We wake to the city’s signature smell of burning oil. I go running. Big mistake. I’m sucking up more pollution than oxygen—a vestige of old Soviet industrial practices. Indeed, the Soviet influence here is tough to miss. In fact, the remnants of it are so deeply embedded in the Kazakhs’ tortuous bureaucracy that it makes me think they do a better job of being Soviet than the Soviets did.
We prepare ourselves for Monday’s hoped-for meeting. It occurs to me that it would help our cause if I could pepper our presentation with references to the great Kazakh poet Abai. After much searching, we find an English translation of his work. There is only one problem. Abai turns out to be a dark, dark person. Here are two samples:
“People pray to God to send them a child. What does a man need a child for? … Why are you so eager to have a child, to rear another scoundrel and doom him to the selfsame humiliation?” “Man is a sack, full of shit.
When you die, you’ll smell worse than shit.”
And those are two of his more uplifting passages. Abai did, however, provide some insight into the “difficult situation” we are encountering. “It is impossible,” he wrote, “to persuade a Kazakh, convince him of something, unless you frighten or bribe him.” I wonder which of these tactics we will need to employ to get our child. Both, I suspect.
My run yields a fever and a chest full of phlegm. The damn pollution here has given me a respiratory infection. I procure some antibiotics, and I spend the day on the mend. Still no word from the Sisters about our alleged appointment. Sharon and I grow increasingly despondent. Our minds—neurotic as they are in the best of times—spin all kinds of doomsday scenarios. The adoption, we seriously fear, is not going to happen, and we are going to return to Miami with chintzy gifts and broken hearts. Ironically, these are exactly the kind of dark thoughts that any self-respecting Kazakh might have. Is there something in the air here—other than the pollution?
Late in the evening, we finally receive a phone call from one of the Sisters. We have an appointment at the Education Ministry the next day. We are encouraged that this appointment, unlike our previous one, has a time attached.
Late at night, while my wife sleeps, I sneak a peak at the photos of our daughter. I haven’t looked at them for weeks, and one photo in particular gets me. She is sitting up on her own, her tiny hands clenched into tiny fists. A smile on her face, proud of her accomplishment. I am filled with immense joy and love. Either that or the phlegm lodged in my chest has hardened. No, I’m pretty sure it’s love.
*Correction, Dec. 22: Because of an editing oversight, an earlier version of this piece did not specify that the events in this Diary took place in September, not in December as the dateline suggests.