Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May Days

4 May 2009

Dearest everyone,

Happy May!  Can you believe that it is already May?  Time continues to slip past me without saying a word.  I know I’ve said it numerous times, but spring has finally come.  I can say this with assurance because the locals have told me that the warm weather is here to stay.  I’m so happy for the sun, the warm weather, and the two layers of clothing I need to stay warm.  For those of you from cooler climes, a spring that doesn’t make itself known until the fifth month may be normal for you; however, for this southern woman, it’s already short sleeve weather in March.

May has begun as a beautiful month with each day sunny and mild.  Everywhere is so green, and we have so many flowers in our yard.  I know some of the PCVs are tired of me saying this, but I live in a magical place.  Lerik is breathtakingly gorgeous, and I am so happy that this is my home.  Of course, three out of these four days I have spent in bed or in my room, nicely sidelined by a cold and sore throat.  However, that being said, I finally feel as if things are turning around, and I’ll be able to return to my normal PCV duties. 

When I last wrote, I was about to embark for IST (Inter-Service Training) in Baku.  The trip went remarkable well.  It stopped snowing the day before I left, so it was all melted by the morning I left to catch my bus.  The only problem is that melted snow leaves a lot of mud, and I slipped and slid my down to the bus station using the bus station shortcut.  It was truly a site to behold.  I have my phone/flash light in one hand, my messenger bag on my back, my birthday cake in the hand with the flash light, and my free hand gripping a wall or fence.  Every step slid about three inches from where I put my foot down.  I was sure that I would be full of mud by the time I made it to the bus station.  Luckily, only my shoes were muddy when I got on the bus.  But since Azerbaijanis’ shoes are impeccably clean, I was very self-concious of my muddy shoes and hid them under the seat in front of me.  When we stopped for our tea break, I immediately hopped off the bus to clean my shoes.  I guess in some ways, I have integrated into Azerbaijani society.

IST’s were great to see everyone from the east side.  We all talked about our sites, our lives, and our work.  As compared to New Years, the conversations were more relaxed as we have adjusted to our new lives, new jobs, and new trials.  I guess I could tell that we were making our way from newly sworn-in PCVs to weather-worn PCVs.  We could joke about our first months and talk about stuff beyond site. 

At IST, I could easily tell those of us who are alone at site and those of us who have site-mates.  The lone PCVs at site are so excited to see someone who speaks English natively that we just talked nonstop and all over each other.  I think Rachel and I just talked for 30 minutes straight continuously interrupting the other person.  For me though, these group gatherings always have a backlash.  Yes, I’m excited to see people and to be able just to shoot the breeze, but then I just get overwhelmed.  I’m not used to this many Americans or having to hold a conversation for this long.  I’m not sure what to do about this situation and usually need to step outside to catch my breath.

The people at IST made IST a great event.  Peace Corps staff was able to give us feedback and ideas on how to proceed after our first four months.  PCVs were able to bounce ideas off of each other on how to improve a club, classroom, or any various problems.  In some ways, it was nice just to get out of site and to be an American with other Americans, rather than being THE American. 

After ISTs, I planned on going home to Masazir and visit my “second” family (as my family is Louisiana is starting to call them).  On Friday, the day I was to depart for Masazir, I was filled with a sense of dread.  Ata had been calling me since Wednesday to make sure that I was coming home and asking when he could pick me up in Baku.  Searching for the source of this dread, I came up with a couple of ideas: 1) I’m not used to being the centre of attention.  Going home to Masazir meant speaking A LOT and not being able to hide in my room like I used to do.  2) You can never really go home.  I hadn’t been home since New Years.  What if everything had changed and it was no longer the loving home I left in December?  3) In joining the Peace Corps, I did not have the intentions of being adopted by another set of parents who now worry about me almost as much as my parents in Louisiana.  My PST host family calls me almost as often as my parents to see how I am.

Putting it off until late afternoon, I finally called Ata to ask him if I could still catch the 225 at the normal place since Baku has a new bus station.  Ata and I always have a bit miscommunication going, so he insisted on picking me up in Baku.  When I met up with Ata, all my worries melted away about going home.  Nothing seemed to change, and he appeared so proud that his American daughter had come home for a visit.  He tells me about the cake and food Ana has prepared for me and how they’ve been waiting all day.  I let him talk and zoned out watching the familiar route of Baku to Masazir. 

