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.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009

Oh no, not another beautiful sunny day in Karaganda. We can’t stand the sun. Please take us away. Kidding. It’s really beautiful weather. Kev wishes he had his bike and could ride in a protective bubble. No wonder why Team Astana trains in Teneriffe. All the drivers here are crazy. All the traffic lights were out today and it was mayhem. Our driver, while a nice guy, drives us to and from everywhere like we’re on a slalom course. His steering wheel is already not level and out of alignment, so what’s the big deal if you hit a few more pot holes? We didn’t have that issue with the driver who picked us up from the airport and drove us for the first few days.

Guess what? Nate was happy again today. Big shock, we know. He’s always smiling when we come to get him from his crib. Breakfast this morning included a bit of yogurt. Quite yummy but still a little too runny. The doctor came in this morning and told us we could go outside and we were very happy. We spent some time walking around the baby house and shared one of the playgrounds with a Spanish family that is here adopting a sibling set. When we went back in, we played for a bit on our blanket and then performed the cursory check for a soiled diaper. After we finished that, Kev entertained Nate with some odd sounds while flapping his arms like a bird. The remaining kids in the room who weren’t already down for a nap were entertained by Kev’s antics. Irina captured Nate’s laughs and giggles on video for those of you who wish to enjoy it at a later time.

Now that Kev’s intestinal track is functioning normally, we went back to a place we tried 4 years ago. We forgot they had an expansive menu and tons of yummy looking desserts. Laura had kooksi, Kev had a doner plate, Irina ate a “hot dog” and fries again, and our translator Julia had “chicken” and rice. The doner was good, the kooksi not so good, and Julia said her chicken was ok. Irina of course ate all her food. Oddly, a man came up to Kevin today and asked if Kev needed any help. He said he was from California. After some small talk, he asked Kev where he was from and upon hearing NY, the man said it was good to meet a fellow NY’er. Right. Oh well. We guess it’s hospitality…..To make up for bad kooksi, Laura had chocolate pudding which covered small éclairs. Laura was very pleased with dessert and probably would have been content just having two pudding dishes.

Prior to lunch we had to get some pictures printed for court so we stopped at a Kodak kiosk and had the folks print them. We returned after lunch to pick them up and we bought Nathaniel some outfits. When we came back to the baby house, Nate of course was smiling. Lunch was relatively yummy smelling. It appeared to be ground beef and potatoes. The chefs were busy that afternoon making pastries for the older kids; when we walked into the baby house, the aroma was magnificent. The kids will be eating well tonight. Or so we hope they will get some of the great smelling pastries. We were allowed to go outside this afternoon as well. It was absolutely beautiful. It was probably about 55 degrees with a slight breeze. One of the kids in Nate’s room is being adopted by a young local girl and she came by this afternoon with a friend to see the boy she’s adopting. They had a great time playing with the other kids and listening to the Americans oooh and aaah over their kids. They loved Irina and asked Irina to be in a picture with them. We finished off the afternoon with Nate, rolling around the floor with him and helping him stand. A week ago he could barely sit up at all and now he can pretty much sit up by himself.

