Thursday, April 16, 2009

On our way home

We had court this morning and are now the proud parents (and big sister) of Nathaniel Arman Bookman! The attorney we had was the same attorney who represented us for Irina’s adoption. We had to give speeches to the judge, who spent most of the time flipping through our paperwork. It was wonderful to see our paperwork finally in court during our adoption proceeding after all the headaches we went through doing and redoing our paperwork. (Thanks to all of you who suffered through the stories and our paperwork frustrations throughout this LONG process!) After court we went back to the apartment to change and finish our last minute packing. Our facilitator came by with some rolls that had different fillings. They were quite delicious!!!! The x-ray lady got a kick out of our carry-on being filled with CHOCOLATE!!!!! Our facilitator has been so kind to us while we’ve been here. Our friend who we’ve known for the last 4 years, she was our translator for our trip with Irina, came by to say goodbye. She brought Irina two little dogs that are connected. It was a teary goodbye (again) with her; she feels like family to us. We are so very excited because she is saving up for a trip to the States so it was more of a “see you later” rather than goodbye.

It was wonderful for us that she brought the stuffed animals for Irina because Irina talked to them for most of the 2 ½ hour drive from Karaganda to Astana. We are currently sitting in the airport waiting to board our plane to Almaty before continuing on to Frankfurt and Brussels. There is a baby laughing who sounds just like Nate. It is very hard to be sitting in this airport without our baby but at least we know his paperwork is being processed so that he can finally come home. Now the countdown is on to come back to pick him up. We don’t have any idea when we’ll find out when we can return for him but hope it won’t be too long. We can’t wait to introduce him to all of our friends and family-we know you’ll fall in love with him quickly, just as we did!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April 15, 2009

It was an emotional day today. We knew that it was going to be just a morning session today. Nate was still not feeling well and had an awful cough and runny rose. We fed him breakfast and then tried to keep him entertained and as comfortable as we could. He was very happy during music class. He really enjoys the music. He really loves to see the props that the music teacher brings. When the massage doctor, Lala, came through our little play area, we asked her to take a picture with Nate (again). Apparently she does not like to take pics because she doesn't like the way she looks in pictures. Kevin was trying to get her to give him a massage instead. She thought he was joking but the translator assured her that he was not. She instructed Irina on how to walk on his back. She really enjoys interacting with Irina. Several of the other babies appeared to still have colds today. We left the gifts for the caregivers in Nate's room. We had to leave early so that we could get to Irina's baby house by 12.

Driving to Irina's baby house was like a flashback to four years ago. There were some new buildings but it was pretty much the same. Irina was ecstatic (one of her new words from Fancy Nancy) and talked about it all morning to the translators. It was an emotional experience for us! While we were waiting for our facilitator, Kevin saw a lady come out of the room Irina was in and immediately recognized her. She is in the picture we have of Irina and her caregivers. We first went to the director's office, who was very eager to meet Irina again. We showed her the scrapbook we brought of Irina over the years and she truly enjoyed looking through it and hearing about Irina. Then we went back downstairs to her baby room, which did not change at all. There were only a few babies in her room We have some "before and after" pictures: Irina standing next to her old crib and Irina sitting in Kevin's lap in the same chair he was holding her in in one of the pictures from the scrapbook. The ladies were amazed by Irina. The playroom we used to spend our days in was changed around, as was another playroom used by families from another agency. What surprised us the most when we were here four years ago was just how spotless and clean that baby house was. That had not changed and there is definitely a difference in that aspect between the two baby houses. Irina was very curious while we were there and just looked around during our little tour.

At the end of our visit to her baby house, we found out that our court date had changed. One of the social workers was sick and could not attend court this afternoon. Court was rescheduled for 9:30 AM tomorrow. So, once again our travel plans had to be adjusted. Our final plans for tomorrow are having court at 9:30 AM, going back to our apartment to change, and then we'll be picked up by a driver who will take us to Astana (a 3 hour drive). We will fly from Astana to Almaty at 5:20 PM and arrive in Almaty about 2 hours later. A facilitator who we worked with before, Lola, will meet us at the airport and take us to a hotel so that we can relax until our flight to Frankfurt which leaves at 3:15 AM on Friday morning. We'll have a short layover in Frankfurt before flying home to Brussels. It's going to be a long day!

