Our Kazakhstan Adoption Journey

Name:
Location: Atlanta Metro Area, Georgia

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Homeward Bound!!






Today was the embassy appointment and all is well!!! We were worried that Valera’s passport might not make it today because Lola had to pick it up at the train station this morning. Being so last minute, Lola says it is sometimes a problem……..thankfully, not today!! The embassy appointment was no big deal at all. We received a package that we cannot open and must give to the customs agent in Atlanta. The embassy official just basically detailed a lot of procedural information and sent us on our way. Valera was funny because he kept seeing his picture in his passport when the man was speaking and he was saying in Russian, “Mama!! That’s me!!” We all laughed. Robert and I were happy to complete the final official business in this whole process! A big sigh of relief, thankfulness, and joy!! We had a pretty relaxing day, actually. We went swimming in the hotel pool and had a good time. We missed Elijah and wished we were all 4 together to splash and play. Valera is really anxious to get home and keeps asking when we are leaving. (Elijah, we will be home soon and we miss you very much!! ) Valera is excited about flying on the airplane. We ate lunch at a place a few blocks away called the “King Burger” with pictures of a Burger King menu. Let’s just say you can’t trust the pictures. We pointed to what we wanted and got something very different (except the French fries). The hamburger had a special sauce and cucumbers and all sorts of local flavors on it (difficult to eat when you expect something else). Basically, they take an American idea and localize it to the tastes of the culture. The best place we have eaten is just outside the hotel and is called the Beer Garden. The food is expensive, but delicious. We ate the popular Kazakh dish called “shashlik” which is a shish-ka-bob. They were scrumptious!! Dinner tonight was a repeat of the Beer Garden and we are completely satisfied before the flight. Valera has just goofed off around the hotel room and had fun turning on the music using the controls built into the nightstand. Then he discovered that the music came through in the bathroom and he thought that was really cool. We are going to leave the hotel tonight very late as our flight does not leave until 1:50am. So, we are going to try to get some sleep for the 24 hour journey home. See you in Atlanta!!!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gotcha Day

We are claiming this day as official "Gotcha Day"!!! Even though the court day was June 26th and the judge granted our adoption, Robert and I are officially claiming this day as the "Gotcha Day" because we have finally have Valera without the pain of having to say goodbye again!!!! Our day started at around 7:45 with a phone call that Valera was waiting in the lobby of the hotel with the director. Robert and I had already been up since around 4:00 because of the excitement (and the jet lag). We got on the glass elevator and could see his face looking around and he finally saw us and waved. He just ran around the corner and jumped into my arms and then turned to jump in Robert's. There are no words to describe the feeling of holding your child after long periods of missing them terribly!!! We met with the director and she said that the train took 17 hours and that Valera slept a little and ate a lot.......sounds just like him. There was of course more paperwork involved, so Lola gave us 30 minutes to take him up to the room and fill out the papers. Valera just checked things out with a smile on his face......he was very happy to be with us again. We noticed that he did not have some of the things we packed for him before leaving Karaganda. He did not have the spiderman backpack we bought (instead he came with a small Mickey Mouse bag). He was missing the pajamas we packed and he was missing all of the little toys and drawing things he had wanted to keep. He also did not have his photo album his host family made from last summer, but we are working on a plan to get that. Lola told us later today that the older kids get very jealous and they steal these things from the kids......very sad. Valera did not seem to miss them and we were just happy to be together. When we got back downstairs, Lola said she needed to tell us about something that should have been done in Karaganda, but was not told to us. We were scared for a moment until she said that Valera, because his mother is deceased, has money from the government in an account that he will be able to access at the age of 18 or can be claimed by the adoptive parents on his behalf. It is not much money because he has not been in the orphanage for very long. The standard procedure is to sign over the money to the orphanage as a donation. So, we had to find a notary, fill out more papers, and do all of this quickly because the director's train was leaving a couple of hours later. We had trouble finding a notary to do this because the legal language and laws are different here in Almaty than in Karaganda (Lola was frustrated because she said it is like they are two different countries). We finally found one, and after the notary, we said a heartfelt goodbye to the director who was both sad and very tired (we tried for a picture and couldn't get one because the driver pulled up and could not park on the street). She had said earlier that Valera was a favorite of everyone in the orphanage and that there were a lot of tears when the caregivers and staff said goodbye (it is good to know he was so loved). Then we were off to the doctor's office for the medical appointment. The doctor was a man from England who was very nice, and gave Valera an overall healthy report to travel. Lola took to us to lunch after this and then we were going to see the ski resorts here and get some good pictures of the mountains, but after the long drive, we came to a road block and were not let through because they were working on the road.....very disappointing. Anyway, at this point, it was late in the afternoon, and the jet lag was weighing very heavily on us. So, we went back to the hotel, and we all fell asleep (Valera was pretending not to be tired in the car, but he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer)......a long, but glorious day. Sorry there are no pictures. There was really no time to get any today, but we have tomorrow.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Almaty....again





