John:

Images of Jennifer Beal dance in my head. Boy, she was hot in 'Flashdance', wasn't she? Why am I thinking of that now, the first morning after arriving in Almaty? Well, I'm listening to the radio, and they just finished playing 'What a Feeling', the theme song from 'Flashdance'. Now they're playing some local Kazakh music in Russian. It sounds a little like '70's dance music mixed with Middle Eastern music. Speaking of which, on the way to the apartment last night, I heard similar Kazakh dance mix versions of 'Boogie Wonderland' and 'Til the Night Closes In (I Want to Kiss You All Over). Anyone remember those 70's songs? Very surreal to hear dance mix versions of them while driving to our Almaty apartment at midnight from the airport!

So, we've made our first leg of the trip! I'm sitting in a nice little apartment in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Hard to believe, really! We were driven to the Chicago airport in a luxury vehicle by Jeanne and David - thanks you guys! David kept me company while I watched 'Finding Nemo', and this really helped calm my anxieties while heading towards the airport and to the rest of my life! There was lots of waiting on the runway, but we finally took off on our flight to Frankfurt. Boy, those 747's are huge! We sat next to a large Greek contingent heading to their connection flight.  I sat next to a young woman with two 15 month old fraternal twins traveling also with her mother and mother in law. Her little boy kept wandering over to me, giggling and laughing, while she scolded him to come back. Her little girl was on  her mother in law's lap, playing, laughing and giggling. We sat in the front row with them, but we saw no bassinettes, and wondered how we'd get our kids back without losing it. I looked at Anne with fear in my eyes, and she looked back knowingly. Later in the flight, they asked if I could switch seats to the other row, so they could install bassinettes, and they did look pretty comfy. Thank god, we WILL have bassinettes on the flight back! The kids played and ran around for 2-3 hours straight, prompting more fear. I spoke to the young lady, and she said she was taking her first flight with the kids, and her husband was to join her later in Greece. She apologized profusely for her son continuously coming over to play and smile and laugh. I told her several times it was fine, and finally explained the reason for our trip, and that we were bringing two 7 month old kids back with us, so this was good practice for me. She finally relaxed, gave us some tips, promised we would be fine, but laughed while saying it. On the 4th hour, her kids fell asleep for the last half of the trip.

The 8 hour flight to Frankfurt went very smoothly, and surprisingly quickly. Thank god and Steve Jobs for iPods! Those who know me know that I can sit in front of my stereo at home for hours just listening to music; I've always wondered just how long I could do that without some silly, artificial reason for stopping, such as work, sleep, etc ... Well, I listened to music for maybe 6 of the 8 hours to Frankfurt, and probably 4-5 of the 6-7 hours from Frankfurt to Almaty. It really made the trip feel much shorter. I usually get very edgy after 10-12 hours on a plane, and this did not feel so bad. Maybe the 3 hour layover in Frankfurt helped, too. I have to say, the criticism of the poor battery life of iPods is harsh because I still had a few hours left on that thing at the end of the trip! And to any audiophiles out there, the sound of the Shure E-3c earphones DO get better with break in over time (the sound was extremely good), but the bass does not- still a bit light on the low end, but not terrible. And it cancels out noise beautifully - I hardly heard a peep from the kids' screaming, laughing, and crying; nor did I hear a word of the crotchety old Greek guy right next to me on the other side, constantly complaining and yelling at his wife and the stewardess for most of the trip! (What?! You only have vegetarian meals left? I don't want vegetarian, I want FOOD! Give it to someone else; give it to him {pointing at me}, just don't give it to me!) And comfortable, too! I used the foam inserts and wore them inside my ears for the entire trip, even without music, just to have the quiet. Very nice.

After arriving in Almaty, we exited the plane, followed everyone around the stairwell like a bunch of lemmings, got through the passport check without incident, found all our luggage fairly quickly, and got through customs with hardly a glance. There were over a hundred people out there waiting, but after the first pass of not finding our driver, we tried not to freak, turned around once, and there he was holding our names on his sign! After waiting for them to find the two other couples (whom we will NOT be traveling with, unfortunately, since they are going to different cities!) we went to his car, which in the dark looked like a pretty spiffy new Mercedes Benz! Well, once inside, and confirmed by daylight, it was a pretty old, circa 1980's diesel with plenty o' miles. Kind of like the taxis you see in Europe. While driving to our apartment and looking around, I commented to Anne about an article that I once read about an American traveler going to Japan for the first time, and how it felt like he was dropped from out of the sky and onto another planet. The feeling of looking around and not being able to read even one letter or understand one word was really something. All the letters are Cyrillic, so I couldn't even hope to figure out anything other than by what the pictures showed.

We pulled into a small, dark alley way, where a small part of me figured this is where we get robbed. But in reality, I've felt very trusting of everyone we've met so far. The outside of the apartment isn't exactly luxury posh, but the inside is quite nice. It even has the little stereo which plays the dance mix versions of everything, an a/c unit, and it is quite clean. I'm pretty happy with it. Anyway, gotta run to walk around the city before our big meeting with the sisters who run things on this end.  