We went back to our apartment for a quick lunch and then went back to visit Nate for the afternoon session. He was happy to see his family. He coughed and sneezed a bit and wanted to be held. He crawled around for awhile and enjoyed playing with Irina. It is so cute to watch them together. Two new babies moved in from another room. They are twin sisters but do not look alike. We had a very unique opportunity for this baby house-all of the caregivers were there for a meaning and we got a picture of Nathaniel with all his caregivers. That rarely happens here.
It was very sad to say "see you later" to him at the end of the session and we were all in tears. We donated some clothes and diapers to the room. Hopefully these next few weeks will go by quickly!!!!!!!

We did some last minute shopping and developed some pictures, as requested by the caregivers. Then we went to dinner and bought some last minute groceries (chocolate to bring home-to Belgium of all places!). There is a chocolate bar that we (okay, mostly Laura) are addicted to. Now we are off to give his backpack to someone so that he'll have his travel bag to meet us in Almaty. Au revoir, Karanganda!

April 14, 2009

It was surprising to wake up and find snow on the ground! There wasn’t very much but there was snow. This morning our goal was to figure out how and when we are leaving. Today we were really excited to go to the baby house because we knew that two families were coming to pick up their boys who are in Nathaniel’s room.
Breakfast was very watery again this morning! Our morning seemed to fly by very quickly. We spent a majority of the time in the small room with the other family and their little boy. The two boys were crawling around for a bit. Nathaniel was a little fussy this morning and just wanted to be held. About halfway through our morning session we found out that we would not be visiting Irina’s baby house this morning during lunch. The director wasn’t going to be in today and she wants to see Irina. We will go tomorrow just after our morning session and just before court.

Irina likes to spend time with the two translators in another room at the baby house while we are playing with Nathaniel. We tell her that she has to spend time with us and Nate but she would rather be with the girls. They dote on her and she loves the attention. Before going this morning, we told her that she would not be going to play with the girls because she needed to spend time with her brother. (In her defense, he can’t really play with her.) About an hour through our time, one of the translators came in and asked if Irina could come with her. She returned soon after to ask if Irina had told us about their secret. We had no idea what she was talking about and she proceeded to tell us about the plan our little schemer came up with: She went to this translator and said that she wanted to come play with her but her mom said that she had to spend lots of time with her brother and was not allowed to ask the girls if she could come with them. So, she asked this translator to come to the room and ask if Irina could come visit with her for awhile. Furthermore, she told the translator not to wait until just before it was time to leave because then she would be stuck with us for too long. Everyone in the room was just shaking their heads, not believing that Irina cooked up this little plan and all agreed that we are in trouble with her. We are scared to imagine what the actual teenage years will involve if this is Irina at 4 years old!

After we ate lunch, we had to finish up some last minute shopping for gifts. When we were talking with the other couple this morning, they told us about red Russian gold, which is specific to this region. One of the translators has some Red Russian gold jewelry and it was a pretty color. After buying the items we needed, we had just enough time to go look at the jewelry. Kevin insisted on buying Laura some birthday jewelry: a necklace and earrings. They are really pretty. It was quite embarrassing because the earrings have a large safety clasp and got stuck in Laura’s ears when she tried them. It took 3 people to try to get them out.

