Week 2 Ust-Kamenogorsk
Tears, fears and preconceptions

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...

Very quick update
Thanks to everyone for the comments about bonding - I'm really not too worried about it and know its very normal - I wanted to make a point of saying it so that those coming behind me are realistic in what to expect.  Things are going fine and I have been able to work much harder on him making eye contact today (hurrah for the "contraband biscuit" method of bonding). [Editors note: and of course three years on, not only would I die if necessary for my lovely boy but I'd be prepared to kill anyone who hurt him - bonding not a problem now it seems!]

Also - please someone let me know whats happening in the Archers - I do get email update but really haven't time to read them.  Anyone?  Please....
The Baby-home - it says in Russian and Kazakh "with Love"
The disadvantage to speaking Russian

I discovered the disadvantage to speaking some Russian this weekend...

The two Babooshka's on duty on Saturday seem to have adopted me and invited me in to join them having their afternoon tea. After some Russian and a great deal of pantomiming, I thought I was going to have a cup of tea with them to find they'd laid out on the childrens (2 foot high) table all their food and gestured me towards one of the childrens (1 foot high) chairs. Plates of what looked like Danish pastries, a bowl of two tomatoes which looked like they were drowning in water, and some mysterious white little finger-sized batons. The kettle was boiled and coffee made (3 grains coffee to every 150 grains of sugar) and it gradually became obvious to me that as the honoured guest I was expected to tuck in whilst they watched. So I helped myself to what looked like the Danish to discover it was some kind of potato pastry and reasonably OK and after much gesturing and pointing and cries of "f-koosnee" (tasty) it was made clear that I was expected to tuck into the white batons of what looked like bacon fat. What was a girl to do? How could you refuse? I discovered that my squeamishness about strange food was overwhelmed by the kindness of these women who had shared what little they had with me, so I gingerly nibbled. To discover that what looked like raw bacon fat was..... raw bacon fat. Yum. A great deal of gulping down weak sugary coffee and bites of the potato pasty forced down the tiny nibbles of fat in between. Starting the second one was trickier and I was wondering how I could create a diversion in order to stick what was left up my knicker leg when the ladies lost interest in force feeding me the bacon and turned their attention to the tomato. Now I have nothing against tomatoes but this was a very large squelchy pickled tomato with no knife or fork or other obvious way to eat it. One lady rescued me by scooping it up with a teaspoon and holding it up for me whilst making sucking noises. So I dived in thankful it had distracted them from the half eaten fat lardon clutched in my hand. If anyone has successfully sucked a large pickled tomato, I be grateful to know how you did it elegantly. It wasn't a pretty sight and as I was half way through covering myself with squashed tomato and juice, our translator Alfiya arrived to be greeted by me with unusual alacrity. Thanking my hosts effusively, I leapt for the door with a fleeting kiss for my boy, hoping they were not about to offer me a packed lunch to take with me.

I shouldn't laugh as it was a great privilege and a memory I shall treasure.

Adrienne, Declan and Aine (Alex was probably in the bar)
Ground Hog Day

Monday 13 November

Today was a lovely day.

In the Groundhog day of Ust-Kamenogorsk, days are gauged by whether we all had good visits to the baby-house. Junior and I got to know each other a little better and the biscuits help stave off his pre lunch grizzles for 15 minutes until lunch is ready. Children tuck into a substantial lunch which is pretty much the same most days a mashed stew of bread and carrots with a little potato with something which turns the stew rather a lurid pink. No amount of Russian has been able to crack the mystery of the pink colour and even the translator when asked screwed up her face and finally said "vegetable". Alas the source of the mystery pink colour is destined never to be solved [Editors note - it was of course beetroot - duh!]. After course one, is mashed potato and minced meat followed by a drink of either juice or keffir which is a kind of thin soured yoghurt drink. Junior eats OK but is never keen to finish this hefty helping of mashed potato so the carers have discovered the eat/drink double hander. One feeds with the spoon and one offers a drink alternately and as he likes his drink he is coaxed into polishing off his food if he wants his drink. The baby-house powers that be seem to have sussed that there's not much wrong with him at the moment so he is being sprung tomorrow back to his group which I haven't seen yet. I will be sorry to leave as the sick-bay is much better equipped and he gets much more attention as there are only 4 children in now and two carers between them, but it will be exciting to see his locker with his name on it and to meet his normal carers.

Bonding is going well. Much improved by me buying a plastic pyramid of hoops which is the most exciting thing he has ever seen and is neatly equipped with a sharp plastic spike on one end - we may not be fully bonded yet but I have discovered new lightening reactions to stop Junior impaling himself on this spike and the ability to juggle with 6 plastic hoops rather than let them shoot off in all directions across the floor and spend the next 10 minutes crawling around the floor looking for them. This time is not really true bonding - there are too many people around picking him up, feeding him, putting him to bed, cooing at him. He thinks I am a new and at the moment slightly interesting playmate. I suspect the true bonding will only begin when he is dependant on me for everything. However it does give us both breathing space to get to know each other and make him comfortable with me so that he should not be too distressed when we leave.