Anne:

Hi, all--

It's going to be a lot of fun reading each other's versions of these travel logs.  We have always said that we should create two different photo albums for our vacations-- "John's picture book" and "Anne's picture book"!  As you can see, John's will usually involve the techno/audio/video/auto/gadget component of wherever we are and mine will cover the other stuff!  Actually, I will share with you that just now gadget guy sprayed himself and the entire bathroom with water because he didn't note that the shower head was not hanging up but was laying on the sink facing up at him!

The trip was long but pretty comfortable.  It was after midnight Almaty time when we finally made it to our apartment here.  We just crashed, even though it was only 1pm back home in Chicago!  I woke up around 5:30 and couldn't get back to sleep-- just thinking about everything that is ahead today and all that we have to do.  But then I noticed the incredible view out our window that we couldn't see last night.  The mountains are incredible!  One thing we forgot to bring with us was an emergency food stash like Clif Bars or something, so we rummaged in the cupboards for leftover food items from families that have stayed here before us, and had a rather delightful, relaxing breakfast of crackers, dry cereal and green tea while looking out our balcony at those wonderful mountains!

Our meeting with "the sisters", the women who run World Partners Adoption on this end of things, is at 11:30.  We're going to venture out for an hour or so before Marat, our driver, comes back to take us to their law office.  Hopefully we can find somewhere to exchange some money and check out the neighborhood.  Sometime today we will get on yet another plane to fly up to Kokshetau.  I hope we get to meet Daniel and Maya today, but I guess it will depend on how late we get there. 

Hope all of you are well-- thank you for all of your prayers and good energy!

'Gadget Boy' John Addendum:

Ok, I was going to leave this be, but since Anne is teasing me in public here, I just have to answer to the spraying of the whole bathroom with the shower incident. So there is one big faucet that swings back and forth over both the shower basin and the sink, which are right next to each other. I have my glasses off, of course, since I'm going to take a shower. I carefully adjust the temperature of the water running into the sink (which took some figuring, because moving it to hot makes it colder, and vice versa), then I carefully pull the diverter switch to move the water to the shower head, when I'm suddenly and forcefully met with a face full of water and a room just soaked with shower spray everywhere! I quickly turn the water back to the lower faucet, and just start cracking up. I look down, and there's the 'shower head', which is actually a hand held sprayer connected to a hose (like a shower massage thing), laying face up on the bathroom sink, rather than inside the shower. I'm still laughing, and I say to Anne, 'I guess this handheld thing is the shower head, and you have to wait to step inside the shower BEFORE switching the water over?' And Anne says 'Uuuhh, yeah' in her best 'well,duh' voice. 'So there's no place to actually put the shower spray head on the INSIDE of the shower?', I ask. 'Uuuuh, no', still in her 'duh' voice. Ok, so I'm an idiot - this has been proven on many occasions. I can take a shower while holding the sprayer, no problem. I can switch the water AFTER getting into the shower stall. And you have to be able to laugh at yourself, right? Well, I get into the shower, turn on the water to the shower head AFTER getting inside the shower stall, and immediately notice the big groove on the fixture where one would very conveniently put the shower head sprayer so that it's both INSIDE the shower stall (and therefore would not spray an innocent person with a face full of water, nor would it soak the bathroom), and, of course, would give you both of your hands free rather than having to hold the sprayer the whole time. I would say that my lovely wife set me up for a pretty good practical joke (and she is prone to doing such things), except that she wasn't laughing nearly as hard at me as I was at myself, and she seemed kind of mad at me for soaking the bathroom, and in fact, she wiped the bathroom down for me. So that's my side of the story and I'm stickin' to it!

Addendum #2:

I'll quickly add now that we met with one of the lawyer sisters, and the regional director for Kokshetau - what nice people! We actually fly tomorrow, but we fly to Astana first (1.5 hours), then drive from there to Kokshetau (3-4 hours), since there is no flight directly to Kokshetau again until Saturday. Depending on how late it is, we will meet Daniel and Maya late tomorrow, or the next morning. We were told early on in this process: flow like a leaf on a river ... we will be repeating this like a soothing mantra ' ... like a leaf on a river ...'

Thanks for reading! I know this is long, but it's soothing for me!

Anne Addendum:

We just got back from a great dinner with a bunch of other World Partners families that are in various stages of the adoption process.  Jim Harding, the director of our agency, is in country working on building a playground at one of the baby houses.  So he organized all of us that are here in Almaty to get together.  It was so much fun!  Everyone is so nice, and it was great to hear stories and see the children of the people that have been here for several weeks.  We are being picked up at 5am tomorrow to be taken to the airport for our flight/drive to Kokshetau, so we are going to add some pictures from Almaty, then go to bed!  Talk to you next time from Kokshetau!

Leaving Oak Park

Our apartment in Almaty

 

The view from our window in Almaty

 A shopping mall near our apartment