Introducing Miss Alexis Falen Quast

5/26/2007 02:39:00 AM Edit This 10 Comments »

Well here she is. What we've all been waiting for....drum roll please....Miss Alexis Falen Quast. Born May 17, 2006 so I just missed her birthday but we'll celebrate it when we get home. I have to make this fast as we are in an internet room but we have to go to visit her in just a few minutes. So I want to post as many pictures as possible. More later.

We Made It - Kinda!!

5/26/2007 02:26:00 AM Edit This 1 Comment »
Wed May 23, 2007

So we are here in Almaty and will be here until tomorrow evening at 7pm when we will fly out to Aktau. Unfortunately there was no room at the inn so we are staying in an apartment for the two days – which we found out last night, this morning I mean at 2am as we were driving over here. We were told that there was some kind of “big meeting” or something so there were no rooms in all of Almaty for us but not to worry this lady keeps an apartment for adopting families and it has everything we would need. After 17 hours in the air and 36 total hours to get here, anywhere that didn’t move and you could lay down horizontally on sounded great. Realty was a little different than what I envisions.

But first let’s take about the trip. I thought getting to the airport 2 and a half hours prior to the departure time would leave us plenty of room for unforeseen problems. That’s what I get for thinking. When the porter at the curb asked what airlines and we innocently said Lufthansa, little did I know that was the last laugh we’d hear all day. The line was at least 200 people long and each person had 2+ bags and it stretched for what felt like a mile. The kind porter left me and the bags next to the front of the line where they had 8 service counters with 6 people working and mom he took to get in the line to wait our turn. Five minutes later she calls me to let me know she’s there and I asked her to wave her arms. Well I couldn’t see her – unbelievable. When one family with 12 people and at least 25 bags & boxes went up to the counter after I’d been there 20 minutes, I knew we were in big trouble. But first I get another call from Mom saying “don’t get mad but I left my little black ID holder with my drivers license and credit cards in the car but I’ve called Angie.” I hear a beep on my phone and click over to Angie asking if I’d heard the news and that she was turning around but she was about 25 minutes away. So the good news was that the line was so long we definitely would be right were she left us. Anyway she drove back, I ran out and got it so one disaster was diverted. I next called my travel agent to see when the next flight out was and he said there wasn’t one until the next day, so we better hope for the best. I call mom and tell her I have her stuff and have her wave to me. Hey I can see her so we are making progress. Having been there for an hour and a half and the family of 12 is just now leaving to go to security, I ask the agent if they ever hold the plane. She looked at the line and said “we’ll try.” At this point mom is only about 50-60 back in line. But the agent took pity on me after taking care of two more people and waved me up. I called mom who pushed her way to the front through many new found friends and we got our tickets with 20 minutes to get through security and get to our gate. Which we did and of course the plane ended up leaving an hour and 10 minutes late. Who cares we’re on our way.

Ten hours, two meals and two movies later the sun rises over the German countryside as we land at Frankfurt airport. Now things are done a little differently at the hub for Lufthansa and I must say having to walk down stairs, get on a bus and then getting off in an underground holding room is not my favorite way to de-plane but whatever. This is a much smaller airport than I would have thought but our 3 hour layover was long enough, that’s for sure. I ordered a fruit cup along with a croissant that ended up having amazing chocolate sauce in it but there was a fruit in the cup that I didn’t recognize but I think it's special because it was on top and presented like “wow aren’t you lucky to get this.” Does anyone know what it is? They do have a great service at the airport that I think we need in the US. There are little pay per-minute computers all over the place. I should have taken a picture but it looks like a keyboard with a flat screen monitor in front of it on a pole. You just pick a language and task you want to perform put in your credit card and you’re off. It was great but their key boards are set up differently than ours. The z is where our y is and I couldn’t find a ‘ apostrophe but anyway what a great tool.

As for getting back on the plan it was even worse. Everyone waiting for the plane was very aggressive and the men are the worse. If it was the Europeans that came up the phrase “pushy Americans” then they meant it as a complement. I have to say a New Yorker would have found this behavior rude. Of course my Mom was right up there in the middle of it thinking they would be polite to a older woman – NOT. Anyway, we finally got on and settled. The last 6 hour 40 minute flight was too long but fine other the lack of AC. By the way no movie, the one "meal" served was a sandwich but we always got a hot moist towel every two hours.

