Today was the big day to sign all the paperwork at the lawyer's office. Our driver, Kirill, was downstairs to pick us up promptly at 9:45 AM. We were trying to get our post up for 12/22/04 prior to leaving but ran into a few issues. The laptop battery was dead and the power converter blew. Needless to say, we were freaking out a little (our laptops are like an additional appendage). We left for the office, planning to deal with it later.
Gulbanu was awesome. They are so organized here. It's amazing to be a in foreign country where almost no one speaks English and not have anxiety about it. We really feel like we're in good hands.
After signing all the paperwork (this included having our passport taken and run to the Embassy for registration), and reviewing our "itinerary" for the next month, we had an opportunity to ask a few questions. We found out that Kai and Sierra both have middle names, which are traditionally the father's surname (and in our case, most likely made up by the mother at the maternity hospital). Nonetheless, it's a piece of information we can provide to Kai and Sierra at some point. We also learned that the reason the children were placed together was by no means scientific. The biggest reason was that they looked very similar and could pass as biological brother/sister (which many of you reading this have mentioned).
Part of this morning session is the financial element. They were very professional and discreet about everything. We actually "pre-pay" for all our living expenses (apt rent, driver/interpreter, in country plane ticket, etc) so we don't have to worry about anything in Uralsk except eating and souvenirs. We were told that at this point, our only responsibility was to visit our babies (which is fine with us). By the way, for those of you that will be traveling after us, it was recommended to not start asking questions of the Baby House director right away regarding medical information. This can be perceived in a negative way (i.e., you don't like the babies or you think there is something wrong with them). Gulbanu mentioned that many questions get answered in the course of several days of visiting. At this point, she said we can write down the remaining questions and have the interpreter translate everything for the caregivers/doctors to complete. We brought blank journals for Kai and Sierra so we could write the questions, have them translated into Russian, answered in Russian and then translated back into English. This was recommended by several families before us and is an awesome gift for the children when they're older.
After our morning session, we were "free." Kirill took us to convert some of our US dollars into Tenge (the Kazakh currency - which by the way is 130 to our $1 as of today). Following this, he took us to Mad Murphys (an Irish Pub) for lunch. We went with Keely and Jason (our travel partners). The server spoke English and they took Visa/Mastercard. Kirill (and the Richardson's driver) wouldn't come in to lunch. They said they would wait outside - and they did for over an hour. We felt bad but they insisted on this.
After lunch we went to the Ramstore (spelled PAMCTOP - it's a large mall with many different types of stores) to get additional I-Cards for dial-up Internet access (Kirill took us to a phone store that carried these. They spoke some English and took a Visa/Mastercard. Next he took us to the "Walmart" type store in the same building to get some water and a replacement hairdryer for Carla.
We rested at the apartment after that and Kirill came back and picked us up for dinner around 5PM. We went back to the "Walmart" type store to get a new converter for the computer (NOTE: if those of you traveling after us don't have a converter for your laptop, you can buy one here for about $1.50 US and it works great). By the way, store security is huge here. They search your bags when you leave the store - you have to show them the receipt - and none of the guards spoke English so we were lucky to have Kirill to interpret for us (On the way in the store earlier in the day, the guard wouldn't let me in with my backpack - I had to check it in another area of the store before entering. When he stopped me, I had no idea what he was saying, so Kirill quickly came over and took care of me - YEAH).
After this, we went to an Italian restaurant in the same mall and insisted we treat him for dinner. We all had pizzas and even sent the left overs home for his wife and daughter. He's a very nice person and speaks OK English (although he says "my English, no good." ). He was such a huge help in translating for us at the stores. Because this day is a "free day," we paid him $5/hour (that is the rate per Gulbanu) to take us around to all the places mentioned. It was bonus that he came with us to all the stores).
We're now back in the apartment packing to leave tomorrow at 530AM. We were pleasantly surprised today to find out we will get to see the babies tomorrow (a day earlier than anticipated). Starting tomorrow, the postings will have pics of the babies. In the meantime, here are a few shots from today: