Many apologies to Andrei our Driver - whose name is in fact Alexei (my brain is a bit addled at the moment), but who has been quite happily answering to Andrei all week. Oh well, strike one for international relations between Kaz and the UK.
Emotions run high here and many of the children have medical problems that would turn your average GP's hair white at home. Of the 6 babies currently being adopted, only two are even close to being the expected size and development of a child of the same age in the UK. Many of the children were extremely premature which on top of the institutional delays you would expect make for very tiny, delayed children with uncertain futures, your judgement when taking them on is really very driven by the specialist adoption doctors that most of us have consulted based in the States. You really put your (future) life in their hands when accepting their assessment that despite all the orthodox views to the contrary, your child is not high risk based on weight progress to date, head circumference etc. It makes for an emotional time as you fluctuate between taking heart from their assessment and being in the depths of despair. Between us I think we have shed enough tears to float a boat and sail home at the end of the trip.
I tell you this really to manage the expectations of those coming after me - few of the adoption blogs I read mentioned the emotional aspects and the panic when given your child only to look at them and think - "yes, very interesting" but really no more than that. The bonding here is really as much about you bonding with your child as them bonding with you - we spend so much time in adoption circles talking about how to promote bonding and attachment in the children but very little about how it will take some time for you to bond with them. I understand this is often different if you have a referral as you have had a chance to bond at least with the idea of your child from the photo and details you have in advance.
What else is different to what I expected (at least here in Ust):
Caregivers are good - no actually they are fantastic. I have read so many times how good they are and how kind to the children but I really didn't understand how lovely they are. They are well aware that they cannot give the children the time and attention they need to develop properly as the children have to spend a fair amount of time in walkers or lying in playpens. They are scrupulously clean, every child washes their hands before eating even the tiny ones like Junior are hoiked over to the sink to have their hands washed. The children all laugh and smile at the carers whenever they walk past.
Feeding the children - they don't feed them tea and they don't feed them with huge spoons (ordinary metal teaspoons) though they do give them juice and Kefir (sort of liquid yoghurt drink) out of china teacups and even the little ones gulp it down like troopers! If necessary they are given iron and vitamins - Junior is currently getting these and they are regularly seen by a doctor.
Clothes - I haven't found the children to be unreasonably wrapped up here though the weather is getting cooler now so maybe it's more of an issue in Spring/Summer.
I should say that this baby-home is considered to be one of the best in the country and I understand that the Presidents wife is a patron so maybe that makes a difference.
The people aren't rude - I haven't found them much different to people in London. If you say thank you (spaseeba) most people will say you're welcome (pazhalsta), they like any efforts to speak Russian and are generally very patient with my halting efforts. Russian is spoken everywhere here, it is the only language spoken in the baby-house and there was one surreal moment when Adrienne was teaching a few words of Kazakh to our Russian-ethnic man on reception at the hotel who was born and brought up here and learnt Kazakh in school but still doesn't know a single word!
Western food is readily available at the supermarket across the road along with just about every baby supply necessary, and food in the restaurants is generally reasonable and in some cases very good, though of course strange and foreign, really no more foreign than any country you're not used to.
This is NOT a third world country. I see on so many blogs Kazakhstan referred to as a third world country and it really isn't. There is desperate poverty mostly in the countryside and the drive from the airport is shocking but the urban population seems to be reasonably affluent, cars are plentiful and many of them newish and good quality. Technology is behind Western Europe but catching up fast - pay-as-you-go mobile phone shops are everywhere and everyone seems to have one but internet connections are often slow dial up ones and there really isn't a culture of surfing the web. It has become clear to me why it is so hard to get email replies from the co-ordinators in Kaz when you experience first hand the effort it takes to connect and download a single email. There is building work everywhere - blocks of flats and offices are springing up all over the place on the road from the town out to the baby-house on the edge of town. It will be interesting to come back here in 10 years and see the progress they have made. [Editors note: I understand there is now wi-fi everywhere!]
My guess would be that the Europeans have found the transition easier than the Americans on the whole. Some things they struggle with that I have hardly noticed - the traffic fumes/pollution (I really hadn't noticed until pointed out), the food seems to me to be more European than American in style and portion sizes, people smoke here sometimes at dinner but again I suppose this wasn't uncommon so very long ago in Europe so we seem to just not notice it as much, and of course it is much easier for us to keep in communication with home due to the time zone which does make all the difference. A good phone call from home at the end of a day can transform a difficult day.
To the Haywards Heath Jones's, Junior's birthday is only two days after Catrin's so you will have to have a virtual birthday celebration for him. Catrin, can I give you new cousin for your birthday this year?
To the rest of the Jones's/Garlands - I am VERY concerned about Christmas, who is buying the Turkey and the crackers in my absence??!
Elena - just to give you an idea, about half the children here are Russian ethnic and about half Kazakh or mixed race but Ust is a very Russian town and I suspect that this ratio would be different in other towns. If I'm honest and other parents agreed with me, the Russian children do look sicker than the kazakh children but I think thats because they are so pale, the darker kazakh skins don't show the lack of sunlight so much I guess.
Malissa - what is happening with the never-ending story of your Russian paperwork? Are we going to have our black Alpine salamanders together?
Hello to the Mumsnet posse - no, not even a hint, Uwila, you will just have to be patient for another week. I will however say that Junior is scared of strangers so any baby shower will have to be low key or possibly at my house after lights out...