We have finally arrived for our second trip in Almaty!!! Travel, overall, was much better this time, except for the fact that our first plane had a cabin pressure problem and very little air conditioning in our section of the plane. We tried not to check any luggage, but in Atlanta, my carry on was the right size, but a few pounds over the limit, so they took it away to check it. Our plane landed on time last night and this time, we had no problems getting through customs and meeting Lola, our facilitator for this trip. The customs agent looked strangely at our visas in our passports because they expire in a week and the little white immigration paper you fill out when you enter states our reason for being here as adoption (this little white paper stays in your passport and you must have it to exit the country). She had a look of “good luck getting that done in a week”. Anyway, our driver took us straight to the Hyatt…..thank you Mom and Dad. The Hyatt is really nice, has air conditioning and staff that speak English!!! Even though the second trip is very short, it will be like a mini vacation with all of the amenities of the hotel and Almaty is more modern and convenient than Karaganda. Checking in late last night, our attendant asked if we were adopting and he told us that he volunteers at a children’s home. He was very nice. Lola told us that Valera is traveling by train (around 20 hours) with an escort from the orphanage to get here from Karaganda, and he will arrive here at 7:20 Tuesday morning. He is brought here to the hotel instead of us going to the train station. We are so excited to see him!!! Since we have arrived a day early, we have eaten breakfast in the hotel, slept very well, and went out for a walk to find some shopping. We passed by the soccer stadium (seen in the picture above). The hotel has a few shops also and we bought a really nice hard bound book with great pictures and history of Kazakhstan written in English (it will be something Valera will appreciate when he is older). Across from the hotel, there is an amusement park and it looks safer and more modern than the one in Karaganda, so we will probably go tomorrow or Wednesday. Lola is going to take us on a tour of the ski resorts here also. Lola came by the hotel just a little while ago and had us fill out all the embassy papers. Our medical appointment is at 11 tomorrow morning and our embassy appointment is at 3 in the afternoon on Wednesday. We cannot describe the feeling knowing that this time, we do not have to say goodbye!!! We wonder what Valera is thinking and feeling right now on the train. He is very close to his caregivers, so I am sure there is a bit of sadness saying goodbye to them. We thought about when they told him we were coming to pick him up and Robert said that they probably told him right before leaving for the train. This makes sense, because knowing Valera, if he had known any earlier, he would have been asking “when are we leaving” every 5 minutes. Well, we are headed off to dinner and more sleep before the arrival of our son in the morning. We wish that our oldest, Elijah, was with us, but we know that he is having a blast with his 3 cousins!! Hi, Elijah….we miss you!!!!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Home, Tournament, and....deja vu!!

Sorry, folks. It has been a while since I posted anything. We have been home for 3 weeks now and have been busy, busy, busy. We left Karaganda the day after court and had a hair raising flight experience home. We missed connections, had several delays, and were only 1 and a half hours from Atlanta and the plane had to go back to Boston......problems with the engine!!!! We made it home a day later than we thought with Robert running on about 60 hours with no sleep.....fun........, but we were safe. Anyway, this whole waiting period stinks!! It feels so weird to complete the adoption in court and then come home without your child. Robert and I went into a slight depression the first week or so, especially since we have had no contact with Valera since leaving him at the orphanage because he's away at camp. Anyway, we came out of our funk and took Elijah to his taekwondo nationals competition in Knoxville and were very proud of his performance after living in Karaganda for 3 weeks. He is the official national champion in sparring for his division winning over kids from Maryland, North Carolina, and Minnesota!!!! He was very excited and we were sooooo happy for him. Then we got to spend an amazing weekend on Lake Weiss with our close friends which was some much needed R&R and helped to pass the time. And now, we are all packed up again (much lighter this time) to return to Almaty and finally pick up our son. This trip is very short with a medical exam and a US embassy appointment then home to ATL!!! We arrive home on Thursday afternoon at 2:40 pm...........this time with a direct flight from Frankfurt........no connections in the US.....thank heavens. We will try to post a few blogs with pictures of Almaty, a really beautiful city in the mountains. So, here we go again.........off to Kazakhstan..........

