Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Tomorrow marks on year of leaving Lafayette for this Peace Corps adventure. (It is also, most importantly, Emily’s – my little sister – twenty-first birthday! Happy Birthday, Emily!) It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year. The year mark is an anniversary of mixed emotions for me. First, I think, “How can this only be a year?” So much has happened in this year. I have hit rock bottom; I have soared higher than the Talysh Mountains. I have struggled with a new language, a new culture, and a new job description. I have made new friends (both American and Azerbaijani) and have been adopted into a loving Azerbaijani family. I learned to manage a squat toilet, to ignore unwanted attention, and to handle knowing that the only American I’ll see is my reflection in the mirror. These are some of my triumphs. I also have my failures: my continual struggle in learning Azerbaijani (and my laziness of not studying), spending too much time in my head rather than with my host family, and feeling as if I’m not doing much for my community.
For all the good (which I cherish) and all the bad (which has made me a stronger person), I wouldn’t trade any of my Peace Corps experience for anything. Looking back, all my nervousness was warranted, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come when I left Lafayette. Peace Corps has been harder and easier than I expected. I am blown away with how kind, generous, and (of course) hospitable the people of Azerbaijan are. When I hit a brick wall, there is always someone here to give me perspective. Not too long ago, I took the wrong bus from Masazir to Baku. Both buses are labelled 225, but the one I boarded only went to Xirdalan. At the end of the route, the bus driver helped me find the correct bus to Baku. A woman once paid for my ride into Baku (another trip from Masazir to Baku) because I gave her my seat. She was juggling five kids on the marshutka and reminded me of my mother when we all under the age of 13. Yes, I’ve had unpleasant experiences, but I like to think that most of my bad experiences could have happened anywhere in the world. They aren’t Azerbaijan-exclusive incidents.
Peace Corps Volunteer life is like riding a roller coaster. When you’re down, you know you’ll be up again, and when you’re up, you know and dread the impending fall. And in the end, you end up right where you started just with a new perspective. Tonight is Eid or the end of Ramazan. We are celebrating the breaking of Ramazan fasting for the last time tonight. I haven’t noticed strict observance of Ramazan here in Azerbaijan. Some people fast, and some people don’t. It’s interesting to celebrate this holiday here in Lerik tonight. Last year for Eid, I was in Masazir. I remember still being uncomfortable because it was only my third day in Masazir. My host cousin told me that my husband would be ugly because I couldn’t finish my plate of food. (Just a side night, the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar so holidays move up ten days each year on the Gregorian calendar.) In Lerik, it was a slow day. I read my latest Peace Corps lounge book, listened to music, and enjoyed a cup or two of fine French Pressed Community Coffee. Life is good. Today the house has been buzzing with Eid sweet preparation and baking. I am a bit amused with how everyone makes the same sweets and then gives them to each other. So in the end, you end up with all the sweets that you just backed but from different houses. It is interesting to taste little differences in each family’s recipes. The Eid sweet of choice looks like a giant shakurbura (from Novruz) with gogal (again from Novuz) stuffing. I’ll get the name sooner or later, but it has the Amy seal of approval.
I would feel a bit bad for not helping out more with sweet making, because my host-mom is working so hard, and I like to watch how she makes national dishes. Nevertheless, like a good Azerbaijani mother, she doesn’t expect or really want us to lift a finger to help. Saida helps a bit, but, at a moment’s notice, she’ll leave the room and go play on her computer. Ruslan (my host brother who lives in Baku) is home, but being a boy and the youngest is not expected to help. Since I’m the youngest and an American, I’m a baby in two senses, so I just sit in a corner and try to stay out of the way. Azerbaijani women work so hard. My host mom, when she gets going, just doesn’t stop. It’s amazing.
At the Bashirov house, I am left to my own devices for the most part. I went running in the fog and rain. I’ve changed my running routine because school has started. I now run in the evenings. I hate running for an audience of boys, but I figure the novelty will wear off in a month or two. Until then, I’ll just ignore the boys who try to race me for a lap while my blasting music drowns out any of their attempts to communicate with me. When I come in with rosy cheeks, wet hair, and a big grin on my face, Saida and Yeta (my host mom) start fussing over me, telling me to put on some dry clothes, and telling me how I’m going to get sick. Despite the daily onslaught of reprimands, I think Yeta is proud of me for running because she tells all the teachers that I run daily. This report is in a proud mother tone and not in the guess-what-the-crazy-American-is-doing-now tone. Saida, I believe, thinks that running is a bit crazy.
Fall is slowly smothering what was left of summer. Starting in August, sunny, cold days would snidely remind me what was to come. Now, the rain and fog of fall has settled over Lerik, and I layer accordingly. I am already sporting my black wool long johns to colour coordinate with the grey skies.
The rain of autumn is not my enemy like it was in Masazir. Paved roads and living close to school make daily walks less of a mud-sludge-ing adventure. Sometimes the rain is Seattle-like: it mists. But, lately, I’ve had the pleasure of Louisiana-rain. Big drops beat on the truck outside my window (which has finally starting working and been removed from it’s permanent parking space outside my window), fill the potholes at the stadium, and drip off the red school roof to stain the yellow walls. Some days, we are even granted thunderstorms. Last thunderstorm, my three-year old cousin Farid informed me that he wasn’t afraid of the thunderstorms, as we watched the storm from my kitchen window. He also told me a bunch of other things, which I couldn’t catch because a) he was talking really fast and b) his mouth was full of cucumbers he had snatched from the dinner table.