Kev has a “friend” aka local vagrant who likes to speak a mix of Kazakh and English to him when he catches us in the morning while we wait for our driver or while Kev takes out the trash. We have no idea where he lives or how he knows when we come down but he’s out almost every morning. Well this afternoon, he was outside our apartment again after we came home. He asked what we were doing and we told him we were going shopping. It was very uncomfortable. He followed us all the way to the Columbia store where Kev found a great softshell fleece on sale for less than can be had in the US. We said goodbye hoping he’d go away and then in the store he went with us. He followed Kev all around and was like a shadow. He was pretty much on top of Kevin in the store, even standing behind him when Kev was looking in the mirror to see how the jacket fit. Laura could not contain herself and had to avoid all eye contact in order not to laugh too loudly. It didn’t help that Irina kept asking, “Mommy, why are you laughing so hard like that?” The people inside the store were entertained by our “escort.” Laura was giving the people there the HELP ME look and the male store worker asked the vagrant if he was with us. As soon as the man said DA, Kev said NYET. And out the man went, extremely unhappy as he was pretty much pushed out of the store by the male employee. He waited outside the store for quite a bit while we were inside. Thankfully the workers kept an eye out for him and told us when he was further down the street. It was really nice of them, as they could have continued to laugh at the situation and not intervene. From there, we walked across the road (which has a nice park in the middle) to do some food shopping. We were somewhat concerned he’d be waiting for us when we returned. Thankfully he was not, however we spotted him pacing around our apartment as we un-packed our groceries, cooked and ate dinner, and is still outside our apartment now as we write this. We may need some local intervention which is somewhat intimidating. The local police walk around with huge winter hats, blue camouflage uniforms, and giant night sticks. There is also a military base around here which we didn’t know the last time we were here. We’ve seen many soldiers in various uniforms over the past few weeks we’ve been here. One of the Kazak girls in the English class said that her father is a retired police Lieutenant and if he gives us any problems tomorrow, we could ask her about it when we go back to the English class.

Tonight we have been assigned homework-we have to write up the speeches we will give to the judge when we go to court. First Kevin will give his and then it will be Laura’s turn. We have to talk about why we want to adopt a baby and about the kind of life we will provide for him. We have “pre-court” on Monday morning. This is where we meet with the judge and he checks over all of our paperwork. We should have court the next day or the day after that (Tuesday or Wednesday). We are hoping to find out when exactly court is so that we can plan our trip back home to Belgium.

Irina has been really interested in learning Russian. Back in the apartment, she entertains herself by “speaking Russian” for hours on end. She “has an office” and “works” through the evening in English and “Russian.” We have been practicing her reading in the evenings and play games with her words. Watching a DVD on her portable DVD player is a special treat for her every few days. She loves to watch Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music over and over again (definitely her mother’s child!).

April 8, 2009

We were picked up early today to go to the notary. We signed a bunch of papers to authorize something. We also had to go to a second notary this afternoon for other documents giving people power of attorney to act on our behalf. It was a crazy day. When we received all of Irina’s adoption documents four years ago, they used string to bind papers together rather than stapling them. Today it was the same thing-there was a spool of string and when papers had to be attached, they punched two holes on the side of the paper and used string to tie them together.
When we arrived today, Nate was in a walker which was connected to other walkers so he couldn’t go anywhere. He also had some extra food in his bowl. We suspect it being a bit of banana-pear sauce or something like that. From there, we put him in a walker to scoot around the play area. He didn’t really want to be in there long. Before we knew it, the Music Lady arrived. Of course all the kids were surrounding her. She had a few new songs and stuffed animals in her bag today. She of course sang the zeitchik or bunny song. She finished with a song about a goat. But her goat sound was more like a cat than a billy goat. But maybe the Kazakh goats make different noises. For the second time, she brought a little dancing bear that played “Love Potion Number 9.”

We had lunch at the Karaganda Café because the local computer whiz couldn’t get the laptop to load the drivers for our modem in our apartment. So if you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, we have been without our computer for a few days. We’ll be frequenting the KC and Maté for the next week or so to get free internet access. Kev’s not feeling normal yet (is he ever normal) so it was another lunch of bread and rice. A doctor from Irina’s baby house made a house call two nights ago and gave him some medicine (to quote the doctor: “You have an infection/stomach problem that you got here locally so you need to take local medicine, not medicine (Immodium which maybe worked too well) from America). He couldn’t get bubbly water so he settled for Diet Coke. Laura had something resembling chicken and rice and Irina had a “hot dog” and French fries. Our translator ate with us and had a pizza with tea.