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bittersweet Day





Today was the big day!! Court was scheduled for 9:30 sharp. Robert and I woke up earlier than we have been used to and the one day we needed the boys to get up at their usual time, they were dead asleep. This entire trip Elijah and Valera have woken up at around 7 am. Today, they did not get up until around 8. So, we were a little rushed, but the boys were cooperative. Valera showed all of the signs of understanding what today meant. He even began to take his backpack to the door as we were leaving (he knew he was going back to the orphanage today). He was very happy to find out that we would all be coming back to the apartment after court. To start the day off, it was pouring down rain. It almost never rains here, but it rained the first two days of our arrival and it rained all day today, our last day in Karaganda. The driver arrived at 9:10 to pick us up. We had a little problem this morning because our facilitator told us to bring all of our gifts with us and leave them in the car just in case the director wanted to take them with her after court. It was quite difficult piling all four of us in the pouring rain into a very small car with all of the gifts. So, the gifts sacrificed and were crushed in the process. When we arrived at the building, the driver pulled into an alley way and told us we had to wait for Larisa. So, we waited in a hot car in the pouring rain. Larisa came to get us and the boys waited in the car with their game boys and Victor, the driver. Once inside, we saw the director of the orphanage, the representative from the Ministry of Education, and our attorney. The attorney gave us some instructions on how to address the judge and told us to show emotion in our answers to show how much we want the adoption to be granted. He also said that some of the questions might seem strange to us but that the judge was obligated to ask them. We were told no pictures until after court, and we would only take them outside the building after everyone has left (we were hoping to get a picture with the judge). We waited about half an hour because Elaine, our travel companion, was first. Since her daughter was over the age of ten, she was required to be present in court. Waiting outside the courtroom was maddening!! We kept rehearsing possible answers because you don’t want to say anything that prompts them to ask more difficult questions. For example, if we imply in an answer that Elijah wanted a little brother, they might ask did we just want to adopt to get a toy for our biological child. Word choice is everything in these proceedings, but if you answer in longer sentences and explanations, the translator then has the opportunity to spin the answer in your favor if she needs to. The court room was not typical. It was a nice room inside a very old building. The judge and two other officials sat behind a desk. The judge had a burgundy colored robe on. Then along the wall were a row of chairs and here sat our attorney, Larisa, me and Robert and another young gentleman ( I am not sure what his role was). Behind a table opposite the judge on the other side of the room sat the director and the representative from the Ministry of Education. So, the proceeding began with some formalities of introduction and Robert stood to represent the family and stated our names, ages, occupations, and place of residence. Then the questioning began. We were asked how much money we make together as teachers and what subjects did we teach. They were interested in seeing pictures of our home and community and how much we paid for our house and did we have a mortgage or pay cash for it. The judge asked us about health insurance. He asked if we were aware of Valera’s medical conditions and about our plans to manage this. Questions were asked about why we decided to adopt because we are young and have time to have more children. So, we explained about the complications surrounding my first pregnancy. This prompted a question about any plans to get pregnant in the future. Our translator quickly said (before I could really answer) that I could not have any more children. The judge seemed pleased with this response. Then he asked a series of questions about who will care for Valera when we are not home and how much time would I take off of work to be home with him. Being teachers is a big advantage in this situation!!! Our answers to these questions were satisfying and as the proceedings continued, they asked us about Elijah and would he be jealous. They wanted to know would we treat them differently and would Valera share a room with Elijah or have his own room. We explained about the boys relationship thus far and that we have prepared a room for them to share. I am sure I will remember other questions, but these were the big ones. Once our questions were finished, the director of the orphanage spoke and she detailed Valera’s entry into the orphanage, his medical conditions, and what kind of child he is. Then she spoke kindly of us telling the judge Valera fits well with our family and that throughout the year, we called and sent gifts and kept in contact with him. She pulled out a picture to show the judge and to my surprise, the picture was of Valera and Elijah shooting spit balls at each other at the Varsity last summer (I think she took this out of Valera’s photo album to bring to court). The judge laughed and made a comment that was never translated, but it sounded friendly. I think the director wanted to show how Valera and Elijah have bonded. Finally, there was more procedural formality and we left the courtroom to await his decision. It was very quick and when we went before the judge, he granted our adoption on behalf of the Republic of Kazakhstan (when he read our names, he read Valera’s new given name and last name). Words cannot describe how special this moment was!! Robert and I hugged and were congratulated by everyone in the room, including the judge. We are finally a family of 4!!!! The documents
become final after the 15 day waiting period.
We went outside and it was still raining, so we only have the picture of the building and the picture with the director. We gave a gift to the attorney, the representative, Larisa and the director. Then it was decided that we would go back to the apartment and would be picked up at 2 that afternoon to take Valera back to the orphanage. So, we spent the afternoon packing some clothes for Valera and just spending quality time together. Valera was little edgy, but not crying. He had pretty much decided on what he wanted to take and what he wanted us to take back to America. In getting ready to go, Robert and I decided that along with the gifts, we would make a monetary donation to the orphanage as well to give to the director (we were told that she is very good about spending the money on needs for the building and for the children). The orphanage was empty except for some of the cleaning and maintenance staff and the director. We gave all of our gifts and the money and she was extremely grateful. She spoke to us and told us that she was especially thankful that we were going to be Valera’s family and that she feels like he fits so well with our family. She laughed when she spoke of his personality being so kind, funny, and cheerful and we all agreed!!! Then we went outside to take more pictures. One of the cleaning ladies saw Valera and scooped him up with a big smile. They really love him here and his loving spirit and personality just seems to brighten the hearts of all the caregivers and orphanage workers. God has given us a very special little boy! Valera began to get upset after a little while and he just kept walking away and drying his eyes with his shirt. The director came over and spoke to him and we all cried. We knew this would be difficult and it was more difficult than you can imagine!! We cried and hugged, told him we loved him and that we would be back in a few weeks to bring him home. He and Elijah hugged several times. He just kept crying and after a few minutes, Larisa decided it would be best to go. To top off the unusual weather on our big day, Elijah became covered in muddy water on the way home from the orphanage because the driver ran through one of the millions of enormous potholes in the street and the window was slightly open. A waterfall of mud came pouring down on top of Elijah and he was soaked (and luckily laughing about it). It really was a comical ending to a crazy 3 weeks!
The apartment feels strange without Valera saying “Maaama, pa zhal sta!” ( usually asking for something). But we are anxious to get home and make plans to pick him up on the second trip. We leave for the airport at 9:30 tomorrow and will stay in Almaty tomorrow night. We will be home in Atlanta on Wednesday. Home sweet Home!!! A bittersweet ending saying goodbye, but Valera Ethan Holman is officially ours!!! Praise God!!!!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Final Days



