Thursday, December 25, 2008

So What About Lerik?

24 December 2008
I realize that many of my posts have been about the inner workings of my mind lately. The reason for this fact is basically two-fold: A) Settling in was hard for me B) Lerik was basically a winter-wonderland the first week. Today is gorgeous and sunny. All the snow has melted in the town leaving only the mountains snow capped. I have enjoyed walking around town still not knowing where anything is, but it is nice to be able to the leave the home compound.
I am slowly growing accustomed to my new surroundings, and the beauty of my new home takes me aback. I know that I will grow to love Lerik and the people here. Already their kindness and smiles have become the little things that make each day wonderful. M____ was my home because of a family, but Lerik will be my home because of the community.
It is literally a 30 second walk from my door to Məktəb 1, but the air always smells fresh and cool. In the afternoon, chickens run around the yard. I can hear children play, loud TVs from the neighbours, and people going about their business. Lerik is surprisingly devoid of cars; they exist, but I don’t see very many. It is nice not to hear cars all the time.
My room is my little sanctuary and is much larger than my room in M____. I have books lining the windowsill, shoes hiding under my bed, and clothes lying on the bed opposite the one I sleep on (still waiting for my wardrobe).
I am moving slowly, taking it all in slowly, and incubating. Things will take a while here but no need to rush. I have two years.
P.S. Yesterday was three months living in Azerbaijan!

Bad At Firsts

24 December 2008
Talked to my parents last night. It definitely was the Christmas cheer I needed for the bizarre holiday season that is both existing and not existing at the same time. Mom asked me how my first week in Lerik went. I told her it was really hard. I wanted to cry. I was overwhelmed. My language skills definitely need a pretty big overhaul. I am still settling in. But, I cried on Sunday, and now I’m feeling a lot better. Things seem a bit more manageable now.
My mom, being the wonderful lady she is, kind of laughed and commented, “Amy, you’ve always been bad at firsts. But once you get past the first, you’ve always done fine.”
I would write about how that’s not true, but it really is. I am terrible at firsts. The first day of school was always terribly stressful. Eleni would always send me for laps around the dorm the first week of school because I would fill up our room with nervous energy. The first language class at Aqua Park left me almost tearing up. Firsts inevitably overwhelm me, frustrate me, and leave me doubting my ability to do anything. And yet, I keep going. Mainly because experience has told me that once I get past the first week things start looking better. (Or maybe firsts are so fleeting that I am already on the second or third before I can turn around.)
So the first week is done, and I am half was through the second week. Things are indeed looking better. So while Peace Corps will be full of many firsts (which will be scary), there will be many seconds and thirds to look forward to.
Next week brings another big first: 1 January 2009. Happy New Years! Luckily that is a first that is always easy to deal with.
Today is my Dad’s birthday. This will be the first time that I ever miss his birthday. But I know he will be surrounded by love today. (And love from Azerbaijan – how many dad’s can say that?)

Candy Game

22 December 2008
To say that I drink a lot of tea in Azerbaijan would be a gross understatement. The majority of the liquids I consume in this country is in the form of hot black tea (and to the shock of most without any sugar added). Side note: I found a package of green tea today, so now I sneak a glass of green tea every now and then. But the prolific amount of tea, my Azerbaijani counterparts and I consumer is not the point of this post. As this post is titled, I want to write a bit about the game the PCVs play when we have tea. I almost want to venture to say that the Azerbaijanis play this game too.
When tea is served, especially to guests, a candy dish filled to the brim accompanies the tea, jam, and sugar. The candy is brightly wrapped mainly in the waxy paper that covers the candy at my grandmother’s house. One can see pictures of squirrels, cows, cats, moons, and (my favourite) lobsters. Opening up the candy wrapper is always a surprise. What are you trying to eat? What will is taste like? Do I really want to try it?
After a couple of rounds with the candy, I normally prefer to refrain from the candy game. I take my chances with the jam. But the candy game is kind of fun. During PST, we would sit around the candy dish daring the other PCTs to try the candy. Of course, when you try the candy you have to describe it. My normal line was, “Not bad, but I wouldn’t eat it again.”
It’s not that the candy was bad. It was just always a surprise. Sometimes, it was amazing. Sometimes, not so much. It reminds me of being at my grandmother’s house and trying the candy; who knows how old some of the candy I ate at Momo’s was.
I am eating a piece of candy while I type this. It’s not bad. I probably would eat it again. But the weird thing about candy here is that it always seems like a limited time offer. I rarely see the same piece of candy twice; maybe it’s a plot to continue this candy game.

One Week In

20 December 2008
Well, I am now officially one week into living at my permanent site. I really can’t lie it has been rather hard. My language skills aren’t overly fantastic, so at times I miss completely what was said. When I am tired, I can barely understand anything. The cold weather completely throws me off. What is this snow? Why are my toes cold all the time? I am missing my American family, my M_____ family, and my friends. I’m very much a schedule person, and right now, I don’t have a schedule. All together with so much more means that currently I am feeling a bit like a fish out of water.
The point of this post is neither to evoke sympathy nor to cry woe is me but rather attempt to give you a version of my reality. Things will not be peachy all the time. I know that, but now I must question why are things not peachy right now.
That answer is easily summed up with this word: me. I am the primary reason that this week has been hard. It’s been a self-wallowing week. And contrary to what you may think, I have allowed myself to wallow this week. Call it an entitlement issue if you will, but I think we are all allowed to wallow for a bit. The bit is determined by the situation. But I think a week has been more than reasonable for the adjustments I have recently made in my life. That all being said a week is enough. Now, I must go out and do what I came here to do: PCV it up.
I once told some friends during PST that on paper I am not a good Peace Corps candidate. On paper, one would think I belong in a lab where situations are carefully controlled, rationally explained, and meticulously detailed. There is a part of me that does enjoy the control, but a larger part of me rebelled against the lab coat a long time ago. (I still mourn for the lab coat from time to time.) I can be easily overwhelmed and painfully shy; the idea of introducing myself into a new community frankly scares me quite a bit.
Back in college, four years ago actually, I met a brilliant woman named Hallie. I must say that I still deeply admire her; she was so vibrant, intelligent, and talented. (We struggled through History of Anthropological Theory together.) Hallie once told me that she was in anthropology not because it was easy for her but because she was interested enough in the field to overcome the challenges. That idea has stuck with me.
If this were easy, would I really want to be a PCV? The answer is probably not. Of course there will be ups and downs, but this is only week one. I haven’t even given myself time to find my groove. (On the flip side, I have given myself time to adjust to my reality.) Right now, I am trying to overcome my largest obstacle in pursuing my own happiness and community integration, which is myself. It is weird when you can admit that, but that means you can still see the forest for the trees, right?
Everyday is like the first day of school, and I am the new kid at a school where everyone has been going to school together since kindergarten. Everyone knows I am the new kid. Some days, it is hard to get out the front door, but today, I am making myself get out the front door. My week is done. Now, back to the real world.

ROUGHING iT?