When we got off the bus at the Blue House to Nowhere, we met up with a neighbour whom I’ve never met.  She asked Ata, “Who is this girl?”  He responded, “My daughter.”  I introduced myself, telling her that I am an American and I lived in Masazir for three months.  She tells us that we must come guesting, but I tell her that I must go home because Ana is waiting for me.  Ata and I head proudly down the road.  I guess you can go home.

When we turned toward the house, Ata tells me that the water is worse.  I’m confused for a bit until I see what he means.  Lake Masazir, the pond that resides in front of my house, has grown!  I thought that this would be impossible, but nope, it’s deeper and now more treacherous to pass.  But I make it past the moat to the castle.  Ata and I quietly creep in, and Tunar sees us, but I quickly gesture for him to stay quiet.  I open the kitchen door, and Ana laughs as she looks up.  She runs up to me and gives me a huge hug and a kiss.  “My daughter, how are you?  Are you hungry?  Do you want tea?” 

It was wonderful to be home.  Tunar is apparently doing better in school.  Gunay is studying hard for her university exams and has a cute new haircut that I appropriately raved over.  It was just like old times.  I know for the next two years (and probably forever) I will always have a home to go to when times are tough or just to visit.  Things really haven’t changed.   Tunar still talks nonstop.  Gunay, who just turned 18, still behaves like the world revolves around her.  Ana is always bustling around.  And Ata still gives me that goofy look and says, “Amy, Amy, Amy, Amy.” 

That first dinner left me full for the next three days.  It was my birthday dinner with all my favourites: dolma, plov, cucumber, tomato salad, and an awesome birthday cake. 

Being home, I can put why moving to Lerik and adjusting to my new host family was so hard for me.  I still can’t really call Yeta ana.  She’s not my ana.  If you note in my emails, when I refer to Yeta, I call her “my host mom.”  What can I say, I won the PST host family lottery.  Word quickly got around Masazir that Amy had come home. I received many visitors between Friday night and Saturday.  And despite my fears of being the centre of attention, it was much like coming home from college.  That first night everyone is super pumped you are home, and then they go back to their business.  Ana and I basically had the house to ourselves for much of Saturday. We talked, I read my book, and she cooked.

Sunday morning, I basically had to force Ata to bring me to the bus station.  He wanted me to stay for another week.  But Ana and I would argue that I had work on Monday.  Then he tried to convince me to come home that coming Friday for a wedding.  I told him that it was a long trip and that I would need to think about it.  We both new that meant I wasn’t coming, but he tried.  Ata, being the good father he is, brought me to the bus station, found my bus, paid for my trip, and told the woman sitting next to me to take care of me.  Ana, being the good mother she is, gave me a meal that could feed 6 people for the road.  I did catch the Lerik bus home, and the ride home was smooth.  I always feel sad when I leave Ana and Ata, but I told them that I would be back this summer for a week.

The next week in Lerik was cold, windy, and foggy.  I think we had a week straight of fog.  The part of me that went to college in California was so tired of the fog and the dreariness.  I was seriously about to give up on the whole idea that spring was ever coming to Lerik.  I was back in four layers (most of which were wool). 

Despite the nasty weather, there were some sunny parts of the week.  My students usually find a way to make my day a lot brighter.  I love my Wednesday conversation club for the 8th form.  Girls show up to that club, so I have decided that this club is girls only.  I teach them basic English conversational points, and each girl must give a presentation at the end of the class.  My fifth form seems to be really catching on to my interactive teaching methods I am presenting and are becoming quite vocal in class.  (Even if they are wrong most of the time, they are trying.)

Also the other teachers at my school are really wonderful.  They female teachers have incorporated me into their fold.  I’m the quiet American who follows them around.  They know my Azerbaijani is limited, but it’s better than their English, so we slowly converse.  And they are forgiving of my butchered Azerbaijani. 

