Happy Birthday Aidan! 8 months old today....
Bob and I hit the gym at 8:05. I've got a pretty steady routine: bench (sit-ups between sets), lats with wide grip (jump rope between sets), lats with narrow grip (leg lifts between sets), flies
(jump rope between sets), and finish with dumbbell work (curls & two types of shoulder raises). We're playing ping-pong by 9. Bob takes the first three, I take the next two, and at 3-2 we decide to play a nine game match. We alternate victories from 3-2 out, Bob takes the day at 5-4 and widens his series lead to 23-21. (Blog preview: I rebound in wildly successful fashion on Friday....)
After the gym, Alli and I decide to make a video walking tour of some of the sights and sounds from the area of Kostanai near the hotel. Alli is our cinematographer & I do principal narration. We begin on the mall across from the hotel, wind our way through the university and govern- ment building areas, take in several of the fountains in the two nearby parks (the green-bench park and the pink-bench park), buy a beer from a vendor at 11 AM (just because we can!) and return to the hotel for a quick tour of our home away from home. We're done with just fifteen minutes to spare, so I shower and dress while Alli packs the backpack for the walk to the baby home. We're off at 12:15.
It's very warm in the sun, and my 11 AM beer isn't helping. It's difficult for us to figure out what weather conditions are appropriate for finding the children outside. Today is too warm, apparently, as everyone is inside. Alli finds Molly seated at a tiny table with one of her little boy roommates: The table is tucked quite close to them to prevent mobility, Alli thinks. Molly has a rattle, the little boy just bangs on the table to amuse himself. Molly's been fed and dressed, and as they are leaving the general living area, Alli spots a couple of Russian dolls with weeble bottoms and bells inside sitting on top of a bookshelf. Alli taps the doll lightly for Molly to hear the bells. Our little darling cold-cocks the doll and sends it flying. The bells, the bells...!
On our way to the boys' room, we hear the usual wailing of some unhappy soul. This time, to our surprise, the unhappy soul is Aidan. He was in a crib with Nicholas and another little boy, and we don't know whether one of them rolled on him or he fell over and hit his head: He's busy sobbing in the arms of a care-giver and the other two aren't talking. The care-giver, one of our favorites - a young Kazakh girl names Asiem - tells Aidan "Papa" is here....
Down in the marble room, Olessya suggests it's too warm to take the kids out in the Snugglis. Aidan and Nicholas are animated and playful - primarily crawilng on their Daddies - but Molly is uncharacteristically subdued and out of sorts. By 1:45 she's fussing and unhappy with the usual diversions; by 1:50, she has found her thumb and Mom's shoulder and is out cold, remaining that way until we pack up at 2:30.
After the visit, we bus to the notary with Olessya: She has some paperwork to do involving making copies of our passports. Twenty minutes later, we're on our way to pick up visa forms for the kids (we wait outside while Olessya goes in). Finally, we stop by the photo shop to pick up the kids' passport photos.
It's 4:15 and we are leaving for the soccer match at 6. We decide to eat an early dinner at "The Dom" - the cafe to which we went on our first night in Kostanai and to which we have been for lunch and dinner several times since. We enjoy a nice meal in a shaded, breezy area. After- ward, Alli and i have just enough time to hit the internet cafe and check e-mail.
We walk to the game and notice the excitement building as we near the stadium. No tailgating to be seen, but a large crowd is gathered in the area of the ticket windows and the turnstiles. Inside the gates, a beehive of vending activity is fully engaged. Souvenirs (I buy a team t-shirt and Bob and I buy team "scarves"), food (meat sandwiches and shishkabobs appear to be the fan favorites) and beverages are the primary fare. The beer taps do a brisk business. As best I can tell, patrons bring their own plastic bottles - I see one litre and two litre sizes - and the vendors fill them. Alli and I split three beers with dinner, and we had no inclination to bring containers, so Alli gets a peach juice.
