Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kyra Has Left the Building

It is Thursday, March 1 in Kazakhstan and Kyra is officially out of the orphanage. She will take the 10-hour train ride (with our coordinator, Vera, as chaperone), pick up her Visa at the U.S. Consulate in Almaty, and then board a flight to Amsterdam. After a few hours, she'll be on another flight to LAX, where we will pick them up on Sunday. It's completely surreal at this point. We've waited for three years to have another child. Now that she's almost here, we've hit that euphoric state that comes from having a new baby (and one that's already potty trained, too!). The feelings are almost like falling in love again--the sky looks especially blue, the trees are an amazing shade of green, everything looks absolutely beautiful. Today, I just sat and stared at the ocean for 15 minutes. We can see it from our backyard and tend to take the view for granted. Today, it was just too stunning to ignore. I don't know how much time we'll have for blogging once Kyra gets here. If you don't hear from us for a while, then don't worry...just know that we are living in complete happiness with our two beautiful children.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Water Just Broke...

Well, not really, of course...but it does feel that way. We just got the message that Kyra will be arriving on Sunday, March 4. She's ahead of schedule...just like Nicholas was when he arrived into our family. I have nothing to compare this to other than the arrival of our "homemade" son, and it's amazing how similar my emotions are to that event. I've been organizing and cleaning the entire house (spices have been alphabetized, clothes have been arranged by color). I've been comparing her arrival to the "sell by" dates on all of the groceries (Kyra will be here before the milk expires). And I've purchased every pink thing I can find (including pink cups for the kitchen). Yep, I'm acting just as "nutty" as I did when I was pregnant. This is so great! We've already welcomed this little girl into our hearts. We can't wait until we welcome her into our home.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

We Have a Daughter

On February 6th, we entered Court No. 2 in Taraz, Kazahstan (which is pictured at left). Two hours later, we left with a daughter! Kyra is now an official member of the Schwartz family. Prior to court, we were told not to worry because the judge has never denied an adoption request. However, court hearings in any language can be intimidating. Because of the added stress and anxiety of a foreign court, we came up with really creative things to worry about: What if we get in a car accident and don't make it to court? (We didn't); What if the judge doesn't show up? (He was 90 minutes late); What if Kyra's birth mother does show up? (Unlikely since Kyra was abandoned on the streets of Taraz more than a year ago). The appropriate people--the judge, prosecutor, orphanage director, Guardian Council member, coordinator and translator--showed up and we spent about 30 minutes in the courtroom. The judge began by asking Michael to make a speech. Then the orphanage director and Guardian Council member made speeches on our behalf. Next, it was the prosecutor's turn. She had a few questions, but no objections. The judge asked us a few more questions and then went into a long speech in Kazakh. The only words we understood were "Kyra Catherine Schwartz," but as soon as we heard them, we knew he'd ruled in our favor. Now, there's a mandatory 15-day appeal period. On February 22, our coordinator will get the final court decree and Kyra's new birth certificate, which lists us as her parents. It should take another week to get her passport, so we're planning on her arrival around the end of the month.

We have spent three years trying to adopt a little girl, and we can't believe it's actually happened. She may not have come into the family the same way our "homemade" son did, but her arrival is no less miraculous. So many things have to come together to make an international adoption a success. We filled out a small truckload worth of documents, we were fingerprinted at least a dozen times, we were interviewed by social workers and psychiatrists, we paid thousands of dollars in fees...and that's all before we even left the U.S.! There were times when we really wondered if we'd survive this experience. It is a long, and definitely trying, process. We're happy to report it's been worth every second and every cent.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

We're Ba-ack!

The two weeks we had at home went surprisingly fast, and we are back in Kazakhstan. It took 30 hours from the time we left our house until we arrived in Almaty. There's snow on the ground and the whole city looks grey. When I look out our hotel window, I can see for about two blocks and then everything disappears into a thick fog. We've spent the day at the InterContinental Hotel (the photo shows the hotel's lobby), which is wonderfully Americanized. We took hot showers, ate a great breakfast and are even watching American TV via satellite. And most of the staff speak English. Being in a country where you don't speak the language can be mentally exhausting. You're constantly trying to figure out what people are saying and basic things like asking for a glass of water can turn into a furious game of charades. We're enjoying this last little bit of pampering before we take the 10-hour train ride to Taraz. Yep, tonight we're going on the S**t train (which, of course, stands for "Soviet") and we'll arrive in Taraz tomorrow at 4:30am. The orphanages are closed to visitors on Sundays, so we won't be able to visit Kyra until Monday morning. Court is on Tuesday, and we'll leave for home on Wednesday. A quick trip, but this time we're focused on getting our girl home as soon as possible.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Go Into the Light