Our afternoon session was great. We had to wait for the kids to get up as the care-givers let them sleep a little longer. Nate was in a great mood again. His lunch was runny again with rice and bread. He crushed his bottle which was liquid gelatin. We have come to expect a nice surprise in Nate’s diaper in the afternoon. We were very happy to find a nice recycled ball awaiting our disposal. No bath was necessary to clean out the nooks and crannies of Nate’s bum area. This afternoon we spent a little time in the walker but Nate seemed to be transfixed on one of the care-givers and kept scooting over to get her attention so we took him out of the walker to let her finish feeding and changing the kids. One of the kid’s mom’s came in today. We thought it was odd when she tried to feed her daughter a big chunk of cheese. But she was caught by the second care-giver and told to not feed the kid. The mom also had a bottle but we guess it was okay to bring in. One of the other boys in the room is being adopted by a local girl who can’t be more than 20 or so. Irina had to go to the bathroom and there is a bit of cultural difference we’ve learned (and forgotten) about here. In the toilet, there is only a pail of water rather than toilet paper (use your imagination if you want) and no toilet seat to sit down on. There is a sink with soap but no toilet paper. Interesting…..

Even more interesting was after we came out of a baby store near our apartment; these two girls walked by and kept stopping and giggling at us. Finally, they stopped and waited for us to catch up. In a mix of Kazakh, Russian and English, they tried to speak with us. We were able to ascertain they wanted to practice their English. We were happy to help them out. It became confusing when they asked us about where we are from and where we live. We found out they were on their way to English class, so we invited ourselves to go with them. The class is held in a German Center here in Karaganda. Their teacher works at a university here as an English instructor. She initially thought we were Peace Corps volunteers and was surprised to learn that two of her students found Americans to bring to their class. Apparently, the Peace Corps sends people to Karaganda to work in schools and universities teaching English and other things. But the Peace Corps haven’t sent anyone to replace the people who were here last. Natalya had promised them that she would try to find “some real Americans” for them to meet and was excited that two of her students found some for her. While we were in class, Irina got to play with Karina (5) who is the daughter of Natalya. That was a great time for Irina because all she’s had to play with is Kevin, Laura, and our translators. We had a chance to help the instructor, Natalya, explain some things or properly pronounce words. We had a great time being in the class and seeing the students embrace learning English. There was some confusion for them as we tried to explain we were there adopting a child. Natalya had to explain it a few times and when we told them Irina was from Karaganda, the students were very excited to hear we were there again to adopt.

Everyone who learns that Irina was born here in Karaganda is very proud of her and of the fact that she was born here. The students (the females) were very excited to see pictures of Nate. We told them his name was Arman and they all loved the name. Three of the four students in the class are Kazakh. We were invited back to their class on Friday. We are looking forward to spending more time with them. The teacher was initially worried that she was taking up our time but we explained that after our afternoon session at the baby house, we have nothing to do for the rest of the night so we were happy to stay. It was so nice to break our normal routine that we have been following for the last 2 plus weeks. The Bookmans are not usually ones to sit around the house by ourselves; we are used to having lots of company and being out and about. We are staying in the downtown area but are on our own after 4:00 and besides shopping at the same stores, there aren’t many ways for us to change our normal routine.

The students in the class are going to think of questions that have for Americans so we have no idea what to expect on Friday. One was asking for our phone number; it’s good that we don’t know our phone number because giving it out would certainly mean phone calls at all hours of the night from people wanting to practice their English. When we were here for Irina’s adoption, we heard that people would call apartments if they knew Americans were staying there just to practice their English and sure enough, we would get random phone calls at all hours. There is one Kazakh man here who seeks out Kevin each time Kevin takes a garbage bag to the dumpster. He wants to practice his English. This morning he was asking if Irina is from Russia and told us she is a beautiful Russian girl. It is somewhat funny to us that people here can tell she is Russian just by looking at her and we’ve had several people in the US do the same thing. We asked our translator about it today and she just replied that it’s because Irina looks very Russian.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 7, 2009 Crawling and babbling

It was a mysterious morning! We went upstairs and fed Nathaniel. As we were changing him, we were told to hurry up and get all of our things because we needed to go downstairs. We were hurried through the halls and went into a playroom with the other 2 adoptive families from the US and the Spanish lady who is adopting older siblings. We were given no explanation and had to stay in there for about an hour. It was very strange! Irina and Nathaniel enjoyed the ball pit in the room as well as a little xylophone that was in the room. We had a little time to play in his normal playroom after wards and he was doing a lot of babbling. We were on the carpet and Nate was doing his usual rocking on all fours and then it happened-he actually crawled a little bit! It was very exciting!!!!