When we got to the baby house for our afternoon session, the room was really busy. The returning families were there to visit with their boys for the afternoon and then were coming to pick them up just before their night flight tonight. It was great getting to see the families after we had gotten to know the boys. It was also neat to see that they knew who Nathaniel is and they asked us if he still had green spots (from the medicine they put on him). We shared some stories about their boys as well. All four boys played together for a bit after the adults socialized for awhile. Nathaniel was fussy again this afternoon and was sneezing and coughing a lot. He felt really warm so we took his temperature and sure enough, he has a little fever. Many of the babies in the room seem to have the same thing going on. It was great to talk to the other families today and hear that they had only been home from their trip for a few days when they found out when they could come back to pick up their kids. Hopefully it will be the same for us! There was a lot of commotion in the small room today and the afternoon was over before we knew it. We took some pictures of all four of the babies together and exchanged email addresses so that we can keep in touch. We were comparing stories about going to court and the two returning families said that the judge’s phones (landline and cell phone) were ringing during both of their court sessions as well. He ignored the calls during one family’s session and then when one mother was talking, he just answered the phone and started talking. Definitely different from in the US!

After our afternoon session, we went on a scavenger hunt for some KZ car stickers that Kevin wanted. He was unsuccessful but we did get to see a different part of Karaganda that is not so nice. We went to a restaurant we have been to before to connect to the Internet and try to figure out some travel plans and to get the phone number of our travel agent in the States. We have had drinks and bread and cheese there before but have never eaten dinner. It was getting to be dinner time so we decided to try it. It is just a 10 minute walk from our apartment and we were sad that we hadn’t eaten there before. The food was amazing! There is a restaurant just across from our building but it isn’t very good and we had no idea all this time that Mate had an English menu, otherwise we would have eaten there several times a week. We are definitely going there tomorrow as well. The Bookmans never mind eating out and because groceries are expensive here, eating out isn’t really that expensive.

After we got home, we packed because we didn’t know if we would be leaving after court tomorrow or on Thursday. Our travel agent is 12 hours behind us so we had to wait until quite late to figure out our travel plans. Supposedly it’s going to snow on Wednesday and Thursday but we are hoping it holds off until after we are on our way home. We have to stay until Thursday afternoon, then we’ll drive to Astana (2 hours in a car), catch a night flight to Almaty, take a 3:15 AM flight to Frankfurt, and then take a flight back to Brussels. We’ll finally arrive in Brussels on Friday morning. It is going to be a lot of traveling! We are eager to get home but at least we’ll get to have more time with Nathaniel and be sure that he is getting his medicine and feeling better. It seems that when we have arrived at the baby house after the other families have arrived, Nathaniel is a little fussy at first. It’s almost like he was starting to fuss because the other families were there and we weren’t. We have usually been the first family there each morning and afternoon so maybe he’s picked up on that and thinks we’re not coming. Just like with Irina, it’s going to be hard to leave him here for the 3 weeks or so between our trips. This evening we also packed his bag for when he is escorted to Almaty to meet us. It was exciting to pack his bags.

April 13, 2009

Today was pre-court. It was easy. Our driver took us to a non-descript building which was central processing for all sorts of legal matters; civil, criminal, adoption affairs. We were waiting a bit for our lawyer to arrive. Once he arrived we exchanged pleasantries and then went upstairs to the judge’s office. We walked in and sat in front of the judge. We had to stand and give our names. There was a doctor there from the baby house and she was seated at a side table. The judge asked a few questions to the lawyer and Julia and that was it. The judge wasn’t very happy that Irina had citizenship in the US but we guess it was lost in translation that she still has her Kaz citizenship as well. We think Wednesday will be more interesting. We’ve been assured that the prosecutor, lawyer, doctor, and judge do most of the talking. We have to make quick speeches (about 3 minutes) about how we love Nate and can’t wait to bring him home and give him the same types of things we’ve given Irina. But we’ll also talk about how it’s really that Irina has given us so many things to be happy about. We went home and changed before going to the baby house so we were about 15 minutes late for our morning session.
When we got to the room, Nate was sitting on the potty. Yes, on a potty. Interestingly, the kids, after they are fed, are strapped down to a potty. Some kids go, others don’t. Nate appeared to be a little distressed and had some tears on his face; this is the first time we’ve seen him upset. He didn’t have anything going on so we took him off. It was actually funny to see him on there. It was odd because his diapers disappear quite quickly although apparently he isn’t always put in them as we witnessed today. It is probably easier for the caregivers to strap them down to the potties but we would really prefer that he wears the diapers we’ve bought for him. Several of the babies on the potties were upset and we were wondering if breakfast did not sit right with them. We changed Nathaniel and took him out to the adjacent room to roll around on the floor. He has a bad cough and it seems all the kids in the room are coming down with a cough, cold, or both. When the doctor came up, she listened to him and wasn’t happy that he was sick again as he just got better. She prescribed another breathing treatment for him today which he received at the end of the session with the music teacher. The music teacher had some new toys which she sang to today. It was great to see the reactions of the kids, especially Nate. He really loves the music teacher and was zooming around in the walker during her lesson. After Nate’s breathing treatment, he seemed to be breathing easier which was good. As we were packing up, a nurse brought in a new baby to the room. He was very big and we asked how old. He’s 6 months. He’s going to be a big, big boy. His whole body is solid and his hands are huge for a six month old.