As with most Peace Corps experiences, the bad resides with the good like a colloid. Yes, fall brings cold, foggy days, and the part of me that has lived over ninety percent of my life south of the Mason-Dixon line and roughly seventy percent within a twenty-minute drive of I-10 still cannot fathom that it can actually be this cold. But the cold weather does have some sweet rewards. First, school has started, and I am back – enthusiastically – in the classroom. I actually missed my monkeys. Second, some of my favourite fruits are now in season or will soon be in season. Pomegranates (nar), lemons (limon), persimmons (xurma), figs (ancır), and apples (alma) will once again be cheap and readily available. I cannot express how excited I am for persimmons and pomegranates. Memories of PST rush back with every bite… For such a small fruit, the fig holds so many memories for me.
My maternal grandmother had a fig tree in her yard, and I remember watching her peel them at the kitchen counter. Thinking that they looked squishy and gross, I didn’t like figs for a long time. Homemade fig preserves never lasted long at our house and was eaten on everything from cornbread to rice-cakes and, at times, straight from the jar. I’d bring jars of fig preserves from the bakery home last summer, and after dinner, we’d let the syrupy figs bring us back to Mowata and our childhoods. My first morning in Azerbaijan, I was elated to see fig preserves at breakfast; they were a reminder of home and softened the reality of how far, both in time and distance, I was from home. To me, food is the perfect way to capture a memory; it’s better than a photograph. The sweet smell, the sticky syrup on my fingers, amber-coloured figs sitting in the jar flooded my memory with thoughts of home as soon they hit my tongue. Fig preserves every morning in Masazir reminded me who I was and where I came from and prevented me from losing myself in my new situation. It was my comfort food. Before leaving Masazir last week for Lerik, Ana gave me jar of fig preserves, and I couldn’t help but smile. Figs will always remind me of Mowata, my grandmother, and my mother. This week in Lerik, when I ate my figs on fresh baked bread, recollections of Louisiana and Masazir painted my mental wanderings. I never expected the tiny fruit to hold so many memories.
13 October 2009
So flash forward almost a month, and here I am still typing the same letter, but in a completely new location. Shortly after I started composing this letter, my host mom informed me that I had to find a new residence. That’s right, I was being kicked out. I should probably add that she was very polite, I didn’t have to move until I found some place new (but ASAP), and many PCVs face this problem of sudden homelessness syndrome (henceforth will be called SHS). I should also add that the day I was told that I needed to move out was also 23 September: my one-year anniversary in Azerbaijan. Happy one year, right?
Of course, I went through the normal stages of SHS: shock, anger, despair, panic, hope, and resolution. First was shock; it was so hard to believe that I was being kicked out. Yes, I understood that guests were coming (Saida’s future in-laws, it turns out), but still. Where am I going to go? I had kind of thought that this arrangement was going to see me through my PC service. I have so much to pack. For a lack of better things to do, to prevent crying, and to ensure that I didn’t use all my kontour (read cell phone credit) texting my parents, I began to pack. It took me probably 4 hours to pack my room from 10pm to 2am. I condensed my year in Azerbaijan into my orange backpack, messenger bag, black duffle, eight boxes, and one huge bazaar bag that I can fit into. This was a long cry from the orange backpack, duffle, and messenger bag I brought with me from America. By the end of packing, I was too tired to cry, and the next stage of SHS was hitting anger.
The worst kind of anger is undirected anger. I was so angry with my situation. How could I be kicked out? It wasn’t even something I did. It’s a cultural issue, and, honestly, you have to respect the fact that family is so prized (even future in-laws). Family outranks the American who is paying to stay in your house. I could tell my host mom really didn’t want to kick me out, but I was still angry. What was I going to do? Where was I going to live? Who was I going to live with? I knew the idea of living on my own was a bust, and I just wanted to move as quickly as possible. I couldn’t stay at the Bashirov house any longer than necessary; sometimes, things look better the next day. The cold, cloudy morning only made things look worse, and I slipped into despair.
Getting kicked out does a bit of work to your self-esteem. I felt so unnecessary, disposable, and unliked. I had lived here for 9 months, and, now, I was being tossed aside like week old dolma. Damn, how did I get here? I went to school the next morning, only because I had to start asking everyone for help to find a place. When you need to find a new roof to sleep under, you start asking EVERYONE you know for help. It was surprising to find out that some people already knew that I was kicked out. Apparently Qizyeta had informed people of my impending move even before I knew of it. I was a bit miffed, but considering that it gave my house hunt a jump-start, I got passed my annoyance. My counterparts were shocked to learn that I needed a new place to stay. It was honestly a bit hard to keep it together in class. I just sat there, worried, and probably looked like a pathetic, homesick American. So, I went home early.
Heading home, I ran into my soon-to-be former host dad. That sight did me in. Barely holding back the tears, I managed to crawl into bed, and then I let the tears flow. This is where Qizyeta found me. She came bursting in my room because I wouldn’t answer her. I was hoping that she would think I was sleeping and leave me alone, but she had other plans. She came in to find me in bed red-nosed and tissue in hand. I’m sure it was a lovely site. Like a mother, she came rushing to my bed and threw back the sheets. She said we are going to village today. I think, “Good. I want to be alone today.” She asks me why I’m all packed up. I answer because I’m moving. “Where?” “I don’t know yet.” “Amy, don’t worry. You’ll find a new place, and it’ll be ok.” It’s really hard to be angry with this woman who is stroking my hair, trying to comfort me, and telling me that I can come visit whenever I want. With a kiss on my forehead, she headed to the door, reminding me that we are going to the village today. At this moment, I realized I was included in this we. Oh my.
I knew that I wouldn’t find my new house that very day, but a car ride into the countryside to an unknown village with the people that just kicked me out? Am I really that masochistic? I could tell by Qizyeta’s demeanour that I was not getting out of this one. Maybe she felt guilty. Maybe she wanted to show that I was still her “daughter.” Maybe she just wanted to show me off to relatives. Whatever the reason, I was going to Zuand.
