These Russian keyboards are a gas! Am esconced at an Internet cafe in this city of 300,000 in the frozen wastes of north-central Kazakhstan. Think dreary Russian city with signposts painted the turquoise-and-yellow stripes of the Kazakh flag and you won't be far off. Wandering around the city square in 0-degree weather is St. Nicholas and his "grand-daughter;" a Kaz custom apparently. Didn't know there was a grand-daughter Claus.
The flight from Almaty got sidelined to Astana (the capital) because a snowstorm shut down Kostenai for several hours. So I sat and drank Russian cognac in the Astana airport lounge. A thrill. Finally got to Kostenai late at night via a Dr. Zhivago scenario; the night sky bright with full moon and snow flurries while we dragged our suitcases through the cold snow drifts to waiting van. The hotel at $67 is fair - can't complain too much - and it's a better deal than the $330/night Almaty Hyatt where they charged you every time you turned around. Nothing free there - not even matches.
The sun doesn't rise here til 9 a.m. so it's a dreary journey through the dawn light - if you can call it that - through frozen wastes out of a Tolstoy novel to Rudny, a town built around the iron ore industry. In the middle is an unmarked "baby house" with 50 kiddies therein. For an orphanage, it wasn't bad - very clean with a new wing just added built from all those contributions from foreigners who've spent their family fortunes adopting a Kaz child.
I was led fairly quickly to little "Veeka" as they called her who after one look at me turned tail and screamed her head off. Not a great start. She immediately ran to her caretaker, Lena, who valiantly tried to introduce her to me but Veeka would have none of that. The couple with me did much better with their little boy who just stood there and looked at them with big soulful eyes.
Well, what is she like? Very small for her age (20 mos) with long legs - appears to not have grown much at all since she was last measured for height, etc. I had a long talk with her doctor today and from all appearances she is healthy - amazing considering she was born breech two months early. The red or blonde hair I thought she had turns out to be brown. Ditto with her eyes. And she does not like me at all. My heart goes out to the poor lonely little girl but I am very discouraged at present.
Her name here is Veronika (Ver-o-NEE-ka is how they pronounce it. That will probably be her middle name.
What has added to my stress here is a horrible mess up here with my visa - the Kaz embassy in the states had me leaving Jan. 7 - I have no idea why that happened but it's been a mess trying to get that fixed. At one point I thought I might have to leave the country tomorrow (Saturday). I have made all sorts of international calls plus communicating with folks here has been a real trial since there's only one interpreter available. I've been socked with a $300 fee to have someone go to Astana tomorrow to remedy the problem - apparently there are more unpleasant surprises to come. Every day has brought a few.
Those of you who pray, I could use some now. As for the rest, a Happy Russian Orthodox Christmas!