restaurant to go home, we walked into a little puppy who was being chased by someone’s pet dog.  Given Julie’s soft spot for animals, we stopped to pet him.  He must’ve sensed that we were here to adopt because once we tried to go home he started to follow us.  After a couple of blocks we couldn’t resist him and ended up picking him up and carrying him for a little while – he seemed cold and lonely, and in need of friends.  Of course we realized that this could be a bit of a problem for us since we were not equipped to take in a puppy.  We actually had a full debate about what are options were, and what to do.  Ultimately we decided to set him down on the ground and see where he went on his own.  To our relief (and, truth be told, to our disappointment), he ducked under a fence after a few minutes of staring at us, and went on his way.  Later, Zhanat told his that we should’ve called her – that she would’ve taken him in.  If we come across this little guy again, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

Saturday brought more clouds and grey skies.  We actually were up early, on purpose, in order to get an early start on the market.  We had made plans for a little dinner party with one of the other American couples who is trying to adopt a little boy from the same group that Anika belongs to, and needed to do the shopping.  We met this couple a few weeks ago in a typical manner: we spotted each other at a restaurant and given that we both looked conspicuously non-Kazakh, we got to talking.  Not wanting to be too obvious by going to a restaurant again, we opted for dinner at our place, where we could commiserate about the length of our respective trips without risking being overheard by others.  The bazaar was surprisingly busy for 10am, and before we arrived at the meat market both of us were suffering from cold ears.  Figuring that this was as good a place as any to buy hats, we did a little shopping.  I purchased a black hat with the word “Kazakhstan” embroidered on the front, figuring that I was unlikely to find this anywhere else in the world.  I paid my 800TT (about $6.50) and then out of the blue, the woman who sold me the hat took the money and started waving it back and forth over the merchandise laid out on the counter in front of her.  I thought that she was either shooing away a fly or putting a curse on my hat.  Julie realized that this was a more deliberate act.  Zhanat later told us that this was a gesture performed for good luck because we had made the first purchase from her that day.  Much better than a cursed hat.

We weren’t as lucky with the chicken.  We worked our way through meat market to the poultry counter, and began asking which of the birds laid out on the counter were, in fact, chickens.  It turns out that they sell geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens – Julie briefly considered trying to roast a duck, but felt that might be a little risky given what little control she has over the oven.  We looked at a variety of birds, which were on a counter between us and a gaggle of older women in head scarves.  Several of them were showing us different birds and describing the virtues of each one in Russian.  One woman had answered a number of our questions about one bird, but I ended up pointing to another woman’s bird to indicate that that was the one we wanted.  Little did I know (but was later told) that each of the women behind the counter was an individual vendor.  So, in essence, i snubbed the woman who had taken the time to pitch me her chicken.  Live and learn, I suppose.  The rest of the trip was free of diplomatic incidents.  We actually found cilantro for the first time, and had found purple (Thai) basil a couple of days ago, meaning that we were going to get to enjoy some new flavors with dinner.

Our visit with Anika was great – made a little more interesting by the fact that we introduced two new items to her.  A baby carrier that we found at a children’s store across the street from our apartment, and a sippy cup.  She definitely enjoyed the carrier.  As for the sippy cup – well, suffice it to say that we think that she’s not had the chance to drink plain water before, given the face she made.

With regard to dinner, Julie, as usual, did a terrific job. She did do a phenomenal job by making a crostini with goat cheese and roasted red pepper, a wonderful salad, and roast vegetables.  Our guests brought over a Moldovan Merlot that was actually quite good.  While I was opening it, however, I couldn’t help but thinking that wonderful line from the movie Sideways about Merlot (Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!).  Saturday night sunsetDessert was an apple torte and french press coffee.  We broke into a box of Davidoff coffee that we found at GROS in the hopes that it would be able to serve as a replacement for our nearly-depleted stock of coffee from home.  It turns out to be not bad – just a little more finely ground, meaning that we may actually survive without slipping into severe caffeine withdrawal.  The company and conversation was terrific – all in all, a wonderful evening and a nice way to help make the time here go a little faster.

Because of the three-day holiday, today (Sunday, the 28th) is apparently a workday here in Kostanai.  Julie and I, however, took the occasion to sleep in – and sleep in late we certainly did.  We got a call from Zhanat at 10:00am, which woke Julie up.  Apparently she is taking this workday very seriously (for which we are very grateful), and had a very brief meeting with the judge, who was on his way to a big meeting himself.  Zhanat found out from him that he had reviewed all of our paperwork and found it to be in order.  He didn’t give any more details, but asked Zhanat to return at 2pm.  Zhanat told us that she felt that things went well, and that the judge seemed like a nice person.

