22 February-27 March 2005: Almaty and Detroit

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22 February 2005: Almaty

Disaster struck yesterday afternoon. There was a hard disk error in the boot sector of my laptop. Thus I am unable to boot it up to save pictures and make electronic diary entries. I make these on paper and type them in later. Eventually I was able to recover most of the disk, but we did lose one day worth of pictures (17 February) and could only add a few more that got stored on the camera.

On Sunday 20 February we did almost nothing. We went for a short walk and to the nearby Cafe Venezia for pizza. It was not bad. Rita was very entertained by some of the English translations on the menu including "Chicken Chests", "polka dots", and "vegetables and ryes". Monday's visit with Sergio did not go so well. Sergio threw a tantrum for the entire visit. The only thing that made him happy was food, and when that ran out he tried to escape. We let him succeed and he was rewarded with a cracker from one of the caretakers. He then pretended he had to go the bathroom which led to another trip out, but no cracker. Eventually his wailing brought Maigul. Even she could not comfort him and he finally calmed down when they left for lunch. Sometimes two year olds are inconsolable.

After that visit we visited the Lufthansa office to try to change our tickets to get back a day earlier since we have been given an earlier court date. There was no luck as Lufthansa has only three flights per week. Their office is next to the Almaty Hyatt which is luxury hotel. We peeked in. They had US newspapers, but at $4-7 we decided it was not worth it. Dima tells us that some families stay there, but that it costs $250/night.

The weather improved markedly on Sunday. Much warmer and clearer. I did get one nice shot of the mountains as our last picture along the route.

23 February 2005: Almaty

Lots of trouble trying to find an Internet cafe that would allow me to log in to my account at work. I needed an SSH client and two places we tried did not have one and did not allow me to download one. Thus no new pictures.

Today's visit was good. Sergio actually played with us for most of the time. He carted toys around and ran around making noise. It was quite fun.

Yesterday after our visit we took a walk to Republic Square. It has a monument with the Golden Man (do a Google search on Golden Man Almaty and find nice pictures of him) on a tiger on top of an enormous pillar. Around it are four smaller pillars; two with boys on ponies and two with musicians. There are metal reliefs making a horseshoe wall around the pillars. They show events from Kazakh history. Best ones showed armored horsemen, Renaissance armies, and battles from the Russian Revolution. The last one shows President Nazarbayev.

Dima took us to the "Green Market" which is a huge open market in the city. The most interesting feature was the huge horse meat section. Around it is a labyrinthine flea market with clothes, toys, etc. We looked for a Slinky for Sergio, but had no luck. Dima told us that in his youth he came here every weekend to help his mother shop. She bargained and he hated waiting. He also had to carry the packages and felt like a mule. The buses were packed so full that he preferred to walk even while loaded down with the shopping. His memories are nothing but bad and he only comes here now with American visitors never to shop.

Today is Soldier's Day in the ex-Soviet Union. It used to be a major holiday. Dima was in the army for two years, 1990-2. The first six months were awful as the older soldiers made the new recruits do all the bad jobs. It got better later and he was in Germany for six months. He was in the artillery and worked on short range ballistic missiles (FROGs I guess). After the withdrawal, Dima's was one of the last Russian units to leave Germany, he was based in Turkmenistan. There the food was terrible. For three months they were given nothing but cabbage, then two months of eggs, and finally three months of fish. He liked the army, but after his experience in Turkmenistan he was happy to get out. He felt as if the soldiers had been forsaken by the army.

24 February 2005: Almaty

Good visit today, but short. It snowed last night on top of yesterday's rain. Thus it was a slippery mess, and along the route there was an accident. Dima was really frustrated by the traffic jam, and we were happy simply to get there. Sergio was having a walk outside with his mates and joined us inside in the play room. He is acting more like a kid with us. He eats and then tears up the orange peel, puts it in a box, and starts moving things around the room. Some times he stops to play. He interacts much more with us by responding to questions and letting us know what wants rather than screaming. It will be hard to leave him behind.