Before going to lunch today, we stopped by a book store. Julia recommended the store to us because we were able to buy books in English, Kazakh, and Russian. We’re going to keep them for when the kids get older as a reminder of where they came from and to understand their heritage. Lunch was good and we all ate yummy desserts.

We (the Americans) felt breakfast was bad for the kids. After eating, all the kids were crying and not looking like they enjoyed it too much. We could tell by the odor of the recycling going on at lunch time that there was something NQR (not quite right) with the food served at breakfast. Thankfully, lunch was a regular meal of beef and potatoes. Of course Nate loves that and who wouldn’t. It smells delicious and doesn’t look half bad. After feeding Nate, we moved back to the room and played with the other adopting family and their son for a bit. Nathaniel was pretty content to be held this morning and this afternoon. He did quite a bit of inching around on the carpet to get some of the other family’s toys and we saw him crawl about 2 times. Kev took a peek in at the kids and noticed the new kid figured out how to lift himself out of the walker. Some walkers have a bar which goes across the tray, probably once holding toys. Well, the new kid pulled himself up with the bar and then stepped on the frame. A caregiver noticed what he was doing and promptly settled him back down into the walker. Later on, we saw a girl who never has done much standing up with the new guy. She’s always seemed to be in a shell or her own world. Well the new guy seems to have broken that. Normally when we try to interact with her, we can barely get a smile. Laura was watching her as she pulled herself up to walk with the new boy in his walker. It was very cool to see and she was smiling. We also heard a loud thump and noticed another girl had fallen through and out of her walker. They aren’t in the best condition and when we put Nate in one, we have to give it a look to see if it’s okay to use. It wasn’t a pretty site but she was just shaken and no damage done. All the kids seemed to be having fun cruising around in the walkers. It was a pretty good afternoon and before we knew it, we had to leave.

When we got back to our apartment, we found out we won’t be flying back on Wednesday. Who knew that Air Astana doesn’t fly to Almaty on WED and THURS?!? We were really hoping to leave on Wednesday night (court is scheduled for 3:00 on Wednesday) so that we would arrive home on Thursday. That would give us the weekend to settle back into our normal routine before going back to school and work on Monday. We are also starting to go into dog withdrawal and are eager to get Gabby home from the kennel. Our choice is to drive about 3 hours to Astana by a driver and then catch a flight to Almaty from there or wait until Friday night and then fly to Almaty to catch our originally scheduled flight home. It is just easier to fly to Almaty so we’ll have to wait it out. Al least we’ll get some more time with Nathaniel.

Going for a walk in the evenings really helps to pass the time. So we got a list of things we need to leave for Nate and walked over to a baby store near our apartment. We got most of the stuff on our list and think we have the last remaining items already. It was funny buying tights for a little boy (we found some with race cars on them). We are happy that we get to spend some more time with him before we leave. We’ll also make a surprise appearance to our “English” class as we told them we were going to leave on Wednesday. We’re going to bring them some Belgian chocolate that we brought with us to give as gifts. We hope they enjoy the chocolate. Rumor is that we’re to get snow on Wednesday (2”+) and Thursday (3-6”). Maybe Nate will need to wear those tights under his pants. We’ll keep you posted. So much for the Spring being here…..

