Wednesday, April 15, 2009


11 April 2009
Dear everyone,
It appears that this year, I’ll be dreaming of a white birthday. As I write, snow is falling in a foggy Lerik, and I am back in three layers nursing a cup of hot chocolate. So my official prognosis is that Novruz lied and that spring is still not here. My host sister keeps teasing me that it’s going to snow in May. At this rate, I totally believe her. Spring will probably come sometime in June or July.
Today is month four in Lerik, and, officially, I no longer have to live with a host family. Yet in the pursuit of trying to find a house, I decided that staying put is not such a bad idea. I am happy with my decision, and, I think, my host family is actually happy with it too. I finally reorganized my room and will start putting pictures on the wall. For a long time, I was resisting to making this place home. I also was trying to process what staying with my host family would mean.
I won’t lie. Part of me wants to move out so that I can finally “grow up.” I have never had a place of my own. I’ve lived in dorms or at home. I’ve also settled in here and risk becoming complacent. But in the end, I received some wonderful advice from my friend Corey. He said to do what makes me happiest. Staying would, at this moment, make me the happiest. So, while I may be almost 26 years old when I finally get my own place (unless my host family evicts me), I have the rest of my life to be a “grown up,” a term that I am increasingly unable to define.
As I wrote in previously, this week I started conversation clubs at School 1. Tuesday was a glorious beginning of the 6th & 7th form club. I had over 20 students attend, and they had a great time. The next day they were still talking about it. Thursday was the 5th form club. I was nervous about this club because the children need a lot of translation and sometimes have the attention span of gnats, like most children in the 5th grade at home. Now the club didn’t start until 3pm, but at 2pm, two students come to the house ready to come to the club. I told them to come back at 3pm, but they didn’t come back. Instead, I had a room of 11 boys who came wrestling, joking, and shoving through the door.
On Tuesday, Aynura came to help me translate and facilitate the club, but on Thursday, I was on my own. I was surprised how well the club turned out. They may be bouncing off the walls half the time, but I truly enjoy the fifth form. They are always full throttle, but I love their energy and enthusiasm. Fifth form is never dull. Secretly, they are my favourite form. I even taught the boys to say, “What’s up?” and to say, “Nothing,” in return.
Friday at the Boarding School is always my least favourite day of the week. I have a feeling this probably won’t change until next school year. I simply do not see the children at the boarding school as often to have a rapport with them. Next year, I would like to start going there maybe twice a week or to have special clubs for them. As the Azerbaijanis would say, “slowly, slowly.”
12 April 2009
Happy Birthday Me! I am now 24 years old. I especially like how my sister Emily described this occasion: “On one hand, that’s old. … On the other hand, you are so young when I think back to everything you have experienced and accomplished – and only at 24!!!”
How does being 24 feel? Well, cold. It’s snowing on my birthday! This is definitely a first and a bit incomprehensible. I actually walked around in the snow this morning just to wrap my head around it. This is no spring snow either; it has snowed for 12 hours now, and I don’t see it letting up any time soon. In fact, the snow has gotten heavier as the day has progressed. I am thoroughly amused. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Louisiana any more.
Being the big partier that I am (please note the sarcasm), I stayed up past midnight to ring in my birthday. At the stroke of midnight, I was making dolma with my host mom. That’s right, I know how to party. It seemed like such a Peace Corps moment to be wrapping grape leaf dolma the moment I turned 24.
14 April 2009
It only took until yesterday but the snow finally stopped. And the sun is back, melting three days worth of snow. Everything is green again in Lerik except for the mountains that remain white. My host mom said that it snowed 30 cm (11.8 inches) but the news says it only snowed 15 cm. (5.9 inches). Regardless of the amount, I’m maintaining the fact that it’s April, and it shouldn’t snow in April. Maybe I’m just being picky, but there were icicles longer than my arm hanging from my room yesterday. I just think that almost half way through April, I just think that I shouldn’t be wearing all my winter clothes again.
But how did my birthday go? It was a nice quiet day that I spent at home with the host family. I normally have morning on the weekends to myself because my family sleeps in, so I received birthday calls from Eleni and my family and opened my birthday presents from my family. The summer clothes that my parents sent are very nice, and I’m sure I’ll be able to wear them eventually. Maybe in June.
