Monday, April 28, 2008

Arrival in Karaganda Monday Evening..

We flew into Almaty late last night, after a six hour Lufthansa flight from Stuttgart through Frankfurt.

Just prior to leaving our home for the Stuttgart airport, we decided to leave our official no-fee (non-tourist) passports at home. They didn't have the Kaz visas in them, and we didn't want any extra high-value items that might be lost or stolen. Of course, as soon as we got to the Frankfurt airport, we immediately regretted leaving them. For the first time in six years of living and traveling in Europe, the German passport control at the Frankfurt international terminal wanted to see our Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) orders, which is essentially a special type of visa for US forces living in Germany. Fortunately, I had a copy of my US Army-issued orders on hand. The official passports would have been even more convincing. Suprisingly, Lufthansa did not charge us for extra baggage.

We negotiated the Almaty airport immigration easily with only a little waiting. We claimed our bags, and I suppose at some point we cleared Customs, although I was never really sure who or where Customs was. We were met by our driver Emil, who immediately put us at ease with his flawless English and warm personality. Because there is a special international convention currently in Almaty, we stayed last night in the Hotel Alma Ata. It was clean and functional, and we were relieved to find an inexpensively priced, well-stocked minibar after the long and dehydrating flight. In it you'll find both bubbly & non-bubbly water, a few soft drinks, juice and some candy bars. We drank two waters immediately, and saved a third for the next morning.

Today was mostly a blur of travel and a meeting and more travel and a store and then more travel and another store and then our apartment, where I now write this dispatch. We had the long-anticipated meeting with The Sisters. It involved some degree of detailed discussion due to the fact that we're different and non-routine -- Americans living in Germany, adopting in Kazakhstan, and then traveling directly back to Germany. There's two different ways we can get the child back through German Immigration. I'm still working on both and have yet to decide which way would be best.

Our flight to Karaganda was also uneventful. I think we ended up paying about $80 in Tenge due to excess luggage. We're carrying a heavy bag full of baby medicine donations, and we're also carrying some books. The overage cost was not as much as I'd expected.

Our apartment here is way above expectations. It is clean, well-lit, and very nicely furnished. The kitchen is especially well-stocked and furnished due to castoffs from, I presume, previous adoptive parents.

Tip: if you have a stateside GSM-type cell phone (example: T-Mobile), you can get it unlocked prior to leaving the US and have a very inexpensive option for using locally in Kazakhstan. For example, I have an unlocked Sony-Ericsson handset that was previously on T-Mobile in the US. I bought a new SIM card at a mobile phone shop in the Ramstore mall this morning for about $10 worth of KT. I now have a Kaz phone number and SMS (text) capability that I can use to communicate with the in-country staff if required. Of course, you have to call T-Mobile prior to leaving the US to get the phone unlocked, and they normally require you to have been on their contract for a year or so. Unlocking the phone allows you to use other carrier's SIM cards. Note again this only works with GSM or quad-band phones. Also, don't forget to keep track of your old SIM card, so that you can re-install it again when you return to the states!

Laura's notes: First.. I miss Jack. There, I said it. I know I probably miss him more than he does me at this point, especially with his grandmother at his every whim. Bob and I both commented that every little boy we see seems to morph into Jack. I still believe that not bringing him with us, and keeping him in school, was the right idea... but I still miss him.

The apartment we're staying in is great, nicely decorated, and has a beautiful kitchen (compared to others we've seen online). It's a two bedroom, one bath, first story apartment and just what we needed. I feel like we're living in an Ikea showroom! The downside is that this gorgeous apartment is out in the boonies, and we'll need a driver for the entire stay to get to/from the baby house & grocery store. I'll try to post photos later of it once our luggage is cleared up a bit.

On the drive from the airport to the apartment (via a stop at the grocery store) I was looking at the houses on the left side of the car. I suddenly realized that I knew where we were. The playground we were passing belonged to the babyhouse, with the building just beyond. Oxana, the interpreter, was impressed that I knew what it was. Somewhere in that building was our child. It made me both thrilled to know we would hold our child in the morning, and ache to hold Jack at the same time. I've felt like our travel time here was like being in limbo... one child at home, one yet to meet, and longing for both.

Okay, it's pretty late here and we need to catch up on a week's worth of sleep. Although this post is getting long, we really don't have much to report. I'm afraid to say it, but we're wondering when the hard part is going to start.

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