Where is Zuand? Well, the best way to describe Zuand is almost-Iran. We took off towards the village, and my host mom said that Zuand is near Iran and very close to the border. I though, crap, I left my passport and Azer ID back at the house. Inshallah, we won’t get that close to the border. On the rough, mountain roads to Zuand, I could really appreciate the rugged beauty of Lerik. It’s a beautiful rayon. An hour into the trip, I started to realize what Qizyeta meant by close to the border. We pass an Azerbaijan army base, and then I see a long barbed wire fence maybe 200 yards in the distance. My host mom pointed out the window, “See, Amy, that’s Iran. See the fence. See the watchtower.” Oh yes, I saw the watch-tower and wondered how Jeyhun, the PC Safety and Security Officer, would like this story. I took my phone out of my pocket to check the time, and Saida said, “Oh, Amy, phones don’t work here.” Oh boy, no cell phone reception.
As I hoped that we would not get any closer to the border as to incur a check of our vehicle from Azeri border patrol or otherwise, we pull over near some tombstones seemingly in the middle of nowhere. (Nowhere next to Iran.) These are Adil’s relatives, and we have come here to pay our respects. The men stand next to the car while the women circle the tombstones again and again and again. I follow along placing my hand on the tombstone and pulling it across my face. Religious and family moments are always a bit awkward. How do you act appropriately?
Back into the car to drive further into the rayon, we finally made it to Adil’s relatives. Zuand is like a ghost town. Most of the residents have moved to Lerik for work, and the rugged landscape reminds me of the movies. It was a strangely pleasant afternoon, and Qizyeta’s efforts to make me feel not kicked out from her family did win me over. Plus, Farid, my 3 year old host cousin, is just the cutest little kid, and I got to hang out with him all afternoon.
So next came the house hunt. My emotions bounced like a ping pong ball between hope and despair many times a day. I was shown three houses in the course of my house hunting escapades, one of which I couldn’t live in because the new PCV will be living there. And while my emotional rollercoaster had me feeling like time was creeping along, I actually found my new house a week after being told I needed to move. Aynura, my younger counterpart and best friend in Lerik, told me that her classmate and very good friend Gulafat was living alone and maybe I could live with her. One cold, rainy, and dreary Tuesday (funny how it was fitting of my mood), Aynura, her two daughters, and I slowly walked up the hill to Gulafat’s. While the house is admittedly not as nice as Qizyeta’s (let’s face it, she set the standards pretty high), Gulafat instantly won me over. She was really kind and welcoming, and she seemed genuinely excited that I might live with her. I can handle an outhouse, bucket baths, hand washing my clothes, and basically an outdoor kitchen. Before leaving Gulafat’s, I agree to move in with her even though the room that was going to be mine wasn’t ready. I just got a good vibe from her.
Deciding to move in with Gul was such a relief. At last, resolution. I felt like I could breath again; even though looking at all the stuff I had to move up hill, I was a bit reluctant to actually move.
September thirtieth was my supposed move-in day. I waited most of the afternoon for Qizyeta to help me find a car to move; I was willing to get a taxi, but she wouldn’t hear of it. However, after two hours of making calls, Qizyeta was still empty handed, and I was falling asleep on the couch. I offered to call Gulafat and ask for help, but Qizyeta wouldn’t hear of it. She told me to stay the night, kissed my forehead, and sent me to bed. In spite of all the ups and downs, I realized that I liked these people a lot, and I was sad to leave. Nevertheless, sometimes we have to move on.
27 October 2009
When all the moving out rigmarole started, my mother said something better was waiting for me after this settled down. Well, as always, she was right. That something better is a person. Gulafat is my roommate here in Lerik. She’s frankly awesome. She’s really patient with my bad Azerbaijani, super motivated, and really sweet. She is such a strong person for reasons that I won’t get into, but let’s just say that she’s not your typical Azerbaijani woman. We spend a lot of time each day together. She is quite a talker, so I like to sit back and listen. On her birthday, I made her chocolate chip cookies. I could go on and on about her, but I’ll just sum it up saying that she rocks my socks.
On a BIG side note, I must add that there are many people I want to thank for helping through my moving out fun. Tarana and Aynura were so patient and understanding of all my freak outs and panicky moments. Tarana is like a mother-figure. She brought me to look at houses and acted like a translator when I was so stressed that my Azeri went out the window. Aynura is my best friend in Lerik. We joke, watch TV, and even cut class together. She helped me find Gulafat and is a pleasure to teach with. Thanks to my parents at home who lent encouraging words at all the right moments. Thanks to Qizyeta and Saida for being understanding of my dilemma and helping me to find a new place as much as they did. I think we are still having fun telling everyone that Amy did not choose to leave their house nor was she kicked out. They put up with me for nine months, and I am grateful for all the memories. (P.S. They are already fussing at me that I haven’t visited them.)
Moving out caused me to miss class for person reasons, house hunting, and etc. My absences caused minor panic in some of my classes. As soon as the news leaked that Ms. Amy was moving, children were volunteering their houses and scared that I would have to return to America if I didn’t find a house (or England, some of them are still a bit confused the Americans speak English). To everyone’s relief, I found a house and was comfortably moved in by October first, and in my new location, I am now neighbours with many of my students, which they all informed me about numerous times. My favourite new neighbours are Rza and his brother Rashad. Rza cracks me up. He is a very sweet kid who earnestly wants to learn English. He tries to speak, and he’s really a smart boy. He just has this grin that is winning. His favourite English sentences are, “I like it all,” and “it is very, very hot.” Rashad is the younger of the two and just tends to giggle.