17 December 2008
I have heard Peace Corps in Eastern Europe referred to as the Posh Corps because we don’t “rough it” like other PCVs do in Africa, Asia, the Americas, or a tiny island. Indeed, I have a nice roof over my head, a well-made bed, and even a satellite TV (we catch MTV Turkey). But in many other ways, I know that I am “roughing it” like so many other PCVs.
First: I live in a very snowy region. In fact I do not think that it will thaw out in Lerik until April. This means that when nature calls, I have to go the outhouse. Going to the outhouse in the snow is the most paradoxical thing, I have experienced. You need to bundle up just to drop your pants (or lift your skirt in my case). This morning, I threw on a jacket, headlamp, and hat over my pyjamas to find my way to the outhouse. Do not read the text in the brackets if you are squeamish. [Despite how cold it is getting to the outhouse, it is always surprisingly warm in that little shack. I know that I shouldn’t be too surprised considering the whole structure sits over a compost heap and everything is leaving your body at a supposed 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.]
When I am done with the outhouse, I again must go through the snow to get back to the house. The next fun part is washing your hands. The reason why I am using the outdoor squat instead of the indoor squat is because all the pipes are frozen. If any water can come out of the tap, it is freezing cold, so my host family had to show me how to hold a 2-litre bottle of water under my arm and direct the water to wash my hands. A fun experience. By this time, my hands feel like ice, and I have to stand over the gas pec in the living room or my bedroom just to feel my hands again.
Second: I am grateful for all the warm clothes I own, but I never thought I would have to wear them all at once. Since moving down South (I always associated going South with heat), I wear three layers. On the top, I wear long underwear, shirt, and sweater; on the bottom, I wear tights, long underwear; and on my feet, I wear wool liner socks and a pair of hiking socks. Don’t forget that I am already wearing a pair of tights. For some reason, I still can never feel my feet in class. I keep changing the foot combination hoping to discover a solution. Current thought is sweat gets trapped in the tights, so leggings will be worn tomorrow.
In fact, the only time I do not wear three layers of clothing is when I am going to bed. Then I wear wool socks and long johns. I sleep in a Peace Corps issued sleeping bag that is rated for -20 Fahrenheit. It is currently my BEST friend. Seriously, I love that sleeping bag. I have not been cold one night in Lerik.
Three: Have I mentioned it snows here? Look, I know some of y’all are from snowy places. That is great, and I admire your ability to deal with the snow and the cold. BUT (my sixth grade history teacher used to say “but” negates everything you said before the “but”) I am from south Louisiana. I went to school in southern California. See a trend. Amy is from the SOUTH. I can deal with hot. Summer in Louisiana is no picnic. It’s hot, and the heat index always says it feels five degrees hotter. It’s humid, so humid that you know you will be drenched with sweat just walking to your car. There are blood-sucking insects. I must be homesick because I think all of those things sound delightful.
It must have snowed at least 6 inches today if not more. It’s fascinating. It’s pretty. And I have no clue what to do with it. It may not be roughing it for some of y’all, but it’s a completely different animal for me. Give me until March. I’m sure I will sound like a proper winter weathered individual by then.
I am sure there will be more to come soon. After all, I have not washed my clothes yet in Lerik. What do you do in a place where you line-dry clothes and there are icicles on the clothesline?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The end is near?

9 December 2008
Dearest everyone,
This may be the last post for a bit, because of the questionable internet available in Lerik. I know the Internat exist, but internet still remains to be seen. That being sad, do not fear, this is not the end of long Amy rambles. There just may be longer pauses between them.
Tomorrow, I will swear in as a PCV. I finally made it. More exciting is that we all finally made it! All 61 people who came to Azerbaijan as PCT are swearing in tomorrow. This is truly an accomplishment. AZ06 is an exceptional incoming class. I just feel as if everyone is so upbeat and positive. I love that I can have a conversation with anyone in this group of diverse people. I am proud of every one of them because they all have demonstrated strength and dedication to the service we are all about to undertake for the next two years. It would truly be amazing if all 61 of us COS (Close of Service) in two years. For those of you who have an “Amy-coming-home Countdown,” you can start your countdown on 11 December.
Since the last email, I have completed my last days as a Peace Corps Trainee. Language classes wrapped up last week. M_____ 1 enjoyed our last week with our fabulous LCF Polad. I have already begun to miss our almost daily lessons in which we learned the second meaning of words. The Azerbaijani way of communication is often indirect. One word in Azerbaijani can take on several shades of meaning based on its context. Polad would teach us a word, and just when we all became comfortable with the word, he would say, “Second meaning is …” with a devilish grin. Normally, second meaning was something crude or “informal” (as Polad would say). For example: guş (pronounced gush) means bird; second meaning is whore.
Honestly, I have been a bit down because lately everything so many “finals” have happened: Final PST Interview, Final Language Proficiency Interview (LPI), Final Language Class, Final Hub Day. It will be sad to leave the support network that I have created here during PST, but I will admit it is time leave my bubble and get to work. I did not come to Azerbaijan to be a PCT forever. Eventually, I do have to leave the nest.
Final PST Interview went well. I had a nice long talk with my program manager – Gulnara. My assessment reads as such: “Very motivated and positive. Needs to be more flexible.” I love it because I think it describes me perfectly. I do have my freak-out days. Some days, when I am overwhelmed or everything seems to be going wrong, I just need a small meltdown. Everything is bad. Nothing will ever get better. I can spin every situation into a negative one. (It’s a pretty gruesome talent that I possess.) I completely fall apart, but I feel like I need these freak-out days. They normally do not last more than a day, and after a good night’s sleep, I wake up the next day refreshed and ready to pick up the pieces. My poor mother has seen me do this my whole life. I do need to be more flexible, but I feel I will get better with time.
Saturday was the LPI. It was definitely a morning filled with dread. However, how could I do poorly on it, Ana circled burning incense asking Allah to protect me from the evil eye. The exam went really smoothly. Flora old me that I need to work on my verb endings and that I speak well. I do need to work on my endings. I start tripping over them after a while. But it felt wonderful to be done with my exams. Good news: I reached the needed level of Intermediate Low, but I still plan continue to study Azerbaijani at site. I hope to be fluent by the end of my service.
After LPI, Marina, Sara, and I went into Baku for the best falafels EVER. Now whether they were really that good or I just really missed falafels remains to be seen. But for now, just go with the former. (They were really good.) It is so nice from time to time not to stick out all the time. In Baku, one can be anonymous. Well, not completely, but Baku has enough ex-pats to be unnoticed.
Sunday was a great day. Ana and Gunay went to a wedding, and Ata was a work, leaving Tunar and I home alone. I love a good day just to relax. It was a gorgeous day out, and Tunar managed not to blow us and the house up when the little pyromaniac lit the pec. I love my host brother, but he was testing my Azerbaijani vocabulary. Tunar, please put the bottle of benzene down. Tunar, stop adding wood to the fire. Ay, Tunar! My host brother is fabulous because he always talks to me as if I understand 100% of what he is saying. The boy is never quiet. He is always talking or singing. It cracks me up (most of the time). But I have grown quite fond of him, and he always likes to check to make sure that I am coming home for New Years. I will miss him, and I will enjoy how quiet the new house will be.
I feel like I have learned some new things about myself in PST. Well, I guess not all of them are new things, but things that I knew about myself and now must deal with.
1) I need a new system of self-valuation. When I was in school, I continually defined myself through my grades. I was an A student. I was a good person because I made good grades. It is this quality about myself that made that year out of college hard for me. I lacked a process of self-valuation. Grades were not the only method of self-valuation, but it certainly made up a large percentage of my self-value. The bad aspect about using grades is that this is a process that solely dependent on others. After LPI, I always felt as if I could have done better and wanted a higher score (whether or not it truly reflected by language level). I had to question why I needed that higher school to feel better about myself. Was I always unknowingly in a competition with others?
2) This point leads to the second quality I have learned. I need more patience with myself. Point two and point three are not as well formulated as point one because point one struck me first and seemed as if it needed to the most diving into. Peace Corps is not a race. It is a solo journey. If I do not speak perfectly, if I have a bad day, if a project takes twice as long as I wanted originally projected, IT IS ALL OK. Why am I always rushing things? I should be proud of what I have attempted and the progress I have made thus far. Three months ago, I could not speak a word of Azerbaijani. Now I can state simple needs, get directions, and hold limited conversations. That is a large accomplishment. It’s not bragging and won’t kill me to pat myself on the back every now and then. Things take time, and I am the only one apparently keeping score.
3) Again questioning my perpetual desire to rush and do everything (reminds me of Danny Rosenblatt’s class when he discussed the value placed on busyness in America), I want to slow down and enjoy the journey. The destination is not the only think that is important. Many times the journey is just as important as the destination, and every step we take will never be repeated. Rushing around, sometimes I can miss the beauty in the moment. I want to enjoy the moments I have here in Azerbaijan.
This last idea came to me on Sunday when I was wandering about M_____ and enjoying everything about me. I had this inner peace and was honestly just enjoying being lost in my head. Of course, then some dogs started following me and barking after me, so “happy feelings gone.” But the message of enjoying the journey remained.
Next time I write, I will be a PCV. Still working on finding out my new address. I cannot find the zip code.
Just in case, I do not make it to the internet until after Christmas. MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEARS TO EVERYONE!!!! If you do not celebrate Christmas, HAPPY HOLIDAYS and HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!! (Equal use of capitalization and exclamation points.) May the season not be tainted by too my commercialism. May you be safe and joyful with your family. And may you remember that someone halfway across the world is wishing you all the best and a happy new year.
Much love,
Amy

Monday, December 8, 2008

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


Confused? Well, so it Tunar (as to why I am taking this picture). Happy holidays from me here in Azerbaijan. I may not be in the states to wish you love, health, and happiness in person, but please know that y'all are in my heart. 2008 has been a roller coaster of a year, and I am grateful for everyone who has seen me through my ups and down. From the great times to the pis times, I am blessed with many wonderful people in my life.
So peace on earth, and all that other "hippie" stuff that you know I like. We can all accomplish things bigger than ourselves. If we want to see change in the world, we must first change ourselves.
Merry Christmas!
Happy Birthday, Daddy! (Dec 24)

Isn't she cute!