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 12, 2009

When we arrived today, Nate was still sound asleep. He had a pretty busy day and was yawning often at the end of our session yesterday. The care givers told the translators to tell us to wake Nate up because his food was getting cold. We thought that was odd as they didn’t need to feed him, we’re there for that and they had 10 other kids to feed so someone was going to get cold food anyways. Also, they had just spooned the food into the bowls and were only starting to feed the first babies. The logic was beyond definition…. When Nathaniel opened his eyes and saw us, he was very excited! Waking him up from a deep sleep didn’t alter his good mood at all.

Nate ate his food and was content as always having a full belly. We’re kind of surprised at the runny-ness of the breakfast food over the last week or so. By the end of breakfast, it’s soup and most of the liquid just drips out of his mouth and down his neck. We noticed some more little bumps on the back of his head and are wondering if he is allergic to something. Irina had some little skin rashes when she was at her baby house and they disappeared pretty quickly after we brought her home. He had some of the blue medicine on the side of his forehead this morning so we were thankful that the man came yesterday to take his passport pictures.
We moved to the adjacent hallway near the main room and spent our time there playing with the other American family that is here with us (with a different agency). The other family didn’t want their son playing with Nate’s toys but we kept telling them it was okay. Kev was encouraging their son to crawl all over him as well. It was a really good morning watching Nate and the other boy play side by side. They were babbling a lot and we don’t know if it was to one another or what. We have learned to try to keep Nathaniel upright for awhile after his feedings!

We are amazed at the advancements we’ve seen with Nate since we arrived here a few weeks ago. He’s sitting up on his own and babbling quite a bit. Nate’s really developed his leg muscles as well so standing is becoming easier for him. The one thing we’re amazed at is how happy he seems to be all the time. It doesn’t matter who walks by, he always has a smile on his face. It’s going to be hard leaving in a few days but we’ll be back before we know it to rendez-vous with Nate in Almaty for the long ride to the US and then back to Belgium. We’re really excited to bring him to the US and Belgium so everyone can meet him. Likewise, we’re excited for Nate to meet our friends at home and abroad and to settle into our own routine at home. Our time flew by this morning. It is hard only being able to see him once on Sundays and not being able to explain to him that not coming in the afternoon is not our choice.

This afternoon we ate lunch at our apartment (Irina gets to excited to eat blinis with jam, which is like having crepes with jam) and then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the malls and bazaars looking for a few last minute gifts. Shopping here is kind of like it is in Belgium-there really aren’t department stores so you have to go to the individual stores or bazaar booths that sell whatever it is you are looking for. Two differences are that everything is open until about 7 or 8 PM everyday (including Sundays!) and all of the store employees have been so nice and helpful to us. We bought dombras for Irina and Nathaniel to have when they are older. It is a traditional Kazakh instrument that is like a guitar. Karaganda is not a touristy place-it is an industrial city that used to be a site of prison camps for Germans. The Soviets would send all the German POW’s here during WWII. There are two German restaurants here and some German communities throughout Kaz. Finding souvenirs for them to have of this area has not been easy for us. Irina had about an hour to play in her favorite part of the mall-it’s called Babylon and is a big arcade with games for younger kids and older kids. There are some rides for little kids and a big climbing area that is great for Irina to burn off some of her energy. Irina sometimes gets to take a break while we get in an old-school game of Galaga or Ms. Pacman. Another added bonus is that there is a Baskin Robbins ice-cream stand just outside of Babylon. Luckily we have been able to resist the adorable puppies that are illegally (we think) sold in a parking lot near one of the strip malls. People have the puppies, and some kittens, in the trunks of their cars and are constantly looking around like they are ready to make a run for it if a police man comes. We walked around for about 4 hours this afternoon and for once, it was nice to come back and relax in the apartment. If you have ever lived overseas, you will truly appreciate the next statement: We are very excited to get back home and have AFN (Laura is bc Kev’s been watching the cycling classics and it doesn’t matter what language it’s in). Our evenings have been watching the following programs on television in or dubbed over in Russian: weightlifting, bicycling, hockey, NCAA b-ball, National Geographic (Irina is learning about the circle of life!), and some American shows that we like but can’t understand anything. Irina gets to watch some Russian cartoons or US/Canadian cartoons (dubbed), which is a treat for her so she doesn’t mind not understanding anything. The only show NOT dubbed is Hannah Montana (Kev makes puking noise).