With that lifting our spirits, we made our way to the DBH for our visit, and found Anika to be in just about the best mood we’ve seen in several weeks.  She had smile on her face for most of the time, and seems now to be getting the hang of “peek-a-boo”.  Today’s pictures don’t do her justice because the pacifier was in while I was taking photos, but trust me when we tell you that there was a big smile behind that piece of plastic.

About an hour or so after we arrived home, we got a phone call from Zhanat who told us that she had a good meeting with the judge.  We have our “pre-court” hearing on Tuesday the 30th and at that time we should find out when our official court date is.  If we manage to have a court hearing by the end of the week, we’ll be coming home as planned on November 4th.  However, if the court hearing can’t be scheduled until next week, then we’ll have to extend our trip by a few days.  Zhanat told us that she was “very happy” with the outcome of this meeting, and as such we are very happy as well.  We don’t feel 100% relieved – I don’t think that we will until we arrive back in the US with Anika – but for now we’ll take this news as the first clear sign of forward movement in our legal proceedings.  We will keep this blog updated with news of how things are going (as well as a ridiculous number of picture of Anika) in the days to come.  Thanks to everyone for their e-mails and messages of support.

Vodka: An Emotional Epidural

About six months ago, Julie and I went to the annual meeting of the Adoption Coalition of New England (ACONE).  We were fairly early in the process, and to suddenly be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of couples involved in international adoption was a surreal experience.  We attended a number of seminars and perused the different “vendors” (mostly adoption agencies).  In a far-off corner we came across a table with a bunch of T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “pregnant on paper”.  Apparently this is how people in the adoption world refer to themselves during the waiting period once your paperwork is in process.
Well, if the pre-travel/paperwork phase is the equivalent of being pregnant on paper, then being here in-country is definitely being in labor.  Last I checked, there are no anesthesiologist-recommended emotional epidurals (or so Julie tells me).  However, we’ve recently found that  an occasional Kazakhstani vodka (for Julie) and/or Moldovan Grand Muscat (for Sam) is a pretty good substitute.

We’re (halfway) kidding here.  Today is day 21 following our first official visit with Anika, and day 29 since we left home.  We were hoping for some word on things before today’s Republic Day holiday, but we’re still on hold.  Right now it looks like Sunday will be the earliest that we’ll get some word on our legal proceedings.  We, of course, don’t know what that word is, but at least it will be something.  The worst case scenario that we’re imagining is that there will be a delay until our court date, and we will have to weigh the cost of returning home against the cost of staying here and waiting.  No matter what, we are still very confident that in the end, we will return home with Anika (at some point).

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We opted to stay in today – the weather was really gloomy and wet.  Julie found a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle that will either be a good way for her to pass time, or the thing that precipitates a small stroke.  She swears that pieces are missing as part of some bizarre Southern Siberian torture methodology being perfected here.  The Delphin House dog (which we had previously thought to be male), has herself found two new ways to pass the time here.  We only wish that she and her new friends had gotten a room.  Fortunately, we were able to shield Anika from this object lesson in the birds and the bees and hid out in the downstairs lounge.  She seems to be restless and bored with the same surroundings, and truth be told, so are we.  Clearly, what would be best for her would be a change in venue, and we look forward to providing this for her in the coming months.

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We’re starting to develop some patterns, or at least we’re beginning to learn hers.  She clearly wants to be held more during our visits, and there are some things that Julie does that are absolutely fascinating for me to watch.  To see how she settles down as Julie sings to her, or how she looks out the window as Julie makes up stories about what’s going on outside, and how from time to time she’ll stare into Julie’s eyes is nothing short of beautiful.  I seem to play the role of clown and chief acrobat, best able to raise a smile or get a laugh by throwing her into the air, or rolling her up in my arms and tickling her neck with my nose.  For the first time today we saw her fuss when we took something out of her hands: it was the end of our visit and as we were packing up, Anika had a firm grip on a packet of tissues that she had been happily gnawing on.  When we took it from her to put into the backpack, she began to fuss.  It’s the first time that we’ve seen her do that, and I doubt it’ll be the last.  It’s not the cutest developmental milestone, but we’ll take it.  Today was also the first time that she really fussed when we left – we had sat her down in the crib and waved goodbye, and I swear that she understood that we were leaving and started to cry.  Fortunately, we were able to distract her with a toy long enough to sneak out.  It’s nice to think that she likes us enough to care if we’re not there, but it also makes my heart heavy to think about the possible impact on her when we’re gone for a number of weeks during the “appeal period”.