This is my cousin Fatima. She is my deyi qizi (my mother's brother's daughter). She is so adorable. She is 7, talks to me like I understand everything she is saying, and just fun to be with. I let her play with my headlamp during the last blackout. Thanks Mom and Dad again for the headlamp. I love it!

On the Journey

Occasionally, I become a bit philosophical....

7 December 2008
Again, Tunar, my 13-year-old host brother, is playing with the pec, matches, and benzene. I am surprised he still hasn’t blown us up, and he is testing my language skills as I am telling him to please put the burning piece of paper inside the pec. I choose life, and Ana will not be happy if we both die on my watch. Tunar and I are home alone today. Ana and Gunay are at a wedding, and Ata is at a wedding. Now I know we can both stay home alone just fine, but Ana told me to watch him. I guess I should be grateful for the language practice.
But this entry is not supposed to be about Tunar trying to light the house on fire. Rather, I am going to write about the walk I went on today. I found myself in the house all day without a normal diversion, so I went for a walk. I told myself that I would walk for about an hour and set off with no destination in mind. Left my house, hooked a right, and kept going. I am wandered around looking for empty spaces, letting my mind drift.
Beginning to reflect on Pre-Service Training, I realized that we often think about the past or the future. Rarely are we just in the moment. What about the now? What about the present? The present is a hard concept to contemplate – mainly because the present is ever fleeting. In some ways, my walk became an allegory. We either walk with the destination as the goal or with where we have been in mind.
Left, right, left, right. I thought about each step I was taking, about the wind blowing, about the construction going on around me. It didn’t matter where I was going only where I was in that moment. I saw a large puddle to the left of the path, and as the wind made ripples on the water, it reminded me of the rice fields around my grandmother’s house in Louisiana.
All I have been hearing lately from PCTs is that they cannot wait to get to site, they cannot wait to start projects. I too am anxious to get to Lerik and start Peace Corps-ing. But we are Peace Corps-ing now.
Without the journey, the destination will not be a prize. When I was writing my senior thesis, I could not wait for it to be completed. I wanted to see the bound copy. But if the process had been easy or quick, I would have never felt the pride that I did when I printed my thesis out.
I guess all I wanted to say is that when I do get to site, I hope I stop every now and then just to enjoy the moment. When the moment passes, it will never come back again.

Henna with Gunay

BEFORE: aboveAFTER

Gunay, my host sister, decided that it would be great to put henna on my hands. It was a fun bonding experience. Some aunts told me that only brides wear henna, but Gunay told me that all the girls at the party were putting on henna. The bride-to-be shared some henna with me because I could not make it to the party.




Overall, the design is a flower, and I had fun with Gunay. Polad tells me that henna is primarily done before weddings in the southern rayons of Azerbaijan.




Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Adventures on the Bus

I think a major part of being in the Peace Corps is learning to laugh at yourself. Marshutkas here are definitely part of that laughing at yourself. I mean how else can you deal with being shoved into a crammed van and hurling down the highway as anything but hilarious. Today, I almost took a face plant into the seat in front of me when the driver decided that he did not want to get into a wreck.
I am fine, and honestly the whole thing is just funny. Cars here drive in such a interesting way. They like to ride the lines and swerve as much as possible. There are coded hand gestures and car honks that indicate the intentions of the people waiting for the marshutka and the drivers.
Also, marshutkas have the best decorations. Random stickers that say "Blood Driver" or have pictures of UGa bulldog plaster the side of these machines that take me around Azerbaijan.
In side the marshutka, one will find decorations of dried flowers, the evil eye, and anything else. The music is often loud and if it is not Azeribaijani pop, it is really bad American pop. The whole ride is always an adventure.

1 Dekabr 2008

1 December 2008
Dearest everyone,
Happy late Thanksgiving! And can you believe that it is already December? I know that December has snuck up on me. It has been weird to read about some people’s Black Friday experiences because such a thing does not exist here. I am guessing it is a sad statement about American consumerism that it does not really feel like Christmas without the commercials telling me that it is Christmas. On the flip side, I know that I have also been running from the idea that Christmas is coming. This will be my first Christmas away from my family. Frankly, I know that this will be a hard holiday for me, so not really acknowledging it is coming makes it easier sometimes.
The same can be said about leaving my M_____ host family. These people have become my second family. As Ata always tells me, I can come home whenever. Little does he know that he may regret that statement because I plan on coming home once every four months or so. I would definitely like to come home around my birthday. Ana and I have discussed coming back on for New Year. New Years is a big holiday here. It is there equivalent to Christmas, and so I guess in some ways I will be able to go home for the holidays.
Ana and I have lately had some extensive conversations, which reminds me what a smart woman she is. One evening she tells me that her aunt’s granddaughter’s husband recently passed away. She is 21 and has 3 small kids. Apparently she married when she was 17 years old. Ana is very opposed to women marrying that young. She said that a woman should be 25 when she marries. (Ana was 25 when she married Ata). The reason behind this she says is that at 25 a woman has studied and worked. This way she can support herself should something happens to her husband. In some rayons, girls as young as 15 will be married. Ana became very animated discussing this topic. She asks how can girls be expected to fulfil a woman’s task. She said they are just children.
BREAKING NEWS: Ata just served me tea! Tea serving is traditionally a woman’s duty soley. So I am really shocked that Ata is doing this me and didn’t call Ana in to do it for me. I am completely blown away, and for once in my wordy life, I am a bit speechless. But don’t worry, I will recover well enough to continue my email. There is so much to tell about my life in Azerbaijan.
Another topic, Ana and I have recently discussed is religion. Next week is the Islamic holiday Eid Al-Adha:
“Eid Al-Adha ("The Feast of the Sacrifice") commemorates Abraham's willingness and obedience to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God (and God's mercy in substituting a lamb for Ishmael). This feast is part of the Haj, and takes place on the tenth of Dhu Al-Hijja of the Islamic calendar. For those on the Hajj and for many others the day begins with the sacrifice of an animal in commemoration of the Angel Gabriel's substitution of a lamb as Abraham’s sacrificial obligation. One-third of the meat is given to the poor, with the remainder shared with neighbours and family members.
This holiday is then celebrated in much the same way as Eid Al-Fitr - with good food, gifts for children and general merrymaking.”
I was enjoying her telling me the story of Eid when she turns to Tunar and tells him that while I am Christian and they are Muslim, we believe in the same god. She tells him that there is only one god and we worship the same god. I was frankly shocked with how blunt she was about this idea. She then turns to me and tells me that a good person in her/his heart know it is the same god.
Ana never ceases to blow me away. She also has told me that she give me all my favourite preserves to bring down to Lerik with me. Oh Ana. She likes to keep me well fed. Ata and I have reached an understanding tonight. He was eating his late night snack of baked potatoes, and as always he tells me that I should eat one. I tell him that I am full. To which he always responds that doctors say that it will help my digestion or help me sleep. I know I have told you this numerous times. Tonight it is different because I finally told him that he always tells me this. He always says it is good for me. He just laughs at me and I believe a bit at himself. I always feel that we have this mutual understanding and general comfort around each other.
Thanksgiving was a fun adventure. It was nice to celebrate with all the M_____ crew. I made pumpkin mash with brown sugar. Quite tasty if I can brag a bit. I was originally in charge of green bean casserole; however, green beans are now out of season. So I could not find them anywhere. When I came home on Thursday, I was planning to cook the pumpkin myself. But Ana would have none of that. She is always so interested in learning new recipes. When I was struggling cutting open my pumpkins, she asked to help. I sheepishly agree, and knife in hand, she sharply plunges it into the pumpkin and rips it open. It was amazing. She helps me clean and peel the pumpkins. The task she lets me do is chop the pumpkin into tiny pieces so it will cook faster. I also took it upon myself to separate the seeds from the pumpkin innards, so we could roast them.
Ana and I place the pumpkin in a large pot and let the water and heat do its job. Within an hour the pumpkin was a thick delicious mash. I told her we were going to add sugar to the pumpkin. She was very intrigued by this idea. I think she likes anything else that she can add sugar to. She tries to get out the pesok (granulated sugar), but I tell her no, I want to add brown sugar. She has never heard of brown sugar. So I let her try it. She loves it. She kept asking me where I bought it, how much was it, and where can she get some. I couldn’t really explain CitiMart to her, so I will just have to buy her some next time I am in Baki.
CitiMart is this wonderful store run by an Indian man. He imports grocery items from all over the world, so you can find British Digestives, Cote D’Or Chocolate, and Libby’s canned pumpkin. It’s not a huge store, but small tastes of home are always appreciated.
After I finished my mash, I walked with Sara and her super large apple pie to Jacqlyn’s house. There we added our goodies to the Thanksgiving feast. There was an abundance of food: curry, mac and cheese, cranberry sauce (made of apples, mandarins, and hazelnuts), pumpkin gnocchi, Russian salad (made by Khalig and Polad), plov (made by Jacqlyn’s host family), mashed potatoes, pecan pie, apple pie, and cookies. It was all so delicious. Before eating we all said what we were thankful for (even the Azerbaijanis eating with us). Overall, we were all grateful for each other. Like I’ve said, I am thankful for the families we make.
Saturday M_____ 1 learned how to make dolma. Liar dolma is what my host mom calls it because it has no meat. My host mom is a really patient teacher. I can now say that I can make grape leaf dolma like a pro. Just ask my host mom, she will tell you I was the best one. Nothing like a mom’s blind love, eh? I think she was amused that we wanted to learn, but even more amused that Josh wanted to help us. She kindly but firmly told Josh that boys were not allowed to make dolma. So he got to sit on the couch and drink tea. It was amusing.
This is the last week of language classes. I will miss seeing everyone every day. But I am excited to get started in Lerik. Polad is frankly the best LCF ever. We are scheming to get him to move to the United States. He is a very smart and accomplished man. For as poised as he can be, the man is honestly goofy. But I enjoy his approach to teaching foreign languages and admire his ability to deal with us day after day. He is ridiculously smooth. We laugh at him in his aviator sunglasses and nice suit as he waits for the bus in M_____. He just looks so out of place, but luckily for him, he can speak the language. He has been so helpful sorting out cultural misunderstandings between the PCTs and the host families. I would be lost without Polad.
Lately, I have taken to watching Turkish soap operas with my family. It is fun to try to figure out the plot. I am usually very wrong, but I enjoy the challenge. I am also enjoying dissecting the gender roles portrayed in these soaps. It does not take long to find out who is the good girl, bad girl, bad man, etc. Normally, it has to do with some hair dye and tight clothing.
I have had some requests for my new address. As of right now, I just have my new host family’s address. I would like to try to get a P.O. box in Lerik (if at all possible). This may cause a slight delay in me delivering to you my new address so please bear with me.
I guess that is it for me tonight. Take care! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!
Much love,
Amy