By the time you read this, we’ll have been to pre-court on Monday and be at the baby house hanging out and playing with Nate. Pre-court is a new requirement to ensure our paperwork is in order. We are scheduled (to our knowledge) for court on Wednesday. If all goes as planned, we’ll fly out

Wednesday night to Almaty and then depart at 0300 on Thursday our time for a morning arrival in Belgium on Thursday. We’re excited to get back and see everyone and get back to work (Just FYI, Kevin wrote that last line about work). But Kev has a ton of work to do so he’s eager to get back and knock some stuff out and burn off the great Kaz food on his bikes. We have consumed an unbelievable amount of carbs every day here!

One big difference for this last bit of time here for us is that we don’t have to plan parties for the baby house. With Irina’s adoption, we had to have two parties on the last day we were here after we went to court: one for the caregivers and one for the doctors/director. All of the caregivers, even those who were not working that day, attended the party in her room. At those parties, we gave gifts and made little speeches about how grateful we were to be there and how grateful we were for all that they did for Irina. It was also a time for the women to ask us questions about our lives and what was in store for Irina after she left Kazakhstan. They also told some good Irina stories, which we treasured. We have a picture of Irina surrounded by all of her caregivers on that last day and that is a special picture for her as well as for us. At this baby house, we do not give parties. We order a cake for the caregivers and a cake for the doctors. Whoever happens to be working on Wednesday after we go to court will enjoy the cake. It was really nice to have a sense of closure with Irina’s adoption. We’re not really sure what to expect on Wednesday but want to ensure that all of the wonderful women who work with Nathaniel know how grateful we are for all they have done for him. When we are there for our visits, there really isn’t time to socialize or talk with any of the women because they are so busy cleaning and taking care of all of the babies.

Two of the babies in Nathaniel’s room are being picked up by their adoptive families tomorrow and Tuesday. Both families are American and we are very interested to meet them after having gotten to know their boys.

April 11, 2009

All night long we were awakened by pouring rain (and Sasha, the little boy who lives in the apartment above us-he is quite active running around at night). Surely, there wouldn’t be any when we woke up. It was wet outside when we left but the sun was trying to poke through the clouds. All morning, it looked like it was going to rain but it didn’t.

When we arrived to the baby house, of course Nate was awake and waiting for us to pick him up. As always, he’s very excited to see us and get fed by us. This morning, many of the babies were crying in their cribs for whatever reason but not our Nate! It looked like he was trying to strip the sheets in his crib. After a nice breakfast, he did some walking in his walker and then played on the blanket for the rest of the morning. Today a man came to take passport pictures of the babies who are being adopted. The first baby, who is also from Nathaniel’s room, did not like the experience at all. He cried and screamed for quite some time. We decided to let Nate go while everyone tried to calm the other baby down. Nate was quite content to sit on the table by himself, smile at the photographer, and get his picture taken. He is such an easy going child and is pretty much game for anything.

