Welcome to the Hotel California...
"You can check out any time you like but...
You can NEVER leave!"
We got some bad news a couple of days ago, we have been caught in the middle of a change in the law governing issuing passports and the babies' passports will not be available until 29th December at the earliest, then the British Embassy is shut until 3rd January and there are no flights available until 9th Jan and even then I don't have a confirmed seat, but am waitlisted at the moment! We were given the choice of going home to wait and coming back for the children after the New Year, but we have opted to stay in Kazakhstan, take custody of the babies and rent a flat in Almaty until the passports arrive. I do feel guilty that my mum has in effect been emotionally blackmailed (by herself I should make clear not by me!) to stay with me but as I said to her when we were discussing the options - what would I come home for? There have been too many Christmasses with me thinking "maybe next year I will have a family" for me to believe that I could enjoy a turkey dinner knowing that Daniel is sitting in the babyhouse eating his normal meat and potatoes wondering where I've gone. I know that he won't know it's Christmas, but I will. Looking at it positively Mum and I spent Christmas day a few years ago in Heathrow airport eating tuna sandwiches waiting for a flight to New York and it will at least be better than that! I have a cunning plan to book Christmas lunch at the Hyatt Hotel as I can't believe they won't be doing one. As Kazakhstan is a Muslim country there are no Christmas celebrations and no public holidays (though there are minor celebrations for Russian Christmas on 6th January), however New Year is a very big celebration here and there are loads of "Christmas" lights and "Christmas" trees and a man called Father Frost who looks suspiciously like Father Christmas who comes on 31st December, so it is quite Christmassy is a funny way. I am also going to throw myself on the mercy of the British Embassy to ask if I can borrow any DVD's from them as once we have Daniel we will be stuck in the flat every evening with not much to do.
Catherine - I need to throw myself on your mercy and ask if you can continue to feed the cats until 9th January - I know its a lot longer than either of us had expected but if you can't, no doubt I can prevail upon someone to fill in. Fiona, on balance, best not bother with Christmas presents this year! Unless you fancy flying out to deliver it - it would be nice to see a face from home.
We have tickets booked to fly to Almaty on Wednesday so will not be back online until at least Thursday and it may take a little longer to work out how to connect there. Anyone with connections in Almaty who can supply English books and DVD's would be gratefully, and no doubt tearily, received! It is Independence Day today and its a big public holiday with everywhere shut until Wednesday so if I run out of time on my dial up card I won't be able to buy another one until after we go to Almaty.
Story of the week.
I have to add a story about Aine's sister's friend (are you still following?) Aine's sister Helen has a friend who shall remain nameless (for reasons which will become obvious) who announced to Helen last week that she was flying to Almaty for Christmas with her family. This was a big topic of conversation for us for several days...
"Why would anyone come to Almaty for Christmas?"
"They don't celebrate Christmas here!"
"I didn't know anyone else knew where Almaty was?!"
It was explained that they go somewhere different for Christmas every year - perhaps a bit like the Wombles picking their names, they just stuck a pin in a map. After the initial disbelief wore off, we began to see distinct possibilities, as thoughts of Red Cross parcels crossed our minds and we started petitioning Aine to ask her sister to send various things out with her friend. Aine's family duly shopped themselves to a standstill and with a thought to said friend's baggage allowance put together a parcel for her to bring out with her on Sunday.
Sister Helen received a phone call this morning and a small voice announced -
"I've checked the tickets and we're going to Alicante not Almaty".
We're on our way to Almaty!
It's confirmed, we're off to Almaty tomorrow (Wednesday afternoon). Tickets are booked and we spring the babies in the afternoon and go straight to the airport. In the excitement of changing the scenery I have quite come to terms with the disappointment of not getting home in time for Christmas, though it has also not yet dawned on me that this time tomorrow I will be the proud possessor of a small wriggling boy on a twin prop plane at his dinner time. Oh well, I'll worry about that tomorrow.
