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,