Week 7 – Still in Ust

“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.  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..”  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 it’s 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?!”

“Really?  Almaty?!”

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.  Who knows… we all shrugged at the strangeness of fol.  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 (the familial kind rather than the penguin suit kind) received a phone call this morning and a very 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 getting an actual baby of my own to play with and with 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 to feed me vodka 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 son’s life and I will probably not return for many, many years.  I imagine it’s 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

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