Our seats are in the upper deck - there are only two levels - and, thankfully, in the shade, as the temperature at 7 PM kickoff is still quite warm, particularly in the sun. Section 2, row 4, seats 11-15. On the concourse outside our section, I see a guy wearing what appears to be a hockey sweater in the team colors (bluish-green and yellow) with the number 99. I ask Dana if they sell jerseys like that at the stadium: She replies "Only for the true fans of the club."
We arrive at our seats to find a large drum in seats 14 & 15, the tickets Alli and I are holding. We were told when we bought the tickets the seats were in the fan section and we are indeed surrounded by a sea of team colors on shirts, flags and caps. As we move the drum to take our seats, #99 comes up behind me and begins speaking with me. Through Dana, he introduces himself and asks my name. As I am wearing my yellow Columbus Crew training top, I ask if he'd like to trade my jersey for his. No trade, but he seems amused with the effort and returns moments later with two huge team flags on ploes for Bob and me and instructions to wave them when our team - Tobol - scores a goal. He asks if we are American and where we are from. At the mention of Philadelphia - and Alli's inclusion of the Flyers - he launches into a litany of Flyers past ("Eric Lindros!", "Ron Hextall!") & present ("Jeremy Roenick!","Eric Desjardins!").
I'm trying desparately to think of a Russian on the Flyers, but before I can, he blurts out "Allen Iverson!" This is happening at full volume and to the entertainment and approval of section 2.
He turns to the crowd and says something that has Dana laughing: "He is telling everyone you are his new friends from America!" At that, the guy in the seat next to me taps me on the arm and hands me a cup of beer. It's clear #99 is the Nick-from-Welland of Kazakhstan!!!
The game begins - and so do the trumpets, drums and incessant cheers, all choreographed and led by my new friend from Kazakhstan, Ura (#99). Tobol scores about five minutes in on a terrific free kick by #9 (coincidentally, the same #9 on the back of the t-shirt I bought) and there is bedlam in section 2. The volume increases - "Ole, ole, ole, ole, Tobol, champions!!!!" and
Молодци ("We Are Good!") are favorites - as Tobol carries the play to a second goal near the twenty minute mark. It's 3-0 at the half and #9 has all three goals!
Ura comes to visit at the half and I ask Dana to ask him if we should have thrown our hats onto the field for the "hat trick." I'm not sure how well my question is translated: Dana is not much of a sports fan and who knows whether anyone in Kazakhstan has ever heard of a hat trick. Ura's reply adds to the confusion: He shakes his head and promises us club gifts after the game (at which point he calls over a young boy - perhaps his son? - and appears to issue a series of instructions). No sooner has he wandered off than he's motioning and calling to me from the end of our row: A news crew - camera and reporter - from a local TV station has entered section 2 and, I find out from Dana, Ura has decided I should be interviewed! With Dana's blushing assistance, Ura holding the team flag behind me and everyone struggling to hear and be heard - the trumpeteer picks just that minute to break into song - I answer questions on where I am from and why I am in Kostanai/at the match, who the best players are in my estimation, and how I would compare the play I'm watching with professional soccer in the States. My first TV interview EVER - in KAZAKHSTAN!!!!
The second half is pretty pedestrian: a few good chances for the home team, virtually nothing for the visitors, and otherwise some time wasting and a bunch of guys trying not to get hurt. With about ten minutes left in the match, Ura arrives bearing gifts: a team flag and two full color team posters featuring players, coaches, management, local government officials - and Ura! It turns out he is the President of the team fan club! And, apparently, our discussion of a hat trick earlier translated into trading my yellow TPC Southwind (Memphis) golf cap - now on the head of the young lad from halftime - for Ura's Tobol Fan Club ball cap.
The game ends 3-0, and as we file out our new friends from section 2 congratulate us and wish us well. Ura is exhausted (and pretty drunk) and I thank him. Walking through town back to the hotel, with scarves and team flags over our shoulders, several people ask us who won and by what score. Quite a night!!!
Back in the hotel, I drift off watching Manchester United v Deportivo LaCaruna in a Champions' League replay from at least three years ago. I wake and finish another couple chapters of The Da Vinci Code, wake Alli for her snack (an ice cream bar) at 11:30 and wake her again for bed at 12:30. What a day! More tomorrow....