It was chicken night again tonight, and as usual, Julie did a fine job.  We saved a bunch of scraps for the DBH dog, who is clearly going to need them (and probably a cigarette or two) after her rendezvous today.  We’ll probably start a movie tonight – after all, somebody once said that television is the opiate of the masses, and for labor, opiates are likely to be a good thing.

[Authors note: Julie wants me to let you know that she didn’t write this, and approved only after much eye-rolling.  She also wants to tell Kyle that she will do everything possible to make her appointment to get her roots touched up.]

Four Weeks Away From Home

Today it has officially been FOUR full weeks since Sam and I departed from Boston.  As I am sure those of you who have been here before are aware, the excitement of being in a different country is starting to wear off.  There are a lot of things about simply “being at home” we miss.  This makes our 90 minutes a day with Anika even more important for us.  It is the one thing that enables us to remain focused on why we are here. dsc-0245-3-tm

One week ago we completed the 14-day bonding period that is required by law here in Kazakhstan.  Last Friday (October 19th), our coordinator filed our papers – our request to adopt Anika – and by that afternoon we were randomly assigned a judge to preside over our case.  This assignment process is now done by computer a change that was instituted just three days before we filed our adoption request.  From our understanding, the judge has three days to review the case and assign a “pre-court” date where we are to appear to hear when our “official” court date is.  Today is Thursday and the only information we have received so far within the last week is that the judge has not been available and our coordinator is to arrive on this coming Sunday (8 days after he was assigned to our case)  with all of our documents to meet with him.  We also learned that the judge we have been randomly assigned has not presided over an international adoption case before.  Sam and I are unsure of how we should look at this, but both of us cannot help but feel absolutely frightened by this information.  We have been here for almost four weeks and have heard first-hand from a few other adoptive parents about some of the roadblocks that have been encountered with the legal system here.  Our hopes are that these recent obstacles do not forecast a long, drawn-out process ahead.  We are putting whatever confidence we have into our coordinator and adoption agency to get us through this process as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Each day we wake up and try to focus on Anika along with gathering the patience we need to understand that the adoption is going to take longer than predicted.

We know that our family members, friends, and colleagues have gone above and beyond to enable Sam and I to undertake this process.  From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you and hope that you can understand that we are doing whatever we can to complete this.  While we did as much as we thought we could to prepare logistically and emotionally for this process in Kazakhstan,we are encountering aspects of the process that we were never aware of before arriving.

On a less stressful note:

We arrived home after our daily visit with Anika and headed to the GROS supermarket to stock up on the basics.  Last week we kept a running tally of how many 5 liter bottles of water we go through and it turned out to be 8 bottles in one week.  Now, that water does not include the smaller bottles of water we use for drinking.  This is just the water we use for: coffee, tea, brushing teeth, cooking, rinsing vegetables, and washing fruit.  Sam was busy perusing the aisles for “new” snacks so I went over to get the boring items: toilet paper and tissues.  I pulled a pack of toilet paper off of the shelf and was trying to decide what type of tissues I wanted when a woman struck up a conversation with me in Russian about the toilet paper I had in my hand.  I just smiled and nodded and she started pointing to another brand.  I again, smiled and tried to act as if I was considering the information she was offering.  As if to make it seem like I understood her, I suddenly found myself returning the package of toilet paper I had to the shelf and reaching for the one she was pointing to.  She exclaimed “nyet-nyet” and motioned to me to keep the package I had.  I thanked her and scurried off as quickly as I could.  I really wish I would have spent more time in actual conversational Russian than just reading it from a book!  My brain just doesn’t have the capacity to process Russian when it is spoken that casually.  Sam and I have taken to watching the local news each night on television to see if we can understand any of it.  We can usually grasp one or two words pretty quickly and then with pictures thrown in, almost know what is going on around here!

