Thursday, January 20, 2005

Almaty, Kazakhstan

We made an attempt to sleep. Les and Jim had some luck but Carla finally just got up and watched TV until it was time to leave. Between nerves and last minute packing thoughts (and of course all the coughing), she couldn't sleep. The kids went down around 830 and we didn't wake them up until we were ready to walk out the door.

The driver picked us up at 1:15AM on 1/20/05. Les and Jim took the bags downstairs while Carla stayed upstairs with the kids. After everything was loaded, we got the kids up, stuffed them in their snowsuits one last time and we were off to the airport. Jim had a fever but Carla's was back down (and we both still had a bad cough). Unfortunately, there was no time to rest -- it was the beginning of a long day.

Once we got to the airport, Vitale and Les got a couple of carts and brought them to the van to load luggage while Carla and Jim stayed in with the kids. Once they were loaded up, we all went in the airport and started our journey. As soon as you get in the Almaty airport, you have to run everything through security (all checked luggage, carry on luggage, as well as the scanner you walk through). After we got all our things through (and Les got stopped for the "um-teenth" time for his camera battery packs which he then had to dig out to show them), we loaded our carts back up, put the kids in strollers and moved on. In the center of the airport is the area where International flights are checked in. We waited for them to let us through then proceeded to stand in the Lufthansa line. The line went fairly fast and we were checked through pretty quickly.

There were several families with adopted children on the flight (we felt sorry for all those poor people that would be listening to screaming babies off and on for the next 7 hours). We saw Jason and Keely trying to make their way over to the Lufthansa line, so Carla went to help. She took Jude so Jason could check their bags in.

Once we were all finished, we had to check out through Almaty customs then go to wait for the flight. We took turns strolling the kids around to get them to sleep (mostly Les would stroll). Jim tried to lay down and get some rest so his fever would go down. Carla decided to stare back at the people that were staring at us. We're looking forward to seeing people that say "what a cute baby" instead of getting the looks like we're criminals.

They finally called our flight - so far everything was on time. We had to go through the scanner one more time as well as scan our luggage. Les got stopped again for his batteries and had to unpack his bag to show them. After he was done, we followed the herd on the plane (no pre-boarding for families with small children). We had seats in the middle section (4 seats) but the flight wasn't full and the row beside us (near the window was open) so Les moved there and let Carla and Jim have the entire middle section. This came in handy for feeding and putting the kids down on the flight. The kids did ok on this leg. They ranged from totally asleep to whimpering because they were tired, to screaming when they were fighting not to go to sleep. From our perspective, it was better than it could have been but still exhausting. Les was able to sleep but Jim and Carla got none.

Frankfurt, Germany

It was good to get off the plane in Frankfurt and stretch our legs. The bad news was that we had a 6 hour layover. We settled in the same spot we had on the trip over. It was quiet with very few people so we're able to spread out a bit. We fed the kids, strolled them around and tried to get them to nap some. At this point, we were all exhausted and it seemed no end was in sight. Carla was keeping her watch to Almaty time in order to keep track of medicine schedules for the kids (they had fever on and off all day) so she kept asking Les every 30 - 60 minutes what time it was (he would change his watch at each time zone).

Once it got closer to our departure time, they finally posted our gate so we relocated to that area of the airport. Jason and Keely were in the same terminal in the gate across from us, but we couldn't get to them once we checked in because of the various security checkpoints (so we didn't get to tell them bye). After running our bags through another scanner, we had to go through a couple of other security measures. They needed to see Kai and Sierra's Kaz passports and their immigration papers to make sure they were allowed in the US. We then had to go to a desk to check in one more time and show the papers again.

After getting past all this, we fed and changed the kids before it was time to board. They called for pre-boarding of families with small children, but there was a such a mob, we couldn't get to the front to get on, so we went with the herd. Many people who saw us would let us through which was awesome. Once we got on the plane, the flight attendants (mostly men) told us that they were working our section and to let them know if we needed anything throughout the flight (they actually offered to hold the babies if we needed to get up and stretch, go to the restroom etc.). On this flight, we also had the four middle seats together except the flight was pretty full. After everyone was loaded the flight attendant asked the guy next to Jim to move a couple of rows back so we could have one extra seat, which was great. It gave us one seat to use for spreading out and naps (and we used Les a lot more since he was right beside us).

This flight was pretty good. The kids behaved well and actually played and slept the majority of the flight. There was only minimal fussing. It was daylight out so it made it easier than doing everything in the dark like we had to on the trip from Almaty. The flight attendants were great and there were "normal" people on board. Every time you walked through the aisle, people were commenting on how pretty/cute the babies were. People proactively stopped by to ask about them and commented on how well behaved they were. We could "feel" that we were closer to the US already.

