Week 8 – We made it to Almaty

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 competently 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 temperament.

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 that’s 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.

Baboushka speaks

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.

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