We sleep well last night and wake at 8 AM today. I'm feeling better but not quite 100%. No gym today: Dana is coming at 9:30 sharp to take us sightseeing to Victory Park.
We set out and she estimates about a thirty minute walk. Along the way we stop to see a very Soviet-era "Workers' Monument." Three bronze statues rise at least twenty feet high and depict two men with bowls of the type one might use to grind meal and a woman with a bolt of cloth. Behind them, a mural in bronze captures various snapshots of Soviets at work: agriculture, industry, mining, military, etc. It's an impressive piece: A monument to another era. As we move along, Dana points out the school where she teaches and the hospital where Olessya will likely deliver her baby.
Victory Park is a memorial to those from Kostanai who served and died in WWII. Sidewalks made of brick pavers and neatly lined with a mixture of fir and birch trees lead to a Vietnam Wall-style memorial bearing the names of the fallen. The statue of a soldier stands guard in the middle of the wall, and a flame (lighted only on special occasions) is at the statue's feet. The threshold to the memorial is marked on either side by granite blocks: one inscribed 1941, the other 1945.
As we continue through the park, Dana points out individual plaques "for the heroes." Further along, gravestones mark actual graves of the most heroic, and there is one without an inscription for the unknown soldier. Dana is Kazakh, and she points these things out and explains them in hushed tones with a sincere mixture of reverence and awe.
Interestingly (to me anyway), there is also a statue of Lenin in the park. Kazakhstan became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and I ask Dana if there is resentment about the statue. She explains that among younger generations perhaps, but for the generation memorialized in the park, no.
Adjascent to the park is Kostanai's professional soccer stadium. Dana checks with the ticket office for a schedule of upcoming matches - next available is July 9 - and we observe a dozen or fifteen guys from the local team going through a series of passing drills. The grass is manicured and SO green, the sun is shining, the stadium seats are arrayed in layers of primary colors in the background, and I'd give just about anything if they'd ask me to join in the workout. Alas, try-outs for short, fat, old guys were yesterday! On the way out, I see a group of a dozen or so young boys - maybe eleven or twelve - training literally in the shadow of the stadium, and I can only wonder about the dreams they dream....
Back at the hotel at 11:15, time for a late breakfast of yogurt and fruit juice, a little journaling and we're off for our walk to the baby home at 12:15. We arrive to find everyone fed. (NOTE: After our visit, Mama Natasha and Olessya have a little conversation and we are asked if the task of feeding the children can be permanently returned to the care-givers. From the care-givers' perspective, our efforts over these past two weeks, though important to the bonding process and certainly well-intentioned, have been disruptive and not always successful: We took longer than they to feed the kids and did not always get them to clean their plates. From our perspective, there has always been a bit of anxiety involved: Are we going fast enough? Did he/she eat enough? Did we make too much of a mess? Are we throwing the other children off their schedules? I'm fine with the change, though Alli is disappointed. I see it like this: If we don't have to spend 15-20 minutes feeding them at the start of every visit, that's 15-20 more minutes we get to play with them and they with each other - keep in mind, Molly and Aidan are in the same age group but live in different rooms and might see each other only for our ninety minutes - and I think the play time is the more valuable bonding experience at this point. Beginning tomorrow, the children will have been fed by the time we arrive. We'll see how it goes....)
Anyway, off to the marble room. The kids are in good spirits. The boys scoot around and Molly entertains us all with her vocal skills and her bathing beauty poses. At one point, Aidan gets a bit too close for his own good and is forced to retreat to Mommy's arms when Miss Molly grabs a handful of hair. (It's one of her favorite things to do, and though Dad has little to offer in the head area, she's made do with my arms and legs! And on more than one occasion, I've had to pry her little death grip from Alli's bangs....)
Olessya joins us for the visit. She sings to Molly and gets the little lass rocking side to side. Wait: Is that forward motion? Yes!!! In her exhuberance, our little girl is doing a quasi-combat crawl that reminds Bob of the old barbed wire and live ordinance game on Parris Island. She is moving, and we are making progress! She is also more enthusiastic every day with the whole standing thing and even pulled herself up to stand with Alli today. She can now roll front to back, sit from a prone position, move from point to point (crawling is too generous a description) and stand like she's been doing it for weeks instead of just the past few days.
The wee man has been a mosquito buffet apparently, though his fresh bites and welts are absent the green or blue dot medicine we frequently see. He again enjoys the water bottle and spends qute a bit of time standing at an end table and batting the blocks on it around and off the table. He jabbers away, typically to himself (unlike his sister, whose announcements are intended for her adoring public). Right on cue - approximately 2:15-2:20, as with most days - Aidan starts to yawn and stuff his fist in his mouth and Molly rubs her eyes and sucks her thumb. We quickly redress them, pack up and head upstairs. Molly, thumb in mouth, goes right down for Alli; Aidan takes his nook, does a 180-degree turn from one end of the crib to the other, gives me one last look and drops. Another visit has come and gone. Olessya is joining us for the return to the hotel, so we take the bus.
We're in, changed and out to the internet cafe. We check weekend mail and post three blog entries. Our efforts lag on the weekends because our schedule is somewhat fuller than during the week. Technology is playing nicely today and we're done in about two hours. Back to the hotel with half an hour to spare before leaving for dinner: I watch soccer and Alli takes another stab at the crossword puzzle she started some time during our flight here two weeks ago.
Tonight's dinner is traditional Kazakh. Served family-style in a HUGE single dish, it's a layer of egg noodles on the bottom - similar to lasagna noodles but thinner - an assortment of horse meat atop the noodles and a layer of onions, peppers and scallions on top. Pun completely intended, there is more than enough to feed a horse! Among Bob and Beth and Alli and me, I think we share a common objective: Try everything and be polite. All but Bob manage two helpings, though we're a bit more selective the second time around. We take the leftovers back to the hotel: The entire staff is Kazakh, and we're told they will appreciate the gesture.
It's Mary Ellen and Brian's last dinner in country, and they celebrate with three shots each of vodka. After the third, they remember they are to meet Dana's mother tonight: If you recall, Mary Ellen and Brian will host Dana for a year of study if Dana can get her visa. Brian asks for some of the leftovers as an offering to Dana's mom. (We find out later the meeting went well, though Dana's mother expressed some concern about tsunami when she learned of Dover, Delaware's proximity to the ocean. Dana is twenty-one and has never seen an ocean.)
We're off to Bob and Beth's room to look at Bob's pictures. It's my first look at the Friday night shots, and all I can say is the mojo was working that night. I don't know whose mojo it was, but....
In our room at 10. Soccer and journals until lights out at midnight. Comfortable enough for open windows again. Good night....