I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Day 183 - Kazakhstan Part 17

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In life, the crucial decisions are often made quickly and with serendipity; the trivial are agonizingly slow. I've known people who have selected a breakfast cereal with more research than they used in choosing a spouse. On the flip side, you fall in love with a person faster and more thoroughly than you do with bran, so I guess that's the sort of crazy, devil-may-care species that we are.

We had come to Kazakhstan for Nurlan and we had no intention of leaving without him. Anastasiya was a gift chosen for us and she fit just right. We saw the other children out of due diligence and that thing that gets Americans in trouble for thinking that there is always that better house, career, or spouse that we missed out on while watching TV. You start with the heart and then try to get the brain to go along. Fortunately, they met in the middle.

With the passing years, I've forgotten the backdrops for contact that we had with Natalya, the agency's Uralsk coordinator. She was the big boss through which everything was processed and approved. I see her now in my mind's eye. She was trim, beautifully dressed, and had a facial structure that was almost architectural. When she spoke Russian, the sound was rapid, forceful and staccato; her English was clear but heavily accented, with the slightly pouty and musical sound that Russian women have. In my imagination, she is always wearing a heavy coat. I don't remember meeting in her office, though we may have. In my memory, she just appears and then blinks out. She was there with the Ministry of Education people. She was at the orphanage once in a while. She was definitely at court. She was there whenever significant money changed hands.

Money. Love may make the world go 'round but money keeps it lubricated. During the first few days that we were in Uralsk, Natalya and Yulia, the most experienced translator, came to see us in the apartment. We had been wearing and sleeping with the money belts for days and, surprising as it sounds, we were looking forward to getting rid of their part of the money and no longer feeling that we were in the midst of a kidnapping drop.

The agency had mentioned in a small note on one of the checklists to bring "new" money. When I went to the bank right before we left the US, I asked for "new" money and the teller gave me a stack that "had just come from the Mint." I didn't think about it again. Turns out that I should have.

The only US bills that are recognized at full value in Kazakhstan are recently printed, not folded, no marks, just like your grandma put in the birthday card, new money. Julia and Natalya took all our money, laid it out on the table and went through it bill by bill. Some bills ended up in the good pile and many more in the bad pile. At the end, the good pile was short of the amount agreed upon for their in-country fees. There was much conversation in Russian periodically punctuated by my English statement, "Well, this is what we have." Eventually, they were able to promote enough money from the bad pile to make up the difference and seemed to be satisfied.

While I was on edge, Terry was strangely placid during this whole scene. Later, I found out that he didn't understand the significance. He thought that we would simply have the driver take us to a bank the next day where we would give them the bills with pen marks and they would give us "new" American money. If you've ever forgotten that currency has value only because a government imbues it with that property, try sitting in an apartment on the Russian border where someone has just carried out the last of your money that is acceptable currency and you don't know how you are going to afford to eat for the length of your stay.

A mustache inked on Benjamin Franklin's sage countenance stared back at me as Terry and I had the only argument of our stay. "How can money not be acceptable? It's goddam American money!" "If a Kazakh tourist walks into a bank in Minnesota to hand in a torn tenge note, do you think the bank hands them a new one from the pile of tenge that they have in the back?"

Nightfall interrupted Terry's plan for finding the two women and making them take the "bad" money instead. It was a quiet evening as I painstakingly erased and ironed the best of the remaining bills. And every evening for a week, I operated my money laundry to save what could be salvaged. Inna and Dima "knew a guy" who worked on a street corner and would change the less pristine bills for tenge at a lowered exchange rate. We began to think of him as our personal banker. But even he wouldn't take the bills that were missing a little bit of a corner or where a pen mark was noticeable.

I hear they have credit card machines in Uralsk now. That would have been handy.

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