05 January 2006

Adopting from Kyrgyzstan

New update on October 24, 2014:

Kyrgyzstan has authorized several US adoption agencies to work in Kyrgyzstan.  Since adoptions have stopped and started there quite a few times in the last 10 years, it will take a long time to learn whether this is promising or not.  I would not begin an adoption in Kyrgyzstan now or anytime soon especially since Kyrgyzstan is not a party to the Hague Convention.

This post is very old and based on my experiences in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2006 which means a lot of what is posted below is very outdated and the links may not work.

These are a few things I've learned about adopting from Kyrgyzstan because of my experiences there and the six years I have been researching international adoption. I worked in the Bishkek baby house, and if you are told you're adopting a baby from Bishkek, it's likely she will come from this baby house. Note that I am not an adoption expert, nor have I done an international adoption myself. I have no connections with any agency. I have been away from Kyrgyzstan for over a year and there are better places to find updated information. These are two posts I've written in other places about the Bishkek baby house and some of the children there (here and here).

I loved living in Kyrgyzstan and volunteering at the baby house in Bishkek and I want everyone who goes there to have a good experience. And thanks to those who have emailed who are adopting from the Bishkek baby house. It's been wonderful to hear that some of those babies are on their way to being adopted. And if anyone happens to get a referral for a little boy named Arsyen in the Bishkek baby house (he was born in the fall of 2004), will you let me know? He was such a sweet little boy and I'd love to hear what happens to him. I can tell you a lot about him.

There is a Yahoo Kyrgyzstan adoption group that is very friendly and helpful. This group is definitely the place to go for all sorts of information because I really am out of the loop now. There are links there to adoption blogs. There are many Kyrgyzstan adoption blogs out there now.

The best way to get information about legitimate agencies should be to email the US Embassy in Bishkek at ConsularBishkek@state.gov. While they can't recommend any agency, you can ask them how long a certain agency has been in the country and how many adoptions they've completed. Be specific with your questions- they don't want you to have a bad experience. We have found the Consular Section at the Embassy to be very helpful and friendly.

Do be sure to talk to as many agencies as possible, especially since there are so few. There are surprisingly significant differences between the adoption process with different agencies.

Not all of the babies and children in baby houses and orphanages are actually available for adoption; in fact, many probably aren't. (Most of the children in my photos are not available.) They have been placed in the baby house by their mothers and their mothers still have custody of them. Some were abandoned and some mothers have formally given up their rights. Since I worked in the baby house, I don't know much about the situation with older children, but many of the babies will have to have their mothers give up parental rights to be adopted.

If you're concerned about conditions in the baby houses themselves, read what I wrote here about the baby house in Bishkek. While the baby houses and orphanages won't be as nice in some other parts of the country, in general you can count on the children being well-attended to.

Please be aware of the many, many ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan. While your baby is most likely to be Kyrgyz, there are many other cultures your baby might be from. Find out as much about that culture as you can, especially since there are very few Uyghurs, Tatars, etc. in the US. Kyrgyzstan is not a Russian country, although you might adopt a Russian baby. Please don't assume that Russian language and culture is all you need to learn about.

Many of the Kyrgyz children will have names that have a specific meaning in Kyrgyz. For example, Ay (pronounced eye) means moon and many girls' names start with Ay-. Gul- (rhymes with tool) is another popular beginning for girls' names and means flower. For boys, some common names are Bakyt (mean happiness), Bolot (mean strong), and Belek (means gift). I'll add more to this list when I get a chance. Arabic names such as Jamal and Jamilya are popular too.

We (my husband and I and two small children) lived in Kyrgyzstan (pronunciation guide) for one year. We never felt in the least bit in danger. We didn't have a car or a driver and were out on the streets every day. The people were universally kind and friendly. We rode the minibuses and walked around the city. We traveled around the country. While it is important to be sensitive, you needn't be frightened. Basic travel etiquette and being aware of your surroundings should be enough.

Please do not be scared to travel to Kyrgyzstan. It is by and large a safe country to visit. It is safe to be on the streets in Bishkek. It is safe to go to the store. It is safe to visit other cities and sites around the country. It is safe to go to the bazaars. Of course there are reasonable precautions you should take, as you should when travelling to any foreign country, but Kyrgyzstan is not dangerous.

Most of Kyrgyzstan's population is Kyrgyz, traditionally a nomadic group of people until they were settled by the Soviets. "Kyrgyz" is both singular and plural and is a noun and an adjective. "Kyrgyzes" and "Kyrg" are not words. The abbreviation I saw used for Kyrgyzstan by locals was KG. The Kyrgyz are one of the most ancient nations in Central Asia, see here and here for short histories of Kyrgyzstan. There are still a very few Kyrgyz who are nomadic, but almost of them live in China. The Kyrgyz language is closely related to Kazakh and is also related to Uzbek, Uyghur, Turkmen, Turkish, etc. (but not Tajik).

