February 14th - Day 4: Our trip to Uralsk and seeing Emil for the first time!

We are so not in Kansas anymore!  Our departure was uneventful ... we got to the airport on time and Dilnosa helped us to check in.  Our greatest blessing was no charge for our excess luggage!  Thank you, God!  Somehow we figured out which gate to go to, double checked with the attendant that the plane was going to Uralsk, and boarded the plane.  
This time, the flight attendant's instructions were in Kazakh, Russian, and then ocasionally (thankfully) in English.  Throughout the flight, we kept hearing Atyrau mentioned and how much time was left until landing in Atyrau.  We started to get confused (and a little worried) about this until Dave made the connection that he had seen another city listed under Uralsk's name on the board.  When we got to Atyrau - an absolutely desolate, brown, barren, flat area just north of the Caspian sea (see the map on our About Kazakhstan page), we all had to get off the plane and onto a bus to the terminal where we waited inside a cold building for half an hour while they cleaned the plane.  They then bussed us back out to the plane for the remaining 45 minutes to Uralsk.   Since many of the passengers had gotten off in Atyrau, we were each able to find a window seat.  Below was an endless expanse of snow.  Robin said it reminded him of Prudhoe Bay where he worked for 17 years on the Alaskan pipeline.  We saw long lines in the snow which we thought at first might be irrigation lines and then Robin concluded that they were probably drainage ditches to keep the water from flooding the land so it could be farmed.  He also noticed that the tundra seemed to be raked or scarred and that the topsoil had been moved and built up to create fertile areas for planting.  We could also see the Ural River which divides Europe and Asia and empties into the Caspian Sea.  

As the plane descended, we kept looking out the windows for signs of life, but didn't see any.  It felt like we were really entering Siberia which, essentially, we were.  Finally, we saw groupings of low buildings right before we landed.  While our landing in Almaty two days ago had been incredibly smooth (you could hardly feel it!), the landings in both Atyrau and Uralsk today were really bumpy (I'm guessing from the ice and snow buildup on the runways) and, let's say, distinctly zigzaggy!  Because of a delayed departure from Almaty and the layover in Atyrau, we arrived in Uralsk almost two hours late at 10:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. EST).  We deplaned outside and crossed the tarmac to the terminal.  The collection of old trucks outside the building made me feel like I had stepped into a WWII movie.  We had to walk around and into the front of the building where our interpreter, Masha, and our drivers, Igor and Filippovich, found us.  It was so nice to feel like we were expected and that someone knew what was going on.  Masha explained that we would be taken back to our apartments to drop off our luggage, to the store to buy some supplies, and that we had a 2:00 p.m. appointment with the Minister of Education.  She said we (the Sanders) would then go to Baby House #2 at 3:30 to meet our baby and that the Andrews would be visiting Baby House #1 at 5:00.  Another step closer!!!  

The first thing we noticed on our drive from the airport was the exposed pipes which pipe steam throughout the city for heat.  The main pipes are about 15" in diameter and the smaller ones going into the homes are just average size.   They are everywhere, up and over the roads and along the streets and buildings.  We are staying in what is apparently an upper middle to upper class area.  Again, we had to drive back and around our building to find the entrance.  The driveway is gutted with deep holes and dips formed by the thawing and refreezing of snow and ice.  The building's entrance is similar to the one in Almaty and our apartments (ours and the Andrews') are across from each other on the first floor!  Cool on both accounts!  We're really pleased with the apartment ... it has plenty of room to hang coats in the entryway and a nice kitchen with a stove/oven, new fridge, extendable table and three chairs, and Bosch washing machine.  Again, the bathroom with the toilet is separate from the bathroom with the sink and tub.  They're very clever with the faucets ... the tub is elevated off the ground so that one large faucet can be swiveled back and forth to accommodate both the sink to the tub.   (This was also true of the apartment in Almaty.)  There's also a large living room with a large sectional couch, a comfy arm chair, and TV, and two bedrooms - one with a double bed and one with a twin bed and a couch.  The apartment is also warm and has hot water!  (Something not to be taken for granted as some adoptive families who have been here before well know!)

