Monday, October 27, 2008

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!