We went home to lunch to find some men fixing our stove. It was our second day being surprised with someone in our house at lunchtime-the day before it was the cleaning lady. With about a week left, we finally have a working oven.

Nathaniel did a lot of talking in the afternoon and kept saying, "the da" to his little blue car. Listening to him babble is fun to listen to and we are glad to hear him talking.

We had to leave a little early so that we could go to the social workers. We didn't know what to expect. There were two ladies who asked us just a few questions such as what Kevin does for a living, who will care for Nathaniel when he comes home, if we are financially stable, and then they were interested in Irina (what else is new!?!). They asked her to sing a song in English (the ABC's) and they asked her questions about her school. Our translator told us that they were totally amazed by her. They kept commenting on what a beautiful little girl she is. Our session only lasted about 5 minutes.

Irina has been very funny in the apartment. She keeps wanting to "fight Daddy." They wrestle and she told one of the translators that she has to learn to fight because Daddy told her that boys are going to be mean to her. Luckily he hasn't started weapons training yet...

April 6, 2009

Irina was first to greet our smiling baby this morning. She is really taking to being a big sister. One thing that we really had to adjust to at Irina’s baby house was how fast they fed the babies. With 13-14 kids in a room and usually only 2 caregivers, they have to get all the babies fed and changed quickly but it was unbelievable to us. Nathaniel’s caregivers put out his porridge bowl and his bottle on a highchair on the other side of the room from where they are feeding the other babies and haven’t said anything to us about the way we feed him. He has really slowed down in his eating and now takes his time. He likes to watch everything going on in the room as he is eating. We can’t wait to give him some Cheerios or little rice puffs to eat! We don’t want to upset his normal routine and diet here so we’ll wait until we are with him in Almaty for our second trip to bring him home.

He spent quite awhile in his walker today and had fun zooming around the room. He was drooling a lot again today and was chomping down on all of his toys; maybe a seventh tooth is on the horizon. The music teacher came for music class today and entertained everyone in the room. It really is a fun time when she comes in! It was funny yesterday because one of the translators called “Zeitchik” and Laura turned around right away. She was talking about a rabbit but it was instinct to turn around when I heard my maiden name. She was just as confused as I was and then we realized what she was talking about and why I went to answer her. It was funny! Nate really liked the Zeitchik (bunny) song today and clapped along with Kevin.
We came home for lunch today and were quite startled when we tried opening our front door and a lady popped her head out of our apartment. It turns out she is the cleaning lady but did we have a shock! About ten minutes before we were supposed to be outside for our driver, we got a phone call saying that a man was coming to fix our oven, which hasn’t worked since we’ve been here. He kept talking to us in Russian and we finally realized that he wanted matches to light the gas oven. We didn’t have any so he left and came back a few minutes later. We didn’t know how to tell him that he had to leave so that we wouldn’t be late for our afternoon session so we were a few minutes late. We are still without a working oven…

This afternoon we gave Nate a quick sponge bath after feeding him and started to play with him. His doctor told us that after she listened to his chest, we could take him outside. We waited for about an hour before she returned. He was quite content chilling out and chewing on his toys. When it was time to go outside, Kevin and Irina put him in his little snowsuit and Irina took his hat. They started downstairs to put their shoes on to go outside. Laura had to fix one of his socks and got an earful in Russian about taking him outside without a hat. It was no use trying to explain that Irina had one downstairs for him. One of the caregivers decided that the blue snowsuit was a little too small and that he should wear a pink one so she changed him and we finally got to go outside. Nathaniel is so calm when we go outside; it’s like he’s just absorbing everything around him. He and Kevin went on the swings for awhile and Irina had a great time running around and going on the playground equipment.

