Week 2

Tears, fears and preconceptions

Many apologies to Andrei our Driver – whose name is in fact Alexei , but who has been quite happily answering to Andrei all week.
Oh well, strike one for international relations between Kaz and the UK.

Emotions run high here and many of the children have medical problems that would turn your average GP’s hair white at home. Of the 6 babies currently being adopted, only two are even close to being the expected size and development of a child of the same age in the UK. Many of the children were extremely premature which on top of the institutional delays you would expect, make for very tiny, delayed children with uncertain futures.  There an average delay of  about a month for every three months a child is institutionalised up to about the age of two then it starts slowly ctaching up again.  Your judgement accepting the referral of a specific child is really very driven by the specialist adoption doctors that most of us have consulted based in the States. You really put your (future) life in their hands when accepting their assessment that despite all the orthodox views to the contrary, your child is not high risk (by adoption standards – we are programmed to accept that there is a significantly higher chance of issues with adopted children and that does go with the territory) based on weight, progress to date, head circumference etc.

It makes for an emotional time as you fluctuate between taking heart from their assessment and being in the depths of despair. Between us I think we have shed enough tears to float a boat and sail home at the end of the trip.

I tell you this really to manage the expectations of those coming after me – few (if any) of the adoption blogs I read have mentioned the emotional aspects and the panic when you are given your child only to look at them and think – “yes, very interesting” but really no more than that. They all talking about instantly falling in love with this strnager in front of them.

The bonding proess is really as much about you bonding with your child as them bonding with you – we spend so much time in adoption circles talking about how to promote bonding and attachment in the children but very little about how it will take some time for you to bond with them. I understand this is often different if you have a referral as you have had a chance to bond at least with the idea of your child from the photo and details you have in advance.

What else is different to what I expected (at least here in Ust):

Caregivers are good – no actually they are fantastic. I have read so many times how good they are and how kind to the children but I really didn’t understand how lovely they are. They are well aware that they cannot give the children the time and attention they need to develop properly as the children have to spend a fair amount of time in walkers or lying in playpens with a ratio of 2 carers to 12 children. They are scrupulously clean, every child washes their hands before eating even the tiny ones like Junior are hoiked over to the sink to have their hands washed. The children all laugh and smile at the carers whenever they walk past.

Feeding the children – they don’t feed them tea and they don’t feed them with huge spoons (ordinary metal teaspoons) though they do give them juice and Kefir (sort of liquid yoghurt drink) out of china teacups and even the little ones gulp it down like troopers! If necessary they are given iron and vitamins – Junior is currently getting these and they are regularly seen by a doctor.

Clothes – I haven’t found the children to be unreasonably wrapped up here though the weather is getting cooler now so maybe it’s more of an issue in Spring/Summer.

I should say that this baby-home is considered to be one of the best in the country and I understand that the Presidents wife is a patron so maybe that makes a difference.

The people aren’t rude – I haven’t found them much different to people in London. If you say thank you (spaseeba) most people will say you’re welcome (pazhalsta), they like any efforts to speak Russian and are generally very patient with my halting efforts. Russian is spoken everywhere here, it is the only language I have heard spoken spoken in the baby-house, no Kazakh at all.  There was one surreal moment when Adrienne was teaching a few words of Kazakh (learnt on an earlier trip to Taraz) to our Russian-ethnic man on reception at the hotel who was born and brought up here and learnt Kazakh in school but still doesn’t know a single word!

Western food is readily available at the supermarket across the road along with just about every baby supply necessary, and food in the restaurants is generally reasonable and in some cases very good, though of course strange and foreign, but really no more foreign than any country you’re not used to.

This is NOT a third world country – maybe second world! I see on so many blogs Kazakhstan referred to as a third world country and it really isn’t. There is desperate poverty mostly in the countryside and the drive from the airport is shocking but the urban population seems to be reasonably affluent, cars are plentiful and many of them newish and good quality. Technology is behind Western Europe but catching up fast – pay-as-you-go mobile phone shops are everywhere and everyone seems to have one but internet connections are often slow dial up ones and there really isn’t a culture of surfing the web. It has become clear to me why it’s so hard to get email replies from the co-ordinators in Kaz when you experience first hand the effort it takes to connect and download a single email. There is building work everywhere – blocks of flats and offices are springing up all over the place on the road from the town out to the baby-house on the edge of town. It will be interesting to come back here in 10 years and see the progress they have made.  [Editors note: And indeed we did]

My guess would be that the Europeans have found the transition easier than the Americans on the whole. Some things they struggle with that I have hardly noticed – the traffic fumes/pollution (I really hadn’t noticed until pointed out), the food seems to me to be more European than American in style and portion sizes, people smoke here sometimes at dinner but again I suppose this wasn’t uncommon so very long ago in Europe so we seem to just not notice it as much.  And of course it is much easier for us to keep in communication with home due to the time zone which does make all the difference. A good phone call from home at the end of a day can transform a difficult day.

