Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Your Questions

Some of you have asked us questions along the way that we haven’t yet answered. If you’ve been waiting a long time, we apologize and hope that our answers will still be helpful.

The language…
Someone asked us how we learned Russian before we arrived. To be honest, we didn’t and we still haven't. Most days we feel we still don’t know enough to talk our way out of a wet paper bag. Learning the language was at the top of my “to do” list as soon as we decided to adopt from Kazakhstan, but for a whole variety of reasons that aren’t interesting, it didn’t happen. Here is what I did manage and what we have learned along the way…
First, we bought a “teach yourself Russian in 10 minutes a day” type of book. It’s not that the book isn’t any good, it’s just doesn’t fit how I learn a new language. However, something that I did get from the book is a fair understanding of the alphabet, at least most of the letters. How this has been helpful is that if you sound out many words, they will sound like the word in English. For example, “суп” sounded out is “soop” and lo and behold, it is soup! Now, unfortunately, not all words work like that. “сок” sounded out is “sock”, but means juice. The other thing from this book that has come in handy have been the 5w’s (who, what, when, where, why) and how. You can get a lot of information if you start with one of these question words. Now, there are probably many other wonderful pieces of information in this book, but this is as far as I got.

The other thing that has actually been more helpful than we realized is that Tammy comes from a family that has members that speak Ukrainian in various amounts (from sporadic to fluent). I myself would definitely be more on the sporadic end of the spectrum but there are some common phrases and words that come up that are fairly similar between Russian and Ukrainian, so all those years of hearing the language must have sunk in to some degree.

But all in all, I would put us at the non-speaking end of the language. We have a few basics, as I’ve written about, and when we are needing something specific that might be difficult to find, we make sure to always have a pocket translator of some type with us or we look it up at home and write it on a piece of paper to take with us. As for our pocket translator, we have the typical Russian/English phrasebook but we also purchased Russian/English dictionary/phrasebook software from LingvoSoft for our PalmPilot. Now, had we not already owned the Palm, we definitely wouldn’t have gone out and purchased one, but since we did, the software was a fairly inexpensive piece of software that has been very helpful.

A stroller…
This was one of the things we really went back and forth on before we left. We’d read many different stories about the cost and availability of strollers here in Kazakhstan and worried that it would be expensive to find one here. In the end we decided that we would take our chances and wait until we got here and met our child before deciding. Our reasons: our heavy luggage and near maximum carry ons would be enough to manage in the airports; the possible excess baggage fees (because it wouldn’t be considered permissible carry-on when there isn’t a child to fill it on the way here) would outweigh the possible higher prices; and since we hadn’t met the child it was intended for, we didn’t know exactly what we wanted or needed. In the end we are glad that we waited. There are many decent strollers in all styles and price ranges available here (in Ust anyway) and we found the prices to be comparable to home.

On the other hand, we did bring a baby carrier that we thought we would prefer because of the bonding/attachment opportunities it could give. However, due to the 30+ degree temperatures, it just isn’t going to work for us. If we were here during any other season, it would have been perfect though.

Things we’re glad we brought from home that we’d pack again…
*Our laptop – this has been possibly the most important thing we’ve packed. It has saved us from feeling isolated from our families and friends because we can use email to keep in touch, plus we brought a variety of DVD’s to watch (before Max got here anyway). We actually found that television series on DVD work better for us because an episode works out to about 45 minutes, so you don’t have to set aside a whole evening to watch a movie if you are only in the mood for a little bit of TV. If you are planning to bring a laptop, make sure you really know how to work it before you leave home! Find a WiFi spot and practice hooking up to it, find somewhere with a dial-up connection and do the same so that you have a good idea what you are doing before you leave.

*Flash drive – this has been great for selecting pictures to take to the photo shop for printing as well as sharing documents with our coordinator. We actually ended up bringing two and it’s worked out well because sometimes we didn’t get the one back from our coordinator for a couple of days. They don’t need to be ones with large memories, so a couple of cheap ones would certainly do.

