Friday, December 24, 2004 - We made it to Uralsk but no babies yet!

We were so excited yesterday to find out that we might see our babies today. The details are provided below, but in summary, we didn't.

We were picked up for the airport at 530AM for our 7AM flight to Uralsk (all of us were up at 330AM - couldn't sleep again). Once we got to the airport, we went through security (similar to US - scanning bags, walking through metal detector etc.) and waited for Dilnoza, who was meeting us with our tickets. By the time she got there, the monitor indicated our flight was delayed until 10AM - so we had 4 hours to kill at the airport. We felt so bad for Dilnoza (who had just come to the airport at 3AM to pick up another family) and our driver Kirill. They had both gotten up so early to get us there and were required to stay at the airport with us until we departed.

It actually turned out to be a great opportunity to ask more questions of Dilnoza regarding Kazakh culture. Here are a couple of things we learned:

  • Every year has an animal associated with it (if you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant, you have probably seen the place mats that show all the animals associated with your birth year - e.g., Horse, Monkey, Chicken, Rat, Dragon). 2004 was the the year of the Monkey, which by tradition, meant everyone ate more bananas. 2005 will be the year of the chicken, so people will avoid eating chicken and eggs (things produced by a chicken) but will eat more corn and grain (things eaten by a chicken). We always assumed this custom was associated with only the Chinese but apparently it is this whole part of the world - Russia, Kazakhstan, China etc. The souvenir shop at the airport was selling all sorts of chicken-themed items in preparation for 2005.
  • The souvenir shop had a nesting doll with President George W. Bush painted on the front - he was wearing an oversized cowboy hat. Dilnoza took us to see it and said "You see familiar face?" We were thinking of buying it and sending it to the White House - not many people get their own face painted on a Russian doll...
  • When women get married, they always buy a new dress. There is a superstition that if you borrow or rent a dress, then all the "problems" from the person that owned the dress could be passed on. The women wear a white dress with a full skirt (versus some of the straight-style dresses worn in the US). Men wear a suit with a tie. Dilnoza had no clue what a tuxedo was when we mentioned it.
  • Kazakh families have an average of 2-3 children.
  • Most families do not have pets like we do in the US. In fact, when we describe the prominent role pets play in our lives, she looked at us like we were crazy. All the dogs we keep seeing roaming around the cities are strays.

Finally at 845AM, we were able to go through the next check point, where airport personnel viewed our passport again and stamped our ticket. From there, we had to stand in a line to check our bags (and pay any excess baggage charges). The line seemed to take forever but we finally reached the counter and surprisingly didn't have to pay any excess baggage charges (NOTE FOR FUTURE WPA FAMILIES: we were told that you were allowed 44 lbs per person, including carry-ons - we had packed around 60 lbs per person so we were expecting to pay some excess charges. As it turns out, they allowed more than 44 lbs per person... we think that the limit must be 44 kilos each... which is well over the 60lbs pounds we had. Also, they did not weigh our carry-ons at all. All three of us checked in together and had them calculate the combined weight of all our bags and divide by 3 to get the per person weight).

After that, Dilnoza and Kirill were able to go home and get some sleep and we waited to board. We had to go through one more security checkpoint - another metal detector, scan you bags again, stamp your boarding pass. We then took a bus to the airplane. It was chaos getting up the stairs to the plane - lots of pushing. In the US, we're accustomed to giving deference to elderly, women etc. when in lines - NOT HERE. A 70 year-old Kazakh woman will have no problem mowing you down if you don't move fast enough!!! You need to be assertive in line to get on the plane our you'll end up in the back. Les and Jason (our travel partner) got separated from us and were routed to the front of the plane. Jim, Carla and Keely were routed to the back of the plane. We knew everyone made it on the plane but didn't re-connect with each other until we landed 3 1/2 hours later. The flight was uneventful - we were served candy, a meal and hot tea.

As we were descending into Uralsk, we could see it looked like "no man's land." Uralsk appears much more "old Russia" - very stark and desolate, whereas Almaty had more of a European flare. We deplaned onto the tarmac and walked to the main terminal - it was freezing outside.

Now it was time for our 2nd surprise of the day. Assia and the drivers (Phillipavich and Igor) met us at the airport. She told us that we were scheduled to meet with the Ministry of Education today. Normally, there is time for a debrief of what questions will be asked and how to answer them prior to the meeting, but we were in a rush. We grabbed the bags, dropped them off at the apartment and headed for the office. We didn't have time to change clothes, but Assia assured us that this was not formal and jeans were ok.

Olga met us there and Assia went over the questions/answers briefly. After sitting in the lobby about 10 minutes, Olga came back and said that the Ministry of Education waited for us a few minutes after our 200PM appointment but since we didn't show, he went home. We were there by 230-240PM so we missed him by only 30 minutes!. The real kicker was that we couldn't go to the baby house until we had this meeting. Oh well, we were told to go with the flow of things so we did. We went and had lunch/beer at the local Dixie Pub. Assia went with us.

During lunch, we pulled out our photo album - around 20 pictures we had to bring with us showing our house, family pets, nursery, etc. Carla, being the detailed one, had affixed a sticker to each picture with a brief description in English (as well as a Russia translation she was able to find using an Internet site). This ended up being the comedic portion of the day. Assia was cracking up as she read the translations - here are a couple of labels we quickly peeled off:

  • Kai/Sierra's crib = crib translated to pig pen... so the picture was actually translated to Kai and Sierra's pig pen!
  • Bud (Carla's great grandfather) = It provided the literal translation of "bud" which is fetus!
  • Hunter (Carla's nephew) = Again, a literal translation to actually going out and killing animals!
  • Kit (Carla's sister-in-law) = Kit translated to a "kit" you'd buy containing parts that need assembly.

There were a few others that were funny and several that she said were grammatically incorrect, but were still ok. She said the Ministry of Education wouldn't be offended but would laugh like she did (and could at least see we'd made an effort).

Our meeting tomorrow is at 10AM and then we should get to see the babies.

Oh, one more "downer" today was that we have the apartment with no Internet connection. Since we needed to work while we were here, we're not sure what PLAN B will be but the Richardson's are across the hall and have offered to let us use their line.

Here are some pics from the day:


Driving into Almaty Airport at 600 AM on 12-24-04


Walking to Uralsk airport terminal around 1PM

Carla in front of our Air Astana plane at Uralsk airport (not looking at the camera but scanning for police since taking pictures at their airports is not allowed)


The Oral River, which divides Europe and Asia

Police office directing traffic in Uralsk


Assia quickly debriefing us outside the office of Ministry of Education


Picture of a Kazakh man in the office of administration. We're not sure who he is but thought the pic looked cool.


Picture of the 4 new parents after getting our disappointing news - but also after deciding to go get a beer.

The"Atrium" (this is where we went grocery shopping). The Dixie Pub is also inside (NOTE: they serve American style food and take Visa/Mastercard)

From left to right: Assia, Jason Richardson, Keely Richardson, Carla Higgins, Jim Higgins, Les Ward


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  A Jim & Carla Creation - 2004