As for the rest of the day, I passed my time texting friends, talking to my host family in Masazir (who inquired when I was coming home because Ana wants to bake me a cake), and helping my host family decorate my birthday cake. My host mom baked me a honey layer cake that we covered in a chocolate ganache. It was really good. I kind of felt like I was at the bakery again, because I got to write, “Happy Birthday Amy” and draw drop roses.
I should probably clarify that cake is peculiar baked good in Azerbaijan. Cake in Azerbaijan is not cake in America. They make look the same on the outside, but they don’t taste the same. Cakes here tend to be dry and pretty thin. My honey cake kind of tasted like a honey graham cracker.
I also spent part of the day trying to stay warm. I was inside, but I still wore three layers. For my birthday dinner, my host mom made a feast of plov (rice), eggplant levengi (a southern specialty which is so yummy), cucumbers, and dolma. I was touched and enjoyed the company.
Now the cake’s candle needs its own paragraph. This was amusing for a myriad of reasons. Saida got this candle especially for me. The apparatus is bigger than my fist and stuck a good 5 inches out of the cake. When I lit it, a mechanical “Happy Birthday” starts bleeping and a torch-like flame erupts from the candle’s centre. If this weren’t enough, then candle opens up like a flower with 8 more lit candles. I did manage to blow out all the candles in one breath, but that’s only because the torch had gone out long before I tried.
Monday was trudging through the snow to get to school. I asked the teachers why did we have snow since it was spring. One teacher said spring came and gone; it’s winter again. I’m glad we can joke somewhat with each other.
Today was round 2 of the conversation clubs. The sixth and seventh form has seen to grow by at least 6 students, and no one really seems to listen to me or each other. I think they are learning, but one can never be sure. They are happy to come, and I am happy to see them. It gives them something to do in the afternoon. Because it was too cold at school yesterday for the 8th and 9th form clubs, we had class today after the 6th and 7th form met. It was a completely opposite situation from the previous hour. The eight girls who came were so quiet, and I felt that they learned a lot about greetings. It was kind of nice to be around people who have the maturity to sit and listen. But then again, after having such noisy classes, I was really thrown by my silent class.
Tomorrow, I am going to Baku for Inter-Service Training. I am excited to see AZ 06 again. I haven’t seen some of these people since swearing-in, but at the same time, I am really dreading travelling. I like staying at site and being just being here. It’s an hour trip to Lankaran and a six-hour to trip to Baku. But I guess we all have to leave site sometimes, probably just to maintain sanity. And I’m going to visit my host family in Masazir this weekend! I can’t wait to see them, although my stomach already hurts from the amount of food that I will be fed.
Much love,
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

All This Moving to Stay Put

2 April 2009
Dear everyone,
Peace Corps moments are always great: both the good and the bad. The good give you the answer why you joined the Peace Corps. The bad make you question why you joined the Peace Corps. My host mom was telling me about trying pork. Despite being in a Muslim country, one can still find pig farms. Another PCV and I had a weird experience when we saw a pig farm on the bus ride home from Göyçay. During the Soviet administration, developing pig farms and advocating the consumption of pork was a policy to weaken religious ties. And according to Yeta (my host mom), Russians really like pork. Pork is forbidden (or as the Azerbaijanis would say, “Olmaz!”) in the Islamic faith.
My host mom says she ate pork once because her neighbours said it was a mutton kabob. They only told her afterwards that it was pork. She asked me if anything was forbidden to eat in the United States. I told her nothing; I’m guessing that this was the most culturally appropriate answer because there are so many religions in the states. Human meat is not culturally appropriate and neither is eating cat or dog flesh, and horse meat is generally not eaten. But if I told my host mom that, she would think that either I’m really weird or Americans are really weird.
So speaking of weird, American music videos are on the TV, and it took me a second to realize that I was hearing English. I’m used to zoning out the TV because they just speak too fast for me. But it’s even weirder that I cannot recognize the singers any more. It takes half the song for me to realize that I’m watching Jessica Simpson or any other blond musician.
Overall, it was a good day. One of teachers just got engaged. She is very excited, and I’m excited for the toy (wedding) this summer. Toys are always an interesting experience, but now that I am feeling like more of the community, I’ll be able to enjoy the toy from a different perspective. I enjoy being furniture in these people’s lives. I can sit and watch them interact, and I just try to soak up as much as I can.