Classes seem to be off to a good start. Aynura is up for some of my ideas of classroom reform, and Tarana has asked for help decorating her classroom. I’m afraid that I will not be able to start any clubs before the snow puts them on hold all winter. However, I’m developing ideas for my next round of clubs so they will be fantastic when I finally get them started. My fifth form is much larger than last year, but I see a lot of potential in them. A couple of them are quite quick with the language. Others are just plain eager to learn. One has obvious learning disabilities but tries to participate in the class. Fifth form is always my favourite form. They are at such a great age. These kids are all new to me because I didn’t teach them last year. Sixth form has my favourites from last year. They are an active class, but I can see so much improvement from last year. This is my class; I will see them through my whole time I am here. Seventh form is my class of characters. Each student has such a distinct personality. There are a couple of students who show a great aptitude for English. Eighth form, I regret to say, I’m only with them once a week. The students and I are both upset that I will not be teaching them more this year, yet I feel that I am more productive and a better teacher with the younger forms. Because I have no clubs, my goal every class is to get my children to speak more.
The boarding school is going better this year now that I know what role I fill there. I’m Friday Enrichment for any of the GT kids out there. I teach the children songs and English games. Vagif is a great teacher, and the children have a good grasp on grammar and seem more confident in trying to speak than the children at School 1. This past Friday, my seventh form treated me to a wonderful rendition of “Old MacDonald” with monkeys, wolves, and roosters. The wolf was my favourite that student completely hammed it up.
Halloween is on its way, so HAPPY HALLOWEEN! I will be in Lankaran with other PCVs celebrating a small Halloween, and then I will be giving a presentation to AzETA (Azerbaijan English Teacher Association) about encouraging students to speak in the classroom. Then I am off to Baku to help with training.
Of course, I have more to write, but I’ll leave that for next time. Istanbul will be shown in pictures on my website. I had a wonderful time, and it is an incredible city. I am more than ok with going back any time. Azerbaijani is only so useful in Turkey. I could understand some of what was going on but found that Azerbaijani is great for amusing the locals who think you are speaking “baby Turkish.” I got a lot of free food speaking Azeri with the locals. More on that later.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
23 August 2009
Whoa! So, when I took off for summer, I guess I really took off. You would think now that I have internet at home that I would be more on the ball. Now that summer is officially coming to an end (school starts 15 September, and it’s already getting cold in Lerik), it is time to give y’all the summer review and to resume my monthly (hopefully) letters.
The end of school was rather uneventful. In fact, it was slightly painful. I was ready for school to end, but that isn’t why the end was unpleasant. Around the 20th of May or so, the kids began to return their books to the library. What? How do you teach a class, when the kids can’t “turn to page ___”? There was definite creative lesson planning going on, and for the last two weeks, I basically flew by the seat of my pants when I walked into class. The good news: I felt as if my kids were really coming along in their English and if not in their English, then they were more confident to at least try to speak. Now that summer is coming to an end, I miss my little monsters. The bad news: I was completely frustrated by all the little things. Really, “Hello,” is the most diabolical two-syllable word in the English language. When you’re having a bad day, the “hellos” feel like an attack. As I’ve said it before, but when you want to drop kick the third form kid for saying hi to you, it’s time to leave site and cool off.
Luckily for me, I had a planned trip to visit Sara in her lovely region and a weekend with my host family in Masazir to look forward to. Thirty May marked Son Zang (last bell). Here in Azerbaijan, the eleventh form doesn’t graduate like we do in America. Instead they have a celebration to commemorate the last bell of the school year. Of course, I had to attend. I am the resident American and hold a celebrity-sideshow freak status here in Lerik. Seriously, I was asked by several eleventh form kids to come to Son Zang. I don’t even teach eleventh form because I have a rule that I don’t teach students taller than me. So, I went. It was a remarkable experience.
There were the normal speeches by the school director and local officials, Azerbaijani songs and dances, and poems yelled into the microphone by the younger children like there is at all school functions. This school function was especially fun because it was finally sunny enough to sit outside the whole time and because two eleventh form boys performed Aysel and Arash’s “Always.” “Always” is the Azerbaijan entry into Eurovision’s Song Contest and took third place. I must say the boy dressed as Aysel went all out. He wore a wig made from cassette tape ribbon, heels, and a skirt. And he can really shake his hips. I was seriously amused. My favourite part of Son Zang is the symbolic passing of the torch. For the whole ceremony, the little first formers (some in tiny three-piece suits) stood in front of the eleventh form kids. The first formers represent the next generation of Azerbaijanis whose education will propel them and their country its next stage of development.
After the ceremony, Hiba and Elmer came up the mountain to Lerik, and I took them on a nice hike through Jangamiran – the village next to Lerik. Between the hike and Song Zang, I got a rather wicked sunburn on my forearms. Seriously, it looks like I’m wearing tan gloves that come up halfway up my forearm. I’ve had this tan mark all summer.
June began with Children’s Day. My host mom wished me a happy children’s day, and I had to laugh. She also wished Saida a happy children’s day, so I guess no way I’m going to be completely an adult in this house. To answer any lingering house questions, I am staying with my host family. Yes, I complained about them at first, but I really like them now. I like the company they provide, the constant language exposure, and the great people they are. I realize that this is very typical Amy behaviour, but this is the situation. While my mother in the states realized that the biggest problem I had with this host family was me having my head up my butt, it took me a bit longer to realize it. That being said, my mom realizes why I did because she met my Masazir host family in July and now knows how wonderful that family is. But more on that in a bit.