Monday, December 1, 2008

Making Dolma with Ana.

For a cultural event, my host mom taught M___ 1 to make liar dolma. It's liar because there is no meat.


Note that Josh is not allowed to participate. He is a guy. He must lounge on the couch and drink chai.




Final product. Codadli idi.

Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving both of the M___ clusters got together for food and thankfulness.
I am thankful for the families that we make.

The M___ Girls for thanksiving.
Thanksgiving feast of curry,mashed potatoes, plov, pumpkin gnocchi mashed pumpkin, and more!
Josh does not like to be disturbed when eating.

Me, Sara, Jane (AZ05), and Amy

More of Lerik

This is all the stuff I managed to drag with me to Lerik. I can fit inside this bag.

The large white building is the Internat.


This is myfavorite picture of Lerik

Photos of Lerik


This is when I discovered where Lerik is for the first time!


I am going pretty far south.

I have been asked about squat toilets. This is my outdoor squat. We also have an indoor one.


View of the Talysh Mountains from my window.
This is my new house.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Home?

25 November 2008
Dearest everyone,
Thank you all so much for the words of encouragement of late. I know that I have not responded to everyone individually, and I do regret that. Please know that your words never fall on deaf ears. It is really great to hear from you, and those few sentences you send mean so much more to me than you can probably even begin to realize.
Training is almost done leaving me to wonder where all the time goes. November is quickly finishing up, and swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer slips one day closer. I am currently fighting my second cold of PCT, but I definitely take colds over digestive issues – which are now so common that they have become a fact of life.
The end of the month has unveiled another layer of reality for my commitment as a PCV. I am not saying that I do not want to be in Azerbaijan; far from it, I still wake up super excited to be and to feel that my job is meaningful. Admittedly, there is a bitter realization that my training world is soon to come to an end. I have made a little family here. I remember that phrase from senior year, “the families you make.” While the context is very different than how it was used in senior seminar, I do feel strongly that we make families in the absence of our own. Here in M____, I have created two families: my Azerbaijani family and my PCT family. These people are my in-country support network.
It is hard to imagine that I will soon leave them and seemingly start from scratch. Ata loves to come by my room, poke his head in to see that I am still breathing, and try to feed me. We both know that I am leaving soon, but neither of us want to admit it. Ana told me that every day I was gone in Lerik, he commented that he wanted me to come home. He actually called me twice on my four-day stay. He is currently trying to feed me apples and persimmons. As always, they will help my digestion.
I could not have asked for a better host family. They give me my own space, let me fumble up their language (and cheer when I make a sentence), and have accepted me as one of their own children. I do not want to leave them, but as Ana keeps telling me, “Inshallah, yaxsi olar.” (God willing, it will be ok.)
Not only am I leaving my host family, but I am also leaving my friends. I am the only PCV going to my rayon (region), and I will be the only PCV at my site. (Ana is now trying to give me an apple.) I wanted this, and I look forward to challenge, but it is foolhardy of me to say that I will not miss American companionship. These are the people who understand you 99.9% of the time and can laugh at the any cultural faux-pas you make. Sara and I have grown really close, and while her site is not too far, I am afraid that I may have to go back up to Baki just to visit her. It is a six hour bus ride to Baki from Lerik, and then another five hours from Baki to her site. The Lenkeran PCVs are only an hour away, so I can have company occasionally.
I have started to make roots here, which is now kind of dangerous. I don’t mind when one of the family bursts into my room. I don’t mind the constant noise. We have inside jokes. And they no longer see me as their stupid American daughter but their slightly slow American child.
But instead of those rambles, I am sure you want to hear all about Lerik. Lerik is gorgeous. Please look on the blog for pictures. The scenery is honestly breath-taking. Lerik is located one hour into the Tallish Mountains. The road into town consists of various hairpin turns that led me to say so many Hail Marys last Wednesday. The leaves are changing colours, so in the distance a carpet of reds, yellows, and oranges fill the valleys like a mosaic.
I definitely could not ask for a more beautiful site. The mountains remind me more of Appalachia than the Rockies. Lerik is literally in the mountains. The town starts in the valley and moves up either side. Most the trip out of Lerik is down hill with much weaving to a) follow the road, b) speed past slower vehicles, and c) avoid random cows in the road. As always, travelling in Azerbaijan is quite an adventure.
My site visit starts with meeting my new host family. Living with these people will be interesting to say the least. At the house there is a mom and a daughter. The mom is an elementary school teacher and the daughter is an Azerbaijan literature teacher. The father and one brother work in Baki, and another brother and sister live in Moscow. To be succinct, the mother and daughter want me to help them learn English and teach them to work their computer. Considering I cannot read the Cyrillic alphabet, I find the latter task to be next to impossible. As for teaching them English, the host family is supposed to help you learn Azerbaijani by creating a language immersion environment.
Gulnara, my program manager, has given me two schools: Mekteb 1 and a boarding school (this last one is important to remember). I spend the first day at Mekteb 1 observing classes and talking to two of the English teachers. The children are very interested in the foreigner in town, but strangely, no “Hello!” or “What is your name?” being thrown out like here in M_____. The teachers are excited for me to be there. I am called the English-speaking teacher. This idea amuses me. I am glad for the title. My grammar is honestly terrible, and I do not think I could teach these children proper grammar. (I apologize to all my English teachers in advance. I know grammar, just not all the proper names or the rules.) The school director at Mekteb 1 speaks English as does the deputy director. This will make community projects much easier to initiate.
After school and a nap, my new host sister Saida brings me for a tour of Lerik. When I say tour, I mean she was going to the store and let me tag along never showing me points of interest only gesturing towards them.
Being in Lerik, I can already tell will be a challenge for a couple of reasons. A) No site mate. I didn’t want a site mate, but it would definitely be nice to have someone to complain to in English every now and then. B) The accent. People in Lerik speak with a southern accent. It has a lyrical quality that when I imitated for my host family here, they were rolling because I can mimic it pretty well. It is very rounded, and traditional vowel harmony is not followed. E.g.: Getmek is to go. If my M_____ family wanted to ask me if I were going (formally), they would say, “Emi, gedirsiz?” In the south, it comes out like, “Emi, gedersuuuuzzzz?” Takes you off guard after hearing one accent for so long. C) Tallish. The Tallish nation lives in the Tallish Mountains. Surprising, I know. They also have their own special language, which is thrown in with the locals Azerbaijani. According to my host family, it sounds a bit mashed together.
The second day I went to the boarding school. I found it all by myself. Quite an accomplishment given the tour I had the day before. I walked in, introduced myself to my school director, and he led me up to the English classroom. Vagif, the English teacher at this school, is the most adorable man. He is an excellent teacher. His teaching style is unlike any other I have seen in this country. He has the student’s respect without being overbearing. In between classes, we had tea and discussed my stay in Lerik. I am so excited to be working there. Now I will tell you why I asked you to remember boarding school. Boarding School in Azerbaijani is “Internat.” I am not sure if Lerik has internet because the two words sound so similar. Every time I asked, I received the answer yes, but I am not sure if I was understood or not.
Saturday, I returned home to M______. I was really happy to come home to Ana, Ata, Gunay, and Tunar. Ana had made one of my favourite dishes: falafel soup. Don’t judge. I do not know what it is called, but it is pretty much awesome.
I keep hoping everything will work out for the best. Thursday is Thanksgiving and the M___ clutsers are getting together to celebrate. I was going to bring greenbean casserole; however, greenbeans are now out of season. So I will bring carrots. This email I failed to finish because I was frankly going to sleep.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS on the home front!
Much love,
Amy