While some days December 2010 seems like forever away, I know it’ll come quickly, and then I’ll want more time in Lerik. Now that spring is here, I can look out the window and just appreciate where I am. It is gorgeous. I am just going to wander in the rayon this summer, exploring various roads up the mountain. No worries, I won’t accidently wander into Iran. I think it’s more than a day’s hike to get to the border.
I’ve gotten a favourable response from the kids about the conversation club; many applications have rolled my way. I was originally going to limit my conversation club to 20 members per time slot, but I kind of figure they’ll weed themselves out on their own. If worse comes to worse, I’ll just have two clubs on Tuesday.
Things are going well with the host family. I feel bad about being so insistent about moving out, but I am working under two principles: 1) my host family has family who visits in the summer and 2) house guests like fish stink after 3 days (or four months). The last principle is thanks to Benjamin Franklin in “Poor Richard’s almanac. Actually, I really like my host family. We have all learned to coexist. They are super sweet, and we just bumble along our merry way. My host sister has truly become someone that I admire and that I like to spend time with (when I’m in the mood to blunder through Azerbaijani).
7 April 2009
Considering that I will not have a house by the housing contract’s termination of 11 April, I asked my host mom if I could stay here until I find a house. She said, of course, you’re my daughter. Awesome! I’m really happy that I am not being kicked out of this house. Today, I saw the house that my school director wanted me to see. It’s not a bad house; there is a kitchen area, outdoor toilet, a shower that I would share with the family who owns the main house, and a nice big room. BUT (there is always a ‘but’) it’s on the other side of town, way on the other side of town. As in, it’s on the edge of the town.
I’m all for having a longer walk to school and getting my exercise in; however, this is a 25 minute walk in good spring weather. This past winter was mild, and I was pretty miserable/cold. So, when I got home, my host mom asked me what I thought about the new house. I said it was ok, but the walk was long. She asked me what I wanted. I said that I would like to stay here because I am happy here. She said that I could stay! So this is an exciting turn of events.
I definitely want to keep looking for housing, but it’s really nice to know that I have a place that I can still call home and that my host family actually likes me.
In Lerik, spring has yet to decide if it is ready for a full-time appearance. The first couple of days of April were gorgeous and on the warmer side of things. Lerik was green, and the only dots of white came from apple blossoms on the trees that everyone seems to have in their yards. Friday turned cloudy and foggy, and the postman told me that this weekend it would rain. I expressed my dislike of his weather forecast, but, alas, he spoke the truth. This weekend was grey, cold, wet, and muddy. This weekend, it snowed! I was completely aghast on Saturday morning when I saw a 3-inch layer of snow on everything.
“This is spring!” I thought to myself, but despite my grumbles, the snow did not stop until a little after 10. As quickly as the snow accumulated, it had almost completely melted by the time I left the house at 11. I was told later that sometimes Lerik has snow in May: this was only spring snow, and it will quickly melt. (Oh yay! That means it’ll be muddy.) Back in full winter regalia, I traversed Lerik on the social dates I had made the previous week: lunch at Vagif’s where I met his grandson and drank tea with his wife and lesson planning with Terana where I drank more tea and watched PowerPuff Girls in Turkish.
Terana completely cracks me up. Her English is excellent, and she is one of the best teachers at my school. She maintains excellent classroom management and is still able to joke with her students. We can joke together, and we have good conversations about most topics.
Sunday morning started with rain and ended with snow. I layered up to go to Aynura’s house, and by the time I left at 7 in the evening, the sun was out, and it was too warm for my coat. Silly weather we are having here. Aynura is probably the first friend I made in Lerik. She is only 25, so we have a lot in common. We have similar sense of humour, and she lets me rattle on and on. After we wrote our lesson plans, we sat, drank tea, and watched the new in English!
Oh the news! This was the first time that I have watched the news in long, long time. I was so excited to understand everything that was said and to hear what was going on in the world. Then again, the news was so depressing that maybe it’s better not watching the news. Sure, I live in a bubble in Lerik but so does everyone else here.
Lately, I have realized that slowly but surely I am becoming settled in Lerik. Most days, I have been able to say that I’m happy. Happiness seems to creep up on you, and you don’t even realize that you are happy/content until the moment passes. I’m sure the weather has something to do with this, but it’s nice to finally start feeling at home in Lerik.