We went to Ankara for lunch again today. Kev’s not feeling well again so it was a diet of rice and water for him. Laura had a beef dish, Julia had pizza, and of course Irina had “hot dog” and fries. The girls ate some very nice looking desserts. (You can tell when Kevin writes the blog entries because you get a full description of what everyone ate.) We told the English class we’d be there for lunch and were thinking they weren’t going to show up when two of them appeared. One of them, Asele, asked Kevin to help her with her anti-virus. But her computer wouldn’t connect to the internet there so Kev couldn’t do anything for her. There is an American who we met at Ankara and Kev spoke with him the other day. In their conversation, Kev found out the American (with a Russian name he can’t remember) was a computer guy. So on the way out, Kev asked the guy to give the girls a hand trying to get connected to the Internet. The problem for Kevin was the girls computer font’s were in Russian and Kazakh and their English comprehension wasn’t strong enough to communicate what they wanted. Nor did they understand that Asele’s computer wouldn’t connect. Hopefully we’ll find out tomorrow that the Russian-American was able to help. He seems like a nice guy. Kev seems to think that there were too many people (using the bandwidth) in Ankara because when we left almost every table had someone with a laptop. Izad, another girl who was there told us it wasn’t going to rain today. It was hard for us all to communicate, as their English is very limited, though not as limited as our Russian. About 5 minutes after she said that, the sky opened up and down came the rain. It rained heavily for about 20 minutes. When we left Ankara for the car, it was sprinkling. When we got in the car, we noticed our translator Julia was soaked. That’s too bad because she’s always dressed nicely. But even she said it wouldn’t rain today.

Nate seemed to be one of the first babies awake this afternoon and seemed to be a little tired by the end of our afternoon visit. He was rubbing his eyes and yawning. It is so cute when he rubs his eyes with his little hands. He had his nails trimmed a bit. Well, Laura tried to smooth them out a bit. The caregivers use scissors to cut their nails straight across and they are quite chopped up and sharp (at least Nate’s are). We got the break-down on the caregiver situation-there are 6 caregiver (who are like teachers), 2 nannies (they do not have training like the teachers), 2 nurses, and 3 doctors for the room (one who is the general doctor, one who prescribes the medicines, and one who gives the medicines). The nannies wear blue outfits that resemble scrubs and we noticed that they are the ones who mop the floors). Nate is so close to crawling but he hasn’t really crawled besides the one time a few days ago. He gets up on all fours and rocks back and forth so he’s ready and just needs to start moving. He was inching around on the blanket and Laura was video-taping him. He is very calm and happy and then up comes much of his breakfast. It was quite gross but very funny to watch on the video, at least to Irina. She asks to watch it over and over and laughs so hard! You can’t help but laugh along with her because her laugh is so contagious.

The crazy guy was outside our apartment this afternoon. He used to clean the apartment buildings and likes to follow a lady who lives in the building next to ours. We suspect he was spoken to as he didn’t even look in our direction when we arrived. After dinner we went for a walk and did some shopping at the local grocery store. We have been doing our best to sample all of the desserts they sell. The individual slices of cakes and the locally packaged cookies (yum!) that they sell are so very cheap but the fresh fruit is unbelievably expensive. We will be hitting the Sunday market next week In Mons to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables!

This evening we have to begin memorizing our speeches for court. We found out today that we will go visit Irina’s baby house on Tuesday after our afternoon session with Nathaniel. That will be exciting for all of us. Irina has been eager to go see her baby house. We made a scrapbook of Irina through the years to bring and show the ladies so that they will know she has a good life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10, 2009

Today was the coldest day we’ve had since we’ve been here. Even though it snowed a few days ago, it warmed right up that day and was a great temperature by 9:45 AM, the time we meet our driver outside of our apartment building. One of our windows was left open last night so most of the apartment was like an ice box this morning. There is central heating and since we have no control over the temperature in our apartment via a thermostat, we leave a window or two open at night because it can get too hot. We have heard that the heat will be turned off in the middle of April.

Luckily this morning, the man who was bothering us yesterday was not outside. We purposely did not wait for the driver outside-we made sure he was there before going outside. Nathaniel was the first baby out of his crib this morning. Kevin had a tough time feeding him because the breakfast was so watery-it was like soup and dribbled all over Nate’s belly. It was frustrating feeling like he wasn’t getting enough food to tide him over and not being able to give him anything else. He spent some time in his walker this morning and then some time playing on the carpet before music class. He really loves music class, especially when the caregivers bring around the stuffed/toy animals for the kids to touch during the songs. He flaps his arms and has a huge smile on his face. We realized this morning that we forgot to bring the camera so we won’t have any pictures from today. Nate’s doctor came to get him to give him his daily check-up and she was not happy with us because of the teething toy he was chomping on. We bought him a teething ring that we put in the freezer overnight. We take it out before going to the baby house in the morning and by the time we give it to him, it has been out for about 45 minutes so it is cold but not frozen. He loves to chew on it in the mornings when it is cold. Apparently it is not healthy for him and he is not allowed to have it when it is cold. That is definitely a cultural difference.