The flat we are renting is on Arbat which I gather is the main pedestrianised street and very central and down the road to the other flat being rented by our travel partners. They are renting a two bedroom flat and sharing as unfortunately Adrienne has to go home on Christmas eve to be at home for Christmas with their two small girls. As the girls are expecting Santa to visit, Santa needs to get his (her) arse back from Kazakhstan. I did suggest she broke the bad news about Santa to them instead and stayed but on balance she decided against that course.
Foxie - it would be marvellous if you could feed the cats for me for a few days after Christmas as Catherine is going on holiday over New Year. You only need to go in every other day and fill up their bowls with dried cat food and water - just leave them plenty of food and make sure that they are not shut in any of the rooms by mistake. I will try to email you, Catherine and my sister (she can give you her key) to co-ordinate things (if I have your email address with me!).
Kind thought of those who have offered to send something out - I don't know where we'll be so I won't have an address for you and I have also discovered that Mad Murphys Pub (is there one in every town in the world?!) rents english speaking videos.
Lucy/Justamum - as you will see in the photo album, the snowsuit you kindly gave me was a little large so I have donated it to the childrens home and have bought a second hand one here. I have discovered that our snow suits are a bit wimpy for the depths of the Siberian winter so probably just as well as the local one is much thicker. Our co-ordinator has told us - "Almaty is sooo much warmer than Ust, only minus 5 degrees in Almaty". Tropical then.
We arrive in Almaty quite late tomorrow night and so have shopped today for enough food for us for a day until we are able to get out and get our bearings. Tomorrow will be a manic round of final documentation before going to pick up the children and head off.
I got Daniel's plane ticket today and was quite over whelmed to see Daniel Jones printed in English script on the ticket. I showed my mum and she said - "Ooh just like he's a real person". And I did know exactly what she meant. I feel a little like he has existed in a twilight zone up to now. Unknown by the world outside the childrens home, not quite Daniel yet but not quite Damir anymore either, not entirely my son and yet legally mine.
I hope to stop by the sick bay tomorrow and I hope that one of the carers I got to know so well are on duty as I would like someone whom I, and he, know to symbolically mark the passing of this first stage of his life. They have so kind to both of us and have bought us various presents - a small bib for Daniel, a small clay ornament with "Don't forget Ust Kamenogorsk" on it for me and a crocheted decorative table mat which I think they were explaining to me that someone made themselves but my brain by that point had softened significantly with the effort not to cry (again). Despite the difficulties of being out here for so long, I have been consistently overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers which have made the journey to my son so much more memorable.
How strange that tomorrow I will leave this place that has been my whole world for nearly two months and have such an enormous significance in my sons life and I will probably not return for many, many years. I imagine its a little how people feel when they emigrate, of course I am pleased to go and excited about my new start but I am sad to leave it behind with little opportunity to revisit. I would like to bring a little part of it with me. The best I can do is treasure my photos and the funny little keepsakes I have collected along the way and of course I will have a live, wriggling piece of Ust-Kamenogorsk to always remind me.
[Editors note: little did I know I would be back a couple of weeks later!]
View of the mountains from my bedroom
View of the mountains from my bedroom
We got as far as Almaty - hurrah
Greetings from sunny Almaty! Well, sunny in comparison to Ust which is about -15 degrees at the moment whereas Almaty is a balmy +1 degree.
Our arrival was somewhat fraught as we arrived at around 9pm to a welcoming committee of about 8 people, none of whom we recognised, none of whom spoke English competantly and (I have now discovered) my Russian evaporates when I'm tired and dealing with a very small, tired boy. It transpired that the flats we had thought were booked for us were different and more expensive and that we had to pay for 10 days in advance. We offered to pay one night and to sort it all out in the morning and move to the flats we had asked for but no dice. We broke the deadlock in the end by booking ourselves into an expensive hotel for one night with the hopes that with a nights sleep behind us we could sort it out in the morning. Poor Daniel got to bed at 11.45 pm in a catatonic state. The evening was only made bearable by the children who were absolute angels throughout, though perhaps more through shock than temperment.