We tried a new place after our afternoon session in order to access our blog and check email. We have been frequenting the same places and wanted to find somewhere new. There is a place called Johnny Walker Pub just a little walk from our apartment. We went in and ordered some things, including carrot juice that Irina wanted to try (she wasn’t too keen on it) and quickly realized that we couldn’t access any sites that required us to log-in. It was a little frustrating. We are hoping that one of our translators will be able to help us with our modem problem when she comes this evening.

We don’t have our court date yet but are going to get papers notarized on Wednesday (we will have been here 2 weeks) and a date should be assigned then. Hopefully it will be the following Wednesday. We can finalize our tickets home when we get that date.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5, 2009

Luckily Kevin was feeling much better this morning so we all got to spend time during our one morning session we had with Nathaniel. He was all smiley this morning when Kev got him out of his crib, probably because he knew a little sponge bath was in his immediate future. He had a lot of corn in his morning porridge mixture this morning.

He was happy cruising around in his walker for quite a bit. He seemed to be really happy to have his Daddy back, as he kept staring at Kevin and smiling. He made a lot of new noises today, and was even talking in his crib first thing. He was back to being a drool machine so maybe a new tooth is on the horizon.

He was quite verbal today and let us know when he wanted to be held. The morning session flew by, with Irina spending some time playing with Nate and being a great big sister by sharing toys with him.

It is surprising how clean the city is today. Yesterday was a mandatory cleaning here in Karaganda and it looks wonderful. What a difference a day of cleaning makes! Today we are eating at our usual cafe and are going to spend the afternoon walking around the big park so Irina can run around. She is missing her friends and has even asked to email one. Short post for today-thanks so much for all of the great emails and responses!!!!!!!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Out of order we know - April 3, 2009

We awoke to cloudy skies and fearing the worst. When we walked downstairs, it was raining. Too bad Kevin didn’t buy the waterproof Columbia jacket from the Columbia store down the street. Everything there is 50-70% off. Anyway, he didn’t need it because around 1030am, the sun came out. Each time we arrive at the baby house, we change from our shoes into slippers that we leave in the shoe room at the baby house. Laura was quite perturbed this morning upon discovering that someone took her slippers. They were the same slippers she purchased at the beginning of our trip to Kazakhstan 4 years ago for Irina’s adoption. (Luckily whoever took them returned them sometime during our morning visit.) We weren’t able to take Nate out this morning because the doctor said it was too windy. As you can see from some of the pictures, he had a great time at breakfast. Unfortunately, it was a bit runny and Kev didn’t give him the rest because it was just too watery. Nathaniel’s top missing tooth finally broke through the gum! It was weird because you were able to see the tooth for the last few days just under his gum. We have been waiting for it to come through. The music teacher came late into our morning session and she stayed for a little longer than normal. Nathaniel started flapping his arms like a little bird when he got excited during the music and singing. It is impossible not to smile when you are around him! Also, one of the care-givers, who is pictured with Nate gives weekly lessons in Kazakh. It’s pretty cool to see because all the kids are mesmerized by her. All of the caregivers get weekly lessons and they are expected to teach the children in their rooms. Today she put a doll in a dump truck and was telling the children about the truck (it has two wheels, a door, etc.). Before we knew it, the morning session was over.

We ate lunch at the Karaganda Café. It’s not a bad place. Kev had a chicken salad, Laura had a beef and pepper plate, and Irina ate pancakes and jam, her most requested meal here. We also re-met another American couple who are from Texas. They are adopting a 20 month boy. They are in their mid-20’s and really nice. They have to be here for 2 months. We had a great conversation with them. On the way out, Laura met another American woman who teaches English in Karaganda and has been here for three years. Hopefully we’ll see her again and find out how her time has been here. When we arrived, there was an older man in the corner whom the Texas couple knew. He teaches college level English but we didn’t speak with him. We were also served incredibly soft and tasty bread today with lunch.