What made Children’s Day great was that the children from my sixth and seventh form conversation club performed their poems and songs. They all did a wonderful job, and it was great seeing how excited they were to perform. They are little monsters, and I love them dearly.
The next day, I left for Sara’s. It was a ridiculous travel day in which I learned what bus NOT to take and why I don’t like riding in taxis alone. But I made it safely into Sara’s city, and I had great time with my best friend here in Azerbaijan. We cooked excellent food, laid on her balcony and read, and caught up. We even guested at a family we both know. Remember Shebnam from a long time ago. Well, her family moved to Sara’s town and is related to Sara’s host family. So we both know this family, and of course, I had to see them when I was in town. They are doing well but miss Lerik a lot. (I would too. It’s truly my favourite place in Azerbaijan.) It was really hard to leave Sara’s because she is one of those people that I can just be with. We don’t need to fill up the space between us with words. We just sit and be with each other. Plus, it’s always nice to have someone to complain to rather than doing it via phone calls. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to visit Ana and Ata and get supplies for my upcoming camp in Baku.
The supplies pick up was a resounding success. I found everything I needed/wanted for my Lerik Girl’s Camp, and I had a great time with the Masazirians. I love them so much. Seriously, they occupy the same status as family now. Ata and I have arguments about when I have to return to site. Ana continually overfeeds me like a good Louisiana grandmother would. Gunay consults with me like Emily. And Tunar is still Tunar. But he’s growing so much. He’s so tall, and when I leave, he’ll be a little man. It’ll be so disturbing.
My Lerik Girl’s Summer Camp and my English Clubs were, in my opinion, a success. The Lerik Girl’s Summer Camp did achieve the goals that I wanted to hit upon. The girls wanted an English Club and I wanted more of a girl empowerment/day camp feel. So we compromised. I ensured the lessons of girl empowerment were simplified and taught in English, but we also made crafts and played sports. Week one, we discovered who we were and the rolls we filled, made masks, and played soccer. Week two, we gave compliments and said what we were good at, made friendship bracelets, and played soccer. Week three, we learned about stereotypes (about Americans and Azerbaijanis) and how we are all different, made flowers to give to their mothers, and played dodge ball. I was really proud of this lesson, and the girls seemed to really get it. Week four we went on a hike and had tea at Gultakin’s house. Week five we spoke about our goals, made plans to achieve our goals, made more bracelets, and played volleyball. Truth be told the lessons were basically all in Azeri (go me), but I feel like they learned a lot. I had a great time with my kids, and I’m grateful for Jaclyn’s, Joyce’s, and Jenn’s help.
The English Clubs were just funny. The fifth form boys and I played sports. I tried to teach them sports in English, but we would end up playing soccer for 30 minutes every Wednesday. I wanted to play soccer with them every Wednesday, but unfortunately, many things prevented me from playing soccer with them after the clubs were finished. Very little English was learned, but I did teach them that girls can play soccer. While I’m not a great soccer player by any means, especially since I rarely touch the ball and am out-of-shape, I could keep up with the fifth formers, and I cherished my time on the field with them. The sixth and seventh form club and eighth form club was about American culture. However, the attendance was rather pitiful. I’ve been expecting this – especially because its summer – but I was amused nonetheless. We also had our lessons. I taught about American Football, American Music, and the 4th of July.
My philosophy on the English Clubs is as follows: if one student comes to my English Club and tries to learn, then my club was a success. I cannot make my kids come to my clubs, but even if one kid comes, then for that hour, I will try my hardest for that kid.
Mid-June was the TEFL Counterpart Conference. I was half-expecting Tarana to back-out last minute, but much to my pleasure, she came! We had a great trip up, including our marshutka driver yelling at the police officer who pulled him over, refusing to pay the cop a bribe, and driving off with a door open. I was thoroughly amused. The Counterpart Conference was great because after the conference, Tarana felt really proud of the work we had accomplished. She understood more of the PC goals for TEFL volunteers and how well we work together. I was happy that she could see her own progress. I had the pleasant task of trying to describe to a room full of Azerbaijani English teachers our (PCV’s) expectations for working with our counterparts. I had to say this in a nice tone. I can’t say, “We expected you not to teach us like a text-book reader.” I had fun being politically correct and said things like, “We expected to teach and plan our classes together.” By keeping an upbeat attitude, I actually impressed Jeremy’s counterpart who is really so sweet. I love Tofiqa. She is always smiling and is a strong, intelligent woman. I should call her soon.
Other highlights from the TEFL CP Conference was the fast internet at the hotel. I got to download music, Skype, and check on the news. Yes, I do realize that Michael Jackson has passed away. I averaged very little sleep the whole conference because it was more important to chat than to sleep.
The other highlight from June is that my host sister – Sonya – and her children – Jala and Kanan – came in from Moscow to spend the WHOLE summer with us. I was intimidated at first. I’m not used to my quiet house having a screaming 3 year old, but Jala did amuse me. I like talking to kids in this country. They don’t really understand that you don’t understand them. They just keep talking to you as if you get it all. With Jala, she speaks half-Russian to me because she goes to school in Moscow. When she counts, she counts to seven in Azeri and then switches to Russian. I mainly hid in my room when they were out and about. Kanan would just scream and scream. It was easier to be in my room.
On to July. July only meant one thing to me. MOM AND DAD WERE COMING!!!! By June, I had a countdown going. I could hardly wait to see my parents; it had just been way too long. But before Mom and Dad could arrive in Azerbaijan, an important holiday passed: the 4th of July. Now, I’m not a big Fourth of July person in the States. Last year, I worked on the fourth and celebrated by drinking an Abita Strawberry Ale and looking at my calendar seeing when I would leave for Azerbaijan. This year, I felt as if I should really try and celebrate it. (End result: still ambivalent to the holiday.)
