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.
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.
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!