Back at the baby house, the afternoon dragged on. After feeding Nate, we did a cursory inspection of the diaper area to find a conglomeration of poop, not seen on such a little body or in a diaper. Needless to say, two things happened; almost 3 people were needed for the cleanup job and Nate got a bath. We were really shocked at the amount of recycling happening in that little dude’s body. Then again, he got enough food for lunch that even Kev could not have eaten it; it was a whole bowl full of meat and potatoes We gave Nate some walker time this morning and afternoon to help him develop his leg muscles. He is getting around great in his walker and we can’t wait to bring him home to put him in the jumper. He was really into playing with a big ball this afternoon. The babies enjoyed attention from Irina as she bopped/danced around the room listening to Justin Timberlake on the I-Pod while bringing toys to the babies. We heard a few peeps out of Nathaniel, though he isn’t very vocal yet. He likes to make a “woo” noise as he puffs up his cheeks and blows air while doing it.

We promised Irina we’d take her to the new mall where they have an arcade with games and a jungle gym play area. When we arrived, it was a two for one deal on the debit card used to pay for games and stuff. Irina played the Whack-a-mole game, a game where she had to stomp on lighted nubs, and then a few rides. Irina then when into the jungle gym but was bored quickly as she was the only kid in the whole arcade. We found this odd, as at lunchtime, it was crazy all over the city. After our session in the afternoon, the city was strangely quiet. The mall was empty. So we went to eat at a restaurant which only has English menus at lunch and with supposed wi-fi access. The food is great but the wi-fi is terrible. Actually, you’re supposed to be able to use wi-fi in the whole mall but that’s a bunch of BS. It doesn’t work anywhere, at least on our computer. Kev wants to blame Vista but he knows that’s not the answer. We were lucky that one of the waitresses at the restaurant spoke English though it was slightly uncomfortable as the entire wait-staff seemed to stare at us.

After the mall, we walked home. Nice afternoon/evening for the walk. For those of you trying to call us, we’re sorry you haven’t been able to reach us. For whatever reason, the phone cord was slightly pulled out of the jack. So now we’re good. Or so we think. We’re 4 hours ahead of CET and 10 hours ahead of East coast time. Irina put herself to bed quite early today, something she has never done before. It must have been a tiring day for her. Flipping through the night programs, we stumbled across the new season of Dexter (which we haven’t seen yet), a series we are hooked on. It is frustrating trying to understand what is happening since it is dubbed over in Russian.

We are almost halfway through our first trip here and are starting to miss some of the comforts of home, such as eating fresh fruits and vegetables (we have had a couple of apples and pears but that’s really about it-they just don’t have them here except in the summer), water without a lot of sulfur (not than water in Belgium is any better), using tap water, and a drier to name a few. We can’t wait to bring Nate home and settle into a routine of our own. It will be interesting to see the interaction between Gabby (our standard poodle) and Nathaniel!

April 4, 2009

Immodium Advanced works really well. Enough said. It even makes you sleepy.

The short version of the story is that Laura and Irina went to visit Nathaniel today while Kevin stayed in the apartment. It was clean up day at the baby house and all of the caregivers were at the baby house cleaning up the outside-shoveling, raking, picking up trash, sweeping, etc. Most of the snow is gone. As we drove to the baby house (and in the afternoon when we drove around), we saw people all over the city cleaning up. Not sure if it was an official “clean up” day but it sure seemed like it.

As usual, Nathaniel was very happy to see us this morning. It is so funny to see him in the morning because he is usually dressed in one of the little “overalls” that all of the babies wear. It is a piece of cloth that has four strings attached to the top and they tie the strings in the back of the babies to keep the “overalls” on. The babies who are being adopted wear disposable diapers but the babies who do not yet have families only have a cloth covering their diaper area underneath the “overalls.” We’ll have to get a good picture of him in his little morning outfit before we change him. He is all smiles on the changing table and likes to hold onto his package of wipes. Like any baby, he likes it when you blow on his belly. He had more green spots today, especially on his neck.