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Friends and Family!

This is my host sister Gunay and me.

Ana, Tunar, and Ata.

My girls! Marina and Sara
My girls again!
My host family!



Latest long update


Dear everyone,
Today is 17 November 2008. As of right now, I know where I will live for the next two years. I am going to Lerik! Friday, 14 November 2008 was site announcement day for TEFL’s. We were all so anxious to find out. Language class felt like an eternity – four hours of waiting. Polad finally let us out, and within 30 minutes, my cluster was on a bus to Sumgayit. Of course, we were ridiculously early, but it felt like Christmas day. Except you are not sure if Peace Corps Santa will leave you a lump of coal or the pony you always wanted. I think I got a pony.

One by one, each TEFL was called forward. Our program managers told us our sites and gave us a pin to place on the map of our location. When Gulnara said my name, none of us understood her. We were all looking around for the person, hoping someone understood her. Finally, we all realized it was me.

“Amy McManus is going to Lerik!” Yay! Where is that??? None of us knew. As I walk up to get my placement envelope and pin, so many thoughts were racing across my mind. Where is Lerik? Gulnara didn’t say I was going to village; I wanted a village. Gulnara directs me where to place the green flag pin. Starting at Ucar, I move further and further down south. Down, down, down. Wait! That’s too far you are now in Iran. I am placed in a rayon north of Iran!

I am not 100% what to think about this. Then again, I am not sure what to think about most things here in Azerbaijan. I was not sure what to think when I received my invitation in the mail. I was not sure what to think when I woke up the first morning at Aqua Park. Frankly, I am still not sure how to process that outside my room there are four people sitting in a kitchen speaking Azerbaijani and have accepted me into their family for the past two months.

When I opened my site information packet, I was thoroughly pleased with my site placement. I am the only PCV in this region. No AZ05 or AZ06 will be there. The last PCV placed there was AZ02.

From the PC information packet:
“The Lerik region is located in the surroundings of the Talysh mountain chain. It borders Yardimli in the south-west, Lerkeran in the north-east, Masalli in the north-west, and Astara in the south-east. The Talysh mountain chain stretches along the borderline of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To the north of it stretch the Peshteser and Buravar mountain chains… The flora is mainly composed of busy and rare forest meadows and mountain forests. Oak-tree, hornbeam, beech, walnut, lignum vitae, and azalt dominate the forests. Fox, jackal, wolf, bear, rabbit, forest car, sleepyhead, partridge, lark, and quail comprise the flora of the region. A part of the Zuvad reserve is within the bounds of Lerik… The cave Buzeyir is the most ancient Stone Age habitation among those in the territory of Azerbaijan.”

The small pictures on my packet make me think the region is beautiful. I am so excited about seeing this place. I am moving to the mountains. This southern girl is going back down south!
As for my school, I have two. One is a boarding school where children from the surrounding villages come in for the week and go home for the weekend. The other one appears (on paper) to be a small local school. I am the only TEFL with two schools to juggle. We will see how that works out. Gulnara is my program manager, and she seems to have faith in me.

Coming home from Sumgayit, I wondered what my host-family would think about me going to Lerik. I knew they were not thrilled when I went to Ucar for my site visit. I tried to sneak through the door, but, alas, the door creaks, so everyone knows when I come home. Ana flung open the door and asks me where I am going. I managed to squeak out, “Lerik.” She really took me off guard. She squealed, ran forward, gave me a huge hug and a kiss.

Apparently, my family is so excited about me going to this rayon. I think, despite what some PCV’s told me, hugging is a part of Azeri culture. I don’t think they hug as greetings like we do in the states, but my host family hugs me all the time.

Saturday morning, I woke up early knowing that it was going to be a busy day. My cluster is going on our tour of Baku, and that evening, I am going to a wedding – my very first Azeri toy. The Baku tour started with the PC office. The PCV lounge reminded me of a common room in college dormitories. It was a combination of the Scripps’ reading room and television room cleaned with the same loving care as a Harvey Mudd common room. Well, it wasn’t that dirty.
Like most Peace Corps field trips, our LCFs led us around like little kids. We toured Martyr’s Ally, the old city, and Maiden’s Tour. The old city still has the old city wall and winding walkways. It reminds me a bunch of Dubrovnik’s old city. I would love to wander the streets for hours. The shopping of Baku was the most interesting. Baku is home to a large ripped DVD market. One guy promised us we could get flying carpets – only available today. I will always stick out in Azerbaijan, but it was nice for one day not to stick out so much.




Saturday evening, after much confusion that I just refuse to get into, Ata and Tunar picked me up for the wedding. We took a bus to the apartment building where my host family lived when they lived in Baku. Gunay’s best friend was getting married, and Gunay was the maid of honour. I promised I was going to the wedding, so I couldn’t back out. I have to admit, I was a bit curious about this wedding.

So Tunar leads me up to the bride’s apartment. The minute I walk through the door, I begin to wonder if I this was a mistake. All eyes turn to me. It feels so awkward. The bride is dressed in a pink hoop dress. It looks like a fantasy dress – something a Disney princess would wear. This is the qiz toyu (Girl’s wedding). The oglan toyu (boy’s wedding) will be next month. I am glad this is a love marriage – even if there is a 14 year age gap between the bride and groom. They seemed very happy.



As soon as I begin to feel at ease, horns, an accordion, and drums begin to play outside. The groom has arrived to fetch his bride. The door bursts open and people flow in. I hit the wall, wishing to blend in, but it is to no avail. I have red glasses, light brown hair, and fair skin. A couple of the guests tried to speak Russian to me, but Ana told them that I do not speak Russian – only English and Azeri.

All on video, the groom presents his bride with red roses, and we all follow the couple down the stairs and pile into cars. The wedding palace is a hall with many table settings, a dance floor, live band, and a stage where the bride and groom sit. I take my place next to Ana and Tunar. I can see the teenage girls behind me whisper and stare. I feel like I am middle school again.
Ana explains to her Baku friends that I am her American daughter. They all seem intrigued by me and tell me I speak Azerbaijani very well. It’s not that I speak so well, but they honestly don’t expect me to speak a lick. One boy at my table kept staring at me the whole wedding. As always, my family keeps trying to get me to eat. “Ye, Emi, ye.”

Then the music starts, Ata keeps telling me to go dance. I am reluctant. Do I need to bring any more attention to myself? My family thinks I do. So I go out and dance with them. Just move to the music and move my arms like everyone else. Ata is always trying to get the camera guys to film me sitting at the table, eating, dancing. I have never felt such like a fish in a fishbowl all my life.

Eventually the boy across the table from me decides he has fallen in love with me or something. He tells his mother that I dance very beautifully and that he wants me to be his English teacher. I am very amused. The anthropologist part of me had fun looking at the aspects of the American “white wedding” that are intricately bound in this toy. I can now say I survived my first toy, and there are plenty of pictures and a video to prove that I went.

One of my host cousins brings me back to Baku’s fountain square to meet Marina and Sara because we are staying overnight in the city. We meet up and go to the Corner Bar. It was completely trippy. From an Azeri wedding to this bar was like entering an alternate dimension. No Azerbaijani person was in this bar. It was an ex-pat purgatory. However, the girls and I decided we were tired, so we ended up going back to the hotel early and watching the international version of CNN on TV. It is nice just to watch the news.