Maybe it’s my anthropology training, maybe it’s travelling abroad, maybe it’s because I’m Amy, I do not feel any more American now than I did when I left America.
[Side note: all week there have been soccer games in the stadium near my house. I can hear the loud cheers and drums in my room. I walked past the stadium this afternoon, but I’m a bit timid about going to the games because I’d be the only girl there. I know I could break gender roles and stuff like that, and, honey, that’s easier said than done. I do wish I could go to the soccer game, but then I wouldn’t be writing you this lovely letter.]
I do realize more of the privileges I have been born into because I was born an American. However, I feel like I already realized how much being an American tied into interpretations of my own identity and perceptions of the world. Who knows, but, yay, for not having to experience that part of culture shock!
My fourth of July was spent up in Xachmaz. I had a great time seeing everyone, especially Corey. I think more people were shocked that Amy left site. I tend not to leave for anything, and when school starts, I may leave site once a semester.
Lately, I’ve been getting more and more requests from locals not to leave Azerbaijan and to marry a local boy. I keep telling them that my dad forbids me to stay in Azerbaijan and that he says I can’t marry an Azerbaijani boy. Olmaz! This means “it mustn’t be” and is one of the phrases my dad learned in Azerbaijan.
Now for Mom and Dad in Azer-land! My parents arrived into Baku late on 12 July. I have to take a moment to say that I am Corey’s debt for all his help. He really helped me calm my nerves the day that I was preparing to get my parents from the airport. He helped me sort things out with Ana and Ata who were disappointed that my parents were not staying with them in Masazir. Seeing my parents in Azerbaijan was a surreal experience. I am so grateful that they came: A) I just really, really missed them; B) Now they understand so much more about Azerbaijan, my PC service, and Azerbaijanis. We had an awesome time. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was awesome. Not only was it awesome but also my parents are absolute troopers.
They went through Azerbaijani boot camp and survived! The only way it would have been a more authentic PC experience is if we had stayed with my Masazir host family. But we stayed at a hotel instead. Special thanks to Emily, Martin, and Jonah for making me fabulous mixed CDs of new songs and favourite songs. I appreciate new music and the fact that y’all made these for me. I miss y’all dearly, and as much as I wish that y’all could have come to Azerbaijan, I’m so glad y’all didn’t. We would have filled up half a marshutka and I would have had five times the amount to translate. It was hard enough with Mom and Dad. Next year would be awesome though….
Ok, enough of the plugging. First day in, Mom, Dad, Corey, and I head to Masazir for dinner with my host family. Ana prepared a feast, and Ata finally got a McManus to eat his kabobs. The food was great, the company was even better, and Corey translating for my dad was the best. My dad got to hang out with the Masazir men in a different fashion than if I were alone. He drank beer, vodka, and got to participate in men conversation. Mom and I stuck to the women’s side. Mom was told that her hair cut was very fashionable (two years ago). We had a great time, and I loved the meetings of my families. Plus, Mom and Dad got to experience what it means to never be hungry in this country. We feasted everywhere.
True to PCV form, Baku was the American experience. We ate hamburgers, drank beer (Yay for Guiness!), and had espresso and carrot cake. (Although the coffee was far superior in Lerik thanks to all the coffee implements and coffee beans people have sent.) We tracked up Maiden’s Tower, walked along the Caspian, got lost in the Old City, and unsuccessfully searched for Georgian and Thai food. I showed them where the Americans hang out, drink beer, and played tourist. It would have disappointed Laura, my older sister, that we failed to stop by any museum. However, I was showing Mom and Dad my Baku, and my Baku is really only limited to the PC lounger and Targova. I just had so much fun showing off my parents to my PCV friends. It was as if I was trying to prove to myself that my parents were really here.
After a couple of days in Baku, we made the trip down to Lerik. This is when Mom and Dad showed their real trooper status. We take an un-AC bus down to Lankaran and taxi it up to Lerik. It was a lot easier to follow this pattern than to try to catch the 7:30 bus to Lerik. I am amused by the little boy sitting next to me who obviously doesn’t want to be sitting next to a girl and is crammed up next to the arm rest and by my mom whose motion sickness medicine has knocked her out for the trip down. Upon our arrival to Lerik, we have a pleasant surprise. Knowing there are no hotels in Lerik (at least none I would let my parents stay at), we had arranged to stay with my host family. Walking through the door, I find that the only person home is my host mom. Apologizing, she says that tomorrow she must leave for Baku because Saida is meeting the man who will become her fiancé and my host mom wants to be there so she can approve of this man. By all means, I think meeting Saida’s fiancé is more important than babysitting my parents. I can do that on my own.
My host mom spends the evening cleaning the house and cooking levengi (YUM!), and I spend 30 minutes explaining how the house works to my parents. I show them water tower outside the house, the kalonka (water heater), the indoor and outdoor squat toilet (lessons to come later), my room, the house, etc. Then, like a good Azerbaijani, I serve tea to my parents while my host mom turns on the satellite TV for my parents. Dad laughs at the irony of a squat toilet and a satellite TV. I can no longer see the irony since we do have an indoor squat. That’s fancy! In Lerik, we went to 8 people’s houses and Konul muellima’s wedding. That’s right, I brought my parents to a wedding. We may have gone deaf sitting next to the speakers, but we ate, danced, and rubbed elbows with Lerik’s finest. I am so proud of my parents for putting up with all the craziness I put them through. Everyone who met my parents were so happy that we stopped by and visited. Of course, everywhere we went, we drank tea, ate sweets, and most places we ate a meal. My mom’s favourite story is when we went to my neighbour’s. My neighbour (I love this family) asked me if my parents ate meat. Yes, they eat meat. Do they eat chicken? Yes, they eat chicken. Good, I’m going to go cut off one’s head. Ok….What? **Distressed chicken clucking comes from outside and is quickly silenced.** I was really amused, but we had a great time.