It was quite steamy again this morning in the playroom. It was funny to watch one of the babies in his walker-two other walkers were hooked onto his and he was pulling them around. Another baby was in one of those walkers. The playroom was bustling as all 8 of the women were in and out of the room. There are six caregivers and two nurses assigned to the room. Nate was very interested in what was happening and did a lot of people watching. As soon as one of the ladies would look his way, his face would break out into a big smile. We spent a lot of the morning playing with stacking rings-for whatever reason he found the green one quite tasty. Irina spent a long time playing with him this morning and he enjoyed her company. He spent a little bit of time zooming around in one of the walkers.
After eating at our usual lunch spot, the Karaganda Café, we stopped by to check on Kevin. Irina broke a glass at lunch and our translator told us that breaking a glass is a sign of good luck. She also told us that they think seeing spiders mean that you are going to get money. If only that were true at home in Belgium! We’d be loaded!!! Kevin was not in any shape to leave the apartment so Irina and I continued on back for our afternoon session. I was very happy to hear that the doctor said we needed to play in the other area because the playroom was too hot. We spent our afternoon in the other room with the other couple. Nathaniel liked sitting in the big comfy chair with his big sister as you will see from the picture. We played some more with the rings and Irina brought him a dump truck that he enjoyed chewing on. He spent quite awhile standing up while holding onto the big chair. It’s great to see him begin to develop his leg muscles.

After a quick stop at the grocery store to buy some groceries and smaller diapers (Nathaniel is a little guy), we came home to find Kevin feeling much better. Irina has been learning about the cycle of life via the National Geographic channel in Russian. Late this afternoon was our first big downpour since we’ve been here. It didn’t last long but the raindrops were huge. We are hoping that the weather will be beautiful again tomorrow so that we can go to the park after our morning session. There is no afternoon session on Sunday. We are hoping to find out when we can go visit Irina’s baby house so that we can see the caregivers who are still there and so that Irina can see it for herself.

Friday, April 3, 2009

April 2, 2009 - We have a name, finally!!!!!

It is so nice getting to be the ones to get Arman out of his crib first thing after his morning nap. It was wonderful not to hear him wheezing or breathing hard this morning. His congestion is much better! He is always happy and excited to see us. He also knows that we are going to feed him. Laura fed him his morning breakfast today and he was kicking his legs and anxious to get at his food. He had a really chunky breakfast with lots of potatoes this morning. He kept smiling at Daddy and Irina while he was eating. He is always interested in what his big sister is doing. Kevin had to give him a little mini-bath after we got a whiff of his diaper. It was great to be the first ones to use the little washtub they fill up with warm water because they use it for all the babies and don’t empty out the dirty water first or change the wash rag. As soon as we washed and dried him off, his doctor came in to check on him. The doctors are constantly coming into the room to check on the babies, which is very reassuring to us now that one of the babies is our son. We pointed out to her, via one of the translators, that the little red raised spots seem to be more prevalent. She told one of the caregivers to put some kind of medicine on the spots. It is green and we were told that it is equivalent to our Calamine lotion. It was really funny to watch her dabbing his little spots and he looked like someone took a Bingo ink stamper and stamped all over him. She didn’t get all the spots but got a majority of them. The green spots dried very quickly, which was good because we had a cream colored outfit for him to wear and didn’t want to stain and ruin it.

We were expecting to have to take him to get his breathing treatment but got to go outside for 20 minutes instead. Irina was thrilled to see how much snow had melted because she has been begging to go play on the playground equipment, particularly the swings. She had a great time swinging, climbing, and running around. Laura and Arman went on the swings also. When we were in Kazakhstan for Irina’s adoption, it was unbearable to be outside because it was so cold. We are so thankful that we are here this time of year with Irina because she has so much energy ALL the time and needs to be able to run around. For those of you who have not been privileged to spend hours on end with Irina, you cannot understand how one little girl can talk for HOURS on end if she does not burn off some of that energy! Megan, we may need you to FedEx some extra ear plugs over here for us and our neighbors in our apartment building… Just kidding, Irina. Speaking of our apartment, we have counted the stairs leading up to our apartment: 76! We ended our morning session with our translators asking if we had chosen a name for him yet. We had not and knew the clock was ticking. Arman was taken to get his daily shot and then the caregiver put him down for his nap.