We dropped off our things and headed to the Atrium where there is a fairly new supermarket made by the same people who built the Ramstore in Almaty.  This store also had a large variety of items, although in smaller quantities, but I was disappointed there weren't many fresh vegetables.  'Tis not the season, obviously, and Kazakhstan doesn't have the varied climate that we have in the U.S. which would allow for more produce year round.  I did see that they had plenty of alcohol to sell, however.  We picked up some basic supplies to get us through to tomorrow and had a quick bite to eat at the Dixie Pub.  The food was good (quesadillas and fish and chips) but it took a long time to be served so we were only able to wolf down half of it before we had to go.  As it turned out, the meeting had been postponed to 2:40 p.m. anyway.  Oh, well! 

Igor took us back to the apartment to drop off our groceries as well as Robin and Sierra, and we turned around to go back out to the Ministry of Education to meet Olga, the coordinator in Uralsk, and the local Minister or Head of the Department of Education.  The Ministry of Education is the governing body that oversees the running of the orphanages in Kazakhstan and they wanted to meet us.  The building was austere and nondescript.  We waited with the Andrews and Masha until Olga arrived with an inspector from the Department.  Olga was very nice.  We talked for awhile and she gave us some indication of what questions to expect from the Minister.  When the time came, they took us into one room to leave our coats and then into the Minister's office.  We all sat in a line against the wall with Masha in between our two families and  Olga at the end.  As prepped, Dave introduced himself and spoke about our desire to have more children, about the fact that I have two adopted siblings (this interested them greatly ... especially that one of them is here!), and about our favorable impressions of the Kazakhstani people and the care they provide the children in the orphanages.  He also talked about his work and the fact that I stay home with Sierra.  They asked him about his divorce and if we were aware that adopted children can have problems and that the baby might manifest some disease in the future even if he or she seems healthy now.  They looked at the mini album of pictures that we had brought from home and seemed most interested in the picture of Sierra and Robin together ... we're not sure why but they seemed very intrigued by it.  We were glad when our interview was over ...  it felt as intimidating as we had imagined although I doubt that that was their intention.  John and Eileen Andrews' interview also went well and the officials really liked seeing pictures of the Andrews with other families who have adopted children from Kazakhstan.  They have joined a large group of families who get together frequently to support and educate each other and nourish their children's Kazakh heritage; that effort and interest means a lot to the people here.  The Andrews also brought some albums of photos from a family they know who adopted two children from Uralsk 7 or 8 years ago.  The officials were really excited to see the photos and remembered the children well.  (I was very impressed and touched that, after all these years and all the children they've known over that time period, they still recognize the ones from years ago!)  It really, really helps the whole adoption process for officials here to see pictures of how well the children are doing with their new families.  At the end of the interview, one of the officials made a few touching remarks.  She said that even as we introduce our children to our culture in the United States, she hopes that we will continue to nurture their awareness and appreciation of their Kazakhstani heritage.  She then ended by saying that she hoped that today we would meet the children of our dreams and that the children would meet the parents of their dreams!  What a special moment!  I want to cry again right here even as I write about it!

We went back out to the car and waited for Olga and the inspector.  That gave us an opportunity to chat with Masha.  I asked her if she knew Kazakh and she said that she did not.  She has been studying both English and Kazakh since she was a young girl and while she knows English very well, she only knows a few phrases in Kazakh.  She said that it is a very difficult language to learn and is more similar to Turkish than to Russian.  Apparently the language started as being similar to Arabic and written from right to left.  Then, they started to use the Latin, and then Cyrillic alphabet and added nine characters.  I'm not sure I have all that right, but the country is trying to make it the official language and she said that some years from now the meeting which had just been conducted in Russian, would be conducted in Kazakh.  She also mentioned that "Emil" was actually a Tatar name.  Apparently, the Tatars are a group of Kazakhs who immigrated to Russia.  They are a mix of Asian and European in appearance which explains why Emil is more Eurasian looking that traditional Kazakh.   

Igor took us back to the apartment to pick up Robin's passport (all the passports need to be registered here) and then on to the orphanage.  It was a fairly short drive, maybe 10 minutes.  I can't tell you how much our excitement and anticipation mounted with every minute!  We pulled up to a large brick and concrete building, about two or three stories tall surrounded by a large iron fence.  Nothing special ... very austere and simple like most of the other buildings here.  The first thing I noticed was the beautiful playground that World Partners built for the kids - just like any modern, colorful playground you'd find in the States.  We walked inside the building and climbed a couple of flights of stairs to the second floor.  While the outside of the building was bleak, there was a brightly colored train painted on the wall of the stairwell and a huge collage hanging from the threshold with photos of the older kids (probably 3 and 4 year olds) dressed up for a performance.  Once we got to the top of the stairs, we were taken to the music room to take off our coats.  The room was about the size of an average living room and had a large bookcase with about 10 stuffed animals on it, some musical instruments (percussion) behind a glass door, a TV, some riding toys on the top shelf, a piano, about twenty beautifully painted small wooden chairs for the children, some larger chairs for adults, an accordion, a pop-up tent, and a boom box. 

