Thursday, January 11, 2007

On the way to Uralsk!

SORRY: Another long post today, but lots going on that I want to remember down the road. Before long the days will all start being alike and I'll be running out of things to say (yeah, right!) I'll make something up... but we'll keep the pictures coming!

Sasha met us at the apartment at 4:40AM to pick us up for the airport. It sounds really early, but we were already awake by at least 3:30 because we're still adjusting to the time change. Sasha dropped us off at the curb at the airport and walked us inside and showed us how to get through the gates.

The Almaty (pronounced Al-MAH-tee) airport is not big like our Columbus airport. It seemed much bigger when we flew in, but it's actually very small and only has about 6 or 8 gates. We walked through a quick security check almost as soon as we were in the front doors. We fed our suitcases onto a conveyer belt and walked through a metal detector beside them. Then we collected our luggage and headed off to get checked in.

Sasha checked the flight screens for us and told us which gate we needed and pointed us in the right direction to proceed to check-in. That was as far as he could go with us but it was wonderful having his assistance because the culture is so different and so many of the signs were in Russian.

We proceeded to get in the long line to check our luggage and eventually made it up to the front of the line. We had 2 bags each which is normal by American traveling standards but we got quite a few looks from the locals as we pushed our cart with our luggage through the line. Olga, the lady at the check-in counter was a little concerned that our luggage was over weight and in very broken English tried to tell us how far over we were. We knew the bags would be over weight. For American travel, our bags could be 50 lbs. each... but for in-country flight the limit is supposedly only 44 lbs. Our bags were all less than 50 when we left Ohio and most were only a couple of pounds away from the 44 lbs. limit. However, we ended up having to pay about $150 in overweight charges... we were expecting to only pay about $50 at the most.

Because our baggage was overweight we had to leave the line, walk back over to the cashier and pay our fees. She then stamped our paperwork and we got to jump ahead in line back to Olga. She then okay'd us, added a few more stamps and sent us to the holding area. The rest of the process was a little confusing... but we followed the crowd. Remember kids... don't follow the crowd if they're doing something bad, but if you're in a foreign country and don't have a clue what to do, follow the pack! We sat in the holding area for about 20 minutes while we listened intently to the announcements... hoping and praying that we might recognize the word "Uralsk" when it was time to board. We heard the word and everyone around us immediately stood up and the mob moved over to another doorway where another security screening was set up.

Once again, our carry-ons had to run through a conveyor as well as our coats, metal stuff and my shoes. (The security lady looked at me weird when I took my shoes off but when I pointed to them and said "beep" she smiled.) We quickly followed the moving mob down about 2-3 flights of stairs and then walked outside to stand on the tarmack. They had a set of stairs pulled up to the plane but we weren't allowed to board the plane until the plane was finished getting prepared and then first class passengers were permitted to board the plane and get settled it. The rest of us stood in the cold on the icy tarmack and waited for about 10 minutes before they gave us the go ahead to board.

We have learned that the Kazakhs don't necessarily believe in standing in lines or any sort of order as to "first come, first served". It doesn't seem to matter if you're young or old - if you're not pushingyour way through, you end up at the end of the line. This was fine with us... it was interesting to watch.

The flight to Uralsk was pretty uneventful. Once we were on the plane it was just like any other flight other than the further away from Almaty we got the fewer people we ran into that could speak English. The airline staff did the best they could but their English is very broken and our Russian is even more broken. As the plane was taking off, we were all given a piece of strawberry hard candy. Then, a bit later, we were given breakfast... omelets, a fruit cup, yogurt w/ granola, drinks and a roll. And then, we were given another piece of candy on the landing. They definitely believe in keep you fed on these flights!

We landed in Uralsk at about 8:45am... just as the sun was starting to come up. It was pretty dark when we rolled in, but we could see there was a lot of snow on the tarmack. Deplaning was pretty much the same as loading. We walked down the steps and walked at least 100 yards across the pavement to enter the terminal. The weird part was that we walked around to the front of the Uralsk airport and waited in the main lobby and met our coordinator, Olga, and 2 of the drivers (Phillipich and Misha) that were sent to haul us and our luggage. The crew on this side of the world are phenomenal.