We went to lunch at a nice hotel called The Cosmonaut, that is just down the street from the baby house. We feel badly going back to the same places each day to use the wi-fi. We were able to access wi-fi in the restaurant of this hotel while waiting for our lunch.

After lunch we got Arman from the crib and began to feel the time crunch, as today was our deadline to decide on his full name. We have to give our facilitator his name by tomorrow so that our adoption paperwork can be started-we were not ready when she asked earlier this week and have been discussing this nonstop for weeks now. Seeing as we have no Internet at our apartment, no television in English, and a very small supply of reading material to last us 3 weeks, discussing names has pretty much been our evening entertainment. What fun!?! We had decided on a name prior to coming here but we didn’t know what our baby’s name would be and whether the name we decided on would be his first or middle name. It does not work well with Arman and Bookman so we were back to the drawing board. Arman’s name is pronounced “Ar-mahn;” we are anticipating that his name is going to be mispronounced often in life. During the time we took him outside this afternoon, we finally decided on his full name: Nathaniel Arman Bookman. His nickname will be Nate. Looking at him, both Nathaniel and Nate seem to fit him. Now we have to get him used to responding to those names. We all seemed content outside this afternoon: Laura and Kev were much relieved to finally resolve the name issue, Irina was playing and getting very muddy, and Nathaniel nodded off in Daddy’s arms.
The masseuse came for the afternoon massage and then we gave Nate some walker time. He loved zooming around in the walker and defended his toy when one little baby tried to take it. There is an improvement in how he sits and uses his leg muscles since we first got here. His top missing tooth seems to be ready to break through the gums in the next day or two.

Irina picked up a toy from the shelf in the playroom that has little balls that go cascading down several tiers, making noise as the little balls go down. All activity ceased in the room and you could hear a pin drop as all of the babies froze and stared in complete silence at Irina. She continued turning the toy upside down to make the noise a couple of toys and all babies continued watching her. The other couple in the room commented on how she enjoyed being the center of attention, though that seems to be life as Irina has known it. She was very sweet and took the toy around the room, making it make the noise for each baby and letting each and every baby have a turn touching the toy. After that, they were very interested in everything else that she did. It was funny to watch her holding court in the playroom. She has been wonderful during our visits to the baby house, entertaining herself with coloring, playing with a Barbie set we bought her, and interacting with the two translators who have been very sweet to her. She comes over from time to time to interact with her brother and hang out with us.

We stopped at a new (to us) grocery store on the way home and were delighted to find a new selection of chocolate snacks to sample. We have been conducting a taste test of peanut M&M’s all over the world over the last few years and were happy to find some Kazakh ones. Kevin has just informed me that we should throw out all of Irina’s clothing just prior to traveling home to Belgium and fill up her suitcase with Kazakh peanut M&M’s. They are some of the best we have ever had! (Hopefully our social worker is not reading this! Just kidding, Randy, if you are!?!) There are so many varieties of candy bars here that aren’t found in the US or Belgium. The Kazakh Kit Kats are quite tasty as is the Kit Kat ice-cream. Laura’s grandparents would be proud of us as we eat our way through each country we visit.
For the second night in a row, we let Irina run around in the park area near our apartment building and then walked down the street to where a lady has rotisserie chickens in a small box that cooks about 4 at a time. It was a whole delicious chicken for about $7.00 and reminded us of the Sunday market at home. We are thinking that we might be able to leave here on or about April 14, since that would be 21 days in country, and maybe return the first week of May to pick up Nathaniel (it’s kind of weird switching names today).

We want to say “thank you” to everyone who has emailed us via our personal and work emails, Facebook, and our blog site to say congrats and for all of the comments. It really means a lot to us!!! We have such a limited time to use the Internet since we can’t get it working in our apartment so we haven’t been able to respond to most of the emails.