We were taken down the hall to the orphanage director's office.  She invited us to sit down and started going over Emil's chart.  She reviewed his birth measurements and what he weighs now.  (In the excitement and nervousness I wasn't paying attention so I don't remember.)  She reviewed other medical information that we already knew about and said that he was his mother's first pregnancy and that she had been anemic when he was born.  She said that he is currently sitting on his own, crawling, knows his own name, and has four teeth on top and two on the bottom.  She also said that he had not been hospitalized during the virus outbreak but that, because he is sick currently and has a fever, he is in isolation and we would only be able to see him for ten minutes instead of the usual hour.  She said that any other questions we had should be asked of his doctor or caregivers.  Dave and I had already decided that we just wanted to see him as soon as possible and could always ask questions later.  So, they took us back into the music room, asked for the clothes and diapers we were told to bring for the day's visit, and they disappeared.

We heard him before we saw him.  We could hear him crying in the hallway, probably a little scared and wondering what was going on.  His doctor, wearing a mask, brought him in.  What a cutie!  He clung to her and looked at us with those big beautiful dark eyes, wet with tears, his pudgy cheeks and adorable little mouth.  He clung to her and cried a little or sighed intermittently and we were surprised to hear her referring to us as his mama and papa.  After a short while, the doctor placed Emil in my arms.  I held him snugly and he arched his back and arms away from me and looked from me to his doctor to Dave and back.  I wasn't surprised nor disappointed ... this was a huge, scary, confusing deal for him.  I was just pleased that he didn't scream or push and kick himself away from me.  After a few minutes, the director, doctor, and Olga discreetly left the room and Masha stayed with us.  Gradually, Emil seemed to relax ... every now and then he would take a breath and let out a huge sigh, like he was starting to let go and surrender to me.  He was constantly checking Dave and me out.  We had brought a little red doggy holding a pink heart for Valentine's Day.  He liked the tune it sang when you squeezed it.  Here I was, holding our baby for the first time and, still, it was hard to believe!  I kept holding him, hugging him, feeling his weight, and saying to myself, "It's him!  He's real and he's in my arms!!!"  I would have recognized him from a hundred other kids; he's as cute and alert as ever although not as big as I expected.  In fact, the 12-month old clothes that we have for him seem to fit just fine.  What can I say?  He's so precious, so beautiful, so lovable, so loved and I so wanted to freeze that moment for eternity!  The visit seemed to end before it had started.  Unfortunately, Dave didn't even have a chance to hold him; I think he thought it would be better to let him get used to us slowly.  The amazing thing was that, after having felt tentative when they first placed him in my arms, he didn't want to let go of me when it came time for them to take him back!   Now, as I write this journal, I am filled with so many different emotions.  It still feels surreal that today I've held the child that will be our son.  I'm so happy to have been able to finally meet him yet sad that he doesn't feel better and that I can't bring him home to mother him back to health myself.  I worry and wonder, will we connect?  Will I love him like crazy and feel like he's my son and I'm his mother?  How will he and Sierra get along?  As Olga observed, he has a very calm and quiet disposition and Sierra has a very energetic and outgoing one.  Will they complement each other or clash?  Ho hum.  I'm just trying to trust that these are all common sentiments of any new mommy yet sometimes they're hard to come to terms with!

Now, at the end of the day, I feel so exhausted!  Sierra crashed on the couch at 6:00, I'm trying to finish unpacking and putting everything away, and Robin and Dave have gone out to try to get something to eat.  Masha is going to call us in the morning to let us know how Emil is doing and if we will be able to visit him.  It's so hard to believe and, yet, I can almost feel the weight of his body in my arms ... and that is very real!

By-the-way, Happy Valentine's Day!  It's been the best for us!!!


                           Our little Valentine                                                          Layover in Atyrau on way to Uralsk- very desolate


            Trucks outside airport in Uralsk                                                           Welcome to Kazakhstan


                           Ministry of Education