Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Photo from Swearing In

I know it is a tad late, but better late than never. This is from 10 Dec 2008. Ata, me, and Ana. In the background, you can see Marina's host father: my host uncle.

If you were wondering what I look like...

The card is from Eleni!

2 February 2009

Dearest everyone,
Slowly working my way through my second month as a PCV. Some moments have been absolutely wonderful and other times have made me question why did I ever wanted to do this. Nevertheless, even on the bad days, I am very happy to be in Azerbaijan. Every day is certainly a challenge. Now whether or not I’m up for meeting the challenge each day is a whole other matter.
I am realizing more and more that I am becoming my mother. (Love you, Mom! No slight intended.) I now own a day planner, which I keep filled which lessons I’m teaching, what I should do each day, everyone’s birthdays, and other important dates. Travelling makes me nervous, as it does my mother. Going into the unknown figuratively and literally, I drag my feet. I still go through with the plans, but I’m not happy about getting started. I’m a homebody. When a card comes through the mail, I know from which parent my sense of humour stems. Every day when I look in the mirror, I appreciate how much like my mother I am becoming; I am surprisingly ok with this fact.
As you have all read, I am currently without a cell phone. Part of me is really itching to get a cell phone back in my hands. I’m tempted to go cash in some of my American money and buy a new phone. It would be nice to have my American connection, to receive the daily check-in with Sara, and to send messages about how ridiculous my day is. (Sara, I did have to laugh at the irony of receiving a 5AZN Kontour card from you in the mail two days after my phone went missing.) But relying on my own funds goes against the Peace Corps directive of living within the means of the Host Country Nationals, and Zoltan once told us that using our own money is failing. Most people know about my feelings about failing: it is my greatest fear. Also, the one-week that I have been without a cell phone has been an interesting one. It almost seems like a test of my own self-reliance. Being lonely, wanting to talk to others, and venting my frustrations are now something that I have to do in-site. As of right now, it’s been a GOOD thing because it’s making me go out more.
The goal for this week is to go guesting more. I want to be more known in my community. It is fun to get to know neighbours, the parents of my students, and fellow teachers. They all know who I am, but I don’t know them. It pushes my comfort zone, tests my Azerbaijani language skills, and causes me to be constantly overfed/explain why I don’t eat meat. For the record: I don’t eat meat in Azerbaijan because my doctor said it was forbidden because of my kidney stones. Saying that my doctor forbids me to eat meat is a lot easier to explain that I don’t like how it tastes (which means you haven’t had it cooked properly) or that I like the animals (which just means you are crazy – although you can’t get away with being the crazy American sometimes). I went to three people’s houses last week, and my goal is four this week. Of course these were all houses that I have guested before, but the main idea is that I got out of the house.
Last time, I wrote a monologue I was going to Zaqatala for the GLOW meeting. Well, I made it there and back in one piece. The Southern folks (the wrist of Azerbaijan) have requested that we don’t have meetings that far north any more. It was just a ridiculous day of travelling. “According to my calculations,” (if you get it, you get it) Jane, Jaclyn, Whitney, and I were on the road for over 24 hours to get there and back. I always say that it’ll be a long time since I go a travelling, but it’ll definitely be a long time until I go that far again. The upside is that it makes trips to Baku look like a breeze. Since transportation is more spotty for me than others, I stayed at Jane’s house two extra days (the day before we left and the day we came back).
Jane, as you may know from her blog Azerbayjane, is a wonderful volunteer who is currently on my people-who-rock-my-socks list. (If you haven’t read her blog, look her up.) First, she took me in when I felt like I had to leave site for my sanity. Second, she let me rant and helped me put things in focus. Amazing how people who have been here over a year (6.5 months left) understand what you are going through and help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Third, she has a cat. Don’t laugh too much Eleni, but I didn’t realize how much I missed little critters or how much comfort they can give you. And we made cookies, so Jane is definitely a good person.
The night train to Baku was a lot of fun because the four of us were in one car together. We got to talk and relax, and while it was not the best sleep because the train stopped and started all night, trains are probably the best way to travel in this country if you have a lot of time on your hands. I can get to Baku in 5.5 hours from Lerik. The night train was 9 hours. The marshutka to Zaqatala was hilariously fun. This marshutka could fit 14 passengers, and 7 passengers were Peace Corps Volunteers from the regions north of Baku (the first finger).
I should probably break and say that the analogy we most commonly use to describe Azerbaijan is a hand. Extend your left hand in front of you with your palm facing away from you. Spread your fingers and rotate your hand 45 degrees to the left. So there you have it: Azerbaijan. Your thumb is the Absheron peninsula where Baku, Masazir, and Sumgayit are located. Your wrist is the southern most rayons (including Lerik where I live!).
Continuing on: Marshutka culture is surprisingly quiet. Even with the occasional cell phone conversation, people do not converse loudly or at on marshutkas. The PCVs were all talking excitingly and having a good time. I would not say we were load, obnoxious Americans, but we definitely were not following the unspoken rules of riding on a marshutka. The ride to Zaqatala was probably the bumpiest road that I have EVER been on. Well, ok, the ride back from Site Visits when Jaclyn, Jon, and I took that detour around Baku was the bumpiest, but this ride was a close second.
The GLOW meeting went as smoothly as most PCV-run meetings go. We got in. We got out. We have things to do, and the hotel didn’t have heat at the moment, so the meeting room was beyond cold. As always, it was so nice to see everyone and talk about sites. It was easy to tell if you were walking into an AZ05 or an AZ06 conversation. AZ05s talked about anything and everything. AZ06s talked about site, counterparts, conversation clubs. I think it is indicative of were we are in our Peace Corps service. AZ06 is just starting out. We are new, confused, and still settling into site. AZ05 has rode out most of their bumps (I’m sure some still remain), but they all appeared to have checked their problems at the door.