The following day we moved to our current abode, a flat in Central Almaty very close to Arbat and the Tsum. From the outside and the stairwell, the block looks like the kind of thing you see in films with undercover cops posing as junkies in the worst slums of any city in the world, only slightly less salubrious. I will post some photos tomorrow just in case anyone thinks I exaggerate...
Inside the flat is reasonably acceptable, if not the standards of the Hyatt that mum started her trip at and is prone to telling me how nice it is on a regular basis (at $350 a night it ought to be). We have a bedroom, bathroom, living room with sofa bed and a small kitchen with a microwave that sends out thunderbolts and lightening if it is turned on for more than 20 seconds. Have decided not to use the microwave. And a washing machine, it's a tiny washing machine (about half the size of a normal UK one) but a washing machine none the less. We can wash our clothes! I never thought the day would come when I would be so excited about doing washing.
We have spent the last few days settling in and trying (and failing miserably) to get Daniel into a routine of sorts. He has just clocked that he has gone from sharing the attention of 2 people with another 10 children to having two handmaidens in constant attendance and is playing the Emperor Nero quite nicely. He has been a little bugger the last couple of days but I think (in addition to the stress of the change and the different food) he is teething and has a cold. Poor little mite.
My mum has certainly earned her keep since we left Ust, she was a star on the plane and dragged most of the hand-luggage around while I carried him, though I think she is now regretting bringing 45 books and may make a sacrificial bonfire of them before leaving. She also babysat while he slept today so I could get out for an hour - what bliss. I wasn't terribly impressed with Almaty during our one day stop-over enroute, but after 7 weeks in Ust, the shops in Almaty look shiny and sparkly and full of things that I would consider buying. I'm very tempted by some silver Kazakh jewellery - I'm not much of a jewellery person but I'm still tempted.
I can't believe it's Xmas eve, there are no Christmas celebrations here (being a Moslem country) so tomorrow is just another working day. We are celebrating by going to get mum's visa extended and trying to buy drugs for her (prescription of course, not heroin). The west London Posse of Mumsnet (at least I assume thats who it is - apologies if anyone else contributed as I don't know yet), have DHL'd a parcel to us which I hope will arrive shortly, it may well be the most appreciated Xmas present in the history of Mumsnet!
Daniel (and little David and Alex's) passports are still in a big black hole somewhere in the ether and I may have to become a permanent resident at this rate. Still have my sense of humour though (mad, cackling laughter).
Hope you all have a lovely Christmas and aren't reading this on Christmas Day but doing something altogether more exciting.
Hi everyone baboushka here(grandmother)....Christmas here is not to be recommended, as it's just like a normal day for us except that the Irish contingent who live a couple of streets away are coming round for cake & tea in the afternoon. we have all bought small presents for the babies but not for each other. The only present we need is the baby passports to get out of here.
At least we are able to cook now, although that is a bit of a mixed blessing. I am currently making beef stew (for xmas dinner)...but the parsley I bought turned out to be coriander ...& the baby parsnips we think are horseradish...& the tin of butter beans are a problem because guess what? We haven't got a tin opener! But if all else fails we'll buy a jar of bolognese sauce & tip it in. Think of us when you are tucking in to your turkey....I shall start blubbing in a minute.