To take our minds off of our frustration we decided to go out for dinner tonight at the Baron Munchausen restaurant.  Besides the fact that the name refers to an axis-2 disorder, it was actually one of the better restaurants we have been to so far.  To our surprise, the wine selection on the menu offered more than the usual Moldovan and Georgian fare.  I have given the Moldovan wines several opportunities, but have not gotten past the fact that they taste just like a glass of liquid grape Jolly Ranchers.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it was completely empty.  In Russian, we indicated that we would like to have dinner.  There was this beautiful moment in time – about 5 seconds – where the hostess assumed we were actually locals.  That was completely ruined when she answered us in Russian and my eyes widened and I just said…”ummmmm, excuse me?”  She immediately rummaged through the stack of menus and pulled out the “anGLIYski” menu.  Oh well, it was nice to think we blended in for those few seconds.

We loved looking at the menu.  Most of the items appeared to be as literal as a translation as possible.  My favorite item was a salad called “the food that comes from the most honest person on earth”.  I was tempted to order it just for good karma.  The first page was devoted entirely to explaining why the service at the restaurant takes longer than an English-speaking diner would expect.  This is the third restaurant we have been to that has made this notation somewhere on the menu.  Obviously, the slower than expected service was an issue that was addressed enough times to warrant an explanation on the menu!  It is a bit unfortunate that, in America, our mealtimes are reduced to fractions of time that sometimes require us to just stand or continue driving the car while we eat.  Sam and I have enjoyed the fact that when we go out to dinner here, we pretty much anticipate spending a few hours at the restaurant.

The food was great!  I had a salad of cucumbers, cabbage, celery, walnuts, olive oil, dill, and garlic followed by a roasted salmon filet with lemon and vegetables (the first green beans I’ve seen).  Sam  had a salad composed of smoked salmon, cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumber followed by mushroom soup, then bacon wrapped chicken livers, and finally a beef dish with mushrooms and potatoes.  I am really hoping that there is some special anti-oxidant property to cucumbers because I think I have eaten at least one a day here!

So far, this experience in Kazakhstan has touched on every emotional aspect of ourselves.  While our experience has unfortunately encountered this very frustrating standstill along the way, we are doing what we can to remain focused on the most important aspect of this – Anika!  I know that Sam had indicated in a previous posting that we were going to go to every other day postings to prevent ourselves from rambling on and on about nothing.  We will save you from knowing just how bored we can get at times.  However, it means more than you realize to know that our friends and family are thinking of us!  Even if it is just to say “hi” we appreciate any e-mail you send!

Oh, we’re also upset that we couldn’t watch the Sox whomp Colorado 13-1 last night.  Oh, the sacrifices that we make on behalf of our children (she’s worth it, though)!

Day 17

Just a quick note today.  Julie has a terrible cold today and I’m suffering from a terrible case of cabin fever.  I’ve gone through 36 hour-long episodes of The Wire out of sheer desperation and now talk like I’m from West Baltimore as a result.  It’s time to put away the videos and get back to books.  I finished “Inside Russian Medicine” and am now working my way through Naguib Mahfouz’s book Palace Walk.  Julie finished The Apprentice by Jaques Papain and is now into The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

We had a nice quiet visit with Anika today.  It was my turn to feed, and because Julie wasn’t 100%, I had a chance to spend more time with her today trying to keep her occupied.

We’re a both little more anxious today because tomorrow Zhanat will meet with the judge that has been assigned to our case and hopefully get a sense of how things will go.  One of the more difficult things that we’re dealing with is that there appear to be no set-in-stone standards, or perhaps more accurately, a greater degree of variability in procedures.  Moreover, because there are so many different factors involved (different regions, judges, prosecutors, agencies, coordinators, etc.) it’s impossible to take anything that you hear from anyone as more than an anecdote.  We’ve met five other families here over the past 3-1/2 weeks, three of which have had some type of complication with their proceedings.  For a type-A analytical personality, to have to put this out of my mind and accept that I have no way of predicting how things are going to go for us is a difficult pill to swallow.  That being said, focusing on Anika appears to be the best coping mechanism that we have.

Tomorrow’s meeting with the judge will be the first (indirect) indication that we will have of how the legal proceedings will look.  As an aside, we found out today that the Kazakhstan Republic Day celebration (10/25/07) is three days long, during which all things grind to a halt.  We hope that this doesn’t add too much of a delay to the process of getting us a court date, because that’s really our ticket home.

In any case, given that our routine is getting fairly repetitive for us, we can imagine that this blog is getting fairly repetitive to others, so we’re probably going to switch to every-other-day updates unless there are new discoveries/experiences or important news.  Feel free to e-mail us – the contacts from home are a big help to both of us in keeping our spirits up during this long wait away from friends and family.

I’ll close with some pictures from today’s visit with Anika.

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