Learning some Russian or Kyrgyz before you come would be a great idea. Russian is more useful in Bishkek, but many Bishkekers know Kyrgyz- the women at the baby house often speak Kyrgyz. If you go to any other city or town in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz would be a good choice. Still, either is good- it's a lot easier to find Russian resources in the US (we recommend the Pimsleur CDs and/or The New Penguin Russian Course). Look at this website for suggestions on learning Kyrgyz.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country with fascinating people. Take the time to enjoy your stay (although with the current schedules, you'll probably have little time to do so) and get out to do some things. While traveling around the country might not be an option, you should at least be able to have a good time in the town or city your are adopting from. Bishkek isn't a particularly exciting city, but maybe you could ask your coordinator to introduce you to some locals. There are some museums in downtown Bishkek. If you're outside Bishkek, you might see if you can learn some chuko bone games.

There are few dishes that are specific to Kyrgyzstan; most are more generally Central Asian. I have some Central Asian recipes here. Kyrgyz cuisine has traditional been based on meat and milk products. Mare's milk, dried yogurt, horse meat, mutton, etc, are all commonly eaten in Kyrgyzstan, although horse meat has become very expensive and is saved for special occasions like weddings and funerals. Laghman is a noodle dish with endless variations. I generally prefer Uyghur versions. Plov is a rice dish with even more variations than laghman. We ate a lot of plov in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz plov is generally less flavorful than, say, Uzbek or Uyghur plov, or pilaus from Iran and Tajikistan. Beshbarmak is called the Kyrgyz national dish, although the Kazakhs claim it too.

Travelling around Kyrgyzstan isn't hard (although it can be slow), and your agency should take care of all of that anyway. You might hear horror stories about the roads, but we found them to be a lot safer than in the Middle East and the police have been cracking down on drunk driving. Enjoy the scenery if you get to go to other parts of the country.

The longest trip you'll probably take is from Bishkek to Almaty. We had no trouble crossing the border (except that my 5-year-old threw up all over me and there was no place to clean up), but I have heard of some adoptive families having a very difficult trip to Almaty. I am not sure why we had no trouble and some do, but I hope this doesn't happen to you.

Some interesting places to visit in the north (since that seems to be where a lot of the adoptions are taking place) are Tash Rabat, the Burana Tower, Ysyk Kul, Ala-Archa park, and if you can get there, Navikat. There really isn't much to do in Bishkek, but if you happen to be there on a holiday, be sure to go to Ala-Too (pronounced toe) Square.

Bishkek is an easy city to live in. Baby food, diapers, wipes, and baby clothes are all readily available and about the same price or less expensive than you can get them in the US. The chain of stores called Narodnye is all over the city and all have plenty of baby supplies. Your coordinator in country should be able to easily take you to stores to get what you need if you are in Bishkek.

Outside Bishkek your options are a lot more limited. A lot. There will be a lot less variety in your food, especially if you're travelling in the winter. It is harder to find baby supplies, although certainly not impossible. But unless you're spending a long time outside Bishkek and its suburbs, you should be fine. You can buy what you need in Bishkek before going to other parts of the country.

I wouldn't hesitate to take my children with us if we adopted from Kyrgyzstan. It does make some things more difficult (and if your children aren't good travellers, it might be better to leave them home), but in my opinion it depends more on the individual child than on conditions in Kyrgyzstan. Don't bother with car seats though, either for the child you adopt or the child you bring along. They are hard to deal with when you're flying and I'd be surprised if you found taxis in Kyrgyzstan that had functional seat belts, so the car seats are worthless. I think I only saw two car seats the entire time I was there; both were used by Embassy employees. I don't think I ever saw car seats for sale in the country. (This was one reason I preferred walking with our children- it was much safer. I was never comfortable with my children bouncing around in the minibuses or taxis.) But overall it might be a good idea to take your other children with you.

Since we were living in Bishkek we obviously rented an apartment. I think this is a good option even for short term stays because it can be much less expensive and because it's nice to not have to eat out all the time. There are plenty of grocery stores all over the city (Narodnye, a well-stocked grocery store is everywhere) and cooking in an apartment really shouldn't be a problem.

I never used a credit card the entire time I was there and I use them almost exclusively in the US. ATMs aren't always a good option either. There are very few in Bishkek (although more are coming all the time) and even if you find one you can use, it might be out of money.

We boiled all our drinking water in Kyrgyzstan but knew people who didn't and were fine. The water usually tests fine but we didn't want to take any chances. Be careful when buying bottled water to make sure it's not carbonated (unless you like plain carbonated water). Outside Bishkek it may be difficult to find non-carbonated water (voda bez gaz). The water is much less likely to make you sick than the food! You really needn't worry too much about the water- it's easy to buy bottled or boil your own. There really is little you can do to avoid getting sick from the food. Usually you'll be fine, but even the most careful travellers get sick from the food.

In conclusion, go into an adoption in Kyrgyzstan with your eyes open. Anyone who says it's easy is selling something. Research your agencies. Learn about this wonderful country. And most of all, I hope that if you do choose Kyrgyzstan, you will be successful.