The last week of April began to mark the beginning of the sunshine.  Sure, I had my trials and tribulations of the week; nevertheless, I think it was a week where many necessary things were accomplished and were made known.  First trial, my counter part Aynura was sick all last week, so she could not come to class.  Having taught for basically four months now, I felt prepared enough to teach these classes by myself.  If the text was too hard and needed a lot of translations, we would just play review games instead.  Early on in my teaching (by February), I realized that I had a slight problem.  The kids like me.  They really like me as their friend and NOT as their teacher.  Having younger siblings, I’m used to relating to younger children on a friend level and not on a hierarchal level.  Being thought of as a friend is a problem because the kids won’t respect me.  The younger forms thought it was awesome that Ms. Amy was going to be teaching them for this week because it was just going to all fun and games…

They were definitely wrong.  They got to encounter the mean Ms. Amy.  (Yes, Mom, I shot some of those kids the eyes.)  It started with fifth form.  They weren’t listening.  They kept goofing off.  So using a trick I learned from Corey, I had them open their books and copy a text from the new lesson.  Then they had to translate it.  On top of that, I gave them homework.  I gave students who didn’t participate 2’s in the grade book.  In Azerbaijan, they do not have the same grading system we have (i.e. A, B, C, D, F).  They use numbers.  It works out the same; 5 is the best, and a 1 is the worst.  Fifth form got this punishment on Tuesday.  But 6b didn’t get to learn this lesson until Friday. 

Strangely, I don’t feel bad about being the mean Ms. Amy.  It was a necessary evil, and, honestly, they were being horrific.  Not all of them, but the bad ones were preventing the good ones from learning.  I think my students get the point.  If you are good, you will have the fun Ms. Amy who plays games and jokes with you.  If you are bad, then you will have the mean Ms. Amy who is demanding and unforgiving.  I must admit that when I reflect on being the mean Ms. Amy, I have to smirk a little.  I can be a mean hard nose teacher.  I wasn’t sure if it was in me.

Wednesday, I had a couple of Peace Corps moments, which I will share with you now.  The first one was in fifth form.   The newly well-behaved fifth form, fresh from their punishment on Tuesday, was going over the vocabulary words.  Since the fifth form has a hard time sitting in their desks, we act out of the vocabulary words to help them remember the words.  The word was “to choose.”  I wasn’t going to have them act it out; I wasn’t even sure how to act it out.  Qabil shoots his hand up.  “Teacher, teacher, let me show it.  Let me show it,” he asks (of course, all in Azerbaijani).  I relent to Qabil’s request.  He takes out his handkerchief, putting it on his head like the old ladies.  He explains to the class that he is a lady at the bazaar.  He proceeds to pretend to be picking out a piece of fruit (being quite picky I must add).  I was so impressed and very amused.

The second moment came Wednesday afternoon after my girl’s club.  I wasn’t home for more than an hour when some family friends came over.  One of my host mom’s good friends is moving to Zardab.  Her husband is being transferred there, so the whole family was moving on Thursday for their new home.  The woman had come along with her three children who I know better than I know this lady.  Firudin was in my 6b class.  Shebnam (4th form) and Yunis (1st form) sometimes stop by the house after school.  I befriended Shebnam and Yunis during these after school visits.  Shebnam decided that we were friends and often talked to me in the schoolyard.  She was always sweet. 

After about 10 minutes of sitting in the living room, Shebnam asks to see the pictures on my computer.  Next thing I know I’m entertaining Shebnam and Yunis for the next 4 hours in my room.  Yunis sat at my computer taking pictures of himself.  In school, the little boy never talked, but in my room, he wouldn’t stop.  Shebnam told me that she was said to be leaving and she was going to miss me very much.  I told her that she was going to make new friends and that everything would be ok.  She then looked through everything I owned and proclaimed that everything from America was both good and interesting.  As a going away gift, I gave her an English/Azerbaijani book I have about a little boy who moved away to a new home.  She was so happy.  I feel that even if I never see Shebnam again that I affected her life in a positive way.  She was so convinced that we were friends, that I had little choice but to be friends with their very sweet 4th grader.  She actually called on Saturday to let me know that they made it safely to Zardab and that the weather was hot.  I told her, “Inshallah, goruserik.”  (God willing, we will see each other soon.)

I guess what I have learned from Shebnam is that even the smallest things you do in the PC (or really in life) can make a big impact.  I just stopped and talked to Shebnam once when they came over because I didn’t want to spend an afternoon hiding in my room.  I didn’t realize at the time, but our small encounters meant so much to her.  You have to be careful with those little ones, they are more observant than you think.

Happy May once again!  I feel like a little kid counting down the days until summer vacation (although really all summer long, I plan on having weekly activities for the kids in my community).

Much love,