The last two days have felt a little strange. We are in disbelief (and somewhat relieved) that this trip we have anticipated for so long and have planned so carefully for is almost over. Tomorrow is our last full day with Valera. We have court on Monday morning and then he will go back to the orphanage to be taken to the camp. Yesterday, we bought him a Spider Man backpack so he can pack some of the toys and clothes he wants to take with him. He has been in really good spirits, so we are not sure what he understands. When we arrived home with the backpack, he started cheerfully organizing his things right away. He wanted to pack his game boy, but we told him we would take that back to America and he said ok. So, maybe he does understand that we are leaving soon. We also spent some time in the park and at the lake just hanging out as a family. We came across an unusual sight, however. On our way to the lake, we heard this loud, boisterous laughter from a group of college age students (Robert noted that they had to be loud Americans). The closer we came to them, we heard them speaking English. We were so curious as to why in the world would a group of college students from America be in Karaganda. We finally just went over, introduced ourselves, and asked. They are here teaching English to the students at the university. They are conducting 6-8 week English courses. Our impression is that they are part of a program designed to take students from all over America and send them to teach these courses because they were not from the same universities. I thought it was great and they seemed to be having a great time. We also had a reality check about how long we have been here because Robert and Valera walked to the store yesterday and Robert was stopped on the street twice and asked by one person in Russian for a cigarette and by another person he thinks was asking him for directions or something. He was stopped again today by two different people. We laughed about this because we have become “regulars” in certain stores and around certain areas. For example, the girl at the supermarket who sometimes helps us bag our groceries (you really bag your own most of the time) knows now that Robert double bags certain items because of the long walk back, so she automatically does this when she didn’t before. Anyway, today was pretty eventful. We went to the notary office to sign some official papers for court on Monday. Valera had his passport photo made and we had a family picture made for court. Then our facilitator came by the apartment this evening and gave us a trial run of how court would be on Monday. Our hearing is at 9:30 in the morning. Basically, some of the questions we were asked on Wednesday will be asked again in court. We were told we have a good judge who looks favorably on this adoption. Then after court, we will be getting ready to say goodbye to Valera. He will be picked up from the apartment. We are going to try to arrange to ride with him to the orphanage to deliver the gifts we brought. We discussed all of this with Larisa (our facilitator) and hopefully it will work out that way. Only two more days in Karaganda…….then on to end of this chapter. We are tired and ready to come home, and we are not at all looking forward to leaving our son behind.