Sleeping in on Sunday, we made our way down to Traveler’s Coffee. It was AMAZING. Cheap food, fresh fruit, and excellent coffee. No matter than my latte was 3 times as much as my food. I appreciate a good espresso, especially since I have not had one since I left Philadelphia. It was just really nice to hang out with my girls.

However, eventually we had to leave our bubble and return to M_____. It was easier to come home than I expected. Anyways, I had a Counterpart Conference to go to on Monday (today). OR so I thought…

The Counterpart Conference takes place in Sumgayit today and tomorrow. It is where the PCV gets to meet a representative from their school, and the PCV begins to get a feel for the community they are about to enter. This is especially important since we are going on our site visits on Wednesday – the day after the conference. I am really anxious to meet my counterpart. Will she or he like me? It is very likely that the counterpart will be female since most teachers in this country are female.

However, it quickly becomes clear that I have no counterpart to meet. Gulnara walks up to me and apologizes saying that my counterpart couldn’t make it. Neither could 3 other counterparts. It appears that their husbands did not let them travel to Baku to meet them. I am ok with not meeting my counterpart. I am just a bit disappointed.

I do not agree with my counterpart’s husband not letting her come to meet me. But I am working in a different culture here. Things seem like they will be interesting down in Lerik. I am heading down there on Wednesday. Wish me luck. I do not know what will come my way.

Much love,
Amy

P.S. My counterpart could not come because her aunt recently passed away. I will be met by the school director at the bus station!

Why my Amerikadaki* parents rock my socks!

14 November 2008

Why my Amerikadaki* parents rock my socks!
*that are in America

Today while I was anxiously awaiting language class to be over (and Polad was teaching us body parts by taping signs all over his body), the PC driver comes in and hands me a huge box. YAY! My package from my parents.

Momma and Daddy, y’all rock so much! THANK YOU!!!!!! It made today feel like Christmas even more. This package made me feel for sure that today had to be a good day.

Within my goodie box:
Markers (skinny and normal)
Colour Pencils
Tights (of all colours and the lovely striped pair that I left at home)
Hand Sanatizer
Lara Bars (Yummy! I have a sitemate who keeps threatening to steal them all)
Pencils (even a couple from Valentine’s Days of old with my name on them)
Highlighters
Index Cards
Pencil Sharpeners
AND MORE

I still love looking at my goodies. I am excited to use this stuff in my class at site. Josh said he was jealous but was making himself feel better thinking that now I have to carry it to site.

For everyone who has emailed, commented on my blog, and written letters:
Thank you so, so, so much. I enjoy it all. Even the two line emails!

Shall we run?

14 November 2008

Shall we run?

Thursday morning, Gunay tested how awake I was by asking me to go running on Friday morning. WHAT? We have been told so often that a culture of running really doesn’t exist in Azerbaijan. So I ask her again, just to clarify, yup, she is serious. She wants to go running at 6am on Friday.

Ana is sceptical telling me that Gunay likes to sleep in and that she doesn’t like to exercise. Tunar, upon hearing the plans to go running, decides he also wants to go running. I am frankly in disbelief, but I’m game.

Throughout Thursday, I keep asking Gunay if she still wants to go running. She tells me yes and seems really excited about it. It just sounds too good to be true. Well, you know what they say…

I wake up early on Friday, put on my running clothes, and whisper into her room that she needs to wake up so we can go. Sleepily Gunay gauges my running clothes, dresses, and comes outside to meet me. Tunar who is now awake quickly dresses and comes out as well.

I ask my host sister where her shoes are. Pointing to her sandals, she asks me if she can run in them. I scoff. I couldn’t hold it in. Pointing to my running shoes, I tell her these are good. She puts on her fake Chucks – good enough.

We take off shortly after 6:20a. It is still dark, M____ is quiet, and I am ready for a nice run. This would be my second time out since coming to Azerbaijan.

Pretty quickly, I can tell this isn’t going to work. Well, I pretty much always knew it wasn’t going to work. But I give Gunay and Tunar many thanks and appreciation for trying. Gunay jumped at every dog bark, and Tunar couldn’t maintain a steady pace. At different points in the run, I brought them each home and kept going myself.

It was a fun cultural exchange. I feel like they have more respect for my running. And they were curious about running and tried it. It was fun.

The final results:
Gunay- 5 minutes
Tunar- 10 minutes
Amy- 30 minutes

I don’t think Gunay likes running

Do Azeris eat gumbo?

13 November 2008

Do Azeris eat gumbo?

Early this week, I asked Ana is I could cook for them on Thursday. It seems like a once a week ritual now for someone in our cluster to cook. As I have said before, it is a fun cultural exchange and (at times more importantly) a nice break for our palate. Ana loves to cook, so she eagerly jumped on the opportunity to learn a new dish. She asks me what do I need.

What do I need? I have never made a gumbo before, but I know the basic premise: a good roux. I can make a good roux. And I know I will not be able to find okra around M_____ and Sumgayit.

So my ingredients are as follows:

green beans (okra-ish)

potatoes (don’t judge, I figured I needed a filler)

rice

sweet peppers (like bell peppers)

onion

Thursday after lunch, I ask Ana for the green beans so I can start cutting them. She hovers around me asking to help, wanting to soak up every detail. I have never seen her so excited. Luckily, she needs to go run an errand real quick, so she cannot deem me inadequate with a knife. By the time she gets back, I have sliced the potatoes, green beans, onions, and peppers. The onions and peppers are sweating in a small pot. I know I don’t have celery to make the holy trinity, but I don’t know if celery even exists here.

It is time to start the roux.

I explain the roux is equal parts oil to flour. I am trying to impress upon her that not everything needs to be so oily. We measure out the oil, add oil and red pepper, and start to heat up the oil. As soon as it starts to pop, we add in the flour. I tell Ana that a roux must always be stirred. When it is brown enough, we add in the peppers and onions and fill pot with water. Then we place in the beans and potatoes to cook.

I cut too many green beans, and it was more stew-y than gumbo-y, but it did get to simmer for 3 hours. The roux smelled and tasted like Momo’s, so I was very content.
Ana was so thrilled to share the cooking experience, and I was equally thrilled that she enjoyed it so much. The Azeri gumbo turned out well, and even if it wasn’t a real gumbo, my cluster liked it. I will probably not have real gumbo until I go home, but the taste of home was greatly appreciated.

All the while cooking, I brought my computer into the kitchen, and we listened to Cajun music. Ana said she liked it I think she liked the accordion since it is also in Azeri music. However, I wonder if she was confused how to dance to it.

I was so happy to share my American sub-culture with Ana, my host family, and my sitemates. It was the two things Louisiana is most known for combined into one evening: music and food.

The answer is yes, if only just to please the silly American who lives with them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