The first night we made spagetti bolognese & after putting Daniel to bed we were looking foward to it but closed the kitchen door & it locked and we hadn't got a key. It had it's funnier side as we were both quite distraught at the thought of no dinner....Susan was a star & after many tries with various credit cards etc she managed to open the door with a wire coat hanger. She's thlnking of forming 'Burglars are Us' when she gets back (if ever)
Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year to everyone especially Liz & Fiona & Catherine & Dylan & Lola & my Sister Jean if she eventually receives this , & most of all, grandchildren Rachel, Cerys, Catrin, Matthew and James. Much Love to Chris & Ian & Mike & Wendy (Oh gosh I am bubbling now) ....Hope to see you all in the new Year ...2007 not 2008. Love Ann xxx
[Editors note- Just thought I'd point out that she is actually blubbing not bubbling, for those who are on the verge of ringing the RSPCG Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Grandmothers]
Christmas in Almaty
Sorry no internet connection for a few days and I was too busy hairing around Almaty on various essential missions to buy a new internet card. First stop was the international medical clinic to get Mum a new prescription for her drugs which she is running out of - lovely, lovely people, I can't recommend them highly enough (once we'd driven around Almaty three times and finally found them). The prescription consisted of them writing down in Russian what she needed as most drugs here don't need a prescription (except psychiatric drugs which we both need but couldn't get). Then I braved the pharmacist which was in reality pretty straightforward. Then most important was the dash to DHL to pick up the Red Cross parcel sent by the West London Mumsnet posse. We picked it up the day after boxing day and that day really became our Christmas day. They had sent some tinsel, three crackers with bangs removed (because they would scare Daniel or DHL?), Christmas cards, various teas and coffee, six mince pies, some organic chocolate, little organic biscuits for Daniel, a book for Daniel and a HUGE pile of DVD's. Daniel was unimpressed with Peppa Pig DVD but Nanny and I quite enjoyed it. We went completely wild and played an episode of Black Adder DURING THE DAY (!) and watched Mona Lisa Smile in the evening drinking our PG Tips. We went visiting in the afternoon and took the mince pies over to the Collerans (only Declan and Alex as Adrienne is now safely at home with the girls) and the Hendersons and graciously shared them (just in case anyone thought I took them over to eat in front of them). Big Alex said,
"These taste just like Tesco's"
"All the way from Tesco in Isleworth" - I wonder if he'd thought I bought them here?!
Anyone seen The Shawshank Redemption? Silly question - everyone's seen it. Remember the scene of the convicts drinking beer on the roof of the prison block with the Morgan Freeman voice over saying something along the lines of...
"Just for a few minutes that day we could have been neighbours helping tar the roof of one of our garages, stopping for a rest and a bottle of suds..."
Well, we renacted the Almaty version and just for a few minutes with a mince pie and a cup of tea with the kids crawling around the floor trying to bite each other, we could have been in anyone's house and the world seemed normal again. Just for a few minutes.
To the women who contributed to the contents, cost of the postage and the time to get it all done and sent out here, I can't thank you enough. You really have no idea how big a relief it was to get the DVD's in particular to make the evenings bearable. I will confess I cried when I opened it, mostly because of the care and thought that had gone into it - and lets face it I cry easily these days. I do hope its going to stop before I get back to work.
Photos in the album show the ceremonial opening of the parcel and the Christmas we missed at home.
On our way back to Ust
Incredibly, we discovered yesterday that we have to up sticks and decamp back to Ust on January 3rd for a week. We need to appear before an official in order for the passports to be processed and my return flight on 13th January is looking unlikely. Don't know what to say at this point. I just want to come home.
Last update from Almaty (this time around)
In my misery at more delays I have shamefully neglected to update everyone on how Daniel is coping with the huge changes in his life. All in all pretty well I think. He has gone from being a child who was completely uninterested in eating to one who would eat until he exploded given the choice, he also takes great exception to anyone eating in front of him and gripes loudly until you give him something. We started off giving him biscuits but have now graduated to the dreaded rice cakes. Never thought I would see the day I fed my child rice cakes! However they take him a while to eat and don't fill him too full of sugar in between meals. He has started being sick a little but thats only to be expected given the change in diet and so far it doesn't seem to be anything too serious. He also hasn;t yet worked out that the tiem to stop eating is the point at which food is backing up your oesophagus and reaches your tonsils. I am mixing formula with Kefir (fermented yoghurt) with the aim to get him onto formula completely by the time we leave for home. He's up to about one third formula at the moment and seems to be tolerating the change pretty well.