The Internet cafe at the Ramstore worked, and I was able to login and read a week of accumulated email. The only thing of import is that Ratna Naik is our new Department Chair come the fall. I wish her well.

26 February 2005: Almaty

Much the same at the Baby House. The care givers tell us that Sergio waits for us every day. Around 10:00 he stops playing and starts looking out the windows waiting for our car to pull in. Each day we have more interaction and fun. Only a few more visits as we do not see him tomorrow (Sunday) and may not see him on the day we have court. We are not looking forward to saying goodbye.

Our new pattern is to have Dima drop us at the Ramstore after our visit. We check the email, do a bit of shopping, and then walk back to the apartment. The walk is exciting as there is ice and lots of run off. Spring seems to have arrived as it no longer gets cold and more melts off each day.

For entertainment we have been watching "Soviet Cinema", old Russian movies which are on one of the Russian channels during the mid-afternoon. We have seen Suvorov fighting the French during the French Revolution, a Russian- Turkish sea battle followed by a British+French invasion of Russia in the Crimean War, and tales of heroic workers taking up their guns to defend the Russian Revolution. This last was most entertaining featuring a beautiful female machine gunner and a swirling, dust obscured cavalry battle starting after one of the workers shouted "Cosaki" for help.

28 February 2005: Almaty

We are entering the home stretch. Yesterday we walked all the way to Central Park and back. It took about two hours. We had neglected to notice that our ballet was yesterday rather than today so we missed it.

Today's visit was good. Sergio actually laughed for a good solid 15 minutes when he was knocking over a water bottle. He still tries to escape early, but we now realize that he does this as it is lunch time.

After the visit we went to Gulbanu's office and went over our court appearance tomorrow. It takes place in the judge's chambers and the judge, her secretary, a prosecutor, the director of the baby house, and a representative from the ministry of education will be there. They ask us why we want to adopt, why from Kazakhstan, and why this child. Key is to not mention that there is any prior knowledge of the child. It is familiar to us from last time. I am not very nervous, just have a desire to get it over with.

We did get our second trip dates, 21-26 March. We have to extend it on the back end to get a Saturday night stay. The price is $6-8k versus $2k. We will have to arrange this with Rita's parents and where Carla will be.

We have an unusual picture today. The camel was walking down the street next to our apartment. On the weekend in downtown Almaty there are camels, lamas, and a pony that are available for riding. Rita also snapped a picture of a pastry shaped like a hedgehog. We got this at a store around the corner that sells very cheap prepared food including potato dumplings and cabbage turn overs. It is good we did not discover this place earlier or we would not have eaten so well during this visit to Almaty.

2 March 2005: Almaty

This is our last day. We had court yesterday. The judge talked a lot, which Zhanara tells us is unusual, but usual for this judge. Zhanara did great as our translator. We told the judge why we chose adoption, unable to have children on our own and since our first adoption went so well we wanted to do it again. We chose Kazakhstan due to closed adoption procedures and the well run Baby Houses. We chose Murat/Sergio as we wanted a boy and were very happy with our first toddler. We first met him when we visited the Baby House and Director showed us two children. We told the judge that we chose him as he looks a bit like our daughter Carla. We can provide him with a good home. Both of us have stable jobs with good incomes. We can assure him good health care and will provide him with a good education. Finally I formally asked for the adoption and the name change. Rita then got up and said how thankful we were. The judge then asked some stock questions about Carla, our home, etc. The prosecutor asked one simple question. The Baby House director spoke on Murat. She said that her mother had terminated her parental rights at birth, no one had ever come to visit Murat, and the requested adoption was in the child's best interest. The ministry of Education lady said very little; she was new at this, and got lectured by the judge. Finally we summed up and the judge asked us to leave. Everyone else left and after about ten minutes the judge called us back in and granted our request to be executed in 15 days. Having it over was a big relief.

We did a late afternoon visit with Sergio (4-6). We brought a stack of donations for the Baby House (toys, clothes, medicine). It was one of our better visits. He had just eaten and thus did not try to escape.