9 November 2008
Dearest everyone,
Teaching Practicum is over! Hurray! Well, I guess in hindsight, it actually wasn’t too terrible. This year, Peace Corps decided to start our training in the fall. The main reason for this push is so TEFL could hold their practicum when school was actually in session. Sounds like a great idea in theory. Instead of PCT’s teaching a small class of hand-selected pupils who chose to come to extra English lessons in the summer, PCT’s had to teach real classes and use the books that we will have to use at site. The idea is for the TEFL to be better prepared when we actually get to site.
As I said, in theory this sounds like a great idea. Except the closer we got to our two week teaching practicum, I wasn’t so sure if I was keen on this idea. We have our language classes at a local school, and every day, I am assaulted with “Hellos!” and the like. I wasn’t sure how serious the students would take us. We observed classes for two days, and the reality of teaching these children was even more frightening.
The education system leaves much to be desired. In the classes that I observed, only the brightest are rewarded. And when I say brightest, I mean the children who seem to respond best to lecture based learning and seem self-motivated enough learn a bit on their own. It is really quite sad. In English class, if a student waits for two seconds after their teacher speaks English, she/he will be rewarded with the teacher immediately translating the sentence into Azerbaijani. It is really sad. Poor kids. Then again, many of the teachers have never spoken to a native English speaker. When trying to find out what lessons we needed to teach, many teachers had to turn to our language instructor to translate our requests.
The first day of teaching was HORRIBLE. I taught 8th form. I will not say that this was the students’ fault. Overall, they were a very well behaved class. It was a comedy of errors if you will. First, my lesson was to cover Armenian Terror! We’re not supposed to touch that issue with a ten-foot pole. So, I made visual aids and taught the kids such words like “massacre,” “gun,” and “peace.” Then I ran out of material. I also completely over-estimated their ability to understand English. All I wanted to do was go home and cry. It was so over-whelming.
But before you judge harshly, please remember that this was my first day of teaching EVER! Everyone in my cluster told me that I will look back and laugh. It’s true I can laugh now at it. Having a room full of kids yell “gun” at you is a funny memory to have. Needless to say, practicum became much, much better.
My favourite classes were my 8c and 5c classes. 8c only had 6 students in it. Because of a miscommunication between the teacher and I (she was more than willing to let me teach her class and not do anything), I thought I was supposed to teach Armeanian Terror again. However, I was not teaching that lesson again. So I taught them weather. I really think they got it! It was super exciting. Then 5c just has the cutest kid in that class. One of the little boys in that class is super tiny with big eyes and bigger ears. We call him the “Yemek olar?” kid. It translates into, “May I eat you?” Fifth form just is so excited by everything you do. They respond really well to all the games.
At the end of the first week of practicum, Josh, Marina, and I went to Sara’s house for a Halloween party. We kept telling our families that it was an American holiday, so they kept wishing us happy holidays. It was a bit amusing, for I am sure some of the parents are wondering why Americans have holidays based on witches and skeletons. It was fitting that Halloween was at Sara’s house because her host mom is basically the wicked witch of the west.
I know that sounds harsh, but she doesn’t really cook, she doesn’t talk to Sara (or any of us), and she is just plain mean. Luckily, the story has a happy ending. Sara moved into a new host family on Thursday. Her new host family are the sweetest people. Her host mom laughs more than my host mom. This is an accomplishment to be sure. She also has three new host siblings. One is in my 5c class. She is so smart.
Back to Halloween… We decided to make breakfast burritos. Cooking is always such a treat. It means first and foremost, we can control that which we are eating, and second, something different from the normal menu. After the delicious meal, we watched Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.” Not exactly Halloween in the sense that I am used to, but it was a nice Halloween nonetheless.
Monday brought a second week of teaching. This week was undeniably better than the last. It just felt so much smoother. I am learning how to put my foot down. Monday’s teacher told me on Friday that they would be doing control work on Monday. Control work is their version of a test. However, come Monday she had changed her mind and wanted me to teach a lesson. Unlike many teachers in the states, Azeri teachers do not make lesson plans. So I guess she was rather confused when I refused to go in there and wing a lesson.
To make up my lesson, I co-taught a class with Sara on Thursday. When Sara taught this class last week, it was so awful. The students just didn’t listen. The teacher could not control them. The vice-principal came in, hit a student on the back of the head, and threw the student out of the class. It was very hard to watch. So this week, I taught with Sara in hopes that they would be more controlled. Polad – my LCF – even stood at the door looking like a bouncer. The class surprisingly went really well. We made the students do a dialogue teaching them how to greet and that the proper response to “How are you?” is “I’m fine,” not “How are you?”. The exciting part was that a couple of students really got it.
Wednesday morning, the M____ clusters gathered to watch the election results. No huddling around a radio for us, as Obama stated. We watched the election results on her host dad’s satellite television in English! It seemed a bit surreal. There we were in a seemingly slice of America only to leave later to teach the English to Azeri children.
To celebrate the finish of Practicum and the election, a large group of us gathered at Jacqlin’s house to make curry. It was so wonderful. Her host family really liked the curry. This week, I have decided that I want to cook for my family. Because of the cold weather, I want to make a gumbo for them. I think that they would really like that. Plus, gumbos are easy! And did you know that they can grow okra here???? Now, if I can only find it….
Winter has finally decided to be upon us. The wind blows, it rains, and it is overall cold. I never really want to leave the warmth of the wood-burning pec. I might eventually, but today, I skipped out on Sumgayit just to stay warm. When I told my host mom that I was going to stay home, she thanked Allah and gave me a carrot to eat.
I am fed all the time here. I am glad that my skirts are elastic. I do not even want to know the weight I have gained here.
With the cold weather, the smell of the pec, and the anticipation of site announcements, it feels like Christmas. I leave my house in a relatively good mood in the morning because each day is one day closer to knowing where I will end up. Friday, I will find out where I am going to spend my next two years! Isn’t that exciting! For those of you who didn’t already know, I have asked for a village with no sitemate. I have also asked for a site where no American has gone too. I wasn’t overly specific about north or south. But I do hope that it is pretty. I cannot wait to know where I am going.
My family asked me where I was going. Ata and Ana are curious, but I can tell Ata is not very keen on my leaving. He reminds me that I am his daughter and that I always will have a home in Azerbaijan. I told them that I will visit. It makes me want to cry thinking about leaving them. They are my second family. Marina does find it funny that sometimes I prefer to go home than to do anything else.
I was writing this letter in my room, but Ana has decided that my room is too cold, so I have moved into the kitchen where the pec is located. I guess I have written enough of a novel for everyone. Until next time!

Much love,
Amy

I love my pec!


9 November 2008
ODE TO THE WOOD BURNING PEC*
Ata goes outside to fetchWood for the pec.The place where Ana feedsIs now my favourite place to read.Come sit and enjoy the warmthThis is my house’s heart.
*Pec is pronounced like pech
Corny, yes, I know, but you will just have to deal!
My house in M____ does not have central heating. Rather at some point last week, my family brought in a stove and moved it into the kitchen. It looks like an old fashioned wooden stove. In fact, that is exactly what it is. It’s the best thing since sliced bread. In my last post, I was complaining how cold my house was getting. It’s still cold but that pec makes the kitchen so hot that we have to keep the door open. It’s so nice to walk into the kitchen after a cold day at school and sit next to the pec to warm up!
Azeris are masters of small talk. I am beginning to think it is because in the winter only one room in the house is warm, so everyone must gather into that room to stay nice and toasty. Personally I love spending time with my family, so I do not mind sitting in the room with them for hours on end.
The cold weather and smell of wood burning always reminds me of Christmas. So despite the cloudy days and howling wind, there air always feels like the upcoming holidays. However, the only real holiday coming up for me is on Friday when I find out my permanent site! I cannot wait to know where I am going. I will deal with wherever, but I do have my hopes set on a village.

Sual var?

Questions?

9 November 2008
What would you like to know?
If you haven’t noticed I just kind of ramble. Let me know what you want to know about Azerbaijan, and I will do my best to answer your questions.
If you haven’t had a chance, please read Sara’s blog. You can find it under the blogs I follow. We have had a couple of adventures together. I especially appreciate her commentary about our marshutka ride.

teacher america!

9 November 2008
TEACHER AMERICA! Well, some of the kids finally understood that we are not English, but Americans. One of Marina’s students who wanted to be called to answer a question yelled out, “Teacher America!” to get her attention.
Teaching practicum did not kill me as I once thought it might. It was a great learning experience where all the TEFL’s received very practical teaching experience. Most of us have never taught in a classroom, lesson planned, or dealt with classroom management. It was a very good thing to do. It started off rather pis, but ended up nice.
There are many reasons why teaching was so hard at first. First reason was Armenian Terror as my first lesson. The lesson is blatant propaganda. This is not to say that horrors and terror did not happen in that area, but it is a sad thing that such things end up in a textbook. Then again, most history textbooks are no better. It was sad teaching words like “massacre,” “gun,” and “violence.”
Second, the English teachers here have never really heard a native English speaker. They could barely understand us or much less what was going on. Third, I underplanned the lesson. I ran out of things to do with 20 minutes left to kill. Third, I completely overestimated the students’ English ability.
Luckily teaching became much easier with each day. By the third day of practicum, I knew how to work a classroom. Unfortunately, you can easily feel out a classroom. No matter then grade, it is easiest to work on a fifth form level, especially when speaking. These kids have never heard a native speaker, and their teachers translate EVERYTHING in Azerbaijani in the same breath they read the English texts.
Another thing is that these books are completely horrible. The Armenian Terror lesson is in the eighth form book. The lesson starts with talking about 9-11, then it moves on to “Don’t smoke,” and finishes with Armenian terror. Unfortunately this is one of the more organized lessons. On a whole I like working with the younger forms. The fifth form gets so excited about participating and learning. Seeing their smiles makes it worth going back into the classroom.
Practicum was two weeks long. It was just long enough to get the hang of it. I can now effectively lesson plan. I feel confident in front of the classroom. I know I can do somewhat classroom management, but that is why there is the counterpart too.
Seeing my cluster teach, I know that we will all do something great during our PC service. I cannot wait to see what we all achieve.
One month remains of training, then these Teacher America’s will head out to our permanent site.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The English Are COMING!