Washington DC, USA

We touched down at 3:36PM EST which is when Kai and Sierra officially became US citizens. They were of course unphased by this but we were very excited.

Once off the plane, we made our way to US Immigration where we turned over our "sealed packed" that the Almaty US Immigration sent us over with. They quickly processed the paperwork and told us congratulations and we were off with the other hundreds of people to claim our luggage and re-check it through to Orlando, FL. This line was a nightmare. Several jumbo jets had landed at the same time so many impatient people were waiting to get through (and of course no one wants to go through this). When it was our turn, Les got all his stuff through security and was waiting on the other side. In the meantime, Jim and Carla were taking off boots, pulling laptops out, getting the kids out of the strollers (you had to run the strollers through the scanner and carry the kids through security). Then we had our moment of frustration. Les is the only one that knew how to break down the strollers he'd brought and he was already on the other side. People were pushing past us while we tried to break them down with one hand and had a kid in the other. Jim was about to clock one guy that pushed him when the security lady told everyone to calm down. She helped with the strollers and we finally got through. Welcome home!

We were supposed to have 2 hours from the time we landed to the departure of our final flight. For the first time today, the flight was delayed by 2 hours. So we waited.. Carla gave the kids a baby wipe bath and put their pajamas on after we fed them dinner (at least that's the meal we were pretending to eat - it was morning by our "internal clocks."). They were going to just let everyone board together since the flight was late, but they did let us go first since we had the kids. They wouldn't let Jim and Carla sit together or even in the same row because of how the oxygen masks were configured. We separated and prayed that no one had any major accidents since Carla had the diaper bag. Jim and Carla both lucked out to be in rows where no one was in the middle. The kids slept the entire flight and Sierra didn't even wake up when we landed.

Orlando, FL USA

We were so happy to land and know that we would finally be home soon in our own beds. When we got off the tram in Orlando, we were met by a big group of family which was great to see. Kai was awake to greet them but Sierra kept on snoozing. We looked like celebrities with all the flash bulbs going off (that conjured up a few looks from others wondering who we were).

After getting the luggage, we headed for home. The kids did great in the car seats (this is the first time they've ever been in one). When we got home, we were surprised to see all the welcome signs and balloons that our family, friends and neighbors had put up for us. It was an awesome homecoming. We of course were exhausted at this point (going on 53 hours of no sleep and minimal food). We visited for a short bit, let the kids play with some of their new toys and then finally went to bed...which was the best feeling you can imagine.

Here are some of the pics from the day's adventures:


"We're going to America!"


The "Great Star American Pizza" that Jim and Carla ate - their first meal in 2 days (finally getting their appetites back from being sick).


The pizza instructions were in 10 different languages on the back of the box.




Vitale - our driver


Jim, Carla, Kai and Sierra at the Frankfurt airport - after the 7 hour flight from Almaty.



Jason, Keely, Jude and Anna waiting on the tram at Frankfurt airport.


"Are we there yet?"



Grandpa feeding Kai a meal - is it breakfast, lunch, or dinner???


The United Airlines plane we flew back to the US on.



Another meal on the plane - we're a motley looking crew at this point.


Carla propping Sierra up against the seat in front for feeding.



Mr. Nosey checking out all the passengers leaving the plane (At least Jim was cooperating for the photo).


Kai and Sierra were officially US Citizens when we touched down at 3:36 pm EST on 1/20/05 (Sierra was 9 months old today and it's also Inauguration Day for President Bush).



"I'm a US what??"


"Who cares, are we there yet?"



Jim and Carla in line for US customs/immigration - looking at Les likes he's nuts taking a picture in the "no picture zone." (he was told to put the camera away shortly after taking this picture).


The Higgins at Orlando airport.



Our family meeting us at the airport: Robin, Bunny, Jeffrey, Kit, Jan, and Hunter.

Everyone focusing their attention on Kai since he's the only one awake. He did pretty good - didn't get upset. He just burned a hole in everyone with the stare.


Sierra awake for her first car seat ride.


Kai is a little unsure of the car seat at first (or maybe just tired from the 30 some hours of travel).



One of Kai's welcome home balloons (from our neighbors Eddie, Rebecca, Ligia and Alex).


One of Sierra's welcome home balloons (from our neighbors Eddie, Rebecca, Ligia and Alex).



The picture, champagne and power point slide show our neighbors (and friends) Dick and Dorothy put together for us.


Sierra's crib with a sign and balloon to welcome her home (from our family).



Kai's crib with a sign and balloon to welcome her home (from our family).


The great welcome home sign (the little things hanging down from it are various pictures posted to the site from our trip) that Ligia put together for us. Ligia will be taking care of the babies part time on the days Carla works.



Kai in one of the exercausers.



Sierra in the other exercauser.


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  A Jim & Carla Creation - 2004