Today we visit in the morning and our plane leaves at 4:00 AM with Dima picking us up at 1:00 AM.

We got exciting news from home. Our cat, Beppo, has an infected tooth and had to go the vet. Lisa who was watching our pets and the house was really nice to take such good care of our cat while we were away. We spoke to our mom's by phone. Rita's parents plan to meet us in Detroit and then they will head back to Chicago. Rita and Carla will head to meet them some time next week.

3-19 March 2005: Detroit+Chicago

Some notes. The trip back was interesting. There were at least two other couples on the plane out of Almaty who were adopting kids from Kazakhstan. It was interesting to compare notes. One set was on their second trip, while the other was completing a full trip as some places still allow immediate execution of the adoptions.

Carla really missed us as when we cleared customs in Detroit she shouted for us and came running to be smothered in hugs and kisses. We really missed her. Being away from her was the hardest part of this trip.

We did go to Chicago on the weekend of 12-15 March. I went by plane to attend the last BTeV meeting at Fermilab. It was followed by a nice meal. Terribly sad and very distressing, but a good bunch of people. The worst aspect of this is not being able to work with those guys. Sheldon Stone, much to my surprise, had a very human reaction to the cancellation of an experiment he has spearheaded for over a decade. Rita and Carla came the next day by train. We stayed with my mother who was very frustrated by how long it is taking her knee to heal. Probably what made it worst for her is that her doctor told her she would be fully recovered in a week. She is clearly getting better and it should not be a suprise that it takes an 83 year old a while to heal from a knee operation. We had birthday parties for Carla and me on the 13th and 14th. I headed back on the 15th to begin recovering at work, and getting the house ready for Sergio to join us.

20 March 2005: Detroit

I just got a call from Rita as she is heading on the airplane for the trip to pick up Sergio. We had purchased two round trip tickets as a round trip is $2000 while a single leg from Almaty to Chicago is more than $5000. They would not let her use the second round trip and forced her to sell it back and buy the more expensive single leg. I called Travelocity and could get no help. The second trip has turned into a financial disaster costing over $7000 while saving less than $1500 in living expenses. On the up side at least Rita, Carla, and I were together for a couple of weeks. Rita will try to call me when she gets to Almaty. I hope her trip goes well.

22 March 2005: Detroit

Rita made it safely to Almaty and she called last night. I called her, after getting some help from T-Mobile, on her cell phone this morning and this evening. She slept well, but was kept up late. Apparently today is new year's day in Kazakhstan and the center of the city was filled with a crowd and there were fireworks deep into the night. She picks up Sergio later today and I will call her in the morning. I told Pat and Peter Hoffmann about our air travel woes. Pat was very upset, and suggested I take the problem to local TV news. I was entering the story into a web site when I thought to call United and give them one last chance. The person there was at last helpful. She said that they do have adoption fares, exactly the opposite of what Rita was told at the airport, and that she could cancel the expensive ticket Rita bought and arrange for her to buy a $1100 one way ticket. I was on the phone for an hour. Apparently "adoption fares" are not well known.

27 March 2005: Detroit

Rita and Sergio back from Almaty today. I spoke to Rita just after she left the airport. The trip went well, but she is still struggling with United to get the expensive ticket refunded. She was very tired. Sergio traveled OK, but Rita did not get any sleep. I called back again late in the afternoon. Rita was asleep and Sergio was settling in. He was afraid of the dog, but Carla and Frank were interacting with him and Diane said that he was starting to act like one of the kids. I spoke with Fran and the plan is that they will visit my mother tomorrow. I spoke with her every day this week. She is doing much better and is really looking forward to having the kids visit. Then they plan to come here on Tuesday. I cannot wait.

Eventually after my visiting United in Detroit and getting no help I had to send United the unused ticket and a letter explaining the whole thing. After a week and half they issued a refund minus a $150 ticket change fee. A relief in the end.

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