Sleeping is a little more of a struggle, though even there I know it could be worse. I think he is so stimulated that he just doesn't want to sleep - ever. He struggles against it violently and we are beginning to develop some strategies to help him. He is getting to sleep around 9pm and waking at about 7.30 am with a couple of wakes in between but is reasonably easy to get back to sleep. He doesn't nap well, sometimes only managing half an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon - which makes for a grizzly time in between. The problem is that although he doesn't want to sleep, he is very difficult to soothe as he is not used to anyone rocking him to sleep or even rocking him to calm him down. He is in that half way zone at the moment where he has lost his "self-soothing" rock which got him off to sleep before (good!) but hasn't yet got used to being rocked and will fight with me intermittently to be put down then screams if he's put down. This is improving and today he allowed me to at least rock him until he calmed down.
He has become so much more active over the last few days having settled in here and is starting to crawl around the flat much more and just today has started pulling himself up for the first time. I was beginning to worry about his inactivity but I think he is a child who needs to feel secure to become more active. It's one of the reasons why I'm upset about dragging back to Ust and going through another change. It can't be helped I guess - we get the 7am flight on Wednesday morning so will be up at the crack of dawn and head back to the frozen north and don't yet know where we're staying. I hope to have some idea by the end of the week whether the new timing we had been given is anything close to reality.
The weather has turned colder here and it has't stopped snowing for a couple of days so we have been trapped inside most of the time - I am considering transferring to a hotel when we return to Almaty and my mum goes home, as at least I would be able to use the public rooms and see other people (and order room service!). The disadvantage would be living in one room with a baby but if you've seen the photos of the apartment block we're in you will see why I'm reluctant to come back here on my own, though to be fair the area is very central and seems very safe.
Lucy (justamum) - thought you would like to know that your snowsuit is going to be used for transporting sick children from Daniels group to and from the hospital.
Malissa - fantastic news about your court date, can't believe that we will get home at a similar point (fingers crossed!)
Thanks again to everyone for the care package - I gather some of the BigMoFo's (you know who you are but I don't - perhaps someone would let me know) contributed to the cost of the parcel as well as the West London gang.
Back in Ust
The journey back to Ust was about as bad as it could be with a crawling baby. We got up at 4am to be in the airport at 5.30am for the 7am flight and due to bad weather we sat in the airport until 10.30 am before boarding then sat on the plane for an hour before taking off. What fun - actually the children were better than we could have expected and despite being virtually catatonic with tiredness only cried and grizzled a little.
My mum and I were dropped off at a flat at about 4pm (having visited the passport office first to get the passport started again with the babies being eye-balled personally by the woman in the passport office). I can't even begin to describe the desolation of the flat but after wandering around in the dark trying to find a supermarket and failing, I had to call Alfiya our translator to take me to a supermarket whereupon I had a complete meltdown and cried and cried.... it did have the desired effect as we are now cosily ensconced in a tiny but clean and sparkly one room studio with bathroom in an area I knew from our last visit. It is such a relief to be somewhere clean with clean crockery, and a fridge and an uncracked toilet and a basin in the bathroom and no drunk, comatose man curled up in the hallway. You can fill in the description of the last flat from what this one isn't...
Thanks for all the messages:
Foxie - I was only saying to my mum today that you must be due soon. Hoping Foxie Jnr is not going to school by the time I get home.
Brenda - good to hear from you - how did you get your teenagers off the computer?!
Alice - can't believe that Theo is starting school already! I definitely won't be at Judiths in Jan but hope to show Daniel off to you all in Feb/March.
Watched Chocolat last night and am onto episode 4 of 24 (series 5) but need to ration it to last the trip. (Will need to go back and get series 1-4 now!)
Fiona - all your DVD's have been watched some time ago except 24 (series 2) which I foolishly didn't bring as I thought it was too much with the others I bought (wild ironic laughter echoes around studio flat in Ust Kamenogorsk)
Hope to see you all by my birthday in Feb...
love and kisses to everyone sorry if I've missed any messages.