Winter? What Siberian Winter?

The weather has been fanastic since we have been here. Unseasonably mild, sunny and blue skies. The temperature has dropped dramatically in the last couple of days and every morning is frosty and the evenings bitter cold, however the days continue to be a pleasant temperature and long may that continue. We walked back from our "local" Pizza Blues today along the river and though Ust isn't a pretty town (imagine grey Soviet concrete tower blocks), the walk along the river is very pleasant lined with a row of silver birches with the late afternoon winter sun shining through them, it felt like I should be walking Wendy's dogs along here and for the first time since coming I felt that I had come to some kind of accommodation with this place. That was added to this evening by the most amazing sunset as we left the baby-house. If only I believed in omens, I would say that it was an omen of a happy month to come.
Maybe omens still work even if you don't believe in them?

Siberian Sunset outside the baby-home
Guest book comments
Thanks for all the comments - it really is so much easier to pick them up in one place, though I know it means that you all have to state your business publicly, it all about making life easier for me isn't it ...me, me, me... ha ha ha (manic laughter).

Dear LisaNo,

We have had no snow yet (although they had some before we came), though it was icy walking back from dinner last night.  It is unusually warm at the moment but it is beginning to get colder everyday.  I'll let you know when we finally get some snow.

Suejonez xxx
Baby Steps forward

Today was the last official day of our "bonding" period and so we applied for a court date. Our co-ordinator is hoping to get a court date on Monday but the day was punctuated by a bit of a panic as some of the documentation which should have been in our dossiers has gone missing. We all hope that the necessary bits will be tracked down and won't delay us going to court on Monday, however we may not know until Friday. It has also been interesting being the first Brit here as they don't recognise most of our paperwork "you have no criminal checks in your dossier", "yes I do, they are the big coloured computerised letters" "Ah OK"....etc etc

Today was also the first phone call I've had with my mum without one or both of us crying - so real progress for us there!  She's hoping to come out towards the end if this month which will be great.  I shall be an old hand by then and will be able to show her around "my" town.

On the bright side, today was a good day for bonding with Junior, there is no doubt who has the upper hand in this relationship as he makes me work for every small improvement in our relationship. The little tinker has had days where he has made a concerted effort not to look me in the eye and has refused to smile regardless of what antics or singing I have tried. He smiles happily at everyone else though and laughs merrily. I can just imagine what's going through his head... "nope sorry you're just not trying hard enough to be my mum yet, please sing more humiliating songs and crawl around the floor a bit more". Today however was a different story - Junior recognised me for the first time when I arrived this morning and smiled and laughed when he saw me. I have no idea if this new reaction is here to stay or if I will have to go back to square one tomorrow but for five minutes today I wouldn't have traded places with anyone in the world. There is something about slowly earning the trust of a tiny stranger which is quite magical and very humbling.

The Archers
Thanks for the update on the Archers but I can't believe that you all skipped over the David/Ruth/Sam situation so quickly!  More details please - how is David dealing with Ruths admission (do I understand correctly that she told David about the kiss), is Sam gone for good?  What happened with Brian going to Germany to see Siobhan and sprog?  Did I miss that before I went?

I hope that Brian is going to give Adam away at the wedding - I would pay good money to see that.
Our translator the lovely Alfiya and I outside the baby-home
Thursday evening Sometime in November...

Despite there being absolutely nothing wrong with Junior he is still in the sick-bay which confuses me no end but I'm not protesting as we have the luxury of two armchairs in the anteroom we use for bonding visits. "Armchairs" is a slight misnomer - they are wedged between the wall and a small table and pull them away to look for the plastic hoops which have rolled underneath at your own risk. I discovered that it was the wall and the table that was holding them both together. I have not been entirely happy to sit on them with my full weight ever since and so my thigh muscles are building up nicely.

I share morning visits with Brent and Kathy and their little girl Ruth Aida (they're off to court tomorrow so fingers crossed for them) and we sing songs together for an hour or so before Kathy and I muscle our way into the main room to force food down the childrens throats. We are significantly less practised at it than the carers and I think they despair of our amateurish efforts. Aida has the most lady-like voice I think I've ever heard and she sweetly babbles little breathy nothings to her new Mum. Junior on the other hand sounds like a demented lumberjack with a line of loud "BUB BUB BUUUUUBB"s followed by a piercing shriek which means either "give those illicit biscuits back or I'll tell the carers" or "thats really funny - make yourself look ridiculous again and I may smile at you". I'm not an experienced enough mother yet to tell the difference.

Still hoping for Court on Monday and I must be bonding as I am struck with horror at the thought that there are still many things which could go wrong. I won't be entirely happy until we land back in the UK.

