Thursday, February 01, 2007

Goodbye Uralsk, Hello Almaty!

Phillipich was to meet us at the apartment at 8:00 to pick us up for the airport. I don't know the other driver's name but they both helped load our 4 suitcases into the cars and I was so surprised to see Misha and Olga outside. Olga was going to be at the airport to see us off, but she ended up having an early meeting and was unable to accompany us. We were hoping to see Misha one last time before we left and sure enough... he drove Olga to see us off! He gave Tom a bottle of wine that is used in religious ceremonies here as well as a note that I believe Aliya translated for him. I hope we can get it home without it breaking... it will be wonderful to remember them by. Tom gave Misha a big hug and then Misha came over to the care window and looked in and waved at us. He looked so happy to see us as a family and yet kind of sad to see us go. Emily and I were hustled into the car because it was so cold out this morning (the coldest one yet!) and so I really couldn't spend much time on goodbye's and hugs. I blew some kisses to Misha through the window and waved like mad, but somebody give Misha a big hug for me and let him know how much we appreciated his kindness, his thoughtfulness, his sense of humor and his teasing.

After our quick adieus, we were driven to the airport and picked up Aliya along the way. She was such a big help. She walked us into the airport with Emily and Phillipich and the other driver brought our luggage in for us. Aliya helped us get checked in and figure out what we needed to do to pay the extra fees for the extra weight that our luggage was over limit (it's a given for American adopting couples to do this... except for Gene and Mary!!!) She stayed with us and held onto Emily until it was time for us to go downstairs at the last minute to wait for our plane. The new couple coming into town (Sara and Mike) was just getting off of their plane and Aliya needed to go meet them. It was a tough goodbye to Aliya. I'm not a crier and it made me tear up. She watched us go all the way down the steps until we could no longer see her.

Security was a breeze and we didn't have to dismantle or remove our coats or anything. I didn't even have to empty out our carry-ons or take my shoes off or set my laptop out separately. Unfortunately, we had to wait in the holding area for quite a while and had to hold Emily the whole time... my arms definitely got a good workout today and I will be SORE tomorrow.

Our flight was to leave at 10:10. Finally, the airline folks allowed the crowd to head off for the plane. People were pretty courteous and allowed me to go to the front of the crowd as we walked about 50 years or so across the snowy (and sometimes icy!) tarmack to get to the plane. For a mere $70 extra per ticket we had upgraded our seats to business class and we are so thankful we could do that. Since this was our first flight with Emily it was good to have a little extra room to stretch out in and the staff and people around us were very kind. (Business class also allowed us 30kg per person instead of just 20kg so we saved some money on overage fees too!) We couldn't get a direct flight to Almaty for today so Olga ended us booking us a flight that had a 1 1/2 hour stopover in Aktyrau... weird airport. The first leg of the flight was about 50 minutes and it was a little rough for Emily. She fell asleep shortly before we landed and even though that same plane would be taking us to Almaty everyone had to get off the plane so they could refuel.

We met several guardians angels on this part of the trip. The kindness of strangers is SO amazing. There was a shuttle that took us from the plane to the "airport"... it was basically a cold hanger that just kept the wind off of us. It was pretty confusing when we got off the shuttle because there were 2 different sections that people were going into. One took you into a room for another flight and the other took you to the "transit" room. Obviously, we must have looked totally lost, because a sweet fellow named Allen looked out for us and made sure we got to the right place. I found a seat to sit down with our gear and handed Emily off to Tom. After a few minutes, a lady came up to us and once I said "Pongliski" she spoke in very fluent English that since we had a baby with us we might want to go to the back of the hanger where there was a heater we could stand near. It was a good thing as we were all starting to get a bit chilly.

We were also concerned that we wouldn't know when to leave the hanger to get back onto the plane to Almaty. Fortunately for us, we had Alan on our side. At one point, the crowd seemed to move toward the front of the hanger. Alan and Tom met eyes and Alan shook his head "no" that this wasn't the one for us yet. Another shuttle arrived at the door and it wasn't for us either but Alan can over to me and said that the next one would be ours. He also gave us a heads-up that we should wait a bit to board the shuttle so we could be near the doors and would get to board the plane earlier because of that. We followed right along with him and struck up a good conversation with him. It was sooo good he was there because as far as we could tell, there were no announcements of flights and the little paper signs on the shuttles were all in Russian and I don't even know if they had flight info on them.

We rode the shuttle to the plane and then walked to the bottom of the stairs. One of the flight crew was holding the crowd back from boarding the plane and pointed to us in the back... the sea parted and everyone let us ahead of them because we had a baby. It was very kind of them. We boarded the plane again and this time, Emily fell asleep before we even took off and sleep nearly 2 hours on my lap. We juggled our lunch around her and the staff and other business passengers were really good with her. We landed at about 4:30 and after the flight, our new friend, Allen found us in the airport again and helped Tom get our luggage off the conveyor belt and made sure we had someone coming to pick us up. THANK YOU ALAN! This flight would have been very frustrating without your help!

The rest of the afternoon was typical adoption/getting settled in "stuff". Dima, our new driver, met us at the airport and made sure we knew our schedule and pointed out things of interest as we passed them. We also went to a photo studio to get pictures of Emily taken for her medical exam tomorrow (I think that's what they were for). We then went to the Ramstore and he showed us where we need to go if we need to purchase another iCard for our internet access. After that, he went back to the car and we went grocery shopping for some food to hold us over for the next couple of days. Emily has been a real trooper. She gets very hot and fussy riding in the car (because we have her in a big ol' snowsuit and it's almost 50 degrees F) but when we took her shopping she revealed her true self -- she's all girl and loves to shop! Even though I had to carry her through the whole store, she looked at all the shelves and the people and didn't fuss the whole time we were there.

It's fun watching people out in public around Emily. Today was the first day we've been out with her and she loves just looking at people and they love watching her. The middle-aged guys on the flight were flirting with her, the airline stewardesses were playing with her, a young couple waiting at the luggage carousel and another young couple in the Ramstore were really taken by her. It fun to see a baby make people smile so much... another way to make a connection with perfect strangers and cross the culture barriers.

Back at the new apartment, Dima walked us upstairs and I felt bad because he and Tom ended up carrying all our luggage and groceries up 3 flights of stairs. It took them 3 trips. Tom was a trooper! He did such a good job and I wish I could have helped... but we're learning that having a baby in tow limits how many extra arms we've got to get tasks done. Next time we go grocery shopping, for instance, I will be putting Emily in the baby bjorn so my hands aren't tied! ;-)

Well, take care and be blessed! We just wanted to let you know that we made it safely to Almaty! We're still working on getting our internet connection going here at the apartment but it shouldn't be too much longer.

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