Today, I had my first conversation club for sixth and seventh form. It was a hit, and I kind of feel like a celebrity. I was nervous for my conversation club. How would it go? Would they even like it? Before leaving, I could hear children’s voices outside. This was a bit unusual because not many children live in my neighbourhood. I leave the house, bracing myself for the unknown of the next hour. “YAY! MS. AMY!” This cry from a group of my 6th and 7th form startles me. They explain that they are excited about the club have waited for an hour.
Then like mice following the Pied Piper, the children follow me to school, skipping, and talking (the whole 30 seconds it takes me to get to school). Aynura graciously came to help me translate and keep the class in order, and the children, in my opinion, learned and had a good time. I am really excited to see how the clubs progress and how the final presentations turn out.
Days like today and yesterday are the days I file in my “BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY” mental file. When I have bad days (and they will come), I will pull out this memory and remember why I came to Azerbaijan.
Much love,
P.S. Awesome Lerik fact of the week: when looking at the south-east mountain peaks, one can see the profile of Vladimir Lenin. I will try to attach a picture to show y’all. Aynura pointed this image out to me.
P.P.S I haven't been able to take the picture because it's been so cloudy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

1-2 April 2009

1 April 2009
Dearest everyone,
Apartment update! Today my school director, Gültəkin, and I went to look at my future apartment. It is an older apartment and probably was built during the Soviet era. My gut is saying no as we walked into the place, but my head is saying just look around and see what Gültəkin thinks. Paint is chipping off the wall, I cannot locate a heater in the whole building, and the kitchen is an empty room with an electric burner. It’s on the first floor (I was hoping for second floor for security reasons). I am scared to think that this is my only option. When I look over at Gültəkin, she also looks uncomfortable; she leans to me and says, “There is another house I want you to look at.” OH THANK GOODNESS!
After another walk around, we head back down the mountain. Gültəkin says that she does not like that place, and she wants me to be comfortable. There is a house on the other side of town that we will look at. I’m hoping that this one is better. Because I honestly don’t think that apartment would be approved. I have limited options in this community, but I am being optimistic. Maybe this house will be better, and a house with a yard would be awesome.
But the day is not a complete downer. My birthday presents came in the mail today, and my mom is so smart. She wrapped all my presents so I couldn’t spoil my surprise too early. We’ll see how much self –control I have. I have already opened every birthday card that has come my way; cut me some slack, it was only two.
In the end, today is a beautiful day. The sun is out, and I’m happy that it’s April. I probably will not be able to move out on 11 April, but good people, who are kind and genuinely care about me, surround me. I could not ask for anything more.
2 April 2009
I have learned to be grateful for the little things in life. It’s a fun moment when you read a sign with no difficulty and later realize that the sign is completely in Azerbaijani. Some days I feel as if my language skills are progressing nicely, and, other days, I feel like an idiot. But I know we all have those moments out in the field.
Martin, my brother, sent me a book – via my parents – that he read in his intro to anthropology class. He thought I might enjoy it since I was an anthropology major. Entitled THE INNOCENT ANTHROPOLOGIST, I must admit I am very amused by the book. It’s so much fun to read about the author’s blunders as he goes about fieldwork. While I am not too far into the book, some of the author’s misfortunes remind me of my own follies at site.
I am mastering the idea of how to get something accomplished in Azerbaijan: persistence. Fortunately or unfortunately, not everyone schedules her/his time like Americans. I am enjoying the relaxed ambling nature my life now possesses. Sitting down with a neighbour for tea and chatting for hours is not unusual. No one is in a rush. Things will happen when they do. But no one is in a rush, and things will happen when they do. When I try to make a plan and a schedule, it always seems to fall apart. No one arrives on time, and, worse, now I’m not even arriving on time. It’s not that the idea of a schedule is foreign to Azerbaijanis, for school runs on a strict schedule. Rather, scheduling one’s life is a ridiculous concept.
Someone I went to college with told me that Peace Corps benefits the volunteer more than the community. I was dumbfounded by this assertion, but I find a grain in truth in this statement. The statement only reveals half of service’s purpose. Volunteers come to help their community; however, to think that a transformation only moves in a single direction is a foolish notion.
Much love,