With my host mom gone, we drank forbidden iced water, mom and dad could manage the squat toilets in peace, and we could truly relax from guesting in the evening, watching Aljeezra from the satellite TV. We went back to Baku to finish our trip, and I was truly reluctant to see Mom and Dad go. Luckily, I had Ana and Ata waiting for me in Masazir to help ease the separation pain. It was hard to let go of Mom’s hand at the airport. I wanted to selfishly keep them in Azerbaijan, but I also knew that life would continue on as it had before they came. However, to buffer entering the real world, I stayed in Masazir for a week after Mom and Dad left, which was still too short of a time for Ata.
Gunay was having a hard time when I arrived in Masazir. She had not done well on her university exams. I was so upset for her, and Ana said that Gunay hadn’t really eaten since getting the results. I tried to cheer her up the best I could, telling her about how I didn’t get into the Peace Corps the first time I did. But I tried again. And if I had gotten in the first time, I would have never met them because 2008 was the first year Masazir was used for training. Ana kept saying, “See, Gunay. Things happen for a reason.” I wanted Gunay to see that, but I knew it’s hard to do that when you are so disappointed. So I just tried to be the best big sister I could.
Gunay wanted to go to Baku and show me around the Bulvard. So, I agreed. We had a great time. My Masazir host family continually reminds me why I love this country, why I love Azerbaijanis, and why being here has a purpose. Gunay and I searched and searched for a boat that would take us on the Caspian. We found and rode the windy vessel. We rode unsafe carnival rides, which scared Gunay so much. Like a good friend, I laughed way too hard at her fear. I tried to warn her if she didn’t like the ride that moved back and forth but didn’t go upside down that she wouldn’t like the one that actually went upside down. But I went anyways. I felt like I was just one of the girls, and it’s so nice to have a sweet, genuine person like Gunay look up to you and remind you of the positive qualities you do possess when you’re having a bad day.
To show my gratitude, I took Gunay to “little America” aka Café Caramel. I wanted her to see what I liked about Baku. Café Caramel is a place where the PCVs go for good coffee and sweets. We each had an Americano and split a lemon tart. She loved it so much and bragged to Tunar when we got home. After seeing her so sad for so long, it was wonderful to see my beautiful host sister smile and enjoy the little things again. (Later Ana thanked me for what ever I did that corrected the former situation.)
But it came time for me to return to Lerik. Off I went on the Lankaran bus. While my Masazir family feels like home, Masazir itself is no longer home. Lerik is home, and seeing Lerik peeking between the mountains when you are only ten kilometres away is a sight that I love. I always go on about how much I love Lerik, but it’s true. Lerik is a wonderful, magical, friendly place. I’m so happy that this is my site.
Word around the PC office is that I may be getting a sitemate this December. I still have mixed feelings towards this idea. Mainly, I wanted to be alone at site for two years. I’m not good at sharing, and I am scared that another American will ruin what I have in Lerik. I know this irrational, but I can still pout. I accept that I’ll probably get a sitemate, and I just hope that they’re a cool person and that they don’t speak Azerbaijani better than me.
August began cold and rainy. I was a bit upset at first, because I wanted 3 full months of summer. No fair giving me only 2 months of summer. I will stubbornly refuse to put on my PC sleeping bag before September. Nine months a year is my limit for using my PC sleeping bag. Luckily, after the rain stopped it warmed up a bit. It’s no longer hot like when Mom and Dad were here (although it wasn’t really that hot when they were here); I still wear long sleeves most of the time and have started to sport tights under my jeans.
Oh, I guess that is a development. Starting in June (6 months being in Lerik), I started to wear pants on a regular basis. Most people were kind of shocked but took it as a sign that I am more comfortable in town. It’s like I’m showing everyone that I can be more American. Although, the old ladies loved it that I wore long skirts. I think as long as I dress pretty modestly, it really doesn’t matter what I wear. I’m the American and that gives me some wiggle room for what I’m allowed to wear and do.
Scott, an AZ05, came up the mountain to visit Lerik before he leave in September. Now, as he realized on the trip to Lerik and I will try to clarify for you, when I say Lerik is in the mountains, I don’t mean I live in the foothills of the Talish mountains. I mean that I literally live on top/side of a mountain. I love it, but it does lead for an interesting ride getting here, especially when it’s windy, rainy, or snowy. Anyways, Scott was my first male visitor (besides my dad), so I wasn’t sure what to do. He stayed at the house anyways; I just tried to make sure that everyone knew who he was in order to prevent some rumours. I haven’t been kicked out of town yet, so I’m guessing I did a good job.
Anyways, Scott and I went hiking through Lulakaran and up the mountains to the south. It was a hard hike for me, but the view was worth it. We went to the top of the mountain and looked to the other side. It was just a steep cliff down, but it was awesome. Now, the mountain chain to the south is the border to Iran. Lerik, my rayon, border Iran. Lerik, my town, is fifteen kilometres from Iran. So, yes, I peered into Iran. I did not know about the story of the hikers; I found out about them the next day. I won’t make a regular habit of hiking to the border; nevertheless, I’m so glad I did this hike. It was beautiful. It was neat to see the cloud rolling into the valley or at times straight into me. Funny, cows scale the mountain too. Scott kept pointing out to me when I was tired that there was cow manure in front of him, so if a cow could get this high on the mountain so could we. Competitive as I am, I could not let a cow scale a mountain and admit defeat myself.