To the Haywards Heath Jones’s, Junior’s birthday is only two days after Catrin’s so you will have to have a virtual birthday celebration for him. Catrin, can I give you new cousin for your birthday this year?

To the rest of the Jones’s/Garlands – I am VERY concerned about Christmas, who is buying the Turkey and the crackers in my absence??!

Elena – just to give you an idea, about half the children here are Russian ethnic and about half Kazakh or mixed race but Ust is a very Russian town and I suspect that this ratio would be different in other towns. If I’m honest and other parents agreed with me, the Russian children do look sicker than the kazakh children but I think thats because they are so pale, the darker kazakh skins don’t show the lack of sunlight so much I guess.

Malissa – what is happening with the never-ending story of your Russian paperwork? Are we going to have our black Alpine salamanders together?

Hello to the Mumsnet posse – no, not even a hint, Cassie, you will just have to be patient for another week. I will however say that Junior is scared of strangers so any baby shower will have to be low key or possibly at my house after lights out…

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Two Collerans and One Henderson

A Quick Update

Thanks to everyone for the comments about bonding – I’m really not too worried about it and know its very normal and will take time – I wanted to make a point of saying it so that those coming behind me or reading this are more realistic in what to expect.  Things are going fine and I have been able to work much harder on him making eye contact today (hurrah for the “contraband biscuit” method of bonding). [Editors note: and of course three years on, not only would I die if necessary for my lovely boy but I’d be prepared to kill anyone who hurt him – bonding not a problem now it seems!]

Also – please someone let me know whats happening in the Archers – I do get email update but really haven’t time to read them.  Anyone?  Please.


The Babyhouse – sign says With Love in Russian and Kazakh

The Disadvantage of Speaking Russian

I discovered the disadvantage to speaking some Russian this weekend…

The two Babooshka’s on duty on Saturday seem to have adopted me and invited me to join them having their afternoon tea. After some Russian and a great deal of pantomiming, I thought I was going to have a cup of tea with them, to find they’d laid out on the children’s (2 foot high) table all their food and gestured me towards one of the children’s (1 foot high) chairs. Plates of what looked like Danish pastries, a bowl of two tomatoes which looked like they were drowning in water, and some mysterious white little finger-sized batons.

The kettle was boiled and coffee made (3 grains coffee to every 1500 grains of sugar) and it gradually became obvious to me that as the honoured guest I was expected to tuck in whilst they watched. So I helped myself to what looked like the Danish to discover it was some kind of potato pastry and reasonably OK.  After much gesturing and pointing and cries of “f-koosnee” (tasty), it was made clear that I was expected to tuck into the white batons of what looked like bacon fat. What was a girl to do? How could you refuse? I discovered that my squeamishness about strange food was overwhelmed by the kindness of these women who had shared what little they had with me, so I gingerly nibbled. To discover that what looked like raw bacon fat was….. raw bacon fat.


A great deal of gulping down weak sugary coffee and bites of the potato pasty forced down the tiny nibbles of fat in between. Starting the second one was trickier and I was wondering how I could create a diversion in order to stick what was left up my knicker leg when the ladies lost interest in force-feeding me the bacon fat and turned their attention to the tomato.

Now I have nothing against tomatoes, indeed I am a bit prtial to a nice firm cherry tomato, but this was a very large squelchy pickled tomato with no knife or fork or other obvious way to eat it. One lady rescued me by scooping it up with a teaspoon balancing precariously on the teaspoon like Atlas with the world on his back and holding it up for me whilst making sucking noises. So I dived in thankful it had distracted them from the half eaten fat lardon clutched in my hand.

If anyone has successfully sucked a large pickled tomato, I be grateful to know how you did it elegantly. It wasn’t a pretty sight and as I was half way through covering myself with squashed tomato and ppickled juice, our translator Alfiya arrived to be greeted by me with unusual alacrity. Thanking my hosts effusively, I leapt for the door with a fleeting kiss for my boy, hoping they were not about to offer me a packed lunch to take with me.

I shouldn’t laugh as it was a great privilege and a memory I shall treasure.


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