*Sippy cups & extra valves – We are especially glad we brought some that are the no-drip ones intended as a transition from the bottle to a sippy cup (they have a soft latex spout on them rather than a hard plastic one). There are sippy cups available here, even the no-drip ones, but we haven’t seen the transition ones. I really debated about even buying these cups because we really didn’t expect to meet a child under 12 months of age, so I thought they might go to waste because they are intended for younger infants. However, they have been wonderful for us. With his caregivers Max was accustomed to drinking from a cup. But, the way that they drink from those cups just wouldn’t work for us, especially on an airplane when we would have a limited number of changes of clothing available. In addition, we wanted something that he would need to suck on for the plane that would help to ‘pop’ his ears. The soft spout ones were much easier to get Max on to because he was teething and liked to chew on the spout, which got some of the liquid flowing, which taught him how to suck, because he wasn’t used to doing this. At first we took the valve and opened the cut a little so he wouldn’t have to suck as hard, but once he caught on we changed valves so the cup wouldn’t drip as well as so he would have to suck harder.

*Stacking cups – they have been an absolute hit with Max as well as all the other children we’ve gotten to know and not easy to find here.

*Ziplock bags – we have come across some since we got here, but they don’t seem common yet and they aren’t cheap.

*Trail mix and granola bars – yep, even though the trail mix weighed a ton and caused us much stress trying to balance the weights of our luggage to keep them each underweight. Plus, now that they’re eaten, we have lots of room (and lots less weight) in our luggage for the return trip.

*Cloth shopping bags – we brought 4 fairly large fold up bags that will fold up and fit into our pockets when we go shopping. In many places in Ust, plastic bags must be purchased and they aren’t of the greatest quality so aren’t likely to make it in one piece anyway.

*Miscellaneous - can opener, mini-LED flashlight, duct tape (we wish we would have brought 2 rolls), mosquito netting

Things we brought that we don’t need or are glad that we didn’t bring in the first place…
*Two packs of water purification tablets. We’ve barely even used a quarter of one, and that was only because we got into Almaty too late to pick up water for the next day. Bottled water is readily available pretty much everywhere.

*A set of bedsheets - but that’s just based on our experience, we know there are others here who would definitely disagree!

*Toilet paper – easy to find and although it isn't Charmin, it does the job. It even comes in a variety of colours and scents (apparently they didn’t get the memo about being kind to your behind). We did pack one roll which on a lark I vacuumed-sealed, so I thought it ended up looking like a block of contra-band which is the only reason I didn’t pack more. (No, it didn’t cause any suspicion at security, maybe just a laugh or two) That one roll was much appreciated for the first few days until we had enough time to go shopping for the basics.

Things we wish we would have brought…
*Our travel booster seat – not that it would have made packing any easier, but it definitely would make life here a little easier at meal times. I may have even sacrificed a few of the other things we packed, such as extra shoes and the trail mix. We’ve seen many high chairs, but no booster seats. We debated purchasing a high chair to leave behind, but then would be back to square one when we got to Almaty, so we’ll continue our tag-team strategy of holding and feeding until we get home. We’ve also elected not to use our stroller as a make-shift high chair, again based solely on our experience; it may work wonderfully for others.

Disclaimer: These comments and suggestions are based only upon our experiences and do not under any circumstances constitute an official packing to do/not to do list! We take no responsibility for any grief or stress caused by trying to pack one of everything from every list you find on the Internet. (Which is what Tammy tried to do at one point before she realized that she’d have to separately finance the excess baggage fees as well as her pending divorce if she asked her husband, “Do you think we will need…” one more time. However, although he won’t admit it, quite a few of the things Tammy insisted on have been very helpful!)

Happy packing and repacking!


Butch & Tracy said...

Thank you all for the great information. I so appreciate it. One of these days I will get to use the info you provided! I probably do need to start on a list!!!

Jo said...

Great information... thanks as I am packing up this month and leaving on July 31st....so excited!

Nathanaël said...

Good suggestions and recommendations.
We also are putting together a little something similar, and hope it will help others, as what you wrote here we're sure has.
Know what you mean about the baby carrier and heat issue. It's hard for us, but we do it. But sure, give us cooler weather and it would be much more comfortable, for baby, and baby carrier!
Great job with the details.

Your friends,
Nathanaël, Isabelle and Andrei.