Olga was very cheerful and bubbly... which was a great way to enter this stage of the adoption. Most people here are very serious and slow to smile... not Olga! She introduced us to the drivers and they are super as well. Phillipage reminds us a lot of our dads. He surprised me though because he moves very fast and insisted on carrying 2 of our 4 bags for us. Misha grabbed the other and Tom the other... I didn't have to carry a thing for this part!

The drivers recommended we wait until everyone had entered the baggage claim room and then a few minutes later we walked in, took our place along the conveyor belt and pulled our luggage off the belts before most others had even seen theirs. We haven't lost a piece of luggage yet!

We drove about 30 min. into Uralsk and Olga did a wonderful job pointing out things of importance along the way. At one point, we crossed the Oral (Ural) River and officially crossed into Europe. We were in Asia when in Almaty and at the Uralsk airport and then crossed into Europe shortly before entering Uralsk.

We were driven to the Chagala Hotel and shortly after we walked in someone behind me said "Hi, Jenni! - We're you're welcoming committee!" As I turned around at first I didn't know who was talking but right away made the connection that it was Mary from WPA who had emailed me a few times shortly before we left Ohio. She and her husband Gene and their new daughter, Jamah (not sure how they're spelling it) were there to see us in. A few minutes later, Aliya, our translator, came in.

Seeing the relationship that Mary and Gene had built up with Aliya helped us to immediately bond with Aliya and know that we could joke with her and that she spoke very good English. They stuck around while we were there. (Mary, sorry we didn't get to talk more... we were still a bit out of it but we do appreciate getting to see you guys before you left Uralsk!)

The rest of the afternoon is somewhat of a blur. Aliya and Misha took us to the Atrium... another mall and market similar to the Ramstore in Almaty. We picked up bottled water for the hotel room and a couple of snacks for the late night munchies. We found out from Aliya that we were to meet at the Ministry of Education at 5pm for our interview. This was an informal meeting and we were told it was just so they could get to meet us and learn a little more about us. Misha and Olga picked us up and we picked up Aliya along the way. Since "Kazakh men ride in the front" Tom moved to the front seat with Misha and Olga and Aliya and I sqeezed into the back seat. During the drive I had them look at our pictures to make sure there was nothing in the court album that didn't need to be there. They enjoyed looking at our family and home and said they were fine.

At the ministry, Aliya and Olga prepared us for the meeting and told us what kinds of things we would need to tell them during the meeting. There are usually 3 officials that sit at a table and we would sit in chairs away from the table and tell them about ourselves and answer their questions.... things like what we do for a living, a little about our family, if our family is supportive of our adoption, etc. After waiting for nearly a half hour for the meeting someone came out to talk with Olga and told her that one of the men that was to meet with us was not here today and the other was in a meeting until after 6pm. However, they had signed the paperwork and would essentially waive this part of the process for us. We will meet with the inspector tomorrow morning either prior to or when we are at the baby house. It is my understanding that they felt confident in our paperwork and would ask Olga if they had any questions about us.

The woman we spoke with at the ministry said she wished us well, hoped our family would be happier after adopting our daughter and that our son would be excited to have another sister. She also said she hoped we would never change our minds about deciding to adopt. This woman, too, was very happy and smiled while talking... a total change from the people we ran across in Almaty.

We returned to the hotel for supper and turned in. We heard from Aliya during supper that we would likely be going to the baby house at 10 tomorrow morning. They were still working on the schedule with the inspector. If 10 does not work, then we will be going over around 3 or 4. We will have a brief meeting with the inspector and will meet several babies tomorrow... one of them will eventually become our little Emily.

We are also supposed to be moving into our apartment tomorrow probably around 2. We've been told it's the apartment that Gene and Mary are leaving and according to Aliya, it's also the nicest. Mary tells me they have DSL ( high speed internet)!!!

PS - Today is Aliya's birthday... we think maybe she turned 21 today?

1 comment:

Amy Kramp said...

Wow Jenni, you basically have a novel going's feels like you've been gone so long...I don't even remember what you look like :)

Serious, I'm really happy you are able to keep us so informed on your adventure...and I can't wait to meet Emily!!!!!!! I love you guys!

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