FINALLY we are ready to go. It's midnight here and in about 3 hours, our Lufthansa flight takes off for Frankfurt. It will have been almost 7 weeks - 47 days - since I left on New Year's Eve to come here.
Yesterday we finally got out of the city to see Chimbulak, a fabulous ski area that unfortunately has no snow but the scenery is magnificent. The winding road to get up to it makes the two-laner to Whistler/Blackcomb seem like a super highway. My goodness. It had quite a steep pitch. But the mountains surrounding it were Swiss alps redux - I only wish we could have taken the chair lift but we got there too late in the day. We overlooked Medeo, a huge public ice rink that is quite the place to hang out. Both were in the mountains overlooking the smoggy city. While stopping at the Chimbulak coffee shop, Veeka and Andrew (the other little boy being adopted) spied a grey kitty sleeping in the sun. They ooohed and aaahed over it. Good sign for my furballs.
Today I did some last-minute purchases and then we showed up at a skyscraper south of the city where the American consulate was on the 17th floor. There were no signs, nothing, outside signifying its presence and we had to go through metal detectors to get through the door. The interview process was very short - and we faced the employee through a thick plate glass window and slid pieces of paper back and forth through a slot. As if the place was fortified against suicide bombers. Not friendly.
What put a sour note in the proceedings was that when we walked in, Mike and I were informed we owed $380 for the visa fee. We looked at each other. We had paid our coordinator, Baha, money for a visa over a month ago. Well, apparently she's done something else with it, as the consulate showed no sign of her having paid the money. It was the final dig in what's been one trial after another with this coordinator from hell. The illegal stuff she has pulled...my goodness. And, when we were paying out $12 K for all our adoption expenses when we first arrived, she refused to give us a receipt. Well, now we know why. We cannot prove we paid for our visas nor anything else for that matter.
I marked down on my visa form that I wanted to talk alone with one of the consular officials there but when he gave me all my paperwork, he ignored the note. I got his phone number and later contacted him through the consular switchboard, asking him why they put up with agencies that bilk people out of thousands of dollars. Well, the American consulate is not losing sleep over this, let me tell you. I told him about some of the illegal things that take place; he was blase. I told him about the unbelievable overcharges; a child's visa costs $50 in Kazakhstan. We were charged $500. We were charged $170/day for driver/coordinator and translator only to find out that on the ground, the drivers and translators are seeing very little of that money. Ditto for the orphanages.
He said they've gotten used to the idea that the Kaz way of doing things is to grease as many palms as possible. I replied that I could understand things costing twice as much. But TEN TIMES as much?? I asked him why no one there was indignant that all these visiting American citizens are at the mercy of these horrific people - he said it's worse in Russia. Gee, that's comforting. In fact, he added that he and his wife are adopting - from China! So he knows what a mess things are in Kazakhstan but quite honestly, our embassy is not there for us. During some of my worst moments last month when I was arguing with this awful coordinator, I entertained the idea of calling the embassy and pleading for help. Glad I didn't bother.
Anyway, we left with our kiddie passports and tons of other paperwork. Veeka was unbelievably bouncy this evening; it took me three hours to put her down. You read that right. The thought of the next 21 hours or so in various airports (a 7-hour layover in Frankfurt - groan)- those of you who pray, please do for me! But then I'll be HOME!
Here I come.