It was back to the Ankara restaurant that we went to yesterday for lunch and a few minutes after we finished telling our translator about the strange man from last night, Kevin spots him outside in the shopping area that the restaurant is in. He went outside with our translator and pointed him out to her. The man’s back was to them so he didn’t see them outside. About halfway through our lunch, the back door of the restaurant opens and the man comes in and tries to sit down at our table. It was as if he knew we were there and was coming there specifically for us. Very weird and kind of unsettling. We don’t think he would do anything to harm us but we just don’t want him stalking us. We had to go exchange an outfit that we bought yesterday because they gave us the wrong size and we didn’t check before we left the store. It has been somewhat frustrating buying clothes for Nate because the workers generally take out “girlie” clothes and we want clothes that are definitely for a boy!

After we arrived back at the baby house for our afternoon session, our translator notified our facilitator about the weird man and we think that the word traveled to numerous other people. We were told that life here is about “having connections” and we have no doubt about that. We spent the rest of the day inside, giving Nathaniel time on his belly (no crawling today, just inching), time in his walker, and time sitting and standing.

The strange man was not outside our apartment building at all this afternoon or evening and we are wondering about “people having connections” and any relevance that that might have to our situation. Hopefully our problem has been resolved. It was off to English class this evening and they were really happy when we arrived a few minutes late. They didn’t think we were going to show up but Kev was busy putting together some CDs for them. We wanted to give them time to start their lessons because they didn’t accomplish much during the last session due to our presence. They had been worried that we weren’t going to come tonight. We listened as they practiced family relationships and hobbies. They had some questions for us and we had some questions for them. We learned that Kazak families are typically large and they have at least 3 children. All four students are Kazak and the teacher is Russian. She is married to a Kazak man and her daughter is Kazak. Irina had a blast playing with her daughter again today. Yesterday her daughter went to school and told people how she met an American. Kevin asked some political questions about what the people here think about Americans and our involvement in some world events. Natasha, the teacher, said that they don’t really have opinions of it but that they don’t understand why someone would make a movie (Borat) that mocks their society. They don’t want people to think that all of the women here are prostitutes or any of the other parts from the movie. We assured them that Americans don’t think badly of them due to the movie and that it was offensive for Americans as well. Natasha brought Irina some chocolates and she brought us some postcard-like pictures of things in this area for us. The pictures are just wonderful and we know that Irina and Nathaniel will really appreciate them when they are older.

During our class, we also learned about the school system. Parents may send their children to Russian school or Kazak school. Natasha’s daughter attends Russian school and learns English as part of the curriculum. From ages 2-5, students go to kindergarten and then they go to pre-school for a year before going to primary school. It was funny to hear that their terms are the reverse of the American terms. Students with disabilities do not attend school here. Teachers go to their homes to teach them, if they can afford to pay for the teacher. Universities do not have any programs to meet any special needs so students with disabilities or special needs cannot attend university. Prior to 2001, students would attend university for 4 years and then get a bachelor’s and master’s degree after those 4 years. Since 2001, students attend university for 4 years and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. They can attend school for 2 more years to earn a master’s degree. A PhD program would be 3-4 more years after that. The topic of religion came up and it was interesting to learn that the Russian people are Catholic and the Kazak people are Muslim. The next class is on Wednesday and we are hoping to be on our way to the airport at that time on Wednesday. The students were very disappointed that we are leaving and that we don’t know when we’ll be back to Karaganda. (We will be in Almaty for our second trip and won’t be returning to Karaganda.). They are eager to meet up with us again so we told them where they can find us during lunch for our remaining time and they were very excited. We exchanged email addresses and Skype information so that we can keep in touch. We plan to mail a box of “American goodies” to them once we get back home.