The ride home from Zaqatala was long. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t even make it all the way home that day. I stayed with Jane another night because there was no way I could make it back to site in one day. That extra hour is just way too much, and I don’t think any taxis would have been available. So I got to enjoy another morning with Jane, her cat, and pancakes. The silly things you miss when you are away from home. I was never a big pancake eater in the states. I wanted cereal, soymilk, a cup of coffee, and a shower every morning after my run. Now, pancakes almost are a miracle, coffee is non-existent (waiting to open my coffee supplies for a super bad day), and running is confined to my edition of Runner’s World Magazine and my dreams.
I want to say teaching is getting easier. In many ways, it really is. I am used to being in front of the class. I’m getting to know the students’ personalities even if their names still elude me. They know to call me, “Ms. Amy.” Although sometimes they mess up and call me, “Mr. Amy.” Which absolutely cracks me up. My teachers are amazing. I love going to Terena’s and Aynura’s houses to lesson plan. We are getting much faster at lesson planning, and I get to learn about life in Lerik. They are both amazing women in their own right. I like that I can actually talk to them, mainly because they both speak English. But it’s nice.
Yet teaching still perplexes me. Why the sixth form class gets the game and the seventh form doesn’t understand the game leaves me stumped. One day the class is great. The nest, I don’t even know the kids I’m looking at. For those teachers who are reading this, I know you are laughing with me. No, you’re probably laughing AT me. But I would too.
Great moments from teaching: Explaining to Terena that cock and pussy are no longer really mean rooster and cat in spoken English. Those words now describe male and female parts respectively. I told her this in her first form class, so I know the kids had no clue what we were saying. Terena laughed. The sixth-form wrote a composition about English speaking countries. The three girls who volunteered to read wrote beautiful compositions. Every sentence had articles, correct verb usage, and proper sentence order. Something had to be up. I flipped through the fifth-form book and found where they had copied their compositions. Shocked that I had caught them, Aytan in English said, “Oh my God.” Kind of hard to maintain your teacher-like composure and explain that in America students receive 0’s for copying when the phrase your student has mastered is “Oh my God,” in the best pre-teen voice.
Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny. A great day to go exploring! So, yes, I finally decided to find the mysterious Mekteb 2 and to see the other half of Lerik. The other half of Lerik is mainly residential from what I can tell. The city square and government buildings are on my side of the mountain. I enjoyed my early morning walk and seeing what I could see. Lerik is a place of juxtapositions. A small creek travels through the other half of town. Trees overhang the creek, and the creek happily splashes and gushes around trash people have thrown in it. Satellite dishes are attached to roofs just beyond the outhouses and clotheslines. The still morning was punctuated by the sounds of dogs, chickens, and roosters. It was a good morning for gaining perspective.
I never did find Mekteb 2; I think I cut a left when I should have cut a right. But it doesn’t matter, for it was a good trip.
Sunday morning I knew I had to go to Vagif’s house. I hadn’t been to the Internat in two weeks. I knew he would be wondering where I was, and he would probably want to know why I hadn’t answered his text. (No phone = no texting). Sure enough, I walk through the door, and Vagif is feeding the cows. “Amy! How are you? Where have you been?” He is just like a concerned parent. Even though I insist that I am not hungry, I am still served apples, carrots, jam, eggs, bread, and of course tea. Malaka, Vagif’s wife, has been asking where I was, and she rushed home as soon as Vagif called to tell her that I was guesting. I even got to practice my Azerbaijani for once.
In Lerik, I have a mixed blessing. The English teachers here all speak English very well. I am really impressed. However, these are also the people that I spend the most time with, so my Azerbaijani is not getting any better. I somewhat suspect that my spoken Azerbaijani is getting worse. (Although I think my listening skills have improved.)
After guesting for four hours, I knew it was time to go home. So I started my good byes. While there are only two people in that household, it takes about 30 minutes to finish my good byes. Malaka wants me to stay for dinner, but I do not like going home after dark. Vagif insists on giving me a sack full of apples. I promise that I know how to wash them properly, and I set off for home.
Being the sole American at site is proving to be a mixed blessing. All my victories are my own, and all my failures are my own. I become so frustrated some days. Yesterday, I was convinced that I would never learn Azerbaijani. Today, Saida asked me what was wrong. I said that I can’t learn Azerbaijani. It’s too hard. She told me that I will learn the language, but it’s going to take time. She is encouraging me to talk more. So, today I dusted off my Azebaijani language books and started studying again. It’s going to take time, but I want to learn this language. (It doesn’t help that the older generation speaks Tallish about half the time or tries to speak Russian to me.) I’ll get it eventually.
Happy things from the week:
· My students getting excited about a game we are doing in class, and everyone participates even the weak students.
· When a weak student starts speaking up.
· Terena joking with me in class. Today, she looked at her first form class, and said, “Children, I don’t like you.” In English! I almost fell out of my chair.
· Letters from my mom! They may take almost a month to get her sometimes, but I love messages from home.
· Eleni’s package came in! I have more coffee (which I did bust out today because I was having a bad day), skittles (which I did separate and eat in proper order), a beautiful scarf, and love.

Well, my PCV mantra is, “Just Keep Swimming.” That’s what I intend to do.