Fun Pictures of the Boys





Here are just a few of the latest pictures of Elijah and Valera. The "ship" in the family room is where they have slept the last several nights.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Interview





Today we met for our interview with the Ministry of Education. The whole thing was nothing like what we expected. The building where the interview would take place was almost right around the corner from our apartment. On the way there, our translator instructed us a little on what to say and what not to say. She also gave us specific details we were told to say if asked certain questions. We walked into a very small, unofficial entrance, and once inside, we went up a stair case into a congested hallway with different rooms and corridors adjoining one another (we were not at the office of the Minister of Education; it is in Astana. They just send their representatives out to conduct these interviews). We were waiting in a line of families (some of the ones we have met were there as well). In the hallway, you could hear the voices of some male officials asking their questions in very unfriendly tones. We were a little nervous and thought we were going to have to wait a long while until finally just Robert and I were whisked away quickly by our translator to meet in a small room on the opposite side of where we heard the voices. They ushered us into a small office and we sat across from two women. One we were told represents Valera and the other one we were told is a “high” assistant to the Minister of Education. The proceeding began right away and they asked us a series of questions. They wanted to know how long we had been married, why we wanted to adopt, did we have a biological child, was he healthy, would we treat them differently and spend more money on Elijah (totally ridiculous), when we met Valera and how long we have spent with him, how were he and Elijah doing together, and a few other procedural questions. During the last question, a small Kazakh man came in and sat down with a tape recorder. He was supposed to record the conversation, but was late. He was present for our friend’s interview which lasted a little longer. Our translator said that we were spared the more difficult questions by this man because he missed our interview (she is pictured with us outside the building). The whole thing was about 5 minutes, a little intimidating, but totally painless in the end. Believe me, not a smile was to be found on any of the faces of the interviewers. They actually have stern looks of skepticism directed toward you when you answer. Our translator was very happy with the outcome. I think the shorter these are, the better. When we were finished, the other families who were there before us were still waiting to go into the other room. Like I have said before, it seems that everyone’s experiences are slightly different. We were also told that court was definitely scheduled for Monday morning. We are very excited!! Elijah and Valera had fun with Gulnara and Zarina, the baby sitters. When we arrived back at the apartment, we were greeted by Elijah who announced, “It’s the parents!!” (almost like the party was over now). Then the boys greeted me and Robert with more hugs and kisses. They love to climb up onto the couch and get their fair share of these from me. I decided to go right to work on today’s post (Elijah took some pictures) so that I would have all the details of today’ meeting fresh in my mind. Our plans to go with our translator to the coal mines and to the lake and museum have changed at the last minute. So, here we are again, in our small apartment debating what to do with the rest of our day.