There's light at the end of the tunnel...and it's the train to Almaty! On the night of January 15, we spent 10 hours on the overnight train traveling from Taraz to Almaty. We purchased a room with four bunk beds and it was still barely enough space for the two of us and our luggage (which may be more of a commentary on all the luggage we had!). We shared a train car with several people, some of whom slept in rooms like ours, others slept in the corridor. A young Kazakh man shoveled coal into a furnace all night to keep the car warm. Our room was closest to the furnace so we had plenty of heat. For some reason, the "coal man" opened our door in the middle of the night and Michael jumped out of bed, thinking we must be at our destination. I looked out the window and saw nothing but snow covered hills. I told him to go back to sleep, but he insisted on trying to getting more information. He left our room without remembering the number, and then went door-to-door trying to find his way back. By the time he found our room, he'd woken up most of the car and was insistent that "something must be happening because everyone's awake." (Do you think it could be because of the crazy American?)

After we arrived in Almaty, we went to the U.S. Consulate, which is on the 17th floor of a modern office building. We spent five minutes and $380, and Kyra now has her Visa for entry into the U.S. I expected balloons, streamers and the Marine Corps band, but it was pretty anti-climactic. Our flights to Frankfurt and then to LA were great. Fortunately, we made it out the day before the big storm hit Germany.

We'll return to Kazakhstan from February 2-7 for our court date, which is on February 6th. We haven't broken the news to our son, Nicholas. He was so excited to see us that I just can't tell him that we're leaving again. However, this time will be much shorter and when it's over, he'll officially have a baby sister.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy Days Are Here Again!

Our visit with Kyra went really well today. She whined for the first few minutes, but then spent an hour and a half playing with us. We also bought her some new shoes (as my daughter, this will be the first of many new pairs she'll receive), and a hat and scarf (which she loved).

We're winding down our time here in Taraz. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we will appear before the Guardianship Council on Monday. It is a group of six people (one of whom is the vice-mayor of Taraz) who will hear our request to adopt Kyra. If approved, they will send a formal recommendation to the court and the judge will schedule a date (probably in early February) to officially approve the adoption. After that, it will take two weeks to get Kyra's "exit paperwork" so she can leave Kazakhstan and become an American citizen. We'll return home during this process and our coordinator, Vera, will fly Kyra home after everything is completed. We are expecting them to arrive in the U.S. in mid to late February. Once the plane lands and Kyra's foot touches the ground, she will instantly become an American citizen. For some reason, it doesn't happen until she actually touches American soil. It will be a great day for the Schwartz family!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Double Down(er)

The last two days with Kyra have been really challenging. She screams and throws a tantrum at the beginning of each visit, and it takes about 20 minutes to calm her down. It could be the language barrier (we haven't had a translator in the room with us for the last few weeks, and communication is down to gestures and sounds). It could be that her friend, Alexandra, was adopted and left for the U.S. this week. It could simply be that she's two and is going through a phase. After she calms down, we are able to play (in this photo, Michael is teaching her how to play Blackjack), but I think her transition to our family will take some time.

As many of you know, two of my husband's passions are cards and caffeine. He's already located every casino in Taraz, and yesterday he sniffed out the only restaurant in town with a cappuccino machine. We were in espresso heaven! We drank so much that we couldn't sleep for most of the night. It was worth it. I've been having serious White Mocha withdrawals, and this will get me through until we're home. As soon as we land in LA, I'm heading to the first Starbucks! (Does anyone know where I can find one close to LAX?)

Earlier today, we went to the mausoleum of a Muslim warrior from the 10th century. (Our translator told us his name, but there's no way I'm going to attempt to spell it in English.) We had to take our shoes off (even though it was snowing outside) and go inside a cold, dark room that was about 20 x 20 feet. In the middle of the room was a coffin, which was covered with white silk with gold embroidery. There were no lights, no candles...the only illumination was through small openings in the brick walls. A large Muslim man, who seemed to be keeping watch over the coffin, motioned for us to kneel on the mats that lined the edge of the room. As soon as we did, he locked the door and then started chanting from the Koran. At this point, our translator told us we could make a wish and it would come true. I don't know if I believe that, but it was an interesting experience. After ten minutes--and 200 tenge (we actually had to "tip" the guy)--we were back out in the snow and, you guessed it, heading to our favorite pizza place.