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,

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,

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)
Index Cards
Pencil Sharpeners

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)


sweet peppers (like bell peppers)


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,

I love my pec!

9 November 2008
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?


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!