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.


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,


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.”

New Life with Host Family

17 October 2008

Still back tracking quite a bit. But here we go. For roughly the past three weeks, I have been living with my completely awesome host family. That’s right, they are cox yaxsi (very good). The two M_____ clusters load all of our stuff onto a minibus, and there is barely enough room for us on this bus. Somehow we stuff ourselves into the bus and we take off towards M_____. Peace Corps does not allow me to give specifics about my location or the location of my friends, so M___ will just have to do. I am sitting next to Sara and we try to take in the abundant landscape of dirt, a salt lake, and what looks like the ruins of houses.

It feels like we have barely been on the road when Khalig announces that we are in M___. We drop Marina off first. Three little boys in stained t-shirts and sandals excited great her. I know I was secretly really glad not to be the first one dropped off. Polad explains to us that he doesn’t really know the area, so Marina’s host brother hops on the bus to help us navigate our new community. Next Josh departs the bus and disappears behind a metal gate. Sara’s house is up the hill behind Josh’s house; however, the road is not completed so Polad, Khalig, Tony, Sara, and I form a mini procession to Sara’s house.

In the background, we can hear a lady laughing at us. M_____ is so muddy, I have to walk around the gravel piles and the mud puddles. We finally get to Sara’s. Her house is sparse, but her host sister seems nice. We give each other a final hug to wish each other courage, and without another word, I leave Sara. I am scared for what awaits me. All my Azeri is fleeing my head as if my brain were on fire. When I get on the bus, Polad announces that I am next on the chopping block. I brace myself as the masrutka starts up again. (It really was a bumpy ride emotionally and physically). With every meter passed, I remind myself that I am doing this to myself.

Arriving at my house, is a bit of a shock. Four little boys are outside the house to help me bring my stuff in. Ok, I can deal with a house full of little boys. I arrive inside and I am completely blown away. I live in a nice, pre-fabricated house. My room is a pale green with curtains, a cute writing table, and wardrobe. I meet my host mom, host sister, and I am still trying to figure out the little boys. Ushered into the living room (which has a chandelier), I am given tea (cay) and we try to make small talk. It is rather pathetic, but oi. Eventually I figure out that I only have one host brother. The other little boys are cousins.

Then I am ushered back into my room to unpack. Gunay (my 17 year old host sister) stays in my room while I unpack. It is considered very rude to leave guests alone, so we awkwardly try to converse. But I can tell I like Gunay. Despite her giving me vocab lessons that frankly aren’t sticking, I like my Ana, Ata, baci, and gardas. They keep telling me about Marina and pointing to her house. I finally understand after supper that we are going to visit Marina.

I bundle up (because it’s cool outside and because I know that Ana would make me bundle up) and hop into a car for a two-minute car ride. Marina’s host dad and my host mom are siblings. I cannot tell you how relieved I way to see Marina. After a whole afternoon of Azerbaijani and understanding very little, Marina was a small beacon of hope where I could be understood and mainly to prevent me from crying.

The next day brought a group trip to Sumgayit to purchase cell phones. It was a horribly rainy day. But it was again nice to have English spoken to me, to have a means of communicating, and to walk around. All of AZ6 told stories of their host families, what their first night was like, and exchanged phone numbers. After trudging around in the sludge, I found going back to my host family not to be so daunting. Polad, my LCF, came in with me to explain to my family that I was a vegetarian and that I do not eat meat (like chicken, beef, fish). Ata was disappointed that I didn’t eat kabobs, but such is life.

Monday off to language class. I was not allowed to walk alone. But apparently neither was Marina. Our host brothers acted like guardians bringing their Americans to school. It was like kindergarten all over again. Thus began the next three weeks of our highly scheduled lives.

Peace Corps Orientation

9 October 2008

Well, I am now over two weeks into living in Azerbaijan. I must say that some days I do not even realize that I am living in a foreign country. Well, except for the fact that I normally do not know what my host family is telling me.