Apparently, the students in M____ think we are English. When you walk down the halls, we hear little whispers about the English. In all of their English textbooks, England is the only country ever talked about. So I guess it makes sense that they think we are English. But amusing nonetheless. Soon, I will post about adventures on the bus, my Ana's birthday, and the first week of teaching.

But until then, I hope everyone had a great halloween. Vote if you can! AND!

Next week, I find out my permanent site!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Qobustan and Mud Volcanoes



AZ06 Went to Qobustan and saw some mud volcanoes. It was so much fun!

Commentary to come later.

SHEEP!

Just for you Laura!

What is this?


We had a visitor in language class.

Any guesses what this is?

Dear Everyone

I decided to also post long emails here:

19 October 2008

Dear everyone,

I am so sorry that I have not written a long, long email in a while. I am trying to compose these emails on my computer at home and then bring them to the Internet café with me. I just cannot concentrate with all the little boys running around. I am now three weeks into living with my host family. I really adore the family I am living with because they are so wonderful. Normally, my host mom does not serve me meat. Sometimes, if she feels like she is in a jam to feed me she might. Ata is still trying to convince me to eat fish. Good for the eyes, he tells me. I do not doubt that, but I am picky about my fish. Plus I hate the little bones.

Life here in M___ maintains a status quo. The rain has surprisingly dried up, but now we must deal with dust. It is so dry out here; it never takes very long for the puddle to start evaporating. So I thought in this edition, I would give y’all some local flavor of Azerbaijan. I will start with the base changes I have made, so we can all end on an upbeat note.

First up are toilets. As I have said, I am fortunate to have a real western toilet. It even flushes toilet paper! Of course, Azerbaijanis do not use toilet paper. They have this water pot or hose thing that they use. I do not think any PCT or PCV have figured out how to use this thing. So we all keep a supply of toilet paper in our houses and tissues on us when we go out. While I have a real toilet at my house, most places we frequent have the squat/Turkish style toilets. So, roll up your pant legs, take your cell phone from your pocket, and pop that squat. Aim comes with time. Also you just accept that splatter is a fact of life. But I will move on, because there is more to say about so many other things.

Showers. I have probably have 5 since moving in with my host family. So you can do the math. I get two showers a week. Roughly. Luckily I have trained my hair not to be washed daily, and I can put it up in braids on days that it is oily. It takes two hours for the water heater to heat up the water. Sometimes the electricity is fickle, so sometimes the idea of a shower takes a couple of days of incubation before it becomes a reality. From the shower, I can lead you into some fun customs here.

There is actually a reason why I have not gotten my second shower this week. I have a sore throat. Being sick has one source here: it stems from being cold! I think you underestimate the all encompassing evil nature and omnipresence of COLDNESS. I jest, but it can be amusing. Wet hair will make one sick. My host mom is very insistent that I cover my head after a shower. As the PCT’s joke, as a girl, coldness will freeze my ovaries. When I came home from TDLA’s in Sumgayit on Thursday with a cold, Ana was horrified. She rushed me in the kitchen to eat HOT soup, drink HOT tea. When I wasn’t hungry, she pushed me into my room and gave me more tea with cherries (it was really yummy). I thought the spectacle was done. But, nope, she bursts in again with a bucket of hot, salty water. She shuts my window scolding me for leaving it open, takes off my socks and sticks my feet in the water. I guess trying her best to warm me up. Now, I do adore my Ana. She is great. But this is too much. After the foot bath and massage, she tells me to lay down, tucks me into bed (like I’m five) and tells me good night as she leaves the room. It is 8pm.

To fight against the cold threat that is apparently everywhere, I must always be bundled up within an inch of my life. No day is complete without a scarf or hat. Even if I am sweating, I put it on, wave goodbye, and take off the extra clothing as soon as I turn the corner. I am not allowed to sit on the bare floor. As I type this, I am sitting on two pillows. I must protect my rear from the coldness in the floor. I cannot drink cold water (room temperature is ok). Remember: cold is the enemy.

Hot tea is always a must here, but this is definitely a custom I can get used to. If I cannot have my coffee, I can drink tea at all hours of the day. Every couple of hours, Ana will walk into wherever I am and say, “Emi, cay icirsen?” (Amy, you drink tea?). There really is only one response. “Ha.” (Yes.) Mainly because I do not have the vocabulary to explain why I would not want tea.

Along with tea, the other constant in life is being fed. Oh my goodness, I am fed ALL the time here. Good food too. My ana is an excellent cook, and she really respects that I do not eat meat. The main reason for this is my little brother also has kidney stones and his doctor says no meat. So, while this may not be the reason I do not eat meat, I will take this excuse and run with it. Her homemade soup when one is sick is the most amazing soup! Bread is also sacred it. I eat so much bread. A couple of chunks with every meal is mandatory.

My family cracks me up. We all laugh a lot. Sometimes I am not allowed to walk places by myself. I feel like I am a little kid again, but I do appreciate their protectiveness. Even if it is suffocating at times. They tell me that I will not leave after three months and that I will stay in Azerbaijan forever. I just kind of laugh. I am their stupid American child that they always wanted but could never have until now. I believe at times that they really think I am too stupid to function in Azeri life without them. At this moment this is completely true.

Monday starts our teaching practicum. I am so excited. We will get to experience what it is like to be an English teacher in the Azerbaijani school system.

Yesterday, AZ06 went to Qobustan. It is an area in Azerbaijan south of Baku where there are prehistoric lithographs. The cave drawings are so amazing. Plus it was amazing to hike around. I could have explored the region the whole day. But there was not enough time. The cave drawings were so abundant. Along the main stretch, almost every rock had one. Some dated from prehistoric times and others from Roman conquests. After Qobustan, we all hiked towards Azerbaijan’s famous mud volcanoes. I cannot express how amusing these are.

Basically, imagine a very sludgy, clay-like soup in a pit. Then a bubble deep within the earth begins to rise and forces itself to the earth’s surface. To escape its earthly prison, the bubble belches its way through the mud. They are simply fascinating. I even tried on the therapeutic qualities of the mud. Ok, so my friend Corey put some mud on my nose. The mud is surprisingly cold, not hot.

I think this is probably more than enough to keep y’all reading for a week, and hoping I do not send any more long emails.

Much love,

Am

My Language Cluster

19 October 2008

The first week and a half here in M_____. My cluster called it Mud____. It rained almost every day, and we were the trudge sludgers. It was obscene the amount of mud on our boots every day. Sara and Josh live up Cow Shit Lane. I live down Muddy Brick Lane. Marina lives in the Mafia mansion. I really enjoy the personalities in my small language cluster. Polad is our LCF (Language Culture Facilitator). He can be a bit goofy at times, but he normally means well. The language gap can be quite funny. We’ll make a snarky comment in class, and it’ll just go over his head. Then again he surprises us by the English he does catch, and his English is far better than any of our Azerbaijani.

I guess describing my cluster I list by age. Marina is the eldest, but you would never know by looking at her. She is my “cousin.” Hailing from California, she is fiercely independent and opinionated, and I adore her for these qualities. She has traveled extensively and worked for community development in Sri Lanka. We walk to school together almost every day. I have so much respect for this woman. She rocks my socks.

Sara is the next personality to introduce. She is our statuesque blond beauty in the group. This New Jersey girl is made of far stronger metal than I am. Her travels have brought her to China, Tibet, and Ireland. I love just being around her and listening to her stories. Sara’s serene exterior is a lovely façade. She is so lively under it all, driven by some unseen force.

Here in M____/Azerbaijan, these are my girls. I cannot express how much esteem I have for these vivacious women. This is my primary support network, plus my host mom loves to feed them.

Jaqclyn is the North Carolina girl who always has a smile and sardonic comment ready to go. She lives the furthest away from our school. Her ability to weave a story is fascinating.

Josh is the sole male in our cluster: our protector (please note sarcasm). He rounds up our group with his dry wit and sometimes his absolute goofiness. I definitely appreciate his tolerance for dealing with all these women and escorting us places in this male dominated society. Sometimes it just feels safer to have one guy mixed in the group. Josh’s host family lives on a small farm. There is goat business and cow business. He always has great stories about his family. Josh is like a local celebrity around here. Everywhere we go; we hear “Josh,” “George,” “Jones,” and “Jafar.” The locals haven’t quite gotten his name down, but they try.

I guess I can say the same for my name. I am called, “Amy,” “Emma,” and “Emily.”