February 13th -Day 3: Our first day in Kazakhstan

We woke up this morning, showered (yippee!!!), and got ready to be picked up at 9:45 a.m.  Amy gave McGyver (Robin) and his assistant (Dave) the first of probably many opportunities to fix something when she knocked the bathroom shelf off the wall with her head ... don't ask ... it's been a long few days.  They successfully replaced it, of course, (actually, they improved it!) and we were ready to go on time.  Vitale took us to the office of the Altynbaev sisters - facilitators for WPA in Kazakhstan - for a meeting.  We met with Gulbanu to go over the schedule for our three week stay in Uralsk and then in Almaty.  She said that tomorrow morning we will take an early flight to Uralsk where we will be met by the interpreter (usually there are two interpreters but one has gotten a job elsewhere so our two families will share) and the drivers, taken to our apartments and to the store to get some supplies, to the Ministry of Education for a meeting, and then to the baby houses to meet our sons!!!  We're thrilled to know we will actually be able to meet our little baby boy tomorrow!  It's so exciting and yet still so hard to believe that the day is almost here!  While in Gulbanu's office, we also signed paperwork that will be used to get our baby a passport, an exit visa, register him with the Kazakh government, and permission to enter the U.S. as our son.  We really liked Gulbanu; she was very pleasant and helpful in answering our questions.  The "surprise" of the visit was ... guess what?  We won't be leaving on March 12th as planned!  I say "surprise" in quotes because we were warned that nothing is for sure and things can always change.  It turns out that a different Ministry now executes the baby's exit visa and that that Ministry is not located in Almaty, but rather in Uralsk.  So, after we get his passport, which will take longer anyway since March 8th is a  national holiday, it needs to be taken by courier to Uralsk for the exit visa.  The earliest we can now leave is March 17th!  No matter; we've already found a place we can celebrate St. Patrick's Day a little early!

After the meeting, we went to the Ramstore (basically a mall) for some lunch and to do some grocery shopping.  The mall has an indoor ice skating rink which we look forward to bringing Sierra to when we come back to Almaty.  They had a food court with some of the same types of fast food you would see in the U.S.  Sierra and I had pizza and a fruit salad and Robin and Dave had gyros.  Talk about culture shock ... as we were eating, I looked up and saw a Baskin Robbins!  After eating, we went grocery shopping.  The store had everything from food to liquor to plants to clothing to refrigerators and TV's!  We had the most fun just roaming around checking it all out.  There were quite a few U.S. brands for sodas and snacks, some candy, and Nestle products.  The most unusual discovery for us was the meat aisle.  We could see a man with an ax the size of a snow shovel chopping meat behind a glass window and we figured out which section had the horsemeat by the picture in front of it.  They even had tongue!  Yuck!  We bought some yogurt, milk, apples and more bottled water.  (By-the-way, we blew it and got carbonated water again!  Guess we don't know the word for "no gas" in German or Russian!)  We had been told how much the Kazakhs bundle up their kids (in excess) and advised to do the same lest we be frowned upon as unfit parents.  Well, we saw several examples of those kids in the store.  There was one little guy, probably two years old, who was so bundled up he couldn't bend his arms or legs and they couldn't even get him into the cart!  He looked just like a miniature of the Michelin man!

We took our groceries back to the apartment and then Vitalii took us out again to see the old Russian Orthodox Church that survived an earthquake which apparently destroyed much of the city at the beginning of the 20th century.  Here it was probably 10 degrees out and there was a wedding party in the park outside the building.  Brrrrrrrrr!!!  All the bride had on was a shawl around her shoulders (and maybe some vodka in her system!).  On the path to the church we saw a huge monument to the fallen soldiers of WWI.

After visiting the church, we went back to the apartment to rest and hooked up with the Andrews again for dinner at Mad Murphy's Irish Pub.  It'd been a long few days and we really needed something familiar and predictable.  We'd heard about the restaurant from other adoptive families and we were all happy with our meals.  We were even able to surprise Robin with a nice big slice of cake for his birthday!  We were home again by 9 so we could get some sleep and be ready to be picked up in the morning at 4:45 for a 6:30 flight to Uralsk.  This will be the last leg of our journey to meet our baby!  Another step closer!  We're almost there!   


                     Gulbanu, our legal representative                                            Happy Birthday in Kazakhstan


         With the Andrews, our traveling partners                                                  Horse meat is big in Kazakhstan


        Russian Orthodox Church and bride and groom                                                WWI Memorial