So I guess to rewind for the past couple of weeks. After leaving Philadelphia, AZ 06 boarded two buses (all 61 of us) and drove up to New York City. What a production! Everyone was pretty loaded down with luggage. Our bus watched “The Sandlot” on the way up. It was great. Kind of last dose of American culture so to speak. We enjoyed it so much. After the last calls and final farewells via telephone, I took my phone apart and disposed of it. It was so weird leaving my phone behind; however, it was, at the same time, liberating. The final farewells were surreal. I felt as if I was reassuring each person that everything was going to be ok. I was going to be fine. While I was not lying through my teeth, I definitely was not sure how I felt about leaving.

I didn’t sleep on the plane ride over, the food was questionable, and Frankfurt was a blur. Finally arriving in Azerbaijan, it was late. I was tired, and I ate a whole Snicker’s bar as a congratulatory gesture to myself. I was pleased with such a reward. Walking through customs, I chatted with Corey and Micah about our feelings for what would happen after our passports were stamped. But like good sheep, we followed the other PCT through the gate where PCV’s were waiting for us.

Frankly I was so tired, and I just wanted to go to bed. Luckily all my stuff made it to Azerbaijan; we were placed on another bus and in the cover of darkness driven to a resort on the Caspian. We were given instructions to find our roommate, grab our keys, and go to bed. The next day would luckily bring a late start. So I grabbed all my belongings and grabbed my key. Along with my new roommate Johanna (no more Su! It was sad), I basically crawled into pajamas and fell asleep.

The morning brought ambivalent feelings. The Aqua Park Hotel seemed like an odd place for an introduction to Azerbaijan. It was indeed my bubble for the next four days. I never ventured beyond the gates. Some did, but I decided to prolong my dipping into Azerbaijani culture. I figured I would be in over my head soon enough.

Orientation was an overload of everything – I know great description, eh? It just felt like so much was being thrown out at us. But I got to know some more great people. In Philadelphia, Su and I kind of kept to ourselves in the evening. At the Aqua Park Hotel, I mingled with more people. Corey and I became closer, chatting over any obscure idea that floated across our rattled brains. The greatest culture shock in my Aqua Park bubble was meals. Every meal was a “what is this”? Not knocking the food, but sometimes we just honestly didn’t know what was available to eat.

Azerbaijanis have a great love of bread. This love definitely works out in my favor because I love bread. I think they eat more bread than I do. This in and of itself is rather amazing. Additionally besides all the wonderful fresh fruit, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs. THEY HAVE FIGS!!!! The fig preserves here taste like the fig preserves my grandmother used to make and like the preserves we sell at Poupart Bakery. So yes, I am very excited about this fact.

For everyone who thought my love of jam back in the States was a bit intense or the fact that I will eat jam with a spoon a tad weird, I have found a group of people after my own heart. Here, we eat jam from a bowl with a spoon. My favorite is fig, followed by blackberry, and cherry is a very close third. But I am getting ahead of myself.

At orientation, they PCMO’s jab us within an inch of our lives: shots for this and shots for that. And creeping up on us the whole time is the shadow of the future. What is going to happen when we leave these gates? We know, but not really. Divided into clusters, LCF (Language Culture Facilitators) begin our indoctrination into language and culture. The future brings host families and being separated from some of the friends we have made.

This whole time I am nervous/anxious/excited. I am loving all the new things I am doing, but part of me wonders if I should have just stayed home. What am I doing here in Azerbaijan???? When will things go from awesome to awful? What will happen with my host family?

Everything kept moving forward and so I had to move forward with the situation. No turning back now. Saturday after arriving in Azerbaijan, I load my belongings onto a bus with my cluster (people I barely know) because I am moving in with a family I don’t know into a community that has never hosted a PCT. This is going to be a new experience for everyone involved.

What will happen to Amy with her host family? Will they like her? Will she like them? What about this little fact that she doesn’t know the language? What is her living situation like? What personalities are in her cluster? (Better yet, what is a cluster?)

Stay tuned for the next edition!