Once we landed in Almaty we got right off at the gate and went down to customs. It was a bit of a surprise since everyone was now behaving very well and waiting patiently even though it was midnight when we got there. It may have something to do with the 20 or so customs officers and guards waiting for us. I must say that the women’s uniforms were way cute and they all had hose and high heels. Most were 3 inch spiked heels. The men who were walking around had to wear these hats that looked like formal dress military hats – round with the little black brim over the eyes. Except these where olive green but the round part was twice the size as our military hats are. They stuck out from the head about 4 inches all the way around. It reminded me of what would have been worn for a Saturday Night Live sketch. You have to know it was pretty bad if I noticed it as exhausted as I was. So again, we are one of the last people in line and I noticed that even people traveling together went up one at a time. Mom didn’t want to have to go on her own so I asked the guard lady standing in her really cute high heel shoes if Mom could come up with me but she just pointed to the line I was standing behind and looked away. So when she waved me on, mom just came with me even though I know they didn’t want her to but no one pulled a gun or started yelling Nyet. It was pretty funny that right after we got to the booth they played an announcement in English that said “Do not expect answers from our agents or to engage with them in any way.” I almost laughed. So the agents in the booth asked me several things, none of which I understood or answered I just smiled and filed out a form they stamped and buzzed me through. But Mom hadn’t been checked through yet so she just pushed her passport to them and smiled and I just stayed where I was. They gave mom the same form to fill out but she didn’t have her glasses on so I filled it out for her and they played the “Do not expect” message again. Now I know they are mad at the stupid Americans but I didn’t care - just stamp it and let us move on already! They did and then we where off to pick up our luggage. We were told not to expect carts but there were plenty sitting around, free of charge I might add, so we grabbed one and our luggage, one, two, three pieces uh where’s the fourth and the stroller? Yes you got it - they lost the largest piece of luggage that I paid $50 extra for and the stroller. Great!! Let’s add to the fun of this long day. So I wait in line with probably 10 other people who are missing something after waving to our interpreter through the glass and when I finally get to talk to the agent she speaks English. Yeah life is good. She said it would be in tomorrow night at the same time (only one Lufthansa flight a day comes to Almaty) so just tell her where am I staying and they would have it delivered. Uh...well....I don’t know where I’m staying (talk about being very trusting or too stupid for words – I’m not sure which right now) but she kindly agrees to go talk to my interpreter. We get it worked out and they hand mom and I a little bag that says “female overnight kit.” It includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, “Mild Care Skin Freshness” I assume it’s deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, cotton buds, Laundry detergent – “How to Use: 1- sort clothes 2 – add warm water to sink 3 – add detergent to water 4 – add clothes” , a brush/comb/mirror thing and an extra large t-shirt. Thank you very much, have a nice night. Did you notice anything missing from the kit? I can wash the clothes, my teeth and hair but not the body. That’s right - no soap. Oh well, you can’t have it all.

So anyway, we meet Zina, our interpreter and the driver at now 1:30 in the morning Almaty time (1:30pm the day after we left Houston according to my body clock)and tried to load our luggage in the car. Zina points out that it is good that they lost the luggage since we couldn’t have gotten it all and us in the car. I like her already since she can make lemonade from lemons!! She is a very petite dark haired pretty young woman that speaks very good English (the most Famous language she told me) and also Russian, Kazakh and French. Off we go with her explaining things about the city and the trip. This is where I started our story when I learned that we are staying in an apartment tonight not a hotel. I wanted help with baggage and room service and clean towels the first day here but oh well. We drove about a half an hour and pulled into an alley then behind a building with a very small fenced in play ground on the right and the back of our building on the left. It reminded me of a couple of scenes that I shot for a film where a drug deal was going down. No lights but from the car, a blue metal door with graffiti and trash all around. We get out and drag our 240+ pounds of luggage up 2 flights of really scary concert and metal stairs (poor Mom looked beyond nervous but so tired that she didn’t voice any concerns – what a trooper) and through another metal door to our metal front door where a tired older woman is there to “greet “ us. Not exactly the Hyatt, not exactly clean and not exactly what I’d hope for but what choice did we have. So she said look around - that didn’t take long - that will be 160 American dollars for your two day stay. Thank you very much. And off she went checking to make sure the bills were new enough to exchange.

Zina said to be ready at 11:00am when she would call to tell us she was picking us up for site seeing and to see the grand city of Almaty. Here are the 2 keys you need to lock the door and do not open it to anyone until tomorrow when she picks us up. I thank her and out she goes. Then I hear “Lou Ann, you must lock the door. I do not hear you lock this door.” OKAY, so this is the safe part of town right?

It’s a little after two in the morning Almaty time and I figure one or two in the afternoon Houston time but well over 24 hours and 10 time zones since we left but we still have to take a closer look at the apartment, which maybe we shouldn’t have. The bathroom is pretty interesting with the raised rounded shower, toilet paper that we wouldn’t use to whip off the dipstick when checking the oil in your car let alone on your….well you get the picture. Those 24 rolls of TP we packed are looking like gold right about now. The kitchen is also fun with it’s RV sized stove and fridge but very modern looking microwave – even if the wording is in Russian. The large window in the kitchen is open with bars on it but no screens and right above a bus stop so we can hear the city very well. Sofas, large TV, which our “host” had proudly had turned on very load when we got there, glass top dining table, 2 chairs and interestingly enough the whole apartment had laminate fake hardwood floors. The bedroom only had one large bed that was strange because it was very “firm” but when you sat down it would shift away from you. It was made up with just a flat sheet laid on it and a very small du-via filled with a very heavy quilt and two dense pillows. The best part was the two towels proudly displayed on the bed. On pink with white bears shapes on it and one blue with puffy white flowers on it. I can safely guess that they had both been in the family for years as they were so rough and faded that they had to have been washed (not dried as they don’t have dryers here) probably with stones in a river stream some where at lease a thousand times. I was so tired I could hardly stand but I was even stickier and I’m pretty sure smellier so I decided I had to try out the round shower before I hit the hard hay. Now this shower is not only round but small. It was like showering in a round phone booth with the water coming from directly above you. It’s hard to wash your hair because your elbows hit the sides or top of this enclosure. I couldn’t find my conditioner and they took my shampoo in Houston at security since the container I had was 3.8 instead of 3.5 oz (I’m sure a huge national security risk – so I did my part as a good American citizen and gave it up) but luckily in my “female overnight kit” they had a little shampoo. So I cleaned up a bit with the plan to have a nice long hot shower in the morning before site seeing. I used my extra large t-shirt as a towel (I decided to save the pleasure of the “good” towels for in the morning) and went right to sleep…..for about 4 and a half hours. Oh the joys of jet lag!!

To be continued. I have to download this at an Internet cafe as we still don’t have access to the Internet.