The children here

The majority of the children here are not available for adoption. Either they still have a family member who visits them or they are only in temporarily. Apparently its not uncommon at this time year for a lot of the men to be laid off from their manual jobs over the winter and not have enough money to feed the children. If that happens they bring them into the childrens home until they can find work again. One day last week a man brought two small girls into the home with a woman crying out in the car which it transpired were the grandparents. The children were brought in to the sick bay as the older girl had cut her hand and I think they felt it was an easier transition for them as the sickbay is so much quieter than the other rooms. As they were in the sick bay I got to know them a bit - the older sister was about 4 and the younger 2 and they sat stock still for the first 2 days like frightened rabbits. The older sister explained that her name was "Aibana" and her sisters name was "Zharina" then she pointed at herself and her sister in turn saying "devochka" (little girl) each time, I think she interpreted my very poor Russian as a mental infirmity and took great pains to talk to me very slowly. I was given a pot of bubbles as a present by Adrienne and had been blowing them for Junior when I noticed the girls wistfully peering at them from beyond the glass door of the sick bay. The carers kindly turned a blind eye as I propped the door open and blew bubbles in toward them. The two year old looked like she'd wandered into Disneyland and there was something about the sight of these two tiny mites glued together watching the bubbles float past in amazement that would just make your heart break if you saw it. If I swear never to forget how lucky I am will someone remind me of this moment when I am whinging about some completely irrelevant irritation in 6 months time?

They have left the sickbay now but if I have even a tiny bit of bubble solution left when I leave, it will become a personal mission to track them down in their group and blow bubbles for them one time before I go.


Catherine thanks for catsitting - I miss my cats!! Sorry about Dylan, he is a bit of a mummy's boy so he is probably behaving very badly, Lola on the other hand is generally quite standoffish so you are doing well if she is suffering the odd cuddle from you. Didn't I mention the high rise sleeping arrangements? You have probably upset them by sleeping in "their" bedroom so they probably think that jumping off the top of the wardrobe in the dead of the night on top of you is fair game. Poor little buggers have no idea how their lives are about to be turned upside down.

MayMay, sorry I can't discuss the details of how the children are paired in practice with adoptive parents but if you'd like to email me when I'm home I'd be happy to tell you my thoughts.

Technically a new week starts today but I think I will just run this week on until we go to Court and start a new week after that.


We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

Not such a good day today (Saturday) - the relentless up, visit, back, visit, eat, bed, up, visit... is beginning to get to us all and we are all tired. The breakfasts here are not ideal when you are tired and foreign and though I'm sure hamburger stew has its fans for breakfast, I'm not one of them. Yesterday was a frantic round of writing speeches for court and sorting out dated photos to prove we had visited our children during the bonding period. Today brought bad news - no court on Monday, the is some paperwork coming from the capital Astana which has not arrived and we cannot go to court until it has, our translator Alfiya is hoping that it will come on Monday and we can have court Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm terrified this will drag on and I will be out here significantly longer than planned. On top of that Junior was a little unwell and very grizzly this morning and threw up all over me. He cheered right up after that - I'm not sure if he felt better or if he just found it amusing. He is generally in a better mood in the afternoons so I'm hoping that the day can be salvaged this afternoon by a nice visit with him.

Brent and Kathy's court appearance went well and they have gone back to the US to wait out the two week wait and the paperwork chase, and Kathy will come back to pick Aida (I should really call her Ruth now) in about 3 weeks, but I hope to be able to take some photos to email back to them so that they can see that she is fine. It is a difficult balancing act for those who already have children between the needs of their children at home and their new child here. On the whole I would say that those with no children at home are sticking it out for the full time and those with little ones at home are doing two trips. Two of the American families have brought their children with them with mixed results, Joannie's two who are about 7 and 9 have not been allowed into the baby-home as they are deemed to be too old but Janna's 6 yr old has been allowed in. it seems a bit inconsistent and has meant that the kids have been very bored playing in the hotel most of the time. They have been incredibly good about it and yesterday went back to the US with their Dad, their mum Joannie and her mum are staying out here for the whole trip. They have the littlest baby who is only just over 6 months and was as premature as Junior but has been in hospital recently and so is in isolation. Of our group, Alex, Aine and I will stay the whole time (hopefully with my mum coming out to vary the monotony a bit), with Declan and Adrienne going back to Ireland to see their two girls and prepare for Christmas.

Lesson 14 of motherhood: don't wear loose fitting V neck tshirts when you have a small boy unless you want to share your bosoms with the world.

It's the Mumsnet (www.mumsnet.com - a lifeline for me!) meet up tonight and I am very jealous that I won't be there, have a good time everyone and think of me - I shall want all the gossip tomorrow.

Maria - I did remember that your Cerys was a Zarina, you might get a kick from knowing that I have included a photo of her for the judge to show that there are some Kazkah children in the UK that we know. Hope you don't mind!

On to week three
Bored with typing on week 2 so on to week 3...

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Latest comments

10.07 | 13:22

We all have heard that dogs love to chew bones, Bones are a good source of minerals and other essential nutrients to satisfy the dog’s appetite.

07.06 | 16:37

Thank you so much for sharing. Makes me want to be there. We have told Ben and Ruthie we too will make a trip back and I hope it's soon!

03.06 | 11:35

Tears are flowing and laughter ensuing.

31.05 | 00:14

We're loving following your adventures!!! In Kew at the mo with my I laws. We have explained to Harry where you are but he says he misses Daniel!! Xx

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