My host mom, having enough of Scott, politely kicked him out of the house, and life continued on in Lerik. I completely toy-ed it up. I went to two wedding in three days! And I toy-ed for more than 12 hours. It was quite the cultural experience. The first toy I went to was my first boy-toy. I think I have said before that there are boy weddings and girl weddings. It’s like having a two-part wedding ceremony: one for the girl’s family and one for the boy’s family. So, I went to the boy-toy where we were related to the groom. At 5pm we went to Zaza’s house. She is my host-dad’s mom and my Azerbaijani grandmother. She cracks me up. We waited for the bride and groom to arrive. When they did, women danced front of the car, Zaza sacrificed a sheep in front of me (kind of disturbing), and had the normal gathering of relatives and people I don’t know. I was polite and quiet, and we went to the toy at 7. I ate, danced, and did the normal toy rituals. Around 1, I had enough. It was time to go home. How could we still be toying it up? My neighbours brought me home. I was flabbergasted when they asked me to have tea at their house. Excusing myself, I went inside and crashed. My host family came home within the hour, so I guess I could have toy-ed it to the end, but I was so tired.
My next toy, however, I toyed it to the end. Two days after my boy-toy, I went to my first little toy. A little toy celebrates a young boy’s circumcision. That’s right, young boys, not babies, are circumcised in this culture. The basic process of a little-toy is like that of a big-toy. People go the Happiness Palaces, eat plov, salad, bread, etc, and dance. The only difference is that there a little boy walks through the doors instead of a bride and groom. This toy was fun because there was a lot of modern music, so we could dance more freely. I had a great time. I toy-ed it up for 6 hours, and I lasted until the END! HA! Yes, that is victory.
This week, after so much comings and going, I’ve convinced myself to go running on a more regular basis. I’m done a great job this week, and I can’t tell you how much I miss running. It is so much fun to wake up early, go to the track, run three miles, and be back before most of the town as woken up. There is something about running that is just good for my spirit.
I’ve been studying Azerbaijani again, connecting with my host mom and sister (which is so much easier now that the other have gone back to Baku and Moscow respectively), and settling into life in Lerik.
I’m ready for school to start, but before school starts, I’m off to Istanbul for a week. I’m super excited. I have a new cell phone which is both Azertastic because it plays music so I can be like the Azerbaijani guys and play music when I’m walking down the street like a little boombox and because its “Russian Red” according to the box. The latter amuses me far more than it should.
In local news, Ramazan started on Saturday. “The ninth month of the Moslem calendar. Commemorates the month in which the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. Observance involves prayer and abstention from food, drink, smoking, and sex, from sunrise to sundown.” That being said, I don’t know many Azerbaijanis who are actually fasting for the month of Ramazan. To me, Ramazan just means that I have a break from going to toys.
Next update will be post-Turkey. Until then, take care!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Facing the west toward Yardimli.
Entrance into Lerik!
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
24 April 2009
So, I have come to understand that some future PCVs may be reading my blog hoping to understand what Peace Corps life is like and what they should expect. Well, as my friend Micah put is, Peace Corps is like the lottery. You never know where you’re going (country), who you’ll meet (fellow Americans), who you’ll live with (host family), where you’ll live (permanent site), or who you’ll work with (host organization). There is a lot of stuff that is just plain out of your control. The only thing you can control is your attitude. My advice to any future Peace Corps Trainee coming to Azerbaijan is sit back and get ready for a bumpy ride.
If you are reading this blog and not coming to Azerbaijan, please be aware that while culture shock, frustration with host country nationals, and frustration with learning a second language is something that almost all Peace Corps Volunteers deal with no matter where they go. HOWEVER, each and every PC country is very different, and the PCV experience is very different. My experiences in Lerik will be very different than PCVs an hour away in a larger site.
When I call PC Azerbaijan a bumpy ride, I don’t mean to infer that bumpy rides are bad. For all the good and all the bad, I have enjoyed my ride thus far; I like to view living in Azerbaijan as being 98% comfortable with my surrounding and myself. For the most part I am happy, adjusted, and love people with whom and the place in which I live. But there is still 2% of me that deals with the fact everyday that I am living in a foreign land with babat (so-so) language skills.
Now, for the 5 things. 5 things I wished I brought, 5 things I wished I had left behind, and 5 things that I’m glad I brought. Before you take this as gospel, just know that this is from my perspective as a woman from Louisiana.
5 things I’m glad I brought:
· Wool stockings and good tights - never underestimate what paying extra money for tights can do
· My sleeping bag- good for travelling
· Comfy Shoes
· Clothes for layering
· My computer & journal
5 things I wish I brought:
· Running Pants- can’t really run with shorts in this country
· A Good Cloth bag- Mom sent me one (good for groceries and extra stuff)
· Headlamp- good for the outhouse at night & Dad sent me one
· External hard drive (good for trading music and such with other PCV’s)
· Markers & index cards
5 things I wish I had left behind (or have found to be unnecessary):
· A large stash of books- you will find many in the Peace Corps lounge
· My personal first aid kit- Peace Corps provides you with one (although I’m partial to Advil, so I brought an extra bottle)
· My raincoat- Haven’t used it once. I use my umbrella
· A large assortment of shoes. I only brought 5 pairs (hiking boots, running shoes, black flats, sandals, and casual shoes) and bought one here (my black winter boots).
· My sense of shame- be ready to be a small kid again on numerous levels
I know looking at the packing list can seem daunting, remember to streamline because Peace Corps will give you more stuff to carry anyways (First Aid Kit, Sleeping Bag, Water Filter, hand outs, more hand outs, carbon monoxide detector, etc).